Question: Am I really saved if I continue to sin? If I am a Christian and I continue in a habitual sin, will I still go to be with God when I die?
To answer the question of whether you are truly saved if you continue to sin, first establish that you are indeed saved. Saying the sinner’s prayer does not necessarily save a person. So let’s see what will save you.
What is salvation?
If we do not have a scriptural understanding of salvation, how can we know whether we truly have it? Salvation is simply the deliverance from sin through faith in Jesus Christ. A person is truly saved when He accepts that he is a sinner, repents for his sins, and by faith, accepts the free gift of salvation made possible by Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross as revealed in the Bible. Simply giving your ‘heart’ to Jesus in an emotional high, or merely ‘sincerely’ meaning it when you recite a prayer for salvation is the false doctrine of easy-believism and will have absolutely no effect if you do not believe the Gospel as revealed in the Bible. Refer to the Gospel for more details.
The Bible is clear that only God can know for sure whether a person is saved or not – because only God can search the hearts of men (Jeremiah 17:10, Romans 8:27). However, the Bible also teaches that there will be spiritual evidence of a person who is saved. This is because we had a dead spirit when we were lost in our sins, but when we believe, God quickens us and the Holy Spirit then dwells in us. So examine yourself (2 Corinthians 13:5) and see whether you find the changes the Bible says will follow in a person who has been saved.
Sin in a believer’s life
The Bible teaches that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). This is why all of us need the only Saviour Lord Jesus Christ. However we do not stop sinning automatically when we get saved (1 John 2:1). As the apostle Paul wrote, we continue to live in a fallen world and we indwell a fallen mortal body afflicted by sin and corruption. There is a constant battle raging within the believer – a war between sin and the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:17). Paul refers to the sinful fleshly nature as the old man who is crucified with Christ (Romans 6:6) when we believe and are born again. However even though we are no longer under the influence of sin, we still have to contend with it. This is the race the God asks us to run faithfully, to not walk in the flesh but in the Spirit (1 Corinthians 9:24). So when we sin, it does not mean that we are not saved – it is only the reality of a regenerated spirit having to deal with the body of sin.
What about habitual sins such as adultery or addictions? The important principle to understand is that a believer will not be happy or content to continue sinning. Rather he or she will be sensitive to the Holy Spirit who convicts them of their sin and will earnestly desire freedom and liberation from that particular sin. The Bible does not require that we not sin in order to ‘maintain’ our salvation – this is the false doctrine of works where salvation is merited by a person’s good works and therefore demands continuation in a sinless state. Salvation is a free gift that is not earned but given by the grace of God and received by faith (Ephesians 2:8-9). If we did not earn it, we cannot lose it by something we do or did not do. We cannot lose our salvation – our salvation is eternally secure (this is the doctrine of eternal security). If a person does not come under the conviction of the Holy Spirit and does not desire to stop sinning, the presence of the Holy Spirit is missing and such a person is not saved.
Now we must mention the false doctrine of lordship salvation taught by those like John MacArthur, whereby a person is said to not have saving faith if there is no willingness to acknowledge Christ’s authority (or lordship) over his life. What does this mean simply? Reading the many confusing statements MacArthur has made on the topic, we understand that he says a person is not saved simply by repenting and believing in Jesus, but only when he commits to stop sinning (which may be at a later point in life). The destructive effect of this false teaching is that it causes true born-again believers struggling with habitual sins to doubt their salvation. According to Lordship salvation, a professing believer who has not yet given up a habitual sin does not have saving faith (or in other words there is no such thing as a carnal Christian). The main issue is that in this teaching, the emphasis is on man’s actions rather than what Christ has done. So while its advocates are at pains to say that this is not a doctrine of works in disguise, a plain and consistent reading of the doctrine as taught by its proponents causes one to arrive at this conclusion. Secondly, it supposes that men can truly judge the state of a person’s salvation merely by the evidence in their lives. While in most cases it is possible to get a fair idea of a person’s salvation by his actions / fruits, this is by no means definitive unless the person denies Jesus. Only God knows whether a person is saved or not, to claim that we can say for sure whether a person is saved or not is overstepping the bounds of the Bible and equating ourselves with God.
If you have examined yourself and are sure that you are saved and yet cannot overcome some particular sins, it doesn’t mean that you are not saved. You should ask God to help you to be free from it. We cannot overcome sin through our own efforts. It is only by depending daily on the power of God that we can overcome sin. You may also approach your Pastor and, if necessary, under His guidance seek good Christian counseling. There are lots of good Christian counselors available who specialise in areas such as family relationships, Biblical personal finance management, running a business, addictions, etc. You can also seek the help of your spiritual friends, have a strong Christian to whom you could be accountable to, and who would pray for your situation to help you to achieve victory over a sin in your life. Even the fact that you realise that you have a problem with some sin in your life is already a step forward. We pray that you experience the full freedom and restoration that Christ has lovingly purchased for you through His death and resurrection.