Revelation 3:5

Sermon preached on January 8, 2012 by Laurence W. Veinott. © Copyright 2012. All rights reserved. Other sermons can be found at

Unless otherwise noted, quotations are from The Holy Bible: New International Version (NIV). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House.

I use my computer a lot and one of the things that I'm paranoid about is losing files. If your hard drive dies you can end up losing all your files. So to prevent that, I have an external backup drive. That backs up every hour. Any file that has changed in the last hour is automatically backed up. But one is not safe even doing that. A few years ago Heather's computer and external hard drive failed at the exact same time. She lost everything. Since then I've heard some computer experts say that having one backup is not enough—and I believe them. So I also backup my files to the 'cloud'. Every hour or so, I not only save my sermon onto my computer, but I back it up to not just one, but to two different servers on the Internet. I don't even know where they are—but I upload my sermon to two different companies that have these cloud services. The idea is that even if my computer and my external hard drive both die, I'd just be able to go on Marg's computer and be able to download my sermon from one of them.

But even doing all that, I don't feel absolutely secure. These giant server farms sometimes have failures. It happens to company—Google, Amazon, Apple. Even though they have redundant systems and backups of backups—sometimes they suffer a catastrophic failure and your files can be gone. So the most I'd say about my files is that they're mostly safe—but it's not guaranteed that I'll never lose them. As the old computer axiom states:

"There are two kinds of computer users: those who have lost data and those who are going to lose data."

Is it like that with our salvation? Are we just mostly safe with Jesus or is our salvation absolutely guaranteed? In other words, can a Christian lose his salvation or will Jesus keep them to the end?

There's no doubt that many who have professed Christ have later departed from the faith and died in unbelief. Our Lord taught about that in the Parable of the Sower. The seed that fell on rocky places quickly sprang up, but once the sun came up, it withered because it didn't have any root.

I think that almost everyone would agree that a professing Christian can lose his salvation. But what about a true Christian, one who has truly believed in Jesus? Some people have pointed to our text as a text that teaches that a Christian can lose his salvation. It reads, (Revelation 3:5)

"He who overcomes will, like them,
be dressed in white.
I will never blot out his name
from the book of life,
but will acknowledge his name
before my Father and his angels."

Some people will tell you that this text implies that Christians can lose their salvation, that it implies that there are some people whose names can be blotted out of the book of life.

There are other verses that seem to teach the same thing. For example, 2 Timothy 2:12 says,

"If we disown him,
he will also disown us;"

And in Hebrews 6:4–6 we have these words,

"It is impossible for those
who have once been enlightened,
who have tasted the heavenly gift,
who have shared in the Holy Spirit,
who have tasted the goodness
of the word of God and the powers
of the coming age,
if they fall away,
to be brought back to repentance,
because to their loss they are crucifying
the Son of God all over again
and subjecting him to public disgrace."

In Hebrews 10 we have a similar teaching. Verse 26 of that chapter says that if we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received a knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins remains, but only a fearful expectation of judgment. It then talks about how anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy. It then says, (verse 29)

"How much more severely
do you think a man
deserves to be punished
who has trampled the Son of God
under foot, who has treated
as an unholy thing the blood
of the covenant that sanctified him,
and who has insulted the Spirit of grace?"

Those verses seem to teach that a Christian can lose his salvation.

But do they? Or are they talking about people who only seemed to belong to Christ. Today and next Sunday we're going to look at our text and hopefully come to a better appreciation of our Savior and His work on our behalf.

The first thing I want to draw your attention to is the fact that

Jesus emphatically states God will not blot the names of those who overcome from the book of life.

The Greek sentence here has a double negative. In English, a double negative cancels the negative and becomes a positive. For example, if you said to someone,

"You are not, not fat."

You're really affirming that he is fat. But biblical Greek is not like that. In biblical Greek a double negative intensifies the negation—it makes it stronger. It's an emphatic negative. John Stott paraphrases Jesus words here saying that it was as if Jesus said, (What Christ Thinks of the Church, p. 97-98)

"I will never by any means blot out his name."

It will never happen. God will not blot the names of His faithful ones out of His book. Rather than doing that, God will acknowledge us before the Father and His angels.

That's what our text says. The problem is that it seems to imply that some people can be blotted out of the book of life.

But you need to be very careful in building a doctrine around an implication. There's great danger of going astray. Just because something can be implied from a text doesn't mean it's true. For example, the first few chapters of Romans tells us that we are justified by faith and not of works. In the first part of Romans 6 Paul deals with a false implication of that doctrine. Some people were saying,

"If we are justified by faith and not by works, let's sin all the more that grace may abound."

That's an implication that someone could draw from Paul's argument that we are justified by faith alone. But it's an incorrect implication. It's a false implication.

Some people draw a false implication from Matthew 12:32. Jesus said,

"Whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit
will not be forgiven
either in this age or in the age to come."

Wayne Grudmen writes, (Systematic Theology)

"This does not imply that some sins will be forgiven in the age to come (as Roman Catholics claim in support for the doctrine of purgatory) —that is simply an error in reasoning: to say that something will not happen in the age to come does not imply that it might happen in the age to come! In the same way, Revelation 3:5 is just a strong assurance that those who are clad in the white garments and who have remained faithful to Christ will not have their names blotted out of the book of life."

There are lots of false implications that you can draw from Scripture. For example, when Jesus was before Pilate and Pilate asked Him if he was the King of the Jews, Jesus said, (Mark 15:2, literally)

"You say it."

James R. Edwards writes, (Mark (Pillar, 459)

"In reply to Pilate's question, Jesus responds, "'You say so,'" with emphasis on You. It is not a direct affirmation…"

R. T. France writes, (The Gospel of Mark: a Commentary on the Greek Text (NIGTC; Accordance electronic ed. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002), 628.

"While σὺ λέγεις could be understood as a denial, 'You say that; I do not', the consensus among recent interpreters is to take it as a 'Yes, but…' "

The point is that Jesus reply is, as R. T. France says, (Mark, p. 627)


The implication could be that Jesus is denying that He is the King of the Jews. But that would be a false implication. In other places Jesus made it very clear that He was the King of the Jews. When He was before the Sanhedrin and the high priest asked him if He was the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One, Jesus replied, (Mark 14:62)

"I am.
And you will see the Son of Man
sitting at the right hand
of the Mighty One and coming
on the clouds of heaven."

Sometimes one part of the Bible seems to be at odds with another part of the Bible. I've quoted several verses that seem to suggest that a believer can lose his salvation. Other verses suggest that a believer can never lose his salvation. Which ones do you go with—the ones that are more attractive to you? No. The great rule of Biblical interpretation is that, "Scripture interprets Scripture". By that we mean that you don't interpret verses in isolation, you compare Scripture with other parts of Scripture to come to the true meaning. God's Word is a whole and it is without error. It doesn't contradict itself. To come to an understanding of certain parts of it you need to compare Scripture to Scripture. If you don't do that, you will interpret Scripture in a way that it was never meant to be interpreted. You will end up with seemingly contrary teachings. This is obvious. For example, if you were to read the Old Testament and go by what it says, you would have to offer animal sacrifices, you would have to follow the dietary laws, etc. etc. But if you read the New Testament you'll see that the Old Testament animal sacrifices were fulfilled in Christ and that they are not appropriate for our time. If you read Acts 10 you'll also see that the Old Testament dietary laws were done away with. In those cases it's obvious that you need to compare Scripture to Scripture in order to understand it correctly.

The same is true on the relationship between faith and works and justification. Paul and James present different aspects of it, and to come to a complete understanding of justification and how faith and works relate to it, you need to study both. The principle that 'Scripture interprets Scripture' is to be always used. It's a very diverse document and can only be understood correctly by comparing the parts.

I believe that when you compare Scripture with Scripture the best way of understanding the Bible's teaching on this subject is that a Christian cannot lose his salvation and that the references to people losing their salvation refer to people who were 'apparent believers', merely 'professing Christians', people who were never rooted in Jesus Christ.

The reason I believe that is because some portions of Scripture emphatically teach that God is absolutely committed to saving His people and that He will actually save them that it is unnatural to interpret them any other way.

Consider the teaching of Romans 8 for example. Puritan William Perkins called Romans 8:30 the 'golden chain' of salvation. It says of God's activity,

"And those he predestined,
he also called;
those he called, he also justified;
those he justified, he also glorified."

Michael Horton says of this verse, (For Calvinism)

"Each link is forged by God's love in Christ and bound to the other links by God's immutable purpose in grace. If any one of these links depended ultimately on us, the whole chain would fall apart."

But Romans 8:30 does not state that any of those links rest with us. Romans 8:30 is describes God's work on our behalf. Every step is His work. He predestined. He called. He justified. He glorified. John Murray writes, (Romans, p. 321)

"God alone is active in those events which are here mentioned and no activity on the part of men supplies any ingredient of their definition or contributes to their efficacy."

The last words of the verse, which refer to our glorification, are in the past tense. How can that be because we haven't been glorified yet.? It's in the future. Thomas R. Schreiner writes, (Romans, p. 454)

"What is envisioned is the eschatological completion of God's work on behalf of believers that began before history, and the aorist signifies the certainty that what God has begun he will finish."

The glorification of God's people is so certain that Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, wrote about it in the past tense.

Not only that, but what follows is Romans 8 is one of the greatest passages about the security of believers. In Romans 8:35–39 Paul wrote,

"Who shall separate us
from the love of Christ?
Shall trouble or hardship or persecution
or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?
As it is written:
'For your sake we face death all day long;
we are considered as sheep
to be slaughtered.'
No, in all these things we are
more than conquerors through him
who loved us.
For I am convinced that
neither death nor life,
neither angels nor demons,
neither the present nor the future,
nor any powers,
neither height nor depth,
nor anything else in all creation,
will be able to separate us
from the love of God that is in
Christ Jesus our Lord."

Michael Horton says of these verses, (For Calvinism, p. 116)

"Paul ransacks his mind for every possible threat to our security in Christ, whether heavenly or earthly opposition, whether external or internal opposition, and concludes with that gloriously absolute and unqualified assurance: nothing can separate us from God's love in Christ."

The salvation of His people is God's work. He will accomplish it. He assures us of that.

Of course we have much to do as well. We are the ones that have to exercise faith. But where does faith come from? It's a gift of God—it doesn't come from us. (Ephesians 2:8) So we have to have faith—yet God gives that to us.

We have to be sanctified as well. Christians have to be holy. As we read in Hebrews 12:14,

"without holiness no one
will see the Lord."

But who makes us holy? As we read in Hebrews 2:11

"Both the one who makes men holy
and those who are made holy
are of the same family.
So Jesus is not ashamed
to call them brothers."

So God makes us holy. Yes, we have to work. As the first part of Hebrews 12:14 says,

"Make every effort to live in peace
with all men and to be holy…"

But it's ultimately God who makes us holy. As we read in Hebrews 10:14 about Jesus' work.

"because by one sacrifice
he has made perfect forever
those who are being made holy."

Even our sanctification is God's work. Ephesians 2:10 says,

"For we are God's workmanship,
created in Christ Jesus to do good works,
which God prepared in advance for us to do."

The reason believer's perseverance is guaranteed is because God keeps us. As the apostle Paul wrote in Philippians 1:6

"being confident of this,
that he who began a good work in you
will carry it on to completion
until the day of Christ Jesus."

In John 10:27–30 Jesus said,

"My sheep listen to my voice;
I know them, and they follow me.
I give them eternal life,
and they shall never perish;
no one can snatch them out of my hand.
My Father, who has given them to me,
is greater than all; no one can snatch them
out of my Father's hand.
I and the Father are one. "

In John 17:11–12, Jesus' great high priestly prayer, he said to the Father,

"I will remain in the world no longer,
but they are still in the world,
and I am coming to you.
Holy Father, protect them
by the power of your name—
the name you gave me—
so that they may be one as we are one.
While I was with them,
I protected them and kept them safe
by that name you gave me.
None has been lost except the one
doomed to destruction
so that Scripture would be fulfilled."

We are safe with Jesus. As we read in Hebrews 13:5, God has said to His people,

"Never will I leave you;
never will I forsake you."

But someone may say,

"But I can choose to deny Christ."

For professing Christians there is the very real danger of apostasy. As I already quoted in 2 Timothy 2, if we deny Him, He will deny us. Many of the Old Testament Israelites departed from the faith. Many perished in the wilderness. Many went after false gods. Not all the children of Abraham were saved.

But all of God's elect were saved. God chose Isaac and not Ishmael. He chose Jacob rather than Esau. Paul talks about this in Romans 9 and says that 'it is not as though the Word of God has failed'. We read, (verse 9f)

"Yet, before the twins were born
or had done anything good or bad—
in order that God's purpose
in election might stand:
not by works but by him who calls—
she was told,
The older will serve the younger.
Just as it is written:
'Jacob I loved,
but Esau I hated.'
What then shall we say?
Is God unjust? Not at all!
For he says to Moses,
'I will have mercy on whom I have mercy,
and I will have compassion
on whom I have compassion.'
It does not, therefore,
depend on man's desire or effort,
but on God's mercy."

So, although professing Christians can apostatize and die in sin, none of the elect can. Peter denied the Lord three times, but he's in heaven today. Jesus, the Good Shepherd, brought Him back. The Good Shepherd does that with the elect. He doesn't do it with the non-elect, with those who merely profess Christ for a time and then fall away. As the apostle John wrote in 1 John 2:19–20,

"They went out from us,
but they did not really belong to us.
For if they had belonged to us,
they would have remained with us;
but their going showed that
none of them belonged to us."

As Jesus will say to some on the last day, to many who appeared to be Christians. In Matthew 7:23 Jesus said,

"Then I will tell them plainly,
'I never knew you.
Away from me,
you evildoers!'"

They were people who said to Jesus,

"Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy
in your name,
and in your name drive out demons
and perform many miracles?"

So then, my conclusion is that God will actually save all His people. The ones that He chose before the foundation of the earth will persevere because God will enable them to do so. He keeps them.

What does this mean in practical terms?

First, it doesn't mean that we can become lax about holiness and the Christian life.

Just as no one should take the doctrine of justification by faith as an excuse for sin, so no one should take this doctrine as an excuse for sin.

I've already quoted from Ephesians 2:10 which says that we were created for good works. And Ephesians 1:4 tells us God's purpose in choosing us. Paul wrote,

"For he chose us in him
before the creation of the world
to be holy and blameless in his sight."

So God's people will be holy. They have to be. Without holiness no one will see the Lord. In 2 Peter the apostel urges Christians to add to their faith goodness, to goodness knowledge, to knowledge self-control—then perseverance, godliness, brotherly kindness, love. He urges them to possess those qualities in increasing measure as they will keep us from being ineffective and unproductive. Then in verses 10–11 he says,

"Therefore, my brothers,
be all the more eager to make
your calling and election sure.
For if you do these things, you will never fall,
and you will receive a rich welcome
into the eternal kingdom
of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ."

Secondly, this means that

we can have assurance and delight in God's love and protection of us.

Someone might say,

"But how can you? You may only be a professing Christian and not a real one. If we can't distinguish between the elect and mere professing Christians, how can anyone have assurance?"

The answer to that is that God wants His people to know that they are His and to delight in His love for them and for His protection over them. He doesn't want us to be in doubt that we are elect or not.

David wrote, (Psalm 23:1)

"The Lord is my shepherd,
I shall not be in want."

He knew that God was His Shepherd. It was the same way with the apostle Paul. In 2 Timothy 1:12 he wrote,

"I know whom I have believed,
and am convinced that he is able
to guard what I have entrusted
to him for that day."

In his book For Calvinism Michael Horton tells a story of how his father, who was a Christian, always used to react whenever Michael debated election with his mother. On one such occasion his father stormed out of the room, visibly upset. Michael followed him outside and apologized for raising the subject when he knew it offended his father. His father turned to him in tears and said,

"What if your dad's not one of the elect?"

Michael said that in response he quoted Jesus' words in John 10:27.

"My sheep listen to my voice;
I know them, and they follow me."

He then asked his father if he had heard Jesus' voice and followed Him. His father replied that yes he had. Michael then quoted the next verse, which reads, (John 10:28)

"I give them eternal life,
and they shall never perish;
no one can snatch them out of my hand."

He said that his father immediately recognized the implications of that his countenance changed and he saw it as a marvelous comfort.

Can you know you are a true Christian? Yes. In Romans 8:15–16 Paul wrote,

"For you did not receive a spirit
that makes you a slave again to fear,
but you received the Spirit of sonship.
And by him we cry, 'Abba, Father.'
The Spirit himself testifies
with our spirit that we are God's children."

We see this teaching over and over in Scripture. In 1 John 4:13 the apostle John wrote,

"We know that we live in him and he in us,
because he has given us of his Spirit."

In 1 John 3:14 the apostle gives us another test of life. He wrote,

"We know that we have passed from death
to life, because we love our brothers.
Anyone who does not love remains in death."

1 John 3:21–22 we have a different test of life. John wrote,

"Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us,
we have confidence before God and receive
from him anything we ask, because we obey
his commands and do what pleases him."

All of these verses show us that Christians can and should know that they belong to Jesus. It's part of our joy. It's part of the reason we can rejoice in Jesus in all circumstances. It's part of the reason we can give thanks to Him in all circumstances. Jesus is ours. We are His.

So Christians, you who have followed Jesus, who are walking in His commands, who have the Spirit in you—you can be absolutely assured that Jesus is absolutely committed to you and that He will never leave you nor forsake you. Rejoice in Him. Praise Him. Exult in Him. What a wonderful Savior you have in Jesus. He has loved you with an everlasting love.