“For as the Father raises the dead and gives life to them, even so the Son gives life to whom He will.” John 5:21
After Jesus healed the lame man on the Sabbath (John 5:1-15) and referred to God as His Father (John 5:17), claiming to be equal with God, the critical Jewish religious leaders sought all the more to kill Christ (John 5:18). Christ then makes three major claims to establish His equality with God the Father (John 5:19-30). For our purpose in this article, we will only look at Jesus’ second claim which is that HE IS THE SAVIOR (5:21-24). 5:21: One of the “greater works” of Jesus (John 5:20b) is raising “the dead” and giving “life to whom He will.” The Jews understood that only God has the power to give life. But now Jesus is claiming to have the same power as God the Father. Christ “gives” both physical life (John 1:3) and everlasting life (John 1:12; 3:15-16).
“…In a way, Jesus was telling them, ‘You think you’re upset now because I healed a paralytic? You haven’t seen anything yet. Wait until you see what I do with Lazarus!’ (see 11:1-44).”
Too often I hear Christians telling non-Christians to give their lives to Jesus to get them to heaven. But this is backwards. Jesus “gives life” to the non-Christian when he or she believes in Him (cf. John 1:12; 3:15-16, 36; 4:10, 14; 5:24; et al.). We don’t give our lives to the Lord for salvation. The issue in salvation is not what we give to God, but what He gives to us. The same author of the gospel of John writes in his first epistle, “And this is the testimony: that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son.” (I John 5:11). Who gives eternal life? God does because it is a free gift (John 4:10-14; Rom. 6:23b; Ephes. 2:8-9). Who receives eternal life? We do the moment we believe in Jesus for it.
If we give our life to Jesus to get us to His heaven, we will be eternally disappointed because our lives end at the grave. We need life that lasts beyond the grave. We need Jesus’ everlasting life which we receive by believing in Him alone (John 3:15-16; 11:25-26; cf. I John 5:13). Only those who have Christ’s everlasting life by believing in Him will be able to enter Jesus’ heaven. The Bible clearly tells us that Jesus “gives life” for salvation, we don’t give our life to Him.
I am deeply burdened about this because non-Christians are being misled to think that if they give their lives to Christ, they have everlasting life as a result. This is contrary to Jesus’ teaching! Satan has deceived well-intentioned Christian workers into thinking they are serving God by telling the unsaved to give their lives to Christ to begin a relationship with Him. May God bring these Christian workers to repentance so they can replace this unclear and confusing evangelistic invitation with a clear invitation that uses the words God uses most in evangelism – “believe” (pisteuō)  and “faith” (pistis).  This will increase the population of heaven because non-Christians are being clearly told what God says they must do to receive His gift of everlasting life.
The Bible says, “9 If we receive the witness of men, the witness of God is greater; for this is the witness of God which He has testified of His Son. 10 He who believes in the Son of God has the witness in himself; he who does not believe God has made Him a liar, because he has not believed the testimony that God has given of His Son. 11 And this is the testimony: that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. 12 He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life. 13 These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life.” (I John 5:9-13). According to these verses, what is God’s witness? Does God say you must give Christ your life to have eternal life? No. He says, “God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son” (5:11). If you carefully read these verses, you will discover that they say nothing about giving your life to Christ to have eternal life. If I were to summarize these verses, I would say this: “The witness of God” says, “Christ gives His eternal life to those who believe in Him,” and “is greater” than “the witness of men” who say, “Give your life to Christ to have eternal life.”
But someone may respond by saying, Jesus said, “He who loves his life will lose it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” (John 12:25).Isn’t that the same thing as giving your life to Christ to have eternal life? Great question, but wrong conclusion.
Who is Jesus speaking to when He speaks the words of John 12:25? Jesus is speaking to two of His believing disciples, Andrew and Philip (cf. John 1:35-2:11), who came to Christ to inform Him about certain Greeks at the Passover Feast who wanted to see Him (John 12:20-22). When Jesus hears of the Greeks wanting to see Him, it confirmed that “the hour had come” for Him to “be glorified” through His death on the cross (John 12:23) which Jesus illustrates with a grain of wheat analogy whereby death leads to life (John 12:24). Jesus is the grain of wheat. The word “alone” refers to Christ dealing with Jews alone. It was necessary for Jesus to die to produce life in many others – both Jews and Gentiles (including the Greeks), in one body. Death was necessary for life and fruitfulness.
Since Jesus is talking to two of His believing disciples, He does not reference “eternal life” as a gift to be received by faith alone in Him alone (John 12:25). Instead, He speaks of eternal life as a reward to be earned in the future.  The issue here is rewards, not salvation from hell. The believer who “loves his life” by selfishly living for his or herself, “will lose” the fullness of that life both now and in eternity in terms of the loss of rewards. Christ goes on to say that “he who hates his life in the world” by making his or her love and loyalty to Christ a priority “will keep it for eternal life,” that is, they will enjoy a deeper and fuller experience of eternal life both now and in eternity. 
Jesus said, “I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.” (John 10:10b). Eternal life must first be received as a gift through faith alone in Jesus alone – “I have come that they may have life” (John 3:15-16; 4:10-14; Rom. 6:23; Ephes. 2:8-9) – before we can experience that life “more abundantly”through obedience to Christ (John 8:31-32; John 12:24-26). The word “abundantly” means over and above or overflowing life. All those who believe in Jesus have “life” in His name (John 3:16; 20:31). But only those believers who obey Christ’s word will experience it “more abundantly” both now and eternity.
Therefore, when eternal life is referred to as a present possession in the New Testament, it is always a free gift that is received by believing in Christ alone (John 3:15-16, 36; 4:10-14; 5:24; 6:40, 47; 10:28-29; 11:25-26; Rom. 6:23b; 4:5; Ephes. 2:8-9; I John 5:11, 13; Rev. 22:17). But when eternal life is referred to as a future acquisition, it is a reward that obedient believers will receive in the future (cf. Matt. 19:29; 25:35-40, 46; Mark 10:29-30; Luke 18:29-30; John 4:36; 12:25; Rom. 2:7; 6:22; Gal. 6:7-9; I Tim. 6:12, 19; Jude 1:21).  Eternal life is not static. Believers can experience varying degrees of God’s life as they learn to trust and obey Him.
Those who are dedicated to Christ will “keep” or preserve that lifestyle for eternal rewards (12:25). Our earthly experience becomes a part of “eternal life”in that it contributes to the quality of our future life in eternity. If we put our material things and selfish ambitions ahead of Christ, we will decrease the quality of our life in the world to come. So, the issue is not salvation, but the quality of a believer’s life both now and in the world to come.
This is substantiated further in the next verse when Jesus says, “If anyone serves Me, let him follow Me; and where I am, there My servant will be also. If anyone serves Me, him My Father will honor.” (John 12:26). Jesus is referring to self-denying service to Christ. If you want to serve Christ, you must follow Him. He is to be the number one priority in your life. Just as Jesus denied Himself and died for the world (12:27-28a), His disciples are to deny themselves and serve Him. When Christ says, “and where I am, there My servant will be also”in glory and honor is the main idea here as confirmed in the next part of the verse. “If anyone serves Me, him My Father will honor.” The verb “will honor” refers to honoring faithful Christians with rewards.  If you serve Jesus, you will receive “honor” or reward from His Father. If you want to be rewarded in the future, you must earn it by serving Christ now. Rewards are not a free gift. We must work for them to receive them in the future.
We can see then, that giving Christ our lives is a condition for discipleship and is necessary to receive eternal rewards (cf. Matt. 10:32-42; 16:24-27; Mark 8:34-38; Luke 9:23-26; John 12:23-26), not eternal life or salvation as a free gift.
The claim of Jesus is that “life” belongs to Him and He gives it to whom He will (5:21). This cuts right across the philosophy and the propaganda of our day! Much of our culture tells you that your life belongs to you, and you can do with it whatever you want; it is up to you to make of yourself whatever you desire. That is what is fed to us all the time. But that’s a lie! Your physical life is not yours. You did not invent it; you were given it by Jesus.
If this claim of Jesus is real, and it is, it clearly makes Him the most important Person in anybody’s life. If your very physical existence has come from Him, and your spiritual destiny is in His hands, then He is the most important Person you will ever have to deal with. More than that, He is the most important Person in all the universe!
Because of this, it would be wise for us to keep His gospel message clear. Since the Lord Jesus used the words “believe” and “faith” more than any other words to express what a sinner must do to receive everlasting life (John 3:15-16; 5:24; 6:35, 40, 47; 11:25-26, et al.), we submit to His Lordship when we use those words when sharing His gospel with the unsaved. It is not submitting to His Lordship when we refuse to use the words He used the most in evangelism and substitute it with words that are more popular with others such as giving your life to Christ to be saved from hell. Our sinful nature does not like someone else to tell us what to do and how to do it. So, when Jesus tells us to use the words “believe” or “faith” when inviting a non-Christian to respond to the gospel, and we use other words or phrases that confuse instead of clarify the only condition for obtaining eternal life, we are saying to Him, “I know better than You, Lord. I will use some other phrase or condition that everyone else is using.” We are refusing to submit to His Lordship when we neglect to use the words He uses most in evangelism. And because of this, we will forfeit eternal rewards, not salvation, at the Judgment Seat of Christ (cf. I Cor. 3:8-15; 2 Cor. 5:10; Col. 3:23-24; Rev. 22:12).
How would you feel when You stand before the Judgment Seat of Christ and tell the Lord Jesus that you told non-Christians to give their lives to Christ to get saved, and Jesus rebukes you saying, “Why did you tell them that when I told you to invite them to believe in Me to get saved? I had to send someone else to them to tell them to believe in Me for eternal life because you refused to submit to My instructions.” I believe we would feel shame and regret for disobeying our Lord (cf. Matt. 25:24-30; I John 2:28). It is not too late to change and start using the words Jesus used the most in evangelism – “believe” and “faith” instead of the unclear terminology that the majority of Christians use today.
Prayer: Gracious Father in heaven, thank You for establishing that the Lord Jesus is equal with You in His deity when He claimed to be the Savior Who gives life to whom He wills. He is as much God as You and the Holy Spirit are. Because Jesus is the One Who gives physical life and eternal life, He is by far the most important Person in our lives. Please forgive us for substituting the words Jesus used most in evangelism – “believe” and “faith,” with unclear words like giving your life to Christ, follow Christ, or turn from your sins as conditions for eternal life. Please enable us to submit to Your Lordship in our lives by using the words Jesus used the most in evangelism because Your approval is far more important than the approval of people. In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we pray. Amen.
 Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman, The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B&H Publishing Group, 2019 Kindle Edition), pg. 2219.
 The word translated “will keep” (phylaxei) is in the future tense.
The Evangelism Study Bible (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, copyright 2014 EvanTell, Inc.), pg. 1180; Evans, The Tony Evans Bible Commentary, pg. 2257; Robert Wilkin, “John,” The Grace New Testament Commentary: Revised Edition (Grace Evangelical Society, 2019 Kindle Edition), pg. 213.
 Joseph Dillow, Final Destiny: The Future Reign of The Servant Kings: Fourth Revised Edition (Grace Theology Press, 2018 Kindle Edition), pp. 221-232; Zane C. Hodges, Grace in Eclipse: A Study on Eternal Rewards (Corinth, TX: Grace Evangelical Society, 2016 Kindle Edition), pp. 53-68.
 Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testamentand Other Early Christian Literature: Third Edition revised and edited by Frederick William Danker (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000 Kindle Edition), pp. 1004-1005.
When the ascended Lord Jesus Christ addressed the fifth church in Asia Minor he offered eternal rewards to the faithful “few” in Sardis. “You have a few names even in Sardis who have not defiled their garments; and they shall walk with Me in white, for they are worthy.” (Rev. 3:4). The all-knowing Judge knew of a “few names… in Sardis who” had “not defiled their garments” and “shall walk with”Christ “in white” because they are “worthy” or deserving. This cannot refer to salvation because no one deserves to be saved from hell. The Bible clearly says that salvation is a free gift apart from any works (John 4:10-14; Rom. 6:23b; 4:5; Ephes. 2:8-9; Rev. 21:6; 22:17). Instead, walking with Christ in white is a privilege reserved for the faithful believer who is undefiled in his Christian life.
Then the Lord Jesus says, “He who overcomes shall be clothed in white garments, and I will not blot out his name from the Book of Life; but I will confess his name before My Father and before Hisangels.” (Rev. 3:5). The risen Lord Jesus promises to the “overcomer” who is “worthy” (3:4) to be honored, the following eternal rewards:
– “Clothed in white garments.” “White garments” are symbolic of one’s works (cf. 19:8) and are pure and free of defilement (cf. Rev. 7:9, 13; 19:14; Matt. 22:11-12). In the ancient world, white robes also connoted festivity and victory. Sardis boasted of her trade in woolen goods and dyed stuffs. Only the believers who remained faithful to Jesus Christ until the end of their lives on earth could enjoy His intimate fellowship in His coming Kingdom (“walk with Me”; cf. Rev. 7:14;22:14).
Bob Wilkin writes, “Would you not want to be identified as closely as possible with the Lord Jesus and glorify Him, even in your clothing? The quality of your eternal garments will be determined by what you do in this life. Once this life is over, it will be too late to influence your worthiness to walk with Christ in white.” (Robert Wilkin, The Road to Reward: A Biblical Theology of Eternal Rewards Second Edition [Grace Evangelical Society, 2014 Kindle Edition], pg. 46).
– An honored name that is supremely secure. When Jesus says He will “not blot out his name from the Book of Life,” Arminians teach that Jesus is saying a non-overcoming (unfaithful) believer will lose his salvation. (see J. B. Smith, A Revelation of Jesus Christ [Scottsdale, PA: Mennonite Publishing House, 1961], pp. 329-331). But this would contradict Jesus’ clear teachings in John’s writings elsewhere.
For example, Jesus taught, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst.” (John 6:35; cf. 6:38-40; 10:28-29). Christ guarantees that those who come to Him in faith “shall never hunger” or “thirst” for eternal life again because the need He met can never reoccur. The results of believing in Christ are permanent even if we are unfaithful to Christ (cf. 2 Tim. 2:13).
Christ also said, “38 For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me. 39 This is the will of the Father who sent Me, that of all He has given Me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up at the last day.” (John 6:38-39). Jesus came down from heaven to do His Father’s will which was that all whom the Father had given Him should lose nothing, including their salvation. If Jesus failed to keep believers from losing their salvation, He would have failed to do His Father’s will. And that presents a moral dilemma. For if Jesus failed to do His Father’s will, then He would have sinned and could no longer be God. But Jesus Christ has never lost one believer and He never will because He is God (John 1:1; Titus 2:13) and He always does the will of His Father.
If a believer ever lost his or her salvation, Christ would have failed to keep this promise and many more (John 3:15-18; 4:10-14; 5:24; 6:35-40, 47; 11:25-26; et al.). To properly understand Jesus’ words, “and I will not blot out his name from the Book of Life” (Rev. 3:5), it is important to answer an important question.
What is the Book of Life? There appear to be several “books” or records that God keeps in heaven (cf. Rev. 20:12). Since God is all-knowing, He does not need to record things in books. People keep books for later recollection, so the figure of a “book” is an example of contextualization: giving revelation in terms the recipients can easily understand.
There is the “Book of the Living,” namely, those who are presently alive on the earth, including the unsaved (Exod. 32:32-33; Deut. 29:20; Ps. 69:28; Isa. 4:3). To have one’s name removed from this book refers to physical death. But the “Book of Life” in Revelation refers to all those who have believed in Jesus for everlasting life (Rev. 3:5; 13:8; 17:8; 20:15; 21:27; cf. Luke 10:20; Phil 4:3).
Since Jesus taught that eternal life can never be lost (John 3:15-18; 4:10-14; 5:24; 6:35-40; 10:28-29; 11:25-26; et al.), it is best to understand Jesus’ words, “and I will not blot out his name from the Book of Life” (3:5), as a figure of speech called a litotes (cf. 2:11) which is an understatement in which a positive affirmation is expressed by negating the opposite. If it is true that one who overcomes (i.e., remains faithful to Christ) will not have his name blotted out from the Book of Life, then what happens if one does not overcome or remain faithful to Christ? Would it not follow that he would have his name blotted out from the Book of Life? If this is truly a litotes, then the answer is, “No.”
For example, if we say, “Michael Jordan is not a bad basketball player,” we mean he is a very good basketball player. However, the reverse does not follow, “If you are not Michael Jordan, you are definitely not a good basketball player.”A litotes cannot be read in reverse (see Joseph Dillow, Final Destiny: The Future Reign of The Servant Kings: Fourth Revised Edition [GraceTheology Press, 2018 Kindle Edition], pp. 684-688, 962-963).
Jesus is saying in Revelation 3:5, “If you remain undefiled to the end of your life, I will reward you with the opposite of having your name blotted out of the Book of Life. You will be given an honored name that is supremely secure.” Such an honored name will be forever cherished by Jesus throughout eternity, which leads to the third reward.
– A name that is publicly confessed or honored before God the Father and His angels. Christ said, “I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels” (3:5b; cf. Matt. 10:32-33; 25:21, 23; Luke 12:8; 19:17, 19). Only worthy or faithful believers will have their name publicly confessed or honored before God the Father and His angels. Having one’s name acknowledged is not the same as being declared saved. Rather, it refers to the public testimony by the Son of God to the faithful life of the obedient Christian. Conversely, not having one’s name acknowledged is to forfeit the Master’s “Well done” (cf. Matt. 25:21, 23; Luke 19:17, 19).
The Bible teaches that believers in Jesus during this church age will appear before the Judgment Seat of Christ in heaven to receive rewards according to their works (I Cor. 3:8-15; 2 Cor. 5:10; Rev. 22:12) during the Tribulation period on earth. Believers who lived in disobedience and failed to grow spiritually, like the believers in Sardis, “will be saved, yet so as through fire” (ICor. 3:15). Although they have eternal life by believing in Jesus, they will suffer the loss of rewards and be denied the praise that Christ could have given them before His heavenly Father and the holy angels if they had been faithful to the Lord’s calling in their lives.
Imagine being on the new earth with King Jesus in the future (Rev. 21-22), and He publicly honors you by acknowledging your name before God the Father and His angels throughout eternity. If you are the kind of person who likes to receive approval, praise, and recognition before others, this acknowledgement or confession of your eternally honored name in the future by the glorified Lord Jesus Christ, will greatly motivate you to persevere in faithfulness to the risen Lord Jesus now, no matter what the cost. Jesus knows us better than we know ourselves. He understands our hearts and what will motivate us to live faithfully for Him, even when people dishonor or forget our names on earth now.
Praise Jesus for offering us eternal rewards in the future that consist of dazzling eternal clothes and an eternally honored name which will be publicly praised by Him before God the Father and His angels throughout eternity to motivate us to remain faithful to Jesus now no matter what the cost. To hear Jesus’ praise in eternity is far greater than any praise we could ever receive on earth.
Prayer: Precious Lord Jesus, only You are qualified to judge Your church. Thank You for warning us of the loss of reward and for giving us the remedy for our spiritually immature condition. Lord Jesus, we do not want to compromise our faith and waste our Christian lives by living selfishly. Please help us to stay spiritually alert and remember what we have been taught by godly teachers in the past. Thank You for offering us eternal rewards in the future that consist of dazzling eternal clothes and an eternally honored name which will be publicly praised by You before God the Father and His angels throughout eternity to motivate us to remain faithful to You now no matter what the cost. To hear Your praise, Lord Jesus, in eternity, is far greater than any praise we could ever receive on earth. May we hear and practice what Your Spirit says to us so You will receive maximum honor and glory in eternity. In Your mighty and most honorable name we pray, Lord Jesus. Amen.
I recently heard a pastor preach on James 2:14-26. He began his message saying that a pastor preached at the funeral of one of his relatives who professed faith in Christ but went on to live contrary to God’s will until the day he died. This pastor stated at the funeral that those who were Christians would see this man in heaven because of his faith in Jesus. In this message I heard recently, the pastor asked the question, “Is that true?”Will that man be in heaven who professed faith in Christ yet lived contrary to the will of God? The pastor stated his position up front and basically said, “No.” His reason? Because genuine saving faith always manifests itself through good works.
Here is a summary of his message on James 2:14-26:First, we are saved by grace through faith alone in Christ alone (Ephes. 2:8-9), but that faith is never alone (James 2:14-26). Saving faith always produces good works (cf. Matt. 7:16-20; John 15:1-8; Ephes. 2:10). When comparing Romans 3:28 with James 2:24, this pastor stated that James 2:24 was referring to post-conversion good works whereas Romans 3:28 was talking about pre-conversion good works.
Second, if a person says he has saving faith but does not produce good works (James 2:14), he only has a head or intellectual faith like the demons (James 2:19), not a genuine saving faith like Abraham or Rahab (James 2:23-25). If you say you have the Spirit of God, you cannot live without good works. The presence of God’s Spirit will always produce good works.
Third, there is a sense that genuine saving faith is a part of justification and is accompanied by good works which will accomplish final vindication. According to his view, good works must be part of a believer’s final justification before God.
In the conclusion of his message, he asked, “What do we do with this?” First, we are to reflect on our own lives. If we say we have faith but show no good works, we are a fake Christian. We have deceived ourselves by saying we are a Christian when we are not. We are living a duplicitous life. The solution? Turn from your sin and trust Christ for your salvation.
Second, be more fervent in evangelism. People who think they are saved but living contrary to the will of God need to evaluate their lives to see if they are truly saved. We must take this message to them.
Third, we must see the intimate connection between faith and works. Why do we do good works? Are our good works driven by faith to please God? Or are we doing good works in our strength to impress others or ourselves?
As I listened to this message, it raised more questions than answered. Must my life be characterized by good works to be truly saved? If so, how many good works and what type of good works are enough to get to heaven? How long can I experience failure in my Christian life and still know I am saved? In other words, what sin is too bad, too much, and too long to keep me from going to heaven? What if I live a godly life all my Christian life but fail miserably on the day I die? Am I saved? These are questions that only God can answer. Those who give specific answers to these questions are trying to do something only God is qualified to do.
After hearing this sermon, I felt deep compassion for the people listening to this message and I thought to myself, how can anyone, including the pastor, possibly know for sure they will go to heaven when they die? If I am understanding him correctly, a professing believer cannot know for sure he is saved until the end of his life. If he or she has produced good works to the end of their lives, then according to this view of James 2:14-26, they are saved and will go to heaven. The pastor did concede, however, that it is possible to have a death-bed conversion and go to heaven without having produced good works beforehand.
After the church service was over, I did tell the pastor that his message presented the Reformed point of view as well as I had ever heard. He thanked me and I left it at that.
I am deeply compelled to take a closer look at James 2:14-26 to see if it is possible to know for sure one is going to heaven even if his or her life is not characterized by good works. This is a greatly debated passage among students of the Bible. Many Bible interpreters of these verses recognize the tension between faith and works. In fact, Martin Luther was so distraught over this passage that he wanted to take the book of James out of the Bible because he felt it contradicted the great truth that led to the Reformation – Paul’s justification by faith alone apart from works.
The three primary interpretations of James 2:14-26 are:
1. It refers to a person who was a believer but has lost his salvation. He used to have saving faith but does not have it any longer. This is the Arminian viewpoint. 
2. It refers to an unbeliever who professes to be a Christian but has never truly exercised saving faith in Christ. His faith is only intellectual assent to gospel truth or head faith, not saving or heart faith which always manifests itself through good works. This is the view of Calvinism or Reformed Theology. This was the position I heard in the recent sermon.
3. It refers to a genuine believer who is not living by faith. He is not behaving consistently with what he believes. He needs to keep his faith alive and energized by putting it to work. This is the Free Graceviewpoint.
How can Christians keep their faith alive and energized? James 2:14-26 gives us two ways to do this.
First, GET INVOLVED WITH OTHERS (James 2:14-19). When interpreting Scripture, it is always best to begin with what is clear to interpret the unclear. Let’s begin with what Jesus taught one must do to go to heaven or have eternal life. There is no better place to discover this than the gospel of John which was written primarily to tell non-Christians how to obtain eternal life (John 20:31). Throughout his gospel the apostle John uses the word “believe” (pisteuō) ninety-nine times in the Greek Majority Text  and its most basic meaning is “to consider or be persuaded something is true and therefore worthy of one’s trust” 
Repeatedly in John’s gospel, Jesus taught that one must believe in Him alone for eternal life: 
“Whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:15
“Whoever believes in Him should perish but have everlasting life.” John 3:16
“He who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life.” John 5:24
“Everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him may have everlasting life.” John 6:40
“He who believes in Me has everlasting life.” John 6:47
“I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?” John 11:25-26
Jesus never said, “He who believes in Me and produces good works has everlasting life.” Christ always taught that faith alone in Him alone results in the present acquisition of everlasting life  (John 3:14-16; 4:10-14; 5:24; 6:40, 47; 11:25-27; et al.). God’s Word will not contradict itself. We must let the clear always interpret the unclear. So, what is James talking about when he says that faith without works cannot save (James 2:14)?
In the context of James 2:14-26, James just finished talking about the dangers of showing favoritism to the rich and neglecting the poor (James 2:1-13). Such favoritism is an example of living contrary to the faith they professed. Were they really putting their faith into practice and applying their beliefs to their behavior? Their preferential treatment of some people raised this question in James’ mind. 
“What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him?” (James 2:14). Some versions of this verse reflect the Reformed bias of the translators by inserting the qualifying words “that” or “such” so it reads “Can that faith save him?” (NASB) or “Can such faith save him?” (NIV) instead of the actual reading of the Greek text. By inserting the words “that” or “such” in front of “faith,” the translators are saying that there are different kinds of faith, true faith that would save him and “that” faith which would not save him. 
But in the Greek text there is no qualifying word (“that” or “such”) before the word “faith.”  When the definite article “the” (hē) precedes the abstract noun “faith” (pistis) it emphasizes the noun. 
“The Greek language often employed the definite article with abstract nouns (like faith, love, hope, etc.) where English cannot do so. In such cases the Greek article is left untranslated.”
It is important to observe that “in this very passage, the definite article also occurs with ‘faith’ in vv 17, 18, 20, 22, and 26. (In v 22, the reference is to Abraham’s faith!) In none of these places are the words ‘such’ or ‘that’ proposed as natural translations” by translators with a Reformed bias. This exposes their lack of consistency in translating the Greek text.
According to the Arminian position, “if someone says he has faith but does not have works,” he may never have been saved, or he may no longer be saved. The Reformed position says, “if someone says he has faith but does not have works,” he is not truly saved because saving faith always produces good works. The Free Grace position holds that “if someone says he has faith but does not have works” there are three possible reasons why he has no works. Instead of judging whether that person is a genuine Christian, evangelist Larry Moyer encourages the Christian worker to ask the following questions to help that person assess where they are at: 
Does the professing believer believe the simplicity of the Gospel? That is, do they believe that Christ paid the full penalty for their sins when He died on the cross and rose from the dead, so that God can now forgive them based on what He has done for them, not what they do for Him? A professing believer may not grow because they have not understood the gospel and believed in Christ alone for salvation and therefore do not have the Holy Spirit inside them to empower them to become more like Christ.
Have they been trained by a disciple of Christ since professing faith in Jesus?Too often the reason a new believer does not grow is not because of the use of the word “believe” in gospel presentations, but because the church has neglected to come alongside of new believers to teach them how to live the Christian life.
Has the professing believer believed in Christ and then fallen away from the Lord?The Bible makes it clear that believers can fall away from the Lord and live contrary to His will. Examples include King Saul (I Sam. 28:4-19), David (2 Sam. 11), King Solomon (I Kings 11:1-13), Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1-11), the Corinthian believers who were factious, immoral, and prone to drunkenness (I Cor. 3:1-6:20; 11:29-32), the Galatians who lapsed into the worst form of legalism (Gal. 1:6-9; 2:11-3:4; 4:16-5:4; 6:12-13), the Ephesians who engaged in Satanic arts for up to two years after their conversion (Acts 19:1-20), the readers of James who were arrogant, argumentative, slanderous and temperamental (James 2:1-13; 3:1-18; 5:1-6), and Demas (2 Tim. 4:10; cf. John 15:6; I Cor. 3:15; Heb. 6:4-8). The reasons a believer is not growing may be because of unconfessed sin (I John 1:7-10), disobedience to God’s commands (I John 2:3-6; 3:24), hatred toward other believers (I John 2:7-11; 3:10-15; 4:7-21), love for the world and the things of the world (I John 2:15-16), deception by false teachers concerning assurance of salvation and the identity of Christ (I John 2:18-27; 4:1-6; 5:6-13), misunderstanding his true identity in Christ (I John 3:1-9), not practicing righteousness which includes failure to love other Christians (I John 3:10-18), and not confessing that Jesus is the Son of God (I John 4:14-15).
Which is easier to do? To say a professing Christian with no works is not saved and evangelize him? Or to say a professing Christian with no works needs us to come alongside him and help him become a doer of God’s Word and not just be a hearer only (James 1:22)? It is much easier to try to evangelize professing Christians who do not go on to grow in the Christian life than to walk with them through the discipleship process. I believe the Arminian and Reformed positions promote judging those who struggle in the Christian life more than getting more involved in their lives to teach them to obey God’s Word.
Clearly, James makes works a condition for salvation as the question, “Can faith save him?” (James 2:14b) expects a negative answer in the Greek text. “Of course, faith without works cannot save him.” James says a faith without works cannot save you.
But the apostle Paul says a faith with works won’t save you. “Now to him who does not work, but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness.” (Rom. 4:5). “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.” (Ephes. 2:8-9). Paul and James seem to contradict each other. James says you cannot be saved without works. Paul says you cannot be saved by faith with works.
The reason James and Paul differ with each other is because they are talking to two differentgroups. When Paul is talking to sinners about how to become a saint, he says it is by faith alone apart from works (Rom. 4:5-6). But notice who James is talking to – Christians or non-Christians?
“What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him?” (James 2:14). Notice the phrase, “My brethren…” The word “brethren” (adelphoi) is a term that is always used of genuine Christians (cf. James 1:2, 9, 16, 19; 2:5, 14-15; 3:10, 12; 4:11; 5:7, 9, 10, 12, 19). When you read the entire book of James, you quickly discover he is writing to believers who are “brought… forth by the word of truth” (1:18) and who “hold the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2:1). These people are brothers in Christ. They are saved from hell. So, when James talks to saints about how to experience the God Who has already saved them from hell, he says it by faith with works (James 2:14-26). If you want to know how to get to heaven, read Paul. If you want to know how to bring heaven to earth because you are already saved from hell, read James.
So, do works have any part in getting us to heaven? No. Faith in Christ alone is the only basis of eternal salvation from hell. Eternal salvation is a gift, not of works lest anyone should boast. No person can take credit for his salvation from hell because it is apart from works. “And if by grace, then it is no longer of works; otherwise grace is no longer grace. But if it is of works, it is no longer grace; otherwise work is no longer work.” (Rom. 11:6). If works are made a condition for getting to heaven, then eternal salvation can no longer be said to be attained by grace. So, James cannot be talking about eternal salvation by grace because God’s Word does not contradict itself.
So, what kind of salvation is being addressed in James 2:14?  Faith without works cannot save us from what? The word “save” (sozō) means “deliverance.” in the New Testament and it does NOT always refer to salvation from hell. In fact, 70% of the time the word “save” in the New Testament refers to deliverance from circumstances. For example, when Jesus’ disciples were about to drown in the midst of a storm at sea, they said to Jesus, “Lord, save us! We are perishing!” (Matt. 8:25). They were referring to being saved from physical death. In I Timothy 2, when Paul was talking about the role of men and women in the church, he said, “Nevertheless she will be saved in childbearing if they continue in faith, love, and holiness, with self-control.” (1 Tim. 2:15). The context is talking about women being restricted from teaching or leading men in the local church. Hence, Paul is talking about women being saved from this restriction through childbearing, that is, she is able to teach and lead her children and be fulfilled doing so if her children continue in these godly virtues.
James 5:15 says, “And the prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up.” Is James talking about being saved from eternal damnation? If so, then we would need to include anointing with oil and prayer as a condition for eternal salvation as James 5:14 suggests. Clearly James is referring to being delivered from physical death caused by the sickness.
What James is telling us is that faith without works will not save us from what he has already discussed in the book. First, faith without works won’t save us from A LIFE RUINED BY SIN. James 1:19-22 says, “19 So then, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath; 20 for the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God. 21 Therefore lay aside all filthiness and overflow of wickedness, and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. 22 But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.” James tells the saved how to save their souls from a life ruined by sin. They must be doers of the word and not merely hearers.
James warns his readers, “Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death.” (James 1:15). If believers pursue sin long enough and hard enough, it will ruin their lives and the lives of those around them. So, the way to be saved from a life ruined by sin is to do what God says to do.
Secondly, faith without works will not save us from AN UNFAVORABLE JUDGMENT AT THE JUDGMENT SEAT OF CHRIST. “12 So speak and so do as those who will be judged by the law of liberty. 13 For judgment is without mercy to the one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.” (James 2:12-13). The Bible tells us that all Christians will appear before the Judgment Seat of Christ after they die or are raptured to have their Christian lives evaluated to determine what if any rewards they will receive (Rom. 14:10-12; I Cor.3:8-15; 2 Cor. 5:9-11). If we are critical and merciless toward people now (James 2:1-11), then God will show less mercy to us when He judges our lives in the future (James 2:12-13). So, can faith alone save us? No, James says faith without works cannot save us from a life ruined by sin or from an unfavorable judgment in the future at the Judgment Seat of Christ.
James then gives an illustration of this. “15 If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, ‘Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,’ but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit?” (James 2:15-16). Just as words of assurance from some ungenerous believer cannot save his naked and starving Christian brother or sister from physical death, so too, faith without works cannot save our lives from the consequences of sin. Correct beliefs, such as Jesus is God, the Bible is God’s inerrant Word, or salvation is by grace through faith alone in Christ alone, cannot save us from a life ruined by sin any more than warm wishes will save a needy brother from physical death.
You can have accurate theology and be useless to God and others. There are Christians who have sound theology, but they are useless to God! They can dot their i’s and cross their t’s but they are not seeing their souls saved from the power of sin. They are not seeing their lives transformed by the grace of God. Why? Because their orthodoxy has not become orthopraxy. Because they are not putting their faith to work. Sometimes we say, “I’m waiting on God.” But could it be that God is waiting on you? If we want to keep our faith alive in these uncertain times, we must go beyond the well wishes and desires to help others and actively get involved with them.
For example, we can say, “I love people of all colors,” but if we are not actively getting involved with people from other cultures or ethnicities, we are not demonstrating the truth of our words. Our faith will not grow in this area if we are merely hearers and not doers.
Notice that James is talking about helping a needy Christian “brother” in these verses. He is not talking about giving handouts to some stranger who is begging for food or clothing. We are to give priority to believers first. This was especially true in James’s day when Christians were actively being persecuted by the Roman government. We need to balance this with other Scripture. Galatians 6:10 says, “As we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith.”Second Thessalonians 3:10 says, “For even when we were with you, we commanded you this: If anyone will not work, neither shall he eat.” Free food (or clothing or money, etc.) should not be given to those who can work but choose not to. To do so rewards laziness and irresponsibility. God wants us to get involved in needy peoples’ lives, starting with the church.
If you are feeling down, one of the best ways to get picked up is to focus on the needs of other people. Just talking about it isn’t going to benefit the needy people in your church or community. We must put our faith into action. The more you get involved with needy people, the stronger your faith will become in the Lord.
Look at what James says next, “Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” (James 2:17). Faith without works is a “dead” or useless faith that has lost its fervor or fire for Christ. Faith without works is unproductive just as idle words are useless to a brother or sister in need.
The word “dead” does not mean one’s faith was never alive. For example, when you see a “dead” animal on the roadside, does that mean that animal was never alive? Of course not. Likewise, when James says a genuine Christian’s faith is “dead,” he is not saying it has always been “dead.” It must have been alive first before it could become “dead.” When believers fail to put their faith to work, their faith will become “dead” or useless to God and others over time.
For example, if all we ever do is talk about reaching and teaching people for Christ, but we never act on it, then our faith becomes useless to others. Reaching and teaching people for Christ is what the United States of America needs more than anything right now during these troubling times. Until people obtain peace with God through faith in Jesus Christ (Rom. 5:1), they are not going to have peace with themselves or other people regardless of the color of their skin (cf. Ephes. 2:8-18).
A dead faith means the believer has lost his fire or fervor for Christ. If I were to visit another church and upon leaving, I said to my wife, “This church is dead,” I’m not saying there are no born-again Christians there. I am saying that church is not on fire for Christ. Our faith won’t do anyone any good if we don’t exercise it.
What does a dead body and a dead faith have in common? Both are immobile and inactive. They also tend to decay and stink. If we fail to do good works, our faith will lose its vitality, it will weaken, and eventually decay and stink. Like a dead car battery, it is useless. It was once alive, but it has become dead or useless due to a lack of use. But the way to jump start a dead faith is to put it to work.
In James 2:18-19, James encounters a skeptic. This skeptic insists that there is no connection between faith and works to justify his carnal lifestyle (James 2:18-19). This skeptical person objects to James’s view of faith and works by saying it is absurd to see a close connection between faith and works. “But someone will say, ‘You have faith, and I have works.’ Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.” (James 2:18). In other words, this person says, “Let’s say you have faith and I have works. You can no more start with what you believe and show it to me in your works, than I can start with my works and show what it is that I believe.”
Then in James 2:19 the objector tries to illustrate that there is no connection between faith and works, “You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe—and tremble!” (James 2:19). The skeptic is saying that the demons believe in the oneness of God, the same way James does, who does good, but they only tremble instead of doing good. He is saying that faith cannot be made visible in works! Why would someone argue this way? Because his beliefs are not supported by his behavior. “Faith and good works are not related to each other so don’t criticize me if I don’t practice what I preach.”
Some use James 2:19 to say that believing in Christ is not enough to be saved from hell because the demons believe in God but are not saved because they have not submitted to God or obeyed Him. It is important to understand the following simple observations about James 2:19: 
1. THIS VERSE IS NOT ABOUT SALVATION FROM HELL BECAUSE JESUS DID NOT DIE FOR DEMONS, HE DIED FOR PEOPLE (Rom. 5:8; Heb. 2:16). Therefore, demons are not savable. Demons are unsaved because they willfully rebelled with Lucifer against God (Isa. 14:13-15; Ezek. 28:11-19) and are condemned to everlasting fire in hell prepared for the devil and his demons (Matt. 25:41; cf. Matt. 8:29; Jude 1:6). This is why demons “tremble” when they think about God. Their trembling has nothing to do with lacking insufficient faith. Jesus’ work on the cross did not save demons. His work on the cross destroyed the devil and his power (Heb. 2:14-15). Nowhere in the Bible does God offer demons eternal life because demons are not savable.
2. BELIEF THAT GOD IS ONE IS NOT SAVING. What makes faith saving is the object of faith, not the amount or duration of faith. Demons really do believe there is only one God which is monotheism. But believing that God is one does not get anyone to heaven. Therefore, this verse is not to be used evangelistically. There are many world religions (e.g., Islam and Judaism, etc.) that believe God is one, but you will not see them in heaven because they have missed the object of saving faith – believing in Jesus Christ alone, Who died for their sins and rose from the dead, to give them everlasting life (I Cor. 15:1-6; John 3:14-18; 6:47; 14:6 20:31; Acts 4:10-12; 16:31; Ephes. 2:8-9). What makes saving faith saving, is the object, not some special kind of faith. Not all facts about God are saving. Believing in Christ for eternal life is a saving fact. Believing that God is one is not a saving fact.
3. SINCE THE WORDS OF JAMES 2:19 BELONG TO A SKEPTIC, THEY SHOULD NOT BE USED TO PROVE SUCH AN IMPORTANT THEOLOGICAL POINT. Bing writes, “a quick survey of commentaries shows the difficulty of properly interpreting this verse in the context of James 2:16-20. At question is when James’ words end, and the objector’s words begin and end. If, as some argue, verse 19 is spoken by an objector to James, should it be used to prove a crucial theological point? Also, if it is from such a difficult passage to interpret, should it be used as a primary text to prove or disprove anyone’s salvation? Much clearer passages dismiss works as necessary for obtaining eternal salvation (e.g., Rom. 4:4-5; Ephes. 2:8-10; Titus 3:4-5).” Using this verse to dismiss the use of the word “believe” in gospel presentations misunderstands the author’s intended meaning and leads to misapplication.
The second way to keep your faith alive in uncertain times is to GIVE GOD YOUR OBEDIENCE (James 2:20-26). In James 2:20-25, James refutes the skeptic’s arguments by referring to two supreme examples of faith’s connection with works. The way to fire up a Christian’s faith is to PUT IT TO WORK like Rahab and Abraham put their faith to work and were justified before men (James 2:23-25). “But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead?” (James 2:20). James reaffirms that faith without works is dead or useless. The issue is that your faith is unproductive. The Lord is pleading with us in this passage to put our faith in gear and move out! Don’t sit back on the fact that you are saved forever and God’s never going to kick you out of His family, and therefore you become a lazy Christian.
He then states that Abraham was justified by works. “Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar?” (James 2:21). It was well known to James and his readers that Abraham was justified before God by faith alone (Gen. 15:6) about thirty years before he offered up Isaac (Gen. 22). His justification before God was apart from works (Rom. 4). If Abraham had failed to obey God in offering up Isaac, would he have remained justified before the Lord? Yes, because justification before God is always based on faith alone, not good works whether before, during or after your conversion. “5 But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness, 6 just as David also describes the blessedness of the man to whom God imputes righteousness apart from works.” (Rom. 4:5-6).
James goes on to say in “Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect?” (James 2:22). Abraham’s original justifying faith was strengthened and matured by his act of obedience in offering up Isaac. How? His faith grew from a conviction that God could overcome his inability to have children to the assurance that God could actually resurrect his son’s own body from physical death. Hebrews 11:17-19 says, “17 By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises offered up his only begotten son, 18 of whom it was said, ‘In Isaac your seed shall be called,’ 19 concluding that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead.”
James continues, “And the Scripture was fulfilled which says, ‘Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.’ And he was called the friend of God.” (James 2:23). Abraham’s original justifying faith before God was “fulfilled” or “filled-full” of meaning as a result of this act of obedience. His obedience revealed his faith to men. The Scriptures were fulfilled in that Abraham showed his faith by his works. His obedience justified him before men in such a way as to show him to be righteous on a practical level. People could say Abraham was a “friend of God.” Friendship with God requires obedience. Jesus said, “You are My friends if you do whatever I command you.” (John 15:14). Jesus was speaking to the believing disciples when He spoke these words in John 15. They were already saved from hell (cf. John 1:35-2:11; 6:69). This is why James 2:24 speaks of two kinds of justification.
“You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only.” (James 2:24). The word “only” (monon) is an adverb and modifies the verb “justified” implied in the second clause.
“The key to this understanding is the Greek adverb ‘only’ (monon), which does not qualify (i.e., modify) the word faith, since the form would then have been monōs. As an adverb, however, it modifies the verb justified implied in the second clause. James is saying that a by-faith justification is not the only kind of justification there is. There is also a by-works justification. The former type is before God, the latter type is before men.”
Thus, it could be translated, “You see then that a man is justified by works, and not only (justified) by faith.” There is a justification by works and a justification by faith. Justification by works is before men. “For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God.” (Rom. 4:2). People can be justified by works, but not before God. Why? Because God can see faith without works. He knows life is there apart from our works. This is why justification before God is always by faith alone in Christ alone (Rom. 4:5; cf. Gen. 15:6). But people cannot see faith apart from works. Hence, justification by works is before men, justification by faith is before God. James never speaks of justification by faith and works before God. He doesn’t say Abraham was justified by faith and works at the same time, nor does he say Rahab was.
“Likewise, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out another way?” (James 2:25). The story is clear. The Israelites were going to take Jericho. The Jewish spies came in to spy out the land. Rahab, “the harlot” – the prostitute, the hooker, the whore – the woman who lived a life of failure – hid them and then secretly sent them out so they could escape. Rahab’s physical life was saved because she had works. God saw Rahab’s faith when she “received the spies”(Heb. 11:31). But men could not see her faith until she acted on it by “sending them out another way” (James 2:25b). Rahab was truly a friend of God because she was their friend. While all of Jericho perished under God’s judgment, Rahab lived because her faith lived! So yes, faith can be shown to men from our works. Abraham did it and was called the friend of God. Rahab did it by sending the spies away safely.
We are called to act upon the faith that we have. We can know what is right. We can already be saved from hell. We can come to church two or three times a week. We can be on our way to heaven and yet not experience heaven as a part of history! Until we act upon the Word of God and start living it out, what does it profit? Faith without works will not profit a brother or sister in need of food or clothing nor will it profit the Lord at the Judgment Seat of Christ.
“For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.” (James 2:26). James compares faith to the body and works to the spirit. When does a human body die? When it loses its spirit which keeps it alive. When does a Christian’s faith die? When he stops using it. Like a muscle, if you stop using it, it atrophies and withers away. You won’t experience the transforming power of God if you stop putting your faith to work! Just as the human spirit gives life to the body, good works give life to your faith (James 2:26). You can have correct belief and lots of Bible knowledge, but if you stop acting on that belief and knowledge, your faith will weaken and become a creedal corpse.
A little girl who really believed in prayer, had a brother who made a trap that caught little sparrows, and she prayed that it would fail. Suddenly, for three days her face was radiant when she prayed and her absolute faith in the futility of the trap was so noticeable that her mother asked, “Julia, how can you be so confident?” Julia smiled, “Because, dear Mama, I went out three days ago and kicked that trap to pieces.” She literally put her faith to work.
If we are going to keep our faith alive in these uncertain times, we must put it to work. Not by kicking traps, but by meeting the felt needs of the people God is calling us to reach – by introducing them to Christ and by discipling them and sending them out to do the same. We can decide today how we will live our lives in these chaotic times. Will you choose to keep your faith alive and vigorous by putting it to work in obedience to God? God wants our faith to thrive, not die. What about you?
In the message I recently heard, I understood the pastor to say that genuine saving faith is a part of justification and is accompanied by good works which will accomplish final vindication. I call this backloading the gospel. That is, one must manifest good works as a necessary proof of genuine salvation. This is also known as Calvinism or Reformed Theology.  Those who backload the gospel by requiring good works to stay saved represent Arminianism. There are other teachers who mistakenly frontload the gospel by requiring good works to go to heaven (Roman Catholic & Traditional Protestantism). Whether you frontload or backload the gospel with good works, you are still teaching you MUST HAVE GOOD WORKS to ultimately go to heaven. Consider these options in this chart which are taught today:
Faith in Jesus Christ + good works = maybe heaven
Faith in Jesus Christ = maybe heaven if you maintain good works, confess your sins, remain faithful, etc.
Faith in Jesus Christ = salvation + good works to ultimately arrive in heaven
Romanism & Traditional Protestantism
Each of these scenarios requires good works to ultimately arrive at heaven. This is NOT GRACE. “But if it is of works, it is no longer grace.” (Rom. 11:6). Good works are not the means of obtaining or maintaining salvation from hell but are designed to be the result of receiving God’s free gift of salvation (Ephes. 2:8-10). When good works are required to enter heaven, how will you ever know when you have done enough?
Faith in Christ alone will still take us to heaven (John 6:47) even if it does not produce good works through a life of obedience. But faith without works will not save us from the damaging effects of sin now (James 1:15, 19-22) and an unfavorable experience at the Judgment Seat of Christ in the future (James 2:12-13). When we do the Word of God and not just hear it, people are able to see what we believe and benefit from our actions (2:14-20). James illustrates this principle with the lives of Abraham and Rahab (James 2:21-25). Both were justified before God through faith alone, but both were also justified before men through a faith that was made visible through good works. When we put our faith into action through obedience to God’s Word, our faith is energized and we develop a closer relationship with Christ (James 2:26; cf. John 14:21; 15:14) that other people can see and benefit from.
I pray the church would return to the true gospel which says faith alone in Christ alone gets us to heaven (John 3:15-18; Ephes. 2:8-9). But bringing heaven to earth is through the discipleship (sanctification) process and it is based upon faith plus works (Matt. 28:18-20; James 2:14-26).
Failure to distinguish salvation from discipleship (see chart below) has caused much confusion among Christians and non-Christians.
When Christians use discipleship conditions to tell a non-Christian how to get to heaven, they are making it more difficult for that unsaved person to be saved since they are missing the object of saving faith – believing in Jesus Christ alone for His gift of eternal life. They also undermine the assurance of salvation among Christians because it is impossible for them to know if they have done enough to know for certain they will go to heaven. God does not want His children doubting they are saved because they will live by fear instead of by faith (I John 5:13; cf. 2 Cor. 5:6-8). May all Christians repent or change their minds and submit to the Lordship of Christ by proclaiming the object of saving faith to a lost world – believing in Christ alone for His free gift of eternal life. And after a person believes in Jesus alone for eternal life, may Christians disciple or train that new believer to follow Jesus as His disciple all the days of his or her life (cf. Matt. 28:19-20; Mark 8:34-38; Luke 9:23-27, 57-62; 14:25-33; John 8:30-32; 13:34-35; 15:1-8) so they may glorify God now (Matt. 5:16) and throughout eternity with the eternal rewards they will receive at the Judgment Seat of Christ (I Cor. 3:8-15; 2 Cor. 5:9-11; Rev. 4:9-11).
Prayer: Precious Lord, this message really cuts deep into my apathetic heart. My knowledge of the truth can grow greatly, but if I do not put it into practice, my faith becomes dead or useless to You and to others. No wonder I have lost my fervor for You Lord Jesus. My head is swollen with Bible knowledge, but my heart is cold because I have not applied what I already know to be true. Thank You for exposing the judgmentalism of my heart. I have avoided my own responsibility of putting my faith to work by focusing on the shortcomings of others who profess faith in Jesus without any accompanying good works. Only You can determine if a person is truly saved from hell because only You can see a person’s faith in Christ apart from any works. This world would be a much better place if all Christians would put what they know into practice. Lord, I want to be a part of the solution to the world’s problems by putting my faith to work. It is so easy for me to sit back and criticize others for doing very little while I, too, talk about faith more than I live it out. Forgive me, Lord, for being preoccupied with myself and what I know to be true instead of putting it into practice. Please show me whom You want me to get involved with so they can benefit from my relationship with You and come to know You as their Savior. In Jesus’s name. Amen.
 Proponents of this view are James Arminius, The Works of James Arminius: The London Edition 3 Vol., (Baker Books, 1986); William J. Abraham, Wesley for Armchair Theologians (Louisville, KY: Westminister John Knox Press, 2005); Grace for All: The Arminian Dynamics of Salvation edited by Clark H. Pinnock and John D. Wagner (Eugene, OR: Resource Publications, 2015); Kenneth J. Collins, The Scripture Way of Salvation: The Heart of John Wesley’s Theology (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1997); Kenneth J. Collins, The Theology of John Wesley: Holy Love and the Shape of Grace (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2007); F. Leroy Forlines, Classical Arminianism (Nashville, TN: Randall House Publications, 2011).
 Proponents include Donald W. Burdick, “James,” in Hebrews-Revelation Vol. 12 of The Expositor’s Bible Commentary Edited by Frank E. Gaebelein and J. D. Douglas (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1981); John Calvin, Acts of the Council of Trent: with the Antidote, 6th Session, can.11; Peter H. Davids, The Epistle of James: A Commentary on the Greek Text (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1982); Buist M. Fanning, “A Theology of James,” in A Biblical Theology of the New Testament Edited by Roy B. Zuck (Chicago: Moody Press, 1994), pp. 417-35; John F. MacArthur, Faith Works: The Gospel According to the Apostles (Dallas: Word Publishing, 1993), pp. 139-155; John F. MacArthur, Hard to Believe: The High Cost and Infinite Value of Following Jesus (Nashvile: Thomas Nelson, 2003), pg. 93; Douglas J. Moo, The Letter of James,The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids; Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2000); Joseph K. Pak, “A Study of Selected Passages on Distinguishing Marks of Genuine and False Believers,” PhD diss., (Dallas Theological Seminary, 2001); John Piper, “Battling the Unbelief of Bitterness (1988, Sermon 658),” http://www.desiringgod.org/resourceLibrary; John Piper, Beyond the Gold (Desiring God Radio, May 14, 2006); John Piper, The Future of Justification: A Response to N. T. Wright (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2007); Paul A. Rainbow, The Way of Salvation: The Role of Christian Obedience in Justification (Waynesboro, GA: Paternoster, 2005); Alan P. Stanley, Did Jesus Teach Salvation by Works? The Role of Works in Salvation in the Synoptic Gospels (Eugene, OR: Pickwick Publishers, 2006).
 Proponents include Joseph Dillow, Final Destiny: The Future Reign of The Servant Kings:Fourth Revised Edition (Grace Theology Press, 2018 Kindle Edition), pp. 401-430; Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman, The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pp. 2867 – 2890; John F. Hart, “How to Energize Our Faith: Reconsidering the Meaning of James 2:14-26,” Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society 12, no. 1 (Spring 1999); Zane C. Hodges, Dead Faith: What Is It? (Dallas, Redencion Viva, 1987); Zane C. Hodges, “James,” The Grace New Testament Commentary: Revised Edition Edited by Robert N. Wilkin (Grace Evangelical Society, Kindle Edition, 2019), pp. 541-562; R. T. Kendall, Calvin and English Calvinism to 1649 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1979); R. T. Kendall, Once Saved, Always Saved,Reprint (Waynesboro, GA: Authentic Media, 2004 ed., London: Hodder and Straughton, 1984); John Niemela, “Faith Without Works: A Definition 1,” Chafer Theological Seminary Journal 6, no. 2 (April 2000); Robert Wilkin, “Another View of Faith and Works in James 2,” Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society 15, no. 2 (Fall 2002).
 Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature: Third Edition revised and edited by Frederick William Danker (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000 Kindle Edition), pp. 816-817.
 Scripture quotations in this article will be from the New King James Version unless otherwise noted.
 In John 10:10 Jesus says, “I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.”Jesus came so that those who believe in Him may have eternal “life” as a free gift and experience it more “abundantly” both now and in eternity. When eternal life is addressed as a present possession it is always received as a free gift by believing in Jesus alone (John 3:15-16, 36; 5:24; 6:35, 40, 47; 11:25-26; cf. I Tim. 1:16; I John 5:13). But when eternal life is referred to as a future acquisition it refers to an eternal reward (a more abundant experience of that life both now and in eternity) that is based on obedience to Christ’s Word and sacrificial living for Him (John 12:24-26; cf. Matt. 19:28-29; Mark 10:29-30; Luke 18:29-30; Gal. 6:7-9; I Tim. 6:12, 19).
 Constable, Dr. Constable’s Notes on James, pg. 49.
 R. Larry Moyer, You Can Tell It! Seminar On Personal Evangelism Instructor Manual, EvanTell, Inc., 2003, 46-47; Larry Moyer, Free and Clear: Understanding & Communicating God’s Offer of Eternal Life, (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 1997), pp. 108-113.
 The Greek word translated “brought forth” (apokueō) is the same word used in James 1:15, “And sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth [apokueō] death.” “Sin, James is saying, ‘gives birth’ to death, but God ‘gives birth’ to believers!” (Hodges, “James,” The Grace New Testament Commentary, pg. 544.)
 The Bible refers to three types of salvation (see diagram below): Past salvation refers to being saved from the penalty of sin the moment a person believes in Christ (Acts 16:31; John 3:16-17; Rom. 4:5; Ephes. 2:8-9) and is called justification. Present salvation involves being saved from the power of sin in the Christian life (Mark 8:34-38; Phil. 1:19-20; 2:12-13; James 1:21-22; 2:14-26) and is called sanctification. Future salvation is when we will be saved from the presence of sin (Rom. 8:18-23; Heb. 1:14; 2:3-5; 9:28; I Pet. 1:5; I John 3:2) and is called glorification. Always pay attention to the context to determine the tense of salvation.
 Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, pp. 982-983.
 Adapted from Charlie Bing, “Demon Faith and the Misuse of James 2:19,” GraceNotes – no. 47 at gracelife.org.
“If anyone sees his brother sinning a sin which does not lead to death, he will ask, and He will give him life for those who commit sin not leading to death. There is sin leading to death. I do not say that he should pray about that.” I John 5:16
As the apostle John approached the end of his letter, he resumed talking about prayer that expresses faith in the name of God’s Son (I John 5:13b -15). John spoke of praying for our own needs especially as it relates to God’s will which is revealed in His commandments. God has commanded us to love one another (I John 3:11, 23; 4:7, 11-12; cf. John 13:34-35). When we ask God to help us do this, we can be confident He hears this request favorably because we know this is according to His revealed will (5:14-15).
But John does not want us to stop with praying for our own needs (5:14-15), he also wants us to pray for the needs of others (5:16-17). When other Christians love us, we may not see our need to ask God for help to love them back. But when a Christian sins against us we may recognize our need for God’s help. Jesus taught that praying for someone who has sinned against us is an act of love (cf. Matt. 5:44). 1
Hence, John writes, “If anyone sees his brother sinning a sin which does not lead to death, he will ask, and He will give him life for those who commit sin not leading to death. There is sin leading to death. I do not say that he should pray about that.” (I John 5:16). We can pray with confidence for a “brother sinning a sin which does not lead to death” that God will answer our prayer favorably. God will give us “life” to give to our brothers “who commit sin not leading to death” (5:16a). 2
Hence, “the name of the Son of God” (5:13b) becomes “life”“for the sinning believer who gets a longer life plus joy when he repents and for the praying brother when he receives a positive answer for his prayer. We get joy from answered prayer, and the sinning brother gets restored joy when he returns to fellowship (and potentially a longer life).” 3
“John offers a specific example of confident prayer that is according to God’s will and that involves a horizontal expression of love. If you see a brother committing a sin, he needs a believer who is intimate with God to intercede for him (5:16). As a result of his own intimacy intimacy with God, Moses intervened on behalf of Israel (Exod. 32:7-14). When the four men who carried the paralytic took him to Jesus, He forgave and healed when He saw their faith (Mark 2:5). When we reach out in love to a brother or sister who is being defeated, God can allow that believer to piggyback on our faith to receive deliverance. That’s what the family of God is about.”4
However, this promise does not apply to Christians who commit sin leading directly or immediately to a premature physical death. 5 John writes, “There is sin leading to death. I do not say that he should pray about that.” (5:16b). A Christian brother is not encouraged to pray for another believer who is committing a sin that leads immediately to a swift physical death. Nor is he instructed not to pray for him.
“In other words, if a Christian suspects that a sin leading directly to death is being committed, he is free to pray for the sinning believer, but without any certainty about the outcome of his prayer. Although there is no guarantee, it is always possible that God may ‘relent’ from His judgment.”6
“All unrighteousness is sin, and there is sin not leading to death.” (I John 5:17). All “unrighteousness” (adikia) or wrongdoing in God’s eyes “is sin” but out of this broad spectrum “there is sin not leading to death.” This last phrase sin “not leading to death” (mē pros thanaton/ou pros thanaton) occurs three times in 5:16-17 and should be understood to mean “not punished by death.” 7
The distinction in I John 5:16-17 is between sins for which death is a rapid consequence and sins for which it is not. Obviously, all Christians still sin (I John 1:8, 10). But God makes a distinction between sins that result in premature death and those that do not such as envy, lying, slander, gossip, pride, manipulation, anger, deception, lust, or hypocrisy. 8
This is also not a reference to eternal “death” as some teach. 9 John is speaking here of a believer’s Christian “brother” who has eternal life which can never be lost (5:1, 13; cf. John 6:35-30; 10:28-29).
Examples of sin leading to a premature or swift physical death among Christians is seen in Acts 5:1-11 and I Corinthians 3:16-17; 5:5; 11:30. 10 Ananias and Sapphira “lied … to God” the Holy Spirit about the amount of money they obtained when they sold their property and gave only “part” of the proceeds to the apostles to distribute to other believers (Acts 4:34-5:4). They wanted God and other believers to think they were more generous than they actually were. As a result of not allowing the Holy Spirit to control them, both Ananias and Sapphira “immediately” died (Acts 5:5-10).
The Christians at Corinth also committed sins which could lead to premature death. These included:
Exalting God’s servants instead of God will “destroy” (phtheiro) or “defile” the local church (“you” = plural) which is “the temple of God” in whom “the Spirit of God dwells”(I Cor. 3:16-17). Bringing harm to the local church through illegitimate divisions or false doctrine could result in a premature physical death. 11
Continuing in sexual immorality as a Corinthian believer did with “his father’s wife” (I Cor. 5:1) or the sinning believer’s stepmother. Paul instructed the church to “deliver such a one to Satan” by excommunicating him from the church so God’s protective covering is removed from his life. 12 Then Satan can use the world which he controls (John 12:31; 16:11; 2 Cor. 4:4; Eph. 2:12; Col. 1:13; 1 John 5:19) 13 “for the destruction of the flesh” of this wayward believer so “that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus” (I Cor. 5:5). The word “flesh” is not likely to refer to the man’s sinful desires because Satan is not likely to destroy them. It is better to understand the “flesh” to be his physical life which when destroyed would “save” this Christian from the additional loss of eternal rewards before he faces Jesus at the Judgment Seat (cf. I Cor. 3:8-15). A similar view is that the word “save” (sōzō) is often used in the New Testament to mean being healed or being healthy (cf. Matt. 9:21-22; Mark 5:23, 28, 34; 6:56; 10:52; Luke 7:50; 8:36, 48, 50; 17:19; 18:42; Acts 4:9; 14:9; Jas. 5:15). According to this view, Paul’s desire is that this man’s spirit will be healthy in the day of the Lord Jesus through his repentant response to church discipline. 14 “The day of the Lord Jesus” is a reference to the Judgment Seat of Christ (cf. I Cor. 1:8; 3:13; 2 Cor. 5:10; Phil. 2:16; 2 Thess. 2:2). 15
The misuse of the Lord’s Supper to fulfill fleshly desires left “many” Corinthian believers “weak and sick among you, and many sleep.” (I Cor. 11:30). The word “sleep” refers to physical death (cf. John 11:11-13).
God wants His children to take sin seriously. The Bible tells us that believers who take sin lightly are flirting with death:
Proverbs 10:27: “The fear of the Lord prolongs days, but the years of the wicked will be shortened.”
Proverbs 11:19: “As righteousness leads to life, so he who pursues evil pursues it to his own death.”
Proverbs 13:14: “The law of the wise is a fountain of life, to turn one away from the snares of death.”
Proverbs 19:16: “He who keeps the commandment keeps his soul, but he who is careless of his ways will die.”
All sin if practiced long and hard enough will lead to physical death (James 1:14-15). Believers who understand this will pray for their fellow Christians who are sinning (I John 5:16). James writes, “19 Brethren, if anyone among you wanders from the truth, and someone turns him back, 20 let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save a soul from death and cover a multitude of sins.” (James 5:19-20). When Christians (“Brethren”) are aware of another believer (“anyone among you”) who “wanders from the truth” and “turns him back” primarily through prayer (cf. James 5:13-18), the one who prays saves the sinning believer’s “soul from death” (premature physical death) “and covers a multitude of sins.” This last phrase alludes to Proverbs 10:12 which says, “But love covers all sins.” There may have been a vast number of decisions and choices that led a particular believer away from the Lord. But with the sacrificial love of Christ, James says praying Christians can be used of God to provide a covering for past sins and lead an astray brother or sister to restoration. 16
James 5:19-20 is speaking as much to the Christian who prays as he is to the Christian who strays. Evans writes, “Some believers aid the spiritual regression of fellow Christians by assuming it’s none of their business. But if your child darted into the street in front of a car, would you say it’s none of your business? Of course not! Though many believers fail to comprehend their responsibility to the family of faith, your Christianity is real when you see a brother in Christ backsliding and act in love. You cannot be a passive Christian.” 17
I believe the apostle John would agree with this. While God gives us eternal life as a free gift the moment we believe in the name of the Son of God (cf. 5:1, 13), we who are believers can give extended physical “life” to sinning believers, in some cases, when we pray in the name of the Son of God to be merciful to them (5:16-17). 18
However, it is important to remember that if a believer hardens his or her heart and refuses to confess and forsake their sins, he or she cannot expect mercy from God. Proverbs 28:13 says, “He who covers his sins will not prosper, but whoever confesses and forsakes them will have mercy.” It never benefits a Christian to harden his heart and cover up or hide his sins. God’s promises that if a sinning believer “confesses and forsakes” his sins, he “will have mercy.”
One of the greatest ways we can show God’s love to a sinning believer is to pray for him or her that God would bring them to repentance so the joy of fellowship with God and other Christians can be restored. We might not know if God will judge the sinning believer with premature physical death. In such cases we can pray that God will bring His will to pass for them. 19
Prayer: O Father, forgive us for failing to take sin seriously in our own lives and in the lives of fellow believers in Jesus. It can be easy for us to justify our apathy or lack of love for a sinning Christian by telling ourselves it is none of our business. Thank You for reminding us that if we love You, we are also to love a sinning brother or sister in Christ by praying for them in the name of the Son of God so they can be given a longer life and greater joy when they repent and return to fellowship with You and other Christians. Even though we do not know if You will judge a sinning believer with a premature physical death, we can still pray that You will bring Your will to pass in their lives. Right now, we pray for so and so, that You would turn him from the error of his way and restore him to close fellowship with You and Your children. Have mercy on us all heavenly Father. Thank You for hearing our prayers. In the matchless name of Jesus Christ, we pray. Amen.
1. David R. Anderson, Maximum Joy: I John – Relationship or Fellowship? (Grace Theology Press, 2013 Kindle Edition), pg. 253.
2. In the phrase “he will ask [aitēsei], and He will give [dōsei] him [auton] life” —the first “he” (singular)in the text is the antecedent to the “him” (singular)because the second “He” refers to God who answers the prayer, and “life” is given to “him” (singular) to pass on “to those” [toise – plural] who are committing sin that does not lead to death (Anderson, Maximum Joy, pg. 253).
4. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman, The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 2952.
5. Zane C. Hodges; Robert Wilkin; J. Bond; Gary Derickson; Brad Doskocil; Dwight Hunt; Shawn Leach; The Grace New Testament Commentary: Revised Edition (Grace Evangelical Society, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 604; Tom Constable, Dr. Constable’s Notes on I John, 2022 Edition, pg. 116;
6. Hodges, The Grace New Testament Commentary, pg. 604.
7. Zane C. Hodges, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Epistles and Prophecy, Editors John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck (David C. Cook, 2018 Kindle Edition), Kindle Location 4095.
8. Anderson, Maximum Joy, pg. 253.
9. Constable, Dr. Constable’s Notes on I John, pp. 116-117, 119 cites Randall K. J. Tan, “Should We Pray for Straying Brethren? John’s Confidence in 1 John 5:16-17,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, 45:4 (December 2002), pp. 599-609; Robert W. Yarbrough, 1—3 John, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament series (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2008), pp. 306-313; Rudolf Schnachenburg, The Johannine Epistles, translated from the 7th ed. of Die Johannesbriefe (1984) by Reginald and Ilse Fuller (New York: Crossroad Publishing Co., 1992), pg. 249; and John R. W. Stott, The Epistles of John, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries series (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1964), pp. 186-191.
10. Constable, Dr. Constable’s Notes on I John, pg. 116; Evans, The Tony Evans Bible Commentary, pp. 2952-2953; Hodges, The Grace New Testament Commentary, pg. 604; Hodges, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Epistles and Prophecy, Kindle Location 4092 to 4097; Anderson, Maximum Joy, pg. 253.
11. Evans, The Tony Evans Bible Commentary, pg. 2490.
12. Dwight Hunt, Robert Wilkin; J. Bond; Gary Derickson; Brad Doskocil; Zane Hodges; Shawn Leach; The Grace New Testament Commentary: Revised Edition (Grace Evangelical Society, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 357.
13. Ibid. pp. 355, 357.
14. Ibid., pg. 357.
15. Robert Wilkin, The Grace New Testament Commentary, pg. 469.
16. Evans, Evans, The Tony Evans Bible Commentary, pg. 2890.
17. Ibid., pp. 2889-2890.
18. Constable, Dr. Constable’s Notes on I John, pg. 121.
19. Ibid., pg. 118 cites Robert W. Cook, “Hamartiological Problems in First John,” Bibliotheca Sacra 123; 491 (July-September 1966), pp. 257-59; and Samuel C. Storms, Reaching God’s Ear (Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, 1988), pp. 241-53.
“4:21 And this commandment we have from Him: that he who loves God must love his brother also. 5:1a Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God.” I John 4:21-5:1a
When I was conducting discipleship training seminars in the Philippines, I would sometimes be asked by participants, “What if a person professes faith in Christ but does not go on to grow spiritually or produce fruit in their Christian life, are they truly saved?” This question assumes that a genuine Christian will grow spiritually or produce good works, and if he or she does not, then they are not saved. This kind of thinking is common among those who believe the book of I John was written to provide tests to see if you are genuinely saved and going to heaven when you die. 1 Those who hold this position would say if a professing Christian does not love his Christian brother, then he or she is not truly saved.
When I was asked this kind of question, I would encourage our seminar participants not to judge the professing Christian who doesn’t go on to grow in the Christian life. Instead, I encouraged them to ask the professing Christian three questions to help that person discern their own spiritual condition.2
Does the professing believer believe the simplicity of the gospel?That is, do they believe that Christ paid the full penalty for their sins when He died on the cross and rose from the dead, so that God can now forgive them based on what He has done for them, not what they do for Him? A professing believer may not grow because they have not understood the gospel and believed in Christ alone for salvation and therefore do not have the Holy Spirit inside them to empower them to become more like Christ. If they do not understand the gospel, it is essential that we share the clear gospel of Christ with them so they may believe in Christ alone who died for their sin and rose from the dead to receive His gift of eternal life and the Holy Spirit to help them begin growing in the Christian life (cf. John 3:14-16; 7:37-39; I Cor. 15:3-6).
Have they been trained by a disciple of Christ since professing faith in Jesus?Too often the reason a new believer does not grow is because the church has neglected to come alongside of them to teach them how to live the Christian life. It is much easier to say a struggling new believer is not saved and evangelize him or her than it is to get more involved in their lives and disciple them. Also, it is unrealistic to expect new believers to be where we are at in a few weeks when it has taken us several years to grow to where we are at now.
Has the professing believer believed in Christ and then fallen away from the Lord? The Bible makes it clear that believers can fall away from the Lord and live contrary to His will. Examples include King Saul (I Samuel 28:4-19), King David (2 Samuel 11), King Solomon (I Kings 11:1-13), Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1-11), the Corinthian believers who were factious, immoral, and prone to drunkenness (I Corinthians 3:1-6:20; 11:29-32), the Galatians who lapsed into the worst form of legalism (Galatians 1:6-9; 2:11-3:4; 4:16-5:4; 6:12-13), the Ephesians who engaged in Satanic arts for up to two years after their conversion (Acts 19:1-20), the readers of James who were arrogant, argumentative, slanderous and temperamental (James 2:1-13; 3:1-18; 5:1-6), and Demas (2 Timothy 4:10; cf. John 15:6; I Corinthians 3:15; Hebrews 6:4-8).
It is important to warn the Christian who has fallen away from God of the painful discipline of God now (cf. John 15:6; Heb. 6:7-8; 10:26-31; 12:5-11, 28-29) and the painful loss of eternal rewards in the future at the Judgment Seat of Christ (Matt. 8:12; 22:11-13; 24:48-51; 25:24-30; Luke 19:20-26; Rom. 14:10-12; I Cor. 3:8-15; 4:5; 9:24-27; 2 Cor. 5:9-11; I John 2:28; 2 John 1:8; et al. ).
Asking these three questions will help you discern what the professing believer needs. Don’t just assume they are unsaved because they are not manifesting enough fruit. Meet them where they are at so you can more effectively impact their lives.
The book of I John informs us that the reason a believer is not growing is because he or she is out of fellowship with God (1:1-4ff). This may include having unconfessed sin (I John 1:7-10), disobedience to God’s commands (I John 2:3-6; 3:24), hatred toward other believers (I John 2:7-11; 3:10-15; 4:7-21), love for the world and the things of the world (I John 2:15-16), deception by false teachers concerning assurance of salvation and the identity of Christ (I John 2:18-27; 4:1-6; 5:6-13), misunderstanding one’s true identity in Christ (I John 3:1-9), not practicing righteousness which includes failure to love other Christians (I John 3:10-18), and not confessing that Jesus is the Son of God (I John 4:14-15).
In our study of I John, we finished the body of the epistle (2:28-4:19) which ended with the words, “We love Him because He first loved us.” (4:19).3 The way we make our love for God visible is by loving other Christians (I John 4:12-16). Some Christians may read 4:19 and say, “It is easy for me to love God because He does not have any faults or imperfections. But loving my Christian brother or sister is another story because I have seen them up close and they are full of faults.” 4
John responds to this type of thinking when he writes, “If someone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen?” (I John 4:20). John reminds his readers (including us) that a Christian cannot claim to “love God” and at the same time he “hates his brother.” Such a claim is false (“he is a liar”). However, it is understandable for a believer to think it is easier to “love God whom he has not seen” than to “love his” Christian “brother whom he has seen,” especially when he does not like what he sees in a fellow Christian.
“If I can see a physical being and am not willing to meet his physical needs, how can I possibly love a spiritual being whose needs I cannot see? That’s his reasoning. God’s commands draw our love for God and our brothers together. If we don’t keep His commands, we don’t love Him. And He commands us to love other believers. So, if we don’t love other believers, we don’t love God. Thus, to claim to love God when I don’t love my brother/sister makes me a liar.”5
It is important to know that our love for God is not measured by what we say (“I loveGod”), but by what we do 6 (“let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth” – 3:18). Nor is Christian love an emotion.
“The word for love throughout John is agapē, a word found only once in all of secular Greek, that is, Greek outside the Bible. And the amount of non-biblical Greek literature we have must be a thousand times more than the amount of Greek we have in the Bible, but this word agapē occurs in that literature only once. That should be a clue to us that this kind of love is only from God. And the issue here is not whether we feel warm and fuzzy toward God, but cold and callous toward our Christian brother/sister. The issue is action.” 7
John has made it clear that loving God involves obeying His commandments, especially the command to love one another (I John 2:3-11; 3:16-24; 4:7-21; cf. John 14:15, 21, 23-24; 15:10-14). If a believer does not obey God’s commands, He does not love God no matter what he says or feels. Hence, a Christian who says, “I love God,” but does not obey God’s command to love his Christian brother, “is a liar” (4:20).8
In addition, God commands us to love both Himself and our fellow Christian brothers and sisters: “And this commandment we have from Him: that he who loves God must love his brother also.” (I John 4:21). Notice the word “commandment” is singular and includes loving God and one’s Christian “brother” or sister. We cannot claim to love our invisible God if we do not love our fellow believer standing in front of us (4:20). We must not deceive ourselves. God’s commandment has interwoven loving Him and loving His children (4:21). We cannot disconnect them. 9
Imagine someone telling you that he or she loved your head, but they hated your body. How would you feel? It would be hurtful, would it not!?! The Bible tells us that Jesus Christ “is the head of the body, the church…” (Col. 1:18; cf. Col. 1:24; Ephes. 1:22-23; 4:15; 5:23, 30). Christ is our head, and His church is His body. How would Jesus feel if we said we love Him, but we detest His body? This would deeply hurt our Lord. When we are unloving toward other Christians, we are unloving toward our head, the Lord Jesus Christ.
John anticipated his readers (including you and me) asking, “Who then is my Christian brother or sister?” John writes, “Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God…” (I John 5:1a). John defines a Christian brother or sister as “Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ.” The word “whoever” includes everyone with no exceptions. When the apostle uses the word “whoever,” he is inviting every person to become a Christian regardless of their country, culture, color, good works, lifestyle, or obedience. This includes the worst of people and best of people and everyone in between.
What does John invite every person to do to become a Christian? BELIEVE. In fact, the words God uses most in evangelism in the New Testament are the words “believe” 10and “faith.” 11 Often times, however, Christians substitute other words or clichés to communicate the most important message given to humanity. Instead of using the words God uses most, they tell a non-Christian to accept Christ, be baptized, turn from your sins or be sorry for your sins, confess your sins, pray the sinner’s prayer, give your life or your heart to Jesus, ask Jesus into your heart, confess Jesus is Lord, follow or obey Jesus, commit your life to Christ, submit to Jesus as your Lord and Master, or surrender your life to Christ.
I am not suggesting that no one has been born again when these clichés are included in a gospel presentation. In fact, there have been times in my own life when I have used some of these phrases. I like what evangelist Larry Moyer has said, “God can still use a crooked arrow to hit a target.” God can still use our unclear gospel presentations to help people come to Christ. But why use an unclear phrase or cliché which will do more to confuse a lost person than clarify what he must do to obtain eternal life? Would it not be better to use the clearest presentation possible so that the unsaved person has the best opportunity to respond to the gospel the way God wants him to respond?
The word translated “believes” (pisteuōn) in I John 5:1 means to be persuaded that Jesus is the Christ and is therefore worthy of your trust. 12 To believe “Jesus is the Christ” is to believe that He is the promised Messiah-God (“Christ”) Who guarantees a future resurrection and never-ending life to all who believe in Him (cf. John 11:25-27). The one who believes Jesus is the Christ “is born of God.” The phrase “born of God” refers to new birth.
Some theologians or Bible students will respond, “Oh, yes, there needs to be a confession of faith in Christ, but the person also needs to manifest fruit or good works or his or her profession of faith is false. A good root produces good fruit.“
There is a problem with this response which I will now illustrate. I live in the Midwest where deciduous trees lose their leaves in the fall. Our state’s tree is the oak tree. During the winter, you could not tell if an oak tree was dead or alive simply by looking at its outward appearance. No one could tell if an oak tree is dead or alive in the middle of winter here … except God. Since God knows everything, He can see the root when all we can see is the fruit. Just because there is no fruit for a period of time does not prove there is no root. 13
Since God can see faith alone with no accompanying outward manifestation, he only requires faith alone in Christ alone to be justified before Him (Rom. 4:5; Gal. 2:16) or have eternal life (John 3:15-16; 6:40, 47; et al.). But for people to see another person’s faith, it must be accompanied by works. This is why the Bible distinguishes justification before God (faith alone – Rom. 4:5; Ephes. 2:8-9) from justification before man (faith plus works – James 2:14-26). Justification before God is necessary to get to heaven. Justification before people is necessary to bring heaven down to earth (i.e., discipleship or spiritual growth).
Since Christians are not all-knowing like God, we are to take a person’s confession of faith in Christ as true. This is what Jesus did in John 11. After Jesus claimed to be the resurrection and the life, and He guaranteed a physical resurrection and never-ending life to those who believe in Him (John 11:25-26a), He asks Martha, “Do you believe this?” (John 11:26b). Christ is seeking a confession from her. He is not asking her to change her life or produce good works. Martha replies, “Yes, Lord, I believe that You are the Christ, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.” (John 11:27). Neither she nor Jesus analyzes her faith to distinguish head faith from heart faith. Martha confidently affirms that Jesus is “the Christ, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.” What Martha believes about Jesus is exactly what John says in His purpose statement is all that a person must believe to have everlasting life (John 20:31). She knows she has believed in Christ, the Son of God, and therefore she is certain she has eternal life.
Does Jesus correct Martha’s response? Does He caution her to wait and see if her faith is real (as so many do today) through the manifestation of good works or fruit first before making such a confession? Does He ask her if she believes in her “heart” and not merely in her “head”? He does not because as long as any sinner comes to believe that Jesus is “the resurrection and the life,” that is, “the Christ, the Son of God,” he or she knows they have everlasting life.
John then writes, “And everyone who loves Him who begot also loves him who is begotten of Him.” (I John 5:1b). The apostle is telling us that our love for God’s children is not based on their lifestyle or performance. It has nothing to do with their worthiness or deservedness. Our love for God’s children is based on our love for the Father of these children.
“If we love the ‘Begetter,’ we should love the ‘begotten.’ If we love the Father, we should love His children. No love for the children? Then, no love for the Father.”14
As I read David Anderson’s commentary recently on I John, I was reminded of people who prayed for our family while all of us were living overseas in the Philippines. Even though some of these prayer partners had never met our children, they still cared enough and loved them enough to ask how they were doing and how they could pray for them. The reason they cared enough to pray for our children and ask about them was because for some unknown reason they loved their father. My children were an extension of me. It did not matter how well my kids behaved or how deserving they were. These prayer warriors simply loved my children because they loved their father. To love the father is to love his children. 15
This is what the apostle John is saying in I John 5:1b. We are to love God’s children because we love the Father Who has begotten them. When we love God the Father, we love those who are born of Him. Whoever believes Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves the Begetter also loves all who are His begotten.
Prayer: Heavenly Father, we praise You for Your amazing love for us that sent Your only perfect Son, Jesus Christ, to the cross to pay the full penalty for all our sins so we may be born into Your forever family the moment we believe Jesus is the Christ. Although You are unseen, we can make Your love visible by loving one another. Loving You involves obeying Your commands, especially the command to love one another. If we claim to love You Whom we cannot see and disobey Your command to love Your children whom we can see, we are deceiving ourselves. Loving other Christians is not based on their performance or worthiness, but on our love for You, the Father of those You have begotten. Forgive us for thinking more of ourselves than You and Your begotten children. And please help us show Your love to one another as You have shown to us through the Lord Jesus. In His mighty name we pray. Amen.
1. David R. Anderson, Maximum Joy: I John – Relationship or Fellowship? (Grace Theology Press, 2013 Kindle Edition), pg. 15 cites John MacArthur, Jr., Saved without a Doubt (Colorado Springs: Cook Communications, 1992), pp. 67-91.
2. Jeff Ropp, The Greatest Need in Evangelism Today is One Word: BELIEVE (Jeff Ropp, 2014), pp. 35-36 cites Larry Moyer, You Can Tell It! Seminar On Personal Evangelism Instructor Manual (EvanTell, Inc., 2003), pp. 46-47; cf. Larry Moyer, Free and Clear: Understanding & Communicating God’s Offer of Eternal Life, (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 1997), pp. 108-113.
3. The majority of Greek manuscripts contain the word “Him” (Auton) in 4:19. See Zane C. Hodges; Robert Wilkin; J. Bond; Gary Derickson; Brad Doskocil; Dwight Hunt; Shawn Leach; The Grace New Testament Commentary: Revised Edition (Grace Evangelical Society, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 601.
4. Anderson, Maximum Joy, pg. 225.
5. Ibid., pp. 225-226.
6. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman, The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 2949.
7. Anderson, Maximum Joy, pg. 225.
8. Hodges, The Grace New Testament Commentary, pg. 601.
9. Evans, The Tony Evans Bible Commentary, pg. 2949.
12. Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early ChristianLiterature: Third Edition (BDAG) revised and edited by Frederick William Danker (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000 Kindle Edition), pp. 816-817.
“19 This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast, and which enters the Presence behind the veil, 20 where the Forerunner has entered for us, even Jesus, having become High Priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.” Hebrews 6:19-20
An anchor was a popular image in the ancient Mediterranean world. Because that economy depended on shipping, the anchor came to symbolize safety and steadiness. The writer of Hebrews used the word to remind believers that God has given us a hope that holds firm in any storm.
Hope is a healthy attitude. In the book of Hebrews, “hope” (elpidos, 3:6; 6:11, 18-19; 7:19; 10:23; 11:1) is the confident expectation of God fulfilling His promises. 1 Anticipating good from God brings comfort to the mind and heart. In contrast, a state of hopelessness is a terrible condition in which to find oneself. It is overwhelming and depressing to think that what you are facing cannot be changed or resolved. For the person who has lost all hope, life looks like a long, dark tunnel going nowhere.
The author of Hebrews was writing to Christians who were facing hardship and persecution because of their Christian faith. Some were tempted to abandon Christ and return to Judaism because they had lost hope. He is urging them to persevere by returning to the hope that they have in Jesus Christ to inherit the promise of ruling with Him.
He uses a metaphor used only here in the Bible (6:19) of an “anchor” (ankyran). But instead of going down into the ocean, this anchor goes up into the heavens, behind the veil, where Jesus has entered as a Forerunner for us. He has become our High Priest forever, according to the order of Melchizedek. The main reason a ship needs an anchor is to ride out storms so that it is not blown off course or into the rocks or reefs nearby. Even in a safe harbor, a ship needs an anchor so that it will not drift, hit something, and sink. Whether in the storms of life or in the harbor during the calm times of life, we all need an anchor for our souls so that our lives are not destroyed.
The writer of Hebrews wants his readers to be “diligent” or hard working to the end of their Christian lives (6:11) so they won’t be sluggish (6:12) like he said they were earlier (5:11). Remaining diligent to the end of their lives will enable them to “inherit the promises” of God, especially the reward of ruling with Christ as His companions (Heb. 1:4-5, 8-9, 13-14; 3:1, 14; cf. Psalm 2:7-8; Matthew 19:28-29; Luke 22:28-30; Rom. 8:16-17; 2 Tim. 2:12; Rev. 2:25-27; 3:21). How can we remain faithful to Christ so we can inherit the promise of ruling with Him?
First, we must rely on the promises of God which cannot fail (Heb. 6:13-15). This is what Abraham did during the storms in his life. Abraham’s life is the story of God initiating and promising, with Abraham responding in faith. God appeared to Abraham while he was still named Abram, living in Ur of the Chaldees. He commanded Abram to leave his relatives and that city and go to a place that God would show him (Gen. 12:1-3; cf. Acts 7:2-3). Abram’s obedience was not easy. In that day, you didn’t just pack up a moving truck and head out on the highway, keeping in touch with the folks back home through frequent emails and phone calls. To move hundreds of miles away meant permanent separation from family and friends. There were unknown hardships to be encountered. Would the people of the new land be hostile or friendly? Could you provide adequately for your family there? What about learning the new language? There weren’t real estate offices to help you get resettled into a new home. Where would you live?
But Abram obeyed (Gen. 12:4).God had promised to multiply Abram, making him the father of a great nation (Gen. 12:2; cf. 13:15-16; 15:5). His name, Abram, meant, “exalted father,” but his wife Sarah was barren. They were getting up in years but had no children despite God’s promise. Can you imagine the encounters he had as he and Sarah moved into Canaan? This seventy-five-year-old man says, “Hello, my name is Abram [exalted father].” The Canaanite responds, “Nice to meet you. How many children do you have?” “None yet.”
But then God added insult to injury. When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to him, reaffirmed His promise to multiply him exceedingly (Gen. 17:2-4), and then changed his name to “Abraham,” meaning “father of a multitude” (Gen. 17:5)! He has been waiting for twenty-four years since God first promised to give him a son. He still has no children, except for Ishmael through Hagar. But now he tells everyone that God has given him a new name, “father of a multitude”! It would be like a bald man named Harry, and God says, “Let’s change your name to Bushy-haired Harry”!
Years after God blessed Abraham with his promised son, Isaac, he was then told by God to sacrifice Isaac. “Then He said, ‘Take now your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.’” (Gen. 22:2). Can you imagine how difficult this must have been for Abraham? He had waited twenty-five years for Isaac to be born. And now God wants him to kill his only son on the altar of sacrifice?!
But Abraham obeyed. Why? The Bible tells us: “17 By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises offered up his only begotten son, 18 of whom it was said, ‘In Isaac your seed shall be called,’ 19 concluding that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead, from which he also received him in a figurative sense.” (Heb. 11:17-19). Abraham was still trusting God to fulfill His former promise regarding his descendants by expecting Him to raise Isaac from the dead. Now we are ready for Hebrews 6:13-15.
“13 For when God made a promise to Abraham, because He could swear by no onegreater, He swore by Himself, 14 saying, ‘Surely blessing I will bless you, and multiplying I will multiply you.’ 15 And so, after he had patiently endured, he obtained the promise.” (Heb. 6:13-15). The phrase “God swore by Himself” signifies that He binds His word to His character. The “promise”to which the writer referred here was the one God gave Abraham after he had obeyed God by offering up Isaac.
In 6:14 when the writer of Hebrews quoted from Genesis 22, the Lord is referring to the messianic aspects of God’s promise. “16 By Myself I have sworn, says the Lord, because you have done this thing, and have not withheld your son, your only son— 17 blessing I will bless you, and multiplying I will multiply your descendants as the stars of the heaven and as the sand which is on the seashore; and your descendants shall possess the gate of their enemies. 18 In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you have obeyed My voice” (Gen. 22:16-18). Just as Abraham’s obedience would reap future blessings in the Messiah’s kingdom, so too, Christians who persevere in obedience to Christ would also reap blessings in His coming kingdom – especially the reward of ruling with Jesus (cf. 2 Tim. 2:12; Rev. 2:25-27; 3:21).
The writer was calling his readers to do what God called Abraham to do when He instructed him to sacrifice Isaac on Mt. Moriah. They too needed to continue to trust and obey, as they had done in the past, even though circumstances appeared as if their perseverance would result in tragedy. 2 The lesson for us is there has never been anyone who trusted in God’s promises and was finally disappointed. God may delay the visible answers to His promises because He always answers in His time, not in ours. We may not see the answer until we are in heaven. But He is utterly trustworthy to keep His Word. If He has promised eternal rewards to the one who perseveres to the end, you can count on it as absolutely true!
The second way to remain faithful to Christ is to rest in the Person of God Who cannot lie (6:16-18a). The author now focuses on “the oath” that God made to Abraham. “For men indeed swear by the greater, and an oath for confirmation is for them an end of all dispute.” (Heb. 6:16). When a person wants to end an argument, one way to do so is to appeal to a higher authority with an oath. For example, some people do this by saying, “I am telling the truth so help me God.” Even God used “an oath” to guarantee His promise to bless Abraham greatly (Gen. 22:16).
“God swore on Himself by Himself and ended any further discussion with His legal affirmation. His promises are as true as He is. Those who believe Him and endure will receive the rewards of His faithfulness.”3
“17 Thus God, determining to show more abundantly to the heirs of promise the immutability of His counsel, confirmed it by an oath, 18 that by two immutable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie.” (Heb. 6:17-18a). This messianic hope was not only certain for Abraham, but also for the Christian “heirs” who remained faithful to the end. So, the promise and the oath are the “two immutable [or unchanging] things” since “it is impossible for God to lie.”If God lied, He would deny His very nature as the God of truth, Whose very word is truth (Isa. 65:16; John 14:6; 17:17). If God has said that we will rule with Christ if we remain faithful to Him (2 Tim. 2:12; Rev. 2:25-27), then it is true, and we dare not question Him!
We are all prone to bend the truth when it suits our purposes. But God is not like us. It is impossible for God to lie. He has never lied in all of eternity. When we doubt His promises, and especially His promise of ruling with Christ, we are in effect calling Him a liar! Our hope of reigning with Christ if we remain faithful is certain because God’s Person is incapable of lying. God’s doubly strong promise to Abraham, then, can be a “great (doubly strong) consolation” to us, now, because God has also promised us future blessings. Specifically, He has promised that we will receive the reward of ruling with Christ if we remain faithful to Him until the end of our Christian lives (cf. 2 Tim. 2:12; Rev. 2:25-27).
The third way to remain faithful to Christ is to run to our hope which is anchored in the priesthood of Jesus Christ (6:18b-20). The figure that closes verse 18 is an Old Testament one. “…We might have strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold of the hope set before us.” (Heb. 6:18b). When we are tempted to give up on God during trials, we can “flee for refuge” to the promises of God. We can “lay hold of” them, just as a fearful person in Israel could flee to the altar of burnt offerings, take hold of its horns, and be safe from his assailants (cf. I Kings 1:49-51; 2:28-39). The cities of refuge also provided safety for the Israelites (Num. 35:9-15; Joshua 20). But we have a much better “refuge” than the Israelites did in Judaism. Our refuge is anchored in the Priesthood of Christ. The “We… who have fled for refuge” implies not every Christian takes refuge in the Lord. We have already seen that this is true (Hebrews 6:1–9). Some Christians produce thorns and thistles for the Lord – they turn their backs on Him with hardened hearts.
In 6:19-20 the writer uses another type of figure to illustrate our hope in Christ. He uses the idea of an anchor which is securely dropped in the harbor. “19 This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast, and which enters the Presence behind the veil, 20 where the forerunner has entered for us, even Jesus, having become High Priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.” (Heb. 6:19-20). In the first century, sailors would carry their ship’s anchor in a smaller boat called a “forerunner” and deposit it on the shore, so that the ship would not drift away as waves beat against it.
“The Greek word for forerunner was used in the second century A.D. of the smaller boats sent into the harbor by larger ships unable to enter due to the buffeting of the weather. These smaller boats carried the anchor through the breakers inside the harbor and dropped it there, securing the larger ship. Forerunner presupposes that others will follow. Thus, Jesus is not only the believer’s anchor, but He is like a runner boat that has taken our anchor into port and secured it there.
There is thus no doubt as to whether this vessel is going into port. The only question is whether it will go in with the sleekness of a well-trimmed sailing vessel or like a water-laden barge. Believers who have such a hope in the presence of God should come boldly before the throne of grace (see 4:14-16).” 4
But instead of going down into the ocean, God’s anchor goes up into the heavens, behind the veil, where Jesus has entered as a Forerunner for us to firmly plant this anchor of hope in heaven for our storm-tossed souls. It should keep us from drifting away from God (cf. 2:1). Our anchor rests firmly in the Holy of Holies (“behind the veil”), in God’s presence in heaven, with Jesus. The “veil” was that thick curtain that separated the holy of holies from the rest of the Jewish tabernacle or the temple. The veil was what separated the place of worship from the inner room where God dwelt with His people.
“In the context of Hebrews this hope (elpis) is the blood of Christ. In contrast to the Levitical sacrifices, the author declares in 7:19, ‘there is the bringing in of a better hope, through which we draw near to God.’ It is Christ’s blood (not animal blood) that has entered the Presence behind the veil, that is, into the heavenly tabernacle and the very presence of God (cf. 9:11-12). The ones entitled to strong consolation are those who continue holding fast to this hope. Indeed, it is an anchor of the soul that only the priest according to the order of Melchizedek can provide. Those who turn away from this and retreat back to some form of Judaism will find no consolation there.”5
What Hebrews 6:19-20 is saying is we have a hope, anchored in the blood of Jesus Christ. And because of Jesus, we as Christians can come before God at any time. We can because of the high priestly ministry of Jesus, which He is doing right now, on our behalf. We can know the high priestly ministry of Jesus right now in our lives. How? He has torn the divider between us and God as our Father. The veil was torn when Jesus died for us (Matt. 27:51; Mark 15:38; Luke 23:45). We can now enter the holy of holies; we can unite with the Lord and know His compassion and His care. We can grow in our relationship with Him to the point where we know what makes His heart beat faster with joy or what causes Him to be sad or angry. We can know He is using us to do ministry. In all of this, we can know we are walking side by side with Him as His companions—where we know at our core, we are partnering with Him as His companions. 6
The main reason we need an anchor is to keep us from drifting into things that would destroy us, especially during storms. Abraham had his storms as he waited on God. In two different moments of weakness, he thought that powerful men would take his wife from him, which would have nullified God’s promise of a son through her. And so, he lied that she was his sister. At another moment of despair, he went into Sarah’s maid, Hagar, and conceived Ishmael. But despite these failures, he continued to trust God Who would fulfill His promise.
We can face many different types of storms that threaten to rob us of hope in Christ. There are storms of deceit in which false teachings try to blow us off course (Eph. 4:14-15). These teachings may say all Christians will receive the same rewards by their position in Christ so there is no need to persevere to the end. Or they may deny that there are rewards in heaven. We must resist these lies by holding firmly to the promise of ruling with Christ as His companions (Heb. 1:8-13; 2 Tim. 2:12).
There will be storms of doubt, when we question Christ’s future victory over His enemies and our ruling with Him in His glorious Kingdom on earth. We can weather them by coming back to the truth of His promise to bless obedience (Heb. 10:35).
There will be storms of difficulties, where we wonder why God is allowing them and question whether He loves us. We weather them by remembering that God, Who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, will now freely give us all things we need to live a life of faith for Him (Rom. 8:32)! If God did not spare His only Son when we were His enemies, how much more will He give us now that we are His beloved children so we can reign with Christ in the future?!
There may be storms of defeat, where we fall into sin and dishonor our Lord and Savior. We can weather even these storms if we realize that our High Priest is praying for us, that our faith may not fail, and that by His grace, we can be restored and encourage others to hold fast to Christ (Luke 22:32).
Where is your anchor? Where is your hope and security? For some people, it is in the temporary things of this earth. Such things as your appearance, achievements, approval, or affluence all of which can change. The writer of Hebrews invites us to move our anchor to heaven in the Person of Jesus Christ. You can do that by believing in Jesus Who shed His blood on a cross for all your sins and rose from the dead so you may have everlasting life and a future home in heaven (John 3:14-15; 14:1-3; Rev. 21-22). Then you can go directly into God’s heavenly throne room any time through prayer to receive whatever is needed for you to remain faithful to Christ and inherit His promise of ruling with Him as His companions in the world to come (Heb. 1:2-13; 3:1, 14; 4:14-16).
Prayer: Father God, we praise You for Your unchanging promises to which we can flee for refuge when we face storm-tossed times. Thank You for the everlasting hope we have in the Lord Jesus Christ Who entered the Presence behind the veil in the heavenly tabernacle as our Forerunner to firmly plant this anchor of hope in heaven for our storm-tossed souls. Our eventual arrival in the port of heaven is guaranteed by this anchor which was deposited there. Having such a hope in Your presence, Father, invites us to come boldly to the throne of grace at any time to receive the grace and mercy we need to remain faithful to Jesus until the end of our lives on earth. Then we may inherit Christ’s promise of ruling with Him as His companions in His coming Kingdom on earth. In Jesus’ mighty name we pray. Amen.
1. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman, The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 2835.
2. Tom Constable, Dr. Constable’s Notes on Hebrews, 2015 Edition, pg. 70.
3. Rick Oglesby, Among the King’s Companions: Position Yourself Today to Be Among Those Who Rule With Christ (Rick Oglesby, 2018 Kindle Edition), pg. 72.
4. The NKJV Study Bible formerly titled The Nelson Study Bible New King James Version, Edited by Earl D. Radmacher, Ronald B. Allen, H. Wayne House (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2007), pg. 1955.
5. J. Paul Tanner, Robert Wilkin; J. Bond; Gary Derickson; Brad Doskocil; Zane Hodges; Dwight Hunt; Shawn Leach; The Grace New Testament Commentary: Revised Edition (Grace Evangelical Society, Kindle Edition, 2019), pp. 520-521.
6. Oglesby, Among the King’s Companions, pp. 81-82.
“But may the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after you have suffered a while, perfect, establish, strengthen, and settle you.” I Peter 5:10
When we go through difficult times, we may feel as though our pain and disappointment will never end. We can be a lot like Job who initially blessed God when he lost his livestock, servants, and children (Job 1:13-22). But as his physical sufferings intensified, he became bitter toward God (Job 10:1-3 7; 19:6; 23:3-7). He moved from blessing to bitterness. Instead of walking through his pain with God’s help, his pain was walking all over him. This is the toll that physical suffering can take in our lives. When the end of our pain and suffering seems out of reach, we can easily lose perspective and be overtaken by despair and depression.
The aging apostle Peter understood this when he wrote to Christians who were facing severe persecution and trials in the first century under the Roman Emperor Nero. Peter had denied knowing Jesus in the face of persecution early in his Christian life (John 18:15-18, 25-27). But by the time he wrote this epistle he had come to understand that suffering precedes glory. The cross comes before a crown. Thorns come before a throne. Peter wants his readers to have a broader perspective regarding their sufferings.
In the final chapter of his epistle, Peter instructs his readers to submit to one another and to God (5:1-7). He advises them to stand firm against the devil by recognizing his tactics (5:8), resisting him in faith (5:9a), and realizing their struggles are not unique (5:9b). He reminds them that there were believers all around the world facing difficulties because of their faith in Jesus.
Peter encourages his readers to look to the God of all grace to sustain them through these turbulent times when he writes, “But may the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after you have suffered a while, perfect, establish, strengthen, and settle you.” (I Peter 5:10). Notice the word “after.” Peter doesn’t say “If you have suffered…” He says, “after you have suffered.” The apostle wants us to know that suffering is inevitable, unavoidable, and inescapable in the Christian life. Christ warned His followers of persecution when He informed them that the world would hate them just as it hated Him (John 15:18-21).
Suffering not only includes persecution and martyrdom, but anything that causes pain or distress such as an illness, a financial loss, a personality conflict, unjust criticism, mental or emotional frailty, life’s failures, unhealthy family relationships, and the process of aging, etc. 1
Peter also wants us to understand that in comparison to eternity, our sufferings on earth will last only a little “while.” Knowing that our difficulties and disappointments are temporary can give us hope that something better awaits us in the future.
It is significant that Peter describes God as “the God of all grace” here.He does not say God is the God of “some” grace or “a little” grace. He says, God is “the God of all grace.” Grace (charitos) is God’s undeserved or unmerited favor and kindness. When we are suffering, God’s grace may seem partial or limited to us. But Peter reminds us that God’s grace is sufficient for “all” that we face in this broken world. Our difficulties and disappointments will never exceed His grace. His supply of grace will always be enough for any situation we may face (2 Cor. 12:9).
Our gracious God has “called you to His eternal glory by Christ Jesus.” This is not a reference to salvation from hell or the justification of all believers. This is a reference to the imperishable inheritance or “eternal glory” that is earned through suffering (1:4-11; 3:9; 4:11-14; 5:1, 4; cf. Rom. 8:17). Peter is writing to Christians (1:2, 23; 2:7) who are facing persecution (1:4). Their faith would pass the test only if they persevered in their faithfulness to Christ (1:6-7a). In that case they would gain “praise, honor, and glory atthe revelation of Jesus Christ” (1:7b).2
While all “praise, honor, and glory” come from the Lord Jesus Christ, “this in no way suggests He will not share these with others. Indeed, He promised to share these blessings with believers who persevere (compare Matthew 16:27; 2 Timothy 2:12; Hebrews 1:9; 1 Peter 4:13; Revelation 2:26; 3:21). Allowing humans to have some measure of glory, honor, and power in no way diminishes Christ’s glory. If it did, Moses’ face would never have shone. Elijah wouldn’t have been taken up to heaven in a whirlwind and flaming chariot. David would never have been king of Israel. The Lord Jesus would not be called the Son of David. He would not have promised the apostles that they would rule over the twelve tribes of Israel. He wouldn’t have given Adam and Eve and all of mankind dominion over the earth. And so on.”3
“Suffering poses what has probably been in all ages the most serious problem for believers. Suffering is not only the last thing to be considered useful but rather something to be avoided, evaded, and shunned. But according to the Word of God, suffering is not an accident but a gift to be cherished, for when properly received, it works to enhance one’s eternal rank, fame, and honor.” 4
Just as Christ’s glorification and rule were preceded by suffering (I Peter 3:9; 5:11; cf. Phil. 2:5-11; Heb. 1:1-4; 2:6-10), so a believer’s participation in Christ’s future glory and reign must be preceded by suffering (I Peter 1:4-11; 4:11-16; cf. Rom. 8:17-18; Phil. 1:29; 2 Tim. 2:12; Rev. 2:25-27; 3:21). Christians who faithfully resist the devil will receive this inheritance salvation. If we rely upon God’s grace to help us endure suffering for a little “while” now, then we can take part in Christ’s glorious reign forever.
After believers have suffered a little “while,” Peter prays for God to “perfect” (katartizō) them. This word means to “mend what is broken, to set right what has gone wrong, to complete and restore.” 5 He is speaking here of being brought to maturity or completion, not sinless perfection. 6 The word translated “establish” (stērizō) means “to make stable and support”7 so we can endure persecution and suffering. Christ gives us stability in an unstable world. Peter also prays God will “strengthen” (sthenoō) or make us strong 8 so we have courage no matter what we face. Instead of giving up when we are in distress, God will empower us to give in to Him to supply what we lack. “Settle” (themelioō) refers to building on a rock, setting upon a secure foundation, 9 and therefore being immovable. Peter is praying God will keep them standing on solid footing so they will not be drawn away from their faith by Satan’s schemes. 10
The apostle understands the benefits of suffering. He does not pray for his readers to escape their trials, but to grow and mature through them. Suffering perfects, establishes, strengthens, and settles the believer who endures. Such benefits prepare the believer to rule with Christ.
To reign with Christ…
A believer must be mature (“perfect”). Through suffering God has developed Christlike character in his life (cf. Rom. 5:3-5; James 1:2-4). Instead of thinking only of oneself, he or she has learned to serve Christ by serving others. Enduring hardships has given him more compassion toward those who face similar difficulties. We have all seen what happens when an immature Christian assumes a position of influence and leadership. It is disastrous. He serves himself instead of Christ. He causes more pain and less peace in the lives of those he attempts to lead.
A believer must be stable (“establish”). He is dependable and consistent in his pursuit of Christ. Difficulties do not distract him from God’s purpose in his life. He remains focused on Christ no matter what challenges are before him.
A believer must be strong (“strengthen”). He has the inner strength to encourage himself and others when tempted to give up under distressing circumstances. Instead of giving up, he gives in to Jesus to supply what he lacks.
A believer must be settled (“settle”). The truth of God’s Word goes deep into his soul, so he is not easily drawn away from Christ by Satan’s tactics. His spiritual foundation is solid because it is rooted in the unchanging truth of God’s Word.
While suffering is unavoidable in this fallen world, God reminds us through the apostle Peter that it is temporary. All who believe in Jesus for eternal life will be in Christ’s eternal kingdom on the new earth, but only those who remain faithful to Christ will share in His glorious reign. This promise of “eternal glory” (reward) is meant to encourage us not to give up as we face hardships now.
“If a child of God could actually see into the future and fully visualize the exalted rank that theschool of suffering is creating for him, it would be easier to” “glory in tribulation” (Rom. 5:4). 11
Wilkins writes, “Imagine if God guaranteed you $100 million here and now if you persevered in faith and good works for twenty years. I think the number desiring to serve the Lord would go up significantly. Well, what if God offered something better than that? A person who received $100 million at age forty would have only a few decades to enjoy it. What if God offered rewards that last forever, not just for a few decades? Wouldn’t that be far superior?
“Ruling with Christ forever is priceless. The hidden manna and the fruits from the tree of life will be wonderful blessings. Treasure that is currently being stored up for us in heaven is something we will enjoy forever.
“Many Christians place more hope on winning the lottery than they do on gaining meaningfuleternal rewards. Either they are completely unaware of what God says, or they are convinced therewards won’t be that special.
“Mary Decker Slaney is arguably the greatest female athlete the U.S. has ever produced, setting twenty-six U.S. and seventeen world records during her amazing career. In 1982 she was the top female runner in the world in all distances from 800 meters to 10,000 meters (one-half mile up to six miles). Due to an injury, she missed the 1976 Olympics. She missed the 1980 Olympics in Russia because of the U.S. boycott of the games. Favored to win the gold in both the 1,500 and 3,000 meters in the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, Mary decided to compete only in the 3,000-meter race in order to reduce the risk of injury. In the finals of the 3,000 she was in the lead, running strong, and it appeared she would easily win the race. Then Zola Budd, a barefoot runner from South Africa, with little international experience, accidentally tripped Mary. Down to the track she went. As she was writhing in pain in the infield, the race went on without her.
“Mary competed in the 1988 and 1996 Olympics but failed to win any medals. During her career she underwent twenty leg, foot, and ankle operations in order to keep her running career alive. Imagine all the pain of the surgeries and recoveries. And anyone who has run track knows that the workouts are very painful, even for a healthy runner.
“Mary had a drive within her that was intense. Her motivations were likely numerous: a love for running competitively, a desire for fame and fortune, the lure of the medals and the cheering crowds, and traveling around the world. For over twenty years she experienced these things.
“The apostles were that intense in their service for Christ. And so should we all be. Our motivations are numerous as well: present blessings, avoiding God’s discipline, gratitude, joy of service, a desire to please and glorify God, as well as a desire to gain eternal rewards.” 12
God wants us to understand that no matter how hard, horrible, or heart-breaking life may be now, we can cling to this future reality consisting of eternal rewards. They are the ultimate in delayed gratification. God guarantees it. 13
Prayer: Precious heavenly Father, thank You for the amazing grace You have given to us through Jesus Christ. By grace, You freely saved us from eternal suffering in the lake of fire when we believed in Jesus. And now Your grace can sustain us through pain and suffering on earth so we may partake in the glorious eternal rule of Your Son, Jesus Christ. Just as suffering preceded Christ’s exaltation to the right hand of Your throne, so too we must also endure suffering to rule with Christ in eternity. Please help us respond to suffering properly so we may become more like Jesus. Thank You for using the difficulties and disappointments in our lives to prepare us to reign with Your Son. To Him be all the glory both now and forever. In Jesus’ mighty name we pray. Amen.
1. Paul E. Billheimer, Don’t Waste Your Sorrows (CLC Publications, 2012 Kindle Edition), Kindle Locations 226 to 231, 729 to 734, 1378 to 1383, 1516 to 1872.
2. Robert N. Wilkin, The Road to Reward: A Biblical Theology of Eternal RewardsSecond Edition (Corinth, TX: Grace Evangelical Society, 2014 Kindle Edition), pg. 85; Joseph Dillow, Final Destiny: The Future Reign of The Servant Kings:Fourth Revised Edition (Grace Theology Press, 2018 Kindle Edition), pp. 73-74, 212-220.
3. Wilkin, The Road to Reward, pg. 151.
4. Billheimer, Don’t Waste Your Sorrows, Kindle Location 268.
5. Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature: Third Edition (BDAG) revised and edited by Frederick William Danker (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000 Kindle Edition), pg. 526.
6. Gary Derickson; Robert Wilkin; J. Bond; Brad Doskocil; Dwight Hunt; Shawn Leach; The Grace New Testament Commentary: Revised Edition (Grace Evangelical Society, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 576.
7. Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon, pg. 945.
8. Ibid., pg. 922.
9. Ibid., pg. 449.
10. Derickson, The Grace New Testament Commentary, pg. 575.
11. Billheimer, Don’t Waste Your Sorrows, Kindle Location 1441.
“Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness in the day of judgment; because as He is, so are we in this world.” I John 4:17
It is important to understand that the New Testament speaks of two different judgments separated by the Millennium or one-thousand-year reign of Jesus Christ on earth. The first judgment is for believers in Jesus at the Judgment Seat of Christ which takes place in heaven after the Rapture of the Church (Rev. 4:1-4; cf. Rev. 22:12; John 14:1-3; I Cor. 3:8-15; 15:51-52; 2 Cor. 5:10-11; I Thess.1:10; 4:13-5:11). The second judgment is for nonbelievers after the Millennium (Rev. 20:1-10), and it is called the Great White Throne Judgment (Rev. 20:11-15).
Those who appear before the Judgment Seat of Christ (I Cor. 3:8-15; 2 Cor. 5:10; Rev. 22:12) and the Great White Throne Judgment (Rev. 20:11-15) are judged “according to their works,” not according to their faith or the lack thereof. Since every person is judged “according to their works” at both these judgments, there will be differing degrees of punishment for nonbelievers in the lake of fire as determined by the Great White Throne Judgment (Rev. 20:11-15; cf. Matt. 11:20-24; 23:14; Mark 12:40; Luke 20:47), just as there will be varying degrees of rewards for believers as determined at the Judgment Seat of Christ (I Cor. 3:8-15; 2 Cor. 5:10; Rev. 2:25-27; 4:1-4; 22:12).
The apostle John began the body of his epistle in I John 2:28. It was there that he introduced a new theme of having “confidence” instead of shame before the Lord Jesus “at His coming” to motivate his readers to continue to cultivate fellowship or intimacy with Christ despite the increase in false teachers or “antichrists” (2:18-27). 1 The Greek word translated “confidence” (parrēsia) there refers “to a state of boldness and confidence, courage, confidence, boldness, fearlessness, especially in the presence of persons of high rank.” 2 Throughout the body of his epistle, John has focused on how to have more “boldness” or “confidence” both when the Lord Jesus returns (2:28) and when we pray (3:21-22).
Some Christians assume that they could not possibly experience shame at the Judgment Seat of Christ because all their sins were forgiven the moment they believed in Christ for His gift of salvation (Acts 10:43; Col. 2:13-14). But the apostle John reminds us it will be possible for transformed Christians (I John 3:2-3) to experience shame before the Lord Jesus (I John 2:28) when He evaluates both the “good or bad” things they have done in their Christian lives (2 Cor. 5:10). Keep in mind that Revelation 21:3-6, which speaks of there being no more death, nor sorrow, nor pain, takes place after the Judgment Seat of Christ (Rev. 4:1-4) and the Millennium (Rev. 20:1-10). In our transformed bodies (Phil. 3:20-21; I John 3:2), we will probably be more sensitive to sin because our sin nature will be gone along with its excuses and rationalizations for sin (I John 3:2-3). We will have a greater capacity to feel holy shame over sins that we committed on earth.
“It is true, of course, that the Lord Jesus by His death on the cross took away all of our sins, past, present, and future (John 1:29; 1 John 2:2). Sin is no longer a barrier to anyone having eternal salvation. The moment we believe in Jesus for eternal life, He gives it to us. Eternal life, however, does not exclude accountability. Believers still need fellowship forgiveness (1 John 1:9). And if a believer is out of fellowship with God when his life is over, he will experience shame at the Bema.”3
John now concludes the body of his epistle (I John 4:17-19). “Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness in the day of judgment; because as He is, so are we in this world.” (I John 4:17). John uses the same Greek word translated “boldness” (parrēsia) that he used in 2:28 and 3:21 where it was translated as “confidence” in the New King James Version.
In I John 4:12, John spoke of perfecting God’s love “in us” (en hēmin) when we love one another with the same sacrificial and selfless love that Christ extended to us (4:12-16; cf. 4:9-10). When God’s love reaches completion “in us,” there is no hate in our relationships with other believers. In 4:17 when John speaks of perfecting God’s love “among us” (meth’ hēmōn), there is no fear in our relationship with God, especially as it relates to “the day of judgment” (4:17-19). 4
When John refers to “the day of judgment” (4:17), he does not mean the final judgment of the unsaved which determines the degree of their punishment in the lake of fire (Rev. 20:11-15). He is speaking here of Christians appearing before the Judgment Seat of Christ which will take place in heaven after the sudden removal of the church from the earth (cf. Rom. 14:10-12; I Cor. 3:8-15; 2 Cor. 5:10-11; I John 4:17-19; Rev. 4:1-4).
A believer may have “boldness” that Christ will approve of his or her Christian life if he or she has entered a mature experience of God’s love (“love has been perfected among us”) by loving other brothers and sisters in Christ. Our “boldness” arises from doing what we know Christ wants us to do – namely love one another (cf. John 13:34-35).
The reason a loving Christian will have no fear before Christ at this time is “because as He is” loving, “so” we can be loving “in this world” as well (4:17b). The more loving we become in our relationships with God’s people, the more we will become like our Judge, Who “is love” (4:8, 16). An unloving believer is not like his Judge so he may be afraid of rebuke or loss of reward as he anticipates standing before Christ at the Judgment Seat (cf. Matt. 24:48-51; 25:24-30; Luke 19:20-26). But a loving believer is one in whom the work of God’s love has been “perfected” or made complete, and the benefit of that is boldness before the One Who will judge him. 5 Mature love expels fear when moral likeness exists between the Judge and the one being judged.
“God’s love is not perfected in a Christian whose heart is simply a reservoir in which to receiveit, but only in a Christian whose heart furnishes an aqueduct to convey it to others.”6
“Every believer will stand before the judgment seat of Christ. Don’t think of it as a trial to determine your salvation but as the Judge’s opportunity to evaluate the Christian life you lived (see 2 Cor. 5:10). In spite of your sins and failures, if you actively sought to minister in love to members of God’s family, you will be able to stand with confidence on that day because ‘love covers a multitude of’ offenses (1 Pet 4:8).” 7
“The idea of having boldness in the day of judgment is stunning. Reasonable Christians, even though fully assured of their salvation, will realize ‘the terror of the Lord’ (2 Cor. 5:11). The possibility of triumphing over that ‘terror’ is challenging indeed. Yet this is possible if believers ‘abide in love’ (1 John 4:16).”8
I realize that some believers are opposed to the possibility of experiencing fear in heaven at the Judgment Seat of Christ. But we must remember that fear is sometimes appropriate in relationships.
“A child raised in a good home need not fear rebuke if he is doing what his parents ask. A student in school who is obeying the teacher’s rules need not fear detention. A hardworking employee who is abiding by the office regulations has no reason to fear being put on probation.
“The knowledge that actions have consequences motivates us to do right. Many Christians don’t stop to think that the same is true in our relationship with God. If we are busy doing what He wants us to do, manifesting His love to others, we need not fear discipline now or rebuke at the Judgment Seat of Christ.” 9
Like obedient children of good parents, we have nothing to fear at the Judgement Seat of Christ. We can and should be confident, for our Lord is a Judge Who is loving, gracious, and fair. He will reward believers in whom His love has matured. 10
The apostle John continues by saying, “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love.” (I John 4:18). LovingChristians can anticipate standing with “no fear” before Christ at His Judgment Seat because fear cannot exist with God’s agapē“love.” As believers grow in their love for God and other Christians, God’s “perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment.” The more loving we become on earth now the less fear we will have as we anticipate the Judgment Seat of Christ in the future.
When John says, “fear involves torment,” the word for “torment” (kolasis) occurs only two times in the New Testament. The first time is in Matthew 25:46 where Jesus speaks of the eternal punishment of nonbelievers. Clearly the meaning of the word is “punishment” in that verse.11 In I John 4:18, it seems to speak of a temporal form of punishment.
Hodges explains, “Fear carries with it a kind of torment that is its own punishment. Ironically,an unloving believer experiences punishment precisely because he feels guilty and is afraid to meet his Judge. Such fear prohibits a completed love (one who fears is not made perfect in love). But a Christian who loves has nothing to fear and thus escapes the inner torment which a failure to love can bring.” 12
Hodges also says, “John likely has in mind the truth that ‘whom the Lord loves He chastens, and scourges every son whom He receives’ (Heb 12:6). In fact, this NT truth is found on the lips of the Lord Jesus in Rev 3:19, ‘As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten.’
“If a Christian experiences fear as he anticipates being evaluated at the Judgment Seat, then this fear can be regarded as a punishment intended to awaken him to his need to correct his behavior. Unpleasant as it is, like all divine discipline (Heb 12:11), it is nevertheless a signal of God’s love and of His desire to see believers made perfect in love. If the Christian responds to this kind of discipline, the discipline is effective and ‘yields the peaceable fruits of righteousness’ (Heb. 12:11), which for John are inseparable from love.”13
Anderson suggests that the Greek word translated “torment” (kolasin) means restraint. It “is also used of pruning a fruit tree to stunt its growth. So, fear keeps our love from growing up. Fear of what? That which we all fear in relationships, whether it’s with God or men— rejection. Most of us are afraid of rejection from other people. Those who aren’t have felt the sting of rejection so much they have lost their ability to consciously feel at all. This fear of rejection stunts the growth of perfect love…
“… So I agree with three of my favorite dictionaries of NT Greek, which suggest ‘restraint’ as the best English translation of kolasin. In other words, fear holds us back; it restrains us. It keeps or prevents us from reaching out in sacrificial, selfless, unconditional love. But when we release the Spirit, He can and will produce the fruit of agapē love in our lives. He will cast out the fear which retrains us.” 14
The key to preparing for the Judgment Seat of Christ is underscored in verse 19. “We love Him because He first loved us.” (I John 4:19). The majority of Greek manuscripts contain the word “Him” (Auton) in this verse. It should be mentioned that the standard critical editions of the Greek New Testament omit “Him” and so do the translations based on them [e.g., JB, NASB, NIV, etc.]. This omission is unfortunate because verse 19 is critical to what follows in 4:20-21. 15
Up to this point in John’s epistle, he has been focusing on directing our love toward other Christians (“one another” – 3:11, 23; 4:7, 11-12). Now the apostle speaks directly for the first time in his letter about loving God. A Christian’s love for God originates from His love for us. If we are maturing in our love for one another and for God, there can only be one reason for this. It is “because He first loved us.” 16
As Anderson suggests, the primary reason Christians fail to love one another or God, is because of the fear of rejection. But Christ’s perfect love for us contains no such fear.
Anderson writes, “We get a real clue from the statement that we love God because He first loved us. He was the initiator. We were His sinful enemies. Time and time again He had felt the sting of rejection from us. Even after He came to earth and began to display His wonderful acts of mercy, compassion, and healing, Jesus was rejected by men. We built a high wall of rejection between us and Him. But because ‘God is love,’ perfect love, He is not afraid of rejection. It hurts. It grieves Him deeply. But He is not afraid. So, He set His cross down next to that wall of rejection built by our sins … and He climbed that wall, for you and me. We love Him because He first loved us. Fear of rejection is what keeps us from making the first move, especially if we have already been hurt a number of times by someone who means a lot to us.
“What we are saying here is that only God’s love (mature agapē) can bust through the sinful layers of self-protection which keep us from experiencing oneness with Him and other believers (intimacy/fellowship). We all enjoy the feelings of philē love in marriage, friendships, families, even church. But without growing agapē we will lose those feelings and never get them back. The mistakes we make in relationships because of our sinfulness can create enough pain to destroy all positive feelings of one toward another. But growing agapē can cast out fear. We can reach out again.” 17
No matter how much rejection we have received in the past, God’s perfect love for us can cast out our fear so we can risk loving others again. We love God because He first loved us. We cannot give what we do not have, but once we have received God’s love through faith in Jesus Christ, if we stay close to Him in fellowship, we just get better and better at loving people so we become more like our Judge Who will evaluate our Christian lives at His Judgment Seat. This is God’s climatic message to us in the body of I John (2:28-4:19).
Years ago, Princess Diana made a very interesting observation: “The biggest disease this world suffers from is people feeling unloved.” 18
If you find yourself suffering from the absence of love, there is only one lasting remedy. It is not found in a bottle, a hotel room, money, a pill, or in a syringe. It is found in the Person of Jesus Christ Who loved us without measure.
If you do not know for sure you have eternal life and a future home in Christ’s heaven, please understand that Jesus offers eternal life freely to all who believe in Him. Christ said, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16). Jesus did not say, “God knows how to love.” It is saying something five hundred times greater. “For God so loved the world.” To help us understand the love of God, take the word “so” and let the “S” stand for “something” and the “O” for “other.” God’s love is SOMETHING OTHER than we have ever known.
God does not love us with the love of a two-year old who says, “I’ll love you as long as you do things my way.” God does not love us with the love of a twelve-year old who says, “I’ll love you for what I can get out of you.” Nor does God love us with the love of a twenty-two-year-old who says, “I’ll love you as long as you love me in return.” Instead, He loves us with the kind of love that says, “I love you. Period.”
God’s love is a deep and unselfish love. It is not based on who you are or what you do. It does not matter if you are a great athlete, the President of the United States, or a person who pushes a broom in an office where everybody else pushes a pen. God knows where you live, He knows everything about you, and He says, “I love you!”
You have lied, and God still loves you. You have been unfaithful to your spouse, yet He loves you. You have entertained a lot of thoughts you should not have, yet He loves you. You take His name and use it as a curse word, and yet He loves you. You have tried to medicate unwanted feelings and memories in immoral ways, yet He loves you. You have harbored hatred in your heart toward those who have offended you, yet God still loves you.
Think about your friends for a minute. Some of them will love you if you are on your best behavior, but God will love you even when you are at your worst. Some of them will love you if you speak well of them, but God will love you even when you curse His name. Some of them will love you as long as you take what you have and give it to them, but God will love you even if you take everything He has given you, and never give Him a thank You. There is nothing you can do to cause God to love you any less.
When Jesus said, “For God so loves the world that He gave His only begotten Son…”, we learn that God’s love gives, it does not take. God gave His best (His Son) when we were at our worst (ungodly sinners). Our hope is based on the fact that “God gave His only begotten Son,” so that instead of you and me dying on the cross for our sins, Jesus Christ died in our place. Instead of us paying for what we have done by our own death, Christ paid for what we have done by His death.
Could you kill your only child to save others? No. Our love is pale compared to God’s love for us. When God says, “I love you. Here’s My perfect and only Son,” that is love. The greatest proof of His love is that He would allow His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ to die for our sins and rise from the dead (I John 4:9-10; cf. Rom. 5:8).
Why did Jesus do this? “…That whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” What does it mean to believe? The phrase “believes in Him” (pisteuōn eis Auton) means to be persuaded that Christ is speaking the truth here and is therefore worthy of your trust. 19
Will you take Jesus at His Word and believe He is speaking the truth when He says, “whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life”? Christ says you “believe” and “have.” Contrary to many evangelistic invitations today, Jesus does not say you “follow” or “obey” and “have.” He never says you “pray” or “surrender” and “have.” Nor does He say you “give” or “confess” and “have.” Christ invites you to take by faith the eternal life that He is freely offering to you. If you just did that, you can tell Him through prayer.
Prayer: Dear Lord Jesus, I need Your love in my life. I understand now that You loved me by taking my place and punishment when You died on the cross for all my past, present, and future sins and rose from the dead. I am now believing or trusting in You, Jesus (not my good life, religion, or prayers) to give me Your free gift of eternal life. Thank You for the everlasting life I just received. In Your holy name, I pray Lord Jesus. Amen.
When you believed in Jesus alone for everlasting life, He gave you eternal life which can never be lost (John 6:35-40; 10:28-29). Christ has come to live inside you through His Holy Spirit (John 7:37-39; Ephes. 1:13-14). As you learn to abide in Him and His Word with other believers, His love will be poured out into your heart so you can share it with others (I John 2:3-6, 28; 3:14-4:16; cf. John 15:4-17; Rom. 5:5). The more loving you become in your relationships with God and other Christians, the less fear you will have as you anticipate the Judgement Seat of Christ because you are becoming more like the Judge (I John 4:8, 16) Who will evaluate your Christian life.
Prayer: Heavenly Father, if we are honest, there are times in our lives when we are afraid to love others because of the rejection we have experienced from people in the past. Our fears keep us from initiating contact with others. Thank You, Jesus, for showing us that Your perfect love is not afraid of rejection. It hurts You deeply when we reject You, but out of love for each of us You still endured the cross so we may be in a loving relationship with You. Please help us grow in Your perfect love so we can break out of the many layers of self-protection and experience deeper fellowship with You and other Christians. We invite You to love others through us so we may have more confidence and less shame when we stand before You at the Judgment Seat of Christ. In the mighty name of Jesus, we pray. Amen.
1. Tom Constable, Dr. Constable’s Notes on I John, 2022 Edition, pg. 65.
2. Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature: Third Edition (BDAG) revised and edited by Frederick William Danker (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000 Kindle Edition), pp. 781-782.
3. Robert N. Wilkin, The Road to Reward: A Biblical Theology of Eternal RewardsSecond Edition (Corinth, TX: Grace Evangelical Society, 2014 Kindle Edition), pg. 21.
4. Constable, Dr. Constable’s Notes on I John, pp. 101-102.
5. Zane C. Hodges, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Epistles and Prophecy, Editors John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck (David C. Cook, 2018 Kindle Edition), Kindle Location 4000 to 4006.
6. Wilkin, The Road to Reward, pg. 22 cites Zane C. Hodges, The Epistles of John: Walking inthe Light of God’s Love (Denton, TX: Grace Evangelical Society, 1999), pp. 198-199.
7. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman, The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 2949.
8. Zane C. Hodges; Robert Wilkin; J. Bond; Gary Derickson; Brad Doskocil; Dwight Hunt; Shawn Leach; The Grace New Testament Commentary: Revised Edition (Grace Evangelical Society, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 601.
9. Wilkin, The Road to Reward, pg. 21.
10. Ibid., pg. 22.
11. Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, pg. 555.
12. Hodges, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Epistles and Prophecy, Kindle Location 4013 to 4018.
13. Hodges, The Grace New Testament Commentary, pg. 601.
14. David R. Anderson, Maximum Joy: I John – Relationship or Fellowship? (Grace Theology Press, 2013 Kindle Edition), pp. 218-219.
15. Hodges, The Grace New Testament Commentary, pg. 601.
17. Anderson, Maximum Joy, pp. 218-219.
18. R. Larry Moyer, Show Me How To Illustrate Evangelistic Sermons (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 2012), pg. 209 cites Princess Diana in Time, September 8, 1997.
19. Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, pp. 816-817.
“Whoever hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.” I John 3:15
The book of I John is about cultivating fellowship or intimacy with God and other believers in Jesus (1:1-4). The apostle John has addressed barriers to this fellowship with God which include sin (1:5-2:11; 2:29-3:10a), the world (2:15-17), and the Devil and his false teachers or antichrists (2:18-27).
Beginning in 2:28, John talks about how Christians can have more confidence and less shame before Christ at His coming (2:28-4:19). John wants his Christian readers (2:12-14; 5:13) to see themselves as children of God who possess a sinless born-again nature (God’s “seed”) at the core of their being so they will manifest God’s righteous nature by living righteously (2:29-3:10a). This righteous behavior is more than human kindness and morality that even non-Christians can manifest. It includes believing in Christ for new birth and loving one’s Christian brother or sister (3:24).
John now wants to expand upon the idea of manifesting our born-again nature (3:9) through loving fellow Christians (3:10b-23). Just as we can conceal our born-again nature by not practicing righteousness (2:29-3:10a), so we can also conceal our born-again nature by refusing to love our Christian brother (3:10b-23). In this section, John will talk about what love is not (3:10b-15) and what love is (3:16-23). Today we will look at what love is not.
“In this the children of God and the children of the devil are manifest: Whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is he who does not love his brother.” (I John 3:10). Last time in our study, we learned that only Christians can be called “children of God” since the Bible clearly says that a person who believes that Jesus is the Christ is “born of God” (5:1). The way to make their born-again nature visible to others is through practicing righteousness and loving one another as Christ commanded. Nowhere in the Bible are we told that a person is “born of the devil.” Whenever a Christian or a non-Christian sins, he or she is behaving like children of the devil since all sin is sourced in him (3:8).
When John says, “Whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is he who does not love his brother” (3:10b), the genitive phrase “is not of God” (ouk estin ek tou Theou) simply means that a Christian who does not practice righteousness nor love his Christian brother does not have actions that are sourced in God. 1 Sin can never be traced back to God regardless of who commits it. God is never responsible for sin whether it is committed by a Christian or non-Christian.
Unfortunately, the NIV translation of 3:10b does not reflect the Greek text when it says, “Anyone who does not do what is right is not God’s child, nor is anyone who does not love their brother and sister.” (I John 3:10b). Nowhere in the Greek text does it say, “God’s child.” This has been added by the translators and reflects their theological point of view, not a careful study of the Greek text.
“There is nothing in this text about not being a child of God. How could there be? One must be a child of God before one could hate his brother. An unsaved person has no Christian brother to hate (cf. 2:9) …John also moves from a broader to a narrower theme. The words whoever does not practice [lit. ‘do’] righteousness can refer to anyone who lacks righteous conduct, whether saved or unsaved. But the words he who does not love his brother introduce a specific kind of righteousness that only a Christian can manifest or fail to manifest.” 2
“By joining together the idea of righteousness (mentioned in 1 John 2:29-3:7) with love (not mentioned in vv. 2-9), John formed a bridge to a new discussion. He now considered love as the appropriate expression of the regenerate life of which he had been speaking. Love is righteousness in action.” 3
One of the biggest barriers to fellowship with God is dealing with our Christian “brother” or sister.Failure to love other Christians breaks our fellowship or closeness with the Lord. Why? Because Christ commanded us to love one another as He has loved us (John 13:34-35), and when we don’t keep that command, we have sinned against God which interrupts our fellowship with Him (I John 1:5-2:11). We cannot claim to have fellowship with God and hate our Christian brother or sister at the same time (I John 2:9-11).
John writes, “For this is the message that you heard from the beginning, that we should love one another.” (I John 3:11). From “the beginning” of their Christian experience, John’s readers heard “the message… that we should love one another.”
It is important to understand the context in which John and the other apostles heard the original command to “love one another.” It was the night before Jesus’ crucifixion when the Twelve disciples had gathered with Jesus in the Upper Room. After their supper and the washing of the disciples’ feet by Christ (John 13:1-17), Christ identified Judas as His betrayer and told him to do his work quickly (John 13:18-29), and then Judas “went out immediately” to betray the Lord Jesus (John 13:30). Judas was the only unbeliever among the disciples (cf. John 6:64, 70-71; 13:10-11; 17:12). Christ removed Judas at that time because what He was about to say was only for the ears of those who had believed in Him.
Jesus said to the believing disciples, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35). The apostle John who wrote I John was also the author of the gospel of John. He wants us to understand that the command to love one another is meant for believers, not nonbelievers. Loving one another is a condition for discipleship, not salvation.
Those who claim that I John was written to a mixed audience of believers and nonbelievers to help separate the true professors from the false professors are mistakenly saying that Judas was still in the Upper Room. No. Judas had been sent out. The truth Jesus shared in the Upper Room about loving one another was given only to believers. 4
“The Upper Room truth and 1 John truth is unadulterated truth for an unadulterated audience of believers.” 5
Evans writes, “Imagine a patient claims to have the flu but has no symptoms. A doctor would say, ‘You don’t have the flu.’ Similarly, the ultimate ‘symptom’ or proof of your vertical intimacy with God is your horizontal love for his children.”6 This is why Christ said, “By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35).
Why is this command to love one another a barrier to fellowship with God and other Christians? Anderson writes, “Why is it so hard to love our brother? Could it be that our brother has more potential to hurt us than the world? Could it be that we expect evil from the world, but not from our Christian brother? It hurts when a Christian brother does us wrong. It hurts deeply. And we go out of our way to avoid pain.” 7
Before focusing on what love is, John now states what love is not by sharing an example of brother-to-brother hatred: “Not as Cain who was of the wicked one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his works were evil and his brother’s righteous.” (I John 3:12). Biblical love is not like the hateful and murderous behavior that Cain exhibited toward his brother Abel (Gen. 4:2-8). When John describes Cain as “of the wicked one” (ek tou ponērou), he is not suggesting that Cain was unsaved (3:12a). 8 As with the previous genitives in 3:8, 10, this is a genitive of source which means Cain’s behavior was sourced in the “wicked one,” since Satan was “a murderer from the beginning” (John 8:44). All sin, whether by a believer or unbeliever, is traced back to the Devil since he “sinned from the beginning” (3:8).
“John uses the physical relationship between Cain and Abel as an illustration of the spiritual relationship between Christian brethren. And just as it is possible for one brother to murder his biological brother, it is possible for one Christian to murder another.”9
Hatred toward another person is not confined to the unsaved population. Christians can also hate one another. James accused his Christian readers (James 1:1, 16-18; 2:1; et al.) of murder: “You murder and covet and cannot obtain.” (James 4:2). Why would James accuse his Christian readers of murder if it were not possible for them to commit murder? Likewise, Peter warns his Christian readers (I Pet. 1:2-9, 18-23; 2:10; et al.), “But let none of you suffer as a murderer…” (I Pet. 4:15). If it were not possible for a Christian to commit murder, then Peter just wasted his time warning them not to do so.
Christ even taught that hatred toward another believer (“his brother”) was the spiritual equivalent of spiritual murder (Matt. 5:21-22). 10 Those who deny that a Christian can hate a fellow brother or sister in Christ lack the realism of the Lord Jesus Christ and the New Testament authors.
Why did Cain murder his brother Abel (Gen. 4:8)? John tells us, “Because his works were evil and his brother’s righteous.” (I John 3:12b). Cain imitated Satan’s hateful and murderous behavior when he became envious of his “brother’s righteous” behavior and “murdered” him. God had accepted Abel’s more excellent sacrifice (firstborn of his flock of sheep which was a foreshadowing of Christ’s more excellent sacrifice – Heb. 9:11-10:18) that he offered “by faith” to please God (Heb. 11:4, 6) as opposed to Cain’s fruit of the ground offering (Gen. 4:2-5) which was not offered by faith.
Hatred is often prompted by a feeling of guilt about one’s own life compared to another person’s life. Whenever Christians feel guilty because their behavior is contrary to God’s will, they find it easier to experience hatred toward those whom they know God approves. 11 Often conflicts within churches are between those who have God’s approval and those who don’t. God uses those conflicts to manifest or make evident those who have His approval – those who are not causing the division but are promoting peace and unity (cf. I Cor. 11:19). John reminds us that such hatred toward another Christian is “of the wicked one” (I John 3:12a) in that Satan is behind such unrighteous behavior, not God.
How do we respond when another brother or sister in Christ receives a blessing from God like a new car or house, a promotion or raise at work, or public recognition? 12 Are we rejoicing with our fellow Christians when God uses their giftedness to lead many people to Christ or build up the body of Christ with their teachings or services? Or do we respond with criticism, envy, or judgmentalism? John would say the latter is “of the wicked one” (3:12). It is not “of God.”
Cain’s hateful and murderous behavior was worldly, and it should not surprise Christians to see the world hate them when they live righteously and lovingly. John writes, “Do not marvel, my brethren, if the world hates you.” (I John 3:13). The world hated Jesus and Christ warned His followers that they can expect the world to hate them when they live according to His values and not the world’s (John 15:18-19). That is a normal response to anticipate from the world. But what is abnormal is for Christians to hate one another.
“We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love his brother abides in death.” (I John 3:14). The only other time John used a similar phrase “have passed from death to life” (metabebēkamen ek tou thanatou eistēn zōēn) is in John 5:24 which speaks of conversion. There Jesus said, “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life.” (John 5:24). The phrase “has passed from death into life” (metabebēken ek tou thanatou eistēn zōēn)is the same Greek text as in I John 3:14 except for the perfect tense verb which is third person singular in John 5:24 as opposed to the first person plural in I John 3:14. Hence, some interpreters believe that I John 3:14 is saying that the way to “know” you are saved is to love your Christian brothers and sisters.
“But a phrase which is used only twice in John’s writing can hardly be said to have a fixed meaning. The context here must decide its significance. The statements of 1 John 3:14b-15 suggest that the spheres of ‘death’ and ‘life’ are here treated as experiential and determined by one’s actions. If so, the issue of conversion is not in view here.” 13
The word “know” (oida) in 3:14 is different than the word (ginōskō) John used previously in I John 2:3-5 and 3:6. Anderson writes:
“The verb ‘to know’ has numerous OT parallels parallels in which it either speaks of a special intimacy or a deeper kind of understanding. In Gen 4:1 Adam ‘knew’ his wife Eve and she conceived. Obviously, he had more than a casual knowledge of her. ‘To know’ in this case is an example of physical intimacy.
“Hosea gives us several examples of spiritual intimacy. Gomer has been unfaithful and exemplifies the unfaithfulness of Israel. Both Gomer and Israel are in covenant relationships, one with a prophet and the other with Yahweh, respectively. But after she (Gomer/Israel) has played the harlot, God claims He is going to woo her back and says to her in Hosea 2:19-20,
“’And I will betroth you to Me forever;Yes, I will betroth you to Me in righteousness and in justice,In lovingkindness and in compassion,And I will betroth you to Me in faithfulness.Then you will know the LORD.’
“This use of ‘know’ speaks of a deeper experience with the Lord than she had known before, that is, spiritual intimacy.
“And Gen 22:12 gives us another example of ‘to know’ as a deeper experience of understanding. God has asked Abraham to offer his son on the altar as a sacrifice. Abraham is obedient. Just before the knife is plunged into Isaac’s heart, the Angel of the Lord says, ‘Do not lay your hand on the lad, or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me.’
“Wait a minute, didn’t the Lord know before Abraham went up the mountain what was in Abraham’s heart? Sure, He did; He was omniscient, all-knowing. But after Abraham raised the knife, God experienced Abraham’s faith on a deeper level. There was a deeper kind of understanding.
“Obviously, ‘to know’ in the OT had many uses which took the knower beyond a superficial experience. That may well be what’s going on with the meaning of know in 1 John 3:14. A new believer can have assurance that he will spend eternity with God when he dies based on God’s promises (1 John 5:13). But when he has an experience of outrageous, triumphant love (loving someone who has hurt him), he enjoys the fact that he has passed from death unto life in a fuller, deeper way.” 14
What John is telling us in I John 3:14a is that when a believer loves his or her Christian brother or sister, the passage from death into life which occurs at salvation (John 5:24) can be experienced. That is, when Christians love one another, they can experience God’s “life” or fellowship in a deeper way.
It is important to remember that eternal life emphasizes the quality not just the quantity of one’s existence. All people exist forever. But it is the quality of their existence that differs.Christians can experience an increase in the quality of their eternal life when they love other Christians now. 15
But what happens when believers do not love one another? What happens when Christians hate one another? John tells us, “He who does not love his brother abides in death.” (I John 3:14b). When a believer in Jesus refuses to “love his” Christian “brother,” it plunges him into the sphere of “death” or darkness devoid of God. Hatred toward another Christian places us in the sphere of death experientially which is the same place in which the world abides (cf. 3:13), 16 so we are no longer sharing the light with God. We are out of fellowship with God and other believers when we hate one another. As Paul stated, “For if you live according to the flesh you will die.” (Romans 8:13). The longer we hate another Christian, the more we will experience death or broken fellowship with Christ.
Remember the Greek word “abides” (menō) which means “to remain, stay, dwell, continue,” 17 is one of John’s favorite terms for fellowship or intimacy with God. In this case, abiding in the sphere of death means one is remaining out of fellowship with God. When Christians hate one another, they are no longer remaining in Christ (“life”), they are remaining in death which is devoid of Jesus. 18
When a Christian hates another Christian, that hateful “believer is out of fellowship and experiences the living death of the Christian widow who lives for pleasure (1 Tim 5:6), or the Christian miserably aware of the battle within himself between his sin(ful) nature and his desire to do what is right (Rom 7:24), or the believer whose mind is filled with things of the flesh (Rom 8:6). The believer who walks around with hatred in his heart is miserable and often depressed.” 19
Hatred of one’s Christian brother is not only an experience of “death” (3:14b), but also of murder: “Whoever hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.” (I John 3:15). Some think this verse is teaching that a Christian cannot commit murder. They argue if he or she does, then they either lose their salvation or they were never saved to begin with.
I believe there is a better way to understand this verse. In the context, John is talking about how Christians can manifest their born-again righteous nature to have more confidence and less shame at the coming of Christ (2:28-29). One way is to practice righteousness (2:29-3:10a) and the other way is to love our Christian brothers and sisters (3:10b-23). In this section (3:10b-3:15), John is talking about what love is not. It is not like Cain who envied his brother Abel and murdered him (3:12; cf. Gen. 4:2-8). When a Christian hates another Christian, he is not only abiding in the realm of death or broken fellowship with God (3:14b), but he is also a “murderer” like Cain (3:12). When a Christian hates another Christian “brother,” he may not physically murder him, but he has a spirit of hatred that wants to be rid of his Christian brother, so he would not really care if he died. 20
Verse 15 does not say that “no murderer has eternal life” (as the NIRV paraphrase reads), but “that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.” Why is this an important distinction to make? Remember, for the apostle John, eternal life is nothing more than Jesus Christ Himself. John wrote of Jesus, “1 That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, concerning the Word of life— 2 the life was manifested, and we have seen, and bear witness, and declare to you that eternal life which was with the Father and was manifested to us.” (I John 1:1-2). This eternal life could be “heard… seen… looked upon” andtouched and was “with the Father and was” physically “manifested to” the apostles (1:1-2).In case you are still not convinced that eternal life is Christ, John writes, “And we are in Him who is true, in His Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God and eternal life.” (I John 5:20b).
Hence, John is not saying that a hateful Christian has lost his salvation or was never saved to begin with. He is saying that a hateful Christian is not “abiding” in Christ, that is, he is not in fellowship with Christ Who is eternal life. The moment a Christian hates another believer, he breaks experiential contact with Christ and plunges into the sphere of “death” or darkness where Christ is not. Eternal life (i.e., Christ) is not at home in his heart as long as the spirit of hatred is there. He loses his closeness with Christ, not his relationship with Him. Christians cannot abide in Christ or be close to Him and hate another believer at the same time.
Dillow writes, “Can a true Christian ‘hate his brother’? Of course, he can. David is a good example of a justified man who not only hated but followed up the murder in his heart with murder in reality by killing Uriah the Hittite (2 Samuel 12:9).” 21
Even though David had committed adultery and murder, the Bible refers to David as an example of those who are justified (declared totally righteous before God) by faith alone in Christ alone apart from any works. “5 But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness, 6 just as David also describes the blessedness of the man to whom God imputes righteousness apart from works: 7 ‘Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; 8 Blessed is the man to whom the Lord shall not impute sin’ ” (Romans 4:5-8; cf. 2 Sam. 12:9, 13; Psalms 32:1-2; 51). Paul quotes David (Rom. 4:7-8) who wrote in Psalm 32:1-2 of the blessedness of forgiveness as he looked ahead to the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ which would pay the penalty for the sin of the world (John 1:29), including David’s adultery and murder (cf. Psalm 16:8-11; Acts 2:24-36; Col. 2:13-14).
Paul is saying that the righteousness of Jesus Christ was credited to David and all who believed in His coming death and resurrection in the Old Testament (Rom. 4:5-8; cf. Gen. 15:6; Isaiah 61:10; John 8:56; Heb. 11:26). So, when a person in the Old Testament or in the New Testament believes in the coming Messiah, Jesus Christ, he or she is covered with the righteousness of Jesus Christ so that God no longer sees their sin, He sees the perfect righteousness of His Son (Gen. 15:6; Rom. 3:21-4:25; 2 Cor. 5:21).
“When we harbor anger in our hearts, John says, we are in effect murderers, and we abide in death, the very sphere from which we were delivered when we became Christians. We walk as ‘mere men’ (1 Corinthians 3:3), that is, as if we were still unregenerate. We are ‘carnal Christians’ who are ‘walking in darkness’ (1 John 2:11) and are in danger of losing our reward (2 John 1:8); losing what we have (Mark 4:25) and shrinking back in shame at the Judgment Seat of Christ (1 John 2:28). Jesus Christ is not at home in such a heart. He does not abide there.” 22
The love that will increase our confidence and decrease our shame at the coming of Christ (2:28) is not like Cain’s envious and murderous behavior (3:12) and the world’s (3:13), which breaks a Christian’s fellowship with Christ Who is eternal life (3:14-15; cf. 1:1-2; 5:20). When hatred occupies a Christian’s heart, it is a miserable existence. Lord Tennyson would agree:
“He that shuts Love out, in turn shall be Shut out from Love, and on her threshold lie Howling in the outer darkness.”23
The sobering thing about harboring hatred in our hearts toward another Christian is we tend to become like the one who hurt us. The more we review the hurt that was caused to us, the more we become like that person who wounded us. This is Satan’s strategy – to get Christians to hate one another. He knows that if he can accomplish this, he will greatly diminish the church’s impact on the world for Christ.
Jesus Christ came to destroy the works of the Devil which includes hatred toward another Christian (3:8b). Christ gave us a born-again nature the moment we believed in Him for eternal life (3:9; cf. 5:1). This new nature cannot sin (3:9). The way we can express this new nature is by not hating our Christian brothers and sisters (3:10b-15). When we do hate another believer, we are abiding in darkness and death (I John 2:11; 3:14b), and out of fellowship with Christ Who is eternal life (I John 3:15; cf. 1:1-2; 5:20). To remain in this condition does not jeopardize a believer’s salvation, but it does interrupt his or her fellowship with God (I John 1:5-2:11; 3:14-15) and puts them in danger of losing eternal rewards in the future (2 John 1:8; cf. I Cor. 3:8-15).
Prayer: Gracious heavenly Father, we praise You for giving us a born-again nature the moment we believed in Jesus so You could destroy the works of the Devil. Please enable us to visibly manifest that nature by loving our Christian brothers and sisters as Jesus loved us. We cannot be close to Jesus when we harbor hatred in our hearts toward other brothers and sisters in Christ at the same time. Please O Lord, increase our love for other Christians so we can grow closer to Christ and one another. Use our love for one another to draw the unsaved to Yourself. In the mighty name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we pray. Amen.
1. This is known as an ablative genitive of source in the Greek language. See Zane C. Hodges, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Epistles and Prophecy, Editors John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck (David C. Cook, 2018 Kindle Edition), Kindle Location 3855 and Joseph Dillow, Final Destiny: The Future Reign of The Servant Kings:Fourth Revised Edition (Grace Theology Press, 2018 Kindle Edition), pg. 500.
2. Zane C. Hodges; Robert Wilkin; J. Bond; Gary Derickson; Brad Doskocil; Dwight Hunt; Shawn Leach; The Grace New Testament Commentary: Revised Edition (Grace Evangelical Society, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 596.
3. Hodges, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Epistles and Prophecy, Location 3856 to 3861.
4. David R. Anderson, Maximum Joy: I John – Relationship or Fellowship? (Grace Theology Press, 2013 Kindle Edition), pg. 166.
6. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman, The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pp. 2943-2944.
7. Anderson, Maximum Joy, pp. 166-167.
8. Tom Constable, Dr. Constable’s Notes on I John, 2022 Edition, pg. 84.
9. Hodges, The Grace New Testament Commentary, pg. 596.
10. Hodges, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Epistles and Prophecy, Kindle Location 3883.
11. Hodges, The Grace New Testament Commentary, pg. 596.
12. Anderson, Maximum Joy, pg. 167.
13. Hodges, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Epistles and Prophecy, Kindle Location 3872 to 3877.
14. Anderson, Maximum Joy, pp. 168-169.
15. Ibid., pg. 169.
16. Hodges, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Epistles and Prophecy, Kindle Location 3892.
17. Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature: Third Edition (BDAG) revised and edited by Frederick William Danker (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000 Kindle Edition), pp. 630-631.
18. Evans, The Tony Evans Bible Commentary, pg. 2944.
19. Anderson, pg. 169.
20. Hodges, The Grace New Testament Commentary, pg. 597.
“If you know that He is righteous, you know that everyone who practices righteousness is born of Him.” I John 2:29
During the first quarter of the Monday night NFL game on January 2, 2023, between the Cincinnati Bengals and the Buffalo Bills, twenty-four-year-old Damar Hamlin of the Bills made a tackle and hopped up to his feet only to collapse to the ground a second later. Immediately, Bills’ assistant athletic trainer, Denny Kellington, jumped to action after Hamlin’s heart stopped beating and began administering CPR on the football field while players from both teams formed a wall around Damar. Eventually Hamlin’s heartbeat was restored after a defibrillator was used on him on the field.
Physicians at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center where Damar was taken after his collapse Monday night, stated on January 6th that his “breathing tube was removed overnight” and that “he continues to progress remarkably in his recovery.His neurologic function remains intact, and he has been able to talk to his family and care team.”1
At a recent press conference Bills head coach, Sean McDermott, said, “For an assistant to find himself at that position and needing to take the action that he did and step up and take charge like he did … is nothing short of amazing… The courage that that took … talk about a real leader, a real hero, in saving Damar’s life, and I just admire his strength.” 2
McDermott also praised the Bills entire medical team for their quick response. “Our medical team, they go through mock exercises for things like this, but we are never around to see that when they do that,” he said. “As they say, practice pays off, and it did in this case.”3
Kellington’s quick response is truly amazing. One of the doctors treating Hamlin at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center, Dr. William Knight IV, states, “There are injuries occasionally that happen on sports fields, be it in football or others, but it is incredibly rare to have something be this serious (and) that quickly recognized. Meeting the standard of what we would expect in that scenario is what has allowed us to be able to discuss these good outcomes today.”4
Another of Hamlin’s doctors, Dr. Timothy Pritt, also said, “had Hamlin’s care on the field been delayed by minutes or even seconds, his prognosis could’ve been quite different.” 5
Praise for Kellington’s life-saving actions has been overflowing on social media. Several fans are calling for him to be formally honored by the NFL. 6
Denny Kellington manifested that he was a hero through his actions. He, along with the Bills’ entire medical team, had practiced mock exercises for scenarios like Hamlin’s but it was Kellington who experienced this training at a much deeper level when he stepped up in the time of crisis. No doubt, the Bills have many athletic trainers on their team with impressive credentials, abilities, and knowledge regarding medical emergencies like Hamlin’s, but it was this specific trainer who manifested heroic character through his quick decisions and actions.
Why do I draw attention to this? Because I believe the author of I John would appreciate such a perspective. In our study of the book of I John, the apostle John introduced a new theme of having “confidence” or boldness before the Lord Jesus “at His coming” to motivate his Christian readers (2:12-14; 5:13) to continue to cultivate fellowship or intimacy with Christ (2:28). He uses one of his favorite terms for fellowship with God (“abide”) in verse 28 to emphasize the importance of cultivating intimacy with Christ in preparation for His return. Starting with verse 29, John begins to tell us how to prepare to have boldness at the prospect of Christ’s coming at any time (2:29-4:19). More specifically, in I John 2:29-3:10, John wants to talk about how to manifest with our actions that we are children of God. 7
John writes, “If you know that He is righteous, you know that everyone who practices righteousness is born of Him.” (I John 2:29). Some students of the Bible conclude that John is saying a true Christian will always practice righteousness. But let’s be clear. John does not say this.
“We must not make this verse say more than it does. John certainly does not say, ‘Whoever does not do righteousness is not born of Him.’ That would be an inference in no way justified by John’s statement. He is not talking here about how we can decide if a person is saved. If we know that a person believes (cf. 1 John 5:1 …), we can know he is saved. But here, John is clearly concerned with the deduction which we can make if we know that God is righteous. If that is known, it follows that one who to any extent reproduces His righteous nature is actually manifesting that nature and can rightly be perceived as born of Him.”8
“This verse does not say that everyone who is born of God practices righteousness. Believers can walk in darkness and sin (1:6, 8; 2:1). The point here is that when a child exhibits the nature of his or her father, he or she is perceived as the child of the father.” 9
John first says, “If you know that He is righteous” (Ean eidēte hotidikaios estin). This is a third-class condition in the Greek language which conveys probability. 10 The first Greek word translated “know” (eidēte) in this verse refers to intuitive or absolute knowledge. 11 The second word translated “know” (ginōskete) refers to experiential knowledge. 12 Hence, John is saying, “If you know intuitively or absolutely from the Scripture that Christ is righteous,and you probably do, then you know from experience that everyone who practices or does righteousness is born of Him.”
The only way children of God can be manifested is through Christ’s “righteous” behavior. When we see someone exhibit Christ’s righteous behavior, we can be sure they are born of God. This righteous behavior is not referring to humanistic kindness or morality which even non-Christians can manifest. This “righteousness” (“what is right” translates tēn dikaiosynēn) 13 is not possible apart from believing in Christ for new birth and loving one’s fellow Christians. 14 John writes, “And this is His commandment: that we should believe on the name of His Son Jesus Christ and love one another, as He gave us commandment.” (I John 3:23).
“John is not talking about how one can decide if a person is regenerate. John is clearly concerned with the deduction one can make if a person knows that God is righteous. If that is known, it follows that one who reproduces His righteous nature is actually manifesting that nature and can rightly be perceived as born of Him.”15
Does I John 2:29 mean that all children of God will manifest Christ’s righteous behavior or that all people manifesting Christ’s righteous behavior are children of God? Perhaps it would be helpful to illustrate using the NFL motif. Since our opening illustration involved a Buffalo Bills football player, let’s talk about Buffalo Bills football fans. Are all football fans Buffalo Bills fans? No. But are all Buffalo Bills fans football fans? Yes. Hence, are all Christians practicing Christ’s righteousness? No. But are all those practicing Christ’s righteousness Christians? Yes.
First John 2:29 does not say, “Everyone who does not practice righteousness is not born of Him.” John has already stated that Christians can walk in darkness and sin (1:6, 8, 10-2:1).John’s emphasis here is that when a child manifests the righteous nature of his or her father, he or she is perceived as a child of the father.
Getting back to the Damar Hamlin story involving the athletic trainer. I think we can safely assume that all the athletic trainers for the Buffalo Bills had a thorough knowledge of how to treat a player in Hamlin’s situation. But Denny Kellington manifested or experienced that knowledge when he sprang into action and helped save Damar’s life. The other trainers were still trainers even though they did not share Kellington’s experience. But Kellington manifested his trainer’s knowledge through his actions. And he has become a hero in the eyes of many people.
Not all Christians manifest Christ’s righteous behavior to the same degree. Practicing Christ’s righteousness is not automatic for Christians. We must choose to abide in Christ, to walk in the light as He is in the light to manifest His righteous behavior (1:5-2:6, 28). Those believers in Jesus who do will have more confidence and less shame when they stand before the Lord Jesus at His Judgment Seat (I Cor. 3:8-15; 2 Cor. 5:10; I John 2:28; 4:17-19). It is there they will hear Jesus say to them, “Well done, good and faithful servant; you were faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord.” (Matt. 25:21).
But those believers who do not manifest Jesus’ righteous behavior in their Christian lives “will be saved, yet so as through fire” at the Judgment Seat of Christ where they “will suffer [the] loss” of eternal rewards (I Cor. 3:15). They will hear Jesus say, “’26 You wicked and lazy servant, you knew that I reap where I have not sown, and gatherwhere I have not scattered seed… 28 So take the talent from him, and give it to him who has ten talents. 29 ‘For to everyone who has, more will be given, and he will have abundance; but from him who does not have, even what he has will be taken away. 30 And cast the unprofitable servant into the outer darkness. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Matt. 25:26, 28-30).
Notice the contrast of rewards between the faithful believer and the unfaithful believer in Matthew 25:14-30:
Faithful Believer’s Rewards
Unfaithful Believer’s Loss of Rewards
Commendation – “Well done, good and faithful servant.” Matt. 25:21a
Reprimanded – “You wicked and lazy servant, you knew that I reap where I have not sown, and gather where I have not scattered seed.” Matt. 25:26
Promotion – “you were faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things.” Matt. 25:21b
Demotion – “So take the talent from him, and give it to him who has ten talents… but from him who does not have, even what he has will be taken away.” Matt. 25:28-29
Included in the joy of co-ruling with Christ – “Enter into the joy of your lord.” Matt. 25:21c
Excluded from the joy of co-ruling with Christ – “And cast the unprofitable servantinto the outer darkness.There will be weeping andgnashing of teeth.” Matt. 25:30
In a manner of speaking, faithful Christians will be perceived as heroes because they manifested the righteous character of God their Father and God the Son through their actions on earth. These overcoming believers will receive special recognition throughout eternity when they enter the main gates of the New Jerusalem on the new earth (Rev. 22:14b). Each time they enter one of the main gates of the New Jerusalem, they will be given special honor perhaps before the angel at that gate (Rev. 21:12).
Jesus promised, “Also I say to you, whoever confesses Me before men, him the Son of Man also will confess before the angels of God.” (Luke 12:8). It may be when an overcoming believer who faithfully “confessed” Christ “before men” especially in hostile contexts (Luke 12:1-12; cf. Matt. 10:16-42) during his Christian life on earth, enters one of the main gates into the New Jerusalem in the life to come, the Lord Jesus will give a good confession (special recognition) about that believer to the angel of God at that gate. Jesus wants us to know that if we testify of Him in the face of hostile persecution during our Christian lives on earth, He will testify about us before the angels of God and God the Father in the life to come on the new earth (Luke 12:8; Matt. 10:32).
This confession by Christ may include the declaration that this faithful believer is fit to rule with Him because he or she endured opposition when speaking up for Christ throughout their entire Christian lives (cf. 2 Tim. 2:12; Matt. 10:16-32). 16 Believers on the inside of the city at that gate will stop what they are doing to welcome this overcomer into the city. Since overcomers will rule with Christ in His eternal kingdom (Rev. 2:25-27; 3:21), they will be honored as royalty each time they enter the New Jerusalem.
Those believers who do not faithfully confess Christ before hostile people in this life will still be on the new earth because the only condition for that is to believe in Christ for His gift of eternal life apart from any works, including confessing Him before men (cf. John 3:5-16; Ephes. 2:8-9; Rev. 21:27b). However, Jesus will “deny” giving them a good confession before God the Father and the angels of God because they refused to testify of Him in the face of opposition during their Christian lives on earth (Luke 12:9; Matt. 10:33). Hence, they will still be on the new earth, but they will not have the honor and privilege of entering through one of the main gates into the New Jerusalem. Christ has informed us now of this reward to motivate us to speak up for Him even though the cost may include losing our lives for Him.
Prayer: Gracious Father in heaven, we thank You for the gift of eternal life that we received the moment we believed in Your only begotten Son, Jesus Christ. It was our faith in Christ that resulted in being born into Your forever family. We praise You today for explaining how we can prepare to have more confidence and less shame before the Lord Jesus when He returns for His church. Please help us manifest Your righteous nature through our actions – especially loving one another – so others can perceive we are Your children, and You are our Father. In the matchless name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we pray. Amen.
1. Lindsay Lowe’s January 6, 2023, article originally published on Today.com entitled, “Fans want the trainer who saved Damar Hamlin’s life with CPR in the Football Hall of Fame” at www.news.yahoo.com.
7. Zane C. Hodges, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Epistles and Prophecy, Editors John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck (David C. Cook, 2018 Kindle Edition), Kindle Location 3767 to 3775.
8. Tom Constable, Dr. Constable’s Notes on I John, 2022 edition, pp. 67-68 cites Zane C. Hodges, The Epistles of John: Walking in the Light of God’s Love (Irving, Tex.: Grace Evangelical Society, 1999), pg. 127.
9. Constable, pg. 68 cites The Nelson Study Bible, Edited by Earl D. Radmacher (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1997), pg. 2144.
10. Archibald Thomas Robertson, A. T. Robertson’s Word Pictures in the New Testament [with Bible and Strong’s Numbers Added!], 6 Volumes (E4 Group, 2014 Kindle Edition), Kindle Location 205650.
12. Ibid., Kindle Location 205650 to 205667.
13. Hodges, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Epistles and Prophecy, Kindle Location 3771.
14. Zane C. Hodges, Robert Wilkin; J. Bond; Gary Derickson; Brad Doskocil; Dwight Hunt; Shawn Leach; The Grace New Testament Commentary: Revised Edition (Grace Evangelical Society, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 594.
16. Hal Haller, Jr., Robert Wilkin; J. Bond; Gary Derickson; Brad Doskocil; Zane Hodges; Dwight Hunt; Shawn Leach; The Grace New Testament Commentary: Revised Edition (Grace Evangelical Society, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 58.