by Brian R. Kenyon
We must realize, of course, that our name being in a church directory does not necessarily mean that our name is in God’s “Book of Life.” Our church directory is compiled by fallible human beings who cannot always know the heart of those on the “church roll.” Also, our church directory will include some non-Christians (such as unconverted spouses or other family members). Church directories are good, but being enrolled in God’s Book of Life is far better!
Background of God’s “Book of Life”
Other than in the Book of Revelation, the only New Testament passage that explicitly mentions God’s Book of Life is Philippians 4:3, where Paul wrote, “And I intreat thee also, true yokefellow, help those women which laboured with me in the gospel, with Clement also, and with other my fellowlabourers, whose names are in the book of life.” In the context, Paul mentioned some of his coworkers in the Lord (such as Euodias, Syntyche, Clement, and perhaps, Suzygo, but since he did not have space to mention all of them, he referred to them simply as those whose names are in the Book of Life.
God’s Book of Life is seen throughout Scripture. In the Old Testament, God’s book moved from what could refer literally to a list of those in Israel to a figurative list of those who have spiritual life. Following the sin of making the golden calf, Moses said to the Lord, “Oh, this people have sinned a great sin, and have made them gods of gold. Yet now, if thou wilt forgive their sin—; and if not, blot me, I pray thee, out of thy book which thou hast written.” (Exodus 32:31-32). Here, God’s book can refer to those listed in Israel.
While speaking of the enemies of the Lord and His people, the psalmist wrote, “Let them be blotted out of the book of the living, And not be written with the righteous” (Psalm 69:28). Here, God’s book seemed to refer to those who have physical life, but there are definite implications that the psalmist also wants these enemies to be removed from any possible spiritual life. Isaiah spoke of the Messianic kingdom, “it shall come to pass, that he that is left in Zion, and he that remaineth in Jerusalem, shall be called holy, even every one that is written among the living in Jerusalem” (Isaiah 4:3). Here, the reference to those who are “recorded among the living” is spiritual. Daniel said in reference to the Christian age, “And at that time shall Michael stand up, the great prince which standeth for the children of thy people: and there shall be a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation even to that same time: and at that time thy people shall be delivered, every one that shall be found written in the book.” (Daniel 12:1). Here again, the reference is to those having spiritual life.
Who Will Be Written In God’s “Book of Life”?
The writer of Hebrews said that “the general assembly and church of the firstborn… are written in heaven” (Hebrews 12:23). Those “written” in Heaven (i.e., God’s Book of Life) are members of the church. The term “firstborn” here does not refer to Jesus. The Greek word behind the translation is plural and could be translated “church of the first born ones,” as the plural verb “are” indicates. Here is an example where the church is named after those of whom it consists rather than after the one who owns it (cf., 1 Thessalonians 1:1). Membership in the church requires obedience to the Gospel (Acts 2:38-41, 47). In Philippians 4:3, those whom Paul mentioned as being in God’s Book of Life are his fellow laborers. This implies that these ones are faithful, struggling to “fight the good fight of faith” (1 Timothy 6:12). All of Paul’s coworkers did not remain in God’s Book of Life. Demas was once a faithful coworker with Paul (Colossians 4:14; Philemon 24), but later he pursued the world instead (2 Timothy 4:10). Those whose names are written in God’s Book of Life must keep their names written there by overcoming the temptations of the world. “He that overcometh, the same shall be clothed in white raiment; and I will not blot out his name out of the book of life, but I will confess his name before my Father, and before his angels” (Revelation 3:5).
Will Our Names Be in God’s “Book of Life”?
All of us will appear before the Judgment Seat of Christ on the last day (Hebrews 9:27; 2 Corinthians 5:10). Concerning that Judgment Day, John wrote, “And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works… And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire” (Revelation 20:12, 15). Clearly, God’s Book of Life will be a relevant volume until time as we know it is no more!
All who are accountable will receive one of two possible eternal destinations, based upon whether or not their names are written in God’s Book of Life. If our names are not found in God’s Book of Life, we can expect eternal torment (2 Thessalonians 1:9). In fact, even while upon this earth, those not written in God’s Book of Life are considered His enemies (Revelation 13:8; 17:8; Romans 5:6-10). However, those whose names are written in God’s Book of Life will be told, “Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (Matthew 25:34). Is it any wonder then that Jesus told the seventy that having their names “written in heaven” was worthy of more rejoicing than being endued with miraculous power (Luke 10:20)? Our names may be in the church directory, but when “the roll is called up yonder,” will we be there?