What is eternal life? What does it consist? How can we have eternal life?
In John Chapter 17, Jesus prayed: “1 Father, the hour has come. Glorify Your Son, that Your Son may glorify You. 2 For You granted Him authority over all humanity, so that He may give eternal life to all those You have given Him. 3 Now this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom You have sent” (John 17:1-3).
Many people, when they hear or read about eternal life, suppose that it means heaven. It does mean that, but it means much more. Eternal life commences here—it begins in the believer as soon as he is born-again (cf. John 3:3-7). Then he receives into him that same life which he will have throughout eternity! Eternal life is not a thing of changes. The river widens and deepens, but it is always the same river of the water of life; it always flows from the same source; it simply rids us of certain impediments that hamper our true life in its upward flow. The life of the Christian, here, is the triumphant life that is to be enjoyed hereafter! It is one and the same life so far as its real nature is concerned.
It was the great end of the life, death and work of Christ to give this eternal life to all believers. He came into the world on purpose, that they should forever live through Him. He has not accomplished His design in us, unless He has made us live unto God. There is a Savior—that we know— but He is not our Savior unless He has infused into us a life infinitely superior to that which was born in us at birth. “You must be born-again” (John 3:7). And by that new birth we must receive a higher and more divine life than that which throbs in our bosom by nature. Remember how it is written, “As many as received Him, to them gave He power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on His name: which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:12-13). The ever-living God is not the Father of dead souls, but He is the Father of those whom He has revived; and the power to become sons of God lies, in a great measure, in the life which is divinely imparted to all who receive Christ and believe in His name.
It is in the power of Christ to give this eternal life. In verse 2 of the above text, the Lord Jesus, addressing His Father, says of Himself, “For You granted Him authority over all humanity, so that He may give eternal life to all those You have given Him.” The Father has life in Himself and He quickens all who live; and even so, the Son of God, our Lord Jesus Christ, has life in Himself; and this life He imparts to all who believe in Him. It is in His power to bestow that life upon every soul that trusts Him and He delights in exercising His divine prerogative.
Christ defined eternal life in verse 3 of the above text: “Now this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom You have sent.” Let us take a closer look at it.
I. First, ETERNAL LIFE CONSISTS IN THE KNOWLEDGE OF THE ONLY TRUE GOD.
Let us think for a little while upon the lack of this knowledge. The loss of this knowledge followed upon the Fall. As long as man knew his God, trusted his God and obeyed his God, he was happy enough. But man must know the fallen spirit and, once making acquaintance with him, man must know the knowledge of good and evil. And, contrary to the Lord’s command, he must take of the forbidden fruit and eat. So he lost the knowledge of God and, with that loss, he lost everything! The highest privilege of manhood is to be acquainted with God; and when our first father turned his back upon God and began to unlearn whatever he had known of his Creator and to forget all that had been revealed concerning his Lord, then came the Fall; and it was a fall, indeed!
Out of this lack of knowledge of God grew all manner of idolatries. There is a great superior Being, our Creator, Preserver and Judge, whom we must have as our Redeemer, or else we are utterly undone. Without God, our nature is disabled and divided; its best part has run away—it becomes dead, in fact, when it becomes separated from God. It was the lack of knowledge of the only true God that led men to bow down before blocks of wood and stone, to worship the sun, moon and stars—and to set up all manner of visible objects and to say of them—“These are our gods.” Oh, to what terrible mischief, to what mental and spiritual death, the lack of the knowledge of God has led the sons of men!
Nor is this all that the lack of the knowledge of the true God has produced in us. It has spoiled the best aspirations of the noblest men such as Plato and Socrates. Blindly feeling after God, yet without truly knowing Him, what could they do? They could rise to no great height; they could accomplish but little. Men such as they reared an altar and inscribed thereon, “To the unknown god.” But what kind of prayer is that which is offered to a god whom we do not know? What comfort can come out of an unknown god? What peace, what rest, and what joy can come from a being after whom we grope in the dark, but whom we do not know? How terrible it is for those who, knowing nothing of God, seek that which will please self, indulge their vile lusts and follow their unbridled passions! What is all that, indeed, but the result of the fact that, not knowing God, they are seeking to submit themselves to some other lord?
But, brothers and sisters, what is this knowledge of God which is eternal life? Let us talk a little about the meaning of this knowledge. It is not eternal life to know that there is a God! A great many people know as much as that and still remain dead. Those who know not that there is a God remain in the dark, but those who know that there is a God and yet do not trust Him, are dead in the light! That condition is, perhaps, the worse of the two. At any rate, it involves a greater responsibility. Yet, to know that there is a God is not the same thing as knowing God. I may know that there is a Queen of England, but I may not know her personally. I know that there are many persons in the world whom I do not know and it is a sad thing for anyone to know that there is a God and yet not truly to know God.
To explain what is meant by knowing God, I must say, first, that it is to know Him as God to us. Everybody has something that is god to him; something that is superior to himself, and which rules him; something to which he looks up to and which he worships. Now, the great invisible God, the one God that made heaven and earth, in whose hands our breath is, who has revealed Himself in the Trinity of His divine persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit—the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob—the God of the whole earth, must be God to us! That means that we reverence Him, that we bow before Him as worshippers, that we submit ourselves to His law, that we seek to do His pleasure.
To know God is when we regard Him as our best friend whom we love and, in whom we delight, to whom we talk as naturally as we talk to friend or father, into whose bosom we pour our griefs, into whose heart we tell our joys. God is nearer than our most familiar friend, nearer to us than eyes and ears, nearer to us than our own body, for He gets within our soul, which our body can never do! If this is so, that we know the only true God, distinctly recognizing His presence, speaking with Him and rejoicing in Him and, if, above all, we are striving to be like He—if His Spirit in us is photographing the image of God upon our nature so that the old image, which He gave to Adam, but which was effaced by sin, is being reproduced in us by the Holy Spirit; then we know the only true God and this, dear friends, is eternal life!
II. In the second place, notice that ETERNAL LIFE ALSO CONSISTS IN THE KNOWLEDGE OF JESUS CHRIST, WHOM GOD HAS SENT
No one knows the true God in the real sense of knowledge except through Jesus Christ, for no man comes unto the Father but by the Son. But even if he could know God, in a measure, apart from the revelation of Him in Christ Jesus, it would be a knowledge of terror that would make him flee away and avoid God! It would not be life to our souls to know God apart from His Son, Jesus Christ! We must know the Christ whom He has sent or our knowledge does not bring eternal life to us. But when we see God in Christ meeting us, demanding a penalty and yet providing it, Himself, decreeing the punishment most justly and then bearing it Himself. When we see Him to be both judge and expiation, both ruler and sacrifice, then we see that “herein is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us, and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” Then it is, in the knowledge of God in Christ and God through Christ, that we find that we have entered into eternal life!
How do we come to know Christ? Brothers and sisters, we know Christ in the glory of His divine person, God and man. We have no doubts about either His deity or His humanity; we have tasted of the sympathy that comes to us through His Manhood, and we have felt the majesty of His Godhead; He is to us our brother and yet our God! We know Him, then, in the glory of His person.
We also know Christ in the perfection of His righteousness. By faith we have put on that glorious robe and we have gone in unto God with our brother’s garments on; and the Lord has accepted us for His sake; and we have come from the divine presence exceedingly comforted and blessed, “accepted in the Beloved.” We know, dear friends, now, what communion with God means. I have never seen Him, but I know Him better than anybody I ever saw! I have never heard His voice, nor do I expect to hear it till these ears are deaf in the grave, unless the Lord should first come suddenly, but I know His voice better than I know the voice of anyone on earth! I can discern it in a moment. A stranger will I not follow, for I know not the voice of strangers, but if there is any truth of God uttered, I know that truth by a kind of instinct within my soul. The charm of it is that Jesus has spoken it and it commands my immediate loyal acceptance.
Life in heaven is only life in Christ—if He were gone from the realms of bliss, there would be no life in heaven, itself—the center, the core, the soul of the everlasting joy of the redeemed lies in the fact of Christ being with them and their knowing Him! This is life eternal, to know Jesus Christ whom God has sent, and to know God in Him.
Sons and daughters of despair who are at death’s dark door: know God and Christ and you shall live! This will give you life, you disappointed ones, to whom life seems to be like a sucked orange which you would gladly throw away! This will be the cup of life, again, and put into it the nectar of true life. This will give you something to trust in! This will give you rest to your spirit, this will give you power for service, this will give you a holy expectancy for the world to come! In fact, everything that life means comes to the man who knows God and knows Christ.
I think the first step to knowing the Lord is to realise that we need Him. Let us sing the song “People Need The Lord”: