A recent sermon by Pastor David Jeremiah has been weighing heavily upon my mind.
He recounted the true-life story of contemporaries William Franklin Graham and Charles Templeton, up and coming young evangelists who began their ministries during the 1940s.
Most thought Templeton, rather than Graham, would achieve greater things in the name of the Lord.
But, in fact, the former fell away from his Christian faith – actually declaring himself atheist – while the great Billy Graham remained a good and faithful servant of the Most High.
Pastor Jeremiah shared the story of Graham and Templeton to remind his congregation (as well as those of us watching on TV or listening on radio) that, as Christ followers, “we are expected to run with endurance the race that has been set before us.”
Yet, in his next breath, the pastor said that, while Templeton did not finish the race he started, he still has a place in God’s kingdom.
Because, said Pastor Jeremiah, it mattered not that Templeton renounced the Christian faith he espoused as a young evangelist, nor that he went to his grave an atheist. Since Templeton at one time gave his life to the Lord, according to Pastor Jeremiah, the apostate evangelist is secure for all eternity.
That is the doctrine preached in many, if not most Christian churches, with which I have the most difficulty:
Once saved, always saved.
No matter how it is preached, or by whom it is preached – including Pastor Jeremiah, whom I greatly admire – I am unable to accept it.
For why would the Apostle Paul encourage us to run with endurance the race set before us if simply answering an altar call one Sunday gives us a lifetime Get Out Of Hell Free card?
And speaking of the Apostle Paul, suppose his life story was reversed. Suppose he spent the first part of his adult life preaching Christ’s salvation, but the second part persecuting Christians.
Would he be today in Paradise?
I think not.
“For it is impossible,” the Scripture warns, “for those who were once enlightened and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, if they fall away, to renew them again unto repentance, since they crucify again for themselves the Son of God, and put Him to an open shame.”
The takeaway from that Scripture is that it is not enough to give our lives to Christ for a season, then fall away from our faith. We do not have a free pass to sin as it pleases us. We are expected to abide in Christ, as He abides in us; to live our lives according to his Word.
So those of us who believe ourselves saved should not be deceived. The Scripture warns, “Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God.”
Those who abide in such sins will spend eternity separated from their Creator. Even if they were one-time Christ followers, like Charles Templeton.