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In John 5:24 (NET) Jesus says (emphasis added):

I tell you the solemn truth, the one who hears my message and believes the one who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned, but has crossed over from death to life.

Jesus says the one who believes will not be condemned. Is this about past sins only? Is it about all of ones's sins? Or is it about something else?

Thanks!

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  • Divine Incarnation Not just the forgiveness of sins, but the point is "believing in the Deity of Jesus." Believing that Jesus was sent by God with His message of righteousness and salvation. Without the Deity of Jesus, there is no salvation, no Christianity, no eternal life.
    – ray grant
    Sep 6, 2023 at 20:55

2 Answers 2

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"[...] whoever believes in [Christ] should not perish but have eternal life" (John 3:16).

The Gospel message is all about faith in Christ, who paid the debt we couldn't. That payment isn't only for past sins, but for all Sin.

Shamelessly stealing from this (Lutheran) sermon and in turn from Gregory of Nazianzus... when we stand before God in final Judgment, what will happen? All have sinned, all have fallen short, all stand rightly condemned. But Christ Jesus intercedes on the behalf of believers; "whoever hears [Jesus'] word and believes in Him who sent [Jesus] [...] shall not come into condemnation" (John 5:24).

I suppose you could say it's about "past" sins, if by "past sins" you mean "sins committed prior to Judgment". 🙂

Note: so far as I know, this is how evangelicals in general, if not the majority of Christians, would respond. I'm not aware of anything specific in (mainstream) Lutheran doctrine that would make a Lutheran-specific answer different.

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  • Thanks! Could you please tell me where the quote form Gregory comes from. Not quite clear from the sermon.
    – Dan
    Sep 11, 2023 at 18:51
  • @Dan, honestly, not a clue; I don't have any more information for that quote, specifically, than the link you've already seen. More generally, I can say that the above seems consistent with much of Protestantism, but there's no single citation for that other than "the sum of my life experience". (That said, I'll also note that I have no idea where one would get the idea that John 5:24 refers to only "past" sins. For that matter, what is even meant by "past"? Sins committed before hearing the message of Christ?)
    – Matthew
    Sep 11, 2023 at 20:43
  • Some would say past sins are those repented of and left behind. Others would say that when Christ died for them (2000 years ago) all of their sins were yet future. Still others would say it is not individual infractions that are in view but the sovereignty of a disposition. +1 Sep 27, 2023 at 13:03
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As a preface, before I answer your question, let me offer some advice: It would be a good idea to sit down with a Lutheran pastor in your area and ask these questions of him face to face. Any Lutheran pastor worth his call would delight in answering that question for you in detail.


A Lutheran pastor (who holds to the inerrancy of scripture) would share with you that, what Jesus says there, he means. The one who believes in Jesus, in the eyes of God, has crossed over into eternal life. (“ἀλλὰ μεταβέβηκεν ἐκ τοῦ θανάτου εἰς τὴν ζωήν.” (Ἰωάννην 5·24 THGNT-T))

But, in some ways, that only opens up the door to more questions. Is forgiveness a one-time event, or is it a continual event? From a Lutheran (and thoroughly biblical) perspective the answer would be: Both.

In numerous places throughout the Bible, there is this once-for-all emphasis on Jesus' work of atonement. Seven times in the book of Hebrews we have this emphasis that Jesus died once to pay for the sins of all people in the world. Likewise, Paul writes:

2 Corinthians 5:18–19 NIV11-GKE

18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19 that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them.

John the Evangelist writes:

1 John 2:2 NIV11-GKE

He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.

There is the repeated emphasis in God's word that Jesus' sacrifice on the cross happened once. And as a result all people's sins everywhere are forgiven.

But the Bible also lets us know that as often as we confess our sins, Jesus really, truly forgives our sins. John the Evangelist tells us:

1 John 1:8–9 NIV11-GKE

8 If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.

Which of these is true? Both are. All our sins are paid for. And yet, as often as we confess our sins, Jesus hears our prayers and really, truly forgives them.

This passage from John's gospel is an example of the one-time emphasis on forgiveness. Faith is not a good work that we need to offer up to God to get into heaven. It is not a decision we make. We cannot use our will in conversion, since our will is the very thing that needs to be converted. So God uses his powerful word to create faith in our hearts. But, since God is the one who creates and gives us faith, it is not wimpy and frail. It is not here today and gone tomorrow. It connects us to heaven itself. And that cannot be taken away from us so easily. That is what John is emphasizing in those words from Jesus.

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