The Bible addresses life in three primary ways: physical life, spiritual life, and eternal life. A biblical definition of life must tackle the topic from each of these facets.
God Himself is the author of life, and all forms of life originate from Him (Genesis 2:7; Job 33:4; Acts 3:15). God alone possesses life in its absolute, autonomous sense (Deuteronomy 32:40; Acts 17:25; Romans 4:17).
Physical life is the animating force in humans, animals, plants, and all living organisms. Life is the underlying source that causes things to move, grow, and reproduce. The Bible calls this force in animals and human beings the “breath of life.” When God created Adam, “He breathed the breath of life into the man’s nostrils, and the man became a living person” (Genesis 2:7, NLT).
God is sovereign over all life. Job 34:14–15 reveals, “If God were to take back his spirit and withdraw his breath, all life would cease, and humanity would turn again to dust” (NLT). The length of one’s existence between birth and death defines a person’s physical life (see Genesis 25:7). God gives life (Job 33:4) and takes away life (Genesis 7:22; James 4:14). He determines the length of life (Job 14:5) and can even restore life to the dead (Ezekiel 37:9; John 11).
Because of the fall of mankind into sin, life in this physical body is subject to suffering, sickness, hardship, labor, decay, temptation, sin, and death (Psalm 103:14–16; 104:23; Romans 5:12–21; 6:21–23; 8:18). But Jesus came to give His followers life “to the full” (John 10:10). He was talking about spiritual life, that is, communion with God. Apart from a relationship with God, physical existence is empty and meaningless (Luke 12:15, 22–23; Romans 14:17). Understanding the definition of life from a spiritual perspective is essential.
God designed humans uniquely for spiritual life. We were created to have fellowship with Him. Both animals and humans have sentience, which is an aspect of life that enables them to perceive and feel things through the senses. But spiritual life and sentience are not the same. Creatures in the animal kingdom have different levels of sentience, some more advanced than others. But only humans can make moral decisions regarding right and wrong. Unlike animals, humans ask “why” questions about existence and grapple with other philosophical issues. God set humans apart from all other creatures, and He cares for them deeply. God created men and women in His own image and gave them authority over all His creation (Genesis 1:26–29; Psalm 8:5–6).
In the Garden of Eden, humanity rebelled against God, resulting in spiritual death, which is separation from God (Romans 5:12). Under the Old Covenant, God offered His people a choice: faithful obedience and the promise of life and communion with Him, or unfaithfulness and disobedience, which would lead to broken fellowship with God and death (Deuteronomy 30:11–20).
Under the New Covenant, restored communion with God is available through salvation in Jesus Christ. Because of Adam’s sin and the fall of man, all people are born spiritually dead in disobedience and sin (Romans 5:12; Ephesians 2:1–3). “But God is so rich in mercy, and he loved us so much, that even though we were dead because of our sins, he gave us life when he raised Christ from the dead” (Ephesians 2:4–5, NLT). Believers are given the gift of spiritual life in Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 3:6). The apostle Paul explained, “You were dead because of your sins and because your sinful nature was not yet cut away. Then God made you alive with Christ, for he forgave all our sins. He canceled the record of the charges against us and took it away by nailing it to the cross” (Colossians 2:13–14, NLT). Although Adam’s sin condemned us to death, “Christ’s one act of righteousness brings a right relationship with God and new life for everyone” (Romans 5:18, NLT; see also 1 Peter 3:18).
The definition of life for a Christian is Jesus Christ (John 14:6; Romans 14:7–9). Once we receive new life in Him, our “real life is hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:1–3). Paul said, “For to me, living means living for Christ, and dying is even better” (Philippians 1:21, NLT). Dying is “even better” for those who receive spiritual life through Jesus Christ because they have the ultimate gift of eternal life (John 6:63; Romans 6:23; 1 Corinthians 15:45; Ephesians 2:8–10). Fullness of life is found in being a child of God and in right relationship with Him. Jesus said, “And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:3, ESV).
Scripture reveals that all people will experience an endless duration of life after their physical existence on earth ends. Either they will live for all eternity in the blessing of God’s presence or endure eternal damnation separated from God’s presence (Daniel 12:2; Matthew 25:31–46; John 5:28–29). Eternal life in fellowship with God through a relationship with Jesus Christ is the definition of true life. The apostle John writes, “And this is what God has testified: He has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have God’s Son does not have life” (1 John 5:11–12, NLT).