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The Transformational Gospel of Jesus #33: What is this eternal life anyway?

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

Are you tired of having a life that you hate living as a believer? I am not talking about a sin-filled, hypocritical lifestyle. Instead, a life that too many believers put up with—working hard to keep all the standards they feel God requires of them so that they will be pleasing to Him. This is an oh-so-tiring way of life because you never feel that you have done enough; never feel that you have measured up.

I remember how defeated I felt about my faith life back when I was first responsible to shepherd others concerning this life. After two years of feeling utterly incompetent, I came to the end of myself and humbly surrendered for the first time to the reign of God to redefine and reshape my life.

The transformational gospel of the kingdom that Jesus spoke about is how people should experience life. This can be seen through his choice of words, which is sometimes invisible to us who speak English.

The Greeks had two words for life. The first, bios, is about the interval of life—its length and events. For some believers, eternal life for them is about the duration of life—‘when we’ve been there 10,000 years bright shining as the sun, we’ve no less days to sing God’s praise!’ But in this they are misunderstanding the richness of Jesus’ offer.

When eternal life is mentioned by Jesus here, the word he used is zoe. Zoe is about the quality and content of the life God gives. When Jesus offers life, it is of a different quality than the one we have lived. It is about wholeness and renewal through restored intimacy with God Himself right now, not just some day in heaven. This life is about us being fully human in the way we were created to be—to love and be loved without reservation and to have the power to live in freedom from the brokenness, fear, and controls of our past. This includes the power to deal with the unfinished business which prevents us from fully enjoying that life.

If you are going to live this zoe to the fullest, you have to watch out for two distractions. The first is morality.

I found that Jesus’ proffered zoe ran in stark contrast to what I often was presented growing up in the Christian world. It wasn’t so much that the death and resurrection of Jesus was not proclaimed as much as it was clothed in morality. It came with a complete set of rules of living, courtesy of a religious reaction to the local culture, mixed with some bent biblical concepts. So while church taught me and others a religious moral anchor, it did not deliver this zoe life of Jesus. And morality is such a miserable substitute for zoe.

The second distraction is making the narrative of our life our own brokenness and unworthiness. The storyline of zoe is the life for which God created Adam and Eve in the Garden. It is about intimacy, knowing God as He has readily made Himself known—and continues to do so even to the most messed up of His people. Jesus made it clear that the point of eternal zoe is that we may know God (John 17:3). The outcome of zoe is knowing and enjoying God. Being freed from our mess always follows deepening our relationship with Him. Mike Yaconelli put it this way in his book Messy Spirituality: “The way of the spiritual life begins where we are now in the mess of our lives. Accepting the reality of our broken, flawed life is the beginning of spirituality, not because the spiritual life will remove our flaws, but because we let go of seeking perfection and instead seek God, the one who is present in the tangledness of our lives.”

So don’t be distracted from this life by either morality or your mess. Allow yourself to wallow in this Jesus-given life so that a deepening intimacy with God will breathe righteousness and wholeness in you. And live it to the fullest.

-Steve Smith