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Are We Born "Saved" or "Lost?"

Larry Kirkpatrick 15 September 1999

An Important Question, But is it the Right One?

A lot is riding on the question, "are we born saved or lost,"because the answer impacts whether God is fair in the way He handles the sin problem. If we are born in a situation that can be legally categorized as saved or lost, then the individual child's moral choices are rendered unimportant, and salvation becomes an arbitrary process. Satan scores. His description of God as an arbitrary and unfair being becomes more convincing.

Furthermore, perhaps we should call into question whether these categories, saved and lost are even Biblical or helpful. When we let the whole Bible inform our understanding on this topic, we will discover that these conventional categories are imprecise and misleading. To ask whether we are saved or lost is to ask the wrong question.

Shift to Confusion

While there is a "legal" perspective involved in "salvation," we need to realize that the apostasy of the Christian church in general has had a vast impact on how we view questions of salvation and damnation. When, in the very early centuries Christianity itself broke away from obedience to God's law, a great instability and a tremendous imbalance was introduced to its teachings. While God's true followers refused to participate in the apostasy and remained obedient but obscure in "the wilderness," (Revelation 12:6, 13-17) the rest of Christianity eventually split into two camps, commonly designated "western Christianity" (The Roman Catholic Church and eventually Protestantism) and "eastern Christianity" (Greek and Russian Orthodoxy).

In the west, a distinctive emphasis soon led to an all-encompassing emphasis upon salvation in the legal sense. The issues involved penalty and ransom, guilt and confession. But in the east a wholly different emphasis prevailed. In the east, the issues were over healing, the restoration of the image of God in man. The west focused on its understanding of the legal ramifications of sin, the east focused on the spiritual ramifications of sin. In the west, a legal solution to the sin problem was emphasized, in the east, a restoration solution. We could further define these emphases as upon imputation in the west, and upon impartation in the east. While we realize that these are generalizations, it helps us understand why neither solution is adequate. It helps us to understand that saved or lost in the sense that we are used to thinking of, comes from our ingrown, western Christian tradition.

Can we improve our understanding by reincorporating the eastern emphasis into our thinking? I think we can, and that we must. The eastern emphasis was reintroduced to western Christianity through the Protestant reformer John Wesley, resulting in the group known as the Methodists. Seventh-day Adventism is greatly indebted to the Methodists. We also have been granted the important insights through our rich understanding of the great controversy theme, the battle between good and evil and the role that it plays in the overall plan of redemption. We thus stand in a position where, through letting the whole Bible speak to us, we can propose two alternative categories: repair and ruination. Consider the representation below:
 

REPAIR or RUINATION

Starting Point
-- Born broken and in need or repair
Period of impacting experience but non-accountability
-- The child lives in a sinful nature and is impacted by that experience, however is not accountable for his choices because of lack of opportunity for maturation. 
Life Sealing Period
REPAIR, The Way of Life RUINATION, The Way of Death
One is undergoing repair and commitment to a repaired state, and movement towards final salvation. One is undergoing confirmation of commitment to the fallen state, and movement towards final damnation.

-- Purposeful choice to follow Jesus, step by step, day by day.

Neutrality

-- "I will follow God when I'm ready."

-- Intention to choose right later means moral neutrality now. This is a refusal to link to Jesus and receive His life-changing power. Apart from that power, one slips inevitably down into total ruination. 

Commitment to the Way of Death

-- Persons here have chosen the pathway of self. They have chosen the pleasures of sin for a season and final destruction. 

The Close of Probation
Repaired

Just
Clean
Righteous
Holy

Ruined

Unjust
Filthy
Unrighteous
Unholy

This Life Vindicates God This Life Supports Satan's Case Against God

A Discussion of the Above Understanding

Starting Point

After the fall, the starting point for every person who enters the world is a difficult one. We all begin broken and in need of repair (Genesis 3:8-19; 5:1, 3). What does this mean? Let's clarify a few points first.
  • To be born broken and in need of repair is not to be born a sinner. Willful choice makes one a sinner (1 John 3:4; Isaiah 59:2). A child has made no willful choice to be a sinner (Romans 9:11).
  • To be born broken and in need of repair is not to be born lost. One's willful choice to affirm the fallen nature's sin orientation causes a person to be lost (John 5:38-40; Acts 7:51; John 9:39-41).
To be born with a broken nature is to be born with an initially warped relationship within the being; a weakness in the manner in which the intellect, the emotions, and the will were to work together. This critical wiring is broken (Romans 5:6). The enmity against sin, naturally in the heart (Genesis 3:15), is reversed and our nature pulls us toward sin. We have a bias toward evil. To be more precise, within each person is an inward pull to fulfill the self regardless of moral right or wrong. To be born with the fallen nature is to be born into a humanity that cleaves unto evil instead of unto good.

Impacting Experience but Non-Accountability

As the child lives out the early period of its life, it is not yet mature, and cannot choose between good and evil (Romans 9:11), and thus cannot do either good or evil. Because its nature is broken from the beginning, and the child experiences an inward pull to fulfill the selfish nature, it follows this inclination. The result is an increasingly fallen nature. Its experience impacts it, and makes the problem worse, but the child is not morally accountable for its unwitting choices that one by one increase the already selfish nature.

Life Sealing Period

Eventually, most people mature and thus become morally accountable for their choices and actions that follow. Early in this period, everyone who has ever lived, has (in their immature and yet accountable state) knowingly chosen to disobey God. (Jesus is the one exception, which we will come to in a moment). However, the span of one's life from this point on to its conclusion (or the close of probation for those who live at the very end of time), is a period of choosing. It is a period where one journeys down the pathway of life, a pathway that can either be identified as an experience of repair, the way of life, or ruination, the way of death.

Those on the pathway of life (Romans 3:17) and repair experience deliverance from fear and bondage to sin; they come to greater and greater heights of righteousness, joy, and holiness. The journey changes them, and they become settled into this way of living, both, intellectually and spiritually. Those on the pathway of ruination and death (Romans 3:15, 16) experience the fear and bondage and sorrow that accompany the indulgence of sin. They sink deeper and deeper into ruin until finally their commitment to it is complete; they are settled into a moral stance of injustice, filthiness, uncleanness, and unholiness. They are ruined.

Many people try to straddle the line, with the idea that they will remain uncommitted long enough to enjoy the pleasures of a sinful life as long as they can (Hebrews 11:25) and then finally throw themselves across the line and "get saved" in the closing years of their life. But a life lived this way is a life lived apart from God and His life-changing power. They can never become right with God while they are disobeying Him and growing more and ever more confirmed on their pathway of ruination. Instead of cooperating with God in the process of repair, they are making matters worse, adding layer upon layer of damage to their already broken persons.

While life remains, and the decision is not final, there is still hope that one can submit one's life to Christ and come over onto the way of life and repair. But character is not formed in a moment. The Spirit woos man for long years, not because He is bored, but because every one of us is thoroughly broken and will require an extensive work of repair; one that cannot be wrought out in a moment. Mind you, God could change anyone in a moment if there were no issue of human freedom. But God will not change a person apart from their real consent. The thief on the cross did not give his heart to Jesus in a moment only, but the Spirit of God was striving with him for years and years. We are so glad that he came on across the line at the last moment. But for us to plan on the same thing is to play a deadly game of Russian roulette with one's opportunity for eternal life. No one can put one over on God. We are either truly on His side, or we are not.

Period Between Closure of Probation and Second Coming

When probation closes, and all enter the last period between mercy's final offer and the physical change from corruption to incorruption, they must live in the sight of a holy God without an intercessor. This is not a period to be unconcerned about. If we are sure we can stand at that time, then let us be especially careful to examine ourselves. What are we? Are we prepared to live without sinning? (2 Corinthians 13:4, 5; Hebrews 10:6). During this period after the close of probation but before our glorification, God's people live as none have ever listed before. This is the final evidence for God's case. He presents a people who are changed, who have been made holy, just, clean, and righteous (Revelation 22:11, 12). He presents His people, living without sinning (Revelation 14:1-5). They are empowered by the Holy Spirit, who is never removed from them (Matthew 28:20). But they are not sending any sins into the heavenly sanctuary to defile it. They are not sinning and then receiving forgiveness. By the power of God they live for God; they don't do it on their own at all. They are repaired to the point where they are willing to follow Jesus wherever He goes (Revelation 14:4).

What about Jesus?

All of this raised the question then, what about Jesus? How does He fit into this understanding? We are convinced that in the end He was just, clean, righteous, and holy. And even more, we are convinced that in the beginning He was just, clean, righteous, and holy. But we are also convinced of other things. We are convinced that He was tempted in all points like as we are (Hebrews 4:15), that in spite of this He never chose to sin (Hebrews 4:15), that He learned obedience through His experience (Hebrews 5:8, 9; 2:10; Philippians 2:8), that He grew in wisdom while on earth (Luke 2:52).

We are assured that Jesus ended on the pathway of life. We are assured that He lived out a life of total obedience while during the probationary life sealing period (John 15:10). We are convinced that Jesus was born with a human nature identical to our own, as human as we are, or more precisely, as fallen as we are (Romans 8:3; Philippians 2:5-11; Hebrews 2:9, 11, 14, 16-18; 4:15. That is, as broken and as fundamentally in need of repair as ours is (Isaiah 53:4). He started where we start. Yet he remained holy, harmless, and undefiled, separate from sinners (Hebrews 7:26). He never chose to sin (1 John 3:4).

But what about that crucial period after His human birth but before His physical organism matured enough that He became morally accountable? Here we enter upon a great mystery, and can only suggest a tentative answer to the problem. That answer is that during this period He was supernaturally guarded or protected by the Holy Spirit from indulging his broken nature. Although bearing a nature as broken as ours is when born, He never strengthened that nature through His actions. And when He passed into the period where He was morally accountable, He still always cleaved to the good, He always opposed His nature and its broken pull toward selfish fulfillment.

Our Choice: Repair or Ruination

So the choice for us remains: we can choose to cooperate with heaven's plan to repair us, to bring us up onto the pathway of life, or we can choose to cooperate with Satan's plan to destroy us; we can choose ruination. The pathway of death, and all of its hard sorrows and griefs and its final end of utter destruction in the second death in the fire that was never made for us but for the fallen angels can be ours if we insist. But it need not be.

Choose life and Jesus Christ. You have no time to lose!


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Last Modified 9 May 2000
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