2 Eternal life is our relationship with God John 17:1-5

The heart of being a Christian is our personal relationship with God. It was always God’s purpose and desire that human beings would live in communion with Him. God walked with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden (Gen 3:8). We read that Enoch walked faithfully with God (Gen 5:24) and so did Noah (Gen 6:9). Abraham was called God’s friend (Jas 2:23) and God spoke with Moses “face to face, as one speaks to a friend” (Ex 33:11). God made His covenant with the nation of Israel so He could dwell among them (Ex 29:45-46) and walk among them (Lev 36:12). God calls His people to walk humbly with Him, to “live in humble fellowship with our God” (Mic 6:8 GNB). Christian faith is not mere intellectual assent to a set of beliefs. Rather it is the act of putting our trust in a Person, in the context of our relationship with God (Gen 15:6; Heb 11; John 3:16).
The essence of the Good News about Jesus is that human beings can experience the relationship with God for which we were created, by putting our trust in Jesus the Saviour. Jesus said: “Eternal life means to know you, the only true God, and to know Jesus Christ, whom you sent” (John 17:3 GNB). Some people imagine eternal life is just about living forever and never dying. In the Bible eternal life does not just mean immortality or everlasting life. Nor is eternal life primarily some spiritual aspect to life or some quality of life which never dies. Eternal life is much more exciting than that. Eternal life is the life of the age to come, which we begin to experience here and now and will continue in glory forever. In John 17:3 Jesus tells us that eternal life is knowing God, using a particular Greek word for knowing which implies personal experience. It is interesting to see Jesus using the same word meaning to know earlier in John’s Gospel. “I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father” (John 10:14-15). Christians know God in just the same sense as Jesus knew His Father. This is what eternal life is all about: to experience an intimate and personal relationship with God, which even death cannot destroy and will continue forever.
Jesus declared, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10); to “have life and have it abundantly” (NRSV). This is what salvation is all about. “A rich and satisfying life” (NLT). “I came so they can have real and eternal life, more and better life than they ever dreamed of” (THE MESSAGE). Life in all its fullness and eternal life are different ways of describing the same experience. The world is full of people racing around, looking for something to give their lives meaning and purpose, looking for something that will satisfy them and failing to find it. People are living on the junk food of entertainment and consumerism while all the time God is longing to give everybody eternal life – life in all its fullness. Being a Christian is not just knowing about God: simply knowing about Jesus Christ doesn’t count. Being a Christian is about knowing God personally in a living relationship with Jesus Christ the Son of God.
John’s Gospel says this about people who believe in Jesus: “Yet to all who did receive Him, to those who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God—children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God” (John 1:10-13). Being a Christian is about becoming God’s child and experiencing a personal relationship with the creator and sustainer of the universe, where we can call Almighty God “Our Father”. Rom 8 says the same. “For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by Him we cry, ‘Abba, Father.’ The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children” (Rom 8:14-16).
God the Holy Spirit lives in every believer so we can experience a relationship with God as our Heavenly Father. This is what our life in all its fullness and it brings us so many wonderful blessings. We experience love – knowing God loves us and that His love will never let us go (1 John 3:22). We receive joy which no one and nothing can take away (John 16:22). We know peace – the calm which comes from trusting that everything is safe in the hands of Almighty God (Isa 26:3-4). Christians enjoy victory over sin and death and the devil and all the powers of evil. We experience freedom – the glorious liberty of the children of God (Rom 8:21).
All these blessings are part of the life in all its fullness which is God’s gift to every Christian. They come to us as part of our relationship with God. That is the whole reason why God has made a way to forgive our sins. In and of itself, there is no real benefit in being forgiven. The whole point of forgiveness is that God has dealt with the sin which separated human beings from the Holy God. The purpose of being forgiven is so we can then experience a relationship with God, the relationship with God for which all human beings were designed and created. Sin has spoiled humankind’s relationship with God. But now the barrier of sin is removed we can come to know God as He knows us.
Some Christians misunderstand this point. They think eternal life is some mysterious spiritual something, some quality of life, which God gives to Christians when they are born again which stays with them forever. Some Christians think after we are born again, love and joy and peace and victory and freedom are then experiences which will come to us in some way apart from God, separately from God Himself. But that is not the way it works. These blessings do come to Christians, but they come to us through our relationship with God and not apart from Him. Knowing God brings us love. Knowing God brings us joy. Knowing God brings us peace. Knowing God brings us victory. Knowing God brings us freedom. But we only experience these things through our relationship with God.
To be completely clear: our relationship with God is not some means by which we can enjoy these blessings. Knowing God is not a means to anything. Our relationship with God is the most worthy and desirable end in itself. All the wonderful blessings of salvation are incidental to the true blessing which is the experience of knowing God. No blessings come to anybody outside of that relationship with God. 2 Peter 1:3 makes the point this way: “Everything that goes into a life of pleasing God has been miraculously given to us by getting to know, personally and intimately, the One who invited us to God” (THE MESSAGE).
We believe in the God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit; Three Persons in One Substance. God Himself, within Himself, is Three in One; is relationship and community. In our salvation God invites us to enter into that community within God Himself. This relationship is the key to understanding what salvation and eternal life are all about. Jesus describes God the Holy Spirit as our Helper, our Comforter, our Advocate. Jesus promises His disciples that through the Holy Spirit we will have the same kind of intimate relationship with God the Father as He Himself enjoys (John 14:16-18, 20, 23). Eternal life is God living in every Christian, Father, Son and Holy Spirit making their home in us. In His High Priestly Prayer, Jesus prays for believers in every generation that we will all experience that kind of close personal relationship with God (John 17:21-23, 26).
Lots of people know lots of facts about God and about Jesus Christ, even if many don’t yet believe those things to be true. However, knowing about a person is not the same as knowing the person. Some people can know a great deal about God without really knowing God personally or actually having a relationship with God. Learning about God is not enough. We each need to get to know God and deepen our relationship with Him. Paul prayed this for the Christians at Ephesus. “I ask the God of our Master, Jesus Christ, the God of glory—to make you intelligent and discerning in knowing Him personally” (Eph 1:17 THE MESSAGE). God gives us the Holy Spirit so we can know God better. To know the hope to which He has called us; to know the riches of His glorious inheritance; to know His incomparably great power at work in our lives. Sometimes it is possible to think we know somebody when actually we don’t. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus gave a grim warning that some people may think they know God when in fact they only know about God (Matt 7:22-23).
Eternal life is the relationship we have with God, God living in us, Father, Son and Holy Spirit making their home in us. We experience our relationship with God in a variety of ways. The most important are also the most obvious – prayer, Bible Study, worship, fellowship with our brothers and sisters, and of course celebrating communion through bread and cup. These are not just channels which God might use to bless us. They are the ways in which we talk to God, and He talks to us. These are the channels by which we experience the joy and peace which come from loving God and knowing He loves us. They are the ways in which we receive the victory and the freedom which come from our relationship with God.
So, we should pray and read the Bible and worship because these are the ways we experience our relationship with God. Some Christians expect that all they have to do is just sit around, and then love and joy and peace and victory and freedom will flood into their lives. They have missed the point. We will only enjoy those blessings as we enjoy our relationship with God.
The first and best expression of our relationship with God is in our prayer life. I am going to talk about prayer next week so I will just say this today. David Watson wrote, “God is the living God, and every day He wants us to enjoy a living relationship with Him, involving a two-way conversation”. Prayer isn’t just something which helps us in our Christian life. Prayer is our Christian life. Prayer isn’t a useful tool to help us in our Christian service. In Richard Foster’s words, “Prayer is nothing more than an ongoing and growing love relationship with God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.”
Prayer is not a means to an end. Prayer is not a means to the end of getting God to give us blessings; not a means to the end of being able to serve God better; not even a means to the end of getting to know God better. Prayer is an end and a worthwhile activity in itself. Prayer is about expressing and deepening our relationship with God. Through prayer we do come to know God better and trust Him more and more, but spending time in the company of family or friends is not a means to an end but an end in itself. Prayer is enjoying time in God’s presence. If we want to grow as Christians, prayer is the key. Prayer is the most exciting adventure any of us can imagine.
We experience God’s peace through our relationship with God which lets us commit every part of our lives to Him in prayer. “You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in You.” (Isa 26:3-4). Peace only comes from the act of fixing our minds steadfastly on God, relying on Him and consciously putting our trust in Him.
Joy is the same – joy only comes from our relationship with God. “You make known to me the path of life; You will fill me with joy in Your presence, with eternal pleasures at Your right hand” (Psa 16:11). Our joy comes from being in God’s presence. It is a mystery why some Christians say they are eager to get to heaven to spend eternity in God’s presence, when they don’t enjoy spending time with God now. The chief end of man, the destiny of human beings, the purpose for which we were created, is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever. Our task on earth is to learn to enjoy God – this is what life in all its fullness is all about. “Take delight in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart” (Psa 37:4). God promises we will receive everything we most desire and everything we most need, but that only happens when we are delighting ourselves in the Lord.
We also spend time with God by reading and studying our Bibles. The Bible tells us how much God loves us. We should want to spend time listening to what God has to say to us. We spend time with God in worship – giving time to praise and thanksgiving and adoration. Worship is God’s children rejoicing in God’s presence. Alone or with others, if we want to enjoy our salvation, we need to devote time to meeting with God. We won’t enjoy our eternal life, we won’t enjoy life in all its fullness, if we can’t be bothered to pray or read our Bibles or worship or meet with other Christians. When we want to know God better, the most important thing is the amount of time we are prepared to give spend in His presence.
God really wants us to know Him better, to love Him more and more, and to enjoy Him forever. Paul wrote to the Philippians, “All I want is to know Christ and to experience the power of His resurrection, to share in His sufferings and become like Him in His death” (Phil 3:10 GNB). Our personal relationship with God is more important than anything else in life.
Jesus’s parable of the wasteful prodigal son who was lost in a far country shows us how anyone can become God’s beloved child. But this leads directly on to the less familiar parable of a second lost son. He was the older brother who had dutifully remained on the family estate but all the while he was estranged from his father (Luke 15:25-32). He was just as lost but he didn’t even know it. The lost older brother gives us a picture of Christians who serve God like hired workers out of duty and cold obedience, instead of like sons and daughters out of devoted love and joyful gratitude. The words of the loving father to his lost older son are heartbreaking. “‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours’” (Luke 15:31) All the time the older son was living in the father’s house as if he was a servant, instead of as a beloved child. The lost older brother gives a picture of what life can be like if we don’t embrace life in all its fullness and the personal relationship with God which He invites us to experience with him.
Imagine if you will the tragedy of a marriage which has gone wrong. The husband and the wife never speak to each other. They never spend time together. One spouse does all the cooking and prepares all the meals, but they never eat together. One spouse always does the washing up and the other never says thank you. One spouse washes and irons all the clothes but never sees the other wearing them. That is not what a marriage should be like. The chores are there but the relationship is not. Here is a very sad parable of what the Christian life can be like for some people if their relationship with God is not as it could be.
Another story is told of a husband and wife who never spoke to each other any more. They only communicated by sending one another notes. The wife always got up early and the husband much later, but one day he had a very important early meeting. So, the night before he wrote a note to his wife explaining the situation and asking her to be sure to wake him up the next morning at seven o’clock.
When the husband woke up the following morning it was already nine o’clock and he had missed his meeting. He was so upset he actually spoke aloud to his wife. “Why on earth didn’t you wake me up?” he asked. His wife just pointed to a note she had left on the husband’s pillow. In loud capital letters the note read, “WAKE UP – IT’S SEVEN O’CLOCK!”
That is another tragic parable of the way some Christians miss out on life in all its fullness. The reality should be very different. A.W. Tozer wrote, “We are called to an everlasting preoccupation with God.” The blessings of eternal life, the life of the age to come, are all wrapped up in our personal relationship with the living God. Our relationship with God is our eternal life.

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