Jesus made a very fascinating statement in John 17:3: “This is eternal life: that they may know You, the only true God, and the One You have sent—Jesus Christ.” I don’t know about you, but I would have expected Him to present eternal life from the perspective of time. Before seminary and the opportunity to study Greek, I held the perspective that eternal life was about time without end. To be sure, there is that element in this great theological theme. We will live forever in either Heaven or Hell. This is an incontrovertible fact presented clearly in Scripture. But the phrase “eternal life” has a much greater reality.
Jesus unequivocally declares that eternal life is more than time—it is all about a relationship. It is about a quality of life more than length of life. The joy and privilege of eternal life is the remarkable privilege of knowing God and His one and only unique Son, Jesus. Unqualified time without end could become punishment. Time everlasting spent in the presence of God and our Savior, Jesus is worth the journey.
This text gives us several insights into the reality of eternal life. It is here that an understanding of the biblical language is so significant. “Know” is in the present tense, which gives us two clear insights. First, eternal life does not begin in Heaven. From the moment we repent of sin, Jesus takes residence in our lives—God becomes personal. At the moment of salvation, we become partakers of eternal life. Second, the picture is of a progressive ongoing growth of the knowledge of the personhood of God. We begin the process of learning His character and attributes from the moment we are born again.
What is the practical application of this concept? One is simply that we, who have through faith begun a relationship with God, have the joy of discovering daily more about our infinite God and His only begotten Son, Jesus. In fact, we come to know God progressively more as we come to know Jesus more intimately.
How so? John the Beloved opens his Gospel by declaring the eternal oneness of Jesus with the Father. His simple, but powerful, statement, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God,” sets forth the incomprehensible unity of the Father and Son. A few verses later, He makes clear that while no one has ever seen God, He has revealed Himself in Jesus, His one and only Son. Our ability to know God is directly related to our knowing Jesus because in the Son, God gives us full exposure to His person.
I still marvel that God cares—no, better—desires that I know Him. Greater still, He wants me to have intimate knowledge and relationship with Him now, not later. Today, I can enjoy the reality of eternal life as I surrender in repentance and faith to Jesus. Once I have begun the journey of eternal life, I have an open door to grow in my personal relationship with the Sovereign of the Universe daily.
It would be proper to ask a question at this point. How do I grow in knowledge of God and Christ? Two tools are vital in our relationship building with Christ. The first is a consistent daily reading and study of the Word. It is through Scripture that we learn of Christ and see the display of who God is. Some may read this and think I am speaking of a daily quiet time . . . I am, but much more. A quick stick of your toe in Scripture to start the day is good, but I am convinced it falls far short. I believe that a daily pursuit of the knowledge of God demands spending time discovering truth from Scripture. We are stunned that many Christians are so ignorant of the Bible and thus still in an infantile relationship with God. Immature Christians are immature because they choose to be. They walk away from the transforming power of intensive study of the Word of God, which makes plain who He is, His ways and His thoughts.
A second discipline is required for us to truly know God intimately. Times of uninterrupted prayer where we both speak and listen are essential. Relationship building centers on communication. We come to know our spouse and children not by talking, but by listening. Active listening after having entered the presence of God is a lost art in our world of noise and non-stop talk. “Be still and know that I am God” was good for the Psalmist and is still good for us.
My prayer is that you will appropriate the essence of eternal life today and not wait until Heaven. The essence of eternal life is quite simply the privilege of progressively knowing God and His Son as you daily pursue this primary relationship of the Christian life.
Anthony L. Jordan is executive director-treasurer of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma.