Commentary, Featured, John McReynolds - Posted by on Tuesday, September 21, 2010 22:00 - 0 Comments 4,687 views

Basics 17 – The Eternal Life of God


Understanding God

Lesson Seventeen: The Eternal Life of God 

In considering the Life of God one of the most profound aspects we encounter is that God does not possess eternal life—He is eternal life.  As we just mentioned it has pleased Him to share that life with us.  So we say that as created beings we possess life—it is something we’ve been given.  The Bible makes this very clear from the beginning:

And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.” Gen 2:7 (KJV)

There are dozens of scriptures that present God as the only One who gives life, for example Job 33:4—“The Spirit of God has made me, and the breath of the Almighty gives me life.” 

There is no one beside or beyond God: Isa. 44:6b—“… I am the first and I am the last, and there is no God besides Me.”

God has no antecedent which means that there was no one before God that caused Him to be.  This is reflected in Psa. 90:12—“Before the mountains were born or You gave birth to the earth and the world, even from everlasting [infinity past] to everlasting [infinity future], You are God.” 

He is the self-existent One—that is the true meaning of God’s personal name YHWH, pronounced Yahweh or Jehovah.  So it follows that God does not possess life—He is life itself.  He is the Life-Giver.  He is the cause of all existence and all life.




Understanding God

Lesson Seventeen: 

The Eternal Life of God 

by John McReynolds

Before we begin our study we’ll spend a few moments in silent prayer. First John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins He is faithful and justified to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”  So let’s take this opportunity to confess our known sins if we need to and otherwise to prepare our hearts for the study of the Word of God. Let us pray:

We’re grateful, Heavenly Father for another opportunity in grace to feast on your marvelous Word. We pray that the Holy Spirit will take these doctrines and make them a source of blessing and growth in our lives that we might be more conformed to the image of our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, for we ask it in His name—amen.

Where We Have Been

In the last several lessons we have been exploring the essence of God in an attempt to gain some small understanding of the One who is the cause of our existence, and who profoundly affects our continuing existence.  But despite the tremendous moment-by-moment effect He has on our lives, we cannot detect His presence in our lives with our physical senses—indeed He would remain completely unknown to us if He had not deigned to reveal Himself to us. 

As we have seen in our previous studies, theologians have ascribed a number of perfections and attributes to God in a rather feeble attempt to make Him understandable to us.  There have been many attempts to do this—all of them falling woefully short.  The one we are presenting here is no more adequate than others we have seen—no finite human being can come anywhere close to accurately describing the essence of our ineffable Creator.  Nevertheless, this presentation of the essence of God has served our purposes in the past, and so we give it again today. 

In our past studies we made a distinction between God’s perfections and His attributesGod’s perfections are aspects of His Divine nature that relate to His infinity, His absoluteness, and His excellence.  In other words these are the characteristics of God we observe if we regard Him only as He relates to Himself and the Members of the Trinity.  To review, we listed eight of God’s perfections:

  1.  God is Infinite,

  2.  God is Immense,

  3.  God is Absolute,

  4.  God is Unapproachable,

  5.  God is Undiminishable,

  6.  God is Eternal,

  7.  God is Unity (He is one in essence and unified in His attributes),

  8.  God is perfectly, absolutely, infinitely, undiminishably Happy.

Now in contrast to His perfections, God’s attributes are aspects of His Divine being that relate to His creation in general, and specifically to His intelligent creation—angels and men.  We have listed His attributes as:

  1.  God is Sovereign,

  2.  God is Righteous,

  3.  God is Just,

  4.  God is Love,

  5.  God is Eternal Life,

  6.  God is Omnipotent,

  7.  God is Omniscient,

  8.  God is Omnipresent,

  9.  God is Immutable,

10.  God is Veracity (Truth),

So far in this series we have dealt with God’s Sovereignty (lesson 13) and we dealt with Righteousness and Justice together under the concept of God’s Holiness (lesson 14).  In lesson 15 we dealt with the perfection of His Happiness, and in the last lesson we touched on a few of the aspects of God’s amazing love.  Now in this lesson we embark on yet another mind-bending aspect of God—His Eternal Life.

Fathoming the Life of God 

How can we as limited, mortal, fallen human beings understand the infinite, eternal life of God?  The answer of course is that we cannot.  We have attempted to grasp the concepts of infinity and eternity along with other of God’s perfections back in Lesson 12, so I refer you to that lesson if you need a frame of reference to what we will be discussing here.  In fact, if you are viewing this lesson for the first time and have not read the previous five, I would strongly encourage you to go back and start with Lesson 12.

In the list of perfections and attributes we gave above, the word eternal appears twice—once as a perfection, and once as an attribute.  Remember that we distinguish between God’s perfections and God’s attributes: His perfections are aspects of His essence that relate to Himself and are characteristic of all the members of the Trinity.  On the other hand, His attributes are aspects of His essence that relate to His creation—specifically to fallen mankind, both lost mankind and redeemed mankind. 

We covered the concept of eternality back in lesson 12—how eternality relates to the person of God.  But how does eternality relate to us?  The short answer is that it has pleased God to share His eternal life with us—His creation.  And we’ll spend the bulk of this lesson exploring the ramifications of this fact.  But first, let’s expand a little on what the concept of God’s life means.

In considering the Life of God one of the most profound aspects we encounter is that God does not possess eternal life—He is eternal life.  As we just mentioned it has pleased Him to share that life with us.  So we say that as created beings we possess life—it is something we’ve been given.  The Bible makes this very clear from the beginning:

And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.” Gen 2:7 (KJV)

There are dozens of scriptures that present God as the only One who gives life, for example Job 33:4—“The Spirit of God has made me, and the breath of the Almighty gives me life.” 

There is no one beside or beyond God: Isa. 44:6b—“… I am the first and I am the last, and there is no God besides Me.”

God has no antecedent which means that there was no one before God that caused Him to be.  This is reflected in Psa. 90:12—“Before the mountains were born or You gave birth to the earth and the world, even from everlasting [infinity past] to everlasting [infinity future], You are God.” 

He is the self-existent One—that is the true meaning of God’s personal name YHWH, pronounced Yahweh or Jehovah.  So it follows that God does not possess life—He is life itself.  He is the Life-Giver.  He is the cause of all existence and all life.

The Life of God’s Creation 

At this point we should turn our attention to trying to understand life as God grants it to His creation—including us.  An even cursory examination of nature reveals that there are profound differences in the kinds of life God has bestowed on His creation.  There is life which is for all practical purposes non-sentient (i.e. not self-aware), such as plant life, and microbial life.  Then there is life that is sentient—that is aware of itself and its surroundings. 

There are many degrees of sentient life that we classify as lower forms and higher forms of life.  For example, we can show that an earthworm is sentient—it reacts to its environment and other external stimuli.  But we could not equate it with a dog or a cat or a horse, and certainly not with a human.  It has no personality that we could relate to.  Higher mammals manifest distinct personalities as a part of the life God gave them.

When we try to understand life in its higher forms the question inevitably arises whether animals have souls.  There is no space here to adequately address the question, but my opinion is that yes, they do—the higher forms at least.  And if animal souls exist do they survive physical death?  I really don’t know the answer to that, but I see no reason why they wouldn’t—after all human souls survive physical death, why wouldn’t animal souls?  You can do what you want with that—I won’t dispute with anyone on this issue.

When we discuss human life, however, we do have to consider the immaterial life of man.  The usual Christian view is that the human soul is the real person—the body is simply that which God has provided for the real person to live, move around in, and manipulate in the physical realm.  But the Bible makes a further distinction within the immaterial life of man—it distinguishes between the human soul and the human spirit.  Whenever the term soul is used in the New Testament the Greek word is psuche [ψυχή – pronounced su-KAY].  And when the term spirit is employed the word is pneuma [πνεῦμα – pronounced NEW-ma].  The most marked Biblical distinction is given in Heb. 4:12:

For the word of God is quick [living], and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul [psuche] and spirit [pneuma], and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.(KJV).

Man: God’s Unique Creation

The Bible states that God created man in His own image, distinct from His animal creation—Gen 1:26a. “And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness …”  Since God is spirit (John 4:24—“God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth”) then He created man as a being of spirit.  But man is also a soul as quoted above in Gen 2:7—And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.

A further distinction between soul and spirit is made in 1 Cor. 15:45—“So also it is written [in Gen 2:7, quoted above], ‘The first man, Adam, became a living soul [psuche].’ The last Adam [a reference to Jesus Christ] became a life-giving spirit [pneuma].”

Of course God also created man as a physical creature as Gen. 2:7 also reveals:  “And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground …”  So from these Scriptures we we can see that God created man as a tripartite being—a being of three parts—that is composed of body, soul, and spirit.  The theological term for this is that God created man as a trichotomous being.

Dividing Asunder the Soul and the Spirit 

Now it’s worth stating that some theologians dispute this distinction between the human soul and the human spirit—notably Dr. Charles Ryrie, who in his Basic Theology, 5th edition, in pages 196-197 argues against the trichotomous view of man as opposed to the dichotomous (spirit and body).  In his view there was no real distinction between the human soul and the human spirit.  However, it seems to me that the Biblical evidence heavily favors the view of trichotomy over dichotomy with regard to the makeup of man.

The view of trichotomy is the one which Dr. Lewis Sperry Chafer, founder of Dallas Theological Seminary, adopted in His Systematic Theology, in which he pointed out the Biblical distinction of unregenerate or soulish man as psuchikos [ψυχικός – pronounced “soo-ki-KAHS”], and regenerate or spiritual man as pneumatikos [πνευματικός – pronounced “new-mah-ti-KAHS”].  This distinction is clearly seen in 1 Cor. 2:12, 14-15 where the Apostle Paul is distinguishing between redeemed, spiritual man and natural, unregenerate man, and what they can and cannot understand:

Now we [regenerate ones] have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know the things freely given to us by God … But a natural [unregenerate, psuchikos] man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised.  But he who is spiritual [redeemed, pneumatikos] appraises all things …

Trichotomy and the Fall 

Furthermore, the trichotomous view is consistent with what we know about the fall of man.   Adam and Eve were created by God as trichotomous beings.  In their essence they were souls created by God with the mentality to understand things in the world around them—Gen. 2:19-20.  They had physical bodies by which they could fulfill God’s mandate to “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” Gen. 1:28.  And they had human spirits by which they were able to understand spiritual things—they had fellowship with God every evening in the Garden as implied by Gen. 3:9-10.

When Adam and Eve ate the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, they died.  They sinned by disobeying God, and as Rom. 6:23a tells us, “… the wages of sin is death …”  God had told them this would happen in Gen. 2:16-17:

The LORD God commanded the man, saying, From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die.’”

That phrase “you will surely die” is very interesting.  In the Hebrew the word for “die” is mûth [מוּת– pronounced “mooth”].  But in this passage the word is doubled—it appears twice, side by side—mûth-mûth.  A literal interpretation of this would be “dying, you will die.”  As an English interpretation that phrase didn’t make a lot of sense, so most interpreters opted for the phrase “you will surely die”, since a Hebrew doubling of a word generally intensifies it.

But if you take literally the interpretation of “dying, you will die”, this can mean two separate deaths—“dying” and “you will die”.  And in fact, this is exactly what happened to Adam and Eve.  When they sinned they immediately died spiritually—totally unable to fellowship with God as they had before the fall.  Then years later—930 years in the case of Adam—they died physically—the physical consequence of sin.

Adam and Eve were created trichotomous—body, soul, and spirit.  But when they sinned they died spiritually, in effect becoming dichotomous beings—body and soul.  After the fall, when God made skins for them to wear to cover their nakedness, they apparently expressed faith in God by accepting His provision for them.  Thus they were redeemed from their fall, and became trichotomous once more—spiritually alive, and able to again have fellowship with God. 

But something had changed, and things would never again be as they were before the fall.  For one thing the world was now cursed—never again would they enjoy the world and manipulate it with the easy competence that characterized their life before the fall.  Now their lives would be characterized by toil and hardship:

Cursed is the ground because of you; in toil you will eat of it all the days of your life.  Both thorns and thistles it shall grow for you; and you will eat the plants of the field; by the sweat of your face you will eat bread, till you return to the ground, because from it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” Gen. 3:17-19. 

They also had acquired sinful natures, which now predisposed them to sin.  Later, as a result of the curse, as God had predicted in Gen. 3:19 they also died physically.  Adam and Eve passed down the legacy of the fall and the subsequent curse of Gen. 3:17-19, including the old sin nature they acquired, to all of their descendents—including you and me.

So now we have taken a quick look at what happened to man as a result of the fall, and how it drastically and dramatically affected the life that God had granted to His creation—man.  Sin had separated man from God and put a seemingly insurmountable barrier between them—insurmountable at least from the perspective of man—but not from God’s perspective, since “… with God nothing shall be impossible.” Luke 1:37.

From Flying Pigs to Spaceflight

Essentially, this was the problem:  God loved His creation.  So when He had created man it pleased Him to give—as the highest possible expression of His love—His very own image to man.  He created man with the faculty of choice.  Not even to the highest of animals had He given this gift—they had freedom within the instincts God had programmed into them, but the animals did not have total freedom.  They were not able to exceed their boundaries. 

To illustrate: Years ago there was a TV program—I think it was called Mel’s Diner—about a couple of waitresses that worked there.  A pet expression of one of the waitresses when she wanted to express that something was impossible was, “When pigs fly!”  It made the audience laugh, but it expressed a fundamental truth: you will never see pigs fly under their own power.  Why? First, they have no natural ability to fly—they don’t have wings.  Second, they have no imagination to picture themselves out of their natural habitat—the pig wallow.  They can see birds fly, but it does not even occur to them to try.

God created man differently:  He created us in His image.  He gave us imagination, He gave us creativity, He gave us a desire to explore—to exceed our limitations.  Man looks at flying birds and wonders, “Could I do that?”  And the result is airplanes and space flight.

Crossing Forbidden Boundaries

But it is risky to allow creatures to test their limits.  Inevitably the creature will try boundaries that may never be crossed.  In the case of angels that boundary was to never attempt to assume the prerogatives of God.  Isa. 14:13-14 records the thoughts of Lucifer as he did just that:

For thou hast said in thine heart, I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God: I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation, in the sides of the north: I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the most High.

These are the famous five “I will’s” of Lucifer as he declared that he would do those things that God had reserved only unto Himself.

In the case of man that same desire—to be like God—was the irresistible lure.  Satan, in the guise of the serpent, exploited that desire in Gen. 3:5 when he tempted the woman to eat of the forbidden fruit:

For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”  

Now God is omniscient—knowing all things—and He knew when He created both angels and man that they would transgress His boundaries.  The fall of Lucifer and the fall of man did not take God by surprise.  He knew the consequences of the fall of man, and the terrible dilemma that it posed to Him.

God’s Dilemma—and How He Solved It 

At the root of God’s dilemma was His perfect character—all of the attributes we have been studying: Sovereignty, Justice, Love, Eternal Life, Omniscience, Omnipotence, Omnipresence, Immutability, and Veracity.  From His Sovereignty God had decided to create man to share His eternal life. As we have seen He created man in His own image—that is He created man with free will. He did this, realizing from His Omniscience that man would abuse his freedom and commit sin.

Now God’s Immutability—His unchangingness—would not allow Him to change his mind and destroy His ruined creation. At the same time God’s Righteousness demanded that man be penalized for his sin—and that penalty was death. God’s Justice would have to execute that penalty by imposing eternal death on sinful man.  I have more to say on the subject of eternal death, and I will return to it, but for now let’s continue with God’s dilemma. 

God had to offer an alternative solution to man, because in His Love He was “… not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.” God did not want to have to condemn man to eternal death.  Therefore He had to devise a way to deliver man from his predicament.

In His Omniscience God found a way. God knew that the only way man could be made acceptable to Him would be for man to possess perfect Righteousness. The only source in the universe for that perfect Righteousness is God. Therefore God Himself would have to carry His own Righteousness into the human race—God Himself would have to become a man.

But that in itself was a problem, since the only way to become a true man was to be born into humanity, and humanity was depraved—completely defiled with sin—so how could a righteous God insert Himself into humanity without defiling Himself?

Now many theologians believe that the sin nature is passed down to children through their human fathers.  There is plenty of Biblical support for that view, but there is no space here to deal with it.  God willing we will cover this subject in some future study of Christology.  But for now this is essentially how we believe it worked: 

God realized that because the woman was deceived she did not deliberately sin, but Adam sinned deliberately—1 Tim. 2:14.  Eve’s sin did affect her own flesh, and she acquired a sin nature, but because her sin was not deliberate, God graciously allowed her eggs to be pure—uncontaminated by sin! Adam’s sin also affected his flesh and he also acquired a sin nature—BUT, because his sin was deliberate, God decreed that his seed would be contaminated by sin. So his sin also infected the flesh of those who issued from his seed. Thus it is the man—not the woman—who passes the sin nature down to their children.

But in the case of Jesus Christ, God the Holy Spirit in His omnipotence created 23 Y chromosomes that had no contamination from the OSN, since they were not from a human father, and inserted them into the pure egg inside the womb of the virgin Mary. The result was that the fetus that became the body of Jesus Christ had no old sin nature.

So now, God the Son had a pure, uncontaminated body within which He entered into the world as a true human but without being defiled by sin. In that body, in hypostatic union, Jesus lived a sinless life and arrived at the Cross “without spot or blemish,” a sinless human who would offer Himself as the perfect substitute for man.

And so God in all His perfections solved the unsolvable problem of reconciling fallen man to Himself, without compromising any of His perfections or diminishing Himself in any way. God in His omniscience saw everything that man would do, all of his sins and failure. God saw all that He would have to do, the incredible price—the enduring of unspeakable, eternally felt pain—that He Himself would have to pay to redeem mankind. And because He would not compromise his infinite, eternal love for us He sovereignly decided to pay that price. And He decided all of this before He created us.

And because Jesus Christ—who was free to reject the cross—chose to accept the role of Savior and gave Himself to suffer separation from God and die in our place, God is now free to share His Eternal Life with those of us who have chosen to accept His perfect work on our behalf.  But for those who have rejected Jesus and the salvation He offers, only eternal death awaits.

Chaos and Hell 

This concept of eternal death is very horrifying, because eternal death does not mean cessation of existence.  Some folks believe that when you die it’s “lights out”—you just simply cease to exist.  Nothing could be farther from the truth.  We are studying God’s Eternal Life.  When God created man in His own image one of the ramifications of that was that he also granted man eternal existence.  Eternal existence is just that—eternal!  God will not cause the unbeliever to stop existing—if He did that He would be reneging on His gift of eternity to man.  Everybody is going to exist forever—somewhere!  Eternal life with God means life that will go on forever in beauty, fulfillment, happiness, and perfect order—that’s what sharing the life of God means.

But eternal death means eternal separation from God—the only Source of all that is perfect and good.  Separation from God for eternity, or eternal death has to be just the opposite of life with God for eternity:  Instead of perfect beauty you have horrifying, disgusting ugliness.  Instead of perfect fulfillment you have pure regret and an eternal sense of total failure.  Instead of happiness you have unending, conscious, infinite misery.  Instead of perfect order you have total chaos—total disorder.  Have you ever seen a house after it burned to the ground?  It is total chaos.  The most total chaos—the most complete disorder—is in a fire.  That’s what Hell is—that’s what the Lake of Fire is—chaos and disorder in its most pure and fundamental form. 

God is not cruel, although some people have depicted Him that way.  He does not hate the unbeliever that rejects him, nor does He sit around thinking of the most awful ways to punish him.  Ezek. 33:11 says this: 

“‘As I live!’ declares the Lord GOD, ‘I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked [unbelievers], but rather that the wicked turn from his way and live. Turn back, turn back from your evil ways! Why then will you die [eternal death], O house of Israel?

He doesn’t want anybody to die and go to hell. God is “… not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.”—2 Pet. 3:9.

The awfulness of Hell is the natural consequence of man rejecting eternal life with God.  Eternal death is the only other option—and remember: eternal death does not mean cessation of existence—it means everlasting existence in a state of pure chaos, infinite misery, and profound horror.  It is not somewhere you want to go.  If you have never believed in Jesus Christ and accepted His work on your behalf, look back up at Ezekiel 33:11.  It says “O house of Israel”—but it’s talking to you, too.

Amazing Love

So now we have had a glimpse of the Eternal Life of God.  We have seen that God created us in His image and that as a part of that God has shared eternal existence with us.  We have seen here and elsewhere that sin separated us from God, which would doom us to spend a horrible eternal existence apart from God.  But thanks be to God, and great praise and glory to His Son, our Savior, that we have seen the infinite genius of God come up with the perfect solution to that terrible dilemma.

And can it be
That I should gain
An interest in
My Savior’s blood?

Died He for me
Who caused His pain,
For me who Him
to death pursued!

Amazing Love!
How can it be?
That Thou, my God,
Shouldst die for me!

Father, thank You for solving the problems that would have condemned us to the Lake of Fire. Thank you for the precious gift of Your Son, “… who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own.

Cause us to realize that since we have been purchased for a very great price and we now share Your very own Eternal Life, and since You have left us here to be Your ambassadors to this lost and dying world, we have a responsibility to You to “redeem the time, for the days are evil.” Cause us to hunger and thirst for you in this dry and thirsty land, for we know that only through Your provision can we be blessed—Your provision and no other.

And, Father, if anyone hearing this message has never believed in Your Son and is without that so-great salvation, we pray that the Holy Spirit will make plain the Gospel of salvation. For You have said in Your Word, “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.” May that person do that this day, and become forever more your child.

We ask, Heavenly Father, Your blessing on this lesson—may the things we have studied be a source of spiritual food for our growth toward maturity. And now, Heavenly Father, “… unto him that is able to keep us from falling, and to present us faultless before the presence of Your glory with exceeding joy, to the only wise God our Savior, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and ever. Amen.

To the reader:  If you have read this lesson, I would greatly appreciate any feedback, questions, or comments you have.  Getting feedback from my readers is very helpful and encouraging to me.  I promise to respond to all legitimate questions or comments as appropriate.  But please, do keep your questions and comments appropriate and constructive.

Thank you very much.

In His Service,

John McReynolds


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