What does a Christian need to know in order to walk faithfully as a follower of Jesus? This question is tricky, because it's hard to settle on the limits of what we mean by the word "know." It's relatively simple to know facts that can be tested and proven. It gets more complicated when we start talking about knowing God. With so many competing beliefs, how can you be confident that your views are more than mere preferences?
What do we mean, for example, when we say that we know Jesus? Typically, we think of having a personal relationship with Jesus, which is truly a joy. One of my favorite songs is Graham Kendrick's "Knowing You", which echoes Paul's reminder in Philippians 3 that knowing Christ Jesus our Lord is worth more than any status or success we might attain. It is a song of deep and holy piety. I love it. Virtually every time I try to sing it, I wind up weeping.
Let's use this song as an exercise in thinking well. Exactly who is the Jesus we know when we sing "Knowing You?" While we concentrate on the personal aspects of knowing Jesus, we need also to realize that our personal relationship resides in and relies on an understanding of who Jesus is and what he does. The lyrics have force because they respond to something objectively true about Jesus that makes him praiseworthy. They are grounded in a conviction about the divine nature of Jesus, about his work, about his importance to the world. A specific understanding of Jesus Christ lies behind our knowing Jesus personally. Our piety, our deep feelings of connection to Jesus rely on truths about Jesus.
That our personal relationships with Jesus (in fact, all our personal relationships) rest on a prior understanding of Jesus' nature and work has implications for the nature of our faith. A recent Christianity Today article references a study by Lifeway Research and Ligonier Ministries that reveals a troubling trend in beliefs about Jesus among evangelical Christians. You don't get more "core" to the Christian faith than thinking about the nature and work of Jesus. Yet, 2/3 of the evangelicals surveyed believe that Jesus was God's first and greatest creation, not fully divine in the classic, orthodox sense. A majority of evangelicals have an understanding of Jesus matches the ancient heresy of Arianism.
Consider how this belief affects the singing of a song like "Knowing You." The refrain proclaims that "there is no greater thing" than knowing Jesus. But if Jesus is not fully divine, then there is a greater thing than knowing Jesus. It is knowing God the Creator of all things. We therefore would have to judge the lyrics as objectively false and only valuable to the extent that we find frothy sentiment preferable to truth. It Jesus is not fully God-with-us, that is all they are.
When we say we know Jesus, we are saying much more than that we have a personal relationship with him. A world of understanding enlivens that relationship. Relationship and understanding go hand in hand. It's time for Christians to dig into understanding more of the content of our relationship with Christ, which is another way of saying that we need to keep growing in understanding the contents of the faith. Otherwise, we wind up repeating past mistakes that render the same outcomes.
This is why the question about what we need to know in order to live faithfully is such an important question. I have gone on record elsewhere that having a head full of facts about the Christian faith is not sufficient for growing to maturity. I still affirm that claim . But it is also desperately important that we know well the core content of the Christian faith. From it flow the springs of life.