What it means to truly know God
God delights in those who understand and know Him. To know God is to recognise His voice, be well-acquainted with His ways, be able to discern His sovereign will, and be fully assured of His perfect character. The more we know God as our Lord and Best Friend, the more we can live with spiritual authority, hope, joy, and peace. We enter into a full-time empowering relationship with Him. This, however, is very different from knowing a lot about God.
Jeremiah 9:23-24 ESV Thus says the Lord: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the Lord.”
John 15:14 ESV You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.
Those who know God and those who don’t
Knowing God is not the same as:
- Knowing the Bible very well
- Knowing God’s Law well
- Knowing God’s works well
- Knowing our church well
- Knowing our pastors and church leaders well
All of these are good things – but they may only help us get to know more about God. We can know all the above and yet not know God Himself.
We demonstrate that we know God when we are able to:
- Hear and discern His voice | John 10:27 ESV My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.
- Love others like Jesus did | 1 John 4:8 ESV Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.
- Do the good works that Jesus did on earth | Titus 1:16 ESV They profess to know God, but they deny him by their works. They are detestable, disobedient, unfit for any good work.
- Take part in suffering for the sake of Christ | Philippians 3:10 NIV I want to know Christ–yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death,
- Live godly lives | 2 Peter 1:3 ESV His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence,
It is as if we have the same mind and purpose as Jesus Christ. We would not merely be “hearers” of God’s Word, but we would also be “doers”.
1 Corinthians 2:16 ESV “For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ.
James 1:22 ESV But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.
Like any relationship, getting to know God like this takes effort and time. Most importantly, it takes a humble, childlike heart that wants God to reign over 100% of our lives. This is how we can experience God personally teaching us all about Himself.
Psalm 25:8-9 ESV Good and upright is the Lord; therefore he instructs sinners in the way. He leads the humble in what is right, and teaches the humble his way.
We don’t know God only through observation or wisdom
The apostles spent years living with and observing Jesus. Despite their close physical proximity to God, they had difficulty truly understanding God. Jesus even said to the apostle Philip, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me?” Many of us may have spent years in church but find ourselves in the same shoes as Philip – struggling to “get” God on a deeply personal level.
John 14:6-10 ESV Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.” Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? …
As the example above shows, even if we can see God with our own eyes and observe Him for years, we still may not really know God. Moreover, the Bible states that we won’t get to know God through wisdom either. It appears that we know God simply by the power of observation or our intellect.
1 Corinthians 1:21 ESV For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe.
The only way we can truly know God and have the “mind of Christ” (1 Corinthians 2:16) is by being baptised and inviting His Holy Spirit to take permanent residence in us, just like Jesus showed us by His own example. Who better to acquaint us with God than His Spirit? See Preparing our hearts for baptism and How to test for the Holy Spirit.
Luke 3:21-22,4:1 ESV Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heavens were opened, and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form… And Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness
It also takes dying to (or crucifying) our identity as we know it now, and putting on a new one that is led by the Holy Spirit. Outwardly we may look the same, but inwardly, we are transformed. We no longer rely on limited human mechanisms to try to reach God but are now connected directly to Him through His Holy Spirit, the guarantee of our relationship. We will overflow with God’s hope, joy, and peace.
2 Corinthians 4:16 ESV … Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day.
Galatians 2:20 ESV I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
Ephesians 1:14 ESV In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.
The Holy Spirit will reveal God’s desires, thoughts, and will – and in the process, guide our desires, thoughts, and will. There is much less of a struggle or straining on our part to get to know or second-guess God, because He will communicate directly with us.
1 Corinthians 2:10-12 NLT But it was to us that God revealed these things by his Spirit. For his Spirit searches out everything and shows us God’s deep secrets. No one can know a person’s thoughts except that person’s own spirit, and no one can know God’s thoughts except God’s own Spirit. And we have received God’s Spirit (not the world’s spirit), so we can know the wonderful things God has freely given us.
Psalm 51:10-12 ESV Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit.
What goes against our knowledge of God
God will reveal Himself to us through His Holy Spirit, but we need to also beware of the things that will get in the way of us truly knowing God.
1 Corinthians 2:9-10 ESV 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…
1. Idolatry and worldly distractions
Anything that we have set up in our hearts that we value or honour more than God becomes our idol. Most times, these are things we have turned to for security, comfort, meaning and blessing in the past. They could include our reputations, families, work, finances, children, ancestor worship, good luck charms etc. – and even ourselves. Other less talked about idols include the fear of rejection and unhealed emotional wounds. See Rejection can lead us to form idols out of pain and The importance of emotional healing.
Idols will pull at our hearts’ strings and obstruct us from wanting to know and follow God 100%. When we don’t give up our idols, we only have room to give the Holy Spirit part-time residence in our hearts. Idolatry stops us from yearning to know God 100%.
Galatians 4:8 ESV Formerly, when you did not know God, you were enslaved to those that by nature are not gods.
Colossians 3:5 ESV Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.
Gradually, the part-time space we give to the Holy Spirit will be invaded by worldly distractions and the lure of wealth. We will be tempted with lots of reasons to forget God.
Sadly, worldly distractions cause many people who have come to know God to “turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world”. We cannot leave any space for idols in our hearts if we want to know God fully and remain faithful to Him.
Matthew 13:18,20-23 NLT “Now listen to the explanation of the parable about the farmer planting seeds: … The seed on the rocky soil represents those who hear the message and immediately receive it with joy. But since they don’t have deep roots, they don’t last long. They fall away as soon as they have problems or are persecuted for believing God’s word. The seed that fell among the thorns represents those who hear God’s word, but all too quickly the message is crowded out by the worries of this life and the lure of wealth, so no fruit is produced. The seed that fell on good soil represents those who truly hear and understand God’s word and produce a harvest of thirty, sixty, or even a hundred times as much as had been planted!”
Galatians 4:9 ESV But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world, whose slaves you want to be once more?
2. False teachings and false images of God
There have been confusing messages about God from the very beginning.
This is how Adam and Eve were deceived at the start of creation and how some of Jesus’ followers were misled shortly after He ascended into heaven. The Bible shows that the church in Corinth had “received a different spirit” in their understanding of God, stating that it was not Holy Spirit that had inspired some of their teachings.
The Holy Spirit has warned that false teachings will confuse our knowledge of God. We may think we know God but as the Bible shows, we could be following “deceptive spirits and teachings that come from demons“. As we mature in faith, we must develop the discipline of examining scripture to check that the teachings we receive are true. In the meantime, we need to go only to highly trusted sources for God’s truth. See Testing for deceitful spirits in churches.
2 Corinthians 11:3-4 ESV But I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ. For if someone comes and proclaims another Jesus than the one we proclaimed, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or if you accept a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it readily enough.
1 Timothy 4:1 ESV Now the Holy Spirit tells us clearly that in the last times some will turn away from the true faith; they will follow deceptive spirits and teachings that come from demons.
Acts 17:11 NIV Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.
3. Arguments and human opinions
Every person’s feelings and views matter but ultimately, God has the final say.
We often magnify the opinions of human beings, including our own, to our detriment. It is not what people think about God that matters, it is what He reveals to us through the Holy Spirit and His Word that does. When we turn to people or our own understanding to get to know God, we may get ideas that draw us closer to people, but further away from God. We must be careful to guard our hearts and minds against “arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ”. See Reading the Bible with God’s Spirit.
Proverbs 3:5-6 ESV Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.
2 Corinthians 10:5-6 ESV We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, being ready to punish every disobedience, when your obedience is complete.
What it takes to know God personally
As with any relationship, we need to be intentional about setting time aside to get to know someone. It is the same with knowing God. Here are some suggestions from the Bible about knowing Him.
- Quiet down and make time for God | Psalm 46:10 ESV “Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!”
- Call upon God, our good Father | Jeremiah 29:12 ESV Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,” says the LORD…
- Repent and turn away from idolatry | 1 Corinthians 10:13 ESV No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry.
- Invite God to give us a new spirit and heart through His Holy Spirit | Jeremiah 24:7 ESV I will give them a heart to know that I am the Lord, and they shall be my people and I will be their God, for they shall return to me with their whole heart.
- Enjoy God’s love | Romans 5:5 ESV … God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.
- Choose to obey the Holy Spirit | 1 John 2:3-4 ESV And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him,
- Mature in our knowledge and understanding by studying the Bible | Ephesians 4:13-14 ESV until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.
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