said in John 17:3, "And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent."
Eternal life isn't living forever. Everyone lives forever, even lost people. No one ceases to exist. We all will continue to exist, even after our physical lives end, in either heaven or hell. Someone might say, "Eternal life is living forever in heaven with God instead of in hell with the devil." The scriptures say, "He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life..." (Jn. 3:36; 5:24; 6:47, 54). Everlasting life is something we already possess in this present life.
According to John 17:3, eternal life is knowing God the Father and Jesus Christ the Son. The word "know" is speaking of more than intellectual knowledge. It is speaking of an experiential knowledge; a knowledge that comes from personal experience. This word was used to describe the most intimate personal relationship between a husband and wife. Genesis 4:1 says, "And Adam knew Eve his wife; and she conceived, and bare Cain, and said, I have gotten a man from the LORD."
So, the word "knowing" that the Lord is speaking of in John 17:3 refers to intimacy. This is missing in many Christians' lives. Few Christians have entered into this relationship that the Bible calls "eternal life." All the blessings of God flow from this personal intimacy with God. If our relationship is strong, we will be too. If our personal relationship with the Lord is weak, then all the formulas and steps in the world will not bring the right results. Our priority must be having a positive, personal, vibrant, relationship with the Lord.
John 3:16 is probably the most popular scripture in the Bible. It is a wonderful passage that many of us learned by heart as children. However, we have become so familiar with this verse that many of us don't really know what it's saying.
"God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life."
The traditional way that this verse has been applied is to say God loved us so much that he gave his only Son Jesus, in order that we would not perish. That's true but incomplete according to this verse. It's true that Jesus died for our sins so that we wouldn't perish by being condemned to hell. If that was all there was to salvation, then that is more than we deserve and we could give our lives in service to God for the mercy He shed on us.
But there is much more to salvation than just getting our sins forgiven. That's the entry point. It's like the front door. The real benefit of salvation according to John 3:16 is eternal life, not just not perishing. The ultimate goal of Jesus dying was to give us eternal life; intimacy with God. A person who prays for the forgiveness of his sins so that he can escape hell, but doesn't move on to experience intimacy with God has missed the real point of salvation.
What a radical statement! Most Christians were brought to the Lord through an awareness of their sins and their impending doom if they didn't repent. They believed for an acquittal of the charges against them. They didn't want to go to hell. Once they gained an assurance that their sins were forgiven and they were headed to heaven, they lost their motivation to seek the Lord. They got what they wanted.
But the real purpose of salvation isn't just getting our sins forgiven. Don't misunderstand me. That is essential. Jesus did die for the forgiveness of our sins (Gal. 1:4; Mt. 26;28; Rom. 4:25; Heb. 10:10). It's impossible to have relationship with the Lord without getting our sins forgiven. Therefore, the forgiveness of our sins is an absolutely vital part of salvation.
The real benefit of salvation is intimacy with God, not only in the future, but right here, right now. Sin just happened to be an obstacle that stood between us and intimacy with God. Therefore, it was dealt with and removed. However, the Lord didn't accomplish all this so we could just be delivered from future punishment. He did it all because He loved us and wanted intimate relationship with us now. He couldn't have that intimacy with us as long as we were stained by sin. So, He did remove the sin from us as far as the east is from the west (Ps. 103:12), but for what purpose? So, we wouldn't go to hell? Yes, that's a benefit, but the real purpose was to bring mankind back into relationship with Him; not just after we die but right now.
With that in mind, it is accurate to say that anyone who comes to Jesus for the forgiveness of his sins, but doesn't avail himself of the relationship that forgiveness provides here and now, is missing out on the real purpose of salvation. That means most Christians today stopped short. They aren't availing themselves of being in a close relationship with the Lord. Why not?
One of the simplest answers is that intimacy with God has not been presented as the goal of salvation. If it's not taught, people won't have faith for it because faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God (Rom. 10:17). Relationship with God hasn't been the evangelist's message. The message has been reduced to believe so you won't go to hell. Repent or else! Turn or burn!
This has gotten many people to pray what we call "The Sinner's Prayer" and only God knows if they really committed their hearts to the Lord. Many of those who came to the Lord to get rid of the fear of going to hell ceased to seek the Lord after they prayed that prayer. That's because their faith wasn't focused on having a vibrant relationship with the Lord. They wanted to escape hell and they saw Jesus as their "get out of hell free card." They should have seen Jesus and the Father as a loving God who did more than just pity them and make a provision for their release. He loved them passionately and redeemed them so He could fellowship with them.
Because intimacy with the Lord has not been the prevalent message of the church, we have many people who have associated with us out of concern for their eternal destiny, but their true commitment to the Lord is suspect. That would not be the case if we were preaching the same message as the first century church. They didn't have all the technological tools that we have. They didn't meet in churches with padded pews and air-conditioning. They didn't have any physical advantages to offer people. On the contrary, becoming a Christian in the first century often meant martyrdom.
Yet the first century faith spread like wildfire. Even as Christians were being burned at the stake and thrown to hungry lions, there was such a joy on their faces and peace in their lives that many Romans would jump out of the stands professing faith in Christ, and rush to sudden death because they wanted the relationship with God that they saw in the lives of these Christians. They had more than a doctrine or creed. They had relationship; an intimate relationship with a living God.
That's what the world hasn't seen in modern day Christians. People are tired of doctrines. They want something that will touch their present lives. Most people are suffering so badly in their present "hell" that they don't think much about the hell to come. They are trying to cope now. We have the perfect answer to the "now" problems of this life.
Christianity isn't just for the life hereafter. Of course, it covers that and that is glorious, but Jesus died to save us from this present evil world (Gal. 1:4). Relationship with God Almighty is the greatest thing in THIS life, not only in the one to come. We need to enter into this intimacy with the Lord ourselves and then as it transforms us into His image, others will want what we have.
This has been the key to my life with the Lord. The Lord revealed Himself to me with so much love that everything this world had to offer paled in comparison. It's my relationship with the Lord that has led me to a life of holiness, not some doctrine. It's my love for the Lord that has made all the hardships life has thrown at me manageable. My faith isn't in a doctrine, but in a living person. Even though I haven't figured out all the answers, I know the One who has them and I am assured that He is guiding me.
This is what separates true Christianity from religion. The religions of this world have doctrines that their followers believe, even to the degree of giving their lives. But they are motivated out of fear, not love. Love only comes from a relationship and only Christianity offers that relationship. That is what eternal life is and it is available to everyone who receives the forgiveness that Jesus provided.