Conservative Colloquium

An Intellectual Forum for All Things Conservative

“Certainty” of Eternal Life? (1 John 5:13 & John 5:24)

Posted by Tony Listi on December 14, 2007

By David Armstrong on Jan 3, 2006 

John 5:24
“Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life. ”

The word for “believe” is pistuo (Strong’s #4100). It includes in its meaning obedience, not mere mental assent. Thus it is contrasted with disobedience (apitheo) in Jn 3:36, as if it were a synonym for obedience (cf. 1 Peter 2:7, using the same two Greek words). Thus, this would apply to classic evangelistic verses such as Jn 3:16, Rom 1:16, 4:24, 9:33, and 10:9. Kittel, in his Theological Dictionary of the NT (abridged, p. 854) states about this sense of pisteuo:

“as ‘to obey.’ Heb. 11 stresses that to believe is to obey, as in the OT. Paul in Rom. 1:8; 1 Th 1:8 (cf. Rom. 15:18; 16:19) shows, too, that believing means obeying. He speaks about the obedience of faith in Rom. 1:5, and cf. 10:3; 2 Cor 9:13.”
Therefore, since “believe” also contains an obligation of obedience and perseverance, those things aren’t excluded from Jesus’ remarks; therefore He didn’t intend His utterance to be understood as an indication of instant salvation and assurance of eternal life. This is the typical Hebrew drawing of strong contrasts as well. It doesn’t negate the place of good works. In fact, five verses later Jesus refers to the Judgment. And how does He speak about it?:

“. . . those who exercised faith alone, to the resurrection of life, and those who did not rely on faith alone, to the resurrection of judgment. “(Jn 5:29)

Well, not quite; this is the ESV, the Evangelical Standard Version, which is an unauthorized one. The verse actually reads in the RSV:

“. . . those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of judgment.”

Jesus again needs a crash course at Campus Crusade or Inter-Varsity, in how to properly present the Gospel, so people can get saved. But they would probably turn Him away at the door.

Armstrong’s Critic: “Now, why do you think this changes the promises of Jesus in John 5:24?”

It doesn’t “change” it; it has to be harmonized in an overall consistent Christian theology, to be correctly interpreted in the first place.

In Mt 7:21 Jesus states:

“Not every one who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” (cf. Mt 5:20, 16:27, 25:31-46, Lk 18:18-25)

A similar idea occurs in 1 Jn 5:13:

“. . . you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life.”
But two verses later, he writes:

“And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have obtained the requests made of him.”

Obviously, this is conditioned upon whether the request is according to the will of God or not, as the previous verse indicates (“if we ask anything according to his will he hears us”). So the seemingly absolute statement is qualified by another statement. Thus, much of 1st John, as the Gospel of John, is written in a sort of proverbial, or idealized language. E.g., 1 Jn 5:18:

“We know that anyone born of God does not sin . . . ” (cf. 3:6,8-9)

Of course, believers sin all the time. In proverbial literature, the intention is not absolute and all-encompassing, without exception, but rather, common-sense observation of what usually accompanies a certain state or condition. Thus, John is saying that “those in Christ do not sin,” or, more accurately, “the essence of the person in Christ is righteousness; sin is contrary to the essence of a Christian.” Thus, also, he is expressing the thought, “those who believe in Christ will be saved and will have eternal life; those who do not will not be saved.” Those are general truths, but it is much more difficult to apply them to individuals, and this is expressing something different from absolute subjective assurance of the individual. In fact, John “contradicts” 1 Jn 5:18 (above) in 1 Jn 1:8:

“If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.”

But in fact it is no contradiction, because proverbial literature is not meant to be interpreted in such absolute, airtight terms. In the book of Proverbs the classic example is where it says “answer the fool” in one verse, and in the very next it says, “don’t answer the fool” (i.e., different situations dictate a different response, in prudence).

I have an old Thayer’s Lexicon of the NT and here is how he defines the faith mentioned in John 5:24: “to believe and embrace what God had made known either through Christ or
concerning Christ (p. 512)”

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