For most of us, the statement life is a gift is one that we would not only agree with, but probably take for granted. But what exactly do we mean when we say that life is a gift?
For a Christian, one verse that would certainly spring to mind is Romans 6:23, the verse quoted above. In this verse, Paul is speaking about eternal life and stressing the fact that this eternal life can be ours only by the grace of God and as a gift from God. Paul draws a contrast between this gift of eternal life which comes from God and the wages of sin which is death. Paul’s basic point is true and deeply humbling. As human beings, we all struggle with the reality of a sinful nature. Everything we do, even the best things we do, is thus tainted by the effects of sin within our hearts. Because motive is as much part of a deed as the deed itself, the result is that our deeds, even our best deeds, cannot and will not earn eternal life. Even our best deeds, tainted as they are by our sinful motives and imperfect as they are in practice, will inevitably result in death. This means that if we want eternal life, we must be willing to receive and accept life as a gift from God, and not as a reward for our efforts.
Those who do not align themselves with the Christian faith might well respond to this by saying that this eternal life about which Christians make so much, is no big deal and is of no real relevance to them. But to say this is to demonstrate that one does not know the true meaning of eternal life, or for that matter, of life itself
The problem is that many people only think of life in biological or sociological terms. For them, life by definition does not include God. The Bibles definition of life is however very different from this. Of course, in Biblical terms, life includes biological life, for we read that in the beginning God created man and breathed into him the breath of life” with the result that the man whom God created became a living being” (Genesis). This is what Paul is referring to in Acts 17vs25 when he says that God gave all men life and breath and everything else. But Paul goes on to state that God the life-giver has given us life so that we would seek for Him and hopefully find Him, since (in the words of a Greek poet) that the fact that God is the giver of life means that we live and move and have our being in Him” (Acts 17vs28). This means that a fundamental aspect of what we call biological life is the purpose of life, something we know instinctively to be true. And the primary purpose of life is that we to whom God has given life and breath should find and know the God who created us (see Acts 17vs27).
Strikingly enough, Paul says exactly the same thing about life as a sociological reality – life in community if you like. In Acts 17vs26, again echoing the teaching of Genesis, Paul tells us that God the life giver, is the One who orders our world, including nations and cultures. God has thus created us as living beings to express this life in community with other people. Another way of saying this is that true life is deeply relational, a fact that we know all too well, especially when our relationships flounder or we lose someone we love.
It is this fact that life is a gift from God to be expressed in relationships, particularly a relationship with God, that Jesus has in mind when He defines eternal life as knowing the only true God and Jesus Christ” whom He has sent” (John ). For Jesus, to know God is to have life and by implication, not to know God, is to forfeit life and to suffer death. This is precisely what we see in Genesis chapter3. The moment the man and the woman, deceived by the evil one, turned their back on God the life giver, they lost their relationship with God and fell under the sentence of death. From that day on, they knew from bitter experience that the wages of sin is indeed death. What is absolutely amazing, and a testimony to the grace of God the life giver, is that even in the midst of judgement, God made a promise that through the fatal suffering of the seed” of the woman, the evil one would be overthrown, death itself turned back and life in the true sense of the word restored.
What Jesus claims in John 17vs3, what Paul declares in Romans 6vs23 and what the New Testament as a whole affirms, is that Jesus is that seed of the woman, the restorer of life. To a world living under the shadow of death, Jesus is Gods gift of life. To trust in Him is to know God and thus to have life as it was always meant to be, not life without God but life with God and in community with all who know Him.