My husband is relatively new to the town we live in, and it is amusing to watch him learn the turf. He now knows how to get to his boss’ house and to church and to the three job sites where he works. I remember how that felt about 35 years ago when I knew precisely one way to get from the seminary I was attending to my bank and to the supermarket.
I am aware, when I’m in the car with David, that he and I do not see the town and its streets the same way. When I go down a local road, I see in my mind’s eye how it connects to every other road around here—a series of concentric circles, the closest ones being more distinct and detailed, and the more distant ones tapering off finally to sketchy outlines trailing dot-dot-dot into the abyss.
What David knows presently of this geographical area is a tight little circle. Outside of that are the braying coyotes and wild jackals and the vaguely threatening unknown.
Our knowledge of God is like that. When we first become Christians we know very little about Him, except maybe that we are desperate in our sins and need saving, and God’s Son died on a cross and paid the price for us.
But we were never meant to stay at that level. We have the Bible, God’s own Word, which tells us more about Him. And we have another way of knowing Him better: “the obedience of faith” (Romans 1:5; 16:26). The apostle Paul phrased it that way to make sure we understand that faith and obedience go hand-in-hand. For it is our obedience to the things we say we believe that supernaturally brings us into a greater knowledge of God. And it works reciprocally: We believe God and we obey Him, and He sees fit to expand our understanding of Him. For example:
“I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. Only let us hold true to what we have attained.”
Over time, our knowledge of God expands like concentric circles. We become familiar with His ways because we have seen Him act in specific circumstances as we trusted Him in them. Ours is a genuine relationship in which He is pleased to disclose more intimate knowledge of His heart and character to those who draw near to Him in obedience. By the end of our journey we are amazed at how much better we know God than we did when we were a freshly minted Christian just rescued from the darkness.
Paul’s lifelong heart’s desire: “to know Christ.” What? Didn’t he know Him already? Yes, but he wanted to know him more and more.