Growing in the Knowledge of Christ (5)
What will tell us that we’re really increasing in the knowledge of Christ?
In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ, whom having not seen you love. 1 Peter 1.6-8
The mark of a growing Christian
I don’t want us to lose sight of the end we’re seeking through this investigation of how to increase in the knowledge of Jesus Christ. We’re not using “knowledge” in any merely academic sense; our goal is not to add to our information stock about Jesus and spiritual things. Rather, we hope to achieve a greater “knowing” of Jesus – greater understanding and admiration, coupled with more intense and consistent experience of His Presence, promise, and power, and corresponding changes in our life.
The mark of a true Christian is love (Jn. 13.35; 1 Jn. 4.7-11) – love for God and love for others. The mark of a growing Christian must therefore be increase in love. If we’re only increasing in head knowledge, without the fruit of increased love, then there’s no Spirit in our increase; and what we have learned awaits its proper flourishing. We must not be content merely to know information about Jesus, whether derived from Scripture or creation. Our desire is to know Jesus, so that we “rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, receiving the end of your faith—the salvation of your souls” (1 Pet. 1.8, 9).
Jonathan Edwards saw in these verses the key to true Christian faith. He used these as the basis for what is perhaps his most lasting contribution to theological literature, his Treatise on Religious Affections. There, Edwards wrote, “That religion which God requires, and will accept, does not consist in weak, dull, and lifeless wishes, raising us but a little above a state of indifference. God, in his word, greatly insists upon it, that we be in good earnest, fervent in spirit, and our hearts vigorously engaged in religion: Rom. xii. 11. ‘Be ye fervent in spirit, serving the Lord.’ Deut. x. 12. ‘And now Israel, what doth the Lord thy God require of thee, but to fear the Lord thy God, to walk in all his ways, and to love him, and to serve the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul?’ And chap. vi. 4, 5. ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is one Lord: and thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.’ It is such a fervent, vigorous engagedness of the heart in religion, that is the fruit of a real circumcision of the heart, or true regeneration, and that has the promises of life: Deut. xxx. 6. ‘And the Lord thy God will circumcise thine heart, and the heart of thy seed, to love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, that thou mayest live.’”
It is only reasonable to expect, Edwards insisted, that as we increase in the knowledge of Christ, the reality of Christ will become not merely more real to us, but more real in us. In Charity and Its Fruits Edwards wrote, “If persons have the true light of heaven let into their souls, it is not a light without heat. Divine knowledge and divine love go together. A spiritual view of divine things always excites love in the soul, and draws forth the heart in love to every proper object. True discoveries of the divine character dispose us to love God as the supreme good; they unite the heart in love to Christ; they incline the soul to flow out in love to God’s people, and to all mankind. When persons have a true discovery of the excellency and sufficiency of Christ, this is the effect.”
The first evidence that we are increasing in the knowledge of Christ is that our love for God becomes more intimate, constant, fervent, and fruitful. Let’s take a closer look.
Intimate, constant, fervent, and fruitful
The Scriptures use the word “know” in a variety of ways, one of the most important of which is to describe the intimate relationship of a husband and wife. When we’re told that Joseph did not “know” Mary until after Jesus was born (Matt. 1.24, 25), it means they did not consummate their marriage physically until that time. It is this kind of intimacy which should characterize our love for Christ, and which we should expect to see increasing in us as we grow in knowing Him.
This is an intimacy of trust, communion, continuous awareness, exchanges of affection, and spiritual stimulation. We look forward to this experience, participate in it gladly, and enjoy the benefits that come from it – the holy pleasure and joy of being one with the Lord. All the other affections of our soul are activated and excited as we increase in the knowledge of Jesus. Edwards: “From a vigorous, affectionate, and fervent love to God, will necessarily arise other religious affections; hence will arise an intense hatred and a fear of sin; a dread of God’s displeasure; gratitude to God for his goodness; complacence and joy in God when he is graciously and sensibly present; grief when he is absent; a joyful hope when a future enjoyment of God is expected; and fervent zeal for the divine glory” (Religious Affections).
Intimacy leads to constancy; we want more of this kind of relationship, and we want it more often. Just as a husband takes delight in thinking about his wife throughout the day – imagining her about her daily business, recalling times of intimacy, and even to seek her voice by phone or physical presence – so too our intimacy with Jesus grows, and the time we spend consciously delighting in Him will increase as well.
This makes for greater fervor for Jesus. Thinking about Him excites us. Talking about Him activates the energies of our soul – mind, heart, and conscience. We become bolder, more confident and animated, and more eager for others to know this One Who is transforming us so completely into His own image.
As we increase in fervor we will also increase in fruitfulness. The primary fruit of increasing in love for God is increased love for others, as Edwards observed in Charity and Its Fruits: “Love to God is the foundation of gracious love to men; and men are loved, either because they are in some respect like God, in the possession of his nature and spiritual image, or because of the relation they stand in to him as his children or creatures as those who are blessed of him, or to whom his mercy is offered, or in some other way from regard to him.”
Delighting in the Lord
Growing in the knowledge of Jesus requires discipline, as we have seen. We must seek Him where He is revealing Himself to us – in His Word and throughout His works – and we must be diligent and earnest about what Solomon referred to as this “burdensome task” of increasing in knowledge of the Lord.
We will know that we are increasing in the knowledge of Jesus as our love for Him – and for all the Members of the Trinity – grows and becomes more intimate, constant, fervent, and fruitful in love for others.
Delighting in the Lord is its own reward, for in His presence are fullness of joy and pleasures forevermore (Ps. 16.11). Aim to know Jesus better, and work hard to do so, in the full expectation that your love for, and your joy and pleasure in the Lord, will increase as you do.
1. What’s the difference between increasing in the knowledge of Jesus academically and increasing in the knowledge of Jesus truly?
2. Can we expect to increase in the knowledge of Jesus truly if we fail to let all we’re learning about Jesus lead us to more consistent worship (communing with Him)? Explain.
3. What does it mean to delight in the Lord? Why should this be our highest aspiration as we grow in knowledge of Him?
Next Steps – Preparation: How would you rate your love for God according to the four criteria mentioned here – intimacy, constancy, fervor, fruitfulness? What can you do to begin delighting in the Lord more?
T. M. Moore
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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.