Christ is a real, true, living friend. He is the Christian’s closest friend. But like any friendship, it is a friendship that must be maintained by mutual knowing. So how do we come to know Christ and learn to trust him more and more over time? In other words, how does Christ become a more and more real friend in our lives? This was a question asked in John Piper’s 2011 sermon on John 8:31. Here’s what he said.
If you want to know Jesus, be much in his Word. One of the most important convictions I ever developed — and I commend it to you; it is one of the most important convictions you could ever form — is that Jesus as a real, living, precious, present, experienced friend and person is known chiefly through his Word.
The only reason I use the word “chiefly” instead of “only” — I first wrote “only” when I wrote this, and in a sense that would be true — but here is a reason I stepped back from “only” and wrote “chiefly.” For this reason: You know it from Paul in Philippians 3. You know it if you have walked with Jesus a long time that, as you walk with him through his Word, by his Word, communing with him, trusting his promises, striving to obey his commandments and enjoying his fellowship — I will be with you to the end of the age (Matthew 28:20) — as you walk with Jesus, hour by hour over 10, 20, 30, 40 years, you walk through very, very deep valleys, very much suffering, very many hardships. And in those hardships, Jesus proves himself in a way that you know him in a way you could not any other way.
Therefore, it is even at those moments, it is by his Word — I am almost tempted to go back and change it to “only.” But I wanted the chance to say that experience with Jesus, experience lived out, daily walking, trusting, right now — and it is horrible, horrible, horrible thing — there is a knowing that comes that you don’t get anywhere else. And yet it is by his Word at those very moments.
Let me give you a verse to hold on to for this, because this is just massively important for living your Christian life and knowing Jesus, moment by moment. First Samuel 3:21 goes like this: “The Lord revealed himself to Samuel . . . by the word of the Lord.” That is a structure of reality that controls my whole life. I want to know Jesus, not just books, not even just the Bible, as precious as it is.
I want the person of Christ. He is risen. He is risen. He is here by his Spirit. He is as much a person, more than all of us are, and he is in this room right now listening to what we say. “I will be with you.” And I want to know him. I want to commune with him, fellowship with him, talk to him, listen to him, be helped by him, be drawn by him, be strengthened by him. I want to know this Jesus and walk with him hour by hour. How shall that happen? Answer: The Lord revealed himself to Samuel by the Word of the Lord. If you try to run after the Lord without running through this, you will find someone else.
Don’t feel like that makes you some kind of pedantic academic. Like, oh, you have got to be a scholar, blah, blah, blah. The least educated person may have the deepest grasp of Jesus through this book. There is no correlation between higher education and sweet fellowship with Jesus through the book.
What does it mean to be in the word that is summed up in Jesus and all these words that mediate Jesus? What does it mean to be in it? “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples” (John 8:31). So here is a picture. I am going to push this picture and maybe it will stick, I think it is faithful to the Scriptures.
The Word of Jesus, with himself at the center and the focus, has a force field around it — this is an image — like a magnetic field around it. And when you are in his Word, you are in that force field. You are under the sway of the force emanating from the Word.
Let me illustrate that. Part of this force field is the truth of the Word. So when you are in the Word, you are in the persuasion of the truth of the Word. You are in the grip, the hold, of the force of the persuasion of the truth of the Word. The Word is compelling persuasion and you are in it. It has got you like that. So when you correlate your being with truth it is persuasion. I am there. I am drawn in. I am compelled.
Second. The force field is created by the beauty of the Word. And this beauty attracts, so when you move into the Word, you are attracted and held by the beauty of the Word.
Third. This force field is created by the supreme value of the Word. So when you are in the Word, you are captured by the preciousness of the Word as God opens your eyes to see the beauty and the preciousness and the value of the Word. It compels. It attracts. It draws. This field pulls you in — in to the Word.
Fourth. There is a power and a grace creating this force field, so that as you see this power and you see this grace and you are drawn to it, there is an experience of peace because of the grace and restfulness because of the power. The power and the grace conspire to guard your heart and mind in Christ Jesus. And in the Word you are held by a peace that passes all understanding.
Another part of this force is the life-giving, soul-sustaining bread of heaven. The Word is the bread of heaven and, therefore, when you are in the Word, you are in the nourishment of the Word. You experience yourself being nourished. Like sitting on the couch Saturday morning. Noel has gone to a seminar and Talitha has gone off to her event and I am all alone in the house with my iPad and my Bible program. And I am feeling so nourished. I wouldn’t get up from this moment for anything unless I had to. I am being fed in my soul. How could I leave? I am in the Word, in the nourishment of the Word.