Here is another good question I received:
In an article on your page concerning 1 John 2:3-11, you make the following statement:
“When John speaks of knowing Christ, he is using a term which can refer to one’s position or one’s experience. In this context the latter is in view. In other words, a believer knows Jesus Christ in his experience to the degree that he obeys Him.”
How do we know that this is correct? Is there any Scripture that proves that knowing is used in a more casual sense, e.g., in the sense that you are describing it?
PS: I’m totally with you and love your page and resources! Thanks for the good work!
The reader is correct that there is no special grammatical form that indicates when knowing God refers to one’s experience as opposed to one’s position. It is the context which bears this out.
Here are some examples where the context shows that knowing God refers to an experience, not merely to being born again:
John 14:9. “Jesus said to him, ‘Have I been with you so long, and you have not known Me, Philip?”
1 John 4:6. “We are of God. He who knows God hears us; he who is not of God does not hear us. By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error.”
1 John 4:7.“Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.”
1 John 4:8. “He who does not love does not know God, for God is love.”
What makes it clear that these verses refer not to all believers, but to believers who are walking in fellowship with God, is the context.
Philip was already born again (John 13:10; 15:3), yet Jesus says that he does not know Him. Philip’s knowledge of Jesus, and that of all of the Eleven, was amazingly superficial after over three years with Him. They did not yet know that He is God in the flesh. Nor did they know He was going to the cross the next day. They did not grasp that Jesus is eternal, with no beginning. That He is the Creator was unknown to them. They were born again and knew Him in that sense. But they did not yet know Him well on the experiential level.
Did all born again people in the first century hear what John and his circle were saying (1 John 4:6)? Clearly not. See 3 John 9-11 concerning Diotrephes. John is saying that those who know God in their experience listen to what he is saying.
Do all born of God people always love other Christians? Clearly not. See all of the commands in 1 John to love fellow Christians (e.g., 1 John 3:11, 14, 16, 18, 23; 4:11, 21).
The point of 1 John 4:8 is that since God is love, we only know God in our experience when we too are loving. Notice that in v 8 John does not repeat, “and is not born of God.” In v 7 he says that all who love are 1) born of God and 2) know God. In v 8 he says that the one who does not love does not know God. But he is born of God since in this context John is speaking about believers.
Here are two more texts which I believe deal with knowing God in our experience, but which I list separately since they are less clear than the three in 1 John 4:
John 17:3. “And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.”
Titus 1:16. “They profess to know God, but in works they deny Him, being abominable, disobedient, and disqualified for every good work.”
The Lord’s point in John 17:3 is that the possession of everlasting life makes it possible that we may know God. At least that seems the most reasonable understanding in this context.
The word translated disqualified in Titus 1:16 is the Greek word adokimos. Elsewhere in Paul it refers to believers who are not approved by Christ. Compare 1 Cor 9:27 and 2 Cor 13: 5, 6, 7. If a believer professes to know God, but his works deny Christ, then he does not know God in his experience.
First John 2:3, the verse that led to this question, is similar. It reads, “Now by this we know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments.” Keeping His commandments does not refer to sinless perfection as 1 John 1:8, 10 make clear. What it refers to is one who had matured to the point that his works reflect who he is. He is no longer living like natural men (1 Cor 3:3). Instead, he is behaving like a spiritual man.
Here is a list of some of the verses in the NT where I’m convinced that knowing God refers to one’s position: 1 Cor 1:21; Gal 4:8; 1 Thess 4:5; 2 Thess 1:8; 1 John 3:1. What sets these verses apart is that the contexts suggest that the author is talking about anyone who is born again. These contexts do not restrict the designation to mature believers.