Each of the Bible’s spiritual values have a natural-life counterpart that we live out, whether we believe in God or not. Eternal life is one of those aspects that we already know in our natural lives. The average church-goer probably believes that eternal life is the same as living a long time, of never dying. Actually, it is quite different. Eternal life is best understood as a deep and abiding friendship. It focuses on the quality of life, not its mere length.
We think of life as meaning the opposite of death, and we are right; though in this case, eternal life is not about physical life and death, but spiritual. If we are in a right relationship with God, then we have life. If we are living in sin and unbelief, then we are in death. Romans chapter six tells us that if we are slaves to something other than God, then that will result in death, but if we are slaves to obey Him, it results in life. Eternal life is not just a life that lasts forever, for all people will last forever, both those living with God in the coming kingdom and those cast into the Lake of Fire.
If we have long-lasting friendships, then we already know how to enrich the eternal life we enjoy. For instance, if you are happily married, then you know enough about the other person to know what to do or say to maintain and enrich your marriage. So it is with eternal life and the Christian’s relationship with God. Let’s look at several examples.
To preserve our natural friendships, we think well of the other persons and treat them with respect. We don’t readily suspect them or doubt them. So it is with the Christian to God, and why we worship Jesus; with worship, we express our highest appreciation of Him and His work. Pay attention to the words you use in your worship and make sure they are God-honoring. I sing both hymns and contemporary songs and both can have lyrics containing ideas that twist biblical truths.
It’s hard to develop a friendship with someone you don’t know well and who won’t open up to you. A marriage continues to develop as husband and wife continue to learn about the other person and adapts to their habits and likes and dislikes — all through good communication. God has written a book which contains many stories of His interactions with human beings to communicate to us His values and character. Reading the Bible carefully, we see who He is and it helps us to adapt and change in relation to Him. Since God is our heavenly Father, what is our role? Since Jesus is our shepherd, then what are we? Since He is Master and Lord, what is our part? When we really grasp who He is, then we get a higher view of ourselves.
I’m not sure we can develop a friendship and maintain it without meaningful communication. Many issues are resolved between friends through honest talks. So a Christian is to pray and talk to God about everything. “Pray always,” we are commanded. Why would we be reluctant to talk to a Person we admire? We would consider a relationship in trouble if one of the party says, “We are not on speaking terms.” So a Christian without prayer is a relationship in trouble. The air is cleared between friends by airing relationship-damaging faults and making them right. (God has no faults to admit.) When we learn of something we’ve done or failed to do that breaks our life with God, we need to state the issue in prayer and how we will resolve it, then make good on it. So eternal life is not an alien life; it’s a way life we already know how to address in our natural relationships.
When a marriage is in trouble, the couple might go see a counselor. A counselor may ask, “What brought you together? What drew you to one another?” So it is with the Christian and their relationship with God; it’s good to remember why we are a Christian. We remember the sacrifice of Christ on the cross as He bore the punishment for our sins. We are drawn to Him because we want to be saved from our sins and its consequences. If we heard a true gospel, then we are also drawn to the possibility that we may enter into a relationship with God. If we heard a full gospel, then we also see the possibility that we can overcome our sins through identification with His death and resurrection, dying to the old ways to live for Him.
Specifically, we remember the love of God in the time of Communion and our personal devotional times. If the remembrance leaves us cold, then perhaps our relationship with Him is cold as well. Similarly, it certainly does not bode well if a couple remembers the joy of their early times with indifference.
Those who believe on Jesus have eternal life. What kind of life would you have with someone whom you don’t believe or trust? Without faith it is impossible to please God, the Bible tells us. That goes for pleasing the marriage partner as well. My marriage will be on rocky ground if we cannot trust each other. So we grow in our marriage commitment by becoming the type of people who are trustworthy in character, loyal to the spouse, and pick up the skills and traits along the way that are needed for this higher view of humanity. Marriage is not to make us more happy, one Christian marriage book puts it, but to make us more holy.
Seeing eternal life as a healthy relationship with God puts sanctification in a new light. During this life-long process of transformation, we are learning to be more and more serious about our “wedding vows,” so to speak, in which we are committed to Him no matter what. It’s a process of learning what pleases Him and making difficult choices to let go of other loves, whether they be things, interests, concepts, loyalties, prejudices and biases, or people that conflict with His own views, character, and will.
“Should I get a tattoo or not?” and other works-related questions gets put into context. Does a tattoo enhance your relationship with God? If you absolutely must get a tattoo, very likely you are exhibiting slavery to the impulse and need to die to it so that Jesus may guide you and your choices more perfectly. This tattoo issue is just a sample question; many such questions are considered rightly when we put them into the context of our role as a companion to Jesus. Should we go to church on Saturday rather than Sunday? Should we keep the Ten Commandments to be better people? Can we eat meat or should we be vegetarians? Many questions are cleared up when we just consider how they impact our relationship with God. If you ate meat or not, how will it affect your human friendships? If you changed the day in which you habitually think well of your human friend, how will it affect the friendship — would the change of day really make a difference in enjoying your friendship? If any practice we have a question of putting into effect harms our humility, obedience and service to God, then we should proceed cautiously with godly counsel, if at all.
We live by a faith that works in love, the Bible tells us, so our love relationship is key. So we do not put a load of shoulds and should-nots on ourselves and others; we don’t wag fingers at others who don’t carry the weight of religious practices that we do, which even we cannot carry out. Rather, every adjustment we make to our lives that are derived by the scriptures is to enhance or perfect a relationship with the rest of humanity, who are in an equally fallen state, and with God, who is not.
With a right understanding of eternal life, we become one with Him, and speak and work as a representative of Him in this world. As God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, so we work as fit ambassadors of Christ, representing His interests on earth. To see Jesus was to see the Father, so to see us is to see Christ. This is the outworking of the perfect partnership with God and Christ. This is the fruitful stage eternal life leads us to, when every task wafts the aroma of “Not my my will but Thine be done.”
Seeing eternal life like a healthy marriage relationship helps clear up many problems people have when misinterpreting biblical commands. Eternal life is found in a Person, not works, or how nice you are, your accomplishments or wealth, and so on. It is entirely dependent on your trust in the person of Jesus Christ. My marriage health is entirely based on my relationship with my wife, not my work in the community, my hobby, or my stuff. This helps us see the difference between religion and relationship. Is it a satisfying relationship to love one another, interacting in mutually beneficent ways, or to do specific tasks in a particular way on a regular schedule? Which seems more human, and which seems more un-human?
So we see the many prohibitions in the Bible, and its many positive commandments, are not to be done as rote, robotic tasks to append to our normal lives. These practices are not to make us nice church-going Christian people, any more than nice home-going marriage people. No, they help us be more tightly integrated into the life of God, more perfect companions of Jesus to carry out His will.
The world introduces many interests that draw us away from our friends and from God. So we bear our cross daily to die to those things that would negatively impact those friendships that we value. Am I satisfied to know a friend just through Facebook, or would it be much nicer if we joined together to experience the things of life? Am I satisfied to hear of God through a preacher’s message, or do I want the abundant life Jesus promises, by inviting Him into all the things I do? For we are told to “lay hold on eternal life” as though it is something we can cease to enjoy. “This is life eternal, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent,” Jesus said. So God is at the center of eternal life, not things or religious practices.
For in the end, God will give such people to Jesus as His wife. They will have proven themselves fit to rule with Him, as shown by dying to self-focused impulses to live for Him, rejecting their society to embrace His kingdom, and persevering in suffering to preserve their bond with Him.
Jesus died for our sins, opening up the door to eternal life to all who believe in Him. Why die for our sins? Because it is our sinful nature that separates us from God. This concept has its counterpart in our natural lives as well; a relationship is damaged over a grievous offense by one party against the other. A damaged relationship is often corrected by the offender admitting fault and making things right to the satisfaction of the wounded party. So it happens when a person responds to the gospel proclamation where Jesus died for our sins to put us right with God.
If we are not dealing with sin, then do we really value the eternal life Jesus died to give us? If we continue in sin, then do we even have eternal life? Eternal life is not an abstract, just as marriage is not just a piece of paper. Both are experiencing a living interaction with another, whether of God or a human soul. Eternal life is not God sprinkling fairy dust on us, but inviting us into a life-changing encounter with Him that was made to last forever.
Eternal life is not to be a vague doctrine among other equally shadowy concepts; rather, it is the fullest picture of all the stories we have been reading about on every page of scripture. Jesus is the picture on the puzzle box; eternal life is the pieces all coming together in the right way to reflect His image and relationship with the Father.