My friend Don Reiher sent me an audio link to a message by Dr. R. C. Sproul on his Renewing Your Mind broadcast from a few weeks ago. It is entitled “Dying in Faith.” It is part of a series entitled “Surprised by Suffering.” You can listen to it by clicking here.
Sproul’s big idea is this: in order to gain eternal salvation we must endure in faith until the very end of our lives.
I was surprised when he said:
“Anybody can be a Christian for 5 minutes. Or for 5 hours. Or 5 for days. Or for 5 years. But again the recurring theme in the Scripture is he who endures to the end is the one who experiences redemption. And the race of which the Apostle speaks is not a 100 yard dash. It is the marathon. It is the kind of race that requires that extra courage to keep going when you don’t feel like you have any strength. (22:10-23:00).
He likened fighting to keep our faith with some cancer patients who fight tenaciously to stay alive. He said some cancer patients give up right away and the doctors know they probably won’t make it. Other cancer patients fight tooth and nail and they are ones that the doctors know will probably make it.
According to Sproul gaining redemption is like that. We have to fight and fight and keep on fighting even when we feel like we do not have any strength left.
So what happens to the person who stops fighting? Well, he doesn’t get eternal salvation. He will go to the lake of fire because he did not fight the good fight and finish the race and keep the faith.
2 Timothy 4:6-8 is a wonderful passage about eternal rewards. Yet, according to Dr. Sproul and to those like him who hold to Lordship Salvation, it is a call to get into the kingdom. We must fight the good fight to gain everlasting life. We must run the race to the end to get eternal salvation from hell. We must keep the faith to the end in order to avoid the lake of fire.
Frankly, that is a very sad way to live. It is a sad way to approach death as well. Dr. R. T. Kendall in his book Calvin and English Calvinism to 1649 reports that nearly to a man the great Puritan theologians lamented on their death beds that they probably were going to hell because they did not see enough evidence in their works to convince them that they had fought the good fight, finished the race, and kept the faith.
When Sproul says that anybody can be a Christian for five years, it is clear that he views the Christian life as a sort of moral test. To be a Christian in his way of thinking is to live a holy life. He suggests that unbelievers can live holy lives for years. That is, they can be Christians for five years. But to be a real Christian, one must live a holy life until the very last breath.
In reality being born again is a matter of believing in Jesus (John 3:16; 5:24, 39-40). It is by grace through faith apart from works (John 6:28-29; Eph 2:8-9).
But Lordship Salvation sees believing in Jesus itself as something which is conjoined to works. To die in faith is to die both believing that Jesus is your Savior and dying in a holy lifestyle. If a person dies believing that Jesus is his Savior but he is not living a holy life, he will not die in faith.
The good news is that the very moment you believe in Jesus, you are eternally secure. You will never perish (John 3:16). You’ve already passed from death into life (John 5:24). You will never die spiritually (John 11:26). You have everlasting life (John 3:16; 5:24; 6:47).
Thus even if at the moment of death a believer no longer believes that he has everlasting life, he’d be wrong. Because once a person is saved, he is always saved.
Sadly born again people become duped by the teaching of Lordship Salvation. When they do, they lose their assurance. They do not know whether they are born again or not. They may put up a good front on their deathbeds, but if they are honest they will admit that they are fearful that they are going to hell because their works are imperfect and it their works that they look to tell them whether they are kingdom-bound or not.
If you are a Christian for a fraction of a second, you are eternally secure whether you die in faith or not.
That’s good news. That motivates us to persevere.
Let’s pray for and evangelize people like Dr. Sproul. We want them to know the joy of being sure that they have—right now—everlasting life that can never be lost.