Knowing God by Martyn Lloyd Jones
All the passages below are taken from D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ book “Life in Christ: Studies in 1 John.” It was preached in the 1940’s and re-published as one volume (formerly in five Volumes) in 2002 by Crossway Books.
And truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ. 1 JOHN 1:3
I AM READY TO ADMIT that I approach a statement like this with fear and trembling. It is one of those statements concerning which a man feels that the injunction given to Moses of old at the burning bush is highly appropriate: ‘Put off thy shoes from off thy feet; for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground’ (Exodus 3:5). Here we are given, without any hesitation, a description, the summum bonum, of the Christian life; here, indeed, is the whole object, the ultimate, the goal of all Christian experience and all Christian endeavour. This, beyond any question, is the central message of the Christian gospel and of the Christian faith.
The Apostle reminds us of that by this emphatic and vital word truly—certainly, beyond a doubt. The word means that, but also something else; it carries in it a suggestion of astonishment. There is no doubt about it and yet the more we realise how true it is, the more amazed we become. It is an amazement of incredulity, one borne of a realisation of something which is a fact certainly, yet astoundingly; to the natural man, incredible, but to the Christian true, yet amazing. ‘Truly, our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ.’ Here, let me repeat, is the very acme of Christian experience and at the same time it is a goal; it is the whole object of Christian experience and of Christian faith and teaching.
Now I am tempted to put this matter in the form of a question. I wonder, as we examine ourselves and our experience, whether we all can say honestly that this is our central conception of the Christian life; whether this is our habitual way of thinking of it and of all that it means and all it represents. Surely as we read a statement like this we must be conscious of utter unworthiness and of failure. However far we may have advanced in the Christian life and experience, as we meet this statement, which John thus introduces without any preamble, do we not find that we are in danger of dwelling on the lower level and of failing to avail ourselves of that which is offered to us in this wondrous faith about which we are concerned?
Let me put it negatively like this: Christians are not simply people who are primarily concerned about the application of Christian principles and Christian teaching in all their relationships and departments of life. They are concerned about that, but that is not the thing that truly makes them Christian. How easy it is today to think of Christianity like that, and how many people do so.
Take a popular classification of a Christian and a non-Christian. Christian people are those who are concerned with the ethics and the teaching of the New Testament and who see the desperate need of applying them to the world today. Now I grant that that is part of the Christian life, but if our conception of it stops at that, we have not, in a sense, got anywhere near the definition given by the Apostle here. No, the Christian life is not essentially an application of teaching; it is a fellowship, a communion with God Himself and nothing less.
Or let me even put it like this: To be a Christian does not merely mean that you hold orthodox opinions on Christian teaching. I put it like that because I think that this is another important emphasis. Perhaps to some of us, and particularly perhaps to those of us who are more evangelical than others, this is the greatest danger of all. We recognise at once that there are certain people who call themselves Christian who hold views that are the antithesis of the Christian faith. There are people calling themselves Christian who deny the unique deity of Christ; to us they cannot be Christian. There are certain things, we say, which are absolutely essential and there can be no parleying or discussion about them. They are essential to the faith, there is an irreducible minimum, but there are people calling themselves Christian who deny some of these things, indeed perhaps all of them together. They may even hold office in the Christian Church and yet be uncertain about the person of the Lord, denying His miracles, denying the fact of His resurrection, denying the atoning value of His death.
Now to us that is quite clear. We see that someone like that, whatever he may call himself, cannot, according to the New Testament, be a Christian; there are certain things which Christians must believe; there are certain tenets to which they must subscribe; there are certain definitions which they must make their own and about which they say, ‘I am certain.’ We see that orthodoxy is essential, but my point here, and I am anxious to impress and stress this, is that to hold the right views, to subscribe to the right doctrine, even to be defenders of the right doctrine, does not of necessity make people Christians. No, while the Christian must hold right views and doctrines, that is not the essence of the Christian life and Christian position. Rather, it is to have fellowship with the Father and with His Son, Jesus Christ.
Let me even put it like this: To believe that your sins are forgiven by the death of Christ is not enough. Even to be sound on the whole doctrine of justification by faith only—the great watchword of the Protestant Reformation—that is not enough. That can be held as an intellectual opinion, and if people merely hold on to a number of orthodox opinions, they are not, I repeat, in the truly Christian position. The essence of the Christian position and of the Christian life is that we should be able to say, ‘Truly my fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ.’
That, therefore, is why we should always approach a statement like this with fear and trembling. There have been people in the Church, alas, many times in the past, who have fought for orthodoxy and who have been defenders of the faith and yet they have sometimes found themselves on their deathbeds coming to the realisation that they have never known God. They have only held opinions; they have only fought for certain articles of creed or faith. The things they fought for were right, but, alas, it is possible to stop at that negative position and to fail to realise that the whole object of all the things they claim to believe is to bring them to this central position.
This, let me emphasise again, is the essence, the summum bonum, of the Christian life; it is the theme, the objective of everything that has been done by the Lord Jesus Christ, who did not come to earth merely to give us an exalted teaching which we can apply to human relationships, though that is there and it follows; He did not come merely to save us from hell; He came to bring us into fellowship with the Father and with Himself.
This brings us directly face to face with the great question: what then does fellowship mean, what does it represent?‘If this is the great and central thing,’ says someone, ‘what do you mean by it?’ Here again we come to a subject which has often been the cause of controversy. It has led to a good deal of dispute in the long history of the Christian Church, and especially, perhaps, when you come to consider the questions of how it is that one arrives in this state of fellowship and of how one can maintain it. We shall be considering these things later, but let us start now by looking directly at what is meant by this fellowship. We talk about the Christian as being one who has fellowship with God the Father and with God the Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, but what exactly does it mean?
Well, as one understands Scripture and its teaching, it seems to me there are two things at any rate which are true in this connection. The very word that the Apostle uses is an interesting one, this word fellowship. Those who are interested in words will know that this word has many different meanings. But a problem like this is not to be faced primarily theoretically. Dictionaries do not provide the answer. No, you have to take a word like this in the light of everything we are told about fellowship with God in the whole of the teaching of the Bible, and there are two things that stand out.
Firstly, to be in a state of fellowship means that we share in things; we are partakers, or, if you like, partners—that idea is there intrinsically in the word. That means something like this: The Christian is one who has become a sharer in the life of God. Now that is staggering and astounding language, but the Bible teaches us that; the New Testament offers us that, and nothing less than that.
Peter writes, ‘Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises; that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust’ (2 Peter 1:4). That is it, and there are many other similar statements. Indeed, the whole doctrine of regeneration and rebirth leads to this; born again, born from above, born of the Spirit—all carry exactly the same idea. This, then, is what John is so anxious to impress upon the minds of his readers; that Christians are not merely people who are a little bit better than they once were and who have just added certain things to their lives. Rather they are men and women who have received the divine life.
Now it is just there that the danger tends to come in. ‘Is it something physical?’ asks someone. ‘Does it mean that a kind of divine essence comes into one?’ There, you see, you have the whole host of teaching which has come in. The Roman Catholic Church would say that yes, this is something material, and that is why the sacraments are essential. In the application of the water which has been consecrated, the divine life is given to that child, and then as you partake of the mass and receive the host into your mouth, you are literally receiving something of the divine nature and essence. There we have to be careful, and it seems to me that the essence of wisdom at this point is that we should be careful not to go beyond the plain teaching of Scripture. How tempting it is to speculate, to philosophise, to try to work out in our own earthly categories that somehow or another some portion of the divine substance or essence enters into us.
There is only one safe thing to do and say and that is that we do not know; but in some amazing and astounding manner we know that we are partakers of the divine nature, that the being of God has somehow entered into us. I cannot tell you how, I cannot find it in the dissecting room. It is no use dissecting the body, you will not find it, any more than you will find the soul in dissecting the body, but it is here, it is in us, and we are aware of it. There is a being in us—‘I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me’ (Galatians 2:20)—how, I do not know. We will understand in g1ory but somehow we know now that we are sharers in the life of God, that we are partakers of the life and of the nature of God Himself, that we share it in communion, that we have partaken of it, we have participated in it, and we are in Him. We, somehow, are in God and God is in us; a great mystical conception, staggering to the human mind and yet a reality which can only be expressed in some such term as this—sharing.
The second thing is that as well as being partakers of God, we are partners with Him, sharers in His interests and in His great purposes. That means that we have become interested in the sense of being partners in God’s great plan of salvation, in His attitude towards life in this world and in all His wonderful provision for it. Now we who are in Christ have entered into that; that again is something which is emphasised everywhere in the pages of the New Testament, and it is a good test of our whole Christian position. It seems to me that by this definition we cannot truly be Christians unless we are really interested in God’s enterprise in this world. In other words, we know what it is to be grieved by the sin of this world; we do not merely look at the world with a political eye or with a social eye or with an eye of beneficence. No, we see things as God Himself sees them. Evil becomes a reality, sin becomes a reality in the new sense, and we see these powers, these evil forces that are in the world and which are manipulating the life of the world in their enmity against God and we are concerned about that. We feel that God is in it and that we are likewise in it, in that we are concerned to bring the purposes of God to pass. We meditate, we pray; we do everything that we are capable of in furthering the kingdom of light, so that the kingdom of evil may he finally routed. We are sharers in God’s thought and in God’s enterprise and in God’s whole interest in this life and world.
Then let me add something about the second great aspect of this which is the most blessed and comforting and consoling thought for every true Christian. Fellowship always means communion, it always means intercourse, it always means, if you like, conversation—sharing. We talk about having fellowship with people, and that is quite right; it is part of the essential meaning of the word and of its Christian meaning in particular. ‘We had a wonderful time of fellowship together’ somebody says, having had conversation with somebody else, and it means that—not only sharing in common but talking about it—this element of communion.
Let us analyse this a bit further. ‘Our fellowship is with the Father’, and I mean by that that I have communion with God. Now this can be looked at in two ways. First of all it can be looked at from our side, then it can be looked at from God’s side. What does this wondrous thing which has been made possible for us in Christ mean from our side? It means, obviously and of necessity, that we have come to know God. God is no longer a stranger somewhere away in the heavens; He is no longer some stray force or power somewhere, some supreme energy. God is no longer some potentate or lawgiver far removed and away from us; God now is someone whom we know.
Consider the Apostle Paul especially as he deals with this; you will find that in writing to the Galatians he talks about their knowing God; ‘but now, after that ye have known God, or rather are known of God’ (Galatians 4:9)—that is the idea. God is now a reality; we know Him, and that is the very essence of this matter. You cannot have communion, you cannot have conversation with a person without knowing that person—there is nothing distant, there is an intimacy and a knowledge.
The Christian, says John, is one who has come to know God, but it is not only that. God not only is a great person—I speak with reverence—the Christian is one who has come to know God as Father. That is why John uses his terms so carefully—‘our fellowship is with the Father.’ The Christian is one who turns to God and addresses Him as ‘Abba, Father’; that is how Paul puts it in Romans 8:15—this spirit of adoption, the result of which is that we know God in that intimate way so that we address Him as ‘Abba, Father’ because we are His children. So it means that of necessity, but not only that. It also means that we delight in God and that we have joy in His presence. We know God in that way.
But then I think that we can go on to say this: to have communion with God means that we desire to speak with Him and that we have the ability to do that. Let me put it like this: All of us have known what it is to have difficulty in connection with prayer. It is not very difficult to talk to a person whom we love in this world, is it? When we love someone there is no need to try to make conversation, it flows freely; we love that person, and everything in us is stimulated. That is the characteristic of true fellowship and communion. But we all know what it is to get on our knees and to find ourselves speechless, to have nothing to say.
Now if this is our state and condition we do not know God as we ought; true fellowship with God means we desire, we delight in speaking to Him and we have a desire to praise Him. If we love someone, we want to tell him so; we not only say it in actions, we want to say it in words and we do say it. And it is exactly the same with God. The one who is in true relationship with Him praises Him. We do not come to God because we want something. No, rather, we enjoy coming to Him; it is the greatest thing for us—this is the whole idea in this word ‘communion’.
Another way is to put it like this: men and women who are in communion with God are those who are sure of the presence of God. I have had people say to me, ‘I get on my knees, but I do not feel that God is there’; and you cannot have communion if that is your feeling. No, those who are in communion know that God is there, they realise His presence, it is an essential part of this whole position of fellowship.
Then, of course, all this leads to confidence in speaking to God, in taking our petitions and requests and desires to Him. In other words one of the best ways in which we can test whether we are truly in fellowship and communion with God is to examine our prayer life. How much prayer life is there in my life? How often do I pray; do I find freedom in prayer, do I delight in prayer; or is prayer a wearisome task; do I never know enlargement and liberty in it? For what we are told here is that the Christian in Christ has been brought into fellowship and communion with God, and as you read the psalmists you will find that they enjoyed it, to them it was the supreme thing. Read the statements in the New Testament, read the lives of the saints and of those who have gone before us—that is the characteristic, that is the possibility—conversation with God, an enjoyment of it and a delight in it.
But now let me say just a word on the other side, for as we have seen, there are always two sides in fellowship. ‘Truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ.’ How do I know that? I know it because He gives me tokens of His presence and a sense of His nearness. We have said that communion means realising the presence of God, and there is the basic minimum in this matter; that those who can claim that they are in communion with God and say they have fellowship with Him must be able to say, ‘I have known that I was in the presence of God who graciously gives me tokens of this; He gives me manifestations.’ You can see the dangerous thing I am saying, how it opens the door to fanaticism and excesses; but we have no fellowship with God unless in some way we have known that He was there, that He gave His gracious intimation of His nearness and His presence. He also speaks in His own way to the soul, not always with an audible voice, but He speaks. He gives us consolation, He creates within us holy desires and longings; it is He who does that.
Paul said in writing to the Philippians, ‘For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure’ (Philippians 2:13). That is the way to have fellowship with God. You are aware of the surging of those holy desires, and you say to yourself, ‘It is God; it is God speaking to me; it is God saying something and calling forth a response in me.’ ‘We love him, because he first loved us,’ says John later in this epistle, and God has fellowship with us in that way.
Not only that, He reveals His will to us. He show us what He would have us to do; He leads us, He opens doors and shuts them; sometimes He puts up barriers and obstacles. You know what I am speaking about. It means that you are aware of the fact that you are in the hands of God and that He is dealing with you, and that as you go forward in this journey called life, God is there. Sometimes the door is shut and you cannot understand it. You say, ‘I wanted to go there, but I cannot’ and then you say, ‘But God is with me and He has shut the door.’ Then suddenly you find the door opened and you know it is the One who is walking with you who has suddenly opened it. That is having fellowship with God, knowing that He is there in these various ways in which He manipulates our lives and speaks to us and gives us wisdom and understanding. Every one of these things contains a danger; they all need to be carefully qualified, and yet they are essential to fellowship and communion.
Then He supplies us with strength according to our need and according to our situation. You will find all these things if you read Christian literature; how the saints have been enabled to re-enact what our Lord Himself experienced. Towards the end, He said in effect to the disciples, ‘You are all going to leave Me, you will all run away and turn your backs upon Me; in a few hours you will leave Me alone. And yet,’ He said, ‘I am not alone, for the Father is with Me’ (John 16:32). And His last words on the cross were: ‘Father; into thy hands I commend my spirit’ (Luke 23:46). God was there with Him, and the saints all repeat that in their lives and in their experiences. Consider their deathbed testimonies. They will tell you, many of them, how glorious and wonderful it was, that even there they had this fellowship. They were not alone, the presence was there; they could not see God, they could not hear an audible voice, but they knew God was there filling the very atmosphere; they were more certain of God than of anyone else.
Truly, certainly, astoundingly, astonishingly our fellowship is with the Father. Enoch walked with God, and if we are truly Christian, we should be walking with God, speaking to Him, knowing He is there speaking to us, delighting to praise Him, anxious to know Him more and more. Let us test ourselves by this. It is not enough to be orthodox. That is essential, but it is not enough; the vital question for us all to put to ourselves is as simple as this—do I know God? (73-81)