Home / Tough Topics Explained / Eternal Life: Receiving the Gift vs Inheriting the Prize
“Eternal life” is used in the Bible to describe two different but related things.
The first is our position in Christ, which is determined by Christ. The second is our condition and depends on our choices, and determines our experience of eternal life.
In this way, the phrase “eternal life” is used to describe a spiritual position and condition in a similar manner to how the word “life” is used to describe a physical position and condition. A newborn child has been given the gift of life, which is a permanent position. The child is a genetic member of the parents. But the quality of life someone lives determines their condition, and depends largely upon the choices they make within the circumstances they encounter.
The terminology this article will use is the “Gift of Eternal Life” to describe the new birth, which is to be spiritually reborn.
THE GIFT OF ETERNAL LIFE
The Gift of Eternal Life is living forever with God as a member of His eternal family.
This Gift includes:
To learn more about the Gift of Eternal Life please see the Dig Deeper article: “How to Receive the Gift of Eternal Life.”
THE PRIZE OF ETERNAL LIFE
The reward or Prize of Eternal Life is experiencing the blessings of obedience and enjoying God’s approval for overcoming the trials of life by faith.
Paul directly speaks about the Prize of Eternal Life.
“Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win.”
(1 Corinthians 9:24)
“I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”
The Prize of Eternal Life includes both present and future/eternal blessings.
Present Blessings (in this life) of the Prize include:
Future/Eternal Blessings (in the next life) of the Prize include:
RECEIVING THE GIFT OF ETERNAL LIFE
The way we get to heaven—i.e. the way we gain the gift of eternal life with God forever and avoid eternal damnation in the lake of fire—is through God’s grace which is received by simple faith. God gifts us eternal life if we simply believe that Jesus is God’s Son:
“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.”
Jesus described the way we come to have this Gift of Eternal life is as being born into it (John 3:3). We had nothing to do with whether or not we were born physically. We did nothing to earn our physical birth. It was simply given to us. It is the same way with the Gift of Eternal Life. We are born into it (John 1:12-13). The Father’s granting of eternal life is a gift that is freely given. All that is required of us to accept this gracious Gift of eternal life is to believe that Jesus is God’s Son. It is as simple as this.
Jesus described to the Jewish leader Nicodemus that one receives the Gift of eternal life simply by having enough faith to look, hoping to be delivered from the poisonous venom of sin. Jesus compared this simple faith with the faith required by Israelites to be delivered from death from venomous snakebites, while they were wandering in the wilderness:
“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.”
Jesus compared the simplicity of being spiritually born again to the Israelites who were dying in the wilderness from the venomous snake bites until God saved them from physical death by commanding Moses to make a bronze serpent and lift it up on a pole—so that anyone who believed the message and looked upon this snake would not physically perish but be healed and live (John 3:14). Jesus said that just as it was with Moses and the bronze serpent, so it will be with the Son of Man who will be lifted up [on the cross] and “whoever believes in Him will have eternal life” (John 3:15). It simply requires enough faith to look on Jesus, hoping to be delivered from the sin that leads to spiritual death (Romans 6:23).
Eternal life is granted as a free gift on the basis of God’s grace which is received by our simple faith in Jesus’s death on the cross.
“For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.”
It is through grace, by faith, as a gift, that we are born into God’s family. In this way, we are justified in the presence of God, through faith (Romans 4:3-4). This Gift can be neither earned nor lost. Once we are born into God’s eternal family we will never die spiritually. There is nothing we must do to keep or maintain this gift. There is no work required of us. It was given by grace, and since “it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works, otherwise grace is no longer grace” (Romans 11:6).
For those who have believed in Jesus, nothing can separate us from His love (Romans 8:38-39). We are fully accepted by God as His forever child. No sin, however terrible or multiplying, can nullify or overcome God’s grace, “Where sin increased, grace abounded all the more” (Romans 5:20). God’s gifts are forever and are never revoked (Romans 11:29). Not a single sheep will ever be snatched from the Father’s hand (John 10:29). If even a single sheep wanders away into sin, God will go after it like a Shepherd. He will find it. And He will rejoice once it has been found again (Matthew 18:12-13).
“So it is not the will of your Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones perish.”
The good news of eternal life which God offers to everyone is indescribably marvelous. It is amazing and it is scandalously simple. It is too good (John 1:16). And it is all true (Luke 1:1-4; 1 John 1:1-3a).
INHERITING THE PRIZE OF ETERNAL LIFE
As astonishing and wonderful as the Father’s grace is toward us, He does not merely pardon sin and grant the Gift of eternal life and leave us without purpose. The scope of the gospel is much wider. It completes and perfects us (Colossians 1:28; Matthew 5:48). It transforms us into the character and image of Jesus (Romans 8:29) and empowers and glorifies us to fulfill our divine destiny of reigning in the New Earth with Jesus (Romans 8:30).
The gospel transforms our nature and allows us to be partakers of the divine nature (2 Peter 1:4). In partaking in the divine nature by faith in this life, we demonstrate to the angels things they cannot learn, likely because they cannot live by faith (Ephesians 3:10; 1 Peter 1:12). Like the angels, we will no longer be able to live by faith in the next life (2 Corinthians 5:7-8).
The Father and the Son invite us to inherit the reward of co-reigning with Christ (Romans 8:17b). If we suffer with the Son of Man in this life, we will reign with the King in eternity. It seems that being faithful while enduring the trials of this life refines us and allows us to be fit to receive such an amazing inheritance (James 1:2-3,12).
Being born again [into eternal life] makes us eligible to inherit the Prize of Eternal Life. Being born again makes us a child of God, and places us into His family (John 3:3), but it does not grant us these heavenly rewards. To gain the reward of the inheritance and inherit the kingdom requires that we continue in our faith and put it into practice. Nevertheless, our blessing of belonging to and being a member of God’s family, having God as our inheritance, is secured through Christ; God is always our inheritance (Romans 8:17a).
We are given the gift of eternal life on the basis of God’s grace toward us based on Christ’s death on the cross, which is received through simple faith. But we gain the reward of the inheritance and our divine destiny prepared for us from the foundation of the world through enduring faith (Colossians 3:23-24; Revelation 3:21).
We receive the Gift of Eternal Life if we have enough faith to tell God we are thirsty,
“I will give to the one who thirsts from the spring of the water of life without cost.”
But the way we inherit the greatest rewards of life is to overcome the trials of life (“these things”), through obedient faith, following the example of Jesus (Philippians 2:8),
“He who overcomes will inherit these things, and I will be his God and he will be My son.’”
The Gift of Eternal life is received on the basis of God’s grace and simple faith.
The Prize of Eternal Life is inherited as a reward on the basis of God’s grace and through an obedient faith.
We inherit the kingdom by having faith that God’s commands are in our true best interest (Deuteronomy 10:12-13). If we believe this, think it, and act upon it, it will lead us to do things like giving the hungry something to eat—giving the thirsty something to drink—inviting the stranger to sit at your table—visiting the prisoner in his cell—and clothing the naked (Matthew 25:34-40).