In our last message, a reader was sending me passages that he thought called into question the idea of eternal security, or that once you are saved, you are always saved. This time, he continues with yet more passages.
Reader: I hope you’re not getting annoyed. But I have a little bit more.
No, that’s fine! I’m happy to answer your questions.
“Whoever *believes* in the Son *has eternal life*; whoever *does not obey*the Son *shall not see life*, but *the wrath of God remains* on him.” -John 3:36
Here it seems to be very clear that there is a connection between believing (taking God at his Word and acting accordingly) and receiving eternal life, and then, not obeying God and His wrath remaining on the person.
The translation of apeitheo by “not obey” seems questionable to me. Yet to translate it “not believe,” as the New King James does, makes it out as if it is the same word for “believe” again as earlier in the verse, which it is not. The word seems to have to do with the response of faith. That is, one who knows the truth because he has been informed of it, and yet who refuses to act upon it. Such a person is “apeitheo.” If you want to, you can check it out for yourself.
Note especially such phrases as “obey the truth.” How do you obey the truth? By responding to the truth you know. One who does not respond, does not truly believe in the Son, and does not have eternal life. The verse is providing a contrast between one who believes in the Son with one who knows the truth about the Son but who refuses to respond to it. It has nothing to do with what you might do after you do believe in the Son.
And then, if you connect this with the following verses concerning works, or obeying God it seems to exemplify this.
“What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? *Can that faith save him?* If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good (or benefit) is that? So also *faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.* But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that God is one; you do well. *Even the demons believe*–and shudder! Do you want to be shown you foolish person, that* faith apart from works is useless*? Was not Abraham our father *justified by works* when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? You see that *faith was active along with his works*, and faith was completed by his works; and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness? –and he was called a friend of God. You see that a person is *justified by works and not by faith alone.* And in the same way was not also Rahab the prostitute justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? For as the body apart form the spirit is dead, so also *faith apart form works is dead*.” -James 2:14-26
James questions that faith can save a person that does not have works. He goes on to say that it is dead, or that someone will find it is useless. It seems you must be justified with works. For faith can not be completed without it. And I don’t know if incompleted faith is the kind that is acceptable in Ephesians 2:8. For demons believe too, however I am not sure if it is in the same way that we believe. Do demons really act and think accordingly to the Word of God? I don’t believe that their belief/faith saves them. So the question is, does the faith that may have been initiated with a work need to be continual? Maybe, when James was referring to people that have “faith without works” he was trying to explain how people have tried to call themselves faithful, even though they are not. I have reason to believe that a person that truly has faith, will also have works (as in obeying God, i.e. loving him and others) accompanying them.
Faith is useless without a proper response to faith. Even the demons believe that the Lord exists. Yet their response is to hate Him and to do everything they can against Him. This is not the work of faith. The work that is related to faith is the work that is demanded by faith. I believe that there are three possible responses that can be required by faith. First is just believing things as a fact. For example, if I read in the Bible that Isaac was the son of Abraham, all I can do with that is believe that to be a fact. I do not have to change my life in any way to believe that statement. I didn’t believe that Abraham’s son was named Tennyson before, and now I have to change my mind. All I have to do is catalogue this fact and believe it to be true.
Secondly, suppose I had always believed and been taught that the universe made itself with a giant explosion. Then, I read in the Word of God that in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now to believe this, I have to change my mind. I used to think something differently, but now I have to think this. If I do not, I have not had faith. It requires more than just cataloguing a fact, because now I have to change my mind, and change my thinking.
Thirdly, suppose I was in the habit of lying to people all the time. Yet then I read in Ephesians 4 that I should put away lying. To believe this passage, I will have to change my behavior. I cannot say that I believe this passage if I continue to lie. I can only say I believe it if I stop lying, and instead speak truth with my neighbor, as God commands. Thus, to have faith in this passage, I must change what I do, and maybe even how I live.
Now you can see that different passages might require a different response from different people. “Be not drunk with wine” does not require a change of lifestyle for one who didn’t drink anyway, but it demands a huge change for a drunkard. It depends on the person and the situation.
A true faith in Christ, for many people, will require only a change of mind. For some, it might just be cataloguing a fact, if nothing really was believed about Christ before then. For some, it might require a huge change of lifestyle, if that person was a believer in some false god or religion before then. How the response of faith looks will change from person to person and situation to situation. Yet faith in any truth of God, including saving faith in Christ, requires a response. Yet in the case of salvation, which is not really James’ topic here, there is a difference. That is that at some point God accepts us when we believe in Christ, and He makes us a part of Him. From that point on, we are “in Christ.” He does that when we believe, it is true. But from then on it is about Him. He keeps us in Christ, not the other way around. But that is not what James was talking about. Yet what he says is true enough: if you say you believe something, and yet do not evidence a true response to it, you were probably lying, and didn’t really believe it at all.
From our perspective, the only way that we can confirm that someone is a true believe is if they act like it. But that is not how God discerns it. Maybe they did respond at one time, and yet now have let themselves slide back into a wicked lifestyle. Believers can do this. Ultimately, it is not our job to make a determination about the faith of everyone we run into. What is important is that we believe in Christ, and that we proclaim true faith to others. In some cases, when we get to the life to come, we might be surprised who really did believe, and who really did not.
I don’t understand how 2 Timothy 2:13 works with what I am thinking. For I know God can’t deny himself. But, with all these verses that I have been e-mailing you, it seems that there must be more to it. Or there is a huge concept that I don’t understand. I also am trying to figure out how all these fit with rightly dividing the Bible. I really appreciate your looking into this for me.
I hope you are getting a better idea of these things through what I am writing to you. There is more to some of these things, and rightly dividing is a big part of it. Let me know if you have further questions, which you probably do.