Does the doctrine of "once saved always saved" apply to Christians who commit violence, murder, and rape?

Hi Matthew, I have a question on the Doctrine “Once Saved Always Saved”. Does doctrine also applies to Christians who commit violence, murder and rape. Or Christians will “never” commit such crime and those commiting them aren’t Christian. Or they are Christian but the doctrine doesn’t apply to them, they are bound to damnation when judged if they don’t repent.

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Hi Kenny,

My main guiding book on sin in the Christian life is 1 John. It acknowledges the fact that Christians will sin when it says:

“If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.”

Christians don’t stop sinning when they’re saved. Romans 7 also speaks to this fact.
However, 1 John also makes it clear that when someone becomes a Christian, something changes within them. They are born again, and the new life within them will inevitably prevent them from continually living a lifestyle of sin. To me, this seems to be an irreversible change that will eventually result in complete holiness (Philippians 1:6).

"Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness. You know that he appeared in order to take away sins, and in him there is no sin. No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him…No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him; and he cannot keep on sinning, because he has been born of God. By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother.”

I think it’s easy for us to point out the really “serious” sins and say that no Christian could ever commit them. But Jesus raised the standard for what sin is when he said that anyone who hates his brother has committed murder in his heart, and anyone who lusts has committed adultery in his heart. 1 John agrees with this when it states “Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.”

We’ve all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23), and whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it (James 2:10). So while most people don’t commit murder, we’ve all broken God’s holy law in one way or another, which the Bible says is just as serious. When we sin, the remedy is always the same: repent. Turn back, mourn what you’ve done, and do whatever you can to bring peace. Admit what you’ve done is wrong, and trust God with your salvation. Whether this is the initial moment of salvation, or a renewing of that covenant, only God knows. But that is God’s concern, not ours. Ours is to repent when we sin, and encourage others to do the same.

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Thanks Matthew for the theology insight.

However I’m more inclined on the matter of crime not the thought and heart sin but really criminal activities. There are a lot of case it is not easy to just leave the environment just because you believe in Christ. And in those environment, crime is the norm and even the common Law would be hard to enforced. Yes, I’m talking about organized crime of national level. Someone in such syndicate especially in high position or handling dark secrets who came to Christ don’t just actually quit without paying some form of compensation and not many are willing to lose an arm or leg literally just to follow Christ. While some would be relief if the cost were just that as they would face the compensation of their life, family and loved ones. Most even like undercover law agents have to do heinous act just to keep their cover. How does salvation on that apply? To save the millions of sheep you pretend to be with the wolves that kill hundreds sheep of the ones you intended to save.

On other cases like rape and molestation, we have modern day reports everywhere of elders and priest committing such act and are only exposed after they have committed tons of them. Saying that a Christian who has already been saved committing such act continuously harming other believers in the process only were to be caught and repent to gain salvation again in the end, is a downright ticket of an Emperor’s forgiveness. And furthermore this ticket can be reused again and again only to be damned at the point before the ticket is use or to be saved after the ticket is use.

Even history showed the darker side of Christianity from the Crusade to the Inquisitions. The atrocity committed then were there any salvation given until repent or salvation lost until repent to the Christians who committed them.

One man’s heart can change from pure to evil and evil to pure at almost anytime when environment and temptation come or when repentance and forgiveness is available. For someone who is living at such borderland the doctrine “Once Saved Always Saved” is a ticket for them to continue living in the criminal life until such life is almost expire and repent to gain salvation again or salvation was never lost as repentance and forgiveness is just act to lessen the burden of the sinful heart.

I hope to look for an answer is salvation never lost even when committing crime and heinous atrocity, but now more on the understanding why such a system of forgiveness was placed by God’s Love. It almost seems unfair to Christians who committed the thought and heart sin.

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Hi Kenny,

I can tell you have a lot of thoughts on this issue, and I saw on your other post on Connect that this is a personal issue for a lot of people that you know. I may not be able to answer all your questions, but I’ll do my best to address some of the things you said and what I think the overarching issue is.

You said “I’m more inclined on the matter of crime not the thought and heart sin but really criminal activities.” The thing is, our actions flow from our hearts and thoughts. They’re a reflection of who we are inside. In Matthew 15:19, Jesus said “For from the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, all sexual immorality, theft, lying, and slander.” We cannot separate our actions from the state of our hearts. So the question isn’t “Can someone do this thing and be forgiven?”, but “Has this person been born again?”

As I said before, someone living a lifestyle of unrepentant sin is showing that they haven’t been transformed by the Holy Spirit. So your examples of people who are involved in crime and claim to be Christians, or those who even claim to represent Jesus as priests and yet are committing abuse, are showing that their hearts are unrepentant to the Lordship of Christ. In Matthew 7:21 Jesus says “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophecy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.” In this passage we see that a saving relationship with Jesus involves both knowing and obeying him. They are tied together. In John 14:15 Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”

This kind of love and obedience cannot be achieved through mere moral effort. We need the Holy Spirit to empower us. John 3:3 states, “Jesus answered him, ‘Truly, truly I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.’” This happens when we give our lives to Christ—our whole lives—and we acknowledge him as Lord. If he is truly Lord of our lives, it follows that we are obeying him as our master.

You said “One man’s heart can change from pure to evil and evil to pure at almost anytime when environment and temptation come or when repentance and forgiveness is available. For someone who is living at such borderland the doctrine “Once Saved Always Saved” is a ticket for them to continue living in the criminal life until such life is almost expire and repent to gain salvation again or salvation was never lost as repentance and forgiveness is just act to lessen the burden of the sinful heart.” Paul addresses this kind of “free ticket” attitude toward sin in Romans 6:15 when he says, “What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness?”

Someone can’t follow God and keep living in habitual sin. We cannot serve two masters (Matthew 6:24). Someone who claims the name of Christ and lives in unrepentant sin is showing their true master.

However, the Bible is clear that all people can be forgiven, even people who have committed unthinkable crimes. Paul, who persecuted the church, oversaw the murder of Stephen, and described himself as the worst of sinners, was forgiven completely and became a blessing to the church. Even the thief on the cross acknowledges himself as a sinner, recognizes Jesus’ identity, and asks to be remembered, and he is forgiven. This is the glory of the gospel message: all of us deserve judgment and punishment, and yet because of Jesus’ substitute and sacrifice we’re offered forgiveness and salvation. But we can’t get this on our terms, living our way. We must repent.

If you’d like to hear a first-hand account from someone who has dealt with God’s forgiveness for unlovable people, check out this interview from the most recent RZIM Ask Away podcast:

Beyond that, I’d really encourage you to meditate on the book of 1 John. I think it has a lot to say about the questions you’re asking, and I think the Lord could use it to speak to you in a deep way.

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Hi Kenny,

We’re running out of time before the forum closes, but I think I’ve said most of what I’d want to on this issue. If you’re still wanting to investigate more, a friend I talked with recently recommended this book: https://www.amazon.com/Todays-Gospel-Authentic-Walter-Chantry/dp/0851510272

May God lead,

  • Matthew