And the testimony is this, that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has the life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have the life.
1 John 5:11-12
The life that God gives in Christ through faith is assured to be both present and eternal. The verse above says that those who have the Son have life, present tense, and this life is present in the here and now for the believer and it awaits its fulfillment in the life beyond this life in heaven. Only both of these emphases will present the gospel its proper fullness. When either is neglected, the understanding of the gospel will be distorted.
That we receive Christ, our salvation, and “the life,” through faith is clearly and repeatedly taught in Scripture. From John 3:16, “whoever believes,” to Romans 1:16, “salvation to everyone who believes,” to Ephesians 2:8, “by grace are you saved through faith,” the point is repeatedly pounded home.
Yet inconsistencies in the practice of our faith persist. If we were to evaluate the presentation of the gospel along four criteria we would see how some of the misunderstanding and misapplications come about.
Arminian Position emphasizes the obligation of the believer to continue to believe for his salvation, that faith is to be active throughout his life on earth and without faith he will lose his salvation.
Calvinistic Position emphasizes that salvation is achieved and sustained by the hand of God, that an initial encounter with Christ that results in repentance and faith brings the believer to a new position as a child of God and even if he doubts in the future he will not lose his salvation.
Emphasis on heaven and the afterlife stresses the point that we are saved mainly so that we can go to be with Christ after this life.
Emphasis on the fullness of the Spirit, or the here and now, stresses the point that Christ changes our hearts and lives today, filling us with His joy and His life.
Breaking this down we find four options, and I will show my own personal bias toward the Calvinistic position of eternal security.
1. An Arminian doctrine with an emphasis on the afterlife, to the neglect of daily living with Christ, is, in my opinion, the worst of these. It preaches a gospel that gives no assurance of how it can be received, it is the whetting of an appetite for eternity without the assurance of how it can be satisfied. It emphasizes that we must believe and keep on believing but all of our years of faith can be of no consequence if just before our death we no longer believe. This is one of the reasons that many in the past have put off receiving Christ until the very end of their life – if they could, indeed, predict when they would end!
2. An Arminian doctrine with an emphasis on the here and now, is more practical, and that is one of the reasons for the attractiveness of the approach, because it presents the necessity of faith in the believer to receive the things of God and to live in the fullness of the Spirit. Yet it also undermines the whole doctrine of the Spirit’s work in us by its emphasis on human response and faith, rather than on the power and sovereignty of God’s Spirit.
3. A Calvinistic doctrine with an overemphasis on the afterlife, to the neglect of living here and now, is the second worst of these, in my opinion. It tends to cheapen salvation, turning it into Bonhoeffer’s “cheap grace,” and leaves people without the expectation that God can bring life and peace into their world today by His Spirit, or that He demands holiness and obedience today. Faith, in the worst case scenario, is seen as little more than mental ascent and not soul commitment and surrender to God.
4. A Calvinistic doctrine with an emphasis on the here and now, is the most practical, reasonable, biblical, and effective. If salvation and afterlife are neglected then the emphasis can produce arrogance in the disciples, as though they are better than anyone else, or constant defeat, because they never measure up to their true potential. If both the effect of salvation in our future and the life we have today can be maintained in the teaching and emphasis, we see that the upward call of God in Christ for the disciple becomes the motivation behind obedience and the receiving and experiencing of the life of Christ today. God will complete what He has begun and this is the hope that encourages growth, develops humble yet confident believers, and keeps us moving forward today and expectant of future and eternal blessings.
Salvation from beginning to end is God’s work and we are, as the Bible tells us, to daily keep our eyes fixed on Christ, “the author and perfecter of faith” (Heb. 12:2).
Lord, thank You for our salvation, for the work You have begun in our hearts when we first believed, for the work that You are doing today, and for the assurance that what You have begun You will complete. Amen.