Life and death

by Mike Ratliff

16 οὕτως γὰρ ἠγάπησεν ὁ θεὸς τὸν κόσμον, ὥστε τὸν υἱὸν τὸν μονογενῆ ἔδωκεν, ἵνα πᾶς ὁ πιστεύων εἰς αὐτὸν μὴ ἀπόληται ἀλλʼ ἔχῃ ζωὴν αἰώνιον (John 3:16 NA28)

16 “Thusly, for God loved the world, so that He gave his only Son, that all those trusting in him might not be destroyed but might have life eternal. (John 3:16 translated from the NA28 Greek text)

26 ὥσπερ γὰρ τὸ σῶμα χωρὶς πνεύματος νεκρόν ἐστιν, οὕτως καὶ ἡ πίστις χωρὶς ἔργων νεκρά ἐστιν (James 2:26 NA28)

26 As indeed for the body without spirit is dead, thusly also the trust without works is dead.  (James 2:26 translated from the NA28 Greek text)

There is no more dramatic contrast between two words than those describing what are alive and those describing what are dead. For instance, in James 2:14-26 James describes the difference between living faith (trust), which is saving faith (trust), and dead faith (trust), which does not save. In v26 the first occurrence of “dead” translates the Greek adjective νεκρόν (nekron), the Nominative, Singular, Neuter case of νεκρός (nekros), which speaks of a dead body or corpse. The second occurrence of “dead” translates the Greek adjective νεκρά (nekra), the Nominative, Singular, Feminine case of νεκρός. What James is describing is a false faith that is as dead as a dead body. The ultimate contrast is to take that which is the state of death compared to the state of eternal life, which our Lord described in John 3:16. 

In John 3:16 (above) the word “life” translates the Greek noun ζωὴν (zōēn), the Accusative, Singular, Feminine case of ζωή (zōē), life, lifetime. It is from ζωή that English words such as zoology and protozoa come. The idea is to have life or existence in contrast to death and nonexistence. In the thinking of the ancient Greeks, life was not a thing, but vitality. For that reason, ζωή cannot be used in the plural. In other words, we do not posses several “lifes” like we could posses several books or shoes; rather, life is a singular, vital, and active reality.

Even though it is incredibly misunderstood and misrepresented by so many, Spiritual life is what Sacred Scripture is all about. The universally known verse which I placed at the top of this post, John 3:16, is a typical example. Sacred Scripture not only speaks about physical life but, far more importantly, everlasting life. While physical life comes to an end, everlasting life is just what it says—it is forever. What Sacred Scripture says about this “everlasting existence and vitality” can be summed up in three statements.

First, everlasting life is in contrast to everlasting death. John 3:16 clearly says that without Christ a person will “perish” or be “destroyed.” Paul also makes this clear in his opening words to the Romans:

18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, Romans 1:18 (NASB) 

Without Christ, a person will spend eternity under God’s wrath in hell (John 3:36; Romans 6:23; Revelation 20:15; Revelation 21:8).

Second, everlasting life comes only through “Him,” that is, Jesus Christ. As Jesus said of Himself elsewhere:

6 Jesus *said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me. John 14:6 (NASB) 

The definite article (“the”) makes it clear that Jesus in the only way to life.

Third, everlasting life comes by faith, as indicated by the word “believes,” πιστεύων. Salvation does not come by works (Ephesians 2:8,9; Titus 3:5) or human merit. It comes by trusting in the finished work of Christ alone.

In light of this contrast my brethren, shouldn’t those of us who are truly in Christ be rejoicing in the everlasting vitality we have in Him?

Soli Deo Gloria!




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