Eternal life is the state of enjoying communion with God. We enter into it by faith, but it is maintained by a faith that is demonstrated by good works and obedience. The person with eternal life has personal conviction of this life through abiding in Christ and by the witness of the Holy Spirit. Ultimately, salvation finds its fullest expression in the eternal life of enjoying God.
An analogy of eternal life is the close friendships we grow into with other people (such as in a marital relationship). Close relationships are not simply believed in. When both friends value the other’s friendship, they show it by how they behave together, and by their carefulness to protect and nurture their relationship. So it is with eternal life with God.
Eternal life is enjoyed by faith in this life and will be obtained by works (evidences of faith) in the kingdom to come. Those who enjoy a deep closeness and trust in God in this life will be rewarded immeasurably in the following kingdom. Those who don’t show evidences of this relationship, or show carelessness (such as through idolatry or loving the world or the flesh more), will suffer loss now and later. God values a relationship with us above all; those who cultivate and expand this relationship in thought, word, and deed gain the most. If we are too busy for God, we generally do not have eternal life, simply because our faith has been proven to be false.
Eternal life, life eternal, and everlasting life are all the same Greek words. In context, “eternal” does not concern itself so much with length of time as it does with the immeasurable value of or enhancement of life.
Now let’s see what the scriptures teach.
Eternal life is seen as something to be possessed now and in the future kingdom. Several verses show us that eternal life is a thoroughly committed relationship with God, such as in giving up all that hinders in order to follow Jesus (Matthew 19:16, 29), placing a value of building up that life over satisfying the flesh (John 6:29), sacrificing present loves to obtain eternal life (John 12:25), and renouncing sin and serving God wholeheartedly in holiness (Romans 6:22). Obviously, one must love God, but one must also demonstrate that love towards one’s neighbor (Luke 10:25).
Eternal life in the coming kingdom will be an immeasurably greater enjoyment of God’s presence. Again, it is not obtained by faith alone, but by a faith which works through obedience. For instance, disciples gain everlasting life in the kingdom to come when they prove their devotion to Jesus (Mark 10:30). Similarly, we obtain this life by seeking glory, honor and immortality through patiently doing good to the end (Romans 2:6-11).
Eternal life is nurtured by works of faith. One increases this relationship life by sowing to the Spirit rather than the flesh (Galatians 6:8), and we make it our own possession (laying hold on it) by maintaining good works (1 Timothy 6:12, 19).
Eternal life can be detected in oneself. First John gives several inward evidences of this life, such as the witness of the Spirit (1 John 5:7-11) who teaches us how to abide in Christ (1 John 2:23-28). In other words, how can we say we have eternal life if we are acting contrary to God’s own nature of love?
Clearly, eternal life is not simply believing in God, but is a whole-hearted commitment to God that is seen in service and purity as a response to God’s sacrificial love and overwhelming grace.
What Do You Think?
a. Do we get the above definition of eternal life merely by accepting Jesus as Savior? What verses support or deny this?
b. Since eternal life is enjoying one’s relationship with God, what can hinder eternal life?
c. Eternal life has to do with faith and works, not eternity. What does that say about the idea that we can’t lose eternal life since it is eternal?