by Scott Paige
I can remember back to my teen years when I wanted to borrow the family car and stay the night at a friend’s house. I knew I needed to ask my parents for permission. Always concerned that I might not get my request, I would think about how to phrase my question in such a way as to get the desired response. After several minutes of deliberation, my friend would say, “Just ask! You’ll never know until you ask.” He was right. I would never know the answer to the question until I asked.
This is exactly what I did for three weeks in an evangelism class offered through Grace Evangelical School of Theology. One of my assignments was to set up six appointments with professional clergy of my choosing where they would present their beliefs on what a person must do to have eternal salvation. John Claeys, Associate Pastor of our church, served as my mentor for this class.
I chose individuals and churches that I thought would represent a variety of teaching concerning the gospel. Some of the results were surprising and others were very sobering. I have withheld the names of the individuals and the churches to avoid offense.
The interview was structured around five specific questions:
- How would you present the gospel to someone?
- What does someone need to do to get to heaven (the bottom line)?
- Can someone lose eternal life?
- What role do works play in eternal salvation?
- Does a Christian have to finish their life faithfully to receive eternal salvation?
The first person I interviewed represented the United Pentecostal Church. This I must say was the most interesting of all the interviews, but was also the unclearest gospel presentation that I heard.
He presented us with a twelve-page plan on how to have eternal life called, “The Promise.” He used twenty-eight verses to explain eternal life, which took about one hour. In his opinion, salvation is not a one-time experience. A person must do several things to have eternal life—repent, be baptized, be filled with the Holy Spirit, and speak in tongues.
He used passages like Ps 51:10-12, Prov 1:23, Ezek 36:27, Matt 3:11, Luke 11:13, John 3:1-8, 20:22, Acts 2:1-4, 7:51, 8:5-24, 10:44-48, 19:1-6, Gal 3:14, and Eph 5:18, in an attempt to show that you need to be filled with the Holy Spirit and speak in tongues to prove you are saved.
If a person doesn’t repent of their sins, they could lose the Holy Spirit and their eternal salvation. One of the passages he used in regard to repentance and loss of salvation was Acts 8:5-24. He claimed that these verses show that Simon was saved in verse 19, but lost his eternal salvation in verse 23 because he did not repent for himself, but asked the apostles to do it for him (v 24).
Also, according to him, perseverance and works are proof that someone has eternal salvation. If they don’t do good works then they will lose their salvation. In addition, if one doesn’t finish faithfully he/she will lose their eternal salvation.
My heart aches for anyone who is sitting under this type of teaching. While it is possible that some of them are saved, many of them will spend eternity condemned and separated from God because of this false teaching. The Bible clearly teaches there is only one condition for eternal salvation—simply believing in Jesus for it (John 3:16, 5:24, 6:47, 11:26).
The second person interviewed represented a non-denominational church. His view on eternal salvation was very long and confusing also. This interview went approximately an hour and a half. My mentor actually had to cut into the conversation when this man took a breath or we might still be there today listening to him.
When asked, “What does someone need to do to get to heaven?” his reply was, “You need to have a personal relationship with Jesus. You need to know Him and His will. To do this you need to read the Bible starting from the Book of Genesis through Revelation.” He said, “Eternal life must come through faith by reading the Bible—the Old and New Testament.”
I rephrased the question, “What’s the bottom line on what I need to do to have eternal salvation?” He replied, “You need to read your Bible, repent of your sins, and accept Christ.”
During his gospel presentation he stated that he thought he was saved through faith in Christ, but he didn’t believe in a free ticket to heaven. Being a Christian is a life style and if there is no sign of repentance in a person’s life then he would question if they were really saved. Repentance means to change from your ways to God’s ways. If you don’t see any change you should question whether you are really saved.
When it came to eternal security he said, “One could not lose their salvation, but were they saved to begin with? Only a true Christian will finish their life faithfully for Christ.”
Again, my heart was grieved at this teaching. I only hope and pray that the people in this church hear the truth before it’s too late.
The third person interviewed represented a Baptist Church. I must say that after the other two interviews this was a breath of fresh air. His gospel presentation took about fifteen minutes. His presentation wasn’t very clear, but the essence of it concerning salvation was good.
He used seven different verses in his presentation, John 14:6, Rom 3:23, 6:23, 10:9-13, 2 Cor 5:15, 1 Pet 3:18, and Rev 3:20. These were all in the salvation tract he used called, “The Bridge to Life.”
He said, “Trusting in Christ alone was the only way to have eternal salvation. A person could never lose their eternal salvation—they would always be eternally secure. Works play no role in salvation.”
When I asked him if a Christian had to finish faithfully for eternal salvation, he said, “Salvation is a process.” I then asked if there is a difference between salvation and discipleship and what role do works and eternal rewards play in the future kingdom? He took a minute to think about it then commented that there is a difference between the two, and that in the future kingdom we would give our rewards (in the form of crowns) back to Jesus. So I could only surmise that he doesn’t understand the difference, or has never thought about the difference between salvation and discipleship.
Overall I think he did a good job. But, as I stated before, his presentation could have been much clearer.
The fourth person interviewed represented a little Bible church. I knew nothing about this church or its pastor. His presentation was approximately twenty minutes long and was based on one verse, John 6:40. The first question I asked was what role does repentance play in salvation? He said, “None. The issue is believing. All a person needs to do is believe in Jesus for eternal life, and He will give you the free gift. Works play no part in salvation and you can never lose your salvation.”
When asked if a believer had to finish faithfully to receive eternal salvation he replied, “No, grace is apart from works. Faith alone in Christ alone is the only condition for eternal salvation.”
I must say this brother in Christ was a real blessing and a complete surprise to me. It was like seeing light at the end of a dark tunnel. There was someone else out there teaching the simple truth of the gospel.
After the interview, I stayed for about an hour just talking and praying with my new- found brother. I left very encouraged.
The fifth interview was with a man who represented the Evangelical Presbyterian Church. His presentation was about thirty-five minutes. He used the “Romans Road” and the “Five points of Calvinism” to show what a person must do to have eternal salvation.
He first stated that a person needs only to believe in Christ for eternal salvation. But then he added that while a person could never lose salvation, if he doesn’t persevere to the end then maybe he wasn’t really saved to begin with. He said, “Works are a result of our salvation. No works, no salvation.” I asked about repentance and salvation. He replied, “True repentance is part of believing.”
This, it seemed to me, was an illogical contradiction. If a person says that all you have to do to have eternal life is believe in Christ, but then conditions that same salvation on ongoing good works, then he hasn’t put his faith in Jesus alone for eternal life.
The sixth individual represented the Free Grace movement. I used my home church as a measuring rod against the others in the community. The presentation took about ten minutes using only verses from the Gospel of John (3:36, 5:24, 6:47, 11:25-26), which, of course, was written to tell us how to have eternal life (John 20:31).
He shared with me that eternal life is offered as a free gift from God. All a person has to do to receive this gift is believe in Jesus for it. It can never be taken away, and you can never lose it—once saved always saved. Repentance plays no role in eternal salvation, but does play a role in daily fellowship with God. Works play no role in eternal salvation, but do play an important role in the future kingdom. You might not always have assurance, but rest assured you will always have everlasting life.
I am very blessed to have been able to go into different churches and explore their teachings about the gospel. But I am extremely saddened by the fact that there are false teachers and another gospel being taught in my community, and our world.
There are approximately fifty-six different churches and/or religious groups in my town, which have a population of approximately twenty-five thousand people. I researched only a small percentage of the religious teaching in this area. What are the other fifty churches teaching?
This reaffirms the fact that we as believers in the gospel of grace need to put on our combat clothes and get into battle. There are people dying spiritually every day all around us. We need to tell these people the truth of the gospel before someone else teaches them another gospel.
What are churches in your community teaching? You will never know, until you ask.