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Willful Sin After Salvation and Eternal Security

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Does “willful sin” make someone lose their salvation?

I’ve been a Christian for a long time. But I struggle with a particular sin over and over again. A friend told me that if I keep sinning willfully, God will reject me. Do you think I will lose my salvation?


ANSWER:

You’ve raised a great — and tricky — question. It touches on the mysterious relationship between God’s sovereignty and human free will. And it involves a lot of other theological issues as well.

Christians from different faith traditions don’t always agree about the best way to answer these questions, so Focus on the Family tends to steer clear of the discussion (we’re an interdenominational ministry). Still, we’re glad to offer a few thoughts that we hope will address your concerns.

Reach out for help

Our most important suggestion is that you get help from someone in person. Look for a mature believer you can talk with honestly — a pastor, church elder, or qualified Christian counselor. If you’re dealing with some kind of addiction, you might not be able to overcome it without psychological or medical treatment.

Would you let us be a starting point? Call us for a free over-the-phone consultation at 1-855-771-HELP (4357). Our licensed or pastoral counselors would be glad to talk with you in more detail. They can also give you a list of qualified professionals in your area.

In the meantime, here’s a basic biblical and theological perspective.

All Christians wrestle with sin

Every Christian in the world wrestles with sin every single day of his or her life. Even the apostle Paul complained, “For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate” (Romans 7:15, ESV).

None of us is conformed to the image of Christ overnight. Sanctification is a moment-by-moment challenge. It’s a process that won’t be complete until we leave this world and see the Lord face to face. Until then, our responsibility is to trust God and walk with His Spirit (Galatians 5:16).

Every sin is “willful” sin

Because of the sin nature that dwells within us, there’s a very real sense in which we often sin against our own wills (Romans 7). In other words, every sin is “willful sin.” If it weren’t, we wouldn’t be responsible; and if we’re not responsible for our own actions, sin can’t be sin at all. As James says, “Each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death” (James 1:14-15, ESV).

So if every sin is willful sin, it doesn’t make sense to say that “willful sin” causes us to lose our salvation. What hope would there be for any of us?! No … the apostle John assures us of something quite different and encouraging:

If we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:7-9, ESV).

Again, it’s a day-by-day, moment-by-moment process.

So, what about deliberate sin?

Hebrews 10:26-31 might be what your friend had in mind when he said that God will “reject” those who keep sinning willfully. But it’s possible to look at this portion of Scripture from a different angle. Let’s start with what the passage says:

26 For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, 27 but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries. 28 Anyone who has set aside the law of Moses dies without mercy on the evidence of two or three witnesses. 29 How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has trampled underfoot the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace? 30 For we know him who said, “Vengeance is mine; I will repay.” And again, “The Lord will judge his people.” 31 It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. (ESV)

As we see it, there’s good reason to suppose that the “deliberate sin” of verse 26 is the same as the “unforgiveable sin” that Jesus mentions in Matthew 12:31. To be specific, it’s the sin of rejecting Christ altogether (otherwise known as blasphemy of the Holy Spirit).

We could also call this the sin of persistent self-hardening. It’s the process where an individual sears his conscience (ignores the voice of the Holy Spirit) and stiffens his neck against God. If it goes on long enough, the person eventually reaches the point where genuine repentance is impossible.

How’s your heart?

If someone is determined to live an unchristian life even after “receiving the knowledge of the truth” (Hebrews 10:26), we might assume they never accepted Christ in the first place. If they willfully commit the same sin over and over again — without remorse and without showing any evidence of genuine desire to change — we would doubt the sincerity of their faith.

That person is like the demons mentioned in James 2:19: They “believe” the truth but refuse to give it their personal devotion. In a case like this, it’s absolutely true to say that “there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins” (Hebrews 10:26) because Jesus Himself is that sacrifice.

Considering all these things, it’s possible to argue that Hebrews 10:26-31 doesn’t refer to struggling Christians like yourself at all. The passage might be aimed at hardened, bitter people who only seem to be Christians.

“Yet in your case, beloved, we feel sure of better things — things that belong to salvation” (Hebrews 6:9). The fact that you’re wrestling with doubts and fears about your standing with God leads us to think that you can’t be guilty of rejecting Christ. If you were, you wouldn’t be worried about it.

Call if you want to talk

Again, call us if you’d like more help sorting through the ideas. We’re glad to help in any way we can!

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