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How Long Must You Believe To Be Saved?

by Bob Wilkin

"But the ones on the rock are those who, when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no root, who believe for a while and in time of temptation fall away." (Luke 8:13)

This is how the Lord Jesus explained His teaching about the second soil in the Parable of the Four Soils. The question is, what did He mean by His explanation? Does the second soil represent believers or unbelievers?

A person is driving down the freeway. He tunes his radio into a Christian station and hears the Gospel clearly proclaimed. He joyfully receives the message, placing his faith in Christ alone. Tragically one minute later he dies in a car accident.

Would he go to heaven or hell? Nearly all Evangelicals and Fundamentalists would agree that he would go to heaven. No question about it.

Now suppose he died only 30 seconds after trusting in Christ. Where would he go then? Heaven.

What if he died just one second after trusting in Christ? Again, heaven would be his dwelling place.

In fact, even if he died one millisecond after coming to faith in Christ he would go to be with the Lord.

How long must one believe in Christ to gain eternal life? No length of time is required. Instantaneously a person gains eternal life the moment he believes.

Now back to Jesus' explanation in Luke 8:13. He says that the person in question "believes for a while." Is he saved or lost during the time he believes? Of course he is saved if the belief in verse 13 is "genuine."

Many theologians suggest that the faith mentioned in verse 13 is not genuine faith. The fact that the faith is temporary, that is, the fact that it ceases, is conclusive evidence for them that such faith is not genuine. No "genuine believer" can fall away from the faith according to this kind of thinking.

Such an understanding is, however, foreign to the text. The Lord clearly indicates in verse 12 that Satan endeavors to prevent people from believing and being saved. The Lord then goes on to say that Satan was unsuccessful in preventing the rocky-soil people from believing, and hence from being saved.

Two additional proofs that the rocky-soil people represent "genuine believers" (who at some point fall away from the faith) are found in the text as well. In verse 6 we learn that the seed sown on the rocky soil sprang up. Only a seed which germinates can spring up. Germination is proof of life. The issue is thus one of growth and fruitfulness, not birth and life.

Likewise, in verse 13 the Lord indicates that the rocky-soil people "receive the word with joy." The original expression which is translated "receive the word" (dechomai ton logon) occurs elsewhere in Luke-Acts in contexts where it clearly refers to saving faith. Compare, for example, Acts 8:14 and 11:1.

We are left with two options. Either these saved people lost their salvation when they fell away from the faith, or they did not.

Since the Scriptures clearly teach that salvation cannot be lost (John 5:24;10:27-30; Rom 8:38-39), this text shows that believers--genuine bona fide believers--can and do fall away from the faith.

This text warns us to cultivate our faith. We need to read the Bible regularly. We need spiritual nourishment on a daily basis. We need to pray. We need fellowship with other believers.

A man is driving down the road and he hears the Gospel clearly proclaimed on the radio. He comes to faith in Christ. One minute later he is in a terrible car accident. Miraculously, he escapes with only minor injuries even though his car is totaled. He joins a local church, is baptized, and grows in his faith. He is a joyful, radiant Christian for several years. Then a crisis takes place in his life and he begins to question God. He cuts back on his Bible reading and church attendance. After a while he eliminates the things of God altogether. He finally comes to the point where he denies the existence of God. While in this fallen state, he dies in a car accident.

Does he go to heaven or hell?

To say that he goes to hell is to say that he lost his salvation. For had he died in the car accident just after he placed his faith in Christ he would have gone to heaven. In fact, had he died any time during his years of faithful service for Christ he would have gone to heaven.

Anyone who believes in Christ goes to heaven, regardless of what occurs after they come to faith. In Romans 8:38-39 Paul said that nothing to come can separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Nothing!

I pray that I might be, and that each of us might be, good soil. To be that type of people we must be diligent to cultivate our faith and to serve the Lord well all the days of our lives! However, I'm so glad that our eternal salvation is not dependent on our faithfulness. We may fail, but He will not (2 Tim 2:13). He guarantees eternal life to all who come to faith in Him. And there is no time requirement. At the moment of faith eternal life is procured once and for all by the believer.

Bob Wilkin is the Founder and Executive Director of GES.

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