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“Know; Knowing and Being Known”

Jeremiah 9:24 and others
Bob DeGray
November 21, 2004

Key Sentence

What were we made for? To Know God!


I. Knowing God (Jeremiah 9:23-24, Hosea 6;1-6)
II. Being Known by God (Psalm 139:1-6, 17-18, 23-24)


        I became a believer at the age of 13, in 1969. I grew in faith through high school, but not so much in my knowledge of Scripture or God. That growth started during college, where I was very involved with the Stevens Christian Fellowship, the campus group at Stevens Institute, where I got my engineering degree. The focus at the Stevens Christian Fellowship was definitely on studying and applying Scripture, and knowing God through Scripture - and that made a huge impact on my life.

        Between my sophomore and junior years I worked as a summer intern in ministry at my home church. It was demanding, but it did give me the freedom of long mornings at home to study and pray. The year was 1976. Three years earlier a book had been published by Inter-Varsity Press, written by British theologian and professor J. I. Packer. My mentor at Stevens, Varoujan Mazmanian, gave me the book and asked me to read it over the summer and prepare several talks for our fall semester. The title of the book was, of course, Knowing God. And I remember very clearly sitting in the living room of our home in New Jersey, on the floor, with my papers on the coffee table, reading this book and being literally overwhelmed at the horizons it opened on my knowledge of God. It was a life changing encounter and I probably wouldn’t be here today in this pulpit except for the impact of this book on my life.

        So when it came time to talk about our neon word for the week, the Hebrew word ‘yada’, which means ‘to know’, there was one phrase floating around in my head I couldn’t find in Scripture, the phrase ‘knowing and being known’. After a little while I remembered it was from Packer’s book. So I pulled it off the shelf, and looking through it brought back such a flood of memories and associations that I quickly decided I wanted to read you some of it. In particular I want to share parts of two chapters that speak directly to our neon word, the chapters called ‘the people who know their God’ and ‘knowing and being known’. I’ll pause at a couple of points to walk through some of the neon scriptures that support Packer’s ideas, especially the big idea printed on the back cover: “What were we made for? To know God.”

I. Knowing God (Jeremiah 9:23-24, Hosea 6;1-6)

        Chapter 2 of Knowing God begins with an illustration I’ve used before. Packer says “I walked in the sunshine with a scholar who had effectively forfeited his prospects of academic advancement by clashing with church dignitaries over the gospel of grace. 'But it doesn't matter,' he said at length, 'for I've known God and they haven't.' The remark was a mere parenthesis, a passing comment on something I had said, but it has stuck with me, and set me thinking. Not many of us, I think, would ever naturally say we have known God. The words imply a definiteness and matter_of_factness of experience to which most of us, if we are honest, have to admit we are still strangers.

        We claim, perhaps, to have a testimony, and can rattle off our conversion story with the best; we say we know God _ this, after all, is what evangelicals are expected to say; but would it occur to us to say, without hesitation, and with reference to particular events in our personal history, that we have known God? I doubt it, for I suspect for most of us the experience of God has never become so vivid.”

        Packer then explains that there is a distinction between knowing God and knowing about God. This distinction is clear in our first Scripture, cited by Packer at the beginning of the next chapter. It’s Jeremiah 9:23-24 “This is what the Lord says: "Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom or the strong man boast of his strength or the rich man boast of his riches, 24but let him who boasts boast about this: that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight," declares the Lord.

        This verse is rightly a neon verse in most people’s Bibles. First of all it puts down our human tendency toward self-promotion, building our values around our strengths. If I’m smart, then intellectual activity becomes my thing. I go to college and get degrees and read harder books than other people, and I flaunt my intellect. If I’m physically gifted, I focus on athletics, and I like to challenge others and win. Maybe I go into a particular sport and build my life around it, and if anything ever happens to derail me from that sport, or if I reach my potential without reaching the top, I’m devastated. Or maybe I was born wealthy, and I take for granted that I can always go here and do this or shop here and have this, and my cars and my house are nicer than yours, and I kinda make sure you know it. This is unredeeemed human nature, to boast about what we are or what we have. We’re self focused.

        But God says “I want you to have a new focus in life: focus on me, and make it your goal to understand me” - that’s the intellectual part - “and to know me” - that’s our neon word, ‘yada’. It goes beyond mere intellectual understanding to something deeper, something on the heart level, something relational. This is obvious in the very first use of the word in Genesis, where it says that Adam knew Eve, talking about the most intimate relationship possible. It’s obvious in something as simple as the question Abraham’s servant asks some shepherds ‘do you know Laban’. It’s also used for knowing about something and knowing some skill, but it’s often more than that, especially when Jeremiah says to us ‘know God’ and then points us to God’s relational qualities: his loving kindness and righteousness and justice, all of which have been neon words already for us in this series. It is knowing God in these these personal and moral qualities that really constitutes knowing.

        Packer explains One can know a great deal about God without much knowledge of Him. I am sure that many of us have never really grasped this. We find in ourselves an interest in theology . . .and apologetics. We dip into Christian history, and study the Christian creed. . .

        All very fine _ yet interest in . . . [these things] . . . and the capacity to think clearly and talk well on Christian themes, is not the same thing as knowing Him. We may know as much about God as Calvin did _ indeed if we study his works diligently we will _ yet (unlike Calvin, may I say) we may hardly know God at all.

        Second, one can know a great deal about godliness without much knowledge of God. There is no shortage of books . . . or sermons . . .on how to pray, to witness, to read our Bibles, tithe our money, be a young Christian, be an old Christian, be a happy Christian, . . and generally to go through all the various motions which the teachers in question associate with being Christian. Nor is there a shortage of biographies delineating the experiences of Christians in past days for our interested perusal. Whatever else may be said about this state of affairs, it certainly makes it possible to learn a great deal at second_hand about the practice of Christianity. . . Yet one can have all this and hardly know God at all.

        So Packer is saying that there has to be something more to knowing God than intellectual knowledge or external practice. And it is this heart and relational knowledge of God which is indicated by our neon word and to which we are called. Packer’s next chapter is ‘Knowing and Being Known’ and it starts this way. What were we made for? To know God. What aim should we set ourselves in life? To know God. What is the 'eternal life' that Jesus gives? Knowledge of God. 'This is life eternal, that they might know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent' (John 17:3). What is the best thing in life, bringing more joy, delight, and contentment, than anything else? Knowledge of God. 'Thus saith the LORD, Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, neither let the mighty man glory in his might, let not the rich man glory in his riches; but let him that glorieth glory in this, that he understandeth and knoweth me'. What, of all the states God ever sees man in, gives Him most pleasure? Knowledge of Himself. 'I desire. . . the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings,' says God (Hos. 6:6).

        What we have said in these few sentences provides at once a foundation, shape, and goal for our lives, plus a principle of priorities and a scale of values. Once you become aware that the main business that you are here for is to know God, most of life’s problems fall into place. . . The world today is full of sufferers from the wasting disease which Albert Camus called Absurdism ('life is a bad joke'), and from the complaint we can call Marie Antoinette's fever - ('nothing tastes'). These disorders blight the whole of life: everything becomes at once a problem and a bore, because nothing seems worth while. But . . . [these] are ills from which, in the nature of things, Christians are immune, except for rare spells of temptation. What makes life worth while is having a big enough objective, something which catches our imagination and lays hold of our allegiance; and this the Christian has, in a way that no other man has. For what higher, more exalted, and more compelling goal can there be than to know God?

        Scripture agrees. Packer quoted Hosea 6:6, a chapter which is a compelling call to know God. Listen to this in the New American Standard Version. Hosea 6:1-6 “Come let us return to the Lord. For He has torn us, but He will heal us; He has wounded us, but He will bandage us. 2"He will revive us after two days; He will raise us up on the third day, that we may live before Him. 3"So let us know, let us press on to know the Lord. His going forth is as certain as the dawn; And He will come to us like the rain, Like the spring rain watering the earth." 4What shall I do with you, O Ephraim? What shall I do with you, O Judah? For your loyalty is like a morning cloud And like the dew which goes away early. 5Therefore I have hewn them in pieces by the prophets; I have slain them by the words of My mouth; And the judgments on you are like the light that goes forth. 6For I delight in loyalty rather than sacrifice, And in the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.

        Our neon word, ‘yada’ appears in verse 3: ‘let us know, let us press on to know the Lord.’ There is urgency here. Knowing God is not a hobby, but a diligent pursuit, a thing that we persevere in single-mindedly. And it is something he blesses - notice the promises of healing and restoration, and of his gentle presence, like the spring rain watering the earth. It is also something he pursues, even when it means using his Word to wound, that he may heal us. Finally, notice that in these verses pressing on to know him is set in parallel to being loyal to him - and that word ‘loyalty’ is - anybody want to guess? - ‘chesed’ - he wants loving kindness and covenant faithfulness and unfailing love from us. He wants us to be diligent in pursuing these relational things with him. That’s what pressing on to know him means.

        Packer describes it this way: When we speak of knowing God, we are using a verbal formula, and formulas are like checks; they are no use unless we know how to cash them. What are we talking about when we use the phrase 'knowing God'? A special sort of emotion? Shivers down the back? A dreamy, off_the_ground, floating feeling? Tingling thrills and exhilaration, such as drug_takers seek? Or is knowing God a special sort of intellectual experience? Does one hear a voice? see a vision? These matters need discussing.

        It is clear, to start with, that 'knowing' God is of necessity a more complex business than 'knowing' a fellow_man, just as 'knowing' my neighbour is a more complex business than 'knowing' a house, or a book, or a language. The more complex the object, the more complex is the knowing of it. Knowledge of something abstract or inanimate comes by learning or inspection. But when one gets to living things, knowing them becomes . . . more complicated. One does not know a living thing till one knows, not merely its past history, but how it is likely to react and behave under specific circumstances. A person who says 'I know this horse' . . . probably . . . means 'I know how it behaves, and can tell you how it ought to be handled.' Such knowledge comes through prior acquaintance with the horse, seeing it in action, and trying to handle it oneself.

        In the case of human beings, the position is further complicated by the fact that, unlike horses, people cover up, and do not show . . . all that is in their hearts. A few days are enough to get to know a horse as well as you will ever know it, but you may spend months and years doing things in company with another person and still say at the end of that time, 'I don't really know him at all.' We recognize degrees in our knowledge of our fellow_men; we know them, 'well', 'not very well', 'just to shake hands with', 'intimately', or perhaps 'inside_out', according to how much, or how little, they have opened up to us. . . .

        Thus, the quality and extent of our knowledge of them depends more on them than on us. Our knowing them is more directly the result of their allowing us to know them than of our attempting to get to know them. . . . Imagine that we are going to be introduced to someone whom we feel to be 'above' us_whether in rank, or intellectual distinction, or professional skill, . . . or in some other respect. The more conscious we are of our own inferiority, the more we shall feel that our part is simply to attend to him respectfully and let him take the initiative. (Think of meeting the Queen, or the Duke of Edinburgh.) We would like to get to know this exalted person, but we fully realize that this is a matter for him to decide, not us. If he confines himself to courteous formalities with us, we may be disappointed, but we do not feel able to complain. But if instead he starts to take us into his confidence, and if he goes on to invite us to join him in particular undertakings he has planned, and asks us to make ourselves permanently available, we shall feel enormously privileged, and it will make a world of difference to our general outlook. If life seemed dreary, it will not seem so any more. Here is something to write home about! _and something to live up to!

        Now this, so far as it goes, is an illustration of what it means to know God. Well might God say . . 'Let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me.’ for knowing God is a relationship calculated to thrill a man's heart. What happens is that the almighty Creator, the Lord of hosts, the great God before whom the nations are as a drop in a bucket, comes to him and begins to talk to him, through the words and truths of Holy Scripture. . . As he listens to what God is saying, he finds himself brought very low; for God talks to him about his sin, and guilt, and weakness, and blindness, and folly, and compels him to judge himself hopeless and helpless, and to cry out for forgiveness. But this is not all. He comes to realize as he listens that God is actually opening His heart to him, making friends with him, and enlisting him a colleague . . . a covenant partner. It is a staggering thing, but it is true _ the relationship in which sinful human beings know God is one in which God, so to speak, takes them on to His staff, to be henceforth His fellow_workers (see 1 Cor. 3 :9) and personal friends. Many have said what pride they felt in rendering personal service to Winston Churchill during the Second World War. How much more should it be a matter of pride and glorying to know and serve the Lord of heaven and earth.

        What, then, does the activity of knowing God involve? Holding together the various elements . . .we must say that knowing God involves, first, listening to God's word and receiving it . . . in application to oneself; second, noting God's nature and character, as His word and works reveal it; third, accepting His invitations, and doing what He commands; fourth, recognizing, and rejoicing in, the love that He has shown in . . . drawing us into this divine fellowship. The Bible adds the further point that we know God in this way only through knowing Jesus Christ, who is Himself God. ' . . . Hast thou not known me. . . ? He that has seen me has seen the Father': 'no man comes to the Father but by me' . . .

        It is important, therefore, that we should be clear in our minds as to what 'knowing' Jesus Christ means. For His earthly disciples, knowing Jesus was directly comparable to knowing the great man in our illustration. The disciples were ordinary Galileans, with no special claims on the interest of Jesus. But Jesus . . . found them, called them to Himself, took them into His confidence, and enrolled them as His agents to declare to the world the kingdom of God. They, in turn recognized the one who had chosen them and called them friends as 'the Christ, the Son of the living God' (Matt. 16:16), the man born to be king, the bearer of 'the words of eternal life' (John 6 :68). The sense of allegiance and privilege which this knowledge brought transformed their whole lives.

        Now, when the New Testament tells us that Jesus Christ is risen, one of the things it means is that the victim of Calvary is now, so to speak, loose and at large, so that any man anywhere can enjoy the same kind of relationship with Him as the disciples had in the days of His flesh. The only differences are that, first, His presence with the Christian is spiritual, not bodily; and second, that Jesus's way of speaking to us now is not by uttering fresh words, but rather by applying to our consciences His words recorded in the gospels, together with the rest of the biblical testimony to Himself. But knowing Jesus Christ still remains as definite a relation of personal discipleship as it was for the twelve when He was on earth. The Jesus who walks through the gospel story walks with Christians now, and knowing Him involves going with Him, now as then.

        'My sheep hear my voice,' says Jesus, 'and I know them, and they follow me' (John 10:27). ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears my word and believes him who sent me, has eternal life' (John 5:24) Jesus's voice is 'heard' when Jesus's claim is acknowledged, His promise trusted, and His call answered. From then on, Jesus is known as shepherd, and those who trust Him He knows as His own sheep. '. . . I know them, and they follow me; and I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand' To know Jesus is to be saved by Jesus from sin, and guilt, and death.

        Standing back, now, to survey what we have said, we may underline the following points. First, knowing God is a matter of personal dealing, as is all direct acquaintance with personal beings. Knowing God is more than knowing about Him: it is a matter of dealing with Him as He opens up to you and being dealt with by Him as He takes knowledge of you. . .

        Second, knowing God is a matter of personal involvement, in mind, will, and feeling. It would not, indeed, be a fully personal relationship otherwise. To get to know another person, you have to commit yourself to his company and interests, and be ready to identify yourself with his concerns. Without this, your relationship with him can only be superficial and flavourless. . . . we must not lose sight of the fact that knowing God is an emotional relationship, as well as an intellectual and volitional one, and could not indeed be a deep relation between persons were it not so. The believer is, and must be, emotionally involved in the victories and vicissitudes of God's cause in the world. . . .

        Then, third, knowing God is a matter of grace. It is a relationship in which the initiative throughout is with God _ as it must be, since God is so completely above us and we have so completely forfeited all claim on His favor by our sins. We do not make friends with God; God makes friends with us, bringing us to know Him by making His love known to us. Paul . . . writes to the Galatians, 'now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God. . .' (Gal. 4: 9). Their knowing God was the consequence of God's knowing them. . . 'Know', when used of God in this way, is a sovereign_grace word, pointing to God's initiative in loving, choosing, redeeming, calling, and preserving. That God is fully aware of us, 'knowing us through and through' is only part of what is meant.

II. Being Known by God (Psalm 139:1-6, 17-18, 23-24)

         I want to pause here and bring in our third neon passage for the morning, which focuses on how God knows us in an active loving, caring yet sovereign way. It’s Psalm 139, beginning with 1 to 6: O Lord, you have searched me and you know me.
         2You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar.
         3You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways.
         4Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, O Lord.
        5You hem me in--behind and before; you have laid your hand upon me.
        6Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain.

        The neon word ‘know’ is used four times in these six verses, in parallel with words like ‘you have searched me’, ‘you perceive’, ‘you discern’, ‘you are familiar’ to picture God knowing us and knowing about us in an intimate relational way. He knows us to the level of knowing our thoughts and our actions. On a human level you will often meet a husband and wife or brothers or sisters who can complete each other’s sentences and predict each other’s thoughts. And that always implies a depth of relationship.

        But God is a companion who knows these things perfectly from the very first moment of our relationship. Perhaps the even more amazing thing in these verses is how much God pays attention to us. I’ve been reading the John Ortberg book I mentioned a few weeks ago, and he’s got a great chapter saying that if you love someone you show it by paying attention to them. God pays attention to us. Is that awesome? Verses 17 and 18 “17How precious to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them! 18Were I to count them, they would outnumber the grains of sand.” And verses 23 and 24 “23Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. 24See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” The Psalmist wants to be known by God - he wants God to be, as he has promised, the companion of heart and mind.

        Packer cites a number of Scriptures to show that this is what God wants as well: 'And the LORD said unto Moses. . . thou hast found grace in my sight, and I know thee by name' (Exod. 33: 17). 'Before I formed thee (Jeremiah) I knew thee; and before thou came forth out of the womb I sanctified thee' (Jer. 1 :5). 'I am the good shepherd, and know my sheep, and am known of mine. . . and I lay down my life for the sheep. . . My sheep hear my voice, and I know them. . . and they shall never perish'. Here God's knowledge of those who are His is associated with His whole purpose of saving mercy. It is a knowledge that implies personal affection, redemption, covenant faithfulness, and providential watchfulness, towards those he knows. It implies, in other words, salvation, now and for ever.

        What matters supremely, therefore, is not, in the last analysis, the fact that I know God, but the larger fact which underlies it _ the fact that He knows me. I am graven on the palms of His hands. I am never out of His mind. All my knowledge of Him depends on His sustained initiative in knowing me. . . He knows me as a friend, one who loves me; and there is no moment when His eye is off me, or His attention distracted from me, and no moment when His care falters.

        There is unspeakable comfort . . . in knowing that God’s love to me is utterly realistic, based at every point on prior knowledge of the worst about me, so no discovery now can disillusion him about me, . . . or quench His determination to bless me. There is, certainly, great cause for humility in the thought that He sees all the twisted things about me that my fellow_men do not see, and [even] . . . more corruption in me than I see in myself. . . There is, however, equally great incentive to worship and love God in the thought that, for some unfathomable reason, He wants me as His friend, and desires to be my friend, and has given His Son to die for me in order to realize this purpose. This is how much it means not merely that we know God, but that He knows us. What were we made for? Packer says, and Scripture says, that it is to know God and be known by him.