Arguing Against Eternity

There is a tremendous misunderstanding among professing Christians about ‘eternity’, resulting in the devaluing of it among liberals and emergents, and a misapplication of it among many evangelicals.

Eternity is the condition of existence beyond time. Only God is eternal respective to the beginning of time: “In the beginning, God….” However, the Bible is clear that men and angels – created beings – will inhabit eternity after the end of time.

It is important to remember that the ability for created beings to inhabit eternity requires our presence during time. When we are promised ‘eternal life’, it is not something that begins when we depart time upon death. We receive ‘eternal life’ in the present, in time, when we are born again through faith in Jesus Christ for reconciliation towards God. Eternal life begins now, not upon death.

In their attempts to reinforce the ‘now’ aspect of eternal life, emergents make the mistake of dismissing as largely irrelevant the beyond time / beyond death aspect of our life. Their preoccupation with the behavioural “evidence” of our ‘following Christ’ effectively denies the reality that Christ came, not because the world needs fixing up, but because men are born subject to death, are alienated from God by unbelief, and come under judgement because of sin. Man’s condition for eternity is that of death and condemnation before God, which no man is able to resolve.

Emergents accuse evangelicals of having become so preoccupied with ‘heaven after I die’ that the present reality of “living like Jesus” becomes peripheral or completely forgotten. Unfortunately, some who profess to be Christians are guilty of this accusation.  Yes, Christ came so we would be freed from death and the condemnation of sin when we leave our earthly bodies. But He came that we might have life, and have it abundantly, beginning in the present and effected here in the flesh and in this present world. But emergent leaders disregard the fact that living “like Jesus” means that we live according to the Spirit, led and empowered by the indwelling Holy Spirit. They reduce ‘like Jesus’ to living as a social activist, committing ourselves to trying to remedy the social ills of the world, while denying the spiritual nature of the Gospel and the reality or importance of the eternal. Compassion should condition our interaction with the suffering masses of the world, but Scripture makes it very clear that this world will never be ‘fixed’ by our efforts, and that our commission is to “go, preaching the Gospel to every creature…”. They are substituting a gospel of social reform for the Gospel of God’s grace unto salvation of sinners standing condemned before God.

While some evangelicals are prone to think about eternal life in terms of the “location” of our spirit after we die, the emergents completely redefine eternal life as ‘life of the ages’, or ‘life as it is supposed to be in the kingdom of God’. They reduce “eternal life” to the activities they perform and quality of life they create in their efforts to fulfill what they claim are God’s instructions on how to live in the kingdom of God, and castigate those who concern themselves about where they ‘go’ after they die, to the point of denying its importance. Yet Paul declared, “If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable.”[i]

We do well to see what Jesus Christ said about eternal life. In His prayer for the saints recorded in John’s gospel, Jesus declares “This is life eternal, that they might know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent”.[ii]According to Jesus, eternal life is the condition of ‘knowing God’, and knowing Jesus Christ. If we truly know God and know Christ, then we have eternal life. Salvation is effected while we are in this world – Hebrews 9:27 tells us that ‘it is apportioned to man to die once, then judgement.” Our salvation will not be effected after we die, so eternal life must begin while we are still occupying this world in our mortal flesh. It is not restricted to ‘after we die’ but begins now, when we come to know the Lord Jesus Christ as the Son of God, Redeemer, and King.

We are to be in this world, but not of it.[iii]We are to live in the Spirit not the flesh.[iv]We are to be filled with the Spirit so that others will see Christ in us, and our lives will be the living testimony of the grace of the Lord Who has saved us.

The emergents have subverted the gospel by twisting it to promise peace and security in this life in this world, through social activism and ‘good works’. Evangelicals have often short-changed their presentation of the gospel so that there is nothing to look for until we have left this worldly clime.

Jesus Christ is the resurrection and the life.[v]This is about both here and now, and in eternity after we die. He gives us His life now while we must reside in our flesh, and when our bodies die, our spirits live on with Him in glory, until the resurrection of the body at ‘the last day’.

[1] 1Cor 15:19
[ii] John 17:3
[iii] John 17
[iv] Rom 8:1
[v] John 11:25-6