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Many passages seem to suggest that one becomes born again and obtains eternal life on this side of eternity (before death).

For example, regarding eternal life, the Apostle John said:

24 Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.
[John 5:24 ESV]

36 Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.
[John 3:36 ESV]

11 And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. 12 Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.
[1 John 5:11-12 ESV]

Notice how John seems to refer to eternal life as a present reality that we already possess, right now, if we have believed in the Son of God.

John Piper arrives at a similar conclusion:

Stage 5: We Have Eternal Life Now

In believing we have eternal life NOW, not just in the future.

In John 5:24 Jesus says, "Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life [not "will have" but "has"—now!], and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life." In other words eternal life is not something you wait for after death. It is something you have NOW if you are believing in Jesus.

Believing is the link that unites us with the life of God in Christ now. If we have Christ, we have his life now. And his life is eternal.

[...]

Stage 7: Not Interrupted at Death

Eternal life is not interrupted at death.

In John 11:25–26 Jesus says, "I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me shall live even if he dies, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in Me shall never die." I think what he means is this: Everyone who has eternal life by faith will never have that life stripped away from him; even if he dies, he will live. Physical death will not turn eternal life into temporary life.

(source)


John 17:3 sheds further light on the true meaning and implications of eternal life:

3 And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.
[John 17:3 ESV]

Eternal life thus entails knowing both God and His Son, Jesus Christ. But then John explains to us in other passages what it means to know God and how this knowing happens in this life. If we know God in this life, then from John 17:3 it would seem to follow that we also obtain eternal life in this life:

7 Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. 8 Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. 9 In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. 10 In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.
[1 John 4:7-12 ESV]

23 Jesus answered him, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.
[John 14:23 ESV]


Similarly, regarding spiritual rebirth, Peter said (note the present & present perfect tenses):

3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, 5 who by God's power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.
[1 Peter 1:3-5]

20 He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you 21 who through him are believers in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.

2 Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart, 23 since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God;
[1 Peter 1:20-23]

And a similar idea was expressed by the Apostle Paul (once again, note the present & present perfect tenses)

17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.
[2 Corinthians 5:17 ESV]

10 For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. 11 So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.

12 Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. 13 Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness.
[Romans 6:10-13 ESV]


Questions

According to Christian mortalists (a.k.a. 'Soul sleep' advocates):

  • Are we born again in this life?
  • Does eternal life begin in this life?
  • If so, what happens when we die? Does eternal life continue while we are physically dead (i.e. between death and the resurrection)? Can a Christian be dead (biologically/physically) and have eternal life simultaneously?
  • Does eternal life begin in this life, stop when we die and resume when we are resurrected? If so, how can it be eternal if it has gaps?

Related questions

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    Feb 15 at 3:41
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2 Answers 2

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These questions use the expression "this life". 1 John 5:11, quoted in the Question, contains those two words, but "this" is used in the same sense as the other six instances of "this" in that chapter, simply as a demonstrative pronoun.

I'll assume that "this life" in the questions refers to the state of being physically alive and capable of dying.

Many passages seem to suggest that one … obtains eternal life on this side of eternity (before death).

Notice that most of the quoted passages are conditional.

If one follows Jesus's teaching, one is assured of eternal life, and so it's okay to say that one has eternal life. But one has it only in the sense that one will lose it the next time one stops following Jesus, by sinning.

(Compare with saying that medical students have brilliant careers ahead of them.)

Are we born again in this life?

No.

Jesus described what happens after being born again:

“That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit.” — John 3:6–8

Many today claim to be "born again", but what they really mean is that they feel like they've taken on a whole new life with new meaning. None of them can move like the wind, so obviously none of them have been born again in the sense Jesus spoke of.

Being born again is the transition from a mortal physical being to an immortal spirit being. For those saved during this age, it will happen at Christ's return, whether physically they are dead or still alive.

Does eternal life begin in this life?

Yes and no.

Life is life; it begins at conception (or whenever it begins, before or at birth, but let's not debate it here). That initial mortal life can become immortal (when the saved individual is born again as a spirit being), but it is the same life, simply with a new attribute.

(Compare with does being male or female begin before puberty.)

If so, what happens when we die? Does eternal life continue while we are physically dead (i.e. between death and the resurrection)? Can a Christian be dead (biologically/physically) and have eternal life simultaneously?

Those saved during this age that die before Christ returns will have eternal life when they are resurrected. But that gift was already given and guaranteed to them at the time they died.

(Compare with being given a present, and told not to open it until tomorrow. Do you have that present before you open it? Does it exist before you open it?)

Does eternal life begin in this life, stop when we die and resume when we are resurrected? If so, how can it be eternal if it has gaps?

Life begins in "this life". Life pauses at death. Life resumes at resurrection (as an eternal spirit being at the first resurrection, as a mortal physical being at the second).

(Compare with writing in script, "some words". The marks represent the physical location of the pen point on the two dimensional paper: two continuous parts of a line, with a gap between from when the pen was briefly lifted into a third dimension. Is it meaningful to ask about the state of existence of the line during that gap?

If a different coloured ink were used for the second word, did the colour of the line change at the end of the first word or at the beginning of the second word? (Or in writing "… an example of italic: word …". There's a guarantee that the word will be different, but was it different during the gap?)

Such questions are just as meaningless as questions about life between death and resurrection.)

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Are we born again in this life?

John 3:5 Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.

If a person is not born again in this life, then he/she will not be able to enter the Kingdom of God. The author of Hebrews clarifies that we have only one chance at life:

Hebrews 9:27 And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment:

So it is plain that one has to be born again in "this one life" if he/she has to enter Heaven.

The illustration of Jesus regarding the wind describes how a person is born again, and not about the person becoming wind once he is born again. Just how one cannot know where the wind is coming from and where it is going, likewise it is impossible to know when or how a person is exactly born again. It is a mystery that only God knows and understands. Paul says:

2 Cor 5:17 Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.

John says that we are "now" the sons of God but we will become like Him physically when He appears the second time:

1John 3:2 Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is.

Does eternal life begin in this life?

John 11:25,26 Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die. Believest thou this?

Jesus talking to Martha said the quoted verses. Further, Peter says:

1Pet 1:23 Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth forever.

The process of rebirth is a spiritual one (born of the Spirit). Physical change happens at the second coming of Jesus. But the spiritual birth happens through the medium of the Holy Spirit by the word of God. Just like the word of God is eternal, the new creature born of the incorruptible seed is eternal.

2Pet 1:4 Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.

Peter also says that by being born again, we become partakers of the divine nature of Christ. That is the reason why Jesus says though he dies yet shall he live. We are linked to the divine nature of Christ when we accept Christ. Because Christ is God and God is immortal by definition, and Christ is our life, we become in a sense eternal too.

If so, what happens when we die? Does eternal life continue while we are physically dead (i.e. between death and the resurrection)? Can a Christian be dead (biologically/physically) and have eternal life simultaneously?

Paul says:

Col 3:3,4 For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory.

When we are born again, our life becomes hidden in Christ. When we die, the physical body dies and our thoughts cease, but we are not dead because our lives are hidden in Christ. I would like to bring 2 different perspectives into view here.

  1. Christ compares death to sleep. Are we aware of our thoughts when we sleep? If we are aware, then we are not sleeping. Yet, are we alive? Yes. When we sleep, we are physically alive but we become unaware of our living status. Our thoughts resume consciously only when we wake up. Similarly, when we die, our soul sleeps in Christ. When Christ who is our life shall appear, then we will also live (wake up) with Him. Just because we are unaware, does not mean we are dead. Just because the physical body ceases to exist, it does not mean we are dead. Our lives are hidden in Christ until the resurrection. But our thoughts cease.

Job 14:12 So man lieth down, and riseth not: till the heavens be no more, they shall not awake, nor be raised out of their sleep.

  1. From God's perspective, the time we are dead is like a night to Him. (1000 years are as a night that passes). The resurrection of Saints is to God, just like normal people getting up in the morning after a good night's sleep. We don't really understand how life works. A good example would be "light". The Bible is clear that light existed before the sun came into existence. So the sun is not the source of light but rather the ruler of the day. What would happen if the sun were to cease to exist? Going by the word of God, light would still exist. How can this be? We don't understand. Similarly, when God says our life is hidden in Christ and that we sleep when we die, we simply take it like that.

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