Do you have eternal life? Not sure? You can know…now.
In John 3:14-15, we read the first time in the Gospel of John that Jesus gives us a hint of how he will die. Jesus refers to a situation from Israel’s history in the Old Testament book of Numbers, chapter 21, verses 8-9. The people of Israel, at that time, were wandering in the wilderness, having been freed from 400 years of slavery in Egypt. They were headed to Promised Land of Canaan, a trip which should have only taken a couple months. But they sinned against God and he led them on a long 40-year wandering. They actually sinned against God numerous times, and the instance in Numbers 21 was one of them.
As a result of their disobedience, the people were getting sick and some were dying, so God told Moses to make a snake and hang it up high on a pole. All the people who looked to the snake would be healed. Jesus says to Nicodemus here in John 2:14-15 that he, Jesus, is also going to be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life. While his words are mysterious, and I doubt Nicodemus understood what he meant, you and I have the benefit of hindsight, and we know.
Jesus has summarized the major theme of the entire Gospel of John, and we’re not even at the next verse, which is probably the most famous verse in the Bible. We need to move right to that and the next few verses, however, because this important theme is explained further. Look at verses 16-18. Maybe you can even quote it from memory! John 3:16!
The meaning of this passage is powerful because it continues the astounding message that all people can have access to the Kingdom of God. All people can be born again, made into new creations who can experience something that Jesus calls eternal life.
This brings us to a very important clarification. Eternal life has long been understood as life after death in heaven. But notice that John doesn’t describe it only that way. In verse 16, we have the famous phrase “shall not perish,” and that rightly has us thinking that there is possibility of a non-perishing life. Someone could say, “Oh that means true believers in Jesus will never die a human death.” We know that is not true. So John isn’t saying that if we believe in Jesus, we humans will not die. All humans die. What John is saying is that those humans who have this eternal life will live again. People who believe in Jesus have life everlasting. It is life after earthly death.
Eternal life is that, life after death, but it is not only that. What many Christians do not realize is that eternal life begins now. Notice that this eternal life is also called “salvation” in verse 17. Jesus wants to save the world, not condemn it. So we Christians, to follow the lead of our Lord, should not condemn the world, but seek to save it. We do so by emphasizing what John emphasizes in verse 18, believing in Jesus now. People can access eternal life now by believing in Jesus. People can be saved now by believing in Jesus. It is not as though we believe in Jesus, then wait for years or decades until we die, and then we experience eternal life. We will experience it then, but we also partake of eternal life now.
Jesus in John 10:10, will say this, “I have come that they might have life, and life abundantly.” There is a flourishing kind of life that Jesus wants people to experience now. You can call it eternal life now. You can call it being saved. You can call it being born again. The label doesn’t really matter, and that is evident by how many labels Jesus and the other New Testament writers use for it. What exactly is eternal life now?
It is a Jesus kind of life. It is a life in which we experience transformation by his Spirit, so that flowing naturally out of our lives is the Fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, and self-control. Observe what is coming out of your mouth and your actions. Is there evidence of a living, active relationship with Jesus? You, and the people around you, should see the Fruit of the Spirit flowing from your mouth and actions. It should be obvious.
Does that mean you are to be perfect? No.
Does that mean you should be growing? Yes!
The beautiful truth of this passage is that abundant life and eternal life is accessible to all who believe. Believe? What does that mean? Is it just signing a doctrinal statement, a piece of paper that says, “I believe”? Is it just thinking in your mind, “Yeah…I believe that.” That kind of belief is called intellectual assent. It is purely ideas in our minds. Intellectual assent requires very little or no action at all. We just think, “I believe.” Intellectual assent, just thinking about it, is not what John 3:16, 17 and 18 are all about.
To understand the concept of belief as it is taught in these important verses we need to understand the difference between faith and faithfulness. Faith is the intellectual assent that I talked about. Faith is important. The story of Jesus has content to be wrestled with. That he is God, that he was born, lived, died for our sins and rose again to victory over sin, death and the devil. That information is not irrelevant. It is information about which we can choose to say, “I agree with that.” But simple intellectual agreement must lead to action, because it is action that shows what we truly believe. That action is faithfulness.