It is common practice in the so-called “fast food” restaurants of today that, if a customer simply orders a sandwich, the employee taking the order will ask, “Would you like fries with that?” The object of this is two-fold: firstly, to know the customer’s mind on this, and secondly to try to sell fries to the customer, because, of course, the restaurant then makes more money. If you do order fries, you might be asked if you want a drink, or if you order both you might be asked if you want a dessert. The restaurant is always eager to sell the customer on more food.
Now we do not usually think of ever receiving anything extra along with our salvation. The idea of getting salvation “with” something is foreign to most believers today. It seems that many are convinced of an idea that I like to call “spiritual socialism.” That is, that the only way eternal life can possibly be perfect is if everyone there has everything exactly equal and the same. No greater reward is allowed for one, and no lesser reward is allowed for another, for then, it is thought, things will not be perfect. One time a man expressed to me his opinion that the New Heavens and the New Earth could not be perfect, since Revelation 21:24 indicates that there will be kings there, and there could not be kings if things were perfect! I don’t think I could sum up this idea better than that. He clearly thought everyone has to be on an equal level for things to be perfect.
Well, although a society where everyone is exactly equal might be perfect in a socialist’s book, I find no indication that such a situation would be perfect in the pages of Scripture. The truth that “all men are created equal” that our forefathers in the United States so eloquently expressed does not change the fact that, through their actions, some end up more deserving than others. Of course, in this world, privilege often comes to the lucky, not necessarily the deserving. Some are born into privilege, and some into deprivation. Yet it is not so in God’s future system. The idea set forth in the Scriptures is that God’s order is perfect, with everything set up according to His judgments. If that results in some being preferred over others, then that is how it must be for things to be perfect. There is no hint of “spiritual socialism” in the Scriptures. While God does not play favorites, the fact still remains that we do not all have to receive the same rewards regardless of how we lived our lives.
The truth is that the Bible does indicate that it is possible to attain something extra along with salvation. In fact, Paul discusses this truth in the very last book he wrote, II Timothy 2:10. That verse reads:
Therefore I endure all things for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory.
This verse speaks of obtaining “the salvation which is in Christ Jesus,” but doing it “with” something. Like fries with a burger, the salvation which is in Christ Jesus can be obtained with or without this something extra, and Paul is willing to endure all the things he is going through for the sake of the elect, that they might obtain their salvation along with this something extra.
What is the “something extra” that Paul wishes these elect to obtain with their salvation? He describes it as “eternal glory.” Unfortunately, though that sounds good, it does not necessarily bring much to our minds in the way of a concrete thought about what this something extra he wanted them to obtain along with their salvation might be. We need to examine these two words and see what the Lord would have meant by them, and more particularly by the Greek words that they are translating.
I suppose we all know what the word “eternal” means in English. It means without end. And yet this is not a very good translation of the Greek word aioniou, for this word is closely related to a Greek noun aion, and there is no English noun “etern” that we can relate “eternal” to. Moreover, the Greek word aionios does not actually indicate duration, like the word “eternal” does. An aion, in its most basic meaning, indicates something that flows. This name in only slightly modified forms is still carried by many rivers in Europe, such as the famous “Avon” river upon which Shakespeare was born. The Avon River means simply the flowing river. So an aion, which we can make perhaps better English by converting it to the form “eon,” means something that flows. It particularly speaks of that which flows out or flows down. We might call it an “outflow.”
So the word aionios, coming from the word aion, means “out-flowing.” This is the idea behind so-called “eternal life.” Eonian life is not simply life forever. We know that, in this life, we are all winding down. This life starts with a rush, and at first all is growing and maturing and developing toward making this new life into a fully-grown human being. Yet very soon in the process, perhaps from the very beginning, this new life that is flowing is not flowing perfectly. Even from the very start, death is in the picture. At first we may barely notice it, so overwhelmed is it by the rush of life that comes at the early stages of human life. And yet, it is always there, and the time comes in everyone’s life where this starts to become noticeable. It is a sad but inevitable day when one realizes that getting older no longer means getting bigger and better, but instead means another gray hair, another wrinkle, another ache or pain, another thing you cannot do like you used to. Then this life, that started off with such a rush of growth and activity, begins to wind down. It seems to diminish from a mighty stream to a much slower river, and it continues to trickle down and trickle out more and more as time goes on, until finally it comes to an end. The flow of life stops, and another person is dead. Yet that is not the way it is with eonian life. Eonian life does not trickle down. It does not trickle out. It flows on and on, and does not reduce in the least. That is eonian life.
And yet eonian life is much more than just life that does not end. If I really think about it, I would have to admit that I would not want to live this life forever. Now don’t get me wrong. I fully plan on living out my expected lifespan, and I have no desire to bring that to an end early. In fact, if I could double my lifespan…spend 20 years in my 30s, 20 years in my 40s, and so forth…I think I would gladly do so. Or maybe even more than that. Yet when it comes right down to it, would I want to live this life forever? I would have to say, certainly not! For this life is so full of trouble, so full of heartache, so full of sin and sorrow and loss, that I have no doubt that as time went on life in this world would become nothing more than a weariness. Who would want to live in these sinful and messed-up conditions for all time? Surely no one would! And yet, eonian life is not this way. For eonian life is not just life that flows on forever, but is also a life that flows with every good thing from the hand of God that would make life forever worth living. Eonian life is the kind of life you would WANT to live forever.
Yet what is this “eonian glory” that Paul wants the elect to receive along with their salvation? We now know that this means “out-flowing glory.” Yet what is glory? This too is a word seldom understood. Many people will shout, “Glory!” and yet, when it comes right down to it, they have no idea what they are saying or talking about. This word has just become a sort of interjection with very little meaning. Yet glory has to do with value or esteem. When speaking of your glory, it is very similar to the reputation you have. Your glory is the esteem other people hold you in. The thing you glory in, on the other hand, is the thing you esteem as most valuable about you and in your life. So “eternal glory” is out-flowing esteem. Yet again, what does this mean?
I think at this point it will be valuable to express to my readers my conviction that our God is a flower. Not a “flower,” like the beautiful plants we all are familiar with, but a “flow-er,” One Who flows. God, in a very real way, is in a constant flow out to His people. And yet, this will be so much more true in time to come, when we will experience eonian life as it flows to us from God’s hand. In that future day, God will flow out to the world in overwhelming streams, and then truly His will shall be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
In that future day, all who have what we call “eternal life” will have that eonian life flowing to them from God’s hands. God will be flowing in a greater way than He ever has before, and all who experience eonian life will be receiving that flow. Yet it will be possible, in that time to come, to not just receive the things that flow from God. In that day, there will be many who first receive from God, and then who flow out with those things received from God to other people. We might imagine a line drawn from God to the individual representing His flow to them, and then a line out from that individual, flowing to other people. Ultimately the flow comes from God, but He can send it out through a human intermediary.
Throughout the Biblical record, we constantly see God extending His flow out to others through the use of an intermediary human being. Every time God chooses not to deal with each and every man individually, but instead deals with them through a mediator or mediators, that is God flowing through those individuals. Examples of men God has used to flow through them would be men like Moses or Joshua or David or Paul. These are men who spoke God’s words, gave God’s judgments, and demonstrated God’s power.
There were lesser intermediaries as well, like individual prophets in Elisha’s “school” of prophets. All these were men through whom God flowed, yet they were also flowed into by a mediator who was above them, Elisha. So they received God’s flow from Elisha, and then were able to flow out as prophets themselves. Another example of lesser intermediaries is found in Exodus 18:25-26. There we read:
25. And Moses chose able men out of all Israel, and made them heads over the people: rulers of thousands, rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties, and rulers of tens. 26. So they judged the people at all times; the hard cases they brought to Moses, but they judged every small case themselves.
Here, Moses is the main mediator, the one into whom God flows directly. Yet under him are now these other rulers. We can almost imagine this as if it were a series of smaller and smaller waterfalls. For we can see that under each of the rulers of thousands would have been ten rulers of hundreds. Under each ruler of hundreds would have been two rulers of fifties. And under each ruler of fifties would have been five rulers of tens. Each one of these men received their power and position flowing from God, yet each one was further along the chain of flow from God.
Yet now it becomes clear that if there are those through whom God flows, there are also men through whom He does not flow. Under each ruler of tens would have been nine men who did not flow at all. These had no one under them. Rather, they were the end of the flow. We might imagine them each as a cup receiving the water, whereas the rulers above them were more like a faucet or water pipe, receiving the water and moving it along. Yet the men at the bottom of the flow were the ones who still received the flow, but had no right to flow it out to anyone else. If we took the example of Moses’ system in Israel, we could add 1/1000 and 1/100 and 1/50 and 1/10 and we would get 13.1 percent of the people who were involved in flowing out to others. That meant the greater majority, or 86.9% of people, did not flow to others, but were at the bottom of the flow. In other words, to be one of those chosen to be a leader was an honor that few received.
So that is what I believe the “eternal glory” that one can receive along with salvation is all about. It means not just having eternal life flowing into you, but also having the privilege to be outflowing yourself. This authority to flow out is a great honor, and so it causes one to be held in great esteem. That is why it is “glory.” The ability to flow for God will be a glory indeed to those who receive it.
Now some might argue that Paul was not talking about something extra received with salvation, but rather about salvation itself. That is, that Paul was enduring so that these might be saved, not so that they might be saved with something extra. And yet a careful examination of the passage should remove any such idea from our minds. For he goes on to further define what he means, and explain how one can receive this eonian glory along with salvation in the next verses. The Holy Spirit through Paul gives us these instructions through one of His “faithful sayings.” In II Timothy 2:11-13, we read,
11. This is a faithful saying:
For if we died with Him, We shall also live with Him.
12. If we endure, We shall also reign with Him.
If we deny Him, He also will deny us.
13. If we are faithless, He remains faithful; He cannot deny Himself.
First off, I believe that this passage assures us that if we died with Christ Jesus (that is the antecedent to “Him” back in verse 10,) we shall also live with Him. That is what happens to us when we believe…God baptizes or identifies us with Christ’s death. Therefore, in God’s sight, when He died, we died. Because of this, we can be assured of our eternal life. If we have died with Him, we shall live with Him. There is just no question about this. There is no losing it. No one can take it away. It is a done deal, a sure thing. If we died with Him, we SHALL live with Him.
But then, the faithful saying informs us that if we endure, we shall also reign with Him. The old King James had “suffer” rather than “endure,” but the word “suffer” used to mean to endure in English at the time, and so the New King James has it right. What is necessary for reigning with Him is endurance. And this verse is the immediate context of the statement in verse 10. So now it seems clear to me that this opportunity to “reign with Him” is the same thing as the “eternal glory” of verse 10. For what is reigning with Him if not having the privilege of being a part of His outflow? So the criterion for attaining salvation with something extra, with the eternal glory, is endurance.
Many believers receive their salvation, but never seem to get off the starting line when it comes to living a life for Christ. Others start out well, but soon lose interest once the newness has worn off and move on to other things. The majority just seem to cruise through life, going to church and “checking the boxes” of what is demanded by the religious world, but never have much interest or take any steps towards running after Christ. Yet, if we are to receive the reward, the “something extra,” with our salvation, I believe that that is what we have to do.
I think it would be helpful to think of the life we live for God in the terms of an endurance race, similar to the illustration God uses in Hebrews 12:1.
Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,
In an endurance race, the winner does not matter. It does not matter if one runs like a professional marathon runner, or an average person, or an older person limping along as fast as possible. What is important in an endurance race is that one finish. And that is the message of II Timothy 2:12. The Lord does not demand that we run the race like a super-star. He does desire, however, that we run to the end, and finish the race, not giving up.
Going back to II Timothy, the rest of chapter 2 verse12 makes it clear that “If we deny Him, He also will deny us.” That is, if we deny Him His proper place in our lives and refuse to make the effort to endure in following after Him, that He also will deny us the “eternal glory,” the reigning with Him, that we would otherwise receive as a reward. Yet, to remind us that this does not mean that our eternal security is in jeopardy, verse 13 goes on to remind us that “If we are faithless, He remains faithful; He cannot deny Himself.” Even if we stop running the race, even if we say we no longer have any faith in Him, yet, if we died with Him, as verse 11 said, then He will remain faithful to us. Once we are identified with Christ and His death, He cannot deny us our eternal life, for to do so would be like denying it to Himself. So we cannot lose life itself, but we can lose the reward. We can lose the glory. We can forfeit reigning with Him.
It is my desire, not only that I myself would run the race in such a way as to receive the prize, but that all my readers would as well. I desire to be a part of God’s future flow, and I desire that my readers will be there in God’s Kingdom with me. Now I am certainly concerned that all my readers know the Lord, and receive eternal life at all. I would much rather see you have eternal life without eternal glory than to lose out on eternal life completely. But I would also much rather have my readers get their salvation with the prize than without it.
So I would encourage my readers to run after the Lord. Make the Scriptures like an extension of your hand. Know these words like they were engraved on your mind. Plant them in your heart until it seems they would fill it completely. Let the Lord know you are running after Him.
When a man decides that a woman is good-looking and nice and is interested in the same things he likes and has the same goals and outlook on life…that is, when he decides a woman is perfect for him, he just naturally wants to pursue her. He does not want her sitting at home while he goes out with his friends on Friday night, or while he sits at home watching television. He wants to be out there pursuing after her, getting to know her, solidifying their relationship. He wants to win this woman for himself. In the same way, we should be pursuing after Jesus Christ. We should be thinking about Him and praying to Him and reading His Word and meditating on His truth all throughout the day. We should not be stringing days and weeks together where we are doing little that would interest Him other than throwing the obligatory prayer His way for a few favors we want Him to give us.
It is like God has to pay attention to us when we wake up because we are praying. Then, when we are done, He still has to pay attention to us, because we are reading the Word. Then, He cannot ignore us because we are meditating upon Him throughout the day. Then, He still has to pay attention to us because we are studying the Word at night. We should simply not be giving God a break from our relationships with Him…we should be after Him. And He will not get sick of us or something, because we know that He is the One Who sought us out first. All of us living in relationship with Him is what He wants.
I pray that every one of my readers would run after Jesus Christ. Don’t just be satisfied going to church and checking off the boxes of the religious system of our day. Be enduring, running after the Lord. As for myself, this is what I want to be doing. I would do that even if I didn’t think I would get a reward from it, because I want to do it, because I love Him. I remember one man whom I was talking to about the Lord. He responded by calling what I was telling him my “search for inner peace.” Well, my thoughts regarding that was that I am not searching for inner peace, nor have I ever done that. But I do have inner peace, though I never looked for it. I got it as a side-effect of knowing and loving God. But I also know that I would still serve Him even if I never had a moment of inner peace again. For I do not serve Him for the things I get out of it, but because I love Him.
Well, the same is true of this. I cannot say that I am running after God just so I can be a part of God’s flow. I am running after Him because that is what I want to be doing more than anything else. Yet I know that the Lord does promise a prize. As I Corinthians 9:24 says, “Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it.” So I don’t run to obtain a prize. Yet I certainly do want to be running in such a way that I may obtain it. That is the kind of way I want to run for the Lord I love so much. I pray that you want the same.