I came so they could have life and so they could have it abundantly.
Eternity lasts forever, so not a single day could be added to or taken away from it. What, then, does Jesus mean when He says that He wants us to have eternal life abundantly? It is not that He wants us to have more eternity, but that He wants us to have more in eternity.
Think of it this way. The moment that someone believes in Christ, he has eternal life, which, by definition, is eternal. If we put his eternal life on a timeline, it could look like this:
Notice that eternal life has a beginning but no end. Nothing can add to how long eternal life will last. However, we can demonstrate the quality or abundance of his possession by adding a y-axis to the graph:
The x-axis continues into eternity regardless of the y-axis. Someone can have a greater or lesser experience with his eternal life, but it remains eternal. This greater experience with the eternal gift is what Jesus means when He says, “I came so […] they could have [eternal life] abundantly.”
If you know that you have eternal life, then it is healthy to want even more. Paul tells us how we can invest in an abundant eternal possession:
for whatever a person sows is that which he’ll harvest […] but he who sows into the Spirit will harvest eternal life from the Spirit.
Sowing into the Spirit can be tough work. When temptation is enticing us in the moment, it can be hard to think about the near future (much less all of eternity). Sometimes we have to weigh what we want now with what we want more so that we do not miss the prizes that Jesus offers.
Paul’s words also come with a stern warning:
[…] he who sows into his flesh will harvest rot from his flesh […]
The Greek word that I translate as “rot” is phthora, which is often translated as “corruption” or “ruin,” but essentially refers to the decay of organic matter. It is quite possible for Christians to choose a carnal lifestyle and harvest the rot instead of abundance in eternity. Fortunately, all rottenness will be destroyed at the Judgment Seat of Christ while the believer and his reward remain (1 Cor 3:11-15). How great it will be for the rot to be done away with, but how unfortunate it will be to know we could have sown into the Spirit instead and harvest something much greater.
In the meantime, let’s strive for the eternal rewards that will come by living by the Spirit rather than the temporal rottenness that we earn by living in the flesh.
This blog post is a response to a question from a friend. If you have a theological question that you would like us to talk about, feel free to shoot us a note through the contact page.