Friday, June 2, 2017

"Eternal Life" according to Scripture

I thought I had written a dedicated post about the Biblical teaching on "eternal life," but after doing a search it seems I only wrote about it in passing (e.g. Here and Here). As with many of my posts, the heart of good apologetics is defining key theological terms according to the Bible. Most theological errors are due to people unconsciously assigning their own definitions to key theological terms, which results in building other theological conclusions on an faulty foundation. In this case, many people will read verses such as "whomever believes in him will have eternal life" (Jn 3:15) as if it were saying once you accept the Gospel your spot in heaven is secure forever. This is understandable, but it's a serious mistake and even misses the beauty of such texts. 
Doing a simple word search, the term "eternal life" appears in approximately 45 verses in the Bible. To keep this post short, I wont go through every verse, but you can and should follow the link to see the verses for yourself. The key verses I want to highlight are as follows:
  • John 4:14 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.
  • John 5:24 Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.
  • John 17:3 And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.
  • 1 John 3:14-15 We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death. Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him
In these passages from John, it is clear that "eternal life" is not something that comes in the future, it is not a ticket to heaven, but rather it is something you presently experience. In John's mind, to have "eternal life" means you have a relationship with the Trinity, the Trinity dwells within you. You "know" the Father and the Son, you have a spring of water flowing within, you have passed from spiritual death to inner spiritual life. In short, you have "eternal life abiding within" yourself (1 Jn 3:15). So all those times in John when Jesus says "believe and you will have eternal life," this is simply saying if you believe Jesus is your Savior, you will be in communal relationship with the Trinity. This communion can obviously be broken, as we see Adam originally had communion and fell, and 1 John 3:15 warns that mortal sin will result in no longer having eternal life in yourself (unless you repent). 

It is understandable why the term "eternal life" would confuse many, but it's pretty clear once you stop and try to understand the term from John's mystical perspective. That said, now it's time to look at how the term "eternal life" is used by Paul and other Apostles, because we will see a different usage than John's.