Salvation in Being Known

“Now that you know God — or rather are known by God…” ~Galatians 4:9

The apostle Paul corrects himself here. He realizes the salvation emphasis should not be on you knowing God but rather, or more importantly, on God knowing you. He’s got it backwards, so he fixes it. Salvation is not found in knowing God.

But I feel like that’s the way I was raised. A lot of us were. I needed to know God and know things about God in order to be saved. But somewhere along the way it turned into knowing things about God in order to be right. Or to be better. That’s probably to be expected in the world and time in which we live. But knowing became the most important thing. And what we knew made us right. And saved. We were right about church, right about God’s will, right about baptism, right about worship, and right about who’s going to heaven and who’s not based on what we thought we knew about God.

We failed to realize that this desire to know in order to be right kept us from being truly known. It kept us from being truly loved.

We think we know everything about God, but it’s only the God we believe him to be or want him to be. The mystery’s gone and so is the need to trust. The more I know and the more I’m right, the less faith I need. When my relationship with God is based on the facts I know about God, I can also get really judgmental about others. While that may make me feel safe and protected, it can also separate me from others and increase my isolation.

So, I know a lot of things but I don’t allow myself to be known in ways that make me feel truly understood and forgiven and encouraged. By other people or by God.

And we keep hoping for God’s magic wand to change us, to just sweep over us and transform us and take away our sin and guilt and fix our broken relationships and heal our psychological wounds. But that won’t happen as long as you make knowing God and knowing facts and knowing doctrine and knowing what’s right and correct more important than surrendering to the Lord who knows you — the God in Christ who chooses you and understands you and brings you to himself to belong to him forever.

“We know that we all possess knowledge. Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. The one who thinks he knows something does not yet know as he ought to know. But the one who loves God is known by God.” ~1 Corinthians 8:1-3

This is a major part of the problem in Corinth and Galatia and it’s one of the major things that’s hurting us today. These Christians in Galatia are not going back to their pagan gods, they’re not returning to idol worship. But they are going to observing the law as their ticket to salvation. Paul sees observing the law of Moses in order to be saved as the same thing as being enslaved by idols. That’s a radical thing Paul is saying here: Judaism and paganism are the same thing! Paul says whatever leads you away from a sole reliance on Christ alone, adding anything to faith in Christ alone whether it’s by good intentions or depraved desires, is not Christian and it’s not the Gospel.

We’re not Boy Scouts trying to make Eagle Scout. We’re not trying to earn 27 merit badges and getting people to evaluate and sign off on what I know and what I can do. We’re not checking off a list or climbing a ladder. We’re not Boy Scouts! We are the redeemed sons and daughters of God! We are chosen by God, we belong to God, and we are heirs of God’s faithful promises! Why? Not because we know God, but rather because we are known by God!

Maybe you’re not known by your boss and you’re invisible to your colleagues. Maybe your spouse doesn’t understand you. Maybe you feel like an outsider in your own family. Or your church. Maybe you don’t even know what you know about yourself. What you know about your thoughts doesn’t match up with your actions. What you know in your head is not what you feel in your heart. Maybe you can’t make sense of the continuing sin or the nagging doubts or the undefined guilt or the insecurity. Maybe you just feel stuck. And maybe nobody knows any of this stuff. You’re the only one who knows what’s really going on with you and how it all makes you feel.

Well — you and God. God knows you fully and perfectly.

He knows all the stuff swirling around in your head and your heart that you don’t even know how to say. He knows you. And he knows exactly what kind of forgiveness you need. He knows exactly what kind of love you need and what kind of assurance you need. He knows where to place you and how to bring you along. He knows how to care for you. You are known by God.

Peace,

Allan

 

Belong To God

“Now that you know God — or rather are known by God…” ~Galatians 4:9

This short, jam-packed phrase come in the context of our adoption by God as his sons and daughters. We are children of God through faith in Christ Jesus. We are one in Christ Jesus. We are Abraham’s seed, we’re heirs according to the promise, we have rights as God’s children, we have the gift of God’s Spirit, we have an intimate relationship with God as our ‘Abba’ Father. To be known by God is to belong to God.

“God’s solid foundation stands firm, sealed with this inscription: ‘The Lord knows those who are his.'” ~2 Timothy 2:19

Paul is quoting from the Old Testament here, from somewhere in Numbers, I think. The foundation of who we are in Christ is solid, it’s rock, it’s forever. The seal is about ownership, who owns us, who we belong to. The seal and the foundation mean that God is enough to sustain us no matter how bad things get. No matter the destructive forces attacking us, no matter the evil that threatens to overwhelm us, God knows you and you belong to him.

Jesus says the same thing in the fourth Gospel:

“My sheep listen to my voice; I know them… I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand.” ~John 10:27-29

During World War I, the British were trying to figure out how to designate the remains of soldiers they couldn’t identify. Rudyard Kipling suggested that every grave of an unidentified British soldier be marked with the words “Known Unto God.” For those of us in Christ, for all who are connected to Jesus by baptism, that is a message of hope and assurance that we are known by God and given a value and a security that not even death can take away.

Peace,

Allan

Understood By God

“Now that you know God — or rather are known by God…” ~Galatians 4:9

Paul corrects himself here in the middle part of his letter to the churches in Galatia. Knowing God is good and it’s important, but it’s not the main thing, it’s not the main point. Rather, Paul says, or more importantly, you are known by God. That’s the primary thing. Yesterday we suggested that, in the language and context of Scripture, being known by God means to be chosen by God. Today, I’d like to explore today the idea that being known by God is to be understood by God.

“O Lord, you have searched me and you know me.” ~Psalm 139:1

Psalm 139 and others like it insist that God knew me before I was born: “Your eyes saw my unformed body.” God knows everything that’s going to happen to me before it happens: “All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.”  You know what I’m thinking before even I fully know what I’m thinking. You know what I’m going to say before I can even organize my words. “You have laid your hand upon me.” You know me. “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, it’s too lofty for me to attain.”

You know me, Lord, better than I know myself. You understand me.

The psalmist doesn’t see that as scary. He sees it as a tremendous blessing. A great comfort. God perfectly understands me.

God understands you. He knows the true you, inside and out. He gets you.

Yes, God sees your sin. He sees it clearly. And he understands what makes you sin. He knows how you were raised, he knows the things that have happened to you, he knows the pressures you feel, he knows about your frustration and your guilt. God knows how hard you try, he knows how remorseful you feel when you fail, he knows all about your inner confusion, and why you have good days and bad days. God knows all the stuff swirling around in your head and your heart that you don’t know how to articulate. He knows you. He understands you.

Richard Baxter said, “To be known by God is to be approved and loved by him and to be assured that all your concerns are perfectly known to him and regarded by him. This is the full and final comfort of a believer.”

I know the way I was raised and where I grew up and what’s in my DNA and the things I’ve done good and bad and the things that have happened to me good and bad have all shaped who I am. I know all those things influence how I think and act and respond. For good and bad, it’s who I am. But I don’t understand how all of that actually works. And I don’t know much at all about how to accentuate the good things in me and change the bad things in me. But God does. God has searched me and he knows me, inside and out. He understands me.

And he understands you. That means he knows exactly what kind of forgiveness you need. He knows precisely what kind of love you need. He knows what kind of assurance you need. He knows exactly where to place you and how to bring you along. He knows how to take care of you.

“Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” ~1 Corinthians 13:12

Peace,

Allan

Chosen By God

“Now that you know God — or rather are known by God…” ~Galatians 4:9

Paul is using Old Testament language in this passage. “Known by God” is the same phrase used in the Greek translation of the Old Testament for the way God knows Abraham, Moses, David, Jeremiah, and the nation of Israel. The Bible says they are all known by God. And that phrase is mostly used of very important people at very critical junctures in the story. To be known by God is to be chosen by God. It’s God acting on your behalf. It’s God choosing through no merit of your own — you’ve done nothing to deserve it — to bless you and work in you and through you in his salvation story.

The point is that God is the prime figure. He’s the main actor, the initiator. God determines the appropriate time for his Son to come (Galatians 4:4). God sent his Son (4:4). God sent the Spirit into our hearts (4:6). God made us his heirs (4:7). Paul is pointing to what happens when you are grabbed by God, when God’s attention is focused on you.

The Bible is consistently clear on this. Salvation always begins with God, not you.

“There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one… No one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law… Righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” ~Romans 3:11-24

People don’t seek God; God seeks people. Humans are so caught up in their sin, they’re so in love with their sin, they don’t seek holiness and righteousness on their own. God always has to make the first move. “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19).

“The one who loves God is known by God.” ~ 1 Corinthians 8:3

In Genesis 18, God promises to bless Abraham and make him a great nation and save all people of the earth through his family. Why? “For I have known him.” God speaks to his people through the prophet Amos and reminds them, “You only have I known of all the families of the earth; you only have I chosen.”

God promises David that he will be king and that all David’s enemies will be defeated and that David’s family will reign on the throne forever. And David’s a little shook up. This is overwhelming news and David feels sort of inadequate. And he prays to God:

“Who am I, O Sovereign Lord, and what is my family, that you have brought me this far? And as if this were not enough in your sight, O Sovereign Lord, you have also spoken about the future of the house of your servant. Is this your usual way of dealing with people, O Sovereign Lord?” ~2 Samuel 7:18-19

What David knows about himself and about the throne, what David knows about God, is confusing and incomplete. Who am I that this is happening for me? Why am I so chosen and so blessed?

“What more can David say to you? For you know your servant, O Sovereign Lord.” ~2 Samuel 7:20

The answer is simple and profound and comforting. You know me. You chose me. That’s first. And that’s more than enough.

Peace,

Allan

Known By God

“Now that you know God — or rather are known by God — how is it that you are turning back to those weak and miserable principles?” ~Galatians 4:9

Paul corrects himself here in the middle part of his letter to the churches in Galatia. Knowing God is good and it’s important, but it’s not the main thing, it’s not the main point. Rather, Paul says, or more importantly, you are known by God. That’s the primary thing.

When Paul says “or rather,” he’s saying “This is more important.” “Or rather” shifts the emphasis to this second thing. The accent, the force, is not on “you know God,” it’s on “you are known by God.” Being known by God is infinitely more important. God knowing me takes a much larger salvation priority than me knowing God.

Think about it. Our knowledge of God is incomplete at best. You might even say our knowledge of God is sometimes distorted or even flat out wrong. Me knowing God is important, it’s needed. But it’s lacking. It’s not perfect. God knowing me — that’s everything.

And we’re not talking about God’s general omniscience here. This is not about God’s knowing all things about all people at all times. Of course, that’s true about our God. But Paul’s talking about something different here. He’s talking about something deeper. Richer. More personal.

This is very personal. This is one of the very few places in all of Paul’s writings where he uses the singular pronoun for “you.”

In ninety-nine percent of Galatians, when Paul writes “you,” it’s plural. You all. Y’all. Y’all are children of God through faith, y’all belong to Christ, y’all are no longer slaves. But now that you — singular, not your spouse, not your dad, not the person who’s gone to church longer than you, not the one who knows more about God than you — are known by God. The Bible wants you to hear this personally.

In the Chronicles of Narnia, Lucy and Edmund and their cousin Eustace are on a ship searching for Aslan’s home country. Eustace and Edmund are having a conversation about Aslan and Eustace asks Edmund, “Who is Aslan? Do you know him?” Edmund replies, “Well — he knows me.”

God knowing me is much better and much more important then me knowing God. That’s why Paul corrected himself in Galatians 4:9. And I’d like to explore this together in three or four posts this week. Tomorrow we’ll look at how the phrase, “known by God,” is used in the Old Testament in the context of God’s choosing. Wednesday, we’ll consider how God knowing us means God really understands us. Thursday we’ll look at how God knowing me gives me security and a sense of permanent belonging with God. We’ll conclude with some closing thoughts on the topic this Friday. It’s a rich concept and a powerful truth for followers of Christ: You are known by God.

Peace,

Allan

Who Am I?

Who Am I?
by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, 1944

Who am I? They often tell me
I step from my cell’s confinement
calmly, cheerfully, firmly,
like a Lord from his manor.

Who am I? They often tell me
I speak to my jailers
freely, friendly, firmly,
as though they were mine to command.

Who am I? They also tell me
I bear the days of hardship
unconcerned, amused, proud,
like one accustomed to winning.

Am I then really that which other men tell me?
Or am I only what I myself know of me?
Restless and longing and sick, like a bird in a cage
struggling for breath as though hands were compressing my throat,
yearning for colors, for flowers, for songs of birds,
thirsting for words of kindness, for human company,
quivering with anger at despotism and insults,
anxiously waiting for the next event,
helplessly worrying for friends at an infinite distance,
weary and empty at praying, at thinking, at working,
exhausted, and ready to say farewell to it all.

Who am I? This or the Other?
Am I one person today and tomorrow another?
Am I both at once? A hypocrite before others
and by myself a contemptible, whining weakling?
Or is something within me like a beaten army
fleeing in disorder from a victory already achieved?

Who am I? They mock me, these lonely questions of mine.
Whoever I am, you know me, O God. I am yours!

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