The Promise And The Prize: On Losing Eternal Life, Part 1

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Eternal Life as a biblical concept isn’t this simple. Image Credit: Facebook/Favorite King James Bible Verses (@KingJamesVerses)

Growing up in Baptist life, it was made evident to me from the earliest times I could remember that Free Will Baptists were “the only Baptists” that believed one could lose their salvation, that the idea was absurd, and that most mainstream Christians holding to the truth of Scripture didn’t approve of such a view. So I grew up assuming that the view itself was heretical.

That was until I arrived at seminary some 13 years ago and started studying Calvinism and Arminianism on my own, apart from professors, fellow students, and televangelists. I decided I wanted the Lord to speak to me apart from all the voices that would sway me in one direction or another. And what I discovered, to my surprise, was that I too, believed in apostasy, that it made sense. If I didn’t adhere to it, there was so much of Scripture that would remain an enigma. When God said that “My Soul has no pleasure in him,” that is, the one who “shrinks back” (Hebrews 10:38), what did it mean if it didn’t mean that “the just,” who “lived by faith,” couldn’t lose his faith? And what do we do with Paul’s words that “we are not of those who shrink back to perdition but believe to the saving of the soul” (Hebrews 10:39) if he’s not addressing believers but fake Christians?

The picture and statement above remind me why I studied Calvinism and Arminianism for the last 13 years: because a large number of Christians want to provide pithy statements on the subject without understanding the true nature of the discussion. A friend shared the post with me on Facebook, and I thought it’d be a fruitful discussion here at The Essential Church.

What’s Wrong With The Statement? On Losing Eternal Life

What’s wrong with the statement “If you can lose eternal life it was never eternal to begin with”? Well, it makes sense from a distance: if something is yours, and it’s “eternal,” as in the phrase “eternal life,” then it’s forever yours. That is, it cannot be lost. So, the King James Bible advocate in the poster, by publishing it at Facebook, is saying a few things: 1) eternal life is “eternal” for a reason; 2) eternal life is theirs, they possess it, and 3) eternal life cannot be lost.

I agree that eternal life is “eternal” for a reason. I also agree that the believer has eternal life, though not in every sense of possessing it. But where I disagree clearly is when the KJV advocate says that eternal life cannot be lost. And part of why I believe eternal life can be lost is because I don’t see eye-to-eye with the KJV advocate when it comes to the believer’s current possession of eternal life. That is, #2 above plays a role in why I disagree with #3.

So, with those frank statements out of the way, let’s get to each of these inferred statements in further detail.

Eternal Life: Eternal For A Reason

Eternal Life is called “eternal” for a reason: it lasts forever. There’s no mention in the Bible of someone in Heaven, living with God, who is then “kicked out of Heaven” and sent to Hell. Satan is mentioned as having been created a beautiful angel who then rebelled against God and led one-third of the angelic hosts against God Himself. Of course, Satan wasn’t successful (this isn’t a surprise when you consider he opposed the “Almighty” God), and he and his minions were kicked out of Heaven. Keep in mind, though, that Satan and the fallen angels are not human beings; Jesus only died for “sons of Abraham,” that is, human beings (Hebrews 2:16).

So, with that said, no human that is actually experiencing eternal life in Heaven with God will be “kicked out of Heaven” for any reason. Why? Because eternal life is “eternal” for a reason: it lasts forever, without end, amen.

So, if you’re living eternally, you cannot die. The reason? Because eternal life lasts forever. This is the reason why God the Father has never died, won’t die today, and can never die, and why Jesus, God the Son, had to take on human flesh to die on the Cross. In His eternal state, He could not die; only with human flesh, in time, could the Eternal Son of God die for the sins of humanity.

Eternal life is forever. There is no loss of eternal life when one is experiencing it. The Son of God lives forever in eternity, outside of time, and cannot die. The Trinity is Eternal and, possessing divinity alone in eternity, cannot die. And since “flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Corinthians 15:50), no human is living in eternity with their human bodies. Humans become disembodied spirits at death because they part ways with their earthly bodies or earthly tabernacle (2 Corinthians 5:1).

They will have resurrected bodies, glorified bodies, that can inhabit the new heaven and the new earth, but these bodies will not be flesh and blood. Flesh and blood bodies are from time, while the new glorified bodies will be designed for eternity. Time and eternity are two separate spheres, similar to how earth and space are two separate spheres.

Eternal Life As Current Possession: Do We Have It, Or Not?

Next on the list of assumptions made by the KJV group is that we currently have eternal life; believers currently have eternal life, and that, having it, they cannot lose it. Since eternal life is eternal, then, it cannot be lost.

But there is a flaw in this argument: while believers currently have eternal life, there’s a sense in which we do not. This is why we read in Matthew 19:16 that the rich young ruler asked, “Good Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?” The rich young ruler wasn’t asking about obtaining eternal life in the future, but rather, possessing eternal life now: the word “have” is present tense, referring to the present time, now.

John 6:54 says, “Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.” Now here the Lord isn’t referring to cannibalism, that is, the actual eating of His flesh and drinking of His blood. What He is referring to, though, are those who receive Him as Lord and Savior. This statement of “eating My flesh and drinking My blood” points to Holy Communion or the Lord’s Supper, as believers eat the bread (Jesus calls Himself “the bread of life” in John 6:35, 48; Jesus says His flesh is the bread He gives for the sins of the world, John 6:51) and drink the cup (the cup representing His blood shed on the cross at Calvary, see Matthew 26:28, Mark 14:24, Luke 22:20). But notice that the one who “eats” and “drinks,” present tense verbs, “has eternal life.” They have eternal life now, in the present world.

These two verses point to eternal life as a present possession, as something believers own now.

And yet, there are verses that point to eternal life as something to be experienced in the future:

29 So Jesus answered and said, “Assuredly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for My sake and the gospel’s, 30 who shall not receive a hundredfold now in this time—houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions—and in the age to come, eternal life. (Mark 10:29-30, NKJV)

Jesus says here that those who have abandoned earthly possessions and family for the gospel will receive far more “and in the age to come, eternal life.” Notice here that Jesus says that they will “receive” eternal life “in the age to come,” that is, in eternity. The age to come is a different age than this current age, so the reception of eternal life is painted here as something we receive in the future (not something we have in the here and now). This is in contrast to the above information, where Jesus says believers “have” eternal life here and now.

Another verse is Titus 1:2, where Paul says that believers have faith “in hope of eternal life which God, who cannot lie, promised before time began.” Notice that believers have “the hope of eternal life,” that God “promised” it before time in eternity past. This tells us that eternal life is a hope here, a wish, not a reality experienced; that is, we have the promise of eternal life, and the possession of it (as we’ve seen above), though the actual, tangible experience of it won’t occur until we’re in eternity with Christ. Titus 3:7 tells us that it is “the hope of eternal life,” and we know that a “hope” is not something experienced but a wish. If you “hope” to get a new game console for Christmas, for example, you don’t have it yet but want one. Wishing for something and having it in your hands are two different experiences: in one case, you have nothing but a wish, in the other, you have the item wished for.

Paul says as much when he refers to being saved “in hope,” that “hope that is seen is not hope; for why does one still hope for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with perseverance” (Romans 8:24-25). That is, if we have it already, if we see it already, then we have no need to hope for it. You don’t hope for your paycheck if you already have it. The same can be said for the promise of eternal life. If we see eternal life and are already experiencing it in its fullness, then what are we believers hoping for? Why do we “walk by faith and not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7) if our faith has already become sight?

So, if we’re still hoping for eternal life, it is a promise (we have the hope of eternal life, Paul says in Titus 1:2; 3:7). And if it is a promise, then we don’t have it yet.

At this point, some would ask, “Well, if it’s a current possession though we don’t have it yet, but it is a promise, then what do we experience here?” The answer pertains to the fact that as believers, we see signs from God that accompany believers, such as speaking in tongues, casting out demons, and laying hands on the sick and seeing them recover (Mark 16:17-18, 20). Hebrews calls these and others “the powers of the age to come,” (Hebrews 6:5), and the fact that even apostates (those who ultimately give up their faith in Christ that they once held dear) experience these powers shows that some of the heavenly powers of the eternal age to come are experienced in the here and now in church life among both temporary and permanent believers.

Conclusion

So with these questions and answers, only one remains: with eternal life being both a current possession with some present aspect experienced here and much of it being a future reality, can eternal life be lost? That’s a question whose answer we’ll tackle in the next post. Stay tuned.