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“This is Life Eternal”
“And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.” (John 17:3)
When Moses approached the burning bush, the Lord God said to him, “Put off thy shoes from off they feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground” (Exodus 3:5). That is exactly how I feel every time I read, or attempt to preach from the 17th chapter of John. This is The Lord’s Prayer, the intercessory prayer of our great High Priest, the Lord Jesus Christ. As he anticipated his death upon the cross, the glorious consummation of his obedience to God as our Substitute, these are the words he spoke to God the Father on our behalf.
“Father, the hour is come.” — The hour he is talking about is the hour of his death, the hour of our redemption, the hour for which the world was made.
“Glorify thy Son.” — He elaborates on this in verse 5. “Glorify thou me with thine own self, with the glory which I had with thee before the world was.” Exalt me to your throne; give me the dominion over all things; magnify me as Lord over all and King forever; give me pre-eminence.
“That thy Son also may glorify thee.” — Give me the rule of the world as the Mediator of my people, as their Head and Representative, that I may save all the people of your love, all elect sinners, for the everlasting praise, honor, and glory of your name. We know this is the meaning of verse 1 because he says so in verse 2.
“As thou hast given him power over all flesh.” — This power was given to Christ our Surety in the covenant of grace, as the result of his pledged obedience unto death. When he finished the work of redemption and ascended back into heaven, the Triune Jehovah turned over to him, the God-man, our Redeemer, the reins of the universe, — “power over all flesh.”
“That he should give eternal life to as many as thou hast given him.” — The purpose of Christ’s exaltation, power, and dominion is that he might, by the power of his omnipotent grace, give eternal life to chosen sinners, redeemed by his blood.
Eternal life, in the experience and knowledge of it, begins here on earth. Though it is eternal (without beginning or end), it begins in us as soon as we are born again. When you trust Christ, you receive from him the same life that you shall have throughout eternity, — His life! It is “Christ in you, the Hope of Glory!”
The life of a new born child of God, who has just a moment ago begun to call upon the name of the Lord, is the very same life that is possessed by Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Moses, and Elijah, who have been in heaven for thousands of years. Eternal life is like a mighty river. It deepens and widens as it flows. But it is the same river which began when Christ, the Water of Life, first sprang up in your soul. We “grow in grace,” but you’ve got to have life to grow. “We see through a glass darkly:” but we do see. And you’ve got to have life to see. It is true, we only “know in part;” but we do know. And you’ve got to have life to know.
When the believer dies, he does not suddenly enter into a new life. Death simply rids us of this cumbersome body of flesh, the body of sin, the old nature, which hampers our enjoyment of life. When we drop this body of flesh, then we shall fully enjoy eternal life, the life of Christ imparted to us in the new birth (Romans 7:24-25).
Eternal life begins here, in the new birth. It is not something awaiting us in heaven. It is “Christ in you!” To have eternal life is to be made, by the grace of God, a “partaker of the divine nature.” It is to have Christ formed in you.
This eternal life is the gift of God the Father! — “The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 6:23). — “This is the record that God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son” (1 John 5:11). We were born in spiritual death. We deserve eternal death. But God has decreed and promised to give chosen sinners eternal life.
This eternal life is the purchase of God the Son! — “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). — “He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him” (John 3:36). With his own blood, the Lord Jesus entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal life for us. Our Savior said, “I am come that they might have life!” (John 10:10). — “Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit” (1 Peter 3:18).
“Living, He loved me,
Dying, He saved me,
Buried, He carried my sins far away,
Rising, He justified freely forever!”
This eternal life is the work of God the Holy Spirit. — “It is the Spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profitteth nothing” (John 6:63). Eternal life is bestowed upon helpless, dead sinners by the sovereign, irresistible work of God the Holy Spirit (John 1:11-13; 3:3-8).
Given to God’s Elect
This eternal life, the gift of the Father, the purchase of the Son, the work of the Spirit, is given by Christ to all those the Father gave to him in the everlasting covenant of grace. Eternal life is the gift of the Triune God to his elect.
Our Savior is not a beggar, waiting for you to let him come into your heart. He is the almighty, sovereign King of kings and Lord of lords! He is not in your hands. You’re in his hands! He says, “All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth” (Matthew 28:18). — “Thou hast given him power over all flesh, that he should give eternal life to as many as thou hast given him.” There are many who have been given to Christ from eternity, whom he must and will save (John 6:37-40). All whom Christ had given to him in eternity he will give eternal life in time (John 10:24-28). The evidence and proof of a person’s election in eternity is the gift of eternal life in time (1 Thessalonians 1:4-5; Acts 13:48).
What is it?
“And this is life eternal.” What is it? What is eternal life? Can it be defined? Can it be described? Hear what the Son of God says, — “This is life eternal, that they might know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.” Eternal life is the knowledge of God in Christ.
Eternal life is knowing the Lord God, the only true God. Before Adam sinned, he knew God. He walked in God’s presence and talked with God, as a man talks with his own familiar friend. But when he fell, Adam lost everything. He lost life. He lost righteousness. He lost all light regarding all things relating to and about God. He lost the knowledge of God. He lost peace.
No man by nature knows or can know God. Our Lord said, “Neither knoweth any man the Father, save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal him” (Matthew 11:27). — “Ye neither know me, nor my Father” (John 8:19). All men think they know God, and know all about God; but no man by nature knows God!
Yet, man must have a god. As a dog must have a master, so man must have a god; and he will find a god of some kind. Man’s ignorance of God has led him into every imaginable form of idolatry and superstition. There is hardly a creature, a power, or an element of nature that man has not worshiped as god! All men by nature “worship and serve the creature more than the Creator” (Romans 1:25). And the more educated and brilliant a man is the more ridiculous and base is his idolatry (Acts 17:22-23)
Man’s ignorance of God is such that he always rejects light and chooses darkness, and turns from the truth of God to vain philosophy, heathen superstition, and religious tradition. Did not our Savior tell the Pharisees this? – “I am come in my Father’s name, and ye receive me not: if another come in his own name, him ye will receive” (John 5:43). — “My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord” (Isaiah 55:8). The wisdom of God is foolishness to man. — “There is a way which seemeth right unto a man,” and he pursues it with all his heart, “but the end thereof are the ways of death” (Proverbs 14:12).
What is it to know the only true God? Knowing God is not just having a god. Everybody has a god. Our Lord says eternal life is knowing the only true God. Knowing God is not just believing that there is a God. Whether they acknowledge it or not, everybody believes that there is a God. To Know God, the only true God, is to know him as God.
Who is God? He is the great, infinite, invisible, omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, eternal Jehovah, who made heaven and earth (Isaiah 45:12). He is God, the incomprehensible Trinity (1 John 5:7).
C. H. Spurgeon wrote, “I would not worship a god that I could fully understand…If I could put my religion in my pocket, like a box of lozenges, I should soon suck it all away!” There is in God an infinite depth of mystery, an infinite height of wonder, an infinite wideness of fulness that no man can comprehend. He is God who “upholds all things by the Word of his power!” He is God “who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will!” He is God “in whom we live, and move, and have our being!” He is God who reigns everywhere, over all things, “who doeth according to his will in the army of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth,” whose will and power no man can resist!
To know the only true God is to know him as my God! The God I have just described is God to me! God is great. God is sovereign. God is good. God is holy. God is just. And, blessed be His name, God is mine! I bow before his throne. I am aware of his presence. I worship him with reverence and awe. I believe him. I trust his Word and love his law. I trust his Son.
To know the only true God is to know him as my Father! — “Ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba (Father!) Father!” (Romans 8:15). We pray to “our Father which art in heaven” (Matthew 6:9). My Father is one whom I both trust and obey, one whom I both love and fear! I am conscious of his power and his peace, his righteousness and his redemption, his justice and his mercy. If God almighty is my Father, all is well, always! You may strip me, but I’ll still be clothed in his righteousness. You may put me in prison, but I’ll still be free in Christ. You may pluck out my eyes, but I’ll still see his glory. You may cut out my tongue, but I’ll still sing his praise. You may forsake me, but I’m never alone. I may be sick in body, but it is well with my soul. I may be pressed under the load of a thousand cares, but all will work together for my good. I may be at death’s door, but it will lead me into his everlasting presence!
To know the only true God is to have a life worth living. Before I knew him, I cursed the day of my birth, but now I thank him for a life to live. Before I knew him, I felt like a galley slave pulling his oars for no reason, with no future; but knowing him I have a reason for life and see a reason for every event in life. If I didn’t know God, I would be in utter confusion regarding life and death, heaven and hell, justice and mercy; but in Christ I see his wisdom in all things. If I didn’t know God, I would tremble at the prospect of old age, sickness, and death; but knowing him, I face these realities with peace. If I didn’t know God, there would be no joy for today, no satisfaction with yesterday, and no hope for tomorrow. To those who do not know God, the future is a blank. They call themselves “agnostics;” and they name themselves well. An agnostic is a person who knows nothing! But the man who knows God knows him “of whom, through whom, and to whom are all things!” — “And this is life eternal, that they might know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent!”
Knowing God in Christ
Eternal life is knowing the only true God, as he is revealed in Jesus Christ, his Son. Eternal life is knowing God in Christ. Many foolishly talk about knowing God in many mysterious ways, in what they call, “mystical, spiritual experiences.” But that is all nonsense.
To know God apart from Christ would not be life eternal, for God apart from Christ is an infinitely holy being, whose law I have broken. He could not bless me, whose law I have violated. He could not walk with me, for I am unclean. He could not smile upon me in my sin. But Christ is my Wisdom, Righteousness, Sanctification and Redemption. –And I am accepted in him, “accepted in the Beloved!”
It would be death, not eternal life, to know God apart from Christ, because the holy, just Lord God must punish sin. He will “in no wise clear the guilty!” — “The soul that sinneth, it shall die!” But Isaiah 53:5-6 tells me that Christ paid for all my sins. Hebrews 9:26 tells me that he put them all away. Romans 8:32-34 tells me that I am justified and shall never come into condemnation!
It would not be life to know God apart from Christ, for without Christ my body would rot in the grave and never rise again. I must forever die! — “If Christ be not raised, our preaching is vain…your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins.” (1 Corinthians 15:14, 17). But because he lives we shall live also (John 14:1-3). “This is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent!”
How does a sinner get this eternal life, this blessed, living knowledge of God in Christ? You don’t get it by nature, but by grace. Eternal life does not come by birth, but by the new birth. It is not by your will, but by God’s will. It is not by your works, but by God’s work. Eternal life is the gift of God.
Here are three things that are essential. Apart from these three things no sinner will ever have eternal life.
1. Eternal life must be implanted by grace. As God breathed life into Adam’s nostrils and made him a living soul, so God the Holy Spirit must breathe into you the breath of eternal life (John 3:8; Ezekiel 16:8).
2. Eternal life must be revealed by the Holy Spirit. God the Holy Spirit must show you the things of Christ. No one else can. He must reveal your sin to you, the cause of death. He must reveal Christ’s precious blood, the price of life!
3. And eternal life must be received by faith in Jesus Christ. I do not say that faith is, in any way, the cause of life. Faith is the result of life. I do not say, if you believe you will live. But I do say, if you live you believe. If you believe on the Son of God, you have eternal life. If you do not trust Christ, you do not have eternal life; you are yet in the gall of bitterness, dead in trespasses and in sin; and the wrath of God is upon you! – “He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life; and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him” (John 3:36).
To believe on the Lord Jesus Christ is to realize the glory of his person. — “God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself.” God was and is that Man who died at Calvary! In him God and man are reconciled. To believe on the Lord Jesus Christ is to trust the efficacy of his blood. — “The blood of Jesus Christ, God’s Son, cleanseth us from all sin!” (See – 1 Peter 1:18-20). To believe on the Lord Jesus Christ is to rest in the merit of his righteousness (Jeremiah 23:6). To believe on the Lord Jesus Christ is to rely upon the power of His intercession! — “He is able to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him” (Hebrews 7:25). To believe on the Lord Jesus Christ is to bow to his sovereign rule as your Lord.
“This is life eternal, that they might know thee, the only true God and Jesus Christ, whom thou has sent!” — “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved!”— Oh, may God the Holy Spirit cause you to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ!