What is “Eternal Life”? There’s More to It Than What Most People Think

WHAT IS “ETERNAL LIFE”?  HOW AND WHEN DO WE RECEIVE “ETERNAL LIFE”?  IS “ETERNAL LIFE” THE SAME AS “SALVATION” OR ARE THEY TWO DIFFERENT THINGS?  Growing up in church, listening to literally thousands of sermons, and then being in youth group, even being the youth leader, and then continuing on to being in adult classes, I thought I knew the answers to all of these questions.  But then, I actually started studying the Bible for myself, and during this time, I discovered that there’s a lot more to “eternal life” than what we are often taught from the pulpit or our Sunday School classes.


The first important concept that we need to point out when discussing the concept of “eternal life” is that God is an eternal Spirit, who exists outside the boundaries and laws of time, space, and matter.  The Creator is always greater than the creation.  And because He can see and inhabit the past, present, and future all at the same time, He is the eternal “I AM.”  In fact, the covenant name of God is comprised of three breathy sounds derived from the basic verb “to be.”


When looking at any biblical concept, it is important that we look at ALL that the Bible has to say about it, not just selected passages about it.  In this case, we want to look at all that the Bible has to say about “eternal life.”

Remember, it is a basic principle of Scripture that “out of the mouth of two or three witnesses, a thing is established.” This principle began as part of the law when in trying someone for a capital offense (Numbers 35:30; Deuteronomy 17:6 and 19:15), but by the time of the New Testament, it had become a general principle for determining the fact or truth of a matter (Matthew 18:16; 2 Corinthians 13:1; I Timothy 5:19; and Hebrews 10:28).   Based on this pattern and general principle, we should NEVER base a belief or doctrine on only one “witness” (or verse of Scripture), but “on the mouth of at least 2 or 3 witnesses,” i.e., what we see REPEATED throughout the Bible.


First of all, we need to understand that we just don’t “find God” or even seek after Him for that matter.  People may run after some man-made god that’s satisfied with however we choose to live or who might even do the same sinful things that we do, but no one seeks after the One True Holy God of the Bible.  For example, in Psalm 14:2-3, we read,

The LORD has looked down from heaven upon the sons of men, to see if there are any who understand, who seek after God.  They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one.

This same idea is repeated again in Psalm 53:

God has looked down from heaven upon the sons of men, to see if there is anyone who understands, who seeks after God.  Every one of them has turned aside; together they have become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one. (Psalm 53:2-3)

And it is repeated again in Romans 3:10-12,

as it is written, “There is none righteous, not even one; there is none who understands, there is none who seeks for God; all have turned aside, together they have become useless; there is none who does good, there is not even one.

And the essence of these same three passages is repeated again in Ecclesiastes 7,

Indeed, there is not a righteous man on earth who continually does good and who never sins. (Ecclesiastes 7:20)

And this same idea is repeated by the Apostle John in his epistle,

If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves, and the truth is not in us.  (I John 1:8)

Has the opinion of God changed at all in the Old or New Testament?  No, it hasn’t; in fact, it has remained consistently the same.  No one seeks Him, and no one lives a life without sin.


God is the One who is actively at work when it comes to salvation.  According to the New Testament, God through His foreknowledge chose those of us who would believe “before the foundation of the world” (i.e., before there ever was a Genesis 1:1).

According as HE HAS CHOSEN US in Him BEFORE THE FOUNDATION OF THE WORLD, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love: having PREDESTINATED us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of His will (Ephesians 1:4-5; Emphasis Mine).

Notice here that Paul, through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, is saying that God “has chosen us” as His children “BEFORE THE FOUNDATION OF THE WORLD.”  And He chose us to “be holy” and to walk “without blame for Him in love.”  Did you know God chose you to walk this type of life?  Did you know you CAN do it?  He would not have said that He called us to this lifestyle, if it was an impossibility.


Some people (like Oprah and others) try (or have tried) to argue that every human being is a “child of God,” but the Bible does not teach this nor supports it in any regard.  We need to understand that this belief came into the United States in and through those who had (or have) adopted this idea from Hinduism and Buddhism: “that all religions are just different paths to the same place” and “that all the different gods are just different names for the same god.” These are NOT biblical ideas.

For example, even in the book of Exodus, God tells Moses to say to Pharaoh: “Thus says the LORD, Israel is My son, even My firstborn” (Exodus 4:22).   Then afterwards, God makes a distinction between His people Israel and the Egyptians during many of the various plagues:  Egypt suffered the plagues, but Israel did not.  AT no point and time in the first five books of the Bible does God ever call the Egyptians “His son” or “His people.” Why?  Because Israel was in covenant with God, Egypt was not.  Those who are not in covenant with God do NOT belong to Him, and this is true even to this day.  God operates on the basis of covenant, not on the basis of human emotion or beliefs, regardless of how sincere they may be.

Even in the New Testament, God makes a distinction between those who are His and those who are not.  For example, in Matthew 13, Jesus illustrates in a parable that there’s “good seed” that grow up to be “wheat” and seed that are “tares” (or weeds), and that both of these are in a field that will GROW TOGETHER UNTIL the harvest (Matthew 13:25-30).

In His explanation of this same parable, Jesus explains, “The field is the world; the good seed are the children of the Kingdom [God’s Kingdom]; but the tares are the children of the wicked one [i.e., the devil].,,[and that] the harvest is the end of the world” (Matthew 13:38, 39b).  Notice there are two different groups: one belonging to God, and one belonging to “the wicked one” (Satan).  Nor is this the only parable that Jesus makes this distinction between people:

The parable of “A Large Net” (Matthew 13:47-50), there are “good fish” and “bad fish”).  The “good fish” are placed in vessels, but the “bad fish” are thrown away.

Also, in His discussion of the future judgment of all nations and people (Matthew 25:31-46), there are the “sheep” and the “goats.”  The “sheep” are placed on the right (the place of blessing) and are told, “Come, blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (Matthew 25:34); whereas, the “goats” are placed on the left (the place of cursing), and are told, “Depart from Me, you cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matthew 25:41).

As a result, it’s quite apparent from these teachings of Jesus (and others as well) that not all people are “the children of God,” regardless of how much some people may try to argue this point.

Another place where we can see this distinction being made is in John 8.  What’s interesting about this passage is that at the beginning, it notes that He is speaking “to those Jews which believed on Him” (John 8:31), and there’s no indication in the text that the audience has in anyway changed, when at the mid-point of this conversation, Jesus tells them the following:

You are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father you will do.  He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him.  When he speaks a lie, he speaks of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it.  And because I tell you the truth, you believe me not.  Which of you convinces [or convicts] Me of sin?  And if I say the truth, why do you not believe Me? He that is of God hears God’s words: you therefore hear them not, because you are not of God.  (John 8:44-47)

Obviously, even though these people initially confessed to believe in Jesus, that opinion clearly changed as they CONTINUED to hear Him teach.  And by the time Jesus is done in His conversation with them, they are picking up stones to try to kill Him (John 8:59).  Consequently, these “confessed believers in Jesus” were, in reality, “children of the devil” and were “not of God.”

A third example where we can see this distinction is in John 1.  In this chapter, we read,

But as many as received Him, to them gave He power to BECOME children of God, even to them that [continue to] believe on His name. (NASB, John 1:12; Emphasis Mine)

There’s two things I’d like to point out here:

  • It’s not necessary to give us “power to BECOME the children of God,” if every person is all ready God’s child from birth.  The very fact God has to give us “power” to “become” His “child” means that this is NOT something we are from birth.
  • The word “believe” is a present participle verb, which refers to “continuous or repeated action,” which is why I inserted the phrase “continue to” in brackets before the verb “believe.”  I will speak more about this in a few minutes.

Therefore, we are not all born “God’s children,” we are all born “creations of God,” but we are not all born “a child (or children) of God.”  We only become “a child of God” when we place our faith in Jesus Christ, and ask Him to be our Lord, Savior and King.   If Jesus is not ruling and reigning in a person’s life, he or she is NOT a “child of God.”


Let’s go back and look at Ephesians 1:4-5 again,

According as HE HAS CHOSEN US in Him BEFORE THE FOUNDATION OF THE WORLD, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love: having PREDESTINATED us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of His will (Ephesians 1:4-5; Emphasis Mine).

BEFORE “the foundations of the world,” BEFORE there was Genesis 1:1, God through His eternal foreknowledge saw all who would live in this world until the end of times, and based on that foreknowledge, He chose us who would believe.   That’s right, if you are a believer in Jesus Christ, you were not an accident.  You did not just happen, but God knew you before He ever started creating anything, and He has a plan and purpose for your life.  And why were we chosen?  For “the good pleasure of His will.”  Notice, our salvation was the result of God bringing to pass “His will,” rather than it being all about us and “our will.”

Then just a few verses later, Paul writes,

In whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being PREDESTINATED according to the purpose of Him who [continues to] work all things after the counsel of His own will: that we should be to the praise of His glory,…” (Ephesians 1:11-12a)

The Greek word translated “predestinated” is the compound Greek word proorizo, pro-, meaning “before” and horizo, meaning “to determine.”  We need to understand that the right of election belongs to God because as Creator and King, He has the right to determine who will be in His Kingdom.  But does this mean that God makes us choose Him?  No, that would be a violation of His own word, and God NEVER violates His word for any reason.  For if God violated His word, He would be a sinner and not a holy God.  Throughout His word, we see over and over again, God gives to us the freedom of choice.  For example, in the Garden of Eden, God gave to Adam and Eve the choice of two trees: The tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 2:16-17).  Then in Deuteronomy 30, as Israel is preparing to enter the Promised Land, He again gives Israel a choice:

I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that both you and your seed may live.  (Deuteronomy 30:19)

So both God’s right of election and predestination of us as believers, and our freedom of choice are both equally true and equally maintained by God.  We may not fully understand how God can maintain both at the same time, but He does.


Here is another mind-blowing concept.  All people are “creations of God,” but not all people belong to God as we have seen.  But those who do belong to God are given by Him to Jesus.  We first see this taught by John the Baptist:

John answered and said, “A man can receive nothing, except it be given him from heaven [i.e., God]….The Father loves the Son, and has given all things into His hand.  He that [continues to] believe on the Son has everlasting life: and he that [continues to] believe not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abides on him. (John 3:27, 35-36)

No one can “receive” anything, except it is given to “him” from God, and this includes our salvation and eternal life.  The idea that all believers in Jesus are part of “all things” that have been given by God to Jesus is there by implication, but as we proceed through the Gospel of John, this implied truth becomes explicitly stated by Jesus Himself.  For example,

All that the Father gives Me shall come to Me; and him that comes to Me I will in no wise cast out.  For I came down from heaven, not to do Mine own will, but the will of Him who sent Me.  And this is the Father’s will which has sent Me, that of all which He has given Me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up again at the last day.  (John 6:37-39)

Two times in this passage, Jesus indicates that those who come to Him are those that the Father has given to Him.  Why are you saved?  Because God the Father chose you from the beginning of the world and gave you to Jesus.  I don’t know about you, but I think that’s completely awesome to consider.  How about another example?  Five (5) times, in what is commonly referred to as “Jesus’ High Priestly Prayer,” He restates this same idea:

  • “Even as You gave Him authority over all mankind, that to all whom YOU HAVE GIVEN HIM, He may give eternal life” (John 17:2; Emphasis Mine)
  • “I have manifested Your name to the men WHOM YOU GAVE ME out of the world: YOURS THEY WERE, and YOU GAVE THEM TO ME; and they have kept Your word.  Now they have come to know that everything YOU HAVE GIVEN ME is from You” (John 17:6-7; Emphasis Mine)
  • “I ask on their behalf; I do not ask on behalf of the world, but of THOSE WHOM YOU HAVE GIVEN ME; for they are Yours; and all things that are Mine are Yours, and Yours are Mine; and I have been glorified in them.” (John 17:9-10)
  • “Father, I desire that THEY ALSO WHOM YOU HAVE GIVEN ME, be with Me where I am, in order that they may behold My glory, which You have given Me; for You have loved Me before the foundation of the world.” (John 17:24)

In this prayer, we learn that not only has God the Father given to Jesus all believers, but He has also given to Him the words Jesus spoke (John 17:8, 14), the Father’s name (i.e., His authority; John 17:11-12), and His glory (John 17:22, 24).


Not only has the Father chosen and ordained us from before the foundation of the world, and then gave us to Jesus, but then He also draws us to Jesus:

No man can come to Me, except the Father which has sent Me draw him: and I will raise Him up on the last day.  (John 6:44)

Notice that no one can come to God unless He first “draw him.”  We do not make the first move in this relationship, God does.  We do not find God, He finds us.  He is not the one who is lost, we are.  Consequently, the bumper sticker that read, “I found Jesus,” is not biblically correct; it should’ve said, “Jesus found me.”


The Bible does teach that eternal life is a “gift” given to us by God the Father.  For example, in Romans 6:23, we read,

For the wages of sin is death; but the free gift of God is ETERNAL LIFE in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Emphasis Mine)

As this Scripture points out, “the free gift of God” is “eternal life,” which is found “in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  We find this same idea that “eternal life” is found in Christ in the following verse:

And this is the record, that God has given us ETERNAL LIFE, and this life is in His Son.  (I John 5:11; Emphasis Mine)

And all of this is the working out of God’s will and design for our lives, an act of grace:

For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, that no one should boast.  For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God PREPARED BEFOREHAND, that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:8-10)

Notice that our lives and our salvation, and even the good works that God has for us to do were all part of His plan and will, which He “prepared beforehand,” in fact, “before the foundation of the world.”  So let’s recap what we’ve learned so far –

  • God has chosen and ordained us for salvation from before the foundation of the world – a free gift of grace, and not based on anything that we did since none of us were even born yet;
  • God gave us to Jesus to be saved in Him – again a free gift and not based on anything that we have done;
  • God’s will and plan was that Jesus die on the cross for our sins – again a free gift and not based on anything that we’ve done, since we were not there or even born yet, and Jesus died for us while we were yet sinners (Romans
  • God draws us to Jesus, so we can be saved – again a free gift and not based on anything that we’ve done, since at the time we’re being drawn, we were living in sin and rebellion against God.

Now in what part of this process that we’ve examined so far, have we had a part?  Not any of it.  It was all planned, determined and carried out by God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ in and through the power of the Holy Spirit.  We had absolutely no part in it whatsoever!


In Jesus’ discussion with Nicodemus, a Pharisee and “teacher of Israel,” Jesus tells him,

For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have ETERNAL LIFE.   (John 3:16)

There two things that needs to be pointed out from this verse:

  • It was out of His great love for us, all people, that God sent and gave His Son to be our sin offering, so that those who “[believe] in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.”
  • The word “believes” is a present participle verb, which means it “expresses continuous or repeated action.”  This means that we must do more than just believe “in Him” once in our lifetime, but we must CONTINUE to believe in Him each and every day; it is a daily decision and commitment that we make.

This same idea is seen in what Jesus said to the religious leaders of His day,

Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that hears My word, and BELIEVES on Him that sent Me, has EVERLASTING LIFE, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death to life.  (John 5:24; Emphasis Mine)

Again, in this verse, the words “hears” and “believes” are both present participle verbs, indicating “continuous or repeated action.”  Again, it is they who CONTINUE to “hear” Jesus words (or teachings) and CONTINUE to believe on Him [God] that sent Him [Jesus] that “has everlasting life.”  This clearly indicates that “believing” is NOT a one-time act.

In fact, Jesus NEVER focuses on whether we begin with Him, but on whether we CONTINUE with Him.  For example, look at what Jesus says in the following:

Then Jesus said to those Jews which believed in him, If you CONTINUE in my word [or teachings], then are you My disciples indeed.  And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.  (John 8:31-32)

Notice that Jesus is speaking here to believers, not non-believers, and He tells these believers that only if they CONTINUE in His teachings are they His disciples.  And it will only be if they CONTINUE to be His disciples will they “know the truth,” and “the truth shall make you free.”   Just because they began believing does not make them His disciples, but only if they CONTINUE in His teachings.  In the same way, we will not avoid “perishing” and “have eternal life” if we do not CONTINUE to believe.

The word “disciple” in both Hebrew and in Greek literally means “student.”  So as a community college instructor for 25 years, it is easy for me to understand this.  As long as a student was in one of my classes, they were my student, but the moment that student dropped or was no longer in my class – i.e., I was no longer their teacher – then they were no longer my student.  In the same way, we are only Jesus’ disciple (student), if He CONTINUES to be our Lord and teacher, and we CONTINUE in His teachings.


So contrary to what many teach, we can walk away from the Lord and from His teachings, and as a result, no longer be His disciple, and as a result, lose our salvation and eternal life.   This idea is taught in many places in both the Old and New Testament.  Although this is too large of a topic to handle thoroughly in this first part of this series, I will discuss it in part 2.  But just to illustrate my point, I will give you one reference here:

But if the wicked man turns from all his sins which he has committed and observes all My statutes and practices justice and righteousness, he shall surely live; he shall not die.  All his transgressions he has committed will not be remembered against him; because of his righteousness which he has practiced, he will live.  “Do I have any pleasure in the death of the wicked,” declares the LORD God, “rather than that he should turn from his ways and live? (Ezekiel 18:21-23)

This is the usual definition of “repentance” that is taught within Christendom.  If we “repent” (turn away from our life of sin and turn to God and His ways by accepting Jesus as our Lord, Savior and King), then we are “saved,” we will go to heaven when we die.  However, there’s another side to repentance that most Christians do NOT teach, but it is taught here in Scripture:

But when a righteous man turns away from his righteousness, commits iniquity (sin), and does according to all the abominations that a wicked man does, will he live?  All his righteous deeds which he has done will NOT BE REMEMBERED for his treachery which he has committed and his sin which he has committed; for them he will die. (Ezekiel 18:24)

Repentance is a two-way process.  We like the idea that if we REPENT of our sins and turn to Christ and walk in “righteousness,” then God will only see our life as a believer from that point onward, and NOT REMEMBER our sinful past.  But the process also goes the opposite way.  If for whatever reason we REPENT of following Jesus and living in accordance to the Scriptures, and we start living like the world, doing the same sinful things that they are doing, then God likewise will only look from the point of our REPENTANCE forward – our new life of sin – and NOT REMEMBER any of our years of faith and obedience to Him that we had lived.

Obviously, those who believe they can get “saved,” and then live like the world in all of its sinfulness, and then die and still go to heaven are in DIRECT OPPOSITION to God’s Word here in Ezekiel 18.  And I can imagine that many Christians’ responses to God’s teaching about repentance here would be the same as Israel’s,

Yet you say, “The way of the Lord is not right.”  Hear now, O house of Israel [and Christians]!  Is My way not right?  Is it not your ways that are not right?  When a righteous man turns away from his righteousness, commits iniquity, and dies because of it, for his iniquity which he has committed he will die.  Again, when a wicked man turns away from his wickedness which he has committed and practices justice and righteousness, he will save his life.  Because he considered and turned away from all his transgressions (sins) which he had committed, he shall surely live; he shall not die.  But the house of Israel [and Christians] says, “The way of the Lord is not right.” Are My ways not right, O house of Israel [and Christians]?  Is not your ways that are not right?” (Ezekiel 18:25-29)

I strongly believe that the two-way nature of repentance and what this should mean to us as believers in Christ really needs to be considered by Christians today.  Many are living lifestyles “in freedom” that may actually land them, not in heaven, but in the Lake of fire and brimstone, the second death (Matthew 25: 41-46; Revelation 20:11-15).  We cannot call ourselves “Christians” and then live sinful lifes, and then still think God is going to be okay with that and take us to heaven.  It just doesn’t work that way.


God will not force us to remain in fellowship with Him, or to “stay in the palms of His hands,” if we choose to leave Him, He will respect our desire and not override our freedom of choice.  Just as God gave Adam and Eve the freedom to choose between two trees, and He gave the children of Israel the choice between “life and death, and blessing and cursing,” and He gives us the freedom to choose each day to “follow after the flesh or to follow after the Spirit,” He will also give us the freedom to choose to CONTINUE to follow Him or to walk away.


Therefore, we need to do more than just ask a person if they have given their life to the Lord or when they did it.  This places the focus on whether or not they BEGAN WITH HIM.  But we need to understand that this is just the beginning step.  It is NOT all of it, and it was not the focus of Jesus.  So if they did start with Him, we need to also ask them, “Have you CONTINUED on with Him since that time?  Where are you NOW in your relationship with Him?”  The last question has always been the focus of Jesus, as we’ve seen in this study, and it should be our focus as well.

Consequently, then, those who have been taught to believe that just because they went forward at some point and gave their life to the Lord, and then they think can live their life however they want and still receive “eternal life” and “go to heaven” have been taught or believe AN ERROR.  It is NOT true.  The importance of the present participle verb tenses we have seen, as well as God’s message about repentance in Ezekiel 18, should make us to seriously reconsider this erroneous belief.


So in the self-examination of your life, where are you now with God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ?  Perhaps, you’ve never begun with Him; perhaps, you are realizing that there’s more to following Jesus than just a one-time decision you made when you were a small child or a teen, and now after several years, looking back, you realize you’ve not been “CONTINUING” with Him.  You can ask His forgiveness and begin your journey with Him again.  In fact, you might be really surprised to discover how much God desires a relationship with you and has missed being a part of your life.


So if you feel the tug of the Holy Spirit right now, God is attempting to “draw you” to Himself.  So what should you do?  How should you respond to His “drawing” and start this journey with Him or perhaps begin this journey with Him again?  It’s as simple as saying your “A, B, C’s”:

Acknowledge that you’ve sinned against God.

Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ.

Confess your sins and ask Jesus to forgive you.

Determine not to repeat those same sins again.  Try to learn from what you’ve done wrong.  Try to formulate a plan ahead of time of what you will do, if that same situation arises, that would be pleasing to God, instead of repeating those same sins.

Even reconcile with others, and if necessary, make any needed restitution.  The Bible teaches us that repentance involves not only making things right with God, but Jesus also taught that we need to reconcile (make things right) with others:

If therefore you are preparing your [sacrificial] offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar, and go your way; FIRST be reconciled to your brother, and THEN come and present your offering. (Matthew 5:23-24)

It also involves making things right with other people that we’ve might have offended or hurt, if we can.  For example, if we have broken, damaged, or stolen something, then we are to make restitution by replacing it (Exodus 22:1-15).

Forgive those who have offended you, hurt you, and/or abused you.

Give Christ and His love to those around you.

I hope that you made the decision to accept God’s plan of salvation.  If you have any other comments and/or questions regarding this topic, just submit your questions, and I’ll do my best to answer them.


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