Re-using a piece from a previous personal website, reviewed and slightly amended.
John 17:3 – And this is eternal life, that they might know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.
There is a world of difference between knowing facts about a person and really knowing them personally. This is recognised by most people in our everyday lives. It is true that important life relationships can begin and develop considerably through reading or through modern technology such as the internet, but the time usually comes when nothing can be a substitute for a proper face to face meeting. Spending real time in the real presence of a person is the only way to nurture the deepest and most meaningful of friendships.
When we read about great historical figures, they remain somewhat remote and unknown, however fine the writing, and however close the writers may get to the real essence of the person through their words. Often several biographies by different authors will be required to get a rounded picture of the character and life of a person. However objective a biographer might wish to be, something of themselves will always be present in their work. They will always have some sort of perspective or filter which colours their approach, and certain aspects of a subject of biography may remain impenetrable to different writers.
Of course, there is enormous value in learning and reading about historical figures, and some obscure and ordinary people, as well as famous ones, can be brought to life in the most amazing ways through skilled and sympathetic writing. Life is enriched by the wealth of writing and social media now available, and contacts and friendships available through these means are genuine, but usually limited to sharing certain common interests or particular aspects of one another’s lives. We are rightly fascinated by the complexities and variations of individual human experience, and the strange mix of the sense of deeply understanding and identifying with each other in so many ways, and yet aware of different unknowns about every individual we meet and even within ourselves. At times, we may feel we cross the boundary between “knowing about” and “knowing” certain aspects of a person through words and images, but rarely can such contact be so rounded and complete that we can say we know the whole person.
The key word concerning true personal knowledge is relationship. To grow and develop, a relationship must necessarily be a two-way process. Each person must be interested in the other, and be willing to open up themselves to each other in an honest and full way. In human relationships there is always an element of vulnerability, because we each have weaknesses as well as strengths, and these will become apparent. (The author of this piece freely admits to difficulty in opening up to deeper friendships, sadly all too content with superficial internet contact. Other family members could well testify about how awkward I am).
Now many people regard Jesus as a figure locked up in history, and approach Gospels just like any other biographies. They therefore think that Christianity is based merely on the knowledge and acceptance of facts about Jesus Christ. Indeed, they say, this is the most that can be achieved from the Bible as a book, because it necessarily limits people to “knowing about” Him rather than truly knowing Him. As a result their conclusion is that Jesus should be regarded simply as a great moral example and a teacher, but this misses the entire purpose of His life and ministry.
There are many unique features about Christ and the Christian message. All the norms of human experience are transcended. First we must appreciate that Christ is alive, having risen again from the dead on the third day – according to the Scriptures. Therefore He is able to enter into living and real relationships with people, unlike any other historical figure in the history of the world. Secondly, we must also remember that as God, He knows all things, so He knows all about each person individually. Indeed He knows us better than we know ourselves, and He knows other people better than we ever can, even those closest to us.
We must also take note of the Biblical revelation of God as One, yet having internal relationships. The truth of the trinity is central to the Bible revelation. It is a mystery beyond words, and yet it is fundamental for our understanding of God. Almost every name and title of God the Father, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit is couched in the language of relationship. The wonderful message of the Bible is that God desires a real relationship with mankind – not merely collective, but individual in the fullest sense – the creature at the pinnacle of His earthly creation. God not only desires such a relationship, but has done everything to make the relationship possible. In the person of Christ, God was found in fashion as a man, and became approachable, and proved His understanding of the human condition through experience, in every respect apart from sin. Christ then in love gave Himself as a sacrifice for our sins. God, who knew them (our sins) laid them on Him (His Son). So, even though He knows all about us, including every fault and failure, He still loves and cares for us while remaining ever perfect in holiness and goodness Himself. The offer is for people to willingly trust Him alone for salvation and all the relationships being offered with Him and with God as Father that are wrapped up in the supreme gift of forgiveness and eternal life all secured for us a great cost to Him.
There is an example about how the Bible itself recognises the difference between “knowing about” and “knowing personally”. God knows everything in terms of truth and facts about every detail of His universe. He knows all the possible outcomes of each event and each human decision, and through that knowledge works out His purposes in the world. But when it comes to one of the solemn occasions of judgment mentioned in the Bible, the Lord will say to some people “I never knew you“. He of course knew all about every single one, but they would not enter into or accept from their side the full relationship which He had made available. This is the account of the sheep and the goats in Matthew 25. The full context of this judgment is not necessary for this occasion, but the lesson for readers now is that it is possible for many people may not have a real relationship with the Lord, even though they think of themselves as Christians.
A true relationship with the Lord is the most important relationship in the world for every individual human being. The message of the Bible is clear that the relationship between God and man was broken by sin. Adam and Eve were responsible for this breakdown, as was the deception of Satan. In His grace and mercy, God has opened a way for the relationship to be fully restored through the death and resurrection of Christ, who loved us and gave Himself for us, so that whoever believes in Him might have eternal life.
Our text reads “And this is eternal life, that they might know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent“. This was the wonderful prayer of the Lord Jesus recorded by John in his Gospel, which reveals the heart of the purpose of Christ in His coming. Jesus did not want people merely to know about God and about Himself, but to have a true personal knowledge and relationship with God as Father and with Himself as Saviour. And Jesus is the perfect One for us to come to know, far beyond even the best human ideal we could invent or imagine. He is perfect and holy, yet approachable and caring for us with our weaknesses. He is utterly reliable and trustworthy, yet willing to work with us in our failings.
It is obvious that we need first of all to know the true facts about Christ so that we can begin the journey into understanding and appreciating who He really is. The Bible alone is the source for this knowledge. The Bible is the written Word of God which reveals Christ as the Living Word. The Gospels and the rest of the Bible are unique in making Christ available in such a way that we can truly know Him without seeing Him face to face. The Holy Spirit opens hearts and minds to receive not only head knowledge about Christ, but enables a first-hand living knowledge of Him, and a growing personal relationship with Him. The key for us is true faith in Christ alone as personal Saviour. Peter writes in these terms about this spiritual revelation of Jesus Christ “whom having not seen you love. Though now you do not see Him, yet believing, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory” (1 Peter 1:8).
This is why Paul could write these words, which can be shared by all true Christians “I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep what I have committed to Him until that day” (2 Tim 1:12). Jesus is the most wonderful and precious person anyone can ever know, and the relationship with God through Him is the most important for each of our lives. For anyone who reads this who has been satisfied with a head knowledge about Christ, or who has not even fully considered the person of Christ at all, please think about the difference it would mean to you to know Him personally and trust Him as your Saviour and Lord. He is worthy of our trust and will never let us down – never leave us or forsake us. For believers, the prayer is that our relationship with Him will be deepened and strengthened as we share precious things from His Word, and as we grow in the grace and the knowledge of Him. This was always the greatest personal purpose and prayer of the apostle Paul, who even towards the close of his ministry could say “that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection….” (Philippians 3:10).
No one believer can have a full and complete knowledge of Christ, because that would make us as great or greater than He is. All Christian believers combined cannot contain the fullness that is in Him. However, the quality of the relationship and knowledge from God’s Word through the Spirit is so real and true that every believer shares in a genuine experience of knowing Christ as He is revealed in the Word of God. Through the Word of God and prayer, and through the fellowship other believers too, we can spend real time in the real presence of Christ and so develop the most wonderful of personal relationships available in the whole of the universe. We all gain different personal impressions and appreciations of Him, but as long as they are consistent with the Word of God, they will be true and of spiritual benefit to ourselves, to other believers with whom we share fellowship, and to unbelievers that we reach with the glorious gospel message.
By knowing Christ, He becomes our lifeline – indeed the truth is that it is “Christ who is our life” (Colossians 3:4) – and He can use us in His service to lead others to trust Him and know Him more fully too. Let us be sure that we truly know Him as Scripture reveals, rather than being content with merely knowing about Him.