What does it mean to know God? Would we say that it’s primarily knowing a certain set of facts or propositions about God? Does it mean “feeling good” Sunday morning during church? Is it the same as memorizing Bible verses? What if I said that knowing God involves all of the above, and yet a crucial part of knowing God is obedience? To know God is to obey God. That might sound like a strange statement, but I want us to see that it is well-grounded in the Scriptures.
During the prophetic ministry of Jeremiah, the Lord commissioned him to deliver this word of judgment against Shallum, the king of Judah: “Do you think you are a king because you compete in cedar? Did not your father eat and drink and do justice and righteousness? Then it was well with him. He judged the cause of the poor and needy; then it was well. Is not this to know me? declares the Lord” (Jeremiah 22:15-16). Notice in this passage that the Lord connects the obedience of the king with knowledge of the Lord.
We see another example in Jesus’ interaction with the Pharisees. At the end of His earthly ministry, Jesus delivers His most withering attack against the supposed “God-knowers” of his day: “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice” (Matthew 23:2-3). Later in this passage, Jesus calls the Pharisees “sons of hell” (23:15). The very people who were supposed to know God the most actually proved themselves to be sons of the devil (John 8:44). In this second example especially, we can see that there is a vast difference between knowing God and knowing about God. While the Pharisees knew the Scriptures backwards and forwards, their lack of obedience demonstrated that they knew the devil far more than they knew God.
We as Reformed Christians need to be reminded of this truth, because we can often equate the knowledge of God with knowledge about God, in ways that appear largely innocent. Perhaps one of the more common ways we do this is by thinking that if we are reading “theological books,” or even the Bible itself, we are automatically becoming more Christ-like. I do not want to discourage the reading of sound theological books, and I definitely don’t want to discourage us from reading our Bibles more. However, as Thabiti Anyabwile has noted, “Good theology does not mechanically lead to good living…We can stack our chips on theology, as though theology inexorably produces the social results we want with little to no attending effort.” This means that we do not become more holy by simply reading Christians books, or even by the bare reading of Scripture, as if by a “mystical osmosis” the words will produce right living. Rather, it is in striving to obey the Word, both in our “vertical” relationship with the Lord, as well as in our “horizontal” relationships with neighbors, that we gain a greater knowledge of God.
We must keep in mind, even as we educate ourselves and one another, that education is not our ultimate goal. Rather, it is “love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith” (1 Tim. 1:5). We should ask ourselves every now and again whether we’re truly growing in our knowledge of God. Perhaps we might be tempted to think that the only way to judge that is whether we’re reading our Bibles for longer periods of time, or whether we’re making it to church every Sunday. These indeed are essential barometers of spiritual growth, but along with these questions, let’s ask whether we are delighting in Jesus more, whether we are seeking justice for the oppressed and poor in our neighborhoods, whether the Bible is in fact coming “alive” in our words and deeds, through our love for Christ and others. While it takes time and effort for us to “connect the dots” between the word of God and the world in which his word is applied, it is well worth it! Let’s press on to know the Lord (Hosea 6:3).