Vol. 5, No. 1
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In the wonderful and brilliant Book of First John, the apostle of love makes a statement in chapter five and verse thirteen that has caused no little controversy in the church and among other religious bodies. The verse, as it is set forth in the New King James translation of the Bible is as follows: "These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life, and that you may continue to believe in the name of the Son of God."
One is impressed with the fact that the text says that the Christians of the day in which John was writing could know that they had eternal life. The question naturally arises as to the sense in which we have eternal life. Do we have it in the absolute sense in that nothing we can do can cause us to lose that life? No, we do not! This is just another way of expressing the Calvinistic doctrine of "once in grace always in grace." If the Book of Hebrews demonstrates anything at all, it demonstrates that one can walk out on Christ, thus falling away from him, and lose whatever reward God may have for the saints (Hebrews 6:4-8).
Everyone who understands what it means to be a "free moral agent," with the ability to make choices, knows that a person can walk out on God just as surely as he can come to God. The Calvinists attempt to override this truth by the doctrine of the direct operation of the Holy Spirit in the converting of a sinner. But since one is able to choose to follow God, one can also choose not to follow God, and this is very clearly taught in the Bible in such places as Joshua 24:15. If man is not a creature of choice, then he is not made in the image of God, for God is a Being of choice, a Being of free moral agency. To say that man cannot refuse the overtures of the Holy Spirit is to say that the Spirit cannot be quenched. Yet, Paul warned the Christians of Thessalonica not to do that very thing (1 Thessalonians 5:19)! So, we wish to make it abundantly clear that we are not talking about being unable to fall from grace because the apostle Paul warned the Christians of Galatia that if they bound circumcision upon themselves and the Gentile Christians, they were doing that very thing (Galatians 5:4).
Notice, if you will please, that John said he had written so that they could know that they had eternal life. This word comes from the same word that is used in the plural in Matthew 6:8, where we are told that God knows what we have need of before we ask. Obviously, the word means to have certain knowledge of a thing or situation. Notice also, that John emphasized not only their knowing, but he used the present tense verb have. In light of these two evidences, there must be some sense in which those of us who are Christians can know that we have eternal life. But in what sense can we know that?
This writer takes the position that the faithful Christian can know that he is saved, or that he has eternal life, by noting whether or not he is faithful to God. There are two beings who know whether or not they are faithful - God and themselves. We know whether or not we are sincere or if we are just playing at the religion of Christ, and if we are faithfully and sincerely obedient, then we can know that we are children of God who have eternal life for Romans 8:31-39 teaches that nothing in the physical realm can keep us from loving and serving God, and no power in the ethereal realm can keep God from loving us and saving us.
It is sometimes said that the Christian does not really have eternal life until after he dies, but he has it only in prospect, or in promise. But that is not what John said in the passage under discussion, nor does the context of this verse demand such an interpretation. We do not see that it does any harm whatsoever to say what the verse says, and declare to the world that we have eternal life unless and until we walk out on Christ, and go to a religion unknown to him, or back to the world from which we came. While we fully realize that God has promised his faithful eternal life, if that is what John meant, why did he not say, "I have written that you may know that you have the promise of eternal life?" While it is true that the promise of eternal life is predicated upon faithfulness, and while it is true that the prospect of eternal life is predicated upon faithfulness, can it not be true that when we are baptized into Jesus Christ, we receive not only the remission of our sins but salvation (eternal life) and that we keep that eternal life if we die faithfully serving Christ, and we lose it if we abandon the Lord of glory?
Maybe some refuse to say that they have eternal life because they think that it sounds presumptuous for them to state this. But it is never presumptuous to use the language of Scripture in any legitimate way. All one is saying is that at the present time he is going to heaven, and in that sense he has eternal life. John said that this knowledge of eternal life is predicated upon believing in the name of the Son of God.