LAWSON: Growing in our experiential knowledge of God is at the heart of sanctification. There are multiple texts that would affirm this—it really begins with the written Word of God. For example, John 17:17, “Sanctify them in the truth. Your word is truth.” Progressive sanctification involves growing in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ. That is brought to pass in our soul by the ministry of the Holy Spirit, who takes the written Word of God and conforms us into the very same image. It begins with the knowledge of God, which is knowing who God is, not just about Him. Within your heart and soul, you must have a vital, personal, living relationship with God. That’s what it is to know God. John 17:3 says, “This is eternal life that they may know You, the one true living God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.” To know God, we would have to know what God is like and spend time with Him. We would have to worship this God and deepen in our relationship with Him. We do that by being in the Word.
Experiential knowledge also happens by being in worship. It takes place in the context of relationships with other believers as they come alongside of us, and we have fellowship together. We hold together this knowledge of God and stimulate one another to love and good deeds. But we also stimulate one another to grow deeper in the knowledge of God.
I think that as we serve the Lord, there is a putting into practice what we know is true about God that deepens us yet further. I do not think we’re growing in the knowledge of God when we’re passive spectators, sitting on the bench. It is just speculative at that point. We must be in the game with our shoulder to the plow, finding our place of service in the kingdom of God. Serving the Lord has a way of not only sealing it within us but embedding it deeper. We are stretched to depend on God even more as we serve Him, as we are stretched beyond our own abilities, strength, and wisdom. We are put in a posture of humble dependence where we become aware of our weakness, and we must draw close to God to continue carrying out His will for our life. I think all of that is necessary.
Colossians 1:15 says that Christ is the image of the invisible God. In order for us to know God, He has chiefly and supremely manifested Himself to us in the person of His Son, Jesus Christ. In John 14, Philip said, “Show us the Father, and that’s enough,” to which Jesus replied, “He who has seen Me has seen the Father” (John 14:8–9). Growing in the knowledge of God necessitates that, as Hebrews 12:2 says, we be looking unto Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith. It is incumbent that we are consciously aware of following Christ and obeying Him. That too is a part of growing in the knowledge of God experientially, that we walk by faith, not sight, and that we trust in the Lord with all of our heart and lean not on our own understanding. In all of our ways, we must acknowledge Him, and He will direct our path. So, it is comprehensive in that sense. There are many spokes that go out from the hub of the wheel that is knowing God, and they are absolutely necessary.
THOMAS: This is where the Puritans excelled—they were experiential Calvinists. Read a modern translation of John Owen, Richard Sibbes, or William Gurnall. There are many paperbacks of their works available because they were the kings of experiential theology.
Read Scripture, discern the doctrines that are in Scripture, and meditate on them. As Calvinists, we are probably weakest at meditation because we tend to think of it as something eastern or mystical. But I think there is a very real way in which we can meditate on the relevance of this doctrine for me.
Pray to the Holy Spirit. Do not do this too quickly. You have to slow down to become an experiential Calvinist. Pray to the Holy Spirit because it is His ministry to bring the truth of God to bear upon your mind, heart, will, and affections. There was something else, but I can’t remember now.
GODFREY: I agree with everything that’s been said, of course, but I also want to underscore the importance of the church. Dr. Lawson briefly mentioned the importance of Christian fellowship and worship. I think an attitude creeps in occasionally that public worship services are just sort of formal things. They are fine as far as they go, but if you really want to be serious, you need to do other things. Yes, you do need to do other things, but the public worship of God is the real center, in many ways, of our growing in experiential Calvinism. What an encouragement it is to meet with other Christians, to see their devotion to the Lord and join them in singing the praise of the Lord. That is a great stimulus to pursuing the Lord. And, of course, particularly when we sing the Psalms . . .
THOMAS: That is what I was going to say. I was going to say, “Sing the Psalms.”
GODFREY: Thank you. Then I am not just “Johnny One Note.” Actually, it takes several notes to sing Psalms. Anyway, the experience of entering into a wonderful praise of God and meeting with Him in song is a great stimulus to all the other pursuits of growing and knowing God.
This is a transcript of Steven Lawson’s, Derek Thomas’, and W. Robert Godfrey’s answers given during our A Continuing Reformation: Pittsburgh 2021 Conference and has been lightly edited for readability. To ask Ligonier a biblical or theological question, email email@example.com or message us on Facebook or Twitter.