We live in an age where secular knowledge is advancing at an ever-increasing pace. Not all of this knowledge has necessarily been true or helpful but nevertheless the world has been mesmerised by advances in technology and human achievement.

Even on the biblical front we are constantly ex­posed to archaeological and historical discoveries that add new dimensions to life in ancient times. We find an increasing array of concordances, reference works, lexicons and so on flooding the market, but regrettably there is a branch of knowledge that is being sadly ne­glected – and it is called in Scripture “the knowledge of God”.

‘The phrase only occurs a handful of times in the New Testament but each reference is full of signifi­cance. In each case the apostles used a special word for this type of knowledge. It is the Greek word epignosis, which carries the idea of exact and full knowledge, literally ‘upon knowledge’. There is nothing imprecise or fuzzy about this kind of understanding; and more importantly it is not just some theoretical accumulation of information. It is knowledge that is able to transform our way of thinking and lead us into a life of obedience.

In Colossians 1:9–10 Paul writes:

“For this cause we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to desire that ye might be filled with the knowledge [epignosis] of his will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; that ye might walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge [epignosis] of God”.

This is a prayer for spiritual discern­ment, consistent fruitfulness and an increased understanding of God. They all go hand in hand. Each element is interconnected. Wisdom and knowledge lead to a walk which is pleasing before God. Being fruitful in works flows from a full knowl­edge of God and His purpose with us.

Note the terms “filled with” and “increasing”. This knowledge is not inert or passive. Furthermore, it em­braces much more than just an acknowledgement that God is the only wise God as distinct from the error of Trinitarianism. It is a full knowledge which can only be nurtured in “all wisdom and spiritual understanding”.

Discerning the Fullness of God

A young person can quickly learn that there is only one God and that He dwells in heaven above, but it takes great spiritual discernment to see the fullness of God’s character in the way He deals with us on a daily basis. It takes “all wisdom” to perceive His will with us as He providentially interacts in our life. Experiences in life bring us face to face with conflicting moments. Sometimes there are times of amazing joy and some­times we face crises and uncertainty. We often peer through the mists of uncertainty, wondering if our heavenly Father’s hand is at work during these times; and it is only then, when we discover that His care has been lavished upon us or we have been rebuked by His hand, that we begin to grow in the knowledge of God.

In this way we begin to understand Who God re­ally is and how He seeks to guide us into His kingdom (2 Peter 1:11). We begin to know His ways, understand His mercies and deeply appreciate His forgiveness (cf Psa 103:1–13). It is a knowledge that is precious indeed and can only be fully discerned if we take the time to contemplate His hand in our lives. He chastises through love; He strengthens us through our under­standing of His Word; He listens to our prayers and shows His care for us (Heb 12:6; Eph 3:16; 1 Pet 5:7). Do we have “all wisdom and spiritual understanding” to see all this?

The importance of knowing God is underscored by another one of Paul’s prayers, this time to brethren and sisters at Ephesus:

“That the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give unto you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge [epigno­sis] of him: the eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that ye may know what is the hope of his calling, and what the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints, and what is the exceeding greatness of his power to us-ward who believe, according to the working of his mighty power” (Eph 1:17–19).

Once again this knowledge of God re­quires “wisdom and revelation.” Notice that Paul uses the expres­sion “the spirit of wis­dom”. This is a disposi­tion or way of thinking that reflects a desire to think in a spiritual way. It comes through having the understand­ing enlightened by the Word of God. It comes, says Paul, by “revelation” or, as the Greek word apokalupsis means, “uncovering”. We have to take off the covers, as it were, and peer more deeply into the intent and meaning of the Scriptures.

“Thou hast found grace in my sight, and I know thee by name”

The type of spiritual discernment required in knowing God is illustrated in the book of Exodus. In Exodus 6:3 God says, “I appeared unto Abraham, unto Isaac, and unto Jacob, by the name of God Almighty [Heb: El Shaddai], but by my name, Yahweh, was I not known to them”. He then proceeds to unveil a new dimension to His purpose. It involves the national redemption of Israel together with a national covenant and national inheritance. By this means would Israel know Yahweh was their God (v 4–8).

Sadly, the ordinary Israelite was unable to discern the wonder of God’s work in that redemption. At the end of 40 years of miracles their heart of unbelief still clouded their minds (Deut 29:4). The knowledge of God had bypassed them.

Moses, on the other hand, was different. He had a deeply personal link with the God of heaven and earth. In Exodus 33:11 we read, “And Yahweh spake unto Moses face to face, as a man speaketh unto his friend”. If only we could know God like that and be called the friend of God. This friendship didn’t mean that Moses treated God with irreverence or casualness. He clearly understood that it was based solely on God’s mercy but he also understood that he could come boldly before that throne of grace and seek further understanding of God’s will. He besought God, “Now therefore, I pray thee, if I have found grace in thy sight, shew me now thy way, that I may know thee, that I may find grace in thy sight: and consider that this nation is thy people” (Exod 33:13).

Here is man seeking to know God; seeking the knowledge of God. And Moses’ efforts were richly rewarded when God responded by unveil­ing His goodness, His glory and His Name: “Yahweh, Yahweh El, merciful and gra­cious, longsuffering, and abundant in good­ness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, and that will by no means clear the guilty; visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children’s children, unto the third and to the fourth generation” (Exodus 34:6–7). This declaration proclaims that God is love but it is a love in which long-suffering and goodness are inextricably united with truth, holiness and justice.

Moses now had the complete picture, so much so that he later applied this knowledge of God in a most wonderful way. Israel had sinned once again through the intrigue and rebellion of Korah. As a result, God once more appeared to Moses and declared that He would disinherit Israel and build a greater nation through Moses himself (Num 14:11–12); but the man of God replied in an entirely selfless way. He said, “And now, I beseech thee, let the power of my Lord be great, according as thou hast spoken”. He then proceeded to repeat the words of Exodus 34:6−7 and asked God to forgive His people (Num 14:17–19). To Moses, the knowledge of God’s character was equivalent to His power.

Glorying in our Understanding of God

This is what Paul meant by having “wisdom and spiritual understanding in the knowledge of God.” It is the ability to not only comprehend the vast expanse of God’s character but to incorporate an appreciation of that power into everyday life.

It means that we need to understand how God thought and acted in the past and how His character is unveiled for all to see. We need to know how God responded to the different circumstances of men’s lives and understand what makes Him angry and, conversely, what He is well pleased with.

Jeremiah the prophet warned Israel not to glory in human wisdom, might or wealth. He went on to write: “But let him that glorieth glory in this, that he understandeth and knoweth me, that I am the LORD which exercise lovingkindness, judgment, and right­eousness, in the earth: for in these things I delight, saith the LORD” (Jer 9:24). To understand and know the Father is to understand that He delights in the exercise of those virtues that make up His very being. This is why King Josiah was commended before God. “He judged the cause of the poor and needy,” wrote the prophet; “then it was well with him: was not this to know me? saith the LORD” (Jer 22:16). To exercise the knowledge of God is to exercise justice and judgment and mercy in the earth.

This is why the terms of the new covenant are so important to understand. One of the conditions we have agreed to is to “know Yahweh” (Jer 31:34). As Hosea stated: “For I desired mercy, and not sacrifice; and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings” (Hos 6:6).

Having comprehended this, we need to translate this appreciation into our lives and emulate that good­ness to others. In the words of 1 Peter 2:9, we need to “shew forth the praises” or virtues of the God who has called us into His marvellous light.

The knowledge of God includes the knowledge of His Son and this knowledge allows us to escape the pollutions of the world and find an inheritance in the future age (2 Peter 1:2,8; 2:20). In other words, our knowledge of God has to create within us a desire for change. Paul encourages us to “put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge [epignosis]” (Col 3:10). Without this complete knowledge of God and of the truth there can be no renewal. We are being asked to align ourselves with the moral image of the very God we worship. As the apostle John so aptly put it: “Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God” (1 John 4:7).