In Scripture, we learn that things can be paradoxical without being contradictory.
I have long chewed on two New Testament passages, trying to harmonize them:
1) I John 5:13, that says that God spoke the book of I John to us so that we might know we have eternal life and
2) Matthew 7:22, that says many will say to God, “Lord, Lord” as He sends them away to judgment, arguing that they have done great works in His Name.
The idea is presented, in preaching, that the Matthew 7:22 gang will believe, up till the moment they are sent away, that they are genuinely saved, just like the I John 5:13 gang.
Only, if that is so, then I John 5:13 isn’t true . . . none of us can know for sure we are born again.
Let’s take the Matthew passage for what it says, not for how we want to preach it. It says people will say, “Lord, Lord” and cite their works as the proof of their salvation. It is very easy to mistake the proof of our salvation (we should all exhibit works after salvation) for the basis of our salvation (which is Christ’s finished work on the cross). But if we totally get that mixed up all life long and enter eternity putting our trust in our works rather than in the finished work of Christ, I believe we will show that we got salvation wrong. It was never meant to be faith in ourselves, or pulling ourselves up by our own bootstraps.
I believe there will be many people who head into eternity sure that they are saved and trusting in the wrong thing. God did not say in I John 5:13 that people trusting in Buddha, Muhammed, their own inherent worth, or their good works can know they are born again. There are clearly some who will be surprised on judgment day that they did not make the cut. But that will be because they never realized they needed to shelter themselves in the finished work of Christ in order to make the cut (the standard is to completely keep all points of the law, which no human has ever done, only the God-man Christ).
I believe, on the authority of Scripture, that no one who has ever fled to Christ and sheltered in His righteousness will be turned away on that final day. We sin and we mess up all the time. But if we then got to the judgment bar and were told that, due to our mistakes, we missed the cut (and became part of the gang saying “Lord, Lord”) that would be a works salvation in itself. And, believe me, I have had a long road to my current understanding of this as I started out as one of those who thought we had to say the sinner’s prayer exactly right in order to be saved. I didn’t understand that that, too, was a work. Jesus said “It is finished” and saved me by His work. I shelter in that truth.
No, I don’t believe it will be possible for someone who claims Christ’s righteousness as their remedy for sin to get to the judgment and be told they didn’t follow that process exactly correctly. Because that process is all about grace, from beginning to end.
The ones saying “Lord, Lord” will know, deep down inside, that they have always tried to get to heaven by way of their own works. They may have attended a church that taught salvation through Jesus Christ’s work. But they never looked at it that way, no matter what they may have said to others. And they will not be surprised when they don’t make the cut.
I believe we need to seriously preach the salvation message to make sure people are in Christ, trusting completely in His finished work. But once someone is in Christ, they can never be let go from His arms. Even their own subsequent doubts are not strong enough to combat God’s everlasting love!!! Praise God!