"I write this to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life" (1 Jn 5:11-13)).
One will find Calvinists make much of John's words concerning eternal life. They like to claim that "eternal life" means they are forever saved. If we say we have eternal life, the Calvinist concludes his salvation is therefore eternal by definition. He decides that his salvation is eternal or it isn't eternal and since the Bible says it is eternal he cannot fall short of salvation on the last day. Let us first look at the passages which they employ to try and support this notion of theirs. Then we shall expose their error.
- "He who believes in the Son has eternal life; he who does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God rests upon him" (John 3:36).
- "Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears my word and believes him who sent me, has eternal life; he does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life" (John 5:24).
- "And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son..... I write this to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life" (1 John 5:11,13).
Notice carefully how all the above passages teach that Christians presently have eternal life. The Calvinist also wants you to notice this carefully so that he can conclude that your salvation is an eternal thing which means you are forever saved and cannot fall short of salvation on the last day. However, there is something the Calvinist does not tell you. Let us look at some more passages from Scripture which will now begin to illuminate his error. Notice when eternal life occurs in the following passages.
- "And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to eternal life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt" (Daniel 12:2).
- "Jesus said to them, "Truly, I say to you, in the regeneration of all things, when the Son of man shall sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And every one who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name's sake, will receive a hundredfold, and inherit eternal life (Mt 19:29)."
- "When the Son of man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne... the King will say to those at his right hand, "Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.... And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life." (Mt 25:31-46).
- "For he will render to every man according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life.... on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men through Christ Jesus" (Romans 2:6-16).
- "For this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, because we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen; for the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.... We walk by faith, not by site" (2 Cor 4:17-5:1).
- "But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of deeds done by us in righteousness, but in virtue of his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal in the Holy Spirit, which he poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that we might be justified by his grace and we might become heirs according to the in hope of eternal life" (Titus 3:4-7).
- "Keep yourselves in the love of God; awaiting the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life" (Jude 21).
These passages certainly say something quite different than what the Calvinist wants you to believe about eternal life. Here, eternal life is something which comes when Jesus Christ returns. Indeed, Paul has the hope of eternal life. There are several more passages which convey the same idea. So how can the Calvinist claim he already has eternal life if it is not yet given to him until the end of the age? Can you have eternal life in a "fuller" way? Of course not. As the Calvinist himself argues, he either has it or he doesn't.
So how can we make sense out of this? How does one presently have eternal life as described in John's writings, but one does not obtain eternal life until the end of the age as described in all the other books of the Bible? The answer is clear and is found in the Scriptures. In John, eternal life means something different than in the other passages of Scripture. Notice what eternal life means in John's writings:
- "In him was life, and the life was the light of men" (John 1:4).
- "For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself" (John 5:26).
- "I am the bread of life" (John 6:35).
- "For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven, and gives life to the world" (John 6:33).
- "I am the bread of life" (John 6:48).
- "I am the living bread which came down from heaven. If any one eats of this bread, he will live for ever. And the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh." (John 6:51).
- "He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. " (John 6:54).
- "I am the resurrection and the life" (John 11:25).
- "I am the way, the truth and the life" (John 14:6).
- "That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life, the life was made manifest, and we saw it, and testify to it, and proclaim to you the eternal life which was with the Father and was made manifest to us" (1 John 1:1-2).
- "And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He who has the Son has life; he who has not the Son of God has not life" (1 John 5:11-12).
- "And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, to know him who is true; and we are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God and eternal life." (1 John 5:20).
Here we can see clearly that in John, the words "eternal life", refer to Jesus Christ himself. This is why Jesus repeatedly reminds us that if we have faith in him, we have eternal life. In other words, if we have a faith union with him, we have union with Christ and Christ is eternal life therefore we have union with eternal life. When John says anyone has eternal life, he is referring to the power of life in Christ Jesus, not an abstract condition of infinite salvation. If indeed one has Christ, he has eternal life dwelling in him because Jesus is himself the essence of eternal life. He is the Resurrection and the Life
This is why we are to have faith in Jesus, so that we can have eternal life. If we are united to him in faith, we are united to eternal life because eternal life is what he is. But if we deny him, we are no longer united to that eternal life. This is why Paul tells people to test themselves to see if Christ is really in them (2 Cor 13:5). If he is in us, we have eternal life dwelling within us because eternal life is what he is. If we find he is not in us, we will not have eternal life dwelling in us, because we do not have him who is that eternal life. In John, eternal life is not an abstract condition describing the state of infinite salvation. It is a term used to describe Jesus Christ who dwells in us and to be saved unto eternal life at the end of the age, we must remain in him, the Eternal Life.
When we read through all the non-Johannine passages concerning eternal life, we find that it is a future reality for Christians. This is because we will become like Jesus, the Eternal Life, when we our bodies are transformed to be like his glorious risen body and we enter into the Kingdom of Heaven. This is why John says, "And this is what he has promised us, eternal life" (1 Jn 5:25) and "we know that when he appears we shall be like him for we shall see him as he is" (1 John 3:2; cf. 1 Cor 15:45-49; Php 3:20-21). In other words, Jesus is eternal life and we shall be made to be eternal life just like Jesus. Paul says it in this way, "if Christ is in you, your bodies are dead because of sin, but the Spirit is life because of righteousness and if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit which dwells in you" (Romans 8:10-11; cf. 2 Cor 1:22; 5:5). If Jesus the eternal life dwells in us and we abide in him, then we will become eternal life when he comes.
John is not telling anyone they have the abstract condition of eternal life as if it were infinite salvation. He is telling us that if we are united with the Son, then we have eternal life because the Son himself is eternal life. But if we do not remain in the Son we no longer have him who is that eternal life. Indeed, he tells us that if we remain in what we have heard from the beginning we will receive eternal life as he promised us (1 Jn 2:24-25). For this reason, Jesus exhorts his disciples to remain in him so that they will not be thrown into the fire (John 15:1-6).
So we again expose the trickery devised in Calvinism. Having the existential quality of eternal life is something we will receive at the end of the age if indeed we are faithful to God until the end. However, we can now be sharers in the divine nature (2 Peter 1:4) and that divine nature is the eternal life of the Son who is the eternal life. So if we have Jesus, that is, if we are united with Jesus in faith, then we have eternal life. But if we depart from faith in him, we no longer are united to the Son and no longer united to eternal life since he is that life.
"I AM the Resurrection and the Life." (John 11:25).