The book of Zephaniah is a continuation of the story of Babylonian captivity for the Jews. In this book, the prophet Zephaniah, like Isaiah, Micah, and others like them, are warning the Jews of their impending punishment from God if they do not turn away from worshipping false gods. Zephaniah brings out the point that the Jews are unwilling to repent, and they act as if they do not know God. Zephaniah 3:1-2 shows this by saying; “Woe to her that is filthy and polluted, to the oppressing city!She obeyed not the voice; she received not correction; she trusted not in the LORD; she drew not near to her God." Due to their stubbornness, God is punishing the Israelites for their sins. Before this time, the Jews were faithful unto God and His Chosen People. However, they were being punished due to their sins.
This is similar today for Christians, who are now the chosen people of God under the New Covenant. What happens to a Christian who was once a faithful child of God, but has fallen into sin? Some very prominent members of the church believe that a Christian who is trying their best to be faithful but who stumbles from time to time will not have their sins held against them. Is this true? Or, is this a case of a false doctrine similar to the Baptist false doctrine of “once saved, always saved?
Those in the church who believe that a Christiancannot fall from grace, after baptism use 1 John 1:7 as their source. “But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin.” Those who use this verse to prove their point against Christians having their sins held against them believe that God cleanses Christians of their sins continuously without them having to do anything to obtain that cleansing, such as repentance. Those who believe this false doctrine believe that it is wrong to believe, for example, that a Christian can wake up one morning in a saved state, but then have a bad thought and be lost, then pray for repentance and be saved, then do something else inappropriate and be lost, and so on and so forth. These people say that those who believe that a Christian can be saved/lost over and over in one day believe that whether a person goes to Heaven or Hell is really a “luck of the draw,” depending on which state they happen to die in. These people, who basically believe in a “once baptized, always saved” false doctrine, believe that a Christian cannot have the joy and peace that passeth all understanding (Philippians 4:7) if they are constantly worried about whether they are saved or lost every moment of the day.
When looking at how to live the best Christian life possible, we cannot follow the words of men. Instead we have to follow the Word of God. In I John 1:7, “walking in the light” refers to living the faithful Christian life. In order for a person to live as a faithful Christian, he or she cannot commit sin, or else that person will be spiritually lost. Also, the “continual cleansing” referred to in this verse comes from a Christian repenting and asking forgiveness for the sin committed. “For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all” (James 2:10). .
We have already seen from the book of Zephaniah and other Old Testament books, how those who were once faithful to God can fall away and be punished. Today, the Jews are no longer the chosen people of God, because the Old Testament has been nailed to the Cross (Colossians 2:14), and we are now under a New Covenant. What does God say about Christians who commit sin? The Bible has many examples of faithful Christians who fell due to their sins. The church at Ephesus was once faithful, but had fallen away from God.
“Unto the angel of the church of Ephesus write; These things saith he that holdeth the seven stars in his right hand, who walketh in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks;I know thy works, and thy labour, and thy patience, and how thou canst not bear them which are evil: and thou hast tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars:And hast borne, and hast patience, and for my name's sake hast laboured, and hast not fainted.Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love.Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent.”(Revelation 2:1-5)
The apostle Paul, who was one of the most faithful men to ever walk the face of the earth after his conversion, spoke about the need of watching ourselves lest we fall away from God. He also speaks about the importance of using the Old Testament as an example of what to do/not to do in our own lives. "Now all these things happened unto them for ensamples: and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come.Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall.” (I Corinthians 10:11-12). If a Christian’s sins are not held against him, then why would Paul be so concerned about telling the church at Corinth to “take heed” lest they fall?
The apostle Peter also talk about the ability for Christians to fall away from God. “And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge;And to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness;And to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity.For if these things be in you, and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.But he that lacketh these things is blind, and cannot see afar off, and hath forgotten that he was purged from his old sins.Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall:For so an entrance shall be ministered unto you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ” (II Peter 1:5-11).
Another example from the Bible to consider comes from Revelation 2:10; “Fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer: behold, the devil shall cast some of you into prison, that ye may be tried; and ye shall have tribulation ten days: be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life.” Notice that this verse does not say “be thou faithful unto baptism.” A person enters into a faithful state upon baptism (I Peter 3:21), but a person must remain faithful unto death. If we cannot have our sins held against us after we are baptized, then why would this verse say “be thou faithful unto death?” It says this because the “once baptized, always saved” doctrine that some members of the church of Christ believe, is false! We have to repent of our sins in order to be forgiven them. “Repent therefore of this thy wickedness, and pray God, if perhaps the thought of thine heart may be forgiven thee” (Acts 8:22). I John 1:9 teaches that sins committed by faithful Christians must be confessed, also. This verse says, "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." We also have to show the “fruits meet for repentance”(Matthew 3:8).
I remember that a preacher who teaches this false doctrine said in his sermon that he used to drive from one state to another when he worked in a certain location, and before he would start his drive, he would be concerned about whether he would be saved or lost if something happened to him on the way. He said that now that he believes that a Christian cannot fall away from Christ due to the “continual cleansing,” he does not have those worries anymore. This false doctrine makes him feel good, just like the “once saved, always saved” doctrine no doubt makes a lot of Baptists feel good, too. It is all a doctrine of convenience. We have to study the Bible and learn for ourselves about all of the things we have to do in order to remain faithful throughout our lives. We certainly cannot follow the words of men, no matter how nice they are or how well-esteemed they are in the brotherhood. I hope that this lesson has shed some more light on the false doctrine of “Once baptized, always saved,” so that we may not fall into the trap of believing that baptism is all that we need to do in order to go to Heaven.