A life of eternal joy (LD 22, q&a 58)


We have come to the last article of the Apostles’ Creed. It started by confessing: “I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth”; it concludes with the phrase: “and the life everlasting.” From where we came from to where we are going. Our life was created by God; it will last for eternity.

But there is much more to say. The catechism in LD 22 q&a 58 focuses on what kind of life this will be. Christians will not only live forever, but it will be a perfect, glorious life. And it is not only something for the future; in a way, we already have that eternal life today.

    A life of eternal joy.

        1. A life for which we were created.
        2. A life which is already ours.
        3. A life which we will soon enjoy in full.

A life for which we were created

To get a good understanding of “the life everlasting”, we should not only look at the future, not even at the present time, but think back to the beginning. On the sixth day of creation, God created the first human beings; later in history he created each of us individually. But this was not a random act of creation; God made everything for a purpose. For what purpose did he make us?

You can see part of the answer in the story about Adam and Eve, before sin messed up the world. The Lord made them in his own image: from the beginning, human beings reflected the eternal God. He gave them a royal mandate, to govern everything else on earth. He placed them in a lush garden, where life was perfect and greatly enjoyable. And Gen. 3 gives us the impression that God had close fellowship with them, walking and conversing with them as with friends.

Adam’s life in the Garden of Eden suggests that he (and all of us) was made to live in close fellowship with God. The Westminster Shorter Catechism famously summarises: “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.” The Heidelberg Catechism says something similar in q&a 6: “That he might rightly know God his Creator, heartily love him, and live with him in eternal blessedness to praise and glorify him.” Both catechisms indicate that we were made for perfection without end, forever, eternal.

Because of sin, we are unable to live the life for which we were made. In many ways we do not glorify God; in many ways we miss out on true joy; and our lives on earth are not forever. But that doesn’t change the fact that we were made with a purpose. And our life is best when we live according to that purpose. That is how we could find true fulfilment, true happiness, real joy. This is the life people long for and dream of. Whether they know it or not, this is what they really want and need: a life in which we will glorify and enjoy God, in a perfection that never ends.

We were made for eternal life, where “life” has the fullest sense of the word, of living according to the purpose for which God made us.

Jesus spoke of this in his famous High-Priestly Prayer in John 17. “This is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” (John 17:3) The word “know” here doesn’t just mean knowing something about God, but personal knowledge, intimate fellowship. Eternal life is all about a real, perfect relationship with God.

In this prayer, Jesus includes himself: eternal life, the purpose for which we were made, means not only a relationship with God the Father who created us, but also with God the Son, whom we know as Jesus Christ. We often think that we need Jesus because of our sin, but he is much greater than that. The Bible teaches that especially in the first verses of John 1, when it talks about the Son of God as “the Word”. Everything was made through the Word. It is this Word who gives life; and this life is the light of men. In other words, the Son of God played a key role in the creation of the world, and our whole life and purpose is based on him. Elsewhere, the Bible teaches that “he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” The world could not have begun to exist without the Son of God, without Jesus Christ; and the world would have no purpose if it weren’t for him.

So the purpose of our life is, and always has been, to have a very close relationship with God, with the Father and the Son and the Spirit, and to live a life of worship and service to him.

It may be hard to imagine what that will be like. We are so used to living in an imperfect world, in a broken relationship with God, that we have no clue just how wonderful this eternal life would be. Our minds are clouded by sin, our hearts out of focus. But we know the sense of longing, hoping and dreaming for something greater yet, something more perfect; and we should foster that feeling, because it is based on truth: yes, we were made for perfect blessedness “such as no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man conceived.” That is the language the Heidelberg Catechism uses, quoting 1 Cor. 2:9.

And the gospel tells us that we were not only made for that purpose; but also that, despite our sin and this fallen world, we can reach that final purpose. Because of God’s grace, that he sent Jesus Christ into the world as a sacrifice for sin, it is possible to reach this eternal life.

A life which is already ours

So as Christians we look forward to the return of Jesus, when he will make all this come true. But it is not only a future hope. The quote we gave from 1 Cor. 2:9 continues: “What no eye has seen, etc., what God has prepared for those who love him—these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit.”

What a remarkable statement! Not only has God prepared for us a future of eternal life and happiness, but he has revealed it to us now already, through the Spirit. Even today we have a glimpse of the perfection for which we were made. That glimpse is not just a matter of nice words, but it is a lived experience; not just for some special Christians, but for all believers. So the Catechism teaches us to say: I now already feel in my heart the beginning of eternal joy. The life everlasting has already begun for me.

I know many Christians who like to discuss the end times: what will happen when Jesus returns, or just before and after; what will the final judgement be like; what will the heavenly life of the new earth be like. But a proper end-time theology will also focus on the way in which way we live that life now already. Our understanding of the last things (eschatology) must shape our practical theology, our worship, our Christian ethics, our everyday activity.

The Bible says it this way (2 Cor. 5:17): “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” A new creation—that has everything to do with being born again by the Spirit of God. We are not just invited to follow Jesus by doing what he did, but we receive the same spiritual power he received in his resurrection.

When we talk about Christian living, about being just and holy, it is not just about knowing about right and wrong; it is about living as new people, who are no longer attached to the things of this earth but live in step with the Spirit of God. We are no longer stuck in the darkness of sin but live in God’s light. In the words of Col. 1:12f, he “has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son.”

People quickly think of the Christian life as following a set of rules, things to do and things not to do. But it is not about rules; it is about living the new life, based on the reality that Jesus has reconciled God with us. Paul says it like this: “The kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking (that is, rules about what you can and cannot eat) but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” (Rom. 14:17)

If you are a Christian, then you have received that Holy Spirit, and he gives you the life for which you were created, and for which you are now saved. We have the beginning of life eternal, and as we live our Christian life, we grow in our knowledge and our fellowship with the Lord. When you think about eternal life, don’t just think about the future; look for the way it is making inroads in your life today already.

A life which we will soon enjoy in full

But the way in which we enjoy the life eternal is still limited. The catechism makes a contrast between “I feel in my heart the beginning” and “I possess it”. Today it is only a beginning. But one day, my whole life will match the purpose for which I was made. One day, my fellowship with my God and my Saviour Jesus Christ will be complete. One day, I will be perfectly happy.

When will this happen? The catechism says: “I shall after this life possess it.” You can think back to the previous question in the catechism, which says that “my soul shall after this life immediately be taken up to Christ;” and certainly, believers who have died are already experiencing a great deal of the eternal joy that God promised. But remember, in that immediate state they are not yet complete. The completion, the full possession of the life everlasting will happen when the Lord Jesus returns and makes all things new.

The most beautiful description of what that will be like, can be found in Revelation 21. In his vision, John sees “a new heaven and a new earth”; of course, this matches the language at the beginning of the Bible, where God created the original “heavens and earth”. A new universe, or rather, a renewed universe, because it will be the same matter in the same space, but made better, made clean, made holy.

Now note that John sees “the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God.” The imagery of Jerusalem shows that this is the sanctuary of heaven; it is the place where God lives. That holiest place in all of reality will come down to the earth. John hears a clear explanation of what this means: “God will dwell with man, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.”

God living directly among his people. That is the endpoint of history. That has been the purpose of the universe all along. That is what eternal life is all about.

The rest of Revelation paints a picture of a city with a garden, the temple of heaven in a new Paradise on earth. It is a picture of beauty and perfection. Eternal life is a life of joy. It makes up for all pain and suffering that we endure here and now. “God will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (Rev. 21:4)


This eternal life of joy is what God has promised to us. He will restore us and glorify us, in such a way that we will live the life for which we were made, a life of perfect fellowship with him. If you believe in Jesus, you should already experience some of that joy. A small beginning. But that small beginning is a promise of much more to come. I shall after this life possess perfect blessedness, such as no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man conceived—a blessedness in which to praise God forever.

Reading/listening questions

  1. What did the Garden of Eden show about the purpose of our life?
  2. According to John 17:3, what does it mean to have “eternal life”?
  3. What does it mean that we are “a new creation” (2 Cor. 5:17)?
  4. According to Rom. 14:17 how should the Kingdom of God be visible in our lives?
  5. In Rev. 21:2, John sees “the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God.” What does this tell us about the future?

Suggested Bible reading schedule

MondayPsalm 16. What do v. 9-10 teach about the resurrection of the body?
TuesdayPhilippians 1:18b-26. What does v. 23 say about what happens when believers die?
WednesdayRevelation 6. What are the “souls” John sees underneath the altar? What are they waiting for?
ThursdayJohn 11. What does it mean for Jesus to say: “I am the resurrection and the life”? (v. 25)
FridayPhilippians 3. What does v. 21 say about what happens to us when Jesus Christ returns?
Saturday1 John 3:1-3. What does v. 2 tell us about our resurrection body?

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