Spiritual transformation is about taking in truth as God reveals it in His word and letting it affect our beliefs, interpretations, desires, feelings, commitments and actions. How do we do this? It starts with reading the Word of God and letting it affect us. Here are three areas of knowledge that help us grow in godliness.
There are three specific areas of knowledge that we need to grow in if we are to increase in holiness. These three areas of knowledge are evident in the word of God.
Knowledge of God and His will
When Paul prayed for believers, he would pray that the Lord would give them knowledge of Him (Eph 1:17), which includes His will (Col 1:9-10), and His Son (Col 2:2-3, cf. 2 Pet 1:2). What does this mean? As J. I. Packer put it in Knowing God, “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.” Knowing God is an interpersonal matter.
God has given us His Word to reveal to us who He is, why He created and how we are to relate to Him. Growing in holiness is nothing more than growing to be like Him. We can’t grow to be like Him if we don’t know anything about Him! While reading the word of God requires that we engage our minds, it requires that we also engage the rest of our hearts too, which why Packer added that “knowing God is a matter of personal involvement-mind, will and feeling.”
Questions to Grow in the Knowledge of God
As you read, here are some questions you may find helpful to ask yourself to grow in the knowledge of God:
- Which attributes of God (i.e. characteristics or abilities) are in view in these verses?
- What do these verses tell me about what God loves or hates? Why does he love or hate this?
- What do I learn about the purpose and plan of God from these verses?
Knowing God is the foundation for the next area of knowledge to grow in. Without focusing on growing in knowing God, we cannot grow in a right relationship with Him.
Knowledge of Sin
Paul talks about the knowledge of sin as something that comes about through the law (Rom 3:20, 7:7). The law begins with the Decalogue, or 10 commandments, which start with clear and strongly worded negative commandments of what we are not to do. These negative commandments indicate what God considers evil. As we read through much of the rest of the law, we see these commandments expanded and managed through atonement, ceremonial cleansing requirements and civil consequences. All these reinforce the severity and nature of sin.
More importantly, the law also tells us something about the moral character and justice of God. For this reason, the knowledge of sin rests upon knowledge of God. Who God contrasts with what evil is. Evil is anything that opposes or resists God, His character or His plan, and the word of God is the means that God has appointed to reveal Himself and sin to us.
While it is important that we know the things that are evil, and we avoid those, growing in the knowledge of evil is not merely about what is and is not evil. Growing in the knowledge of evil includes this, but also means growing in awareness of the evil of evil.
God is infinitely great. We cannot think too highly of the greatness of God. His greatness means He is supremely valuable, and therefore worthy of honor and esteem. Resistance and opposition to Him must be recognized in accordance to His majesty and worthiness. If He is infinitely worthy of worship, then sin is the ultimate insult.
God feels and recognizes this. The Bible uses the strongest word possible to refer to God’s feeling toward sin. He hates sin (Zechariah 8:17). The question is, do we? While it is human to be appalled by some sin, there are many sins that we endure impartially, or even love.
Questions for the Evil of Sin
Questions to ask as you read your Bible include the following:
- What sin(s) are in view within this passage?
- Are any consequences of sin discussed or demonstrated in this passage? What are they?
- What do we learn about God’s thoughts or feelings about this sin?
As we grow in our realization of the evil of sin, we will grow in holiness. Proverbs 8:13 marks growth in holiness saying, “The fear of the Lord is to hate evil” (see also Ps 119:104). The more dislike and hate sin, the more we will avoid it.
Knowledge of my sin
While knowing God and knowing sin will make a vast improvement in our holiness, there is one more area; where do we place ourselves between these two aspects of knowledge? If you’re anything like me, it is wonderful to find out more about the Lord, and it is interesting to learn out about sin and how the Lord does and will finally and fully deal with it, but it is very easy not to see myself in the text.
I’m a proud person, and I tend to think I’m a good person. But if I walk away from my Bible reading retaining my high-minded view of myself, then I leave unchanged from when I started reading the Bible, and no more sanctified.
It is a grace of God that we come to the knowledge of the truth. And we cannot trust Christ for salvation without a knowledge of the truth of who we are. This knowledge of the truth (2 Tim 2:25, Titus 1:1) is necessary for repentance. Unless we see our sin, we cannot and will not turn from it, and we will not grow in holiness if we hold on to it.
There is, sadly, many who continue learning, but who are not able to come to the knowledge of the truth (2 Tim 3:7). One of the primary reasons Christians are accused of hypocrisy is because we know and teach about God and sin, but we continue to commit it. The reason we continue to commit sin is that we walk away from the word of God having not seen ourselves in it.
Questions for Knowledge of My Sin:
- Have I ever committed this sin?
- To what extent do I commit this sin?
- To what extent do I share the weaknesses that lead to this sin?
These questions are designed to ensure that we identify to some extent with every sin. We have committed sin in the past, and maybe it is no longer a present reality. Yet, we have walked in the path of those in the Bible who have sinned, and we have tasted the same thoughts, desires and committed the same acts, though in a different scale and context.
Perhaps you are currently committing this sin. It won’t go away without acknowledging it. Forgiveness requires that we confess our sin (1 John 1:9). We can’t put off sin by merely acknowledging it, but neither will we put it off without it. Confession is the first step of many against sin. Confession also opens the door to begin to examine your desires and feelings about sin so that you can work to change to begin to feel the same way about sin that God does.
Even if you’ve never been tempted to the area of sin in question, you and I share the same sinful and corrupt nature. Our personality, the way we were made and the experiences we’ve had are different, but if it weren’t for the grace of God, we too would commit that very same sin. Besides, my weakness, the same weakness to sin is exhibited in other ways, and I need to grow in humility accordingly.
Spiritual Transformation and Feelings
Growing in knowledge of God, sin and my sin means we are likely to feel bad about our sin. We are sinners, and sin is evil. But the goal is not to feel bad, but to grow in our trust and reliance upon the sufficiency of the Lord Jesus Christ. The more we do this, the more magnificent the mercy, grace, and kindness of our God will appear.
We can’t make the Lord’s grace more remarkable than it is. But, by uncovering the contrast between our sin and God’s worth, we can begin to discover the edges of His goodness in ways otherwise not possible. His grace and goodness bring hope and joy as we rest in His sufficiency and His desire to cleanse us from sin.
Download as a Template
If you use these questions, let them lead you to discover the riches of the grace of God. Rehearse I’ve created a downloadable template you can use. You can print this (or import it into a tool such as notability) and fill it in when you do your Bible Reading.
These questions are not exhaustive. You might think of other questions to ask. If so, list them in the comments or send me an email
 J. I. Packer, Knowing God, 2nd Ed (Downer Grove: IVP Books, 1995), 42.