I’ve heard people talk about, “salvation issues” my whole life. Statements like this are often heard, “Well, this isn’t a salvation issue, so we need to stop talking about it.” And others say, even about the same issue, “This is a salvation issue and anyone who does this is lost.” So how do we determine if something is or isn’t a salvation issue?
A salvation issue is usually defined as something for which a person will go to hell if he persists in and does not repent. Here are four points I think we need to consider when it comes to saying an issue is or is not a salvation issue:
GOD HAS CLEARLY REVEALED SOME SALVATION ISSUES.
When God says those who practice certain things “will not inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Corinthians 6:9), then you can rightly call them salvation issues. Here are a few issues God says are salvation issues (1 Corinthians 6:9-10; Revelation 21:8):
Sexual Immorality, Idolatry, Adultery, Homosexuality, Stealing, Greed, Drunkenness, Reviling (speaking abusively about others), Swindling (cheating people), Cowardice, Faithlessness, Corruption, Murder, Sorcery, Lying
This is not an exhaustive list, but these are definitely “salvation issues.” This is not to say these sins are unforgivable. Paul told Christians who had committed these sins, “Such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Corinthians 6:11).
All sin is forgivable, but in order to be forgiven we must repent. Jesus said, “Unless you repent, you will…perish” (Luke 13:3).
IT’S PRESUMPTUOUS TO SAY SOMETHING ELSE IS A SALVATION ISSUE.
But there are other issues that are not explicitly declared salvation issues and we need to be very careful before presuming to call them such. For instance, I believe we can make a biblical case that Christians should NOT do these things:
Smoke, Gamble, Overeat, Watch profanity-laden movies, Marry a non-Christian, Habitually skip mid-week Bible study, Disregard the spiritual discipline of fasting
Based on biblical principles and inferences I think Christians should not do any of the things on this far-from-exhaustive list. But when it comes to these types of issues, I believe we can teach, implore, and warn other Christians about engaging in these behaviors without adding the unjustifiable shock value of guaranteed eternal condemnation.
In fact, when we condemn people for these behaviors, we will likely find we are condemning ourselves. Jesus said, “With the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you” (Matthew 7:2).
I know Christians who will tell a tobacco user they need to repent or face eternal judgement for abusing their bodies, but they themselves continually overeat and don’t seem to see the fatal inconsistency.
When you condemn someone based on your deductive reasoning, chances are someone else could condemn you based on their deductive reasoning. It’s this kind of inconsistent and opinionated condemnation for which Jesus rebuked the Pharisees (Matthew 7:1ff).
IT’S PRESUMPTUOUS TO SAY SOMETHING IS NOT A SALVATION ISSUE. But on the other hand, it is presumptuous to declare, “I don’t agree with that behavior, but it is NOT a salvation issue.” Who are we to say that? Who are we to judge that a person can continue to do something that is not good – or neglect doing some good work – without putting his soul in jeopardy?
I’m convinced nearly any behavior could be a “salvation issue” when a person has the wrong attitude about it (see Romans 14:23). When someone says, “I know this is probably wrong, but I can do whatever I want as long as it’s not a salvation issue,” then his rebellious attitude has made it a salvation issue.
WE’RE ASKING THE WRONG QUESTION.
A child may warn a younger sibling, “Don’t do that! Dad wouldn’t like you to do that.” The younger sibling may smile and reply, “Yeah, but will he really spank me?” It’s this type of attitude that we display when we say, “Yeah, but is it really a salvation issue?” Wrong question.
The right question is, “Is it pleasing to my Heavenly Father?” If I can find concrete evidence in God’s word that He would be pleased for me to engage in a particular behavior, I will do it with all my heart. If I cannot find evidence in His word, then I will assume He would not be pleased by it because His word equips us “for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:17).
Furthermore, because I love my brothers and sisters I will encourage them to engage in ONLY those things which we know are pleasing to our Heavenly Father, not going beyond what is written (1 Cor. 4:6). I will encourage them to avoid – at all costs – those things which might be displeasing to our Father. Not because we are afraid God will throw down lightning bolts, but because we love Him and want to please Him (2 Corinthians 5:9).
Let’s not go around saying, “You’ll go to hell if you do that!” Unless, of course, that’s what Scripture says. But let’s certainly challenge each other to maturely consider whether or not our actions are pleasing to God.
There will be times when we see things differently and we will have to continue to reason together to “discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:2). But when we disagree, we MUST NOT condemn one another:
“Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand” (Romans 14:4).
There are certain behaviors – which if we persist in them – we are explicitly told will eternally separate us from God. There are other behaviors which mature Christian reasoning will lead us to understand are not the Lord’s will. So let us be mature in deciding how to conduct ourselves and how to edify our brothers and sisters in Christ.
I love you and God loves you,