This blog is devoted to discussing the pursuit of eternal life.
Discussion and participation by readers is desired,
but contributions should correlate to the book,
The Race Set Before Us: A Biblical Theology
of Perseverance & Assurance

Thomas R. Schreiner
& Ardel B. Caneday

Friday, February 11, 2011

Eternal Life, Both God’s Gift and Reward

I am working on a writing project associated with The Race Set Before Us. As I was working on it something dawned upon me as I wrote the following segment. It concerns how Zane Hodges, and others who follow him, destroy their own case when they appeal to Romans 6:23 as Hodges does when he attempts to expound Galatians 6:8.

Two interpretive keys govern how advocates of the loss-of-eternal-rewards view interpret Scripture: (1) salvation is past; rewards are future; and (2) salvation is free; rewards are earned. Therefore, understandably those who hold this view are concerned to separate biblical admonitions and warnings against loss from the grace of salvation because otherwise, as they view the matter, the grace of salvation and of eternal life would be earned by works. Popularity of this view owes much to the notes of The New Scofield Reference Bible, especially the note attached to 1 Corinthians 3:14.
God in the N.T. Scriptures offers to the lost, salvation; and for the faithful service of the saved, He offers rewards. The passages are easily distinguished by remembering that salvation is invariably spoken of as a free gift (e.g. Jn. 4:10; Rom. 6:23; Eph. 2:8-9), whereas rewards are earned by works (Mt. 10:42; Lk. 19:17; 1 Cor. 9:24-25; 2 Tim 4:7-8; Rev. 2:10; 22:12). A further distinction is that salvation is a present possession (Lk. 7:50; Jn. 3:36; 5:24; 6:47), whereas rewards are a future attainment, to be given at the rapture (2 Tim. 4:8; Rev. 22:12).[1]
The tone of authoritative finality and clarity concerning their interpretive keys—salvation is past; rewards are future; and salvation is free; rewards are earned—suggests that a sharp cleavage exists between the two classes of passages. So, one would expect that Scripture would never use words such as “salvation” or “eternal life” with future reference nor as the reward to be received. Yet, what do we find? In Galatians 6:7-10, which advocates of the loss-of-eternal-rewards view insist is about “rewards” not “salvation,” Paul admonishes,
Do not be deceive; God is not mocked, for you reap whatever you sow. If you sow to your own flesh, you will reap corruption from the flesh; but if you sow to the Spirit, you will reap eternal life from the Spirit. So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest time, if we do not give up. So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all, and especially for those of the family of faith (emphasis added).
Paul’s imagery of sowing and reaping mingles inseparably what loss-of-eternal-rewards view advocates separate. To them, even though Paul presents “eternal life” as the future consummation of the life of the age to come, the life we have not yet harvested, poses no obstacle as Zane Hodges explains.
Nothing is plainer than that the “everlasting life” of which Paul speaks is not free, but based on the moral merits of those who reap it. . . . Naturally Paul knew that eternal life was freely given (Rom. 6:23; see also Rom. 5:15-18), just as the Apostle John knew this. But Paul is not speaking about what the Galatians already have, but about what they may yet receive. Herein lies the key to this text.[2]
What is the key? To explain the passage Hodges uses the same interpretive key that one can find in The New Scofield Reference Bible.
Here it should be stated clearly that in the New Testament eternal life is presented both as a free gift and as a reward merited by those who earn it. But one important distinction always holds true. Wherever eternal life is viewed as a reward, it is obtained in the future. But wherever eternal life is presented as a gift, it is obtained in the present.[3]
Even though Paul uses identical words, “eternal life,” in both Galatians 6:8 and Romans 6:23, Hodges severs “eternal life” as “reward” from “eternal life” as “gift” because he presumes that “eternal life,” when portrayed as a future reward, is earned by Christians and that the reward cannot be God’s gracious consummative bestowal of the gift of “eternal life” of which Christians now have but a taste through faith in Christ Jesus. He separates the two by insisting that it is possible that some, perhaps many, who receive eternal life as a "gift" now do not persevere in Christ and therefore will fail to receive eternal life as a not yet earned "reward." This is how Hodges separates or severs the two.

Hodges does not recognize that his appeal to Romans 6:23 actually contradicts his argument that "eternal life" as future "reward" is earned and not a "gift." He fails to realize that everywhere Paul speaks of “eternal life,” including in Romans 6:22-23, he invariably portrays “eternal life” with orientation to the future, as the life God will give for the age to come.[4] Roman 6:22 makes this explicit when Paul states, “you have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life.” Then, Paul explains that this coming eternal life in Christ Jesus is God’s gift (6:23). In other words, when Paul speaks of "eternal life" in Romans 6:22-23, he is portraying eternal life as that aspect of eternal life believers will receive in the future, not as the aspect of eternal life believers already possess. Therefore, the passage Hodges uses to establish his separation between “eternal life” as a present possessed gift from “eternal life” as a future earned reward nullifies his claim. Paul identifies “eternal life,” which believers will receive in the day of resurrection, both as “God’s gift” and as something we will “reap.” Eternal life as future "reward" is not earned; it is God's "gift."

[1] The New Scofield Reference Bible (New York: Oxford University Press, 1967), 1235.
[2] Hodges, The Gospel Under Siege, 86-87.
[3] Ibid, 87-88.
[4] See all of Paul’s uses of “eternal life” (Rom 2:7; 5:21; 6:22, 23; Gal. 6:8; 1 Tim. 1:16; 6:12; Titus 1:2; 3:7).


Scott Larrison said...

You should consider reading and responding to Bob Wilkin and his rebuttal to your blog posting -

A. B. Caneday said...

I had no knowledge that Bob Wilkin had posted his piece. I have read his piece, but I have no intention to respond. If you desire to understand why, you may take a look at an earlier blog entry here. In particular, you may want to notice the last sentence of the entry where I state, "I will not get embroiled or entangled in an endless quarrel with anyone, especially with anyone who so badly mangles and distorts my beliefs and my theological statements beyond my own recognition."

The same holds for Bob's latest comments that exhibit, once again, his failure to understand and to represent my beliefs accurately. I cannot even recognize my beliefs or my ideas as my own within anything he writes in response to things that I have written. It would take a book to correct Bob's mangled confusion. Oh, I just remembered, I actually did write just such a book. It's called, The Race Set Before Us, and he didn't understand it.

A. B. Caneday said...


I just discovered a few moments ago that you posted a comment here that reveals something less than wholesome concerning the intentions of your comment posted above on my blog.

Reflect upon your comment on Bob Wilkin's Facebook page, Scott. You state, Why do so few seem to understand grace? Thanks Bob for standing firm in the grace of God and the gospel of grace. Faith alone in Christ alone.

Your comment on Bob Wilkin's Facebook page makes it obvious that your interest in having me respond to Bob Wilkin is not so that you can understand and know the truth as it is in the gospel of Christ Jesus while he and I would engage in a well-mannered theological and biblical conversation. Rather, you are interested in watching Bob Wilkin give me a lickin' that you believe I deserve for failing to understand grace. As your comment suggests, you would cheer Bob on and heckle me, just as your comment actually does.

Well, however deficient I may be in my acquisition of wisdom, I do have enough to recognize a set-up when I encounter one. I'm not about to accept your invitation to participate in such a theological rumble for reasons I already stated in my previous response to you.

Thanks for stopping by my blog.

Spitfire said...

Hebrews 11:6 says that God “is a rewarder of those who seek Him.” The word “rewarder” is defined in Strong’s dictionary as “one who pays wages”, thus I understand from this verse that eternal life is both a gift and a reward, as you have stated in a much more thorough and scholarly way in your post. The Race Set Before Us has been most helpful and encouraging in my personal pursuit toward the goal. Thanks for your good work.

Scott Larrison said...

Mr. Caneday,

I was not trying to be underhanded when I suggested you respond to Bob Wilkin's rebuttal to your blog. I just assumed you may want to defend your position against a credible critic. However, I should probably have disclosed my personal agreement with the free grace position (as you easily discovered). For not being forthright, I wholeheartedly apologize.

That being said, I would like to respectfully submit a few thoughts of my own in regards to your posting and would invite further discussion if you would fill inclined by the Spirit to do so.

Eternal life is a present possession to anyone who believes in Jesus Christ. John 5:24 comes to mind, "Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life." Has eternal life presently.

Eternal life is a gift received by grace through faith in Jesus Christ (Ephesians 2:8-9). Jesus possesses the power and authority to give it to all who simply believe in Him (John 3:16,36, 6:40,47, 10:27-30, 1 Timothy 1:16).

Many other passages suggest that believers who possess eternal life must also live in eternal life here and now rather than living in the old man, the flesh (John 4:14,36, 6:27, 12:25, Romans 2:7, Galatians 6:8). To be sure, this does require hard work to abstain from sin and be filled with the Spirit. Paul told Timothy, "Fight the good fight of faith; take hold of the eternal life to which you were called, and you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses." (1 Timothy 6:12) Jesus Himself said, "And this is eternal life, that they may know Thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom Thou hast sent." (John 17:3) As believers who have eternal life, we must live our lives in that eternal life (i.e. the power of the Holy Spirit, our new nature in Christ) and get to know Jesus more and more in this life.

To suggest that eternal life is a reward is also implying that it is earned by works. But it cannot be earned, it is received by faith and is a gift from God (John 1:12, Ephesians 2:8-9, Romans 4:4-5). Eternal life is a gift, but the living in eternal life is the work, the sanctification process, partnering with the Holy Spirit and dying to self. To be certain, the Lord does reward those who faithfully serve Him, but to suggest that eternal life is a reward I cannot reconcile with Scripture.

Christ purchased eternal life for me with His sacrificial death on the cross. He is the propitiation and we must be careful to not nullify the grace of God (Galatians 2:20-21).

Scott Larrison

A. B. Caneday said...


I have no need to offer any defense of my beliefs against what Bob has written. Why? It is because he has neither understood my affirmations nor accurately represented what I believe and what I have stated in my writings.

As for your thoughts. . . .

Indeed, eternal life is a present possession just as I teach, just as I preach, just as I have published in The Race Set Before Us and in other publications, and just as I have affirmed repeatedly on this blog. I have always and will always affirm that eternal life is a present possession. I do so because Scripture affirms this. Do you actually think that I disagree that eternal life is a present possession? If so, where have I ever made such a foolish claim?
Indeed, eternal life is a gift received by grace just as I teach, just as I preach, just as I have published in The Race Set Before Us and in other publications, and just as I have affirmed repeatedly on this blog. I have always and will always affirm that eternal life is a present possession. I do so because Scripture affirms this. Do you actually think that I disagree that eternal life is a gift received by grace? If so, where have I never made such a foolish claim?

I’m not suggesting that eternal life is a reward. I insist, on the basis of Scripture, that eternal life is a reward. This is precisely what Romans 3:23 is indicating and what Galatians 6:8 is also indicating among many other passages, such as Mark 10:30 and Luuke 18:33. With Zane Hodges, Bob Wilkin, and others you wrongly assume that wherever Scripture portrays eternal as a reward that it necessarily implies that eternal life is earned. Consequently, such passages speak of "eternal life" with a different referent from that of passages that speak of "eternal life" as a gift.

Of course eternal life cannot be earned. That is precisely my argument. Eternal life is a gift and a reward that cannot be merited by any human.

Your quarrel is with Zane Hodges. He is the one who argues that “eternal life” portrayed in Galatians 6:8 is earned by humans because it is a reward given by God. Your argument is not with me because I have never and will never claim that eternal life is or will ever be earned by any human. I insist, in agreement with Scripture, that eternal life, both already possessed and not yet received in its consummate form as reward, is God’s gift and his gracious reward which is entirely unmerited by humans.

It is as Thomas Sowell once wrote, “Although I am ready to defend what I have said, many people expect me to defend what others have attributed to me.” I will not defend beliefs and statements falsely attributed to me. Please read my writings with care and with understanding. Please do not falsely attribute to me statements I have never made and beliefs I have never held.

Thank you.