via Jonathan Landry Cruse –
Each Lord’s Day, Christians around the world end their confession of the Apostles’ Creed by affirming belief in “the life everlasting.” It’s a glorious affirmation. Too often, though, the words are barely off our lips before we’re scanning the bulletin to see what’s next.
But the phrase provides much-needed medicine for the believer’s soul, antidotes for the anxieties of life in a fallen world.
Here are four things to consider the next time you recite the Creed’s conclusion—four things that will help fix your eyes on eternity with Christ.
1. ‘The life everlasting’ starts now.
The most remarkable thing about the life everlasting is that we don’t have to wait for it; it begins now in the hearts of those who have placed their faith in Christ. As the Heidelberg Catechism puts it, “Even as I already now experience in my heart the beginning of eternal joy, so after this life I will have perfect blessedness” (Q. 58).
Likewise, the apostle Paul declares we have been “made . . . alive together with Christ” (Eph. 2:5), we have been “raised with Christ,” and our lives are “hidden with Christ in God” (Col. 3:1–3). These are not predictions. They are pronouncements of what’s true of us now.
These are not predictions. They are pronouncements.
Because we’re united to Christ, who has entered eternal glory, it can be truly said that we have entered too. Recognizing the nowness of this eternal identity changes us. Sin becomes unattractive since we know it will have no place in glory. Indeed, death to sin and growth in grace is life everlasting coursing through our spiritual veins. And our maturing in faith is a result of God’s promise to fit us for heaven, qualifying us “to share in the inheritance of the saints in light” (Col. 1:12).
2. ‘The life everlasting’ makes this world enjoyable.
David describes the life everlasting as the “fullness of joy” and “pleasures forevermore” (Ps. 16:11). Knowing we will one day enjoy God perfectly means we can start properly enjoying the things of this world.
Unbelievers are in a sad predicament: the desire for eternity has been placed into their hearts (Eccl. 3:11), but they seek it apart from God (Rom. 1:21). Things from which they expect happiness only leave them empty. The trouble with idolatry is that it doesn’t work—a temporal or material object cannot give eternal satisfaction. Hollywood director Woody Allen captured this struggle honestly: “I don’t want to achieve immortality through my work; I want to achieve immortality through not dying. I don’t want to live on in the hearts of my countrymen; I want to live on in my apartment.”
But you know what? Once I’m assured I’ll live in blissful communion with God, I can actually enjoy my work and my apartment. Since the life everlasting assures me true happiness is coming in the next world, I’m freed to enjoy this world for what it has to offer—and not to despair by trying to get things from it that it can’t offer. The good gifts we receive in this life can be appreciated as just that: gifts, not failed gods.
3. ‘The life everlasting’ fulfills our purpose.
In the Apostles’ Creed, we say we believe in the life everlasting after we’ve confessed belief in “the resurrection of the dead.” Resurrection precedes the full blessings of eternal life. The consummation of glorified life comes at Christ’s return when “the dead in Christ will rise” (1 Thess. 4:16)—sinless souls and incorruptible bodies will be united to finally and perfectly fulfill humanity’s call to glorify God.
This means eternity holds out more than just peaceful rest. We will reign (2 Tim. 2:12; Rev. 22:5), we will judge (1 Cor. 6:3), and we will worship in joy (Rev. 7:9–12; 22:3). And we have good reason to believe we’ll set our hands to various kinds of meaningful work (Isa. 65:21–23).
To have faith in the life everlasting is to have faith in fulfillment. One day soon, we’ll be able to do the very thing we were made to do. It means more than being spared the frustrations of failure, but actually securing the joys of success. We will be the new humanity who inhabit the new heavens and the new earth—those fallen in the first Adam but redeemed and restored by the second Adam.
4. ‘The life everlasting’ is lived with Jesus.
Believers and unbelievers alike recognize there’s more to life than living forever—DNRs are just one proof we know more time won’t cure all our problems.
The companionship of Christ, more so than the length of days, is what makes the prospect of eternal life so breathtaking. As Psalm 23 teaches, “forever” would mean nothing if it didn’t come with the hope of “dwell[ing] in the house of the LORD.” We should be gladdened, not simply by the length of days but by the One we get to live them with: “You make him glad with the joy of your presence” (Ps. 21:6).
To have faith in the life everlasting is to have faith in fulfillment.
Paul highlights the difference between life now and the life to come: “Now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face” (1 Cor. 13:12). The sin that blurs our vision of Christ will be removed, and we will behold him with crystal clarity (1 John 3:2). Theologians have sometimes referred to this as the “beatific vision”—literally, the sight that will make us glad.
We must share the conviction of the great Puritan Samuel Rutherford, who once said, “O my Lord Jesus Christ, if I could be in heaven without thee, it would be a hell; and if I could be in hell, and have thee still, it would be a heaven to me, for thou art all the heaven I want.”Heaven is heaven because of Jesus.
What could be better? Nothing. And that’s what makes “and the life everlasting” a fitting end to this ancient summary of Christian belief.
Jonathan Landry Cruse pastors Community Presbyterian Church (OPC) in Kalamazoo, Michigan, where he lives with his wife and children. He is the author of several books, including What Happens When We Worship (Reformation Heritage, 2020).