Knowing God
Author: J. I. Packer

Introduction

Ignorance of God's ways and of communion with him lies at the root of much of the weakness of Christians. This arises from two trends: being conformed to the modern spirit (which spawns great thoughts of man and small thoughts of God) and confusion arising from the modern naturalistic worldview. This classic is a must study for every Christian.

Key Chapter: Knowing and Being Known

"What were we made for? To know God. What aim should we set ourselves in life? To know God. What is the 'eternal life' that Jesus gives? Knowledge of God." (Jn 17:3) What makes life worthwhile is having a big enough objective. What higher, more exalted, and more compelling goal can there be than to know God?" (33-4)

"As you listen to what God is saying, you find yourself brought very low; for God talks to you about your sin, and guilt, and weakness, and blindness, and folly, and compels you to judge yourself hopeless and helpless, and to cry out for forgiveness." "You come to realize as you listen that God is actually opening his heart to you, making friends with you and enlisting you as a colleague…." (36)

"…knowing God involves, first, listening to God's Word and receiving it as the Holy Spirit interprets it, in application to oneself; second, noting God's nature and character, as his Word and works reveal it; third, accepting his invitations and doing what he commands; fourth, recognizing and rejoicing in the love that he has shown in thus approaching you and drawing you into this divine fellowship." (37)

"Knowing God is a matter of personal involvement-mind, will and feeling. It would not, indeed, be a fully personal relationship otherwise. To get to know another person, you have to commit yourself to his company and interest, and be ready to identify yourself with his concerns." "Knowing God is an emotional relationship, as well as an intellectual and volitional one, and could not indeed be a deep relation between persons were it not so. The believer is, and must be, emotionally involved in the victories and vicissitudes of God's cause in the world…." (39-40)

Key Insights

"Nothing will so enlarge the intellect, nothing so magnify the whole soul of man, as a devout, earnest, continued investigation of the great subject of the Deity." (quoting Spurgeon 18)

"The world becomes a strange, mad, painful place, and life in it a disappointing and unpleasant business, for those who do not know about God. … and who therefore must "stumble and blunder through life blindfolded." (19)

5 foundational principles:
•God has spoken to man through the Bible, his word to make us wise unto salvation.
•God is Lord and King over his world.
•God is Savior, active in sovereign love to rescue believers from the guilt and power of sin.
•God is triune.
•Godliness means responding to God's revelation in trust and obedience, faith and worship, prayer and praise, submission and service. (20)

"Our aim in studying the Godhead must be to know God himself better." "We turn each truth that we learn about God into matter for meditation before God, leading to prayer and praise to God." "Meditation is the activity of calling to mind, and thinking over, and dwelling on, and applying to oneself, the various things that one knows about the works and ways and purposes and promises of God." "Its purpose is to clear one's mental and spiritual vision of God, and to let his truth make its full and proper impact on one's mind and heart." (23)

"A little knowledge of God is worth more than a great deal of knowledge about him." (26)

"It is not strange that he, the Author of life, should rise from the dead. If he was truly God the Son, it is much more startling that he should die than that he should rise again." (54)

"The Christmas spirit is the spirit of those who, like their Master, live their whole lives on the principle of making themselves poor-spending and being spent-to enrich their fellow humans, giving time, trouble, care and concern, to do good to others-and not just their own friends-in whatever way there seems need." (64)

"It is not for us to imagine that we can prove the truth of Christianity by our own arguments; nobody can prove the truth of Christianity except the Holy Spirit, by his own almighty work of renewing the blinded heart." "Do we honor the Holy Spirit by recognizing and relying on his work?" "The inevitable consequence of unregeneracy is unbelief." (71)

"Living becomes an awesome business when you realize that you spend every moment of your life in the sight and company of an omniscient, omnipresent Creator." (86)


"For us to be truly wise, in the Bible sense, our intelligence and cleverness must be harnessed to a right end. Wisdom is the power to see, and the inclination to choose, the best and highest goal, together with the surest means of attain it. Wisdom is, in fact, the practical side of moral goodness." (90)

"What is his goal? What does he aim at? When he made us, his purpose was that we should love and honor him, praising him for the wonderfully ordered complexity and variety of his world, using it according to his will, and so enjoying both it and him. And though we have fallen, God has not abandoned his first purpose. Still he plans that a great host of humankind should come to love and honor him." (92)

"We should not be too taken aback when unexpected and upsetting and discouraging things happen to us now. What do they mean? Simply that God in his wisdom means to make something of us which we have not attained yet, and he is dealing with us accordingly." (97)

"The moral qualities which belonged to the divine image were lost at the Fall; God's image in man has been universally defaced, for all of humankind has in one way or another lapsed into ungodliness. But the Bible tells us that now, in fulfillment of his plan of redemption, God is at work in Christian believers to repair his ruined image by communicating these qualities to them afresh. This is what Scripture means when it says that Christians are being renewed in the image of Christ (2 Cor 3:18) and of God (Col 3:10)." (100)

According to Scripture there are two prerequisites for wisdom, learning to reverence God and learning to receive His Word. We do this by "soaking ourselves in the Scripture." (101)

It is a bit like learning to drive. You simply try to see and do the right thing in the actual situation that presents itself. You keep alert and notice what is in front of you. "To live wisely, you have to be clear-sighted and realistic-ruthlessly so-in looking at life as it is." "Most of us live in a dream world, with our heads in the clouds and our feet off the ground; we never see the world, and our lives in it, as they really are. This deep-seated, sin-bred unrealism is one reason why there is so little wisdom among us…" (104)

"Wisdom consists in choosing the best means to the best end. God's work of giving wisdom is a means to his chosen end of restoring and perfecting the relationship between himself and human beings." "Thus the effect of his gift of wisdom is to make us more humble, more joyful, more godly, more quick-sighted as to his will, more resolute in the doing of it and less troubled…." (108)

God's Word to us includes commands, promise and testimony. (110) "He made us with the intention that he and we might walk together forever in a love relationship." "Therefore God sends his word to us in the character of both information and invitation." (110)

"God's word is his executive instrument in all human affairs. …what he says goes." (112) " …the claim of the word of God upon us is absolute: the word is to be received, trusted and obeyed, because it is the word of God the King." (113)

"Truth in the Bible is a quality of persons primarily, and of propositions only secondarily. It means stability, reliability, firmness, trustworthiness…." (113)

"As rational persons, we were made to bear God's moral image-that is, our souls were made to 'run' on the practice of worship, law-keeping, truthfulness, honesty, discipline, self-control, and service to God and our fellows. If we abandon these practices, not only do we incur guilt before God; we also progressively destroy our own souls. Conscience atrophies, the sense of shame dries up, one's capacity for truthfulness, loyalty and honesty is eaten away, one's character disintegrates. One…is steadily being dehumanized." (114)

"'God is love' means that his love finds expression in everything that he says and does." (122) "God saves, not only for his glory, but also for his gladness." (125)

"The grace of God is love freely shown toward guilty sinners, contrary to their merit and indeed in defiance of their demerit. It is God showing goodness to persons who deserve only severity…." "Justification is the truly dramatic transition from the status of a condemned criminal awaiting a terrible sentence to that of an heir awaiting a fabulous inheritance." (132-33)

There are few things stressed more strongly in the Bible than the reality of God's work as Judge. In the New Testament God's action as Judge is actually intensified. "The entire New Testament is overshadowed by the certainty of a coming day of universal judgment…." "The heart of the justice which expresses God's nature is retribution, the rendering to persons what they have deserved…." (138-142)

Wrath is an attribute of God. "To an age which has unashamedly sold itself to the gods of greed, pride, sex and self-will, the church mumbles on about God's kindness but says virtually nothing about his judgment." Divine wrath has become taboo in modern society. But "just as God is good to those who trust him, so he is terrible to those who do not." (148-49)

We are unhappy with the idea of a wrathful God. It seems somehow unworthy of him. But his wrath is never capricious, self-indulgent, irritable or morally ignoble. "It is, instead, a right and necessary reaction to objective moral evil." "It is the wrath of the Judge, administering justice." "The essence of God's action in wrath is to give men what they choose, in all its implications…." (150-53)

Both goodness and severity are attributes of God. We take them not singly but together. God's severity… denotes God's decisive withdrawal of his goodness from those who have spurned it." "… behind every display of divine goodness stands a threat of severity in judgment if that goodness is scorned." (163-64)

"God's jealousy is not a compound of frustration, envy and spite, as human jealousy so often is, but appears instead as a (literally) praiseworthy zeal to preserve something supremely precious." There is a jealousy of positive virtue, such as the zeal of married persons to protect their love relationship or to avenge it when broken. God's jealousy is of this type, "an aspect of his covenant love for his own people." "Our right response to his jealousy over us is zeal for him." "Zeal in religion is a burning desire to please God, to do His will, and to advance His glory in the world in every possible way." (170-73)

Man's root problem before God is his sin, which evokes wrath. God has made his basic provision for the satisfaction of God's wrath, propitiation, which out of wrath brings peace. (189)

"The peace of God is first and foremost peace with God; it is the state of affairs in which God, instead of being against us, is for us." It is "a new relationship of forgiveness and acceptance…." (196)

The Old Testament laid the greatest stress on God as holy and separate, on his greatness and purity. New Testament religion can be summed up as "the knowledge of God as one's holy Father." "The revelation to the believer that God is his Father is in a sense the climax of the Bible." The highest privilege that the gospel offers is adoption. "God intends the lives of believers to be a reflection and reproduction of Jesus' own fellowship with himself." Fatherhood implies authority, affection, fellowship and honor. The entire Christian life has to be understood in terms of adoption, sonship. (201-09)

The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of adoption. The three aspects of His work are 1) keeping us conscious that we are God's children by free grace, 2) moving us to look to God as father, showing respectful boldness, and 3) acting up to our position as royal children by "manifesting the family likeness (conforming to Christ), furthering the family welfare (loving the brethren) and maintaining the family honor (seeking God's glory)." (220)

"In this world, royal children have to undergo extra training and discipline which other children escape, in order to fit them for their high destiny. It is the same with the children of the King of kings. The clue to understanding all his dealings with them is to remember that throughout their lives he is training them for what awaits them, and chiseling them into the image of Christ." (222)

"… while … justification frees one forever from the need to keep the law, or try to, as the means of earning life, it is equally true that adoption lays on one the abiding obligation to keep the law, as the means of pleasing one's newfound Father." (223)

"Wisdom in Scripture always means knowledge of the course of action that will please God and secure life …" (232)

Christians seeking guidance often overlook the guidance that is ready at hand. They look for inward prompting apart from the written Word. An inward voice sounds attractive and spiritual but leads to "frantic bewilderment or lunacy." God guides us fundamentally by "the rational understanding and application of his written Word." "The basic form of divine guidance is the presentation to us of positive ideals as guidelines for all our living." "The Spirit leads within the limits which the Word sets, not beyond them." (234-37)

"God wants us to feel that our way through life is rough and perplexing, so that we may learn thankfully to lean on him. Therefore he takes steps to drive us out of self-confidence to trust in himself…, to 'wait on the Lord.' This truth has many applications. One of the most startling is that God actually uses our sins and mistakes to this end. He employs the educative discipline of failures and mistakes very frequently. It is striking to see how much of the Bible deals with godly people making mistakes and God chastening them for it." "God can bring good out of the extremes of our own folly…" (250-51)

Knowing God
Zondervan, 1973, 286 pp.

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Book Notes by David Mays
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