By Ben Simpson
Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.
What is eternal life?
When I ask this question I often hear a discourse about heaven, a place experienced on the other side of death that is designated for those who have prayed a certain prayer or who have undergone a religious experience. These ideas reflect a glimmer of truth. Life after death is part of Christian hope, prayer brings us in on what God is doing, and Jesus does call us to conversion.
But in John 17:3, Jesus says that eternal life is found through a relationship grounded in knowledge. Eternal life is found in knowing God, and Jesus Christ, the one sent.
John 17 is a record of Jesus praying for his disciples just prior to his arrest, trial, and crucifixion. Jesus prays that the Father would be glorified in the Son, and for the Son to be glorified in the Father. Jesus prays that his followers would share in that same glory. Jesus prays for his friends, those who trust him, and also for those “who will believe in me through their word,” which means Jesus prayed for us, too, that we would have unity with God and one another, protection, joy, and that we would live in holiness. Jesus asks that we would be “sanctified in truth” and that we would know the Father’s love for us, which is the same love the Father has for the Son (John 17:19, 23-24).
When Jesus says eternal life is knowing God and Jesus Christ, that suggests eternal life begins now, in the present, on this side of the grave. We don’t have to wait. Eternal life can be accessed today through faith, which is not blind, but rather is grounded in the knowledge of God made available to us through Jesus Christ, the one whom God has sent.
Through trusting Jesus we find that God has come near. Jesus is truly with us always (Matthew 28:20). Through Jesus, we find friendship with God, a friendship that can grow. And as that friendship grows we experience more and more of God’s eternal life, springing up in us like living water and flowing forth to those around us (John 4:13-14). We pray to strengthen that tie and to open our hearts to the overflow of God’s unending grace. We pray that we might know and experience fellowship with God.
Rowan Williams writes, “Very near the heart of Christian prayer is getting over the idea that God is somewhere a very, very long way off, so that we have to shout very loudly to be heard. On the contrary: God has decided to be an intimate friend and he has decided to make us part of his family, and we always pray on that basis.” (Being Christian, 66)
Why do we pray? We pray because God is our greatest help, our most loyal friend, our most trusted confidant, our gentlest comforter, our wisest teacher, our constant companion, our glorious rest, and our foremost strength. We pray because through prayer God is available to us. Seek God, get to know Him, and you will find that the relationship itself is God’s greatest gift, made possible through Jesus Christ, the one God sent.
Rowan Williams claims that the heart of Christian prayer is putting aside the idea that God is far away and embracing the notion that God has decided to bring us near and into his family. What do you think of this claim?
Father, increase my knowledge of you so that my faith will grow. Grant me the gift of intimacy and closeness with you, the delight of friendship. Empower me to live as your friend, your servant, your ambassador, and your representative. Restore and heal my heart, free me from sin and bondage, and send me forth for ministry as you sent forth Jesus. In His name, Amen.
Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version ® NIV ®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2014 by Biblica, Inc.®. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.