The Resurrection of Jesus we celebrate this week is our own guarantee of access to eternal life. Christ is the “firstfruits” of our future resurrection and life with God. The question now becomes: how do we receive this eternal life which Christ has made available?
A common belief among non-Catholic Christians is that one must simply “believe in Jesus” to obtain eternal life. The quote used most often is John 3:16:
For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.
The problem is that this is only one instance of Jesus speaking about “eternal life” and how to obtain it. On my count, there are 17 instances (including synoptic parallels) of Jesus talking of eternal life and its possession. I looked at each of these and broke them down into four general categories: Faith, Good Works, Self-Denial, and Sacraments. Here is a basic outline of each instance:
John 3:15; John 3:16; John 3:36; John 5:24; John 6:40
Matthew 19:16; Mark 10:17; Luke 18:18; John 12:50; Matthew 25:46
Matthew 19:29; Mark 10:30; Luke 18:30; John 12:25
John 4:14 (Baptism); John 6:54 (Eucharist)
Then there is one more instance of Jesus speaking of eternal life:
And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the law? How do you read?” And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” And he said to him, “You have answered right; do this, and you will live.”
This final passage, I think, sums up all the various statements of Jesus on how to obtain eternal life: if you love God with all your heart, soul, and strength, and if you love your neighbor as yourself, then you will surely have faith in Christ, perform good works, deny your passions, and receive Christ’s sacraments. And in doing so, you will obtain the object of your love: eternal life with God.