For God so loved the world
That he gave his only begotten Son
that whoever believes in him
should not perish
but have everlasting life.
One more time I want to focus your mind and your heart on the words of Jesus in John 3:16, "For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes on him should not perish, but have eternal life." These words warn us of the danger we are in without Jesus—perishing. They hold out the wonderful hope of God's design to rescue us from perishing—his love that sends his Son. Last week we focused on the duty that links us with this love—believing in his Son. And this week we concentrate our attention on the destiny before us if we believe—eternal life.
- The danger: perishing.
- The design: love.
- The duty: believing.
- The destiny: life.
The Destiny: Eternal Life
O how fitting it is that on Christmas morning we focus on eternal life. In John 10:10 Jesus said, "I came [that's Christmas] that they might have life, and that they might have it abundantly"—have it in fullness and have it forever. So eternal life is Christ's aim at Christmas.
And my aim with him in this service is your eternal life. I want you to have it and to know what it is and to enjoy it and to share it.
So what I am going to do is walk us through the stages of eternal life. You will need to ask where are you in these stages? What is your experience of eternal life?
Stage 1: In Christ
Eternal life is in Christ.
John 1:4, "In him was life, and that life was the light of men." Or in John 14:6 Jesus said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life." Eternal life is first and foremost the life of the Son of God. It is God's life.
Therefore it is supernatural. It is not something we have by nature. If we get it, we get it as a gift (cf. 17:2; 10:28) and as a supernatural act above what we can manufacture. Eternal life is Christ's life. "In him was life, and that life was the light of men."
Stage 2: Through the Word of Christ
Eternal life comes to us through the Word of Christ.
In John 6:68 Peter says to Jesus, "To whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life" (cf. 5:24). The life of Christ is mediated to the world through his words. He himself is called the Word of God: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God . . . and the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us" (John 1:1, 14).
And when he was with us on the earth, he spoke the words of life. And he taught his disciples to go and teach the way he taught. And he said that others would come to believe on him through their word (17:20). So eternal life is extended from Christ to others through his Word.
Stage 3: God Draws People to Christ
In the hearing of the words of eternal life, God draws people to Christ.
In John 6:44 Jesus says, "No one can come to me unless the father who sent me draws him." Christ is where eternal life is received. We must come to him if we will have it (5:40). The words of life offer it and describe it and tell how to have it and beckon us to it.
But John 3:20 describes how by nature we hate the light of life. We don't want to come because we are laid bare and exposed by the light of life. Our only hope is the merciful "drawing" of God. He overcomes our hatred for the light and opens our eyes to start seeing Christ for who he really is.
You have seen the bumper stickers, "Start seeing motorcycles." That's not because people aren't seeing them in one sense. It's because they need to see them in another sense. So it is with Christ at a very different level of seriousness. People know about him, but they don't really see him for who he is, or they would be overwhelmed with his greatness and beauty and power and goodness and wisdom and love.
If eternal life is going to come into our lives, we have to start seeing Jesus, and that is what God's drawing us does. It opens our eyes to start seeing the Jesus we already see in the Word.
Is this the stage of eternal life where you are?
Stage 4: Believing in Christ
We receive eternal life through believing in Christ.
When we hear the words of life, and yield to the drawing power of God, and believe in Jesus, we receive him into our lives and with him we receive eternal life, because he is eternal life (John 14:6).
In John 15:5 Jesus says, "I am the vine you are the branches." In other words by believing in Christ, we are united to him the way a branch is united to a vine—so that the life of the vine flows into the branch. His eternal life flows into us and we now have eternal life.
This is a great work of God that he is performing all over the world every day. For example, my friend and pastor and pro-life leader in Boston, John Ensor wrote in his Christmas letter this past week:
You are aware of the many powerful works of God both in Scripture and in the world today. God is doing some amazing things home and abroad. Two weeks ago, Kristen and I had a chance to lead a communist Chinese scholar to faith in Christ (she is a devotee of Mao). She's studying for her doctorate here in Boston. We had a chance to help her through a crisis. As a result, she gave her life to Christ. She's already read all four gospels. She came to our Christmas open house and sang carols to the Lord. I think in the days ahead there will be more of Christ and less of Mao. This is the power of God!
Stage 5: We Have Eternal Life Now
In believing we have eternal life NOW, not just in the future.
In John 5:24 Jesus says, "Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life [not "will have" but "has"—now!], and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life." In other words eternal life is not something you wait for after death. It is something you have NOW if you are believing in Jesus.
Believing is the link that unites us with the life of God in Christ now. If we have Christ, we have his life now. And his life is eternal.
Stage 6: A Personal Relationship with God
This eternal life is a personal relationship with God the Father and God the Son.
In John 17:3 Jesus defined eternal life like this. He was praying to his Father in heaven, and said: "This is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent." Eternal life is a personal, intimate knowing of God. It is not like an inoculation against the disease of death, that works unconsciously like a spiritual antibiotic. It is a conscious experience of knowing and relating to God.
To see why this is so, connect this with John 1:4 that we already saw under stage one: "In him was life, and the life was the light of men." The life is the light. What does that mean? It means, I believe, that when the eternal life of Christ comes into your life through faith, it sheds light on God and on Christ so you can know them personally. You now can see them far more clearly than you ever could before. You saw them as through a fog before faith. Then God enabled you to see enough to draw you into faith. Now in faith the life comes and with it the lights start to go on everywhere, and the personal reality of God is so powerful that you can know him and relate to him and fellowship with him.
"This is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent." Eternal life brings the light of personal knowledge into the heart, and we know him and live with him and commune with him, NOW.
Stage 7: Not Interrupted at Death
Eternal life is not interrupted at death.
In John 11:25–26 Jesus says, "I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me shall live even if he dies, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in Me shall never die." I think what he means is this: Everyone who has eternal life by faith will never have that life stripped away from him; even if he dies, he will live. Physical death will not turn eternal life into temporary life.
One of the most powerful moments in my seminary life was at the funeral of one of my professors, James Morgan, 37 years old, with a wife and four children. Lewis Smedes gave the message from these verses and at one point he lifted his voice and said with tremendous authority, "James Morgan is not dead! For Jesus has said, 'Everyone who lives and believes in Me shall never die.'"
Eternal life is not interrupted by death.
Stage 8: Made Complete at the Resurrection
Eternal life will be made complete when our bodies are raised from the dead and reunited with our spirits.
In John 6:40 Jesus said, "This is the will of my Father, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him, may have eternal life; and I Myself will raise him up on the last day." He is not only the life, as he said (11:25–26), he is the resurrection.
We buried Flossie O'Connor and Marion Newstrum this past week. They are alive with eternal life in heaven with Christ (2 Corinthians 5:8; Philippians 1:23). But their fullest experience of eternal life will come when the Lord descends with a trumpet and with the archangel's call and the dead bodies of those who are in Christ are raised from the dead.
Eternal life encompasses body and soul.
Stage 9: Lasting Forever and Ever
Eternal life will last forever and ever.
How long is forever? Does it make you tremble? That so much rides on your spiritual awakening in this life? How long is it? I once heard Jerry Healy in a Bethel Chapel describe it like this: if a little bird should fly from the coast of the sea to a great plain and deposit a grain of sand once every thousand years, when the mound of sand is the height of Mount Everest eternity will have just begun.
Why Does Eternity Exist?
It exists because it will take that long for us to know the inexhaustible glories of God. Two-hundred-fifty years ago Jonathan Edwards preached a sermon on what it would be like to experience eternal life to—see and know God for eternity. He ponders whether that would grow dull and boring.
The fountain that supplies [the] joy and delight, which the soul has in seeing God . . . is infinite . . . The understanding may extend itself as far as it will; it doth but take its flight into an endless expanse, and dive into a bottomless ocean. It may discover more and more of the beauty and loveliness of God, but it never will exhaust the fountain . . .
Then he comments on the infinite love of God based on Ephesians 3:18–19, "That you may be able to comprehend with all the saints, what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; and to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge; that you might be filled with all the fullness of God."
We can never by soaring and ascending come to the height of [the love of God]; we can never by descending come to the depth of it; or by measuring, know the length and breadth of it . . . Let the thoughts and desires extend themselves as they will, here is space enough for them, in which they may expand for ever. How blessed therefore are they that do see God, who are come to this exhaustless fountain! . . . After they have had the pleasure of beholding the face of God millions of ages, it will not grow a dull story; the relish of this delight will be as exquisite as ever . . . (Works of Jonathan Edwards, Edinburgh, 1974, vol. 2, p. 909)
Where Are You in the Stages of Eternal Life?
Where are you in the stages of eternal life? All of you are at least at stage two: the hearing of the words of life. That is what I have been speaking. And I believe God has taken many to stage three: he is drawing you by helping you see Christ for who he is. O that you would cross the threshold of life and believe this morning, and come into that present possession of eternal life and that wonderful relationship of knowing the only true God and the one whom he sent, Jesus Christ.
What if you believe this morning? What if you finally say, "Lord, Jesus, I see you in your Word, and I no longer will resist you. I trust you with my soul and my body. I believe the promise of John 3:16 that whoever believes on Christ will not perish but have eternal life. I receive your gift of eternal life." We'd really like to know what God is doing in your life so we can pray for you. And we'd like to point you in some helpful directions to go on with Christ.
We have prepared the worship folder insert for all of you to respond to these messages and God's work in your life this year. Let's take a moment and fill it out together.