I do not paint but when I was young, I used to love to watch my older brother Scott set up a canvas, select his colors and brushes, and begin to create. Watching a piece of art take shape was fascinating. I remember asking him questions as I tried to discover his process. While I watched the blank canvas come to life, Scott would talk to me about different eras of art history, styles, and techniques.
As my fascination grew, I found myself going to art museums to see some of the paintings we talked about and checking out books from the library to learn more about specific artists. My brother is now home with the Lord, and reading about art or looking at some of his favorite paintings connects me to my memories of him. My interest level is mild compared to my brother, who was a designer by profession, but art, like most hobbies, is an endless pursuit for those who enjoy it.
There is always something new to learn or discover. And, no matter how much I may wish to know about art, art will never know me. I could spend a lifetime trying to see all of Monet’s paintings, but no matter how much I discover, those paintings do not see me. You say, “Steve, this is pretty obvious, tell me something I don’t know!’ My point in bringing this up is that we can make a critical mistake in our relationship with God when we approach our walk with Him like we do other pursuits.
Building a Relationship
I believe when we study theology but do not allow God to search our hearts, we risk knowledge becoming what we worship. We might even make it a weapon for winning arguments or make it a basis for feeling more spiritual than others. However, when we come to the Lord in prayer and in our study of Scripture with a heart that is willing not only to know Him but be known by Him, we can experience great transformation.
When we study theology but do not allow God to search our hearts, we risk knowledge becoming what we worship.
Being known by God is about a relationship. It is about being open before Him, noting the areas of our lives in which we are not trusting Him. It is coming to prayer ready to humbly and transparently confess, “Lord, I have not placed my confidence in you. I have chosen to worry about this health issue, job, or family struggle instead of bringing it to you in prayer.” It is asking the Lord to search our hearts and reveal to us our motivations and where we may be excusing ourselves from guilt or putting blame on others. It is being vulnerable before Him and asking Him to expose our blind spots.
God wants not simply to be known but to know us—in other words, He wants a relationship. This desire to know us is evident in John 10:14 when Jesus said, “I know my own and my own know me.” Paul stated that the “Lord knows those who are his” (2 Timothy 2:19, NET). Again, in 1 Corinthians 8:3 he said, “if someone loves God, he is known by God” (NET).
In the 1 Corinthians passage, we see that knowledge without love is an empty pursuit. Love by definition requires more than one person. There can be no love without an object for that love. When we love God, we are known by Him and can experience both salvation and the joy of spiritual transformation as a result of this magnificent relationship. How wonderful that our great and sovereign Creator pursues us, sees us, and wants to know us!
Transforming Your Heart
I believe that we can easily allow anxiety, fears, and pride to diminish our joy when we approach the study of Scripture, prayer, and confession as transactional. There is transformational power in approaching Him with humble transparency and asking Him to search our hearts. Psalm 139 says, “Examine me, O God, and probe my thoughts. Test me, and know my concerns. See if there is any idolatrous way in me, and lead me in the everlasting way” (Psalm 139:24–25). Self-deception can cause us to explain away our worry and narcissism. Inviting the Lord to shine a light into the dark places of our hearts is an essential key in our sanctification.
True transformation happens in our life when we lay our hearts bare before Him, inviting Him to sanctify our hearts.
Theology should not be something we simply study for the sake of knowledge. How does an adult struggling in their home or work life not lose their way? How does a college student find protection against the deceptions of the wisdom of the world so eloquently explained by their professors? How does a pastor or counselor not grow weary when they help others through tragedy and pain? By not allowing our relationship with God to become a one-way street or reducing our walk with Christ to a religious exercise or filling our heads with knowledge for knowledge’s sake. True transformation happens in our life when we lay our hearts bare before Him, inviting Him to sanctify our hearts: “Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely; and may your whole spirit, soul, and body be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thessalonians 5:23, NKJV).
I invite you to think of something you love to do. Maybe it is gardening, fishing, woodworking, or painting. Whatever it is, think about how you pursue those wonderful things that God gives us to enjoy. Then, with the realization that while they may be incredibly fulfilling, those hobbies will never know you as you know them. Are you pursuing your relationship with God in a similar way? Has Bible study, prayer, or confession become a rote exercise? Have you ceased inviting God to search the motives of your heart? If so, I invite you to note what you are feeling (is it anxiety? Fear? Doubt?) and ask the Lord to help you discover what is at the root of these issues. Then, place them before our loving Father and put your confidence in Him. Live in the reality that He sees you and has paid the ultimate price to know you.