Four Questions about Assurance and Everlasting Life
by Bob Wilkin
I recently received a nice letter from a man whom we will call Bill who had read my book on assurance (Secure and Sure), as well as books I had recommended on assurance. While he himself is assured that he has everlasting life that can never be lost, he is not convinced by my Biblical arguments that such belief is necessary to be born again. He raises four objections. I will deal with those objections in this article.
Question 1: Don’t Major
Free Grace Writers Disagree?
Bill points out that four books I recommend on assurance do not teach that assurance is of the essence of saving faith: R. T. Kendall’s, Once Saved, Always Saved, Earl Radmacher’s, Salvation, Charles Stanley’s, Eternal Security, and Michael Eaton’s, No Condemnation.
While I don’t recall any of these men discussing this issue directly, let’s assume that Bill is right. What would that prove?
That would prove that intelligent pastors and Bible scholars do not believe that assurance is of the essence of saving faith. Now all four men do believe in eternal security. But possibly they hold that such belief is not necessary.
My response to this first objection is that it proves nothing. We do not establish or validate our theology based on what leading scholars and pastors say. It is the Bible, and the Bible alone, that guides us.1
Question 2: Isn’t It True That Many Fine Christians Never Have Had Assurance?
The vast majority of people in Christianity, Bill accurately points out, have never believed that they are eternally secure by faith in Christ. Thus, if the assurance view is correct, then most people in Christianity are lost.
Once again, this proves nothing. The Lord Jesus said the way is narrow that leads to life and few find it (Matt 7:13-14). If that also is true within Christianity, then we should lament the fact that many fine people who call Jesus Lord are not born again (cf. Matt 7:21-23). And we should set about evangelizing them.
We do not base doctrine on which view gets the most people into the kingdom. We base it on Scripture.
Question 3: Don’t Many Salvation Passages
Fail to Mention the Eternality of the Gift?
Bill suggests that there are many evangelistic passages, or passages written to believers about evangelism, which do not mention that the gift of life that God gives us cannot be lost. Yet the evidence does not support Bill’s point.
If we look in the fourth Gospel, the eternality of the gift is always stressed (e.g., John 3:16-18; 4:10-14; 5:24; 6:35, 37, 39, 47; 11:25-26). And John’s Gospel is the only evangelistic book in the Bible.
I do not believe that there is a single evangelistic verse that lacks a statement about the eternality of the gift, whether it is called life, the water of life, the bread of life, or salvation.2
I welcome people pointing out such passages and I will gladly discuss them.
Question 4: Does It Take Serious Study
to Have Assurance of Everlasting Life?
Even if true, this objection does not overthrow the doctrine. The Lord Jesus urged His listeners “to strive to enter through the narrow gate” (Luke 13:24, emphasis added). Certainly for some people serious study may be needed. People who have been steeped in false teaching have lots of impediments to believing in the free gift of everlasting life. If a person grows up as a Roman Catholic or in the Church of Christ, then it is very difficult for him to believe that all who simply believe in Jesus have everlasting life that can never be lost. It may take a fair amount of study to overcome their objections.
However, if we talk with a child or a person from another religion, it may not take any serious study. It may just take showing them what Jesus said.
In fact, even for the person who is convinced eternal life is not a free gift received simply by faith in Christ, it really doesn’t take answering all their concerns. Once they can be shown from a clear text like John 6:35 that everlasting life is everlasting and that all who merely believe in Jesus have it, they may come to faith even though they can’t explain many other texts. They simply know that God’s Word is true and if it teaches the free gift of everlasting life to the believer in John 6:35, then there are explanations for all the other texts even if they don’t know those explanations.
I hesitate to mention my own adventure in coming to faith for fear that people will think I am basing my view on my experience. As a college senior, I believed I was saved (when I was not), but that I could lose it. I met an Athletes in Action staff member, Warren Wilke, who patiently kept going over Eph 2:8-9 and a few other texts with me. Over the course of about 5 sessions, I was convinced that once a person believes in Jesus, apart from works, he has salvation that can never be lost. Prior to meeting with Warren I had read the Bible cover to cover multiple times, and even after meeting with him there were still many verses I did not understand. But I saw clearly from the texts he showed me that the one who believes in Jesus is saved once and for all. I was convinced without a lot of study. As a result of this encounter, I came to see that I had not been born again four years earlier when I had a liver-quiver experience. I changed my testimony and indicated I was born again when I believed in Jesus for the promised salvation that can never be lost.
My experience does not prove anything other than the fact that a person who believed in works salvation could be delivered without studying all the problem passages that bothered him. Once a concerned person takes the time to show someone the truth in a few simple texts on the eternality of the gift, faith in Jesus’ promise of everlasting life can well occur without what Bill calls serious study.
Questions for the Non-Assurance View
I have four questions for Bill and others who do not believe that assurance is of the essence of saving faith.
Question 1: What is it that a person believes that Jesus will do for him? Can a person believe in Jesus and yet at the same time believe that he must persevere in good works to make it into the kingdom? Well, it depends on what he believes that Jesus will do for him as a result of his belief. A person might believe in Jesus for a good marriage, for financial prosperity, or for good physical health, and not be assured that he has everlasting life because he never believed that Jesus would give him that simply by faith in Him. But a person can’t believe in Jesus for everlasting life (John 3:16; 4:10-14; 5:24; 6:35; 11:26; 1 Tim 1:16) and yet not be assured that he has everlasting life.
Question 2: If assurance of eternal life is not required, then wouldn’t that mean that those who believe in works salvation are born again? Most people in Christianity believe in works salvation (Matt 7:21-23), yet most would also say that they have “trusted Christ for salvation,” to use an expression Bill used. If assurance is not required, then Roman Catholics are born again. So are Eastern Orthodox. So are Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses. So are Church of Christ, Nazarenes, Seven Day Adventists, and just about everyone in Christianity. (See my answer to Bill’s second question 2, above.)
So the goal in evangelism, in this view, would be what? It would be to get people to believe that because they believe in Jesus they may spend eternity with Jesus in His kingdom. That doesn’t sound quite right. Maybe people holding the non-assurance view would say that people must believe that at the very moment of faith they are saved, though they need not believe that salvation lasts. Once again, there would be no need to evangelize anyone within Christianity.
Question 3: If a person must believe that the sole condition of eternal life is faith in Christ, not faith plus works, then doesn’t that rule out the non-assurance view? This is a variation on the previous question. Let’s say a person believes, as most in Christianity do, that Jesus Christ is God in the flesh, that He died on the cross for his sins, and that He rose bodily from the dead. Is a person who believes those things necessarily born again? Most in Free Grace circles would say no because most would say that the person must believe that eternal life or salvation is by faith alone in Jesus Christ alone, not by faith plus works. Under the non-assurance view, what does the “believer” believe that he has a result of believing in Jesus Christ? He believes that if he lives for Christ and perseveres in serving Him till death, then he will gain everlasting life that can never be lost. It seems to me that if we argue that one must believe in the freeness of the gift of eternal life, then we must agree that assurance is of the essence of saving faith.
Question 4: Shouldn’t we evangelize the way the Lord Jesus Christ evangelized? When Jesus evangelized, He stressed the eternality of the life the believer has. Shouldn’t we follow our Lord’s example (WWJD)? In John 3:16 Jesus said that the one who believes in Him will not perish but has everlasting life. In John 6:35 He said that the one who eats the bread of life will never hunger again— a clear statement on eternal security. And he told Martha that the one who lives and believes in Him will never die spiritually. It is clear that the Lord was calling people to believe on him for everlasting life. It makes sense to me that we should say what He said.
I hesitate to address this issue again because it is what started a great divide in Free Grace circles back in 2006. However, the questions Bill asks are good ones and surely others are asking those questions as well.
I recognize that there are Free Grace people who disagree with me on this question. We are not all in lock step. We all study the Word of God and come to our own conclusions. Of course, everyone in the Free Grace camp agrees that eternal life is an absolutely free gift, that its sole condition is faith in Jesus Christ, that works either before or after the new birth are not in any way required or guaranteed or a condition of that life, and the assurance of that life is found solely in the promise of God, not at all in our works.
My hope is to win more Free Grace people over to the view that eternal life is precisely what we believe Jesus to give us. I have found this to be what the Bible teaches, and to be extremely practical in terms of evangelism. Almost everyone wants to know for sure that he will spend eternity with God in His kingdom. Few are offended when you talk to them about that. But many people do get offended if you talk to them about being “saved.”
I welcome more questions and more Biblical observations. God is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him (Heb 11:6).
1 Of course, we do carefully consider the views of others. If they can show from Scripture that our view is wrong, then we change our view. However, the mere fact that godly, well trained, intelligent scholars disagree with us is no reason in and of itself to change our view. And, this cuts both ways. If Zane Hodges, John Niemelä, Lon Gregg, Rene Lopez, and others can show from Scripture that assurance is of the essence of saving faith, then those who disagree should carefully consider their arguments.
2 One seeming exception is Jesus’ interaction with be the man born blind in John 6. We are not told that Jesus said anything about everlasting life to him. However, there are solid reasons to believe this man was born again before Jesus healed him. See The Grace NT Commentary, Vol. 1, p. 417.