The gift of eternal life begins at salvation. We learn to live it in the hear and now through intimacy of life in Christ and Christ in us. It is the revelation of God’s supernatural kingdom and a witness to the world.
And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent. (John 17:3)
Eternal life is the gracious promise every believer holds onto with joy and thanksgiving. But have we really paused to consider what it really means? Today’s verse set me to pondering the reality of it, and I realised a startling truth. Every living person, whether a believer or not, actually has an eternal existence. They have ‘life’ after this physical life and the natural death we must all experience. This is because we are spirit, not simply flesh. Because spirit is of God and is the essence of life within us, like God it is also eternal. The body dies but the spirit continues on for eternity. Some who accept Christ will spend eternity in heaven. Those who reject Him are doomed to eternity in hell. In a sense, then, everyone has eternal life. The distinguishing factor is not so much the life but where they will spend it.
Eternal life in the broader context.
The Bible distinguishes between spiritual life and spiritual death as a way of differentiating between the two eternal destinations. This differentiation is made already here in the world. Those who accept Christ are risen with Him to eternal life. Those who reject Him remain spiritually dead. At physical death, every single human being will experience a ‘resurrection’ in as much as the spirit continues to exist. The spirit in us all – the breath of life from God – remains in all of us. If it didn’t, non-believers would have no reason to fear the afterlife. Hell wouldn’t exist because everything would simply cease at our physical death. It is the nature of the resurrection and the destination that separates believers from non-believers. This nature is already decided here on earth when we either accept or reject salvation. We determine our eternity here on earth.
It may seem non-biblical to talk of non-believers being ‘resurrected’ but it’s perfectly logical. If they weren’t, judgement and hell would be irrelevant. Believers would resurrect to heaven and non-believers would cease to be. But the Bible is very clear that hell and judgement are very real. So what, then, makes eternal life for believers so very different to the eternal life non-believers can expect? Logically, the opposite of eternal life must be eternal death. Revelation 21:8 is the only real mention of this but uses the expression second death. But the cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death. What emerges here is that it is not being alive that determines eternal life. All are alive and will receive their allocated portion in eternity.
What defines eternal life?
Today’s verse presents a definitive answer to what exactly eternal life is – the eternal life the Bible speaks of as promised to every believer in Christ. It’s not the fact of being alive or even being in heaven. It is knowing God and Christ whom He sent. The Greek word used here is ginosko and has the same meaning as the Hebrew word yada used in Genesis. Both are used in the context of marriage and the intimacy of the relationship between a husband and wife. It’s used again in Hosea when God talks of His people perishing for lack of knowledge – intimate knowledge of God. What this means is that eternal life for the believer is a deep and all-encompassing intimacy with God and His Son which includes every capacity He has placed within us. It is perfect and complete knowing, with no separation.
Eternal life, then, is existing within the life of God Himself. It is this unity or oneness – this pure knowing of God – that defines life rather than simply being alive in the hereafter. This is our hope and the source of our joyful expectation. Not that we will live forever, or even that we will live forever with God. It is being so intimately connected with God that we know all and see all and experience all in a unity that can never be broken. It doesn’t make us ‘like God’ because that is impossible. But it does mean that He transforms us into the perfect righteousness of His Son so that we can become one in glory and for all eternity. Eternal death, then, is the absence of the intimate knowledge of God and the perfect unity with Him. It is separation with no hope of restoration.
Eternal life begins on earth.
Perhaps the greatest privilege is having the opportunity to experience eternal life here on earth. This is where it begins for every believer. We aren’t simply left to our own devices and somehow totally transformed on resurrection. The Bible teaches us that we have already died a spiritual death and been resurrected with Christ. That is resurrection into eternal life. Resurrection after our physical death simply completes the process. While we do still endure the limitations of our natural existence, we are empowered to live spiritually even while still on earth. We have access to God and the throne of grace and can already experience the intimacy of deep relationship. As we draw near in faith, living new lives in Christ, God begins to reveal Himself more and more. As we get to know Him better, our faith increases and our love for Him deepens.
God is already preparing us here in this world for the indescribable joy of eternity with Him. Every moment we spend with Father and Son is a taste of eternity lived on earth. There, our work will be done and we will simply live the incredible blessing of intimacy and unrestrained love and worship. But we can enjoy the ‘first fruits’ in our daily lives. Even as we surrender in obedience and loving service to Him, we have revelation from God Himself if we only choose to live it. God is so impatient for intimacy with us that He’s not prepared to wait. He has come to earth and presenced Himself in us as a foretaste of the glory that awaits. We can live eternal life here and now in Christ, growing in the grace and love of God and the knowledge of Him that will be perfected in heaven.
Live in eternal life today.
When we consider that we already have eternal life, concepts like died with Christ or raised with Christ take on a deeper meaning. We begin to have a better understanding of what it means to live in the spirit rather than the flesh. Our lives are no longer subject to the natural laws but to the eternal laws of God who is supernatural and spirit. As we grow in the knowledge of Christ and see more revelation of God, we essentially become more spirit than flesh. That is the purpose of transforming us into the likeness of Christ. Eternal life is liberty from all things of the flesh so that we can live in the eternal things of God. While all of this will be perfected after physical death, we can still learn and grow and enjoy a measure of eternal life today – right here and right now.
The problem is that we get so bogged down with the challenges, problems, responsibilities, and obligations that we miss this incredible truth. We somehow develop the notion that eternal life is for the future, that we have to first endure here on earth and receive eternal life as our reward. While this is true in a sense, God actually desires that we live in the promise and grow into the promise here on earth. We do this by being in Christ and through Him in us. He brings His resurrection life to us – the eternal life – and imparts it to us freely and without reservation. The power of God at work in us and through us is a taste of eternity. Our physical bodies may be limited to the temporal and natural, but our spirits, in Christ, are already in eternity. We simply need to grasp it.
Eternal life is the kingdom of God.
God’s kingdom is eternal. It is of the spirit and is supernatural, and therefore is able to transcend the natural. Salvation brings us into God’s kingdom, which is into eternity. God’s purpose in salvation is so that His kingdom can be manifest on earth. It is part of His purpose that we live eternal life here and now as a testimony to who and what He is. He desires that His kingdom be revealed to all mankind, and has chosen us to be the vessels through which He works. When we don’t live in eternity, we limit what He is able to do through us. We don’t only deny ourselves the incredible blessings of living a life beyond expectation, but we deny the testimony He wants to reveal. What we live is what the world will see and which will challenge them to make the right choice.
Almighty God, Your grace leaves us humble when we consider the incredible privilege You so freely give. Draw us into deeper intimacy with You. Empower us to live in Christ to the fullness of Your eternal life so that others may see Your kingdom come in our lives. Thank You for the gift of salvation and the liberty it brings. Above all, thank You that enable us to live in the promise that will be fulfilled in eternity as perfect oneness and intimacy with You.