Knowing about something objectively and knowing it subjectively are two very different things. This applies to our knowing Jesus. Knowing about Jesus objectively means we possess some knowledge about Him. But knowing Jesus subjectively means we have firsthand experience of Him. We have personal knowledge of Him. This is the kind of knowing Christ wants us to have.
In this post, we’ll use two major examples to show the difference between knowing about Jesus and truly knowing Him.
Knowing about versus knowing by experience: the example of a photograph
We can use a photograph to illustrate the difference between the two kinds of knowing. When we look at a photograph of a person, we learn some information about them on an objective level—their height, hair color, eye color, their general appearance. We see the way they smile, and we might learn their preference in clothing. But even if we examine the photograph minutely, gathering as much as information we can from it, we at most gain only outward, objective knowledge. We can only say we know about the person. We can’t say we really know them.
Now let’s say we meet the person from the photograph face to face. We hear the way they talk, and we see the way they act. As we spend time with them, we begin to know them personally. We become acquainted with their thoughts, their feelings, their dreams, their likes, their dislikes, and their whole personality. This is very different from merely knowing about them by studying their photograph. This knowing is personal, subjective, and firsthand.
How can we know Jesus personally?
The Lord Jesus is the most wonderful, loving Person in the universe, and He wants us to know Him in a personal and affectionate way. But is a personal relationship with Jesus today possible? The disciples had the opportunity to know Jesus two thousand years ago, but after He resurrected, didn’t He ascend into the heavens, leaving us here on earth?
The Lord Jesus did indeed ascend to the heavens, but we can still know the Lord personally and subjectively today because He is also the Spirit who lives within us. Second Corinthians 3:17 says, “And the Lord is the Spirit.” Physically, Christ ascended to heaven and is away from us. But today as the Spirit, He is present with us right now.
In a hymn on experiencing Christ, Watchman Nee wrote,
“Because Thy Spirit dwells within,
How real, O Lord, Thou art to me;
Not touched, yet more reliable,
Not seen, yet loved more fervently.”
Because His Spirit dwells in us, we can know Christ so subjectively and personally. How wonderful that the Lord can be real to us today as the Spirit!
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The Spirit in our spirit
When we received Christ, He saved us from God’s judgment, but He also came to live within us. He as the Spirit came into our spirit, the deepest part of our being, and regenerated it with His divine life. This is why 2 Timothy 4:22 says, “The Lord be with your spirit.” Christ today is with us in our spirit!
We can know Christ—His likes and dislikes, His personality, His ways—by fellowshipping with Him in our spirit. No one could be nearer or more available to us than the Lord is in our spirit. We can talk with Him, love Him, and enjoy His presence in our spirit. By taking time to be with Him in prayer, we can know the Lord in a subjective, experiential way. We’ll experience Him as our life, our peace, our hope—whatever we need. As the Spirit in us, He leads us into the reality of who and what He is to us.
Knowing about versus knowing by experience: the example of food
We can use the matter of eating to illustrate the difference between knowing about something and knowing something by experience. Let’s say we’re hungry, so we go to a restaurant and read about a particular dish on the menu. Thinking it sounds good, we go on to study everything related to the dish—its chemical composition, how it’s prepared, how long it’s cooked, its history, where it was grown or raised, its benefits for our health, and on and on. Yet after all our studying, we still only know that dish objectively. And we’re still hungry! We might be able to say, “I know all about that food,” but what good has our knowledge done us if we’re still starving?
To satisfy our hunger, we have to eat the food. Then we really know it by personal experience. We know its taste, its smell, how it makes us feel. We’re inwardly strengthened and supplied by it. That kind of knowing is deeper and more subjective.
What’s the purpose of a menu? It doesn’t exist for memorization or study. It’s a guide, a roadmap, to so many foods that can satisfy our hunger. When we eat the food we read about, our hunger is satisfied, and the menu has fulfilled its purpose.
Knowing Jesus by eating Him
In John 6:35 the Lord Jesus reveals that He is the bread of life. Bread is food, a life supply, something to eat to satisfy hunger. This points to the Lord’s desire for us to know Him subjectively in the same way that we know bread—by eating! This may be a startling thought, but it’s in the Word of God. In verse 57 the Lord Jesus goes on to say, “He who eats Me, he also shall live because of Me.”
What did Jesus mean when He said “eats Me”? He wasn’t, of course, speaking of physically eating Him. He explains in verse 63, “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing; the words which I have spoken to you are spirit and are life.” This verse shows us that we eat the Lord Jesus, we take Him in, by taking His Word into us as spirit and life. By this eating, we know Jesus as our real food, as our satisfaction and life supply.
Studying about the Lord Jesus in the Word has some merit, but merely studying the Word can be just like studying about a dish on a menu. We may gain much correct knowledge, but be left hungry and unsatisfied within. We shouldn’t be content with having objective knowledge, yet being spiritually hungry. We can and should subjectively know the Lord Jesus as the satisfying bread of life by eating Him, by taking in His Word as spirit and life.
Receiving the Word by prayer
Ephesians 6:17-18 tells us to receive “the sword of the Spirit, which Spirit is the word of God, by means of all prayer and petition.” These verses, along with the ones mentioned above from John 6, show us that the way to receive the Word as spirit and life is by prayer. If we come to the Word only to study it, we will at best come to know something about the Lord Jesus. But when we exercise our spirit by praying with the words in the Bible, we touch and receive the Spirit who gives life. We eat the Lord Jesus, as He instructed us, by praying with His Word. By this eating, we know Christ subjectively as life to us. (You can read more about taking in the Word with prayer in our previous blog posts, “What the Bible Really Is” part 1 and part 2.)
Getting to know Jesus every day
We have the Lord as the Spirit indwelling us, and every day is a new opportunity for us to know Him subjectively. When we spend time to fellowship with Him and contact Him in our spirit each day, we get to know more than a “photograph” of Jesus; we get to know a real and living person, personally and subjectively. Moreover, as we daily exercise to pray with God’s Word, His words become spirit and life to us. As we eat the Lord Jesus in this way, He becomes our very life supply, and we come to know Christ in a deep and inward way.
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