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The Family (Children of God) teach that once a person is saved, they stay saved eternally, regardless of any sin on the part of the saved individual. The reasoning is that no one is capable of being perfect. We are all impatient, lazy, proud, or greedy at times. There is only one way to be saved, and that is through the grace of God. If we can never achieve perfection or earn salvation, then it is pointless to draw the pass/fail line at 90%, or 80%, or even 10%. Good works earn extra rewards in heaven, but they have nothing at all to do with whether or not we get in. If good works cannot save us in the first place, then they can have no bearing on whether or not we stay saved. Salvation is a free gift; God will never take it back.

One of the chief advantages of this teaching is that it takes away the feeling of panic that haunts many people in their efforts to serve God. You do not serve God for fear of being thrown into hell if you don't. You serve God in response to his free gift of eternal life.

This teaching is often referred to as "eternal security". It is a fundamental of "Calvinist" teaching, which is the predominant teaching of evangelical Protestantism. Calvinists say that the " good news" is that people don't have to be good any more, because Jesus has paid the price for all their sins--past, present, and future. Many people have found such a teaching attractive.

Calvinists (including The Family) teach, however, that there should eventually be some change in the lives of those who "accept Jesus as their Saviour". And they go on to teach what form these changes should take. After people respond to the name of Jesus, they are taught to conform to the disciplines of their particular religion.

But when we compare the disciplines that these people conform to, with the teachings of Jesus, we find disturbing contradictions. Something is wrong somewhere.

To start with, you will not find anything in the teachings of Jesus to support eternal security doctrine. Before you can accept it, you must accept that other teachers are superior to Jesus. On this basis, we believe that the teaching is essentially anti-Christ.

Calvinists argue that Jesus was pre-New Testament. They say that what he taught about discipline was essentially aimed at showing us that we cannot be good. His teaching was an impossible ethic, pointing to our need for a different gospel--the gospel of Paul.

Jesus said things like, "Anyone who does not give up everything he owns cannot be a Christian." (Luke 14:33) Calvinists say that trying to obey such a teaching amounts to "salvation by works"--the worst possible evil.

The cornerstone of the anti-works doctrine is in Ephesians 2:8-9: "You are saved by grace, through faith. Salvation does not come from your own ability. Instead, it is a gift from God, not purchased through works. If it were purchased through works, then you could boast of your own righteousness."

We would compare this passage with Christ's story of the man who discovered a field with a treasure buried in it. He sold everything that he had to buy the field. The treasure represented salvation, or eternal life. The man did not really "buy" the treasure. He got it for free with the field. But he had to buy the field in order to get the treasure.

Buying the field is like saying the sinner's prayer. It is an action that you can choose to do or not to do. Calvinists say you cannot be saved without saying it. Does saying the prayer earn you salvation? Of course not! It is so trivial compared to being granted immortality. Saying the prayer just puts you in the right place to receive God's free gift. That is the Calvinist position.

What we say is that: (1) Jesus never said that you need only say a prayer to inherit eternal life; (2) Jesus did say that you need to give up everything and follow him to inherit eternal life; (3) Compared to immortality, even laying down your life is about as trivial as saying a prayer anyway. It could never pay for eternal life; but (4) you won't get the free gift without at least a willingness to do this.

We believe that both Paul and Jesus were fighting against religious pride. And it is just as easy to get self-righteous about saying a little prayer (or about forsaking all) as it was for the Jews to get self-righteous about being circumcised. We need to be constantly reminded that our works do not "earn" us anything. But that is not the same as saying that God does not expect us to do good works.

We tend to be dogmatic about obedience to Jesus as evidence that a person has faith. But we agree that none of us perfectly measures up to the standards that Jesus set. If people are not consciously fighting against Christ's teachings, God will judge each of them according to their own conscience.

We think a similar tolerance needs to be applied with regard to the sinner's prayer. Considering that it was never clearly taught or practised in Bible days, is it really fair to say that anyone who hasn't said it will be tortured eternally in hell, even if they have faith in God and are doing the best that they know to serve him already?

If salvation is really by faith and not by religious ritual or affiliation, then we think that even a Samaritan (or a Hindu or a Muslim) who has faith in God will be saved by the blood of Christ. Of course if they turn away from God or baulk at some new light (e.g. the teachings of Jesus) then they show their lack of faith, and we would say that they "lose" their salvation (though we could accept the theory that their rejection of new revelation indicates that they never had real faith in the first place).

But to be fair, the same rule must be applied to those who claim to have "accepted Christ". If they fight against his teachings, then we must assume that they too do not have real faith in God, much less in Christ.

Even if some people are going to be saved no matter how bad they are, and others are going to be damned no matter how good they are, it is meaningless if there is no way to recognise the "saved" from the "unsaved". The passage from Ephesians that we quoted earlier goes on to say, "God has made us new people in Christ, so that we can do good works..." (Ephesians 2:10). But somehow this verse is never quoted in conjunction with the other two.

James said, "I will show you my faith by my works... Faith without works is dead." (James 2:18, 26) Jesus said, "To whom much is given, much shall be required," (Luke 12:48); and "Why do you call me Lord, but refuse to obey my teachings?" (Luke 6:46)

Faith that doesn't "work" is counterfeit faith.

The grace of God is given in response to "faith". But it must not be faith in a loophole, or faith in a ritual, or faith in some preacher who says this is all you must do to be saved. The grace of God is given in response to faith in God. Abraham had this kind of faith, and he was saved. St. James says the only reason we know Abraham had faith was because we saw that faith "working" in his life. Abraham didn't say the sinner's prayer, but he did have faith in God.

The standard of "works" will vary according to each person's understanding and ability. There is no universal cutoff point on good works. The thief on the cross went straight from being a thief to being saved, without any change in his actions. And then he died. We might say that he scored zero in the area of good works. But he was still saved.

Similarly, the Pharisees scored high on works; but because their works were done for the wrong reason (to impress others), they counted for nothing. Jesus said their prayers, fasting, and aid to the poor were all rewarded through praise from the general public. Consequently, they had no reward in heaven.

To counteract this, Jesus commands his followers to do such things secretly. Unwillingness to take this command literally shows a lack of faith in God (despite the good works that are done to impress others).

The issue in God's eyes is not whether you said the "sinner's prayer" but why you said it, or why you helped the poor, or why you did anything today. Did you do it for him, or did you do it because others pressured you into doing it? If you did it, or any other good work, for God, then it was done in faith, and it (the faith, not the work) qualifies you for eternal life through the redemptive blood of Jesus.

Such faith may not be eternal. We have seen many who appeared to have faith and then fell away. Maybe they were imposters all along, or maybe they changed their mind and decided to turn against God. In either case, we cannot accept that they are saved now. It isn't those who start the race who win, but only those who finish. (1 Corinthians 9:24). Hebrews 11 lists many Old Testament heroes. All of them had faults; but they all "died in faith." (Hebrews 11:13) The passage goes on, "Seeing that we are surrounded by such a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin that does so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith." (Hebrews 12:1-2)

The next article in this series is entitled Living by Faith.

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