The Garden of Eden done right this time

We now walk with Jesus in eternity, or, as Paul put it in Romans 6:5, “If we have been united with him in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection.” If we got this far, of believing Jesus’ death brought us eternal life, then we can be just as certain the living Jesus will be with us as we enter it. We can now walk with Jesus in eternity like Adam walked with God in the Garden of Eden, and like the children walked with Aslan in the land of Narnia.

And what the living Jesus now does for us is open up a whole new relationship with God, far beyond what Adam ever experienced because Adam couldn’t resist evil and it wrecked his relationship with God. Jesus, however, took care of that for us in his death. He took Adam’s weakness and nailed it to the cross. It’s a weakness we all share, but Jesus died for all of us. There comes the great day in everyone’s life when we realize “our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be rendered powerless, that we should no longer be slaves to sin” (verse 6). Our old self, with its inborn weakness for evil, was killed off on the cross. What had always wrecked our relationship with God in the past was destroyed. It died with Jesus on the cross, and “anyone who has died has been freed from sin” (verse 7). 

We can now experience a relationship with God like we’ve never had, because what wrecked our relationship with him before has been buried (verse 4). Our human tendency to evil, our “body of sin,” has been “rendered powerless.” We are free of it. Thanks to Christ’s death, we can leave our old self behind, nailed to the gate, and enter eternal life with the living Christ expecting to experience something marvellously different and new in our relationship with God, because we are free of what wrecked it before. Our relationship with God has “been brought from death to life” (verse 13).   

We can now “count ourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus” (verse 11). The relationship we all lost with God, because of our inability to resist evil, has been restored. The relationship that Adam began with God before he lost it when evil got the best of him, we can now continue. Christ has got us back into the Garden of Eden to get it right this time, but this time he’s with us in the Spirit to make sure of it.     

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Experiencing eternal life now

Eternal life is to be experienced. This is what Jesus died and rose for, Romans 5:21, “so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

Eternal life is ours to experience now because of Jesus. He “brings” eternal life to us, to use Paul’s term, in two steps. First, by his death, and secondly, by his life. Jesus’ death is the first step. Through his death he brings us right up to the gates of eternal life and unlocks them for us so we can walk right in. And as we walk in, that’s when Jesus’ life takes over. God’s grace now expands from saving us by Christ’s death to actually “reigning” in our lives through what Christ’s life now brings us. 

In Romans 6:4, Paul talks of this in more everyday terms by saying Jesus was raised from the dead so that “we may live a new life.” Jesus is now alive to help us experience a completely new life. It’s like the children in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. The moment they stepped out of the wardrobe into Narnia, their lives would never be the same. Everything would be new. 

It means everything will be new for us, too. Everything will be different as the living Christ now “saves us through his life.” It’s like living in Narnia. At the beginning, everything is totally new for the children, and they have no idea what’s happening to them, or why. But gradually it begins to dawn on them what’s going on. They get a clue here and a clue there, just like Paul drops clues on us.

We know from Paul, for instance, that this new life we’re meant to experience involves rejoicing and reconciliation (5:11). We have no idea what those words mean in God’s terms because we’ve never experienced them before. But at least we’ve got a clue where Jesus is taking us. It’s a clue what this new life is like. In this new life of ours, we experience a completely new relationship with God that brings us enormous joy.

The same thing happened to the children in Narnia in their relationship with Aslan. They had no idea as they entered Narnia that they’d end up in a relationship with a lion that would be so close and so affectionate it would devastate them when he died, and bring them huge joy when he was alive again. They’d never experienced such things before. But this is what Jesus has in store for us too, as we accompany him in the new life he brought us.    

We’re in eternity, now experience it

Justified, reconciled, saved, they’re all old-fashioned words that may not mean much in today’s English. So are words like righteousness, sanctification and atonement. So, perhaps, are sin, faith and grace. And yet they’re all essential words in the explanation and description of what God accomplished for us in Jesus Christ.

Can we translate these old English words into modern terms, then, or better still, summarize them all in one simple statement? Yes, because what God is offering us is “the chance to experience eternity.” That’s what all these words are meant to convey and point to. Because of Jesus Christ, we can actually experience eternity – and experience it now, too.

It’s just like the children in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. They discover that an ordinary old wardrobe is, in fact, a portal into the magical world of Narnia. What they don’t know is that Aslan, the great lion of Narnia, had planned this for them. This was what the wardrobe was for. It was Aslan’s way of getting them out of their world and into the world of Narnia because Narnia was to be their world from now on. Likewise, Christ’s death was God’s way of getting us out of this world into his. It’s the portal we take into eternity, because eternity is to be our world from now on, too. 

We now face the chance to experience it. This is the magical moment, when we step from the wardrobe and the adventure begins. Behind us, all those old-fashioned phrases about us being sinners and God’s enemies and in desperate need of saving from his wrath, are still as real as they ever were, but none of them are barriers to our eternity anymore. Why not? Because at the moment we believed in God’s grace we stepped through the portal into eternity, where our Aslan, Jesus Christ, brings his plan for us to completion, too.

The plan being? Romans 5:11, that we “rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.” Rejoice and reconciliation – more old-fashioned words – but they describe our experience in eternity perfectly, of a wonderfully close relationship with God that makes joy easy. And how is this relationship made possible? “Through our Lord Jesus Christ” (verse 11) – first by his death (which got us into eternity in the first place), and now by his life to enable us to experience it.

Or in more modern terms, his death opened the portal to eternity, but his life opens up the experience.          

There’s lots more salvation to come

When the children in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe step into the magical land of Narnia, they have no clue whatsoever what’s coming next. Nor do we as we step into our eternal life now, but like the children in Narnia, we get clues and hints along the way. 

One of those clues is in Romans 4:25. It’s that Christ did more than die. “He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.” Christ died for us, but that wasn’t the end of his involvement with us. He doesn’t stop at the gates to eternity as we walk through them, wave goodbye to us and wish us all the best, now that his job is done. Because it isn’t done. He was also raised to life for our justification.

Our justification, therefore, didn’t stop happening with his death. His death got us to the gates of eternity, and our belief that his death unlocked the gates for us meant that all we had to do was walk in. So, here we are, we’ve walked in, “justified by his blood” (Romans 5:9), but now we find out, as we enter eternity, that Jesus was raised to life for our justification, too.

You mean, we need more justification? But surely all the justification we needed was accomplished by his death, wasn’t it? Unless, that is, there are two parts to our justification, one part successfully and brilliantly accomplished by Jesus through his death, but another part yet to come through his life.

Romans 5:10 seems to hint at this, too. “For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved by his life?” We were saved from being God’s enemies and reconciled to him by Christ’s death, but there’s more to come. We’re also saved by Christ’s life. Are there two salvations, then, too?

Yes, it looks like there are, because as we enter eternity, there’s another salvation that kicks in. Another salvation? Yes, the salvation that comes by Christ’s life. His death broke open the doors to eternity to us, but that’s not where our salvation ended. It simply opened the doors to an even greater salvation to come, involving even more grace, more justification, more reconciliation with God – or, in short, more salvation.

To stop at the gates, thinking salvation only involves Christ’s death, would have Paul running up and shouting, “No, no, keep going, there’s lots more salvation to come.”     

Just a little push, that’s all

When Christ died for the ungodly, the tumblers in the locks on the gates to eternity magically clicked to the unlocked position. The gates from now on would only need a little push to swing open. The little push needed would be our faith. That’s all, just faith, Romans 5:2, because it’s by faith we gain access “into this grace in which we now stand.” 

And what did Paul mean by “grace” in this verse? In context, he meant the promise of eternal life God made to Abraham, and the grace that made that promise possible for nothing but faith – Abraham’s faith originally, and our faith now.

Faith – Abraham’s faith, our faith, anybody’s faith – pushes the gates open to eternity. Faith in what, though? In Romans 4:17, 5:6 and 5:8, Paul says it’s faith in two things: faith, first of all, that we humans are powerless when it comes to eternity because we are lifeless, ungodly sinners, but faith, secondly, that God gives life to the dead, died for the ungodly and loved us while we were yet sinners (same 3 verses). If we believe, then, that we can’t get into eternity by anything we do but God’s taken care of that for us through Jesus Christ, that’s all that’s needed. Just a little push of faith, and the doors to eternity swing wide open.

We are free to enter eternity! 

And on the gate there’s a sign saying, “Well done!” and underneath it the words of Romans 5:9-10, “Since you have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall you be saved from God’s wrath through him! For, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!”

If we’re then wondering what happens after the doors to eternity swing open, well, for a start we never have to fear God’s anger again, verse 9. That’s a relief because religion loves the idea of an angry God. It feeds on it, relishing the fear it creates threatening people with eternal torment in hellfire. Hell’s good for business. Yes, it’s true we’re God’s enemies, and religion is right to say that, but Christ took care of that on the cross. And when we believe that, we’re not God’s enemies anymore.

So what else is on offer, now that the doors to eternity have swung open? There’s a hint in verse 10 – and it has staggering implications for anyone who dares to believe it….          

The door to eternity isn’t locked

So there we are, interested in eternity at last, rather than being totally consumed with success and everything working out right in this world. But eternity looms before us like an impenetrable castle on the hill. How does a frail, physical human get through walls that thick, ramparts that high, and gates that tightly shut? 

In front of the gates, however, are all kinds of religious folks offering a way into the castle, a secret passage into eternity if you follow them. They’re making a lot of noise trying to attract customers, but in amongst them is a little chap with a sign with just one word and a couple of numbers on it: Romans 5:6. Intrigued, you weave through the jostling crowd, reach the man with the sign and ask him what it means. “Read it for yourself,” he says, a little sharpish for your liking, but you take the slip of paper he hands you and on it you read, “You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.”  

The little chap looks at you with a “you don’t get it, do you?” look, which explains why he was a bit sharpish earlier. He’s obviously had very few takers. “Is this the secret to getting into the castle?” you ask. “Yes,” he replies, with a little more interest. “Some time ago,” he continues, “the locks on the castle gates were removed. That’s the secret – they’re not even locked. Anyone can give them a little push and they’ll swing wide open.”

He gave a little chuckle. “Hard to believe, isn’t it? All these religious folks promising clever ways of working your way into eternity, and the gates have been open all the time!”

“But how can that be?” you ask. “Well, you just read it yourself,” he replies, “it’s there in Romans 5:6. We humans can’t find a way into the castle. We were utterly powerless because God isn’t going to let ungodly humans enter eternity. But just when it seemed no one would ever make it in, Christ died for us. He took our ungodly nature and nailed it to his cross. Hey presto, we were no longer ungodly, and the locks on the gates were removed. We were free to enter.”

“So, if I believe this, I’m free to enter too, am I?” you ask. “Of course,” he replies, “and if I’d had room on the sign I would’ve added verses 9 and 10 too, but they’re on the gate, written for all those who believe verse 6 first….”

When the doors to eternity swing open

The key to our eternity is gaining access to God’s grace, because it’s only by his grace that our eternity is guaranteed (Romans 4:16). How does one get access to God’s grace, then? How do we break the lock?

Religion says we break it by our obedience to a complicated set of rules, rituals, duties, works and deeds, which some people are very good at doing. That’s probably why they love religion. But all that hard work trying to break the lock on eternity could have been spared for simply believing “the promise comes by faith.” We make our peace with God, swinging the doors open to our eternity, by faith in his grace, Romans 5:1-2. “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand.” 

We gain access to God’s grace by faith in his grace. It’s that easy. But God’s grace has always been easily accessible. We already had it, if only we knew. We had peace with God already “through our Lord Jesus Christ,” verse 1. Because of Jesus Christ we already had access to the promise God made to Abraham, that he and his offspring would become heirs of the world. There was no complicated set of rules we had to obey to gain access to that promise, because Jesus had already gained access for us. He broke the lock. 

All we need do is believe that and the doors to God’s grace and promises – and to our peace with him and our eternity – swing wide open. The grace was always there, ever since Jesus died from the foundation of the world, but faith becomes our individual key to it. We all, at one point, face the door to eternity, wondering how we unlock it. Religions and their salesmen usually jump in at that point, to offer their version of the key, but God already gave us the key. He gave it to Abraham. It’s faith, faith that God “gives life to the dead and calls things that are not as though they were.” In other words, it’s by God’s power alone that we receive eternal life, not ours, and when we believe that we suddenly have the key, too.

“We now stand” in God’s grace, verse 2. We are at total peace with him. The door to our eternity has swung back on its hinges as far as it will go. Our eternity now beckons to us. It’s like stepping through the wardrobe in The Chronicles of Narnia…