The Heart of True Understanding
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.(Proverbs 9:10)
What is the most important thing in the world to every Christian? It is to grow in the knowledge of God.
The knowledge of God is the heart of salvation and of all true spiritual experience. Knowing Him is what we were created for. It will occupy us throughout all eternity. In Scripture, it is almost equivalent to salvation. Jesus said that eternal life, or salvation means knowledge of God; “And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.”(John 17:3) To be a Christian is not a mindless experience, but involves knowledge and understanding. It means a personal relationship and personal acquaintance with the Lord.
Behind what Jesus says in John’s Gospel lies the promise that God gave centuries before in the prophecy of the new covenant: “I will give them a heart to know that I am the Lord”.(Jeremiah 24:7) The fulfillment of the prophecy would mean, Jeremiah added, “No longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord’, for they shall know me, from the least of them to the greatest.”(Jeremiah 31:34) Isaiah similarly tells us that this knowledge of God is what would mark the reign of the promised Messiah, Jesus Christ: “The earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.”(Isaiah 11:9) What a vision! Yet it summarizes what Scripture tells us Christ came to do; to bring us the knowledge of God.
Such knowledge of God is really the heart of all true understanding in the Christian life. A man or woman may be a Christian and remain ignorant of many things. But we cannot be Christians and remain ignorant of God. In the final analysis, says the wise man in Proverbs, “knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.”(Proverbs 9:10)
O that we would fully and truly know God. The heart of all preaching and teaching is that we would know the Lord. It is possible to attend church all your life and never know God. It is possible to hear great sermons and sing great songs about God and never know Him. Just as it is in human relations, it is possible to be with God and never know Him. I’ve noticed that you can live in your community for years and never know your neighbor or work at a job and never know your co-workers. You can even attend church for years and never know fellow worshippers. The Bible tells of two of the disciples who are walking down to road when Jesus joins them. They walk along for a while and engage in conversation but for some reason fail to recognize Him. Later, Thomas requires the experience of touching the scars in His hands to accept the fact that it’s really Jesus. There’s even the occasion when Phillip says, “Show us the Father.” Jesus replies, “If you’ve seen Me you’ve seen the Father.” Besides coming to die for our sins, Christ also came to make the Father known in a personal way.
Why is it so important to know God? Because it’s the basis of our salvation. Christianity is not some set of rituals designed to incur the acceptance of a god who’s impersonal and distant. The confusion of the Greeks lay in their attempt to make the gods human. However, their gods had attributes that encompassed the worst of human behavior. They were petty, jealous and constantly strived for power. They played cruel games with humans often using them to carry out their vendettas against each other. Even the Jews of Jesus day saw God as someone to please only to receive His blessings and to stay His judgement. Indeed they taught that any that suffered were being punished by God for their sins. For this reason, when they observed the compassion of Jesus toward the fallen, sinful, needy humans, they couldn’t see God for that kind of grace didn’t fit their perception of God. They projected that they knew God so they were offended when Christ portrayed a different God.
I’m sure most of us have met people and discovered that after getting to know them that our first impression or what we had been told about that person was false. There have been individuals over the years that initially I thought they were not good people, but after spending time with them and really getting to know them, I saw they were really wonderful individuals. I’ve also had the opposite to occur. I’ve met people and initially they seemed like good people but after getting to know them, I discovered they were very different. I’ve been given wrong impressions about people I didn’t know that colored my initial view, but when I got to know that person, I discovered that impression was inaccurate.
If this happens among humans, the it also happens with our perception of God. I wonder how many people there are who see God as angry and judgmental? I know He’s being presented that way right now. I wonder how many see God as only the object of ritual and never the “friend that’s closer than a brother. Like the blind men trying to describe the elephant, the best we know of God and no matter how hard we try, we fall far short of making God known to others. Scripture says, “Taste and see that the Lord is good”.
Over the years I’ve had friends to rave about the food at a certain restaurant, but until I tried it for myself their description wasn’t sufficient. In the same way, I know as a preacher, no matter how I try to present God, you will never fully know Him until you’ve met Him personally. How I long for the day when Christians truly know God for themselves. What impact will that make and how will it be seen? I believe it will be reflected in our worship and our work. It will be felt in our conversations about the Lord. It will be seen in our presentation of the Lord to those who don’t know Him. It will minimize the wrong impressions of God. It will enhance our prayer life and increase our faith to believe that “He is and that He is a rewarder of those who trust Him.”
May we more fully know God and may we no longer settle for knowing about Him through the eyes of someone else.
Dr. John Thompson