Russell and Duenes

Knowing Christ “by acquaintance”

with 5 comments

My wife and I have been reading through and discussing Dallas Willard’s latest book, Knowing Christ Today. As usual, it is top shelf material, but the most challenging chapter thus far has been chapter 6: Knowledge of Christ in the Spiritual Life. Here Willard is truly in his element, talking about having an interactive life in Christ’s kingdom, that is, knowing Christ “by acquaintance” and not merely “at a distance.” He writes,

It is possible for religious people, and Christians in particular, to follow Jesus into the kingdom of God and come to know Christ in the modern world. All that is necessary is that they come to realize that they have not “arrived” by means of their particular identification as “Christians” or otherwise, and that they be willing to make knowing the kingdom their first priority. Then their confidence in Jesus – if it really is confidence in him, not just in something he did or said – can lead them into increasing knowledge of him. Their pride in orthodoxy (left or right) or in the form of religion they are practicing is their greatest danger, but it too can be overcome by paying attention to Jesus himself. Speaking from the very center of the bewilderments of contemporary thought, A.N. Wilson remarked that he cannot “…think that our own age has a monopoly of wisdom, and it will take more than a handful or textual critics or analytic philosophers to demolish the experience of those millions of men and women who, in all corners of the earth, and for nearly two thousand years, have been able to echo the excited words of the Apostle Andrew: ‘We have discovered the Messias (which means the Christ).’

In other words, we will come to know Christ primarily by following His order to “ask…seek…and knock.” There are too many people who have evidently known Christ in their daily lives to simply write off Jesus as some sort of product of a “creative community.” In my own case, way too much of my life is characterized by knowledge of things Jesus said and did, and belief that those things are good and true, rather than actual confidence in Christ himself. For confidence in Christ himself means that I must give up my pride and desire to be liked and adulated for some “distinctive” of my own. I must give my allegiance to Christ such that I abandon, in Willard’s words, “the attitude that says that we are in charge of our life and that we are quite competent and capable of managing it on our own.” My hope must be in Jesus’ promises and in the reality of his constant intervention in my life. This “life in Christ” must be characterized by love, and once again, Willard’s words give me occasion for lengthy reflection. He says,

We know that the nature of this life [in Christ] is love. As friends of Christ we love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and our neighbor as ourself (Mark 12:29-31). At least that is what our heart is set on learning, and we are making steady progress. Old John says: “Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God” (1 John 4:7). Of course, “love” here is not the thing that lives in human fantasy and whimsy, song and saga. Love promotes the good of what is loved. Love is defined by the person and the teachings of Christ. Love is the source of the distinction between good and evil, right and wrong…Love means that we humbly and simply devote ourselves under God to the promotion of the goods of human life that come under our influence. We live to serve. We do this expecting God to intervene with us to produce an outcome that is beyond all human ability, and we do it knowing that God is the one “watching our back.” We cast all our “care” on him, knowing that he is the one who takes care of us (Ps.55:22; 1 Pet. 5:5-7). In that way we know God – and do remember, knowing is our topic – through doing the good called for by love. We will experience a power of a life not of ourselves. That is, precisely, God in action that we are experiencing.

This kind of love is very frightening, for it means that I must seek that which brings good, rather than that which pumps up my own ego and makes me feel important in this world. I don’t think this kind of love obliterates my interests and desires, but it means that the promotion of others’ good toward the knowledge of Christ should be my one and only priority in all that I do. Thus, for example, when I think about Muslims – whom I’ve been thinking about a great deal lately – love will certainly dictate that my interest be in their knowing Christ and entering into life in his kingdom, rather than in being some kind of “prophetic” voice sounding the alarm about the growing Islamic threat to western culture. Maybe that alarm needs to be sounded, but it must be sounded in love. I desire to sound it mainly so that I can feel important, not out of love. If my true desire is to love Muslims, then surely I will pursue knowledge of their lives and beliefs such that I can bring my knowledge to bear on the greater glory of Jesus in their lives. This is humbling and unsettling, and thus, very necessary. How does one sort out motives when seeking to live in love? Well, it seems that even here, I must put my confidence in Jesus to show me the way and to help my heart be pleased with his way. I praise God that Dallas Willard is able to help me see this, and by God’s grace, move me toward understanding what repentance will mean, and then actually repent.


Written by Michael Duenes

August 16, 2009 at 7:58 pm

5 Responses

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  1. I like what you’re saying here. Willard is a person who says things that would be very challenging for both of us to think about and put in practice. I’ve read about half of one of his books, and I’d like to read more.

    This title, “Knowing Christ Today,” seems to go to the heart of so many things we discuss back and forth.


    August 17, 2009 at 1:21 am

    • Thanks for the encouragement, Misty. I appreciate it. Andy, I would highly recommend anything by Willard, but a good place to start is his website (which we have linked on our page). Find some stuff that interests you there. For books, this current one is very good, but you would also greatly profit from his books, Hearing God and The Divine Conspiracy. You cannot read them quickly as there is so much meat.



      August 17, 2009 at 6:38 pm

  2. Michael,

    I appreciate your honesty and the critical look inward. In laying yourself bare, it brings power and life to your words.


    August 17, 2009 at 5:37 am

  3. This was a blessing to my soul. I came across it as a related link to my own blog post, and it warms my heart to see that more of us are spreading the Gospel on wordpress. Keep me in prayer as I pray for you and trust we’ll both continue spreading the message of love. KLC (Keep Loving Christ). 🙂

    Keisha L. Clarke

    March 29, 2010 at 5:49 am

    • Thanks for your kind words Keisha. We will continue to partner here on WordPress to spread the love of Christ and His Kingdom! I will be checking your site soon.



      March 30, 2010 at 12:26 am

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