A Word from Our Pastor 2015 June

What must I do to inherit eternal life?
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This is the question that several people asked Jesus. It’s still a question that many people ask: what happens after I die? Will I be “OK”? Is there an afterlife at all? If so, will it be “still waters and green pastures” like the Psalms say? That’s certainly what many of us would wish for: and to be reunited with loved ones who have passed on before us.

These are important issues, especially as we grow older, and realize that we will find out the answers about an afterlife or heaven perhaps sooner than later.

Unfortunately for us, Jesus didn’t talk much about what happens after we die. It’s important to remember that Jesus lived at a very different time and in a very different culture – and “eternal life” meant something very different to Jesus, and the Jews and Gentiles of the first Century.

Forgive me, but I have to get a little complicated here – “eternal life” in the Bible does not refer to an afterlife or heaven in the way many people assume. The idea most of us have about eternity as a kind of timeless existence in some special place (like heaven) comes from the classical Greek world – Plato and Aristotle. People in Jesus’ time could have had some familiarity with their concept, but it is unlikely that Jesus would have shared this idea. On the other hand, for Jesus, eternal life is both a length of time (infinite) and a quality of existence (what it is like to live an eternal life). IT IS NOT A PLACE (like “heaven.”) “Eternal life” is pretty much the same thing in the New Testament as “salvation.” (Modern people have boiled “salvation” down to having your sins forgiven so you can go to heaven someday – but that is a distortion of what the New Testament teaches).

BUT THE GOOD NEWS IS: “eternal life” is NOT some time and place in the future after you die. “Eternal life,” because it is an infinite length of time – can happen RIGHT NOW, and because it is a quality of existence – you can experience that kind of life RIGHT NOW. “No waiting” as the advertisement says!

Okay, so what is this quality of existence? There are more than a few references in the New Testament to this idea, and several of them are in the Gospel of John. One of the clearest is: John 17:3: (Jesus says,) “This is eternal life: that they may know [God] and Jesus Christ, whom [God] has sent.” So, eternal life is about knowing God and Jesus Christ. . . this is VERY different than waiting to go to “heaven” after we die. We can know God and Jesus Christ RIGHT NOW, RIGHT HERE.

How does knowing God and Jesus Christ change our life? The quality that defines “eternal life” is that evil will be banished and God’s character or nature will “reign.” God’s “reign” (the Kingdom of God) is when everything will be in the harmonious state that God wanted for us back in the Garden of Eden. When we know God and Jesus Christ, we have the potential to resist evil and from time to time, live in almost-perfect harmony with God and each other. Of course, we are still in the everyday world, so evil will bump up against us, and we will experience (or do) things that aren’t particularly harmonious. When we die, the New Testament teaches us, we will be completely (full time) in God’s Kingdom, without evil and living in permanent harmony. The Kingdom of God is here and now, and only more complete after we die. Even though this is not what many of us picture about an afterlife, I think it’s pretty wonderful. It could be symbolized by “green pastures and still waters. . .”

So, when someone asked Jesus “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” The answer Jesus gave might be paraphrased as “act like it.” Or, act like you are living the quality of eternal life – knowing God and Jesus Christ. So, the answer about how to inherit eternal life isn’t “just believe.” We have to do something, not just think something.

Jesus tells the rich young ruler (in Matthew 19) to give all he has to the poor; he tells the lawyer (in Luke 10) to “love God with all your heart, soul, strength and mind and love your neighbor as yourself.” Other verses that mention the “requirements” for eternal life urge us to love God and neighbors; love enemies, be peacemakers, take communion, be obedient to God, be righteous, be like a child, a servant, deny ourselves, speak the truth . . . and more. In other words, act like evil has no power over us and that we are in perfect harmony with God and others. Right.

But living this way isn’t supposed to be a heavy burden – it’s not something we’re supposed to do on our own “power;” we can’t do it on our own power, even if we wanted to. Jesus said in Matthew 11:“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

So, let us be “yoked” with Jesus and start living that eternal life. Ask God in prayer to have Jesus lift the burden of always trying to be good and right and to show you the way. . . we’re here at church to help with that, as well. Talk to me, join a Faith Clinic or other small group, ask about a retreat to attend: inherit eternal life: right here, right now. It can happen!