What Does it Mean to Have Eternal Life?

Eternal life is a term that Christians leisurely toss around like a Frisbee at the church picnic. But what does it mean? This is obviously an important question to answer. It is in fact one of the main implications of the gospel itself. Consider the famous words of John 3:

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. (John 3.16)

If asked most people would say that eternal life is everlasting life. That is, it goes on forever.

Let me ask then, Live forever how? With whom? And why? 

If eternal life means that I simply continue living in my current city, riding the merry-go-round of this world throughout all eternity, then I am not overly excited about it. Quite frankly I want more than to just not see the credits roll.

One Greek Lexicon is very helpful in this pursuit:

In combination with ζωή there is evidently not only a temporal element, but also a qualitative distinction. In such contexts, αἰώνιος evidently carries certain implications associated with αἰώνιος in relationship to divine and supernatural attributes. If one translates ‘eternal life’ as simply ‘never dying,’ there may be serious misunderstandings, since persons may assume that ‘never dying’ refers only to physical existence rather than to ‘spiritual death.’ Accordingly, some translators have rendered ‘eternal life’ as ‘unending real life,’ so as to introduce a qualitative distinction. (Louw-Nida)

Now we are getting somewhere. Eternal life is not simply the quantity (how long) but also the quality of the life (how good).

Consider then some other facts about eternal life:

1. It is found exclusively in Jesus. There are no secret doors into the Commonwealth of the Eternally happy! There is only one entry point and one pass code. His name is Jesus.

1 Jn 5.11 And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.

2. It is received by believing in Jesus. One may only enter into eternal life by faith, that is by believing in Christ, trusting in his work, and treasuring his supreme worth.

Jn 3.14-16 And das Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

3. It is the only satisfying option for the hungry and thirsty soul. When Jesus met the Samaraten woman at the well she was hungry and hurting; reeling from her sin stained past. He speaks to this woman of his ability to satisfy the quenching thirst of her soul. How does he do this? He gives eternal life.

(John 4.13-15) Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water.”

This is exactly what he does in John chapter 6 when he speaks of giving his body and blood to those who hunger and thirst. The point here is that eternal life is knowing God (Jn. 17.3) through Jesus Christ. This satisfies the hungry thirsty soul forever!

4. It is a gift of God’s grace. We do not earn this life nor do we merit its continuation. The experience of this life is all of grace.

(Rom. 6.23) For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

5. It is something that we can know that we have now. 

(1 John 5:13) I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life.

John’s goal was to provide clarity and confidence to those who believe in Christ. He wanted them to know that eternal life was to be enjoyed by experience as they believe. In other words, for all who presently believe in Christ there is eternal life to be presently enjoyed!

This will get you up in the morning! When we think of eternal life the way that Jesus and his Apostles lay it out then we are truly encouraged. Our minds and hearts are unfastened from the rusted out, sinking ship of this world and firmly applied to the soul-satisfying truth of God’s eternal word. This is the charter of the eternal kingdom!

Eternal life is not simply the quantity (how long) but also the quality of the life (how good). The happiness, satisfaction, freedom, confidence, comfort, and humility that come to the believer are the beams that radiate from the center of the gospel. This sight and warmth we feel as Christians is what I mean by quality of life. It is this that colors in our concept of duration of life. It is real life indeed! And it lasts forever!

This is good news!