R.C. Sproul explains how the mind is corrupted by sin and the priority of loving God with the mind must first start with a new spirit. Then he explains the connection between loving God with knowing and worshiping Him.
The Great Priority of Knowing and Loving God
The most important relationship in your life is your relationship with God. No other relationship comes close.
Two primary aspects of that relationship are knowledge and love. When thinking about the quality of your relationship with God, it is extremely important you evaluate in terms of those criteria.
The Priority of Knowing God
You must become convinced of the importance of knowing God or it won’t become a priority in your life. Consider these words of Jesus:
“And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.”
– John 17:3
What Jesus says here is critical. Eternal life is about knowing God and His Son Jesus Christ.
What is eternal life? It is life that never ends. There is only one being that has this kind of life in Himself and that is God. People do not naturally have it. God shares it with those who are in relationship with Him through faith in Jesus and the indwelling Holy Spirit.
Eternal life is also more than a life that lasts forever. It has a certain quality about it. It is a life that cannot be destroyed or corrupted. All life that is natural to humans will end due to the corruption of sin. Sin caused a rift between man and God and the result was physical and spiritual death. Man was cut off from the life God provided. To get eternal life, you must be united to God through faith in Jesus and the life-giving power of the Holy Spirit.
Knowing God is the only way to get eternal life. You can’t earn it through good works. You don’t get it automatically when you are born. You don’t obtain it by attending church. You must get it by knowing God and Jesus Christ (John 17:3).
What Knowing God Means – Relational Knowledge
Eternal life comes from knowing God. But what type of knowledge is this? Is it obtainable by anyone who picks up a Bible and fills their heads with the right facts about God?
No. This type of knowledge is not only knowledge of facts; it is relational knowledge built on facts. Theologian John Calvin explains how the knowledge Jesus speaks of in John 17:3 is connected to the work of God in us by faith:
“for it is not every kind of knowledge that is here described, but that knowledge which forms us anew into the image of God from faith to faith, or rather, which is the same with faith, by which, having been ingrafted into the body of Christ, we are made partakers of the Divine adoption, and heirs of heaven.”
– John Calvin 1
This relational knowledge comes by faith in Jesus Christ. Faith is ultimately a word that means “trust.” Trust is a relational word. It is confidence and reliance upon something.
When a person chooses to trust Jesus Christ for who He is and what He has done to take care of our sin and bring us back into a right relationship with God, there are other benefits God gives that person. One benefit is spiritual union with God. That means you have a spiritual connection between you and God that cannot be broken. It is through this union that God grants eternal life. That is how relational knowledge, faith, and eternal life are all connected. We only get eternal life through a spiritual relationship with God.
Further reinforcing this idea of relational knowledge in John 17:3, Bible scholar D.A. Carson explains it this way in his commentary on the Gospel of John:
“Nor is this knowledge of God and of Jesus Christ merely intellectual, mere information (though it invariably includes information). In a Gospel that ranks belief no less central than knowledge to the acquisition of eternal life, it is clear that the knowledge of God and of Jesus Christ entails fellowship, trust, personal relationship, faith.”
– D.A. Carson 2
If you want eternal life, you must have a relationship with God (if you aren’t sure if you have a relationship with God, read our article here).
Growing In Your Knowledge of God
Once you have a relationship with God, God wants you to keep growing in your relational knowledge of Him. Look at the following verse which contains important instructions for you:
“But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.”
– 2 Peter 3:17–18
The verb “grow” is a command from God that is in the present active tense meaning it is something you are to do continually throughout your life. Growing in the knowledge of God is something we are to never stop doing.
God has a purpose for telling us to do this. There are good reasons why you should devote your life to continually growing in the knowledge of God:
- God is the greatest good. There is nothing, and no one, better to know than Him. He has no rivals in terms of value. No person is better to know than God. No object of study is better than knowing God.
- Since God is infinite, you will never know all there is to know about Him. Even if you were to memorize the entire Bible, you could spend an entire lifetime studying what those facts mean and still not learn everything you could about God.
- God is the source of all joy and happiness. If you want happiness in your life, you can’t truly find it apart from a lasting and vibrant relationship with the God. Growth in joy and happiness are connected to growth in your relationship with God.
- The only way to live successfully in God’s world and honor Him like we were made to is to know Him and live according to His standards. If you want God’s blessing in your life, devote yourself to growing in knowing Him and what He expects of you in how to live and relate to Him.
Since the kind of knowledge we are talking about is relational, you will only scratch the surface of knowing God in your lifetime. You will never even come close to experiencing what you could possibly experience in your relationship with God. Our entire lives are to be spent learning how to become like Him, knowing what He loves and hates, how to obey His will, how to commune with Him in prayer, how to love people like He wants, and so on.
Knowing God is so important and so valuable that God tells us it is the only thing we can legitimately boast about:
“Thus says the Lord: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the Lord.”
– Jeremiah 9:23–24
Think about all the things people like to boast about:
- Career accomplishments
- Who they are married to or dating
- Their kids’ accomplishments
- How they look
- Athletic endeavors
- Trips and adventures they have taken
- How much money they have made
- Great food they’ve eaten
- Books they are reading
All you have to do is look at a person’s social media accounts to see what they like to boast about.
But God says we should boast in none of those things. None. The only thing we should boast about is knowing God because God is far more valuable than all those things will ever be. The comparison isn’t even close.
If you don’t believe me, look at what the Apostle Paul said about knowing Christ:
“Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death.”
– Philippians 3:8–10
Nothing was more important to Paul than knowing Christ. He knew how valuable Jesus was and made everything else in life lower in importance to growing in His relationship with Him and becoming like Him, even in suffering.
Paul understood something very, very important.
The Dangers of Not Knowing God
Sometimes we need to consider the consequences of not knowing God in order to understand the importance of knowing Him.
The great suffering man of the Old Testament, Job, had an incredible relationship with God. Consider what God said about him to Satan:
And the Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil?”
– Job 1:8
What a compliment from Almighty God! Job lived with integrity, turned away from evil, and feared God. Those are great qualities.
But as we learn from the story, Job had a lot to learn about God. God allowed Job to suffer terribly. As Job sought to understand why God was allowing these things to happen, he made some statements about God that weren’t entirely true. Job made these statements because he had a view of God that wasn’t quite accurate.
Here is what Job admits at the end of the book after God confronts Him:
Then Job answered the Lord and said: “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted. ‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’ Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. ‘Hear, and I will speak; I will question you, and you make it known to me.’ I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.”
– Job 42:1–6
Job didn’t know the real reason why he was suffering. He didn’t know that Satan was the direct cause and God allowed it to prove to Satan that Job would remain faithful even after great affliction. Job only blamed God because he didn’t understand everything going on. Thus Job constantly felt God was out to get him even though he didn’t do anything wrong. This greatly affected his emotional condition and led to greater despair.
It is hard to blame Job for information that wasn’t given to him. I certainly do far worse than Job with far fewer hardships.
But Job’s lesson is still an important lesson for us. Sometimes in life we blame God for things He shouldn’t be blamed for. We forget about God’s goodness to us and we get depressed or feel hopeless. We focus on the hard things we are facing and forget to balance our situation with truths about God.
Whatever situation you are in, you must continually remind yourself who God is, how much He loves you in Christ, and the great hope He has given you in the forgiveness of your sins and the great value of eternal life with Him.
Since we have the whole Bible, we have more information that Job ever had. God has revealed more of Himself and His great plan of redemption in Christ than Job ever knew about. We have more of God’s precious promises to cling to than Job had.
Yet how often do we neglect this valuable information? Growing in knowledge of God includes devoting ourselves to learning and remembering God’s great promises, understanding what they mean for us, and how they are rooted in God’s flawless character that never changes and ensures all His promises will be fulfilled.
Let the truths you learn about God take root deeply in your soul so that you trust God with everything you experience. Not growing in your knowledge of God only hurts you and keeps you from remaining steadfast when the storms of life come upon you and those you love. And come they will.
Knowing God is a continual process that you begin in this life, grow in throughout your life, and continue in for all eternity. Even when you are with God in heaven, you will spend all eternity getting to know God more and more. Your knowledge of Him will never be complete; even after a thousand years. The greatest joy of heaven will be your relationship with Him and growing to know more about Him. After all, nothing exists in heaven and on earth that is more valuable than God.
The Priority of Loving God
Since we are talking about relational knowledge, we must naturally talk about love. Love is an indispensable part of any good relationship.
The Problem of Knowledge Without Love
What happens when relational knowledge is not accompanied by love? The Apostle Paul confronted this problem in his letter to the Corinthians who were a group of Christians who really struggled with loving God and one another. Consider what Paul tells them in this verse:
“Now concerning food offered to idols: we know that ‘all of us possess knowledge.’ This ‘knowledge’ puffs up, but love builds up. If anyone imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know. But if anyone loves God, he is known by God.”
– 1 Corinthians 8:1–3
The Corinthians thought they were spiritually mature because they knew certain spiritual facts. But Paul says this knowledge by itself only puffs a person up. In other words, it makes you arrogant.
When talking about relationships, knowledge must be accompanied by love to have true value. We probably all know people who have a lot of knowledge about the Bible but don’t have much love. What do you think of such people? How valuable is their knowledge? How much do you respect their Christian life? Probably not much.
Notice how Paul says that “if anyone loves God, he is known by God.” Loving God is part of being in relationship with God. A relational knowledge, accompanied by love, is what will build you up in your faith. Knowledge alone (what we were earlier calling “mere knowledge” which is just an intellectual grasp of facts) will actually make you proud.
Loving God Above All
Loving God is an absolute must. In fact, Jesus called loving God the greatest commandment of all:
But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”
– Matthew 22:34–40
For more on this incredibly important teaching by Jesus, see our article on loving God.
See how Jesus says all that we are is to be united in loving God? All our passion, desire, spiritual, and mental faculties are to be incessantly focused on loving God.
Loving God means desiring Him. It means wanting more of Him whether that is through factual knowledge, experience, living in obedience to His will, worshiping Him, etc.
Loving God means valuing Him above all other things. Nothing should have a higher place in the value system of your heart and mind than God. This means that what you should fear losing more than anything else is God; even more than the people you love. More than all your possessions. More than your reputation. Losing God would be a far bigger loss than losing those other good things.
If you don’t believe me, consider Jesus’ challenging words:
“Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.”
– Matthew 10:37
You can’t be a disciple of Jesus and love other people more than Him. God can have no rivals in your heart. That is a hard teaching but it is true nonetheless.
It is easy for Christians to sometimes think they love God because they do lots of religious activities like Bible reading, prayer, going to church, or giving money to ministries and missions. But all those things can be done without a love for God. In fact, you could do all those things out of love for yourself and a desire that other people would esteem you as a religious person.
Don’t believe me?
This was the problem Jesus confronted with the Jewish religious leaders of his day. Many of them appeared incredibly devout and outwardly religious. Many Jews esteemed them and thought they were the spiritually elite.
But Jesus knew their hearts. Look what he said about them,
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.”
– Matthew 23:27–28
Jesus says these outwardly religious people were full of hypocrisy and lawlessness. There was no love in their hearts for God. If there was, they wouldn’t have had Jesus murdered. They may have done many religious things but they disobeyed the greatest commandment to love God with all of who they were.
If you are a Christian and do many religious things, make sure you are always examining your heart and asking yourself if you are doing them out of love for God.
Head, Heart, Hands – How to Grow in Knowledge and Love for God
Knowing and loving God are lifelong aspects of your relationship with God that you will need to continually grow in.
Don’t get discouraged if you don’t know and love God as you should. You won’t in this life. However, you never want to become complacent and stop growing in these areas.
So how do you grow in knowledge and love for God? Here are a few ways using our Head, Heart, Hands model of applying God’s truth to our whole being.
Growing in Knowledge of God
Head (Thoughts, Understanding)
First, you need your mind to change. You must believe in the importance of knowing God. Here are some ways that may help this truth govern your thinking.
- Meditate on verses like John 17:3 and 2 Peter 3:17-18 to become convinced of the importance of knowing God. There are lots of messages you will come across every day (and even tell yourself) that will compete for space in your mind concerning what is most important. Let God’s Word tell you what is most important.
- Think often about how much God wants to have a relationship with you and the ways He shows how important that relationship is to Him. He chose you before the world began (Ephesians 1:4), sent His Son to die for you even though you were ungodly and His enemy (Romans 5:6-10), gave you the faith to believe in Him (Ephesians 2:8), and will take you to be with Him forever one day (John 14:3).
These are only two suggestions. What other ways do you think you could become more convinced of the importance of knowing God?
Heart (Loves, Desires)
It is important that we become mentally convinced of the importance of knowing God but it is also important that our desires for knowing Him increase. Our desires must work with the facts we know to move us in the direction God wants us to go.
Heart change is difficult and takes cooperation with God. Here are a couple ways we can work with God to change our hearts:
- Confess and ask forgiveness for any relationship or pursuit of knowledge (studies, learning, etc.) you are valuing more than knowing God. The goal here is to steadily get rid of the obstacles in our hearts that are competing with a desire to know God first and foremost.
- Choose to love growing in relationship to God daily. God does give us the power to choose what to love. Love is not about feelings only. It also involves what we choose to value. So choose to love reading His word, praying, obeying Him, seeking His will in Scripture, and all those other things that are important to relating to God.
Finally, we want to actually do something with what we know and we love. So what can we do to grow in knowing God?
- Read the Bible daily and make knowing God your primary focus in what you read. There are lots of things you could focus on when reading the Bible but there is none more important than knowing God. Ask yourself, “What does this passage teach me about God?” (see How to Read the Bible Devotionally for more)
- Think about all your religious activities in terms of relating to God. When you worship, think of it as singing directly to Him. When listening to faithful, biblical preaching, think of it as hearing from God. When you pray, do it with an awareness of who you are praying to. It is easy to let our minds drift and just go through the motions instead of thinking about these activities in terms of relationship.
- Start reading or listening to good books, sermons, or whatever else that helps you understand who God is better. If you have limited time, make sure you are prioritizing getting to know God better before you learn about other things (the news, career related material, even what is going on in other peoples’ lives, etc.)
- Talk with other Christians about what they are learning about God and share with them what you are learning.
- You need God’s help for all these things. Pray that God would help strengthen your conviction and resolve to know Him as your life’s passion
Growing in Loving God
We are going to follow the same pattern as above and look at how we can change our thoughts, our desires, and our actions to help us grow in loving God.
Head (Thoughts, Understanding)
- Study and meditate on Matthew 22:34-40 to understand the priority of loving God
- Understand the kinds of things that hinder love for God like love for the sinful things in the world (1 John 2:15-17), love of money (Luke 16:13), etc.
Heart (Loves, Desires)
- Regularly confess any loves (whether sinful or not) that you place higher than loving God
- Choose continually to love God more than anything else. This will take daily practice and an awareness of what your heart is being drawn toward.
- Focus your Bible reading on who God is and what He does. Think about how great He is. Add prayers of worship as regular response to what you are reading about God.
- Meditate on the greatness of God throughout the day to remind your heart about how valuable God is and what a privilege it is to know Him.
- Learn about how much God has loved you in Christ, how He has provided for you, and all the ways He blesses you. We love because God has first loved us. Let growth in understanding God’s love for you grow your heart. Pray that God would continually show you how much He loves you.
I would like to leave you with this prayer that Paul prayed for the Ephesians. This would be a great way to pray for yourself and other Christians frequently:
“For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.”
– Ephesians 3:14–19
Ultimately, we love because God first loved us (1 John 4:19). The more we can understand God’s love for us the more we both get to know Him and hopefully have our hearts transformed to love Him in return.
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