We are considering the subject of the Creator of the universe – the One who not only made all things but who rules over it all. This is the One who is infinite in His being, yet who is, if we are to believe what we are told in the Bible, not far from each one of us (Acts 17:27).
This God wants us to know Him. That is what the Bible is about – it is the story of God and His good creation. It is the story He has told to mankind. It is God revealing himself to man, not only as the Creator, but as the One who loves his creation and who is moving the events of history toward the consummation of His purpose for that creation.
Man who was made in the image of God – man who has fallen from that original design – plays a key role in the story, but the story is not about man. It is about what God has done and is doing to bring both man and the entirety of creation back to the place God intended it all to be from the beginning. In order for man to assume his intended role in the divine scheme it is necessary for us to know God intimately. “Up close and personal” as the saying goes.
Is that possible? How can the finite (man) know the infinite (God)? How can the thing made know the Maker? Yet, this is obviously what God wants of us.
“I will dwell among the people of Israel and will be their God. And they shall know that I am the Lord their God, who brought them out of the land of Egypt that I might dwell among them. I am the Lord their God.” (Exodus 29:45-46).
God promised to be present with the children of Israel – to live with them – when they came out of Egyptian bondage so that they might know who He was and what He had done. They could know Him by what He had done in bringing them out of Egypt. They could know Him as a presence, immanent and accessible, who through His care and provision would demonstrate His love for them.
The apostle Paul desired above all else to know God in the way He has revealed Himself to mankind in this age. He has revealed himself in the person of the Son who is the exact image of the Father. Paul’s words of desiring the knowledge of the divine ought to reflect the longing of every human heart.
“But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.” (Philippians 3:7-11).
All his earthly achievements, all his worldly possessions, all the power and fame that could have been his – everything he might have trusted in – became as nothing “because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” Paul, the academic achiever, turned his back on all that his attainments might have brought him because he had come to know Christ.
This was no mere factual or intellectual knowledge of which the apostle speaks. He had come to have an intimate acquaintance with the Savior. He had met him on the road to Damascus, had conversed with Him and had learned to put his trust in Him. He had so learned Him that he had entrusted his entire life to Him. He had learned Him in such a way that there had been created in him an insatiable desire to know Him fully even to the resurrection from the dead of which Paul – and we – are assured through our faith in Him.
Paul’s desire to know Christ took the form of a lifetime pursuit. It was to experience what it meant to be a follower of Jesus. It meant to experience the resurrection power working in him, raising him up to sit with Christ in “heavenly places” (Ephesians 2:6). It meant to “share his sufferings”and even His death. It was only by knowing, experiencing, sharing Christ in this way that he could hope to “attain the resurrection from the dead” and the eternal life beyond.
The picture the apostle gives here is a far cry from the approach many take to the Bible. So many take it to be God’s instructions to man about how to get from earth to heaven – or as in the acronym, Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth. God is seen as the Great Imperious Lawgiver with the consequence that people rush to find His instructions so we can be pleasing to Him and avoid condemnation at the Judgment. What is to be known is the instruction, not the Instructor. With this view, God fades into the background. He becomes a distant being, aloof, unengaged with creation – the God of Deism. And man becomes central, the focus of divine revelation.
Either that, or He becomes the tyrannical, arbitrary despot, easily offended, thus to be feared and responded to out of terror and not love. A God who imposes numerous tests upon men to ascertain their worthiness to receive the eternal reward He reluctantly gives to those pass the test. With this view of God, our response to Him is more or less a matter of self preservation. It is, as some have put it, “fire insurance.”
In neither of these cases is there possible a close, trusting, loving relationship. At best, to those who look at God in this way, He is not a Father who loves, guides and trains his children to bring them to the fullest expression of their potential, but a controlling authority who makes demands of men on an arbitrary basis.
But God is seeking our trust. Our response when we really know Him will be one of love manifested through our faith/trust.
“And those who know your name put their trust in you,
for you, O Lord, have not forsaken those who seek you.” (Psalm 9:10).
“For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.” (Galatians 5:6).
For Paul, any religion not based on this kind of intimate, personal, knowing relationship is equivalent to idolatry.
“Formerly, when you did not know God, you were enslaved to those that by nature are not gods. But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world, whose slaves you want to be once more?” (Galatians 4:8-9).
A religion without knowing the God whom we worship is nothing more than superstition. If you do this or that you will get this or that in return. And, according to his words here, that religion is nothing more than slavery. One is caught in a never-ending cycle of superstitious repetition of meaningless mantras and pointless performances. Knowing God – and being known by God – sets us free from all that.