“Since I’m Saved, I Can Live How I Want?”

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grainSomeone showed me a video online a few weeks ago and I have not been able to get the scene out of my mind. It was a recording of a Christian street preacher talking and debating with variety of students on a college campus in Texas. The dialogue I witnessed was shocking and upsetting, not because of the occasional anti-Catholic comments made by the evangelist and not because of his sometimes insensitive method of sharing the Gospel, but because of the gravely distorted understanding of the role of Jesus’ saving work held by many of the outspoken students. The preacher was emphasizing the importance of repentance and turning away from sin, avoiding immorality and striving for holiness.

I’m Saved

In response, a handful of the students in the gathered crowd were loudly vocalizing their opposition to his message. To the preacher’s call for conversion, they responded with shouts of, “We are all sinners but because Jesus died for me and I have faith, I am saved,” and “Jesus died for my sins, why would He still judge me?” Others chimed in with, “God loves me and died for me. He accepts me as I am” and “Jesus died on the cross for my sins, so my sins do not matter. I can live how I want.”

The doctrine at the heart of the students’ misunderstanding about sin is often referred to as “once saved always saved” and, though some could argue these students misunderstand the doctrine, they do demonstrate how it can lead to dangerous views on salvation. The doctrine of eternal security is most commonly seen among Evangelicals but, even among those Protestant denominations rejecting this teaching, there can be overlap with their doctrines on salvation. For example, Lutherans deny the doctrine of eternal security but similarities are seen in the words oftheir founder, Martin Luther:

Be a sinner, and let your sins be strong [‘sin boldly’ in some translations], but let your trust in Christ be stronger, and rejoice in Christ who is the victor over sin, death and the world…No sin can separate us from Him, even if we were to kill or commit adultery thousands of times each day… (Letter to Melanchthon, 13, full text here).

I Can Live As I Wish?

Fortunately, the vast majority of non-Catholics I know who hold “once I accept Jesus Christ as my personal Lord and Savior I cannot lose our salvation no matter what” strive for holiness not because of their doctrine but in spite of it. The faithful Protestants I have met are morally upright living in a way that far surpasses their own theology of salvation by faith alone and eternal security. However, when taken to its extreme end, it is not difficult to see how the idea of “once I believe in Jesus my salvation is secured” could quickly deteriorate to the notion heard among many of these college students: “I believe in Jesus, He died for my sins, I am saved and so my sins no longer matter. I can live how I wish”.

Because grace abounds can we remain in sin? The false notion one can continue to live in sin because one has faith in Jesus in many ways was anticipated by St. Paul. Recognizing the free gift of grace merited by Jesus on the cross, Paul is emphatic in his letter to the Romans: because grace abounds, this does not give us free reign to continue to yield to sin (6:15-16). Rather Paul tells us we must be slaves of obedience to God and to the standard of teachings handed on to us (6:17). And Paul tells us because Jesus freely offered His own life as a sacrifice for our sin then the divine life (sanctifying grace) can dwell within us and we can be obedient to the law of Christ (8:1-9).

Scripture’s Stern Warning

Several times in the New Testament Christians are compared to the Israelites wandering through the wilderness with Moses on their way to the Promised Land (see 1 Corinthians 10:1-13; Hebrews 3-4). We are reminded of the many times they were guilty of practicing idolatry and immorality, lost faith and were disobedient to God. We are given a stern warning: as they lost their inheritance of the Promised Land, all Christians could have the same fate if we allow evil to remain within us, if we are disobedient to God or if we have an unbelieving heart (Hebrews 3:12,14; 4:11; 1 Corinthians 10:12). This is a challenge to all of us, but, thanks be to God, because of Jesus Christ, we can “draw near to the throne of grace” (Hebrews 4:16) in order to receive this supernatural power to help us be faithful, avoid sin and enable us to enter our eternal rest in heaven.

The Call to Repentance

Nowhere in Scripture will we find God revealing the insignificance of a sinful life. Rather, time and again God calls us to repentance. The term “repent” means more than simply saying “I am sorry”. The Greek term often used for repentance in Scripture is metanoia (see Acts 26:20; Romans 2:4), meaning to experience a profound change of heart and mind, a radical conversion. Pope Benedict XVI, in his speech on the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul, 2009, explained Paul was a perfect example of metanoia, as he demonstrated how we are to entrust ourselves to the power of Christ’s forgiveness and allow ourselves to be taken by His hand so that we “can come out of the quicksands of pride and sin, of deceit and sadness, of selfishness and of every false security, to know and live the richness of His love.” To truly experience repentance – this metanoia – we must hate sin and always be striving for holiness.

Necessity of Obedience

Paul does not teach a doctrine of faith alone and eternal security but rather emphasizes having an “obedience of faith” (Romans 1:5) providing many examples of what exactly is required to enter heaven. “For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God but the doers of the law who will be justified” (Romans 2:13). “To those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life” (Romans 2:7). “Whatever a man sows that he will also reap. For he who sows to his own flesh will…reap corruption; but he who sows to the Spirit will…reap eternal life” (Galatians 6:7-9). Paul warns that those who do not know God as well as those who do not obey the gospel will suffer eternal destruction (2 Thessalonians 1:8-9). Additionally, one who does not strive for holiness disregards God (1 Thessalonians 4:7-8) and will not see the Lord (Hebrews 12:14). These passages, among others, are explicitly clear –how we live our lives here on earth has eternal consequences.

Contrary to the idea of ‘I believe in Jesus and am saved, I can live how I wish’, Jesus emphasizes the necessity of our obedience to God in addition to faith in order to inherit eternal life in heaven. “Not everyone who says to me ‘Lord, Lord’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven but he who does the will of my Father” (Matthew 7:21). “If you would enter life, keep the commandments” (Matthew 19:17). After listing charitable works including feeding the hungry, clothing the naked and giving drink to the thirsty Jesus says, “As you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me”, and He reveals the inheritance of the kingdom of God will only be given to those who did these acts of love who (Matthew 25:31-46). Finally, Jesus tells us, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16), but Jesus continues, “He who believes in the Son has eternal life; he who does not obey the Son shall not see life but the wrath of God rests upon him” (John 3:36). God calls us not simply to make an intellectual assent of faith but to be obedient to Him. This summons would be impossible on our own but when moved by grace – God’s own divine life within us – not simply obedience but perfection and holiness are possible.

Grace Truly Transforms Us

When we are united to Christ and receive grace we are transformed. In 2 Corinthians 3:18, Paul describes this regeneration using the Greek word metamorphoo, where we get the English metamorphosis, and this word means to change the essential nature of something. This transformation begins in baptism when we receive grace, are “freed from sin” and are called to “walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:1-7). This new man infused with grace can echo the words of Paul, “It is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me” (Galatians 2:20). But for this to be sincere, we are to avoid sin. Paul tells us if we are children of God, we are not to “desire evil”, “indulge in immorality” or “put the Lord to the test”, otherwise the end result will be destruction (1 Corinthians 10:6-10). He also tells us, “You cannot drink from the cup of the Lord and the cup of the demons” (1 Corinthians 10:21), but “whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (10:31). There is nothing in these revealed words to even suggest our sins do not matter but quite the opposite.

Sin is contrary to love of God and as such we can lose our salvation It is true God desires all men to be saved (1 Timothy 2:4), but we must not deceive ourselves thinking sin, even among believers, is without consequence. Scripture clearly demonstrates the reality salvation can be lost this side of heaven not because God wills our damnation but rather because we can freely choose this path. St. Peter powerfully writes:

Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overpowered, the last state has become worse for them than the first…the dog turns back to his own vomit and the sow is washed only to wallow in the mire (2 Peter 2:20-22).

Grace allows us to resist the temptations of the world, the flesh and the devil, but, as St. Peter points out, if we reject this divine assistance and return to living a life of sin, we are in a worse state than even those who have never believed in Christ.

Sin separates us from God and has eternal consequences, especially when we are Christian and have been given the grace to avoid sin. Each day, Christ calls us to be His disciple and gives us two choices: life or death. Life everlasting is rewarded to those persevere in grace choosing goodness and obedience to God while those who persist in wickedness and disobedience to God have freely chosen eternal perdition (Deuteronomy 30:11-20; Didache 1:1). Recognizing this reality, we must avoid the sin of presumption: ‘because I believe in Christ and because of God’s mercy I will be saved, I can live how I want.’ We also need to resist the other extreme – despair: ‘I am so wretched and sinful, there is no hope for me.’ Rather, by uniting ourselves to Christ, we can be infused with grace and if docile to this divine transformative power, God will enable us to love, have faith, be obedient and be made perfect so we can, by the mercy of God, enter our heavenly home and achieve our ultimate salvation.

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12 thoughts on ““Since I’m Saved, I Can Live How I Want?””

  1. This is an excellent article! I especially appreciate the concept of choosing to forsake sin, and what God wants for our lives.

    1. See answer to Gene T below. I agree that bias reigns in the human heart. For the record I’m not playing advocate here merely responding to what may indeed be 400 year old hyperbole.

    2. Allison Tobola Low

      Hyperbole or not what Luther says is based on dangerous theology as I discuss in the article. As I mention in the article, Paul too would have protested against Luther’s phrase to “let your sins be strong but let your trust in Christ be stronger” (just see Romans 6: because grace abounds in no way is permission to continue to remain in sin). Yes, we are sinners and those who receive God’s grace and persevere in grace are saved by this grace. And yes at times we fall back into sin and then must repent and turn back to God. But I should never “let my sins be strong”. I should allow grace to transform me and help me to resist sin. Luther should have said this if this is what he meant but the context of what Luther says does not support this interpretation. True, Luther elsewhere says your works should be a sign of your faith. But how do you think Luther would have responded to this question: if a Christian believing in Christ is in the act of adultery, unrepentant, and is killed when caught by the spouse, is he guaranteed heaven?

    3. Please don’t get me wrong, I am not defending what may or not be hyperbole
      or jest. Anyone who thinks for a minute that there is a license to sin is not
      a healthy Christian by any stretch. We are speaking about a controversial
      slice out of someone’s life and my original comment to one of your beloved, respectable colleagues was meant to highlight his unrelenting contempt ( it
      seems ) for anyone not conservative. So let me withdraw from this thread no more the wiser and certainly not to impugn Luther’s naysayers over historical records that indicate folly.

    4. Luther’s letter to Melanchthon from which the quote to sin boldly and ” No sin will separate us from the Lamb, even though we commit fornication and murder a thousand times a day.”
      was written in 1521 so I don’t see how you can say it must be taken in context with his “whole theology”. His theological writing era was just beginning. This is obviously what he believed in 1521. What other context was there in 1521?

      The following was written in 1532. Can you explain the context?

      “Christ committed adultery first of all with the woman at the well about whom St. John tells us. Was not everybody about Him saying: “Whatever has he been doing with her?” Secondly, with Mary Magdalene, and thirdly with the woman taken in adultery whom he dismissed so lightly. Thus even Christ, who was so righteous, must have been guilty of fornication before He died.” (D. Martin Luthers Works vol. 2, no. 1472, April 7 – May 1, 1532, p. 33

      I think it would be safe to say that Luther’s theology was inconsistent. It was all over the place.

    5. Here is an excerpt from the link below that offers a much more levelheaded approach
      and right above that is one of the excerpts I’ll use to counter, as I have no holy water
      in this fight. All I know is, No Luther – No Vatican II, and I’m one of its biggest champions.

      Well how does one respond to this? The quote is indeed appears outrageous.

      First, the quote has no context. One does not know what exactly Luther had in mind.
      Was he kidding? Was he summarizing someone else s argument?
      Was he using hyperbole? It’s really hard to say. If taken literally,it certainly is at
      odds with his other statements about Christ. Thus, even though one can’t know
      exactly why he said this, we can have a strong assurance he didn’t mean it literally.
      http://beggarsallreformation.blogspot.com/2005/12/luther-said-christ-committed-adultery.html

    6. I appreciate this person’s commentary but I don’t think anyone can say we can have “a strong assurance he didn’t mean it literally.”Luther said a lot of things especially as he was being excommunicated.

      In one letter to the Pope Luther said: “To the Most Blessed Father, Leo X…… I have heard evil reports about myself, most blessed Father,……, saying that I have attempted to belittle the power of the keys and of the Supreme Pontiff….Perhaps it is because they are indignant that I, who by your own apostolic authority am a Master of Theology, …., I have sought after and cherished the power of the Church and reverence for the keys; and, at the same time, how unjustly and falsely my adversaries have befouled me with so many names….Wherefore, most blessed Father, I cast myself at the feet of your Holiness, with all that I have and all that I am”

      In another letter he goes in an opposite direction and calls the Pope the anti-Christ.
      “I call upon you to renounce your diabolical blasphemy and audacious impiety, and, if you will not, we shall all hold your seat as possessed and oppressed by Satan, the damned seat of Antichrist; in the name of Jesus Christ, whom you persecute.”

      Luther was a complicated fellow that did in fact change the history of Christianity and only God knows where he is right now.

    7. Giddy, that was the affect he was revealing. He risked his life and freedom to say
      what he saw with his own eyes. He could see far into the future and was giddy
      with the holy fire he lit. Giddy with what could be a huge mistake and what could change the church and history forever – and all this to be traced back to him.

  2. One problem for the “once saved always saved” folks is this-Do you lose your free will when you are “saved” ? If so, you have just denigrated God’s greates creation; if not, then why cannot a “saved” person then exercise his or her free will to say “I reject this salvation.”? And there is a bigger picture: Just as today Church dogma and doctrine is rejected by those who want those presently in power to be deposed, and often replaced with them or their ilk, those in Luther’s day who accepted and then championed sola fide, sola scriptura, once saved always saved, etc., wanted to get rid of the hierarchy – same reason they wanted to and many did do away with the ordained priesthood. Nothin’ new under the sun in the Church – you want to destroy the hierarchy today? then spread “everyone is a priest” and women can do any function a male can do. Luther himself took “once saved always saved” to its illogical conclusions in his “sin boldly” advice: “”God does not save those who are only imaginary sinners. Be a sinner, and let your sins be strong (sin boldly), but let your trust in Christ be stronger, and rejoice in Christ who is the victor over sin, death, and the world.” Guy McClung, San Antonio, Texas

    1. Exactly. Jesus Christ and His Church, the Catholic Church are One and the Same. What Luther did and what protestantism does is separate Jesus from His Church. You hear about the protestant ‘personal relationship with Jesus’…..what they are really looking for is their own personal Jesus.

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