What will be the state of someone who had accepted Christ as his personal Savior (e.g., a Christian) but still fornicating, when he dies, so far as salvation is concerned?
First and foremost, it’s important for us to understand how we become a Christian, that is, how we are saved. While I won’t list all references here, the following verses are very clear and explicit. They tell us in no uncertain terms that salvation is an act of God, not of man. Put another way, God is completely sovereign over who is and is not saved.
Again, there are many more Scriptures that testify to God’s sovereignty in salvation, but these make the point very explicitly and clearly. Furthermore, Scripture makes clear that Jesus did two things for Christians. First, in His death on the cross, Jesus took God’s wrath upon Himself, the wrath that every Christian deserved because all mankind sins. By His death, all of our sins (past, present and future) have been forgiven. Second, Christ’s own righteousness is imputed, or credited, to the Christian by faith. The following Scriptures make this clear:
So, summarizing, we see that we are saved by God’s grace, not our own will or works. In addition, our salvation is not contingent on what we do even after we have been saved because we are counted righteous by what Jesus did. Finally, all of our sins have been forgiven by Christ’s death and resurrection. In this sense, we have already been “perfected” (Hebrews 10:14) in that God has already punished our sin in Christ on the cross, and we are made perfect by Christ’s obedience, with His righteousness credited to the believer.
Clearly, this means that if we have truly been saved, we cannot lose our salvation. Remember, Ephesians 2:8 says that salvation is the gift of God. Romans 11:29 says, “for the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.” Therefore, if God has saved us, we are saved forevermore.
Now, let’s apply all of this to your question. f a person has truly received God’s gracious gift of faith, then that person will go to heaven. His actions after becoming a believer do not determine his salvation because, as we’ve shown, salvation is totally due to actions taken on God’s part, not man’s. Scripture also gives us examples of believers who sinned in major ways. Consider the following:
Peter, when he denied he even knew Christ (Luke 22:55-62). Of course, Jesus restored and forgave Peter.
Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1-10).
The unnamed believer in 1 Corinthians 5:1-5.
Having said that, our actions as Christians do have consequences, both here and in eternity in heaven. As the examples above attest, God requires that we discipline those in the church who continue in a life of sin. Matthew 18:15-20 gives clear instructions as to how sinning believers are to be handled. Ultimately, if they refuse to stop sinning, we are to put them out of the church. This is for the destruction of their flesh, not that they would lose their salvation (see 1 Cor. 5:1-5), with the ultimate goal of restoring them to fellowship (as Jesus did with Peter). Sadly, this is rarely done in today’s church.
The Lord makes clear that He will discipline those He loves. Therefore, if we continue in sin, we can expect to be put out of fellowship with the church, as well as God’s chastisement. Hebrews 12:4-7 makes this clear:
We also face consequences in heaven in eternity for what we do here on earth as believers. Again, our salvation is not in question, but the level of rewards we will receive in heaven depend on how we serve God while on earth. This is made most clear in 1 Corinthians 3:9-17:
Note that in this passage, believers are compared to a building. The foundation of our salvation is Jesus Christ. What we do in this life to serve God (the building) will be tested when we go to heaven. If we have not served God, which would include a believer continuing in sin, then our works will not pass the test. They will be like wood and straw, useless and burned up in the testing fire.
With nothing to show for our lives in service to God, we will still be saved (v. 15), but we will lose any potential rewards. If we have lived a life in service to God, bearing fruit that lasts, our work will be like gold and precious stones, surviving God’s testing fire. This will lead to rewards in heaven.
One final point...a person who claims to be a Christian but yet never bears fruit and continues in a habitual life of sin, may not, in fact, be a Christian. (Indeed, Scripture says fornicators will not enter the kingdom of God, refering to those who live a lifestyle marked by this pattern of sin (1 Cor. 6:9).) Obviously, all Christians sin while here on earth, but the issue is one of continuing to practice sin in such a way that it suggests an unchanged (unsaved) heart.
1John 3:7-9 puts it this way:
Obviously, some Christians will practice righteousness better than others. Ultimately, however, only God knows who is truly a believer and who is not.
Therefore, we must be careful that we don’t go make subjective judgments as to who is and is not a Christian based on their works. Still, we may have reason to doubt the confession of one who by his works appears to be unchanged. Ideally, of course, we’d expect to see some evidence of a changed life in the behavior of a true believer. While there are degrees of change from believer to believer, Scripture tells us that God has prepared us for good works, so this should be our expectation as well.