Have the majority of Christians gotten it wrong that it doesn’t matter how they live?

Q. Just recently stumbled upon your blog, and I’m definitely enjoying reading through everything and even the comments. I was raised in the Christian faith but now, as a young adult, for the first time in my life I’m really taking my faith to the next level by asking ‘why’ I believe what it is I believe.

One of the things I’ve been wrestling with recently is the idea of being saved by grace. I know historically, the Christian faith has led people to believe that once they accept Jesus as the Son of God, believe He died on the cross and rose again, and we accept the gift of the Holy Spirit, we’re saved, no matter how we choose to live our lives. I know our faith will show by the fruit we bear, but I can’t help but wonder if the majority of Christians got it wrong.

So much of Scripture and the NT is that after Christ we’re a new creation. Paul wrote in Romans, for example, “Therefore, do we go on sinning so grace may abound? By no means! We’re dead to sin, why should we live in it longer?” But, despite texts like that, I see so many Christians claiming the label of Christianity but choosing to live a life contrary to their faith. Makes me wonder if they’ll be saved by grace alone or if their blatant disregard for structure and living the Christian life will set them apart from God in the end.

With that, and I could be misinterpreting the parable, but the Parable of the Talents: I view it as a parable of salvation. In the end, the master doesn’t let the servant who buries his talents into his house. That’s all the more reason I wonder if there’s more to just grace for salvation.

My structured thought is this:

1) It was grace that made God send His son to die on the cross for mankind.
2) We are saved, if we chose to accept his grace.
3) Like in the parable, if we live a life contrary to our faith, then will that restrict our entrance into heaven?

There’s other Scriptures as well, like in Matthew when Jesus describes the kingdom of heaven being a narrow road not many will take. Not sure if I’m taking that out of context, but regardless, I’d really appreciate any insight you might have on this topic.

First of all, welcome to the blog, thanks for your encouraging words, and good for you for “taking it to the next level” and inquiring diligently into why you believe what you believe. Those who are raised as Christians (myself included) begin with a second-hand faith: We believe things because people we trust (parents, pastors, teachers) believe them and have taught them to us. It’s crucial, however, for this to become a first-hand faith at some point. We need to understand and believe these things on our own, as a matter of direct experience with the Lord.

I see you pursuing that course and I encourage you to continue it until you have satisfactory answers to all of your questions and you feel well grounded in a first-hand faith of your own. I call this blog Good Question because I firmly believe that there’s no such thing as a bad question, as long as it’s asked in a sincere desire to know and understand. You’re asking good questions that will lead good places, so keep at it!

In terms of your specific question, I have earlier shared some reflections on this blog in response to two very similar questions, and I invite you to read and consider those posts:

Don’t Our Works Actually Matter to God?

Are We Saved Simply by Believing, or Are There Works We Need to Demonstrate?

As you will see, you’re not alone in being uncomfortable with the idea that “once we accept Jesus, . . . we’re saved no matter how we choose to live our lives.” This is a serious misunderstanding of the gospel that is apparently being communicated, whether intentionally or unintentionally, quite widely today, so it’s good to “call it out” and question it.

One source of the misunderstanding is likely the conception that we are saved from something, rather than that we are saved for something. If we’re asking whether we can get into heaven just by trusting Jesus no matter how we live afterwards, we’ve misunderstood the point of the gospel, which is that God has “rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves.” So yes, we are saved from something, the dominion of darkness, but this is specifically done to save us for something—to allow us to participate in the ongoing work and expansion of God’s kingdom, which begins right here and now; it’s not just in heaven. If we are still doing the works of darkness, we’re not living out the life of the kingdom of the Son he loves. And that’s a problem that needs to be addressed now, not just as a matter of deathbed assurance.

I would actually disagree with the statement that “historically, the Christian faith has led people to believe that once they accept Jesus . . . we’re saved no matter how we choose to live our lives.” That’s actually a false teaching that Paul and the other New Testament writers go to great lengths to oppose.  In your question, you quoted some of Paul’s remarks in Romans about this; in fact much of that epistle, and of Galatians as well, is devoted to countering this idea that the implications of salvation by grace are that it doesn’t really matter how we live in this world. Much of what Paul writes to the Corinthians in his first letter to them is also designed to counter that idea.

John addresses this same misunderstanding in his first epistle. I’ve also written a post about his teaching on the matter, which I think will speak further to your concern:

Does anyone has been born of God really not sin?

I think you will be encouraged to see that the question I’m answering in that post comes from a person who’s wondering whether their life as a follower of Jesus is pure and holy enough for them to be confident that they have truly been born of God. Clearly not all Christians have become convinced that it doesn’t matter how we live after we accept Jesus!

Author: Christopher R Smith

The Rev. Dr. Christopher R. Smith is a writer and biblical scholar who is also an ordained minister. He was active in parish and student ministry for twenty-five years. He was a consulting editor to the International Bible Society (now Biblica) for The Books of the Bible, an edition of the Scriptures that presents the biblical books according to their natural literary outlines, without chapters and verses. His Understanding the Books of the Bible study guide series is keyed to this format. He has an A.B. from Harvard in English and American Literature and Language, a Master of Arts in Theological Studies from Gordon-Conwell, and a Ph.D. in the History of Christian Life and Thought, with a minor concentration in Bible, from Boston College, in the joint program with Andover Newton Theological School.

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