Question: You have said that it isn’t biblical 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 (John:15:2, Luke:13:24, Matthew:7:21-2).
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 would be able to forever share the glory with Christ for my being in heaven. “He provided my salvation, but I kept it!” Thus, what I do is equally essential with what He does.
In the passage referred to above, as well as others that deal with the holiness, goodness, or charitableness of life that 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. Paul clearly tells us that salvation is by grace through faith and not of works (Ephesians:2:8-10, etc.). James just as clearly tells us that the evidence that we are saved comes through works. This doesn’t mean that without good works we can’t be saved. Paul makes that fact clear: “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” (1 Corinthians:3:15).
Note that James isn’t saying that we’re saved by works but rather that a professed faith that isn’t evidenced by works is dead and can’t save (James:2:14). James warns us that a mere profession of faith can be empty—from the lips but not the heart, and that if we aren’t willing to live what we profess, then it’s likely that we aren’t saved at all, because our faith isn’t genuine.
Christ gives us a very practical example. He says that if we’ve truly received the grace of God, then we will be gracious to others. He’s 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’ve nursed grudges, hatreds, and animosities against others for years because of the wrong that they believe someone has 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 that Christ has effected for him, or he should admit that he is not saved at all: “But if ye do not forgive, neither will your Father which is in heaven forgive your trespasses” (Mark:11:26).