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Know-So Salvation

know so salvation

I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day.

— The Apostle Paul

I know, I know, there’s no doubt about it
He lives in my heart and I’m gonna shout it
I know, I know my sins are forgiven
And I’m on my way to a place that’s called Heaven

— Chorus for the song I Know

Those of us raised in Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) churches heard preachers say countless times that Christians have a “know-so salvation,” that believers have heart knowledge, not head knowledge of Jesus Christ. Preachers often encouraged new Christians to write down the date, time, and place they asked Jesus into their hearts to save them in their KJV Bibles. Getting saved is the most important decision you will ever make, IFB preachers say. Never, ever forget the moment Jesus saved you!

What is the substance of this know-so salvation? The death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus, as stated in 1 Corinthians 15: 3,4:

For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures:

That’s the IFB gospel in a nutshell. Believe these theological propositions, really, really, really mean it, and you are forever saved. IFB churches preach transactional salvation. These are the facts, believe them in your heart, and you are saved. Typically, a sinner is presented the gospel by an altar worker or a soulwinner using a plan such as the Roman’s Road, at which time the salvation prospect is asked “would you like to ask Jesus into your heart? If the sinner answers in the affirmative, he is asked to pray the “sinner’s prayer,” asking Jesus to forgive him of his sins and come into his heart to save him. And just like that, a new Christian is minted and promised a home in Heaven after he dies. It takes less time to get saved than it does to take a shower.

This way of saving sinners is often called “one-two-three, repeat after me,” or “decisional regeneration.” (Please see One, Two, Three, Repeat After Me: Salvation Bob Gray Style.) Simply put, salvation is simple and instantaneous. All one must do is believe. I am sure someone will ask, Bruce, what about repentance? Good question. IFB churches and preachers take one of two approaches to repentance:

  • Repentance means a change of mind. I once was against Christ, and now I am for him.
  • Repentance means turning from known sin to Christ.

Most IFB adherents I know believe the former; that dealing with sin takes place after salvation; that it is up to God to clean up sinners after they are saved. Many IFB preachers believe that saying a sinner must turn from sin before he is saved is “works salvation.” Those who believe a sinner must repent to be saved often accuse the “change of mind” crowd of preaching cheap grace.

According to IFB orthodoxy, once a person is saved, he can never, ever, for any reason lose his salvation. Once-saved-always-saved, the thinking goes. That’s why some IFB Christians think I am still a believer; that the sinner’s prayer I prayed as a fifteen-year-old boy guaranteed my salvation and a home in Heaven after I die. While I will lose rewards in Heaven, I will still dwell with God for eternity. No matter what I say or do — including professing atheism — I am forever saved!

Of course, many IFB preachers can’t stomach the thought of Evangelical-turned-atheist Bruce Gerencser going to the same Heaven as they after I die. These preachers confidently say that I never was a True Christian®. Wait a minute. I heard the gospel, came under conviction, went forward at the appointed time, knelt at the altar, and prayed the sinner’s prayer. I did everything my pastor told me to do, sincerely believing that Jesus is my Lord and Savior. How is it, then, that I am not a Christian?

I left the IFB church movement in the late 1980s because I believed most IFB preachers preached a shallow, truncated gospel. This led me to Calvinism and a Reformed understanding of salvation. It seemed inconceivable to me then, and still does today, that one can live any way he wants and still be a Christian; that there is no connection between saving faith and good works. I came to see that the cheap grace gospel preached by many IFB churches produced unsaved Christians; people whom the Bible calls the sevenfold children of Hell.

This warped understanding of good works results in IFB churches filled with people who think that the sum of their Christian lives is the momentary decision they made years before. Many IFB preachers believe that sanctification (being separated, and set apart for God’s service) happens at the moment of salvation. I came to see that this too was a corruption of what the Bible actually taught; that sanctification was a progressive work of God in the lives of believers. How does a Christian know he is progressing in sanctification? Good works. If you are not growing and maturing in faith and good works, it’s a sign that you might not be a Christian.

Why is it that IFB preachers are known for preaching the basics of Christianity over and over and over again? Why must church members be constantly reminded to read their Bibles, pray, attend church, and practice other normative things Christians do? Why do IFB churches have elaborate codes of conduct church members are expected to obey? Why do members have such a hard time following these man-made rules? One needs to look no further than to the bankrupt gospel preached by many IFB preachers. When you separate repentance and good works from the gospel, this is the result. Sadly, many IFB Christians haven’t progressed or matured from the moment they were saved. They remain people who are on pabulum, unable to eat and digest the meat of the Word. We see this in the noxious, hateful behavior of many IFB believers who comment on this site. Childish, to say the least.

I am sure a few of my atheist readers will say “who cares?” Christianity is bunk. Why should I care about what IFB Christians believe or don’t believe? Fair enough, but this post isn’t for you. My goal is to provoke IFB believers to do good works. Maybe they will think a bit about what their churches and pastors actually teach and practice. Maybe they will ask themselves, “what fruit does the IFB gospel produce?” I am not an anti-theist; an atheist who delusionally thinks the end of Christianity is nigh. Religion is here to stay for generations to come. Would the world not be a better place if IFB Christians take seriously the teachings of Christ in the Sermon on the Mount; who not only love God but also love their neighbors as themselves? The world is a much better place for all of us if Christians are people of love and compassion; people who value and care for the least of these.


Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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    Bruce, forgive my slightly off topic comment – “…Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures…” What “scriptures” was Paul talking about? According to what “scriptures”? Is Paul referring to something in the OT?

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    Merle Hertzler

    Every Sunday at LBT, “with every head bowed and every eye closed” we were asked to raise our hands if we could say that “I know for sure that if I died tonight I would go to heaven.” I, of course, raised my hand, figuring I knew that everything in the Bible was true; that the Bible said all who repeat the sinner’s prayer would go to heaven; and that I had correctly said the correct sinner’s prayer. I should have acknowledged that every one of those premises were not known with absolute certainty, but that did not stop me and others from dutifully raising our hands. Those who were not in the know, or who were more honest, might have left their hands down, and that only marked them as a potential trophy for the “soul winners” in the back who were scanning the audience. What a scam.

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    garth domokos

    lets define irony…the idea of once saved always saved was never taught by the Christian church, ever for most of its history. This modern idea, predicated by fear, totally lacks the understanding of what sin is, it contradicts the old testament, and turns the idea of salvation into a type of witchcraft. The fact that reading of bible to gain knowledge and wisdom leads to intellectual pride which opposes humility is grounded deeply into the idea that I am my own God. As soon as one says “I’m born again”, they immediately fall into narcissisms, since they use terms to elevate themselves, not humble themselves. These same groups use the bible as a study guide, to find some eternal truth, which ironically in John chapter 5, Jesus denounces. This is why once saved always saved is a form of witchcraft, which is denounced in the 10 commandments. The Jews were well aware of the deep rootedness of sin, and sins of anger, jealousy, and pride will always be a part of the human reality. The occult song “spirit in the sky”, has a totally ignorant line “I never sin, I have a friend in Jesus”, which is incredibly rooted in spiritual blindness, has sent false messages to listeners upon listening to that song. In fact, pride is the father of all sins, and its roots are so deeply rooted into man, that one falls into its traps many times a day. Its easy to be a follower of Christ, if one picks and choses what definition of sin that bests suits their own narrative, but all sins in their nature, causes man to live in their own isolated world, and makes one unable to be charitable to others. This is why one cannot see a difference between an Atheist, Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Sheik, or even Buddhist, and in fact, the Christians time and time again, are the least loving of all these.

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    IFB (which was what my fundamentalist Christian school was based on( and Southern Baptist (where our family went to church) both had “sinner’s prayer” salvation model. I didn’t like it when preachers said “you can definitely point to the exact time you were saved” because I said that prayer dozens of times, just in case. According to those from my background, I am “saved” too. Not that I give a s$%&.

    But those sects do put an emphasis on works – don’t do this, don’t wear that, don’t drink this, don’t go to those places, read this but not that…purity laws like the OT Jews. There were fewer admonitions about treating people well or helping the community.

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    Yulya Sevelova

    Oh yeah, the thing with works was all about appearances,and what Christians were supposed to look like. “Their ” idea of what one should look like. I never went for Calvinism myself. They teach that if you look a certain way, it doesn’t matter what you do outside of the dress standards. Being a decent person isn’t really taught, just don’t do things like have rock music,TV,etc. As for once saved always saved, I was never taught that, one could always take a flying leap out of Jesus’ hand,though dire consequences. I was simply in the middle of that road,like sure,God is able to keep you, but only if you stayed in relationship with him. One could choose to walk away . The Bible , of course mentions backsliding, and believers do this, not unbelievers. So it’s laughable when Fundies claim that you,Bruce were never a Christian. The problem,to me is, it becomes hard to stay in relationship when it’s tied into the kind of Christianity you find in the States ! The system is so nutty and dysfunctional,you have to leave it. My question to Jesus is, if the church is so important,why do you allow this ? Given how high the stakes are, why permit jerks like ,say, that group of men in Texas, who you dealt with once pastoring there,to abuse the congregation, and ruin people’s relationship with God, in order to have power over others,and guilting them into financially supporting them?? This never made sense,and the ” let the tares grow” argument rings hollow. That’s just not enough justification, because that’s how one is driven away from church. And often , God as well. Personally, I like having access to God. But church doesn’t have anything further to do with this relationship. Leaving church ended the toxic feel that added trauma for many years. And no, I don’t hate other Christians. I feel relieved for having left- I got lots of bad ideas from the churches on handling life issues,and went down the rabbit hole as a result. The rest of my life will consist of making up for lost years,and enduring narcissistic abuse. Not easy to do, with America so damaged by 42 years of Neoliberalism. All these layoffs point to that fact,along with inflation and homelessness due to high rents ! I wasn’t surprised to find out that the egg shortage was an artificial construct to inflate profits, anyone hear about that ? The same for greens, even in Cali where we grow this stuff. Kale, broccoli,and lettuce are sky high- because they’re super foods. I’m searching for a community garden to join. All this $&#@ due to ” Christian” policies.

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    MJ LIsbeth

    “Of course, many IFB preachers can’t stomach the thought of Evangelical-turned-atheist Bruce Gerencser going to the same Heaven as they after I die.”

    I chuckled when I read that line. Even if I still believed in Heaven, I’m not sure I’d want to be in it if includes the folks who claim to be “saved” or simply to “believe” but who exploit others and live lives that seem to be anything but an embodiment of the salvation they claim. What did Mark Twain say? Heaven for the weather, Hell for the company.

    It’s not that I hate such people. I just feel that Heaven, if it does exist (which, as I said, I don’t believe), wouldn’t be much of a reward if it means spending eternity with hypocrisy.

    It seems that “once saved, always saved” mentality is very American. “Set and forget.” You can see it outside of religion: We think we can send a bunch of troops into some country and “solve” its “problems” for once and for all; we build roads and other facilites (and systems) but don’t maintain them. Or we throw money at people but don’t give them the help–material or otherwise–they actually need, which takes a much longer commitment of time and effort.

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    I’ve always found the rejections of salvation-by-works bizarre. Even if you leave out all the things Jesus is saying about doing unto others, etc., Jesus himself is very clearly doing good works as he heals the sick, cures the blind, and kicks the money-changers out of the temple. Are Christians not to take Jesus himself as an example of how to behave in this world before moving on to the next? Is he not modelling salvation for his followers through his actions? The idea that 2000 years later you can get into heaven just by saying the magic words makes no sense to me, as a non-Christian.

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    ‘Many IFB preachers believe that saying a sinner must turn from sin before he is saved is “works salvation.”’

    So the following conversation is theoretically possible?

    Soulwinner: Hi, I’m Ned from Bible Baptist Church. How are you doing today?
    Homeowner: Hey, I’m Bruce. I’m super, thanks for asking!
    Soulwinner: (gives Jesus pitch) So, would you like to accept Jesus as your personal saviour right now?
    Bruce: Okay! (Prays sinner’s prayer)
    Soulwinner: Congratulations! You’re a Christian now!
    Bruce: Oh yay! Let me tell my boyfriend. Hey Jeffrey – I’m a Christian now!
    Jeffrey: Oh cool! Hey, I’ll come to church with you!
    Bruce: We’ll see you in church on Sunday! Isn’t this great!
    Soulwinner: Ah, well….but….oh….well, salvation is by faith alone, not works, as I just said, so…see you both on Sunday. (Leaves property as quickly as he can)

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Bruce Gerencser