In this and the following issue of “The Lampstand”, God willing, the feature articles will consider the most important matter of “Knowing God”. We know that our Lord said that it was life eternal to know God, and that the Son of God was manifested that we may “see” and know Him. We need to reflect upon the wondrous honour that is ours in having been called by God to understand Him, His purpose and His Truth. This is emphasized when we consider that so many, in fact the vast majority of Christians, have been led astray by the doctrine of the Trinity. The great apostle to the Gentiles said to the Galatians, “But now after that ye have known God, or rather are known of God…” (4:9). Here he brings together the dual privilege of being known and called by God, and that we might “know Him”. The wonderful and helpful articles that follow should assist us in this endeavour as we walk amidst a godless, benighted generation (Ed).

“Samuel did not yet know the Lord.” That is what Scripture says (1 Sam 3:7). Yet Samuel must have known a lot about God. Elkanah would have shared his faith in “Yahweh of hosts”. From Hannah, that keen little mind would have been taking in the works and ways of God with his mother’s milk. Even Eli would have played his part, instructing “the little Levite” in the details of the sanctuary service.

Samuel knew his Bible stories. Samuel prayed, no doubt. But his knowledge of God was secondhand. It was simply what he had learned about God from others. He had no one-to-one, personal relationship with Him. His knowledge of God was the knowledge passed on by his father, his mother, his Sunday School teacher. Therefore, says Scripture, “Samuel did not yet know the Lord.”

All that changed in one awe-inspiring night. God stepped into Samuel’s life, and summoned him to serve: “Yahweh came, and stood, and called.” God called, and Samuel’s heart responded: “Speak; for thy servant heareth.” The terrible message of final doom on Eli and his house was put in the hands of the young boy: and for the rest of the night Samuel lay awake, staring at the ceiling, wondering how to break the news to the old man who had become, in effect, his grandfather.

Suddenly, Samuel “knew Yahweh”. Suddenly God, His covenant, His judgments, His service were terribly real. Suddenly Samuel’s commitment to service became a much, much bigger thing than topping up a flickering lamp, as important as that duty was. He had heard God speak to him: he had volunteered to serve: he had been given a great work to do: and he had accepted that responsibility.

His life would never be the same again. The living Word of God was a fire in the heart of Samuel. After decades of self-imposed exile, God openly revealed Himself among His people: and through Samuel, His living Word became a living reality for all Israel, as it had not been for decades, inspiring a network of prophets, and giving birth ultimately to a man after God’s own heart (13:14).

To Know God is Vital

Not many of us come to know God so suddenly and so dramatically: yet know Him we must. “This is life eternal”, prayed the Lord Jesus, “that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent” (John 17:3). Every disciple, or would-be disciple, must consider carefully what the Lord has said. What is eternal life? It is the life that is uniquely God’s—holy, awe-inspiring, brilliantly glorious, above and beyond weakness, sin and death. What wonderful thing is the very essence of that life? It is, said the Lord Jesus, to “know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.”

There is no significant difference here. To know the Lord Jesus is to know His Father: true even when he was a mortal man. “If ye had known me, ye should have known my Father also”, he told both the Jewish leaders (8:19) and his disciples (14:7). “The light of the knowledge of the glory of God” shines “in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Cor 4:6), and shines in our hearts, if we will fling back the curtains and let it in.

What is involved in knowing God? Intuitively, we understand what the Lord means. We must learn about God, and His Son. We must ask about Him, go looking for Him, knock on His door. We must spend so much time listening to Him that we can clearly recognize His voice in the noisy confusion of everyday life. We must walk His way, work with Him, speak with Him, come to understand His character, identify His fingerprints, trust His judgment, accept and endorse His decisions. We must learn to put total confidence in Him, to believe that He is there even when we cannot see Him, to reach out and take His hand in the darkness. We must perceive His love toward us, love Him with all our hearts, learn to love others as He loves them, and has loved us.

And, as with any relationship, we cannot expect to know Him and His Son if we are not ourselves prepared to be known by them. We must say goodbye to the mask, and put it out with the rubbish. We must open our hearts to Him, even if we feel somewhat ashamed of the grime that has collected in the corners. We must tell Him honestly what we are thinking, what we are feeling—about Him, about ourselves, about others, about life. We must take our thoughts, and expose them to His searching mind. We must be prepared to ask questions, and wait for answers. We must describe our weaknesses, our mistakes, our sins, our failings honestly, and ask for His forgiveness. We must be prepared to ask for help, and remember to thank Him.

All this takes energy, of course. But so does any worthwhile relationship: and this is surely the most important relationship of them all.

Not to Know God is Fatal

Just as the Bible is clear about the power of knowing God, it is clear about the consequences of not knowing God. If we do not know God, our sense of right and wrong is twisted. “Go ye and learn what that meaneth,” the Lord challenged the Pharisees, “I will have mercy, and not sacrifice.” The words are taken from Hosea, who adds: “and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings” (Matt 9:13 cp Hos 6:6). But they did not want to know God, even when the Son of man actively encouraged them to seek that knowledge. Months later they were still judging unrighteously. He pointed to the reason for their fault. “If ye had known what this meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice, ye would not have condemned the guiltless” (Matt 12:1–8). We cannot see life as God sees it, and judge righteous judgment, unless we know Him.

The consequences are dreadful. “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge”, Hosea lamented. “There is no truth, nor mercy, nor knowledge of God in the land” (4:1, 6 cp 5:3–4; 6:3, 6; 8:2; 13:4–5). They had rejected and ignored God. As a result, the ecclesia of Hosea’s day had lost any sense of God’s truth and mercy. Instead, their treatment of each other was faithless and ruthless. Their fate mirrored that of the pagan world. “Even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over” (Rom 1:28).

The Lord has already told us what he will say to those who claim him as their Lord, who claim the most spectacular deeds done in his name—yet whose lives show that they have never understood him, never appreciated him, never known him.

“Then will I profess unto you, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity” (Matt 7:23). They are fearful words. There is no appeal from that verdict. There is only outer darkness, enormous distress, all-consuming regret.

Surely it is far, far better to be on the inside. Surely it is better to be somewhere in that warm, light-filled, happy, joyful celebration on the other side of that door. And if we set out to know him, that is where we will be.

How Can We Come to Know God?

We do not want to wander off into useless abstractions. This subject is so critically important for us all that we must grasp, must see clearly, how we can come to know God. And of course, we have been told. The articles in this series provide practical advice, but some key themes from Scripture can be highlighted.

(1) We must decide what is important. Will it be wisdom? Will it be personal power? Will it be wealth? These are the things men like to accumulate, and boast about. Or will it be faithful love, justice, a perfect balance of mercy and truth? What will be important to us? To know and understand these things, to boast in our relationship with the God who practises them, is to know and understand God (Jer 9:24).

If we feel challenged by this, perhaps it would help to sit down and make a list of all the world offers on one half of a piece of paper—the impressive house, the overflowing bank account, the prestigious qualification, the perfect body—and on the other to list what God offers in this life, and in the life to come. What is the balance? Which list attracts you more? An honest answer will tell you where your heart lies. If it is not with God, then you are too far away from Him. Your perspective will only change as you spend more time in His Word, in His presence, among His people.

(2) We must rid our lives of idols. We cannot know God if our hearts are still chasing after the false gods—personal power projection, wealth, victory, sexual fulfillment, personal security. We must begin by “casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ” (2 Cor 10:5; cp Gal 4:8–9; 1 Thess 4:5). The apparent promise of these things is false. They cannot offer the security and satisfaction we seek from them. But these things have a magnetic pull, and we must be clear about ridding our lives of them, or they will sneak back in (1 John 5:21).

All too easy, isn’t it, to reject these things in theory, and embrace them in practice! Perhaps it helps to recognize that our desire for security and satisfaction is not wrong in itself. It is the pursuit of these things apart from God that is the problem. Security and satisfaction must be sought, can be found, only in Him. He is the right and proper place to look for them.

(3) We must throw ourselves into the quest. God reveals Himself to those who bend in His direction, who are willing to listen and learn, who call out to Him, who seek Him ardently as something tremendously valuable and beautiful (Prov 2:1–5). We must decide that God is something we really, deeply want, and pour our energy into knowing Him.

What energy are we putting into our spiritual quest, then? Sometimes it is barely enough to run a cheap battery torch! Time and energy in reading, meditation, prayer—all are necessary if we wish to truly find God.

(4) We must accept God’s guidance in daily life. “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding,” David advised Solomon. “In all thy ways know Him, and He shall direct thy paths” (Prov 3:6). We must put every day’s decisions in God’s hands, and accept His overruling providence. As we develop this habit, we will walk more and more closely with God.

What, then, is the status of our prayers? Are they a special time of fellowship with God? Heartfelt requests for guidance, wisdom, courage, strength, help? God will not live life for us, but equally He wants us to live it with Him—and that means much more than token prayer.

(5) We must learn to love—love God (1 Cor 8:3), love His people collectively (Eph 4:13), love them individually. “Hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments” (1 John 2:3–4). If an honest assessment of the details of our life tells us that we are, over time, increasingly focused on doing God’s will, then, according to John, we are growing in our knowledge of God. If we can see little improvement, something is very wrong.

There is one commandment that John is specifically focused on—the old-new commandment, to love one another. For John, it is simple. If we love, we know God. If we do not love, we do not know God, however much we may know about Him (4:7–8). The state of our relationships with other people, therefore, is a good indicator of the state of our relationship with God. Uncontrolled anger, pride, greed, selfishness, contempt, unfairness, harshness—these are sure signs that our relationship with God is faulty. An honest look at the last week will tell us whether any of these were present. If so, they must be dealt with quickly and determinedly. They have no part in the lives of those who seek to know God.

A Lifelong Relationship

God wants a lifelong relationship. He is faithful to us, and He wants faithfulness from us. He married Israel when she was young and beautiful. Although He distanced Himself from her when she made herself a haggard whore, he never abandoned her. Sin has made her old and careworn, but His love endures. The day will come when He will reaffirm His longstanding vows, and embrace her once more. She will know God again, but He has never forgotten her (Hos 2:20).

God does not want a casual, drop in, on again, off again relationship. To those who give Him their lifetime commitment He shows His faithful covenant-love, day in, day out, year in, year out, consistently showing His faithfulness to them that know Him (Psa 36:10). When our minds and our bodies are wasting away, and the talents and achievements of our strongest years are boxed away in life’s archives, it is comforting to know that God stands beside our bed, as He stood by our cradle in those first, frightening days when the world was undifferentiated colour and noise and sensation. He loved us then, He loves us still, and He will love us through death and beyond death—if only we will seek to know and love Him.

The Only Thing that Ultimately Matters

The day will come when the earth will be awash with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea. If we can know God now, even in a limited way, we will be part of that world, when all our weaknesses and limitations have dropped away, when there will be no barrier, none at all, to perfect intimacy with God. “Now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known” (1 Cor 13:12). Imagine being able to know God through and through, as He knows us now! And not only God, but His Son! A living, breathing, vitally real person, in front of our very eyes at last!

No wonder Paul felt as he did. “I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord” (Phil 3:8). “Loss”: Paul must have looked down at that word and thought to himself, “‘Loss’ is true enough, but I need something even stronger to capture the full force of what I’m trying to say, to express my contemptuous rejection of everything this life has to offer as an alternative to a relationship with Christ Jesus my Lord.” So he tried again: “For whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but excrement… ” Shocking, no doubt, even for his first-century readers. But for Paul, knowing Christ was everything. There was nothing else. Any sacrifice was worthwhile if through it he could know him better (v10; cp 2 Tim 1:12).

And is it really such a sacrifice? Paul harboured no regrets. A sense of direction—life meaning— ethical certainty—a moderate lifestyle—happy, enduring fellowship with family and friends— peace of mind—trust, hope, love—these are the joyful fruits of knowing God. And that is just His down-payment on what is to come!

Let us, therefore, “follow on to know the Lord”: and may the pages that follow be helpful in grasping that knowledge of the only true God, and Jesus Christ His Son, which is eternal life.