knowledge vs. knowing

©2019 michael martin |

1. knowing about God without knowing God

In a world where everything is measured, it’s easy to try to measure our standing with God. We could be tempted to keep score, tracking how many Scripture verses we’ve memorized, how many hours we spend reading our Bibles or praying, or how much money we put in the offering plate.

And while all of these things have value in our walk with God, none of these things have complete meaning or benefit if we don’t truly know God Himself.

How many times have I, as a children’s pastor, seen children successfully memorize or recite dozens of Bible verses without allowing those verses to penetrate their hearts and change their lives?

How many people have I seen who believed that they were walking closely with God because the “scoreboard” showed that they had said or done all of the “right things?”

To be sure, it is an easy mistake to make, and I can assure that I myself have sometimes struggled with this very thing.

a. for my own glory?

In church culture, there is social pressure to “be good Christians” by saying and doing the “right things.” But this misses the point. In the time when Jesus lived on the earth, He confronted (and had the most harsh words for) the religious leaders of the day; the Pharisees and the Teachers of the Law.

These men had great knowledge of the Scriptures and practiced acts of righteousness, but for all the wrong reasons. They enjoyed their power and their prestige, and Jesus knew that all of their “righteousness” stemmed from these sinful motives. Listen to some of Jesus’ rebukes:

matthew 23:13

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.

matthew 23:23-27

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. 24 You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.

25 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. 26 Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.

27 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean.

Jesus’ message to the self-righteous leaders was clear. They weren’t fooling Him. Jesus knew that the Pharisees and Teachers of the Law were only trying to build themselves up for their own benefit. They wanted to be admired by others, but the love of God was not in them, and so they did not fully, truly obey Him in their hearts. This is why Jesus gave this sobering warning in Matthew chapter seven:

matthew 7:21-23

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ 23 Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’

Yikes! Imagine hearing Jesus speak those words to you!

Yet, many people will hear these terrifying words, because they merely did things fulfill moral obligations rather than to worship God. They knew about God but didn’t truly know Him.

b. knowing about God without obeying Him

Obeying God is an important key to knowing Him. Jesus discussed the importance of not only knowing about His words, but about practicing His words:

matthew 7:24-27

“Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. 26 But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. 27 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”

Here, we see that both the foolish man and the wise man knew about God’s Words. They both heard it, but only one practiced it. In other words, knowing about God’s commands is of little benefit if we don’t take action to obey His Word!

James makes similar points. Consider his example of faith without deeds:

james 2:14-18

What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? 15 Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. 16 If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? 17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

18 But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.”

Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds.

James’ point is simple. Our faith is useless if it is not put into practice through our actions. This is true of our relationship with God as well. Simply knowing and believing that God exists is far different than knowing Him:

james 2:19

You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.

Even the demons know about God. But they don’t obey Him. The demons’ knowledge about God is of little use to them, because they don’t obey Him.

Consider the other examples that James provides:

james 2:20-26

You foolish person, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless? 21 Was not our father Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? 22 You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. 23 And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,” and he was called God’s friend. 24 You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone.

25 In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction? 26 As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.

As we can see, faith, belief and knowledge are only useful to the extent that we put them into practice through our actions.

But, while obedience and action are important keys to knowing God, the ultimate key to knowing God is love.


c. to know God is to love Him

Many people know about God, including even the demons. There are likely many Bible scholars who possess extensive knowledge about the Bible, but who do not actually know God. Why?

The answer is love. To truly know God is to love Him. Consider the famous words of Paul:

I corinthians 13:1-6

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

The Pharisees and Teachers of the Law were sharply rebuked by Jesus, even though they had done many “righteous” things. The problem, however, is that they had acted without love. Their “righteousness” was not done from love for God or for other people, but for selfish power and prestige.

We can easily fall into the same trap.

To be sure, obeying God is an important part of loving Him:

john 14:15

“If you love me, keep my commands.”

john 14:23-24

Jesus replied, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. 24 Anyone who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me.

We cannot love God without obeying Him, but we can “obey” God without loving Him... Or can we?

matthew 22:37-40

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

Here we see it. Love is the key. We are commanded to love God. So if we “do the right things” without love for God and for others, we will be like the Pharisees and Teachers of the Law whom Jesus rebuked.

On the other had, if we say that we love God but don’t obey Him, then we don’t truly love Him, and indeed, we don’t really know Him.

titus 1:16

They claim to know God, but by their actions they deny him. They are detestable, disobedient and unfit for doing anything good.

I john 2:3-6

We know that we have come to know him if we keep his commands. 4 Whoever says, “I know him,” but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in that person. 5 But if anyone obeys his word, love for God is truly made complete in them. This is how we know we are in him: 6 Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did.

d. relationship, not rules

The point is, we are not saved by the actions of following rules and doing the “right things.” We are saved by a person (Jesus) when we have a relationship with Him.

galatians 2:15-21

“We who are Jews by birth and not sinful Gentiles 16 know that a person is not justified by the works of the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no one will be justified.

17 “But if, in seeking to be justified in Christ, we Jews find ourselves also among the sinners, doesn’t that mean that Christ promotes sin? Absolutely not! 18 If I rebuild what I destroyed, then I really would be a lawbreaker.

19 “For through the law I died to the law so that I might live for God. 20 I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. 21 I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!”

Clearly, the love of God is the only reason we can be saved. This requires a relationship. It begins with His act of love for us, and is realized when we love Him.

So now, let’s take a look at our relationship with God.


2. our relationship with God

a. as children of God

The love that a sinful, earthly parent has for his or her children is one of the most strong and profound loves that a human can have.

This is all the more true with God, who is uniquely able to love perfectly, without selfishness or sinfulness.

It is an amazing fact, then, that God calls us His children and loves us with perfect Fatherly love.

deuteronomy 14:1

You are the children of the Lord your God. Do not cut yourselves or shave the front of your heads for the dead,

matthew 5:9

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

mark 10:13-16

People were bringing little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them, but the disciples rebuked them. 14 When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. 15 Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” 16 And he took the children in his arms, placed his hands on them and blessed them.

mark 10:24-25

The disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! 25 It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”

john 1:12-13

Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— 13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.

philippians 2:14-16

Do everything without grumbling or arguing, 15 so that you may become blameless and pure, “children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.” Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky 16 as you hold firmly to the word of life. And then I will be able to boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labor in vain.

I john 3:1-2

See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. 2 Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.

I john 5:19-21

We know that we are children of God, and that the whole world is under the control of the evil one. 20 We know also that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true. And we are in him who is true by being in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life.

21 Dear children, keep yourselves from idols.

discipline = love

One sure sign that we are loved by God as His children is the discipline of God. When God rebukes us or brings trials upon us to refine us, we are receiving the loving care of our Heavenly Father, reminding us that we are truly His children!

hebrews 12:4-6

In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. 5 And have you completely forgotten this word of encouragement that addresses you as a father addresses his son? It says,

“My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, 6 because the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son.


Beyond being God’s children, which is an amazing privilege in itself, the Bible goes even further to define us as heirs! That is, we will inherit His kingdom!

romans 8:14-17

For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. 15 The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” 16 The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. 17 Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.

galatians 3:23 - 4:7

Before the coming of this faith, we were held in custody under the law, locked up until the faith that was to come would be revealed. 24 So the law was our guardian until Christ came that we might be justified by faith. 25 Now that this faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian.

26 So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, 27 for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.

4:1 What I am saying is that as long as an heir is underage, he is no different from a slave, although he owns the whole estate. 2 The heir is subject to guardians and trustees until the time set by his father. 3 So also, when we were underage, we were in slavery under the elemental spiritual forces of the world. 4 But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, 5 to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship. 6 Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.” 7 So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir.

b. as the bride of Christ

While the love shared between parents and children, an even stronger love can exist between husband and wife.

It is no accident, then, that God considers us (the church), His bride!

II corinthians 11:2

I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy. I promised you to one husband, to Christ, so that I might present you as a pure virgin to him.

ephesians 5:25-27

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her 26 to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, 27 and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.

isaiah 54:5-6

For your Maker is your husband

the Lord Almighty is his name—

the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer;

he is called the God of all the earth.

6 The Lord will call you back

as if you were a wife deserted and distressed in spirit—

a wife who married young,

only to be rejected,” says your God.

In view of the husband and wife relationship that exists between God and His people, it is right, then, that God is jealous for our love and attention.

exodus 34:14

Do not worship any other god, for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God.

It is important to note that God is not jealous of us. After all, there is nothing about us that God could be jealous of, since everything we have is from Him.

But God is jealous for us, as a husband is jealous for his wife. And He is right to be jealous for us, because He created us and we belong to Him. That is another facet of knowing God.


3. our relationships with each other

Our relationship with God also defines our relationships with each other, and each of these relationships calls for love:

a. as neighbors

matthew 10:25-28

On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

26 “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”

27 He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

28 “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”

We know this famous command from Jesus, but in this passage, the Law expert wanted to justify himself and asked, “who is my neighbor?” Listen to Jesus’ reply:

matthew 10:29-37

But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?

30 In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’

36 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

37 The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”

Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

In other words, we are to act in a neighborly fashion toward all of our fellow man.

b. as brothers and sisters

Since we, as disciples of Christ, are children of God, then we are brothers and sisters with each other.

I john 2:9-11

Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates a brother or sister is still in the darkness. 10 Anyone who loves their brother and sister lives in the light, and there is nothing in them to make them stumble. 11 But anyone who hates a brother or sister is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness. They do not know where they are going, because the darkness has blinded them.

philemon 1:15-16

Perhaps the reason he was separated from you for a little while was that you might have him back forever— 16 no longer as a slave, but better than a slave, as a dear brother. He is very dear to me but even dearer to you, both as a fellow man and as a brother in the Lord.

There are many other mentions of brothers and sisters in Christ, referring to people who belong to God. The point is that this defines our relationship with each other.

Just as we should strive not only to know about God, but to know God, we should strive not only to know about each other, but to know each other, loving each other as God has commanded.

4. knowing = loving

To conclude, the difference between knowing about God and actually knowing God is love. That love involves knowledge about God, but beyond that, it involves a loving desire to please Him through our obedience in our thoughts, our words and our actions.

As we have seen, knowing about God will not save us. But knowing God, by loving and obeying Him will. This is because our love for God enters us into a relationship with Him which allows us to benefit from His love, His grace, His mercy, and His sacrifice on the cross to pay for our sins.

john 3:16

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

I john 4:16-19

And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.

God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. 17 This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. 18 There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.

19 We love because he first loved us.