Do you know God? Do you have assurance that you have eternal life? To know that we know God is of paramount importance because salvation ultimately can be boiled down to this one thing: knowing God.
In John 17, Jesus, before going to the cross, was praying to the Father for His disciples – both those present at that time and those who would believe in future generations through the preaching of the apostolic word of the gospel. In verse 3, Jesus defines eternal life for us, praying, “This is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.”
“Eternal life” is a phrase used forty-one times in the New Testament. And in John 17, we see what it means: to know God the Father and to know His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.
Eternal life is not merely to live forever and never die. It includes that, of course, by definition. But eternal life is not simply an unending existence of isolation or independence. It is eternal life in relationship with God. It is life that not only is unending but unlimited in its joy because it is life lived in the very presence of God and His light and His love.
Eternal life is what Paul called life indeed in 1 Timothy 6:19. It is the life we were created to enjoy in unhindered and uninterrupted fellowship with our loving and good Creator. Knowing God is the essence of eternal life, and that means it is the essence of the Christian life.
When God promised a new covenant, the essence of the new covenant was that His people would know Him – as described by the Lord in Jeremiah 31:31-34. A new covenant was necessary because Israel broke the old covenant. They did not know the Lord, although they had His Word, His Law, and His promises.
It comes as no surprise, then, that mere hours before Jesus would suffer and die on a cross for His people’s sins, that he would describe the eternal life He would win for us on the cross as a true knowledge of God. All of history has been driving to this point, with the climax of God’s covenant program in the new covenant being a true knowledge of God.
In Philippians 3:8, Paul looked at everything the world had to offer – all goods, all status, all prestige, all religious piety, all riches, all success, all power, all position – and he concluded that next to knowing Christ, it was all rubbish. The word translated rubbish is a crude word in Greek often used of human excrement. When Paul compared the greatest things the world has to offer with the surpassing value of knowing Christ, everything in the world was by comparison human waste.
Paul went on to outline the goal of his existence in Philippians 3:10: “that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death.” Nothing mattered in life to Paul, ultimately, besides knowing Christ. And so, knowing God in Christ, knowing the Father and the Son, is the goal of our salvation; it is what eternal life is all about.
If knowing God in Christ is the essence of our salvation, then we find ourselves faced with a most-significant question: How do we know if we know Him? How do we know if we have fellowship with the true and living God through His Son when this God is invisible?
Countless Christians throughout history have wrestled with this question, wondering how they could ever have assurance this side of eternity that they truly know God. Many other professing Christians throughout history have foolishly taken for granted that they know God based on an experience or feelings when the reality is they were deceived and did not know Him. And when we consider the monumental consequences of this question – eternal life or eternal condemnation – there is no more important question to answer for ourselves than this: do we know that we know God?
Thankfully, John gives us a way to answer this question in 1 John 2, showing us three tests how we can have a certainty that is true whether we know God or whether we are deceiving ourselves.
The first characteristic of those who know God is that they trust in Christ’s righteousness. If we truly know God in Christ, we will be marked by a reliance upon the righteousness of Jesus Christ for our standing before God.
The second characteristic is that they obey Christ’s commandments. John doesn’t tell us to keep a list of rules and of dos and don’ts, but that we have a certain relationship to the Word of God that is marked by being conformed to what it says.
And the final characteristic from John is that those who know God love Christ’s people. If we claim to be in the light and holy, but if we do not love others, we are in the darkness and self-deceived.
Our relationship to God is discerned by our relationship to Christ’s righteousness, commands, and people. By these, we can have complete certainty of our eternal life found only in knowing Him.