Don't Waste the Payment!
by Ivy Brooks
I talk often with people about eternal life. I almost always ask questions in order to determine whether or not they understand that eternal life is forever, that they can never lose it or give it back. I regularly encounter various answers that disclose that they are not "getting it." I discovered that I need to be very descriptive in order for people to have a clear understanding of the message of life; otherwise, we were using the same terminology but not coming to the same conclusions. I continued developing clearer presentations, looking for analogies and ways to share the message that would reduce, as much as possible, the need for clarification and would convey an understanding of the truth at its initial presentation.
As I started using birth analogies, I realized what all along has been so clear in Scripture: The gift of eternal life is a birth. I now share the message of life very specifically as a birth and, as such, its permanence for the one who has believed Jesus for His promise of life and to never perish.
John tells us that Jesus gives "the right to be God's children, to those who believed in His Name, who were born…of God" (John 1:12-13) and that unless one is born again—born from above—he cannot see the kingdom of God (John 3:3, 7). Peter tells us that those who have believed in Jesus are born of incorruptible seed, by the word of God, which lives and abides forever (1 Peter 1:23).
How Do We Get this Birth?
After John tells us that we can be God's children by being born of God (John 1:11-13) and that we cannot enter the kingdom without being born from above (John 3:3, 7), he goes on to tell us in John 3:15 that whoever believes in Jesus will not perish, but have eternal life. So we receive eternal life—birth—by believing in Jesus!
Believe in Jesus for What?
Both believe and faith mean to be persuaded that something is true. People have quoted John 3:16 for centuries, but still do not know what to believe Jesus for. Paul makes a very clarifying statement when he tells us that he is "a pattern to those who are going to believe on [Jesus] for eternal life" (1 Tim 1:16). John writes, "And this is the promise that He has promised us—eternal life" (1 John 2:25).
Jesus makes a specific promise over and over, "believe in Him and you will never perish, but have eternal life" (John 3:15, 16, 36; 5:24; 6:40, 47; 11:25-26). Jesus said He is the life (John 14:6, 11:25) and John tells us that He is eternal life (1 John 5:20). Jesus is eternal life and all who believe in Him can have eternal Life. When we believe His promise, what we are believing in Him for is life. Believing in Him for life is how we are "born of God" and become His child.
When Does this Life Begin?
In the physical realm, life is initiated the moment an egg and sperm (seed) come together. All components are there, immature as it is; life has begun and it can never be reversed. While physical life is not eternal and can end, you cannot disassemble that union.
Likewise, the new birth cannot be disassembled. At the moment of belief we are born from above of incorruptible seed. (1 Pet 1:23) The one who believes "has eternal life and will not come into judgment but has passed from death into life" (John 5:24). It is a done deal! At the point of belief we have life (present), we have passed from death (past) and we shall not come into judgment (future). Receiving life occurs the moment we believe. It is not a process. It is instantaneous. And it is permanent.
In a physical birth, from which we have the DNA of our parents, even if we turn against them and cut off our relationship, losing the blessing of fellowship, we will always be theirs. The same is true in our relationship to God. We have been born; that is, given life, by His incorruptible seed. That birth cannot be undone. When people understand that God is giving life to their spirits, that He is placing His seed in them and thereby uniting them to Him, just as they have been to their biological parents as egg and sperm, they can better understand the permanence and eternality of what occurs.
This analogy has helped those who would tell me that they believe the word eternal means forever, and that eternal life is forever, yet would still answer the question, "Could you give it back?" with an affirmative. What I came to realize is that people think of receiving eternal life in terms similar to receiving tangibles. Eternal life is pictured somewhat like a football with the name "Eternal Life" embossed on it. One could lay it down, lose it, or as an exercise of free will, give it back if one no longer wanted God. In this belief system, it would still be "Eternal Life;" it just would no longer be in one's possession.
By understanding that receiving eternal life is a birth, people are much more inclined to understand that not only is eternal life eternal, but that they themselves possess it eternally. It becomes clear that eternal life is something that happens to you when you believe and is irrevocable, not something that is handed to you and is returnable. Eternal life cannot be given back or undone.
What Will Eternal Life Cost Me?
Paul calls the new birth a gift: "For by grace you have been saved [made alive, see 2:5] through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God" (Eph 2:8). And he adds that it is "not of works, lest anyone should boast" (2:9).
Since gifts are, by definition, free as they are something voluntarily transferred by one person to another without compensation, Paul is being redundant. He is saying, "Let me make this clear, this is not Santa Clause theology, 'you'd better be good so that Santa will bring you presents/gifts.'" That, of course, would not be a gift but a reward, something given in return for good, merit, or compensation.
Eternal life would not be free if to obtain it the recipient must make a change of lifestyle and pledge to serve God. Works do not produce life, only Jesus does, and He does not trade our promises of commitment or forsaking sin in exchange for life. Not once does He tell us to do anything but believe (be persuaded) that He will give life as He promises. He gives life as a free gift—and only to those who believe Him for it.
How Can Eternal Life Be Free?
Jesus has already paid for it. He paid the sin debt on the cross as our substitute and God was satisfied with the payment made. He is not only the propitiation (satisfactory payment) for our sins (those who already believe) but for the whole world (1 John 2:2). The debt for sin has been paid, for all people, for all time, even our future sins. Because He has taken away the sin of the world (John 1:29), our sins no longer bar us from eternal life. There is nothing for anyone to reckon with, deal with, get in order, or forsake to receive the free gift of life.
Does this Mean Everyone Will Be in the Kingdom?
The penalty/payment for sin has been met, but people are still dead spiritually (separated from God) until they receive life. No one goes into the kingdom without being "born of God." Since Jesus paid the payment for sin there is nothing standing between us and God except death; and death can be overcome by simply receiving eternal life as a gift.
I Am Too Bad. You Don't Know What I Have Done.
No matter what or how much they have done wrong, everyone in hell has had their sin debt paid—yet every one of these people will be separated from God forever because they did not receive eternal life. Don't waste the payment. Believe in Jesus for life. Become God's child!
How Can I Be Sure I Have Eternal Life?
Obtaining eternal life is to take Jesus at His promise that He gives life to anyone who believes Him for it and that all who come to Him for life will never perish. Have you believed that? If so, He has given you birth and life that can never end.
When you believe Him for His promise, you are His child (1 John 1:2-3). Your name has been recorded in God's Birth Book—The Book of Life (Rev 20:15). You will go into His eternal kingdom.
Our lives are not the place to look for validation of birth. Whether we're good kids or bad kids, we're His kids. We look to Jesus. That's how we are sure, because He promised.