Eternal Life is Now!

This is a brilliant post that not only assures the reader that God actually likes them, but also describes how Eternal Life is available in the here and now, something I will be developing in future posts. So I’ve posted this today as a sort of a preview. Here’s Tim from the blog Jesus Without Baggage:


God is not Angry and Harsh with Us as Many of Us Thought

Do you think God is angry, harsh, and vindictive toward us? Millions of people do, and I used to believe it myself—for good reason. All the preachers, teachers, and other church leaders taught that he is; if we don’t walk the straight and narrow, God will pour out his wrath on us. It was constantly in the pulpits, on the religious radio programs, and in Christian books, magazines, and tracts I read.

Even American Literature books often include the famous sermon by Jonathan Edwards:

The God that holds you over the pit of hell, much as one holds a spider, or some loathsome insect over the fire, abhors you, and is dreadfully provoked: his wrath towards you burns like fire; he looks upon you as worthy of nothing else, but to be cast into the fire; he is of purer eyes than to bear to have you in his sight; you are ten thousand times more abominable in his eyes, than the most hateful venomous serpent is in ours.

Jesus Tells Us the Truth about God’s Love

Jesus does not support this perspective of God’s relationship toward us. Instead, he tells us that the Father loves all people and wishes to give them eternal life, which begins as a new quality of life we can have today and continues in eternal life after our resurrection.

Jesus speaks of the quality of our current eternal life in his conversation with the Samaritan woman in John 4. After she asked him about the well water, Jesus answered:

Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.

In my opinion, this present aspect of eternal life is not sufficiently emphasized among believers today. But as we understand the truth of the Father’s love for us, our inner quality of life changes dramatically. We no longer feel alienated from God; our fear and anxiety dissipate; our self-image improves; and we are more at peace with ourselves and other people. As we continue to grow in love our inner life continues to improve.

The Good News of John 3:16

In John 3:16, the most well-known passage of the Bible, Jesus makes an even stronger statement about the love of God and eternal life:

God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

This refers, I think, both to the quality of our present life and to our life after death. It is a powerful statement of God’s love for us. But some believers counteract this Good News message by inserting the idea of an angry and harsh God into John 3:16—and changing the message into something else.

Here is their typical understanding of John 3:16 with added assumptions:

God so loved the world [though he can’t bear to look at us because of our sin] that he gave his one and only Son [to suffer and die on the cross in our place and take the punishment for our sins], that whoever believes in him [and prays the sinner’s prayer] shall not perish [in the eternal fires of hell] but have eternal life.

None of the bracketed concepts are part of the Good News of John 3:16 at all. They are misguided assumptions, and they cause fear, alienation, and other great harm. In fact, they turn the good news of Jesus into bad news.

We can understand John 3:16 better by taking note of the context of the passage.

 

Picture credit: Jesus and Nicodemus Providence Lithograph Company [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The Context of John 3:16

If we read from the beginning of the chapter, we will see that this statement about God’s love builds on Jesus’ discussion with Nicodemus about entering the kingdom of God. If you like, you can read it on a separate window at John 3.

Nicodemus, a rigid legalistic Pharisee, approached Jesus about Jesus’ relationship with God. Apparently Jesus sensed Nicodemus’ true concern and replied that no one can see the kingdom of God unless they change their old perspectives about what God requires and become as receptive and teachable as a baby.

It was in this context that John writes:

God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

But the context continues. The very next thing he writes is:

For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.

God did NOT send Jesus to the world to condemn people; nor, by the way, does he call on his followers to condemn people. He sent Jesus to save the world. This is an amazing contrast to what many believers understand about God’s mission for Jesus.

But what does it mean to ‘save’ people? It certainly does not mean to save them from eternal punishment in a burning hell, as some believers teach. Rather Jesus saves us from our alienation from God, ourselves, and other people. He saves us from fear, guilt, and self-condemnation. He saves us from our destructive and self-destructive behavior and the consequences that follow them.

John continues:

Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.

It is wonderful to learn that those who believe in Jesus experience eternal life in this lifetime and are not condemned to their old experience of alienation, negative feelings, and destructive behavior. But does John mean that those who do not believe in Jesus are robbed of these benefits for the rest of their life? I don’t think so.

Those who don’t believe can yet believe in Jesus and his Good News at some point—they are not forever barred. Even after death, there will likely be many who, with clearer minds and a clearer understanding of Jesus, will believe and experience eternal life after death; but they will have missed the quality of eternal life during their natural existence.

Yeah, but What about the Stories of Angry God in the Old Testament?

Those who read the Old Testament can easily conclude from certain passages that God IS angry, harsh, violent, and vindictive. What about these stories? The short answer is that many ancient Israelites did think God was angry and harsh, and they attributed many misfortunes to him; however, I think they were mistaken. You can read more about that at The God of the Old Testament vs. the Father of the New Testament.

Jesus tells a much different story about God. One huge result of learning Jesus’ Good News of the Father’s unconditional love for us is that it releases us from our burdens of fear, guilt, and self-condemnation. We will talk more about that next time.


Click the image to go to the original article and/or to follow on in Tim’s series:

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