One argument I hear a lot is that since the Scriptures often refer to believing in Jesus using the present tense, this means that only those who endure in faith in Christ until death “truly believe.”
Often the present articular participle is cited. That is the expression ho pisteuōn in Greek. It means the one who believes, the believer, or the believing one.
Dr. Dan Wallace certainly adds some fuel to the fire when he says in his Greek grammar:
The aspectual force of the present ho pisteuōn seems to be in contrast with ho pisteusas. The aorist is used only eight times (plus two in the longer ending of Mark). Thus, it seems that since the aorist participle was a live option to describe a “believer,” it is unlikely that when the present was used, it was aspectually flat. The present was the tense of choice most likely because the NT writers by and large saw continual belief as a necessary condition of salvation. Along these lines, it seems significant that the promise of salvation is almost always given to ho pisteuōn, almost never to ho pisteusas (apart from Mark 16:16 , John 7:39 and Heb 4:3 come the closest [the present tense of pisteuō never occurs in Hebrews]).1
I find the suggestion that “continual belief [is] a necessary condition of salvation” unbelievable. The evidence is overwhelmingly against it.
The Evidence from John 4:13-15:
Ho Pinōn Equals Ho Pisteuōn
When Jesus evangelized the woman at the well, He used the figure of living water to refer to the saving message and the figure of drinking to refer to believing that message.
In v 13 Jesus used a present articular participle, ho pinōn, the one who drinks, as a clear figure for ho pisteuōn, the one who believes. Using Wallace’s reasoning, ho pinōn must refer to a lifetime of drinking.2 Yet Jesus specifically contradicts this, and the woman shows that she understands Him to be speaking of gaining the benefit the very moment one drinks.
“‘Whoever drinks [ho pinōn] of this water will thirst again, but 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.’”
Jesus doesn’t rebuke her understanding on the permanence of the gift. She understood Him correctly. One drink would quench her thirst forever. She would be eternally secure that very moment. What He corrected was her mistaken notion that He was speaking literally of drinking physical water.
The Evidence from John 6:35:
Ho Erchomenōs Equals Ho Pisteuōn
There is a clear verbal tie between John 4:13-15 and John 6:35. The one who drinks (ho pinōn) the water of life will never thirst again (4:14). Likewise, the one who believes (ho pisteuōn) in Jesus will never thirst again (6:35). Unmistakably ho pisteuōn and ho pinōn are parallel.
Also in John 6:35 is ho erchomenos, the one who comes. The one who comes to Jesus “shall never hunger.” Clearly, as the bread of life, Jesus promises that the one who eats that bread, that is, the one who believes in Him, will never hunger again.
Wallace’s understanding of ho pisteuōn is impossible in light of John 4:13-15 and John 6:35. It appears that he has let theological bias lead him to make a statement that is not grammatically correct.
The Evidence from John 11:26:
Ho Zōn and Ho Pisteuōn Are Co-Conditions
As “the life,” Jesus promises Martha, “Whoever lives [ho zōn] and believes [ho pisteuōn] in Me shall never die” (John 11:26a).
If we carried Wallace’s understanding of present participles to this verse, we would understand that anyone who ever ceased living, that is, anyone who physically died, would die spiritually. The only ones who would have everlasting life and hence, never die spiritually, would be those who 1) continuously live, and 2) continuously believe.
Yet in the preceding verse Jesus said that believers do cease living. That is, they die physically. Thus, ho zōn cannot mean, “the one who keeps on living.” Nor can ho pisteuōn mean “the one who keeps on believing.”
Of course, Jesus explicitly stated that a believer’s faith can cease. He did so in the parable of the four soils. A comparison of Luke 8:12 and 8:13 makes this clear. The second soil believed for a time. Then it stopped believing. Yet the seed, which is the saving message, clearly germinated in this soil, for Jesus said that “it sprang up” (Luke 8:6).
John 11:26 shows that all who simply believe in Jesus for everlasting life while they are yet alive will never die. If the person’s physical life or faith dies, the promise remains true. The moment a person believes in Jesus, he’s eternally secure. (Note: some may come to believe the gospel after they die. If so, this passage shows there will be no everlasting life for them.)
Other Present Articular Participles
Show the Same Truth
The baptizing one (Mark 6:14). John was called “the Baptist,” ho baptizōn, by Herod. “Now King Herod…said, ‘John the Baptist [ho baptizōn] is risen from the dead.’” Herod had put John to death after imprisoning him for some time. John had not baptized anyone in a long time, yet Herod still called him ho baptizōn. We still call him that today, even though he hasn’t baptized anyone for 2000 years! Using Wallace’s understanding, John was only the Baptist when he was in the water baptizing people. Each time he came out of the water after conducting baptisms, he would cease being ho baptizōn. Of course, using that reasoning, since John stopped baptizing forever when he was imprisoned, his baptism was a false or spurious baptism all along! (See also John 1:33 where ho baptizōn refers to Jesus. He will not forever baptize people with the Holy Spirit. Once the church age ends, this ministry of Jesus will end forever.)
The one who hears (John 5:24). The one who hears (ho akouōn) Jesus’ saving message and who believes (ho pisteuōn) in Him who sent Jesus has everlasting life. Does it take eternal unbroken hearing of Jesus’ words in order to have everlasting life? Obviously not. A person need only hear His words once. If a person hears and believes, at that moment he is eternally secure.
The one who speaks (John 4:26). The climactic words in Jesus’ evangelism of the woman at the well are “I who speak to you [ho lalōn soi] am He.” The words “I who speak” are another present articular participle. Clearly Jesus didn’t speak to the woman at the well continuously! Their conversation lasted only a very short time. (See the same articular participle in John 9:37 as well.)
The one who sows (John 4:36). Another articular participle, ho therizōn, clearly doesn’t refer to unending action. Anyone who evangelizes in this life is “one who sows.” This sort of sowing does not go on forever. A person might cease evangelizing prior to death, but certainly death stops that ministry.
A great multitude of sick people (John 5:3). The Greek for “sick people” is another present articular participle, tōn asthenountōn, in this case. There was a paralytic there who had been infirmed for thirty-eight years (5:5). Yet Jesus healed him and he left the ranks of sick people at the pool of Bethesda. Clearly the present articular participle in no way refers to action that goes on forever.
The one who comes into the world (John 6:14). After Jesus fed 5,000 men plus about 15,000 women and children with one Happy Meal, the crowd said, “This is truly the Prophet who is to come [ho erchomenōs] into the world.” Again, we have another present articular participle. Jesus didn’t keep on coming into the world forever. It probably should be translated something like “the One who comes” or even “the One who has come.” This refers to the incarnation. The Prophet whom Moses promised (Deut 18:15-18) had finally come.
Examples could be multiplied. Present articular participles are verbal nouns that say nothing as to whether the action is continuous or not.
Conclusion: Eternal Faith Not Required
We are not born again because our faith is eternal. Our faith may falter and even fail. However, Jesus remains faithful to His promise. We are born again because we at one time put our faith in the eternally faithful Savior. Once we believe in Him, He is obligated by His promise to keep us secure (John 4:14 ; 6:35). That is the will of the Father for Him (John 6:39-40). If anyone who believed in Jesus and later fell away failed to make it into the kingdom, then Jesus would have failed to do the will of the Father! If you are a believer, rejoice that you are eternally secure no matter what might happen in the future. Even apostasy cannot undo the work of regeneration.
1 Daniel B. Wallace. Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics: Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House and Galaxie Software, 1999, 2002), p. 621, note 22, emphasis added to all but the word continual.
2 Amazingly, Wallace says ho pinōn here means, “everyone who continually drinks…,” ibid, p. 621, text. Of course, he must say that since he recognizes, though does not say, that ho pinōn is a synonym for ho pisteuōn, which he has already says refers to continuous belief.