In response to a recent blog entitled, “What Does It Mean to Believe in Jesus?” (see here), a reader asked three excellent questions. Here are his questions:
If I understand correctly, you’re saying a person can believe many things about Jesus Christ, including that He’s the only Son of God, yet not have eternal life. To have eternal life those other beliefs must be accompanied by the belief that faith in Jesus Christ does, in fact, result in irrevocable eternal salvation. Without belief in that specific fact about Christ, a person is not saved.
First, if understanding the irrevocable nature of salvation is a condition of eternal salvation, aren’t we saying that anyone who has trouble with assurance is not saved? (To be clear, I’m among those that believe irrevocable eternal salvation is a redundant statement) This sounds a lot like Calvinists asking believers if they’re “really” saved.
Second, why isn’t Jesus’ question to Martha at the end of John 11:26 simply a clarifying question, and not a conditional question leading to her eternal salvation?
Lastly, if a person can believe many things about Christ in addition to eternal salvation coming through faith in Christ, why is the person who adds works as their source of assurance not saved? I believe that Lordship Salvation and any other back-loading doctrine are false, but I’m not convinced these people are not saved. Are you saying that by adding something that is not correct, they have negated their belief?
As always, keep up the good work!
Yes, the reader understands me correctly. If we believe lots of important truths about the Person and work of Christ, yet we do not believe His promise of everlasting life to the believer (John 11:25-26), then we are not yet born again.
In answer to his first question, I’d say that if we are talking with someone who is not sure he is secure in Christ, then he does not currently believe the saving message. He may have believed it in the past. If so, he is a confused believer. He has everlasting life. If not, he is an unbeliever who needs everlasting life. In both cases, the reason he lacks assurance is because he does not believe the promise of life to the believer.
I do think that this is in some sense similar to Calvinists who wonder if a given person really believes. The difference is that the Calvinist has doubts because of the fruit he sees. We have doubts because of the root we see. The Calvinist questions the salvation of anyone who does not evidence a high level of holiness. We question the salvation of anyone who does not indicate that he believes in Christ for everlasting life (or the equivalent).
His second question is close to my view. I think the Lord in His omniscience clearly knew that Martha already believed what He just said. But I would not call His question “a clarifying question.” Nor do I think it is “a conditional question leading to her eternal salvation.” She was already born again and the Lord knew that.
I believe that the reason the Lord asked this question was so that she would give the wonderful answer she gives (John 11:27). Compare her answer with John 20:31, the purpose statement of John’s Gospel. She says precisely what John says a person must believe to be born again.
My point in the previous blog is that the Lord’s question concerns belief in belief. Does Martha believe that all who live and believe in Him have everlasting life and will never die spiritually? Yes, she does. She has faith in the power of faith in Christ. And the Lord knew she did. That is why He asked.
His third question is excellent. I do not believe that the Lordship Salvation message is a saving message. Here’s why. The Lordship Salvation message produces faith in one’s own commitment and good works, not in Christ. The Lordship Salvation person looks at his own commitment and good works to see if he is born again. He does not look at the promise of Christ to the believer to see if he is born again.
In my opinion that is not merely back-loading the gospel. That is front-loading it too. I see no real difference between the person who says, “The five conditions of being born again and staying born again are belief in Christ, obeying Him, repenting of your sins, confessing Christ, and being baptized” and the one who says, “We are saved by faith in Christ, but true faith in Christ includes and/or results in obeying Him, repenting of your sins, confessing Christ, and being baptized.”
However, I will add that I am convinced that a significant percentage of Lordship Salvation people once believed the Free Grace message and hence are born again. Many of them actually report that. Thus I view such people as confused believers. But many of them have never believed in Christ for everlasting life and hence have not yet been born again. Either way, I want to tell them about the promise of life. It is a message that they need, whether they are a confused believer or a religious unbeliever.
Back in the day when I was on staff with what is now called Cru, I often asked a college student an evangelistic question: If you were to die and God were to say, “Why should I let you into My heaven?” what would you say? If his answer was about his commitment to Christ and his good works, I would seek to share the good news with him. If his answer was solely about his faith in Christ (“I know He will let me in because I believe in His Son who said, ‘He who believes in Me has everlasting life.’ He has to let me in because the Lord Jesus keeps His promises.”), then I would invite him to join my discipleship group.
I think that was the right approach. And I think it continues to be the right approach.