Do We Know God?


Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the LORD. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD.
—Jeremiah 31:31-34a ESV

Everyone wants to know a person’s qualifications for ministry. There’s an art form to that little boast, but I’d rather like to know someone’s disqualifications for ministry instead. I’m certain they’d reveal more worthwhile truth than a hundred puffed-up positive examples.

One of these days I’ll post my full list of disqualifications for ministry, but until then I just want to list one: I’ve never read J.I. Packer’s Knowing God.

Perhaps that’s why I’m puzzled by so many of the descriptions of knowing God that I hear out there. I found this particularly unsatisfying one on the site of someone I respect:

Feeling God-Not Knowing God
In Christian music we are missing the key pillar, the cornerstone, which the other two rely upon – sound doctrine! There has already occurred a much needed return to praise and worship in the church and we’ve observed that across the board in evangelicalism. There has also been, in recent years noted scandals with both Televangelists and Christian artists, bringing a heightened call for more personal integrity, holiness and ecclesiastical accountability. Though we have not arrived in those areas, we are on the path, nevertheless, the Achilles heel of our industry is the blatant absence of sound biblical theology which has effected every level of Christian music. This is most evident in its message. Christian music, originally called Jesus Music that once fearlessly sang about the gospel, now sings of a Christ-less, watered-down, pabulum-based, positive alternative, aura-fluff cream of wheat, mush-kind-of-syrupy God-as-my-girlfriend thing. There is an obvious reason this has taken place: artists primarily feel; theologians primarily think. We need artists who will balance their zeal with knowledge to invest their lives in the daily discipline of Bible study, and then, to write with the fire, passion and enthusiasm which that study has illumined to communicate the glorious language of the church – the holy Word of God! Until this occurs, we are guilty of sentencing a generation of Christians to simply “feel” their God, rather than to know their God!

So the problem here is that people feel God, but they don’t have the Bible memorized alongside a correct doctrinal stance? Hmm…. When I was growing up in the Lutheran Church I was told that knowing the Bible inside and out was not the same as knowing God. This was reiterated years later in the Presbyterian Church. The problem here becomes one of knowing God versus knowing about God. It’s the same as if a man were to tell me everything he knows about his girlfriend. I can get a rough idea of her, but I truly don’t know her at all. Having facts about her does not equate to knowing her. (I’d even go so far as to say that this man may not truly know his girlfriend, either. There’s an enhancing of the knowing that develops as she moves from a girlfriend to a wife. Hence the Bible’s use of the word “know” in that one unusual sense.)

I’m not certain what the author of that quote is saying then. He also talks up passion and enthusiasm, but then downplays feeling in knowing God. That’s not only confusing, but adds no insight into the equation he’s offering for knowing God:

Knowing God = Enthusiasm for God + Knowledge of the Bible

I’ve known a few folks in my time who’ve had both of those items on the right of that equal sign and virtually none of what’s on the left of it. I don’t think this equation works.

The “enthusiasm for God” issue is also tough to deconstruct. Brand new Christians who are about a millimeter deep in the Lord can have boatloads of enthusiasm and know God only marginally. Meanwhile, the taciturn guy in the back pew may be a mile deep, but he’s not quite as bubbly as your average Campus Crusade cheerleader who became a believer last year.

I’m postive the quote’s author would add the Holy Spirit into that mix if he had the opportunity to revise his comments. The Spirit becomes the unnamed essential that is simply assumed.

Now the equation reads:

Knowing God = (Enthusiasm for God + Knowledge of the Bible) x The Holy Spirit

In other words, the Spirit generates the enthusiasm for God and illuminates the knowledge of the Bible. That’s a bit more satisfying than the previous equation, but still I’m left unmoved by it.

A conundrum exists now that the presence of the Holy Spirit has been added. A Catch-22 of sorts emerges in that you have to know the Holy Spirit in order to know God. The Bible says as much:

Yet among the mature we do impart wisdom, although it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to pass away. But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. But, as it is written, “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him”—these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual. The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one. “For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ.
—1 Corinthians 2:6-16 ESV

Knowing the Spirit is essential to knowing God because the Spirit alone searches the depths of God, giving revelation of His Personhood.

If we use the idea that the original quote’s author makes, we’re back to square one because we have to know the Spirit. Can the Spirit be known through enthusiasm and knowledge of the Bible? If that were true, what explains all the spiritually dull Christianity we see around us today? One would have to wonder from this if anyone knows the Spirit, much less knows God the Father, or the Son.

In the end, I worry about making knowing God into an equation. Some well-meaning teachers and preachers have tried to balance that equation and have only driven people to despair as they try to follow the formula. You can add just about any aspect of Christian practice into the equation and still not come out knowing God.

If this were just a routine issue, we could blow it off. There are some today who call themselves Christians yet believe that God is unknowable—I am not one of those people! I believe that knowing God is critical because if we do not know God, He does not know us. I think we’re all familiar with this passage:

Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’
—Matthew 7:21-23 ESV

I’ll end here with a question to all you readers:

What constitutes knowing God?

10 thoughts on “Do We Know God?

  1. Without faith, it’s impossible to please God. (Heb. 11:6)

    If one leaves faith out of the picture, the picture ends up being very distorted.

    As far as �disqualifications� for ministry go:

    (1) Would your list end up disqualifying you, Dan?

    (2) My study of the history of revivals has led me to at least one preliminary conclusion: God uses shady (and also unqualified) people, and even does so in quite remarkable ways.

  2. Anonymous

    Well as far as formulas go:

    Knowing God = (He knows me + He sends his spirit)x I accept Christ/Spirit and repent – bent on sin + perpetual hunger for the things of God

  3. ReformedSoccerGuy

    If Jesus Christ is Lord (Scripture says he is), than to know him is to understand that and to yield to it. So our attitude, thoughts and actions will be greatly impacted in a way that causes us to conform to what he wants us to be.

    What (or perhaps better put, how) he wants us to be is NOT a subjective thing, it is spelled out in painstaking detail in the whole of Scripture.

  4. ReformedSoccerGuy,

    Thanks for stopping by! I always like to see new readers.

    You bring up a point that needs to be expanded. The more we do the things that Christ tells us we should do, the more we get to know Him through that obedience. That works in the same way that added responsibility works. Be faithful in little and then get entrusted with more.

    If we train our ears to hear the Lord through our obedience, then we get more adept at discerning His voice along with that.

    Something to always keep in mind.

  5. Rob Trotter

    For a glib little saying that a firned of mine was told when starting in a ministry position:

    “God doesn’t call the qualified, he qualifies the called”

  6. Anonymous

    Knowing God is

    Understanding what He says in the Bible He gave us
    Experiencing His love
    Being indwelt with the Holy Spirit
    Accepting Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord (both are needful!)
    Being as faithful as we can be to Him
    Faith-ing – because faith is often not a noun, but a verb.
    Loving Him
    Loving our neighbors as ourselves
    Loving our brothers
    Listening to Him
    Praying to Him
    Giving to Him
    Giving to those in need
    Acting in accordance with the scriptures

    Not necessarily in that order.

  7. Caleb W

    Stuart Olyott, a preacher and “pastor to pastors” here in the UK who I respect immensely, spoke at our church prayer meeting recently on the state of the Church in our country of Wales. One of the points he made while talking about the state of the church is that most Christians are confused about one or more of the components of the Christian life. He described the Christian life (which ought to be synonymous with knowing God) as involving three elements:

    – Knowledge – we have a knowledge of the truths of the Gospel which tell us about God
    – Action – we are obedient to the will and commands of God by living out the life of love and holiness he calls us to
    – Experience – (and this, he said, is the one most badly misunderstood) having a genuine experience of God and his working in our lives

    All these three are necessary for each other, and to really know God we need to have each of them in their proper balance to the others.

    The Gospel isn’t just dry doctrine which is emotionally unsatisfying, and neither is it just wild emotion which is without rational basis. The Christian faith is rooted in evidence and sound reason, while also being a spiritual experience that transcends what is knowable and describable. Knowledge and experience should prompt us to obedience, and obedience helps us to grow in knowledge and experience of God.

    I’ve found that very helpful for understanding the Christian life and my relationship with God better, so I thought I’d pass that on!

  8. Caleb, et al.,

    I find it ironic that I came to post some of my further thoughts on this subject and your post said much of what I wanted to say!

    I think that too much of what we consider knowing God is based on things we do for Him. I’m not certain that’s how knowing a flesh and blood person works, much less a spiritual entity like God.

    The role of experience cannot be underestimated, yet some people invalidate experience as if it is not worthy of comment. I believe that experience indeed rounds out our knowledge of God and must have equal billing with the others. The desert island example comes into play here because we would still know God even if we were stranded on a desert island with no Bible and no real opportunities to minister. That experience might even be better for us because we would rely on Him more and also see Him in the small things that we ignore in our loud, busy world.

    Thanks for writing!

  9. anoninva

    How can we know God without the Holy Scriptures which reveal Him to us? True, the creation also declares the glory of God – his wisdom and His power.

    But the Word of God is where we actually learn of Him and all that He has revealed to us: His works, His attributes, His salvation, His grace shed upon all of his creatures. If we don’t get this all from the scriptures, we cannot worship the One true God, but only a god which we have dreamt up in our own imaginations. Knowing God is knowing Him by the means which He has given us, and according to that which He has revealed. yes, it is a vital, real relationship, from the heart. But it is one that is based upon the truths of scripture. There God has revealed Himself most fully, and there He will also meet with His people.

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