Exactly what is “eternal life?”


by Shawn Brasseaux

Just as death is not the cessation of existence, eternal life is not simply living forever. Lost people live in eternal hellfire forever, yet they are eternally dead. The word “death” in Scripture means “separation.” While there are various types of death in the Bible, they all have that basic definition of separation. Once we understand this, then we are able to comprehend what life—especially true life, or eternal life—entails.

For example, consider Romans chapter 4: “[18] Who against hope believed in hope, that he might become the father of many nations; according to that which was spoken, So shall thy seed be. [19] And being not weak in faith, he considered not his own body now dead, when he was about an hundred years old, neither yet the deadness of Sarah’s womb: [20] He staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief; but was strong in faith, giving glory to God;….” Abraham and Sarah were both certainly alive in Genesis chapter 17. Yet, their old age had resulted in sterility and barrenness. Abraham’s body and Sarah’s body were separated from their procreation ability. It was not that they lost their reproductive organs; those organs, while present, were functionally dead, separated from their purpose.

Physical death occurs when the spiritual body (soul and spirit) separates from the body of flesh and blood. Genesis 35:18 describes this as such: “And it came to pass, as her soul was in departing, (for she died) that she called his name Ben-oni: but his father called him Benjamin.” Physical death does not result in becoming nonexistent; it is a separation of the human spirit and soul from the physical body. Again, death is separation.

Romans 6:23 says, “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” We would do well to notice that “wages” is a plural noun; sin causes two deaths. One death is physical death, which is what we already covered. The other is spiritual death, when the spirit of man (as an individual) is unable to commune with the Spirit of God. Here again is a type of separation: man is spiritually separated from his Creator. There is no unity or fellowship between the two. You may read 1 Corinthians 2:9-16 to learn how sin has made the spirit of man incompatible with the Spirit of God.

Ephesians chapter 2 speaks to this point of spiritual death: “[1] And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins; [2] Wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience: [3] Among whom also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others.” You will see, here also, the issue of eternal life. When a lost person trusts Christ as his or her personal Saviour, the person can connect with Almighty God as Adam did before the Fall of man in Genesis chapter 3.

There is also positional death. As people who have trusted Jesus Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection as sufficient payment for our sins (1 Corinthians 15:3-4); we have been crucified with Him and been raised again with Him. Romans chapter 6 speaks about positional death: “[1] What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? [2] God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein? [3] Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? [4] Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. [5] For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection: [6] Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin. [7] For he that is dead is freed from sin.”

We are “dead to sin” in that we are no longer “in Adam.” God has reckoned us separated from Adam’s damnation; we are now a “new creature in Christ” (2 Corinthians 5:17). This new nature produces good works, as opposed to the old nature of sin that could produce nothing pleasing to God. Again, this is positional death. Through personal faith in Christ’s finished crosswork, our position “in Adam” has been exchanged for our position “in Christ.” Now, we have the ability to be vessels of God’s power and exhibitions of His grace!

There is one final “death” (separation) in the Bible. We have covered functional death, physical death, spiritual death, and positional death. The last “death” is “the second death,” and it is connected to spiritual death. While a lost or unsaved soul on Earth is spiritually dead—separated from God’s life—that can be remedied by personal faith in the Gospel of Grace (1 Corinthians 15:3-4). If that spiritual death is not replaced with eternal life before physical death arrives, that spiritual death will be replaced with the second death. As the spiritual body separates from the physical body, now the spiritual body separates from God’s Spirit forever. All hope of ever gaining a right standing before God is now permanently gone. The second death occurs when the lost souls in Hell are judged, and then tossed into the Lake of Fire.

Revelation chapter 20 mentions “the second death:” “[11] And I saw a great white throne, and him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away; and there was found no place for them. [12] And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works. [13] And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works. [14] And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. [15] And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.” Also, Revelation 21:8: “But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death.”

With all that said, we can now define what “eternal life” is all about. Again, “eternal life” is much more than “life without end” or “living forever,” for lost people under God’s eternal wrath live forever. They are not consumed in Hell, but are transferred to the Lake of Fire to serve out their sentence without end.

John 17:3 is the best definition of “eternal life” in the Bible: “And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.” Here is a personal relationship with the one true God through His Son Jesus Christ. This is the demolition of the barrier that sin has erected between sinners and their Creator. Romans 6:23 once again: “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Whereas we were once separated from God, we are now united with Him forever through Christ! With that new nature, we can now experience “eternal life” on a daily basis. Contrary to popular belief, eternal life is not dying and going to Heaven; it is experiencing God’s life right now on Earth!

Romans 5:21 says of victorious Christian living: “That as sin hath reigned unto death, even so might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord.” Chapter 6, verse 23, is actually about victorious Christian living also: “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Moreover, 1 Timothy 6:12: “Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life, whereunto thou art also called, and hast professed a good profession before many witnesses.” And, verses 19-20: “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.” This is daily Christian living, a reflection of the new nature we have been given in Christ!

Read Mark chapter 10 now: “[28] Then Peter began to say unto him, Lo, we have left all, and have followed thee. [29] And Jesus answered and said, Verily I say unto you, There is no man that hath left house, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my sake, and the gospel’s, [30] But he shall receive an hundredfold now in this time, houses, and brethren, and sisters, and mothers, and children, and lands, with persecutions; and in the world to come eternal life.” In Israel’s prophetic program—her earthly kingdom program—the word “eternal life” takes on a slightly different meaning than it does concerning us. “Eternal life” for them is the entrance into that earthly kingdom of God. They do not experience communion with Almighty God to the fullest extent until the Millennium (1,000-Year Reign of Christ), when Israel is under the New Covenant, nationally resurrected, and God causes them to enjoy His life to the maximum.

Ezekiel chapter 36 says of this New Covenant for Israel: “[25] Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean: from all your filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you. [26] A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh. [27] And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them. [28] And ye shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers; and ye shall be my people, and I will be your God.” (See also Jeremiah 31:31-34.)

Like us Christians today, believing Jews in Israel’s prophetic program (whether in Acts or beyond our dispensation) have eternal life as a present possession—otherwise, they would be Hell-bound! Notice these verses from the epistle of 1 John: “And this is the promise that he hath promised us, even eternal life” (2:25). “And this is the record, that God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son” (5:11). “These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God” (5:13). “And we know that the Son of God is come, and hath given us an understanding, that we may know him that is true, and we are in him that is true, even in his Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God, and eternal life” (5:20). Yet, there is a national eternal life they will enjoy as well… and this is their earthly kingdom. Jude 21 is redeemed Israel waiting for Christ’s Second Coming, when they receive eternal life nationally: “Keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life.”

One more thing about “eternal life:” it is the life of Jesus Christ, the life that God Himself lived during His earthly ministry. This is the same life He wants to live in Israel by faith, and what He wants to live in us by faith. Eternal life is living as God lives, enjoying His life. Both redeemed Israel and the Church the Body of Christ will be the vehicles whereby He exhibits that life throughout the endless ages to come!

“[1] 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; [2] (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; ) [3] That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ” (1 John 1:1-3).

Also see:
» What happens after death?
» Will living in Heaven forever be boring?
» “So shall we ever be with the Lord?”