Before we can determine whether a Christian may fall from God's grace, we must understand what is God's grace. Let's begin by examining the Greek words translated "grace" or "gracious."
Charis: Used 156 times by the NT writers. It has been translated into English using the following words: "grace", "gracious", "acceptable", "benefit", "favour", "gift", "joy", "liberality", "pleasure", "thank", "thanks", and "thankworthy."
Chrestos: Used 7 times by the NT writers and translated "better", "easy", "good", "goodness", "gracious", and "kind."
Euprepeia: Used once, translated "grace." Refers to the goodly appearance of a flower that withers under the burning heat of the sun (James 1:11).
As we've seen with other Greek words in our studies so far, the translation into English is complex. We have 17 different English words translated from 3 Greek words. With chrestos we have the word used 7 times in the NT, with 6 different English words used to translate it! Only one word ("kind") is used twice in the KJV to translate chrestos. With such a complex English rendering of these words we must be very careful to apply them properly as we seek to understand the message the Holy Spirit is sending us through the word of God.
As we begin our quest to understand the grace of God, let's begin by considering chrestos and how it is used in the New Testament. Let's begin with Luke 6:35. Luke writes, "But love ye your enemies, and do good, and lend, hoping for nothing again; and your reward shall be great, and ye shall be the children of the Highest: for he is kind unto the unthankful and to the evil." Beginning with verse 27 of the same chapter Jesus tells us to love our enemies, do good to those who hate us, bless those who curse us, turn our other cheek to the one who smites us, give our coat also to the one who takes away our cloak, and to do to others as we would have them do to us. In verses 32-34 Jesus asks us what thank we have if we love those who love us, if we do good to those who do good to us, or if we lend to those from whom we hope to have a return. He then summarizes His teaching with verse 35 noted above. These few verses tell us much about the grace of God. In verse 35, the word translated "kind" is chrestos in the original Greek. In verses 32-34 the word translated "thank" is charis in the Greek! Please consider the meaning behind these few verses. Jesus uses the same Greek word translated "grace" elsewhere in the NT when He asks us "What thank have ye?" When Jesus asks us "What thank have ye?", is He saying that our actions will lead to thanksgiving from those who before had hated us? No! While it may be true that some may change their attitude toward us if we behave in such a fashion, many will not. We see example after example of those who had received unbelievable good from Jesus failing to thank Him for His blessings. Once He healed 10 lepers, but only one returned to thank Him for making him whole (Luke 17:11-19). We shouldn't expect any more as we do good to those who hate us. But Jesus tells us that we will be "thanked" by behaving in such a fashion. If our thanks (Greek charis) doesn't come from men, then it must come from God. Jesus tells us of our reward in verse 35. He tells us to love our enemies, do good, and lend, hoping for nothing again. He then uses the coordinating conjunction "and" twice to tell us of the benefit we will receive. He tells us that our reward shall be great, and that we shall be the children of the Highest. Why will we be the children of the Highest? Because God is characterized by His kindness to those who are unthankful and evil. We are to do good (Greek chrestos) to those who do evil toward us, just as God is kind (Greek chrestos) to those who are evil. Our fellow man may not thank us for the good we practice, but we are promised that the grace (charis) of God will be ours should we act in such a fashion.
But do these words of Jesus apply to everyone who behaves in such a fashion? No! Please note how Jesus starts this passage. In verse 27 He states, "But I say unto you which hear..." Those who hear will receive a great reward and will be the children of the Highest. But who are the children of the Highest? We've considered Luke 8:21 in other studies. Jesus tells us, "And he answered and said unto them, My mother and my brethren are these which hear the word of God, and do it." Please review my study "How is one called by God today?" and consider how one becomes a brother of Jesus. The blessings of a great reward and being the children of the Highest don't come to everyone who may do good to those who hate them. These blessings are promised only to those who hear the words of Jesus and are obedient to them. Please review my studies "Who is a Christian?" and "Does God hear a sinner's prayer?" for further information regarding this exceedingly important issue.
In these few short verses recorded by Luke we learn of two aspects of God's grace. First, He is kind to everyone regardless of his or her obedience or thankfulness. Secondly, however, He has a great reward in store only for those who hear His word and are obedient to it. It is this second form of grace that we will consider in detail in our current study.
We now know that God is kind to those who are evil. What response should his goodness evoke in those who receive His blessings? Please turn to Romans 2:4. Here Paul writes, "Or despisest thou the riches of his goodness and forbearance and longsuffering; not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance?" Each time "goodness" is used in this verse, the Greek is chrestos, the same word translated "kind" in Luke 6:35. Those who experience the goodness of God should be led to repent. Who experiences this goodness of God? Everyone! But does everyone repent? No! But if everyone experiences God's goodness that should lead him or her to repent, why do many fail to repent? Because of their hard heart! In verse 5 of Romans 2 we read, "But after thy hardness and impenitent heart treasurest up unto thyself wrath against the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God;". So those who fail to repent despite receiving many good things from God store up for themselves wrath in the Day of Judgment! But Paul doesn't stop there. He tells us more about the Day of Judgment. Consider verses 6-11: "Who will render to every man according to his deeds: To them who by patient continuance in well doing seek for glory and honour and immortality, eternal life: But unto them that are contentious, and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, indignation and wrath, Tribulation and anguish, upon every soul of man that doeth evil, of the Jew first, and also of the Gentile; But glory, honour, and peace, to every man that worketh good, to the Jew first, and also to the Gentile: For there is no respect of persons with God." Why do many have wrath stored up for them in the Day of Judgment? Because of their evil deeds! Paul tells us that God will render judgment to every man according to his deeds (verse 6). Those who do evil receive tribulation and anguish. Those who work good receive glory, honor, and peace. Here we see a direct connection between salvation (eternal life, verse 7) and good works. We also see a direct connection between eternal damnation (indignation, wrath, tribulation, anguish; verses 8-9) and evildoing. Many who teach that it is impossible for a Christian to fall from grace and be lost claim that a Christian who sins falls from a present experience of grace, but not from salvation. Bob Wilkin is one such author, and his essay may be found at http://www.faithalone.org/news/y1988/88jan1.html. Mr. Wilkin claims in his essay that those who teach the possibility of eternal damnation for Christians who return to a life of sin "have taken the verses out of context and forced a meaning upon the text which the author never intended." Can one reach the conclusion that deeds do not play a role in our eternal destinies from Romans 2:6-11? Let's review them again briefly. First, Paul states that eternal life awaits those who continue in well doing (verse 7). Next, he states that indignation, wrath, tribulation and anguish await those who do evil (verses 8 and 9). Is this a present experience of wrath, or eternal damnation? From the context of the passage it must be eternal damnation. First, we see that wrath is treasured up against the day of wrath (verse 5). God's righteous judgment will be revealed on this day of wrath (same verse). Each of these events is yet to take place! So those who commit evil are treasuring up for themselves indignation, wrath, tribulation, and anguish that will be revealed to them on the Day of Judgment. It is certainly true that evildoing oftentimes results in present day tribulation and wrath, but this does not represent the wrath to be revealed to them at the Day of Judgment. From these verses in Romans 2 we know that our eternal destinies are directly related to our deeds while alive on earth. The one who says they are unrelated is the one guilty of taking the verse out of context.
We now know that God's goodness has been given to all men (Luke 6:35, Matthew 5:45) and that His goodness should lead us to repent (Romans 2:4). Many will fail to repent because of their hard heart (Romans 2:5). Those who fail to repent continue to commit evil deeds and store up for themselves wrath to be revealed on the Day of Judgment (Romans 2:8,9). As we continue to seek the answer to our question as to whether a Christian can fall from grace and be lost we must determine whether a Christian can be guilty of evildoing and of unrepentance. Paul tells us that eternal anguish will come upon every soul of man that doeth evil (Romans 2:9), and that there is no respect of persons with God (Romans 2:11). Therefore, if a Christian can be guilty of evildoing then his eternal fate must be damnation, since this fate awaits the soul of every man that is guilty of evildoing. His status as a Christian will not save him from eternal wrath, since God is no respecter of persons. Everyone who commits evil will receive wrath at the Day of Judgment.
Before we consider whether a Christian may return to a life of evildoing we must understand who is a Christian. I'd like to review a few points from the study published on my site:
Disciples were given the name "Christian." (Acts 11:26)
The New Testament gives specific criteria which define a disciple of Christ:
The disciple is not above his master (Matthew 10:24,25)
The disciple continues (remains) in Christ's word (John 8:31,32)
The disciple recognizes nothing as being greater than or of more importance than Christ (Luke 14:26,27)
The disciple bears much fruit for Christ (John 15:1-8)
The disciples of Christ will be known by all because of their love for each other (John 13:34,35)
It is possible for a disciple of Christ to go back and stop following Him (John 6:66)
Paul warned that leaders of the church would speak perverse things, drawing disciples away unto them (Acts 20:17,30)
From these verses we learn who may truthfully be called a Christian (a disciple of Christ), and we learn that a disciple may stop following the Lord. Since a disciple is one who remains in the word of Jesus, is one who has failed to obey His word a disciple? No! Was such a one ever a Christian? No! When a disciple ceases to manifest the characteristics of a disciple, are they still a disciple? No! Since only disciples may truthfully be called Christians, when a disciple ceases being a disciple do they continue being a Christian? No!
Now we understand who is truly a Christian, and that many people claim this name but do so falsely. We know that the name "Christian" is applied when specific criteria are met, and the name is removed when one who initially met the criteria ceases to do so. But there is another term that is used to describe one who has been obedient to God's commandments: He is a child of God. Are the terms "Christian" and "child of God" interchangeable? If they are, then a child of God is a disciple of Christ, and ceases being a child of God when he ceases manifesting the characteristics of a disciple of Christ. Can we find scripture indicating the synonymous nature of the terms "Christian" and "child of God?"
We've already considered in this and in other studies who is a brother of Christ (the one who does the will of God, Matthew 12:50 and Mark 3:35), how one becomes a brother of Christ (who is the Son of God) and therefore a child of God (through adoption by Jesus Christ, Ephesians 1:5), and what benefits are available only to the brethren of Christ (joint-heirs with Christ, Romans 8:17). Keeping these facts in mind, let's turn to 1 Peter 1:13,14. Here Peter writes, "Wherefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and hope to the end for the grace that is to be brought unto you at the revelation of Jesus Christ; As obedient children, not fashioning yourselves according to the former lusts in your ignorance:". How did Peter describe those who do not fashion themselves according to their former lusts? He called them obedient children! If there are obedient children, then there must also be disobedient children! Are they both children? Yes! What might one think would characterize a disobedient child, considering the description of an obedient child used by Peter? A child of God who fashioned himself after his former lusts. Are there scriptures that support this conclusion? Turn to Ephesians 5:3-7. Here Paul writes, "But fornication, and all uncleanness, or covetousness, let it not be once named among you, as becometh saints; Neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor jesting, which are not convenient: but rather giving of thanks. For this ye know, that no whoremonger, nor unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, hath any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. Let no man deceive you with vain words: for because of these things cometh the wrath of God upon the children of disobedience. Be not ye therefore partakers with them." Paul gives us a list of sins we are to not even have named among us (fornication, all uncleanness, covetousness, filthiness, foolish talking, jesting). He then warns us to let no man deceive us with vain (empty) words, for because of these things cometh the wrath of God upon the children of disobedience. What do these sins remind you of? The former lusts we are commanded by Peter to not fashion ourselves after. Paul tells us that those who commit such things are children of disobedience, and the wrath of God cometh upon them! Considering the context of these few verses in Ephesians what might the vain words be by which Paul warns us others might deceive us? Words indicating the absence of wrath coming upon those children of disobedience who commit these sins! Can you think of an example of such teaching? Yes! The very topic we're considering in this study. To claim that a child of God is incapable of falling from grace and having God's wrath come upon them are empty words, deceiving millions of people today!
The passage in Ephesians is not the only passage teaching us of wrath coming upon children of God who are disobedient. Paul writes in Colossians 3:5-8, "Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry: For which things' sake the wrath of God cometh on the children of disobedience: In the which ye also walked some time, when ye lived in them. But now ye also put off all these; anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy communication out of your mouth." Here again we have Paul telling us of those who are disobedient children of God and what makes them so. They have failed to put to death (mortify) the lusts of the flesh, which we know Peter also taught characterized those who were not obedient children of God. Paul even contrasts those who are obedient children with those who are disobedient in this passage in Colossians. He tells those who are obedient children that they "also walked some time, when ye lived in them." The obedient children put to death the lusts of the flesh and did not fashion themselves after their former lusts. However, the disobedient children returned to their prior way of life and continued to fashion themselves after these lusts.
Paul writes in Ephesians 2:1-3, "And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins; Wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience: Among whom also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others." Again he speaks of the children of disobedience. Notice the two groups of people spoken of here: one group has been quickened, was dead in trespasses and sins, and in time past walked according to the course of this world. This quickened group fulfilled the desires of the flesh in times past. This is the obedient child of God, who has mortified the deeds of the flesh and no longer fashions himself after his former lusts. But what does he say about the children of disobedience? The spirit that used to work in the children of obedience now works in the children of disobedience! This is present tense for this group of children! This group of children has not mortified the deeds of the flesh and continue to fashion themselves after their fleshly lusts. But they are both children!
In 1 Corinthians 5:11 we read of a brother who is a fornicator, covetous, idolater, railer, drunkard, or extortioner. In 2 Thessalonians 3:6 we are commanded to withdraw ourselves from every brother that walks in a disorderly fashion. And in 2 Thessalonians 3:13-15 Paul warns us to note the man which obeys not the word spoken by Paul and to have no company with him. However, we are not to count him as an enemy but admonish him as a brother. In each of these passages we see an ongoing familial relationship (brotherhood) with these disobedient children of God. They don't cease being our brethren, but they do cease being an obedient child of God. Such a one is subject to the wrath of God as we learned in Ephesians 5:6. What does Paul teach us in 1 Corinthians 6:9,10? Listen to his words: "Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God." So a brother who is a fornicator, an idolater, an adulterer, is effeminate, who abuses himself with mankind, is a thief, is covetous, is a drunkard, a reviler, or an extortioner will not inherit the kingdom of God! But Paul doesn't limit such disinheritance to those who commit only these sins. He begins his statement with the all-inclusive phrase, "Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God?" The brother who commits one or more of the sins Paul proceeds to list is unrighteous, but unrighteousness is not limited to these sins. A brother who commits any other form of unrighteousness will also fail to inherit the kingdom of God!
John tells us something else about a disobedient child of God in 1 John 3:10,11. He says, "In this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil: whosoever doeth not righteousness is not of God, neither he that loveth not his brother. For this is the message that ye heard from the beginning, that we should love one another." Think of what John is telling us! Two things separate a child of God from a child of the devil: working righteousness and loving his brother. So a child of the devil does not work righteousness or he doesn't love his brother. But who is his brother? Another child of God! So one who fails to work righteousness or love his brother is both a child of God and a child of the devil at the same time!!
As we've seen in several New Testament passages the terms "Christian" and "child of God" are NOT interchangeable. A disciple who fails to manifest the characteristics of a disciple can no longer claim the name Christian, but continues to be a child of God. Such a one is a disobedient child and is subject to the wrath of God should they die in that state.
What else can we learn about the grace of God? Please turn to Ephesians 2:4-9. Paul writes, "But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;) And hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus: That in the ages to come he might shew the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus. For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast." This is one of the passages most often misrepresented by those who teach that a child of God cannot fall from grace and be lost. We've already considered verses 1-3 in detail. He tells us that those to whom he was writing had been dead in trespasses and sins but quickened by God (verse 1). In verses 2 and 3 he discusses the children of disobedience. Despite the fact that those who were now obedient at one time were disobedient and dead in sins God quickened them together with Christ (verses 4 and 5). It wasn't because of anything they had done that they received this great salvation, but it was by the grace of God (verse 5). They had been raised up together and made to sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus (verse 6). In the ages to come God will show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us through Christ Jesus (verse 7). Paul re-emphasizes the source of their salvation: It wasn't of themselves, but it was by grace through faith and it was the gift of God. Nothing they had done had made them worthy of this gift. If they had done something worthy, then they could boast about it. But since they hadn't done anything worthy of this gift, they had nothing about which to boast. (verses 8 and 9). In these verses we learn the following about our salvation:
We are saved by the grace of God.
We can do nothing deserving of salvation.
We gain access to God's grace through faith.
It is through Christ Jesus that God shows the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us.
But what else can we learn about this faith through which we gain access to the saving grace of God? We know that it comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God (Romans 10:17). So faith, which comes from hearing something other than the word of God, is not faith through which one gains access to the grace of God. Paul warns us of the possibility of believing a lie in 2 Thessalonians 2:11. We also know that faith can be seen by the works performed by the one who has faith. James tells us, "Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works. Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble. But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead?" (James 2:18-20) So what must we conclude about the faith through which we gain access to God's grace as spoken of by Paul in Ephesians 2? It is accompanied by works! It's not enough to simply believe in God. The devils believe and tremble! We've already learned that a disobedient child of God is a child of the devil at the same time. What makes him so? Failure to work righteousness or lack of love for his brother. James shows us the necessity of works before righteousness will be imputed in chapter 2, verses 21-24. He writes, "Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar? Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect? And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God. Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only." I can never be righteous. I can only hope to have God declare me righteous. Before He will do so, however, I must have faith in Him. But it's not enough to simply believe. To simply believe makes us no better than the devils. Just as righteousness was imputed to Abraham after he laid Isaac on the altar and prepared to slay him, good works must accompany our faith before God will declare us righteous. In Ephesians 2 we see that the faith spoken of by Paul must be alive, since through it we gain access to the grace of God. According to James, since this faith is alive works must accompany it. But what works accompany this faith through which we gain access to the grace of God? Please turn to Colossians 2:12-13, where we read, "Buried with him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead. And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath he quickened together with him, having forgiven you all trespasses;" Does this sound familiar? It should, since it duplicates much of what Paul said in Ephesians 2:1-9. In Colossians 2 Paul reveals to us a work that accompanies the faith through which we gain access to the saving grace of God. In baptism we are raised with Christ through the faith of the operation of God, who raised Christ from the dead (verse 12). Prior to baptism we were dead in sins (verse 13). But our faith in the operation of God in that He raised Christ from the dead led us to be buried with Christ in baptism (verse 12). Just as Christ was quickened from the dead by the power of God, we are also quickened together with Him, having all our trespasses forgiven (verse 13). Please note the emphasis Paul places on our being quickened with Christ. Paul reminds us of our dead state, being in sin (verse 13). Christ also died, and was buried (Romans 6:3-4). In baptism we are buried with Him, that like as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father (Romans 6:4), we are quickened together with Christ, having our sins forgiven by the Father (Colossians 2:13). Paul tells us in Ephesians 2:6 that those who have been quickened have been raised up together with Christ. How can one be raised up together with Christ if one hasn't been buried with Him? One cannot! So just as Abraham's faith required works before God imputed righteousness to him, our faith is dead until we manifest the works necessary to have our faith quickened and receive the gift of salvation the Father offers us by His grace.
In this study of God's grace we have learned:
God's goodness has been bestowed upon all, whether good or evil.
God's goodness should lead us to repent.
Many will not repent because of their hard hearts.
Those who fail to repent store up wrath for themselves in the Day of Judgment, because of their evil deeds.
God's wrath awaits all who work evil.
Since there is no respect of persons with God, His wrath will fall upon all who work evil, whether a child of His or not.
Specific criteria define a disciple of Christ, and therefore a Christian.
It is possible for a disciple of Christ (a Christian) to stop manifesting the characteristics of a disciple, and therefore cease being a disciple of His.
One who is obedient to God's commandments becomes a brother of Christ and therefore a child of God.
A child of God who resumes fashioning himself after his former lusts remains a child of God, but is a disobedient child.
The terms "Christian" and "child of God" are not interchangeable, since one may cease being a Christian but not cease being a child of God.
A child of God who works unrighteousness or fails to love his brother is also a child of the devil.
We are saved by grace through faith.
The saving grace of God is different than the goodness he bestows upon all of mankind.
Faith without works is dead.
Since the faith by which we gain access to the saving grace of God is living, works must accompany it.
We are quickened together with Christ if we have been buried with Him in baptism.