Response to Ardel Caneday’s Blog Post Entitled,
“Eternal Life, Both God’s Gift and Reward”
First I will weave in Caneday’s blog post with my comments. To set my words apart, I will put Caneday’s comments in blue and quotes from Zane in green. At the end, after Caneday’s comments end, I will have some concluding remarks.
Caneday begins as follows:
I am working on a writing project associated with The Race Set Before Us. As I was working on it something dawned upon me as I wrote the following segment. It concerns how Zane Hodges, and others who follow him, destroy their own case when they appeal to Romans 6:23 as Hodges does when he attempts to expound Galatians 6:8.
Where does Hodges make this connection? Caneday will tell us, sort of, in the words which follow.
Two interpretive keys govern how advocates of the loss-of-eternal-rewards view interpret Scripture: (1) salvation is past; rewards are future; and (2) salvation is free; rewards are earned. Therefore, understandably those who hold this view are concerned to separate biblical admonitions and warnings against loss from the grace of salvation because otherwise, as they view the matter, the grace of salvation and of eternal life would be earned by works. Popularity of this view owes much to the notes of The New Scofield Reference Bible, especially the note attached to 1 Corinthians 3:14.
God in the N.T. Scriptures offers to the lost, salvation; and for the faithful service of the saved, He offers rewards. The passages are easily distinguished by remembering that salvation is invariably spoken of as a free gift (e.g. Jn. 4:10; Rom. 6:23; Eph. 2:8-9), whereas rewards are earned by works (Mt. 10:42; Lk. 19:17; 1 Cor. 9:24-25; 2 Tim 4:7-8; Rev. 2:10; 22:12). A further distinction is that salvation is a present possession (Lk. 7:50; Jn. 3:36; 5:24; 6:47), whereas rewards are a future attainment, to be given at the rapture (2 Tim. 4:8; Rev. 22:12).
The tone of authoritative finality and clarity concerning their interpretive keys—salvation is past; rewards are future; and salvation is free; rewards are earned—suggests that a sharp cleavage exists between the two classes of passages. So, one would expect that Scripture would never use words such as “salvation” or “eternal life” with future reference nor as the reward to be received. Yet, what do we find? In Galatians 6:7-10, which advocates of the loss-of-eternal-rewards view insist is about “rewards” not “salvation,” Paul admonishes,
Do not be deceived; God is not mocked, for you reap whatever you sow. If you sow to your own flesh, you will reap corruption from the flesh; but if you sow to the Spirit, you will reap eternal life from the Spirit. So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest time, if we do not give up. So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all, and especially for those of the family of faith (emphasis added).
Paul’s imagery of sowing and reaping mingles what loss-of-eternal-rewards view advocates separate. To them, even though Paul presents “eternal life” as the future reality we have not yet harvested poses no obstacle as Zane Hodges explains.
Caneday then quotes Zane Hodges:
Nothing is plainer than that the “everlasting life” of which Paul speaks is not free, but based on the moral merits of those who reap it…. Naturally Paul knew that eternal life was freely given (Rom. 6:23; see also Rom. 5:15-18), just as the Apostle John knew this. But Paul is not speaking about what the Galatians already have, but about what they may yet receive. Herein lies the key to this text.
Caneday points the reader to page 87 of Hodges’s book The Gospel Under Siege. However, there is no such quote on page 87. I had to search the electronic version of the text we have at GES (we are hoping to release The Gospel Under Siege, along with The Hungry Inherit and Grace in Eclipse at our upcoming conference) to find the quote. The first line of what he quotes actually appears on the bottom of page 86.
Do you notice the ellipses, the four periods? That suggests that Caneday left something insignificant out. Well, what he left out is pretty important. Here is part of what he leaves out, “All becomes clear, however, if we simply remember that the Apostle is addressing believers (see, for example, 3:2-5) who have already been justified by faith and who possess everlasting life as a free gift.” Leaving that out lessens the impact of Zane’s point.
What is the key? To explain the passage Hodges uses the interpretive key found in The New Scofield Reference Bible.
This seems to imply that Hodges is merely parroting back some insight he gained from the New Scofield Reference Bible. While it would be fine if that were true, there is no evidence, to my knowledge, to support such an implication.
Caneday concludes his quote of Hodges as follows:
Here it should be stated clearly that in the New Testament eternal life is presented both as a free gift and as a reward merited by those who earn it. But one important distinction always holds true. Wherever eternal life is viewed as a reward, it is obtained in the future. But wherever eternal life is presented as a gift, it is obtained in the present.
Now we return to the words of Caneday for the last paragraph of his blog post.
Even though Paul uses identical words, “eternal life,” in both Galatians 6:8 and Romans 6:23, Hodges severs “eternal life” as “reward” from “eternal life” as “gift” because he presumes that “eternal life,” when portrayed as a future reward, is earned by Christians and that the reward cannot be God’s gracious consummative bestowal of the gift of “eternal life” of which Christians now have but a taste through faith in Christ Jesus. He does not recognize that his appeal to Romans 6:23 actually contradicts his argument. This is because he fails to realize that everywhere that Paul speaks of “eternal life,” including in Romans 6:22-23, he invariably portrays “eternal life” with orientation to the future, as the life God will give for the age to come. Romans 6:22 makes this explicit when Paul states, “you have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life.” Then, Paul explains that this coming eternal life in Christ Jesus is God’s gift (6:23). Therefore, the passage Hodges uses to establish his separation between “eternal life” as a present possessed gift from “eternal life” as a future earned reward nullifies his claim. Paul identifies “eternal life,” which believers will receive in the day of resurrection, both as “God’s gift” and as something we will “reap.” Both describe “eternal life” as future.
In what sense does Hodges “sever” eternal life as a reward from eternal life as a gift? Hodges argues that one cannot earn everlasting life as a future reward, that is, abundance of everlasting life forever, without first having received the gift of everlasting life by faith alone. Hodges in no way severs the two.
Caneday never explains how Hodges understands everlasting life as a possible future reward. Hodges sees it, as I mention in the preceding paragraph, as more than the mere possession of spiritual life that can never be lost. It is a heightened ability to glorify the Lord Jesus, including ruling with Him in the life to come. In Hodges view, all believers will get into the Kingdom and serve Him, but only the persevering ones will rule with Him and have a special fullness of life.
That is the end of Caneday’s blog on Gal 6:8. It should be noted that Caneday does not understand Hodges interpretation of Rom 6:22-23. Here is a brief part of what Hodges wrote in his commentary on Romans:
“With sin, therefore, one receives what one has earned (wages). But eternal life is an unearned experience because at its core eternal life is the gift of God that is given in Christ Jesus our Lord. That is to say, by virtue of our being in Christ (see 6:3,4) we possess this gift. When we produce holiness, therefore, we are living out the gift that God gave us when we were justified by faith.”
To find the entirety of what Zane wrote about Romans 6:22-23, check out our Journal, or the commentary itself, which should be released by October 2011.
So, what is Caneday’s point? He seems to be saying, but does not make clear, that eternal life is in one sense a free gift now and in another different sense a future reward for work done in this life. What does that mean practically to the believer? Oddly, Caneday is not clear on that point either. Caneday’s view appears to be this: everlasting life which the believer has now is a free gift, but it is not guaranteed to last. If a believer does not sow to the Spirit in his daily living, he will fail to reap everlasting life in the day of resurrection. That is, the believer who sows to the flesh will be cast into the lake of fire along with all who fail to sow to the Spirit.
Possibly that is not Caneday’s view. Maybe he is taking the traditional Reformed view, which is this: the “true” believer has everlasting life now as a free gift, and on the last day he will receive everlasting life as a reward for work done in this life, not because he has earned the future reward of everlasting life, but because God sovereignly produces a life of good works in the life of the regenerate. Thus it is really God who sows to the Spirit for us and it is really God who earns this reward.
But doesn’t Paul say that we are the ones doing the sowing? Paul doesn’t say anything about God doing the sowing. Certainly we are the ones who might sow to the flesh. God would not and could not do that. We are also the ones called upon by Paul to sow to the Spirit. It is not God who will reap eternal life in the future as a reward for work done. It is us.
Notice how Gal 6:9, a verse Caneday does not discuss, wraps up the discussion. There Paul concludes, “And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart.” Doesn’t that mean that the readers, and Paul himself (compare 1 Cor 9:27), might grow weary and might not reap this reward of everlasting life? That is surely Paul’s view. And it seems to be Caneday’s view, except that for Caneday the reward to be won is not a special fullness of everlasting life, but the actual ongoing possession of everlasting life. If so, then in Caneday’s view a person who has everlasting life now as a free gift might not have it in eternity because he grew weary and ceased doing good.
I welcome Caneday’s explanation of Gal 6:9 and also of 1 Cor 9:27. If the readers in the churches of Galatia and Paul himself already had everlasting life, and if the future experience of everlasting life is not a special fullness of life, but is the future possession of everlasting life in the Kingdom, then this must be a warning about the loss of everlasting life and of failing to make it into the Kingdom due to failing to continue to work hard.
I also welcome Caneday’s explanation of John 6:35. Once a person partakes of the Bread of Life, he will never hunger. Once a person drinks of the water of life, he will never thirst. Those are two statements of eternal security. There are no works attached. No sowing the Spirit is required to keep this everlasting life.
And I welcome Caneday’s explanation of Eph 2:8-9. If Eph 2:8-9 tells us that everlasting life is not of works lest anyone should boast (compare Eph 2:5 to see that “saved” in 2:8 refers to “made alive” in 2:5), then does not Paul contradict himself in Gal 6:7-9, according to Caneday’s understanding?
I want to believe and apply what God actually meant. If Caneday can show me he is correct, then I will convert to his position. But he needs both to explain his view clearly and also defend it from Scripture. He also needs to give a statement like the one in the study Bible which he seems to reject. What is his statement about the present gift of life versus the future reward of life?
The following are Caneday’s footnotes: The New Scofield Reference Bible (New York: Oxford University Press, 1967), 1235.  Hodges, The Gospel Under Siege, 87.  Ibid, 87-88.
 See all of Paul’s uses of “eternal life” (Rom 2:7; 5:21; 6:22, 23; Gal. 6:8; 1 Tim. 1:16; 6:12; Titus 1:2; 3:7).