J. H. is wondering whether perseverance is guaranteed for all believers, at least to some degree. In part 1 (see here), he asked a general question about perseverance, and he asked about seven passages. In part 2, we will consider three verses from John’s Gospel he asks about.
John 3:18. The Lord told Nicodemus, “He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” J. H. comments, “Perhaps if apostasy is possible, He might have said, ‘he that has never believed is condemned already…’ but Jesus doesn’t seem to consider the point. My understanding is that Jesus is saying the person who does not believe is condemned because he has not believed.”
Exactly. Look at the verse and then at J. H.’s last sentence. A believer is one who has believed in Jesus for everlasting life. A person who has never believed in Him is an unbeliever.
J. H. mistakenly thinks that the words “he has not believed” have a different meaning than “he has never believed.” But the meaning is the same. If a person hasn’t believed in Jesus, then he has never believed in Him. If a person has believed in Jesus, then he has believed in Him. There is no hint of perseverance in John 3:18.1
John 3:36. Here John the Baptist (some think these are the words of the Apostle John) says, “He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.” J. H. writes, “Additionally, John 3:36 is worded in the same way, contrasting believers with unbelievers, not believers with people who have never believed.”
Once again, an unbeliever is one who has never believed. A believer is one who has believed. John the Baptist was contrasting those who have believed in Jesus with those who have not.
Maybe an illustration would help. In many nations (e.g., Spain, Sweden, South Korea, Taiwan, Netherlands, Norway), if you were born in that country, once you are old enough to vote, then you retain the right to vote your entire life. Even if you are 65 and have never voted in your life, you are and remain a qualified voter due to being on the population rolls.
If you were born in the United States, then you are an American your whole life. You don’t need to persevere in lawful behavior or even in believing in democracy2 to retain your citizenship. There are millions of Americans in prison today. Even if they die in prison, they die as Americans, not as non-Americans.
Some things in life are permanent. Everlasting life is like that and then some. It not only is permanent during this entire life, but it is permanent in the life to come as well.
John 8:47. The Lord Jesus said, “He who is of God hears God’s words; therefore, you do not hear, because you are not of God.” J. H. writes, “My understanding of this verse is that a believer will always recognize the voice of the Shepherd even if he’s a backslider.”
To be of God is not the same as being born of God. All who believe in Jesus are born of God (John 1:12-13; 1 John 5:1). But to be of God requires that we obey His words. To hear His words does not mean that we believe in Jesus. It means that we obey Him, as is evident in the context. John 8:47 hearkens back to John 8:30-32ff. The believer is no longer a slave of sin. If he abides in Christ’s words, then the truth will set him free from sin’s bondage in his experience. However, unbelievers are slaves of sin (John 8:33-36). Ed Blum comments, “To hear God is not a matter of being able to discern audible sounds but of obeying the heavenly commands. Jesus’ hearers’ absolute rejection of the heavenly Word was a clear reflection that they did not belong to God (lit., “are not of God”)” (The Bible Knowledge Commentary, Vol. 2, p. 306, italics added).
In his first epistle, the Apostle John picks up the same idea, that being “of God” is being obedient to His Word. See, for example, 1 John 4:4-9 and 5:19. Commenting on the expression “of God” in 1 John 4:6, Zane Hodges wrote in his commentary:
As has been frequently pointed out in this Commentary (e.g., under 3:8, 10b, and 19), expressions such as of God (or, “of the devil,” “of the truth,” etc.) signal concepts whose meaning is determined by context. Here it may be suggested that John is thinking of anyone out of touch with God (not under His influence or that of His Spirit) as the kind of person who rejects apostolic authority and teaching. Such a person could be a believer or an unbeliever (The Epistles of John, p. 165).
There is no guarantee in Scripture that all born-again people persevere either in obedience or in faith.
1. I realize that some grammarians (e.g., Dan Wallace) argue that ho pisteuōn, “he who believes,” refers to faith that never stops. However, that argument is impossible. Consider, for example, John 11:26, where two present articular participles are connected: “He who lives and believes in Me shall never die.” If “he who believes in Me” refers to faith that never stops, then “he who lives” (ho zōn) refers to people who will never stop living. However, in context, John is saying that any living human being who believes in Jesus will never die spiritually. He had just said in the previous verse that believers do die physically. Consider also the expression John the Baptizer (ho baptizōn) in Mark 6:14. King Herod calls John “the baptizing one,” knowing well that he had killed him. John had not baptized anyone since then. Yet he is still called the baptizing one.
2 Many Americans are anarchists and even communists.