The fullness of Life in Jesus is found in proper relationship to the Father through the person of Jesus. This life is not simply an escape from the divine judgment of death and destruction, but also a quality of life, in particular, a life lived in fellowship with the triune God through Jesus.
In thinking about the divine life we should ask, What was God doing before the creation of the world? We might at first be tempted to reply, with some early Christian writers, that God was preparing a place for people who asked such questions! And some speculations about God in church history might make this seem the best answer. But answering this apparently abstract question can help us understand what we mean when we say that Jesus is the Life.
Admittedly, we do not know much about the activity of God before creation, but this much seems incontrovertible: Throughout all eternity, God lives a life of love between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. When Scripture says that “God is love” (1 John 4:8), it points not simply to God’s feelings but to the life that God lives. Love is a verb. God is involved in giving, receiving, and sharing love from all eternity as three distinct persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Without denying the traditional teaching that the unity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is found in a common essence or substance, thinking about God in such terms can become overly abstract. God’s unity can also be understood through the idea of relationality. The three persons of the Trinity, while wholly distinct from each other, are also bound together in such a way that they depend on each other for their very identities as Father, Son, and Spirit. In other words, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are one by virtue of their interdependent relationality. From the beginning and throughout all eternity, the life of the triune God has been and continues to be characterized by love.
Indeed, there is no God other than Father, Son, and Spirit bound together in the actions of love throughout eternity. And the love lived out by the Trinitarian persons among themselves provides a description of the inner life of God apart from any reference to creation.
God does not create humans in order finally to have someone to love. Creation reflects the expansive love of God, whereby the triune God brings into being another reality, that which is not God, and establishes a covenantal relationship of love, grace, and blessing—to draw creation into the divine fellowship of love. To participate in this fellowship is the Life. Jesus, as the unique Son of God, lives his eternal life in this reality, and he invites all of humanity to participate in this life through him.
The church, the community of Christ’s intentional followers, is called to be a foretaste of this life, this relational fellowship of love, a provisional demonstration of God’s will for all of creation. We are a people who, because we share in the Holy Spirit, participate in the eternal love of God. As such, we represent God in the midst of a fallen world through lives that reflect God’s own loving character. Only through relationships and in community can we truly show what God is like, for God is the community of love, the eternal relational dynamic enjoyed by the three persons of the Trinity.
Again, the consequences are immense. Take apologetics and evangelism. When we have conversations with people of other faiths or no faith, we must of course give a credible intellectual account of the faith. But recognizing that Jesus is not just the Truth but also the Life means that we’re not just calling them to change their worldview or to take up a new moral agenda. We’re inviting them into a relationship with God. Not an abstract, ethereal relationship, but rather a concrete fellowship of love with God through his people, a fellowship experienced here and now in the life of the church, a fellowship lived in anticipation of the climax of God’s work of new creation. To be a Christian means to participate in Life, that is, in Jesus Christ as he participated in the life of the triune God.
And once more we see that this approach to Life is so unique, we simply cannot abandon it—as if it were just another way of approaching God or living spiritually. Denial of the uniqueness of Jesus as the Life ends up compromising the distinctive Christian teaching that God is triune. Doing so cuts the heart out of Christian witness in the world.
Franke, J. R.