‘Fallen believers’ or ‘never believers’?

This long section quoted from John MacArthur’s book, Slave, brought to mind the uneasy question about why there are believers who ‘walk away’ from following Christ if we are sealed with the Holy Spirit and saved for good once and for all after our profession that Jesus is Lord. Is what MacArthur says here relevant to the question? In a few words, he seems to be saying that people may not be as good as their word (of profession), and that they may talk the talk but not walk the walk. It’s true: if one is soaked in Christian community, it is not too hard to assimilate the lingo yet resist the repentance and lack the regeneration and reform. A section from pages 90-92 is quoted below:

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As slaves to righteousness, believers are “under obligation” (Rom. 8:12; cf. 6:18) to honour God in how they live. Yet, for those who belong to Christ, the motivation to obey is far more profound than mere duty. “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments,” Jesus told His disciples (John 14:15, emphasis added); and again, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My Word” (v.23). The apostle John echoed Christ’s words in his epistles: “For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome” (1 John 5:3); and elsewhere, “This is love, that we walk according to His commandments” (2 John 6). Genuine believers are characterized by a deep love for Christ, and that love inevitably manifests itself in obedience. [1] By contrast, those who do not love the Lord, either in what they say or by how they live, evidence the fact that they do not belong to Him. [2]

The only right response to Christ’s lordship is wholehearted submission, loving obedience, and passionate worship. Those who give verbal assent to His deity, yet live in patterns of unrepentant disobedience, betray the hypocrisy of their profession. To them, the terrifying weight of Christ’s question, “Why do you call Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?” (Luke 6:46) directly applies. As He warned the crowds at the end of the Sermon on the Mount, after describing they dangers of hypocrisy:

Not everyone who says to Me, “Lord, Lord,” will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?” And then I will declare to them, “I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness” (Matt. 7:21-23).

Clearly, not all who claim to know the Lord actually do. Those who truly “belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires” (Gal. 5:24). Rather than walking in the flesh, they now “walk by the Spirit” (v. 25), being characterized by a growing desire to obey the Word of God. As Jesus told the crowds in John 8:31, ‘If you continue in My Word, then you are truly disciples of Mine.” [3] After all, “each tree is known by its own fruit” (Luke 6:44); and genuine conversion is always marked by the fruit of repentance and the fruit of the Spirit. [4] Loving obedience is the defining evidence of salvation, such that the two are inseparably linked; as the author of Hebrews explains: “He became to all those who obey Him the source of eternal salvation” (5:9). [5]

Notes:

1) 1 Cor. 8:3; Eph. 6:24; 1 Peter 1:8; cf. Mark 12:30; John 21:15-17; 1 John 2:3

2) 1 Cor. 16:22; cf. John 8:42; Rom. 8:9

3) Cf. John 6:66-69; Matt 24:13; Col. 1:22-23; 1 Tim. 4:16; Heb. 3:14; 10:38-39; 1 John 2:19

4) Luke 3:8; Gal. 5:22-23

5) Cf. John 3:36; Rom. 1:5; 6:16; 15:18; 16:19, 26; 1 Peter 1:2, 22

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