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Eternal Life -- Tradition vs Scripture

Lyn Mize

The phrase “eternal life” is probably the most misunderstood phrase in all of Scripture. It comes from the Greek words aionios zoe, and these Greek words are translated in the Scriptures as eternal life, life eternal, or everlasting life. The phrase is used 45 times in the New Testament, and it has the same meaning every time that it is used. The Biblical meaning of this phrase is quite different from the traditional interpretation. The traditional interpretation of “eternal life” assigns it to every believer, and provides the meaning of living forever. Traditionally, eternal life is linked with the spirit of man, but Scriptures link it to the soul of man. Unfortunately, the great majority of Christians do not know the difference between the soul and the spirit.

The Scriptures provide a clear and unmistakable definition of eternal life in the following passage in Romans, addressed to Christians and warning them about the Judgment Seat of Christ:  

(Rom 2:1-10 KJV)  Therefore thou art inexcusable, O man, whosoever thou art that judgest: for wherein thou judgest another, thou condemnest thyself; for thou that judgest doest the same things. {2} But we are sure that the judgment of God is according to truth against them which commit such things. {3} And thinkest thou this, O man, that judgest them which do such things, and doest the same, that thou shalt escape the judgment of God? {4} Or despisest thou the riches of his goodness and forbearance and longsuffering; not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance? {5} But after thy hardness and impenitent heart treasurest up unto thyself wrath against the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God; {6} Who will render to every man according to his deeds: {7} To them who by patient continuance in well doing seek for glory and honour and immortality, eternal life: {8} But unto them that are contentious, and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, indignation and wrath, {9} Tribulation and anguish, upon every soul of man that doeth evil, of the Jew first, and also of the Gentile; {10} But glory, honour, and peace, to every man that worketh good, to the Jew first, and also to the Gentile:  

Verses 6 & 7 provide the simple definition of eternal life. Eternal life is the reward of “glory and honour and immortality” that comes to the Christian who patiently endures in performing good works (i.e., well doing). The Christian who “worketh good” will have glory and honour at the Judgment Seat of Christ, and the person he is at the rapture (i.e., resurrection) will pass through the testing fire and continue on into the millennial reign of Jesus Christ. This is the meaning of “immortality”. The person who is immortalized is the one who receives glory and honor, and his deeds (i.e., his life) are remembered forever. Christians who arrive at the Judgment Seat of Christ as liars, gossips, adulterers or drunkards will have their lives perish in the testing fire of God. They will receive “tribulation and anguish” for their evil works, and they will not inherit eternal life. The opposite of perishing at the Judgment Seat of Christ is to inherit eternal life. Eternal life pertains to the soul of the Christian and not the spirit.

The Christian must be faithful to “lay hold on eternal life” in the present life, or he will not have it at the Judgment Seat of Christ:

(1 Tim 6:12 KJV)  Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life, whereunto thou art also called, and hast professed a good profession before many witnesses.  

(1 Tim 6:18-19 KJV)  That they do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to distribute, willing to communicate; {19} Laying up in store for themselves a good foundation against the time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal life.

The Christian who follows Jesus and puts him first in his life will inherit eternal life:

(Mat 19:27-29 KJV)  Then answered Peter and said unto him, Behold, we have forsaken all, and followed thee; what shall we have therefore? {28} And Jesus said unto them, Verily I say unto you, That ye which have followed me, in the regeneration when the Son of man shall sit in the throne of his glory, ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. {29} And every one that hath forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my name's sake, shall receive an hundred fold, and shall inherit everlasting life.

Every Christian is an heir to eternal life, but he can lose his inheritance by not following Christ. Many Christians will fail to inherit eternal life because they put wealth and riches ahead of following Jesus Christ:

(Mark 10:17-22 KJV)  And when he was gone forth into the way, there came one running, and kneeled to him, and asked him, Good Master, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life? {18} And Jesus said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God. {19} Thou knowest the commandments, Do not commit adultery, Do not kill, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Defraud not, Honour thy father and mother. {20} And he answered and said unto him, Master, all these have I observed from my youth. {21} Then Jesus beholding him loved him, and said unto him, One thing thou lackest: go thy way, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, take up the cross, and follow me. {22} And he was sad at that saying, and went away grieved: for he had great possessions.  

Even the best known Scripture in the Bible confirms the conditional nature of eternal life:

(John 3:14-16 KJV)  And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: {15} That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life. {16} 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.

This brief passage states twice that believers “should not perish”, but they might perish. This passage confirms and restates that the opposite of perishing is the realization of eternal life. We have already seen that eternal life is something the Christian must lay hold on in this life. We have also seen that eternal life pertains to REWARD at the Judgment Seat of Christ, and this REWARD is the receipt of glory, honor and immortality. The immortality  pertains to the soul of the Christian. The faithful Christian’s soul (i.e., life) will pass through the judgment fire and will never be forgotten. This is what it means to be immortalized.

Summary: Eternal life pertains to the soul and not the spirit. Eternal life must be sought after by the Christian in doing good works. The Christian can have eternal life abiding in him in the present age, but it can be lost by falling away from the faith. The Christian still goes to heaven and he is still conformed to the image of Jesus Christ, but he loses his REWARD in the millennial kingdom of Jesus Christ. Eternal life is related to the inheritance, and not the destination of the Christian. The opposite of perishing at the Judgment Seat of Christ is to realize eternal life and receive glory, honor and immortality. Christians must put aside tradition and believe the Word of God.