I know New York City. I know it like the back of my hand; inside and out, up and down, all around too. After all, I lived most of my life in Rochester, NY. And I even visited the Big Apple in ’82 and again in 2000. I’ve driven right past the Twin Towers; I’ve taken a ferry across the river; I’ve seen Rockefeller Center at Christmas and even had dinner with Kevin Klein on Broadway. I know New York.
What? Can I be your personal tour guide and show you all the city’s best secrets? Well, no. Can I help you pick a great neighborhood to live in? Uh, no. Do I know where to find the hospitals, police stations, and firehouses if you need help? Oh no, sorry about that. But I can show where David Letterman tapes his show every night!
Yes. it’s true. I’m a tourist who likes to pretend to know New York City but who, in fact, is nothing but a dirty, rotten liar. The truth is I know a few things about the city, but I do not know the city.
Knowing I Know God
John’s first epistle says this:
“And hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments. He that says, I know him, and keeps not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But whoso keeps his word, in him verily is the love of God perfected: hereby know we that we are in him.” [I John 2:3-5]
Ellen and I were recently studying I John chpt. 2 and the image of the Christian tourist provided such clarity for this particular portion. To understand it better, let’s define some words using Strong’s Greek Lexicon:
- ‘know’ -ginosko [ghin-oce’-ko] to “know”, be aware of, have knowledge, perceive, be resolved, be sure of, understand
- ‘keep’ – tereo [tay-reh’-o] to guard from loss or injury, properly, by keeping the eye upon
To “know” God in this context is to have intimate knowledge of him, to be sure of who he is, to understand his character. We can never fully know him due to our sin nature, but we can know him better with each passing day if we commit ourselves to it.
As for the word “keep”, in this context it means to keep a watchful eye on something, in order to protect it from injury. Think of a gift someone gives you for Christmas. If you value it enough to “keep” it for life you’re likely to be very protective of it. You’re likely to take good care of it. You’re not likely to throw it in a box in the basement and only pull it out once a year.
Now that we know these two words, there are three important points the Holy Spirit makes in this text.
- If I cherish and value his commandments, I will know that I know him. In other words, I won’t doubt my salvation standing. Christians who doubt clearly don’t value (keep) his commandments (his Word) enough to keep a watchful eye on them.
- If I claim to intimately know God, yet I don’t care about keeping (valuing) his commandments (his Word) I am a liar. Furthermore, the truth is not in me because I don’t value the truth (again, his Word) enough to make it part of me.
- If I do value his Word and make it a part of me God’s love can then, and only then, be perfected in me. As a result, I will know beyond all doubt that I am in Him.
Take some time to soak in these points for a few minutes. They are important.
The Tourism Mentality
So here we are; now what do we do? We ask ourselves whether we are Christian tourists who think we know God because we visit every now and again, or we are legit inasmuch as we value his Word. As you’re thinking about that, be very careful not to make assumptions. If you claim to value God’s Word there will be hard evidence to prove it. The same is true the other way.
As I observe, it seems to me that Christian tourism is the norm; it is not the exception. When Christians don’t know basic, fundamental Bible truths it’s evident they don’t value the Word enough to know what it says. When study of the Scriptures consists of 45 minutes of Sunday sermon and no personal study time it’s obvious a person doesn’t value the Word. When we treat the Word made Flesh (John 1) so flippantly it is clear we do not keep it.
Friends, it’s easy to be a Christian tourist by just knowing the right buzz words, smiling and saying “Jesus loves you”, and volunteering for ministry activities at church. It’s hard work to truly know God. It’s hard work that takes an investment of time and effort. I can no more have intimate knowledge of God than I can New York City if my investment is little more than casual visits.
My knowledge of God is intrinsically tied to my attitude toward, and investment in, his Word. There’s no way around it. God’s Word is the vehicle by which we know him intimately. It is not the emotions, the experiences, the miracles, and so on. All of those things fail because they can be imitated by devils who masquerade as angels of light. It is ONLY by an investment in the Word of God.
Do you know Him or are you a tourist? Be careful how you answer; lying is a sin.