This article first appeared in the Viewpoint column of the Christian Research Journal, volume 44, number 01 (2021). For further information or to subscribe to the Christian Research Journal please click here.
Often on TV, my wife Jean and I have seen people proclaim that they are Christians, that “my faith is very important to me,” and talk openly about Jesus, but they say these things while they are living in overt, unrepentant sexual sin. Hopefully, that’s not you. But if it is, then you probably aren’t saved, and, unless you repent, you will be lost forever.
I suspect that my writing — that you probably aren’t saved if you’re living in overt, unrepentant sexual sin — will baffle and/or upset many people. But the Bible is clear about this. Consider Ephesians 5:3, 5–6: “But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness1 must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints….For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience.”2
But I’ve Prayed “the Sinner’s Prayer”! Some will protest that they believe in Jesus and that they have prayed the sinner’s prayer, so that means they are saved. No, it does not. Without repentance, those are what Paul called, “empty words.” The sinner’s prayer never saved anyone, and faith that doesn’t result in a change of behavior isn’t a saving faith. As James said, “You say you believe in God? The demons also believe, and they tremble.”3
Have I Forgotten about the Reformation? Some may protest I appear to have forgotten about the Reformation, that what I’m talking about is works righteousness. No, I am not. I’m a Protestant and believe we are indeed saved by grace alone through faith alone, but there is a Reformation maxim that I’ve always liked: “Faith alone saves but the faith that saves is never alone.”4 Here are the first three of Martin Luther’s 95 Theses that began the Reformation in earnest:
- When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, “Repent” [Matt. 4:17], he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.
- This word cannot be understood as referring to the sacrament of penance, that is, confession and satisfaction, as administered by the clergy.
- Yet it does not mean solely inner repentance; such inner repentance is worthless unless it produces various outward mortification of the flesh.5
Notice Luther said that true repentance requires a change in behavior. This makes sense because people live what they sincerely believe, and if you sincerely believe that Jesus really is God who died and was raised from the dead, and sexual practices outside of what God ordains are sinful, then you will take steps to avoid those things.
But I Struggle with Sin. Christians have told me that they struggle with sin. Exactly! In fact, that they “struggle” is evidence that they are true Christians. What I’m talking about are people who know what God commands — sexual chastity — but aren’t taking any steps to change. Let me encourage those who struggle with sin. I realize in this lust-ladened world that there are many opportunities for sexual sin and that temptations abound. For crying out loud, most of us have an adult bookstore on our laps! But, again, I’m not talking about the person who lapses into sin and then sincerely repents and seeks to do better. I’m talking about “Christians” who are not trying to avoid sin. I’m talking about people who download porn, tell God they’re sorry for lusting after it, but then don’t delete it from their computers because they want to view it later. I’m talking about people who call themselves Christians who are “shacking up” and have no intention to change. This is unrepentant sexual sin, and if you’re doing those kinds of things, then you probably aren’t saved. Repentance means you will actually try to stop sinning.
A Christian Is Someone Who Has Decided to Stop Sinning. There are only two possibilities for a person who responds to Jesus: you can choose to stop sinning or you can choose not to stop sinning. True Christians are those who choose to stop sinning. Now, obviously, I’m not saying that true Christians don’t sin — if that were the case, then I’m not a Christian. What I’m talking about are those who call themselves Christians but have decided willfully and unrepentantly to go on living in sin. As it says in 1 John 2:4, “Whoever says ‘I know him’ but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him.” We find a similar statement in 1 John 3:9: “No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him; and he cannot keep on sinning, because he has been born of God.” What John isn’t talking about here is, again, the Christian who falls into sin (we all do) and then repents and strives not to commit that sin again. What John is talking about are those people who call themselves Christians but don’t try not to sin.
I first saw porn when I was six or seven, and I thought we could be friends for life. But then I became a Christian two days before my 13th birthday and realized it was sinful. After I got married, I struggled on and off with not looking at porn and started taking steps to stop. For example, one day I told my wife, “If I ever see porn again, I’ll tell you that day.” That helped immensely! I never went out to see a pornographic movie again. (I don’t necessarily recommend that you confess it to your spouse, as some won’t be able to handle it; instead, find a same-sex accountability partner or group.)
But then porn came to me — and you — because we use laptops and cell phones, and you know that you are only a few clicks from it. Sometimes I found myself once again looking at porn, confessing it to Jean (humiliating) but I needed more. So about seventeen years ago, I decided that if I ever viewed porn again that I would fast — as in no calories — for a period of time. Presently, and the phrasing is important here — I’ve written it down — if I ever intentionally, knowingly, click on the photo of an unmistakably naked woman, then I will do a consecutive six meal, no calorie fast. Yes, early on I did some fasting. But I can tell you that now it has been years since I’ve had to do that.
It’s Not Worth It! I also decided to apply this kind of discipline to my thought life. I decided that if I ever lusted, I would read the Bible for five minutes plus however many minutes I lusted. Well, when I first started that, again, about seventeen years ago, I tore through the Old Testament — read it in a few months — and, no, it didn’t diminish my appreciation for God’s word.6 This was a way of escape for me (1 Cor. 10:13).
I realize that many of you, especially if you’re a younger Christian, will consider me legalistic — I absolutely would have agreed with you when I was a younger Christian! I’m not suggesting you need to do what I do! But I am saying that you need to do what it takes to not sin. Jesus said in Matthew 5:27–30:
You have heard that it was said, “You shall not commit adultery.” But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.
Jesus absolutely meant that. But do not head for the power tools! There is great news! What Jesus was saying was that we need to do what it takes and, my disciplining myself, as I have (you can do something different), has hugely reduced lust in my life, and there’s been no dismemberment involved.7
Why I Said Probably Aren’t Saved. The reason I said those who live in overt, unrepentant sexual sin probably aren’t saved — as opposed to simply saying aren’t saved — is because, upon reading this (or hearing a similar exhortation elsewhere), someone may repent and delete the porn, or get accountable, or stop shacking up, and so on.
So, if you call yourself a Christian, but you’re living in unrepentant sexual sin, you probably aren’t saved. But you can repent! You can take steps to no longer live in unrepentant sexual sin, and as an added benefit, you’ll find that your life will become much, much more peaceful. —Clay Jones
Clay Jones is a visiting scholar for the MA in Christian apologetics program at Talbot Seminary and author of Why Does God Allow Evil? Compelling Answers to Life’s Toughest Questions (Harvest House, 2017) and Immortal: How the Fear of Death Drives Us and What We Can Do About It (Harvest House, 2020). His website is www.clayjones.net.
- About the word covetousness, Peter T. O’Brien explains that “Paul moves from the acts of immorality or uncleanness to their inner spring — ’greed,’ that insatiable desire to have more, even the coveting of someone else’s body for selfish gratification.” Peter T. O’Brien, The Letter to the Ephesians, PNTC (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1999), 360.
- Unless noted otherwise, Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version.
- My paraphrase of James 2:19.
- Martin Luther and John Calvin both said something similar. See Steve Bauer, “Is Luther Really the Originator of ‘We Are Saved by Faith Alone, but the Faith That Saves Is Never Alone’?,” August 5, 2015, StackExchange, https://christianity.stackexchange.com/questions/42366/is-luther-really-the-originator-of-we-are-saved-by-faith-alone-but-thefaith-t.
- Martin Luther, “The 95 Theses,” KDG Wittenberg 1997, https://www.luther.de/en/95thesen.html.
- See Clay Jones, “How I Study the Bible…and Love It!,” January 28, 2013, https://www.clayjones.net/2013/01/how-i-study-the-bible-and-love-it/.
- See Clay Jones, “Lust: Are We Willing to Do What It Takes?,” July 26, 2010, https://www.clayjones.net/2010/07/lust-are-we-willing-to-do-what-it-takes/.