The Message of Jesus: Coming to Know God
Christ’s gospel invites you to satisfy the restless longing all humans share.
I was about 6 months old when my cousin Rex, then in his 20s, kissed me on the cheek. I was sitting in my high chair in my family’s in St. Louis, Missouri, and Cousin Rex was about to leave home and head west to California to find his fortune. According to family legend, he, “Well, that’ll have to be enough sugar for my coffee until I see you again.”
We didn’t see each other again for more than 37 years. You how it is. My dad and mom lost contact with Rex. I was too young to know care who he was. His branch of the family did their thing, and we did ours. Through the decades, rumor had it that cousin Rex fell on hard times in California, or that he struck it rich. He became a preacher, or he became a bum. Rex was the greatest guy you would ever want to know, or he was wild and dangerous.
Last year, I looked up Rex. In an emotional phone call, he said hearing from me had made him so happy that he wouldn’t be able to sleep. He invited me to come see him at his home in northern Nevada. I did, and I took my wife and daughter with me.
I recognized him as soon as I rolled into his driveway, and he recognized me. Happy days and nights of catching up followed our first bear hugs and kisses. We met his wife, and their children and grandchildren, all of whom lived nearby. Suddenly my 6-year-old daughter had scads of newly discovered cousins to play with!
No family reunion could have been warmer. Rex was gentle, generous and lovable. As we sat in his home, he told us of his adventures as a younger man. His family had grown and flourished. He had built a successful business. He had become friends with a famous actor. Through the years, with a few rough spots here and there, he had maintained a deep faith in Jesus Christ and was an active leader in his church. To my delight and to both our wives’ half-grimacing tolerance, we learned that he and I are afflicted with a similar slightly warped (and only slightly funny) sense of humor!
What we all long for
Family. Home. Close, tender relationships. People who really care. Embracing those we love, and never having to part. Aren’t these the blessings that all of us desire most?
But, search as we might, many of us never find them — and no one enjoys them all the time. Relationships break up. People move away. Families lose contact—or never make it in the first place. There are no perfect homes, at least in this world.
Whoever we are, wherever we live, we find ourselves always searching, searching—but searching for what? Loving relationships that last. This is exactly what God invites us to—an eternal place in his loving family. That’s what the gospel of Jesus Christ is—an invitation to come into an intimate, lasting relationship with the perfect parent, brother, friend, provider, teacher and protector.
Growing in Christ
“Do not be ashamed to testify about our Lord,” wrote the apostle Paul to the young evangelist Timothy. Christ “has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace.” Jesus “has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel” (2 Timothy 1:8-10). Through the gospel, God invites us—calls us—to experience new life through his Son, Jesus Christ, both now and in the world to come, and he invites us to grow, to draw closer.
If you are growing closer to Christ, you will read the Bible as a trustworthy record of God’s revelation to humanity. The Holy Spirit will guide you to understand and agree with that revelation. You will want to dig out this Book’s every gem of truth (2 Timothy 3:16-17). And you will want to live by what the Scriptures say.
You will want a closer relationship with your Creator. You will want to get to know God’s Son, Jesus Christ. He has erased your sins and made it possible for you to be born again, spiritually, with a new start in life. You will want to submit your life to Jesus.
If God’s Spirit is leading you, you will feel a sense of purpose in your life, maybe for the first time. You will enjoy worshiping and serving your Savior, Jesus Christ. You will see the need to pray. You’ll be excited about being part of the international, spiritual community of believers — God’s church. Despite the challenges and troubles of life, the Holy Spirit will bless you with an inner calm. This is the “peace of God, which transcends all understanding” (Philippians 4:7).
If God is working in your life, you will grasp the meaning of sin, and you will regret your own sinful condition. You will realize that Jesus suffered the consequences of our sins, so that we might escape death, and you will feel gratitude and commitment and faith toward him for having done so. You will come to detest the faithless ways of the world, and you will want to leave those ways behind.
If God is calling you, you will be ready to do the hardest thing a person can do—admit you are wrong. That is, not only have you committed wrong and sinful acts. You are sinful, fallen, and in need of salvation. This is part of repentance. You will want to change your life—to start doing what God knows is best for you. You will appreciate the grace of God in forgiving you and giving you new life through his Son. You will want to praise and worship Jesus Christ in all you think, say and do.
You will want to serve and help others. A Christian does so, in part, by sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ by helping to invite others to come to God, just as you were invited. If God is calling you, you will realize that nothing else matters more than answering that call. Perhaps it is time to do something about it!
The Healer of hurts
“Come to me,” Jesus welcomes (Matthew 11:28). Yet many find it hard to accept this invitation. Their experiences with their own human families and other relationships have been upsetting and sad. Their natural longing for warmth and love has been denied, rebuffed and unfulfilled. They want relationships, yet also distrust them, even fear them.
Seeing the ugliness and injustice and abuse in this world, they cannot embrace the concept of an all-powerful God who knows our weaknesses and troubles and who cares—and who is able to make things different, and yet seemingly does not. The questions seem too tough, the chasms too wide, the hurts too painful for us. Yet this is exactly why God sent his Son, Jesus Christ, into the world.
The Bible records how our first parents, Adam and Eve, rejected a relationship based on trust, and humanity has followed that approach ever since. But God still loves the world. He has stepped in to rescue us from sin and death. “God so loved the world,” John 3:16 tells us, “that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
Jesus came into the world to undo Adam and Eve’s tragic failure. They chose death for the human race, but Jesus chose to give us life! The full, abundant, joy-filled, worthwhile life we all desire comes through knowing Jesus Christ our Savior. “Now this is eternal life,” Jesus said, “that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent” (John 17:3).
Through his death in our place, and through his miraculous resurrection from the dead, Jesus closed the breach. He healed the hurt. He corrected the abuse. Jesus Christ revealed God as a heavenly Father who wants to reunite all of us with him, to gather us around him in a loving, everlasting embrace.
It is no wonder that the apostle Paul declared: “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead” (Philippians 3:10-11)! This was not a goal for the distant future—he wanted to know Christ each day of his life, to be in constant relationship with him.
Coming to know God
“No one can come to me,” Jesus said, “unless the Father who sent me draws him’’ (John 6:44). He also revealed: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). God calls, and we must respond. We must be willing to humble ourselves before God, to realize that we can do nothing to save ourselves. Unless God gives us grace, through his Son, Jesus Christ, we are lost.
But God is more than willing to receive us. We must acknowledge and repent of our sinful state – that when we try to live without him, we are showing a lack of gratitude, and an arrogance about our own abilities. We need to realize that only through Jesus Christ can we be saved (Acts 4:12). Then we will accept and embrace the Son of God as our Savior and Lord. Paul wrote, “If you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9).
A Traveler’s Guide book review by Neil Earle
“As it would be cruel to an Amazonian tribesman to fly him to London, put him down without explanation in Trafalgar Square and leave him…to fend for himself, so we are cruel to ourselves if we try to live in this world without knowing about the God whose world it is and who runs it.”
Such vivid writing characterizes theologian James Packer’s million-seller, Knowing God, a book that has been printed in more than a dozen languages and become a source of nurture for many Christians.
The crisp, pungent, witty style I remember from his lectures at Regent College in Vancouver, British Columbia, is there in force. For example, the biblical claim that Jesus was fully divine as well as fully human is, claims Packer, “two mysteries for the price of one—the plurality of persons within the unity of God, and the union of Godhead and manhood in the person of Jesus.”
Packer knows that most of the questions Christians ask are what he calls “travelers’ questions”—which way do I go and how do I get there?
Such practicality keeps this book well read. Knowing God contains theology, but one reason this book is a classic is because Packer makes doctrinal matters accessible to everyday people. In chapter 14, titled “God is the Judge,” he probes a head-scratcher: how to reconcile God’s mercy with his justice. Later in the book, Packer reassures us that God “will not let us ruin our souls.”
“Disregard the study of God,” warns Packer, “and you will sentence yourself to stumble and blunder through life blindfolded, as it were, with no sense of direction and no understanding of what surrounds you.”
Knowing God has helped thousands of people. It can help you.
Growing in knowing
The hardest part of many worthwhile pursuits is taking the first step. It would have been easier, for instance, not to call my cousin Rex. After all, I didn’t really know him. How could I be sure that the bad things some family members told me about him weren’t true? We might not have gotten along at all. Finding the phone number and calling were needlessly fearsome hurdles for me.
But from the moment we heard each other’s voices, we realized we never should have been strangers in the first place. The 37-plus years of separation after the kiss in my family’s kitchen were the tragic result of unintentional neglect. We got along famously, joyously. Together was exponentially preferable to a part.
It’s the same with a person’s relationship with God. Before we answer Jesus’ invitation to come to him, we don’t even know him. We may have heard a lot of misinformation about God, from ignorant assumptions to outright lies. We may fear that we just won’t get along. It’s much easier to simply not think about that hole in every human heart, that spiritual aloneness that cries out for unity with our Maker.
Saying that first prayer, or making that first contact with Christians who enjoy close friendship with Jesus, may be needlessly fearsome hurdles. Jesus stands outside the door and knocks. From the moment you open the door, you realize you never should have been strangers in the first place. However many years you’ve been apart—perhaps your whole life? – may have been the tragic result of unintentional neglect. Or confused emotions. Or scars inflicted not by God but by some imperfect human.
Christians who enjoy a personal relationship with Jesus Christ affirm, with the apostle John: We live in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in him and he in God. And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. (1 John 4:13-16)
Our Christian lives consist of growing in knowing—knowing and relying on the love God has for us. We return that love to God through worship and faithfulness. We follow where he leads. We patiently continue, throughout our lives, our walk with Jesus Christ.
“Come to me”
A church sign near my home reads, “No Jesus—No Peace; Know Jesus— Know Peace.” Christians are born into a loving, spiritual community, and they know peace, thanks to the work of Jesus Christ. The gospel of Jesus Christ invites you to satisfy the restless longing that all human beings share— the longing for loving relationships that last.
You can know that you know God by placing your faith and trust in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior. In one of the most reassuring passages in the New Testament, Paul wrote to the Ephesian church:
“I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:16-19).
Author: Norman L. Shoaf