What the Bible says about
Eternal Life, Gift of
(From Forerunner Commentary)
Satan's heresy that "You shall not surely die," when expanded, claims that we are already immortal, so death has no real hold over us. This idea, proposed at the very beginning, has thrived throughout history. Mainstream Christianity calls it the doctrine of the immortality of the soul, while various Eastern religions contain it in beliefs such as reincarnation. Whatever its moniker, the belief that human beings possess a spiritual, eternally conscious, imperishable component is a major tenet of nearly every religion throughout man's history. In our modern culture, books and movies abound with examples of the spirits of the dead hovering around the living characters, giving them comfort, aid, and encouragement. It is taken as given that death is not the end; somehow, one's conscious spirit will live on when the physical body perishes.
The Gnostic belief in the dualism of flesh and spirit—with the flesh being evil and something to be freed from, while the eternal spirit was good—also originated in the lie Satan told Eve. Gnostics, in general, believed that the purpose of human existence was to return to the spiritual realm from whence all originated. Death, then, was seen as liberation of the spirit.
First, consider how this belief affects a person's attitude and way of life. When Satan undermined the death penalty for disobedience, in addition to sowing further distrust in what God says, he also blunted one of the keenest elements of human motivation, continued self-preservation. If life beyond the grave is assured, how this life is lived makes little difference. It is like guaranteeing a college freshman that he will receive a doctorate degree, regardless of whether anything is learned, any work is done, any classes are attended, or any tuition is paid. While the student may indeed expend some effort, the motivation to apply himself wholeheartedly to his education will be substantially weakened. It would be so easy to slack off and postpone catching up to some time next week. After all, if the goal is certain, why worry about the details in the meantime?
Spiritually, the result is the same. If one already has immortality, and is eternally saved, there is no pressing reason to resist the pulls of carnality. Resisting Satan matters little. Devoting one's life to growing and overcoming has no urgency. Sin is no big deal. Why should one study to come to know God and His truth? Believing that one already possesses eternal life removes the urgency to live according to the desires and requirements of the Creator. At best, all that remains is the vague guidance of "just be a good person."
The Bible teaches that there can be life after death through the resurrection from the dead. Eternal life is ours only if God supplies it, and not because we possess an immortal soul:
» God tells us, "Behold, all souls are Mine; the soul of the father as well as the soul of the son is Mine; the soul who sins shall die." (Ezekiel 18:4; emphasis ours throughout). God repeats this in Ezekiel 18:20. Clearly, it is possible for a "soul" to die.
» Paul instructs in Romans 6:23 that "the wages of sin is death," not eternal life—not even eternal life in ever-burning hell. As with Ezekiel 18, sin incurs the death penalty. Satan, though, would have us believe that since death is not a real threat, sin is no big deal. It is only because of God's grace that we are not struck down immediately—not because of any inherent immortality within us—as the rest of Romans 6:23 explains: "but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord." Eternal life is a gift, not an inborn quality.
» I Timothy 6:16 says that God "alone has immortality"—not any member of the human race, Christians included!
» Romans 2:7 promises "eternal life to those who by patient continuance in doing good seek for glory, honor, and immortality," again proving that eternal life is a gift, not a right, and that immortality must be sought (by "doing good") rather than assumed to have it already.
» Finally, in the "Resurrection Chapter," I Corinthians 15, Paul explains when Christians receive immortality:
Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the Kingdom of God; nor does corruption inherit incorruption. Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed—in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: "Death is swallowed up in victory." (I Corinthians 15:50-54)
It is not until "the last trumpet," when Jesus Christ returns, that the dead will be resurrected and given immortality (I Thessalonians 4:16). At this time, the saints will be changed and given new spiritual bodies (I Corinthians 15:49; I John 3:2). Clearly, immortality is not given until the resurrection from the dead, which does not take place until Jesus Christ returns.
That God must resurrect a person for him to continue living means that He retains sovereignty. He is not obliged to grant eternal life to anyone who demonstrates, once he has the opportunity to know God, that he is not willing to be subject to His way of life. However, by belittling the truth about the resurrection from the dead, and telling people that they already have immortality, Satan can distract them from a basic reason why they need to listen to God—so that they may be resurrected and continue living!
David C. Grabbe
Whatever Happened to Gnosticism? Part Three: Satan's Three Heresies
We should never underestimate Satan's power nor his hatred for God and man. He surreptitiously broadcasts his evil, spiritual intents into our minds, subtly working to turn each member of the “little flock” away from God (Ephesians 2:2). We should carefully consider the account of his actions in Ezekiel 28:12-16 as typical of his modus operandi. Although nothing was withheld from him, as he was created by God as the ultimate in beauty and function, “perfect in [his] ways,” he did not remain true, turning away from God, a picture of cancerous discontent.
In verse 17, we see the source of this discontent—pride: “Your heart was lifted up because of your beauty. You corrupted your wisdom by reason of your splendor.” Satan was full of pride, the very thing we must guard against so that we do not corrupt the wisdom God has given us.
Satan is called “an angel of light” because he has a talent for presenting evil in a good light, which can confuse and deceive us if we let our guards down and drift away from God's truth (II Corinthians 11:3, 14-15; see Revelation 12:9). Without this truth as our guide, we can easily fall prey to Satan's darts of discontent. After all, this is Satan's world for a while longer. So while we continue to witness the growth of discord and discontent based on his false notion that life should always be fair, we should anticipate and be thoroughly prepared for life—occasionally and even frequently—to be unfair, for now.
However, as we head into the final stages of the age of man, we should keep in mind that each of us was created by God, complete with everything we need to function according to His will. While we may lack the power, wealth, talent, and beauty that Satan—or perhaps a brother—has been gifted, we will soon be given so much more, if, among other things, we learn to be content with what our generous and loving God has provided us.
We should always remember that discontentment is common and hurtful, while contentment is rare and of great benefit (I Timothy 6:6). For true contentment is a byproduct of the gift of faith that each of us, as the elect, has been granted by God.
Foolishly comparing our lot in life with that of anyone else's can never bear any good fruit (II Corinthians 10:12). We should, instead, only measure ourselves by the Word of God—the life of Jesus Christ. In doing so, we will discover a proper perspective, finding peace, security, and contentment within God's sovereign plan (Philippians 4:6-11). Like Job, our focus need not be on what seems fair—what we possess or lose today—but on God's promises for our future, when we will take possession of the most indescribable gift of all, eternal life with our just and loving God!
Geoff Preston (1947-2013)
It's Not Fair!
Our Savior is trying to explain the relative values of our physical lives and what we can humanly accomplish to what awaits us in what is commonly called the afterlife. In short, there is no comparison!
Notice the Bible's consistency on the value of human life apart from God:
» Ecclesiastes 1:2-4: "Vanity of vanities, all is vanity." What profit has a man from all his labor in which he toils under the sun? One generation passes away, and another generation comes; but the earth abides forever.
» Job 14:1-2: Man who is born of woman is of few days and full of trouble. He comes forth like a flower and fades away; he flees like a shadow and does not continue.
» Psalm 90:10: The days of our lives are seventy years; and if by reason of strength they are eighty years, yet their boast is only labor and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away.
» Isaiah 40:6-8: All flesh is grass, and all its loveliness is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades, because the breath of the Lord blows upon it; surely the people are grass. The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God stands forever.
» James 4:14: For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away.
» I John 2:17: And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever.
The physical life we would live now is a bowl of lentils compared with eternal life. It is nothing more than a vapor, a breath, a shadow. The passing pleasures and cares of the world will only gratify and satisfy the immediate desires. If our only interest is the immediate gratification that the world has to offer, we are indeed saying, "What profit is the Kingdom of God to me now?" Like Esau, we will despise our inheritance and go our way apart from God.
Our inheritance is the Kingdom of God. By seeking it and His righteousness first (Matthew 6:33), we are telling God that we place high value on it, that we want it, that we want to be like Him and think like Him, and that we can be trusted to take care of His estate and to live and reign with Christ.
What Is Your Lentil Soup?
None of God's beneficence in any way means He approves of the conduct of sinful men, but rather it is a revelation of His nature that, despite men's wickedness, He has benevolent feelings toward them. He earnestly desires their happiness and is sincerely devoted to helping them make a success of life.
The whole world lies in wickedness (I John 5:19), and mankind is unable to extricate itself from it. Part of God's solution is to give a blessing, a gift, by which all the sins of humanity can be met and paid. Think of how much good fruit will be produced because of it! Can any kindness be greater than this? Absolutely not! But it does set a clear standard and pattern of conduct for us to exemplify in our lives so we too can be seen as children of God.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Fruit of the Spirit: Kindness
Our God, Jesus Christ, gave up everything and redeemed the whole world. Notice, however, this verse says, "whoever believes in Him . . . should have everlasting life," not the whole world. He did not sacrifice Himself for all mankind just because they were there, but for those out of the whole world who believed in Him. Paul writes in Hebrews 9:26, 28 that Christ gave Himself "once" for all time, for the remission of sin, and He does not have to sacrifice Himself again. That is "all" it took, but it took all He had.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Parables of Matthew 13 (Part 3): Hidden Treasure
What does He mean by "life . . . more abundantly"? A problem arises when discussing this concept due to the apparent subjectivity of the term "abundant." What is abundant living for one person may be absolutely unsatisfying for another. A hard-charging, A-type businessman - into exotic vacations, sports cars, and rock climbing - would not consider a rocking chair on the porch, a vegetable garden out back, and a weekly round of golf at the local course to be fulfilling, yet they would probably suit a retired senior citizen just fine. One person's bowl of cherries is another's bowl of cherry pits.
The Greek word Jesus uses in John 10:10 to describe the kind of life He came to teach His disciples is perissón, meaning "superabundant," "superfluous," "overflowing," "over and above a certain quantity," "a quantity so abundant as to be considerably more than what one would expect or anticipate." In short, He promises us a life far better than we could ever envision, reminiscent of I Corinthians 2:9, "Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him" (see Isaiah 64:4). Paul informs us that God "is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think" (Ephesians 3:20).
However, before we begin to have visions of palatial homes, classic automobiles, around-the-world trips, and wads of pocket money, we need to step back and consider what God says comprises "life." Once we determine His view of living, we will have a better grasp of what kind of blessings we can expect as Christ's disciples. All we need to do is glance around at our and our brethren's situations to know that wealth, prestige, position, and power in this world are not high-priority items on God's list of blessings (I Corinthians 1:26-29). In terms of economic, academic, and social strata, most of us come from the lower and middle classes, and we tend to remain in a situation similar to the one in which we were called (compare I Corinthians 7:20-24).
Perhaps the most telling biblical definition of life - particularly eternal life - is uttered by Jesus Himself in John 17:3: "And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent." Note that this definition makes no mention of length of days, health, prosperity, family, occupation - in fact, the only thing it does mention is knowing God!
What can we take from this?
» God is not overly concerned with the physical circumstances of our lives. It is enough that He assures us that we need not worry about what we will eat or wear (Matthew 6:25-32; Philippians 4:19).
» Eternal life, the kind of life in which a Christian is truly interested, is not determined by duration but by a relationship with God. This is why, once we are converted and impregnated with the gift of the Holy Spirit, we are said to have eternal life already (I John 5:11-13), though not, of course, in its fullness.
» Eternal life - the life God offers us through Jesus Christ and His teaching - is thus about quality, not quantity. Put another way, the abundant life is life as God lives it (Ezekiel 33:10-11; I Peter 2:21; I John 2:6), for once we truly come to know God, we will desire to emulate Him.
» Physical blessings, then, may or may not be byproducts of God's way of life; neither our wealth nor our poverty is a sure indication of our standing with God. Certainly, God desires that we "prosper in all things and be in health" (III John 2), but the bottom line is "I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth" (verse 4), not that we live like royalty.
» Finally, a Christian's life revolves around, as Peter puts it, "grow[ing] in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ" (II Peter 3:18). This suggests that the abundant life is a process of learning, practicing, and maturing, as well as failing, recovering, adjusting, enduring, and overcoming because, in our present state, "we see in a mirror, dimly" (I Corinthians 13:12).
As humans, we are naturally oriented toward material things, but as Christians, our perspective must change. Paul admonishes, "Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. For you died [in baptism], and your life is hidden with Christ in God" (Colossians 3:2-3). To us, life - and our perception of abundant life - is a whole new ballgame!
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Are You Living the Abundant Life?
Those who live their lives in union with God in this age will take part in the resurrection to eternal life. However, those who have tasted what God offers and rejected it—"those who have done evil" (John 5:29)—will be resurrected to face their Judge, and then they will be cast into the Lake of Fire and die the second death (see Revelation 20:12-15; 21:8).
Verse 8 then relates that the fate of such people is to be burned. They will have died once already, yet that first death will not satisfy the penalty for sin. Death by old age, disease, accident, or violence (including suicide) does not pay the death penalty for sin. Only a life taken in judgment for sin satisfies the debt.
Christ's sacrifice is one such payment. However, if an individual will not allow Christ's blood to pay that debt, the only recourse is for his life to be taken in payment for his sin. If he is determined to live in opposition to God, unconcerned about obeying God's commands, that person would be miserable living forever anyway. He will not be given the gift of eternal life in a state of mental or physical torment.
Instead, John 5:29 speaks of a “resurrection of condemnation.” Paul says there will be “a resurrection of the dead, both of the just and the unjust” (Acts 24:15). Similarly, Daniel 12:2 mentions those who “shall awake . . . to shame and everlasting contempt.” Anyone remaining in such opposition to God will be resurrected to physical life, judgment will be passed, his body will be burned in payment of his debt, and he will cease to exist. If he is even remembered, the memory will be contemptible.
This is why the second death continues as a theme throughout Scripture, always in the background but rarely mentioned. It is the final event for those who choose to remain in opposition to God after being given the opportunity to know Him. Paul describes this in Hebrews 10:26-27: “For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries.”
We who are in Christ have eternal life. We will still undergo a physical death, but eternal life is ours—and ours to lose. When we survey the warnings given in the New Testament, they are largely not about a sudden, dramatic turn away from God. Rather, they are about smaller things—little decisions of death that require time to bear evil fruit.
So there are warnings about false teachers, who will, over time, damage the faith on which we stand. The writers warn about deception, the cares of this life, and the enticements of this world. They caution us about growing weary and apathetic and neglecting this great salvation. They admonish us against letting the wrong attitudes take root. The dangers are subtle and incremental, but each one has the potential to lead us slowly away from God.
While any one thing may not seem critical today, the problem is what is produced tomorrow—which we often cannot foresee. Carelessness takes us to where our hearts no longer care about overcoming, and we become hostile toward God and the things of God. It opens us to the same lie that Eve fell for: that we can do as we please and continue living. The fact is, though, the spiritually dead do not know they are dead—they believe they are alive.
It is unlikely that anyone sets out to choose the second death. Instead, it is chosen incrementally, with all the little choices over time creating a character that is set and unchangeable. That character will either be intent on overcoming, on hearing Christ's voice, and on trusting in God, or set in opposition to God and His law (Romans 8:7) and thus rejecting life. The choice is ours.
David C. Grabbe
What Is the Second Death?
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