By SCW Member Roland Keith
“Can the crown of life be lost?” Many believe that once we are saved, we cannot be pulled from the grasp of the Savior’s protective hand. According to Jesus, “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand” (John 10:27-29).
However, we must not forget the example of the twelve apostles. These were the original disciples given to Christ, and according to John 17:12, none were lost “except the son of perdition.” It has been argued that the only other time the term “son of perdition” is used in scripture it refers to the anti-Christ, therefore Judas was not saved, but it is important to remember that Satan was once a heavenly being who lived in obedience to God. He chose to rebel against God of his own volition and fell from grace, and so it was with Judas. According to Luke 9:1-6 the apostles were given “authority over all demons and to cure diseases.” The indication is that they were able to do this (see also, Matthew 1:1-8). Since these powers in themselves indicated to the world that these men and their work were approved of God then Judas must have been a believer and true follower at one point.
John 13:27 (also Luke 22:3) tells us that Satan entered into Judas. Satan can tempt (and does tempt) each of us, but he cannot enter into our lives or control us unless we let him (James 1:14-15). Judas, as Satan before him, was a believer who stood in the good grace of God, and then chose to turn his back on the Lord and betray Him. No one was able to pull him from the hand of God, he exercised his God-given free-will to walk away from God and his salvation of his own accord.
Our Christian walk is a lifelong commitment, which will include great joy mixed with times of struggle and testing. Paul wrote, “For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised” (Hebrews 10:36). This is a sentiment that he often repeated (Romans 5:3-4; 15:4; II Corinthians 6:4; Hebrews 12:1), as did John (Revelation 13:10; 14:12). Paul and John knew the cost of following Christ and made a point of instructing others in the need to develop perseverance and endurance to stay the course.
Writing to the church at Corinth, Paul used the analogy of a foot race to make this point. Not every runner who enters the race finishes or wins the prize. Those who attain the reward are those who exercise self-control to prepare for the race, and then run it in a manner that assures victory (I Corinthians 9:24-25). Jesus said that “the one who endures to the end will be saved” (Matthew 10:22). Later, in His Revelation Jesus encouraged His followers: “Because you have kept My word about patient endurance, I will keep you from the hour of trial that is coming on the whole world, to try those who dwell on the earth. I am coming soon. Hold fast what you have, so that no one may seize your crown. The one who conquers, I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God. Never shall he go out of it, and I will write on him the name of My God, and the name of the city of My God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down from My God out of heaven, and My own new name” (Revelation 3:10-12).
We receive salvation by being obedient in patient endurance. We hold fast to what we have gained as Christians, conquering the world, and thereby protecting our crown. Yes, the Christian can (and many of us do) bumble and stumble along at times, and we may often fail the Lord without losing our crown (I Corinthians 3:11-18). We may suffer for our failings yet still gain salvation. But we can also destroy ourselves and others and pay the eternal cost, therefore it behooves us to avoid self-deception and become wise in these matters. Demas, a once-faithful companion, deserted Paul and returned to the world (II Timothy 4:10). Others wishing to cling to the law (this could include all who wish to justify themselves) severed themselves from Christ and fell from grace. Many of these were people who had been doing well only to be turned aside apparently by false teaching. Paul’s warning was both dire in consequence, yet hopeful that they would return to the Spirit (Galatians 5:4-16).
Another example of one who put his soul in danger is found in Acts 8:9-24: “But there was a man named Simon, who had previously practiced magic in the city and amazed the people of Samaria, saying that he himself was somebody great. They all paid attention to him, from the least to the greatest, saying, ‘This man is the power of God that is called Great.’ And they paid attention to him because for a long time he had amazed them with his magic. But when they believed Philip as he preached the good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women. Even Simon himself believed, and after being baptized he continued with Philip. And seeing signs and great miracles performed, he was amazed. Now when the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent to them Peter and John, who came down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit, for he had not yet fallen on any of them, but they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then they laid their hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit. Now when Simon saw that the Spirit was given through the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money, saying, ‘Give me this power also, so that anyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.’ But Peter said to him, ‘May your silver perish with you because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money! You have neither part nor lot in this matter, for your heart is not right before God. Repent, therefore, of this wickedness of yours, and pray to the Lord that, if possible, the intent of your heart may be forgiven you. For I see that you are in the gall of bitterness and in the bond of iniquity.’ And Simon answered, ‘Pray for me to the Lord, that nothing of what you have said may come upon me.’”
Many have said that Simon was not a true believer, that he was, in fact, a charlatan, using Christianity as another one of his scams making him a false teacher. But read the account carefully. Luke does not indicate any falsity in Simon’s belief. In fact, he wrote, “Even Simon himself believed, and after being baptized he continued with Philip.” He believed in the Holy Spirit and His reception. The power to give the gifts of the Spirit enticed Simon to sin.
Peter did not call Simon out for being a false brother. He condemned his behavior in the severest of terms and then told him to repent that he may be forgiven. It is important to also notice Simon’s response. Perhaps afraid that his own prayers might not be sufficient he enjoined Peter to pray on his behalf. This is a great example of a Christian who allowed his old, worldly nature to re-infect his life. Simon had not completely let go of the world and needed to set things right before it was too late. How many Christians do you know who are like Simon, trying to serve God while keeping one foot in the world?
In his first letter to Timothy Paul wrote, “This charge I entrust to you, Timothy, my child, in accordance with the prophecies previously made about you, that by them you may wage the good warfare, holding faith and a good conscience. By rejecting this, some have made shipwreck of their faith, among whom are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme” (I Timothy 1:18-20). As the body of Christ, we are to do all we can to return a brother or sister to the truth, but if they persist in their sin we separate ourselves from them hoping that they will return to the church. On another occasion, Paul also wrote, “As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him, knowing that such a person is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned” (Titus 3:10-11). Such a person has made the choice to follow the path to condemnation. When we disfellowship another Christian it is with the hope that they will repent and come back, but there is a very real possibility that they won’t.
We are warned over and over again in scripture to take care, to develop and exercise godly virtues, and to “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12). As Peter exhorted, “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to His eternal glory in Christ, Himself will restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you” (I Peter 5: 8-10).
If we resist the devil, heed the teachings of holy writ, and submit when necessary to the discipline of the church, God will surely restore and establish us in His kingdom. The crown of life awaits those who faithfully endure (Revelation 2:10). If we seek God refusing to be turned to the left or the right the day will come when we will hear our Lord say, “Well done, good and faithful servant… Enter into the joy of your Master” (Matthew 25:23), even as he places the crown of life upon our heads.