Can a Christian can lose their salvation if they fail to stand firm or endure to the end?
There are 22 scriptures in the New Testament that have some bearing on this question. Here we will look at three of these scriptures. (Others are here.) The three scriptures are all from Jesus and they are all variations on this:
All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved. (Matt 10:22, 24:13, Mark 13:13)
At first glance Jesus seems to be saying, “Salvation hinges on your endurance. If you don’t endure, you’re not fit for the kingdom.” If so, this is not good news. You may worry, “But what if I don’t stand firm to the end? What if I have a bad day, a bad month, or a bad year? What if I stray?”
As we have seen elsewhere, Christians who stray are not booted out of the kingdom. The Bible lists at least 14 consequences of wandering but eternal damnation is not one of them.
But is Jesus saying something different here? Is he saying that life is one big probationary period and only those who perform flawlessly every day will qualify for the kingdom? If he were, he would be contradicting promises he made elsewhere.
Context is key
Jesus is not talking about eternal salvation but staying alive in the face of persecution. He is describing what would happen to the apostles when they preach the gospel.
This becomes clear when we compare what Jesus said would happen with what actually happened in Paul’s case:
|What Jesus said would happen (Mt 10)…||What happened to Paul…|
|They will hand you over to the local councils and flog you in their synagogues. (17)||Paul was flogged by the Jews on five separate occasions (2 Cor 11:24)|
|On my account you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles. (18)||Paul was brought before two Governors (Felix and Festus), one King (Agrippa), and Caesar and witnessed to them and the Gentiles (Acts 24-26)|
|But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. (19)||Paul didn’t worry but was happy to speak before these guys (Acts 26:2)|
|At that time you will be given what to say, for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. (20)||Paul’s words to these men in authority made it into the Bible, so they must’ve been inspired|
|Brother will betray brother to death… (21)||Paul’s Jewish brothers tried to kill him in Lystra and plotted his murder in Jerusalem (Acts 23); his Roman brothers beat him with rods in Philippi (Acts 16)|
|All men will hate you because of me… (22)||Paul was hated by all men – not just Jews but even Gentiles on occasion (see above)|
|When you are persecuted in one place, flee to another. (23)||Paul typically left any place he was persecuted (Acts 13:51, 14:20, 16:40, 17:10)|
.Live to preach another day
There’s a time to be take your stand and a time to run. If men are coming at you with stones and whips, then it’s time to get out of Dodge. Better to live and fight another day than satisfy some zealot’s lust for blood.
In Lystra, Paul was dragged outside the city, stoned, and left for dead (Acts 14:19). The next day he quit the town and went to Derbe. Imagine what might’ve happened if Paul had remained in Lystra. The angry Jews might have tried to kill him again, perhaps using bigger rocks. That would’ve meant the end of Paul and a thinner New Testament for us.
In Thessalonica and Berea, same story. As soon as trouble started brewing Paul left before it got out of hand (Acts 17). Paul stayed two years in Ephesus, then left after a riot (Acts 20:1).
In other words, when faced with mortal persecution, Paul walked away – he endured and stayed alive.
Paul was one of the bravest men in the Bible, but he was no fool. He knew that a dead apostle serves no one and that the best way to keep preaching the gospel is to stay out of trouble. Paul was frequently persecuted but when persecution came, he heeded Jesus’ words and moved on. In this way he endured and stayed safe.
The one time that didn’t happen was when Paul, for reasons known to himself, ignored the warnings of the Holy Spirit and headed to Jerusalem (Acts 21:11). In other words, Paul did the opposite of what Jesus advised and as a result he found himself chained and on a boat to a Roman prison.
Persecuted for proclaiming the gospel
The good news of God’s grace has always brought a hostile reaction from religious people (the leaven of the Pharisees) and oppressive states (the leaven of Herod). Nothing has changed. (Don’t believe me? Share this post or this post on your Facebook page and watch what happens!)
Jesus knew that if they persecuted him they would persecute us as well. But while Jesus had to go to the cross and die, we don’t have to. His is a finished work. Our deaths add nothing to it. Far better to follow Paul’s example and live to preach another day than die at the hand of a madman or an unjust state. Especially if your kids are depending on you.
Whether you’re preaching the gospel in China, Eastern Europe, Afghanistan, or California, it’s always a good idea to avoid trouble, flee to the proverbial mountains, and stay safe.
Peace in a hostile world
I hope you can see now that Jesus is not threatening the saints. There is no condemnation to those in Christ Jesus. Rather, the Prince of peace is giving us practical instructions on how to proclaim the gospel of peace in a hostile world. When you go some place to reveal the gospel, let your peace rest on that place. But if the people are not receptive to your message, meaning, there is no peace, shake the dust off your feet and move on (Matt 10:12-13). Paul understood this:
If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. (Rom 12:18)
Those who preach the gospel of peace should endeavor to live at peace with everyone. When that’s not possible, then it may be time to move on, change the subject, change the conversation, perhaps even change town.
To recap, “endure to the end and be saved,” is not the bad news of conditional salvation. Jesus is simply saying you cannot fulfill the Great Commission if you’re dead. If you are being persecuted for the gospel in Lystra, move on to Derbe. “When you are persecuted in one place, flee to another” (Matt 10:23).
The gospel of peace is not proclaimed by digging in and engaging in a religious war. No one ever got saved through an argument.
The last thing an angry and violent world needs is angry and violent Christians. What this world desperately needs is a revelation of the Prince of peace by those who have embraced his gospel of peace.