“Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life” (1 John 5:12 ESV).
A foretaste of the future kingdom and its indescribable joy
When God the Father raised Jesus from the dead, it was the life of the eternal age invading this present world. The power and vibrancy of life seen in the resurrection is the normal life in the future kingdom of God. But for us, it’s shocking. Our world is death, not resurrecting life.
It is this same life through which the Christian experiences life eternal in the present world. That is why we can say that we have it now but it’s not all that it will be. The future life will be the same, only greater and more wonderful. Fully expressed. It’s like how the seed of a flower is the same as the flower but the flower becomes much more than the seed. We have the seed of eternal life now. But the full flower will be far more beautiful and wonderful than our present experience of it. You just wait and see.
Now with the terms understood, let’s look back at the verse, “Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life” (1 John 5:12). What is clear is that there is a bundling of having the Son of God and having eternal life. If you get the one, you get the other. They always go together. There are other things like this in life:
- If you get struck by lightning, you’ll get thunder with it. Get the one, you get the other.
- If you marry a Siamese twin—you get the one, you get the other.
- No matter who you marry, you get your spouse’s family as a bonus. You get the one, you get all the others too. Amen?
And whoever gets the son, gets eternal life too. No one gets Jesus and misses out on eternal life. It is a package deal. They come together. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).
The bottom line of this verse is the exclusivity of salvation and eternal life ONLY for those who have Jesus by faith. If I were a math nerd, this is how I would diagram this verse.
Me ≠ ∞Life (Me by myself does not equal eternal life)
Jesus = ∞Life (Jesus equals eternal life)
Me + Christ ≠ ∞Life (Me plus anything other than Christ does not equal eternal life)
Me + Χ/Faith = ∪Christ (Me plus faith in Christ equals union with Christ)
Me + Christ = ∞Life (Me plus Christ equals eternal life)
Some of you are like, I didn’t like that stuff in high school and I still don’t. I’m not excited about getting it at church. Hang with me. You will like this. Here is the math of 1 John 5:12:
Me + Son = ∞Life, Me – Son of God = ∞Life (Me plus the Son equals eternal life)
What is difficult for many is the absolute exclusivity of this statement. That’s why it’s a bottom line of the Bible. In the end, after all the religious shouting and preaching and philosophizing and living and dying, in the end, here’s the bottom line: If a person has Jesus by faith as Savior they get—with Jesus—life eternal. If a person does not have Jesus by faith, they do not get life eternal. That is to say, they experience the opposite of life eternal, eternal death. Eternal destruction. Eternal judgment. Eternal hell.
This is why this verse jumps off the pages of the Bible. Some passages sound confusing or leave some ambiguity. The Bible can seem so confusing. Many people just hope for the best. Not 1 John 5:12. You either have Christ and eternal life or you don’t. All humanity will forever be divided into these two categories. Life or death. Heaven or hell.
Sobering, isn’t it? Our church is presently divided the same way. We have lots of diversity here in lots other of categories. Varying ethnic backgrounds. Male and Female. Young and old. White collar, blue collar. On and on we could go. But the only diversity that truly matters in the end is this one. This is the one that determines your eternal destiny. It’s cut and dry. There’s no middle ground. It’s so absolute.
I read this story about the old faithful theologian Dr. Gresham Machen and it stuck with me over the years. As he ended one of his lectures on sin and humanity from the Bible…
“A woman reporter ventured to ask, “Dr. Machen, you do not seem to think very much of man. What reason do you have for so belittling him?”
Without hesitation he replied, “All I did was to present what the Bible says.”
“But really Dr. Machen,” the woman reporter rejoined, “It doesn’t make any difference what anyone believes, does it? Just so he believes something?”
The eyewitness [to this event] told me that the chills shot up and down his spine as he watched this great man of God. Dr. Machen could have passed it off with some innocuous reply, but that was definitely not Machen’s way of doing things! He leaned over the lectern and looked the questioner right in the eye.
Then he said, “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!”
Liberal expressions of Christianity and secularism always downplay this division. They do so because it’s embarrassing to some that biblical Christianity would draw such a narrow circle of salvation. They will say, but God’s love is wide or there are many paths to God, or all religions contain truth, or this is just our perspective or opinion, or some other dodge. Dear friends, that is false teaching by false teachers who mislead people to hell. Pluralism says there are many ways to God and all religions can get you there. It is arrogant to make absolute claim to truth, which is of course, an absolute statement itself.
I remember in my youth pastor days teaching our kids about these things. One of our brighter students was in a high school class where her teacher said, “There is no such thing as absolute truth.” The student raised her hand and asked, “Is that absolutely true?” I was proud. That was 25 years ago. Our culture has moved even further. Tolerance today is itself a kind of religion that deems any claim to exclusive truth of any kind as narrow-minded and bigoted.
“Much of contemporary pluralism is driven by the desire to affirm the increasing cultural diversity of our times…And thus, for many in today’s society, acceptance of cultural diversity becomes largely indistinguishable from endorsement of religious diversity—endorsement not simply in the sense of legally and socially accepting the place of non-Christian religions in American society but also in the sense of affirming the beliefs of such religions.” (D.A. Carson)
How can you be a pluralist with biblical statements like these?
- “And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).
- “Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me’” (John 14:6).
- “Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?” (1 John 5:5).
The logic law of non-contradiction states that two opposite statements cannot both be true. The opposite of what is true must be false. They can both be false and wrong. But they cannot both be opposite and true. Christianity can be completely wrong in its claim. But if 1 John 5:12 is true, then it cannot be true that you can have eternal life apart from Jesus.
This bottom line of the Bible urges us to ask, where in this verse am I? Am I in the first clause or the second? Do I have the Son of God? Have I trusted in Jesus as the Son of God and Savior who died on the cross for my sins?
Or am I in the second clause, I don’t have the Son and so I don’t have eternal life. It’s either one or the other. And that’s the bottom line.
You say, well what is the point of talking about this? It seems unduly off-putting or frightening. Why write it? Why preach it? You have the whole Bible to choose from Pastor Steve and you choose a divisive verse like this? Why? The why for John and Pastor Steve is the same. Here is the very next verse, “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life” (1 John 5:13).
The point is to give assurance to those who have Christ that life eternal comes with him. And to urge those who do not have Christ to turn in faith to him and with him, to get eternal life. Might that be you, today?
Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
© 2021 by Steve DeWitt. You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that: (1) you credit the author, (2) any modifications are clearly marked, (3) you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, (4) you include Bethel’s website address (www.bethelweb.org) on the copied resource.
 Henry W. Coray, J. Gresham Machen: A Silhouette (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1981), p. pxif.
 D.A. Carson, Telling the Truth: Evangelizing Postmoderns (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2009), 54.
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