Pastor John, what role does our church family play, and what role do our Christian friends around us play, in the continuation of our faith, in us persevering to the end?
Tony, just yesterday I was reading in 1 John on my way through the Bible, and I have often said that eternal security is a community project rather than something that is merely individualistic and automatic. God uses means to keep us eternally for himself. It is not like a vaccination against hell. It is more like a committed therapist who unfailingly — this is God — sees to it that we hold to the health regimen that brings us to everlasting glory.
Eternal Security Is a Group Project
I totally believe in eternal security. Jesus said, “I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand” (John 10:28–29).
I have also said that this keeping, this divine keeping, is a community project in which God uses people. “Exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today,’ that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end” (Hebrews 3:13–14). So our exhorting one another every day is one of the instruments, one of the means, by which God keeps us in Christ to the end of time.
“This divine keeping is a community project in which God uses people.”
So yesterday in 1 John — here is what I read, and I saw this in a totally fresh way: “If anyone sees his brother committing a sin not leading to death, he shall ask, and God will give him life” (1 John 5:16). So I had never paused to think, You mean the life that we need to make it to the end, the eternal life, is given when I see a brother sinning, and I pause, and I ask God, “O God, bring him to repentance; bring him to the point of confession”? God will use that prayer as a means of preserving that person’s eternal life.
So there is a kind of sinning that shows God has given a person over to depravity. John tells us that. There is sinning that is unto death. It is like Esau’s sin in Hebrews 12:17: “He found no chance to repent, though he sought it with tears.” This is a fearful prospect, that we could ever sin so long God would just give us up.
Pray for God to Keep Us
But 1 John is mainly devoted to helping us see that there is sin that is not unto death. “I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” (1 John 2:1). “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). John is so eager to help Christians not despair that if they sin they are proving themselves to be unregenerate.
And what I hadn’t noticed before in 1 John is that God says one of the means by which he will preserve us in Christ is when we pray for each other. “If anyone sees his brother committing a sin not leading to death, he shall ask, and God will give him life” (1 John 5:16).
“Don’t separate yourselves from the very people who could be the means of your preservation.”
So eternal life is sure for the bride of Christ and for those who are called and justified, but it is not automatic, like a vaccination. It involves exhortations from Hebrews 3, and it involves prayers like this one in 1 John 5:16.
Then, just as I was pondering that, the Lord brought to mind James 5:20, where it says, “Let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.” And I thought, OK, how do you bring back a sinner from wandering? You do it at least in those two ways, don’t you? Hebrews 3, “Exhort him”; and 1 John 5:16, “Pray for him.” And the Lord will give him life.
Don’t Break the Fellowship
Here is the personal impact it had on me. I am out here in the middle of nowhere in Tennessee, and that is a scary place to be, isn’t it? Because this says, in essence, “Don’t separate yourselves from the very people who could be the means of your life, be the means of your preservation.”
So I hope that everyone who is listening to this won’t leave the fellowship of believers. I hope they will keep themselves grafted into believers who can pray for them that they won’t lose their life, and who will exhort them to hold true to the end, and that they will do that for others. I hope that people will pray for me that God will reveal to me any sins that I may have in my family or in relationships, and that if I spot them, I can repent of them, get forgiveness for them, and thus be preserved.