People all around us today in our world and even in our churches “perish for lack of knowledge” (Hosea 4:6). Knowing Christ is what brings us real life today and into eternity. In the ministry of Soul Shepherding we refer to knowing Christ as “Intimacy with Jesus” and we believe it is the most important thing we can study, apply to our lives, and invite others into.
Knowledge in the Bible
The words know or knowledge are used 1,324 times in the NASB Bible. (Usually know in our English Bible is yada in the Hebrew of the Old Testament and ginosko or oida in the Greek of the New Testament, which Lawrence Richard’s Expository Dictionary of Bible Words says all have similar meanings.) The Biblical concept of knowledge is very robust. Knowledge is information about facts, skills for life, and acquaintance with persons, which may include deep soul friendship or sexual intercourse. Knowledge is gained not only through the physical senses, but also spiritually by divine revelation.
So to know Christ is not just mere “head knowledge,” say of Bible facts or theological doctrines, though intelligent thought about these and other things is certainly required. Nor is knowing Christ primarily an emotional experience, though it is important that sometimes we are at times able to feel God’s presence, including his personal blessings to us and the movements of his Spirit around us and within us.
The bottom line is that to know Christ is to be in an interactive relationship with him. The Bible teaches that our relationship with God is inseparable from our relationships with fellow Christ-followers and our neighbors (those in our circles of influence). If we love God we’ll demonstrate it by loving our neighbor, even our enemy. On the other hand, to understand our spiritual and psychological development is to realize that we can’t very well love God except as we have learned to trust in his love for us as it’s been expressed through people we’ve trusted.
Why We Can Trust Spiritual Knowledge
The Bible has a lot to say about knowing Christ and the life he offers us. I’ve made a serious study of knowing Christ by reading and re-reading Dallas Willard’s excellent book, Knowing Christ Today, and studying a great number Bible passages that deal with the subject of knowing the Lord.
The subtitle of Knowing Christ Today is “Why we can trust spiritual knowledge.” Knowing Christ, as it’s presented in the Bible and experienced in everyday life by people through the centuries and today, is a spiritual reality. Even though it is primarily concerned with what is unseen by the physical eye it is just as real as the chemicals in the chemistry table.
An important Bible teaching that you’ll find below is that faith in Christ is not a leap in the dark — mature faith is actually based on knowledge of spiritual reality. Dallas Willard teaches, “Faith extends on the basis of knowledge, beyond that knowledge.” Abraham didn’t know the Promised Land or how to get there, but he knew the Lord who called him and was with him on his journey. His faith was based on his experiential knowledge of God with him, past and present, and his faith ventured out into the future beyond his knowledge into a new challenge. (A concrete way of thinking about faith or trust is that it’s “Venturing on God”, stepping out into the unknown with the One we know!)
Bible Verses on Knowing Christ Today
Here in this survey of the Bible I share over fifty key Scripture passages on knowing Christ (from the NIV84 unless indicated otherwise), each with a very brief introductory statement. Included in the Bible passages I share are most of the Scriptures that Dallas Willard used in Knowing Christ Today. Prepare yourself to be enlightened by God’s Word — even surprised! — because many of the important things that the Bible teaches on knowing Christ today are not well understood.
The Scriptures for this Bible Study on Knowing Christ Today are divided into these categories:
- We Must Seek to Know God Rightly
- What Does it Really Mean to Know Christ?
- Some of the Blessings of Knowing Christ Today
- How to Grow in the Knowledge of God and Christ Jesus
- Jesus is Our Perfect Example for Knowing God
- Biblical Examples of People Knowing God
We Must Seek to Know God Rightly
God Wants to Be Known, But We Must Eagerly Search for Him as for Hidden Treasure
“If you call out for insight and cry aloud for understanding,and if you look for it as for silver and search for it as for hidden treasure, then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God.” (Proverbs 2:3-5; see also Deuteronomy 4:29)
Studying the Scriptures is Essential But it Must Lead us to Trust in Christ for Our Living
“You diligently studythe Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.” (John 5:39-40)
All Receive Knowledge of Our Creator, But It’s Futile Till we Give Him Thanks and Glory
“For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse. For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.” (Romans 1:20-21)
Don’t be Double-Minded! To Ask God for Wisdom and Then Rely on Self is Unstable
“If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does.” (James 1:5-8)
Be Humble! Our Knowledge is Insufficient
“We know in part… For now we see only as a reflection in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known” (1 Corinthians 13:9, 13. See also 1 Cor. 8:1-3).
What Does it Really Mean to Know Christ?
Knowing Christ is Living in a Conversational Relationship with Him
“My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish” (John 10:27-28).
Knowing Christ is Interactive Relationship: God Speaks -> We Obey -> He Strengthens
“If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Strengthener [the Holy Spirit], to be with you forever.” (John 14:15-16, DW par. See also John 14:21-23)
Knowing the True God and Jesus Christ is Eternal Living
“Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.” (John 17:3)
Knowing the Word of Christ is the Basis of Faith (Trust, Confidence) in Him
“Faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.” (Romans 10:17; verses 1-3 give the context that the word of Christ is knowing the righteous that comes from God rather than from the law.)
We Need to Know the Facts of Christ’s Cross, Burial, Resurrection, and Appearances
“For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter,and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.” (1 Corinthians 15:3-8)
Spiritual Knowledge is the Basis of Faith (Faith is Opposed to Sight, Not Knowledge)
“Now we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands. Meanwhile we groan… We live by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:1-2, 7).
Knowing Christ’s Love is Connected to Knowing Loving Relationships with People
“For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom his whole familyin heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.
“Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.” (Ephesians 3:14-21)
Knowing Truth is Connected to Knowing Christ Personally in God’s Kingdom Today
”For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding. And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light. For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. (Colossians 1:9-14; see also Ephesians 1:17-23)
True Knowledge of God Leads us to Grow in Christlikeness — It’s Not Ineffective and Unproductive
“For if you possess these qualities [of knowledge: faith, virtue, more knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly affection, and love] in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But if anyone does not have them, he is nearsighted and blind, and has forgotten that he has been cleansed from his past sins.” (2 Peter 1:8-9)
To Know Christ is to Obey Him — We Learn to Love Like He Loves
“We know that we have come to know [Jesus Christ, the Righteous One] if we obey his commands. The man who says, ‘I know him,’ but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But if anyone obeys his word, God’s love is truly made complete in him. This is how we know we are in him: Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did.” (1 John 2:3-6)
Some of the Blessings of Knowing Christ Today
Having Spiritual Knowledge of the Reality of God Stabilizes Us in What is Good
“Where there is no vision of the reality of God people just do whatever they want” (Proverbs 29:18, DW par).
Knowledge and Understanding of God are Soul Food for Us
“And I will give you shepherds after my own heart, who will feed you with knowledge and understanding.” (Jeremiah 3:15, ESV)
If We Lack Knowledge We Die — Because Only Knowledge Assures Access to Reality
“My people are destroyed from lack of knowledge.” (Hosea 4:6. See also Romans 1:21 and Ephesians 4:17-19)
We Can Know God’s Eternal Kingdom (His Reigning), Starting Here and Now
“Get a new thought! The kingdom of the heavens is available to you right where you are!” (Matthew 4:17, DW par. See also Luke 17:20-21)
Knowing the Truth — Believing in Jesus’ and Following His Teaching — Sets Us Free!
“To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31-32)
Spiritual Knowledge of Christ Sustains Us In Suffering — It’s the Basis of our Faith/Trust
“And of this gospel I was appointed a herald and an apostle and a teacher. That is why I am suffering as I am. Yet I am not ashamed, because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him for that day.” (2 Timothy 1:11-12)
It’s Through Knowledge of God that we Grow in Life, Godliness, and Virtue
“Grace and peace be yours in abundance through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord. His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.” (2 Peter 1:2-3. In the following verses we’re urged to grow in knowledge to support a life of virtue.)
How to Grow in the Knowledge of God and Christ Jesus
At a Basic Level We Come to Know God Through the Physical Universe He Created
“The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge” (Psalm 19:1-2; see also Psalm 8:1-3).
We Grow in our Knowledge of God-WIth-Us By Waiting on God and Joining His Action
“Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall;but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” (Isaiah 40:30-31)
Like Jesus, Venture to Obey God, Come to Know by Experience, Then Teach Confidently
“My teaching is not mine but his who sent me. Anyone who resolves to do the will of God will know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own.” (John 7:17, NRSV)
Spiritual Knowledge is Not Attained by Reason Alone, It’s Revealed by God’s Spirit
“When I came to you, brothers, I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God.For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified…
“We do, however, speak a message of wisdom among the mature, but not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. No, we speak of God’s secret wisdom…
“God has revealed it to us by his Spirit.
“The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God…” (1 Corinthians 2:1-2, 6-7, 10)
Our Knowledge is Incomplete — We Must Be Humble Before Our All-Knowing God
“We sometimes tend to think we know all we need to know to answer these kinds of questions—but sometimes our humble hearts can help us more than our proud minds. We never really know enough until we recognize that God alone knows it all.” (1 Corinthians 8:2-3, MSG. See also 1 Corinthians 13:8-12.)
Listen to God’s Word to Come to Know the Light of God’s Glory in the Face of Christ
“For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.” (2 Corinthians 4:6)
To Know God is a Battle — With Each Thought we Must be Captivated with Christ!
“We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” (2 Corinthians 10:5)
We Grow in Grace and Knowledge By Responding to God’s Activity through Christ
“Grow in appreciating the grace of God acting in your life and in your knowledge of an interactive relationship with our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, who lived constantly in the grace and knowledge of God.” (2 Peter 3:18, my paraphrase based on DW’s interpretations of “grace” and “knowledge.”)
The Apostles’ Testimony of Physically Knowing Jesus Helps Us to Spiritually Know Him
‘What started it all, what we heard and we saw with our own eyes, what we observed and our hands handled concerning The Word of Life — for the life was put right out in the open before us, and we saw it, and now we testify to its reality and announce to you the eternal life which was at home in God the Father and was set right before our eyes — what we saw and heard, we also pass on to you that you too may be in this together with us, and we really are in it with the Father and with his Son, Jesus the Anointed One. And our writing to you about these things tops off the joy we have in them” (1 John 1:1-4, DW par)
Rely on the Holy Spirit as Inner Teacher to Know the Truth and Remain in the Father and the Son
“But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and all of you know the truth… See that what you have heard from the beginning remains in you. If it does, you also will remain in the Son and in the Father. And this is what he promised us—even eternal life… The anointing you received from him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about all things and as that anointing is real, not counterfeit—just as it has taught you, remain in him. (1 John 2:20, 24-25, 27)
To Love we Must Be Born of God and Know Him (Though He’s Unseen) Through Christ
“Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice forour sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us. (1 John 4:7-12)
Jesus is Our Perfect Example for Knowing God
In his Incarnation Jesus Became a Man Who Had to Depend on God for Everything
”[Christ Jesus], being in very natureGod, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.” (Philippians 2:6-7)
Jesus Grew in God’s Wisdom, Strength, and Grace
“And the child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was upon him… And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.” (Luke 2:40, 52)
Jesus Found his Identity, Mission, and Guidance from God in the Scriptures
“[Jesus] began by saying to them, ‘Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.’” (Luke 4:29. See also Matthew 26:54 and many instances of Jesus saying and doing things so that the Scriptures would be fulfilled.)
Jesus Knew the Father Intimately and Demonstrated This in All He Did and Said
“Jesus resumed talking to the people, but now tenderly. ‘The Father has given me all these things to do and say. This is a unique Father-Son operation, coming out of Father and Son intimacies and knowledge. No one knows the Son the way the Father does, nor the Father the way the Son does. But I’m not keeping it to myself; I’m ready to go over it line by line with anyone willing to listen.” (Matthew 11:27, MSG. See also Luke 10:22.)
Jesus Had Authority Because He Knew From Personal Experience What He Taught
“The people were amazed at [Jesus’] teaching, because he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law.” (Mark 1:22. See also Matthew 7:28-29.)
Jesus Spoke of Heavenly Things that He Knew from Personal Experience as a Man
“I tell you the truth, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony. I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things?” (John 3:11-12)
Jesus Always Acted in Accordance with the Father
“Jesus gave them this answer: ‘I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.’” (John 5:19)
Jesus Always Spoke in Accordance with the Father
“Whatever I say is just what the Father has told me to say.” (John 12:50)
Jesus’ Supernatural Abilities Came from the Holy Spirit Acting With Him
“God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him.” (Acts 10:38)
Our Sinless Lord and Savior Learned, thru Suffering, to Obey God Perfectly
“Although [Jesus] was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered.” (Hebrews 5:8)
Biblical Examples of People Knowing God
Job Knew God By Description (Belief) Then He Met God By Acquaintance (Experience)
“I have heard about you… but now my eye sees you. So I take back all I said, and I repent by throwing dust and ashes upon myself” (Job 42:5-6, DW par).
Abraham Didn’t Know Where to Go, But He Knew the Lord Was With Him, Guiding Him (Faith Extends Beyond Knowledge on the Basis of Knowledge)
“By an act of faith, Abraham said yes to God’s call to travel to an unknown place that would become his home. When he left he had no idea where he was going. By an act of faith he lived in the country promised him, lived as a stranger camping in tents. Isaac and Jacob did the same, living under the same promise. Abraham did it by keeping his eye on an unseen city with real, eternal foundations—the City designed and built by God” (Hebrews 12:8-10 MSG; See also Genesis 12:1-7).
Joseph’s God-Given Knowledge is What Gave Him Authority Over Egypt
“So Pharaoh asked them, ‘Can we find anyone like this man, one in whom is the spirit of God?’ Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, ‘Since God has made all this known to you, there is no one so discerning and wise as you. You shall be in charge of my palace, and all my people are to submit to your orders. Only with respect to the throne will I be greater than you.’” (Genesis 41:38-40)
Daniel’s Divine Knowledge of Mysteries is What Put Him in Leadership
“Then King Nebuchadnezzar fell prostrate before Daniel and paid him honor and ordered that an offering and incense be presented to him. The king said to Daniel, ‘Surely your God is the God of gods and the Lord of kings and a revealer of mysteries, for you were able to reveal this mystery.’
“Then the king placed Daniel in a high position and lavished many gifts on him. He made him ruler over the entire province of Babylon and placed him in charge of all its wise men. “Moreover, at Daniel’s request the king appointed Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego administrators over the province of Babylon, while Daniel himself remained at the royal court.” (Daniel 2:46-49)
Samuel Came to Know the Lord by Learning from Eli How to Hear the Lord’s Voice
“Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord: The word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him.
“The Lord called Samuel a third time, and Samuel got up and went to Eli and said, ‘Here I am; you called me.’
“Then Eli realized that the Lord was calling the boy. So Eli told Samuel, ‘Go and lie down, and if he calls you, say, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.”’ So Samuel went and lay down in his place.
“The Lord came and stood there, calling as at the other times, ‘Samuel! Samuel!’
“Then Samuel said, ‘Speak, for your servant is listening.’
“And the Lord said to Samuel…” (1 Samuel 3:7-11)
David’s Giant-Killing Faith was Based on his Prior Knowledge of God Acting with Him
Your servant has killed both the lion and the bear; this uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them, because he has defied the armies of the living God. The Lord who delivered me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine.” (1 Samuel 17:36-37)
Phillip Knew Jesus But Didn’t Know Him as the Eternal Word Till After His Resurrection
“Jesus answered: ‘Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, “Show us the Father”? Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you are not just my own. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work.’” (John 14:9-10)
Paul Gave Up Everything for the Surpassing Greatness of Knowing Christ
“I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him” (Philippians 3:8-9).
Paul Reasoned from the Scriptures to Help People Come to Know Christ Personally
“As his custom was, Paul went into the synagogue, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that the Christ had to suffer and rise from the dead. ‘This Jesus I am proclaiming to you is the Christ,’ he said. Some of the Jews were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a large number of God-fearing Greeks and not a few prominent women.” (Acts 17:2-4)
Cornelius Came to Know the Word, the Cosmic Christ, Before the Historical Jesus (This is Not the Normal Pattern, Nor is it the Gospel We Preach, But it is Possible)
“Cornelius answered [Peter]: ‘Four days ago I was in my house praying at this hour, at three in the afternoon. Suddenly a man in shining clothes stood before me and said,’Cornelius, God has heard your prayer and remembered your gifts to the poor.’” (Acts 10:30-31)
Timothy’s Knowledge of Scripture Led to Salvation and Trained him in Good Works
“Continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:14-17)