For many years, Dr. JI Packer has encouraged and ministered to millions through his preaching and writings. "Knowing God" is considered one of the best books ever written. Through this work, many have come to a better understanding of who God is and how we can live a Christian life in a Biblical way.
The author begins discussing the importance of knowing God, what it means, and how we go about knowing Him. For one to know such a thing, the author uses to Daniel as an example. First, those who know God have great energy for God and show great boldness for God. Also, those who truly know God, have great thought of God as a result of a consistent prayer, meditation, and devotional life. All of these things Daniel practiced and made evident.
The author also wants to discuss what knowing God means, and he concludes that to know God is to know God in the flesh: Jesus. This means that knowing God is personal and is more than just knowing about Him. We must be willing to listen to Him, trust Him, and follow Him. Also, knowing God means personal involvement. Thus we must use our heart, mind, soul.
The final chapters of section one discuss specific issues that relate to what we know about God. First, we must deal with the Second Commandment that bars all images of God. The author argues that any image that represents God are wrong because it dulls the true essence of God.
Secondly the author deals with the incarnation and several issues that arise concerning the Incarnation debate. But Packer points out that Jesus was born as the God-man; fully God, fully man. Also, the Incarnation reveals that Christ was born in order to die. Finally, the author discusses the Holy Spirit. The author is perplexed at the lack of understanding of most Christians concerning the Spirit. Without the Spirit, we would not have the Word of God.
The second section of Packer’s book can be summed up as; God is awesome. The entire section deals with several important issues such as His Sovereignty, wisdom, love, grace, wrath, and others. He manages to take these difficult topics and explain them in clear terms that the reader can understand and apply.
Throughout this section, he is always able to balance the different attributes of God. For example, he discusses God’s grace, love, and mercy, but later, he equally discusses God’s wrath. When discussing His wrath, he does not picture God as a "bad guy," but as a perfect, loving, righteous God whose justice demands that He judge sin. At the same time, when discussing His love and mercy, he does not picture God as a "nice guy" who would never judge man.
The title for section two is appropriate: "Behold Your God (73)!"
The final part ties the entire book together. Parts one and two deal with different issues such as wrath, mercy, God’s jealously, and other topics. All of this prepares the reader for the heart of the book: the gospel of Christ and what it entails, involves, and means. He lays the gospel out very clearly and allows no room for anything else. Because of man’s sin, he needs a Savior, and God has sent Christ to be that Savior.
He goes on to discuss what it means to be a son of God. When we become adopted sons of God, we receive the Holy Spirit, it guides us, and we have access to our Him through prayer. To be God’s son is a reason to worship and celebrate our King! And we must reiterate the point that the only way to become sons of God, we must accept Christ as our Lord and Savior.
Throughout this section, Packer makes his arguments from a Biblical standpoint and is not afraid of any difficult issues. He warns the reader of pitfalls, failings, and misunderstandings. Life is not always easy, but through God’s grace, His Word, and His gospel, we can live lives truly knowing God. The title is appropriate; "If God be for us, who can be against us (260)?"
This was an excellent book that deals with a whole host of issues in a clear, Biblical way. One thing I was pleased with was the consistent balance the author has when dealing with all the difficult issues concerning God’s character. For example, as mentioned above, the author manages to give the reader a precise balanced understanding of God’s wrath and His mercy.
Also I thought his discussion on how one can know much about God, but not personally know God the way we should. This is very appropriate because it fits perfectly with the thesis of the book. The author provides the reader with several examples of people who may not have been as intellectually trained as others, but in the end knew God more than their trained brethren.
Another important aspect of this book is his discussion on the gospel. The reader does not go away confused on any issue relating to the gospel. The author makes it clear that it is God who saves, and because of man’s sin, Christ had to die. In one chapter, the author shows how all of the previous discussions concerning God’s wrath, mercy, wisdom, and jealousy all play out in the story of the gospel. Since we are sinners, we deserve God’s wrath and judgment, but because of His love and mercy, He sent His Son to die for us as a propitiation of our sins.
Finally, it cannot be overstated how Packer views God’s Word. It is clear throughout the entire book that the author believes in the inspiration of the bible, and never says anything without Biblical support. Nothing in this book is original. Instead, everything is grounded in Scripture. Packer manages to take the Bible and explain it in ways that the reader can understand and apply. The reader never turns a page without knowing where the author stands on the issue at hand where it is he gets that opinion from.
But there is one major point in which I would disagree and that would be his assessment of the Second Commandment. He argues that the Christian should have nothing that represents God, such a s a picture of Christ, a statue, or even a cross on the wall or around one’s neck. I agree with the author that we should not look at relics or statues when we pray, for that is idolatry, but, at the same time, I do not think that wearing a cross around the neck is sinful either.
The author says that an emblem of the cross "displays his human weakness, but it conceals his divine strength; it depicts the reality of his pain, but keeps out of our sight the reality of his joy and his power 946)." I disagree for the fact that the cross reminds us of the cruelty of sinful man and how it nailed God on a tree. But, at the same time, it remind us of the gospel. Without the shedding of blood we would not be saved. Therefore, the cross is not something that displays only His weakness, but also His greatest strength: salvation for sinful man.
In terms of reflection and application, there is much to be said here. One thing I am most grateful for is the helpful reminder of how theology is applicational. At times, especially as a minister, I find myself falling into the trap that knowing so much at attributes and characteristics of God are not very applicational. Therefore, at times, it is easy to do a feel good sermon or Bible study without any deep reflection on some of the issues this book addresses. It has given me a clearer understanding of how I can personally know God, and how I can share that understanding with others, whether it be friends, family, or a congregation.
Another result of reading this book was that I ended up worshiping God. By the time the reader is done with Packer’s book, they are at a sense of awe finally realizing that this is the God in whom we worship. Worship since reading books such as this has helped me in my personal worship, for now, it is no longer a big guy in the sky, but a knowable God in whom I understand, not completely, but better. And the more I learn about Him, the more amazed I am at who He is and what He has done for me. I am nothing compared to Him.
This leads to another point. Which is, that, after reading this book, I am reminded of who I am. At times, many Christians fall into the trap of believing that God had to save them and that they are worthy of such salvation. Packer puts the reader back in their place. He reveals to the reader that this is not the case. God does not owe us anything. Instead, we owe Him everything, even if He did not save us for our sins. I am so grateful for the God in whom I worship.
This inevitably, has caused me to reflect my own personal life. Do I know about God, or do I actually know God. This is perhaps my favorite part of the book, because Packer is getting real with the reader. Throughout his ministry and life, he has seen the difference. It is one thing to know about Him, but it is a completely different thing to actually know Him more personally and walk in His ways daily.
Overall, I was well pleased with this book. No wonder this is considered one of Packer’s best work. It is written in a way in which any believer can easily understand. At the same time, those wishing to dig deep into the theological pool will fine that this book is equally uplifting. He leaves no stone unturned, and throughout each page, the reader is encouraged to truly know God personally, Biblically, devotionally, relationally, and spiritually.
One of the greatest testimonies of this book is its lasting impact. Since the original release date in 1973, this has become a Christian classic. It has impacted millions of believers everywhere. And no wonder. Every reader comes away with a better understanding of who God is and how we can know Him. One does not have to take my word for the excellence of this book, but the testimony of millions of people agree of my favorable assessment.