Lutherans Have an Eternal Life that They Can Lose
A Lutheran: Some people really do have eternal life before they lose it. I guess I have never doubted this, and it has always been something I have had some concern about— making shipwreck of my faith, not just being “faithless” but disowning him.
mark: So when you say “eternal” life, you are thinking in some qualitative way, not of a life that necessarily continues forever? It seems to me that there is a distinction to be made between now having “eternal life” and that time on the last day when God will raise up the justified elect and give them immortality. But isn’t “eternal life” now the verdict declared already of “immortality in the age to come”? Isn’t it the verdict that a person will not come into the judgment?
John 5:2 4 Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.
And so the Reformed question: how can a person who has passed from death to life, then pass back to life? What is the practical difference between accusing the Reformed of not knowing if they have life (or if they now believe) and a Lutheran saying: I know I believe now, but that does not mean I will keep believing. I know I have eternal life now, but it might not be eternal forever, it might not be life forever.
1. I don’t see how Lutherans have escaped the Reformed problem–how can you really know that you even really believe now? You go to church? Well, Reformed people do that also. 2. It’s the old Cromwell question. Supposedly he relied on a syllogism on his death bed–if I believed once, then I cannot lose my justification, and I know that I believed once, therefore….
But there are problems with that
1. He’s believing in his belief. He’s looking at himself believing, not at Christ.
2. So Lutherans think the solution is to get our eyes off of themselves, off of the question if they are believing, and think to do this by telling everybody that they all are justified, before believing.
3. But it does not work for more than a moment, because Lutherans (at least those who are not universalists) also say that they can’t be sure that they themselves (previously justified) will keep believing and will keep the “eternal life” they once had.
4. So they have come around to the same place as the Reformed–—are you believing now? And you can’t prove it with your living, since that attempt is not believing.
5. So what was the difference? It was the gospel, the object being believed. The Reformed say, you are not justified apart from believing, not justified before believing. (And I agree with this, even as I insist that God’s imputation of Christ’s righteousness is before new birth and faith.) But the Lutherans tell us— believe that you are justified, instead of believing to be justified.
I am not making this complicated. The differences are more complicated than I have shown. For one thing, the word “justification” is being used in more than one way. For a second thing, Lutherans seem to agree that we need to keep believing in order to stay justified.
But, even in this case, in the tomorrow and the day after that, the object of faith is not the same gospel. “Believing that you are justified” is not the gospel. The gospel is not the Velveteen Rabbit, in which what we believe makes something real. Reality does not disappear because you don’t believe in it. If we are justified before faith in the gospel , then ignorance of the gospel and absence of faith in the gsopel does not make justification disappear.
So if we want to avoid Barthianism or universalism, if we agree that those who do not believe the gospel are not justified, then we had better stop telling people that they are justified before they believe the gospel. And we certainly should stop telling people that they have passed from death to life, if we need to also tell them they can now pass from life to death.
But if we run away from Lutheran “objectivity”, do we end up in a Jonathan Edwards place where he says that God’s justification is conditioned on “future grace” (future acts of faith created by God in us)? I hope not. I certainly know that many Reformed persons are now in this place––they hate “eternal security” more than any Lutheran does. They put perseverance first every time over God’s preservation because they despise the idea of “once justified, always justified.”.
I don’t know enough about Lutherans to know the differences (except between no wrath ones like Forde, vs conservatives). But I do know that not all Reformed are alike. Not all Reformed rely on a practical syllogism which is looking at the I who is believing, and saying, well that’s God also, since it’s God the Spirit working in the I. No, not all Reformed are like that.
Lutherans can’t solve their assurance problems by saying that Jesus even died for those who perish And Reformed people can’t solve their assurance problems by saying that water is a “seal” about justification being conditioned on faith. Those who have that kind of water are in no better place than others without the water but are hearing the gospel.
The question still comes down to–—what is the gospel? Do we look at a verse in Acts and say, all you need to say is “Jesus is Lord” and nothing else should or needs to be said, even if you think that a person is saved by doing what the Lord tells you to do? But the gospel does not make faith a condition of election, because the gospel tells us that faith is a result of election.
And that gospel does not tell you or anyone that they are elect. That gospel tells us that “all for whom Jesus died will be justified.” If you don’t like definite particular effectual atonement, you don’t like the gospel. And if you don’t like the gospel, then you might want to say it’s a gnostic idea that almost nobody knows or believes.
John 6:37 All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. 38 For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. 39 And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. 40 For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”