The most grave danger lurking behind the “once saved, always saved” teaching is the complacency it fosters in Christian hearts.

Told that accepting Christ as Savior is all he needs to secure eternal salvation, the new believer easily falls prey to Satan’s schemes. Undisciplined, ignorant that obedience is essential, the immature Christian slides into habits that draw his heart farther and farther from Christ. Suddenly, when he least expects it, his Master returns and he has to account for his behavior – and face punishment he may never have dreamed was in store for him.

Jesus made it very plain that his servants must not let themselves be distracted: “Be ready for whatever comes, dressed for action and with your lamps lit … because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you are not expecting him.” (Luke 12:35,40b TEV)

He also made no bones about the consequences of failing to obey:

“Who then is the faithful and sensible steward, whom his master will put in charge of his servants, to give them their rations at the proper time? Blessed is that slave whom his master finds so doing when he comes. Truly I say to you that he will put him in charge of all his possessions.

“But if that slave says in his heart, ‘My master will be a long time in coming,’ and begins to beat the slaves, both men and women, and to eat and drink and get drunk; the master of that slave will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know, and will cut him in pieces, and assign him a place with the unbelievers.

“And that slave who knew his master’s will and did not get ready or act in accord with his will, will receive many lashes, but the one who did not know it, and committed deeds worthy of a flogging, will receive but few.

“From everyone who has been given much, much will be required; and to whom they entrusted much, of him they will ask all the more.” (Luke 12:42-48 NAS)

Servants in the Master’s house, assigned chores, given responsibility for the well-being of other servants. The one who is alert and being obedient is richly rewarded upon his Master’s return. (vv.43-44) Another servant, who somehow didn’t receive the Master’s instructions, still wasn’t absolved of his responsibility to find out what they were, and when the Master returns, that servant receives a whipping. (v.48a) Yet another servant knew what he had been told to do and decided not to do it – and when the Master returns, he is flogged. (v.47)

But there’s a fourth slave. He not only doesn’t do what the Master commanded, but he gets drunk and beats the other slaves. “Both men and women” – the Greek literally says “girl servants” and “boy servants.” Verse 46 says the Master cuts that slave in pieces and assigns him a place with “the unbelievers.”

Under the laws of the time, a master held the power of life and death over his slaves. In some societies, he would have been well within his rights to kill such an outrageously disobedient servant. Cutting an offender in pieces, as appalling an image as it is, was an actual punishment meted out in parts of the pagan Greek world of the time.

The meaning of these horrifying words could not have been lost on the disciples and the crowd who heard Jesus utter them. The consequences of distraction, complacency, and disobedience are serious – even deadly. Be alert. Obey. Disobedience will get you punished. Outrageous disobedience will get you thrown out of the Master’s household. Your dismembered body will be dumped with the unfaithful dead.

One respected commentator – a subscriber to “once saved, always saved” – twists the parable into a warning against the Jewish religious leaders, who had been unfaithful in their responsibility as stewards of God’s household of faith: “Because of the penalty exacted (vv. 46-47), Jesus must not have been speaking about believers who were not ready.” But what in Jesus’ words would have made the crowd think Jesus was referring to the religious authorities? In fact, didn’t Jesus say this in response to Peter asking whether the Lord’s teaching that day was addressing the whole crowd or only the Twelve? (v.41)

Charles Spurgeon didn’t shrink from Jesus’ terrifying words:

“We are sometimes accused of saying things too dreadful about the wrath of God in the world to come; but, beloved, we never say anything dreadful enough. If you will carefully examine the Word of God, you will find there expressions such as even Dante or the medieval preachers, with all the horrors they depicted, never surpassed. We cannot exaggerate the awful depth of meaning which we find in the words of the loving Christ himself.”

As followers of Jesus, we are all slaves in God’s household. Each of us has been given a circle of influence – lives into which we are expected to pour God’s grace. Some of us haven’t paid enough attention to Jesus’ words to understand that; their punishment will be the lightest. Others know full well what he expects; the consequences they experience will be more severe.

Still others will not only fail to exercise proper stewardship in their circle of influence but also will take advantage of the Master’s absence to play the master themselves, forgetting that their obligation is obedient service on behalf of others.

“Almost saved” or “never saved”? How can you be cast out of the Master’s household and assigned a place with unbelievers unless you were a member of the household – and a believer – in the first place?

Next installment

Chapter 18
‘Because of your hard hearts’

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