Editor’s Note: Today’s blog entry is the fourth of four posts that digs into the concept of “knowing God.” Each post explores a theme from the biblical text that helps to explain what it means to know God and how that theme impacts the journey of following Jesus today. Here is part 1. Here is part 2. Here is part 3.
I opened this blog series with the image of a long-distance run. It’s an image the Apostle Paul uses to describe his own experience of following Jesus: “Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13-14). That statement is interesting because of what precedes it. In vs. 8, Paul says “I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” Paul knows God. He has tasted of the greatness of that relationship. But then, two verses later, he says “I want to know Christ” (v. 10, emphasis added).
So does Paul know Jesus, or is he still striving to know Him?
The answer is…yes.
I want to end this series here because my earlier posts raise an important question for a lot of us—the question of degree. In part one, I argued that knowing God is about encountering God’s presence in real time. In part two, I said we can only know God through obeying Him. Then, in part three, I said knowing God is about intimacy. All three of these themes can easily lead us to wonder, “How much is needed in order to know God?” They seem like really tall orders.
What if I don’t sense God’s presence?
What if I’ve been disobedient?
What if God feels distant, rather than intimate?
Do I not know God then?
I’m hoping this final theme will help relieve this tension. These ideas can feel daunting and out of reach. But when we also embrace this one, our perspective shifts. Hope, confidence and motivation can grow. Please lean in and open your heart to this last theme. It’s super important.
Knowing God is a journey we grow into, not a destination we arrive at. It’s an experience over time, not a possession we acquire.
Abraham is perhaps the biblical example of this “journey” theme. God calls Abraham (then Abram) to leave his home and follow Him to a new land. He offers Abraham a covenant, an unconditional relationship, which Paul identifies as the same context of our own faith in Christ. We are “children of Abraham,” and we are “blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith” (Galatians 3:7-9).
For Abraham, knowing God meant a literal journey because God was leading him to a new physical place. But Abraham’s knowing of God grew and matured over time through mistakes and through experience of God’s faithfulness. It’s the same for us. We enter the journey of knowing God through faith, and that knowing of God leads us on a journey from one place to another, from immature faith and disobedience to mature faith and transformation.
This journey motif is critical for grasping and living into biblical faith.
The Theological Dictionary of the New Testament notes that “knowing God” (Greek ginosko) is “not a fixed possession but develops in the life of the Christian as lasting obedience and reflection” (Kittel, Vol. 1, p. 707). Knowing God is not something you “have” the way my friends have tickets to see U2 this summer (jealous!). Knowing God is dynamic and living because we’re people, and God is personal. Knowing Him is a relationship that grows and develops throughout the life of a follower of Jesus and will culminate when He returns and restores all things. From then on, we’ll know Him without any interference from the Fall. Our union with Him will be complete.
Jesus’ definition of eternal life reflects this understanding: “This is eternal life: that they may know you the only true God and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:3). By defining “eternal life” as “knowing God,” Jesus shows that it’s not something to have (assurance of going to Heaven) but something to experience (a living, breathing relationship). Eternal life is not the reward at the end of the journey; it’s the journey itself. It begins when we put our faith in Christ and continues forever. Your experience of putting your faith in Christ may have been a dramatic experience, or it may have felt like a process over time. Either way, something profound happened, or rather is happening. When you gave your life to Christ, you were placed on a journey of knowing Jesus as Lord, Savior, Shepherd, Friend, and —yes—Lover.
All of these themes—encounter, obedience, intimacy, journey—have been true for you from the moment you believed. Let that sink in.
One redemptive encounter with God—faith in Christ—is enough for salvation. That same, single step of obedience—repentance and faith—is adequate. There was more intimacy in that moment than we realize. God’s Spirit mingled with your spirit. He entered and touched your heart in a way that no one else can, and He’s still there. He is speaking, comforting, convicting, guiding, reminding, nudging and so much more.
If it sounds creepy that God’s Spirit is mingling with your spirit, great. You’re getting the picture.
In my last post about intimacy, I mentioned the image of marriage. That image helps us with journey, too. When an engaged couple gets married, they experience intimacy in a new way—but it’s just the beginning. It was real at the start, but it’s only getting started. By God’s grace, their life together will shape and mature them individually, and their relationship will mature and deepen as well. They love each other at the wedding; their love will grow and mature for years to come.
In your life with God, it’s okay, if you haven’t noticed God’s presence in obvious ways. It’s okay if your obedience is not yet complete. It’s okay if you’re still figuring out what love and intimacy even mean. We’re all growing in our knowing of God. Just remember this: if you’ve put your faith in Jesus, that knowing is real in all of these ways, and God invites you to go deeper with Him.
Be intentional and confident about this relationship, but also be patient with yourself. Take the risk of noticing God’s presence in your life. Be in awe of how He loves and relates to you. Do whatever He tells you in obedience. Trust Him. Open your heart to Him little by little, prayer by prayer. He already loves you as much as He ever could.