Most Christians seem to be unaware of what the term "eternal life" means. I was taught that it meant that we were going to live forever, but when I would point out that everyone, saved or unsaved, will live forever somewhere, then I would usually get a blank stare. Other times, it was "explained" to me that it means to live forever with Jesus. That did not satisfy me. Yes, of course we will live forever with Jesus but that leaves a lot of scriptures regarding eternal life unexplained.
I think people get tripped up with the word 'eternal'. 'Eternal' can mean to live forever, but it is also an attribute of God. God is eternal, His existence is independent of time. So, if we were to describe what kind of "life" that God has we would have to say that He has "eternal life". His Nature, His Life is beyond the natural realm. Yet Jesus came to give us this Life. "I came that they may have life." (John 10:10b) The word "eternal" does not appear in this passage but it means the same thing. To see this we will have to dig into the Greek words translated as "life".
First, there is the word "bios" and that means manner of life or how one lives their life. The church has majored a lot on that. Then there is the word "psuche" which means one's natural life. That is the word Jesus used when He said that He was going to lay down his life (psuche). And He did. But there is another word translated "life" and that is "zoe" (pronounced 'zo-ay'). It means life in the absolute sense. It is used as the word for the Life and Nature of God. "For as the Father has life (zoe) in himself, even so he gave to the Son also to have life (zoe) in himself." (John 5:26) Notice that "life" is said to be "in" the Father and the Son. It is a nature, a substance. And Jesus said that He came to give it to us!
So how does that work? If we received the Life and Nature of God, wouldn't we be like Him? The answer is yes! But you might say now that we must not have it yet because we are not like Him, we have a lot of sins and problems and stuff. “Most certainly I tell you, he who hears my word, and believes him who sent me, has eternal life, and doesn’t come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life." (John 5:24) I like this passage because it tells us two things. First, it tells us that we do have eternal life and, second, it tells us that we are no longer dead. We weren't physically dead, were we? No. He is talking about being spiritually dead, having our spirits cut off from fellowship and relationship with God. "We were dead in trespasses and sins." Now that our sins have been washed away we have been made alive together with Christ. (See Ephesians 2:1,5) Our spirits, not our minds or our flesh, have been made alive with the Life and Nature of God. That's what it means to be born again and become a child of God.
God is the "Father of spirits". We were re-created in His image and likeness. We are, as Peter said, "partakers of the divine nature". (2 Peter 1:4) When we were joined together with Christ, His life flowed into us. His love came into our hearts. We want to do right now. We want to live 100% for God, but we still struggle with the flesh. Our flesh has not yet been redeemed. But there must be a way to walk in the light of eternal life and live as Jesus lives.
The church has tried to get us to live like Jesus told us to live, but we have failed most of the time. We have tried to correct our manner of life by trying to get our flesh to do what is right. Yet the flesh is contrary to God, it cannot obey Him. So, we struggle. We should have majored on eternal life (zoe) instead of manner of life (bios). The flesh cannot overcome itself. Our spirits, which have the life of God, have to become strong and overcome the flesh. We have to walk in the spirit so we will not fulfill the lust of the flesh. (Galatians 5:16)
So when Jesus said that He came to give us life, He was not recommending a new code of conduct or a new religion. He was offering us the life of God in our spirits so that we could live out that life so that it would change our manner of life. We can walk in newness of life. If we walk in the light of eternal life it will continually transform us to be like God wants us to be.
[The rest of this series will be about how this "zoe" can affect our lives.]