What is Eternal Life?
Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life. (1 John 5:12 ESV)
For all our quoting of verses like John 3:16 about eternal life, do we really get what eternal life actually is?
The spiritual life and vitality of God within
Many people simply think of God merely keeping you alive spiritually when you die. It’s just that I continue to exist. Eternal life is much more than ongoing existence; it is the very life of God in us. It is given to us by the Holy Spirit when we believe in Jesus.
Romans 6:13 describes it as having been “brought from death to life.” Remember, we are born spiritually dead. We are born without spiritual life. Through regeneration, God makes us alive with the life of God. That may sound strange because the modern man doesn’t think this way. But remember in Genesis 2:7 when God made Adam, the text says that the LORD God…breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature. What did God place in him? His “breath;” his life.
In salvation, God breathes life into us again, the very life of God. Through union with Christ, we are connected to this life of God. What can separate us from God and his love? Romans 8:39 tells us, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. We are in an indissoluble union with Christ. We have the Son. And with that “having,” we have life. Since that relationship cannot be broken, we will be connected to this eternal source of life and vibrancy forever. His divine life eternally enlivens ours.
Let me illustrate it this way…A standard household lamp has the capacity for light, but unless you plug it in, it doesn’t give light to anything. When you plug it in to a power source, it lights up. In a similar way, when we are born, we have the capacity for spiritual things, but we have no life on our own (a lamp not plugged in). When we place our faith in Jesus (“plug into” him), we suddenly are in union with Christ. And because of that union, we are now animated, enlivened; we have life (the light goes on). His life is our life. That life (the light) is still there (stays lit) when we die because it is eternal life (the power source, Christ, never dies).
The Christian’s present possession
1 John 5:12 says, Whoever has the son has life. Every word here is inspired and trustworthy. It doesn’t say, Whoever has the son will have life. It is present tense, has life. If there is one misconception it is this one: eternal life is someday and is mostly about the duration of life; it never ends.
Whoever has the Son has life. If you are a Christian, you have the life of God now. God is certainly interested in your future experience of it. But it is a now experience. This new life is also eternal life. The same spiritual vibrancy that is sustaining me in trials and changing my sinful habits and delighting in God to worship and seeking to live to the glory of God and striving to love my neighbors, and seeking a God-centered home—that is the same life. New life is eternal life. Eternal life is transformational life. It is the joy and power of God at work within me.
I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. (John 10:10) The abundant life is eternal life, experienced now imperfectly because of our ongoing struggle with sin. But it is truly “abundant” in that it is a gift from God; a gift we will treasure forever.
The guarantee of unending life after physical death
Jesus said to [Martha], “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live. (John 11:25) We cannot talk about eternal life and not rejoice in this truth. Not in a church that regularly is burying loved ones who die in the faith. Not in a group of people who know that someday it is our turn. Jesus is the resurrection and the life.
The promise is that we will die physically but we will never ever truly die. The real me, the me in terms of person, memories, heart, loves, passions; the me of a whole life lived, the real me will never end because I am united to Christ and his eternal life is my present possession.
A foretaste of the future kingdom and its indescribable joy
When God the Father raised Jesus from the dead, it was the life of the eternal age invading this present world. Like a story in which a power from another world shows up in this world, the resurrection was a kind of portal from the future glorious world into this present one. It is this same life, this same portal, through which the Christian experiences life eternal in the present world. That is why we can say that we have it now but it’s not all that it will be. The future life will be the same only greater and more wonderful. Fully expressed.
We have the seed. We have eternal life now. But what the full flower will be is far more beautiful and wonderful than our present experience of it. You just wait and see.
Whoever has the son has life. This verse is a verse of assurance, both for the saved and the lost. If you have the Son, you have eternal life now. If you do not, you do not.
There is assurance here as well for all who do not have the Son by faith. To not have the son is to not have life. We talk about assurance of salvation, perhaps we should talk as much about assurance of non-salvation or assurance of judgment. Verse 12 is very discriminatory. Jesus said as much in John 14:6, I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.
So this verse wonderfully reassures the believer in Jesus and also warns the unbeliever. Do not make God out to be a liar. Do not ignore his testimony or witnesses. And do not reject his Son; for if you do, there is not life eternal but eternal death, eternal destruction, eternal and unending misery. What is your spiritual condition?
While you are yet alive, the opportunity is there to spiritually plug in to the very life of God in Jesus. If the Apostle John was standing here, he would say, “My friends, believe. God loves you. I saw his love on display with my own eyes. I saw Jesus die. I saw him resurrected. What I am telling you is the truth. If you don’t believe me, believe John the Baptist who baptized him. Believe the Romans who crucified him. Believe the water. Believe the blood. Believe those of us who witnessed his miracles and teaching. But most of all, believe God whose says through all creation and through his Word and by his Spirit, ‘Believe in me and be saved from death and be saved unto life eternal.’”
Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
©2013 Steve DeWitt. You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that: (1) you credit the author, (2) any modifications are clearly marked, (3) you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, (4) you include Bethel’s website address (www.bethelweb.org) on the copied resource.
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