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Eternal Life: Understanding It and Obtaining It

What is eternal life and how can we obtain it?The Bible says Jesus can offer us eternal life, but what is the nature of eternal life? What is the source of life and how can we obtain it? Can other religions or religious leaders provide eternal life? Must we meet conditions to receive it? Do you know Jesus and how to have eternal life?

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Luke 10:25 – A lawyer asked Jesus, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” Surely this is one of the most important questions anyone can ask.

The Bible describes several different kinds of life and death.

Death is the opposite of life, or more accurately, it is the absence of life. Something is dead because it does not possess life. The Bible uses “death” as a term for separation and “life” as an expression for unity. Consider three kinds of life or death.

Physical life – This is life on earth in a physical body. Death is the end of life when the spirit leaves the body (James 2:26). So physical life involves the spirit united with the body, but physical death is separation of the spirit from the body.

Spiritual life – Ephesians 2:1-5,12-19. Sinners are dead in trespasses and sins, but God can give them life by forgiving their sins. People dead in sin are without Christ; they are “far off”: separation. But by the blood of Christ they were “made near”: union.

So spiritual death is separation or alienation from God because of sin. But when sins are forgiven, we become friends with God again and have harmony, union, or fellowship with Him: we are spiritually alive. (Luke 15:24,32; Ezekiel 18:20)

A third kind of life is eternal life. This life is the object of this study.

Genesis 2:17 – God said Adam would die if he ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. He and Eve did sin, so God sent them out of the garden away from the tree of life “lest he … take of the tree of life, and eat, and live forever” (3:22). So sin caused man to die and not live forever.

Yet the Bible now promises we can have eternal life. The concept of eternity is beyond human comprehension, so some aspects of eternal life are beyond our understanding. Yet consider what the Bible does say about eternal life, and how we can obtain it.

(Scripture may refer to eternal life simply as “life,” but context shows it refers to eternal life.)

God Is the Source of Eternal Life.

God Lives Forever.

The book of Revelation repeatedly says that God lives forever and ever.

Revelation 4:9,10 – The living creatures and twenty-four elders give worship, glory, and honor to Him who sits on the throne, who lives forever and ever. (Revelation 5:14)

Revelation 15:7 – The seven angels were given seven golden bowls full of the wrath of God who lives forever and ever.

Exodus 3:14 – God said His name is “I AM.” This name emphasizes God is eternally existent. He always has existed and always will exist. He is.

Eternal existence is difficult for limited minds to grasp, yet the Bible says God is eternal. He is fundamentally alive by His inherent nature. He is immortal. He cannot die.

When we consider the Bible promise of eternal life, we should remember that God lives forever.

(Revelation 10:6; Deuteronomy 32:40; Daniel 4:34; Daniel 12:7; Psalm 133:3)

Eternal Life Is Available Only through Jesus Christ.

God, who is inherently and eternally alive, is the source and giver of all other life. He gave people physical life at creation (Genesis 2:7; Acts 17:25,28). Only He can give eternal life.

Throughout history, people have sought various means to avoid death. Ponce de Leon searched for the fountain of youth. Commercials continually advertise various ways to promote long life.

Psalm 49:6-9 – No man, not even the wealthiest, can redeem his brother that he should live eternally. So people cannot grant eternal life. Only God can do this.

Romans 6:22,23 – When we are set free from sin and become slaves of God, the end is everlasting life. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (5:21)

1 John 5:11,12 – God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life. (verses 13,20)

John 14:6 – Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.”

John 10:10 – I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.

Religious liberals claim all religions are equal. But no one can receive eternal life through Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism, the occult, or pagan deities. Eternal life comes only through Jesus.

Various health treatments may help overcome disease and prolong life. But sooner or later everyone will face the end of physical life. Only God can give eternal life.

(Romans 5:21; John 4:14; 6:27,51,54,58; 10:10,28; 17:2; 1 Corinthians 15:45; 2 Timothy 1:1; 1 John 1:2; Jude 1:21)

Eternal Life Is the Reward of the Righteous.

The Righteous Receive Eternal Life at Judgment.

Matthew 25:46 – At the judgment the wicked will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life. So eternal life is the reward for the righteous. (Revelation 2:10)

Romans 2:5-11 – Those who continue patiently doing good and obeying truth will receive eternal life. This is described as glory, honor, immortality, and peace. But those who obey unrighteousness instead of truth will receive indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish. So, eternal life is a reward for the righteous and is opposite to the reward of the wicked.

Romans 6:23 – The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Jesus Christ.

Revelation 2:7 – To him who overcomes I will give to eat from the tree of life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of God. In the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve could eat the tree of life and would have lived forever had they not sinned. In Paradise after this life, the faithful will eat of the tree of life, so they will live forever.

(James 1:12; Acts 13:48; 1 John 5:11,12)

We “Have” Eternal Life Now as a Hope or Promise, Not a Permanent Possession.

Several passages say that we have eternal life (John 3:36; 5:24; 6:47). So some people claim, if we have it and it is eternal, then “once saved always saved.” But other passages explain that we have eternal life as a hope or promise for future life but not as a present, permanent possession.

Mark 10:30 – Those who sacrifice even loved ones to serve God shall receive in the age to come, eternal life. Eternal life is not an actual possession in this life. (Luke 18:30)

Titus 1:2 – In hope of eternal life which God, who cannot lie, promised before time began. So eternal life is not a present possession but a hope that God has promised.

Titus 3:7 – Having been justified by His grace we should become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. Eternal life is a hope to be inherited by those who have been justified.

1 John 2:25 – And this is the promise that He has promised us – eternal life.

Romans 8:24,25 – We do not hope for that which we already possess. Likewise, a promise refers to something to be actually received in the future. Eternal life is a promise we hope for in the age to come, so we do not have it now as a present possession. It is a reward to be granted to the righteous at the judgment.

Eternal Life Is the Opposite of Everlasting Punishment and Divine Wrath.

Sin prevents us from obtaining eternal life but leads to eternal punishment.

John 3:15,16 – Whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. The opposite of eternal life is perishing.

John 3:36 – He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him. Those who do not receive everlasting life will receive the wrath of God.

Revelation 20:11-15 – All the dead will be judged according to their works, and anyone not found named in the Book of Life will be cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. The opposite of eternal life is the second death, which is the lake of fire.

2 Thessalonians 1:7-9 – When Jesus returns, He will take vengeance on those who do not know God, and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. These shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord.

The cause of separation from God is unforgiven sin (Isaiah 59:1,2). While we are physically alive, we can be spiritually dead because our sins have separated us from God. Or we can be spiritually alive in fellowship with God because our sins are forgiven. During this earthly life, we can pass from spiritual life to spiritual death and vice versa.

After physical life ends, we will continue forever in a state of eternal death separated from God or in eternal life in God’s fellowship. So “death” is separation. The wicked will forever be away from the presence of the Lord.

This helps lead us to a better understanding of eternal life.

(Matthew 10:28; Luke 12:4,5; 1 John 3:15; Daniel 12:2; Acts 13:46; Matthew 18:8; Compare “depart from me” – Matthew 25:41,46; 7:21-23; John 17:3; Revelation 20:10.)

Eternal Life Involves Knowing (Having Fellowship with) God Forever.

Eternal life requires knowing God.

John 17:3 – And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.

1 John 5:20 – And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us an understanding, that we may know Him who is true; and we are in Him who is true, in His Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God and eternal life.

1 John 5:11,12 – God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life.

Ephesians 2:1-6 – When we lived in sin, we were spiritually dead, alienated from God (2:11-19). By grace through Jesus’ death our sins are forgiven and we were made spiritually alive. So spiritual death is separation from God, and spiritual life is union or fellowship with God.

Being spiritually alive is also called knowing God, being in God, having God: one with God.

Eternal death is separation from God forever with many related consequences. Eternal life is knowing God or having fellowship with God forever with many related blessings.

Those who know God will be with Him forever.

1 Thessalonians 4:17 – Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord.

1 Thessalonians 5:9,10 – Those who obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, will live together with Him.

So eternal life is spiritual union or fellowship with God so we live together forever with God: eternal union with God in His very presence.

We often think of the reward for serving God as heaven. But more basically, our reward will be fellowship with God so we can be with Him. Adam and Eve were with God in personal communion in the garden. But sin broke that relationship and separated them from God and from the tree of Life.

Because Jesus has forgiven our sins, our fellowship with God is restored. If we remain faithful, at the judgment we can be with Him forever. But where will He be in eternity? Heaven! So, the essence of eternal life is eternal fellowship with God which leads to being in the presence of God forever in heaven with all its glories and blessings.

(Matthew 5:10-12; 2 Corinthians 4:16-5:8; 1 Peter 1:3,4; Philippians 3:20; Revelation 21:3-5; 22:3,4; Romans 2:5-11; 2 Timothy 2:11)

How to Obtain Eternal Life

John 14:6 – Jesus said to him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” Alienation from God (spiritual death) can be solved only by receiving life through Jesus. This is called the “new birth” or being born again as a child of God. It gives spiritual life resulting from a spiritual birth (John 3:3-5).

Titus 3:7 – Having been justified by His grace we should become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. To have the hope of eternal life, we must be justified by God’s grace.

Since Jesus is the only one who can give eternal life, we must go to Him to learn how.

The Way to Eternal Life Is Revealed in Scripture.

John 6:63,68 – Jesus said, “The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life.” Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”

2 Timothy 1:9,10 – According to God’s purpose and grace our Savior Jesus Christ has abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.

John 20:31 – The record of Jesus’ miracles was written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.

The only way to learn how to receive eternal life is through the Scriptures. You cannot receive eternal life by the teachings of Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism, or any man-made doctrines, even if they claim to be Christian. Eternal life comes only through the true teachings of Jesus which are revealed in the Scriptures.

(John 12:50; 5:39; 1 John 1:2)

We Must Believe in Jesus

John 3:16 – 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. (verse 15)

John 3:36 – He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.

1 John 5:13 – These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life, and that you may continue to believe in the name of the Son of God.

(John 20:31; John 6:40,47)

We Must Repent and Obey Sacrificially

Repentance and obedience

Acts 11:18 – God has also granted to the Gentiles repentance to life.

Revelation 22:14 – Blessed are those who do His commandments, that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter through the gates into the city. Those who eat of the tree of life will live forever, but to do so we must obey God’s commands.

1 Timothy 1:16 – However, for this reason I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might show all longsuffering, as a pattern to those who are going to believe on Him for everlasting life. What does the pattern of Paul’s conversion teach us?

Acts 22:16 – And now why are you waiting? Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord. The pattern of Paul’s salvation shows we must be baptized.

Sin prevents our fellowship with God. We have life only when sins are forgiven. The example of Saul shows that sins are forgiven when faith is expressed in baptism.

Willingness to sacrifice

After conversion, one must live a dedicated life of faithful obedience at whatever cost or sacrifice may be required.

Romans 2:7 – Eternal life is for those who by patient continuance in doing good seek for glory, honor, and immortality

Matthew 19:29 – Everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for My name's sake, shall receive a hundredfold, and inherit eternal life. We must be willing to sacrifice even our closest relationships if necessary to serve God faithfully.

Matthew 7:14 – Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.

Churches and preachers do a great disservice when they water down the gospel to pretend the way to eternal life is easy. It is not easy, but it is definitely possible for everyone. Jesus died to make eternal life available to all.

Eternal life is a gift by God’s grace. None of us deserve it. But to receive it we must be willing to obey God by faith even at the cost of great sacrifice.

(John 12:25; 1 Timothy 6:12; 4:8; Galatians 6:8)


Death is separation and life is union. Eternal life is eternal union (fellowship) with God.

Eternal life is available to all. The choice is up to each one.

Revelation 22:17 – And the Spirit and the bride say, "Come!" And let him who hears say, "Come!" And let him who thirsts come. Whoever desires, let him take the water of life freely.

(c) Copyright David E. Pratte, 2022;

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