We are entering into a time of the year filled with lists.
Those preparing holiday meals make lists concerning what will be in the meals, what ingredients they need to buy for those meals, and even lists of who will be in attendance. Likewise, there are the lists of gifts. Children are encouraged to make a list of gifts they would like; some adults doing the same for themselves. More charitable folks make lists of gifts they would like to give to other people, and the conscientious may even make lists of gifts already purchased for others. And then there is the list of who has been naughty and who has been nice, a list possibly honored more in word than deed, for one wonders how many children have actually been so naughty as to completely avoid all holiday renumerations.
People use lists all the time. But ultimately there is only one list which will matter.
The Bible speaks of a list kept in heaven, called figuratively, “The Book of Life,” and it is this list that we should ever be mindful of, regardless of the season.
Writing to the Philippian church, Paul wrote of his fellow workers, “whose names are in the book of life (Philippians 4:3b).” Elsewhere, speaking of the heavenly Jerusalem, the apostle John tells his readers, “nothing unclean will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life (Revelation 21:27; ESV).” Ominously, John also tells us, “And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire (Revelation 20:15; ESV).” It seems fairly clear that the book of life, used by both apostles, is nothing more nor less than a list of those individuals who have been saved and who have eternal life.
One interesting tidbit gleaned from Revelation concerning this list is that while God has known who is on the list and who is not on the list from before the foundation of the world (cf. Revelation 13:8, 17:8), from our perspective, the list is malleable and subject to change. Jesus encourages the church in Sardis, “The one who conquers will be clothed thus in white garments, and I will never blot his name out of the book of life. I will confess his name before my Father and before his angels. (Revelation 3:5; ESV)” Lest one think that the threat to have one’s name blotted out, or erased, from the book of life to be a hollow threat referring to something that couldn’t happen, it is worth noticing the context of the promise. The Sardis congregation, to whom Jesus is speaking, is colloquially referred to as the dead church, because spiritually they were dead and dying, and thus in danger of losing their salvation and no longer walking with Jesus (cf. Revelation 3:1-4). But if they would repent and do better, their names would remain in the book, on the list.
Additionally, this is not the first and only time we read about God blotting people out of His book. Speaking to Moses, God said, ““Whoever has sinned against me, I will blot out of my book (Exodus 32:33; ESV).”
But if sin gets us kicked off God’s list of saved, what allows us to be included?
In Romans 6:23, we read, “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” If those receiving the gift of eternal life are the same as those whose names are in the book of life, a reasonable conclusion, then we perceive it is through Christ, and Christ alone, we will be added to the list (cf. John 14:6)
Elsewhere, the Bible tells us, concerning the response to Peter’s preaching, “So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls (Acts 2:41).”
To what were these souls added, we might ask? In the immediate context we would say that they were being added to the number of believers, which up to that point had been only 120 (cf. Acts 1:15). In the broader context of the Scriptures, we could also say that they were added to that list of names which was recorded in the book of life. When men hear the gospel, and obey it, being immersed in water for the forgiveness of their sins, God adds them to the number of those who are saved (cf. Acts 2:47). Being thus saved, they have enrollment in God’s book.
When those who have been thus added refuse to live as they should, turning back to sin, and away from Christ, they are in danger of having their names removed from the book (cf. Revelation 3.5), a fate most certainly to be avoided
And so, this day, as we think about the various lists we might make or be included on, and there are indeed many such, we should always remember the one list which matters: God’s list of the saved. It is upon this list we should be most eager to be enlisted, and it is this list we should be most careful to live so as to not be blotted from it.
Jonathan McAnulty is minister of Chapel Hill Church of Christ. Viewpoints expressed in the article are the work of the author.