What is Eternal Life? How to Gain the Gift of Eternal Life

When God created men and women in His image, He created them to live in partnership forever with Him as they ruled over the earth. But when our first parents disobeyed God, they broke relationship with Him. The result of their sin was "death"—separation from God and the eternal destiny/purpose for which they were created.

The phrase, "eternal life" is used in scripture to refer to two different but related objects. Eternal life can be used to describe a gift as well as a reward or experience.

  • First, eternal life is used to describe a gift that is given upon a person's spiritual rebirth. Being born again spiritually gives us a permanent position as a child of God. A person who receives the Gift to Eternal Life will live forever as member of God's family. We receive the Gift of Eternal Life by believing in Jesus as God and trusting Him for our salvation.

  • Second, eternal life is used to describe the quality of life lived by a person who has been spiritually reborn. The degree to which we gain the experience of eternal life determined by how we overcome life's trials by following Jesus in faith upon receiving the Gift of Eternal Life. The reward, inheritance, or experience of eternal life is called the "Prize of Eternal Life."

Everyone has sinned and disobeyed God and is deserving of this eternal separation,

"for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God"
(Romans 3:23)

Because of our offense and sin, every person is out of relationship with God and unable to make amends. But God loved us even as we were still sinners (Romans 5:8). God, who is rich in love, came to earth Himself, as a man (John 1:1, 9-15) in order to restore any and all who would believe in Him. Jesus lived a sinless life and He took man's penalty of death upon Himself (2 Corinthians 5:21, 1 John 2:2) when He was crucified and died on the cross. Three days later He rose from the dead. He offers full pardon and eternal life for all who believe in Him. This is the Gift of Eternal Life.

But the Gift of Eternal Life is the foundation and essential beginning of the gospel—the good news of Jesus Christ:

"For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures."
(1 Corinthians 15:3-4)

How can someone receive the Gift of Eternal Life?

  1. Believe Jesus is God and that His bodily resurrection defeated sin and death.
  2. Nothing further is required. You are "saved" from death and have eternal life.

The Bible is clear that:

  • the Gift of Eternal Life is freely offered by God to anyone as an act of pure grace.
  • this Gift is received through simple faith in Him.

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

"Jesus said to her, 'I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?' She said to Him, 'Yes, Lord; I have believed that You are the Christ, the Son of God, even He who comes into the world.'"
(John 11:25-27)

The phrases "believes in Him" and "believes in Me" entail believing that Jesus is God's Son, and entrusting one's eternity into His hands.

How much faith is required to receive eternal life?

It requires as much faith as it takes to look upon Jesus at the cross in the hope of being saved.

This is what Jesus told Nicodemus when He said "As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; so that whoever believes will in Him have eternal life" (John 3:14-15). The event Jesus was referring to was when the Israelites were dying of venomous snake bites in the wilderness, and Moses made a bronze serpent and told everyone that whoever looked upon the snake would not die from the venom. And God healed everyone who looked (Numbers 21:4-9). The simple faith that is required to receive the Gift of Eternal Life is—enough faith to look.

Likewise, Revelation 21:6 indicates that it requires enough faith to tell Jesus you are thirsty for eternal life and ask for a drink: "I will give to the one who thirsts from the spring of the water of life without cost."

Eternal life is a gift of pure grace received through simple faith.

When we believe in Jesus:

  • We are "born again" (John 3:3).
  • We are born adopted into God's eternal family (John 1:12-13).
  • We are a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17).
  • All our sins are forgiven (Ephesians 1:7).
  • We are "justified" and declared righteous in God's sight (Romans 5:1).
  • We have passed from death to life (John 5:24).
  • We are part of God's flock of sheep and will live forever with Him (Matthew 25:46, John 10:27-29).

The only way to receive the gift of eternal life is through Jesus Christ alone.

"Jesus said to him, 'I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.'"
(John 14:6)

"And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved."
(Acts 4:12)

Eternal life is offered to every person by God as a gift of pure grace and it is received by simple faith.

"For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God..."
(Ephesians 2:8)

"… even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe … being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus."
(Romans 3:22-24)

There is nothing we can do to earn this gift of eternal life.

"… not as a result of works, so that no one may boast."
(Ephesians 2:9)

"… because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin."
(Romans 3:20)

Our own goodness does not qualify us for this gift.

"He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit."
(Titus 3:5)

And no amount of sin however horrific or prolific can put us beyond His reach of mercy. 

"It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all. Yet for this reason I found mercy, so that in me as the foremost, Jesus Christ might demonstrate His perfect patience as an example for those who would believe in Him for eternal life."
(1 Timothy 1:15-16)

"… but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, even so grace would reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord."
(Romans 5:20b-21)

Nothing can cancel or take away our eternal life.

"… for the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable."
(Romans 11:29)

"… and 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 is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand."
(John 10:28-29)

"For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord."
(Romans 8:38-39)

Because our eternal life is a gift of pure grace and is received on the basis of simple faith in Jesus as God's Son, and has nothing whatsoever to do with our ability to perform good works (before or after believing), or our ability to keep the faith, or our ability to demonstrate or prove that our faith is genuine—we as believers can live and rest in the blessed assurance that our eternal life is eternally secure. Once given and received, our eternal life cannot be lost.

The Bible uses several terms to describe people who have eternal life:

Some common Biblical terms for those who have the Gift of Eternal Life are:

  • Believers/Believing ones (John 3:16)
  • Children of God (John 1:12, Romans 8:15-16)
  • His Sheep (John 10:14-17, Matthew 25:32-34, 46)
  • Those who are Justified (Romans 8:30)
  • Sons of Light (Luke 16:8)
  • The Elect (Ephesians 1:4)

What qualifies someone to become a believer, a sheep, a child of God, a son of light, and/or justified is receiving God's gracious Gift of eternal life by faith.

When we simply believe in Jesus as God's Son, put our trust in His death for our sins, and hope in His resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:3-4), we are adopted as sons into God's eternal family (John 1:12-13, Romans 8:15-16).

If we believe in Jesus, we are forever "saved" and eternally belong in God's family. Nothing can remove us from God's omnipotent hands (John 10:28-29).

Terms the Bible uses to describe people who have the Gift of eternal life—AND—who actively pursue God's kingdom:

While the above list are terms the Bible uses to describe people who have the Gift of Eternal Life, the Bible uses different terms to describe people who both have the Gift of Eternal Life—AND—who are actively pursuing a deeper relationship with Jesus:

  • Disciples (Luke 14:26-27, 33)
  • Followers (Matthew 16:24)
  • Saints (literally "holy ones") (Romans 1:7, 1 Corinthians 1:2, 2 Corinthians 1:1, Ephesians 1:1, Philippians 1:1, Colossians 1:2)
  • Christians (Acts 11:26, 26:28, 1 Peter 4:16)

This list of terms describes those who believe in JesusANDwho obey His commands to love and serve others. It is how the Bible describes those actively seek His kingdom and righteousness (Matthew 6:33).

Again, the terms: "disciples," "followers," "saints" (holy ones), "Christians" all describe people who have both believed in Jesus as God's SonANDwho actively strive to live according to God's word.

Terms the Bible uses to describe a Christian's active pursuit of Jesus.

  • "take up his cross and follow Me [Jesus]" (Luke 9:23)
  • "walk by faith" (2 Corinthians 5:7)
  • "walk by the Spirit" (Galatians 5:25)
  • "[not] dead faith" - i.e. ["living faith]" (James 2:17, 26,)
  • "walk in the light" (1 John 1:7)

These and similar terms are how the Bible describes a Christian's active pursuit of Jesus. When believers in Jesus live as Christians, their lives bear fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23).

What comes next for those who have received the Gift of Eternal Life?

The Bible encourages and exhorts believers in Jesus to become active disciples of Jesus. But it is possible to be a believer of Jesus only and not a follower of Him. All believers in Jesus have eternal life and will therefore live with God for all eternity, but if they do not obey God's commands to love and serve others as they walk and live by faith, they will miss many of the additional and amazing blessings that come from an active faith of walking with Jesus.

After we are adopted into God's eternal family and are "born again," Christ then calls us to grow up and mature by following Him and His teachings so that we will experience the fullness of life (Luke 9:23-24, John 10:10). Jesus calls us to become great in His kingdom by serving others (Matthew 20:25-28).

In addition to the Gift, Jesus also offers His friendship (John 15:14), eternal inheritance (Matthew 19:16-21), heavenly treasure (Matthew 6:19), and positions of authority in the New Earth for believers who are faithful (2 Timothy 2:12, James 1:12). Those blessings are referred to as "the Prize" of eternal life (1 Corinthians 9:23-27, Philippians 3:14). Because the New Testament is largely written to believers who already have the Gift of eternal life and have been born again, it mostly talks about the Prize and how to live out eternal life in the most abundant, fulfilling way.

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