Theological Thursdays: Knowing God: Knowing And Being Known

Today we examine chapter three of Knowing God, J. I. Packer’s enduring study of the God in whom we live and move and have our being. You can find all of the previous lessons using the Knowing God category link. There are also study materials for the book available at

In this chapter Dr. Packer moves into the intimate area of knowing and being known, the area in which we examine the root purpose of our existence. One of the fundamental questions in life is “Why am I here; why do I exist?” Most of us want to answer that question without having to expose ourselves too much or putting too much on the line for the answer.

Packer’s simple and direct answer to that question is “To know God.” Pounding home that thought in the beginning of this chapter, he defines the best that we can experience, the biblical definition of eternal life, yeah, even the thing that brings the most pleasure to God himself, as our “knowledge of God”.

It is one thing to say all of the above, yet it is quite another to experience it. So Dr. Packer asks, what is a true experience of God and not some counterfeit of it? He goes on to assert that according to Scripture

this is a region in which it is easy to be fooled, to think you know God when you do not.

Packer also reminds us that knowing God and being known by Him is a two-way street; God reveals himself to us and we expose our innermost fears, desires, thoughts, and feelings to Him. That is very scary stuff.

I believe that we have a deep fundamental fear of nakedness, just as Adam and Eve did after they sinned when they attempted to cover themselves. One of the most difficult aspects of discipleship, at least from my perspective, is coming to terms with our inherent nakedness before God. It appears to be exceptionally difficult for us to willingly give God ready access to what he already knows.

However, God does not leave us to our own devices, Instead, He reaches out to us. Packer notes that God goes so far as to make us, borrowing a phrase from Karl Barth, a covenant partner. Yet even more than a partner, Jesus told his disciples in John 15:14-15

You are My friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you slaves, for the slave does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I have heard from My Father I have made known to you.

Like God taking Joseph from depths of prison to the exalted position of Prime Minister, he takes us from unregenerate sinners to covenant partners and friends.

Still, the question of how remains. Packer argues that the how involves four things:

…first, listening to God’s Word and receiving it as the Holy Spirit interprets 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 thus approaching you and drawing you into this divine fellowship.

I guess you could say it involves having a spirit of attentive, yet humble thankfulness.

But we are not left solely with God’s commands or his interaction with those in biblical history such as Abraham, Moses, David, and Nehemiah. God also give us the analogies of a son and father, wife and husband, subject and king, and sheep and shepherd to give us additional examples of how to understand being the knower and the known.

For several thousand years of Jewish history that was enough, but then God went even further and put flesh on those bare bones in the person of Jesus Christ, himself God made man. Jesus told his disciples:

“If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also; from now on you 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 so long with you, and yet you have not come to know Me, Philip? He who 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?” (John 14:7-10a)

Packer goes on to explain that there are three things that comprise what it means to “know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.”

1. Knowing God is a matter of personal dealing.
2. Knowing God is a matter of personal involvement.
3. Knowing God is a matter of grace.

Grace. So important. For J.I. Packer, knowing God is first a consequence of God knowing us, in that God acts in sovereign grace loving, choosing, redeeming, calling, and preserving us by his own initiative. We can know God because he first knew us.

Packer closes the chapter glorying in the fact that the almighty God of all creation has chosen to know us, and relishing the unspeakable comfort, power, and energy that fact should bring into our lives. As a matter of fact, one thing Packer says has become a watershed moment for every group that I have studied this book with. Packer says:

There is tremendous relief in knowing that his love to me is utterly realistic, based at every point on prior knowledge of the worst about me, so that no discovery now can disillusion him about me, in the way I am so often disillusioned about myself, and quench his determination to bless me.

I consider that statement so significant that I have turned it into a bookmark that I gave to every member of my current men’s study group. I never want to forget it. I never want you to forget it. Think about it. God already knows what I have done, what I am doing, and whatever I will do, and with that knowledge still loves me and has made me his own.

If that isn’t a cause for a top of the lungs hallelujah, I don’t know what is. In closing I would like you to remember throughout all of this week that you did not first seek out God; He sought out you. I want you to remember that you are graven on His palms and that fact should be forever a part of your understanding of who you are, and who He is.

Next week we look at Chapter Four: The Only True God.

Grace and peace and joy in the Lord be yours now and all week.