Knowing God by J. I. Packer“The highest science, the loftiest speculation, the mightiest philosophy, which can ever engage the attention of a child of God, is the name, the nature, the person, the work, the doings, and the existence of the great God whom he calls his Father.” – Charles H. Spurgeon
If, like me, you were raised going to a Christian church, reading the Bible, and participating in Bible studies, you might think you know all there is to know about God. But the goal of the Christian shouldn’t be merely to know about God. We must realize, first, how little we know God and secondly, why it’s important to do so. Packer’s purpose for writing Knowing God is to stress the importance of really understanding who God is and to excite and motivate the Christian to strive towards knowing Him better. Theology is often downplayed and seems to receive little attention in many churches these days. (I actually saw a video of a “preacher” mocking those who sit in church and actually want more teaching!) But every professing Christian should have as a lifelong pursuit the subject of theology, which is simply the study of God. And as a student of God’s Word, Packer says, the Christian must ask himself, “What do I intend to do with my knowledge about God, once I have got it?” When we read passages like Psalm 119 where the psalmist expresses his love for and desire to know God, His word, and His ways, it is clear his goal went beyond acquiring a basic knowledge about God. Packer points out that one may know a lot about God and godliness, and still hardly know Him.
Possessing a true knowledge of God will have an effect on and be evident in a person’s life. Packer names four things that will be the result of knowing God:
- Great energy for God. Do I have a passion for His cause, a zeal and desire to take action for God and against what is anti-God? (Psalm 69:9; John 2:17)
- Great thoughts of God. Do I have a high, exalted view of God as the most High, the sovereign King over all creation? (Isaiah 6:1; 57:15)
- Great boldness for God. Am I willing and unafraid to obey and follow Him, no matter what the possible consequences? (Romans 1:16)
- Great contentment in God. Is God my all in all? (Psalm 73:25)
In order to really know God, He has to speak to us and teach us about Himself. We must come to know God as He revealed Himself to the prophets and apostles as given to us in the Scriptures. The Westminster Catechism tells us, “The scriptures principally teach what man is to believe concerning God, and what duty God requires of man.”
With this in mind, in Part One Packer discusses why it is important to know who God is according to the Scriptures. He explains the significance of the First and Second Commandments and how images which attempt to depict God or the Lord Jesus dishonor God and mislead men. We should not try to conform God into our own idea or concept of who He is. Packer goes on to discuss the doctrines of the incarnation of Christ, the trinity, and the role of the Holy Spirit, all of which are essential to Christianity.
In Part Two, Packer moves on to what God is like and discusses some of God’s unique, divine attributes, such as His immutability, wisdom, love, majesty and holiness. Again Packer points out that we must not create an image of God by only assigning characteristics to Him that we admire and, humanly speaking, consider virtues. Just because jealousy, anger and hatred are considered vices in men, “we must remember that those elements in human qualities which show the corrupting effect of sin have no counterpart in God.” People tend to think of God in reference to His “pleasant” and less-threatening traits, such as His love, wisdom and knowledge, goodness, faithfulness, mercy, and even His power. But Packer also discusses the equally important traits of God that people are less comfortable thinking about or even acknowledging – His justice, holiness, wrath and severity. These qualities of God are often ignored or even rejected. Romans 11:22 says, “Behold therefore the goodness and severity of God.” Packer remarks that “people today are in the habit of dissociating the thought of God’s goodness from that of His severity.” But these qualities of God are not incompatible or mutually exclusive.
Part Three focuses on the Gospel – God’s relationship with and actions towards man, and specifically what He has done to reconcile sinners to Himself. Related to the Gospel, Packer discusses and explains the important doctrinal concepts of propitiation, regeneration, justification, and adoption. These truths of Christianity are what set it apart from all other religions and belief systems. God didn’t just put into place a set of laws, demand obedience, then punish or reward people based on their response to Him. Unlike other “gods,” He did everything that was required to bring fallen man back into a peaceful relationship with Himself. When He saves and forgives an individual from his sin (offenses against God), His relationship to them moves from being their Creator and Judge, to being their King and Father. Packer puts it this way:
To be right with God the judge is a great thing, but to be loved and cared for by God the father is a greater…We do not fully feel the wonder of the passage from death to life which takes place in the new birth till we see it as a transition not simply out of condemnation into acceptance, but out of bondage and destitution into the ‘safety, certainty, and enjoyment’ of the family of God.
Knowing about God is not enough to save a person from his sin. He must come to know God by coming to know and believe in His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. Christ told His disciples, “No one knows the Son except the Father. Nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and the one to whom the Son wills to reveal Him” (Matt. 11:27). He explained that, “No one comes to the Father except through Me,” and “He who has seen Me has seen the Father” (John 14:6-11). They must come to faith in Christ as the savior of sinners.
Packer ends his book with a chapter on the adequacy of God. He expands on the ideas that God is adequate as our sovereign protector, benefactor, champion, and keeper. To the person who has come to trust Christ as his Savior and who has come into a personal relationship with God, He is all these things and more, and we need no other beside Him.
There are so many issues and topics that clamor for our attention, even within the church. If one is not careful, areas such as missions and evangelism, marriage and family, apologetics, and social, moral, and political concerns can actually be distractions “from what was, is, and always will be the true priority for every human being — that is , learning to know God in Christ.”
We could never know anything about God at all if He had not condescended to show Himself to us – through His Creation, His Son, and His Word. We are limited, finite beings, but God is infinite and eternal so we will never come to know Him completely. No matter how much we learn here in this life, or how well we think we know God, there will always be things we don’t have quite right and more that can be understood. It is amazing and exciting to consider that, as a child of God in Christ, when I leave this world, I will spend all of eternity learning about and worshiping our great God!