by Gabriel Arruda, Speaker/Director — Get free updates on new articles here
The act of God making guilty sinners worthy of eternal death and spotless saints worthy of eternal life is the single most important topic anyone can understand during our sojourn on earth. This is probably why Satan has attacked this topic from just about every angle possible. We’re going to look at 14 of the most common misconceptions about salvation. You could devote volumes of information addressing each one of these false perspectives, so this post is in no way an exhaustive study but a broad sweep of the most common misconceptions about salvation.
1. Salvation by Heritage
“We have Abraham as our father” Luke 3:8. Though few will personally admit it, this popular misconception is prevalent in every belief system in existence. It was the popular error of the Jews. Humanity likes to believe that because you are a cultural descendant of a faith that has some great man at its head or was started by a notorious leader, that this somehow grants salvation. This takes all the sacrifice out of faith. All the hard work was done when you were born, just sit back and enjoy the free ride. Just don’t change your ethnicity along the way and you’re good. This error strikes at the character of God, making Him a racist who offers salvation based on DNA instead of personal choice and surrender. The Bible says, “God is no respecter of persons” Acts 10:34. This simply means that God doesn’t play favorites. Isn’t that wonderful? He respects the poor just as much as the rich, the sharp as much as the dull, and the Jew as much as the Gentile. In response to such a belief Jesus would say today, “For I say unto you, That God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham” Matthew 3:9.
2. Salvation by Church Affiliation
This is almost the same error as the first, but with a slight difference. Instead of the saving merit coming through a physical bloodline, the twist is that it comes through a religious organization — as if claims to be of a particular organization brings heaven. If you have ever witnessed an individual draw back from following a clear, unpopular truth in the Bible for the sake of not coming out of line with a certain church affiliation, you are witnessing this error in practice. I see it all the time as I travel preaching. It’s placing confidence in the confederacy of men more than the efficacy of God. To keep from veering too far to the left here it should be noted that there is nothing wrong with organized religion in of itself. In fact, the Holy Spirit has clearly said, “Let all things be done decently and in order” 1 Corinthians 14:40. This would include religion itself. The problem is when that established order refuses to follow Jesus after some certain doctrinal line. True religion is always willing to follow Jesus as He reveals truth in His word.
3. Salvation by Works
This is the great umbrella term that encompasses every false path of salvation including varieties of false Christianity. The Bible says, “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God” Ephesians 2:8. As a matter of fact, you can say that there really are only two religions in the world — salvation by works and salvation by grace through faith. Think about it. Every false path fits into the first category and only one path fits into the second.
This misconception about salvation is all about control. Humanity hates being out of control. If salvation comes by my own works, whether it be though praying the right prayers, making a pilgrimage to a holy place or being faithful in church attendance, then I’m in control of my salvation not God. Now God does still give us control in the matter since salvation is based upon our choice. “Come unto me” (Matthew 11:28) Jesus said. “Choose ye this day whom you will serve” Joshua 24:15. But after we have made that choice to come to Him in faith, we trust the cleansing of our sinful records and sinful souls with Him. God is in control. And praise His name that He is much better at being in control than we are. Do works not matter at all then? Absolutely they do. But good works don’t earn us the right to salvation; they are the results of salvation. This will be further discussed in the following points.
Unfortunately, there are a few key passages in the Bible that have given some probably well meaning people the idea that God arbitrarily chooses who’s saved and who’s lost.
There are two big problems with this idea however. The first is these few misunderstood passages are in complete contradiction to many many clear passages that proves God gives man the freedom to choose his own destiny. Here’s a brief list of verses from the Bible that clearly show that although God foreknows man’s decisions before he makes them, God gives man the choice. See if you can notice a word that pops up over and over in these verses.
John 3:16: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”
Mark 8:35: “For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; but whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and the gospel’s, the same shall save it.”
1 John 2:23: “Whosoever denieth the Son, the same hath not the Father: (but) he that acknowledgeth the Son hath the Father also.”
Romans 10:13: “For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.”
Romans 10:11: “For the scripture saith, Whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed.”
Acts 10:43: “To him give all the prophets witness, that through his name whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sins.”
John 4:14: “But whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life.”
Did you see it? “Whosoever” — what a great word! The same word can also be translated as “any” or “all.” If God predestined some people to be lost, then how could He say whosoever? He would be lying, and the Bible says that “God … cannot lie” Titus 1:2. He would have to say only the predestined people come, but never has He said that. I guess God really meant whosoever, all, anyone who wants, come, you can have salvation.
Secondly, if God predestines some people to be lost, what does that tell us about His character? Is that love? Actually arbitrarily choosing to create someone only to suffer in hell? Is that kind? Is that merciful? What parent lines up their kids and says, half of you we’re keeping and the other half we’re tossing in the fire? People like that are satanic and get locked up for life. But that’s what this doctrine makes God out to be. Predestination also makes God responsible for sin. The Bible teaches that people will be punished because of their sin. Since God is the only remedy for sin, if He chooses for them to be lost, then He’s actually keeping them in sin. God forbid!
5. Once Saved Always Saved
This is the flip side of predestination. With predestination God is keeping people out but with ‘once saved always saved’ He’s keeping people in. This doctrine teaches that once someone has received Christ as their Savior, then no matter what happens after that, no matter how far they may rebel against God and reject Him, they are still saved. Again it’s an attack on your freedom of choice. In order to have love there must be the ability of choice. This is a truth that is inherently interwoven into our being. Have you ever been forced to love something? It’s impossible. Force takes away the option to love. True love can only exist with the ability to choose. Can you imagine a marriage in which the spouse forced the other to love them? What makes marriage so beautiful is that the other person has the option to leave but chooses to stay! The Bible clearly teaches that you can choose to walk away from a relationship with God and go back into darkness. Here’s a list of clear verses showing just that.
Hebrews 6:4-6: It’s possible to “fall away” after tasting the glory of God’s salvation.
Hebrews 10:38, 39: We can draw back unto perdition which means destruction.
James 5:19, 20: One can err from the truth and be converted again.
Ezekiel 33:13: A righteous person can turn from God and die in his sins.
Matthew 24:13: Only those who keep their love and faith to the end will be saved.
Revelation 3:5: Only the overcomers will keep their names in the Book of Life.
1 Corinthians 9:27: Paul knew he could be lost if he didn’t keep his flesh under control.
2 Corinthians 13:5: Why examine ourselves if we Christians can never be lost?
1 Timothy 5:12: We can cast off our first faith.
John 8:31, 32: To be considered Christ’s disciples we must “continue” in His word.
Can the Bible be much clearer? If you want, you can walk with God. If you want, you can leave Him. The choice is ours. Always.
6. All Law, No Grace
You won’t find this in many circles as an official theological doctrine, but it’s a way some people try to live out their faith. It’s a mindset that has lots of accountability with no mercy. It’s constantly feeling guilty and depressed over your sins regardless of any effort to confess them to Jesus or not. This view highlights the law of God without the mercy and grace of God. Pretty depressing. This is really a religion of unbelief in God’s word since God says…
Matthew 11:28: “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”
1 John 1:9: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
Isaiah 1:18: “Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.”
Don’t walk around sour and depressed, for God says, “Rejoice in the Lord alway: and again I say, rejoice” Philippians 4:4. We must believe that as bad as our sins may be, God loves us enough to cover them with His blood when we confess them to Him.
7. All Grace, No Law
Here’s another flip side. You will notice a trend that error tends to go to extremes and truth is always a balance. Some take this view of law and grace to the other extreme and have very little care or conviction of sin. They feel very confident that no matter what a horrible witness they are being, that Jesus is merciful and forgives me anyways. All “grace” and no law. I put “grace” in quotes because this version of grace is actually not grace. This is based on a misconception of what true grace is. Grace is the character of God; it’s His power and glory. Grace is a double-edged sword. On one side, there is forgiving grace which is God’s mercy, and on the other side there is transforming grace which is His power. When someone truly experiences God’s great mercy and power it transforms them! When you know you are guilty and deserve to be punished but God mercifully pardons you, that is grace, and it has a changing impact on your heart.
2 Corinthians 12:9: “My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness.”
Hebrews 12:28: “Wherefore we receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved, let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear:”
Hebrews 4:16: “Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.”
Grace is the power to be righteous, not the excuse to be careless and indifferent. I like how Charles Spurgeon put it, “Grace is the mother and nurse of holiness, not the apologist for sin.” Grace is what makes us able to keep the law, not the excuse to break it.
This doctrine teaches that God is so loving that He won’t punish anybody. Everyone get’s off the hook; everyone goes to heaven. Friends, if everyone goes to heaven then what’s the difference between heaven and earth? Just a prettier landscape! You have to also neglect a host of witnesses in the Bible to buy this point of view.
Matthew 5:29: “And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell.”
Matthew 23:33: “Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell?”
Matthew 25:30: “And cast ye the unprofitable servant into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
1 Corinthians 6:9: “Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind.”
The Bible teaches that there is a heaven to gain and a hell to shun. How fair would God be to allow Jezebel and Elijah the same reward? Or Paul and the persecuting Jews, or Cain and Able? This idea also destroys the character of God by showing Him to be completely unfair with no sense of justice.
9. It’s All Up to Man
This is essentially salvation by works. This would be a type of Hinduism or Deism where God is disinterested for the most part in the affairs of man and allows man to work out salvation for himself. In the salvation by works belief systems, sometimes man sets the standard for himself and in the more moderate systems God does. But either way, it makes man fully in charge of his own salvation which thus makes man a god himself. This is clearly unbiblical since Christ says, “Without me ye can do nothing” John 15:5.
10. It’s All Up to God
Essentially, this is another form of predestination and once saved always saved. You don’t do anything, God does everything, so just do whatever you want. However, salvation is a cooperation between God and man. God tells us what our part is and what His part is. It’s important to know exactly what God expects us to do and what we can expect Him to do. Putting too much weight on either our side or God’s side is what creates erroneous views of salvation, and causes confusion and hurt. In order to cooperate with God He tells us what we need to do. For instance He says we must…
Confess our sins (1 John 1:9)
Believe in Christ (Acts 15:11)
Surrender your entire life to Him (Matthew 22:36-39)
Resist the devil (James 4:7)
Strive to press towards the mark (Philippians 3:14)
Now each of these must be done through faith in Christ, meaning we’re not trusting in the works themselves but in the God who said if we do these works in obedience to Him, He will work through them to accomplish His promised purpose.
11. Man Is Inherently Good
Scripture does not present a glowing report about the nature of man. The entire idea of salvation is based upon the fact that man is in a fallen condition and needs to be lifted up or else he will perish. All you have to do is spend a few minutes looking at the headlines of any news outlet to find that people are evil — every one of us. Notice the testimony of Scripture.
Jeremiah 17:9: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?”
Romans 3:10-12: “As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one: There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one.”
Romans 3:23: “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.”
With all the past and current human history of war, torture, rape, child-abuse and misery to review, it’s hard to fathom any persons who haven’t realized the ridiculousness of the idea that man is inherently good.
12. In Christ and Living In Sin
Okay, here is a very popular one. It’s the trap for those Christians who don’t believe once saved always saved, or predestination, or universalism. This is the thinking that “generally I’m pretty good.” I do slip up once and awhile but that doesn’t change my standing in Christ. What people are really saying is I can still sin and be “in Christ.” Think about that for a moment. Sinning in Christ? Is this Biblical? The disciple John hits this issue head-on in the book of 1 John. Notice his logic.
1 John 1:5, 6: “This then is the message which we have heard of him, and declare unto you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth.”
How can one who is walking in darkness have union with God, in whom there is no darkness at all? John’s logic is clear, it’s impossible. He exposes as error the idea that we can live in sin and have fellowship with Jesus simultaneously.
What is “darkness?”
1 Thessalonians 5:4-8: Being spiritually asleep.
Romans 13:11-13: Wicked works.
Isaiah 5:20: Error and evil.
Notice this includes braking any of the 10 Commandments.
1 John 2:3: “And hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments.”
After identifying who doesn’t know God, now John identifies who does — those who keep God’s commandments.
1 John 2:4: “He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him.”
John then comes back to battling this error again (that you can have fellowship/union with Christ while you are sinning.) He opposes this heresy by saying the same point in three different ways.
1 John 1:6: To say you have fellowship with Him + walk in darkness = we lie
1 John 2:4: To say you know Him + keep not His commandments = we lie
1 John 2:9: To say you’re in the light + you hate someone = in darkness and we lie
Is this not clear? If we walk in darkness, break His commandments or hate our brother, then we don’t know God or have fellowship with Him. And if we say we do what are we? Liars. This brings up a whole other debate, because how many times as Christians have we been in darkness on something God was trying to convict us on but we were not cooperative with? How many times have we broken the 10 Commandments as Christians? How many times have we cherished feelings of hatred and even desired harm on someone else that was giving us a hard time? Does that mean we’ve never known God or have had fellowship with Him? Ouch! No, but it does mean that at the moment we sin we are not seeing or knowing God. This is fully addressed and explained in 1 John 3. To see a much more in-depth answer to this question, keep your eyes peeled for my future article, “If A Christian Dies While Sinning Will He Still Be Saved?”
13. Justification Only
The teaching of salvation has often been broken up into two different experiences, justification and sanctification. To make it simple, justification is Christ saving you from the penalty of sin by covering your sinful past. And sanctification is Christ saving you from the power of sin by keeping you from committing sin in the present. The justification-only position teaches that Christ can justify you but not really fully sanctify you. So Christ can take care of your past, but He can’t take care of your present. He can clean up your record, but He can’t fully clean up your character. You’ll always sin, and God will just have to accept you that way. But what does the Bible teach on this point?
1 John 2:6: “He that saith he abideth in him ought himself also so to walk, even as he walked.”
Jude 1:24: “Now unto him that is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy.”
Ephesians 5:25-27: “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish.”
1 Thessalonians 5:23: “And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
1 John 2:1: “My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.”
The Bible is very clear on this point. God intends to sanctify us even “wholly” in this life. Jesus can keep us from falling, and we can and should walk as Christ walked. This is good news! You can overcome your sins through faith in Christ!
Now why would I include this misconception? Christian churches aren’t teaching this are they? Believe it or not, in these last days you can find every wind of doctrine blowing through the churches, even reincarnation or types of it. One of the more well-known churches that believe a slightly modified version of this is Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons). They teach that before we came to life on earth, we were floating spirits waiting for an earthly body to inhabit in order to perfect our characters in this earthly life so that we can go on to become our own gods in the afterlife. This is a type of reincarnation.
God is clear that although He knew of our eventual existence through His infinite foreknowledge, we simply did not exist until we were conceived. This is why God says to Job “Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth?” Job 38:4. The implied answer is, nowhere! And we do not have eternal life until we receive Jesus as our Lord and Savior. The “reincarnation” if you will, is happening right now! It’s called growing in grace, sanctification, becoming more like Jesus. Now is the time for recreating new lives and identities in Christ.
Has this article been a blessing? Clarifying perhaps? Leave me a comment below to let me know.