Knowing God: Conditions and Consequences
- 2008 21 May
. . . then you will understand the fear of the LORD and find the knowledge of God. (Proverbs 2:5)
In its simplest form, the promise of the Christian faith is the privilege and glory of knowing God. Jesus put it this way: “For this is life eternal, that they might know You, the one true God, and Jesus Christ, whom You have sent” (John 17:3).
We need to understand this because, at present, there is a certain amount of confusion concerning what Christianity is all about. Just looking at the various expressions of Christianity in our own country, it would be easy to conclude that Christianity is primarily about conservative values and politics, or feeling really good about yourself, or finding the prosperity you desire and deserve, or holding people’s feet to the fire of a fairly narrow and narrow-minded moral code.
Of course, all Christians will insist that Christianity is about Jesus, the forgiveness of sins, and everlasting life, especially this last. But just what does that mean? Again, for many this simply means that they will be going to heaven when they die. In the meantime, they just have to hold on and do the best they can to keep from doing any really bad stuff, which, even if they do, they hope God will forgive them and not revoke their heavenly privileges.
In fact, I believe that Christians from all communions—however many different things they may disagree on—will affirm that gaining eternal life is the end game of the faith of Jesus. And certainly eternal life does involve a heavenly destination, but even that is subject to a variety of interpretations. Jesus said that eternal life is knowing God. If we want to realize the promise of the Christian faith, it will be found in this direction. Every true follower of Jesus will want what Jesus offers, the knowledge of God that is eternal life. But how is that knowledge gained? And how may we know when we possess it?
CONDITION FOR KNOWING GOD
In Proverbs 2, Solomon sets forth a concise catalog of what it means to know God and how we might expect that knowledge of God to find expression in our lives. Let’s consider first of all the conditions for knowing God as Solomon explains them.
Solomon insists that knowing God comes by receiving His Word (v. 1). If we are to know God, it will be on His terms, and only as much as He is willing to reveal about Himself. God reveals Himself in a variety of ways, each of which is an expression of His “Word,” or His “Reason” and “Meaning”—what the Greeks referred to as logos. This Word of God comes to us in three forms.
First, the Word of God is revealed in the things of creation (Psalm 19:1-4; Romans 1:18-20). It is the testimony of Scripture throughout that God makes known His being, character, and some things concerning His will in the works of creation, culture, and the human conscience. People can learn to “hear” the Word of God through creation, and the record of history indicates that, for many peoples, responding to the mysteries, wonders, and powers of the created world has been an impetus to religious expression. But as true a revelation of God as the things of creation are, listening for the Word of God there can be difficult, and can even lead us down wrong paths toward knowing God. Because of our sinfulness, we need more light than the creation can provide if we would know God truly.
Second, God reveals Himself through His Word in the Bible (2 Timothy 3:15-17; 2 Peter 1:19-21). In fact, we may only know what God is revealing about Himself through the creation by looking to see what He has to say about Himself through the Scriptures. The Scriptures are the lens through which we may discern the revelation of God in the created order. The more we read and study the Scripture, the more we learn about God and the better equipped we will be to discern His revelation in the creation.
But third, and most importantly, God reveals Himself to us through His Word in Jesus Christ, the incarnate Word and Son of God (John 1:1-14). In fact, Jesus is the theme of all Scripture (John 5:39). Wherever we read in Scripture, the Word of God written is pointing to the Word of God in Jesus. Thus also, in a very real sense, wherever we study in the world of creation, we should also be looking to discover something about the beauty, goodness, and truth of God as these are revealed in Jesus.
The knowledge of God is revealed in His Word. Jesus is the Rosetta Stone of revelation, the Focusing Light of God’s self-revelation. By looking to Jesus and receiving Him, we gain the key to understanding Scripture, the Great Light of revelation, and this, in turn, enables us to read the Lesser Light of creation in a way that advances the knowledge of God in us. The knowledge of God begins by receiving His Word.
Once we have determined to receive the Word of God, then we are ready to seek the knowledge of God in all these arenas of revelation. Solomon explains the conditions and qualifications whereby we may hope to benefit from having received the Word of God.
First, we must treasure the Law of God which we find revealed in His Word (v. 1). In order truly to know God as He reveals Himself in His Law, we must strive to attain the place the psalmist realized when he cried, “Oh how I love Your Law! It is my meditation all the day” (Psalm 119:97). This only makes sense. Jesus, the Word of God, loved the Law so much that He fulfilled it in exhaustive detail (Matthew 5:15-17). John insists that those who want to follow Jesus will seek to do the same (1 John 2:1-6). If we do not love the commandments of God, we will not be able to make progress in knowing Him.
Second, we must seek the wisdom that comes from the Word of God (v. 2). Wisdom is simply living in a way that reflects the good purposes of God. We don’t seek the Word just to hide it in our hearts or understand it with our minds. We seek the Word of God, and the knowledge of God to which the Word leads us, so that we might live in wisdom as God intends. To do this we will need to engage the Word with our minds (v. 2), embrace it in our hearts (v. 2), value it as our top priority in life (vv. 3, 4), and live in obedience to what it teaches.
This matter of seeking the knowledge of God—to understand, embrace, value, and obey it—through the various avenues of His Word must be an urgent and constant quest. Solomon says we need to cry and plead with God to give us the insight and understanding we seek (v. 3). We will not gain the knowledge of God if we regard it as anything other than the most important undertaking of our lives, every day of our lives. A merely casual approach to seeking the knowledge of God will not result in that objective. We must be urgent, determined, resolved, focused each day, and giving ourselves to the study of God’s Word in all its aspects and expressions.
It is possible for human beings to know God, and, thus, to gain eternal life. God Himself has spoken and shown us what the conditions are for knowing Him, and for growing in the knowledge of God every day of our lives (2 Peter 3:18). It is every human being’s highest purpose and calling to know God; thus it should be our highest priority to advance in the knowledge as fully as possible.
THE CONSEQUENCES OF KNOWING GOD
But can’t anybody claim that he knows God? Is it possible to identify those who truly know God—truly possess eternal life—as distinct from those who are simply mouthing some identity with the faith of Christ? Solomon thinks so. He holds out various consequences of knowing God that begin to be evident in the lives of those who do.
First, those who know the Lord fear the Lord (v. 5). They know Him to be all-holy and all-powerful, and themselves to be sinful and subject to His wrath. The fear of God issues in reverent worship. This, in turn, engenders love for Him, as those who fear Him come through worship to know what He has done through Jesus Christ to free them from His wrath and draw them into the knowledge of God. This fear of God does not subside in those who are thus delivered from His wrath; rather, it continues as a reminder of God’s holiness and a warning against departing the path of obedience. Thus it is that the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom.
Second, those who truly know God manifest certain defining attributes. These include confidence and hope (v. 7), a life of justice and righteousness (vv. 8, 9), the ability to discern good from evil and to choose the way of goodness (vv. 11-15), and living a life of increasing goodness, uprightness, and integrity (vv. 20-22). Those who know God fear and love Him. Love for God leads them to seek Him earnestly, that they might know Him better. Knowing Him leads to wisdom, which comes to expression in every area of their lives in the forms of hope, righteousness, justice, goodness, and uprightness. The knowledge of God which they possess thus works in them to transform them increasingly into the very image of the Word of God Himself.
While it is a simple thing to claim to know God, and even simpler to deceive oneself into believing that such is the case when it is not, there are certain marks by which we may be certain we have entered into the knowledge of God, and thus, are in possession of the gift of eternal life. As the Apostle Peter put it, it is the duty of all who claim to have eternal life—to know God—to give all diligence to add those virtues and attributes which are the fruit of that knowledge, thus proving their possession of it and ensuring entry into the Kingdom of those who know God (2 Peter 1:5-11).
At the end of his second epistle to the church in Corinth, the apostle Paul exhorted the congregation of those gathered to hear his letter to examine themselves, to determine whether or not they really were in possession of eternal life. It is possible to deceive ourselves in this matter of knowing God, of possessing eternal life. It is not sufficient merely to recall having prayed a prayer, or to have been baptized, or even to be faithful in attending or serving in one’s church. Doubtless most of those assembled in Corinth to hear Paul’s letter read fell into one or more of those categories.
But Paul, like Solomon, understood that knowing God—truly knowing Him—changes everything in a person’s life. If we are earnest, sincere, and diligent in seeking the knowledge of God through all the avenues by which His Word is speaking to us, we will find Him, indeed. And the results of that will be nothing short of transformational in every area of our lives. When we have truly come to know God through His Word, nothing remains the same; all things become new, and are being made new day by day through the indwelling Word who gives us eternal life and the knowledge of God. So let us examine ourselves. And let us by all means press on to know God, and to possess eternal life through His Word.
When did you first begin to know God? How have you applied yourself to pursuing knowledge of Him since then? To what extent is the fruit of the knowledge of God evident in your life?
T. M. Moore is dean of the Centurions Program of the Wilberforce Forum and principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He is the author or editor of 20 books, and has contributed chapters to four others. His essays, reviews, articles, papers, and poetry have appeared in dozens of national and international journals, and on a wide range of websites. His most recent books are Culture Matters (Brazos) and The Hidden Life, a handbook of poems, songs, and spiritual exercises (Waxed Tablet). Sign up at his website to receive his daily email devotional Crosfigell, reflections on Scripture and the Celtic Christian tradition. T. M. and his wife and editor, Susie, make their home in Concord, Tenn.
This article originally appeared on BreakPoint. Used with permission.