Wherefore we beseech Thee that we may know the thing we love, since we pray for nothing other than Thyself to be given to us; for Thou art our all, our life, our light, our salvation, our food, our drink, our God.
- Columbanus, Sermon XIII, Irish, 7th century
“And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.”
- John 17.3
A certain amount of confusion exists among the followers of Christ as to the nature of eternal life. Every believer agrees eternal life is a good thing, but just what eternal life consists of is not clear to all alike.
Some consider that eternal life means going to heaven when they die. Considering the alternative, this is of course a very good thing. Heaven is only a temporary stopover, of course, until all things have been fulfilled and the new heavens and new earth are ready as our permanent dwelling place with the Lord. We rejoice to have eternal life and the promise of being with the Lord forever.
Others would say eternal life is that glorious sense of having the burden of guilt lifted off their backs, together with the knowledge they are forgiven. Every day they can live guilt-free, knowing they are forgiven and loved. This, too, is an important aspect of eternal life, for Jesus has borne the wrath our sins deserve, and has removed them from us, as far as the east is from the west. What joy and rejoicing this aspect of eternal life gives us each day!
Others might say that eternal life is the freedom to be themselves in Jesus, and to know that He affirms them just as they are. I hear this message from certain preachers and writers at times: Be all you can be in Jesus! It doesn’t matter who you are, He loves you just as you are. Yes, He loves us just as we are, but He is not content for us to remain as we are, but urges and assists in becoming more like Him.
Now each of these perspectives contains a measure of truth about eternal life; however in themselves, or even taken altogether, they mean almost nothing. That is, one might profess to be a believer in Jesus, and claim to have eternal life in one or another of these ways, and yet still not possess the true item.
For “this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.” There is no eternal life apart from the knowledge of God and Jesus Christ. What’s in view in this idea of knowing God is a relationship – deeply personal and intimate, continuous, mysterious, immersed in mystery, and leading to a life of glorifying God in even the smallest details. Knowing God involves us in a relationship in which Christ is our all in all, and we are being increasingly transformed into His image. Knowing God is loving God, enjoying Him in all His glory, and serving Him in every aspect of our lives. We may hope for heaven, that our sins are truly forgiven, or that we are really acceptable to the Lord as we are. But without this loving and transforming relationship with the Lord – knowing God and Christ – all those hopes will prove to be in vain. Remember those who held out their works and hopes to Jesus, only to be sent away with the words, “I never knew you” (Matt. 7.21-23).
Eternal life is the privilege, by grace, of dwelling in the very Presence of God, through Jesus Christ the Lord, by the power of the Holy Spirit, according to God’s Word. It is knowing the Presence of God in Christ and in His Spirit; knowing the power of God in His Word; and striving toward the promises of God as the compass for every aspect of our lives.
Nothing else is eternal life but the fullness of God – God receiving us into His Presence, cleansing and reviving us daily, filling us with His Spirit, opening to us His Word, sanctifying our minds and hearts and wills, meeting all our needs, satisfying our every desire, filling us with the joy of His Presence, drawing us into participation in His glory, transforming us soul and body, living His life out through us to the praise of the glory of His grace, nurturing in us that strong desire for the place where we will dwell with Him forever, and filling our lives with meaning and mission and hope in the here and now.
If you do not know the Lord in this way, take heed: Like the people of Israel in Hosea’s day, you may be looking to the trappings of faith as the measure of your confidence – going to church, teaching a Bible study, knowing lots of doctrine, being a good person, feeling good about heaven, and so forth. The people of Israel were mightily religious, and even claimed that they knew the Lord; but they were perishing for lack of a true knowledge of God (Hos. 8.2; 4.1-10). They harbored the hope of God, but had no true knowledge of Him, and so they perished apart from Him.
You do not have eternal life unless you know God, and are daily increasing in that relationship with Him (2 Pet. 3.18).
If you know God and Jesus Christ, if you truly possess eternal life, then that relationship will sustain you, stretch you, empower and transform you, comfort and preserve you, and fill you with peace and joy and hope no matter the circumstances or conditions of your life.
Eternal life is the only true life. Make sure it’s yours.
1. Today, what will tell you, and what will show the people in your Personal Mission Field, that you have eternal life?
2. How would you counsel a new believer to be always increasing in the knowledge of the Lord?
Psalm 23 (selected) (Taladh Chriosda: Song of the Christ Child)
The Lord my Shepherd is and I shall not want; He makes me lie
In green pastures, leads me by refreshing waters, still.
And though through death’s dark vale I go, I no fear of evil show,
For Your rod and staff, I know, shall guard and comfort still.
Thus goodness e’er shall follow me; mercy all my path shall see.
Your house shall my dwelling be forever after still.
O Lord, my Shepherd, draw me close so that I may know You truly, every moment, every day, so that…
To Know the Lord
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All Psalms for singing from The Ailbe Psalter. Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
 Walker, p. 121.