Persevering in Christ and Tests of Eternal Life -- By: A. B. Caneday
SBJT 10:3 (Fall 2006) p. 40
Persevering in Christ and Tests of Eternal Life
A. B. Caneday is Professor of New Testament Studies and Biblical Theology at Northwestern College in Saint Paul, Minnesota. In addition to numerous journal articles, he is the co-author (with Thomas R. Schreiner) of The Race Set Before Us: A Biblical Theology of Perseverance & Assurance (InterVarsity, 2001). Dr. Caneday is a frequent contributor to The Southern Baptist Journal of Theology.
Whether in English or in Greek, 1 John is an easy read. Its length is sufficiently brief so that one can read it through within one short sitting. Its vocabulary is repetitious. Its syntax is not cumbersome. Its structure is cyclical. Its message is straightforward. Yet, Christians have vastly divergent understandings of 1 John. Historically, on the basis of 1 John 5:13, Christians have read John’s brief homily or pastoral discourse as an encouragement for believers to lay hold of assurance of eternal life and to live in light of this knowledge. Interpretation and use of 1 John among believers, however, took a pronounced shift during the nineteenth century, especially, with the rise of teachers and preachers who advocated various strains of “Christian Perfectionism.” Teachings such as those known by the designations “the Victorious Life” or “the Higher Life” popularized the idea that to “have fellowship with God,” to “walk in the light,” or to “abide in Christ” is the privilege of few Christians, only the few who find the secret or the key.1 All teachers of “Christian Perfectionism” separate believing from obeying, and by doing this they conceive of at least two classes of Christians.2 According to these teachers, most believers commit the error of trying to live the Christian life but find themselves “walking in darkness,” while some believers cease trying and find themselves abiding in Christ.3 Hence, the popular adage: “Let go and let God!”
Popular preaching and teaching on 1 John perpetuates ideas and beliefs derived from “Victorious Life” teachings even though scholarly commentaries lend virtually no support. The influence is consequential, for misreading and misusing 1 John misdirects believers concerning the Christian life and assurance of eternal life. Because various strains of Christian Perfectionism persist in the church, it is proper that we give a fresh consideration of the Christian life as presented in 1 John. The Christian life is not one of repose or of passivity. Believing is not contrary to obeying. “Abiding in...
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