Yochanan’s (John’s) first letter was written to those who already believed in Messiah Yeshua. Unfortunately, these early Christians and Messianic Jews had been influenced by false teachers who were undermining their confidence in the Message about the Messiah. As a result, some began to doubt their eternal well-being. To help them, Yochanan writes, “These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, in order that you may know that you have eternal life” (1 John 5:13).
There are lots of things in life that we might wish for, and many matters to pray about, but there are some things about which you had better be certain; and the issue of where you will spend eternity is not one you can afford to be unsure about! It would be cruel if God allowed us to fumble about in the dark, uncertain about a matter of such importance. But the Merciful One is not cruel, and we can know even now that we are His, and He is ours.
Do you know for certain that if you were to die today, you would go to Heaven? Some might say, “That’s ridiculous! You can’t possibly know that! It’s arrogant to think you know you’re good enough to get to Heaven.” If gaining entrance to Heaven was achieved by my personal effort, it would indeed be arrogant to say I knew I had achieved it. But I am not being arrogant when I say that I know I’ll be in Heaven, because salvation isn’t achieved through personal effort. Eternal life is a gift from God. Do I deserve Heaven? Of course not! How, then, do I know that I have eternal life? Because my salvation is not contingent on my spiritual performance, but rather on the work which the Son of God accomplished, when He gave His life as an atonement for sin.
If Heaven were attained by personal achievement, or by righteous deeds, who could know whether they had done enough? Who could be certain that the heavenly scales would tip in their favor, or whether their good deeds outweighed their bad deeds? The death of one of the most revered Jewish sages, Yochanan Ben Zakkai, one of the framers of post-Second Temple Judaism, illustrates this. While he was on his deathbed, it is recorded that Rabbi Yochanan was filled with fear and grief. To the consternation of his students, who held him in the highest esteem, he, their righteous rabbi, a Jew of Jews, wept inconsolably, saying, “My time is at hand… today I am to stand before the righteous Judge of all the Earth… and there are before me two roads, the one leading to Paradise and the other leading to Gehenna… and I do not know which I will be on.”
Uncertainty is the result of any religion, by any name, which teaches that eternal life must be earned by human effort. The truth is that salvation is a free gift given by God. We may be certain of it, because He promised it to all who would simply believe in the Messiah. Rabbi Paul declared to the believers in Ephesus, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, that no one should boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). Again, Paul wrote to Titus, “He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of rebirth and renewing by the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:5). God’s holy, inspired and authoritative Scriptures make it absolutely clear that no human being, on his own, could ever be righteous enough to merit salvation.
The doctrine of “eternal security,” the teaching that one cannot lose his or her salvation, is true simply because salvation never depended on our performance, but rather our confidence in the righteousness of Messiah Yeshua. It is His righteousness which forms the basis for our confidence.
Is there anything that we can do, any part we are to play, in the work of our salvation? When He was asked, “What shall we do, that we may work the works of God?” Yeshua replied, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him (referring to Himself) whom God has sent.” Our part in God’s work of salvation is to know and be confident that Messiah Yeshua is “Adonai Tzidkaynu – The Lord Our Righteousness” (Jeremiah 23:5-6). When you genuinely trusted Yeshua, His righteousness was credited to you, and your name was written in the Lamb’s book of Life. When you know that your name is inscribed in the Lamb’s Book of Life, that is when you can have “shalom shalom” – perfect peace. And this assurance is not reserved for an elite few, but for all who put their trust in Yeshua.
I know that I don’t have much righteousness to offer God. I’m sure that if any of the great men or women of the Faith, that magnificent cloud of witnesses, could speak to us, they would tell us that their righteousness was insufficient, but that their hope was in Messiah and in God’s great mercy. Many years ago it was a great relief to discover that salvation didn’t hinge on my feelings. I spent most of my first year as a child of God with the mistaken notion that if I felt saved, it meant that I was saved, and if I didn’t feel saved, then I wasn’t. I had come to love the Lord, but I hadn’t yet been instructed in the Scriptures. How can anyone have “shalom shalom” when the matter of their eternal destiny is unsettled? But I finally understood that the matter of my salvation had been settled long ago, with three words spoken by Yeshua: “It is finished.”
Your eternity and my eternity does not depend on our spiritual achievements, nor on our feelings, but on the fact of Yeshua’s perfect life, His sacrificial death and His resurrection. However you may feel on any given day, however far from the Lord, or however unworthy of Heaven, the FACT is that there is an empty tomb in Jerusalem! That is the source of confidence for every believer.
Do good works and human effort have no part to play in the matter of our salvation? Of course they do! They prove that we have truly come to a lasting and genuine faith. The man or woman who has trusted in the Messiah and has received eternal life from God, will inevitably produce good works; but those good works come naturally, as a consequence of new life, not as a means to obtain it. A faith that saves results in good works, but good works don’t create saving faith! You cannot lose your salvation any more than you could have earned it to begin with. If you have genuine belief, no force in the universe will be able to separate you from the love of God. The One who saved you at the beginning is able to keep you. You will persevere to the end and be saved.
These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, in order that you may know that you have eternal life. Do you believe in the Name, the Person, the Reality of the Son of God? Do your works demonstrate that you really believe? Does your life demonstrate that you really know Him? Then the matter of where you will spend eternity is already settled!