And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent. (John 17:3)
We have been answering the question, “why don’t I enjoy God?” Many, many Christians would confess that they don’t enjoy God. They know that they can enjoy God. They know that they should enjoy God. But they don’t enjoy God.
They want to enjoy Him. They may try to enjoy Him. But their efforts end in frustration, and soon it is back to the grindstone. I believe this is the case among believers who are faithful to their devotions. I believe it is the case among believers who are careful in their everyday lives, who strive to honor God and do what is right.
We have observed several hindrances to our delight in the Lord. So far, we have considered two of the most obvious – you cannot enjoy God until you are born again, and you cannot enjoy God while harboring sin. I want to tackle yet another hindrance to enjoying God – we cannot enjoy God if we do not know Him.
In His intercessory prayer, Jesus said that knowing God the Father and God the Son “is life eternal.” That is, “eternal life is not so much everlasting life as personal knowledge of the Everlasting One.” (D.A. Carson, The Gospel According to John, p. 556) This eternal life begins the moment we receive the Lord Jesus as our Savior. It reaches its summit in the day when we hear, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant… enter thou into the joy of thy lord.” Between the day we receive Christ and the day we see Him, we can expect to grow into that joy and delight in the Lord Jesus Christ. But our growth as Christians, as measured by the growing delight we experience in the Lord Jesus, comes as we grow in our knowledge and understanding of Him.
Paul’s description of Christian charity includes this growth in knowledge and understanding:
For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away. When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things. For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known. (I Corinthians 13:9-12)
In the day when we see Jesus face-to-face, our joy and delight in the Lord will be complete.
Despite our discomfort with the Song of Solomon, the descriptions and allusions in that Song suggest a level of intimacy that goes beyond mere acquaintance. Solomon’s poetic description serves as a sort of double entendre, strongly suggesting the kind of delight that takes place between the sinner and the Savior. As the bride searches for her betrothed, we have one of the finest illustrations of the longing the Christian has for Christ.
By night on my bed I sought him whom my soul loveth: I sought him, but I found him not. I will rise now, and go about the city in the streets, and in the broad ways I will seek him whom my soul loveth: I sought him, but I found him not. The watchmen that go about the city found me: to whom I said, Saw ye him whom my soul loveth? It was but a little that I passed from them, but I found him whom my soul loveth: I held him, and would not let him go, until I had brought him into my mother’s house, and into the chamber of her that conceived me. (Song of Solomon 3:1-4)
If we would enjoy God, if we would delight in Him, we must come to know Him. We must seek Him and search for Him and we must not be satisfied until we know Him on a personal level, until we enjoy fellowship and trust and a personal relationship with Him. With that in mind, I want to consider three things: first the hindrances to knowing God, then the means of knowing God, and finally the joy of knowing God.
The Hindrances to Knowing God
Let me point out three specific hindrances:
First, we hold to false views of God. In some cases, we emphasize one Person of the Trinity above the others. At other times and in other ways, we neglect one Person of the Trinity in favor of the others. For instance, Christian traditions that emphasis God the Father to the neglect of the other Persons of the Trinity tend to think of God as distant and austere. They have a very high and majestic view of God, but struggle to relate to Him on a personal level. Traditions that emphasize God the Son to the neglect of the other Persons of the Trinity tend to see God as one of the boys, your best bud, the kind of friend who joins you at the park in a pair of blue jeans or perhaps in a pair of shorts and sandals. That is where the obscene idea comes from that Jesus is the sort of fellow who would knock back a few beers with the guys. Christian traditions that emphasize God the Holy Spirit to the neglect of the others will think of God as mystical and mysterious. They tend to place a heavy emphasis on signs and wonders and the supernatural, and much of their focus is on feelings and experiences.
The God we would know is the Triune God, and we must learn to relate equally to the entire Trinity of God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Bible teaches an equality between the three. In the Trinity, we find a hierarchy of authority — “the head of Christ is God” (I Corinthians 11:3). But we find an equality of being. The three persons of the Godhead, though distinct from one another, are nonetheless equal with each other – the Father is fully God, the Son is fully God, and the Holy Spirit is fully God. Therefore, we must hold our emphasis on the Persons in the Godhead in balance. We cannot pursue God the Father without pursuing God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. Our pursuit of one Person of the Godhead involves an equal pursuit of the other Persons. When we emphasize one Person to the neglect of the others, we are hindered in our pursuit of God.
Second, we know about God without knowing Him. God has made Himself known to us in His Word. If we don’t know Him then, the fault is not His, it is ours. We can know Him. He has made Himself known to us. We should know Him. We are commanded to know Him, and the blessedness of knowing Him has been described to us in Scripture. So, why don’t we know Him?
I believe the fault lies in our approach to God. Too many Christians attempt to know God through feeling and experience rather than through the Words of God. God reveals Himself in Scripture. Any attempt to know God apart from or independently of the Words of God will cause confusion at best. In many cases, the “god” that is known has no connection to the God of the Bible whatsoever. Trying to know God through one’s feelings is as ludicrous as attempting to explore the ocean by standing on the shore and gazing in rapture at the waves. Your experience of the ocean is irreconcilably hobbled by your very limited perspective.
Third, we take a merely intellectual approach to God. A.W. Tozer argued that the mind is not the place where one can develop a relationship with God. This is partly due to the fact that the mind is fallen. But it is also due to the fact that the mind was not made for relationship. The bonds of relationship are not built merely on the intellect. We relate to each other personally, spiritually, emotionally. Our intellect certainly plays a role in this, but it must not be the center.
We really ought to consider the effect technology – especially our screens – have on our relationships. In this modern day, we find that most of our relationships are mediated through technology. As a result, we find that people struggle more and more to relate to each other. People feel more isolated and alone – Sherry Turkle aptly described it as “Alone Together.” In too many cases, parents have found it difficult to relate to their children because both parent and child are glued to their screens all day long.
Our technologies have conditioned us to take a very mechanical approach to God. Much as the rise of technology has hindered our personal relationships, it is affecting our relationship with God. We expect God to respond to us the way our devices do. We treat our relationship to Him like a data transfer or a download. But our walk with God must be personal, and we must relate to God on a spiritual level rather than a mechanical level. Because God doesn’t send or receive text messages, doesn’t post on Facebook or YouTube or Instagram, and doesn’t chat anywhere, we don’t know how to relate to Him.
Our ignorance of God is a moral failure, and nothing less than that. Obstinate ignorance, rebellious ignorance, apathetic ignorance, whatever the case, we have not taken the time to know God when we could (and should).
The Means of Knowing God
The means of knowing God comes through God Himself. The finite cannot reach the infinite, and therefore the infinite God reaches down to finite man. The three Persons of the Trinity unite to draw us into relationship with Himself. Thus, the means of knowing God center on the three Persons in the Godhead. Specifically, we can know God through the Father’s revelation, the Son’s sacrifice, and the Holy Spirit’s illumination. Consider these one at a time.
We know God through His Word. Not through any kind of mechanical reading of the Word. We know God as we fellowship with Him in the Word, as we enjoy Him in the Word, as we feed on Him in the Word and are fed by Him in the Word. This might be the most repeated theme in this series, but we cannot expect to know God if we do not pay attention when we read the Word. The Bible teaches us to let the Word of God dwell in us richly – in other words, be absorbed with the Word, and let the Word saturate you. God has given you the means of knowing Him through His revelation of Himself.
We know God by means of Christ’s sacrifice. His sacrifice reveals God in such a fresh and personal way that we find it the most natural way for us to know God. As the Apostle Paul described it,
But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord. (2 Corinthians 3:18)
For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. (2 Corinthians 4:6)
The bloody sacrifice of Jesus on the cross reveals God’s wrath against sin and His mercy, grace, kindness, love, and commitment towards undeserving sinners. We see the way God has pursued us, even to death.
Not only does the cross reveal God to us, but more relevant to our topic, Christ’s sacrifice has provided us immediate access to God. Jesus in His sacrifice tore the veil in two, making access possible.
For he is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us; Having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; for to make in himself of twain one new man, so making peace; And that he might reconcile both unto God in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby: And came and preached peace to you which were afar off, and to them that were nigh. For through him we both have access by one Spirit unto the Father. (Ephesians 2:14-18)
Consider A.W. Tozer on this point…
Ransomed men need no longer pause in fear to enter the Holy of Holies. God wills that we should push on into His Presence and live our whole life there. This is to be known to us in conscious experience. It is more than a doctrine to be held; it is a life to be enjoyed every moment of every day. (Tozer, The Pursuit of God, p. 42)
We know God by means of the Holy Spirit’s illumination. God’s Holy Spirit communes with the Spirit of man so that we can know God on a deeper and more personal level. The Spirit’s illumination does not consist of mere enlightenment, the way proud men believe that they have arrived at a higher plain. The Spirit’s illumination involves freeing us from sin – because so long as we continue in sin, we cannot enjoy knowing God.
Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God. (Matthew 5:8)
But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him. But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God. For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God. Which things also we speak, not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual. But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. But he that is spiritual judgeth all things, yet he himself is judged of no man. For who hath known the mind of the Lord, that he may instruct him? But we have the mind of Christ. (I Corinthians 2:9-16)
Let the truth of Scripture sink into your heart. Then, learn to know God through the means He has provided.
I want to end with
The Joy of Knowing God
The more we know Him, the more we can delight in Him. Earlier, I mentioned the difference between knowing about God and knowing God. Let me point out now that we cannot know God unless we know about Him. The more we know about Him, the more equipped we are to know Him. We must not stop there, but we must not skip over that part either. And as we know Him better, we find Him more refreshing, more delightful.
The more we know Him, the less we need of anything else. As the knowledge of the holy fills your heart and mind and soul and life, you find that your need for any substitute will gradually disappear. You will find the deepest satisfaction in knowing God, so that you can say with Paul,
But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ. Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ, And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith: That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death; If by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead. (Philippians 3:7-11)
I hope I can encourage you, Christian, to pursue God with all your heart. There is no other treasure worth devoting your life to. Let these words of the Psalmist inform your pursuit…
O God, thou art my God; early will I seek thee: my soul thirsteth for thee, my flesh longeth for thee in a dry and thirsty land, where no water is; To see thy power and thy glory, so as I have seen thee in the sanctuary. (Psalm 63:1-2)