Knowing God vs. Knowing About God

One of the concepts that spoke to me in J. I Packer’s Knowing God is that knowing God – having an intimate relationship with Him – is not the ssame thing as simply knowing about God. Since my temperament leans strongly toward thinking and analyzing, I need to be reminded of this truth.

…interest in theology, and knowledge about God, and the capacity to think clearly and talk well on Christian themes, is not at all the same thing as knowing Him. We may know as much about God as Calvin knew – indeed, if we study his works diligently, sooner or later we shall – and yet all the time (unlike Calvin, may I say) we may hardly know God at all…The question is not whether we are good at theology, or “balanced” (horrible, self-conscious word!) in our approach to problems of Christian living; the question is, can we say, simply, honestly, not because we feel that as evangelicals we ought to, but because it is plain matter of fact, that we have known God, and that because we have known God the unpleasantness we have had, or the pleasantness we have not had, through being Christians does not matter to us? If we really knew God, this is what we would be saying, and if we are not saying it, that is a sign that we need to face ourselves more sharply with the difference between knowing God and merely knowing about Him.

– J. I Packer, Knowing God

But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ?the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith.

– Philippians 3:7-9 (NIV)

God Beyond Our Conception

I love theology – I love reading about it, talking about it, buying books about it (even if I haven’t read them all yet!), and studying about it. But you don’t have to look into theology for very long before you realize that there are some controversies that will never be resolved, and there are some things we will never be able to figure out about God. He has revealed much about Himself in His word, but but He hasn’t revealed everything about Himself. He’s given us all we need to know, but certainly not all we want to know. I’m sure one reason He did that is so we would have to trust Him more. But I also think one of the reasons is that our finite human minds are simply too limited to understand some of what we’d like to understand about God. I think this quote by Novatian expresses it well:

Here, and in all our meditations upon the qualities and content of God, we pass beyond our power of fit conception, nor can human eloquence put forth a power commensurate with His greatness. At the contemplation and utterance of His majesty all eloquence is rightly dumb, all mental effort is feeble. For God is greater than mind itself. His greatness cannot be conceived. Nay, could we conceive of His greatness He would be less than the human mind which could form the conception. He is greater than all language, and no statement can express Him. Indeed, if any statement could express Him, He would be less than human speech which could by such statement comprehend and gather up all that He is. All our thoughts about Him will be less than He, and our loftiest utterances will be trivialities in comparison with Him.

– Novatian (c.200-c.258)
(as quoted in A. W. Tozer’s The Knowledge of the Holy)

"For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
       neither are your ways my ways,"
       declares the LORD.

"As the heavens are higher than the earth,
       so are my ways higher than your ways
       and my thoughts than your thoughts."

- Isaiah 55:8-9 (NIV)

Linking Faith & Life: Church Ministry Opportunities

bibles1web.jpgA few months ago I told you about the new church plant God led me to become involved in. I’ve already had two new opportunities to serve since Christmas: last Sunday I planned and led the worship music, and I’m going to co-lead a small group with my pastor on the basics of the Christian faith and life (or doctrine and practice – see “A Right Conception of God” below). When we met to plan the content, I showed him some simple Bible study questions I was taught long ago at a Campus Crusade for Christ conference, and he encouraged me to share them. I don’t know the original source of these questions, but I found them so helpful that I copied them into my quiet time” notebook so I could use them frequently. Here they are:

Four Short Bible Studies for Personal Devotions

Two Question Study

  1. What does this tell me about God?
  2. How does this apply to me?

Five Question Study

  1. What verse stands out to me personally?
  2. Are there any commands to heed?
  3. Are there any promises to claim?
  4. What does this tell me about God?
  5. How does this apply to me?

Ten Question Study

  1. What is the key verse of the passage, or what verse stands out to me personally?
  2. Are there any examples to follow?
  3. Are there any actions to avoid?
  4. Are there any commands to heed?
  5. Are there any promises to claim?
  6. Are there any principles to take note of?
  7. What does this tell me about God?
  8. Any other observations or thoughts?
  9. How does this passage apply to me?
  10. How am I going to start applying this?

The Five W’s (for narrative passages)

  1. Who is involved?
  2. What happened?
  3. When?
  4. Where?
  5. Why?
  6. How does this apply to me?

Breathe In Me, Holy Spirit

Breathe in me, Holy Spirit, that all my thoughts may be holy.
Act in me, Holy Spirit, that my work, too, may be holy.
Draw my heart, Holy Spirit, that I may love only what is holy.
Strengthen me, Holy Spirit, to defend all that is holy.
Guard me, Holy Spirit, that I may always be holy.

– Augustine of Hippo (354-430)

Augustine, bishop of Hippo in what is now Algeria, is one of the most influential figures in all of church history. He was a theological giant whose teachings are considered foundational by Protestants and Catholics alike. His prayer quoted above seems to me to be a fitting one to start off the new year. Though it is short, it clearly expresses a strong desire to please God in every area of life, both in attitude and in action. It also expresses a clear recognition that we cannot do this on our own, but must depend on the Holy Spirit to accomplish this in and through us.

But now you must be holy in everything you do, just as God who chose you is holy. For the Scriptures say, “You must be holy because I am holy.”
– 1 Peter 1:15-16 (NLT)

Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing.
– John 15:5 (NLT)

So I say, let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you won?t be doing what your sinful nature craves… But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things! Those who belong to Christ Jesus have nailed the passions and desires of their sinful nature to his cross and crucified them there. Since we are living by the Spirit, let us follow the Spirit?s leading in every part of our lives.
– Galatians 5:16, 22-25 (NLT)

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