The true hope of eternal life!
Not one of us is good enough to get into the Kingdom of God on our own merits. It’s a sad fact, but there’s no getting away from it. By nature we are inclined to do our own thing and go our own way through life. Most people do just that and, sad to say, they will end up dead, with no way out of that unconscious state. It’s a grim assessment, but one the Bible makes, so we can rely upon it.
The Psalmist said this about people who don’t want to know about God and His offer of salvation: “He shall go to the generation of his fathers; they shall never see light. Man who is in honour, yet does not understand, Is like the beasts that perish” (Psalm 49:19,20).
The inspired writer had much better things to say about men and women like him, who have used their lives wisely and have accepted what God offers: “But God will redeem my soul from the power of the grave, for he shall receive me” (49:15).
True Christian Hope
Some confusion exists about God’s offer to mankind. Some people think the Bible promises life in heaven when this mortal existence is over; but it does not. However long you spend searching for it, no such promise exists in God’s Word. But He does promise life after death for some people: for those who have listened to what He has to say, have taken the time to understand it, and who have made those promises their life’s aim. There is nothing more important in life than establishing and then developing a relationship with God, and that is now possible because of what Jesus has done on our behalf. He died so that we might live: and he rose from the dead to show us that the true Christian hope of life after death is resurrection from the dead.
That’s precisely what the Bible promises: that, when he comes again, the Lord Jesus Christ will raise from the dead all those who are true members of the family of God and will grant them eternal life in the Kingdom that he will establish at his return. Believers who are still alive at his coming will not have to be raised from the dead, but their nature will still need to be changed – from mortality to immortality – and all of this is carefully explained in the New Testament. If you want to study the details, read 1 Corinthians chapter 15.
Some people will be raised from the dead when Jesus comes and others will sleep forever in the dust of the ground. What makes the difference, and how do we get to be part of a people who are reborn and who will live with Jesus in the age to come?
A New Start
Once we understand and believe the gospel of salvation we have to make a new start in life: putting an end to our old way of living and starting life as a believer, trying to live according to Bible teaching. To mark the change that has begun to take place in our lives and to identify with the saving work of God in Christ, the Bible explains that we must be baptized if we want to enter the Kingdom of God and start to live with Him, here and now. It was the Lord himself who said: “unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3) and he went on to explain that this means that we must be born again “of water and the Spirit” (3:5).
Being born “of water” means that we must be baptised or immersed; and being born of “the Spirit” means that we must fully understand what we are doing and believe what God has promised, so that we begin to live in the Spirit Galatians 5:25). And if we are to be reborn we must first die to self and selfish desires. For a follower of Christ has to make him the centre of their life’s ambition and the kingdom of God their chief aim in life. As Jesus said: “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you” (Matthew 6:33).
By “all these things”, he meant all the things in life that people worry about. If we put God first, He will sort out those things for us and make sure we have what we need.
Burial and Resurrection
Just as Jesus was buried, baptism is a symbolic burial (if only for an instant), and it starts us off on a new life. As a simple act of obedience, being baptized shows that we really want to live with God, now and for evermore. It was Jesus who told his disciples: “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. He who believes and is baptized will be saved” (Mark 16:15,16).
That is how we start to live in fellowship with God and with other believers, learning to live happily together and worshipping together, so that we can praise God and get strength and help from one another. It was how all New Testament believers accepted the faith and became members of God’s family and that is still the only way to begin a new life with God and make a fresh start in life.
Making that decision can make all the difference. The first followers of Jesus were ordinary people, mostly working class, whose lives were transformed by their encounter with him. Before that, they had spent their time doing all the usual things in life – working, sleeping, eating and drinking. It was Jesus who gave their lives meaning and purpose and that same transformation can be ours if we choose to follow him.
The apostle Paul had his life turned right around and his values were totally changed. He once urged rich people to remember the most important thing in life – God’s promise of eternal life – and look at the language he used: “As for the rich in this world, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on uncertain riches but on God who richly furnishes us with everything to enjoy … so that they may take hold of the life which is life indeed” (1 Timothy 6:17-19 RSV).
That’s the fresh start that God is offering. When Jesus returns to earth, to rule as God’s appointed king, he will start a new phase in God’s purpose. God’s kingdom on earth will demonstrate what life is really meant to be about and we can begin that transformation now. It’s always a good time to make a new start: to learn to live with God, and to find out about “the life which is life indeed”.