A NEW WAY OF LIVING
So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. The Apostle Paul (II Corinthians 4:18)
Eternity is a long time. Since we are going to spend such a long time there, we should be doing something about it now. By doing something, we mean taking purposeful action about eternity today. However, we know from our experience that it often takes significant events, accidents or even the death of a friend to bring eternity into our minds. There is a less painful method that is available Our need is to start thinking about eternity and to understand how to live in eternity. As improbable as that may seem, that is exactly what Jesus came to do. Not only is it possible, He declared it is necessary to begin while still on this earth, in this body. As He announced, “I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life . . . he (she) has crossed over from death to life.” (John 5:24-27). Remember the Word from Eternity: I have come that you may have life . . .
Here is a brief exercise that will help us get into a mental framework about the duration of eternity. First, on a sheet of paper, draw a line. Under that line, place a number large enough to represent a part of eternity. For example, it may look something like this:
Now the important part—write on top of that line the approximate age at which you believe you will die. Having completed that and based on the information above and below the line, which duration of time is more important? And which should occupy most of our time in terms of investment and planning? You probably have gone with the larger number as being the most important. Nonetheless, it is at this point that our willingness to commit ourselves to the obvious breaks down.
We seem to be so busy getting ready for our present future that we fail to plan and act on our eternal future. In reality, regardless of what number we placed over the 10,000 years, it is insignificant by comparison. King David, Israel’s second king, understood that difference because he wrote, “Show me, O Lord, my life’s end and the number of my days; let me know how fleeting is my life. You have made my days a mere handbreadth; the span of my years is as nothing before you.” (Psalm 39:4, 5). Just as this king realized the brief duration of life on earth compared to eternity, neither are we left guessing about eternity.
The Divine Plan
The eternal Son of God visited our earth as part of the Divine plan to bring eternity back into our lives. We say “back into our lives” because we believe God’s original plan from creation, included our living in eternity. The foundational principle of creation is life. That, with other important gifts, was lost when the first parents, Adam and Eve, decided to go their own way apart from God. The Apostle Paul described what happened when he wrote, “ . . . by the trespass of one man, death reigned through that one man . . . the result of one trespass was condemnation for all (mankind) . . .” (Romans 5:17, 18).
Since creation God has used many messengers and methods of communication to restore His original plan before He sent Jesus. We read that “In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days, he has spoken to us by his son.” (Hebrews 1:1, 2). When it came time really to talk about eternity in a definitive way, He sent His Son. There was good reason for this. As the author of the book of Hebrews went on to say, “The Son is the radiance of God’s g l o r y a n d t h e e x a c t re p re s e n t a t i o n o f h i s being . . .” (Hebrews 1:3). The writer understood that when God wanted to fully reveal His nature and eternal plan to humankind He dispatched a member of the Trinity. The eternal Son was not only to carry the message; He was the message. There would be no misunderstanding. Humanity was to see as well as hear the message.
So when Jesus spoke about living in eternity and how to go about it, we are listening to One who has personal experience. He does not ask us to live in eternity without showing and providing the way (John 14:1-10). As we will see, He tells us exactly how to go about it. It was always God’s intention that the human race would live in eternity.
Sin and death entered the Garden of Eden as unwanted intruders. That was not God’s plan. But when God removed the first pair from Eden, He arranged for mankind’s restoration at the same time. To understand that, let’s return for a look at the beginning.
The Beginning of the Matter
“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” (Genesis 1:1). For mankind, the story of God starts with creation. He is introduced to us in the first line of Scripture as existing before anything visible was around. That fact is not argued or debated. The Bible consistently proclaims that God is eternal! In poetic language the Psalmist wrote:
“Before the mountains were born or you brought forth the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.” (Psalm 90:2).
Accordingly, only God can verify Himself. Since everything else is created, all creation is imperfect and flawed because of it’s finite existence. Only the eternal Creator God is perfect. The eternal nature of His being requires perfection and holiness. If God were corrupt, it would be of absolute proportions, evil in every dimension. Bishop Reginald Heber brings out God’s complete perfection in every attribute in his well-known hymn:
Holy, Holy, Holy! Though the darkness hide Thee,
Though the eye of sinful man Thy glory may not see.
Only Thou are holy; there is none beside Thee,
Perfect in power, in love, and purity.
Because of God’s “perfectness” the idea and truth of His eternal existence are hidden from mankind’s natural ability to comprehend. As the Apostle John said it, “ . . . though the world was made by Him, the world did not recognize him.” (John 1:10). Finiteness cannot grasp infinity! A dying huma-nity cannot define the eternal God. He must reveal Himself to us and we receive Him through the eye of faith.
There is no external data by which we can verify His eternalness. The visible came out of what was invisible.
Again, the writer of Hebrews describes it well: “By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.” (Hebrews 11:1). In other words, human understanding about God’s creative action can only be gained by God’s self revel-ation and the illumination of faith.
We may study and examine the results of God’s creative work, but we do not have direct access to those original acts. Only through the eye of faith do they take form.
Thus the first declaration of Genesis, “In the beginning God . . .”, frames reality for humanity exclusively through the faith factor. Given that the Bible’s opening statement introduces the requirement of faith as the key for understanding beginnings, it should not surprise us to find faith as a central theme throughout the entire book. As we will see, the inspired Record is full of instructions that underline the essential nature of faith in our approach to God. Shall we consider some examples?
Genesis is the book of beginnings. It marks the creation of the universe, our planet and all that is on it; the introduction of social patterns, the entry of sin into this environment, the development of languages, the birth of the redemptive race, etc. Notice the progression recorded in the first chapter.
Each successive day’s accomplishments are dependent on the previous day’s activities. For example, fully developed vegetative growth took place before the development of living creatures such as birds and animals (Genesis 1:11, 20, 21, 24). Without plant life animals could not survive.
Secondly, when God came to the creation of humankind, it was a distinct, separate act described as God’s crowning creative undertaking. It was the one action for which there was a model—God Himself. As we read the account, “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth.’ ” (Genesis 1:26).
This is a profound declaration: Mankind is a unique creation!
By the time we reach the third chapter of Genesis, we note the following about the first human couple:
They were created for life, not death (2:2, 3)
They were untainted by sin (2:25; 3:11)
Their work had the cooperation of nature (2: 8, 9; 3:17-19)
They had personal, daily contact with God (3:8)
They talked directly with God (3:9, 10)
They were designed for eternity (2:17; 3:3).
From the very beginning, this was God’s plan for humanity. They were “living in eternity.” They had all the rights and privileges of access into the presence of eternity—daily communication with the Creator God, which is the ultimate definition of living in eternity.When our first parents entered into sin and sin entered into them, all of creation’s ircumstances of living in eternity were destroyed. Rather than living in eternity, they were plunged into a time and death oriented world. “And the Lord God said . . . ‘He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat and live forever.’ So the Lord God banished him from the Garden of Eden . . .” (Genesis 3:22, 23).
What had Adam and Eve done that was so wrong? What action could so provoke God that He would take eternity and everything else away from them? How could the very substance of creation (life) be so quickly reversed by death?
They did not take God at His word! They thought they would work things out by their own wits.
Adam and Eve chose to act independently and contrary to what God had spelled out to them. Faith was the requirement for relationship with Him. The starting point was:
Accept what I have said and base your actions on that acceptance. Tragically, they disobeyed. They abandoned faith, choosing instead to live by their own version of truth and reality. “Just as the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men . . . through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners . . .” (Romans 5:18, 19).
The Results of Unbelief
Beside the other consequences, Adam and Eve were expelled from the garden. The first couple was evicted from the place of contact with God (Genesis 3:23, 24). It affected God as well. He could not remain if sin was to rule the day.
The results extended to the entire human race. Their act of sin not only shattered their relationship with God, it began the death process. From that moment on, spiritual and physical death was all they could transmit to the race. Their sin destroyed the bridge to the eternal. All humanity came under the sentence of death. “Just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men . . . ” (Romans 5:12).
What had been the most outstanding feature of the first couple’s stay in the Garden? God visited them daily! God talked with them! They were eager for that time of direct communication with their God. This daily contact not only confirmed their relationship together, it also nurtured it. So rather than companionship, their unbelief brought fearful anticipation. They went into hiding (Genesis 3:9, 10).
Although they understood what God offered them, they said “No!” to Him. But God did not abandon them! He pursued them to where they were hiding. His entrance into the garden is pictured in the language of close friendship. God the Creator of the universe was walking alone to meet with His highest creation. In the stillness, He called out, “Where are you?” (Genesis 3:8-10). Did God not know their location?
He knew. He sounded the question to reveal just how far their autonomy from God had taken them. It was more a declaration: “Look where you are!”
Rejecting what God had said took them out of the realm of the eternal. The break with God came because of rejecting God’s word. It stands to reason, then, that the basis for restoring relationship with God must be faith—trusting God’s word. Can it be that the horrible break in relationship with God can be restored, can be reconnected? If that is possible, it must be the most important search anyone can make.
Restoring the Faith Faculty
What if Eve and Adam had not sinned? Ever give that some thought? Where would they be today? If it was God’s original intention for our first parents and the race to live in eternity, has His intention changed? And if His intention remains the same, what provisions have been made to restore the broken relationship and bridge the gap with eternity?
Just as He spoke in the Garden of Eden, God continues to speak. He awaits our “Yes!” He wants to bring us back into a life of faith with Him; to restore direct communication with us on a daily basis; to have our lives directed from heaven’s perspective rather than earth’s. To put it simply, God is inviting us to live in eternity. It is still His design for humanity.
Through Jesus the Son, He has made it possible for us to become members of His eternal Kingdom. But what is the history of mankind’s response? What will it be in the future?
What does the Bible say?
The Apostle Paul wrote to some Christians living in Rome. Their surroundings were not too different from ours. Materialism flourished, the temporary obscured the eternal, and life on earth absorbed the time and energy that should have been directed toward heaven. In all that bad news, Paul had good news: “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” (Romans 10:13). Yes, good news! But there was no response to God’s invitation. Paul asked a series of questions: “How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can they preach unless they are sent?” (Romans 10:14, 15).
In the next two verses, Paul provided the answer to his questions. “Isaiah says, ‘Lord, who has believed our message?’ Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.” (Romans 10:16, 17). The “faith faculty,” he said, must be restored. This only comes through the Word of Christ, the Bible. Jesus Himself expressed the importance of faith when a probing question: “However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:8).
The sin that severed Eve and Adam from living in eternity was rejection of what God had said. It was “unfaith” or unbelief. To a far greater degree today, God has given humanity His direction for living. We have His Word to be acted on in faith. Without faith, His Word is ineffective; it will not produce the intended result. As the writer of Hebrews explained it, “For we also have had the gospel preached to us, just as they did; but the message they heard was of no value to them, because those who heard did not combine it with faith.” (Hebrews 4:2).
Paul warned his younger associate that as God’s Kingdom draws near, people wouldn’t want to hear the truth. Instead, “they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth . . .” Therefore, Paul said, “Preach the Word!” (I Timothy 4:2-4). More than ever before, it’s time for members of God’s Kingdom to return to the Word. The warnings have been sounded. The Word is where faith is discovered, where it is restored and nourished, and where it grows into maturity.
Living in eternity begins with an introduction to the King of eternity. It proceeds by meeting daily with this eternal King and will be consummated when He returns, fully disclosed to the universe. The greatest need of our time is for individuals to hear, listen and obey the voice of the Son of God. The faith faculty must be restored. He is inviting us to live in eternity, to begin by taking Him at His Word. Listen to what Jesus promised us: “I tell you the truth, a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live.” (John 5:25).
As it was in the past and will be in the future, so today— those who take Him at His Word will live. It is our greatest privilege to be into His Word. In a day of many loud, competing voices, we cannot live apart from God’s Word.
Adam and Eve tried it and failed. God has opened the door for us to live in eternity. We go to His Word for instructions because Jesus said, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.” (Matthew 24:35).
But as Jesus looked down the centuries of time, He saw the Garden of Eden revisited. Unbelief in what God has said would be common. Nearing the end of the age, unbelief would even be promoted by those in position of authority in the church. Jesus called them “false prophets.” (Matthew 24:10). Today, as never before, the need is to return to the Word from Eternity!