“For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life. And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart.” (Gal 6:8-9)
A radio announcer somewhere, sometime, was running down the starting lineup of the home team: “At quarterback, number 7, Bill Smith, a senior out of Hall High in little Rock. . . .” Shortly thereafter he said, “At wide receiver, number 22, Bill Smith, a senior out of Mater Dei High in Los Angeles.
Either Bill Smith had a split jersey and was extremely fast (fast enough to run under and catch balls he himself had thrown), or else there were two players on the same team by the name of Bill Smith.
So it is with the expression eternal life in the New Testament.
On the one hand, passages like John 3:16, 4:10, and Rev. 22:17 say that eternal life is a free gift which is appropriated by faith alone. On the other hand, passages like Matthew 19:29, Romans 2:6-7, and Galatians 6:8-9 say that eternal life is a reward for work done.
Obviously the expression eternal life has two different meanings in the New Testament. Like the two Bill Smiths, who were alike in that they both were gifted athletes who played offense on a college football team, the two eternal life entities of the New Testament have much in common. Yet, they also are different.
Free Eternal Life as Unending Fellowship in God’s Kingdom
The eternal life which is free refers to a life of unending fellowship in God’s kingdom. Whoever believes in Jesus Christ has this life (John 3:16). Even believers whose works will be burned up (1 Cor. 3:15). Even believers who will be found to have been faithless servants in this life (Luke 19:20-26). At the very moment of faith the believer obtains a relationship with God which will never end.
Costly Eternal Life as Unending Abundant Fellowship in God’s Kingdom
The eternal life which is costly refers to a life of unending abundant fellowship in God’s kingdom. We need to remember that the Scriptures present eternal life not only as a basic experience, but one that can be experienced in various degrees. Did not the Lord Jesus say that He came that we might have [eternal] life and that we might have it more abundantly (John 10:10)?
Commenting on Galatians 6:8 Zane Hodges has expressed well this principle:
- It must not be forgotten that eternal life is nothing less than the very life of God Himself. As such it cannot be thought of as a mere static entity. Rather its potentialities are rich beyond the power of the mind to conceive them. Thus we find Jesus declaring, “I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly” (John 10:10). From this we learn that eternal life can be experienced in more than one measure or degree.
(The Gospel Under Siege [Dallas: Redenciï¿½n Viva, 1981], p.81.)
No one can earn eternal life as a reward unless he first receives it as a gift. That is, only those who have received by faith the free gift of eternal life can go on to earn the costly reward of abundant eternal life.
Once we accept the gift of eternal life, where we will spend eternity is set. However, the quality of the eternal existence we will have while there is not determined until we die. How we live our Christian lives will determine how much we enjoy eternity. All believers will have joy forever; but, only overcoming saints will have abundant life forever.
There need be no confusion on this point. Galatians 6:7-9 clearly conditions this life of unending abundant joy upon works. The analogy of sowing and reaping is taken from farming. It takes a lot of effort to plow the ground, sow the seeds, water, weed, and then harvest. Only by persistent hard work will a farmer reap a good crop. So, too, only by persistent hard work will the believer reap an abundant eternal experience (see also 1 Cor. 9:24-27 and 2 Tim. 2:6).
I am repeatedly tempted to give up, to grow weary in doing good, to throw in the spiritual towel. We all are, aren’t we? The flesh wars against the Spirit and won’t quit until we go to be with the Lord (Gal. 5:17). But, gratitude for what Christ has done for me and a desire for abundant eternal life strongly motivate me to keep on keeping on in the Christian life.
Don’t give up. Keep on. Persevere. Our judgment day, the Judgment Seat of Christ, is coming soon. A lot is at stake. Indeed the very quality of our eternal experience hangs in the balance.