Our society is very bad at genuine intimacy these days. And no, not sexual intimacy. I mean relational intimacy. Let me make my case. And then, we will talk about how this relates to knowing God.
Popular psychology says that there is a difference in knowing about someone and knowing someone. The difference, they say, is defined by the type of knowledge you have about them. If the knowledge you have about a person could only be revealed by their own self-disclosure, then you really know them.
It’s downright creepy how much we can know about a person without ever having talked to them or had a personal conversation (in the traditional sense of the word). Though this type of knowledge is personally disclosed, it is mediated through impersonal mediums (social media). Thus, it’s an impersonal type of disclosure.
We often wade no further than waist-deep into the inner life of another person—and they often only welcome us to get our toes wet. It’s just the cultural norm to hang out in the shallows—I mean to virtually hang out in the shallows.
We love to cover the chaotic anxiety in our hearts with shallow conversations about the world’s chaotic issues.
We value “knowing”—gaining information— but it’s cheap knowledge; this knowledge is clicks away, free, and processable in seconds. With all this talk about our “true selves,” ironically, it seems we don’t know where to find them.
In a world where friends hang out by sitting across from each other on their devices, we’ve lost any sense of personal connection. And this might have an impact on how we read the Bible. I want to give you two reasons to read the Bible: so you can know yourself and so you can know God.
We find ourselves very interesting these days, so we will begin with us.
The Bible will tell you things about you. But interestingly, it will lay aside all the things we tend to offer others about ourselves and cut right to our inmost being. You won’t find material for an Instagram bio in the Bible, but you will learn far more about your inner life than a library of psychology could offer. This is because the author of the Bible is your Creator, who can see even the unseen aspects of your person. Consider what the following verses say about the Lord, the author of Scripture:
Get the idea? The Bible claims that God not only sees straight into our inner selves but that our thoughts and intentions are clear to him. Here’s how this is possible:
For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. (Psalm 139:13 NIV)
The spirit of man is the lamp of the Lord, searching all his innermost parts. (Proverbs 20:27 ESV)
You may wonder, Okay God sees my heart, the Bible says, and he tests it. What does that even mean? How do I know that this is true? What difference does this make?
Well, because God knows you, he can tell you more about yourself than you know of yourself. And he does this through his Word, the Bible.
For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. (Hebrews 4:12 NIV)
God’s intimate friendship is available to you because he knows more about you and your inner life than any human ever will. He formed your heart with his own hands. Even when your heart seems a mess and a mystery to you, it’s clear to him. And so he has invited you to know yourself better through a relationship with him.
Because he loves you, he gave you his Word, to tell you all that he knows about you that you do not know about yourself. It is his mirror (James 1:23-25) to help you see yourself clearly.
What sorts of things will it tell you about yourself? Some terribly uncomfortable things. Some wonderfully empowering things. From the verse above (Hebrews 4:12), we hear that these things will include our thoughts, intentions, and attitudes.
Would you like to be better acquainted with the workings of your heart? Do you want your life to be a little less shallow? For someone to know you at the deepest level of your soul? Open the Word of your Creator. He says,
“Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.” (Revelation 3:20 NIV)
But we must go on—for that’s not the main point of reading the Bible.
The main point of reading the Bible is to know God. No, not facts about him. To know him intimately. That idea might sound outrageous.
Know God? If there is a transcendent being, isn’t it arrogant to think I could know him?
Not if he has condescended to introduce himself to you. Which he has. Here, in your Bible. And thank God—in the most genuine sense of the term—that he has not given us shallow information about himself.
Since we have become so un-interpersonal, so fact-savvy, so soundbite-driven, we have projected our own relational poverty onto God. So we might read a verse of the Bible: “Be still and know that I am God,” (Psalm 46:10) and we see that as God adding to his bio: “#peace.” In so doing we diminish the incredible self-disclosure God is offering us in Psalm 46.
“All Scripture is breathed out by God,” says the quintessential verse (2 Timothy 3:16). Did you hear that? Breathed out. All Scripture came from inside him. He had to give it to you or you could not know it. He has given his Word to you so that you may know him. God has not just exposed to you your inner thoughts; he has expressed his own inner thoughts through the Bible.
As it is written:
“What no eye has seen,
what no ear has heard,
and what no human mind has conceived”—
the things God has prepared for those who love him—
these are the things God has revealed to us by his Spirit.
The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. For who knows a person’s thoughts except their own spirit within them? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. (1 Corinthians 2:9-11 NIV)
The Spirit of God is the same Spirit who worked in the lives of many authors over many years to write the Scriptures—he has opened his journal to you, his calendar, his hopes for mankind, and his desires for your life.
So, when you read the Ten Commandments, God is offering you his desires for his people. He wants our hearts devoted to him, for us to see him alone as God, and to honor one another in every relationship. The Ten Commandments are like his cry, “Oh, that my people would live like this!”
When you read the book of Hosea, you read an account of God’s love for his people—how he tearfully sought out his adulterous people over and over again, never ceasing to offer her a welcome back home though she cheated on him again and again.
When you read about Jesus, you read that God’s revelation became even more personal. He came to earth so that he could speak to us “man-to-man.” He wanted to introduce himself Personally. And in the climax of Jesus’ life, we discover God’s deepest heartbeat.
Jesus died on a cross for sinners. His name, the way he identified himself, was, “he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21 ESV). We discover what’s most important to God at the cross—that our hearts would be reconciled to him.
God’s love is why he sought to rescue us. A love so great and strong that no matter the height of the pile of our offenses against him, no matter the depth of the wounds we dealt him in ignoring him and rejecting him as our Creator, he would lay down his life for us, to make us his friends (John 15:13).
He wants us—our true “true selves,” wholly devoted to him and in love with him, the Great Big God who made us. The wonderful reality of the Christian life is that we find true life as we live with God, in Jesus Christ, through the power of the Holy Spirit. God grants this relationship to us, not because he needs us, but because he knows we need him. We are empty; he is fullness. And he’s ready to overflow.
But apart from receiving Jesus Christ’s sacrifice personally, God cannot be intimate with us.
We have two choices with God. To be intimate or incinerated.
Stick with me here.
See, God’s most intimate thoughts are holy, they reflect his nature. There is no wickedness in him, and he cannot look on evil (Psalm 92:15; Habakkuk 1:13).
Yet here’s how he describes our inner selves:
The Lord saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time. (Genesis 6:5 NIV)
We need to be cleansed before we can commune with God. For he cannot look on wickedness. He must punish it in his goodness.
That’s why God came to us in Jesus Christ, to die on a cross for our sins so we might not perish at odds with him eternally, but be forgiven, cleansed, and close to him again if we put our faith in him (John 3:16).
Jesus died and rose again so you might know God and be known by God—personally. God wrote the Bible as the means for you to know him and commune with him. He will expose your heart as he teaches you about who you really are from his perspective. He will also help you know him as you listen to him express himself to you in the pages of Scripture.
Will you receive God’s initiation for friendship?
If so, you have an open book before you. It will lay bare your heart before him and unfold for you the plans, purposes, and passions of the God’s heart. You have only to open it and to believe.
People generally appreciate a good plan that is well executed—like engagements, surprise parties, and covert military operations. God’s plan as laid out in the Bible culminated at the death, resurrection, and ascension of his Son, Jesus, who came to save the world from sin. But God’s plan didn’t stop there.
The good news about Jesus has to spread all over the world so that everyone might know what God has done for us. But Jesus ascended back into heaven. So what’s God’s plan for spreading the good news and how will it be executed? Let’s find out.
In a fictional play, there’s a scene where God’s Son Jesus has just completed his work on earth and has ascended back to heaven where a host of angels greets him.
Michael the archangel is especially enthusiastic in his reception and excitedly asks Jesus about his plan for continuing the work of his kingdom on earth. Jesus smiles and tells Michael to come look down with him at what’s happening now on earth.
Jesus takes him by the arm and points down to the earth below and asks:
“Do you see that city down there?”
“Yes,” replies Michael.
“Do you see that upper room in that house?”
“Yes, I see that too.”
“Do you see those men in that room?”
“Those eleven or so guys?” questions Michael.
“Yep, those are the ones,” answers Jesus.
“Okay, I see them, what about it?” responds Michael.
“Well,” says Jesus slowly, “That’s the plan!”
Michael stares down for a while trying to grasp the significance of what he has just learned. After several moments he finally responds: “You mean those guys down there are your plan?”
“Uh huh!” says Jesus.
More silence follows and Michael offers a very tentative query to Jesus. “With all due respect, my Lord, may I ask what your back-up plan is?”
The ascended Jesus looks Michael straight in the eye and solemnly responds, “There is no other plan.”
Even though it’s just a fictional story, Michael raised a pretty valid concern, didn’t he? How would Jesus’ heavenly kingdom spread to the whole world through twelve ordinary men? Gamaliel may have the answer for us.
Gamaliel was a distinguished Pharisee (teacher of the law) noted for being the mentor of Saul, who later became the Apostle Paul. He was present at the Sanhedrin’s (the Jewish ruling council) examination of Peter and the apostles after they had been arrested for preaching the good news about Jesus.
The apostles (some of Jesus’ twelve closest followers) defied the high priest and rulers by refusing to refrain from preaching God’s Word about Jesus. The Sanhedrin was ready to put them to death. In this context, Gamaliel rose to speak.
He offered the following conclusion: “Therefore in the present case I advise you: Leave these men alone! Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God” (Acts 5:38-39 NIV).
Gamaliel hit it right on the head, didn’t he? There was absolutely nothing to fear from these guys if they were acting on their own. A few uneducated, untrained religious amateurs could hardly be considered a threat. How could anyone worry about any plan that this ragtag group had?
But if it were God’s plan, they would not fail. For “The plans of the LORD stand firm forever, the purposes of his heart through all generations” (Psalm 33:11 NIV).
Two thousand years later here we are and guess what? God’s plan worked! His Word is the bestselling book of all time; and he used many of these ordinary men shaped by their experiences to write it.
Do you want to know something amazing? The plan hasn’t changed!
If Michael were to ask that same question today, Jesus would point to those who believe in him and say, “That’s it! They are my plan!”
It’s a pretty sobering thought. It’s also a terribly exciting thought. We each have the opportunity to play a role in the plan of the Almighty and Sovereign God of the universe by spreading the good news of Jesus Christ. For whatever reasons, he has chosen to work through us.
It’s comforting to realize that ultimately, it’s his plan and it will work. The only reason those few early disciples could pull it off was that they had the support and power of God helping them accomplish his purposes. The same is true today.
Author Robert E. Coleman wonderfully exhorts us in his book The Master Plan of Evangelism,
When will we realize that evangelism [sharing the good news of Jesus] is not done by something but by someone? It is an expression of God’s love, and God is a person. His nature, being personal, is only expressed through personality, first revealed fully in Christ, and now expressed through his Spirit in the lives of those yielded to him…the work itself is done by people reaching other people for Christ. That is why we must say with E.M. Bounds that “men are God’s method.” (108-9)
To learn more about God’s master plan and how you are a part of it, read Coleman’s book linked above!
For the word of God is
alive and active.