When you buy a house, you and the seller must agree on the closing date and the move-in date. If you do not have the when, you do not have a contract.
There’s also a crucial when in evangelism, namely, “When does a believer gets everlasting life?” Jesus promised one thing. Sadly, many evangelists promise another. They have changed the when of Jesus’ promise. Which means they are preaching a different promise.
What do I mean?
Haven’t we all heard evangelists who put the emphasis on getting saved some time in the future, on going to heaven when you die?
There is some truth in that. But it’s a half-truth. Born-again people do go to heaven when they die. Heaven is still future. But that’s not when they get eternal life.
Jesus promised that believers have eternal life (John 3:16, 36; 5:24; 6:47). It’s a present possession.
It’s not something to be unsure about.
It’s not something to merely hope for.
If you believe what Jesus said, it is something you are sure you have right now. That’s part of the what of Jesus’ promise.
Here’s a quote from Donald Grey Barnhouse on the importance of the when:
“There are some beings who can begin to live life with the quality of eternity even in the midst of time. These are those who are born again, and who thus on earth begin to live eternal life. The Christian should reject decisively the thought that eternal life is to begin when this physical life is over. We read on a tombstone that a man “entered into eternal life” on the day of his death, but the Bible teaches that for a Christian eternal life begins, not on the day a man enters heaven, but on the day eternal life enters the man through the new birth. Eternal life for the one who becomes a child of God through faith in Jesus Christ at the moment of the new birth” (Donald Grey Barnhouse, The Invisible War, pp. 38-39).
When you evangelize, you have to preach what Jesus promised. And that includes being clear about when a believer gets eternal life. Getting that detail wrong is not an innocent mistake, but a serious doctrinal error that changes the content of Jesus’ promise.
Getting the when of eternal life is a serious error. Happily, I also think this is an error most preachers and evangelists will gladly correct…if they can see it in the Bible! So bring them to those verses in John and challenge them to use the same words that Jesus did in evangelism. If you do that, I am persuaded the Free Grace movement can change how the worldwide Christian community evangelizes.