Catechetical sermons preached in PCC Evening Worship Services, Feb 2013 to Dec 2017
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“And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.”John 17:3
The first question of the Westminster Shorter Catechism asks: “What is the chief end of man?” The answer is: “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.”
Previously, we studied how man’s chief end is to glorify God. We drew the doctrine from the words of the apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 10:31—“Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.”
In this follow-up study guided by the first question of our catechism, we want to consider how man’s chief end is also to enjoy God forever. We take our text from John 17:3.
John 17 contains a famous prayer of the Lord Jesus Christ, commonly known as His High Priestly Prayer. This is quite different from the prayer which He taught His disciples. It is a prayer that only our Lord could use. Nevertheless, it is a highly instructive prayer, for it gives us a window into our Saviour’s heart to see His thoughts and desires even as He prepares to go the way of the Cross for us.
Our Lord begins His prayer with the words:
“Father, the hour is come; glorify thy Son, that thy Son also may glorify thee: 2 As thou hast given him power over all flesh, that he should give eternal life to as many as thou hast given him.”Jn 17:1-2
Our Lord’s desire and petition is that the Father restores His glory to him upon completing His earthly mission. What is His earthly mission? His earthly mission is to give eternal life to as many as hast been given unto Him.
But what is eternal life? This is the question answered in our text. He says, verse 3:
“And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.”
The Lord helping us, we want to consider what our Lord is saying. Let’s do so under three heads. First, what is meant by “eternal life”? Secondly, what is it to know God? Thirdly, what is implied by the Lord’s assertion that eternal life is knowing God?
1. Eternal Life
The word “life eternal” literally means “life everlasting” or “life without end.”
Many years ago, when I was still a young boy, someone from Campus Crusade approached me. He said, “God loves you and offers a wonderful life for you,” and then he shared what he believed was the gospel with me. Inevitably, he quoted John 3:16—“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”
What is everlasting life? Well, to explain what it is, he took a piece of paper and drew a line. He marked out a section on the line and reminded me that I would live on earth for only a short while. Then he explained that God was offering me an opportunity to live forever and ever. To illustrate the point, he extended the line from the point of death until it reached the edge of the paper into the air. But was he right?
Well, he was actually not too far off by saying that eternal life or everlasting life is a life that goes on forever and ever. The Lord Jesus did come to give us life that never ends. That is what He says in verse 2. He was given power over all flesh to give eternal life to all the elect of God.
But what exactly is the life that the Lord is referring to? The sedentary life of a mushroom is life too. Surely our Lord is not referring to that kind of life. A frog in a pond or a dog in a pound is also alive. But surely our Lord is not referring to that kind of life. Living forever just running about, eating and drinking, and swimming is not really life for human beings. It is mere existence.
We know in our hearts of hearts that the Lord could not be referring to that mundane and meaningless existence.
Indeed, the Lord himself says: “I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly” (Jn 10:10). Our Lord came to give us a life that is abundant, i.e., a life that is satisfying and meaningful, even a life that overflows with God’s blessing and joy.
This is the reason why Christ Jesus came into this world. He came that we might enjoy a life of purpose, meaning and satisfaction.
He came to give His elect children hope, peace and joy, not only for the present time but all eternity.
But now, our Lord says:
“And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.”
2. Knowing God
What is it to know someone? To know someone can range from knowing someone’s name to having an intimate relationship with the person.
Let me tell you about four individuals I know.
First of all, I know my neighbour. I know roughly where he lives. He lives on the fifth floor in the same apartment block. I say hello to him when I see him. We talk a little. But actually, I don’t even know his name. I call him uncle.
Secondly, I know Mr Lee Kwan Yew. I can tell you some things about him. But I have never met him. The nearest I came to him was when I stood before him to reflect on what he had done for Singapore.
Thirdly, I think I know Mr John Calvin better than Mr Lee. I consider him a friend. But I have never met him, and he does not know me. I only know about him from what he wrote and what others say about him.
Finally, I must tell you that I know my wife. I am sure I do not know her as well as she knows me. But I can probably write a book about her. I know what she likes and what she dislikes. But most of all, I enjoy her company and delight in her more than any other person on earth. We spend a lot of time together. We love each other. I can tell her my deepest secrets without feeling embarrassed. I know her, and she knows me.
Now, in the Scriptures, the word ‘know’ (γινώσκω, ginōskō) is also used with various levels of meaning.
For example, in 1 John 2, the apostle John, who recorded the Lord’s high priestly prayer, says:
“3 And hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments. 4 He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him.”1 Jn 2:3-4
Now, it is clear, isn’t it that the word ‘know’ has two different meanings in verse 3? The first know is to know a fact. The second know is to know a person intimately.
John suggests that some profess to know God, but do not really know Him. They claim to know God, verse 4, but they do not really know Him. Paul says that these “profess that they know God; but in works they deny him, being abominable, and disobedient, and unto every good work reprobate” (Tit 1:16). John is alluding to the same problem. Many profess to know God, but only those who keep God’s commandments genuinely know Him.
It is clear that when the Lord Jesus says that eternal life is knowing God and His son, He is not speaking about a mere acquaintance or merely knowing about God.
He is speaking about an intimate loving relationship with God and His Son. Those who know God keep His commandments. Those who keep His commandments love Him. John says: “For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous” (1 Jn 5:3). The Lord Jesus Himself says: “If ye love me, keep my commandments” (Jn 14:15). And He says elsewhere:
“14 I am the good shepherd, and know my sheep, and am known of mine. … 27 My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.”Jn 10:14, 27
Eternal life, in other words, is not merely to be acquainted with God. Instead, eternal life is loving and enjoying God and His Son. The life that Christ came to purchase for us is abundant and has meaning because it involves enjoying God in a familial relationship of love
What do we mean by enjoying God or enjoying Christ? We know what we mean when we speak of enjoying a meal, a song, or a sermon.
When we enjoy a meal, we feel satisfied and happy as we eat. When we say we enjoy a song, we are saying we like to listen to it. When we say we enjoyed a sermon, we express that we not only hung on to its words, but found it helpful.
But what do we mean when we speak of enjoying a person? We mean, don’t we, delighting in that person’s fellowship and love?
To enjoy a friend is to find joy in his companionship, to delight in having a conversation with him, and to find happiness in sharing one’s life with him. So, I enjoy my wife; and I enjoy my children.
So it is to enjoy God or enjoy Christ. To enjoy God is to delight in Him. It is to bask in His love. It is to find joy and satisfaction in walking with Him. It is to take pleasure in His fellowship. To enjoy Christ is the same. It is to bask in His love. It is to find joy and satisfaction in walking with Him. It is to take pleasure in His fellowship.
The eternal life that Christ has procured for us is a life worthwhile and satisfying because it is a life of enjoying God. Heaven is meaningful and happy because Christ is there.
What is the implication of this fact?
3. Eternal Life Is Knowing God
The Lord Jesus came to restore that which was lost. Therefore, when we understand that He came to give us eternal life and that eternal life is enjoying God, then we must conclude that man was created to enjoy God. One of man’s chief ends for our existence must be to enjoy God.
We were created to enjoy God as no other creatures could. This is why we are created in the image of God. Adam and Eve enjoyed God. They basked in His love. They enjoyed His fellowship. They undoubtedly delighted in pleasing God with their words, deeds and thoughts. They were delighted to hear His voice when He spoke to them.
However, sin changed all that. When Adam and Eve sinned, they no longer enjoyed God. Instead, they hid from Him when they perceived He was coming to see them.
Christ came to restore the fellowship that we should have with God. Indeed, He came to bring us to an even higher level of enjoying God than Adam and Eve could have ever been able to experience.
The everlasting life purchased by Christ is meaningful because it is a life of enjoying God’s love, as demonstrated by the death of Christ and sealed by His Spirit. “The love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us,” says Paul (Rom 5:5).
What about a life without Christ? A life that is without Christ is a life that is unsatisfying and meaningless. We were created to have fellowship with God. Adam lost it. Christ came to restore it. Those who are in Christ have eternal life, which is knowing and enjoying God.
So those who do not know Christ do not have eternal life. They will live forever, but their lives will be filled with perpetual pain, sorrow, and regret. This is why the Lord Jesus speaks of the worm and the fire in hell dying not.
The unconverted cannot enjoy God because of sin. Therefore, a void in their heart cannot be filled. They try to fill it with worldly pleasures, but a meaningful solution evades them.
There will always be a dull ache in their heart. They try to fill the void with entertainment, possession, friendship, or even drugs. Some even try to do good work so that their conscience may give them some peace by suggesting that God is pleased with them. But the reality is that without Christ, they can find no real peace. The void in the heart cannot be filled with any other, but God Himself.
When a man is in love with a woman, his heart has a void that only the woman he loves can fill. So too, every man is created with this void in the heart that only God can fill. Every keyhole is designed for a particular key. Only the matching key can fit the keyhole and unlock the door. Now, it happens that in the heart of man is a keyhole. Though there is a multitude of people, only one key can successfully open every heart. This key is in the hand of Christ.
Only Christ can unlock the door of man’s heart to give him true satisfaction and joy. Man’s chief end is to enjoy God forever.
For this reason, the psalmist says in Psalm 16:11:
“Thou wilt shew me the path of life: in thy presence is fulness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore.”
The apostle Peter quotes this verse in the New Testament in reference to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. But this verse applies to every believer united to Christ.
We are created to enjoy God. Today, even with the redemption purchased by Christ, we cannot enjoy God fully because of the remnant of corruption. But one day, our souls will be made perfect. That is the day we will leave this present world. On that day, our souls will be able to enjoy God fully. But we are made body and soul, so we will not yet enjoy God completely and thoroughly at that time. That will have to wait for the resurrection. On that resurrection day, our bodies shall be raised and united to our souls. Only then shall we be able to enjoy God fully for all eternity—body and soul. Thus our Larger Catechism asks, “What is the chief and highest end of man?” And the answer is: “Man’s chief and highest end is to glorify God, and fully to enjoy Him forever.” We will enjoy God fully one day.
What about today? The psalmist says: “O taste and see that the LORD is good: blessed is the man that trusteth in him” (Ps 34:8). We can obviously enjoy God even today. But how?
Well, in the first place, we can only enjoy God if we know and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. Only those who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ can have eternal life.
Therefore, if you do not believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, you cannot enjoy God. In that case, you must know that unless you repent of your sin and find salvation in Christ Jesus, you will forever have a void in your heart that nothing in this world or out of this world can fill. Your heart will forever be miserable.
But if you are a child of God, you have eternal life; and since eternal life is enjoying God, you can enjoy God even today.
Today, we must enjoy God and His Son through all the means He has appointed.
We must, for example, enjoy God in the hearing of His Word. We must enjoy Christ, for He is the Word of God. By the preaching of the Word, He speaks to us. My sheep hears my voice and follows me, He says.
We must enjoy God in prayer, for by Christ, we have the boldness to come unto the throne of God. He is our mediator and intercessor in prayer.
We must enjoy Him in the singing of the Psalms, for as Christ tells us in Psalm 22, He sings with us when we sing His word in worship.
We must enjoy God in the sacraments, for by the sacraments, the benefits of His redemption are applied to us by faith, and we are given assurances of His love in a special way.
We must enjoy Him also in the fellowship of the saints, for His spirit indwells all His children so that we experience the love of Christ when we experience the love of our brethren. Thus, when we give a cup of cold water in His name, we are showing forth the love of Christ.
Have you been enjoying God? Have you been enjoying Christ?
Children and youths, do you know what it means to enjoy God? Note that enjoying God is different from glorifying God. To glorify God is to make God’s name great. To enjoy God is to experience His love and fellowship.
I am sure you enjoy your friends. You enjoy being with them, playing with them and talking with them. I am sure you enjoy your parents too. You enjoy listening to them, and find joy when they smile at you and are pleased with you. But the question I have for you is: do you enjoy God? Do you enjoy Christ? If you do not, then you do not have eternal life because eternal life is a life of knowing and enjoy God and His Son.
If you have eternal life, you will enjoy God. You will delight in Christ. You will relish reading and listening to His word. You will find joy in singing His word and worshipping Him. You will love coming to church. You will take pleasure in learning about God.
If none of these describes you, then you must not rest easy. You must go to the Lord tell the Lord that you are sorry for not believing Him and loving Him. You must seek His grace to change your heart so that you can enjoy Him like Jacob rather than despise Him like Esau.
Beloved brethren and friends, what I ask the children, I ask you too. Do you know what it means to enjoy God? Are you enjoying God? Are you enjoying Christ? Note that enjoying God is different from enjoying God’s people. Of course, to enjoy God, you must enjoy God’s people. But remember that it is possible to enjoy the company of God’s people without enjoying God. And remember that eternal life is not enjoying God’s people, but knowing and enjoying God.
Again, note that enjoying God is different from enjoying the means of grace. Of course, if you enjoy God, you should enjoy the means of grace that He has appointed for you. But remember that eternal life is knowing and enjoying God, not merely enjoying the means.
Let us examine ourselves honestly and carefully. Do you enjoy God? Do you enjoy Christ? Do you delight to spend time with Him?
Now, we are all made differently. Some of us are more passionate and emotional, so we may feel more joy than others. But some of us are more staid, so we may not be so passionate about another person. But if you know what it means to enjoy fellowship with another person, yet you cannot enjoy God’s fellowship, then perhaps you don’t really know the Lord.
If so, you may not be enjoying eternal life.
There could be a couple of reasons why this is the case. The first is that you could have backslidden and left your first love. But the second reason could be that you were never truly converted in the first place. You could have mistaken enjoying the company of God’s people as faith. You could have mistaken a temporary impression with saving faith.
Whatever the case may be, you need to humble yourself before the Lord to confess your sin and seek His forgiveness. The Lord Jesus says:
“28 Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.”Mt 11:28-29
He also says: “All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out” (Jn 6:37). Go to Him confessing your sin. Go to Him confessing that He alone can save you and wash you whiter than snow.
Whether you think you may be backslidden, or you have been fooling yourself, or you have never believed in the first place, do not leave this message without seeking the Lord’s grace to change the situation.
Remember that man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever. Unless you know the Lord and enjoy eternal life, even a life of knowing and enjoying God, your life will remain meaningless and empty. Amen.
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