Home > Theology > Are very few “Christians” actually saved?

Are very few “Christians” actually saved?

There is a potentially disastrous lie that has been going around in Christian circles for the past few decades. The lie is this: If you say a certain prayer and say you accept Jesus into your heart, then you are guaranteed salvation for eternity. No one is telling this lie intentionally, but good motives aren’t going to matter in the big picture if we don’t have our facts straight.

Paul Washer is a controversial preacher who is the opposite of feel-good ministry (a la Joel Osteen). He is probably most famous for this “shocking” sermon he delivered to a bunch of youth: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cncEhCvrVgQ. (For a bit of context, I urge you to also check out this video:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PrCvO8Elsis.) He’s often misinterpreted as a works-based-salvation preacher, but that’s not what he’s actually saying. In my opinion, he’s the reality check that our flaky, entitled modern culture needs. Sure, he’s a bit extreme sometimes in his wording, but at least it grabs your attention and forces you to think.

Anyhow, according to Washer, up until about 50 years ago, the measuring stick to check if you were saved used to be whether you accepted Jesus into your life AND whether you as a believer are bearing fruit inside and out. But in modern times, pastors will normally say this to their members: “Did you at any point in your life pray for Jesus to come into your heart?” “Well, yes, but…” “Then you are definitely saved.”

Let’s look at some scripture and see what it has to say. Maybe our modern perceptions of salvation reflect our increasing desire for easy, obvious tests rather than difficult assessments.

Matthew 7:19: “Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”

John 15:6: “If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned.”

Matthew is saying that saved people (the trees in this metaphor) should be bearing good fruit. If it does not, it will be thrown into the fire. John is saying that believers “remain” in Jesus. Falling away or perpetually bearing no fruit is not possible with real believers. Note that they are not talking about earning your salvation through good works, but rather are saying that if you are truly saved, you should be bearing good fruit (like love, increasingly righteous and sanctified lives, etc.). The “fruit” are not the cause of salvation, but rather are the symptoms or the external result of being a good tree.

Now, this isn’t to say that Christians—even the “real” ones—are perfect, but there should be some difference in their actions and in their thought life. Moral backsliding is possible, and can persist for a short amount of time (to some extent, anyway), but there should always be an inherent, Holy Spirit–driven desire to repent and sanctify ourselves as we mature in the faith. It’s like a tugging on our hearts, and as we grow and trim the sin from our lives, we find it easier to follow its lead.

Many people who call themselves Christians treat salvation like a flu shot. They felt emotional one night at a retreat or camp of some kind, they prayed that Christ come into their lives, and now they think they’re vaccinated from Hell. Then, once the feelings wear off, they dust themselves off and go right back to their old lives, no different from the rest of the world. A crucial missing ingredient here is repentance or a turning away from their old sin nature. Without it, their salvation is called into serious question. That emotional high is not always from the Holy Spirit, even though they might think it was. I hate to be the cynic and bearer of sobering news, but it could have just been the music, dim lighting, or whatever else. The Holy Spirit can stir feelings in your heart, true, but he’s much more than that.

Let’s examine a few more passages that are important to this topic.

Luke 8:4-8: 4 One day Jesus told a story in the form of a parable to a large crowd that had gathered from many towns to hear him: 5 “A farmer went out to plant his seed. As he scattered it across his field, some seed fell on a footpath, where it was stepped on, and the birds ate it.6 Other seed fell among rocks. It began to grow, but the plant soon wilted and died for lack of moisture. 7 Other seed fell among thorns that grew up with it and choked out the tender plants. 8 Still other seed fell on fertile soil. This seed grew and produced a crop that was a hundred times as much as had been planted!” When he had said this, he called out,“Anyone with ears to hear should listen and understand.”

This parable is showing us four different scenarios of a person’s faith. The first, verse 5, refers to nonbelievers. Perhaps they read the word and then they either didn’t understand it or they abandoned it, choosing to believe in something else. The “seed” was eaten up by the birds (the evil one) and had no chance to grow and bear fruit.

Two (or possibly even three) of the remaining scenarios refer to people who call themselves Christians. Verse 6 and 7 refer to people who thought they were saved—even having accepted the word “immediately and joyfully”—but their faith proved to be false when distractions and difficulties came their way.

Verse 8 is referring, of course, to genuine believers with a saving faith in Christ. In this fertile soil, the plant can grow and bear fruit, showing itself to be real. (For a fuller explanation, read on in verses 11–15, or read Matthew 13:18–23. Roger Barrier also does a clear interpretation here: http://www.preachitteachit.org/articles-blogs/ask-roger/post/archive/2011/february/article/spiritual-abortion/)

Matthew 7:13-14 says: 13You can enter God’s Kingdom only through the narrow gate. The highway to hell[f] is broad, and its gate is wide for the many who choose that way. 14 But the gateway to life is very narrow and the road is difficult, and only a few ever find it.”

Note that being a genuine believer is not supposed to be a walk in the park. You can’t just go in, get your flu shot, then run around in germ-ridden environments to your heart’s content. Sometimes, people say the prayer hastily and THEN are led to true salvation, but it is not necessarily BECAUSE of it. Sometimes, it just a starting point, an agreement to consider the narrower path from now on. If there is no difference at all between a “Christian” and the rest of the world, then yes, there probably is no difference. Both are probably not saved.

The Bible says that the gateway is narrow and “only a few ever find it.” I used to wonder about this passage when I was younger, in light of the statistics that the world has 2 billion people who call themselves Christians. Sure it’s less than half, but by no means did it seem “very narrow.” But now I know the sobering and sad reality that many of these people are probably lost.

My guess is that these 2 billion people were either born into a Christian family and never formally separated themselves from their upbringing, or they weighed some evidence and superficially determined that the likelihood of Christ’s deity is more likely to be true than not. “Sure I believe in Him,” they might say. “But I’m not religious or anything like that.” (You’ll often hear a defensive tone when they quickly add this disclaimer at the end. This has happened more times than I can count.)

Remember that the Bible says that even the demons believe in God, so mere probabilistic belief is not enough. There has to be a submission and a living relationship, not just a casual intellectual assent.

Here’s one last sobering passage for today, Matthew 7:21-23:

21 “Not everyone who calls out to me, ‘Lord! Lord!’ will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Only those who actually do the will of my Father in heaven will enter. 22 On judgment day many will say to me, ‘Lord! Lord! We prophesied in your name and cast out demons in your name and performed many miracles in your name.’ 23 But I will reply, ‘I never knew you. Get away from me, you who break God’s laws.'”

Billy Graham once said that if even 5% of the people who were “saved” through him were genuine believers, he’d be happy. My cousin, who just got her masters from seminary, told me there are stories of some pastors finding out they were truly saved only after 30–40 years into their ministry! Now, there’s no way for us to really accurately judge who’s going or how many are going (maybe it’s less than 5%, maybe it’s higher), but we all need to heed the Bible’s wake-up calls and reexamine our faith with a deep, honest look.

Let’s stop spreading the myth that a warm feeling and reciting a quick prayer is the end-all formula we need to follow. Let’s ditch the placebo—there’s a dangerous threat out there, and we need the real thing to combat it.

  1. Michael
    June 16, 2011 at 3:45 pm

    This is Michael the “Chinese” Guy, the one dating your cousin.

    Anyway, I’ve heard things from Grace that you are getting more into theology and His Word.
    I’m glad you received His call to become a shepard of His people.
    By the way, great entry! We need to spread the Word in its original context, not the “draw the crowd and emphasize on the numbers” type of Gospel. Jesus repelled a lot of peole during His ministry and many of those He attracted left Him. Getting into ministry with this in mind is scary. We risk facing persecution and separation even by those in the faith, just as it is written in scripture.

    As future ministers, we need to keep this verse (1 Timothy 4:16)
    in our hearts and minds.

    Hope to see you sometime in the near future and talk more of Christ!


  2. June 16, 2011 at 4:13 pm

    Haha hey Michael,

    God has really revitalized my spiritual life…maybe it happened because of my marriage and my hard shell finally being cracked enough to let Him in. But I’m very thankful and looking back, I wonder how I lived the way I used to apart from Him. I also heard you were going to start seminary, which is great. I’d love to catch up sometime with you guys. =)

    That verse is very good, and I need to commit that to memory and keep it close to my heart. Not that I do anything explicitly to stumble others, but maybe my face and demeanor needs to change too haha. I’m told that when I don’t smile, I look like a con-man. “Aren’t you happy??” “Yes very! Why?” “Cuz you don’t look it…you look mad like a con-man.”

    Then again, Paul Washer rarely smiles. I also try to stay aligned with the Bible as close as I can, though none of us can get it completely right. Sometimes that means flying in the face of tradition, but I’m open to criticism if someone can point out a hole in my thinking.

    Anyhow, thanks for stopping by bro.

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