Summary: Christ’s promise of eternal life is central to the writings of the New Testament and to our understanding of the purpose of God’s plan of salvation. This promise is pondered and treasured in the heart and mind of every Christian.
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“Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father's house are many mansions; if it were not so I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also” (John 14:1-3).
In these words, John 14:1-3, God promises eternal life for those who love Him and accept His plan of salvation. And while many of us would live courageously and virtuously solely for the sake of our love for Him, we are awed and affected to the core of our soul by this promise. Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 7:1 NIV, “since we have these promises, dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God.” It is important that it is understood that we are not avoiding sin in order to win a place in heaven, but rather because we already have a place in heaven.
We are also encouraged by this promise during times of difficulty by remembering the promise of eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. In 2 Corinthians 4:16-17, Paul writes, “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. Our light and momentary troubles are preparing us for an eternal glory beyond all comparison. So we look not to things that are seen but to the things that are unseen; for the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”
Even if there were no hope of heaven, many of God’s creatures would love God and seek to honor God in thankfulness for the gift of life. Even those who do not believe in God in the conventional sense might choose a life of virtue, as did Aristotle and many other classical philosophers, out of respect for life. Still others would choose to live honorable and disciplined lives for the sake of earthly gain and the benefits conferred by so doing, for example, one’s reputation, physical and emotional well-being, economic advancement, social influence, and so on. Christians understand all of these things (see, for example, Commentary on Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics by the 16th Century Christian Philosopher, Peter Martyr Vermigli).
The Apostle Paul picks up on this theme in 1 Corinthians 15:17. If we who are Christians were not convinced of the truthfulness of Christ’s promise of eternal life, then we would, of necessity, have to believe Jesus to have been untruthful for He has clearly stated that there is a heaven, a home prepared for us in the next life (see John 14:1-3). Jesus said, “Whoever (abides in Me and I in him) has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day (John 6:54 and explanation in parentheses as afforded in verse 56). And in John 11:25 we read, “Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life, he who believes in Me will live even if he dies.” What could be clearer! Jesus has told us that there is eternal life.
If Jesus were believed to be untruthful, no one would make personal sacrifices to advance His teachings, any more than someone impressed by the philosophy of Aristotle. No one would risk life and reputation for the sake of advancing the teachings of Aristotle, a mere philosopher. But the Apostles and many Christians following throughout the ages have done so. Paul writes: “I suffer trouble as an evildoer, even to the point of chains; but the word of God is not chained. Therefore I endure all things for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory” (2 Timothy 2:9-10 NKJV).
If the teachings of Jesus were believed to contain untruth, no one would become sufficiently devoted to the Gospel as to be willing to endure such hardship for the sake of advancing the Gospel, no one would respond to Jesus religiously, nor would we so completely open ourselves to the illumination of the Holy Spirit. But Jesus Christ did rise from the dead and did in fact promise eternal life to those who accept God’s plan of salvation. We cannot pick and choose from the teachings of Jesus. Either everything that Jesus said is true, or none of it is true. If you believe some of His teachings, you must believe all including His teaching regarding eternal life. Jesus said, “I did not speak of my own accord, but the Father who sent me commanded me what to say and how to say it. I know that His command leads to eternal life. So whatever I say is just what the Father has told me to say” (John 12:49 NIV). Either everything that Jesus said is true, or none of it is. That, ultimately, is why the Christian believes in heaven.