Yesterday we posted an article entitled “ETERNAL LIFE – A PRESENT POSSESSION.” In that article we noted a number of scriptures that affirm that very truth – that the Christian, while living on earth, does experience eternal life. It is a quality of life. It is a life of joyous praise, thanksgiving and of glad, loving and willing service. That eternal life we experience presently is as a result of knowing God – living in relationship with Him where we enjoy the greatest blessings He has to bestow on His children.
There are some other things we need to notice about eternal life. First, eternal life is conditional. Those who believe in Jesus as the Son of God have eternal life.
“And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:14-16).
It must be understood here that belief in the Son involves submission to His will. It means that we be obedient to him. One who professes belief and then will not do what he commands really does not believe – much less possess eternal life.
“Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.” (John 3:36).
One who believes in the Son obeys him.
“The verb [used here] means to persuade, to cause belief, to induce one to do something by persuading, and so runs into the meaning of to obey, properly as the result of persuasion.” (Vincent’s Word Studies, eSword).
Obedience is a necessary part of faith. Mere assent of mind does nothing to bring us into eternal life. Even the devils “believe” intellectually that Jesus is the Son of God.
“You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe – and shudder!” (James 2:19).
One of the first things that faith will lead us to do is to be baptized. Some people object strenuously to the necessity of baptism, believing that it is a work by which we earn our salvation. Baptism is not a meritorious work, but is faith acting – obeying. And this obedient faith is what puts us into Christ where eternal salvation is to be found.
“Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?” (Romans 6:3).
“For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” (Galatians 3:27).
Remember that eternal life is in the Son of God…
“And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.” (1 John 5:11).
Thus, if eternal life is in the Son and we get “into” him when we are baptized, then baptism is a condition of receiving eternal life. There is much more involved than just baptism, of course, but this illustrates that eternal life is conditional.
It is also conditioned upon our faithfulness. Paul wrote to the Roman Christians…
“[God] will render to each one according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life;” (Romans 2:6-7).
Thus that future aspect of eternal life is seen here to be conditioned on the of the faithful, fruit-bearing life of the believer.
This leads us to the second part of our discussion – that eternal life can be forfeited.
“Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.
“If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.” (John 15:4-6).
Jesus said one must “abide” in Him or maintain his vital, life-giving, life-sustaining connection or relationship with Him. If one does not abide in Him he is thrown away as a fruitless branch, gathered and burned with fire. Being burned with fire is not eternal life! Can one cease to have a relationship with the Son? Of course he can!
“Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons,” (1 Timothy. 4:1).
Not only can people depart from the faith, but they can, did and will do so in favor of the teachings of deceitful (lying) spirits (teachers) and of demons! These sources are always around. They were not just to be found in the first century. They still are making their appeal to the people of God to this day. Everyone who turns to false teaching and against the Savior of men forfeits eternal life!
“But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end.” (Hebrews 3:13-14).
But what if we do not hold our confidence firm to the end? “If” indicates that it is possible to not remain faithful. What happens to eternal life then? Do we go on experiencing the same blessings from God that we knew before? What will happen at the judgment? Can we really expect God to give us the free gift of eternal life if we have turned our backs on Him?
“Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you fail to meet the test!” (2 Corinthians 13:5).
What was the point of instructing these people to examine themselves regarding their spiritual status if it were not possible to depart from the faith? To not be in the faith means, according to this passage, to not have a relationship with Christ. One who does not have a relationship with Him does not have life in himself, for eternal life is in the Son of God.
Paul said “some have made shipwreck of their faith, among whom are Hymenaeus and Alexander” (1 Timothy 1:19-20). Indeed, it is possible for one to forfeit eternal life. People do it all the time. It will not do to say these people never were saved – never had eternal life because, “once saved, always saved.” The Bible does not teach the impossibility of apostasy. Quite the contrary. It teaches – as we have seen in this study – that in order to have eternal life we must be faithful until the end.
“Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.” (James 1:12).