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In Order That You May Know That You Have Eternal Life
By Jon W. Quinn
One of the most disturbing things that can happen to ones' faith is to be led to think that he or she cannot know whether they "have eternal life." In a reaction to the false Calvinistic positions of "once saved, always saved" and "unconditional election" and "salvation solely by grace" some have gone to the opposite extreme. The result has been that in my lifetime I have heard too many brethren unable to express confidence about whether they can know at the present time if they "have eternal life" or not. It is one thing to counter false teaching with truth; to show that a saved person can fall from grace and be lost (GALATIANS 5:4) or that election unto salvation is conditional (II PETER 1:10,11) or that salvation is not solely by grace but rather by grace through faith (EPHESIANS 2:8-10). It is quite another to react to false teachings to the point where brethren are given such a one-sided view of redemption that they have little or no assurance.
A friend of mine was holding a meeting in another locality. He was invited for supper along with the local preacher, who during the course of the dinner remarked something to the effect of; "Anytime a preacher preaches on grace these days I immediately suspect him of trying to push Calvinism." What a sad state of affairs! Since when did Calvin invent "grace"? I thought the Bible had plenty of wonderful things to say about grace. How dare anyone who claims to be a preacher of the gospel view the preaching of any Biblical topic in such a negative way. What happened to "declaring the whole counsel of God"?
This article is based on a short, simple and sweet verse that says the calm assurance of eternal life can be had by believers; "These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, in order that you may know you have eternal life." (I JOHN 5:13). Anyone who denies any part of this verse simply is not speaking the truth. Any brother or sister who thinks they cannot know whether they have eternal life or not have either been misinformed or have misunderstood the message.
WHO CAN KNOW?
"...you who believe in the name of the Son of God..." (I JOHN 5:13). This assurance belongs to believers. "Believe" means to have faith in; to be convinced of; trust; rely upon; have confidence in. It is not merely something that we feel or think, but it is something we act upon.
In this case, it is believing "in the name of the Son of God" that is being discussed. The "name of the Son of God" refers here to His authority as Lord and Savior. He is deity come to earth in the flesh. He has all authority in heaven and on earth. All we do is to be done "in His name" (MATTHEW 28:18-20; COLOSSIANS 3:17).
So, the answer to the question, "Who can know they have eternal life?" would be "those that believe in Jesus' name." This would be those people who trust Him and submit to His authority. It would be those who are "born of God" and "love the Father" and "keep His commandments" (I JOHN 5:1-3). Those who do so overcome the world by their faith, or belief; "For whatever is born of God overcomes the world; and this is the victory that overcomes the world - our faith." (I JOHN 5:4).
This assurance is not given to those who think in their heads that Jesus might be the Son of God; or even those who strongly think that He is but those that actively put their trust in Him by obeying Him as Lord. If this describes you, then the good news is that you can know that you have eternal life!
WHAT CAN BE KNOWN?
"...in order that you may know that you have eternal life..." (I JOHN 5:13). Yes! You can know that you have eternal life. But what exactly is "eternal life"?
First, it must be pointed out that to say that one presently has eternal life does not mean that eternal life cannot be forfeited. Of course it can. In fact, Paul says we all need to examine ourselves to make sure that we are still "in the faith" and that if we do not pass the test (i.e. if we are not in the faith) that Christ is no longer in us (II CORINTHIANS 13:5). This shows that there is a test that we can perform which will assure us that we are "in the faith." We do not have to say "I do not know if I am on my way to heaven or not."
"Eternal life" refers not only to duration of existence, but also of the dynamic quality of life. All creatures with souls, whether human or angelic, will exist forever, but "eternal life" refers to that wonderful quality of life that only belongs to those who belong to Christ.
There are a couple of ways in which we have "eternal life" presently. First, based upon God's promise, we have the hope or prospect of eternal life in heaven with God if we continue to live by faith (I JOHN 2:24;25).
Second, by faith our earthly lives improve because of the peace, hope and confidence that are ours in Christ. It is a better life for those who enjoy the knowledge of God's love, who are able to look at their fellow man differently and who can face even the severest of trials with calmness. There is order instead of chaos; purpose instead of aimlessness, and a moral standard that serves to protect health and happiness. In these things, we taste eternal life (HEBREWS 6:4).
WHY WOULD I WANT TO KNOW?
"And this is the confidence that we have before Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us." (I JOHN 5:14). It is important to know that we have eternal life so that we might be confident in all areas of our walk in life. John here mentions specifically our confidence in prayer. If I lack confidence in my relationship with God, then I cannot be sure He hears me. If I have confidence, then I know He does.
But I need this same confidence in other areas as well. If I am going to face an often hateful world, then I need to be confident of where I stand in relationship to God and eternity. If I lack this confidence, I will be inclined to give up, or at least minimize my efforts and sacrifices. Yes, you need to "know" that you have eternal life.
HOW DO I KNOW?
"These things I have written... in order that you may know...." (I JOHN 5:13). There is only one way to know for sure, or really, to know at all. Earlier we saw that Paul said we need to "examine" ourselves to see if we are "in the faith." Here, we find that this examination is made by appealing to the things written; the Scriptures. This knowledge and assurance does not come by miracle. We do not know we have eternal life because of the way we feel inside (though the way we feel inside is certainly effected by the knowledge that we have eternal life!). It comes through an examination of the Scriptures and an accompanying self-evaluation.
"He who has the Son has the life; He who does not have the Son does not have the life." (I JOHN 5:12). This is what it comes down to. Do you "have the Son"?
"The one who says, 'I have come to know Him,' and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him; but whoever keeps His word. in him the love of God has been perfected. By this we know that we are in Him." (I JOHN 2:3-6).
"And having been made perfect, He became to all those that obey Him the source of eternal salvation." (HEBREWS 5:9).
That is it then, to be assured, one must accept the Lordship of Jesus in his or her life. When we make His will our will; when we by faith obey Him; when we walk in the light, confessing our sins to Him, then we have this wonderful assurance; eternal life is ours!
These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, in order that you may know that you have eternal life.
(I John 5:13)
Reprinted From the Bradley Banner Bradley Church of Christ Bradley, Illinois April 26, 1998