Does “Eternal Life” in Passages like John 3:16 Imply That Apostasy is Impossible?

John 3:16

For God so loved the world that He gave his one and only Son that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

Some emphasize the fact that eternal life is eternal. It is claimed that if we could forfeit salvation, eternal life would then cease to be eternal. This fails to recognize the important truth that there is no eternal life outside of Christ (John 1:4; 5:26; 6:35; 11:25; 14:6; 1 John 1:2; 5:11; Col. 3:3, 4; 2 Pet, 1:4), and we share in his life only as we remain in Him through saving faith (those “believing” in this passage). Eternal life does not cease to be eternal if we fail to continue in saving faith, we will simply cease to participate in the eternal life which resides only in the Son of God. Eternal life will continue on just fine without us, if we fail to meet the condition of faith.

Robert Picirilli comments:

Those passages, especially in the Gospel of John, which contain strong promises of (final) salvation to believers and are therefore thought to imply necessary perseverance can not be used for that purpose lest they ‘prove too much.’ In other words, to say that those promises require the impossibility of a changed situation places too great a burden on the syntax of the statements. And this can quickly be seen by comparing similar promises, using the very same syntax, to unbelievers. For example:

John 5:24

He that believes shall not come into condemnation.

[and]

John 3:36

He that believes not shall not see life.

Grammatically, if the first means the condition of the believer can not be changed, then the second means the condition of the unbeliever likewise can not be changed. In fact, neither passage is even speaking to that issue. The unbeliever can leave his unbelief, become a believer, and see life- thus escaping from the promise made to the unbeliever who continues in his unbelief. Likewise, the believer can leave his belief, become an unbeliever, and come into condemnation- thus escaping from the promise made to believers who continue in faith. Each promise applies with equal force to those who continue in the respective state described. (Grace, Faith, Free Will, pp. 200-201)

From: Perseverance of the Saints Part 12: Examining Passages Commonly Appealed to by the Advocates of Unconditional Eternal Security

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15 Responses

  1. So, do you believe the glorified saints in heaven can apostasize? If not, why?

  2. Jon,

    I do not believe glorified saints can apostatize in heaven. Paul says we will be incorruptible. If you are trying to make a point with your question, go ahead and make it (as I don’t want to “speculate” on where you are going with this). Then I will address the rest.

    God Bless,
    Ben

  3. Kangaroo,

    My point is that free willism, if held consistently, must allow for apostacy in heaven since it is the believer’s free choice to accept or reject God at any time. You wouldn’t suggest people have LESS freedom in heaven than they do in this fallen world, would you?

  4. They have more ability (grace) to choose God; but, this does not BY ANY MEANS FORCE them to choose God. It HAS happened before – Eve/Adam, satan – that a perfect being fell into sinfulness.

  5. Free will held consistently doesn’t have to allow apostasy in heaven, at least not more than theoretically, because it is balanced by love and knowledge there (1 Corinth 13:12-13; 1 John 3:2). What was the possibility that Jesus could have apostatized? Could anyone have had more freewill than Christ?

  6. I’m a little confused by your argument here. Can you please explain how love and knowledge “balance” out free will to prevent apostacy in heaven? And yes, I agree that Jesus could NOT have apostacized, and also that he has more freedom (a better word to me) than anyone. Yet, that point seems to confirm my view of compatiblistic freewill, as opposed to libertarian freewill held by Arminians.

  7. Jon, your questioning is answered in two ways: Molinism, and here: http://evangelicalarminians.org/?q=coords.Free-Will-in-Heaven

    I think the argument of slw is very sound. In fact, Paul sayd we see like in a fog, but in Heaven we will see God in full glory.

    What is your view of Compatibilism? The negative of inner freedom – a man runs only within your ‘strongest desire’?

  8. “Free will held consistently doesn’t have to allow apostasy in heaven, at least not more than theoretically…”

    This isn’t theory – satan was in heaven.

  9. Credulo,

    1. Molinism spawns more questions than it answers. Also, Molinists sharply disagree with Arminians, so which side are you on?
    2. No offense, but the article you linked to didn’t really answer anything, it merely begged the question.
    3. SLW doesn’t make an argument, but rather mere assertions, therefore it is hard to evaluate his statements logically.

  10. Jon,

    You wrote,

    My point is that free willism, if held consistently, must allow for apostacy in heaven since it is the believer’s free choice to accept or reject God at any time.

    Sorry, but this doesn’t follow. If Scripture teaches that we have free will on earth and can fall away, but that we do not have the capability to fall away in heaven (so in that particular sense we do not have that freedom), then how is that not consistent? Consistent with what?

    You wouldn’t suggest people have LESS freedom in heaven than they do in this fallen world, would you?

    Maybe. Why not? Actually, I would say that God perfects our freedom in heaven and gives us exactly what we freely desired while on earth- a will in perfect and full submission to the will of God. That is what is so wonderful about free will for those who hold to it. That we have free will means we can surrender our will to God. That is actually the nature of sacrifice and self denial (concepts that make little sense in a deterministic framework). The believer in this world prays earnestly for God’s will to be fully done in his or her life. The believer wants to fully submit to God in all things. The believer wants to surrender his will to God. In heaven, God answers our prayer. Why should that be a problem? We are fully submitted to God in heaven in accordance with our free will desire and prayer. It is what we wanted.

    But if your view is correct, then we really have nothing to offer God. All that we give Him is given to Him irresistibly. It is like God giving things to Himself. God simply controls our will from beginning to end in Calvinism. There is no real sacrifice, no real denial of self, etc. We have no will of our own to submit to God in Calvinism. What a tragedy.

    So I don’t see why any of this should be a problem for what you term “free willism”. In heaven we will have a perfected nature and no influence from within or without to turn away from God (or to sin). We will have exactly what we want in God and will be fully satisfied with Him. So again, our free will is perfected in heaven, rather than stripped away. Praise God! But all that we will have in heaven is based on our free will choices here, so even if our relationship with God in heaven leaves no room for us to fall away, that relationship will be rooted in our relationship with Him here on earth where we could have fallen away, but freely chose to remain in Him.

    God Bless,
    Ben

  11. 1. Molinism spawns more questions than it answers. Also, Molinists sharply disagree with Arminians, so which side are you on?

    Likewise, Calvinism spawns far more questions than it answers (unanswerable questions, in fact). Also, many Arminians are Molinists, so I am not sure what you have been reading.

    3. SLW doesn’t make an argument, but rather mere assertions, therefore it is hard to evaluate his statements logically.

    And how exactly is so called compatibilism more than “mere assertions?” Just wondering.

  12. For the most part I agree except for Robert picirili’s argument. This entire issue hinges around the use of the word eternal. Both john 5:24 and 3:36 use eternal in the first half and shall not in the second half. Shall and shall not are not the same thing as eternal. Eternal means “will never end.” So that implies that it will always be eternal because if it ceased to be then it ends which violates the definition of eternal. If so then it is not eternal and never could have been eternal.

    Will not=\= will never. Both scriptures say will/shall not but neither of them say shall never.

    The scriptures point out two basic facts:
    Whoever believes WILL have eternal life.
    Whoever rejects Christ WILL NOT have life.

    This doesn’t mean will never have life. Just will not. Whoever makes the statement conditional. So every non-believer will not have life so long as they are non-believers. But if they choose to believe then they are no longer in the second category. They are now believer and every believer will have eternal life.

    If you have eternal life your life cannot end or else it was never eternal. Perhaps however the eternal life could continue but elsewhere. Then our life would end but the eternal life would still be eternal. However I have yet to see this in scripture. A few verses would be invaluable.

  13. Daniel,

    Part of Picirilli’s point is the conditionality of both. Eternal life is for those “believing” (presently and continually). There is no hint of eternal life continuing outside of the condition being met. Just as not having life is conditioned on continual rejection, so is having life conditioned on continual believing.

    Part of the confusion comes from how we view eternal life. It is far more than just our existence continuing. It is a quality of life that flows to us from Christ and continues as we are joined to Him. Christ is eternal, and the life we receive from Him is eternal because we are joined to the eternal One and share in His life. Eternal life is not a separate entity that God just makes stick to those who come to faith. It is a benefit that flows to us from being joined to the eternal Son of God and is entirely conditoned on that union. Indeed, the Scriptures are pretty clear that Jesus is the eternal life,

    “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty.” Jn. 6:35

    Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.” Jn. 11:25

    Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Jn. 14:6

    ‘The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. 1 Jn. 1:2

    “When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.” Col. 3:4

    Eternal life is found in Him alone,

    “In him was life, and that life was the light of men.” Jn. 1:4

    “For the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son to have life in himself.” Jn. 5:26

    “And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.” 1 Jn. 5:11

    2 Peter 1:4 makes it clear that we do not posses life independently. Rather, we “share” in the divine nature.

    You wrote,

    Perhaps however the eternal life could continue but elsewhere. Then our life would end but the eternal life would still be eternal. However I have yet to see this in scripture. A few verses would be invaluable.

    Yes, it continues on in Christ, for it is His life that we take part in as long as we meet the condition that joins us to Him and His life. If we fail to meet the condition, His life continues. We no longer share in it.

    Only in Christ and through union with Christ can we experience His life (eternal life) and the possession of eternal life is clearly conditioned on possession of Christ, and possession of Christ is conditioned on continuing in the faith,

    “And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He who has the Son has life, he who does not have the Son of God does not have life.” 1 Jn. 5:11, 12

    Clearly, having the Son is how we have the life. You cannot have the life if you do not have the Son.

    Continuing to posses this life is conditioned on continuing in the faith (remaining in Christ),

    “See that what you have heard from the beginning remains in you. If it does, you also will remain in the Son and in the Father. And this is what he promised us- even eternal life.” 1 Jn. 2:24

    “You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me and I will remain in you…I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned.” Jn. 15:3-6

    Clearly, one must remain in Christ in order to continue to receive the life that flows from Him, like a branch receives the nutrients from the vine. But if a person does not remain (continue in the faith that joins him to Christ), that person will be cut off and “wither” (since no life remains, though it once had life in it), and is burned.

    For me, the Biblical evidence is pretty clear. The problem comes when we do not allow Scripture to define the nature of eternal life and how that life is communicated to the believer, but instead load the concept of eternal life with our own ideas. If we define and understand the nature of eternal life as the Bible specifically defines it, no difficulty remains.

    Hope that helps.

    God Bless,
    Ben

  14. Ben, is there any guarantee that you will remain in Christ? How do you know that you have not fallen away? How do you remain in Christ? If you say by doing or not doing, then you are resting eternal life on works. When one gets to heaven and the Lord should ask, “How did you remain in me? How will you respond to Jesus? Note, this question by Jesus is getting at the cause of remaining in him.

  15. Neal,

    You write,

    Ben, is there any guarantee that you will remain in Christ?

    No, there is no “guarantee.” If that were the case, there would be no reason for the numerous warnings against falling away found in Scripture. I have assurance that I am currently saved and in Christ because I am currently believing in Him, and I have strong confidence that I will remain in the faith because God gives me all that I need to continue to trust in Him and rely on Him. It is similar to my relationship with my wife. Is there any guarantee that I will not at some point be unfaithful to her and leave her? No, there is no ironclad guarantee. But I do have great assurance that this will not happen. Why? Because I love her and am committed to remaining in right relationship with her, and have the ability to do so.

    So I can have full assurance of present salvation based on present trust in Christ (1 John 5:10-13) and strong assurance of final salvation as well, since God enables us to continue in faith just as He enables us to exercise faith in the first place (2 Peter 1:2-11). But the Calvinist doctrine of inevitable perseverance undercuts both present and future assurance:

    https://arminianperspectives.wordpress.com/2013/06/26/a-telling-and-ironic-tweet-by-john-piper-on-waking-up-in-the-morning-as-a-believer/

    https://arminianperspectives.wordpress.com/2008/10/29/perseverance-of-the-saints-part-13-salvation-assurance/

    https://arminianperspectives.wordpress.com/2013/05/09/an-important-admission-on-salvation-assurance-from-prominent-calvinist-c-michael-patton/

    How do you know that you have not fallen away?

    Because I am trusting in Christ.

    How do you remain in Christ?

    By faith, of course (cf. Rom. 11:17-24)

    If you say by doing or not doing, then you are resting eternal life on works.

    Faith is not works (Rom. 4) because it is trusting in Christ to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves: save us.

    When one gets to heaven and the Lord should ask, “How did you remain in me? How will you respond to Jesus? Note, this question by Jesus is getting at the cause of remaining in him.

    I have no reason think Jesus would ask any such question. He knows that we remain in Him through faith in Him. So why would He ask such a thing? Let’s stick to what the Scriptures say on this matter rather than hypothetical “What would you say if Jesus asked you…” questions.

    The bottom line is that salvation by faith is not by works because faith is simple trust in Christ to save us rather than trying to earn salvation apart from Christ (which is impossible). That is why salvation by faith is salvation by grace, because it is by faith that we receive an unearned and undeserved gift from the hand of God (Rom. 4:16; 5:2). Despite Calvinist’s constant attempts to make faith into a work, the Scriptures will not permit it.

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