Eternal life does indeed come as a result of knowing God. However, the end of all being is not the happiness of man. The end of all being is the glory of God. Does God not intend to make us happy? Yes, He does. But our happiness comes as a by-product of our salvation. It is not the prime product.
The late Paris Reidhead said this: “The people God witnesses to by His Spirit, so that they might know they are indeed born again, are the people, whether they say it or not, come to Jesus Christ and say something like this: ‘Lord Jesus, I’m going to obey You and love You and serve You and do what You want me to do as long as I live, even if I go to hell at the end of the road, simply because You are worthy to be loved and obeyed and served and I’m not trying to make a deal with You.’”
It is so very important for us to understand that we receive eternal life (life in heaven as opposed to “life” in hell) as an added blessing to the forgiveness for our sins, and that we do not receive eternal life because we are forgiven for our sins.
This teaching will produce Christians who are more concerned with “living it up now,” that they do not focus on preaching the gospel. Instead they focus on enjoying and experiencing the good life now. We need to understand that heaven is the good life. As we live here on earth we ought to be about the business of preaching the gospel. The gospel is the good news that the amazing grace of God is freely poured out on repentant sinners so that they may have their sins forgiven, and in so doing may be saved from the wrath of God (1 Thess. 1:10).
Why did Jesus come? He came so that He might save His people from their sins (Matthew 1:21). He came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many (Matthew 20:28). Yes, with salvation comes eternal life. But eternal life is not a separate component of the saved life. Through having our sins forgiven we are able to know God now and the result of knowing God now is the blessed promise that we can spend all of eternity knowing Him in heaven. The guarantee of eternal life is given to the Christian the moment he or she repents and believes the gospel.
Ephesians 1:11-14 says this: “In Him [Christ] we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of His glory. In Him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in Him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of His glory.”
The Christian has the promise of eternal life the moment he or she repents and believes the gospel. Eternal life in many ways begins the moment we repent and believe. Yes, that is true. But, it is not the eternal life of heaven. The Christian must endure many tribulations here on earth before entering heaven (Acts 14:22). All who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution (2 Timothy 3:12). The Bible says that Jesus came that we might have life, and have it more abundantly (John 10:10). But the abundant life is a quality of life that is different to the life of the unregenerate sinner. That “quality of life” is not, by definition, health, wealth and prosperity. I am not saying that God demands we be poor and constantly in lack. As a Christian you may be rich. But the Christian life is not centred on health, wealth and prosperity. It is centred on a life that is in full submission to God. It is centred on a life of self-denial and sacrifice (Luke 9:23).
The quality of life, the abundant life that Christ came to give us is a life in which we have freedom from guilt, not freedom from pain. It involves freedom from judgment, not freedom from suffering. People do not become Christians because they see Christians full of joy and blessing. They become Christians because they have godly sorrow over their sin, which in turn produces repentance, which then leads to salvation (2 Corinthians 7:10). How does a person reach a point where they have godly sorrow over their sin? It happens when they hear the gospel. People are saved through the preaching of the gospel. That is God’s ordained plan and that is the ministry we have been called to.