What does it really mean to know Christ today?
Knowing Christ is not mere head knowledge about the Bible and Christian doctrine. Nor is it just having emotions. To know the Lord Jesus Christ certainly includes intelligent thinking and having feelings, but it is primarily a spiritual experience with the reality of the living God. This knowledge is supernatural (initiated and sustained by God through our trust in him) and it reaches from the heavens to the inner depths of persons and then flows out to other people and the environment.
In short, to know Christ today is to be in an interactive relationship with him in the Kingdom of God.
This knowledge of the reality of God’s presence and action in our lives is the foundation of life and faith. Biblical faith in God (our trust or confidence in him) is opposed to sight (physical circumstances and our feelings about them), not knowledge. Faith is based on previous knowledge of reality and then extends beyond that. We can know the reality of Christ — historically and reasonably, certainly, but also personally and spiritually.
“Now this is eternal life,” Jesus prayed, “that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.” (John 17:3)
Are You Experiencing Intimacy with Jesus?
We call this knowledge of God “Intimacy with Jesus.” It’s us having the kind of relationship with Jesus that he has with the Father — he shows us this divine life in the Gospels and provided our access to this through his cross and resurrection. Jesus’ word for this divine intimacy is abide. Recall that Jesus said, “Abide in me as I abide in the Father and you will bear much fruit.” (My paraphrase; see John 15:1-17.)
Intimacy with Jesus is the source of everything that is good in our lives. The blessing of enjoying God’s love, the wisdom to live right and well, and the power to advance God’s kingdom all are based in our intimacy with Jesus. But how do we know if we’re truly intimate with Jesus? What does it mean to abide in Christ? There are a lot of different ideas about this floating around today!
The experience of knowing Christ today is somewhat unique to each person but it includes some interrelated aspects that anyone can experience. Once we’ve had a taste of intimacy with Jesus we find it so wonderful that we want to experience it all the time! We might even secretly wish that we could bottle it! But our experience of intimacy with Jesus is not under our control; it ebbs and flows — varying by personality, season of life, and the sovereign work of the Holy Spirit.
It’s by Grace that We A-B-I-D-E in Christ Together
It’s only by God’s grace to us through Jesus Christ that we can know him personally and collectively. But grace does not mean being passive. Grace is opposed to earning, but not effort. It’s up to each of us to respond to God’s initiative and learn to, “Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18).
To grow in grace begins with being “born from above” (John 3:3). It’s only as we confess our sins and put our trust in Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior that the Holy Spirit comes to live in us and we enter into the eternal kind of life with Jesus in the Kingdom of the Heavens. Abiding in Christ begins with the new birth.
The grace of God is meant to go beyond forgiving our sins, it also to heal our hurts, fill our emptiness, and give us strength for life and work. Ultimately, God’s grace is not just “underserved merit,” but it’s also God acting powerfully and kindly in our lives. This is essential because we need God! But are we connected with our needs and emotions? If not then we can’t very well connect to God. To know and experience God at work in our lives requires that we be emotionally honest and vulnerable with God and with people we trust in the body of Christ.
To understand abiding we need to remember that our relationships with God, others, and self are very much intertwined. God is a community and relationship with God is communal. The Greatest Commandment that Jesus gave us is a golden triangle of love (Mark 12:29-31). “We love because God first loved us” (1 John 4:19) and a primary way that God shows his love for us is through genuine “love one another” relationships in the Body of Christ.
A-B-I-D-E in Christ
Let’s highlight five essential and diverse aspects of abiding in an interactive relationship with Christ. (Previously, I did an extensive Bible Study on “Knowing Christ Today.” That Bible study and this article were inspired by Dallas Willard’s teaching, especially his book, Knowing Christ Today.)
To A-B-I-D-E in Christ is:
Awe-Filled Wonder for God
“Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the Lord our Maker; for he is our God and we are the people of his pasture, the flock under his care.” (Psalm 95:6-7, NIV84)
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser… I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:1, 5, ESV)
- This is the focus of knowing Christ today.
- Worshiping Jesus and his Father — it’s about God, not me! We worship God not just by singing songs of praise to him but by bringing our daily lives into his kingdom or government and doing that together.
- Appreciating God (e.g., the beauty of his creation, forgiveness for our sins, and the gift of eternal living with him).
- Being humbled in God’s presence — even in adoring silence, looking to him and waiting on him.
Becoming like Jesus
“But if anyone obeys his word, God’s love is truly made complete in him. This is how we knowwe are in him: Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did.” (1 John 2:5-6, NIV84)
“If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love… This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” (John 15:10, 12, ESV)
- This is the bottom line of knowing Christ (this is observable by others).
- Becoming like Jesus is more than behavioral obedience, it means your character — who you are when you’re not performing on stage — is being transformed by God’s grace to be the kind of person who obeys Jesus’ teachings from your heart.
- We’re to manifest the fruit of the Holy Spirit, especially love for one another in the Body of Christ and love for our neighbors, but also love for our enemies (e.g., “Bless those that curse you.”)
In-formed by the Word
“Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” (Romans 12:2, NIV84)
“If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.” (John 15:7, ESV)
- This is the reasonableness of knowing Christ today.
- To be in-formed by Scripture is more than head knowledge — it’s relying on God’s words through study, meditation, and prayer so that they live in you and draw you closer to Jesus.
- We’re to live in an ongoing conversational relationship with God, guided by the teachings of the Bible (like the Psalmist).
Devoted to God
“O God, you are my God, earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you, my body longs for you, in a dry and weary land where there is no water. I have seen you in the sanctuary and beheld your power and your glory. Because your love is better than life, my lips will glorify you.” (Psalm 63:1-3, NIV84)
“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love… 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 FatherI have made known to you.” (John 15:9, 15)
- This is the heart of knowing Christ today.
- Devotion to God is not just an emotion or impulse that comes and goes, it’s the soul’s longing for more and more of God, to love him more and to experience him more.
- We cry out for God because we need his love to cover our sins, heal our hurts, and empower us to overcome our struggles.
- If you’re heart is for God then you’ll be affectionate with him, showing a special tenderness for the Lord which at special times may be felt as “the Jesus burn” like the disciples on the Road to Emmaus experienced.
Experiencing the Holy Spirit
“Speak Lord, for your servant is listening.” (1 Samuel 3:9 and 10, NIV)
Jesus says, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest… My yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28, 30, ESV)
“These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” (John 15:11, ESV)
- This is the blessing of knowing Christ today.
- To experience life with God is to enjoy the “easy yoke” and “light burden” that Jesus offers in your day-to-day life — the hope that is an anchor for the soul, the peace that passes understanding, the joy unspeakable and full of glory.
- “Experience” is not the same thing as emotions, though it normally includes our feelings. Experiencing involves all the functions of our person: thinking, awareness, observations of our environment, memory, emotions, willing/choosing, bodily sensations and activity, social connections, and soul.
- We can grow in our confidence and courage to Venture on God and then finding that indeed the hand of the Lord was at work, what you accomplished was more than you could’ve done on your own.
- Occasionally we may also experience supernatural manifestations like hearing God’s voice (usually as divinely inspired thoughts or impressions), feeling the “warmth of the Spirit” or tingling in your body, or having visions.
John 15 Bible Study
My one page Bible Study PDF features color-coded highlights on the five aspects of what it means to abide and some key notes from John 15:1-17 (NASB): “A-B-I-D-E in Jesus.”