Does a Christian need to be good?

If you’re not a Christian – or not sure if you’re a Christian – you should first read the article, “How can you become a Christian?”

The problem

I had a problem.  Ever since I was a little boy I’d been taught that I could not lose my salvation. 

Once saved by believing in Jesus I’m always saved.

It seemed that I could get saved, and then live any way I wanted, and still go to heaven! 

Salvation was like a ticket to heaven, or like an insurance policy to make sure I was OK after I died.

To me this just didn't seem fair.  How could I get so much for so little?

Later on I discovered that some people say that if you are bad enough you can lose your salvation. 

They say that if you teach that people can't lose their salvation, then people will live wicked lives and still expect to go to heaven.

They say that to teach that we can't lose our salvation is an attack on the holiness of God.

"A holy God demands holy living from His children," they argue.  "A man or woman whose lifestyle isn't holy could not possibly have the Holy Spirit within, no matter what was prayed or confessed in the past."

They say that if you believe that you can't lose your salvation, you are trying to get both the benefit of heaven and the pleasure of sin.

Clearly we have some questions to answer.

Question 1

Does the fact that God is holy, mean that we have to live holy lives in order to keep our salvation?

Answer

No.  The fact is, that God is so infinitely holy and good, that any goodness we have in ourselves is very small by comparison. 

There is nothing good that we can do - either to earn our salvation or to keep it.

Even our assurance of salvation doesn't depend on our living a victorious Christian life. 

We can't tell whether a person is saved by the way he lives.

Salvation is totally by grace.  It is a gift from start to finish - it has to be a gift because we've got no way of earning it.

God's holiness is so far out of our league, that even the best of our good deeds doesn't increase our chance of being saved.

The doctrine of eternal security does not reduce the holiness of God.  On the contrary, it allows the holiness of God to stand in its purest form, free from our feeble attempts to earn salvation.

As the prophet said,

But we are all like an unclean thing, And all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags.  Isaiah 64:6.

Have you ever heard someone say something like this:

"Joe Bloggs has left his wife and is living with another woman.  He probably wasn't saved properly in the first place" or "he isn't a Christian any more"?

There’s a problem with this idea.  If sinning shows that we aren't really saved - or that we've lost our salvation - we're all in big trouble. 

Even if we only break the speed limit we are sinning and taking unfair advantage of God's grace (Rom 13:1).

Fortunately, we can be sure that we’re saved. 

Not because we live good lives, or because our faith is strong and reliable, but because the One we put our faith in is strong and reliable. 

Believers do sin.  The New Testament is full of exhortations against sin.  These are all addressed to believers. 

If real Christians don't or can't sin, why are we warned against it? 

Obviously, believers are as capable of sinning as anyone else.

Question 2

If God is so pure and holy, how can He tolerate any sin in the lives of His people?

Answer

God took care of the sin problem once and for all by punishing His perfect Son on our behalf. 

In Christ the requirements of God's holiness have been completely met because Christ is perfectly holy! 

His sacrifice for us is completely perfect.

Question 3

OK, you say, so my sins been taken care of, and I'm sure I'm going to heaven. 
What's to stop me from living any way I want?

Answer

There are at least 3 good reasons why we shouldn't live just any way we want.

The first reason is that we are grateful for what the Lord has done for us and we want to please Him. 

"We love Him because He first loved us"  (1 John 4:19). 

The second reason we should want to walk close to the Lord is that there is nobody more miserable than a believer who is not walking close to his Lord. 

We all know this from experience. 

This is also clearly taught in the Bible - just study the life of King David. 

And in Isaiah 48:22 we are told that the Lord says:  "there is no peace for the wicked".

As the old hymn says:

Trust and obey,
For there's no other way,
To be happy in Jesus,
But to trust and obey.

The third reason why we shouldn't just live any way we want, is probably a reason you might not have heard much about, and it's this;

Eternity won't be the same for every believer.

If eternity was going to be the same for every believer, you could understand those people who say that it's not fair that Christians who sin a lot get the same reward in Heaven as those who don't sin so much. 

You could even understand those people who say that Christians who sin a lot will lose their salvation.

But the fact is that Scripture clearly teaches that eternity won't be the same for every believer.

Rewards

What will be the difference?

The answer is that different believers will get different rewards in Heaven.

The Bible is full of passages about rewards.

Here are some of them:

  • Psalm 62:12 … You render to each one according to his work.
  • Proverbs 11:18 … But he who sows righteousness will have a sure reward.
  • Jeremiah 17:10   "I the LORD search the heart and examine the mind, to reward a man according to his conduct, according to what his deeds deserve."
  • Matthew 16:27 For the Son of Man will come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and then He will reward each according to his works.
  • 2 John 1:8 Look to yourselves, that we do not lose those things we worked for, but that we may receive a full reward.
  • Revelation 22:12   And behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with me, to give to everyone according to His work.

What are these rewards for?  They are rewards for what we have done during this life. 

They are rewards for faithfulness to God.

We know that during this life we have been given the opportunity to choose one of only two destinations - eternity with Christ or hell without Him.

What most people don’t realise, is that we have the opportunity to make another choice as well. 

We not only choose where we are going to spend eternity, but we also choose what it will be like for us once we get there.

The way we live now determines the rewards we get in eternity.

Some people think that if you’re saved you have a free ticket to heaven and it doesn’t matter how you live on earth - they’re wrong - it does matter.

In 2 Corinthians 5:9,10 the apostle Paul is writing to believers when he says:

Therefore we make it our aim, whether present or absent, to be well pleasing to Him.

For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.

Why did the apostle Paul really try to live a good life in the sight of both God and man?

It must have been partly out of gratitude for what Christ had done - but that was not the only reason.

Paul knew that he would have to account for what he had done at the Judgement seat of Christ.

This judgement does not determine whether or not we go to heaven. 

If we have trusted in Christ’s finished work at Calvary we can be absolutely sure that we will go to heaven. 

But this judgement does determine what it will be like for us once we get to heaven.

Eternity will not be the same for those Christians who just live for themselves as it will be for those who are faithful to Christ.

Our God is a God of justice as well as a God of grace.

Gold, Silver and Precious Stones

Let's read 1 Corinthians 3:11-15,

For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.

Now if anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw,
each one's work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one's work, of what sort it is.

If anyone's work which he has built on it endures, he will receive a reward.

If anyone's work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.

These verses show that every believer’s work will be evaluated at the judgement seat of Christ.

There are 2 types of believer described here:

  1. The faithful believer who is rewarded.  His works are described as gold, silver and precious stones.
  2. The believer who has spent his life living for himself.  His works are described as wood, hay and straw.  They will burn.

The second type of believer will have nothing to show for his life.

When the smoke clears he is faced with the reality that nothing he has lived for has counted. 

He has wasted his life on earth.  He can't take his riches with him. 

But despite the mess he's made of his life, we are told in verse 15 that although he'll suffer loss, he will still be saved!

This passage is a powerful confirmation of the truth that we can’t lose our salvation, because here we have a Christian who wasted his life, yet his salvation is not lost.

However, although this man is saved, the consequences of his failure on earth will stay with him for ever.  He has lost some of his reward in Heaven. 

What takes place at the judgement seat of Christ will have eternal consequences.

Believers in the Kingdom

The kingdom of God will not be the same for all believers:

  • Some believers will have rewards for their earthly faithfulness. Others will not.
  • Some will reign with Christ, others will not.  2 Tim 2:12   Rev 3:21.
  • Some will be rich in the Kingdom of God, others will be poor.  Luke 12:33
  • Some will be given true riches, others will not.  Luke 16:11.

And then there are the crowns

2 Tim 4:8  The crown of righteousness, which the Lord will give to those who look forward to His coming.

James 1:12 and Rev 2:10  The crown of life for all who are faithful through trouble and temptation.

1 Pet 5:1-4  The crown of glory is especially for elders who are faithful.

The Lord told a rich young man to store treasure in Heaven, and everyone will store a different amount of treasure there.

A careful study of these passages will show one thing very clearly; privilege and reward in the kingdom of God are determined by faithfulness in this life.

This will come as a shock to you if you thought that everyone would be democratically equal in the kingdom of God.

Also, the apostles will have a special position of authority in the future kingdom, and this will, of course, make them different from others in the kingdom.  Matt 19:27‑28.

In conclusion

The doctrine of the judgement and reward of believers is the key to reconciling God's justice with the free gift of salvation.

Anyone who takes Jesus' kingdom teaching seriously knows that believers don’t get away with sin.

  • Every sinful thing we do will be examined.
  • The good things we do will be rewarded.

The missionary Jim Elliot understood the big picture. 

By sacrificing his life bringing the gospel to the savage Auca Indians, he became an illustration of his own words when he said,

He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep
- to gain what he cannot lose.

Everything we do counts.  Nothing we do will go unnoticed.

If you are a believer who is walking close to the Lord this should be good news for you, you are laying up treasure in heaven and will be rewarded.

But if you are one of the many who think that, just because you have a ticket to Heaven, you can do what you like and live for yourself, you've really got something to worry about. 

We could have 3 houses and a yacht now, but end up living in very basic accommodation in God's eternal kingdom!

Each of us should take to heart Paul's words in Galatians 6:7-10:

Do not be deceived, God is not mocked;
for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap.

For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life.

And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart.

Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith.

The following story appeared in the August 1992 Readers Digest magazine:

A missionary who had been working in China for many years - and a famous entertainer who had been there for only 2 weeks - were both travelling back home on the same ship. 

When they docked in New York, the missionary saw a crowd of the entertainer's fans waiting on the wharf.

"Lord, I don't understand," the missionary said.  I gave 42 years of my life to China and he gave only 2 weeks, yet there are thousands welcoming him home, and nobody here to welcome me". 

And the Lord replied, "Son, you're not home yet."

Brothers and sisters, we’re not home yet either, but we will have our reward!

As we read in Daniel 12:3:

Those who are wise shall shine
Like the brightness of the firmament,
And those who turn many to righteousness
Like the stars forever and ever
.

Lindsay Smith, October 2018.
Scripture quotations from NKJV.