That Ye May Know That Ye Have Eternal Life
Or, The Biblical Doctrine of the Assurance of Salvation
Or, Only Those Who Abide in Christ May Know That They Have Eternal Life
"These things have I written unto you that believe on the Name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have Eternal Life, and that ye may believe on the Name of the Son of God"
by Tom Stewart
he God of All Comfort (2Corinthians 1:3) takes great delight in assuring His children that they belong to Him and He belongs to them. "And he that keepeth His Commandments dwelleth in Him, and He in him. And hereby we know that He abideth in us, by the Spirit which He hath given us" (1John 3:24). In fact, the First Epistle of John is the only book of the Bible written for the express purpose of giving the Children of God the Assurance of Salvation. "These things have I written unto you that believe on the Name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have Eternal Life, and that ye may believe on the Name of the Son of God" (5:13). Only those walking in loving obedience to the LORD Jesus Christ are assured of their possession of Eternal Life. "And hereby we do know that we know Him, if we keep His Commandments" (2:3). And, the opposite is also true, that those walking in disobedience, do not know Jesus Christ. "He that saith, I know Him, and keepeth not His Commandments, is a liar, and the Truth is not in him" (2:4).
How Can This Be?
he Holy Spirit, Who is the Blessed Comforter (John 14:16), always and only assures the obedient of possessing Eternal Life-- never the disobedient. "6 If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth: 7 But if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanseth us from all sin" (1John 1:6-7). The prized knowledge of the possession of Eternal Life is given by He Who is the "Spirit of Knowledge and of the Fear of the LORD" (Isaiah 11:2). He has chosen to give us that knowledge of the possession of Eternal Life through the Divinely appointed Word of God. "All Scripture is given by inspiration of God [literally, God breathed, i.e., by the Spirit of Truth]" (2Timothy 3:16). That the Spirit speaks through the Scriptures, is the universal testimony of the Bible. David, the Psalmist, said, "The Spirit of the LORD spake by me, and His Word was in my tongue" (2Samuel 23:2). The Godly must limit their knowledge of the possession of Eternal Life to only what the Spirit reveals, i.e., our sonship is based upon the Spirit's present testimony to our present abiding in obedience, because that is the method and manner of the Spirit's revelatory work through the Scriptures. "But as many as received Him, to them gave He Power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on His Name" (John 1:12).
In our ignorance, it is difficult for us to comprehend that we cannot know what the Almighty does not reveal to us. "8 For My Thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My Ways, saith the LORD. 9 For as the Heavens are higher than the Earth, so are My Ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts" (Isaiah 55:8-9). In particular, the knowledge that we have Eternal Life cannot be verified without the witness of the Holy Spirit-- Who has chosen to reveal this knowledge through His Living Word. "These things have I written unto you that believe on the Name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have Eternal Life" (1John 5:13). Only those who are convinced of the Truth of God's Word may comprehend their possession of Eternal Life. "But whoso looketh into the Perfect Law of Liberty [the Word of God], and continueth therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed" (James 1:25).
Unfortunately, we have not always evaluated our Christian experience in light of the Word of God; instead, we have often relied upon our faulty recall of events, i.e., "went forward at the invitation", and emotion, i.e., "felt so relieved", to assure ourselves that we possessed the Eternal Life of the Gospel. But, the Doctrine of the Assurance of Salvation is based upon the Holy Spirit's infallible acknowledgement of our sonship through the testimony of the Word of God. "And hereby we do know that we know Him, if we keep His Commandments" (1John 2:3). Because the common concept of conversion to Christ is so "event and emotion" oriented, the knowledge of the possession of Eternal Life has become more a function of how well we recall the event or emotion than "what saith the Scripture?" (Romans 4:3).
A real problem of this Laodicean Age is that the disobedient have demanded the same Assurance of Salvation as those who abide in Christ. "He that saith, I know Him, and keepeth not His Commandments, is a liar, and the Truth is not in him" (1John 2:4). And, Scripture is absolutely clear about the destiny of all liars. "But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the Second Death" (Revelation 21:8). God's Spirit is unequaled in His Comfort of those that "dwell in Him" (1John 4:13); but, His Distress of disobedient, professing Christians is unrivaled for the condemnation and stress He places on them for their walking apart from Him. "If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the Truth" (1:6).
The Faith That Saves Is More Than A Passive, Intellectual Persuasion
ll who have been "born again" (John 3:3) into God's "family in Heaven and Earth" (Ephesians 3:15) by the Incorruptible Seed of the Word of God (1Peter 1:23), are the children of God. "But as many as received Him, to them gave He Power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on His Name" (John 1:12). Regardless of any lack of drama in the conversion experience, turning in faith to the Saviour away from our sins, is Salvation. "For I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ: for it is the Power of God unto Salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek" (Romans 1:16). Gospel Faith is alive with works, i.e., the Works of Faith. "Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone" (James 2:17). "Now the just shall live by faith: but if any man draw back, My soul shall have no pleasure in him" (Hebrews 10:38).
However, the Laodicean spirit of the present Church Age has divorced the Works of Faith from the meaning of Evangelical Faith. "They profess that they know God; but in works they deny Him, being abominable, and disobedient, and unto every good work reprobate" (Titus 1:16). In the name of upholding Salvation By Faith Without Works, they deny the necessity of anything outside of a passive, intellectual persuasion concerning the Truth for Eternal Salvation. "What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him?" (James 2:14). Laodicea's passive, intellectual definition of faith would satisfy even the demons. "Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble" (2:19).
How unlike Laodicea's antinomianism was the Apostle Paul's "obedience of faith" (Romans 16:26)! The same apostle who was inspired by the Spirit to write, "For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast" (Ephesians 2:8-9), finished the thought with the assertion that, "we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them" (2:10). Anyone abiding in Evangelical Faith must be walking in "good works" (2:10), which are the Works of Faith. Without that walking in "good works" (2:10), they do not possess Evangelical Faith. "Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works" (James 2:18).
Paul asserted that those who are presently committing sin shall not enter Heaven, i.e., "they which do [literally, are doing-- present tense] such things shall not inherit the Kingdom of God" (Galatians 5:21). "19 Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, 20 Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, 21 Envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the Kingdom of God" (Galatians 5:19-21). The Apostle John agreed with Paul that those who were presently committing sin could not enter and defile Heaven. "And there shall in no wise enter into It any thing that defileth [literally, defiling-- present tense], neither whatsoever worketh [literally, practicing-- present tense] abomination, or maketh a lie" (Revelation 21:27).
Can Eternal Life Ever Cease?
o, for Eternal Life to be eternal, it can never cease, for Jesus absolutely promised us, "I give unto them Eternal Life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of My hand" (John 10:28). But, our right to lay claim to Eternal Life can cease. Let me explain. The Gospel of John was written by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit for the purpose of promoting Gospel Faith in the reader, i.e., "that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have Life through His Name" (John 20:31). Likewise, the Apostle John's first epistle to his Little Children (1John 2:1) is the Holy Spirit's follow-up to the New Born Believers to give them the Assurance of Salvation, i.e., "that ye may know that ye have Eternal Life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God" (5:13). Therefore, the entire epistle is to be read searching for the theme, "that ye may know" (5:13) that you are a Christian.
Again, how can we lose our right to claim that we have Eternal Life? Let us examine a prime example of this concept in the second chapter of the epistle. "He that saith, I know Him, and keepeth not His Commandments, is a liar, and the Truth is not in him" (1John 2:4). Or, "He that saith [literally, is saying-- present tense], I know [literally, I have known-- perfect tense] Him, and keepeth not [literally, is not keeping-- present tense] His Commandments, is [present tense] a liar, and the Truth is [present tense] not in him" (2:4). To paraphrase the verse, 'He that is saying that I have known Him, and is not keeping His Commandments, is [presently] a liar, and the Truth is [presently] not in him'. This is the Holy Spirit's Infallible Guide to teaching His people how He takes away our right to claim that we have known Him, when we are walking in present disobedience. "6 If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the Truth: 7 But if we walk in the Light, as He is in the Light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanseth us from all sin" (1:6-7).
Why should the Father give us His gentle assurance of our acceptance and forgiveness, while we are willfully, knowingly disobeying Him? "Ah sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, a seed of evildoers, children that are corrupters: they have forsaken the LORD, they have provoked the Holy One of Israel unto anger, they are gone away backward" (Isaiah 1:4). We would no more reward a dog in obedience training for wrong behavior than the Father would reward us with His loving assurance of our Salvation, while we abide in stubborn and willful disobedience. "19 If ye be willing and obedient, ye shall eat the good of the land: 20 But if ye refuse and rebel, ye shall be devoured with the sword: for the mouth of the LORD hath spoken it" (1:19-20).
Since our willful sinning is the same as re-crucifying the LORD Jesus afresh, do we think it is unreasonable that the Father would withhold from us His assurance that we are "accepted in the Beloved" (Ephesians 1:6)? "4 For it is impossible... 6 If they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify [literally, are crucifying] to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put [literally, are exposing] Him to an open shame" (Hebrews 6:6). The impossibility of renewing them "again unto repentance" is that it is impossible "to renew them" while they are presently crucifying the LORD Jesus, i.e., still unwilling to repent, and unwanting of the Father's forgiveness. But, the Father has promised even the prodigal, "Return unto Me, and I will return unto you, saith the LORD of Hosts" (Malachi 3:7). "Behold, what manner of Love" (1John 3:1) is this that the Father would faithfully discipline the profligate children! "6 For whom the LORD loveth He chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom He receiveth. 7 If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is He whom the Father chasteneth not?" (Hebrews 12:6-7).
In fact, the "deceitfulness of sin" (Hebrews 3:13) is so great, that many who consider themselves as simply Backslidden, have never truly "tasted that the LORD is gracious" (1Peter 2:3) and have never been "born again" (1:23). For this reason, the human memory of events that are supposed to have been our Evangelical Salvation, cannot be verified without the testimony of the Spirit. "The Spirit Itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God" (Romans 8:16). On the other hand, the Spirit warns the Saints that "if we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the Truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins, 27 But a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries" (Hebrews 10:26-27). This is not only withholding assurance, but it is also the certainty of Judgment to those walking in disobedience. "Of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath counted the Blood of the Covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and hath done despite unto the Spirit of Grace?" (10:29). Take care not to tempt the Living God, for "it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the Living God" (10:31). The reaction of the Righteous to such a warning only causes them to trust the LORD more soberly. "But we are not of them who draw back unto perdition; but of them that believe to the saving of the soul" (10:39). "11 For the grace of God that bringeth Salvation hath appeared to all men, 12 Teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and Godly, in this present world; 13 Looking for that Blessed Hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ" (Titus 2:11-13).
How to Know That You Know
he Holy Spirit has established immutable rules of evidence for the knowledge of sonship that no human court can rightfully overturn. "God is not a man, that He should lie; neither the son of man, that He should repent: hath He said, and shall He not do it? or hath He spoken, and shall He not make it good?" (Numbers 23:19). Let us examine another verse, which is adjacent to the previous example-- "He that saith, I know Him, and keepeth not His Commandments, is a liar, and the Truth is not in him" (1John 2:4)-- of losing the right to claim our sonship; but, this time, the same rules of knowledge and evidence prove the sonship of the obedient Saint. "And hereby we do know that we know Him, if we keep His Commandments" (1John 2:3). Remember, also, that all the good works attributed to the Saints are not only our "reasonable service" (Romans 12:1) to God, but are made possible by the grace of the Spirit of Christ (8:9) working in us. "For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure" (Philippians 2:13).
ain is the help of man" (Psalm 108:12), especially in gaining the assurance of possessing Eternal Life. Perhaps the plainest statement of Scripture that any may use to determine their possession of Eternal Life, is the Apostle John's letter to his Little Children. "3 And hereby we do know that we know Him, if we keep His Commandments. 4 He that saith, I know Him, and keepeth not His Commandments, is a liar, and the Truth is not in him" (1John 2:3-4). PRESENT OBEDIENCE MEANS YOU TRULY POSSESS ETERNAL LIFE, WHILE PRESENT DISOBEDIENCE MEANS YOU ARE A LIAR. "And ALL liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the Second Death" (Revelation 21:8).
Possibly, the most important thing about the faith which possesses Eternal Life, is that faith works, and that, by Love. "For in Jesus Christ neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision; but faith which worketh by Love" (Galatians 5:6). Isaac Watts wrote an hymn with the words:
"'Tis faith that changes all the heart,
'Tis faith that works by love,
That bids all sinful joys depart,
And lifts the thoughts above."
May the same heart be found, even in this Laodicean Age. "For the eyes of the LORD run to and fro throughout the whole Earth, to shew Himself strong in the behalf of them whose heart is perfect toward Him" (2Chronicles 16:9). May you be among those whom the Good LORD comforts with the Assurance of Salvation. "Faithful is He that calleth you, Who also will do it" (1Thessalonians 5:24).
And, may the Spirit of God teach you that
Amen, and Amen.
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