Knowing about Jesus and knowing Jesus are two very different things.
Coming to a knowledge about Jesus without a heart response to him makes him an impersonal god, mere information to be gathered. In this basic question, then, is the difference between knowing about God and actually knowing him distinguished: "Is the Spirit involved? Is he welcome?"
Let me be clear that what I am not saying is that the Bible, or the person Jesus, holds no inherent power or that the truth about his power is subject to my faith. The Word of God stands on its own, with or without me. What I am saying, though, is that the activity of his power at work in me IS subject to my faith. That, “... faith without works is dead.”(James 2:20)
You see, the Word of God glows in light, illuminating our need to be changed. This, it accomplishes on its own through the Spirit. But it doesn’t stop there. It's also to glow in heat, changing—or meltingaway at—those places in us that need changing. This part requires a response from our heart. A response of faith and surrender.
In other words, our comprehension of God's truth (and thereby ourselves) must yield to the will of God's Spirit in order for a transformative work to be done in our lives. For us to move from knowing about him to knowing him there needs to be a pivotal moment of faithful surrender. Therein is the difference between knowledge about God and knowledge of God.
Let’s look at two characters in the gospels that might help illustrate what I’m getting at...
After having declared her righteous, Jesus commanded the woman caught in the act of adultery to "... go and sin no more." (John 8:11) With Jesus' offering of forgiveness there was also an implied invitation to follow him. Deeper than just having an encounter with him, Jesus was inviting her to have a continued experience in him. Essentially, Jesus was asking her to surrender her life and to believe in him based on the mercy & love that he had just shown her. I emphasize the word shown here, because she could have allowed what she had just seen (albeit profound) to be nothing more than it was, but Jesus was calling her to something deeper. Something more. A knowledge of him.
Blind Bartimaeus was given sight and salvation: "Jesus said unto him, 'Receive thy sight: thy faith hath saved thee; And immediately he received his sight, and followed him, glorifying God: and all the people, when they saw it, gave praise unto God" (Luke 18:42-43) Notice, the first thing that Bartimaeus used his newfound sight for was to follow Jesus. His response to seeing Jesus was obedience. Yes, he had a revelation of Jesus. But more than that, he now had a relationship with Jesus because of the decision he made to follow Jesus. Faith & surrender.
Jesus was more than the first person Bartimaeus saw, he was the first person he had ever seen and followed. In other words, we can see the Truth standing right in front of us and still decide not to follow him. We can have a knowledge about God, and in our hearts fall short of coming into a knowledge of God. Not fully stepping into a relationship with him.
The woman caught in the act, and blind Bartimaeus are both physical pictures of what should happen in our hearts when God delivers us from the bondage of sin.
When we faithfully surrender in response to Jesus’ love for us we step from only knowing about him, to having a knowledge of him. In that moment what was once a distant, impersonal understanding of Jesus becomes a dynamic, personal understanding of him as the one who knows us by our very name.
Let me leave you with Paul’s prayer over the Ephesian Church: “I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people.” (Ephesians 1:18)
We are enlightened for the sole purpose of knowing Jesus.
I invite you to use the next few days to reflect on what knowing God means to you. Like the examples given, was there a pivotal moment in your life where you faithfully surrendered and began following Jesus? Do you remember where you were and when it was that this happened? Does your daily experience with Jesus feel dynamic and personal, or does he just represent a set of doctrines to be defended? If you’re unsure. I want to encourage you to re-examine the eyes of your heart and ask the Lord to do a fresh work in you. I promise he is waiting, and he is willing. Each of us has been called to know him, really.