The most well-known verse in scripture describes the most incredible news the world has ever known:
“For 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.” John 3:16
What exactly is this eternal life God promises His people? Dr. Craig Keener invites us to view this verse with fresh eyes, and see not only our future hope but our present salvation today.
The phrase “eternal life” was widespread by the 1st century; a lot of Jewish people used that phrase. It goes back to Daniel 12:2 where the dead will be raised at the end of the age, some to eternal life–the life for the coming age– and some to eternal contempt. So the normal sense of eternal life was that someday our bodies will be resurrected and will be permanent–live forever.
But (Jesus) uses the present tense here, as He normally does in the Gospel of John, because it’s something we’ve already received in a foretaste sense. We’ve already begun that eternal life of the future.
The following verse confirms His marvelous invitation to all who will believe (put their allegiance) in Christ:
“For God did not send His Son to judge the world (the world is already condemned) but that the world might be saved through Him.” John 3:17
Can you hear the tenderness in His words? God loves us so much He wants us to be saved:
Earlier in John 3, He speaks of being born from above; we’re born again to new life in the Spirit. When we are born again, our new life has started in Christ! The Holy Spirit dwells in us and He speaks of God’s love for us. He’s not out to make us fall; He wants us to persevere. He wants us to be saved!
Keener reminds us that salvation means not only a one-time justification, but an ongoing redemption from the power of sin and death, as well as the ability to walk in newness of life, daily abiding and growing with Christ:
We are not just saved from the penalty for sin, we’re actually saved from sin. That doesn’t mean we become perfect and never sin again, but it means we acknowledge a new allegiance, a new Lord. My life belongs to Jesus: I want to do what He wants me to do. We stay loyal to Jesus, and ideally it’s something we grow in.
We see in John’s gospel this elementary level of faith–they believe because they see signs. Then Jesus tells them they have to continue (in faith). He says branches attach to the vine, and they have to stay attached to the vine so they can continue to bear fruit for Him, especially the fruit of love (John 15).
While we wait with hope for the age to come, we can experience the joyful, abundant life in Jesus right now– as Paul told Timothy, “take hold of the eternal life, to which you were called.”
In fact, this remains Jesus’ personal prayer for His disciples (including you and me): “This is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.”Eternal life starts now! Dr. Craig Keener on salvation