Here is the line:
“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 eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent (John 17:3).’ What is the best thing in life, bringing more joy, delight and contentment than anything else? Knowledge of God.”
This paragraph comes from the opening of chapter 3 in J.I. Packer’s “Knowing God.” It is a monumental paragraph because when a person understands its contents their entire eternity changes! I would recommend everyone read “Knowing God” at least once, whether they are a Christian or not, because if they are a Christian they need built up in their faith and if they are not a Christian they at least need to know what is the faith they are rejecting– “Knowing God” will help them to be clear on what it is they are not believing in. Since many will not read the book please allow me to at least elaborate on what may be the greatest line in ANY extrabiblical work.
Packer acknowledges, “In these few sentences we have said a very great deal. Our point is one to which every Christian heart will warm, though the person whose religion is merely formal will not be moved by it…. What we have said provides at once a foundation, shape, and goal for our lives, plus a principle of priorities and a scale of values.” Essentially, in the opening paragraph what we have is something which if it is true it absolutely changes the foundation of our very existence, and therefore it tells us our “telos” our end, and so the things we think, do, and say in the present are to be done moving towards our ultimate end– which Packer argues is “Knowing God.”
You see, in our human existence we don’t merely need something that will get us out of bed that day, because eventually that thing will end, or we won’t want it anymore, or we just won’t be as impressed by it, and we don’t even need something which will merely give us out of bed every day because we will one day die; NO! What we need is something which shapes our eternity and therefore provides an ultimate goal for everything we are. Packer writes, “What makes life worthwhile 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 person has. For what higher, more exalted and more compelling goal can there be than to know God?” So, Packer helps us with the inevitable question of “What sort of activity, or event, is it that can properly be described as ‘knowing God?'”
That knowing God is the greatest good, and the ultimate end of each human is an utterly biblical stance on life. In the book of the prophet Jeremiah God says, “Let him that glories glory in this, that he understands and knows me (Jer. 9:24).” How does this happen? Well, it begins with God speaking to us by His Word and through His Spirit. As God speaks we listen, and this causes us to have a complete humbling experience. Whereas we once thought highly of ourselves, and we once were puffed up with our own insecurities, well now God breaks through all of that to show us we are actually sinners who are guilty of rebelling against God. We begin to realize we are actually weak and foolish! We then are brought to our knees realizing we have no leg to stand on for salvation, so we must cry out to God for salvation from our sin.
But, just being broken and recognizing we are sinners is not enough for us to know God; we must actually understand that God is calling us to be in a relationship with Him. Packer writes, “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 onto his staff, to be henceforth his fellow workers (1 Cor. 3:9) and personal friends.” So, Packer shows us that the activity of knowing God involves 3 things…
- Knowing Jesus: God has actually made Himself known to us by “taking on flesh and dwelling among us (John 1),” and we see Him in the person and work of Jesus Christ. Jesus Himself has said “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father (John 14:9).” We are mostly called to know Jesus in the exact same way his disciples did when he walked on earth with them. packer again writes “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 anyone anywhere can enjoy the same kind of relationship with him as the disciples had in the days of his flesh.” The obvious difference between then and now is that Jesus’ presence with believers now is spiritual rather than bodily. We actually the advantage of having the fullness of Jesus’ identity and work known to us while his original disciples had to put the pieces together over time But, for us as Christians today we are to walk following Jesus as the original disciples did when his body was on earth. We all have an equal opportunity to serve the Lord Jesus and to follow after him. The offer to follow the good shepherd has been extended to anyone who will believe in his perfect life, sacrificial death, his resurrection, and his ascension into heaven from where he will one day return. So what does it mean to know God? Well, it means to know Jesus as Savior and to be saved by him in the way the Bible tells us to be.
- A personal matter: Packer points out that knowing God is a “matter of personal dealing.” So, knowing God means we individually deal with Him and He deals with us. We can’t just know a ton about God we must actually deal with Him and open ourselves up to Him. This is why it is possible to be a 5x PHD of biblical studies but never actually know God, because you’ve never dealt with him individually and personally. You may know everything about him and his word but you don’t actually know Him– this is the same as me knowing everything about Daniel Day-Lewis, who is my favorite actor, but I don’t actually know him. I could write a book on Day-Lewis, but if I passed him in the city street he wouldn’t know me from Adam. Knowing God means handing your whole being over to him; your feelings, your actions, and your mind. Packer writes, “The word ‘know,’ when used of God in this (biblical) 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’ as we say, is certainly part of what is meant, as appears from the contrast between our imperfect knowledge of God and his perfect knowledge of us in 1 Cor. 13:12. But it is not the main meaning. The main meaning comes out in passages like the following: “And the Lord said to Moses, ‘I am pleased with you and I KNOW you by name… Ex. 33:17; “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart (Jer. 1:5).” And there are many other verses that support this. As Packer says, “It is a knowledge that implies personal affection, redeeming action, covenant faithfulness and providential watchfulness toward those whom God knows. It implies, in other words, salvation, now and forever, as we hinted before.”
- Being Known: What actually matter is not that you and I “Know God,” but that God knows us! I only know God because He has known me first! As the hymn goes, “My name is graven on His hands; my name is written on His heart.” Me knowing Him doesn’t depend on my ability or my might or strength, but on his grace and His sustenance. It isn’t dependent on my ability to love Him, but on His “Hesed (Covenant love),” and God’s covenant is unbreakable. God doesn’t only know me in my justification, but He continues to know me in my sanctification, and He will be with me and I with Him on the day of my glorification, and this is true of all who are in Christ and know God.
Packer closes out this monumental chapter with, “We cannot work these thoughts out here, but merely to mention them is enough to show how much it means to know not merely that we know God, but that he knows us….” Chapter 3 of “Knowing God” is perhaps the most important of chapters in any book I’ve ever read, and certainly the opening line is as good as any in any book outside of the Bible. I recommend you read chapter 3 of “Knowing God,” but before you do you’re gonna want to read chapters 1-2, and after reading chapter 3 I’ll bet you’ll want to read the rest of the book as well.