Question: You said it is unbiblical to teach that salvation can be lost if one fails to live a good enough life. What about the story Jesus taught about forgiveness in Matthew:18:21-35? Can we actually claim salvation if we cling to unforgiving and bitter attitudes? It seems to me that God does require certain fruits from our lives in order for us to meet the requirement for forgiveness, sonship, and heaven (Jn:15:2, Lk 13:24, Mt. 7:21-23).
Response: There is no question that although I can’t earn my salvation, if the salvation Christ provided must be kept by my living a good enough life, then I will be able for all eternity to share the glory with Christ for my being in heaven. He provided my salvation; I kept it. What I do is then equally essential with what He does.
In the passage to which you refer, as well as all of the others which deal with the holiness, goodness or charitableness of life we as Christians are to live, the required good works are presented as evidence of our salvation, not the means by which we either earn or keep it. There is no conflict between Paul and James. Paul clearly tells us that salvation is by grace through faith and not of works (Eph:2:8-10, etc.). James just as clearly tells us that the evidence that we are saved comes through works. This does not mean that with no good works we are not saved, as 1 Corinthians 3, which we dealt with in the first “Q&A,” says, “If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss [of reward]: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire” (v 15).
Note carefully that James is not saying that we are saved by works, but that a professed faith (“though a man say he hath faith” - 2:14) that is not evidenced by works is dead and cannot save. James is warning us that a mere profession of faith can be empty, from the lips but not the heart, and that if we are not willing to live what we profess, then it is likely that we are not saved at all because our faith is not genuine.
Christ is giving us another and very practical example. He is saying that if I have truly received the grace of God, then I will be gracious to others. He is challenging us to examine our professed faith. How can I expect God to forgive me when I am not willing to forgive others? There are people who claim to be Christians, yet they have nursed a grudge, hatred, animosity against others for years because of the wrong someone has allegedly done to them. Christ here and elsewhere says that such a person needs either to repent and allow God’s love to work in his heart the same forgiveness of the other that Christ has effected for him, or he should admit that he is not saved at all.
Thank you for your question. It is an important one and should cause us all to reexamine our hearts before God. “[F]orgive us our sins; for we also forgive every one that is indebted to us” (Lk 11:4); “And when ye stand praying, forgive, if ye have ought against any: that your Father also which is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses. But if ye do not forgive, neither will your Father which is in heaven forgive your trespasses” (Mk 11:25-26).