“If you died today and Jesus asked you why he should let you into heaven, what would you say?”
This is a question that has rung in the ears of countless American Christians for the past number of decades. It’s a question we’ve often asked when we’re trying to bring someone to a decision point where they place their faith in Jesus. And for many, the question has been an effective one.
But this question may have also had an unintended side effect.
The question seems to presuppose that life everlasting–the life abundant that Jesus told us he came to bring–is something that we receive only when we die.
This is the narrative many of us have been brought up to believe. When I die, I will be with Jesus rather than in hell, because of his grace. This is the central message of the gospel.
But that’s not the whole story. It leaves out the part of your existence between the moment when you place your faith in Jesus and the moment when you die. What about all that time? Does eternal life only matter when you die?
Contrary to what many of us have been taught, eternal life doesn’t begin when you die. I believe it begins the moment you say yes to Jesus.
Some of us really need to rethink what eternal life really is. Here are 5 reasons why eternal life isn’t just for when you die.
1. Your conversion isn’t a finish line — it’s a starting line.
Too often in the church we think of someone’s decision moment as the finish line of our mission. If we can just get someone to raise their hand, walk down to the altar, commit to being baptized, then we will have accomplished our mission. Another soul saved, salvation payable upon death.
But this is actually when the party is just about to start. It’s the beginning of something. Not the end. And it’s not just a waiting game. The work that God wants to do in your life is eternally meaningful. And it starts now.
When you say yes to Jesus, you say yes to life everlasting. And life everlasting isn’t on backorder. It’s available now.
Jesus has invited you to begin experiencing in part what you will eventually know in whole.
2. You are learning to live in relationship with the God you will know eternally.
It’s interesting that we find it easier to trust Jesus with our afterlife than to trust him with our lives today.
“I trust Jesus to take care of me after I die, but I’m going to do my own thing until then. I said the prayer at summer camp that one time, so I’m covered.”
But salvation isn’t fire insurance. Why would we trust Jesus with our eternal life when we don’t want to trust him with this life that’s fragile and temporary?
Learn to trust Jesus with your life now. Learn to build a relationship with him now. That’s what life everlasting is all about. It’s the abundant life you get when you give Jesus your life and he gives you his.
3. You are increasing your capacity to enjoy what God is preparing for you.
Jesus came that you might have a truly abundant life. He said so himself.
“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10)
Jesus didn’t say anything about having to die in order to experience it.
Now it’s true that we won’t know the fullness of the life that Jesus has planned for us until we see him in eternity. No amount of earthly goodness will ever be able to compare to the glory that we’ll one day see. But that doesn’t mean that what happens now is irrelevant to that eternal future.
As we see the true heart of Jesus and begin walking closely with him, we are beginning to orient our hearts toward eternity. We’re developing a spiritual appetite for the very things that Jesus promises to bring to bear in eternity.
When we choose to walk with Jesus today, we aren’t just biding our time until he takes us out of this world. We’re preparing our hearts for when he does.
In the same way that artists have a greater appreciation for truly great art and athletes pick up on nuances of a sport that are lost on others, when a follower of Jesus walks closely with him, they are developing a greater capacity to appreciate everything eternity will be.
4. You are storing up eternal treasures.
As we develop our capacity for heaven, we also know that we’re storing up for ourselves eternal treasures. And these treasures will be dependent upon how faithful we have been with what we’ve been given.
In the parable of the talents, Jesus talks about a servant who was faithful with the investment his master has made in him. Here is what the master says when he sees what his servant has done.
“His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’” (Matthew 25:21)
While it’s true that we enter into life with Jesus purely by grace, it’s also true that God has called us to be faithful with the gifts, talents, time, and resources he has given us to serve him with. And if we’re faithful to use them for his mission, we can know that our reward will be great in eternity.
5. None of your work in this life is in vain.
In the first century, there were some who said that there would be no resurrection and that this life is as good as it gets. They couldn’t have been more wrong.
So Paul argues that because of Jesus resurrection, we can look forward to a resurrection of our own, where we will be made completely whole for eternity.
But far from demotivating us to do anything here and now, Paul argues that this hope we have is what gives meaning and purpose to our efforts today.
“Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” (1 Corinthians 15:58)
Nothing you do today in the path of obedience will be forgotten. It’s all totally meaningful. You are living in life everlasting every time you struggle forward to be more like Jesus.
When you work to see Jesus’ Kingdom come, you are doing eternal work. And that can start today.