A Free Grace friend of mine wrote an article last month dealing with the issue of whether assurance is of the essence of saving faith. (The exact title is “Does John’s Gospel Demand Belief in Eternal Security for Salvation?” It is available here.) His answer was no. One need not believe that salvation is irrevocable in order to get it.
The author does not mention that he is responding to things GES has published on our blog, in our magazine, and in our journal. He wanted to discuss the issue and I think he feared that if he named names it might be seen as personal. I agree.
Coincidentally, I wrote a blog dealing with the same issue on March 20th, about a week before I received that article. I drew the opposite conclusion. See here. However, since this new article by my friend suggests a unique interpretation, I feel it is important to respond.
The author suggests that John 5:24 and 6:35 are not evangelistic verses designed to lead unbelievers to faith in Christ. Instead, he says they are “passages designed to assure those who believe.” He adds, “These statements of eternal security are given to assure those who have believed in Jesus Christ.” He is talking about all of the passages dealing with assurance in John’s Gospel. He thinks all of them are directed to believers, not unbelievers.
For the sake of space, I will just discuss the two specific texts he mentions.
The contexts of John 5 and John 6 do not support his contention.
The sermon of which John 5:24 is a part starts in 5:19 and runs till the end of the chapter (5:47). The entire passage is about unbelieving Jews who reject Jesus.
Even before the sermon starts, we learned that the Jewish leaders “sought to kill Him, because He had done these things on the Sabbath…Therefore the Jews sought all the more to kill Him, because He not only broke the Sabbath, but also said that God was His Father, making Himself equal with God” (5:16-19). The sermon starts with these words, ͞”Then Jesus answered them and said.”
Jesus was answering unbelievers, not believers. His whole point in 5:19-47 is that to believe in God is to believe in Him since God sent Him to give this very message of everlasting life. That is why John 5:24 starts not with “He who believes in Me,” the typical statement in John, but ͞”He who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me…” To believe in the Father is to believe in the Son whom He sent.
The Lord gives a series of proofs that He indeed has come from the Father with this message of life: John the Baptist’s witness (John 5:33), the miraculous works which Jesus did (John 5:36), the Father’s witness (John 5:37), and the witness of the Old Testament Scriptures (John 5:39-40).
Several times the Lord indicates His listeners are unbelievers: “But you do not have His word abiding in you, because whom He sent, Him you do not believe” (John 5:38) and “But if you do not believe [Moses’] writings, how will you believe My words”(John 5:47).
The idea that John 5:24 is directed to believers is contradicted by Jesus’ own words.
The same is true in Jesus’ Bread of Life discourse in John 6. It starts with unbelievers asking him to give them a continuous supply of the bread He gave when He fed the 5,000 (John 6:34). After Jesus says, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst” (John 6:35), He then says, “Yet you do not believe”(John 6:36).
After this the unbelieving Jews “complained about Him” (John 6:41).
There is no question that John 5:24 and 6:35 were evangelistic when the Lord stated them and that John is using them to fulfill His evangelistic purpose that “you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that [by] believing you may have life in His name” (John 20:31).
My friend fails to discuss what he wants Free Grace believers to share with unbelievers. Should they share that everlasting life is irrevocable, even if he thinks it is not necessary to believe that? I hope he will discuss that in a future article.
It is the position of GES that we should always share the irrevocability of the gift which Jesus gives to the believer, whether we explain that is everlasting life which can’t be lost, an eternal relationship with Jesus which is secure, salvation which is once and for all, righteous standing that can never be lost, or a certain home in Jesus’ kingdom forever. If we don’t share that this is secure, then the person will likely walk away believing he must work to keep it.
June Blackwell is now with the Lord. I remember talking with her when she was about eighty. She was tiny, maybe 5 feet 0 inches and 100 pounds. But what an evangelist! She witnessed to people nearly every day on the phone and in person. One story she told me really moved me. She went to a nursing home in Charlotte talking with as many of the patients as possible. But she also talked to the nurses. She recounted sharing the good news that Jesus died on the cross for our sins and rose again so that if we just believe in Him we will live with Him forever. She shared verses like John 3:16 and Eph 2:8-9. She recounted asking one nurse, “Do you believe this?” When the nurse said she did, June followed up with a question, as she always did.
“Where would you go if you died right now?”
“I’d go to heaven.”
“Where would you go if twenty years from now you killed someone and died before you could repent?”
“Well, I’d still go to heaven because I believe in Jesus.”
June loved that answer. But when someone would instead answer, ͞”Well, in that case, I’d go to hell,” she’d say, “Let me go over the cross and the promise again.” She’d explain that Jesus even paid for our future sins and that once we are saved, we are always saved.
My friend said in his article that some people just don’t have on their radar whether salvation is irrevocable or not. June believed it was her job to put it on their radar both as she was evangelizing and as she was doing follow-up. In light of the evangelistic ministry of Jesus as reported in John’s Gospel, I think June had the right approach. What do you think?