The Difference between Knowing God and Knowing the Bible, by Zac Poonen
It is much easier to know the Bible than it is to know God – because you don’t have to pay a price to know the Bible; all you have to do is study. You can be immoral in your personal life and impure in your thought life, and still know the Bible very well. You can be a well-known preacher and yet be a great lover of money at the same time. But, you can’t know God and be immoral in your life. You can’t know God and be a lover of money. That’s impossible! And that’s why most preachers take the easier path of knowing the Bible rather than knowing God.
I want to ask you: Are you happy with just knowing the Bible or is there a desperate hunger in your hearts to know the Lord? The apostle Paul said in Philippians 3:8-10 that his greatest longing was to know the Lord better. He considered everything else as rubbish compared to knowing the Lord. Paul gave up all his pearls for this pearl of great price. The secret of Paul’s ministry is to be found not in the years that he spent studying the Bible at Gamaliel’s seminary, but in his personal knowledge of the Lord.
“Eternal life is to know God and Jesus Christ personally” (John 17:3). We have perhaps defined eternal life as living eternally in heaven. But that was not how Jesus defined it. Eternal life has nothing to do with going to heaven or escaping hell. It has to do with knowing the Lord. To know God intimately and personally has been the passion of my life and the burden of my heart. I know that my ministry can have Divine authority only as I know God personally. And so, in all of our churches, I have sought to lead people to a knowledge of God Himself.
There is more Bible knowledge today than ever before in history. For nearly 1500 years after the day of Pentecost, there were no printed Bibles available anywhere. Only in the last two centuries have Bibles been so freely available. Today, we have so many versions and concordances and study-helps. But do you think all this increased Bible knowledge has produced holier Christians? No. If Bible knowledge could produce holiness, we should be having the godliest people in history living today. But we don’t. Satan himself would have been holy if Bible knowledge could produce holiness – for no one knows the Bible as well as he does. We have so many seminaries today teaching the Bible to thousands of students. But, are the godliest people in the world today found in those seminaries? No. Many seminary graduates today are worse than the heathen.
Some years ago, I met a seminary graduate from one of India’s top evangelical seminaries, who had stood first in his graduating class. He told me that after three years in that seminary, his spiritual condition was worse than when he first joined it. What then did that seminary teach him? It had taught him facts about the Bible and about Christianity. Satan himself could have graduated as first in the class, from such a seminary.
What was the use of that young man learning Hermeneutics, and what the “higher critics” had said, and what the root-meanings of Greek words were, if he hadn’t overcome anger, bitterness, lustful thoughts and the love of money? With his newly-acquired certificate, he would soon become a pastor of a church. But, what would he teach the people in his church, whose biggest problems would be moral and not theological? He wouldn’t be able to help them at all, in any of those areas. This is how God’s work around the world is being destroyed.
Only if you know God yourself, will you be able to lead your flock to know Him. If you have victory over sin in your own life, you’ll be able to lead your flock also to victory over sin. Then they too will be equipped to go out and serve the Lord – with authority and power. Do you think the devil is impressed by anyone’s Bible knowledge or degree-certificates? Not at all. Satan fears only holy, humble men and women who know God.
May God help us to lead our younger brothers and sisters to know God.