Interview with

Founder & Teacher, desiringGod.org

Audio Transcript

Today I want to talk about faith, knowledge, and joy. And I want to put them together, if possible. Pastor John, as I’m sure you’ve heard, Augustine of course famously said: “Faith seeks understanding.” Seven hundred years later Anselm said: “I believe in order that I might understand.” That is profound — in a sense faith is the doorway into more knowing. And then eight hundred years later, Karl Barth came along and seems to push this one step further, essentially saying: “I believe in order to understand, and I seek to understand in order to rejoice.” For him there’s a progression, and joy is the possession of those with a knowledgeable substance to their faith. But I want to hear from you. How would you connect the train of belief, reason, and affection?

I have to admit, Tony, that I have always been a little uncomfortable with the sentence: “I believe in order that I might understand.” I admit that I have not read the extended context in Anselm or Augustine to know precisely how they understood those phrases. And I probably should keep my mouth shut in any critical sense of them. But the reason for my hesitation, just given the phrase itself, is that believing and knowing have so many different meanings and connotations, even in the Bible. Sometimes believing is described as preceding knowing and sometimes, in fact more often, I think, knowing is described as preceding believing.

A couple of examples: “Teach me good judgment and knowledge, for I believe in your commandments” (Psalm 119:66). So here, believing is the foundation of his prayer for knowledge. Or Jesus says, “If I do [these works], even though you do not believe me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me an I am in the Father” (John 10:38). So, Jesus says there is a kind of believing that can lead into a kind of knowing. So, clearly those guys are on to something, right?

However, more often, I think — at least in my surveys — we read things like this from John 16:30: “Now we know that you [Jesus] know all things . . . this is why we believe that you came from God.” Or Psalm 9:10, “Those who know your name put their trust in you.” Or Proverbs 22:19, “That your trust may be in the Lord, I have made them known to you today” — namely, the sayings of the wise (see verse 17). So, knowing is a means to trusting, a means to believing.

“Knowing is the foundation for believing in some sense, and believing takes you deeper into knowing in some sense.”

We know from Scripture that it works both ways, depending on what you mean by believing and knowing. Knowing is the foundation for believing in some sense, and believing takes you deeper into knowing in some sense. If somebody were to ask me or say to me, “Believe in order that you might know,” I would probably respond by saying, “What truth do you want me to believe that I might know the truth?” And so, you see the problem immediately. It would be a very serious mistake to encourage people to believe in a Jesus they knew nothing about. Believing without content, without some knowing of information and truth is empty mysticism.

The biggest problem with this kind of mysticism is that an unknown Christ cannot be trusted and cannot be glorified. You can only glorify intentionally something you know to be glorious. This is why preaching the gospel precedes faith and grasping it. Knowing the meaning of what is preached precedes faith. “How are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? . . . So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Romans 10:14, 17). And I would add — and I think Paul assumes it — faith comes from hearing and understanding what you hear so that it is not gibberish. It doesn’t do any good to preach in Chinese to an English-speaker about the gospel because he can’t construe it — he can’t know it in some sense.

But it is also true that genuine faith opens the heart and mind to deeper and higher and wider knowing. True, saving faith is humble and teachable and in harmony with God and less vulnerable to Satan’s deceptions, and so, for all those reasons and probably more that Augustine and Anselm saw that I don’t, for all those reasons, faith is much more able to see things and know things about God than the proud, independent, deceived heart can know. So, faith leads to understanding, and it wouldn’t be wrong at all to say: I have faith so that I may understand in that sense.

“Faith is much more able to see things and know things about God than the proud, independent, deceived heart can know.”

However, now what you really were getting out was the joy of peace, and I haven’t even touched it yet. So, when you stir joy into this mix, the Bible shows that it gets really complicated and yet glorious. The Bible shows that joy is the outcome of both believing and knowing. Joy is the fruit of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22), and we know that the Holy Spirit is given through faith (Galatians 3:5). So, joy is a fruit of faith as the Holy Spirit works through faith.

Paul says, “We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance” (Romans 5:3). You have to know something for this joy to kick in in the midst of suffering. And 1 Peter 1:6 says, “In this you rejoice, though now for a little while . . . you [endure] various trials.” And the “this” refers back to I count about ten things in verses 3–5 of glorious things: We are born again. We have a living hope. Jesus is raised from the dead. We have an inheritance that is incorruptible. We are being kept by God. And he says, “In this you rejoice” meaning: You know this. I just told you this, and you have read this. So, now you know it and you trust in it and you rejoice in it.

“God is not glorified when all that we know about him bores us.”

Now, Karl Barth is right, then, that we pursue knowing and we pursue believing not as ends in themselves, but in order that we might go higher and deeper in our joy. Now, I would only add two things to that. This is why I say it may get a little complicated. One is that the reason God designed it that way is that God is not glorified when all that we know about him bores us. In other words, God does not design the world just so that we might know things about him truly, because if you know something truly and it bores you, God is not glorified in your knowing. And God didn’t create the world to present himself as boring. He created the world to present himself as glorious and, therefore, we must move beyond knowing and believing to joy. Otherwise, God doesn’t look beautiful. He doesn’t look valuable.

And the last thing I would say — and this is probably the most controversial. We might need a whole session on it, but I will throw it out there, because I don’t think I can leave it unsaid, since everything else seems to pass over it. Delight, satisfaction in the glory of God as revealed in Christ, the gospel, is not simply at the end of the process of knowing and believing. It is also at the beginning of it. I think treasuring Christ, that is, valuing him, preferring him above all others, which includes delight in him, is an essential ingredient in the very nature of saving faith at the front end of salvation.

“Treasuring Christ is an essential ingredient in the very nature of saving faith at the front end of salvation.”

So, in order even to make a start in the Christian life, God must open the eyes of the heart to see and know and believe that the glory of God in Christ is more precious and more sweet than anything. That is how we get started. We discover a treasure hidden in a field and sell everything to have it. Which means, in order to be saved, God awakens in us not only a knowing and not only a believing, but also a valuing and a delighting in the glory of God. So, conclusion, last sentence: The new creation in Christ, you and me, the new creation in Christ is born, brought into being through the creation of joy and goes on for eternity from joy to joy.


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