The one who overcomes will likewise be dressed in white garments, and I will not remove his name from the Book of Life, and I will confess his name before my Father and before His angels. He that has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. Rev 3:5-6.
In some parts of the ancient Greek world, when a person was about to be executed for a crime, his name was first erased from the roll of the citizens. This seems to have been a necessary act before a citizen could be condemned to death.1
It seems clear from this text that Jesus didn’t believe in the popular version of “once saved always saved.” Remaining in the Book of Life is the result of an ongoing process of “overcoming” (a Greek participle in the present tense). Remaining in the Book of Life is based on continuing relationship with Jesus, not some arbitrary decree on God’s part. While our works are never the basis for our salvation, good works are the ongoing evidence that people are saved (Rev 19:7-8). Righteous deeds are the garments of the righteous.
The promise that those who continue to overcome will not be blotted out of the Book of Life, is a warning to any Christian who thinks that mere profession or church attendance will be sufficient to ensure their salvation. When Mickey Cohen, a famous Los Angeles gangster of the 1940s, made a public profession of Christian faith, Christians everywhere were elated. They considered it a marvelous example of God’s saving grace. But as time passed they began to wonder why he did not renounce his gangster lifestyle.
Sometime later he was confronted by some Christian friends and responded, “You never told me I had to give up my career. You never told me that I had to give up my friends. There are Christian movie stars, Christian athletes, Christian businessmen. So what’s the matter with being a Christian gangster? If I have to give up all that–if that’s Christianity–count me out.” Cohen gradually drifted away from his Christian friends and ultimately died alone and forgotten.2
Christians need to realize that when we take the name of Jesus, we immediately become witnesses for Him. But when we merely go through the motions, when we don’t allow Jesus to change us, we give others the excuse not to allow Jesus to change their lives either. We may not be gangsters, but if we take on Christian faith as a thin veneer over our selfishness, we bear witness to a faith that will not change the world. It is a faith that may seem alive to others, but is nevertheless truly dead or about to die.
The victory of faith comes to those who persevere in overcoming.