Who Are You Doubting?
Various Passages in John
Copyright © 2004 Jeremy Myers
The late Roman Catholic leader, Cardinal O'Connor was once interviewed by the New York times, and in the interview, he said the following:
[Catholic] Church teaching is that I do not know at any given moment what my eternal future will be. I can hope, pray, do my very best – but I still do not know. Pope John Paul does not know absolutely that he will go to heaven, nor does Mother Theresa… (New York Times interview, 02/01/90)
Incidentally, Calvinists and Arminians are equally uncertain. R. C. Sproul, a resolute Calvinist, says in his tape series on the Assurance of Salvation that sometimes he is certain he is saved, and sometimes not. He says that when he was attending seminary, a poll was taken, and about 90% of his fellow seminarians didn't know if they were saved or not. This is because under Calvinistic teaching, those who are truly saved will show it by their good works. If you don't have good works, you might not be saved. Any time a Calvinist like Sproul sins, it is an occasion to doubt his salvation.
Arminians such as John Wesley and Robert Shank wrote similar concerns about their own salvation, but this was because for them, they need to continue to do good works and continue to believe and trust in Jesus in order to remain saved. Any time an Arminian sins, it is an occasion to wonder if he has lost his salvation.
Now contrast these views with just one statement in 1 John out of hundreds of such statements in the Bible.
11And this is the testimony: that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. 12He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life. 13These 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. (1 John 5:11-13)
The Bible does not want us to be uncertain about our eternal destiny, but to have great certainty in it. God wants us to know beyond a shadow of a doubt that we have eternal life. And to help us come to this understanding, God has included hundreds of promises in His Word about eternal life and how to know we have it. Though these are scattered throughout the Bible, and especially in the New Testament, there is quite a large concentration of them within the Gospel of John. John, writing the only evangelistic book in the Bible, thought it was important to include in his account not only how to be saved, but also how to know we are saved.
In prior studies, we have looked at some of the passages in John which tell us how to be saved. We learned that almost 100 times in the Gospel of John, we are told that the only condition for receiving eternal life is to believe in Jesus Christ for it.
Let us now go back and look at some of these same passages again, as well as a few others, which teach about our eternal security.
The single and only condition for eternal life is receiving Jesus by believing in His name. Regarding eternal security, verse 13 is key. It says that we were born, not of blood, not of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. We need to be very careful that we understand what is being said here and what is not being said.
Verse 13 is talking about the origin of the plan of salvation. The Biblical plan of salvation is not something man invented, or man dreamed up, it is something that originated with the will of God. But beyond this, it means that nobody is saved by their own will. You cannot will yourself to be saved. No one has ever been saved simply by believing that they were saved. You cannot wish your way to heaven, or positively think your way to heaven, or even willfully work your way to heaven.
You see, the issue is not faith. Everybody has faith. Some believe in themselves. Some believe that they will get to heaven because God loves them. Some think that simply believing in God is what will get them to heaven. There are millions of people who believe they are going to heaven, but are not. The issue is not faith, but rather who or what our faith is in. The person who simply believes is not going to heaven unless they specifically believe in Jesus Christ alone for eternal life. And I am not sure that I would define belief as an act of the will, but it is more of a persuasion that something is true. I know this is a fine line, and we are getting into philosophical categories, but follow me here.
An act of the will is when you almost force yourself to believe something despite all of the evidence to the contrary. Today, we often hear it called the power of positive thinking. Remember the little engine that could? It's a story about a little train engine that had to pull a heavy load up a really large hill? All the evidence said it couldn’t do it, but it started out, all the while puffing to itself, "I think I can, I think I can, I think I can." And because of it's belief in itself, he did it!
But our belief in Jesus Christ is not this sort of positive-thinking-act-of-the-will-despite-all-evidence-to-the-contrary belief. No, when we place faith in Jesus Christ for eternal life, it is because we are convinced and persuaded by all the evidence that we cannot save ourselves and He alone is able to save us.
The reason I point all this out is because there have been questions in previous studies about how if it is our will that saves us, can't it be our will that unsaves us? In other words, if at one point, we believe in Jesus and so receive eternal life, can't it happen that we can give back our eternal life if we stop believing in Jesus, or if we tell Him we don’t want it anymore? The simple answer from John 1:13 is "No." We were not born by the will of man, but by the will of God. Our faith does not save us. God saves us. Our faith does not give us eternal life. God gives us eternal life.
Faith is necessary as the conduit, the catalyst, the pipeline to initially receive eternal life, but once it is received, it cannot be given back. Receiving eternal life is a one way process. It's like any process in life. You mix ingredients together to bake a cake. After the cake is out of the oven, can you go back and unmix the ingredients? No. Baking a cake is an irreversible process. It is the same with receiving eternal life. In fact, the terminology here in John 1 is being born of God, or becoming children of God. There are a lot of people today who have unwanted children, a lot of women who get pregnant out of wedlock. And once a woman is pregnant, she cannot become unpregnant. As much as they desire to not be pregnant, there is not way to separate the egg and the seed. The two have become permanently one.
And if a mother carries her child to term, and delivers it, once it is born, it is born. It cannot become unborn. It cannot go back into the mother's womb again. There is no such thing as reverse conception. Even though some people, even in the Bible, wish that they had never been born, that desire does not make it happen, for such a reversal is completely impossible. When we become born of God, when we become children of God through faith in Jesus Christ, it is a done deal. It cannot be reversed. Not even if we will it to be so. Why not? Because we were not born of God by our will. So also we cannot be unborn by our will either.
This whole idea of the new birth is brought out in the next passage we want to look at - John 3:14-16.
In context, Jesus has been talking to Nicodemus, and has been telling him that to receive eternal life, Nicodemus must be born again. As we have just said, Nicodemus rightly understands that going back into his mother's womb is completely impossible, and tells Jesus so (3:4). Jesus explains that He is not talking about this physical birth by water, but the Spiritual birth of regeneration.
In verse 14, Jesus refers to the example, or type, from the Old Testament when the serpent was lifted up in the wilderness, and how anybody who looked at it would be delivered. Similarly, anyone who looks to Jesus in faith receives eternal life. This truth is so important for Jesus to get across, that in verses 15-18, He says it four different times. Anytime Jesus repeats something even two times, we had better take notice, but here he says it four times! Both verse 15 and 16 say that anyone who believes in Jesus should not perish, but have everlasting life.
I need to get a little technical, because it is very important. If you talk much with people who believe you can lose your salvation, you will eventually hear them say that the word "believe" in verses 15 and 16 is in the present tense. In fact, they will point out that almost every time the word "believe" is used in John, it is in the present tense. As we go through more verses in John, and you wonder what the other side says about those verses, this is it. With all of the verses I use in this study, they teach that the word "believe" is in the present tense. And the present tense, you will be told, indicates continuous action. So in order not to perish and have everlasting life, we not only need to believe, but need to continue to believe throughout our entire life. If we ever stop believing, then we will in that moment, stop having everlasting life.
The main problem with this understanding is that it is an oversimplification of the present tense. While it is true that the present tense in the Greek can be used to show ongoing, durative, progressive action, it can also be used to show punctilliar, point in time action, a simple one time occurrence at the present time. Beyond this, it can be used to show several one time events in a sequence (1 Cor. 15:31), or speaking of a future event in a present way (Matt. 26:2; John 14:3) or to speak of a past and completed action as if it were present (Mark 14:17).
To say that a present tense verb for believe means that a person must believe and continue to believe from now until he dies is a major oversimplification of the Greek present tense. When the present tense is used, only context determines how it should be understood. And so, in this context there is something that tells us how it should be understood. What most teachers who use this argument fail to admit is that many of the words for "believe" in the Gospel of John are - are you ready for this? - articular present participles. They are not present tense verbs, they are present tense participles, which is vastly different. Rarely, if ever, does an articular present participle have ongoing, durative, continuous action in view.
This is all so technical, so let me put it in simple English. Let's say Bill Gates announces that he will give a million dollars to anyone who believes he is the greatest computer programmer in the world. Let us say that you believe this, and so Bill Gates gives you a million dollars. But five years from now, a friend lets you use his iMac computer, and you just love the Macintosh operating system. So now, you stop believing that Bill Gates is the greatest computer programmer, and you start believing that Steve Jobs is the greatest. Does that million dollars automatically disappear from your bank account? No. It is still there; it still belongs to you.
Similarly, there are many Biblical examples where the present tense is used, whether as a verb or as a participle, and to understand it in a continuous, ongoing action makes the verse nonsense (Mt. 5:22, 28; 14:8; 26:46, 63; 27:40; Mk. 1:4; 2:5; 6:14, 24; Lk. 7:8; 12:44; Jn. 5:34; 6:63; 8:18; 9:25; Acts 8:23; 9:34; 16:18; 17:17; 26:1; Rom. 8:34; Gal. 1:23; Eph. 4:28; Php. 3:6; Heb. 7:9). In all of these, point in time action is in view, or even ongoing action for a limited time, but never ongoing, continuous action from now until you die. This is the way we should understand believing in Jesus for eternal life. When you believe in Jesus, eternal life is yours from that point on until eternity, even if you stop believing at a later date.
The point of all this is to prove that Jesus means what he says. When a person believes in Him, it is Christ's promise to that person that they will get eternal life, and will not perish. We shouldn't have to get so technical to understand such a straightforward statement, but when people twist Christ's words to mean what they do not mean, we have to get technical in order to straighten things out. Isn't it amazing how such a simple verse that we all memorize in kindergarten can be so twisted and perverted to mean the exact opposite of what it actually says?
Here is what John 3:15-16 comes down to. Jesus promises to give eternal life to those who believe in Him. And those who do believe in Him will never perish. If someone could believe in Him and get eternal life, and then later stop believing in Him and lose eternal life, they would end up perishing which is a complete contradiction and reversal of Christ's words.
This passage could not be more clear. He who believes has everlasting life, he shall not come into judgment because he has passed from death unto life. If someone could lose their eternal life, then this whole verse should be removed from our Bibles. If someone could lose eternal life, then they will come into judgment, and will pass out of life back into death. But Jesus says that they will not come into judgment. This is His promise. This is His Word. And I believe Jesus knows what He is talking about. If He says that because I have believed in Him, I will not come into judgment, then it must be true. If I think otherwise, then I am simply doubting Christ's words. If I think my eternal life can be lost, or given back, then I must also think that Christ is lying here. But Christ does not lie. His Words can be trusted. And if He says I will not come into judgment, then I won't. This exact same idea is found in John 6:35.
All non-Christians hunger and thirst. That is why they chase after sex and drugs and entertainment and recreation. They are trying to fulfil a craving only Jesus Christ can fulfill. He is the Living Water. He is the Bread of Life. And He says here that anyone who comes to Him will never again hunger, or never again thirst. But if I can lose my eternal life, or if I can give it back then that means that I will hunger and thirst again. And so once again, we either believe in eternal security, or we believe that Jesus is lying.
The will of God, and the will of Jesus is that all who come to Jesus will ultimately be raised up on the last day; that Christ would lose none of them. If people could lose their eternal life, and then die having lost it, then Christ would have lost them, and they will not be raised up on the last day in the resurrection of life. But Christ says that He will not lose any of us, and He will raise us up on the last day. This is His will. This is God's will. And as such, it will be done.
Some like to go over to John 17:12 and say that Jesus lost Judas. But Jesus doesn't say that Judas was saved, and yet He lost Judas. He says just the opposite. He says that all that the Father gave to Him, He has not lost a single one of them. That's pretty clear. Jesus does not lose any who are His. Then Jesus says that none of them are lost except Judas. All this means is that Judas was never saved. When Jesus prayed this, Judas was still lost and had never been found. He was unsaved, and had never been saved. Those who belong to Jesus, Jesus never loses.
Here we see a truth similar to the one we just looked at in John 6, and also similar to the truth in Romans 8:38-39. Just as nothing can thwart God's will, just as nothing can separate us from the love of God, nothing can take us out of the hand of God either. The text is very clear. No one - not you, not me, not Satan, no one - can snatch us out of the hand of Jesus or the hand of God. God the Father, according to verse 29, is greater than all, and we are firmly secured in His hand.
I must get a little technical here again. Those who teach that we can lose our salvation point to verse 27 where it says "and they follow me." The teaching is that we will only make it to heaven if we follow Jesus throughout the entirety of our lives. They say that if you have eternal life, you must follow Jesus to keep it.
But notice first of all, that the following Jesus in John 10 comes BEFORE receiving eternal life. These other teachers say that once you have eternal life, you must continue to follow Jesus in order to keep it. But following Jesus in John 10 comes before receiving eternal life. You follow Him to receive it. Why? Because Jesus is using a figure of speech, a word picture in John 10.
Jesus is using a figure of speech as he has all the way through John. In John 4:14, Jesus uses the picture of drinking water to teach about believing for eternal life. In John 6:35 he uses the picture of eating the bread of life. In John 6:54, He uses the picture of eating His flesh and drinking His blood. And here in John 10, He uses the picture of sheep following a shepherd. Every single one of these pictures (and a few more scattered throughout John) are symbolic of believing in Jesus for eternal life. In fact, notice that this is the progression in John 10:27-28. The four main events are that the sheep hear, the sheep follow, the Shepherd gives eternal life, and promises that the sheep will never perish. Back in John 5:24 we see the same exact sequence. People hear, people believe, Jesus gives eternal life, and promises that they will never perish. So comparing John 5:24 with 10:27 makes it clear that in this passage, following Jesus is a picture of believing in Jesus. Elsewhere, following Jesus is a term for discipleship, but here, since it is used in a word picture, it refers to believing in Jesus.
Those who believe in Jesus are firmly under the protection of Jesus and nobody can snatch them out of His hand, or the hand of God.
Dr. H. A. Ironside once preached on the subject of the security of the believer. A woman came up to him afterwards and said, "I don't agree with your doctrine."
"What don't you agree with?" he asked her.
"Well, this doctrine of once saved, always saved," she replied.
"Let me read you a verse which supports this doctrine," he said.
"Oh, I know what you are going to read. You're going to read John 10:28, aren't you?"
"As a matter of fact, that is the verse I was going to read." So he read the words: "I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand." Then he looked her in the eye and asked her, "Do you believe those words?"
"Not as you interpret them," she replied.
"But I didn't interpret them at all! I just read them to you."
"Well," she replied, "I don't believe those words mean what you say they mean."
"Then let me read the verse this way," he said. "Supposing Jesus said, 'I give them life for twenty years, and they shall never perish for twenty years and no one can snatch them out of my hand for twenty years.' What would you think that means?"
"I think that means they would be safe for twenty years."
"Let us say we changed twenty years to forty years. Would they be safe for forty years?"
"Yes," she said, "I think they would be safe for forty years."
"But it doesn't say twenty years or forty years, it says forever: 'and they shall never perish.' The Greek text is very strong at that point. What it literally says is, 'They shall not ever perish forever.' Let's read it that way: 'I give unto them life forever and they shall never perish forever.' Do you believe that?"
"Not the way you interpret it," she replied.
At this point, Dr. Ironside could only throw up his hands. According to John 10, both Jesus Christ and God the Father have a firm grip on you, not just for a little while, but for eternity.
This passage is in the middle of the story about raising Lazarus from the dead. In verse 25, Jesus tells Martha that though a person may die physically, they will live spiritually if they have believed in Jesus for eternal life. He goes on from this truth in verse 26 to make an amazing promise to Martha that whoever lives and believes in Him shall never die. It is obvious that He is talking about spiritual death when He says that they will never die.
If someone could lose their salvation, then they would die spiritually again. But Jesus says this cannot happen and it will not happen. Since He is the resurrection and the life, He will not let it happen. Jesus is not just speaking some nice, flowery words to comfort Martha. He is speaking the truth. If we can lose our salvation, then we must once again take Jesus' words as a lie.
Here's the bottom line. Do we take Jesus at His word or not? Do we think He was telling the truth, or hiding it, or only giving half-truths, or in some cases, flat out lying? My preference is to always take Jesus at His word. I've shared the story before, but let me share it again.
It comes from J. Wilbur Chapman who explains how D.L. Moody used John 5:24 to show him that he was eternally secure in Jesus Christ. Here is what he writes:
I was studying for the ministry, and I heard that D.L. Moody was to preach in Chicago. I went to hear him. Finally I got into his aftermeeting. I shall never forget the thrill that went through me when he came and sat down beside me as an inquirer. He asked me if I was a Christian. I said, "Mr. Moody, I am not sure whether I am a Christian or not.’
He very kindly took his Bible and opened it to the fifth chapter of John, and the twenty-fourth verse, which reads as follows: "Verily, verily, I say unto you, he that heareth my word, and beleiveth on Him that sent Me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation, but is passed from death unto life."
Suppose you had read it through for the first time, wouldn’t you think it was wonderful? I read it through, and he said, "Do you believe it?"
I said, "Yes."
"Do you accept it?"
I said, "Yes."
"Well, are you a Christian?"
"Mr. Moody, I sometimes think I am, and sometimes I am afraid I am not."
He very kindly said, "Read it again."
So I read it again, "Verily, verily, I say unto you, he that heareth my word, and beleiveth on Him that sent Me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation, but is passed from death unto life."
Then he said, "Do you believe it?"
I said, "Yes."
"Do you receive Him?"
I said, "Yes."
"Well," he said, "are you a Christian?"
I just started to say over again that sometimes I was afraid I was not, when the only time in all the years I knew him and loved him, he was sharp with me. He turned on me with his eyes flashing and said, "See here, whom are you doubting?"
Then I saw it for the first time, that when I was afraid I was not a Christian I was doubting God’s Word. I read it again with my eyes overflowing with tears.
Since that day I have had many sorrows and many joys, but never have I doubted for a moment that I was a Christian, because God said it.