These exhortations were given by me between 1999 and 2005. That was a long time ago, and I have grown a lot since then. They may not reflect my current beliefs.
The opening few verses of Titus are very interesting. There is a sense in which they sum up most of our fundamental beliefs. Please turn to Titus chapter 1, verses 1 to 3.
Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ for the faith of God’s elect and the knowledge of the truth that leads to godliness– a faith and knowledge resting on the hope of eternal life, which God, who does not lie, promised before the beginning of time, and at his appointed season he brought his word to light through the preaching entrusted to me by the command of God our Saviour,
Today I am reading from the New International Version as usual.
The hope of eternal life is one of the two greatest promises in the Bible. The other of course is the Glory of the Lord covering the earth as the waters now cover the sea, but it is the hope of eternal life I’m going to talk about today. On my website I write about what we believe, and generally on the Internet you have to get your point across in only a few hundred words. It is actually surprisingly difficult to do that for some subjects simply because there is such a wealth of information about them in the Bible. The hope of eternal life is one of these subjects. The Bible, particularly the New Testament, is absolutely saturated with them.
Consider Romans 2, verse 7, for example: “To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honour and immortality, he will give eternal life.” It’s delightfully simple isn’t it? The hope of eternal life isn’t hinted at, it is explicitly stated. The second half of Galatians 5:12 is very similar: “the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.”
Eternal life was one of the things the apostles preached about in the events recorded in the book of Acts. In Acts 13 Paul and Barnabas react to abusive comments from some Jews. Acts 13, verses 46 to 48:
Then Paul and Barnabas answered them boldly: “We had to speak the word of God to you first. Since you reject it and do not consider yourselves worthy of eternal life, we now turn to the Gentiles. For this is what the Lord has commanded us: “`I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth. ‘”When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and honoured the word of the Lord; and all who were appointed for eternal life believed.
Eternal life is a theme of Paul’s first Letter to Timothy. Please turn to 1st Timothy 1, verses 12 to 16.
I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength, that he considered me faithful, appointing me to his service. Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief. The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners–of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life.
Paul is making it clear here that eternal life isn’t a right, as it would be if our souls were immortal, but it is a gift that we get through God’s grace. That makes it all the more precious then, doesnt it? A gift that you get through grace is a very beautiful gift indeed.
This is exactly the point that Paul makes in Romans chapters five and six. Well start reading at chapter 5 verse 17:
For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ. Consequently, just as the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men, so also the result of one act of righteousness was justification that brings life for all men. For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous. The law was added so that the trespass might increase. But where sin increased, grace increased all the more, so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning, so that grace may increase? By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptised into Christ Jesus were baptised into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection.
Jumping to verse 23:
For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord
As well as the promise of eternal life, there are several other important doctrines in Romans 5 and 6.
Chapter 5 verse 17 emphasises that Christ is human, not part of the trinity, and it reminds us that we are all descended from Adam: For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many!
The fact that resurrection is what leads to eternal life is very clear from chapter 6 verse 4: “We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.”
The necessity of baptism jumps out of the next verse, chapter 6 verse 5: If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection.
It is of course through Christ and his sacrifice that we become heirs to the promise of eternal life, and it is no surprise that the gospels are densely packed with teaching about eternal life. The parable of the sheep and the goats, in Matthew 25 is a good example, both because the promise of eternal life is very clear, and because it teaches, equally clearly the way we must live our lives to be granted eternal life. Matthew 25 verse 31:
When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. “Then the King will say to those on his right, `Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, `Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ The King will reply, `I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’
Jumping to verse 46:
Then [the unrighteous] will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.
You could base several exhortations on this one passage all on its own. There are just a few things I want to mention now.
The unrighteous are condemned to eternal punishment. The righteous are granted eternal life. Eternal punishment is therefore the opposite of eternal life, and the opposite of eternal life is eternal non-existence, eternal death. You dont really have to look any further to see that the whole idea of eternal torture in hell is completely contrary to what Christ taught.
The opposite of eternal punishment is eternal reward. It follows that those who are granted eternal life will enjoy it. To some of you that might seem a strange thing to say, but I know there are people who find the thought of eternal life quite intimidating. Eternal life is almost thought of as eternal boredom. If God was not a loving god eternal life could be quite a difficult burden in this respect, but God is a loving god. Eternal life is not a punishment, and it is something that will be enjoyed.
The parable of the sheep and the goats teaches us that we must behave in a certain way to inherit eternal life. Its not about who did the daily readings most often, about whose Greek lexicon was the most used, or about how often you prayed and exhorted using big words. Its about your attitude to your fellow human beings.
Doesnt this remind you of 1st Corinthians 13, verses 1 -13
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing. Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
Jumping to verse 13:
And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.
The sheep were those who showed love, and it is the love that is important. The love is greater than faith. Thats not saying that faith isn’t important – it is – or that the Bible study isnt important – it is as well. But the greatest is love.
Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind is what Christ described as the greatest commandment. And the second greatest is Love your neighbour as yourself.(1)
The hope of eternal life was something that concerned the rich young man, in Matthew 19, Mark 10 and Luke 18. By looking at this incident we can learn about the relationship between the kingdom of God and eternal life. If you want to follow, Ill be quoting from Luke 18, verses 18 to 30, but the words are essentially the same in all three accounts.
A certain ruler asked him, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No-one is good– except God alone. You know the commandments: `Do not commit adultery, do not murder, do not steal, do not give false testimony, honour your father and mother.'” “All these I have kept since I was a boy,” he said. When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” When he heard this, he became very sad, because he was a man of great wealth. Jesus looked at him and said, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God! Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” Those who heard this asked, “Who then can be saved?” Jesus replied, “What is impossible with men is possible with God.” Peter said to him, “We have left all we had to follow you!” “I tell you the truth,” Jesus said to them, “no-one who has left home or wife or brothers or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God will fail to receive many times as much in this age and, in the age to come, eternal life.”
The rich young man wanted to know about inheriting eternal life. This would be a difficult thing for him to do because of his great wealth and Christ says it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God. Inheriting eternal life and entering the kingdom of God are clearly being equated here, and the same relationship is pointed out in verse 30: no-one who has left home or wife or brothers or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God will fail to receive & in the age to come, eternal life. We all know the relationship between inheriting eternal life and entering the Kingdom of God, and all the other points I have made, and will make, but isnt it encouraging to go through them like this to remind ourselves how simple and obvious these teachings are.
Sometimes it is easy to think that it is somehow wrong to be rich, particularly based on the story of the rich young man. It isnt wrong to be rich. It was hard for the rich young man to follow Christ because his material possessions tied him down in one way or another. Christ didnt tell the rich young man to follow him and then sell everything. He had to sell everything first and then follow Christ. The order is important. If it was somehow intrinsically wrong to have riches the command would have been Follow me, and then as your first act of discipleship dispose of your riches. Riches are only a problem if they stop you following Christ in the first place.
Paul gave Timothy advice on this subject in 1st Timothy 6:17, which was one of last Wednesdays readings.
Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share.
As long as you dont allow yourself to be dominated and controlled by worldly wealth it is not a wrong thing to have.
So far I havent mentioned Johns Gospel. Written by the disciple whom Jesus loved it is not really a surprise that it contains some of the most beautiful verses in the Bible. Consider John 20, verses 30 and 31:
Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.
There is nothing I can say that will add to that in any way. It is simple and easy to understand, and all the more beautiful for that.
The very personal nature of Christs sacrifice is very evident in Johns gospel. Turn to John chapter 10, verses 7 to 18:
Therefore Jesus said again, “I tell you the truth, I am the gate for the sheep. All who ever came before me were thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. He will come in and go out, and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. [or I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly In the AV] I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand is not the shepherd who owns the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me– just as the Father knows me and I know the Father–and I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd. The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life– only to take it up again. No-one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.”
John 15:9-13 again expresses the personal nature of Christs sacrifice, together with an exhortation for us to love one another:
As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no-one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.
No discussion of the promise of eternal life, and its intertwining with the love of God and of Christ would be complete without reading from John chapter 3, and it is on these words that I am going to finish. Please turn to John 3, verses 14 to 17. Reading from the AV:
And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life. For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.