In Praise of Sovereign Grace 1 – And This is Eternal Life
August 30, 2009 / No. 3478
Dear Radio Friends,
The enemies of John Calvin, the greatest of the sixteenth century Reformers (and he had many enemies), were ultimately the ones who would pay him his highest tribute, when they referred to him as “that God-intoxicated man.” They said this in disdain. They said this in ridicule. “He is simply,” they said, “full of God,” which was true. For the glory, the sufficiency, the majesty, the holiness, the beauty, the grace, the power, the sovereignty of God, as revealed upon the pages of the infallible Scriptures, flooded John Calvin’s heart. It was his deepest desire to bow, to obey, to trust, to follow, and to glorify God. Our Scripture for today is John 17:3, where we read: “And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.”
We wish to commemorate, as a Reformed church, the heritage of that truth of Calvinism. It is not the heritage of a man, but the heritage of the truth of Holy Scripture, of salvation by particular, irresistible grace. As we do that in the coming weeks, we must take to heart our Savior’s warning when He spoke in Matthew 23 against the Pharisees who, He said, “would have great monuments to the prophets and to the noteworthy historic figures of their history, and they would garnish those monuments. Jesus called them hypocrites. They did not do, did not believe, did not cherish what the prophets taught.
So we must ask ourselves today: Is there in us a passion, a passion for God and His truth? When we are dead, will it be said of us that this young person, this man, this woman, this boy, this girl loved God, lived for God, and it showed in their life? Jesus, in our text today, is teaching us the essence, the heart of what is salvation. For He says, “Of life eternal.” He says, “The heart of life eternal is exactly this gift of a believing, heartfelt, and intimate knowledge of God as the true God in Jesus Christ. And the responding desire of the heart to yield, to serve, to worship, to glorify, and to find everything in God.” This is eternal life: to be intoxicated, to be filled with God, the true God.
Our text today is part of the prayer of Jesus in the night of His arrest, when He was about to go to the cross, to Calvary. It was a sacred moment. He said, “Father, the hour is come,” that is, the hour ordained, planned, by the mighty God, from eternity, when His Son would take our place and lay down His life upon a cross, that we might have life everlasting. Jesus comes now to pray to God. When Jesus prays to God, He is expressing intimate and secret things about God and His truth. You can read the letters of a person and learn about that person. You can talk to that person and learn about that person. But you know, you know something that no one better can tell you, when you hear that person pray. Prayer is the opening and exposure of heart before God. Jesus opens His heart in this chapter and shows us what is in His heart as He kneels on the porch of heaven, before the very cross of Calvary. In this prayer, Jesus gives the tone of unshakable confidence. Though His petitions are intense, and though the cross is before Him, yet He says in verse 4, “I have glorified thee on the earth: I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do.”
How can He be so certain? He is certain that the Father is going to preserve down through the ages all those who have been given to Him, “that they may be one,” He says, “in us.” How can He know that? How can He be so absolutely certain that He will accomplish salvation, that those given of the Father to Him, the elect, shall in time be brought to salvation? How can He be so sure? The answer is: He knew God! He knew God as no one else does. And knowing God, He had invincible confidence.
And then we look at the connection of our text to verse 2. In verse 2 the Lord speaks of three things that are given, three things that are a gift: “As thou hast given him power over all flesh, that he should give eternal life to as many as thou hast given him.” It is a gift of grace to belong to Christ. God must give you. And Jesus gives you eternal life so that eternal life is God’s gift. It is not the product of the working of man’s will or merit. But it is entirely a gift of powerful grace.
But then, the question is: But what is eternal life?
The Lord answers that in this prayer. He says, “The heart of life eternal is to know God, and only through Jesus Christ.” “And this,” we read, “is eternal life, that they might know thee, the only true God.” That sounds strange. It sounds strange in our generation, the “me” generation. It sounds strange in evangelical Christianity because there is something that has disappeared from the Christian church today. What has disappeared from the Christian church today is God in His majesty, God in His unrivaled sovereignty and absolute glory. We could examine all the language of evangelical Christianity, and we would see that the focus of the church is man, is self, my needs, my social issues. And God exists as auxiliary. God exists as subservient to man. The gospel becomes centered in man. The church says, “Let us show you what God can do for you.”
But Jesus does not take that approach. The gospel is all about a change. Supreme man is not the issue first. No matter how effective he may be, the main issue in life is God. What does it mean to know God? Jesus said that we must know the living God. And it is very plain that He is talking about saving knowledge, the type of knowledge that the apostle defines in II Timothy 1:12: “I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep” me. To know God does not mean, simply, to have an awareness of God. Every one on earth today, whether a Muslim, an atheist, or whatever, everyone on earth, from the infant to the aged, knows and is aware of the one, true, and only God. Romans 1:19-21 tells us that all who are born in the human race know about God, are aware of Him. God says that He has manifested this in them; He has revealed it to them in the creation, so that the apostle says, “From the creation,” they know God. Yet they will not glorify Him as God. The awareness that God is is inescapable. This knowledge does not lead a person to salvation through the creation. But the apostle says this leaves a person without excuse.
Nor is the knowledge of God simply information, correct information, about God. Again, in Jesus’ day, the Pharisees and the leaders of the Jews had much of that. The people and the disciples had opportunity for that. But that is not the same as knowing God—having right information, being a theologian. A person may be a theologian and not know God, not know Him with personal dealings as a result of a spiritual rebirth in his heart and soul.
To know God is the result of experiencing the power of the living God to save you from your sin and from the power of that sin—not just the deeds of sin, but the power. The word “know” here is used by Jesus, as elsewhere in Scripture, in the sense of intimate love. The word “know” here means, as we read in Romans 5:5, that the Holy Spirit has shed abroad in our hearts the love of God. It means that He gives us to know the truth of ourselves as unworthy, inexcusable, damnworthy sinners. And yet we know that wondrous love of God, finding its source only in God, and in the giving of His Son, Jesus Christ. Romans 5:8: For “God commendeth (He praises) his love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” To know God, then, means, first of all, that God knew me from eternity, as Jesus prayed, “They are thine, Father. Thou hast given them to me.” And God, knowing me, works a profound knowledge in my heart so that I know my Lord and Savior. He sets my feet, says the psalmist, upon a rock. He lifts me out of the miry clay and He establishes my going.
Jesus is talking here about knowing the only true God. We must know this about Him first of all, that He is the only God; there is none other. “I AM THAT I AM,” He said to Moses (Ex. 3:14). “This is my name.” Here is fact one. This is all fact and this is reality: I AM. God is. No man can say, “Well, I choose not to believe in him. He doesn’t exist until I make him exist.” By nature, we men would resist Him to our destruction.
Let us listen to Jesus about the only true God; for Jesus knows Him. This true God, Jesus says, is “holy” (v. 11). God alone is holy. That He is holy means that He cherishes good. That is the very first thing that confronts us when we are brought into a saving relationship with God. Have you had the experience, beloved, of being looked upon by God? Have you been profoundly disturbed, in the deepest part of you, with the realization that God is and God is holy and you are one who has transgressed and you are a sinner? If you have not had that experience, you do not know God. Only in this way can we know the true God.
Jesus said, secondly, that this true God is all-knowing. From the prayer, it is very plain that Jesus understands that God knows all things, that God has determined all things, even the death of His own Son. This God knew Jesus and, therefore, knows us—our words and our secrets, our thoughts. We must know God as the all-knowing God. We must not be tempted to make our own God, thinking that we can fool God and that God does not see. You say, “I’m a Christian,” but then you go your own way, like the world. God is all-knowing. That means that the heart of the relationship that we must have with God is honesty. God knows. We must not hide our sin from God. We must confess it. We must trust Him in Jesus Christ.
And then, finally, Jesus, in the entire chapter, shows that the true God is the sovereign God, the God who performs all that He has willed to perform, all that His counsel has determined in Jesus Christ. He is the God who, because He is sovereign, must be obeyed by us. We are to seek to do His will above our own will. We must ask ourselves today the question: “Do we find God’s will unwelcome in our life?” God is sovereign. He is God and King.
Do we know the only true God as sovereign in all of His ways? Eternal life is intimate, loving knowledge of the true, holy, all-knowing, and absolutely sovereign God.
But there is a problem. It is the very problem of our being. It is not a problem that we carry on our heart today—about our job, about our marriage, about personal anxieties. Those are important, too. But we have the problem: How can I know God? I find in my nature that I want to flee from this God. I find in my flesh that I resent who He is—that He is holy.
I can completely understand the emphasis today more and more in Christianity to whittle God down to the size of man if we expect the church to be full. We cannot say much about God, because we sense immediately that in our flesh we are contrary to Him. We are not subject to Him. We are afraid of His majesty. And when His love and grace reach down into our hearts and show us that we are sinners, we ask, “How can we know Him?”
Jesus adds these beautiful words: “Eternal life is to know God and Jesus Christ, whom he has sent.” Those words show more about God than anything. They show His grace. Jesus Christ is God’s precious and eternal Son come into the flesh, whom God sent. God sent Him, not at the request or invitation of mankind. But God sent Him into the hell of His children, into the hell of those whom He had chosen freely and eternally, that He might justify us and bring us to God. It tells us what it means to know God. Eternal life is to know God through Jesus Christ, my Savior. It is to know Him in the face of His blessed Son Jesus Christ. II Corinthians 4:6, “For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness [that’s creation], hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” That is what that clause “and Jesus Christ” means. As God, in the beginning, when there was nothing, spoke into the darkness, “Let there be light,” and it was so; God has spoken by powerful grace into the darkness of our hearts that would not choose Him, and spoke in the light of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
Jesus said to Philip, “He that hath seen me, hath seen the Father.”
Through our crucified and risen Savior Jesus Christ, we, by grace, are brought to and given to know God as our God. As Jesus opened Joseph’s tomb, as Jesus came through locked doors, so Jesus reveals to us God.
And this is eternal life—to know God and Jesus Christ whom He has sent. Do you have, today, this eternal life? Jesus did not say, “This will be….” Jesus said “This is right now.” Eternal life is not something that “will be.” It will indeed be perfected in that great and glorious kingdom when all our sorrows and sins will be no more. But eternal life does not wait till you cross the threshold of heaven. It is today! There is either today eternal death, or eternal life.
Is eternal life yours? The testimony of the Spirit in your heart that you experience is the amazing love and power to save from sin. And does He give you a desire that you be like Him, that you walk in His footsteps, that you cherish Him, that you desire Him, that you submit to Him, that you know Him as your gracious Savior? And you say, “Still closer to Thy side I press; for near Thee all is well.” This is eternal life: to be God-intoxicated, to be filled with the fullness of God.
Let us pray.
Father in heaven, we thank Thee for the revelation of Thyself upon sacred Scripture’s pages. We know Thee through the Scriptures, and in the preaching we come before thy glory. Grant that we may be filled with Thy fullness. In Jesus’ name, Amen.