“And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent” (John 17:3).
IT WOULD BE DIFFICULT TO COUNT THE NUMBER OF THINGS THAT HAVE BEEN SAID ABOUT “ETERNAL LIFE” AND THE NUMBER OF WAYS THAT PEOPLE HAVE DEFINED THAT CONCEPT. Yet as He prayed on the night of His betrayal, Jesus penetrated to the very heart of the matter when He said, “And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.” When we have discovered what it means to “know” God, we will have learned what eternal life is.
Knowing God surely means more than simply knowing ABOUT Him. Granted, there is no knowing God without the cognitive information that He has revealed about Himself in the Scriptures, but to know Him means more than the memorization of these facts. God is a personal being, and to know Him is to have a relationship with Him that is personal as well as rational. To enjoy eternal life means that we have accepted the terms of God’s forgiveness and come into a relationship with Him that is described in the Scriptures as “fellowship” (1 John 1:1-4). Within that relationship, we learn more about God’s nature, His purposes, and His will. We begin to take great delight in thinking of Him, pleasing Him, and serving Him. We come, in short, to LOVE Him!
It should go without saying that knowing God needs to be more of a priority with us. We need to see knowing God as the reason for such things as prayer and the study of the Scriptures. Even the outward deeds by which we render service to God and to our fellow human beings should be seen as bodily activities through which we come to know God more deeply.
We cannot, of course, know God as fully in this life as will be possible later on, but we can enter into a relationship with Him that is a rich down payment on what is coming (Matthew 5:8; Ephesians 1:13,14; 1 John 3:1-3). It has been quite a long time since God said to the people of Judah, “Let him who glories glory in this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the Lord” (Jeremiah 9:24). But although our own lives are more complicated, it is still the knowledge of God that turns mere living into real life.