Mark had a Christian experience when he was a teenager. For two years he stuck with it. But events in his life unfolded in such a way that after just two short years of church and Christian experience he gave up his faith. Fifty years later he still doesn’t believe in Jesus, or the Bible, or want anything to do with the church. Some might say that since he made some kind of commitment in his teen years that regardless of the last 50 years he is still saved and will go to Heaven.
I think he’s going to Hell. And it breaks my heart.
Mark’s experience is a lot like many in the church who seem to have an experience with God only to turn away later. They are like the seed planted by the rocky soil or thorny soil (Mark 4:16-19), they last for a little while but end up abandoning their faith. Perhaps you know people like this and you’ve asked the questions that most Christians ask from time to time. Were they ever saved in the first place? Hebrews 6:4-8 and 10:26-31 would seem to indicate that such people, having been “sanctified” are now condemned for turning away from the sacrifice of Christ. Didn’t the scripture say that only those who “endure to the end” will be saved (Matthew 24:13, II Timothy 2:12)? Who is saved? Who is unsaved? Is there such a thing as the unsaveable? I’d like to present my understanding of this issue then share five reasons why we must always pray for, and never stop praying for those some might consider to be “unsaveable.”
First, let me answer my own question about Mark. Is a person like Mark truly saved though he has not lived like it for 50 years of his life? The classic Arminian position would be that he was saved but since he abandoned Christ he is no longer part of the church. The Calvinist might look at Mark and say he was never saved in the first place. For me I look at Mark and think about Jesus’ words in Matthew 7:17-20, “Every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. So then, you will know them by their fruits.”
A person who claims to know God or claims to have been saved but does not exhibit spiritual fruit in their lives indicates to me that that person does not know Jesus. Obedience is a mark of the Christian life. The Apostle John said, “By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments. The one who says, ‘I have come to know Him,’ and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him; but whoever keeps His word, in him the love of God has truly been perfected. By this we know that we are in Him: the one who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked” (I John 2:3-6). Regardless of where you are theologically, whether Arminian, Calvinist, or somewhere in between, Jesus makes the distinction between the saved and the unsaved very simple. If we truly know Christ our lives will bear fruit for his kingdom. The one whose life does not reflect that of Christ either doesn’t know Jesus or is in a time of disobedience in his life. The person who does not obey Jesus lives a life of unbelief. Unbelief drives a person away from Jesus. But faith in Christ precedes a life of obedience.
Can someone be “unsaveable?” That’s a difficult question to answer. Some might say that a person who was part of the Christian experience and walked away from it was never saved in the first place. The Apostle John seems to hint at this in I John 2:19 when he remarks, “They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, so that it would be shown that they all are not of us.” Combined with the passages from Hebrews 6 and 10 we might look at a person like that and say they were never saved in the first place. They may have been part of the church community and even expressed some faith in God in their past, but if it wasn’t spiritually rooted then they expose themselves for what they really are—never saved. If we interpret Hebrews 6 and 10 in this way then we might say that they cannot be saved having trampled the blood of Christ and rejected his work on the cross. Or we might say that they were never a part of us but can be saved at any time if they will only return to Christ, therefore, there is no such thing as a person who is unsaveable. If that is the case then what are Hebrews 6 and 10 talking about?
There is a third option. Hebrews 6 and 10, other say, does not refer to an unsaveable group or the generically backslidden. Rather, these passages must be considered in the context of the entire book of Hebrews. The writer of Hebrews takes great pains to present arguments for the divinity, priesthood, and sacrifice of Christ based upon Old Testament concepts because the book was written to Jewish believers who were slipping back into the old sacrificial system. Thus, these passages encourage the Jewish believer not to go back to such things which can offer no permanent solution to sin. In such cases, there is no sacrifice sufficient for rejecting Christ. If this interpretation is correct then there are no “unsaveable” people. All can be saved, Jew or Gentile, because only faith in Christ saves. But if there is no faith in Christ there is no salvation.
Regardless of where you come down in this debate, these passages would still seem to hint that there are some people who are just unsaveable. That is, they are beyond hope of being redeemed. We might look at people like Judas (John 17:12), Simon Magus (Acts 8:9-24), or Demas (II Timothy 4:10) and conclude that they never could have been saved. They were destined for destruction. Doesn’t Jesus say exactly this about Judas in John 17:12? Yet we also know that anyone who expresses faith in Christ and demonstrates that his faith is genuine by bearing fruit for the kingdom, can be saved. Judas had the same opportunities as the other disciples. If he had expressed faith in Jesus, a lasting fruit-bearing faith, would he not also have been saved? As a friend of mine put it to me recently, everyone has the capability of being saved, but none of the ability to be saved. Jesus offers salvation freely to everyone, but none can attain it on their own.
Considering all these things, why should be pray for people who seem beyond hope of reaching? Is praying for a Judas a waste of time? I don’t think so. Here are five reasons why we must always pray for what we might consider to be the unsaveable person.
1.You don’t know if he is unsaveable. You don’t know the future or the inner most depths of a person’s heart (I Samuel 16:7). Not knowing these things we should therefore, not assume a person cannot be reached for Christ.
2. You don’t know God’s choices. If salvation is by God’s choice then we must pray for the unsaved because God does not reveal his choices to us until we see that person come to Christ. Do not be a fatalist.
3.We are called to pray regardless of the most likely outcome. Since we don’t know the outcome we should pray toward that end, that such a person will come to know Jesus.
4.The scripture commands us to pray and not to lose heart in doing so (Luke 18:1).
5.You never know what might happen.
Never give up praying for those who don’t know Jesus. In fact, I believe we should pray for a person, even against their will since the faith one needs to believe in Christ is itself a gift of God (Ephesians 2:8) and none of us in our natural sinful state freely chooses Christ (Romans 8:7-8) without an act of the Holy Spirit opening our eyes and heart to the truth of Christ.
I don’t think there is anything such as a person who is unsaveable. Christ died for all, though not all will receive him. It is our job to present Christ to all so that everyone who has the faith to know him can exercise that faith and come to know him truly. Even Mark.