I refer you to the Parable of the Sower found in Matthew 13:1-23. Jesus talks about seed (which is the Word of God – not that you would think so listening to TV evangelists – but I digress). This seed falls on four different types of ground – the wayside, the stony ground, the thorny ground and the good ground.
Its pretty clear that in the case of the wayside hearers, these people were never saved. The word never entered their heart, primarily because they did not understand it, Jesus says. The devil took it away.
The stony ground hearers are those who immediately receive the word with joy, but they only endure for a while. When tribulation or persecution arises because of the word, immediately they stumble.
Now what are we going to say about these stony ground hearers, in terms of our favorite theological categories?
Were these stony ground hearers saved when they received the true word of the gospel with joy? Ray Comfort (who I understand believes in Once [truly] Saved Always Saved) in his teaching seems to imply that certain kinds of messages "produce" stony ground hearers. But this passage is not about four different kinds of seeds, or messages, but four different kinds of hearts, or long term responses to the message.
I believe that it is the same Word that is preached in each case – the true uncompromised Word of the Gospel, message of the Kingdom, of Jesus Christ, of the cross, however you want to put it. Some people receive this true message WITH JOY, and then, not only that, but they also ENDURE for a while. That means, they put up with certain things and they persist through some pain.
Can we say that these people were never truly saved? If this is the case, how can we know if any living person is truly saved, truly born again, truly a brother or sister in Christ with whom we should have fellowship and for whom we should lay down our life? Can we know by a special revelation of the Spirit? If we get it wrong, is it possible then that we start putting UNBELIEVERS in as church leaders?
If someone appears to be bearing fruit, but later turns away from the gospel, is that a proof that they were never saved in the first place? I can't rule out the possibility from this passage alone, but I will say this: if it is true then we can never really know if we are truly in Christ or if others are. For until we have been through every tribulation, every persecution that we are destined for, we can't know for sure that we or anyone else will not fall away under extreme duress. Most of us will sin or miss the mark under very slight provocations. So until the absolute crisis comes, can we really know what is in our hearts?
I prefer to think that we can know certain things by the Spirit about our current status with God. The Bible says in 1 John 5:10 that he who believes has the witness in himself. The Bible says in Romans 8 that the Spirit of God bears witness with our spirits that we are the children of God. If I am right, then it is possible for those truly born again of the Spirit nevertheless to be tempted, or to stumble and in some cases ULTIMATELY forsake Christ. The Bible says: "If we deny Him, he will deny us." The Bible also teaches that if we love one another we know that we are Christ's disciples, and others will know it also (John 13:34,35). "All men" includes ourselves.
The Bible says in Matthew 24 that because of the increase in lawlessnees, the [agape] love of many will grow cold. So it is possible for those who once truly had the fruit of "agape" (divine) love, to lose it, and even to "betray one another" and "hate one another". This can happen more easily in an environment of severe deception, lawlessness, persecution and betrayal. And who can say that this is not the exact kind of environment we are heading into as we move into the final month of 2012 and beyond? There don't seem to be any limits on the kind of moral depravity that the governments of this world are willing to endorse. There don't seem to be any theological lines which some pastors will not cross. We get pastors denying the Divinity of Christ (in spite of John 1:1), others teach that homosexual activity is fine, some teach that Buddhists and pagans will go to heaven also.
The conclusion I draw from all this is that even if it is counter-intuitive to some that you can lose your regenerate status under certain conditions, the Bible warns us ALL to take heed lest we fall. And perhaps it IS possible after all for your or I to deny Christ under pressure. God forbid. And yet we are warned of this kind of possibility and told to "work out our salvation with fear and trembling" (Philippians 2:12).
The Ground with Thorns
Similar questions arises concerning those who Jesus would class as thorny ground. Jesus said this "is he who hears the word, and the cares of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and he becomes unfruitful" (Matthew 13:22)
How many of us have been like this at times? Let's be honest. Now perhaps this parable is not dealing only with the Word we need to believe in order to be SAVED. It may well be dealing with all kinds of aspects of the Word of God. But isn't there at least the possibility or the risk that the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches might make a person unfruitful to the point where they are no longer walking with God? I think if we are honest and have been around for a while, we would have seen cases like this. The change doesn't always happen overnight. Its a subtle thing. Subtle but deadly.
Notice that it says here that "he BECOMES unfruitful". To me this suggests that the person was once truly fruitful! How could he "become" unfruitful if he was never fruitful in the first place? If that was the case Jesus would have said, "he bears no fruit" or words to that effect.
Again there is evidence that it is possible to go backwards in our spiritual state. We can go from a place where God is truly bearing fruit through us to a place where we are spiritually "choked" and bear no fruit. This doesn't fit well with the concept that you can never be lost if you are once truly regenerated – unless you wish to say that it is perfectly possible to be a genuine Christian without any fruit, without any good works, in which the life of the Spirit is "choked".
I think Jesus is warning us about the insidious nature of the desire for riches. I wish preachers today would warn us about the deceitfulness of riches. Too many are encouraging the church to "go for riches" – probably so that they can get their share, without warning of the spiritual peril we can put ourselves in. The quest for riches can generate many problems, and "cares of this life" which can weigh down our hearts and cause us to be ultimately lost.
Paul says quite plainly:
"But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and harmful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows."
(1 Timothy 6:9,10)
How could people "stray from the faith" if they were never truly in it in the first place?
We see then that unless you PRESUPPOSE the doctrine of Once Saved Always Saved and then work overtime on qualifying and explaining away the sense of passages like the ones mentioned here, the Scriptures themselves speak very clearly NOT to reassure us that there is no immortal danger, but rather, to be on our guard against all kinds of covetousness and DECEITFUL siren calls from Mammon.
In order to be finally saved we need two things besides the Word. We need to pass the tests of adversity, and also of material prosperity, or the opportunity of it. Both of these things can be good for our souls, but both can be extremely destructive, unless we hold fast to the Lord and His Word.