The Promise of Eternal Life
1 John 5:11-13
July 3, 2011 | Brian Bill
At a televised awards ceremony on BET, the individual announcing the winner mistakenly gave the wrong name. Things immediately became very awkward. Apparently the electronic tablet she was reading from said something different from the teleprompter so she didn’t know what to do. After a commercial break, things were straightened out and the award was given to the right person.
Friends, when it comes time for the Lamb’s Book of Life to be opened, there will be no confusion or uncertainty. No wrong names will be called. Those who know Jesus Christ can be certain that they are saved. Here’s the sermon in a sentence: “If you’re saved by the Savior you’ll be safe with the Savior forever.”
This first promise in our “Summer of Promise” series has been referred to as “Eternal Security,” “Perseverance of the Saints,” or by the phrase, “Once Saved, Always Saved.” The promise of eternal life means that those who are born again can never lose their salvation and are assured that they will inevitably go to heaven.
In his “Systematic Theology,” Louis Berkhof defines this doctrine as “That continuous operation of the Holy Spirit in the believer, by which the work of divine grace begun in the heart is continued and brought to completion.” The Westminster Confession of Faith puts it like this: “They whom God hath accepted in His Beloved, effectually called and sanctified by His Spirit, can neither…totally nor finally fall away from the state of grace; but shall certainly persevere therein to the end, and be eternally saved.” And here’s how our Articles of Faith reads: “We believe that every born again believer is the possessor of everlasting life and is kept by the power of God, and is thus secure in Christ forever.”
As important as Systematic Theology and Confessions of Faith is, they cannot give you the assurance you need. My words in this sermon won’t settle it for you either. The only way you can be sure is by going to the Scriptures themselves. In an age of short attention spans, sound-bite sermons, superficial spirituality and doctrinal shallowness, I plead with you to dig into the Word with me so that the promise of eternal life becomes very personal to you.
It’s my aim today that you will be convinced by both the content and clarity of God’s Word. My plan is to saturate us with Scripture so that we get this settled once and for all and that we pass this promise on to our children and grandchildren as well.
On this 4th of July weekend, we commemorate the founding of our country and the importance of our constitution. Did you see the recent cover of TIME magazine that shows our constitution being run through a shredder with this question superimposed over it: “Does it Still Matter?” Some are suggesting that we just start over like the country of Iceland that is using Facebook to rewrite their constitution. But what is our country without the constitution and the writings of our founding fathers? In a similar, but more profound way, what is Christianity without the Bible? We must constantly go back to the foundation of our faith.
Let me just say that this promise is extremely practical. I know many seemingly saved people who have no assurance of their salvation. When asked if they know for sure if they are going to heaven when they die, they will answer something like this: “I hope so” or “I think so” or “If I’m good enough.” I’ve talked to people who are filled with fear.
The way I see it there are four possibilities related to our topic today.
- To be lost and know that you’re lost.
- To be lost and think you are saved.
- To be saved and not know it for sure.
- To be saved and know that you’re secure.
I would love to have everyone in this final group by the time we’re finished this morning because if you’re saved by the Savior you’ll be safe with the Savior forever.
Here’s how I want to approach our topic today. Instead of walking through a number of Books of the Bible like we did last week, I’m going to limit our focus to one of the human authors of the Bible and to two of the five books he wrote. His name is John and I want us to first camp in the Gospel that bears his name and then we’ll move over to the first letter that he wrote known as 1 John. Here’s an interesting insight. Of the 42 instances that the phrase “eternal life” is used in the Bible, 22 of them are found in these two books.
Gospel of John
John tells us why he wrote his gospel in John 20:31: “But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”
John 3:16-18: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.”
John 3:36: “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him.”
John 5:24: “I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.”
John 6:40: “For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.”
John 10:27-30: “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.” I wrote down seven observations:
- True sheep listen to, and follow the lead of the Shepherd.
- Jesus knows those who are His. He will successfully keep secure those given to Him. 2 Timothy 1:12: “…and I am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him until that day.”
- Eternal life is a gift given by the Savior. My salvation depends entirely on what the Lord Jesus Christ has done for me. If you have this gift you have it eternally because God never starts a project that He does not finish.
- Those who know Him will never perish. This is a strong double negative in Greek: “They will indeed not ever perish.” This is covenant or contract language.
- Our salvation can never be stolen. The word “snatch” means “to pluck, pull or take by force.” No person or problem or circumstance or situation or sin can grab you out of the grip of God (see Romans 8:31-39).
- The greatness of the Father is the ground of safety for the sheep – “is greater than all.” I love the language used by a great preacher of old named A.W. Pink: “The promises of God are unimpeachable…He will be punctilious in securing the eternal welfare of those whom He has appointed to Heavenly glory! Though the world, the flesh and the Devil combine against Him, He cannot be frustrated. He who triumphed over the grave cannot be thwarted by any feebleness or fickleness in His people. Those whom He pardons He preserves.”
- We are doubly secure because we are gripped by the Father and the Son. Who is able to snatch us from their hands? Not even our own wills are up to such a task.
Again I turn to Charles Spurgeon: “Satan’s work…is constantly trying to make us regard ourselves instead of Christ. He insinuates, ‘Your sins are too great for pardon; you have no faith; you do not repent enough…you have such a wavering hold of Jesus…It is not thy hold of Christ that saves thee – it is Christ…therefore, look not so much to thy hand with which thou art grasping Christ, as to Christ.”
Jay Adams, in a chapter he contributed to the book, “John Calvin: A Heart for Devotion, Doctrine and Doxology,” wrote this tribute about Calvin: “He was especially concerned that believers should know the certainty of their salvation…to teach that a saved person may be lost is to impugn the fatherhood of God.”
Do you remember the slogan, “You’re in good hands with Allstate?” John tells us that our Lord’s sheep could not be in better hands—the hand of the Son and the hand of the Father. No one is more secure than one of His sheep.
It says that the Father is holding tightly to us
I’ve heard some people say that a person may take himself out of God’s hand. But would you notice that this verse says nothing about a believer holding on to the Father’s hand? It says that the Father is holding tightly to us. As a dad I have fond memories of holding the hands of our daughters when we lived in Mexico City. I was on high alert at all times because of the dangers surrounding us. It didn’t really matter if they let go of my hand because my hand was bigger and stronger and there was no way I was going to let go of theirs. It’s not like I was holding a stick on one end and they were holding the other. My grip was glued to their hand and there was no way I was letting go.
If you’re saved by the Savior you’ll be safe with the Savior forever.
John ended his gospel by telling us why he wrote it – that we might have eternal life. Let’s turn now to the book of 1 John. We’re going to study this book in depth this fall in a series we’re calling, “Confident Christianity.” Let’s look first at 1 John 2:25: “And this is what he promised us – even eternal life.”
In this letter John tells us that his purpose in writing is so that we might know that we have eternal life. Turn to 1 John 5:11-13: “And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life. I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.” I see five truths:
- The word “testimony” is the word for witness and was used in courtroom settings. In this picture, God is on the witness stand declaring that eternal life is found in His Son.
- Eternal life begins at conversion and continues forever.
- God wants us to know for certain – “so that you may know…” The word “know” appears 39 times in this short book. It’s not a matter of feeling or thinking or hoping but of knowing with a settled intuitive knowledge and is often rendered, “to be sure” or “to be assured.” Too many of us follow our feelings instead of focusing on the faithfulness of God.
- Believing in Jesus is the only way to have eternal life. “To believe” means “to count on someone” or “to trust in them.”
- Assurance comes from what has been written in the Word of God – “I write these things to you…” We can’t rely on our emotions or our experiences or even our spiritual progress.
I like how A.W. Pink ties the entire Trinity into the certainty of our salvation: “For any of the elect to perish would necessarily entail a defeated Father, who was balked of the realization of His purpose; a disappointed Son, who would never see the full travail of His soul and be satisfied; and a disgraced Spirit, who had failed to preserve those entrusted to His care.”
What we’ve learned from the Scriptures is that you can be convinced that you are saved and certain that you will be with the Savior forever. I appreciate how Ray Pritchard answers the question, “Can I lose my salvation?” Here’s what he says: “It depends on who saved you.”
- If God saved you, you can’t lose your salvation because it depends on God.
- If you saved yourself, you can lose it because it depends on you.
Your salvation is eternally secure if God did the saving. But if you think that salvation is a cooperative venture between yourself and God, where you do a part and He does a part, then you’re in big trouble because what you start you could mess up along the way. But if God started it, He’ll also finish it. That reminds me of Philippians 1:6: “Being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”
Pritchard points out that there is great danger in believing that you can lose your salvation because it:
- Leads to excessive introspection, frustration, fear and guilt.
- Strips you of any certainty that your sins are forgiven.
- Leads to fear at the moment of death.
- Tends to produce legalistic faith.
- Takes the focus off of Christ and places it on your own performance.
- May lead to despair and abandoning the faith altogether.
- Could make you hypercritical of others whose faith you doubt.
- Keeps you from growing because you think you need to get saved over and over again.
- Makes the Christian life an unstable roller coaster of up and down experiences.
- Takes the “Good News” out of the gospel because you can’t be sure about anything.
A salvation you could lose is not much of a salvation at all. You can’t be sure you have it, and if you have it today, you can’t be sure you’ll have it tomorrow. And if you lose it, you can’t be sure you’ll get it again. And if you get it again, you can’t be sure you’ll keep it the next time. What kind of salvation is that? It’s a man-centered salvation that makes heaven dependent on what you do.
The fundamental problem with saying that a Christian can lose his or her salvation is that we would have to say that God will not fulfill His promises. If you’re saved by the Savior you’ll be safe with the Savior forever.
Now here are some of the benefits of proclaiming the promise of eternal life:
- Puts the focus of salvation where it ought to be – on God and not on us.
- Provides a way to live with a new confidence.
- Gives real hope at the moment of death.
- Gives us proper motivation to pray for sinning believers.
- Builds the Christian life upon love and gratitude – not doubt and fear.
- Produces a life of love, faith and obedience to God.
- Puts the “Good News” back in the gospel.
- Helps us get back up when we fall because we don’t lose our salvation when we stumble.
- Points us toward heaven and to our eternal rewards.
In his book, How to Begin the Christian Life, George Sweeting suggests that doubting our salvation is like a prisoner who has been pardoned by the Governor. A guard brings him the document, and there it is, signed and sealed. Supposed you ask the man, “Have you been pardoned?” He will say, “Yes.” If you were to ask, “Do you feel pardoned?” he may say, “No, I don’t. It’s all so sudden.” “But if you don’t feel pardoned how do you know you are pardoned?” “Oh,” the man replies, “it tells me so right here.”
When you doubt whether you’re going to make it, make it your practice to claim God’s promise of eternal life
The promise of our pardon is spelled out in a document as well. The Word of God contains all the promises of God. When you don’t feel forgiven, go to the Word. When you doubt whether you’re going to make it, make it your practice to claim God’s promise of eternal life. Memorize John 10:27-30 and 1 John 5:13.
Three Surprises in Heaven
Someone once said that there will be three surprises when we get to heaven. First, we’re going to be surprised that some people are there that we didn’t expect to see there. Second, we’re going to be surprised that some people aren’t there that we were sure were going to be there. And finally, the greatest surprise of all will be that we ourselves are there.
That leads me to this question. Are you going to be there? If you died tonight, would you go to heaven? Are you sure? I can’t think of anything more tragic than to have the sense that you’re saved only to find out that you’re not. Check out Matthew 7:21-23: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. [What’s the will of the Father? To believe in His Son] Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’”
When I was in high school one of my favorite bands was a group called Kansas. I enjoyed listening to my 8-Tracks of “Carry on My Wayward Son” and “Dust in the Wind,” which was the theme song for our junior prom (yes, I wore a powder blue leisure suit).
These songs were actually reflective of some searching that was being done by lead singer Kerry Livgren. In 1979 he committed his life to Jesus Christ and was born again, which incidentally, was the same year I was saved. Another band member came to Christ and then John Elefante, another believer, joined the group. Their songs went from searching to certainty.
Check out a verse from the song called, “Hold on.”
Outside your door He is waiting
Waiting for you
Sooner or later you know
He’s got to get through
No hesitation and no holding back
Let it all go and you’ll know
You’re on the right track
Do you want to get on the right track? Are you ready right now to make sure that your sins are forgiven? Do you want to be certain that your name will be called to receive the award of eternal life? They’ll be no mix-up and no confusion. Those who know Christ are known by Christ. He knows the names of those who name Him as Savior and Lord. If you’re saved by the Savior you’ll be safe with the Savior forever.
If you want to make sure you can pray this prayer with me…
Lord Jesus, I know that I’m a sinner and I’m making a mess of my life. I know I cannot save myself. I believe that you are the Son of God and that you died on the cross as my substitute and that you rose from the dead on the third day. I turn from the way I’ve been living and ask you to forgive me for all my sins. I believe and now I receive the free gift of eternal life. I trust you now as my Lord and Savior. With all that I am, and all that I have, I give myself to you. Make me into the kind of person you want me to be. Thanks for the certainty of knowing that once you save me I will be safe with you forever. In the name of Jesus I pray. Amen.
As we prepare to take communion, I’m struck by this truth for believers: You can break your communion with Christ, but not your union with Him. Do you need to make a declaration, not of independence, but of dependence? Have you been drifting? Use this time to reconnect with Him right now.