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.

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16 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
    • stuart

      It should be noted that “sin” is not on the list described in Rom 8:38-39 as sin does indeed separate the believer from God. It should also be noted that in Rom 8:13, Paul warns the brethren in Rome that if they live according to the flesh, they will die. Paul states that living according to the flesh; i.e. habitual sin will result in spiritual death. This cannot refer to physical death because every person experiences physical death irrespective of the manner in which they lived their lives.
      Rom 8:29-30 is often cited by the OSAS crowd as a proof-text that when one was “called” by God, he/she will be glorified as this is a supposed unbreakable chain of salvation – predestined = called = justified = glorified. However, the Greek word for “called” comes from “kaleō” which is the same word found in Gal. 1:6. In that verse, Paul marvels that the Galatian believers whom he himself described as called/kaleō are deserting Christ to follow a different gospel. Thus being called by God is no guarantee that a Christian will always persevere which points to the fallacy of eternal security teaching.

      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
  4. Tyler

    I believe that John 5:24 does not teach eternal security but conditional eternal security but that is for the gospel of the Kingdom which is not the same thing as the gospel of the grace of God the gospel of the Kingdom required Faith in Jesus as the Messiah and the Son of God water baptism commandment keeping and enduring to the end in order to be saved John 1:12 Matthew 16:16 Matthew 19:17 Mark 16:16 Matthew 24:13 mark 13:13 Luke 21:19. but according to Paul he got a secret Revelation directly from the Lord Jesus Christ concerning a new gospel and salvation 1st Corinthians 1:17 1st Corinthians 2:6-8 1st Corinthians 15:1-4 Colossians 1:26 Roman 16:25-26 Galatians 2:1-2 Ephesians 3:3-9 Ephesians 6:19 that is by faith without water baptism commandment keeping or enduring to the end it is just by trusting Jesus Christ and his death burial and Resurrection alone and you will be saved and it can never be lost even if you stop believing 1st Corinthians 1:8-9 2nd Corinthians 1:22 Ephesians 1:13-14 Ephesians 4:30 2nd Timothy 2:13 makes that clear and to teach otherwise is to teach salvation by works

    Reply
    • admin

      Dear brother/sister in Christ,

      Thanks for leaving a comment. You believe that the New Testament teaches two Gospels. One Gospel is the Kingdom of God; the second Gospel is of grace. Respectfully, you have been exposed to wrong teaching. Jesus believed His teaching was applicable for the Church (“teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you”). You must also believe the Great Commission is optional.

      Please study and learn basic principles of interpretation. You are confused between eisegesis and exegesis. Eisegesis involves front loading theology into the Bible (such as the Gospel of Jesus is not for the church). Exegesis is drawing out the author’s original intent. 

      You stated, “Paul he got a secret Revelation directly from the Lord Jesus Christ concerning a new gospel and salvation.” While Paul did receive revelation, where does it state that it was a separate Gospel? For accurate biblical interpretation, we don’t get to read theology into the text. 

      You mentioned several passages. I don’t have space to cover them. You wrongly concluded that baptism is not part of the Gospel: “faith without water baptism commandment.” The biblical model has baptism practiced immediately when someone enters the family of God. Please read the book of Acts which covers approximately 30 years of history. 

      Finally, you also believe that perseverance is optional. 

      Since you don’t believe the Gospel of the Kingdom that Jesus taught, why include the Gospels in the Bible? Why include the book of Acts in the cannon of Scripture that teaches that Baptism was practiced (including the middle of night in Acts 16)? Why contain the book of Hebrews and Revelation since perseverance is optional?

      Please read the New Testament and pretend it was the first time. Compare Scripture with Scripture and allow the Bible and the Spirit of God free reign to mold your beliefs. In biblical interpretation, we don’t decide what the Bible says. The Bible decides for us what the author’s intention was. We want to believe the plain, obvious meaning.

      Here are some important words from Paul:

      “5 Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, 2 and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:1-2, ESV)

      Thanks again for your comments. Please keep an active faith in God and His Son Jesus Christ.

      In Christ!

      Reply
      • Sean Wilson

        please explain the Greek perfect tense use of the word ‘is passed’ in John 5:24 where Jesus Himself says, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life.”. I’ll will ask you how that this verse can exist in a Non OSAS dogma?

        If you truly know your theology and Greek, you would know that the Greek perfect tense speaks of an action that occurred SOMETIME IN THE PAST. It is like the Greek aorist (action that occurred at a single time in the past – for example, the angels were all created in the past at one time as per the word ‘created’ in Colossians 1:16). But it’s a bit more than the aorist tense, it adds the flavour of not only something occurring in the past, but that the effect of that action CANNOT BE UNDONE AND WILL BE IN PLAY FOR ALL ETERNITY.

        The reason for this is that the perfect tense is a combination of a past action (aorist) in conjunction with it also being a present on going action. It is meant to be used as when Jesus stated when hanging on the tree ‘It is finished’, John 19:30. This word is also in the perfect tense and means ‘the debt has been paid for in full’ – which is speaking about the debt of man’s sin for all mankind. Here Jesus employs the perfect tense perfectly for the solitary reason of saying that what He has done, can and never will be undone.

        So, how then does John 5:24 exist in a Non OSAS environment then

        Reply
        • admin

          Sorry about the delay in answering your question. I don’t have time to address every disagreement and point your made. Instead, I’ll focus on your misunderstanding of the Koine Greek perfect tense.

          Because you believe that salvation cannot be forfeited once attained, you interpret the perfect tense in John 5:24 to mean “CANNOT BE UNDONE AND WILL BE IN PLAY FOR ALL ETERNITY.” This apparent theological motivated definition is false at multiple levels. I’ll start from the Bible.

          A search in the New Testament using Logos Bible Software indicates that there are 1,573 perfect tense verbs. If your definition were correct, it would not contradict a large number of these verses. But the contradictions are staggering.

          In Matthew 20:6, it says about Jesus: “And about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing [Greek perfect tense verb]. And he said to them, ‘Why do you stand [Greek perfect tense verb] here idle all day?”

          This verse would be a contradiction. Why would Jesus question these people about standing since they could never move from their standing position for all eternity? This conclusion is based on your definition: “CANNOT BE UNDONE AND WILL BE IN PLAY FOR ALL ETERNITY” (your definition).

          Jesus said: “And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still [Greek perfect tense verb]!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm” (Mk 4:39).

          With your definition, the sea of Galilee has been calm as glass ever since that day: “CANNOT BE UNDONE AND WILL BE IN PLAY FOR ALL ETERNITY” (your definition).

          Speaking of Simon in the book of Acts: “And they paid attention to him because for a long time he had amazed [Greek perfect tense verb] them with his magic.” (Ac 8:11).

          So Simon is still alive today amazing people with his magic, “CANNOT BE UNDONE AND WILL BE IN PLAY FOR ALL ETERNITY” (your definition).

          Dear brother, respectfully you hold a false definition for the perfect tense. One’s definition of the perfect tense needs to be in harmony with its use in the New Testament and language spoken in the first century.

          I’m no scholar or Greek grammarian. My understanding is that generally speaking (subject to context) it describes an action that occurred in the past (or an objective reached, etc) that has results that continued until the present time. Based on my research, the perfect tense does not comment on the future unless the context does.

          Here is a discussion on the perfect tense from a Greek Grammar theologian:

          “The implication that “the perfect tells you that the event occurred and still has significant results” goes beyond grammar and is therefore misleading. Even more misleading is the notion, frequently found in commentaries, that the perfect tense denotes permanent or eternal results. Such a statement is akin to saying the aorist tense means “once-for-all.” Implications of this sort are to be drawn from considerations that are other than grammatical in nature. One must be careful not to read his or her theology into the syntax whenever it is convenient.” Wallace, D. B. (1996). Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics: An Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament (p. 574). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

          Here is another explanation by a learned Greek theologian:

          “It is to be remembered that the choice between the perfect and some other tense is not necessarily determined by the objective facts, but by the writer’s point of view of the action (see §§15–16). As always, the significance of each occurrence of the perfect tense must be determined by the context.” Black, D. A. (2009). Learn to read New Testament Greek (3rd ed, p. 76). Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group.

          In Christ!

          Reply
  5. J. Trevor Adkins

    Great answers to those who believe in the error of the eternal security doctrine. Your answers were given in the spirit of brotherly love and based on scripture. All of the assertions made for eternal security seemed to arise from how they were taught to misinterpret passages and ones taken out of context.

    Reply
  6. Ben

    Perhaps the present tense of “Whoever hears my word…” is due to the fact that while Jesus was speaking to others he was obviously still alive. John is just recording how the conversation went like it was presently happening so naturally Jesus would be talking in the present tense.

    Just like if I told someone “If you believe I am who I say I am then I’ll hand you right now some free tickets to Disney World.”
    The person says they believe and so recieve the tickets. I gave no requirement they had to keep believing I was who I said I was. They already have the tickets and they are free to believe or not believe me.

    Reply
  7. David

    The New Testament epistles and the gospels were written for and to believers not unbelievers and in them, as with the Old Testament, their are many warnings for such believers (called brethren) (e.g. 1 Corinthians 10; Hebrews 2:1-3, Hebrews 3:12-14; Hebrews 6:4-8 to name but a few). While NOTHING can separate us from God or Christ and their love, or pluck us out of their hands, the danger remains that we can turn away, hence the warnings and the reason for the “if” statements is several passages. Perseverance in faith, hope and love is essential.
    As it is “God who works in you (us) to will and to do of His good pleasure.”  Philippians 2:13, let us “work out (our) own salvation with fear and trembling” Philippians 2:12.

    The Admin is right.

    Reply
    • Steve Greig

      Hi Admin, just a few questions please…

      According to your article, can you say with 100% certainty that you are saved, and, if you died today, you would go to Heaven?
      If so, why?

      How can you be sure the quality or level of your belief, faith, trust, abiding (whatever you want to call your part of the transaction) is enough?

      Do you honestly think you have done or acted out your belief (faith works) enough to have not slipped in & out of salvation at anytime during your time as a Christian?

      Thank you, and these are sincere questions I have. Steve.

      Reply
      • admin

        Based on John 5:24, and other verses, I have assurance, that I am being saved based on my faith in Jesus Christ.

        The comment section is to discuss the subject presented. Do you agree based on the evidence presented that John 5:24 teaches that ongoing faith is required to be saved?

        Reply

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