The “double deception” that deludes so many professing Christians is this: First, they believe that they are saved when they actually are not; and second, they believe they can never lose what they actually don’t possess. Their doom is doubly sealed, often with the help of their pastor’s soothing sermons, and their only hope is if they will listen to what Scripture so plainly teaches. In today’s reading, Paul speaks of those who, in the pursuit of wealth, “wandered away from the faith” (6:10); and of those who, because they listened to false doctrine, had “gone astray from the faith” (6:21). Some attempt to persuade us that Paul was speaking of people who had previously been “considering” Christianity but who had never actually believed in Christ. If I said, however, “Joe Smith has wandered away or gone astray from faith in the Mormon church,” it would be quite safe to assume that at one time Joe Smith was a practicing Mormon.
Regarding false doctrine that has the potential to lead true Christians away from saving faith, Paul succinctly states two criteria whereby false doctrine can be identified. If teaching does not agree (1) with the words of Jesus, and (2) with the “doctrine conforming to godliness” (6:3), you can be sure it is false. Any teaching, for example, that leads you to think that we can gain heaven apart from holiness is false teaching, because it does not agree with the words of Jesus. Any teaching that leads you to think that it is impossible for you to forfeit your salvation is false teaching, because it does not agree with the words of Jesus.
As I already mentioned, Paul also warns how the love of money has the potential to pull true Christians away from the faith and “plunge men into ruin and destruction” (6:9-10). It was not “financial ruin” or “financial destruction” that Paul had in mind, but spiritual and eternal ruin and destruction. The remedy is to be content even if we only have food and covering (6:8).
Knowing that, we no longer need to wonder where to separate our “needs” from our “wants.” All we need is food and covering, and this agrees with the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, who in His Sermon on the Mount defined our needs as being those two things (Matt. 6:25-33), and who also warned that serving God and serving mammon are mutually exclusive of each other (Matt. 6:19-24). That fact alone reveals that it is possible for followers of Christ to forfeit their salvation. Is it possible for someone who is serving God to start serving mammon? If the answer is “yes,” then it is possible for a Christian to forfeit his salvation.
May I also add that Paul’s words to Timothy, “Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called” (6:12), are additional proof that ultimate salvation is not the guaranteed right of everyone who currently believes in Jesus. Clearly, Timothy, a saved man when Paul wrote to him, had the option to “take hold” or not “take hold” of the eternal life to which he was called. How does one “take hold” of the eternal life to which he was called? By pursuing “righteousness, godliness, faith, love, perseverance and gentleness” (6:11). And, according to Paul, those who have more than they need “take hold of that which is life indeed” by doing good, by being rich in good work, by being generous, and by storing up heavenly treasure (6:18-19).
Finally, may I point out that Paul’s words to Timothy to “take hold of the eternal life to which you were called” (6:12) are just one more nail in the coffin of Calvinism, which I’m sure you were hoping I might not mention for at least one day. (My motto, however is: “A scripture a day keeps Calvinism at bay!”) Calvinists claim that God only calls those whom He has pre-selected for salvation, drawing them with an irresistible grace. Thus, everyone who is called by God is supposedly guaranteed to be eternally saved. Timothy, however, was called to eternal life, yet unless he took hold of it, he would not obtain it.