The Promise of Life
(2 Timothy 1:1)
By Bob Wilkin
There are at least seven books on the market today called The Promise, including ones by Pearl Buck, Danielle Steele, Hal Lindsay, and Jonathan Morris. There have been at least seven motion pictures bearing this title between 1969 and 2007, including productions by Americans, Germans, Chinese, Filipinos, and Belgians. There are many songs called The Promise, including ones by Bruce Springsteen, Tracy Chapman, and Michael Nyman. There is also a passion play held each year in Glen Rose, Texas which bears this name.
Clearly the promise is a popular expression. People like promises, especially meaningful ones. God knows this and gave us an amazing promise that has many aspects to it.
The exact expression the promise of life is found only once in the Bible, in the first verse of Paul’s second letter to Timothy. However, the words promise(d), and promises occur around 120 times in Scripture, and the theme of the promise of life runs through the entire New Testament (indeed, the entire Bible, though I will focus on the NT only in this article).
It is my contention that the Lord Jesus and His apostles taught the heart of evangelism is precisely this message: the promise of life.
The Promise Is Everlasting Life
That Can Never Be Lost
(1 John 2:25; 1 Tim 1:16;
2 Tim 1:1; John’s Gospel)
The heart of the promise, that which a person must believe in order to have eternal life, is that all who simply believe in Jesus have everlasting life that can never be lost. This is evident in many texts. For example, in his first epistle John writes, “And this is the promise that He promised us—eternal life” (1 John 2:25). This message runs throughout John’s Gospel. Jesus promised eternal life over and over again (John 3:16; 5:24; 6:37, 39, 47; 11:25-26). He also promised that the one who believes in Him would never hunger, never thirst, never die, never perish (John 3:16-18; 4:10-14; 6:35; 11:26).
Paul not only mentioned the promise of life in 2 Tim 1:1. He also spoke of it when reporting his own testimony in 1 Tim 1:16, saying, “However, for this reason I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might show all longsuffering, as a pattern to those who are going to believe on Him for everlasting life.” Here Paul, like John in 1 John 2:25, states that the specific promise we are believing Jesus for, that which we believe He will fulfill, is everlasting life to the one who simply believes in Him.
Of course, this message is not preached much today because it sounds like easy believism. It sounds like bad people might get eternal life. It sounds like a person could believe in Christ and be born again, and yet not live in a manner that glorifies Christ. Well, whether it is easy or hard to believe, it is believism. And yes, bad people do get eternal life when they believe. Thank God! And, yes, it is possible to believe in Christ and not glorify Christ. But, of course, the believer who is out of line will experience God’s loving hand of discipline and may even die prematurely. And one day he will give an account of his life to Christ at the Bema. But, yes, his eternal destiny was secure the moment he believed in Jesus Christ for eternal life. Again, thank God!
The Promise Includes a Glorified Body
(John 11:25; 1 Cor 15:1-58; 2 Cor 5:1-11)
As I mentioned above, there are many aspects to this life which God gives the believer. One need not grasp all of these parts of the promise in order to be born again. However, these are certainly truths which every believer should learn early in his Christian life.
One part of the promise of life is the promise of a future glorified body. This body is one that will no longer experience pain. It will never die. Nor will it age. This glorified body will be a perfect tent for us to carry around our eternal lives in forever.
In John 11:25 Jesus promised that as the life, “He who believes in Me, though he may die, yet he shall live.” The death and life there are physical. Jesus is promising here to raise from the dead those who believe in Him. (This is clear by comparing v 25 with v 26.) Paul speaks of this on many occasions. In both 2 Cor 5:1-11 and Rom 8:23 Paul says that we currently groan in these dying bodies as we anticipate what he calls, “the redemption of our body” (Rom 8:23). Of course, 1 Corinthians 15 is all about the promise of future bodily resurrection of the believer.
Sadly many people who have already believed in Jesus for eternal life and know they have it have never understood that they will one day receive a glorified body. Many think wrongly that they will spend eternity as a disembodied spirit. But we are not spirit beings. We are human beings with bodies. And our destiny is not heaven. We will use these glorified bodies to serve and glorify the Lord Jesus forever in a place perfectly suited for these bodies. That is another important aspect of the promise of life.
The Promise Includes Christ’s Return That Culminates in a Glorified New Earth
(2 Peter 3:4, 9, 13)
Peter uses the word promise three times in the final chapter of his second epistle. Each time it refers to the promise of Christ’s coming that culminates in a glorified new earth. The earth was once destroyed by water, something the scoffers “willfully forget” (2 Pet 3:5-7). Likewise one day soon Jesus will return and then (1000 years later, a prophetic valley ignored here by Peter) the heavens and earth “will be burned up” (2 Pet 3:10, 12). “Nevertheless we, according to His promise, look for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells” (2 Pet 3:13). What a promise! To live forever on a fallen unrighteous earth would not be good, even if we had glorified bodies.
Make Sure You Emphasize the Promise of Life
A friend of mine, Dr. John Niemelä, calls his ministry The Message of Life. There are many Christian organizations that have the words promise or life in their titles: Young Life, New Life, Life Ministry, Family Life, Promise Ministries, Promise Ministry, Promise of Life Ministries.
Christianity is about a Person, the Lord Jesus Christ. It is about what that Person has done; but even more it’s about what He will soon do. Along with God the Father and God the Holy Spirit, He created us. He took away the sins of the world by dying on the cross for our sins, thus making us savable (John 1:29; 1 John 2:2). He rose bodily from the dead, fulfilling OT prophecies and guaranteeing our future resurrections as well. He is coming again. When He comes, He will remove every vestige of sin in the entire universe. He will create a new heavens and a new earth. He will establish His eternal righteous kingdom on the new earth, thus fulfilling the original plan begun at Eden.
Everyone who believes in Jesus Christ is a beneficiary of the promise of life. As Ray Stedman pointed out in a sermon on 2 Tim 1:1 years ago, this promise is both of future life forever in the righteous kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ in glorified bodies, and the present experience of Jesus’ life right now in these mortal bodies.
Sadly many evangelicals do not present an eternal promise when they evangelize. Most present a probationary salvation that can be lost. Many others present a hypothetical salvation for “the elect,” but tell you that you cannot be sure you are such a person unless and until you persevere to the death in faith and good works.
Only we in the Free Grace movement can share the message of life. May we do so faithfully until the Lord Jesus returns and evaluates our lives to determine our rewards and role in His coming kingdom.