G. C. asks a great question:
I appreciate your ministry. I am in a discussion with a man in our church who insists that Jesus never promised eternal life to anyone who does not believe (present tense) in Him for eternal life. I have several arguments against that position. I do not think I will convince him because he is dug in and thinks he is right. I believe his position is work-based and subjective and offers no security for the believer. He is a friend and a brother, and I’m not interested in winning an argument (he enjoys debating, but I do not) but in clearly stating the error of his position. How would you respond? I promise to try to do it in love. Thank you for your ministry. I believe it is much needed.
I see this question a lot. On September 18, we released a video about Dr. William Lane Craig’s lack of assurance of his eternal destiny. A few of the 228 comments argued that “whoever believes in Him” in John 3:16 refers to lifelong unbroken faith. For example, @2Chronicles714 paraphrased John 3:16 in this way: “For God so once (past tense) agape loved the people of this world that he gave his only Son so that everyone who has continued faith and strives to obey Himi will not be cast into the lake of fire but will haveii eternal life.” @Counterpoint_Apologetics commented: “John 3:16…is simply a positive statement of fact. He that believeth…[has] the meaning of ongoing belief. It clearly is not limited to a single moment by the text.”
G. C.’s friend does not believe in the promise of everlasting life. Possibly he believed in the past. G. C. should lovingly warn his friend that if he has never believed in the promise of life to the one who simply believes in Jesus for it, then he is not yet born again. His eternal destiny is at stake.
If John 3:16 refers to lifelong faith, when would a person have everlasting life–when he first believed, or only after believing to the last heartbeat? The answer G. C.’s friend and many others give is the latter.
If that is true, then there is not a single born-again person on earth today!iii There couldn’t have been a born-again person living at any point in church history! No one would have been born again until and unless he died in faith.
“Whoever believes in Him…has everlasting life.” If the believing must be lifelong, one becomes a believer when he dies in faith. Not before.
That is a rejection of what the Lord promises. Anyone who believes in the Lord Jesus has everlasting life from the moment he first believed in Him for everlasting life.
John 3:16 is clear. So are scores of verses in John’s Gospel and over a hundred in the Bible. When someone believes in Jesus for irrevocable salvation, he has it and can never lose it.iv
i It is interesting that most who say that lifelong faith in Christ is required also say that perseverance in good works is required as well.
ii Note that in this understanding the person does not have eternal life when he believes. He will receive it when he dies if he has persevered in faith and obedience. He will not have it prior to death.
iii Of course, many people differentiate between initial salvation, which they say occurs at the moment of faith, and final salvation, which can potentially be won by persevering in faith and good works until death. However, according to the Lord Jesus, salvation is final the moment we believe (John 3:16-17).
iv Perseverance is an issue regarding blessings in this life and eternal rewards in the life to come (e.g., Psalm 1; Matt 6:33; 2 Tim 2:12; 4:6-8; Rev 2:26).