November 22, 2011

Knowing Jesus Christ

The European Sami people recognize about 300 different qualities of snow and winter pasture. In their language, each one is defined by a separate word. In English we need adjectives to distinguish between hard-packed and fluffy, a skiff and a dump of snow.

It is the same with knowing someone. When asked if I know someone, that knowing could be anything from being just introduced, to the intimacy of deep friendship. Our English word for “know” does not make the distinction without adjectives. However, the Greek language uses a word for knowing someone that means an absolute, deep and total knowledge.

Jesus uses this word to define eternal life. In a prayer to His Father, He said, “And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:3).

Paul also defined walking with Christ as knowing Him. First, having that intimate relationship gives us eternal life as Jesus said, and second, knowing Him more deeply is part of becoming more like Him as we live here and move toward our eternal destiny.

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, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. (Philippians 3:8–11)
I understand what it means to know Jesus and to abandon all else that I once counted on for my significance, but the last line of this passage puzzles me. Paul, always certain of his eternal destiny, seems to waver here. However, after a deeper look, I’m satisfied that this is not doubt. Instead, this is Paul’s way of expressing uncertainty whether he will attain the deeper intimacy he describes through transformation in this life, or if his “resurrection from the dead” will be fully realized when He steps from here into eternity.

There are at least two reasons Paul wrote verse 11 the way he did. One is to emphasize that the resurrection of believers is tied to us first “being conformed to His death.” Jesus gave up His life in obedience to God. We are to do the same. In fact, without “death” of this kind, there is no resurrection. This is another way of saying “we must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22).

Paul’s eternal future is not in doubt because all of Paul’s writing refutes such an notion. What is uncertain is whether this certain future will be realized more fully by transformation here in this life, or by that final  resurrection when he sees Jesus (see vv. 20–21). This matter is in God’s hands, to which Paul submits by this use of language.

Second, this is Paul’s way of moving toward his concern for Philippians. He wants them to “stand firm” in their present life and not lose focus or their anticipation of  this certain future in Christ. That means verse 11 cannot be read without the verses that follow it. Paul is talking about the “now you are saved” and the “full salvation is not yet” aspect of our being a Christian. He wants them to exercise every effort to bring the end of the story to full realization, at least as much as is possible in this life.

Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:12–14)
I now know Jesus. He is both Lord and dear Friend. Someday I will know Him in a deeper way that I cannot imagine, a face-to-face intimacy that can only come through physical death. Yet even now, a deeper relationship is possible. It requires death to self and my old life. For that reason, I press on toward the mark.

Father, Your goal for me is clear. I am to be like Jesus and this happens only as I gaze at His glory, spend time in His presence, and do what He says. One day, I will be just like Him for I shall see Him like He is. For now, I am grateful for the glimpses You give, the work of change You are doing, and for the wonderful and certain promises of that final and total transformation.

1 comment:

Knowing Jesus Christ said...

the verse you quoted above (from Philippines 3), is my favorite in the Bible. When i think that the Apostle Paul despite writing most of the new testament, having extreme revelation about the person of Christ, at the end of his life Paul's passion was ..."to know Him" (philippines 3:10)