Qin Shi Huang was the first emperor of the Chinese Qin Dynasty — and he wanted to be the last. He wanted to live forever. In Imperial China at that time, they believed in certain “elixirs of life” which might give a person eternal life. One of these elixirs was the element mercury, which Qin Shi Huang took in hopes of becoming immortal. But as you might guess, it actually hastened his death, and he died at the young age of 39, probably from mercury poisoning.
Ever since man’s choice of sin marred our world and brought death into it, mankind has sought to somehow conquer death and gain eternal life. Unfortunately, because we don’t turn to God’s word for guidance, we go about it in the wrong way. Without the leadership of God’s word, we will continue to fall short of genuine eternal life. But as we close our study of this great verse this morning, we find that God promises us “eternal life.” What IS this “eternal life” that Jesus talks about here, and how can you know that you have it?
I. Eternal Life is life that lasts forever.
The first thing most people generally think about eternal life is that it is life that lasts forever. This IS indeed a part of what that means. The Greek word “aionion” means “to the ages” — Louw and Nida translate it “an unlimited duration of time; eternal” — in other words, forever.
— We saw last week in Matthew 25:46, where Jesus was talking about the judgment of the “sheep” and the “goats”, that the wicked will go away to “eternal punishment” but the righteous to “eternal life.” Both are “eternal”; that is they last forever.
— II Corinthians 4:18 says: “The things which are seen are temporal (temporary); but the things which are unseen are eternal” — in other words, they are NOT “temporary”, but they last forever.
So “eternal” life means that it is a kind of life that lasts an eternal length of time that will never end. Just like the great hymn says: “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.” “Eternal life” will be forever.
But when Jesus speaks about having eternal life, He doesn’t only mean “living forever.” If you think about it, merely living forever is not necessarily that great of a thing:
— ask the senior adult whose body and mind are deteriorating; simply to live in a condition that was continually deteriorating more and more forever would not be a blessing.
— The person who is forced to live a life of slavery would not think of eternally living in that oppression day after day as a good thing.
— Or the person who is miserable and cannot find peace and joy in life. Simply “extending their life” which is so miserable and bitter would not be appealing to them.
There has to be something MORE to make “eternal life” a blessing than just having an unlimited duration of time. And Jesus tells us that there IS “something more”:
II. Eternal Life is life that is spent IN FELLOWSHIP WITH GOD!
It is always best when we let scripture define our terms for us whenever we can, and thankfully, Jesus does just that in John 17:3. John 17 is the great “High Priestly Prayer” Jesus prayed just before He went out to die for us on the cross. Jesus was praying to His Heavenly Father, and as He begins His prayer He says: “Father, the hour has come; glorify Your Son, that the Son may glorify You, even as You gave Him authority over all flesh, that to all whom You have given Him, He may give eternal life. THIS is eternal life, that they may KNOW YOU, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom Thou hast sent.” That last sentence holds the key for us: “THIS is eternal life, that they may KNOW YOU …”.
Jesus tells us here that eternal life is knowing God. It is not only a “quantity” of time (forever) but a “quality” of time: that you are WITH GOD! — amazed by His beauty, exploring His glory, tasting the delights of His presence. Augustine wrote: “Lord, you have made us for Yourself, and our hearts are restless until they find rest in you.” THAT is what makes eternal life, eternal life: it is being with God.
The reason that being in God’s presence is such a blessing is that we were MADE to be blessed by being with Him. C.S. Lewis used this analogy: “God made us: invented us as a man invents an engine. A car is made to run on petrol, and it would not run properly on anything else. Now God designed the human machine to run on Himself. He Himself is the fuel our spirits were designed to burn, or the food our spirits were designed to feed on. There is no other. That is why it is just no good asking God to make us happy in our own way without bothering about religion. God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there.”
We were made to know God, and there is real pleasure and joy that comes to us from being in His presence:
— Psalm 16:11 says: “In Your presence is fullness of joy; in Your right hand there are pleasures forever.”
— Psalm 17:15 “I shall be satisfied with Your likeness when I awake.”
In other words, knowing God and seeing the glory of His face will shower us with pleasures and joys that will satisfy us forever!
There is a classic hymn set to Beethoven’s 9th symphony which says; “Joyful, joyful we adore Thee; God of glory, Lord of love. Hearts unfold like flowers before Thee, opening to the sun of love.” I love the picture there: he is saying, just like there are certain flowers, called “heliotropic” flowers, that turn their faces and follow the sun all the way across the sky, because they feed and grow off of the sun, so our hearts, our souls, need to turn towards the face of God, and open up to it, and “feed” off of it in a sense. That’s what God made us for: to be blessed by the glory of His presence. And that’s what eternal life is: forever and ever, just like the flowers feed and nourish and grow off of the sun, God’s people will be before Him, “feeding” and gaining unimaginable pleasures from the glory of His presence.
That is what makes eternal life, eternal life. It is not merely “living forever.” It is not having the perfect golf course or the stupid kinds of things people on tv imagine that heaven will be like. Eternal life is knowing God; and being blessed with amazing pleasures and joys in His presence forever.
III. Eternal life begins NOW
The thing is, we don’t have to wait until we die to begin to experience eternal life. We can begin to taste it NOW; and if you are a Christian, you have begun eternal life now. You have it already! In John 5:24 Jesus says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, HAS eternal life — not “will have” but “has” it—now! In other words eternal life is not just something you wait for after death. It is something you have NOW if you have given your life to Jesus.
— I John 5:12 “He who has the Son HAS the life …” He has it NOW!
Eternal life starts the moment you become a Christian. God’s Holy Spirit comes into your heart, and you begin to fellowship with Him, and worship Him, NOW — not in the fullness we’ll have one day in heaven, but we get just a “foretaste” of it, right now. When we get saved we go to church and begin to learn to worship the Lord, and sing to Him and praise Him. Then we learn to have our own daily worship times in our homes, and to sing to Him as we walk or drive, or wherever we are. If you do these things, and enjoy them, these are signs that eternal life has already begun in you. One day you will perfectly worship God forever in heaven. But it starts now. In fact, if it hasn’t started now, then you are almost certainly not a Christian. If you do not love Him; if you do not know pleasure from worshiping Him, then you surely do not have eternal life. Someone has said, If you don’t love worship now, you are going to hate heaven! Because eternal life is all about worshiping God. It begins the moment you get saved, and extends past death and into eternity, but it begins right here and now when you are saved.
IV. Eternal Life continues through death.
In John 11:25–26 Jesus says, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me shall live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me shall never die.” What does He mean by this, “never die”? It doesn’t mean that our bodies will never die; they will. But our spirits are saved and we have already begun that eternal life with God. And nothing can take that away — not even death.
John Piper (a well-known Baptist pastor in Minnesota) wrote: “One of the most powerful moments in my seminary life was at the funeral of one of my professors, James Morgan, 37 years old, with a wife and four children. Lewis Smedes (a famous pastor at that time) gave the message from (John 11:25-26) and at one point he lifted his voice and said with tremendous authority, “James Morgan is not dead! For Jesus has said, ‘Everyone who lives and believes in Me shall never die.'” Our eternal life that began the moment we were saved, continues through death, as we go straight into the presence of the Lord. “To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord” for the Christian. Not even death interrupts our eternal life. We just go on living with the Lord — only in a more glorious way than ever before!
V. Eternal Life Is Never Lost
Perhaps it should go without saying, but “eternal” life, by nature, means that it lasts FOREVER! That means it can never be lost.
That speaks to a point that is often discussed and debated in religious circles, which is: “Can a person lose their salvation?” John 3:16, which is so rich, and so deep, as we have seen — I don’t know HOW many people have come up to the in the last 2-3 weeks and said something like, “Pastor Shawn, when you announced that you were going to preach for 9 weeks on John 3:16, I didn’t know how you were going to do it; what would you talk about?!” And yet God’s word is so rich, that even spending 9 weeks, we have only skimmed the surface of this magnificent verse! — and it speaks to this question of losing one’s salvation as well.
Look at the verse again; how does it read? “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have TEMPORARY life”? Is that what it says? Of course it isn’t. It says God loved us and sent Jesus to give us “ETERNAL” life. We have seen that “eternal life” means more than just “forever” as a span of time, but it DOES mean that. It means forever. Forever.
“Eternal life” by definition is life that you do not lose; it cannot be taken away; it is “eternal.” Listen: if you can be saved, and then lose it, then in what real sense is that “ETERNAL life”? It’s not “eternal” if you can lose it! That sounds more like one of those “politicians tricks” that we have so much of: “You can KEEP your doctor and your insurance — or well, until we drive them all out of business and then you won’t have either one.” We didn’t get to “KEEP” them; they’ve changed my insurance 3 times in the last 3 years! That’s not “KEEP”!
But listen, our Holy God is not like some shady politician! He is Holy; He is Faithful, He is Trustworthy; and when He says He gives you “eternal” life; you can count on it that the life He gives you is indeed ETERNAL — it cannot be taken away!
The Greek Bible verb tense here (present active subjunctive) for “have” emphasizes that: “have everlasting life.” It means to “have now and forever.” (Vines)
Jesus said in John 10:28-29, “I give eternal life to them, and they will NEVER perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one will be able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.”
Jesus said those to whom He gives eternal life will NEVER perish. Think about that word: NEVER. NEVER. When He gives us eternal life, we will NEVER perish! NEVER. Find some other meaning for that word if you can; but “never” means “never”!
Samuel Rutherford, a wonderful Scottish pastor from the 1600’s, wrote to one of his congregation members and told him: “His book keepeth your name, and is not printed and re-printed, and changed and corrected.” (To John Fennick, p. 303)
No, what God has given is not “temporary” life, but “eternal” life to everyone who genuinely follows Jesus as their Savior. Now, does this mean that every person who ever got baptized or raised their hand in a church service is truly saved and can never be lost? Absolutely not. Not everyone who makes a “profession of faith” is genuinely saved. But no one who is genuinely saved can be lost. They will “NEVER perish” Jesus says. He did not give us “temporary life”, but “eternal life.” It can never be lost.
VI. Eternal Life Is Gained Through A Personal Commitment
So that is what the Bible tells us that “eternal life” is: a forever length of time, spent in the presence and fellowship with God, that begins now, continues through death, and can never be lost! But how do you get it?
We’ve talked about this over the last several weeks. It is gained by trusting Christ; by committing your life to Him. It is not based on how good you are, or how often you go to church, or how much money you put in the offering plate. You don’t earn it; it is given to you as a free gift when you trust what Jesus did on the cross to save you. As we’ve seen, it is for everyone, and whoever will trust Jesus as their Lord & Savior can have it.
But that word “can” is an important one. You “can” have it — but whether you do is up to you. That element of choice is expressed here in John 3:16 at the very end. The verb for “have” eternal life” is in what they call the “subjunctive mood”, which means it is a condition of possibility. It could be translated “might have eternal life.” You MIGHT have it; You CAN have it — but whether you do get it, depends on you. You have to respond to it. You must turn from your sin and follow Jesus as your Lord & Savior. You must respond and commit your life to Him. But if you do, then you can know that you eternal life, that can never be taken away. And no matter what happens to you here on earth, you will have the blessing of living with God, and all those who love Him, in heaven forever.
Cheryl & I grew up attending the First Baptist Church of Harrah, Oklahoma, and when we were in high school, one of our high school football coaches was a many by the name of John Merrill. He attended our church and was very faithful. He and his wife Deani had two little girls, and John & Deani taught some of our youth Sunday School classes and went with us to camp. As I said, he was a football coach, and he joined us one Sunday afternoon after church to play football over at the high school field. I’ll never forget: My team was returning a kickoff and I went to block John, who had been an offensive lineman in college, and he gave me a forearm shiver that still hurts my arm to this day. (No lie; it still hurts!). We lost touch with him after we graduated – but a couple of years ago, I saw an article in the newspaper that caught my attention. It was about John and his family. His daughter, Jenni Kufahl, had developed cancer as a young adult, and after several years of battling and treatments, she died, leaving her husband Heath and 7 children behind. Because he was well-known all over the state as a football coach, they did a feature story on John Merrill in the newspaper after his daughter’s death, and his retirement from football to be with his family. In the article he told the reporter: “My heart’s broke,” he said while fighting back tears. “My wife’s heart’s broke.” He said, “I don’t know if my heart will ever not be broke.” But then he added these words: “But I do know I get to see her again in eternity.”
See, that’s the hope of the Christian who believes in John 3:16. Being a Christian doesn’t mean that you don’t suffer in this world. This world has been marred by our sin, and there is a lot of suffering that goes on here. But being a Christian means that your sin is forgiven through Jesus Christ’s death on the cross, and that by following Him, you have “eternal life”: you have begun a relationship with God that will last for eternity, and will never be taken away. And one day, you will live forever with God, delighting in pleasures in His presence forever. Do you know have that “eternal life”? If you don’t, you can. What this great verse says is for you. But you have to respond to it. Jesus is speaking to you right now, as surely as He was speaking to Nicodemus that day in John 3:16, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life”!