And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent. (John 17:3)
In order to fully understand what eternal life is, it is helpful to understand what it is not. Eternal life is not living forever. Everyone lives forever in either heaven or hell. Also, eternal life is not living forever in the blessings of heaven after physical death. John 3:36 and 5:24 show that eternal life is a present tense possession of the believer.
In John 17:3, Jesus defines eternal life as knowing God the Father and Jesus Christ. The word know is speaking of intimacy and revelation instead of mere intellectual knowledge. Therefore, eternal life is having an intimate, personal relationship with God the Father and Jesus the Son.
According to John 3:16, this intimacy with God is what salvation is all about. Forgiveness of our sins is not the point of salvation; forgiveness of our sins is the means of obtaining our salvation, which is intimacy with the Father. We cannot be intimate with a holy God if we are unholy sinners. Sin was the obstacle that stood between us and God. It had to be dealt with, and Jesus did; but if our salvation stops at being forgiven, we miss out on eternal life—an intimate relationship with God.
It is wonderful to be forgiven and cleansed of all sin and unrighteousness through the blood of Jesus Christ. It is a tremendous hope to look forward to eternity in heaven. However, you can enjoy the greatest blessing of your salvation today: the intimate, face-to-face relationship with God the Father and Jesus the Son.