Over the past several weeks, I have been reading the classic book Knowing God by J.I. Packer together with hundreds of people (over 800!). The idea was initiated by Tim Challies, a Christian pastor who blogs here. Actually, I have had this book since June 2012, but I never went beyond the first few chapters. Reading it in community with others, however, has spurred me to traverse the entire book and mine its profound content. Described by R.C. Sproul as ‘a masterpiece by a master theologian’, it is a brilliant work which explores the grandeur and glory of the sovereign God. Below are some insights I have gained since I started reading. They were shared on Facebook at various times while I was reading it.
- It is deeply humbling to realise that one can know a lot about God and yet have no knowledge of Him. True knowledge of God leads to a life of godliness. As Packer himself puts it, “Our aim in studying the Godhead must be to know God himself better. Our concern must be to enlarge our acquaintance, not simply with the doctrine of God’s attributes, but with the living God whose attributes they are.”
- The lives of Abraham, Jacob and Joseph teach us that God will employ adversity and trials in forming godly character in his people. Abraham learnt patience and trust in God, Jacob learnt to abandon his self-reliant and cunning ways, Joseph was shaped into a model of integrity, faithfulness and courage. In all these, we see God’s profound wisdom at work. Knowing fully well that all our circumstances are wisely ordained by God, our response should be twofold: we should recognise them as being from God for our good, and we should seek God’s face about them. Ultimately, they turn out for his glory.
- The immutability of God is truly an anchor for our souls. In our Information age where rapid change is the norm, God’s unchanging character comforts us. We know His promises, ways, and purposes will not fail – they are firm to the end.
- I just started reading chapter 14. And here I enter into an attribute of God that our present age hardly considers – God’s justice. Yet, it is a true comfort for the believer. I have Christ’s righteousness imputed to my account for life simply because God is just. He will not punish twice for the same offence. I am secured eternally for Christ has borne God’s wrath in my place; I never have to bear it again. I am at peace amidst the evils and injustice in the world for I know that there is a Judge who will unravel all at the end of history. Evil will not ultimately prevail. No. Righteousness and Truth shall conquer. And this is because God is just.
- God’s grace is baffling! We do not deserve it (in fact, we deserve his judgement), yet He pours mercy on us profusely. His grace is like a light shining in the midst of a dark and turbulent storm.
- Throughout the month of September 2015, my church has been focusing on the theme of Trials. So reading this quote from Packer was quite illuminating:
“If you are a true believer, and He still puts thorns in your bed, it is only to keep you from falling into the somnolence of complacency and to ensure that you “continue in his goodness” by letting your sense of need bring you back constantly in self-abasement and faith to seek his face. This kindly discipline, in which God’s severity touches us for a moment in the context of his goodness, is meant to keep us from having to bear the full brunt of that severity apart from that context. It is a discipline of love, and it must be received accordingly.” (p. 166)
Thus, God will bring trials our way to make us depend on Him, and it is through this means that He matures and develops our character. He is more interested in our holiness than in our momentary gladness, for He knows it is our holiness that will secure us lasting joy.
- As someone who is deeply concerned with understanding the gospel as a ‘total gospel’, deliverance from both sin and the effects of sin, Packer’s passage about not losing sight of the root problem (pp.189-190) was a welcome reminder.
“We have all heard the gospel presented as God’s triumphant answer to human problems – problems of our relation with ourselves and our fellow humans and our environment. Well, there is no doubt that the gospel does bring us solutions to these problems, but it does so by first solving a deeper problem – the deepest of all human problems, the problem of man’s relation with his Maker.”
It is so easy to see how the gospel influences education, business, physical illness, crime, etc., and forget that the basic need is for our relation to God to be set right. This is the real cause of the brokenness in our universe. And it is by fixing it that, ultimately, our world is restored.
- Fear keeps us from living out the full implications of our belief in the gospel. We dread the consequence of being ‘strange’ and unconventional. Packer commented as follows:
“We are unlike the Christians of New Testament times. Our approach to life is conventional and static; theirs was not. The thought of “safety first” was not a drag on their enterprise as it is on ours. By being exuberant, unconventional, and uninhibited in living by the gospel, they turned their world upside down…Why are we so different?… One reason, it seems, is that in our heart of hearts we are afraid of the consequences of going the whole way into the Christian life. We shrink from accepting a way of life in which we forfeit material security because we are afraid of being left stranded “
God has given us, not a spirit of fear, but of power, love and a sound mind. His call is for us to cast all our cares upon Him and go in His strength. His promises are abundant that, though we will face trials, persecution, opposition, He is with us to deliver us.”
- I close with some words from J.I. Packer encouraging us to take the risk and live all out for Christ.
“Have you been holding back from a risky, costly course to which you know in your heart God has called you? Hold back no longer. Your God is faithful to you, and he is adequate for you. You will never need more than he can supply, and what he supplies, both materially and spiritually, will always be enough for the present. (Psa. 84:11; 1 Cor. 10:13; 2 Cor. 12:9). Think on these things! – and let your thoughts drive out your inhibitions about serving your Master.”