Alan Stanley: Salvation Is More Complicated Than You Think

My Crossway colleague, Dr. Alan Stanley, has a good little book entitled Salvation Is More Complicated Than You Think: A Study of the Teachings of Jesus (London: Paternoster, 2007). In the book he looks at what salvation/deliverance means mainly in the teaching of Jesus but also in the epistles, and covers topics like who will be saved, grace and works, faith and salvation, bearing fruit, can you be saved without loving others, can the wealthy be saved, on perseverance, and will God’s judgment affect my salvation.

There are some very good pastoral reflections in the final chapter. On “losing” salvation, Stanley writes:

“Okay,” I hear you say, “granted the existence of false conversions, but isn’t salvation in its entirety automatic at the point of genuine conversion?” From God’s point of view the answer is a resounding “yes” for “those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified,he also glorified” (Rom. 8:30). Conversion is vital. That’s when we are “marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance” (Eph. 1:13-14). But Scripture never allows us the luxury of resting in our conversion. If id did, then John would have simply reminded his readers of their initial profession of faith in Jesus to assure them that they have eternal life. Yet he doesn’t do that. Rather he suggests that if certain things are not true of a person over the long haul they indicate that the  person never came to k now God in the first place. They haven’t lost salvation; they simply never had it. This is the way John understands this issue, for he says that bogus Christians “went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us” (1 John 2:19). Hindsight indicates that these people were never Christians to begin with.

If you are interested in difficult questions on “salvation,” or want some tips on how to set up a sermon series on hairy questions about salvation, this is a good book to read.

  • Jeff Martin

    There certainly are those people who never were believers to begin with. But then you have Paul who talks about people this way – Gal 4:8-20 says that the people who Paul is talking to are those you did not know God but now are known by God, and he is worried about them! In fact, they would have taken out their own eyes for him! Finally in verse 20 he mentions again that he is worried about them. He also says many times in Galatians for them not to become slaves again. Which means they are not now slaves and could become slaves. Of course you also have Hebrews 10:29 where a punishment is coming on those who treat as a cheap thing the blood of the covenant that purified them from sin! And then you also have 2 Peter 2:1 where the false prophets will be destroyed. Who are they? They are those of whom the Master has redeemed!

    Practically speaking all good pastors exhort their whole congregation to pursue godliness and warn all. For, regardless of your belief, no one knows for sure who is truly a child of God. So this is one doctrine, that while it is interesting to debate, in reality it does little to affect the ongoings of the church.

    Unless you take it to the two extremes of being a lazy Christian or constantly waiting for God to strike you dead.

  • S Dwight Miller – Florida

    Alan Stanley got it correct.

    The biggest problem in the Evangelical Church is that it is full of people who have never repented of their sin. If there is repentance, there will be “fruits of repentance” which are manifested in living out each of those things the Apostle John said in his little Epistle is true of a believer.


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