Anyone who believes in Jesus has everlasting life. That life is not given at some point in the distant future, but at the moment at which the person believes. Believing in Jesus is a one-time event that gives the born-again believer a gift which cannot be earned, returned, or lost. Those who claim that salvation can be lost have either misunderstood when salvation is given or how long it lasts. If you ask the average christian most would confidently reply that it happens when a person dies. However, that’s not what Jesus says. Notice how he words the experience of salvation in John 3:36.
He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.”1
If you didn’t catch it, look again at the present tense verb, has. He affirms that the one who believes currently has everlasting life. If someone currently has something that lasts forever how long will they have it? It seems silly that we should have to ask such a simple-minded question. Yet, the truth has become so blinded by confusion that many think everlasting life is not everlasting. If it’s received when he believes it must start at that moment and last for eternity future. Otherwise, Jesus should not have called it everlasting life, but instead temporary life.
This is the amazing gift that God has given all those who have believed. Everlasting life. Certainly, there has never been such a tremendous gift presented to the world.
All who have believed in Jesus for everlasting life are absolutely and eternally saved. There is nothing that can remove the gift of God since it is Jesus who is the guarantor of that gift. However, in speaking to a group of believers, the Apostle John says this in 1 John 3:15.
Whoever hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.2
At first glance, it seems as if everything that we said about everlasting life has been undone by this simple phrase. John seems to be saying that anyone who has hate in his heart and mind toward another human being is unsaved. Thus the converse would seem to be true as well, that only those who love their brothers are saved.
This creates a problem since all of the salvation verses that we’ve looked at do not say that loving a brother is a condition for gaining everlasting life. It’s true that Jesus commanded all disciples to love one another,3 but he did not say that anyone’s salvation was dependent upon their ability to love. So, what is John getting at here? What does he mean by saying that eternal life does not abide in the one who hates?
The answer is connected to the word abide. John uses the word abide in a specific way in both his gospel and his letters. See the previous chapter for a more thorough look at what it means to abide in Christ. A little extra context will help us understand what John is trying to teach us. Notice what he says, only a few verses earlier.
He who does not love his brother abides in death.4
Remember that abide is often translated as, stay or remain. John points out that the world is full of hate and suffers the consequence of death as a result. The believer has this amazing opportunity to leave a life of death-consequences behind. However, for the believer who hates he is choosing to remain in the midst of death and its influence. He has been given everlasting life, and has the means to leave but instead, he chooses to stay.
So John is setting up this contrast between what a hate-filled believer does, and what he ought to do. This amazing opportunity to come into the light and leave the shackles of death behind is expressed by John in the same verse when he says,
We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love the brethren.5
It’s not salvation which is in view here, but instead the choice of a believer who wants to leave the hate-filled life behind with all of its trappings of death. Crossing from death to life presents a beautiful image of a believer who chooses to release his hate and forgive his fellow brethren.
It’s almost as if he is speaking of two separate locations in which a believer can decide to live. A saved person can choose to abide in the place of death by being hateful, or they can choose to abide in the place of life by being loving. Either way, they have salvation, but one choice is clearly superior. With that description in view, let’s look once more at the verse in question.
Whoever hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.6
If a believer chooses to abide in the place of hate and death, he does that against the wishes of Jesus. A saved person who hates, chooses that on his own, by himself, alone. However, there is an interesting swap when a believer chooses to abide in Christ. John changes the wording to reflect that the abiding believer is not just abiding in eternal life, but instead, eternal life is abiding in the believer. This harkens back to Jesus’ famous words when he said,
He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing.7
Jesus explains that if you choose the path of abiding, you won’t be alone in that decisions. He shows that it’s not just the believer who abides in Christ, but it’s Christ who abides in the believer as long as the believer chooses to stay. Although it may not be easy, Jesus promises to work with us to strengthen our ability to remain in him. The fact that John says eternal life can abide in us, is not surprising. Especially when you consider that he calls Jesus by the name Eternal Life at the end of this same letter.8
The believer can either choose to abide in Christ or not. When the believer chooses to abide he becomes a disciple and there are expectations placed on disciples. Discipleship requires that he remove hate from his life. As that happens he crosses over from the place of hate and death to the place where Christ, the giver of eternal life. All of this leads us to this simple point. Having eternal life abiding inside is a discipleship term. The believer will be saved regardless of his decisions to allow eternal life to abide within. For all those who choose the life of discipleship and seek to have eternal life abide inside, the reward will be great in this life and the next.
1 John 3:36.
2 1 John 3:15.
3 John 13:34
4 1 John 3:14.
5 1 John 3:14.
6 1 John 3:15.
7 John 15:5.
8 1 John 5:20