How Do We Know We Have Eternal Life?

Jan Matejko, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Synopsis: How do we know for sure that we have eternal life? This is a question that many Christians across the centuries have asked, including the apostle John’s 2nd-century Christian audience. How does John’s answer give us confidence in God’s promise of eternal life in His Son?

Scripture: 1 John 5: 9-13

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How do we know we have eternal life? This question really bothered me when I was in my early twenties. I was afraid of death. I was afraid that when I died, that was it. There was nothing else. Nothing beyond this life. Yet, I was so filled with depression and anxiety that I wasn’t even having a good time of life – but that was better than non-existence. Or was it? I wondered. If eternal life is going to be like this, do I really want it?

We know that Christians from all times have pondered these questions because in our scripture reading for today, John addresses them for his second-century Christian audience. How do we know we have eternal life?

John makes it clear that God testified to the fact that Jesus was his Son. The first time God testified to his Son was after Jesus’ baptism. We read in Matthew 3:16-17 that after Jesus came out of the water, he saw the Spirit of God descend upon him in the form of a dove, and he heard God say, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”

The second time God testified to his Son was after Jesus’ transfiguration. We read in Matthew 17:1-8 that Jesus took Peter, James, and John with him up a mountain where they witnessed his transformation as well as the appearance of Moses and Elijah. When Peter offered to make tents for them, God responded, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!”

Why did John emphasize this testimony from God himself? To dispel two heresies that were spreading among the community of believers.

The first heresy was that Jesus was human, but not divine. If this were true, then we have no connection to God, and this is the opposite of what Jesus taught. This is the belief in “separation from God” that Jesus came and lived and died to dispel.

In John 14:11, Jesus said, “Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves.” So, Jesus testifies that he is not just human as his works have demonstrated.

But then, he also testifies that we are not just human. In verse 12, he says, “Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father.” Here, Jesus is testifying for us. We can do the same works he has done because we are also divine.

Then he makes it crystal clear in verses 18-20 where he says, “I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.”

In this passage, Jesus is speaking not as a man, but as the Christ within all living things. Christ is the image of God, and it lives within Jesus, and within me, and within you, and within all that is alive. So, Jesus was not just human, and neither are we.

How did I come to know that I am not just human? Well, my heart is beating, and my lungs are breathing. Do I need to do anything to make this happen? No. That is because of the presence of Christ, or Life, within me.

And have you ever felt a rush of energy – like full body tingles – that opened your heart, maybe released some pent-up emotions, made you suddenly feel very peaceful and happy – perhaps even moved to tears? That was the Christ within you making its presence known.

We are not just human. We are human beings. The “being” part is the Life, or Christ, within. It isn’t possible to be alive without Christ. When you go to a funeral with an open casket and see a body lying in there – that is human without being. That is just human. It is a deeply disturbing sight to those who do not know Christ.

Those of us who know Christ just know – when we see that body – that empty shell – that it is NOT our loved one who has passed. Our loved one is alive and well in Christ, and so are we – and will be for all eternity. Our consciousness is attached to the Christ, not to this human form.

In a story circulated among an ancient monastic community, a vicious warlord intimidated whole villages, sending its entire population into the hills to hide in caves, waiting for the ruler to move on. One day the warlord entered a small village and asked, I presume all the people have fled by this time?” “Well, all but one old monk who refused to flee,” the aide answered. The warlord was beside himself.

“Bring him to me immediately,” he snarled. When they dragged the old monk to the square before him, the commander shouted at him, “Do you not know who I am? I am he who can run you through with a sword and never even bat an eye.” And the old monk gazed up at the commander and replied, “And do you not know who I am? I am he who can let you run me through with a sword and never bat an eye.”

I think it’s safe to say that monk knew he had eternal life. It is our relationship with God in Christ that gives us that kind of certainty.

The second heresy was the opposite of the first – that Jesus was divine, but not human. If that were true, then we are not like him at all and never will be. As a divine one, he is immortal, but not us. We can only hope that by worshipping him, we will receive some type of reward in this life – maybe some things we want.

This is how many Christians today view Jesus. They place Jesus so high up on a pedestal that he becomes too out-of-reach to even try to follow. They believe Jesus is the only Son of God – no one else. This is a misunderstanding. When God called Jesus his Son, he was referring to the Christ within him – the Spirit, not the flesh. That Spirit is the divine spark present in all of life.

In John 14:1-3, Jesus says, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also.” Here Jesus says, “You can go where I am going.”

What’s most intriguing is that in the very next verse, he says to his disciples, “And you know the way to the place where I am going.” Doesn’t that imply that we’ve been there before? And if we’ve been there before, then we must be like Jesus. Like him, we must also be able to travel into the higher realms of Spirit.

In John 13, Jesus washes his disciples’ feet, but Simon Peter initially protested. He said, “You will never wash my feet.” He said this because as far as he was concerned, disciples serve their masters, not the other way around. He saw the Lord as too far above him. Jesus replied, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.” As long as you believe me to be different from you, you can never join with me in Christ.

If Jesus wanted to be worshipped, he would have followed a completely different path. This was one of the temptations in the wilderness that Jesus had to face. In Matthew chapter 4 we read that the devil showed him all the kingdoms of the world, and said, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” Jesus replied, “Away with you, Satan! for it is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’”

Jesus knew that God alone is to be worshipped, so it is truly improper to worship Jesus. He was a human being just like us. Following Jesus – listening to his teachings and actually practicing them – leads to eternal life. Worshipping Jesus does not lead to eternal life. It’s easy to worship Jesus – not-so-easy to follow him.

The church has made the mistake of de-emphasizing Jesus’ humanity to the point where we view our own humanity in a negative light. Some Christians go so far as to believe that our human flesh is inherently sinful. But God fashioned humanity for a purpose and breathed the breath of Life (or Christ) into our bodies.

It is through our human forms and personal selves that God gets to have an exquisite experience of his own being. Our bodies and personalities are sacred expressions of Who God Is, but they are temporary whereas the breath of life within us – the Christ within us – is eternal.

So, Jesus as well as all of us are both divine and human. That is what it means to be a “human being.” It is important to acknowledge both parts of our nature – especially since one part is always in conflict the other part. That’s what makes being a human being tricky.

As one with Christ, we are Life itself, and there can be no death in life. It’s impossible for life to die just as it is impossible for cold to be hot. That’s logical, isn’t it? But even if we are certain that our consciousness survives the body’s death, that is little comfort if our consciousness is still trapped in delusion.

No one would want an eternally miserable life. Dying physically does not automatically catapult us into Christ Consciousness and into the higher spiritual realms. That is why some souls remain earthbound after death – because they still don’t know who they are. They may not even realize their bodies have died – just that things have suddenly and drastically changed in how they can interact with the world.

Just as we try to help those who are here on this earth to remember who they are, there are souls in the spiritual realm who work to try to help earthbound souls to release their fears and go into the light.

Yes, all have quantity of life in Christ whether they know Christ or not. But those who do not know Christ do not have a good quality of life. Those who identify with the personal self suffer from constant fear and striving for things like wealth and power because they believe these will free them from their fears.

What’s tricky about being a human being is that even those of us who know Christ still have to deal with the personal self, which is always in conflict with the Christ. Most of our thoughts revolve around the idea of “me, myself, and I.” These thoughts belong to the personal self, and they cause suffering.

Now, to a certain extent, these thoughts are natural and also part of God’s plan – to experience life through a multitude of personal selves. But within many human beings, the personal self has become too powerful. Over time, it has constructed a stronghold in the mind with its constant anxious chattering about “me, myself, and I.” Let’s call it the “mind of me.”

The mind of me keeps us distracted from the Mind of Christ and the peace, love, and joy it brings. The thoughts coming out of the mind of me do not belong to us. The mind of me is like a computer program designed to make us think that we are an individual when we really aren’t – along with all the ideas that support that idea. So, we don’t need to take them so seriously. In fact, the less seriously we take them, the more our quality of life improves.

I invite you all to pay attention to your thoughts and try to start sorting out which ones belong to the Christ and which ones belong to the mind of me. In general, if your thoughts cause you to feel negative emotions, they don’t belong to you; they belong to the mind of me. This is why Jesus taught us in the Sermon on the Mount not to worry about our life.

This week, observe how the mind of me makes up problems that don’t exist in the here and now and then tells you what to do about them. You see, taking its bad advice only creates more problems for it to tell you how to solve. It’s got quite a racket going, I tell you.

This is how it tries to dupe us into thinking we need its help when we really don’t. This is how it tries to convince us that it is a better guide for our lives than the Christ. Look at all the problems it’s helping us solve! The truth is that most of these “problems” are either made-up or caused by the mind of me.

The Mind of Christ doesn’t handle life this way at all, and it’s far better at handling life. The Mind of Christ handles challenges as they arise in the moment. That makes sense doesn’t it – especially since it’s not actually a problem yet and if it does become one, we don’t know the specifics of it until it actually shows up! Since the Mind of Christ is creatively unlimited, it is able to provide us with several options that the limited mind of me would never be able to come up with.

The mind of me makes demands of us. It demands we follow its advice by filling us with anxiety. It doesn’t matter to the mind of me if the advice is bad. All that matters is that we are following it instead of the Christ.

The Mind of Christ makes suggestions out of respect for our free will. If a thought is coming from the Mind of Christ, we will not feel pressured to do anything. If we trust and follow the Mind of Christ, we’ll have far fewer problems, and the ones that do crop up will be handled swiftly and brilliantly.

In Romans chapter 6: 20-23, Paul writes, “When you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. So, what advantage did you then get from the things of which you now are ashamed? The end of those things is death. But now that you have been freed from sin and enslaved to God, the advantage you get is sanctification. The end is eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

We all have quantity of life in Christ whether we know Christ or not, so no one needs to worry about annihilation. However, our quality of life depends upon the degree to which we identify with Christ. Identification with the personal self and following the mind of me does not lead to the death of the soul, but it does lead to the “death” of a good quality of life.

So how do we know we have eternal life? We know not only because we do not fear death but also because we are free from the fear and striving of the personal self and able to experience the peace, love, and joy of our true Christ nature. That makes eternal life a true gift to be thankful for!

Let’s pray together: Father, we are grateful for the eternal life that you have given us. Help us to trust in Christ and listen to his guidance, knowing he alone is the Good Shepherd who guides us to green pastures and still waters. Amen.

Resources

Life Application Study Bible. Zondervan, 2011.

Raymond, Eric. “What Does It Mean to Have Eternal Life?” thegospelcoalition.org, thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/erik-raymond/what-does-it-mean-to-have-eternal-life/

Stuart Strachan Jr., Source Material from Joan Chittister, Between the Dark and the Daylight, 2015, The Crown Publishing Group.