I read an article recently regarding eternal life. It was written, “Everlasting life doesn’t begin when you die. Everlasting life begins the moment you believe in Jesus for it. Jesus says, ‘He who believes in Me has [right now – original emphasis] everlasting life’ (John 6:47). Since it is ‘everlasting life,’ it cannot last 10, 20, or 30 years and then be lost. It has to last forever.”
This is a very common argument. Due to how many sincere people believe this way, I feel compelled to write upon this subject.
It is absolutely true that eternal life is at times spoken of in the present tense (John 5:24; 6:47, etc.). But, does this mean that once one is saved, he is always saved and can‘t lose it?
Jesus said that if we faithfully follow Him we shall “receive an hundred fold now in this time… and in the world to come eternal life” (Mark 10:30). Watch that eternal life is not something we have in actuality here and now. We receive it in the world to come. Paul indicated that we live “in hope of eternal life” (Titus 1:2). Folks, we don’t hope for what we actually have (Rom. 8:24). Moreover, we must take care – not to be “moved away from the hope of the gospel,” if we want to be presented “holy and unblameable and unprovable in His sight (Colossians 1:21-23).
John settled the issue. He wrote, “Let that therefore abide in you, which ye have heard from the beginning. If that which you have heard from the beginning shall remain in you, ye also shall continue in the Son, and in the faith. And this is the promise that He hath promised us, eternal life” (1 John 2:24-25). The word “if” is a conditional word. Eternal life is a promise conditioned on our abiding in Him (cf. 2 John 9; John 15:5-10).
In summation – believers do have eternal life, but they have it in prospect, hope, and in promise, and that promise is conditional.
This is much like the children of Israel’s situation with the promised land, before they entered in to possess it. The promised land was a gift (Gen. 15:7; 17:8; Exodus 6:4, 8; Joshua 1:2). At times it is even spoken of as if they currently had it (Joshua 6:2), when in actuality they hadn’t entered into it yet. They didn’t earn it, or merit it or get it by their own strength or wisdom (Joshua 24:13). Yet there clearly were conditions to be met in order to actually receive the gift (see Josh. 6). In truth, not all the Israelites actually gained possession of this promised land. Eternal life is a gift (Rom. 6:23). Yet, there are conditions (Heb. 5:9).
Man indeed can fall from grace (Gal. 5:4). He can depart from the living God (Heb. 3:12). Thus, he is instructed to take heed lest he falls (1 Cor. 10:12). Jesus said in Revelation 2:10, “Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life.” Many think they already have that crown on their heads, but this isn’t what it says. “Let us not grow weary in well-doing: for in due season we shall reap if we faint not” (Gal. 6:9). This is speaking of reaping “life everlasting” (Gal. 6:8).
Don’t be deceived by those who teach once saved, always saved. A man told me once that he could die in the arms of his adulterous lover and go straight to the glories of heaven. This is wrong.