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Lectures in Biblical Theology
of The New Testament
by C. D. Cole
Lecture 22 of 23
John’s Doctrine of Salvation by Dr. C. D. Cole
John did not make much use of the word “salvation,” but spake of the blessings we have in Christ under the terms of “life” and “eternal life.” He emphasized the subjective aspect of salvation, setting forth the nature, the necessity, and the evidences of the new birth. The gospel of John was written so that men might have life through believing that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. The first epistle of John was written to believers so that they might know they have eternal life. This is the best book of the Bible on the evidences of salvation as it describes the born again person in his attitude both towards God and men. If one wishes to be assured of his salvation, let him read and meet the test as given in this first epistle of John.
The Bible is primarily a moral Book, interested in man as a moral being accountable to God. It does not diagnose man’s physical condition except to say that his body is mortal and corruptible, but it gives a thorough diagnosis of his moral condition as a sinner against the moral law of God. John says that sin is lawlessness. The Bible does not prescribe for man as a physical being but as a moral being. As moral beings, the Bible declares that all men are by nature dead, dead in trespasses and sins. The Bible says that the wages of sin is death, and that all have sinned. Physical death is the result of separation between the body and spirit. “For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also,” (Jam. 2:26). Moral death is the result of separation between God and man. When the prodigal returned to his father’s house, the father said, ...“This my son was dead, and is alive again.”.. (Luke 15:24). He had been alive physically all the time he was away from the father but he was dead morally. And so men away from God are dead as moral beings, and the way to live is to come to Him through faith in Christ who said, ...“I am the way, the truth, and the life.”.. (John 14:6). Apart from the Lord Jesus Christ there is no way to God the Father, there is no truth about God the Father, and there is no life with God the Father.
I. WHAT IS ETERNAL LIFE?
The doctrine of eternal life is central in the teaching of John. What is eternal life?
- It is not eternal existence, for everybody will exist forever. But everybody does not and will not have eternal life. “And have hope toward God, which they themselves also allow, that there shall be a resurrection of the dead, both of the just and unjust,” (Acts 24:15). Life and death of men considered as moral beings are not antonyms of existence and nonexistence, but of conditions of existence. Those who teach the doctrine of conditional immortality believe that only the saved will exist forever; the rest will be annihilated. But immortality is not merely eternal existence of the body, but a blessed state of existence. “For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality,” (1 Cor. 15:53). In the Bible the words “mortal” and “immortal” are used only of the human body and never of the human soul. An advertisement once appeared offering a large reward to anyone who could produce a Scripture which speaks of the immortality of the soul. No such Scripture could be produced, but the advertisement was answered by another advertisement which offered a like reward to anyone who would produce a Scripture which speaks of the mortality of the soul. And no such Scripture could be produced.
- Eternal life is not something we wait to get after we die physically and pass into eternity; it is the present and eternal possession of the believer. “He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him,” (John 3:36).
- Eternal life is opposed to condemnation, to wrath, and to perishing. Those who now have eternal life will never be condemned. “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life,” (John 5:24); never face the wrath of God. “He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him,” (John 3:36), and will never perish. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life,” (John 3:16).
The Bible speaks of a second death, which implies the first, but it never speaks of a third death. This is because man is considered as a moral being. As a physical being man is subject to only one death. “And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment,” (Heb. 9:27). But morally speaking, there are two deaths: the first and the second. All men in a state of nature are dead in trespasses and sins, the sentence of death (condemnation) has passed upon all. But the second death will have no power over believers. Both saved and lost will experience physical death, for in Adam all die, the saved as well as the lost. And in Adam both saved and lost were under the sentence of condemnation, which is the first death. But the second death, the sentence of condemnation, will not be executed upon believers, upon those who have eternal life, because the sentence was executed against Christ their Surety and substitute. There is another aspect of moral death which we call depravity or defilement of nature. This is death subjectively in which there is no activity towards God and holiness. “So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God,” (Rom. 8:8). The death of Christ takes care of this also through regeneration, sanctification, and glorification. “He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?” (Rom. 8:32).
2. By a figure of speech eternal life is called water that lasts. To the woman at Jacob’s well our Lord said, “But whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life,” (John 4:14).
II. HOW IS ETERNAL LIFE RECEIVED?
The Bible says that eternal life is received by faith, that is, by trusting Christ. “But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name,” (John 20:31). We trust what Christ did on the cross to save us from the penalty of sin and also from the defilement of our moral nature. Deliverance from moral death objectively is accomplished once for all at the moment of faith. “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life,” (John 5:24). Subjectively, the believer still has the sinful nature within him. “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us,” (1 John 1:8). There is sin in us, but no sin on us, no guilt and no charge against us. On the cross there was sin on Christ, but no sin in Him. He was charged with our guilt, but He was not tainted with our sinful nature.
III. EVIDENCES OF THE NEW BIRTH
John tells us how one may know that he has been born of God. Assurance of salvation is much desired by every Christian. The unregenerate do not bother themselves about the matter, but saved people want to know that they have eternal life. God anticipated this desire for assurance and gave us one book of the Bible for the specific purpose of telling us how we may know that we have been born of God. And this book is the first epistle of John. “These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God,” (1 John 5:13). John gives three evidences of one’s being born of God: what one does, what he loves, and what he believes. One who is born of God will practice righteousness, his affections will be properly placed, and he will believe in the right person as Saviour and Lord.
“If ye know that he is righteous, ye know that every one that doeth righteousness is born of him,” (1 John 2:29). The verb here is in the perfect tense in the Greek and should read, “has been born of Him.” Right here we must be careful to distinguish between cause and effect. The question to settle is this: Is doing righteousness the cause or the effect of the new birth? Does practical righteousness logically follow or precede the birth of the Spirit? Does a man live a good life in order to be born of God, or does being born of God lead to a good life? John says that the doer of righteousness has been born of God. He is in agreement with Paul who says that they who are in the flesh cannot please God. And so a good life is an evidence rather than the cause of the new birth.
“Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God,” (1 John 4:7). And again it is the perfect tense and should read “has been born of God.” One’s moral condition is seen or evidenced in the things he loves. One born of God loves God and His word and His people. “We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren. He that loveth not his brother abideth in death,” (1 John 3:14). Love for God and His people is not the cause but the effect of the new birth. We love, not in order to be born of God, but because we are born of Him. Spiritual birth must precede spiritual love. Spiritual being must be the cause of spiritual loving. Let both writer and reader apply this test of the new birth to their own experience. Do I love God and the things of God and the people of God? The writer cannot boast of any great love, but he can and does claim that he loves God and the brethren. And this is all that Peter would claim. “So when they had dined, Jesus saith to Simon Peter, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me more than these? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee. He saith unto him, Feed my lambs. He saith to him again the second time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee. He saith unto him, Feed my sheep. He saith unto him the third time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? Peter was grieved because he said unto him the third time, Lovest thou me? And he said unto him, Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love thee. Jesus saith unto him, Feed my sheep,” (John 21:1517). Peter no longer boasted of any great love.
“Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God: and every one that loveth him that begat loveth him also that is begotten of him,” (1 John 5:1). And once more it is the perfect tense, “has been born of God.” To believe in Jesus as the Christ, the anointed Saviour, is evidence that one has been born of God. And so faith and love and good works are evidences of the work of God in the human souls, and are not products of the will of the flesh. “But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God,” (John. 1:12-13). And the apostle James writes to the same effect: “Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures,” (Jam. 1:18). And the apostle Paul is in agreement with James and John when he says, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them,” (Eph. 2:10). Salvation is God’s business and for every Christian God is to be thanked. In blessed doxology John says, “And from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, and the first begotten of the dead, and the prince of the kings of the earth. Unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood, And hath made us kings and priests unto God and his Father; to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen,” (Rev. 1:5-6).
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