Can the Regenerate Be Erased from the Book of Life?
Meditation on Revelation 3:5
He who overcomes shall thus be clothed in white garments; and I will not erase his name from the book of life, and I will confess his name before My Father, and before His angels.
The end of the year is at hand. Endings cause us to ponder endurance. We made it to another new year (almost). Will we make it to another? More important: Will we endure, as Jesus says, to the end and so be saved (Mark 13:13)? Perseverance is a precious promise and gift. It is not without struggle. But we struggle as victors. So I would like to encourage you here at year’s end to fight the good fight again, and to be deeply confident that God will not erase your name from the book of life.
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The precious Biblical truth that the saints will persevere in faith to the end and be saved is relentlessly opposed, generation after generation. Nevertheless the truth endures, resting firmly on the sovereign faithfulness of God to complete the salvation of his elect. He planned it in eternity, purchased it in Christ’s death on the cross, and is applying it through the Holy Spirit.
Romans 8:30 says, “[Those] whom he justified, these he also glorified.” In other words, between the event of justification by faith at the beginning of our Christian life, and the event of glorification at the resurrection of our bodies (Philippians 3:21), there will be no dropouts, bailouts or pushouts. “Those whom he justified, he also glorified” – all of them. God will keep and sanctify those whom he has justified and make sure they keep the faith and endure to the end and are saved.
1 John 2:19 describes how we should understand the apparent dropouts: “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out,in order that it might be shown that they all are not of us.” In other words, the failure to persevere is not a sign that you can be truly born again and justified and then be lost. Rather the failure to persevere is a sign that you were never truly part of the regenerate people of God. That’s the explicit point of 1 John 2:19.
Nevertheless, there are texts that have persuaded some to reject this teaching. The one I consider here is Revelation 3:5 where the Lord Jesus says, “He who overcomes shall thus be clothed in white garments; and I will not erase his name from the book of life, and I will confess his name before My Father, and before His angels.”
Some say this is a fool-proof text against the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints. They assume that when Revelation 3:5 says God will not erase a person’s name from the book of life, it implies that he does erase some from the book of life, and that these are people who were once justified and then later were condemned. But is that a true assumption?
The promise “I will not erase his name from the book of life,” does not necessarily imply that some do have their names erased. It simply says to the one who is in the book and who conquers in faith: I will never wipe out your name. In other words, being erased is a fearful prospect which I will not allow to happen. I will keep you safe in the book. That is one of the promises made to those who persevere and conquer. It does not say that those who fail to conquer and fall away from Christ were written in the book and got erased.
In fact, there are two other verses in Revelation that seem to teach that to have your name written in the book means that you will most definitely persevere and conquer. Consider Revelation 13:8. “And all who dwell on the earth will worship [the beast], everyone whose name has not been written from the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who has been slain.” This verse implies that those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life “from the foundation of the world” definitely will not worship the beast. In other words, having our name in the book of life from the foundation of the world seems to mean that God will keep you from falling and grant you to persevere in allegiance to God. Being in the book means you will not apostatize.
Similarly consider Revelation 17:8, “The beast that you saw was and is not, and is about to come up out of the abyss and to go to destruction. And those who dwell on the earth, whose names have not been written in the book of life from the foundation of the world, will marvel, when they see the beast, that he was and is not and will come.” Again having one’s name written in the book of life from the foundation of the world appears to secure one from “marveling” at the beast. Those whose names are not written in the book of life from the foundation of the world will marvel. If your name is written there, you will not marvel at the beast.
The teaching here is that having one’s name written in the book is effectual. That is, it has a defining effect on one’s responses. To have your name written in the Lamb’s book of life from the foundation of the world guarantees that you will not worship or marvel at the beast. John does not say, “If you worship the beast, your name is erased.” He says, “If your name is written, you will not worship the beast.”
This fits with Revelation 3:5, “He who overcomes . . . I will not erase his name from the book of life.” The triumph required in 3:5 is guaranteed in 13:8 and 17:8. This is not a contradiction any more than for Paul to say, “Work out your salvation . . . for God is at work in you to will and to do his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:12-13). It is not nonsense to state the condition: if you conquer, God will not erase your name (3:5); and to state the assurance: if your name is written, you will conquer (13:8 and 17:8). God’s “written-down-ones” really must conquer, and really will conquer. One side highlights our responsibility; the other highlights God’s sovereignty.
The practical impact of this truth is not that we be cavalier about faith and love and holiness. There is necessary vigilance (Hebrews 3:12) and striving (Luke 13:24) and pursuit (Hebrews 12:14) in the Christian life. Rather, the impact is that we rest in the assurance that we are not left to ourselves in this “fight of faith.” The God who called you is faithful to “confirm you to the end, blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 1:8). “Faithful is He who calls you, and He also will bring [your sanctification] to pass” (1 Thessalonians 5:24). He will complete the salvation he began (Philippians 1:6). We are kept by the power of God (1 Peter 1:5). Fight we must, for only those who persevere will be saved (Mark 13:13). And fight we will, because God is at work in us to will and to do his good pleasure (Hebrews 13:21).
(This article was originally written in 1997 and is published in Taste and See.)