by J. I. Packer
But let him who boasts boast about this: that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight, declares the LORD. JEREMIAH 9:24
In 1 Timothy 6:20-21 Paul warns Timothy against “what is falsely called knowledge (Greek gnosis), which some have professed and in so doing have wandered from the faith.” Paul is attacking theosophical and religious tendencies that developed into Gnosticism in the second century A.D. Teachers of these beliefs and practices told believers to see their Christian commitment as a somewhat confused first step along the road to “knowledge,” and urged them to take more steps along that road. But these teachers viewed the material order as worthless and the body as a prison for the soul, and they treated illumination as the complete answer to human spiritual need. They denied that sin was any part of the problem, and the “knowledge” they offered had to do only with spells, celestial passwords, and disciplines of mysticism and detachment. They reclassified Jesus as a supernatural teacher who had looked human, though he was not; the Incarnation and the Atonement they denied, and replaced Christ’s call to a life of holy love with either prescriptions for asceticism or permission for licentiousness. Paul’s letters to Timothy (1 Tim. 1:3-4; 4:1-7; 6:20-21; 2 Tim. 3:1-9); Jude 4, 8-19; 2 Peter 2; and John’s first two letters (1 John 1:5-10; 2:9-11, 18-29; 3:7-10; 4:1-6, 5:1-12; 2 John 7-11) are explicitly opposing beliefs and practices that would later emerge as Gnosticism.
By contrast, Scripture speaks of “knowing” God as the spiritual person’s ideal: namely, the fullness of a faith-relationship that brings salvation and eternal life and generates love, hope, obedience, and joy. (See, for example, Exod. 33:13; Jer. 31:34; Heb. 8:8-12; Dan. 11:32; John 17:3; Gal. 4:8-9; Eph. 1:17-19; 3:19; Phil. 3:8-11; 2 Tim. 1:12.) The dimensions of this knowledge are intellectual (knowing the truth about God: Deut. 7:9; Ps. 100:3); volitional (trusting, obeying, and worshiping God in terms of that truth); and moral (practicing justice and love: Jer. 22:16; 1 John 4:7-8). Faith-knowledge focuses on God incarnate, the man Christ Jesus, the mediator between God and us sinners, through whom we come to know his Father as our Father (John 14:6). Faith seeks to know Christ and his power specifically (Phil. 3:8-14). Faith’s knowledge is the fruit of regeneration, the bestowal of a new heart (Jer. 24:7; 1 John 5:20), and of illumination by the Spirit (2 Cor. 4:6; Eph. 1:17). The knowledge-relationship is reciprocal, implying covenantal affection on both sides: we know God as ours because he knows us as his (John 10:14; Gal. 4:9; 2 Tim. 2:19).
All Scripture has been given to help us know God in this way. Let us labor to use it for its proper purpose.