Revisiting the Tree of Life: A Discussion on True Salvation

In the beginning, Adam was given an option in the garden, fall within the parameters that God established (covenantally) and he would continue to live or rebel, and receive a death sentence. He chose the latter. Since that pivotal point in history, human beings have continued in the same pattern of rebellion.

A while ago, I wrote a post showing how Jesus is in reality the Christian’s Tree of Life. When we partake of him, we partake of the fruit of that tree (metaphorically speaking). I wanted to revisit that theme today in order to demonstrate what true salvation looks like versus a false salvation.

Theologically speaking, I am Reformed. Often times that is shortened with the nickname Calvinist; those who follow the teaching of John Calvin, the French Reformer. I follow the teachings of the Reformation and the principles laid down during that period of history. Specifically, “only the Bible and all of the Bible” (Latin: Sola Scriptura; Tota Scriptura). Many of the men of that period were theological giants who like many of us had faults and failures. I do not follow those men, but I do believe in the teachings that they rediscovered during that pivotal period of history. If not for that time, the west as we know it would not exist.

One of the primary teachings of that period was that men are not absolutely free to do as they will. For the human will is in bondage to the nature that controls it. In the case of all human beings, we are all sinners by nature. Therefore, we all at times do what is wrong ethically speaking, and we find ourselves in dire straits in relation to our Creator—i.e. we need a savior, a deliverer who can free us from ourselves.  One of the key doctrines of the Reformation which sprung from this realization is God alone justifies whom He will as a product of His grace—i.e. salvation belongs to the Lord (Jonah 2.9).

As Paul wrote in his epistle to the Romans, “For by the works of the law no human being will be justified in [God’s] sight, since through the law comes the knowledge of sin…[we] are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith…For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law” (Rom 3.20, 24-25a, 28). Justification is a legal term that signifies innocence, based on the performance of the individual. According to God we will never be justified by what we do. Even the good things that we do are stained by our sin (see Isa 64.6). It was for this reason that Jesus Christ was offered up as a propitiation for us. God substituted His one and only Son that He might redeem (save) a people through Him.  By propitiation what the author means is that through Christ substitution on the cross, goodwill or the favor of God is now able to be passed on to another, as Jesus satisfied all the judgments that the Law of God requires.

So, what does that have to do with the fruit of the Tree of Life? Everything.

If Jesus is, metaphorically speaking, the true Tree of Life, then if we desire to live we must partake of his life (fruit). This was the point of my last post. If we want to live, then we must (again speaking metaphorically here) eat of his flesh and drink of his blood (John 6.53). When Adam ate from the Tree of knowledge of good and evil, he was trying to determine what he believed was right and wrong. For Him obeying God’s instruction was wrong. Because of that determination he died (spiritually speaking) and became a prisoner of a sinful nature, which has been passed along to all his children as a logical consequence. And, as I explained before God has given all human beings the same choice as in the garden: life by believing in His one and only Son, an act of faithful obedience; death by rejecting what has been offered.

All people have faith, but the object of human faith is always self. Even if it is some other religion or the absence of religion, at base all people either choose to trust in themselves (their reasoning, their moral standards of right and wrong, their feelings, etc.) or because of a miraculous change of heart, they now trust in Jesus Christ.

Now the question that is often asked at this point in terms of salvation is, “are we able to lose what we have obtained? Can we lose our salvation?” One of the doctrines that sprung forth from the doctrine of man (he’s by nature a sinner) and the doctrine of justification (God’s work is what saves us) is the preservation of the saints. That is to say, what God has saved shall be preserved until the end (read John 10:28-30). From this comes the slang slogan “Once saved always saved.” This is my key concern in this post.

In principle, the slogan is true. However, there are misconceptions that are often brought into it, and this because of a misunderstanding what true salvation entails. Scripture stresses that salvation is from God alone; that He alone does the saving. Man is incapable of saving himself. If salvation were based on what an individual did, then “once saved always saved” would most definitely be false. However, the argument of the Reformers and those before them who were faithful to biblical teaching understood that salvation is a work of God. What God does, what He plans to do, what He promises to do, always stands—this is especially true of salvation in Jesus Christ.

Does this mean, all I have to do is confess my sins, ask Jesus to come into my heart, and then I am free to live as I desire? Is salvation in Jesus a one stop and then your done type of deal? Once saved always saved is not based upon some experience in your past. You cannot appeal to something you did or felt when you were younger, but now, years later, show no real change of heart. There are those who try to make such claims, but they are false.

Let me ask you this: Do you get healthy nutrients from eating fruits and drinking their juices that promote life? Yes, you do. How long do you continue get these “health benefits” that promote life?  If I ate an orange when I was seven am I able to still enjoy the benefits of the vitamins and nutrients from that fruits flesh and juice when I am 20? Of course not, that would be ridiculous! If you want the health benefits that promote life, you have to continually feed your physical body such things. The same is true in regards to the Christian faith.

Confessing Jesus when you were seven will do little for you when you are 20, if you are no longer coming to Jesus for life. It is only those that continually come to the Tree of Life and partake of its life preserving fruit that continue to enjoy the benefits. Once saved always saved only applies if you are continually living a life that draws sustenance from Jesus Christ. It is a logical absurdity to assume that what you did in the past applies to your future, if your future no longer has what was applied in the past.

Listen to the very familiar, but often understood text: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3.16; ESV; italics added). Pay attention to the verb tense in that sentence. Notice that what guarantees “eternal life” is not a one-time belief, but an ongoing state of belief. The verse reads, “whoever believes in him.” If we are truly saved by Christ, in Christ and for Christ, then whether we demonstrated this faith in our life at seven the reality is that we will still demonstrate this faith (in an increasing measure) when we are 20 and beyond.

The idea then is this. We are saved by God. He changes the object of our trust from ourselves to Christ. We are saved by what He has done for us, but our salvation is demonstrated to be true only insofar as we continually draw our sustenance from Jesus Christ. In this way, He is the Tree of Life, and the fruit He produces, produces life in us. If we are truly saved, then we will always come to Him for His fruit. Therefore, if we were saved in the past, we will continue to always be saved. Whether or not this is true, our own life will give evidence to the fact.