Why Eternal Life in the Next Life Is Not Enough

Eternal life is the promise that death is not the end, that there is life after death. It’s the promise that both my body and this world can continue after death in the presence of God. And this promise matters. As Paul says, “If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable” (1 Corinthians 15:19). But the reverse is also true. If for the next life only I have hope in Christ, I am also lost. By itself, even the glory of an eternal life is not enough.

Learning to Love to a New Level

Without losing sight of eternal life, Paul calls this nearer mortal hope “life in Christ.” For Paul, to be a Christian in this world is to be in Christ. As a Christian I must hope in Christ (1 Corinthians 15:19), rejoice in Christ (Philippians 3:3), have faith in Christ (Galatians 3:26), be wise in Christ (1 Corinthians 4:10), speak the truth in Christ (Romans 9:1), pray in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:20), be created in Christ (Ephesians 2:10), love in Christ (2 Timothy 1:13), triumph in Christ (2 Corinthians 2:14), sleep in Christ (1 Corinthians 15:18), trust in Christ (Ephesians 1:12), be one in Christ (Galatians 3:28), find consolation in Christ (Philippians 2:1), and, of course, live in Christ (Romans 8:2). Everything I do, I must do it in Christ.

This “in” is decisive. It’s the difference between life and death. It’s the difference between wanting love and being in love. Something changes when you are in love. It’s not just that a new person is added to your life, one person among many. It’s that this new person changes for you what it means to be alive. Life is no longer just lived. Now, life is lived in love. You may keep the same job, have the same friends, and eat the same food, but something basic about why you do these things, or even how you do them, will have changed. This difference may be obvious or subtle, but it will certainly be deep. In love, life as a whole feels different. You see what you didn’t used to see. You hear what you didn’t used to hear. You care for things you’d ignored. You become capable of doing things that, last week, you weren’t able to do.

Life in Christ is like this. In Christ, the way I live—my manner of living—is changed from the inside out. Like being in love, living in Christ changes what it means to be alive. Living in Christ, I carry myself differently. I desire differently. I love differently. I greet pain and loss differently. I fail differently. I succeed differently. I part with the past differently. I respond to the present differently. I look to the future differently. In Christ, I hold time itself in a very different way.

Living Time in a Different Way

In the end, this last difference is the biggest. Life is made out of time. To live a different kind of life in Christ is to live time itself in a different way. Living in Christ, I discover a new way of being in time. In Christ, I repent. The past no longer owns me, the present isn’t held at arm’s length, and the future stops undermining me. Instead of waiting for Christ, I find that Christ is already given. I wake up to discover what was true all along, that Christ is “not far from every of one of us: for in him we live, and move, and have our being” (Acts 17:27–28).

This, at root, is what life in Christ looks like. Life in Christ turns on a new way of handling time. Rather than just storing up salvation for the future, life in Christ saves my life as I’m living it. In Christ, the veil grows thin and eternity starts bleeding into time. The next life, a life lived in the presence of God, gets underway before I’ve even died. . . .

In Christ, it’s possible to die while you’re still alive. And having died early, it’s possible for your resurrection to begin before you’ve even left this world.

In Christ, time’s grip loosens and things start happening out of order. This is what a Christian life looks like: you’re born, you’re buried with Christ, your resurrection begins, and then you die. If Christ has his way, we’ll all die before we’re dead and every one of us will yield our lives, here and now, to an early resurrection. . . .

In this sense, resurrection isn’t only for the next life. It’s meant, all the more, for my troubled present. If I insist on postponing my death, then I also insist on postponing my redemption. But if I’m willing to let those selfish parts of me die now—long before my body fails and my heart stops—then Christ’s resurrection can also begin to take hold of my body now. I can share in Christ’s life in this world and in this flesh. . . .

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Get more thought-provoking insights from Adam S. Miller in An Early Resurrection.

Along with Nephi, "we talk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ," (2 Nephi 25:26) but in all our talking and learning, have we learned how to live in Christ? What does a life in Christ look like—or feel like?

In this thought-provoking exploration of the writings of the Apostle Paul and Book of Mormon prophets, Adam Miller examines what life in Christ looks like. How can we let ourselves and our own desires die so we can be born again to a new life, a full life in Christ, here and now in this mortal life?

Embark with the author on this journey—at once scriptural, philosophical, and literary—and discover one way to share a life with Christ as if he were present today.

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