Wednesday, April 15, 2009

The Importance of Knowing About Jesus

If you’ve been listening to me for while, you’ve heard me say that it is not enough to know about Jesus; you must know Jesus. This speaks to the personal relationship that is such a crucial part of the spiritual life in Christ. We often speak of head knowledge and heart knowledge: with head knowledge we know facts about Jesus, but with heart knowledge we know Jesus on a personal level, and it is this personal level that brings salvation.

We pastors say this kind of thing because we assume that there is a large number of people out there who know facts about Jesus but who don’t have a personal relationship with Jesus.

I’m becoming more and more convinced that we are wrong.

There doesn’t seem to be a lot of people out there who really know a lot about Jesus. The Jesus a lot of people believe in—and the Jesus a lot of people have rejected—bears only a passing resemblance to the Jesus that we read about in the Bible. And that’s a problem.

Before anyone can have a relationship with Jesus, they have to learn about Jesus. If it seemed that we pastors dismissed a head knowledge of Jesus as somehow misguided, then we erred in conveying our meaning. A head knowledge of Jesus may be insufficient, but it is still important. Head knowledge comes first, and heart knowledge follows. More importantly, heart knowledge is based on head knowledge. If your head knowledge is incorrect, then you are basing your heart knowledge—your relationship—on view of Jesus that never existed.

So, if your head knowledge of Jesus is that he was merely a teacher of timeless truths who came to address the problem of our personal sins, then that is the person with whom you will have a relationship. You will look to him for guidance for everyday problems, particularly issues with any bad habits you might have developed. Your thought life might not be pure (whose is?) and so you ask him to forgive your wayward thoughts and help you overcome any future ones. You may have a tendency with anger toward your spouse, so you ask him to forgive you and seek his aid in helping you to be more patient.

Now, I have no doubt but that our world would be a better place if people’s thoughts were pure and if people never got angry with their spouses, but, seriously, are those really the big problems that plague our world? Were they the problems that plagued Jesus’ world in the 1st century? Isn’t focusing on things like this like vacuuming the carpet when the house is on fire? I mean, I’ve seen some dirty carpets, but…

The Jesus I read about in Scripture dealt with heavy stuff. Violence, war, rebellion, injustice. He confronted religion that oppressed the poor rather than addressed poverty, that sought power and influence rather than pain and suffering, that sought a false peace with the principalities and powers rather than a confrontation that might lead to a cross. If this more accurately describes the real Jesus found in the gospels—and I submit that it does—then our personal relationship with this Jesus is going to be a whole lot different than the one described above. A whole lot more uncomfortable. Dangerous, even.

We need to spend a lot more time learning about Jesus. Otherwise, he’ll show up one day and we won’t recognize him. (Luke 9:44; Matthew 25:44-45)


  1. Again, please give me your reaction to this one: Go to, Archives, "1 Corinthians 2: 2 - The Know-Jesus Enigma". We'll be out of town for 4 days and back for Tuesday events.

  2. Jim, your limerick speaks to this issue. Paul says that he was determined to come to the Corinthians not as someone who knew a lot of stuff, but as one who knew only one thing: Christ, and him crucified.

    Now, the normal interpretation is that Paul is saying that he came to proclaim only one thing, that Jesus died on the cross for our sins, and while he is not saying anything less than that, I think he is also saying much more.

    In the next verse Paul says that he came to the Corinthians in weakness, not in strength, which is how Christ confronted the Jewish and Roman powers. Paul says that he did not come in wisdom, which points to the foolishness of Jesus' plan for confronting these powers without an army.

    Here are two things that it means to talk about following "Christ crucified" that are largely ignored by most Christians, and perhaps there are more ways that are signified by that phrase. To only take it one way is an example of how we still do not really understand the Jesus who lived in the 1st century.

  3. Thanks for your impression. I have no critic or proof-reader, so I really appreciate all such input. You say "perhaps there are more ways that are signified by that phrase(Christ crucified)". I agree. There's a well that needs to be opened.

  4. Larry,

    Any connection between John 11: 35 and "While my muse gently wept"?


  5. Well, any statement can be multi-valent, and once published, the writer no longer controls the meaning. In others words, if you see a connection, there's a connection, regardless of whether I intended it or not.

    Perhaps, however, you give me credit for being more spiritual than I deserve!

  6. Your April 20 response reads, "Paul says that he (Jesus) did not come in wisdom, which points to the foolishness of Jesus' plan for confronting these powers without an army". Please elucidate. Thanks.

  7. "For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God....For God's foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God's weakness is stronger than human strength."

    1 Corinthians 1:18, 25