Thursday, March 11, 2010


Can we know that we have eternal life? What does it mean to know? There are many passages in Scripture on being confident of our salvation (1 John 5:11-13; John 10:27-30; Romans 8:28-39; 1 Peter 1:5; Philippians 1:6). But there are also in Scripture many warnings (Galatians 5:1-4; 2 Peter 2:20-22; Hebrews 6:1-8; 10:26-31; James 2:14-26). Taken together they would seem to argue against two opposite errors, uncertainty and presumption.

Some views make any assurance difficult. They claim people are constantly saved and lost, or they require exceptional moral behavior to be sure of salvation. These do not fit the Scriptural promises of God's protection. Nor do they reflect the confidence before God described in the Scripture (Romans 8:15; Hebrews 4:16; 1 Peter 5:7). Also, there is little difference between working to be saved and working to be sure you are saved.

Other views presume if a person claims to be converted, they are a real Christian. One way of dealing with the warnings, in light of this, is to say they refer to Christians who are in danger of temporal discipline. God does discipline His people (Hebrews 12:4-13), but it is hard to reconcile this with what is said in the warnings. Can it be said of a genuine believer that Christ is of no benefit to them (Galatians 5:2) or it would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness (2 Peter 2:21)? Further, there is Scriptural basis for saying not everyone who professes to be a Christian is one (Matthew 7:21-23; 1 John 2:19; 2 Corinthians 13:5).

It is my understanding that the warnings refer to those who were never saved in the first place, rather then suggesting we can have salvation and lose it. This fits in with the Scriptural intimation that these never knew Christ (Matthew 7:21-23; 1 John 2:19) and accords with the Scriptural assurances of God's preservation. But do we then have to reach some high level of spirituality to be sure we are saved? It is difficult to be impressed with the behavior of Lot (see Genesis 13, 14, 19). He picks the best land, moves into the wicked city of Sodom, offers his daughters to be raped to save his house-guests, loses almost everything in the destruction of Sodom, and ends up committing incest with his daughters in a drunken stupor. But 2 Peter 2:7,8 says he was a just man (he was saved), and it also says his soul was tormented constantly because of the deeds of the people of Sodom. Genuine Christianity does not require a high level of spirituality, but it does produce a real change. It should also be noted that if you suspect you are not saved, the solution is not to do good works, but to trust Christ (John 3:16). But we should avoid the extremes. We should not encourage people to perpetually doubt their salvation. Nor should we assure them that if they go through the motions of a conversion, it must be genuine.

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