What Does Probation Mean?

Correctly understanding these terms leads to a better
understanding of the character of God and the Gospel.

What Does Probation Mean? Here are definitions according to each model of the gospel.

Traditional Legal Model – A period of time allotted by God at the end of which He will examine our life record and determine whether to save us or not.

Biblical Healing Model – The opportunity given by God for us to decide for or against having a relationship with Him. If we allow Him to heal us then we are safe to save. We make the decision, not Him.

The main differences between the two models are:

1. Who determines when probation finally closes (covered at the page /revelation-22-11)
2. Who determines a pass or fail of the terms of probation for each person

Modern Dictionary Definition

Probation, (noun)
1. the act of testing.
2. the testing or trial of a person’s conduct, character, qualifications, or the like.
3. the state or period of such testing or trial.

Webster’s 1828 Dictionary

Probation, (noun) The act of proving; proof.
1. Trial; examination; any proceeding designed to ascertain truth; in universities, the examination of a student, as to his qualifications for a degree.
3. Moral trial; the state of man in the present life, in which he has the opportunity of proving his character and being qualified for a happier state.
Probation will end with the present life.

In our society, a time of probation is most commonly understood as a time to be on good behavior, to prove self, to demonstrate character especially after the commission of some wrong.

There is always a test, or criteria for behavior, some way to determine a pass or fail. A pass can lead to full or greater privileges; a fail to further restrictions or loss of privilege.

Whether we pass or fail in the probationary period of our lifetimes is determined by the choices we make and no one else.

Probation and Free Will

Within a period of probation, we always have the option to choose to comply with the conditions of the probation or not, to exercise free will. Probation implies free will.

Imagine that a judge says you will be on probation for six months and if you obey the condition, you will no longer be on probation. He tells you the condition is that you are not to leave the country and then he orders that you be imprisoned for the next six months. Are you really on probation? Why not? – because you are not free to choose to break the conditions of the probation.

Examples of Probation in the Bible

Adam and Eve
There is a sense in which God was honoring man’s free will to give Him a choice to obey or not. He did that by placing the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in the garden.

“And the LORD God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it. And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.” (Gen 2:15-17)

This was really a period of probation with the condition being to not eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. That probation ended when Adam and Eve failed the test. Who determined whether the result, in their case, was a pass or a fail? They did.

Their failure led to a number of consequences that they did not escape. Were they then still on probation after they left the garden? Yes, a second period of probation was granted them the terms of which were not centered on the tree. Their second probation, granted by the mercy of God was like ours – will we decide to trust in and follow God before our probation ends? The question of when any persons’ probation will end is addressed on this page.

Daniel and His Friends
Here is a well-known example of a probationary period that was quite unusual in that it was not externally mandated but, rather, was proposed by the individuals subjecting themselves to terms they proposed.

“Prove thy servants, I beseech thee, ten days; and let them give us pulse to eat, and water to drink. Then let our countenances be looked upon before thee, and the countenance of the children that eat of the portion of the king’s meat: and as thou seest, deal with thy servants.” (Dan 1:12-13)

The time period (ten days) was specified and the test included – an evaluation of their condition at the end of the period. Fortunately, they passed the test, a testimony to the value of a simple and natural diet.

Was the Savior Himself on probation?

“Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered;” (Heb 5:8)

There is no indication that He ever disobeyed but having to learn obedience certainly implies the possibility. We know He was tempted and temptation cannot be real if there is no possibility of yielding to it.

“For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.” (Heb 4:15)

He was especially tested by Satan in the wilderness for 40 days:

“And he was there in the wilderness forty days, tempted of Satan; and was with the wild beasts; and the angels ministered unto him.” (Mark 1:13)

He was tempted at other times as well, for instance in the Garden of Gethsemane:

“Saying, Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done.” (Luke 22:42)

Did Jesus have free will as a human? He certainly did and was perhaps most tempted right at the end:

“Thinkest thou that I cannot now pray to my Father, and he shall presently give me more than twelve legions of angels?” (Matt 26:53)

“He saved others; himself he cannot save. If he be the King of Israel, let him now come down from the cross, and we will believe him.” (Matt 27:42)

Could He have sinned? Yes, but praise His name, He did not. His passing that period of probation with flying colors is attested to by His reception in heaven:

“And they sung a new song, saying, Thou art worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation;” (Rev 5:9)


God always honors free will. To not do so would be to limit our freedom which is inconsistent with true love. Probation is the opportunity God gives us to choose Him and escape from our default lost condition. As described in part 2 on Revelation 22:11, God will not actively choose to end anyone’s probation. It is always our choices that do that.

See a video of a group study on the meaning of probation.

See a video of a group study on the meaning of probation and judgment.

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