Knowing God by J.I Packer

Depth with clarity is rare. Yet Packer’s Knowing God exemplifies both. His simple and organized presentation of profound concepts make for sustained reading. Not once did I feel that Packer was talking over my head. Instead, I felt like a student gorging on a heavenly feast. Now, to talk about the book itself.


Packer seems to write this book for two audiences. The first audience are the believers who wants nothing to do with theology. They “assume that a study of the nature and character will be impractical and irrelevant for life”. Sadly, they may know a great deal about godliness – how to control their temper, how to love their neighbor, etc. But these are not rooted in a knowing of God. Instead it is rooted in pragmatism and the benefits these bring to their life.

The second audience are believers who study theology! However, in their gathering information about God, they have neglected intimacy with God. They know a great deal about God without knowing Him at all.

For the first audience, Packer’s warning is this: “Disregard the study of God, and you sentence yourself to stumble and blunder through life blindfolded, as it were, with no sense of direction and no understanding of what surrounds you. This way you can waste your life and your soul.” Life consists in knowing God. If you don’t know Him, living a good seemingly Christian life avails to nothing.

For the second audience, Packer exhorts them to check themselves for the fruits of knowing and being known by God: “Its effect is ever to humble us, as we contemplate God’s  greatness and glory and our littleness and sinfulness, and to encourage and reassure us – “comfort” us in the old, strong Biblical sense of the word – as we contemplate the unsearchable riches of divine mercy displayed.” God wants more than academic knowing.


Most Christians affirm that knowing God is not mere intellectual assent. But few Christians agree that it cannot be less. Many Christians claim to know God based on their feelings and notions – without a sure standard that correct them. Yet Packer asserts that the only way to know God is to know Him as He reveals Himself in His Word. God is His own best interpreter.

Hence, Packer’s definition of what it means to know God: “Knowing God involves first listening to God’s Word and receiving it as the Holy Spirit interprets, in application to oneself; second, noting God’s nature and character as His Word and works reveal it; third, accepting his invitations and doing what he commands; fourth, recognizing and rejoicing in the love that he has shown in thus approaching you and drawing you into this divine fellowship”

In extension, here are three ways that Packer describes knowing God:

  1. Knowing God is a personal matter. Knowing God is more than knowing about him; it is a matter of dealing with him as he opens up to you, and being dealt with by him as he takes knowledge of you
  2. Knowing God is a matter of personal involvement – mind, will, and feeling.
  3. Knowing God is a matter of grace. It is a relationship in which the initiative throughout is with God.

But the heaviest of his assertions is: “What matters supremely, therefore, is not, in the last analysis, the fact that I know God, but the larger fact which underlies it – the fact that he knows me.” Knowing God is ultimately based on God’s knowing us.  This should delight the believer and lead to profound praise and worship.


Packer then divides his writing into three major sections: Know the Lord, Behold Your God, and If God Be For Us.

Know the Lord

Chapter 1: The Study of God

Packer begins this chapter by quoting Spurgeon. In Spurgeon’s quoted sermon, “The highest science, the loftiest speculation, the mightiest philosophy, which can ever engage the attention of a child of God, is the name, the nature, the person, the work, the doings, and the existence of the great God whom he calls his Father.” Five presuppositions are introduced here: The Bible is God’s infallible Word, God is Sovereign, God is Savior, God is Triune, and Godliness means responding to God’s revelation in trust and obedience. The end of this study is intimate knowing of God. To this end, meditation will be useful.

Chapter 2: The People who Know their God

Here is where the two types of audience are derived. For both, Packer then lays down 4 evidences of knowing God: great energy for God, great thoughts of God, great boldness for God, great contentment in God. These four are largely derived from the lives of Daniel and his three friends. Knowing God begins with knowing our lack then, seeking Christ as our Savior.

Chapter 3: Knowing and Being Known

The definition of knowing God quote above is found here. He then points to knowing Jesus as the only way to know God. This knowledge, however, is a personal matter – not a detached one. At the root of our knowing God, however, is God’s knowing us.

Chapter 4: The Only True God

Idolatry is Packer’s subject in this chapter. His main assertion is that “in its Christian application, this means that we are not to make use of visual or pictorial representations of the triune God, or of any person of the Trinity, for the purposes of Christian worship”. He lays the issue with creating images as follows: they obscure God’s glory and they convey false ideas about God. Negatively, we are to stay away from anything that falsifies His truth. Positively, we are to seek God in His Word.

Chapter 5: God Incarnate

The greatest mystery of Christianity is not the atonement. It is the Incarnation. To assert that the child born on Christmas day is God made man is both an incomprehensible yet wonderful truth. Packer then says that Jesus’ laying aside of His Divinity during Incarnation “is not so much one of deity reduced as of divine capacities restrained.” In his humanity, Jesus restrained Himself from exhibiting the full scope of his abilities.

Chapter 6: He Shall Testify

The Holy Spirit, though Divine, is largely ignored. While the ones who seek the charismata seem to honor Him, they have ignored His purpose: “to teach them all truth and so save them from all error, to remind them of what they had been taught already and to reveal to them the rest of what their Lord meant to teach them”. The proper response to the Holy Spirit in faith is to acknowledge the authority of the Bible; in our life is to live by the Bible; and in our witness is to trust Him to prove the reality of our trust – not gimmicks.

Behold Your God

Chapter 7: God Unchanging

Packer asks how the believer can benefit from Bible-reading when the world of the Bible is very different from today. The answer? God is the same. When we read the Bible, we look for who God is then because who He was to the people of the Bible – He is to us. God’s life, character, truth, ways, and purposes do not change. Considering this, the Son does not change either! If God is the same, then we should strive to get the same communion the people of the Bible had.

Chapter 8: The Majesty of God

While God is personal, we must not forget that He is majestic. He launches off Isaiah 40 for this chapter, To see God’s greatness, we must remove all limits to His power and we must compare Him with powers and forces which we regard as great – at the final analysis, they shall all pale in comparison to Him. We will be rebuked for our wrong thoughts about God, wrong thoughts about ourselves, and our slowness to believe in God’s majesty.

Chapter 9: God Only Wise

Wisdom is the practical side of moral goodness. And compared to human wisdom, God’s counsel cannot be frustrated. His omniscience governs omnipotence. So the way God deals with His people – though not making sense from our perspective – make perfect sense from God’s part. Trust not our feeble sense. Behind the perplexing trials of this life, the wise God is accomplishing His good intent. Take trials as from God. Seek God’s face in them.

Chapter 10: God’s Wisdom and Ours

Reformed theologians categorize wisdom as a communicable attribute. God has it. God imparts it. Wisdom can be gained by revering God and receiving God’s Word. The effect of wisdom, though, is not that we would see all events of life, understand them, and be lax in seeking God. No. Instead, wisdom draws us to deeper humility and intimacy. The book of Ecclesiastes is demonstrative of this. Solomon teaches his audience that while Providence may not be evident, we must fear God and obey His commandments. “The kind of wisdom that God waits to give to those who ask him is a wisdom that will bind us to himself, a wisdom that will find expression in a spirit of faith and a life of faithfulness.”

Chapter 11: Thy Word Is Truth

God’s Sovereignty is to be understood in terms what the Bible tells us about His Word. God’s Word has a threefold character. It is law – God’s commands, prohibitions, and sanctions. It is promise – favorable or unfavorable, conditional or unconditional. It is testimony – information given about God and us. The truth of the Bible is based – not on propositions primarily – but on God’s character. In response to this, we must believe and obey His Word.

Chapter 12: The Love of God

Packer unpacks Romans 5:5 at the outset. The knowledge of God’s love is poured on our hearts through the Holy Spirit. It fills our hearts now. And this instilling of the knowledge of God’s is part of the regular ministry of the Spirit. Packer delineates between the age-old error of making supreme love over other attributes and the fact that God’s love is about all of God’s attributes being for the believer. God’s love to sinners involves his exercise of goodness towards individual sinners, identifying himself with our welfare, attaching his joy to ours. It is expressed at its best through the gift of his Son to be our Savior. The objective is to bring us to enjoy covenant relationship with Him.

Chapter 13: The Grace of God

Before grace can be grasped, there are four truths to be presupposed: the moral ill-dessert of man, the retributive justice of God, the spiritual impotence of man, and the sovereign freedom of God. Grace, then, is God showing goodness to persons who deserve only severity. Grace and salvation belong together as cause and effect. Knowing this, grace should awaken love for God in us.

Chapter 14: God the Judge

As Judge, God has authority, is identified with what is right, can discern truth, and has power to execute sentence. Retribution then is part of God’s moral law. He will see that each person receives what he deserves. The main thrust of this is a revelation of God’s moral character and an imparting of moral significance to human life. Blessed then is the man who makes Jesus their Savior now. On the last day, He will not accuse – but defend.

Chapter 15: The Wrath of God

God’s wrath in the Bible is always judicial – the administering of justice. The experience of which is always something that people choose for themselves. This is most expressed in hell, where there is endless dissolution of personality by a condemning conscience, agonizing awareness of God’s displeasure, and the loss of all good.

Chapter 16: Goodness and Severity

When we say that God is good, we mean that the moral qualities which prompt his people perfect and generous. But while God is good to all in some way, he is good to some in all ways. When we say that God is sever, we mean God’s decisive withdrawal of goodness from those who spurned it. Severity then is a function of goodness – to keep it from being tainted. Our response must be appreciation of the goodness, patience, and discipline of God.

Chapter 17: The Jealous God

God’s jealousy is the praiseworthy zeal to preserve something supremely precious – covenant faithfulness. He is jealous for his ultimate objective: to vindicate his rule and righteousness by showing his sovereignty in judgment upon sin; to ransom and redeem his chosen people; and to be loved and praised for his glorious acts of love and self-vindication.

If God Is For Us

Chapter 18: The Heart of The Gospel

At the heart of the gospel is Christ’s propitiation of the judicial wrath of God. And unlike pagan conception of propitiation, it is the work of God himself (not man) through death of Christ; thus, manifesting God’s righteousness. The gospel is that our Creator-Judge is our Redeemer. This, then, is the gift of peace. Peace with God warrants our hearts peace amidst the storms of life.

Chapter 19: Sons of God

Adoption is the richest gift of the gospel. While justification is a forensic idea, adoption is a family idea. It is conceived in terms of love and viewing God as father. The entire life of the Christ to be understood in terms of it. It is also the well-spring of Christian conduct. Now that we’re brought into the family, we bear the family resemblance: holiness. Prayer is also radically changed from mere duty to delightful communion with a loving Father.

Chapter 20: Thou Our Guide

Packer establishes in this chapter that we must expect God to guide us. The primary way He does so is through the Word and through the Holy Spirit. Here, he rejects super-spirituality that ceases thinking, doesn’t take advice, doesn’t suspect oneself, doesn’t discount personal magnetism, and unwilling to wait. There are no simple answers for life. But a life surrendered is better than one that is not.

Chapter 21: These Inward Trials

A lot of Christians are victims of unrealistic faith. Unrealistic faith takes away the reality of pain and suffering. It makes God out to be a genie who will give us everything we want. It makes Christian life a walk in the park. Yet there is no such thing. To believe it is to subject the already suffering soul into deeper sorrows and disappointments. We need God to make us realists of both ourselves and him.

Chapter 22: The Adequacy of God

The ancient people had different gods for different places, life stages, and contexts. But the Christian need not have many gods. One God – Jehovah – is enough. He is enough for life. He is enough for faith. He is enough for death. What more could we ask?


As for the book’s impact to me personally, here are a couple:

  1. The primary interpretative lens I will use in my Bible reading and study is the question: “Who is God?” Principles for life and godliness are wonderful. But eternal life consist of knowing God and Jesus Christ. I will strive for that as of first importance.
  2. The Holy Spirit’s primary role is to make real to me the relationship I have with God. I must ask the Holy Spirit to give me an experience of my adoption – not crazed manifestations or the like. If I was given all the gifts of charismata yet not assurance and peace of my relationship with God, then I am certain it is not the Holy Spirit.
  3. I must meditate more. Truths understood must be driven to the heart. I’ll let Packer describe how meditation is done: “Meditation is the activity of calling to mind, and thinkin over, and dwelling on, and applying to oneself, the various things that one knows about the works and ways and purposes and promises of God. It is an activity of holy thought, consciously performed in the presence of God, under the eye of God, by the help of God, as a means of communion with God.”
  4. I must pray more. Children with good relationship with their parents talk to their parents more frequently and openly. So, it must be between God and me.
  5. If godliness is the family likeness, then I want to be more like my Father! By the grace of God through the gospel of Christ, I will embrace God’s power to say no to ungodliness and to be a partake of the divine nature. The nature of holiness.


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Published by Kyle Lucido

I am Kyle Lucido. I'm a D12 leader and lay volunteer at CCF Makati*. I serve primarily in GLC and in the Welcome Center. My passion is to help believers know God in Christ through the Spirit deeper through the Word and to lead unbelievers to Christ. In light of this, I read the Bible and recommend resources that would help believers grow in their understanding of Scriptures. *The views and opinions expressed by Kyle in this blog does not reflect the views and opinions of CCF.

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