Every single person on earth wants to be happy. People who go to church want to be happy and people who do not go to church want to be happy. People who live on your street want to be happy and people living in a slum in India want to be happy. Christians have many reasons to be happy, but one of the main reasons Christians are happy is that they have been given new life—eternal life.
Jesus once said that eternal life is to know God. He said, “And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:3). According to Jesus, the only way to have eternal life is to know the one true God, and the only way to know the one true God is to know Jesus. So, true happiness that lasts forever is found in knowing God through Jesus.
This is much more than just knowing stuff about Jesus. A lot of people know things about Jesus like when he was born, when he died, who his parents were, and what he taught. Many people are staking their entire lives on a quarry of facts. This is one thing that frightens me as a children’s minister. Parents in the church love nothing more than hearing their children recite biblical and theological facts. They love our catechism ministry on Wednesday night because their children come home reciting deep theological truths. Over the past year, the children in the ministry I lead have grown a lot in their knowledge about God.
But as genuinely exciting as this is, none of that leads to eternal life. It is not beyond reason to conclude there will be many people who will live forever apart from the presence of God with a vast array of knowledge about him. Satan and his demons would even pass seminary classes with flying colors. I am burdened every week with the reality that filling the minds of kids with truth is only one aspect of discipleship. It is so important in ministry to never be content with mere information exchange. It is easy for me to feel satisfied when I hear kids recite a verse or catechism question they have memorized. This is why I need the gospel daily. The gospel reminds me that information exchange is not enough. It reminds me that a treasury of knowledge can never be cashed in for acceptance with God. God does not accept us based on our knowledge of facts about him. He is not impressed with our well-developed theologies.
Only knowing Jesus leads to eternal life. The kind of knowledge that matters is the kind that leads to heart change. Knowing Jesus means having a close relationship with him. This close relationship is what leads to eternal life. Even more, knowing Jesus in an intimate way is the essence of eternal life. We experience eternal life here and now in a real relationship with God through Christ, which can be experienced through Bible study and prayer.
Christians will spend the next 10,000 years and longer growing closer in relationship with Jesus. Our goal as Christians now and forever is to know Jesus more. The more we know Jesus, the more we will love him, and the more we love him, the more we will be happy in him. One way we grow deeply into this relationship is to spend our time thinking about Christ.
In his letter to the Colossians, the apostle Paul is writing to a group of Christians in a small city called Colossae. He says that Christians are people who have been raised with Christ. We have been given new life in him. Because of this, we are to “seek the things that are above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God” (3:1). We are to set our minds on “things that are above, not on the things that are on earth” (v. 2). Paul is not saying that we should not think about earthly things. He is saying we should not spend most of our time thinking about those things. He is saying we should think most about things that matter most. So, we should spend our time thinking about Christ. Thinking about Christ is how we walk in the new life we have in him.
Paul reminds us that we have died with Christ and our life is “hidden with Christ in God” (v. 3). Eternal life is to know God through Jesus. Grow in the knowledge of Jesus and what it means to live in him by thinking about who he is and what he has done for you. Think most about what matters most. Set your mind on Christ. He will bring real and lasting happiness to your heart, which will overflow into every aspect of your life.
Mathew Gilbert (B.A. Boyce College) is the Children’s Pastor at First Baptist Church in East Bernstadt, KY. He is the author of the forthcoming book Come to the Well: 50 Meditations to Fuel Your Joy in God. Mathew lives in London, KY with his wife, Erica, and their son, Jude Adoniram.