Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life (Jn 5:24).
If you’re talking with a knowledgeable Calvinist, it’s not going to be long before he brings up this passage, wanting to talk about the “present active indicative” of the Greek word translated “has” (echō). Thus, it will be terribly frustrating for him to learn that we, too, believe the eternal salvation mentioned here is something that is, in a sense, already possessed by the believer (understanding, of course, that we do not think the believer mentioned here is exercising the “faith alone” kind of believing to which Calvinists are committed).
The Bible pulls no punches in its teaching that the exercise of saving faith puts one in possession of eternal salvation, which includes not just the remission of one’s sins, but the appreciation of that glorified state to be fully realized in the heavenly abode. It further teaches that as long as one continues to exercise this kind of faith, there is a crown of righteousness laid up in heaven for him, which the Lord will give him on “that Day” (2 Tim 4:8).
Does this mean we have already “attained” all this? Certainly not, for in Philippians 3:12-14, the apostle Paul wrote:
Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus also laid hold of me. Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
That the context of these remarks includes Paul’s goal to “attain to the resurrection from the dead” (Phil 3:11), which both begins and stands for the glorified state, cannot be denied. But it must be remembered that this is Paul speaking, and he had already received “eternal life” when he exercised saving faith, had he not? Was the inspired apostle confused? Is there some contradiction here? No, Paul wasn’t confused and there is no contradiction. What, then?
“Eternal Salvation” And “Eternal Salvation”
The Bible teaches there is a sense in which “eternal salvation” is possessed in both the present and future tense. Paul, who had obtained “eternal salvation” in the present sense had not yet “attained” it in its future sense. These are exactly the apostle Peter’s thoughts, as well, for he said, in 2 Peter 1:10-11:
Therefore, brethren, be even more diligent to make your calling and election sure, for if you do these things you will never stumble; for so an entrance will be supplied to you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Thus, there is a sense in which we are saved right now and a sense in which we will be saved one day in heaven. How do I know? The Bible tells me so.
By exercising saving faith, we have been saved from our past, present, and future sins, something the Bible refers to as being “born again” spiritually (cf. Jn 3:3,7; 1 Pet 1:23). As a result, we are on our way to a heavenly (i.e., “new heavens and a new earth”) home with our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Even so, our bodies, which will one day be glorified in heaven, continue to decay and will, if the Lord does not return during our lifetimes, eventually die (cf. Heb 9:27-28; 1 Thess 4:15; 1 Cor 15:50-58). So, it seems clear that the “salvation” in Hebrews 9:28 is the “eternal salvation” of John 5:24, but in its yet future sense. If not, why not?
Consequently, the Christian, although he knows there is a sense in which he has been eternally saved in the here and now, “groans” along with all creation, “eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of [his] body” (cf. Rom 8:18-25), and the apostle makes this same point once again in 2 Cor 5:1-8.
Unfortunately, Calvinism, with its once-saved-always saved, salvation-is-always-the-same-in-every-sense kind of thinking, can cause one to believe that such an interpretation sets up some kind of contradiction in the Scriptures. As a result, the Calvinist’s repeated accusation will be that we are wresting the Scriptures with some kind of heretical view. No, we are not wresting the Scriptures. Instead, we are exercising the grammatical-historical method of interpretation as it was intended to be exercised, and this despite the Calvinist’s effort to paint us as some kind of “non-literalists” when it comes to the Scriptures. Even so, if one is to understand what the Bible says about “eternal salvation” in both the present and future senses, one must utilize this time-tested and honored method of Bible interpretation.
In rightly rejecting Calvinism, may we always be careful about running so far in the other direction that we miss entirely and fail to affirm completely what the Bible truly teaches on this or any other passage.