1 John series: (post #8)
With this post we launch into the list of the final five evidences of salvation that are named in 1 John. The first five evidences were:
- You desire fellowship with your fellow Christians.
- You walk in the light (the light of Christ’s teachings).
- You keep Christ’s commandments.
- You love your fellow Christians.
- You don’t love the world (the Satanic world system that dominates civilization).
Now, evidence #6 of salvation is what I’ll call “being an overcomer.” By this I mean that real-deal Christians will never lose their salvation by falling away from the truth about Jesus. Much to the contrary, they will continually persevere in the Christian faith. As the renowned preacher Adrian Rogers used to say, “The faith that fizzles before the finish had a flaw from the first.”
In 1 John 2:18-19, the apostle John writes:
Little children, it is the last hour; and as you have heard that the Antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come, by which we know that it is the last hour. They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us; but they went out that they might be made manifest, that none of them were of us. (N.K.J.V.)
Notice that John draws a clear line of distinction between THE antichrist (a man he says is coming) and antichrists (people he says have already come). So, who are these “antichrists” who have already come? They are people who exhibit what John calls in 1 John 4:3 “the spirit of antichrist.” As for what the spirit of antichrist is, he tells us in 1 John 4:3-4:
and every spirit that does not confess not that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not of God. And this is the spirit of the Antichrist, which you have heard was coming, and is now already in the world. You are of God, little children, and have overcome them, because He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. (N.K.J.V.)
What John describes here were the beginnings of a false teaching called Gnosticism that history proves would soon become a major doctrinal threat to the early churches. Gnosticism took its name from gnosis, the common Greek noun for “knowledge,” and was influenced by Greek philosophers such as Plato. Gnosticism was supposedly a higher form of knowledge that was even greater than apostolic teaching and God-inspired scripture.
Gnostic teachers taught that anything that consisted of physical matter was inherently evil while anything that consisted only of spirit was good. Based upon this erroneous belief, they denied the divinity of Jesus the man and asserted that He was just a human being until “the Christ,” whom they considered to be an angel or some other type of supernatural being or entity, descended upon Him at His baptism and departed at His death. To all that, John says, “No! Jesus Himself is the Christ, and He really did come in the flesh.” He then adds in that anyone who denies that Jesus Christ has divinely come in the flesh is not of God (implying that the person does not have God the Holy Spirit) but has instead the spirit of the coming Antichrist.
Concerning these antichrists who were energized by the same spirit by which the coming Antichrist will be energized, notice again that John says in 1 John 2:19: “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us…” Evidently, these Gnostic teachers had once professed to be Christians. They had once claimed to believe in Jesus and had probably even been baptized and had attended the churches of the day. But their supposed Christianity hadn’t lasted. Somewhere along the way they had fallen away from the truth about Jesus, had embraced the doctrine of Gnosticism, and had abandoned their illegitimate Christianity.
A second passage where John touches upon this idea that the true Christian will overcome is 1 John 5:4-5. This is where John literally uses the word “overcome.” Those verses say:
For whatever is born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world — our faith. Who is he who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God? (N.K.J.V.)
You see, the true Christian is a person who has been born of God (“born again” as Jesus explained to Nicodemus in John 3:1-21). Since the Holy Spirit is the One who creates the new birth inside the Christian, this means that the Christian has God the Holy Spirit literally dwelling inside his or her body. As for how the indwelling Holy Spirit empowers the Christian to be an overcomer who never falls away from Jesus, John gives his answer in that 1 John 4:4 verse. There, he explains that the Spirit is greater than he who is in the world. Consequently, nothing about the world system — not even Satan himself or any other fallen angel — can make the true Christian quit the Christian faith.
Please notice also that John doesn’t say: “And this is the victory that has overcome the world — our performance.” If he had said that, it would mean that Christians would have to do good works in order to remain saved and become overcomers. But John says that what produces the victory that overcomes the world is “our faith.” That is a reference to each Christian’s initial saving faith (belief) in Jesus. It’s that initial faith (belief) that causes the Holy Spirit to take up residence inside the Christian and produce the inner born-again experience. The Spirit’s continuing presence then enables the Christian to persevere in the Christian faith by overcoming the wicked world system.
Of course, a Christian having the indwelling Holy Spirit and thus being an overcomer does not mean that Christian will never sin. As a matter of fact, John actually gives instructions for what the Christian should do after committing a sin. In 1 John 1:8-10, he writes:
If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (N.K.J.V.)
Likewise, in 1 John 2:1-2, he writes:
My little children, these things I write to you, so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world. (N.K.J.V.)
Notice that losing salvation (failing to be an overcomer) is still not on the table even when the Christian sins. At some point following the sin, the indwelling Holy Spirit will compel the Christian to confess the sin, and Jesus will then provide the forgiveness and the cleansing. This forgiveness and cleansing will have nothing to do with the Christian either remaining saved or getting saved again. It will be, rather, all about the Christian getting back into right fellowship (not relationship) with the Lord.
Regarding sin in the life of the Christian, the absolute worst case scenario is a sin that John calls in 1 John 5:16 “a sin leading to death” (N.K.J.V.) or “a sin unto death” (K.J.V.), This isn’t a specific type of sin but can be any sin that causes God to end the Christian’s earthly life prematurely. The Christian couple Ananias and Sapphira committed a sin leading to death (Acts 5:1-11) as did some of the Christians in the church of Corinth (1 Corinthians 11:17-34). In the case of Ananias and Sapphira, their sin unto death was lying about how much they were donating to the church from a recent business transaction. In the case of those Christians in Corinth, their sin unto death was partaking of The Lord’s Supper (Communion) in an unworthy manner.
It should be understood, though, that even in the case of a Christian committing a sin that leads to death, that Christian’s soul still goes immediately to heaven at the moment of physical death. That is a benefit of being an overcomer. Again, it is that Christian’s initial saving faith (belief), not that Christian’s continued performance of good works, that makes that Christian an overcomer because that initial saving faith (belief) is what causes God the Holy Spirit to take up residence inside that Christian.
So, to sum up, one of the most decisive evidences for any Christian’s salvation, even a Christian who commits a sin that leads to a premature death, is that Christian’s ability to overcome the world and never lose salvation. If, at any point in life, a professed Christian falls away from the Christian faith, that should not be interpreted as a legitimate Christian losing his or her salvation. It should, instead, be interpreted as that person never having experienced genuine salvation, and that lack of salvation eventually manifesting itself.
I once heard a true Christian, a pastor, give his testimony. After serving faithfully as a pastor for a few years, he began to have doubts about Jesus, the Bible, and just about everything else. As a result, he quit the ministry, got a secular job, and backslid far away from Jesus. Looking back upon that time in his life, he said, “If I could have lost my salvation, I would have.”
But do you know what happened to that man? He eventually reached a point where he confessed his sins, repented of them, and got back into full-time service for Christ. He is currently serving as the pastor of a large church and enjoys helping fellow pastors who are struggling with certain aspects of their lives and ministries. How was it possible for that man to make such an amazing turnaround? It was possible because he got the real-deal salvation when he first placed his faith (belief) in Jesus as Savior, and there is an overcoming dynamic to such a salvation. It is the indwelling Holy Spirit who provides this dynamic, and just as He overcomes the world, so will the person whom He indwells.