By Bob Wilkin
A friend sent me this second-hand question: “If God desires for us to always have free will, why would He not allow us to give back the free gift of eternal life if we so choose?”
That is a common objection. I’ve also been told that while no one can pluck us out of Jesus’ hand (John 10:28) or God the Father’s hand (John 10:29), we can wiggle out on our own if we want to. In this way of thinking, we are stronger than God is. His grip can stop everyone but Satan from snatching us away. By getting us to freely decide to get out of God’s grip, Satan has caused us to lose everlasting life.
No one can pluck us from His hand. That includes Satan.
And that even includes us. (Before He said no one could pluck the believer from His hand, He said, “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish.” Never perish is a guarantee. Compare John 3:16, 18.)
You Can’t Choose to Change Reality
God does not give us unlimited free will. We have limited free will.
Let’s say, for example, that you were born in 1978. But you wish you had been born in 1940. You can’t choose to change your birthday. It is what it is.
If you were born into an Anglo family, but you really want to be a Cherokee, you are out of luck. You can’t change your ethnicity.
If you were born with Alopecia universalis, you don’t have any hair. That is just the way it is.
If you were born a human, that is what you are. You can’t change your species, no matter how much you like the thought of being a bird.
Jeremiah 13:23 says, “Can the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard its spots?” The answer to each question is no.
There are many things about each of us which are unalterable. One of those things about us that is unalterable is being born again. While it is possible for a person who lacks everlasting life to gain that life, it is impossible once one gains everlasting life to lose it.
God Is Unchangeable
While we may not realize it, even God has many things about Him that are unchangeable.
God is eternal (Deut 33:27; 1 Tim 1:17). He can’t stop being eternal. That is who He is.
God is true (John 3:33; Rom 3:4; 1 John 5:20). That means He can’t choose to lie: “God cannot lie” (Titus 1:2).
God is just (Ps 7:11). He can’t choose to be unjust.
God cannot violate His own nature. He is restricted by who He is. Of course, it is a good thing that God cannot choose to do evil. And it will be a good thing when in eternity future we cannot choose to do evil, either.
Jesus Is Everlasting Life
One thing many forget is that everlasting life is the life of Jesus Christ. Here is an important distinction: Jesus is everlasting life (John 11:25; 14:6; 1 John 1:2; 5:20). But believers have everlasting life. No believer will ever become everlasting life. We have it. But He is it.
Just as the Lord Jesus cannot cease being everlasting life, so too those who have everlasting life cannot cease having it. We can no more give everlasting life back than He can cease being everlasting life.
How do we know that? Jesus Himself told us that often.
John 4:14-15. “‘Whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life.’ The woman said to Him, ‘Sir, give me this water, that I may not thirst, nor come here to draw.’” The Lord promises that once a person drinks His living water, that is, once someone believes in Him (see John 6:35), he has everlasting life and will never lose it. The woman misunderstood and thought he was talking about some special physical water. But she rightly understands that once she partakes of this living water, she will never have to come to the well to get more water. She knows she’d never need to drink again.
John 5:24. Jesus used all three verb tenses here to underline the eternality of everlasting life. Present tense: The one who believes in Jesus “has everlasting life.” Future tense: The believer “will not come into judgment [regarding everlasting life].” Past tense: The one who believes in Him “has passed from death into life.” Done deal. No return trip.
John 6:35. Speaking of the bread of life, Jesus said, “He who comes to me [for the bread of life] shall never hunger.” The words shall never hunger are emphatic in Greek. It will never happen. Speaking of the water of life, Jesus continued, “He who believes in Me shall never thirst.” Again, that is emphatic. Once one believes in Jesus, he has life that can never be lost.
John 11:26. The Lord told Martha that as “the life,” He guaranteed that “whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die.” Again, that is emphatic. He wasn’t talking about never dying physically there. In fact, in the previous verse He promised to raise the believers who die. He promised eternal security to anyone who is a living human being who believes in Him. I think the reason He added the part about “whoever lives” is because in order to have everlasting life, one must come to faith in Christ while he is still alive. There are no post mortem new births. But once a person is born again, he “will never die.”
If anyone who believed in Jesus and was born again later lost everlasting life, then Jesus lied. But Jesus can’t lie. He fulfills every promise He makes. The believer will never hunger, will never thirst, will never perish (John 3:16, 18), will never die. He has everlasting life and he will never be judged regarding his eternal destiny, and he has once and for all passed from death into life.
Since we continue to sin until we die (Rom 6:23; 1 John 1:8, 10), it is possible that a born-again person might get mad at God and in a moment of spiritual insanity want to give everlasting life back. Frankly, I’ve never met such a person. But I suppose it might happen. If it did happen, the person would not get his crazy wish.
Once a person has everlasting life, that is what he has. To lose that life would mean that Jesus lied in John 3:16; 4:10-14; 5:24; 6:35; 11:26. Jesus cannot lie (Titus 1:2).
Having everlasting life makes you a different type of human forever. Free will cannot undo that.
Bob Wilkin is Executive Director of Grace Evangelical Society. He lives in Highland Village, TX, with his wife of 43 years, Sharon. His latest book is Turn and Live: The Power of Repentance.