Does faith in Christ have to be continual, or is belief at a point in time sufficient?
Again, I should emphasize that although Christ's deity is an extremely important issue, it's not an issue that's "on the table" for this exercise. I understand that Christ is a different person to Jehovah's Witnesses and to Mormons when compared with orthodox Christianity, and that this incorrect identity is a major issue. But the focus here, regardless of who or what Christ is, is does faith in Christ have to be an ongoing, perpetual, never-ending faith in order for salvation to take place. Now we'll take a look at how the different groups answered the question.
Latter Day Saints (Mormon):
LDS doctrine teaches that belief must be ongoing, but interestingly, the LDS missionaries I spoke with agreed that everyone slips up from time to time so there is some allowance for that. Allowance for how much is not defined.
The Watchtower (Jehovah's Witnesses):
Clearly the Watchtower teaches that faith must be ongoing and continual, along with the obedience that comes with it. But it is possible to get off-track spiritually but later get restored to good-standing with the Creator. Here we have a similar idea to that expressed my the Mormons: Everyone slips up sometimes, there seems to be some allowance for that. But again, that allowance is not defined or quantified in any way. For how long can your belief be suspended? How serious can your failure be before there is finally no turning back?
Once again, we see a curious similarity between the Lordship view and both LDS and Watchtower doctrine on this question. The answer from the Lordship camp seems to be that belief must be ongoing and perpetual… and if faith ceases at some point, then it was never really real to begin with and person is not saved.
Endurance in faith is a condition for future salvation; only those who endure in faith will be saved for eternity -R.C. Sproul
Genuine believers may stumble and fall, but they will persevere in the faith. -John MacArthur
Also notice in John MacArthur's quote that he expresses the idea that believers may "stumble and fall" but goes on to say that they will persevere in faith. Well that's odd because that's very similar, again, to what the LDS and Watchtower teaches. MacArthur is setting forth some sort of allowance for failure, but as in the case with the cults, that allowance is not defined. At what point does stumbling and falling reveal a less-than genuine faith?
For a fifth time, we see that Free Grace has the unique perspective on this question: If faith in Christ had to be continual, then 100% assurance would be impossible and our salvation would depend on us and not on Christ. The answer is no, it does not have to be continual and the Greek grammar in every salvation passage supports this.
Many salvation passages, such as John 3:15, 3:16, 3:36, 5:24, 6:40, 6:47, 11:25-26, 20:31 are commonly misunderstood to mean that belief must be continuing. The misunderstanding arises from the phrase "The one who believes", which recurs in each of these verses. "Believes" there is typically taken as present-tense verb and from this people conclude that ongoing, continual faith is required.
Think of the implications for assurance that this carries: Since you cannot know whether your belief will continue until death, you cannot know whether you're saved until you actually die. Yet, in 1 John 5:13 John writes:
I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life.
How could John have written this if belief had to be continual? How would John know that his entire audience would continue in their belief such that he could tell them that they have eternal life right now? The only way he could have told them this is if he knew that they need only believe once.
It's not that difficult to see that it is incorrect to understand the verbs in these passages to indicate continual belief. In every one of those verses, the word "believes" is not a verb at all; it's a participle. Participles don't carry a reference to tense the way verbs do.
It is rather easy to demonstrate that the use of a participle tells you nothing about when something happened or whether it continues to happen. Consider the following sentence:
The person who paints his house red will have a red house.
If "paints" is a present-tense verb which necessarily denotes continuing action, then this person must never stop painting if they are to have a red house. Notice that we would never reach such a conclusion from this sentence… we know that would be absurd. The word "paints" here is not a verb, but a participle. It's used to describe the person, like an adjective would and tells us nothing about when the action took place or how long it endured.
This can also be demonstrated with John 5:24 which reads:
whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life.
Both the word "hears" and the word "believes" are participles, not verbs. But suppose for a moment that we are to understand "believes" as a present-tense verb indicating continual action… if that's the case, then the same must be true of "hears". So, one must never stop hearing Christ's word either. I dunno about you, but when I'm asleep, I've stopped hearing. In fact, there are many times throughout the day that I am not hearing Christ's word. According to the way these folks understand this verse (due to their distortion of the grammar) I am not saved because I do not continually hear Christ's word.
If we understand these words as participles with no reference to tense, then this problem evaporates. You only need to hear Christ's word once by this understanding, and if that's true of the word "hears" then it's also true of the word "believes." They are the same part of speech. God is logically consistent.
For a fifth time, we see that the Free Grace perspective stands apart from the other three views, totally unique and totally consistent with the absolute assurance promised in the Bible and Christ's absolute faithfulness.