•••by Russell Young
Each of us wants assurance of an eternal hope. The apostle John has provided clarification concerning this matter, but did not let assurance rest on a confession of faith once made. Near the end of his first epistle he has recorded: “I wrote these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.” (1 Jn 5:13, NIV) The things that he wrote were contained in his first letter. From his epistle fifteen characteristics have been identified that expose knowledge of the believer’s hope. A person may know that he or she has eternal life if they:
- enjoy fellowship with Christ and the Father. (1:3, 2:24)
- do not keep on sinning. (2:29, 3:6,9)
- obey God’s commands (2:3, 3:24, 5:3)
- do not love this world or the things in it (2:15, 16, 5:4)
- purify themselves. (3:3)
- see a decreasing pattern of sin in his or her life. (3:3, 6, 9, 5:18)
- love other Christians. (2:9, 10, 3:10, 14, 4: 7, 11, 12, 4:19-20)
- experience answered prayer. (3:22)
- experience the ministry of the Holy Spirit. (2:27, 3:20, 24, 4:13)
- know the truth; can discern between spiritual truth and error. (2:21, 3:6)
- suffer rejection (hated) because of their faith. (3:13)
- love others. (4:7)
- have concern about the material needs of others. (3:17)
- are like Christ in this world. (4:17)
- have a clear conscience. (3:21)
No one can “work” to achieve what is required for eternal life and a single confession of faith will not accomplish it. Without the Spirit the believer does not have the capacity to accomplish that which is needed, but would be left with his or her own sinful nature and a demanding body. The life that manifests these characteristics is being worked in the believer by the Spirit of Christ in order that the Lord might be the first-born among many brothers and sisters in his likeness. A person’s work is to believe and to believe to the extent that he or she is willing to submit to the leadership of the Holy Spirit (Heb 5:9; Rom 8:4). The transformed believer will display the identified characteristics.
A person’s eternal salvation is not accomplished by adhering to the practices of an institution, nor living by a list of rules. It does not take place through a specific religious experience or by engaging in a certain type of service. Neither is it superficial “belief” that lacks trust and obedience. Eternal salvation comes through Christ and the believer’s personal relationship with him. The hopeful person must practice obedience so that Christ might live in and through the person who claims his name. (Col 1:27) A relationship must develop that leads the believer in a righteous walk because that is the only walk engaged by the Lord.
The apostle Paul said, “I discipline my body like an athlete, training it to do what it should. Otherwise, I fear that after preaching to others I might be disqualified.” (1 Cor 9:27, NLT) He did not rest in the belief that he had mastered the life of faith.
God does not want his people to walk in fear but in love for him and in obedience to his will. Perfect love (which is obedience) casts out all fear and like the Israelites of old, his people have been told of his expectations. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” (Mt 22:37, NIV)
The love that God expects is revealed in a close relationship with him. It requires reading his Word so that the Spirit might use it for any cleansing that is necessary to accomplish the believer’s transformation and develop holiness. And, it is based on an active prayer life through which sin is confessed and forgiveness sought so that a clean conscience can be maintained. The importance of being made holy, washed by the cleansing of God’s Word (Eph 5:26), was made clear by Paul. Righteous thoughts and actions lead to holiness (Rom 6:19, 22) and without holiness no one will see the Lord. (Heb 12:14)
All of God’s creation was fashioned for his good pleasure. Humankind is part of that creation. When all is said and done, God will be eternally satisfied with his work and the transformed believer. Those who have listened to his voice, who possess the characteristics of his Son and those revealed by John, will be part of his eternal joy.