Eternal life

Psalm 119:89 states, “Forever, O LORD, your word is firmly fixed in the heavens.” “The ‘word’ of God indicates God’s thoughts and will” (H1697). Therefore, it may be concluded that God’s thoughts and will do not change based on temporal activities on earth. We know from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians that God decided who would be adopted into his family through Jesus Christ before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:4-5). What that means is that before God had even conceived the idea of creating the planet that we live on, he had already thought out his plan of salvation and predetermined who would be saved. God’s ability to think and choose things that are linked to temporal activities is possible because his existence is not limited by time. In the Book of Revelation, the Apostle John records his visit to God’s throne in heaven. John said:

And around the throne, on each side of the throne, are four living creatures, full of eyes in front and behind: the first living creature like a lion, the second living creature like an ox, the third living creature with the face of a man, and the fourth living creature like an eagle in flight. And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all around and within, and day and night they never cease to say,

“Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty,
    who was and is and is to come!” (Revelation 4:6-8)

The four living creatures describe the Lord God Almighty as someone “who was and is and is to come” (Revelation 4:8). The words was, is, and is to come refer to “the Eternal, as a divine epithet of Christ” (G3801). John’s gospel begins with a discussion of the eternal existence of Jesus Christ. John said, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made” (John 1:1-3). Jesus “is called the logos (G3056), ‘word,’ the term used by the Greeks in reference to the governing power behind all things. The Jews used the term to refer to God. Jesus created everything that is (v.3) and later came to dwell among his creation (John 1:14). There are two main verbs that contrast what Jesus had always been and what he became at his incarnation. There is ēn, the imperfect of eimi (G1510), ‘to be,’ which could be translated as ‘had been.’ This verb is found in every instance in this passage where Jesus is referred to in his eternal state of being (vv. 1, 2, 4, 9, 10, 15)…The second verb is egeneto (the aorist form of ginomai [G1096], ‘to become’). It refers to becoming something that one was not before. The Lord Jesus became that which he was not before, a physical being (v. 14)” (note on John 1:1-17). What Jesus had always been and what he became at his incarnation correspond with the was and is of his divine epithet, but the is to come was still in the future at the time of John’s visit to God’s throne room in heaven.

The Hebrew word that is translated forever in Psalm 119:89, ʿowlam (o-lawmˊ) is properly translated as “concealed, i.e. the vanishing point; (generally) time out of mind (past or future), i.e. (practical) eternity” (H5769). ʿOwlam is derived from the word ʿalam (aw-lamˊ) which means “to veil from sight” (H5956). Eternity is veiled from our sight in that we cannot think or imagine what it will be like in the present. Jesus used parables to teach his followers about the kingdom of heaven. After he had told them the parable of the sower, Matthew’s gospel tells us, “Then the disciples came and said to him, ‘Why do you speak to them in parables?’ And he answered them, ‘To you has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. For to the one who has, more will be given, and he will have an abundance, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand’” (Matthew 13:10-13). “Jesus spoke in parables to explain spiritual truths, but those who had already rejected Jesus did not have divinely enlightened minds with which to perceive these truths, and no amount of explanation would make them understand” (note on Matthew 13:10-17). Paul explained in his first letter to the Corinthians that the man who is “governed only by his fallen nature is unable to fully understand and apply spiritual truths because he does not possess the indwelling of the Spirit of God” (note on 1 Corinthians 2:14). Paul said, “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians 2:14). The Greek word that is translated spiritually, pneumatikos (pnyoo-mat-ik-oceˊ) means “non-physical” (G4153) and is derived from the word pheumatikos (pnyoo-mat-ik-osˊ). “Pneumatikos always connotes the idea of invisibility and of power. It does not occur in the Old Testament or in the Gospels; it is in fact an after-Pentecost word. In the New Testament it is used as follows: men in Christ who walk so as to please God are ‘spiritual,’ Galatians 6:1; 1 Corinthians 2:13b, 15; 3:1; 14:37…the resurrection body of the dead in Christ is ‘spiritual,’ i.e. such as is suited to the heavenly environment, 1 Corinthians 15:44; all that is produced and maintained among men by the operations of the Spirit of God is ‘spiritual,’ 1 Corinthians 15:46…The spiritual man is one who walks by the Spirit both in the sense of Galatians 5:16 and in that of 5:25, and who himself manifests the fruit of the Spirit in his own ways. According to the Scriptures, the ‘spiritual’ state of the soul is normal for the believer, but to this state all believers do not attain, nor when it is attained is it always maintained…The spiritual state is reached by diligence in the Word of God and in prayer; it is maintained by obedience and self-judgment” (G4152).

Jesus’ conversation with a rich young ruler began with a question about how he could obtain eternal life. Matthew’s gospel states:

And behold, a man came up to him, saying, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” And he said to him, “Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you would enter life, keep the commandments.” He said to him, “Which ones?” And Jesus said, “You shall not murder, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother, and, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” The young man said to him, “All these I have kept. What do I still lack?” Jesus said to him, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. (Matthew 19:16-22)

Jesus’ question, “Why do you ask me about what is good?” (Matthew 19:17) was meant to point out that salvation from eternal death is not the result of something we do, but “it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8). Jesus told the young man that he could only enter life by keeping the commandments. Basically, what Jesus was saying was that keeping the commandments can get you through the door of eternal life, but in order to get past the judgment seat of Christ you must be perfect or what the Apostle Paul referred to as being “in Christ” (2 Corinthians 5:10, 16-19).

Psalm 119:93 states, “I will never forget your precepts, for by them you have given me life.” The Hebrew word that is translated given me life, chayah (khaw-yawˊ) speaks of reviving or preserving life (H2421). The King James Version of the Bible translates chayah as quickened in Psalm 119:93. Paul used the word quicken in Romans 8:11 where he talked about the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Paul said, “But if the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, he that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by his Spirit that dwelleth in you” (KJV). The Greek word that is translated quicken, zoopoieo (dzo-op-oy-ehˊ-o) is used “of resurrection life” and “of the ‘changing,’ or ‘fashioning anew,’ of the bodies of the living, which corresponds with, and takes place at the same time as, the resurrection of the dead in Christ” and “means to enable to respond to His voice immediately. Once born again and indwelt by the Holy Ghost, one does not have to wait to be able to respond. Response comes fully and instantaneously.” God’s precepts are things that have been divinely appointed or you might say things that God has issued a mandate that they must occur, “divine intervention in the normal course of events to bring about or fulfill a divine intent” (H6490/H6485). In that sense, never forgetting God’s precepts give us life because the process of remembering what God has done in the past to intervene in our lives involves the quickening of the Holy Spirit. Jesus told his disciples shortly before his death and resurrection, “These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you” (John 14:25-26). An example of the Spirit’s quickening is recorded in John’s gospel. John 2:13-22 states:

The Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple he found those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons, and the money-changers sitting there. And making a whip of cords, he drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and oxen. And he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. And he told those who sold the pigeons, “Take these things away; do not make my Father’s house a house of trade.” His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.”

So the Jews said to him, “What sign do you show us for doing these things?” Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” The Jews then said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?” But he was speaking about the temple of his body. When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.

The disciples weren’t able to grasp the meaning of Jesus’ words until after he was resurrected. John said that they remembered what Jesus said, and as a result, “they believed the Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken” (John 2:22). Believing is a necessary element of eternal life. The Greek word that is translated believed, pisteuo (pist-yooˊ-o) means “to have faith” (G4100). In his letter to the Romans, Paul said that Israel did not succeed in reaching a law that would lead them to righteousness, “Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as if it were based on works” (Romans 9:31-32) and then, went on to say:

For Moses writes about the righteousness that is based on the law, that the person who does the commandments shall live by them. But the righteousness based on faith says, “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’” (that is, to bring Christ down) “or ‘Who will descend into the abyss?’” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard?And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. (Romans 10:5-17)

Paul acknowledged that there was a type of righteousness that was based on the law that could revive a person’s life, the implication being that it was merely an extension of physical life (Romans 10:5; Leviticus 18:5; H2425), but Paul made it clear that the type of righteousness that is based on faith is necessary for a person to be saved. “In the Christian sense, soteria (which is translated saved in Romans 10:10) is deliverance from sin and its spiritual consequences and admission to eternal life with blessedness in the kingdom of Christ” (G4991). Paul said that faith comes from hearing the word of Christ.

The eternal nature and power of God’s word was demonstrated in his creation of the heavens and the earth out of nothing (Genesis 1:1). It says in Genesis 1:2-3, “The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.” God’s ability to change the condition of his creation by speaking or commanding something to happen was at the heart of his decision to free the Israelites from their slavery in Egypt. Exodus 3:7-8 states, “Then the LORD said, ‘I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters. I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of the land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey, to the place of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites.” God’s personal involvement in the Israelites’ situation was based on his covenant with Abraham (Genesis 15:1-21). God’s promise to rescue Abraham’s descendants (Genesis 15:14) was the reason why he went to such great lengths to preserve the Israelites’ lives (Deuteronomy 7:8) even though all the people rebelled against God after hearing the voice of the LORD speak the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:1-17; Exodus 32:1-6).

Psalm 119:67 states, “Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I keep your word.” The Hebrew word that is translated afflicted, ʿanah (aw-nawˊ) has to do with being responsive (H6030) and suggests that we are more sensitive to the Holy Spirit’s influence after God has disciplined us for committing a sin. This seems to be true in the case of Peter, who denied that he knew the Lord three times (Matthew 26:69-74), but was the first apostle to preach the gospel after the coming of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:1-41). Peter’s sermon resulted in about three thousand people being saved (Acts 2:41). At the conclusion of his sermon, Peter stated, “Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified” (Acts 2:36). Luke went on to say:

Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation.” So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls. (Acts 2:37-41)

The phrase cut to the heart meant that the people were under the Divine influence of God’s word (G2588). Speaking of salvation as entering God’s rest, Hebrews 4:11-13 states, “Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience. For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give an account.” The word of God’s pierces our heart by bringing to our minds the things that we’ve done that need to be forgiven. It says that the word of God can discern the thoughts and intentions of the heart (Hebrews 4:12). In other words, our way of thinking is evident to God by our response to his word.

When he was asked, “What shall we do?” (Acts 2:37), Peter told the people that were under the conviction of the Holy Spirit, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins” (Acts 2:38). The three steps of repentance are: 1) new knowledge, 2) regret for the previous course, displeasure with self, and 3) a change of action (G3340). When Jesus described himself as the true bread from heaven (John 6:32), the Jews grumbled because they didn’t see Jesus as the Son of God, but as the son of Joseph (John 6:41-42). Jesus tried to explain to them the concept of communion, but it went right over the Jews heads (John 6:52-59). Afterward, John tells us, “When many of his disciples heard it, they said, ‘This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?’ But Jesus, knowing in himself that his disciples were grumbling about this, said to them, ‘Do you take offense at this? Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But there are some of you who do not believe.’ (For Jesus knew from the beginning who those were who did not believe, and who it was who would betray him.) And he said, ‘This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.’ After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. So Jesus said to the Twelve, ‘Do you want to go away as well?’ Simon Peter answered him, Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.’” (John 6:60-69). The Greek word rhema (hrayˊ-mah), which is translated words in John 6:68, refers to an oral narrative. “The significance of rhema, (as distinct from logos) is exemplified in the injunction to take ‘the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God,’ Ephesians 6:17; here the reference is not to the whole Bible as such, but to the individual scripture which the Spirit brings to our remembrance for use in time of need” (G4487). Peter said that Jesus had the rhema of eternal life; indicating that, in order to be saved and have eternal life, the Holy Spirit must bring to your mind the individual scripture that makes you want to repent and have your sins forgiven.

Baptism

When Paul returned to Ephesus during his third and final missionary journey, the topic of baptism came up. Paul’s conversation with the Ephesian believers is recorded in Acts 19:2-6 where it says:

He said unto them, Have ye received the Holy Ghost since ye believed? And they said unto him, We have not so much as heard whether there be any Holy Ghost. And he said unto them, Unto what then were ye baptized? And they said, Unto John’s baptism. Then said Paul, John verily baptized with the baptism of repentance, saying unto the people that they should believe on him which should come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus. When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Ghost came on them; and they spake with tongues, and prophesied.

Paul’s differentiation between John’s baptism of repentance and the baptism of the Holy Spirit emphasized the fact that repentance was only one aspect of salvation and that it was insufficient for conversion or being born again. Paul’s interaction with the believers at Ephesus was probably a result of his awareness that there had been no change in their behavior in spite of their profession of faith. In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul discussed the new life with Christ and talked about walking according to the course of this world (Ephesians 2:2). Paul told the Ephesians they “were by nature the children of wrath, even as others. But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ” (Ephesians 2:2-4).

The Greek word Paul used that is translated quickened, suzoopoieo (sood-zo-op-oy-eh’o) means to reanimate conjointly with (G4806). Suzoopoieo is a contraction of the words sun (soon) and zoopoieo (dzo-op-oy-eh’o). These two words together convey the idea of a connection that facilitates co-life, somewhat like how Siamese twins sharing vital organs cannot be separated after birth. The Greek word zoopoieo refers specifically to resurrection life which involves the changing or fashioning anew of the bodies of the living. In this context, quicken means to be enabled to respond to the voice of God. “Once born again and indwelt by the Holy Ghost, one does not have to wait to be able to respond. Response comes fully and instantaneously” (G2227). Paul’s understanding of the baptism of the Holy Spirit seemed to include an aspect of shared power. Just like blood flowing through our physical veins, Paul seemed to see the Holy Spirit as a lifeforce that flows in and through the believer’s spiritual heart. According to Paul, without the baptism of the Holy Spirit, a believer was for all intents and purposes, still spiritually dead. In their conversation about being born again, Jesus told Nicodemus, “Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God” (John 3:5).