I did something stupid to one of my friends. It was something that got me into trouble with him. He was right to be mad at me over it. Let me explain.
Financially, he was in a tight spot a number of years back. He was between jobs and needed some cash. I had an old drum set that I hadn’t played in years. It was sitting in my garage collecting dust. I loaded it into the back of my car and drove it over to my friend’s house across town.
As I unloaded it into his garage, I explained that I was giving my drums to him as a gift. My intention was that he sell them and use the money to pay bills until he got his next job. I left feeling good about what I had done. However, he never sold the drums. He got some good news not long after I'd given him my drum kit. He'd found a job, and his financial situation turned around quickly.
So those drums sat in his garage. I kind of wanted them back, but I didn't have a good reason. He was using them to practice with his band, so I left them there. That is, until I got a gig with a band I used to play with. It was just a short revival, but I used it as an excuse to go take the drums back. He let me and didn't complain, but looking back, that was a pretty crummy thing to do.
My reasoning was that I had intended him to use the drums for a particular purpose. He didn't use them for that so I saw fit to take them back. It wasn't long after that we had a big ugly fight about the drums. We patched it up, and he's still one of my best friends though it was not a good thing for me to do.
I had given him a gift, and when I saw he wasn’t using the way I had intended, I revoked the gift. In a way that’s how many people see salvation. They believe that salvation is a gift, but if they don’t do good works now that they are saved Jesus will revoke the gift. There are some big problems with this idea, which is what we’re going to look at in this section.
In the Gospel of John Jesus explained, “He who believes in Me, believes not in Me but in Him who sent Me….” (John 12:44-45) Thus, believing in the one who sent Jesus is the equivalent to believing in Jesus. Knowing that will help make sense of this verse:
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)
In John 5:24 Jesus states three things that happen for the one who believes. First, the person has everlasting life. Everlasting life is the present possession of the believer. As a host of scholars have noticed,1 the believer does not wait until death to receive the gift of eternal life.2 The person has it the moment they believe. That the gift of life is everlasting is self-evident from the title. Thus, if eternal life is the present possession of the believer, then the believer’s possession of it must be eternal as well. A gift of life that lasts anything less than forever is not the gift of eternal life.
The second guarantee the believer receives is that he will not pass into judgment. After death the believer will not be subject to penalties.3 Jesus has not only explained the present possession of eternal life but now the guaranteed future of the same. You not only get it the moment you believe, but you can never shake it. It’s sticky.
I have a number of atheist friends who were believers when they were younger. I’ve told them on a number of occasions that I’m convinced that they are saved (provided that they believed in Jesus at some point in the past). This is a no-matter-what-happens promise. More than one of my atheist friends found this incredibly frustrating. They apparently wanted to maintain that the Bible was a condemning book. I’ve had a few atheists quote verses from the Bible at me to try to prove that they were not saved. What a weird situation. I just smile and say, “If you believed in Jesus at any point in your life, then you’re going to be in Heaven when you die. Sorry.”
The third promise offered to the believer in John 5:24 is that they have passed from death to life. Passed in Greek means ‘go to another place,’4 basically the same as it means in English. All people will pass from life to death, but Jesus offers the reversal of this state of affairs to the one who believes in Him. This passage is a one-way road. If you pass from death to life, you can’t pass back into death once again. This is a one way trip.
These three past, present, and future promises show the nature of eternal life. It is a final transaction that happens at the moment one believes in Him.
John 5:24 is not the only place in John that affirms that eternal life is a present possession. Note the precise wording of the present possessive verbs in these statements found throughout the Gospel of John.
He who believes in the Son has everlasting life… (John 3:36)
… He who… believes in Him… has everlasting life… (John 5:24)
… He who believes in Me has everlasting life. (John 6:47)
Once again Jesus uses the same wording to describe eternal life as a present possession. The one who has believed5 in Jesus at some point in the past currently has eternal life. This present reality of salvation provides the reader with a wonderful sense of assurance.6 There can be no doubt for the person who has believed in Jesus: they will have the irrevocable gift of everlasting life from that point forward.
Have you believed in Jesus for this salvation? If so you still have it, no matter what. There are no exceptions. Any exceptions to this would make Jesus a liar. You don’t want to imply that Jesus lied do you? If you’ve believed His promise of eternal life given to you for your belief in Him, then you have that life forever without exception.
1 See: Andreas J. Köstenberger, Encountering John: The Gospel in Historical, Literary, and Theological Perspective, ed. Walter A. Elwell, Second Edition., Encountering Biblical Studies (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2013), 160. Also: D. A. Carson, The Gospel according to John, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Leicester, England; Grand Rapids, MI: Inter-Varsity Press; W.B. Eerdmans, 1991), 214. Also: Charles Caldwell Ryrie, Ryrie Study Bible: New American Standard Bible, 1995 Update, Expanded ed. (Chicago: Moody Press, 1995), 1685. Also: Earl D. Radmacher, Ronald Barclay Allen, and H. Wayne House, Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Commentary (Nashville: T. Nelson Publishers, 1999), 1321. Also: Leon Morris, The Gospel according to John, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1995), 219. Also Brooke Foss Westcott and Arthur Westcott, eds., The Gospel according to St. John Introduction and Notes on the Authorized Version, Classic Commentaries on the Greek New Testament (London: J. Murray, 1908), xlviii. Also: Tom Constable, Tom Constable’s Expository Notes on the Bible (Galaxie Software, 2003), Jn 3:36. Also:
2 Anderson, David R.. Free Grace Soteriology: Revised Edition . Grace Theology Press. (Kindle Location 2057).
3 William Arndt et al., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 569.
4 Horst Robert Balz and Gerhard Schneider, Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1990–), 414.
5 As can be seen in John 11:27 according to translations such as NASB, BLB, ASV, DRB, ERV, and YLT.
6 Gerald L. Borchert, John 1–11, vol. 25A, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1996), 195.