See that what you have heard from the beginning remains in you. If it does, you also will remain in the Son and in the Father. And this is what he promised useven eternal life. –1 John 2:24-25
What a difference a few words make. Typically I do not spend a great deal of time in this space considering the intricacies of the Biblical text, partly because I am not a Greek or Hebrew scholar and partly because I don’t find that sort of close reading particularly helpful to leading a better Christian life most of the time. Today, however, I find myself compelled to consider the text a bit more closely.
As what a seminary professor friend of mine called a three-and-a-half-point Calvinist, I struggle with a text like this, which seems to suggest that the doctrine of eternal security is in error. Yet the plain English of this passage would lead me to such a conclusion. “See that what you have heard in the beginning remains in you,” John says, and then you’ll stay in good graces with God. This isn’t really compatible with the typical eternal security argument that says “If you’re truly saved, then you’ll remain saved.” This verse suggests personal volition. “See to it,” it commands. This isn’t some passive thing. John’s words here cannot be twisted to mean “As you watch these things remain.” No, he says, “See to it.” We’re supposed to do something. We’re supposed to keep what we heard in the beginning within us.
Here’s where the perils of translation come in. The Greek simply doesn’t say what the NIV translators have provided here. In fact, no other translation I have seen renders this verse in such a way. All of the others describe a much more passive event. Let’s look at a few:
What you have heard from the beginning must remain in you. (Holman) –That might just express a natural law as in “Gravity must remain in force.”
let that abide in you which you heard. (NASB) –Here we’re enjoined simply not to drive out what we’ve heard rather than actively keeping it in.
let that abide in you which you heard from the beginning. (NKJV) –This is again a passive command.
While I cannot drive out God’s blessings, I can squeeze it out of the forefront of my life and my mind. I can let the thousand demands of life, the thousand calls of the flesh drown out the Word of God, which I heard from the beginning. When that happens, and it happens to all of us now and again, then we are estranged, temporarily, from the Son and the Father. We don’t risk losing eternal life, but we do squander the portion of earthly life God has given us. Therefore, whether I “see to it” or simply “let that abide,” I cannot afford to allow the message of the Gospel to be moved out of its central place in my consciousness.