Summary: Written and Published February, 2020: This article is the first of a three part group on the topic of eternal life. I believe most people are conscious of possessing a soul and spirit which will continue to exist beyond the death of their physical bodies. But this is not what the bible refers to as life or eternal life. What is eternal life and how do you obtain it? This is a great question to discuss, because there are many different ideas, even among Christians, as to how one comes into possession of it. Of course, we will want to find our answers in God’s word and do our best to keep away from human thoughts and reasoning. This first article emphasizes what God’s word teaches about eternal life, while the articles which follow this one address certain errors which have spread out and continued on in Christian teaching.
1 John 1:1-3 (NKJV)
That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, concerning the Word of life— 2 the life was manifested, and we have seen, and bear witness, and declare to you that eternal life which was with the Father and was manifested to us— 3 that which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ.
John’s first epistle shows what eternal life is – it is Jesus Christ. What the disciples saw, what they heard, what they looked upon and their hands were able to touch, was Jesus Christ. He is eternal life. His being with the Father from eternity past means the Father is eternal life as well, but life was manifested to mankind as Jesus Christ.
John 5:26 (NKJV)
For as the Father has life in Himself, so He has granted the Son to have life in Himself,
John 1:4 (NKJV)
In Him was life, and the life was the light of men.
1 John 5:11-12 (NKJV)
And this is the testimony: that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. 12 He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life.
1 John 5:20 (NKJV)
And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us an understanding, that we may know Him who is true; and we are in Him who is true, in His Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God and eternal life.
It is plain. Life is in the Son and He is life. He has it in His person.
John 5:21 (NKJV)
For as the Father raises the dead and gives life to them, even so the Son gives life to whom He will.
John 17:2-3 (NKJV)
As You have given Him authority over all flesh, that He should give eternal life to as many as You have given Him. 3 And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.
Jesus and the Father are the ones who communicate eternal life; together they share in this work. Jesus says concerning His own sheep (John 10:10), “I have come, that they might have life.” It is given by God, not won or earned by man (Rom. 6:23) – “the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” If perceptive, we may also see the sovereignty of God in the above verses.
It is received through the Spirit of God working by the word of God. We are born of the Spirit and the word.
John 3:5-8 (NKJV)
5 Jesus answered, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. 6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ 8 The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit.”
James 1:18 (NKJV)
Of His own will He brought us forth by the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of His creatures.
Life is by the Spirit working by the word. We are born of God by the Spirit; we are begat of God by the word of truth. It has its groundwork as to faith in the knowledge of the Father and Jesus who He sent. For being by the word, it is by faith. For this is the revelation of God as acting in grace to give life. Jesus gives eternal life to His sheep. The object of our faith by which we receive eternal life is unfolded in John:
John 6:35-40 (NKJV)
35 And Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst. 36 But I said to you that you have seen Me and yet do not believe. 37 All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out. 38 For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me. 39 This is the will of the Father who sent Me, that of all He has given Me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up at the last day. 40 And this is the will of Him who sent Me, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him may have everlasting life; and I will raise him up at the last day.”
John 6:47-48 (NKJV)
47 Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me has everlasting life. 48 I am the bread of life.
Now we come to another aspect of this subject. The reader taught of God will see that it is through resurrection that justification from sins and eternal life meet – “And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins…but God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He has loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ.” (Eph. 2:1-5) Resurrection is both the witness of the righteous acceptance of Christ’s work by God and the believer’s entrance into the position which is the just result of it.
Romans 4:24-25 (NKJV)
…It shall be imputed to us who believe in Him who raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead, 25 who was delivered up because of our offenses, and was raised because of our justification.
Romans 6:4-5 (NKJV)
4 Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.
5 For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection,
Jesus is eternal life. If we have Jesus by faith, then we have received eternal life. This is a new life beyond the death of our previous existence in Adam. The previous life in which we were responsible, and in which we all had sinned, exists no longer. We died with Christ; we share in His death; He died, and we died with Him. But after dying, Jesus was raised from the dead by God. This is a new life for Him by which He lives to God (Rom. 6:10). It is life after death – resurrection life. He cannot die again. Death can no longer touch Him. He tasted death once and rose victorious over it. Being raised from the dead, He enters a new life – by resurrection. And if death can no longer touch Him as a Man, and His new life is for God and with God unhindered as a Man, His life is eternal. Amazingly, He did all this for us and therefore, we partake of it all (Rom. 6:8). God has raised us up with Jesus, this glorified Man. We enter this new life with Him by which we also now live unto God (Rom. 6:11). For us, this also is life after death – resurrection life, eternal life.
We have eternal life because we have Jesus Christ by faith. The true Christian has life as to his soul and spirit. When we were born of God, we were given the divine nature (2 Pet. 1:4). This is not divine attributes, but God’s moral nature – holy and blameless. We have this now, but only in soul and spirit. Our bodies however remain unchanged from what we have by nature, from what we inherit from the first Adam. They are the bodies of flesh still containing the sin nature Adam brought into the world by his disobedience (Rom. 5:12). They remain subject to death. Our spirit and soul are life eternal, but this life has not yet come to our bodies.
You may realize that, as believers, we now walk in an in-between state and time. As for state, we are now saved, redeemed by the blood, justified from our sins and free from guilt, delivered from the dominion of sin by reckoning the old man as dead, having now received eternal life and the divine nature. Also, we have received and been sealed by the Holy Spirit, by which our bodies are now the temple of God. He is our present Helper, but also, He is the guarantee God has given us of even better things – future glory and greater blessings. Part of these better things will be our mortal bodies glorified, conformed into the image of God’s Son (Rom. 8:29-30). In this same chapter, Paul speaks of the instrumentality of the Spirit in bringing this to pass (Rom. 8:11) – “But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.” In our present state we have eternal life as to our spirit and soul, but life hasn’t spread to our mortal bodies yet. But our possession of the Holy Spirit is the assurance that day is coming (2 Cor. 5:4-5).
As for time, we (Christians) live and walk between our Lord’s first coming and the time when He will return for us. When He comes, God will glorify our bodies like His (Phil. 3:20-21). We have eternal life now, but we don’t have its full results. We are instructed to persevere in confidence, knowing that eventually the eternal life we now possess will swallow up the mortality of our bodies (2 Cor. 5:4). Then we will be physically with Jesus in glory and with our Father in His house in heaven (John 14:1-3).
Having been raised from the dead, Jesus dies no more. When He was made sin on the cross and condemned to death by God, death held dominion over Him (2 Cor. 5:21, Rom. 8:3, 6:9). It no longer does so. His resurrection has permanently changed this. Jesus now lives an unending life unto God and with His Father, the essence of eternal life. But we are not fully there as yet.
If the Lord should tarry, we will pass and sleep in the same way as many believers have done before us. Soul and spirit, we personally go on to be with Christ in heaven. However, we are separated from our bodies and they are left to decay in the grave. Now that we have Christ and eternal life, our passing is quite different from that of unbelievers in the world. It is not that mortality has already been removed from us, but the Christian’s relationship to death has dramatically changed:
Hebrews 2:14-15 (NKJV)
14 Inasmuch then as the children have partaken of flesh and blood, He Himself likewise shared in the same, that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, 15 and release those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage.
The fear of death is mainly related to God’s judgment. Scripture says, “And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment” (Heb. 9:27) – it is the destiny of all individuals in the first Adam. In their consciences they know they will not be able to stand in the presence of a holy and righteous God. They fear the terror and wrath of God in judgment on them. Regardless of the various ways they may come up with in order to avoid Him during their lives, they understand that death is the door which brings them into His presence to give account. Foolishly, they hope that things will go well for them at this meeting, that the righteous and holy God will somehow wink at their sins and allow them to pass by.
But the Christian is no longer in the first Adam. Believers are in Christ, the second Adam. And those who are in Christ will not face the terror and wrath of God in judgment, for Jesus has done so for us already. Therefore, as believers, we have been released from the fear of death. Although death is still with us, if our affections and love for Christ are proper, the death of a saint is only a happy occasion. We go to be with the Lord. If you think about it, for the believer this is far better (Phil. 1:23). In our Christian walk down here, we are physically without Christ. When we leave these earthen vessels behind through death, we will be with Him. Although there are other comparisons and considerations, being personally with Christ far outweighs them all.