Eternal Life – Part 3: Is it Found in a “Who” or a “What”?

Jan 27, 2017 by Open Table Conference in  Blog Posts
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“This is eternal life: that they might know you and your Son whom you have sent.” John 17:3

In my previous post I suggested that eternal life was found in a relationship, not a transaction. Yet, there was a time, had you suggested this to me, I would have feared the good news of eternal life was being poisoned or compromised. I would argue, “Doesn’t Jesus, along with other writers in Scripture, say that eternal life is a gift?” Yes, they do. But this is precisely where I missed it.

Life eternal is a gift. But the gift is not a thing. It is a person. It is Jesus! He gives you himself. Life eternal is not a commodity he gives to you and me as though it’s separate from him. Jesus isn’t the path to eternal life and eternal life isn’t the path to get to know Jesus. Eternal life is him. Because he is life and there is no other.

For years, I understood and presented a relationship with Jesus as equal to a codified set of beliefs. I thought and taught that if I believed certain things about Jesus, then I had a relationship with Jesus.

For me, the phrase “believing in Jesus” had, in reality, come to mean believing information about him. Here’s an interesting question: How much information do you need to believe before you have eternal life? And a second like it: How do you know when you believe enough?

Let me ask you… if I know George Washington was the first president of the United States, does that mean I know him? What if I studied every piece of information available about George Washington and became an authority on all things “Washington”? Would I know him then? I may feel like I know him, but the truth is I’ve never even met him. So, no matter what I know about him, it doesn’t equate with knowing him.

It seemed everything had to make sense to me in order for me to feel safe with Him. I think at least part of this came from believing I had to know as much about God as I could in order to experience relationship with Him. And I didn’t know how much. Who does? I was trapped in my own theology.

It this not ingrained in our Western evangelical culture?? What activity do we most engage in, believing it will cause our relationship to grow? Is it not Bible study? What activity consumes the vast majority of most church gatherings? Is it not sermons? Why do you think we do this?

Have you ever met someone who had a real, personal encounter with Jesus and they knew almost nothing about the Bible or theology? I have.

One of them is a young man named Jason. His story is quite remarkable, amazing even. Several years ago he attempted suicide. That night he had an experience that was as real for him as his marriage or the birth of his three children since. He will tell you he met Jesus. And though he didn’t know very much about him and even less of the Bible, his life changed. And it has remained changed ever since. He loves his family, has more humility and love in his little toe than I have in my whole being, and will do anything for anyone he can help. He is still in love with Jesus, not his experience. Today, I am honored to call Jason my friend.

In the past I would dismiss people like Jason and their stories as emotional sensationalism at best and encounters with the demonic at worst. “It doesn’t square with the Bible, they’re probably not even a Christian,” I judged.
But these people knew Jesus. It was Jesus they loved and trusted. It was Jesus they worshipped.

Is it possible to believe wrong things about someone yet be in relationship with them? Absolutely. I do it all the time. With God, my wife, with just about everybody. My knowledge is neither complete nor is it always correct. So, if a person knows Jesus but doesn’t know much theology or doesn’t handle biblical interpretation very well or believes things that you or I would consider wacky, weird, or just plain wrong; can they be in possession of eternal life?

To be clear; I am not suggesting that you can believe anything you want and have a relationship with Jesus. If someone didn’t believe any of Jesus’ claims, why would they even want to have a relationship with him? If they believed he was still dead, why would they want a relationship with a 2000 year old dead guy?

Let me press a little further into this… Does believing God did things for you, even dying on a cross, mean you have a relationship? Maybe, but not necessarily.

Can you have a relationship with an event? Think about it… We may experience an event, it may even contribute to the development of a relationship but the event, or your experience to it, isn’t a relationship. At least not a personal relationship.

Here’s my point: Should I trust in the cross as though the event is greater than the One who died on it?

I do not say this to minimize the event of the cross, but rather to invite us to return our attention to our Savior, for He is Life! And in knowing him we come to share in his life that he shares with the Father and the Spirit, which is eternal life.

Related Posts: 

Part 1: What is Eternal Life

Part 2: Transaction or Relationship?



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John MacMurray

Founder of Open Table Conferences

"God is relationship. There is something deeper in his essence as Father, Son, and Spirit than just doing the morally right thing all the time. They are completely, head over heels, in love with each other. And it is out of that relationship, from which everything flows, we find the reason for his creating of you and me. God loves in freedom because that is the way he is. There is no other way of being for him."

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