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Question | What were we made for?
Answer| To know God.
Question | What aim should we set for ourselves in life?
Answer| To know God.
Question | What is the ‘eternal life’ that Jesus gives?
Answer| Knowledge of God
This is eternal life: that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom You have sent. (John 17:3)
Question | What is the best thing in life, bringing more joy, delight, and contentment, than anything else?
Answer| Knowledge of God.
This is what the LORD says: “Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom or the strong man boast of his strength or the rich man boast of his riches, but let him who boasts boast about this: that he understands and knows me” (Jer 9:23f)
Question | What, of all the states God ever sees man in, gives God most pleasure? Answer| Knowledge of Himself.
‘I desire . . . the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings,’ says God. (Hos 6:6)
We have said a lot in these questions and answers, and these are things that will warm every Christian heart. But for those whose religion is just formal and outward, these statements will not move them. (This itself is a proof that they are not born again.)
In one go, what we have said about knowing God gives us:
– a foundation for our lives
– a shape for our lives
– a goal for our lives
– a principle of priorities
– a scale of values
Once you become aware that the main business that you are here for is to know God, then most of the other problems in your life automatically fall into place.
Most people in the world suffer from a ‘wasting disease.’ Albert Camus and Marie Antoinette are two names connected with this ‘disease.’
“Life is a bad joke.”
[Albert Camus was a French philosopher, who lived from 1913 to 1960, who thought that life had no meaning and that it was absurd to be looking for meaning.
[Marie Antoinette was the last queen of France and lived from 1755 to her execution in 1793. She was had all the luxuries and comforts and yet felt that everything was boring.]
For people who have this sickness, everything is a problem and a bore, because nothing seems to be worthwhile. But Christians are immune to the ‘absurdist tapeworms’ and Antoinette’s fever, except for occasional periods when temptation presses their mind out of shape—but by God’s mercy, these spells do not last long.
For life to be worthwhile, you need to have a goal that
– Is big enough
– Grabs our imagination
– Holds our allegiance. This means that we are proud of it and we want to be loyal to it.
Only Christians have such an objective—such a goal. What can be more higher and compelling than to KNOW GOD?
But what really is ‘knowing God’?
When we speak of ‘knowing God,’ we are using a verbal formula—and formulae are like cheques, which are not of any use till they are cashed. In other words, we have to actually understand what we mean when we say the words k-n-o-w-i-n-g G-o-d, otherwise we will be using that term uselessly.
Is knowing God any of the following?
– A special sort of emotion
– Shivers down the back
– A dreamy, off-the-ground, floaty feeling
– Tingling thrills and excitement—like the kind drug users are after
– An intellectual experience
– An experience where you hear a voice
– An experience where you see a vision
– An experience where you find a strange train of thoughts going through your mind
Or what is it?
We have to discuss this, especially because the Bible tells us that you can easily get fooled into thinking that you know God, when you do not.
So what is knowing God? What kind of event or activity is it?
What Knowing God Involves
Knowing God is more complex than knowing any other person. Knowing any other person is more complex than knowing a house or a book or a language.
The more complex something is, the more complex it is to get to know it.
– To get knowledge of something abstract like a language, you have to learn it. To get knowledge of a non-living thing whether it is a mountain like Ben Nevis in England, for example, or a building complex like the British Museum, you have to inspect it and explore it. Learning, inspecting, and exploring are demanding tasks to do and involve concentrated effort, but they are still quite simple to describe.
– But when it comes to living things, it gets more complicated. You need to know its past history and you also need to know how it is likely to react under specific circumstances.
“I know this horse.“
Sometimes means: “I have seen this horse before.”
Usually means: “I know how it behaves, and can tell you how to handle it.”
A person who says, “I know this horse,” may sometimes simply mean, “I have seen this horse before.” But usually when someone says, “I know this horse,” they mean to say, “I know how it behaves, and can tell you how to handle it.”
This kind of knowledge only comes by:
– getting acquainted with the horse,
– seeing it in action, and
– trying to handle it oneself.
This is for getting to know a horse, but when it comes to getting to know a human being, the situation is even more complicated, because unlike horses, people keep secrets. You may get to know a horse well after spending some days with it, but even after spending months and years with someone, you may still have to say, that you do not know them at all.
“I do not really know him at all.”
“I know him well.”
“I do not know him very well.”
“I know him just to shake hands.”
“I know him intimately.”
“I know him inside-out.”
We recognise that we know our fellow human beings in varying degrees. Some we know very well and some not at all.
So the quality of our knowledge of others and how much we know of them depends more on them than on us. It depends more on how much they allow us to know them than on how much we try to get to know them.
When we meet them, from our side—
– we give them our attention and interest,
– we are kind and welcoming to them,
– and open up in a friendly way
After that, it is up to them whether we are going to know them or not.
Now, imagine we are going to meet someone who we feel is ‘above’ us in some way. May be they are higher than us in rank or cleverness or professional skill or godly living or something else. The more conscious we are of our inferiority, the more we will feel that all we can do during the meeting is to be respectful and allow this person to take the initiative in the conversation.
Imagine if we were going to meet the Queen or Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh. We would like to know this important person, but we know that it is something that they have to decide to do, not us. Let’s suppose we do meet the person, and they decide to give us a polite nod and pass us by, we may feel disappointed. But we would know that we cannot complain about it, because we do not have any claim on this friendship.
But what if this important person immediately starts to take us into their confidence and speaks to us and even frankly tells us about their opinion on certain matters? And then, if they ask us to make time for a project they want to partner with us, how would we feel? We would feel very privileged. If life had seemed a little boring and unimportant up to that point, it will not seem like that anymore. When we are made a personal assistant to someone really important, then this is certainly something to proudly write to our family about. It is also something to live up to!
This is just an example to illustrate how we need to feel about being in relationship with God, as we are shown in the book of Jeremiah.
“Let him that glories, glory in this, that he understands and knows Me.” (Jer 9:24)
Knowing God is a relationship that is meant to thrill our hearts.
It has to thrill you, because God—the almighty Creator—the Lord of hosts—the great God before whom the nations are like a drop in a bucket—THIS GREAT GOD has come to you and begins to talk to you through the words and truths in holy scripture.
Maybe you have been acquainted with the Bible and Christian truth for many years and it doesn’t mean anything to you. But one day you wake up and realise that it is actually God Himself talking to you—YOU!—through the bible.
As you listen to what God is saying, you feel yourself being brought lower and lower. This is because God talks to you about:
– your sin
– your guilt
– your weakness
– your blindness
– and stupidity
and then He makes you judge yourself as hopeless and helpless
and you cry out for forgiveness.
But not only that, you start realising as you listen to God more, that He is actually
– opening His heart to you!
– making friends with you!
– adding you as a colleague to work with Him!
– making you a covenant partner (as Barth would have said)
[Karl Barth is a Swiss Reformed theologian who lived from 1886 to 1968. He is best known for his commentary on The Epistle to the Romans]
It is a staggering thing, but it is true that God makes sinful human beings His staff to work with Him.
For we are God’s fellow workers. . . (1 Cor 3:9)
God took Joseph out of prison and made him Pharoah’s Prime Minister. This is a picture of what God does in the life of every Christian. From being Satan’s prisoner, you find yourself transferred to a position of trust in the service of God! Your life is transformed at once.
Whether being a servant is something to be proud about or something to be ashamed about depends on whose servant you are. Many people have said that they were proud to be the servants of Sir Winston Churchill during the Second World War. How much more of an honour it is to serve the Lord of heaven and earth! This is a matter of great pride and glory, indeed.
What does the activity of knowing God involve?
1. Listening to God’s Word, with the help of the Holy Spirit—understanding how it applies to your life
2. Noting what the Bible says about God’s nature and character
3. Accepting God’s invitations and doing His commands
4. Recognising and rejoicing in the love that God has shown you in coming to you and drawing you into this divine fellowship that you now have with Him.
We have been looking at the bare bones of ideas about what knowing God involves. The Bible puts flesh on these bare bones by mainly using four illustrations.
We can know God like:
– a son knows his father
– a wife knows her husband
– a subject knows his king, and
– a sheep knows its shepherd.
In all these four illustrations, you can see that
– the knower looks up to the one who is known, and
– the one who is known takes responsibility for the knower’s welfare.
This is part of the biblical concept of knowing God—that those God allows to know Him are then loved and cared for by Him. We’ll be looking into this in a moment.
Then the Bible adds that we know God in this way only through knowing Jesus Christ—who is God appearing to us as a human being—in the flesh.
Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? (John 14:9)
Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (John 14:6)
So now, we see that it is necessary that we be very clear about what knowing Jesus means.
What was it like for Jesus’ earthly disciples to know Him? For them it was pretty much like our example of meeting an important person like the Queen or the Duke of Edinburgh. All the disciples had been ordinary Galileans who had no special claim on a friendship with Jesus.
But Jesus came to them—
– the Rabbi who spoke with authority,
– the Prophet who was more than a prophet, and
– the Master who evoked awe and fear in them.
The awe the disciples felt for Jesus kept on increasing, and so did their devotion for Him, till they had to acknowledge Him as their God.
This was how Jesus—
– found them,
– called them to Himself,
– took them into His confidence, and
– enrolled them as His agents to declare to the world the kingdom of God.
And He appointed twelve (whom He also named apostles) so that they might be with Him and He might send them out to preach. (Mark 3:14)
The disciples knew that the One who had called them friends was in fact the Christ the Son of the living God.
Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” (Matt 16:16)
And they also knew that the One who had been born to be King was the bearer of the words of eternal life.
Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life (John 6:68)
– gave them a sense of allegiance,
– gave them a sense of privilege
– and transformed their whole lives.
The New Testament tells us that this Jesus is now risen—He is not contained or restrained anywhere. It is almost like saying that He is loose and at large. This means that anyone anywhere can enjoy the same kind of relationship with Jesus that the disciples had when He was in the flesh.
In what way will our relationship with Jesus be different from the relationships His earthly disciples had with Him?
- His presence with His disciples was a bodily one, whereas with us His presence is spiritual and so invisible to our physical eyes
- His disciples did not fully know who Jesus was in the beginning and only gradually came to know that He was God. They also gradually came to know about how Jesus’ death would be an atoning sacrifice for sin. All these truths and more the disciples came to grasp gradually, whereas we know these truths from the start of our relationship with Jesus because of the New Testament witness.
- When Jesus spoke to the disciples, He uttered fresh words to them all the time. On the other hand, when Jesus speaks to us, He applies the words of scripture to our consciences. The Holy Spirit inspired the gospel writers to record what was necessary for us to know of Jesus’ life and teachings. Jesus Christ speaks to us using these recorded writings in the gospels as well as all the other parts of the Old and New Testaments, because they all testify about Him.
Despite these differences, knowing Jesus Christ means that we have to personally become His disciple. This is as definite and true for us as it was for those first disciples. The Jesus who walks through the gospel story walks with Christians now, and knowing Him involves going with Him, now as then.
My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. (John 10:27)
Jesus said: “My sheep hear My voice . . .”
His ‘voice’ is
– His claim,
– His promise, and
– His call.
Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life . . .” (John 6:35)
So Jesus again said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. (John 10:7)
I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me (John 10:14)
Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. . .(John 11:25)
. . . Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him. Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life . . . (John 5:23-24)
Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me . . . and you will find rest . . . (Matt 11:28-29)
Jesus’ voice is ‘heard’
– when His claim is acknowledged
– when His promise is trusted
– when His call is answered
After that Jesus is known as Shepherd, and He knows those who trust Him as His own sheep.
My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. (John 10:27ff)
To know Jesus is to be saved by Jesus—for here and for hereafter—saved from sin, and guilt, and death.
A Personal Matter
And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. (John 17:3)
If we take a step back and survey what we have said about knowing God—which is to ‘know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent’—we can highlight the following points.
First, knowing God is a matter of personal dealing. It is like this with any direct relationship with people. So, knowing God is more than just knowing about Him:
– you have to deal with God as He opens up to you
– you have to be dealt with by God as He takes knowledge of you
. . . And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? (Rom 10:14)
As you can see from the scripture verse above, Knowing about Him is needed as a precondition to trusting in Him—
But the width of our knowledge about Him is not indicative of the depth of our knowledge of Him.
Let’s take the case of these four men:
John Owen (1616 – 1683): Of Welsh descent, Puritan, theologian, and academic administrator at the University of Oxford, Wrote many books including Communion with God, The Mortification of Sin, The Death of Death in the Death of Christ, and many others.
John Calvin (1509 – 1564): French, lawyer, theologian, tireless writer and known for his greatest work ‘The Institutes of the Christian Religion’, important figure in the Protestant Reformation.
John Bunyan (1628 – 1688): English, learned his father’s trade of tinker, imprisoned for not giving up preaching, best remembered for his work Pilgrim’s Progress.
Billy Bray (1794 – 1868): Cornish, miner, unconventional preacher
John Owen and John Calvin knew more theology than John Bunyan or Billy Bray. But no one would deny that all four knew their God equally well. All four of them were ‘beavers for the Bible’ which means that they worked hard like busy beavers in their study of the Bible.
[Studying the Bible like that counts for more than having a degree in theology.]
If theoretical knowledge mattered, then obviously those with greater academic learning would know God more. But it is not like that at all. You can have all the right theories and concepts in your head without ever tasting in your heart the grand realities to which they refer.
And simple Bible-readers and sermon-hearers who are full of the Holy Spirit will develop a far deeper acquaintance with their God and Saviour than more learned scholars who are content with being theologically correct.
This is because those who engage with the word of God with the Spirit’s help are those who deal with God, in order to practically apply the truth to their lives.
Second, knowing God is a matter of personal involvement. Your mind would have to be involved in the knowing of God, your will would have to be involved, and you would have to be involved at the level of your feeling. Otherwise, it is not a fully personal relationship, is it? To get to know another person, you have to spend time with them, doing what interests them, and identifying with their concerns. Without involving yourself like this, your relationship with them can only be superficial and flavourless.
Taste and see that the Lord is good. (Ps 34:8)
What does it mean to taste? It means to ‘try’ a mouthful of something in order to appreciate its flavour. A dish may look good, and the cook may recommend it highly, but we do not know its real quality till we taste it.
In the same way, we cannot know a person’s real quality till we have ‘tasted’ the experience of friendship.
In a sense, friends communicate flavours to each other all the time:
– by sharing their attitudes towards each other (lovers are a good example of this)
– by sharing their attitudes towards everything else that is a common concern
In this way, they open their hearts to each other by what they say and do. Each friend tastes the quality of the other as they go through sorrows and joys in life. They share each other’s concerns, in a personal and emotional way. They feel for each other and think of each other. This is how friends really get to know each other. And this applies to the Christian’s knowledge of God, which is a relationship between friends.
The emotional side of knowing God is played down, because we are afraid of encouraging people to be overly sentimental and weepy. We know that such self-absorbed religion is wrong, and we need to constantly stress that God does not exist
– for our comfort or
– for our happiness or
– for our satisfaction or
– to provide us with religious experiences
Anyone who claims to know God on the basis of ‘religious experiences’ but does not do what God commands, is a liar.
Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him (1 John 2:4)
Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness.(1 John 2:9)
No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him.(1 John 3:6)
If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar . . . (1 John 4:20)
We have discussed the dangers of emotional and sentimental self-absorbtion being passed off as knowing God, but we must not lose sight of the fact that knowing God is an emotional relationship too.
Knowing God is a relationship, which is:
– Volitional (this means that it is voluntary, spontaneous, and not forced)
This is how deep relationships between friends are.
Sir Winston Churchill’s personal staff were emotionally involved in the ups and downs of war. In the same way, believers have to be emotionally involved when God’s cause gains a victory in the world, and they have to be emotionally involved when God’s cause faces a setback.
– Believers are glad when their God is honoured and vindicated
When he (Barnabas) came and saw the grace of God, he was glad (Acts 11:23)
– Believers are acutely distressed when they see God scorned.
My eyes shed streams of tears, because people do not keep your law (Psalm 119:136)
– Believers feel shame and grief when convicted of having failed their Lord
Have mercy on me, O God . . . my sin is ever before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned . . . Create in me a clean heart, O God . . . Restore to me the joy of your salvation . . . a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise . . . (Psalm 51)
– Believers experience great heights of delight when God shows them how much they are loved
. . . Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory (1 Peter 1:8)
So this is the emotional side of friendship with God—the side that is based on experience. When people argue against such a thing, it just goes to show that however true that person’s thoughts of God may be, they do not know the God about whom they have those thoughts.
Third, knowing God is a matter of grace. It is a relationship where God takes the initiative from start to finish. How else can it be, because God is so completely above us? And so—because of our sins—we have no claim on His favour or friendship.
We do not make friends with God—God makes friends with us—God brings us to know Him by making His love known to us.
“But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God . . . ” (Gal 4:9)
In this verse, Paul expresses the thought that grace comes first. We come to be known by God first—this is grace—and only then can we hope to know God.
The apostle is very clear that grace comes first and is fundamental in his readers’ salvation. Their knowing God was the consequence of God’s taking knowledge of them. They know Him by faith, because He first singled them out by grace.
The word ‘KNOW’ when used of God in this way is a sovereign-grace word. It points to God’s initiative:
– in loving,
– in choosing,
– in redeeming,
– in calling, and
– in preserving us.
A part of what it means for God to know us is that
– He has perfect knowledge of us, knowing us through and through,
– whereas we only know Him imperfectly.
This idea can be seen in this verse:
For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. (1 Cor 13:12)
But the main meaning of what it means for God to know us is seen in these verses:
And the Lord said to Moses, “. . . you have found favor in my sight, and I know you by name.” (Exod 33:17)
“Before I formed you (Jeremiah) in the womb I knew you,
and before you were born I consecrated you . . .”(Jer 1:5)
“I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me . . . and I lay down my life for the sheep.” (John 10:14-15)
“My sheep hear my voice, and I know them . . . and they will never perish . . .”(John 10:27-28)
Here God’s knowledge, of those who are His, is connected with His whole purpose of saving mercy. His knowledge implies that towards those He knows—
– He has personal affection,
– He takes redeeming action,
– He shows covenant faithfulness, and
– He promises providential watchfulness.
In other words, just like we hinted at before, God’s knowledge means salvation—now and for ever.
So, in the final analysis, what matters supremely
– is not the fact that I know God,
– but it is the larger fact that underlies it—the fact that God knows me
— — that I am graven on the palms of His hands, and
— — that I am never out of His mind
All my knowledge of Him depends on the fact that He always takes the initiative in knowing me. I know Him, because
– He first knew me, and He continues to know me.
– He knows me as a friend
– He is one who loves me
– At no moment is His eye is off me
– At no moment is His attention distracted from me, and so
– At no moment does His care falter.
This is huge!
This is a momentous knowledge.
There is unspeakable comfort in the thought—
– that God is constantly taking knowledge of me in love, and
– that He is watching over me for my good
The comfort that this gives me is the kind of comfort that gives energy (energises) and not the kind that drains energy (enervates).
There is tremendous relief in the thought—
– that God’s love for me is utterly realistic, because at every point, He knows the worst about me. So there is no danger of God discovering something in me that will disillusion Him and quench His determination to bless me. I am so often disillusioned about myself, but this does not happen with God because He knows everything about me.
There is great cause for humility in the thought—
– that God sees all the twisted things about me that my fellow humans do not see (thankfully!)
– that God sees more corruption in me than that which I see in myself (and I see a enough)
There is equally great incentive to worship and love God in the thought—that for some unfathomable reason
– God wants me as His friend,
– God desires to be my friend, and
– He has given His Son to die for me to make this friendship possible.
We cannot elaborate on these thoughts here, but we are just mentioning them to show how much it means to know
– not just that we know God,
– but that He knows us.