For too much of my life I have been content with knowing about Jesus instead of actually knowing Him. I expect this is a problem faced by a lot of kids who grow up in church and in Christian school. Maybe it’s an even bigger problem for pastors’ children. Our faith becomes less of a faith and more of a subject to be mastered, like fractions in math and capitals in geography.
But to truly know Jesus requires something different. It requires a relationship, not a mind full of facts. It requires humility and a teachable heart and a recognition of the deep need of our hearts.
Don’t get me wrong, because I want to be very clear here: I believe in the importance of theology, of knowing Scripture and studying the attributes of God and even memorizing prooftexts and definitions. I believe that God’s Word is absolutely necessary for our lives, that knowing what is true is crucial for having a discerning spirit, and that discernment is far too valued in Scripture to be tossed aside just because it requires study and hard work or because it isn’t popular.
I believe in the importance of knowing what we believe and of being able to defend it. I wouldn’t trade my years in Christian school, Sunday School, Bible college, and all the rest for anything.
But all that head knowledge is not the same thing as heart love. It is not knowing Jesus. I know this because Paul had all the head knowledge in the world and still said that the main goal of his life was to know Jesus.
I am beginning to understand that knowing Jesus requires a whole-life identification with Him. It requires following Him in every way. If He was humble, I must be humble. If He was gentle, I must be gentle. If He was fearless, I must be fearless. If He was holy, I must be holy.
If He suffered, I must suffer.
Who is Jesus without His suffering? Sent to reveal to us God’s character and to offer us redemption, Jesus had to suffer in order to fulfill His mandate. God’s character is holiness so pure that we cannot stand for one moment before it. His character is love so great and strong that He would do anything to save us from the curse of sin. Where do we see this character more than in the suffering of Christ at Calvary?
How can I possibly hope to know Jesus if I do not know what it is to suffer? How can I dare say I know Him if I have not died to self? How can I call myself a follower of Christ if I fail to take up my cross daily as He Himself commanded?
How can I ever know the power and glory of resurrection if I do not first know the pain and horror of death?
Living a life for Christ means being crucified with Him, complete with the agonized soul-searching and submission to God, the humiliation, the torment. Death to self is painful, and offering ourselves as living sacrifices is going to involve fiery pain and losing what may feel like more than we can afford to give up. But if I refuse this—if I say that I will be God’s child only so long as I don’t have to make any truly painful choices or difficult sacrifices—then I am missing out on the greatest joy of life, which is knowing Jesus.
Because the Savior who came, who so fully showed us the love and perfection of the God of the universe, who invited those who followed Him to join Him in suffering and self-denial and servanthood, is worth knowing. And He is far more than a list of prooftexts or facts about His life. He is more than a conglomeration of stories and attributes. He is unknowable God made knowable, and every step we take into a life of sacrifice and, yes, suffering, opens our eyes a little wider to see Him as He is.
It is this seeing that transforms us into His image, the beautiful image of the perfect Son of God, a masterpiece of grace doing the good work God created for us to do long ago. Day by day we must choose afresh to lay down our lives as He did for us, trusting that He is worth it, even when we can’t see it.
And as we do, He is revealed, and we discover that there is nothing anywhere that is more precious than knowing Jesus and so becoming more like Him.