By Kevin Campbell
What lies beyond the portals of death is a matter that everyone considers at one time or another. Is there life after death? If so, of what does it consist and who will obtain it? The questions and speculations run rampant upon the subject but the answers can only be found in the truth of God’s word. Seers, psychics, and false religions only add to the confusion and obscure the truth. I am firmly convinced that Christians need a good dose of confidence in their eternal state as a guard against falling and as a prod to greater service and faithfulness. John refers to the purification of the child of God that can occur as a result of the hope of life eternal (1 Jn. 3:3). When our confidence is strong, we can anticipate and prevent pitfalls that might lead us away from our hope (Col. 1:23).
Before proceeding further, we need a good understanding of what we mean by eternal life. The Bible teaches that both the righteous and the wicked will be conscious after the Judgment Day but only the righteous are referred to as receiving “eternal life” (Rom. 2:5-9). To some, at first, this is puzzling. Why is it, if everyone will have an eternal existence after death, that only one portion are spoken of as gaining eternal life? First of all, eternal life refers to more than just an eternal existence after death. The key lies in understanding what is meant by “life.” “Life” refers to the state and relationship that a child of God will enjoy with his Creator during his eternal existence. To illustrate further, let’s examine several passages that will aid us in understanding this concept. In 1 Timothy 5:6, Paul says, “But she that liveth in pleasure is dead while she liveth.” Here we have a person who, though alive physically and having a conscious existence, is spoken of as being dead. How? Paul explains in Ephesians 2 that the Ephesians had been “dead in trespasses and sins” but that “God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ” (vv. 1,4-5). They had been dead in sins but had been “quickened,” or made alive, through the blood of Christ.
The significant thing is that while a person has a conscious, physical existence or life, he can still be spoke of as being dead in sin. Death, spiritually, is separation from God according to Isaiah 59:1-2 and Romans 6:23. The opposite of spiritual death is spiritual life. If spiritual death is separation from God, spiritual life is union with God. So, only those who are in union with the Lord are spoken of as being alive or having life. Jesus said, “This is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent” (Jn. 17:3). Eternal life then, refers to the union and relationship that we will enjoy with our God eternally when this life on earth is over.
Our next consideration is that eternal life is a gift given by God. Notice these passages: “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom. 6:23). “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God” (Eph. 2:8).
Eternal life has been offered by our God to all mankind because of his great love and mercy. It has not been offered due to mankind’s deservings or on the basis of any good thing that we have done. This is what is meant by Paul’s statement that we are saved by grace (or favor) and not by our own works or deservings. In other words, God did not decide at a particular point in time, that man had behaved well enough to enter into life eternal.
As children of God, we need to dwell long and hard on this point. We have not done anything to deserve this gift. Being baptized does not earn our way into life eternal. Being a good parent, a good employee, a good Samaritan or just being “good” does not qualify or earn one’s eternal life. It is God’s gift that he has offered for no other reason than his love and mercy for us. Our appreciation of this truth needs to be expressed by demonstrating our thankfulness in a life that is governed completely by his will. Paul stated that God’s grace (favor, mercy) teaches us that “we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world” (Tit. 2:11-12).
One final point regarding eternal life being God’s gift is this: it is given on a conditional basis. Some recoil at this but it is the truth of God’s word nonetheless. Notice that Paul said that we are saved “by grace through faith” (Eph , 2:8). God’s decision to offer eternal life was not conditional. He offered it only because of his grace and mercy. On the other hand, its reception is conditional. It is received “through faith.” Our Lord will not force any one to accept his offer and will only give it to those who, through faith, accept and obey his conditions. The writer of Hebrews states that Jesus “became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him” (Heb. 5:8-9).
Present Possession or Future Hope?
This brings us to our final consideration. When one has obeyed the Lord’s plan of salvation in becoming a Christian, does he at that time come into actual, present possession of eternal life or does he possess it only in hope and in promise? In other words, is eternal life fully possessed now in this life or is it not fully possessed until the life hereafter? This is an important issue in the question of apostasy since there are those who argue that eternal life ‘ fully possessed in this life, cannot be taken away no matter how a child of God lives.
First of all, the Bible does speak of the believer possessing eternal life now. “Verily, verily, I say unto you, he that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath eternal life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life” (Jn. 5:24); “He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life” (Jn. 6:47). The question then is not does a child of God now possess eternal life but how does he possess it? In full present possession or in future hope and promise? If he possesses it fully and completely, then he cannot possess it in hope or hope for it since he already has it. Paul states in Romans 8:24-25, “We are saved by hope: but hope that is seen is not hope: for what a man seeth, why doth he yet hope for? But if we hope for that we see not, then do we with patience wait for it. ” Something that is fully and completely possessed is not something that can be hoped for since hope involves the expectation of a future reception.
How then does the Bible refer to a Christian’s possession of eternal life? As full and present or as a future hope? Notice these verses of Scripture:
(1) Paul wrote to Titus “in hope of eternal life, which God that cannot life, promised before the world began” (Tit. 1:2). Also, that “we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life” (3:7).
(2) John wrote, “And this is the promise which he hath promised us, even eternal life” (1 Jn. 2:25).
Notice that these passages speak of eternal life as a hope and a promise and not as a full possession.
Not only do the above passages identify eternal life as a future hope and promise, there are numerous others which clearly state that it has yet to be given. Take a look at these verses:
(1) Romans 2:5-11. Here Paul states that at the judgment day, God “will render to every man according to his deeds: To them who by patient continuance in well doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, eternal life.” Consider that it is at the judgment when God will give eternal life to those who have sought for glory, honor, and immortality.
(2) Galatians 6:8-9. Paul states, “For he that soweth to the flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the spirit shall of the spirit reap life everlasting” (v. 8). Now notice, what will he who sows to the spirit reap? Life everlasting. When will he reap it? “And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not” (v. 9). Life everlasting is to be reaped in due season, if we faint not!
(3) 1 Timothy 6:12,19. Paul instructs Timothy to “fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life, whereunto thou art also called” and told him to tell the saints “that they do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to distribute, willing to communicate; laying up in store for themselves a good foundation against the time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal life.” Remember that they were to lay hold on eternal life and therefore had not come into actual possession of it yet. (Read these other verses as well: Matt. 25:46; Mk. 10:30; Rom. 6:22.)
In closing please read 1 John 5:11-13. Consider these points: (1) God has given us eternal life. (2) That life is in his Son Jesus Christ. (3) In order to obtain that life, we must have the Son in us and we must be in Him. “He that hath the Son hath life; he that hath not the Son of God had not life” (5:12). The application is if we are not in the Son of God, we must obey him that we might have the promise and hope of life everlasting. The Bible tells us that we enter the Son through belief and being baptized (Rom. 6:3-4; Gal. 3:26-27).
If you are a child of God and “in Christ,” is Christ in you? You need to “walk in the light as he is in the light.” John clearly states that the only way to know that we are in the Son, and therefore in the hope of eternal life, is to love the Lord and keep his commandments (1 Jn. 2:3-5; 4:7). Then as God’s children, let us allow that hope and promise to be the anchor of our soul, to encourage us to greater service and to comfort us in the time of distress and trial.
Guardian of Truth XXXV: 20, pp. 619-620
October 17, 1991