|Knowledge and Eternal Life|
|by T. M. Moore|
|June 19, 2012|
All true knowing contributes to eternal life.
The importance of knowing how we know (11)
“And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” John 17:3
In our last installment we said that true knowledge increases to the extent that knowers at every point on the spectrum of knowledge, and with respect to any field or discipline of knowledge, move toward knowing Jesus Christ and everything in relationship to Him. We also said that it is first of all the Christian’s responsibility to know the Lord, and in that relationship to appreciate and make good use of the gifts and attainments of knowing which God has permitted from within the secular community, and to work to bring these attainments to fuller and more complete knowledge by relating them to Christ and His purposes in the world (Eph. 1:22, 23; 1 Cor. 3:21-23; 2 Cor. 10:3-5).
Now to know Jesus Christ is to possess eternal life (Jn. 17:3); to increase in the knowledge of Jesus Christ (2 Pet. 3:18) is thus to increase in eternal life. All true knowing, therefore, is in the direction of or contributes something to eternal life, or, life as God bestows and enriches it through faith in Jesus Christ. This is true for all human knowledge, not just that which pertains to “spiritual” or “theological” matters. All true knowing – including all knowledge in science, the arts, and every other field – tends toward that enrichment of human life which is the knowledge of Jesus Christ, and which the Bible refers to as “eternal life.” Any knowing or knowledge which is not conscientiously directed toward increasing knowledge of Jesus Christ and eternal life in Him is incomplete, since Jesus Christ is the center of all knowledge and wisdom (Col. 2:3).
It behooves us, therefore, in seeking to understand what and how we know, to attain a right understanding of that toward which all true knowledge tends – eternal life.
Going to heaven?
I rather suspect that for many Christians “eternal life” is regarded above all as a destination to be attained. “Do you know for certain that you have eternal life? That you will go to heaven when you die?” Thus scores of thousands of us, from the 70s to the present, turned casual conversations in a more spiritual direction, leading with a question that, for us, focused on the hope of the Gospel.
Thinking of eternal life as a destination can inspire a good deal of hope. Although in this life we have many trials and tribulations, and though we often fall short even of what we expect of ourselves, still, a day of rest is coming, and we have a place in it by grace through faith, a day when we shall know uninterrupted purity and bliss in the presence of the Lord. Longing for that day, and hoping in it, are a primary orientation of all for whom eternal life is a place to reach some day.
Of course, there is a good deal of truth in this perspective, as Jonathan Edwards outlined in his sermon, “The Christian Pilgrim.” This world is not, in fact, our home; all who believe in Jesus Christ are “just a-passin’ through” on our way to eternal life with God in heaven. And even heaven is not our final destination, but merely a place of transition and waiting on the Lord, where our glorified spirits await reunion with our glorified bodies in the new heavens and new earth.
We do well to think about eternal life as a place to be reached, a destination toward which we journey day by day. We who believe are, indeed, going to heaven when we die, and the prospect of so great a blessing fills us with hope and enables us to persevere through whatever this life may throw our way.
Eternal life as relationship
But what makes heaven such a special place is the fact that we shall be in the presence of the Lord forever, enjoying the beauty and glory and majesty of face-to-face engagement and communion with Him, continuously, without sin or interruption. The true glory of eternal life in heaven will be in knowing the Lord and living in His presence. Heaven would be only a different kind of existence, and not the fulfillment of our purpose in life, were not God present there in glory with us.
Eternal life as a destination, therefore, merely anticipates a relationship with God that we do not enjoy in our here-and-now existence, at least, not to the degree that we shall enjoy it then. Eternal life, Jesus prayed, consists in knowing the only true God and Jesus Christ, Whom He has sent for the purpose of making God known to the people He is redeeming unto Himself (Jn. 1:18; Heb. 1:1-3).
All true knowledge gained in this life is only complete as it points us to Jesus Christ, thus enhancing our experience of eternal life. Knowing Jesus Christ is the means whereby knowledge is brought to completion because through Jesus Christ we have eternal life and thus are enabled to know God. Knowing God is the proper end of all knowledge, and that end is only gained by possessing eternal life through Jesus Christ.
But must we wait until we arrive in heaven to know the only true God? Of course not. As we believe in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins, God sends His Spirit into our hearts, enabling us to know Him as Father and to enter into the Kingdom of His dear Son (Gal. 4:4-6; Col. 1:13, 14). It is inescapable that all who have been born again should thus know God in His Trinitarian Being and works.
The essence of eternal life, therefore, is not as a destination, but as a relationship – a relationship of mutual love between us and God, a love that goes beyond mere intellectual assent to a depth of intimacy that can only be experienced, if not explained (Eph. 3:17-19). To have eternal life is to know the only true God and Jesus Christ Whom He has sent, through the inward work of the Spirit of God in our souls. All true knowing, therefore, because it tends toward Jesus Christ as the center of all knowledge, is knowledge of eternal life and of the one true God.
The substance of eternal life is knowing God, and this has at least two important implications for our lives here and now.
The first of these is that we who believe in Jesus truly enjoy a relationship with God that is personal, intimate, and transformational. God, Who continually declares Himself through His works and His Word, begins to make Himself known to all who believe, drawing us gradually but increasingly into the intimacy of His Triune being and love. In this relationship with God, in the knowledge of God, we direct all our knowing toward His service, since all true knowing, which is available in relation to Jesus Christ, is but a form of knowing God.
Knowing God entails knowing Him as our Father (Gal. 4:6). We become sensitive to and grateful for His having created us, and for His watchful presence. We come to admire Him as our Father for all His many and amazing works, fearing Him for His might even as we love Him for His goodness. We enjoy conversation and communion with Him; know ourselves to be entirely dependent upon His goodness and might; cultivate hearts of gratitude toward Him; learn to obey Him as our growing love for and fear of Him dictate; and boast of Him to all who will listen.
Knowing God entails knowing Him as the indwelling Spirit. We listen as He guides us into all truth and to teaches us the sanctifying Word of God (Jn. 14:26; 16:13; 1 Cor. 2:12, 13). We receive His convicting prompts as He searches our souls and lives (Jn. 16:8-11; Ps. 139:23, 24). We look to Him to transform us from glory to glory into the image of Jesus Christ, bringing forth in us the fruit, gifts, and power for witness which are the hallmarks of His indwelling presence (2 Cor. 3:12-18; Gal. 5:22, 23; 1 Cor. 12:7-11; Acts 1:8). We walk with Him throughout the course of our daily lives (Gal. 5:16-23). And we strive together with Him to realize God’s covenant promises and to advance the Kingdom of righteousness, peace, and joy which He works out in and through us (Eph. 2:12, 13; Matt. 6:33; Rom. 14:17, 18).
Knowing God entails knowing Him as the Son, Word, Servant, Savior, and King – our Lord Jesus Christ. We know His presence with us in a daily walk of transforming grace and power (Matt. 28:20; Eph. 4:17-24). We look out on our lives with His mind, and from the vantage point of His eternal power and glory (1 Cor. 2:16; Eph. 2:6). We enjoy His power and authority even as we share in His sufferings (Phil. 3:10). We serve with Him as He reaches out through us in the love of God (Jn. 13:1-15). His Word makes progress in and through us, so that He is glorified in all things (2 Thess. 3:1, 2; 1 Cor. 10:31). We call upon Him, and His Spirit, to intercede with us to the Father, that we may know all the precious and very great promises of God, and thus partake of Him, our Triune God, ever more fully (Heb. 7:25; Rom. 8:26; 2 Pet. 1:4). And we eagerly anticipate the day when He will return to gather us unto Himself forever (Jn. 14:1-3; 1 Cor. 16:22; Rev. 22:17).
We can know that we have eternal life when we enjoy a relationship with the living God – Father, Son, and Spirit – in which, as we grow to know Him and to enjoy His presence with us, we become more like Him, for He is at work within us.
And we can know that all our knowing is in truth to the extent that it serves to enlarge and enrich our experience of knowing God, and to fit us for serving Him more completely in this life.
Knowing God at work in us
The God Whom coming to know is the substance of eternal life is at work within those He has redeemed unto Himself through faith in Jesus Christ. This work of God is the work of all three Persons of the Godhead, and we may summarize God’s work within us according to three general headings.
God is at work within us to show us His glory, and to show His glory through us (2 Cor. 3:12-18). If the substance of eternal life is knowing God, the end of eternal life is the glory of God. God is determined that His glory should be known throughout the earth (Hab. 2:14), and He is at work within those who know Him to make them willing and able to do this work which pleases Him (Phil. 2:13). By His Word and Spirit, and through His many and varied works, God brings us into His glory, weighs down on us with His immediate presence and power, overwhelms us with His holiness and justice and goodness and love. We know the presence of the Lord which, like the disciples on the Mount of Transfiguration, leaves us astonished with fear but eager to linger and enjoy more of this eternal and holy presence. Moses prayed that God would show him His glory; God obliged, but only barely. Paul says we who have been justified by grace through faith stand in the hope of knowing the glory of God (Rom. 5:1, 2), and in this hope we are very bold to come before the Lord, in His Spirit, through His Son, and to expect that He will show us His glory in fearful, wondrous, astonishing, and transformative ways (2 Cor. 3:7-18).
Then, as God makes His glory known to us, He sends us forth to make His glory known to the world in all the everyday words and deeds of our here-and-now existence (Hab. 2:14; 1 Cor. 10:31; 2 Thess. 3:1, 2). Thus the hope of glory in which we daily abide comes to be seen in every aspect of our lives, prompting those who do not know the Lord to ask a reason for the hope they see in us (1 Pet. 3:15). This, too, is the work of God, which He works out in all who know Him by virtue of their possessing the gift of eternal life.
God also works in us to enable us to enjoy His presence with the fullness of joy and pleasures forevermore (Ps. 16:11). We would not love God as we should, nor serve Him at the cost of self-denial and suffering, if we did not enjoy His presence, delight in His Word, and find every aspect of our relationship with Him nothing other than the height of pleasure. They who know the Lord by virtue of having eternal life through Jesus Christ know the joy of the Lord because they actually partake of Him and His presence in, over, and with them in all things. God brings us to this state of joy, as He enlightens our minds, transforms our values and priorities, and redirects and enriches the affections of our hearts (2 Thess. 3:5). All who truly delight in the Lord receive from Him the desires of their hearts, which leads to even greater intimacy with and knowledge of our glorious God (Ps. 37:4).
Finally, God works within us to make us willing and able to submit to His searching and sanctifying will (Ezek. 36:26, 27; Ps. 139:23, 24; Phil. 2:13). He overcomes the law of sin that still works within us, leading us to conviction, confession, contrition, and repentance, so that we grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ (2 Pet. 3:18). We experience the desire of John the Baptist, that Jesus should increase in us while our old selves decrease and are laid aside (Jn. 3:30; Eph. 4:17-24). We advance, as He works within us, from infancy to maturity in the life of faith, bearing the fruit of our salvation and making our calling and election sure by His grace at work within us (Heb. 6:1-9; 2 Pet. 1:5-11; Phil. 2:12, 13).
As we mature in the life of faith, all our knowing and knowledge must be put into the service of Jesus Christ, to advance His purposes on earth as in heaven (2 Cor. 10:3-5; Eph. 1:15-23; Matt. 6:33).
Thus to possess eternal life is to know God through Jesus Christ. And since all true knowledge tends toward knowing Christ, we will be more consistent in our pursuit of knowledge, and can expect to know and glorify God in that process, to the extent that we undertake the quest for knowledge within the framework of eternal life and for the glory of God.
Knowledge is brought to completion through Jesus Christ unto the knowledge and glory of the eternal God. We know as God intends us to know, and as most benefits us and all creation, when we know whatever we know, along the spectrum of all knowing, as an expression of the knowledge of God in Jesus Christ.