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Those who have been Christians for at least a short time know that there are differences of opinion in the faith regarding a variety of subjects, including whether a believer is eternally secure or if salvation can be lost. I have been on both sides of the equation. Two of the things I’ve battled throughout my time as a Christian are whether or not I was saved and if I had lost my salvation. I had several significant episodes of backsliding earlier in my walk with the Lord. Although my walk is much more consistent now, I have still sometimes wondered whether I was truly forgiven or not. Over the years I have found out that I am not even close to being alone in struggles like these. Like so many other believers, I have had this misconception about our heavenly Father, that He is a “getcha” God.


For those who do not know, “getcha” is a shortened way of saying, “I’m going to get you”. Believers tend to see God through the lens of how their earthly father was. Believers who had good fathers have a healthy view of God whereas those who did not tend to think that God is an all-powerful version of their own flawed father. Some believers do not even know their father, or they had more than one, or a bunch of men who were never really dads to them, and so on, in addition to those who had fathers who were weak, or too harsh, abusive, distant, et cetera.


My dad was a flawed man. Sometimes I wondered if he loved me at all while at other times I realized he did, but for some reason he had a hard time showing it. Between trauma from Vietnam, Dad’s own manliness (he was quite “macho”), and his drinking, a lot of times I never knew where I stood with him. Several times when I felt I had failed him in some significant way he’d say everything was all right, only to throw the same mistakes back in my face the next time he got angry with me. You talk about it being hard to feel forgiven! It was nearly impossible. Then there were all the belittling comments he made about me. I felt that I was never good enough for him. As time distanced him from Vietnam and health issues forced him to become sober once and for all, Dad became a kinder, gentler person, still hot-tempered and strong-willed, but easier to deal with than in the past. I am pleased to say that before Dad died, we mended our relationship. He even got saved! However, the damage he had done to me in my childhood was quite severe, and even though I have experienced both healing and deliverance from the vicissitudes of my father’s behavior, I have still had to battle with doubts about my salvation because it has been challenging not to see God as my earthly father was. It has gotten easier, I have had longer periods where I have been very sure of the Lord’s love for me and have communicated the Father’s love to others, but sometimes the doubts still flare up.


Compounding the “getcha” God mythos is the way that God has been presented to people by other believers, including from the pulpit. What is increasingly common these days is the Lord being portrayed as an indulgent “daddy” who will let His children get away with just about anything, one who loves to pour out blessings on people and who is not only not wrathful but is sometimes almost effeminate. The other main misrepresentation of God is not dead, however: The God who will “getcha”, the angry God who is just waiting for you to mess up one more time so He can destroy you. There are some preachers—and other believers—who portray a God so harsh that even the Old Testament God in all His fiery wrath looks like a pansy by comparison. To these folks, He is all fire-and-brimstone and no grace and mercy. “Whatever He did for you was a favor. He gave you salvation, and He can take it away and there’s nothing you can do about it.” “One wrong move and He will slap you into eternity. God will hit you so hard you will feel the pain from it forever as well as the agony of hellfire!” “God knew you were gonna mess up, so it didn’t matter that you were bullied as a child because you were gonna be a failure anyway” (I actually believed that one!). “If you don’t go on to perfection, God’s gonna get tired of you and you’ll lose your salvation.” “You complained about having to run to the restroom several times because of the coffee you drank? Do it again and God will give you kidney failure” (I believed that one, too!). “You think you’re so smart…God’s gonna let you think you are saved, only to jerk the rug out from under you when you die and go tumbling into hell.” “You need to get saved again every time you sin.” “If you backslid, you blew it, and you won’t get a second chance.” On and on it goes. In this age of broken homes and absent or multiple fathers, God’s image has gotten one black eye after another. So what is the truth amidst all this madness and doubt?


Both eternal security and the forfeiture of salvation are possible. We have to understand first that our relationship with Jesus Christ is a covenant relationship. Make no mistake about it: We do not earn our salvation. The Bible makes that abundantly clear:


Ephesians 2:8-9:  For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.


Jesus Christ is a covenant-keeper; He is not a covenant-breaking God. A good picture of our God who keeps covenant can be seen in the story of God dealing with Abram (Abraham) in the book of Genesis. When the covenant was made it involved the sacrifice and cutting of animals in two. The pieces were set in two rows upon the ground, with the blood of the animals on the ground in between, thus it was a blood covenant (just like Christ’s covenant with us is). In ancient times, both or all parties to a covenant would walk between the pieces, through the blood, sealing it. This was to imply that may the same thing be done to whomever breaks the covenant, so making a blood covenant was an extremely serious undertaking.


In the case of Abram and God, however, God walked between the pieces by Himself (Genesis 15:1-19). God, the former of the Israelites beginning with Abram, was responsible for His people Israel. It was on Him to keep the promises, and history has vindicated God. It was the children of Israel who (repeatedly) violated the terms of the covenant, not God, and it took many centuries for them to alienate Him. Even then, He still loved them. Likewise, under the new covenant, Jesus Christ not only saves us, He also keeps us. We cannot earn our salvation to start with, therefore we cannot work to keep it, either. Jesus keeps us saved. His doing so, however, is contingent upon our remaining in covenant with Him.


There are those who contend that backsliding is breaking the covenant. Actually it is more like violating some of the conditions of the covenant. This alone is a very serious act which must be dealt with, but it is still in essence a violation. Breaking a covenant in the strongest sense of the term is leaving it altogether. It’s saying, “I want out. I don’t want to be a part of this covenant, this agreement, anymore at all.” When we were saved we were adopted into God’s family with full privileges and rights as His children (Romans 8:14-17). As long as we want in, God will never abandon us (John 10:27-30). Our faith in Christ is a living faith, demonstrated by our actions (James 2:18-26). God never took away our freedom of will. He wants willing children, not hostages.


God loves us so much that if we want to leave the faith permanently, He will let us. This is not just backsliding, it is apostasy. A person could conceivably leave the faith and then come back if he or she did not really mean it, but such leaving is risky because of the heart’s deceptiveness (Jeremiah 17:9). For example, Peter probably was as sincere as he knew how to be when telling Jesus he would never deny Him, but the Lord knew what was in his heart and that the denial would occur, a possibility that Peter was unaware of (Matthew 26:31-35, 69-75). Final, irremediable apostasy is what is in view when a believer’s salvation is forfeited (Hebrews 6:4-8, 10:26-31).


If you are worried that you went too far for whatever reason and have forfeited your salvation, then you have not. A person who has gone too far will no longer even care. Like the persistently unrepentant sinner, the irremediable apostate will have been given over to a reprobate mind (Romans 1:18-32). It is true that God is a God of wrath and of judgment just as much as He is a God of love and forgiveness, but as a child of God you would have to disown Him truly, finally, and totally before He would give up on you. God is a good and loving Father (Matthew 7:9-11). How could you have a close relationship with Him if He was an angry, capricious, sadistic tyrant? God does not even enjoy seeing the wicked die (Ezekiel 33:11), so why would He get any pleasure in destroying you, one of His children? God loves you beyond all comprehending, and He wants what is best for you. He will fight for you and even discipline you if that is what it takes to bring you back in line if you are backsliding (Hebrews 12:3-11).


One of the most beloved of all the Lord’s parables is the parable of the prodigal son in the Gospel of Luke. While it can be an illustration of a lost person being saved, it also can most certainly be a picture of a person who backslides and then returns to the Lord. In the account, when the younger son wants his share of the family inheritance right then, something he would not normally receive until after his father’s death, in that culture it was like saying he wished his father was dead. Still, his father complied. As is typical with a young man—more hormones than sense—this son lived it up. When the money ran out, though, his “friends” ran away. The younger son became so destitute that he hired himself out to feed hogs. Mind you, a pig was considered to be an unclean animal under the Law, and Jews were not to even touch them, but this young man was so poor that not only did he earn money by feeding hogs, he desired to eat the same food that these animals ate! But he came to his senses, humbled himself, and returned home. His father ran to greet him and had a feast for him. In that culture it was considered extremely undignified for a man of higher social standing to run, but that did not deter the overjoyed father when his younger son returned to him. He freely forgave him, took him back, and celebrated.


Our God is not a “getcha” God, but a very merciful and loving Father. Backslider, come home. No matter how long you’ve been out there in sin or how low you’ve gone, just come home. Your heavenly Father will come running to you. Read the account of the prodigal son here and take encouragement from it:


Luke 15:11-32:  Then He said, “A certain man had two sons. And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the portion of goods that falls to me.’ So he divided to him his livelihood. And not many days after, the younger son gathered all together, journeyed to a far country, and there wasted his possessions with prodigal living. But when he had spent all, there arose a severe famine in that land, and he began to be in want. Then he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country, and he sent him into his fields to feed swine. And he would gladly have filled his stomach with the pods that the swine ate, and no one gave him anything. “But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you, and I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me like one of your hired servants.” ’  “And he arose and came to his father. But when he was still a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him. And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight, and am no longer worthy to be called your son.’  “But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet. And bring the fatted calf here and kill it, and let us eat and be merry; for this my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ And they began to be merry.  “Now his older son was in the field. And as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. So he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant. And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and because he has received him safe and sound, your father has killed the fatted calf.’ “But he was angry and would not go in. Therefore his father came out and pleaded with him. So he answered and said to his father, ‘Lo, these many years I have been serving you; I have never transgressed your commandment at any time; and yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might make merry with my friends. But as soon as this son of yours came, who has devoured your livelihood with harlots, you killed the fatted calf for him.’  “And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that I have is yours. It was right that we should make merry and be glad, for your brother was dead and is alive again, and was lost and is found.’ ”





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