What does it mean to “know Christ”? We speak of knowledge with multiplicity in our society, and we can often take for granted the depth of which the idea is fleshed out in Scripture. Sometimes we mean simply “do you know of such and such a person?”, as if to inquire about an elementary and impersonal head knowledge. We know all about celebrities and public figures. But on the same hand, we don’t really know them. However, in the gospel of John, Jesus gives us a comparison which can help us understand what it means, even as mature Christians, to truly “know Christ”.
I sometimes find it difficult to ascertain a firm grasp on the nature of the relationship between myself and my Savior. That is not to say that I question His atoning work, or His effectual call unto a certain salvation in my life. I am referring to the way I approach Christ and the Father, and the way He approaches me. Is it a relationship in which I approach face down in the dust in reverence and awe? Is it a relationship where I approach as a friend, and walk alongside in pleasant conversation? Is it a relationship like that of a wise and caring man to whom I visit for advice and counsel? Is it like that of a father, into whose arms I run for comfort? And what is it, pray tell, when He approaches me?
It certainly seems as if there is a part of all of these bound up in the mystery of this relationship between God and man, Creator and creation, Holy and depraved, Redeemer and redeemed, sage Counselor and naive youth, Father and child.
I will not attempt to speak to all of these facets, but simply relate to you what I recently discovered in studying through a part of John’s gospel. John is a book replete with references of Christ to His Father, and the significance of their relationship. Although shrouded in the mystery and perplexity of the Trinity, certainly Jesus’ relationship with His Father seems a bit more straightforward than ours to Him. The Son of God, after all, is Holy, Divine, eternal with His Father, and in constant and perfect fellowship. While He submits to the Father’s authority, there is never any dissension or unwillingness, but only perfect unity and harmony. Such can surely not be said of our relationship to our Savior!
However, for all of this, Jesus gives us a tender and precious teaching in chapter 10 of the aforementioned text. Immediately familiar for its teaching of Christ as the “good shepherd”, Jesus also relates a part of the sheep and shepherd symbolism to the essence of His very own relationship with the Father in verses 14 and 15:
“I am the good shepherd, and I know My own and My own know Me, even as the Father knows Me and I know the Father and I lay down My life for the sheep.”
You see, He first reiterates that He, as the good shepherd “knows” his sheep, as the hireling (John 10:12-13) does not. In context, it speaks to a personal investment and care for those whom He is shepherding; a quality which the hired hand does not possess. Thus, He will even give His life for the sheep, whereas the hireling, with no investment or personal care, will flee the flock in the face of danger.
More than this, however, is a converse relationship. Not only does He know His sheep, but in the same way, His sheep know Him. Whereas the shepherd gives care and protection, the sheep return trust and adoration to the shepherd, and there exists a mutual, intensely personal knowledge and communion.
The real eye-opener is in verse 15, where Jesus compares the sheep/shepherd relationship to His own Son/Father relationship. Just as with the sheep and shepherd, He says, “the Father knows Me, and I know the Father”. The parallel between the two verses and the two statements is unavoidable. Our Lord is saying that the relationship we have with Him directly correlates to the relationship He has with the Father! Just as Christ knows us, so the Father knows His Son. And just as we know Christ, so Christ knows His Father.
This correlation opens up a treasure chest of truths and examples from which we can mine and meditate and begin to more fully understand the nature of the fellowship we have with our divine Redeemer, Jesus Christ! For from the earliest moments of Christ’s ministry (Luke 2:49) to the very last (Luke 23:46), we have instance after instance where He expounds upon His relationship to and with His Father in heaven, and particularly in John’s gospel.
In the light of such truth, we are confronted with the fact that our relationship to our Savior is one in which there is an incredible intimacy, mutual love, and constant sweet communion. If such is not the case in our lives, it can only be of our own making, for such a One will not place any distance of His own accord (James 4:8a, Luke 15:4-6).
It is true that as creatures redeemed but awaiting our final glorification we will not experience the fullness of this beautiful symmetry while in this body of corruption. Paul acknowledges this in I Corinthians 13:12 when he states,
For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known.
Yet for all of this, we can also conclude that as redeemed sinners, we are on the path to that perfect and complete unity with our Savior that He experiences with His Father. This communion is what He desires and bestows perfectly towards us. He withholds nothing of His love and fellowship from us; only we from Him in our own fleshly body with all of its carnal pursuits. He already knows us perfectly – with that intimate, personal knowledge of a close and cherished friend. We have only to turn towards Him and delight in His love, forsaking all others. The more we do so, the closer we will come to the fullness of the knowledge which will someday be fully realized as we know Him in that deepest and most wonderful way — not in part, but fully!