What is meant by the concept of ”eternal life”? What part do we play in achieving it or in offering it to others? What assurance is there that one can actually be in possession of it? According to many, achieving eternal life is nothing more than saying a particular mantra or prayer with just the right phrases, granting you a “ticket” to a place of everlasting pleasure upon your transition from this chaotic world. This prayer is usually followed up with the question, “Did you mean what you prayed?” Some even add, “Congratulations, now you will go to heaven when you die.” This seems very human-centered and devalues the decision to a level of presuming the merciful provision of God.
There are nearly twenty-five references to the exact term “eternal life” in the New Testament. Three of these times in the Gospels reference a response to a misguided question asked of Jesus which put the emphasis for salvation on the man’s objective, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Twenty percent of these passages are about what God has already done about our salvation before we were even naturally conceived. Twenty percent are connected to the future aspects of this life beyond death. The majority, or sixty percent of the passages speak to how we live our life today; they speak of the appropriation and assimilation of this life in the here and now.
As we study these passages for ourselves, certain concepts, or characteristics about the true nature of “eternal life’ begin to emerge.
- Our salvation is entirely of God.
- We understand the essence and experience of eternal life as it is manifested in the Scripture.
- Eternal life is, in essence, a personal and progressive relationship with Jesus Christ.
- There is the assumption that the possession of this life enables us to abide and/or persevere in it throughout a lifetime and into eternity.
- It also manifests itself in a love for other believers.
Perhaps the most profound summary of the nature of eternal life is given by Jesus in John 17:3 as He intercedes to the Father for us, “Now this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ who you have sent.”
I challenge you to affirm, through your personal exploration that most of Scripture’s instruction for living eternally refers to living it while we walk the earth: Matthew 25:46; Mark 10:30; John 3:15, 4:36, 5:39, 6:54,68, 10:28, 12:25, 17:2-3, Acts 13:48, Romans 2:7, 5:21, 6:23, I Timothy 6:12, Titus 1:2, Hebrews 5:9, I John 1:2, 2:25, 3:15, 5:11, 13, 20, Jude 21.
Is this the gospel message you proclaim?