Knowing God by J.I. Packer is one of the most beloved books for Christians desiring to know God. This is a concise, executive summary of the book.
About one year after God had saved me, an older Christian man gave me a copy of J.I. Packer's Knowing God. I still remember the central theme that being a Christian was more than just "knowing about God." To be a true follower of Christ was to have a personal, intimate relationship with God and knowing God.
This is an executive summary of the classic Christian book, Knowing God.
Part I: Know the Lord
Chapter 1: The Study of God
The study of God is practical for the Christian life. Our pursuit should not be the knowledge about God but rather knowing God.
Five fundamental truths
- God has spoken in his word, the Bible.
- God is Lord and King, displaying perfections in his deeds.
- God is savior.
- God is triune.
- Godliness, true religion, is responding in trust and obedience.
Chapter 2: The People Who Know Their God
A Christian who knows God will not be shaken or disheartened by life's disappointments. A person may know a lot about God and have good doctrine, but that same person may lack joy and be flustered.
Daniel, the prophet in the Old Testament, is a model for someone who truly knows God.
- Those who know God have great energy for God, especially in their prayers.
- Those who know God have great thoughts of God.
- Those who know God show great boldness for God.
- Those who know God have great contentment in God.
Chapter 3: Knowing and Being Known
Our life purpose is to know God. We know God by knowing his character, listening and obeying him, and rejoicing and enjoying our personal relationship with him. As Christ sheep, we know his voice and listen.
- Knowing God is personal; it is more than “knowing about God.”
- Knowing God involves the mind, will, and emotions.
- Knowing God requires God's grace. God initiates our relationship with him.
God's knowledge of us should humble us and motivate us to worship and love him.
Chapter 4: The Only True God
Idolatry is worshipping other gods, but it is also improper worship of the true God.
We cannot worship God through images.
- Images dishonor God by obscuring his glory.
- Images mislead and promotes false ideas about God.
God is transcendent, and we only know him by what he has revealed through his written Word. When we look to Christ, we see and know the true God.
As a practical application, We must refrain from using any art, imagination, or visual depiction to represent the true God that we worship.
Chapter 5: God Incarnate
Jesus is God incarnate. To accept Jesus as God becoming man will cast doubts about other miracles aside.
“[T]he really staggering Christian claim is that Jesus…was God made man.” Once you accept that, other doubts about miracles, or atonement, dissolve.
John 1 tells us that Jesus is truly creator God, pre-existent and eternal.
The second person of the triune God became man and was born as a baby.
Christ possessed all of his divine qualities, but he restrained himself from using his divine capacities. He submitted to his father and endured hardship and even death.
Chapter 6: He Shall Testify
God is one in essense but three in persons. Jesus, the second person of the Trinity, is in fellowship with God the Father. The Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinty, was sent by Christ to be our helper.
The Holy Spirit continues to endwell and minister. The Spirit inspired the writing of Holy Scripture. The Spirit regenerates sinful man to grant saving faith and spiritual birth, and the Spirit enables us to apply and obey God's commands set forth in Scripture.
Part II: Behold Your God
Chapter 7: God Unchanging
Unlike all of his creation (including you and me), God is immutable. He never changes.
His character does not change. His words and promises don't change. God does not change his mind or change his plans. He is eternally the same: past, present, and future.
Chapter 8: The Majesty of God
The word majesty means greatness. As Christians, we have a personal relationship with God, but we cannot forget God's majesty and greatness. God is both majestic and immanent (near us). One of God's names is El Shaddai meaning "God Almighty."
Packer encourages us to (1) remove any thoughts we have that make God too small and (2) to compare God with powers that are great. Psalm 139 and Job 38–41 help us begin to grasp the unique greatness of our God.
God is incomparable. In Isaiah 40, we learn that no one has done majestic works like God. Looking at the nations, the earth and the stars, and the great men of history, we conclude that there is none that compares to the greatness of God.
Ask yourself three questions in Isaiah 40.
- To whom then will you liken Me that I would be his equal? (Is 40:25)
- Why do you say, O Jacob, and assert, O Israel, “My way is hidden from Yahweh." (Is 40:27)
- Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Everlasting God, Yahweh, the Creator of the ends of the earth, does not become weary or tired. His understanding is unsearchable. (Is 40:28)
Chapter 9: God Only Wise
Wisdom is not simply intellectual knowledge. Rather, it encompasses a moral goodness. To appreciate God's wisdom, we must understand his good purposes. In his wisdom, God orchestrates our lives to teach us in love to bring about his ends. Therefore, we can accept and endure life's hardships knowing that our trials are from God and in accordance to his wise providence.
Chapter 10: God’s Wisdom and Ours
We can categorize God's divine attributes into two groups: communicable and incommunicable.
Attributes of God that are incommunicable are those things in which God is unique. Some of his incommunicable attributes include his immutability, his self-existence and self-sufficiency, and his eternality.
God's communicable attributes are those characteristics in which we can share since we are made in the image of God. Wisdom is one of God's communicable attributes, and therefore we should pursue it.
To gain wisdom, we must fear God. And in humility, we need to be teachable as we receive God's word and instructions.
Seeking wisdom is not trying to understand God's purposes of every life event. Seeking wisdom is rather knowing how to respond in godliness to any event. Wisdom is trusting God and living in faith with what God has revealed in his word. Those who are wisdom will not be shaken. They will live in humility, confidence, and joy.
Chapter 11: Thy Word is Truth
God created the universe out of nothing by his spoken word. God is king, and he speaks. God speaks throughout human history, giving us his commandments, his revelation, and his promises. All that God has spoken is true and can be trusted. As God's followers, we live and submit to the word of God.
Chapter 12: The Love of God
Romans 5:5 states that "the love of God has been poured out." The verb is in the perfect tense. God has flooded and poured out his love which fills our hearts. The verse further explains that this is a ministry of the Holy Spirit.
In 1 John 4:8, “God is love” means his love “finds expression in everything that he says and does.” Behind all that God does, there is love.
God’s love is an exercise of his “cosmic generosity” towards sinners as he demonstates grace and mercy to us who are undeserving. There is no room for Christians to complain, grumble, or become fearful. We can rest assured that God does not withhold any good thing for those he love.
Chapter 13: The Grace of God
Grace presupposes several truths.
- Mankind's total depravity.
- God's requirement of retributive justice.
- God's sovereign freedom to choose who he loves.
God’s grace is love freely shown towards undeserving sinners who deserve judgment. Therefore, grace is the source, motive, and guarantee of our salvation. The Christian's only proper response is love, gratitude, and obedience.
Chapter 14: God the Judge
God is the rightful judge. As the creator God, he has the authority. God alone defines what is right and what is wrong. God has perfect wisdom and discernment. God has the power to execute his judgments and sentences.
God will pronounce judgment based on what we deserve. All wrongs will be made right, and God's justice will prevail.. Otherwise God would not be praiseworthy. Christians will be shielded from condemnation by justification, but we will still be assessed (1 Cor 3:12-15).
Chapter 15: The Wrath of God
Another attribute of God is his wrath. His wrath is “a right and necessary reaction to objective moral evil.” God's wrath is accompanied by his perfect justice. Man always bears the full responsibility of his sin, so his condemnation is warranted.
Knowing God means knowing his wrath. We need to understand God's resolve to punish sin. Romans 2 teaches us that God's decree is written on man's conscience. The law cannot deliver us from God's wrath. Our sin can only be atoned by the blood of Christ.
Chapter 16: Goodness and Severity
God’s goodness and severity go hand in hand. God is good. He is truthful, trustworthy, just, patient, generous, and wise. At the same time, God also rightly punishes the evildoers. He remains patient in his severity. Christians should recognize and appreciate God's goodness and severity together.
Chapter 17: The Jealous God
In the Old Testament, God taught Israel that he is a jealous God, which means that there is a type of jealousy that is good.
One type of jealousy is vicious. It is a resentful covetousness. A second type of jealous is good. It rightly protects a loving relationship. God possesses this second type of jealousy.
God's covenant love alongside his jealousy leads him to judge the faithless and ultimately restore his people. Christians should be driven to have zeal for God. We should be devoted and not lukewarm.
Part III: If God Be For Us...
Chapter 18: The Heart of the Gospel
Propitiation, God's wrath being satisfied, begins in the OT with the object lessons of the sin and guilt offerings and the Day of Atonement. In the New Testament, it is more fully explained (Rom 3:21–26; Heb 2:17; 1 John 2:1–2; 1 John 4:8–10).
Some English translations use the word “expiation” which just means that sin is covered. Those who minimize or ignore the attribute of God’s wrath may prefer “expiation.” Propitiation gives the more full sense that Christ's voluntary death pacified God's righteous anger and wrath. Christ acted as our substitute and fulfills the true purpose of the Day of Atonement. It highlights God's righteousness and justice to punish sin.
The penal substitutionary atonement of our Lord Jesus Christ “quenched God’s wrath against us by obliterating our sins.” This is the heart of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Our salvation and legal pardon from sin comes by propitiation, and this had always God's plan.
Chapter 19: Sons of God
Although we are all created in God's image, not all of us are children of God. God is first father of Israel, his chosen people. And now, God is also of those united in Christ. We have been adopted by God (Rom 8:15), and we can call him Father and cry out to him.
There are four benefits we receive with our spirit of adoption.
- God has authority over us.
- God has set his love upon us.
- God has restored our fellowship with him.
- God honors his son, and we receive blessing and inheritance being united with him.
Adoption is a higher than justification. Adoption brings us into God’s very family. Our status in God's family is stable and secure.
- Adoption highlights God's love as he welcomes the undeserved sinner into his family by his grace.
- Adoption highlights our future hope and the promised inheritance that we have through Christ Jesus.
- Adoption involves the ministry of the Spirit.
- Adoption compels us to be holy as our heavenly Father is holy.
Chapter 20: Thou Our Guide
Not only is God sovereign and in control. He also guides his children. He communicates his purposes through Scripture. The Holy Spirit gives us understanding and instructs us God's will.
This guidance is not a mystical prompting or feeling apart from written Scripture. It is not specific direction and instruction for your specific life choices (who to marry, where to live, which church to attend). Rather, God guides us through our conscience, the Bible text, and through the illumination of the Holy Spirit.
We resist the Holy Spirit when we fail to use our mental capacities, neglect the advice from wise counsel, and commit overt sin. Furthermore, God may lead his people to a life of hardship. Never does God ever promise us comfort and ease.
Chapter 21: These Inward Trials
The Christian life is rarely easy. Sometimes we have false expectations that the Christian life is only blissful and never difficult. Another falsehood is the notion that when a Christian is struggling, it is a sign of falling away.
The same grace from God that saves us is the same grace that sanctifies and secures us. God will use trials and temptations and even sin's consequences to teach us and help us grow. And when we sin and fail, our right response is to remember God's continual grace.
Chapter 22: The Adequacy of God
Paul's epistle to the Romans starts with doctrine (Rom 1–11) and then its application to the Christian life (Rom 12–16). Romans also speaks of God's plan for Israel and the church.
The first eight chapters, in particular, explains in clarity God's provision of salvation. We all stood condemned (Rom 1–3), and while the law had failed us, the righteousness of God is available to us through faith in Christ. Romans 8, the "high peak of the Bible," covers God's adequacy to deal with our guilt and sin. It also climatically trumpets that nothing will separate us from the love of God. Our ultimate purpose is to learn to know God through the provision of the finished works of our Lord Jesus Christ.