It may sound strange, but I believe many Christians do not have an accurate view of what eternal life really is. They do not understand the treasure that is really theirs. If you ask various believers what this thing called “eternal life” is, a typical response would be: “It's my future inheritance” or “It means my sins are forgiven and I'm going to heaven when I die” or “Eternal life is living forever with God in heaven.” Now, certainly all those answers are true, but they are the result of possessing eternal life - they are not what eternal life is at its' core.
Eternal life is not just future; I don't know how we started equating the word eternal with the word future, but they are not the same! Of course, eternal life includes the future, but it also speaks of the past and the present. In other words, eternal life is a future promise to every true believer, but it is also a present possession! When one's thinking of eternal life is mainly future, I suspect he is living sub-par from what God has provided for him. Every child of God needs to be illuminated by God's precious Spirit to eternal life in the here and now!
So what is the Bible's definition of eternal life? I'm glad you asked! Listen to what John says in 1 John 1:1-2, “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life; For the life was manifested, and we have seen it, and bear witness, and shew unto you that eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us; (emphasis mine). John calls Jesus “that eternal life.” You see, eternal life is not some abstract idea, or some set of doctrines that are true to you once you get saved, but eternal life is an actual life – God's life – that is given to you the moment you're born-again! We're born in spiritual death, separated from God's life, but when we're saved we are in actual reality united to God's life. Again, John says in 1 John 4:9, “In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him.” The “live through him” is not just future, it speaks of ongoing action right now. Jesus is our life right now! “He that hath the Son, hath life” (present tense, 1 Jn.5:12). Please understand, eternal life is not just going to heaven, but it is the actual life of a person and His name is Jesus!
Take some time to meditate on these other Scriptures:
John 1:4 - “In him was life, and the life was the light of men”
John 14:6 - “I am the way, the truth, and the life. . . .”
Rom.5:10 - “For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life.”
Rom.6:23 - “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord”
Gal.2:20 - “. . .nevertheless I live, yet not I, but Christ liveth in me”
Col.3:3-4 - “For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory.”
2 Pet.1:4 - “. . . that by these ye might be made partakers of the divine nature”
1 Jn.3:9 - “Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin, for his seed (life) remaineth in him”
This truth is found all over the New Testament. To be a child of God is not just a nice phrase or thought; we really are children of God because we have His actual life within us! Eternal life is both quantitative and qualitative. In other words, the quantity side of eternal life is that it goes on forever. No more will we experience spiritual death! God's life is eternal, and that life is God's gift to us when we exercise repentance and faith. Because God lives forever, we shall too because we share in that life! As John Newton said, “When we've been there 10,000 years, bright shining as the sun, we've no less days to sing God's praise, than when we first begun.” I am thankful today for my future inheritance and the foreverness (forgive my made up word!) of God's life that I get to partake in!
But then there's the qualitative side of eternal life, and this is the side I think many Christian's miss. There is a definite quality of eternal life, because, again, it's God's life, and this is the life that should be flowing through us on a daily basis. Eternal life is not on the natural plane; it is supernatural because the source of everything is God all the time. What is the quality of eternal life, or, put another way, what does it look like? Gal.5:22-23 - “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance.” Friends, that's the essence of eternal life! That's who God is. God's life is always loving, joyful, peaceful, patient, good, and so on. If these fruits are not the quality of your day-to-day life, then you're not drawing upon God's life within you. Because that's what God's life is like, all the time.
The Christian life, when properly lived, is Jesus' life flowing through you. It doesn't work any other way. There's no way that in our wicked and weak flesh we could constantly measure up to God's standard. It is absolute futility to try and live the Christian life apart from Jesus. God doesn't accept our best (the natural man) when it comes to getting to heaven, and He doesn't want nor accept our best when it comes to Christian living. Jesus is given unto us as ALL we need (see 1 Cor.1:30). Salvation is the possession of God's life for the forgiveness of sins and an eternal home, but it's also God's life right now to deliver us from sin and self. Anything that's not done for God's glory and in dependence upon the indwelling life of Christ is only an imitation, something that is wood, hay, and stubble, and doesn't produce true spiritual fruit.
Here is a quote from a man named Jason Henderson that really sums up well what we've been discussing:
“Christianity is not religion – it is life. Specifically, it is the life of the Lord Jesus Christ given to the soul of man. It is not a collection of beliefs, although knowing His life will cause us to see and walk in the truth. It is not a kind of behavior, although abiding in His life will affect all that we desire and do. Christianity, at its very root and in every branch, is bound up with a very specific life that God gives, reveals, and forms in the soul of man. Christianity is Christ living in you.”
God's eternal life is wrapped up in Jesus – it is not just a gift from Jesus, it is the gift of Jesus. If Christ is not living through you then you're not living the Christian life; you're bound in religion to rules and regulations, and you're probably battling a lot of frustration and despair. The answer is “that eternal life” - Jesus! Jesus is with us and wants to be in us all that we need and all that God requires. Cast yourself upon Him afresh and anew today and experience eternal life in the here and now!