John 5:24 and Conditional Eternal Security

 

Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears [present tense participle] my word and believes [present tense participle] him who sent me has [present tense; right now] eternal life. He does not come into judgment [present tense; right now], but has passed [perfect tense; from the past to present] from death to life (John 5:24, ESV).

Many are quick to emphasize the promise of “eternal life” in this verse. They may affirm that “eternal life” cannot be lost because it lasts forever. While “eternal life” does last forever, it shouldn’t be confused with possession of the state of “eternal life.” Two illustrations may be helpful.

Suppose a man is gifted a $100 dollar bill; it’s his and worth $100. If the bill is spent, or given away, he no longer has possession of it —the bill is still worth $100.00. It would be illogical to conclude he cannot forfeit it because the bill will always be worth $100.

Many employers offer life insurance to their employees while they remain with the company. It would be unreasonable for former employees to believe that their life insurance will always remain in effect, even after leaving the company because it’s called “life insurance”.

In John 5:24, possession of eternal life is conditional. A person “has” eternal life while they “hears” Christ’s Word and “believes” in Him (“him who sent me“). To overlook these semantic qualifiers based on rules of grammar is to reject God’s inspired Word. A correct grammatical interpretation of Scripture is necessary for a correct doctrinal understanding. The Bible should define one’s theological framework —not one’s theology, the Bible.

The Apostle John, with great precision, grammatically recalled the words of Jesus as arranged in this verse. According to the book, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics (Wallace, 521-522, 1996) the two conditional participles used (“hears“; “believes“), best fall within the “customary (habitual or general) present” category. Wallace places the participle “believes” of John 3:16 inside this category (522). This category is defined by Wallace as, “the customary present is used to signal either an action that regularly occurs or an ongoing state” (page 521).

Please consider how Young’s Literal Translation emphasizes the necessity to remain in ongoing belief:

Verily, verily, I say to you—He who is hearing my word, and is believing Him who sent me, hath life age-during, and to judgment he doth not come, but hath passed out of the death to the life(John 5:24).

In the book, Life in the Son, Shank wrote the following:

“Contrary to the assumption of many, John 5:24 does not present a privileged position, which, once attained, is forever irrevocable. Quite to the contrary, our Savior’s Words depict a privileged position directly governed by the specific condition of habitually hearing and believing. Jesus declares that the happy circumstance of deliverance from present condemnation and of standing passed out of death into life is the privilege only of such as habitually hear His Word and believe the Father. It is only on the basis of a present hearing and believing that one shares the eternal life of God and enjoys deliverance from present condemnation and spiritual death” (page 61; 1989).

A comparable passage to John 5:24 is probably John 10:27-29. This passage is used regularly to emphasize the doctrine known as eternal security. While it’s true that this passage provides security, it’s also true that this security is conditional on perseverance. The “sheep” must “hear” and “follow” the Shepherd for eternal life:

“27 My sheep hear [present tense] my voice, and I know [present tense] them, and they follow [present tense] me. 28 I give them [the group in verse 27 that is persevering in the present] eternal life, and they [the group in verse 27 that is persevering in the present] will never perish, and no one will snatch them [the group in verse 27 that is persevering in the present] out of my hand. My Father, who has given them [the group in verse 27 that is persevering in the present] to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them [the group in verse 27 that is persevering in the present] out of the Father’s hand” (John 10:27-29).

Conclusion

A grammatical examination of John 5:24 indicate that Jesus requires perseverance (“hears” and “believes“) to be saved. This conclusion is not an abstract theological deduction. All credible English translations grammatically affirm the necessity to persevere in the faith for John 5:24. The requirement to persevere is found in many other passages of Scripture as well.

Copyright © 2016

6 Comments

  1. Julius Cox

    Eternal security is biblical stop putting words in the verse that were never meant to be there u conditional security people totally ignore the sovereignty of god that he is the author of our salvation

    Reply
    • admin

      Brother Julius,

      Thanks for leaving a comment and sharing your heart.
      Can you please explain how words were placed in the verse? How does the literal, grammatical interpretation ignore the sovereignty of God? Thank you.

      Reply
      • Amanda

        I believe the scripture teaches that salvation is not able to be lost. Perhaps this reply box is not enough room to present all of the reasons, but a few that convinced me, and come to mind often are Romans 8:38-39 KJV “For I am persuaded that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creatures shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus”.
        This verse assures me that while I still am tempted by my flesh like Paul (I die daily), and though I may fail, God will not cast me away for my weakness. No power in heaven or hell, or of my own simple doing can separate me from Jesus.

        Also when Jesus said in Matthew 7:21-23 that people will profess their works that have been done in his name, and he will say “I never knew you: depart from me, ye that worketh iniquity”. Since Jesus cannot lie, he could never say that he never knew us, if he ever had. So to say that we once belonged to him, then didn’t, he would have to say that he did know us, but cast us away, and that isn’t said.

        Just my understanding.

        God bless you and your studies

        Reply
  2. admin

    Hi sister Amanda,

    Romans 8:38-39 is the last two verses from the chapter. These verses follow theological truths built on a foundation of active faith.

    Verse 28 describes those who are in an active state of belief: “for those who love God.” In verse 31, “God is for us.” In verse 33, “God’s elect”. According to the context, Paul is NOT writing those who have left the faith to assure them that they will be in heaven.

    An accurate biblical interpretation is primarily concerned with context. The question repeatedly asked is, what is the author communicating? An understanding of the author’s intent can be followed by applications that are consistent with this intent.

    There is danger in taking two verses out of a larger context to teach eternal security unless this is the author’s intention.

    Paul is writing to believers who are in the faith and assures them that they are secure! You and I as believers (in active faith) in Jesus Christ have absolute security that should we die, we will be with Jesus: “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39).

    Now, to the second passage. Jesus said in Matthew 7:23: “And then will I declare to THEM, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.” Who are the “them” (“I declare to them”) in this verse?

    In biblical interpretation we need to read in great detail to draw out the truth (it could be different than what we have been taught). Many believers (in sincerity) think that the statement from Jesus applied to everyone “on that day.” But Jesus said, “On that day MANY will say to me.” Jesus did not say “all.” There is a clear distinction between the pronoun “all” (not stated) and the pronoun “them” which is further qualified in verse 22 as “many.”

    The opposite argument could be made for this passage and it’s more consistent with the grammar. Since Jesus only declared to “them” (“many”) that He never knew them, it’s possible that Jesus did previously know some of them (Matthew 7:21-23).

    Thanks again for writing. May God richly bless you as you abide in Jesus Christ.

    Reply
  3. John W Reed

    For salvation to be lost or forfeited it would mean that His Word of promise in John 3:16, John 10, John 6 would return to Him void. He promised those who trusted in Christ, eternal life. To be lost once truly saved also means, we must be unbaptized into the Body of Christ, unregenerated, unsealed, unadopted, unborn again, His gift of irrevocable righteousness would have to be somehow revoked, one would be unrighteous, one who was a partaker of the divine nature would have to unpartake of it, one would no longer be a child of God, and the indwelling Holy Spirit would be removed from them. Now if this is true this could also occur over many many many times in a believer’s lifetime.
    This eternal insecurity concept isn’t doing anything to cease sinful indulgence among believers. No one in their right spiritual mind is for sinful living. There is no peace or profit in pursuing sin. Perhaps instead of fear and anxiety and doom and gloom theology, preach the gospel of Jesus. Jesus died for undeserving sinful humanity. God became something He never was so we could become something we’ve never been. Jesus became sin so we could become righteous. Preaching Jesus alone will suffice. Let God fix people at His pace and in His good timing.
    Focus on the lost sharing this wonderful good news that apart from their performance that if they simply put their trust in Christ alone they will be saved.

    Reply
    • admin

      Thanks for your feedback, brother John. Even though we obviously don’t agree on eternal security, may God use our exchanges for His glory. 

      You wrote, “For salvation to be lost or forfeited it would mean that His Word of promise in John 3:16, John 10, John 6 would return to Him void.”

      Salvation in these passages is not presented as a completed action once attained. In John 3:16, salvation is conditional on “believes,” (present tense belief), not believed (past tense). Those in a present state of belief (“believes”) “have” (possession of) “everlasting life.”

      In John 10:28, who are the ones (“them,” “they”) that Jesus promises, “I give THEM eternal life, and THEY will never perish, and no one will snatch THEM out of my hand”? 

      These saints are identified in the verse prior: “My sheep HEAR my voice, and I KNOW them, and they FOLLOW me.” From this verse we can conclude that the sheep are identified as those who:

      1. “Hear” the voice of Christ in the present
      2. Jesus knows these sheep in the present (“I know them”), and 
      3. These sheep “follow me.” (another present tense verb)

      These three present tense verbs id those who are promised eternal life in verse 28. The promises of verse 28 are only applicable (contextually) to those in verse 27. 

      I don’t know what passage you had in mind for John 6. In verse 28, Jesus is asked what works they should be engaged in to be saved. Jesus responds (v.29) that God’s work is “that you believe in him whom he has sent.” Belief in Jesus requires work. We are saved by faith. Dead faith doesn’t save (James 2). The way we live each day reflects our faith. We all have failures (starting with myself), but we must continue pressing on!

      You may want to think of salvation passages as contract language. Read the entire salvation accounts carefully and impartially. You could read it and pretend that you have never read it before. Without presuppositions, what actions do salvation accounts consistently communicate to be saved? Does the context and grammar depict one time, completed actions, or is perseverance required? 

      May God bless you richly as you follow Jesus to the Father’s house. 

      Keep the faith!

      Reply

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Pin It on Pinterest