Knowing and being known by God

by Rosie Moore.

“O Lord, you have searched me and known me… (Ps 139:1)
Search me, O God, and know my heart!
    Try me and know my thoughts

And see if there be any grievous way in me,
    and lead me in the way everlasting!” (Ps 139:23-24)

This is the first part in a two-part series on Psalm 139.

The Psalms exemplify the kind of personal relationship that the true and living God wants his people to have with him. God doesn’t listen to us through a speaker system or watch us perform on a screen. It’s as if God listens to us via a stethoscope and uses a CT scan to explore the deepest crevices of our hearts. As the Lord said to Samuel the prophet, “The Lord does not look at the things people look at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Sam 16:7).

The Lord was referring to the unassuming shepherd boy, David, who later became Israel’s greatest king and the writer of Psalm 139.

Lord you have known me.

The Lord searches our hearts and exposes what’s really there. He wants his image-bearers to enjoy an intimate, authentic relationship with Him by faith in Jesus Christ. No secrets, no duplicity, no hiding our sins behind flimsy fig leaves. No matter where a believer goes, we can never be far from God’s comforting and convicting presence– His Holy Spirit.

Psalm 139 is one of my favourites, because it reminds me that the greatest privilege and purpose of life is knowing and being known by God, warts and all. This Psalm also gives us a framework for how to respond to crucial cultural issues like, “What does it mean to be human” and “What makes a human life valuable?”  David’s Psalm offers believers assurance but also accountability for how we live our lives.

Let’s ask the Lord to search our own hearts as we read Psalm 139:

Lord, you have searched me and known me!
You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
    you discern my thoughts from afar.
You search out my path and my lying down
    and are acquainted with all my ways.
Even before a word is on my tongue,
    behold, O Lord, you know it altogether.
You hem me in, behind and before,
    and lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
    it is high; I cannot attain it.

Where shall I go from your Spirit?
    Or where shall I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there!
    If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!
If I take the wings of the morning
    and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
10 even there your hand shall lead me,
    and your right hand shall hold me.
11 If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,
    and the light about me be night,”
12 even the darkness is not dark to you;
    the night is bright as the day,
    for darkness is as light with you.

13 For you formed my inward parts;
    you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.

Wonderful are your works;
    my soul knows it very well.
15 My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
    intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
16 Your eyes saw my unformed substance;
in your book were written, every one of them,
    the days that were formed for me,
    when as yet there was none of them.

17 How precious to me are your thoughts, O God!
    How vast is the sum of them!
18 If I would count them, they are more than the sand.
    I awake, and I am still with you.

19 Oh that you would slay the wicked, O God!
    O men of blood, depart from me!
20 They speak against you with malicious intent;
    your enemies take your name in vain.
21 Do I not hate those who hate you, O Lord?
    And do I not loathe those who rise up against you?
22 I hate them with complete hatred;
    I count them my enemies.

23 Search me, O God, and know my heart!
          24 And see if there be any grievous way in me,
    and lead me in the way everlasting!

God searches me (Ps 139:1-6).

David knows that the Creator God is everywhere and inescapable (Ps 139:7-12). No human can hide from His searching gaze. He is infinite and personal, which is both comforting and frightening.

The writer to the Hebrews says something similar: “And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account (Heb 4:13).

No one likes to be naked and exposed, literally or figuratively. Some of us don’t like people to know us completely because we are afraid that they will discover something unpleasant, even wicked about us. We’ve been shocked at what we’ve seen lurking in our thought life and the filth that gushes out of our mouth in an unguarded moment.

Sometimes we don’t let people see who we really are, lest they judge or reject us. We feel unseen and unheard by those closest to us, so we pretend that all is well. Often, we disguise the hidden sins that are enslaving us, which we know we have no power to overcome.

But David describes a personal, infinite God who is present everywhere at the same time, a God who knows everything about us, even our anxious thoughts (Ps 139:23-24), darkest fantasies and habits of life (Ps 139:2-311-12), even the motives behind our words (Ps 139:4). God is familiar with of all our ways (Ps 139:3). He knows everything about us, including the bits we’d prefer to keep hidden.

But it’s precisely this reality that ultimately leads David to invite the Lord to test and expose his heart—the seedbed of all sinful thoughts, words and deeds (Ps 139:23-24). Why would David want exposure?

Search me, O God!

Instead of avoiding a divine biopsy, David wants to be known by God, even if it exposes a malignant tumour that must be removed before it proves fatal (Ps 139:23-24). God’s thoughts and opinions are precious to him (Ps 139:17-18). He treasures the intimate relationship he has with the Lord, no matter what sin and frailty is exposed by His searchlight (Ps 139: 13-18).

No doubt King David had learned a painful lesson from his own ‘secret’ adultery and murder of Bathsheba’s husband. He had thought he would get away with his love affair, but God saw what he had done. The Lord sent Nathan the prophet to confront him in his duplicity, saying, “You are that man!” (2 Sam 12:7).

It cut David to the heart to realise that he had done evil in God’s sight (Ps 51:4) and his subsequent plea for mercy and forgiveness is recorded for us in Psalm 51:

“Surely you desire truth in the inner parts; you teach me wisdom in the inmost place.”

David’s restoration was what drove him to seek a life of candour and integrity. He didn’t want to run or hide from God anymore. He actually wanted the Lord to find him out and arrest him before his sin could cause even greater damage. He wanted to know and be known by God, thoroughly and completely.

Likewise, for Christ followers, Psalm 139:23-24 reminds us that exposure is the only path to repentance and forgiveness. And it’s how we are freed from the destructive power of sin in our lives, to continue on God’s ‘everlasting way’.

We must not fool ourselves—Sin will always entangle us in its deceptive web. It will weigh us down and spoil our relationship with God (Heb 12:1). David knew the danger of sin that the writer of Hebrews later confirmed:

“Without holiness no one will see the Lord” (Heb 12:14).

Hatred of God’s enemies.

That’s why David’s imprecatory prayers (Ps 139:19-22) are not embarrassing verses that we should be tempted to skip when we read this Psalm. Even Christ and Paul quoted some of the imprecatory Psalms, which call down divine curses and express hatred for God’s enemies (John 15:25Ps 69:4John 2:17=Ps 69:9Ps 69:22-23=Rom 11:9-10).

These imprecatory prayers of David assume the truth taught throughout Scripture that evil people can reach a point of such extreme, persistent hard-heartedness and contempt towards God, that the time of redemption is past and their judgment is inevitable.

Moreover, in these Psalms, David spoke as God’s inspired and anointed king. David foreshadowed Christ the Messiah, who has authority to pronounce final judgment on all God’s enemies, and will do so in the end (Rev 19:111-21). Since the Lord is perfectly holy and all-knowing, his justice will always be proportionate and appropriate. There will be no leakage or collateral damage, as is the case when we take revenge.

David is not being self-righteous in these verses. He has seen how truly evil sin is, including his own, and is expressing moral repugnance, not personal vengeance against God’s enemies. Moreover, he is acutely aware of his own blind spots and need for repentance, as we also should be (Ps 139:23-24). After all, we are all God’s enemies until reconciled to God by Christ (Rom 5:10)

Where shall I go from your Spirit?

When I forget that God is the omniscient (all knowing), omnipresent (all present) and omnipotent (all powerful) Creator of the universe, I tend to make Him small in my mind. I try to do things in my own strength. I don’t consult with Him when I have an important decision to make. It is always because I have forgotten his eternal attributes and exaggerated my own.

Likewise, when I forget the Holy Spirit—the Helper who is with us forever (John 14:16) and who “helps us in our weakness” (Rom 8:26-27), I start seeing God as aloof from my struggles. I am left feeling hopeless and overwhelmed by challenges too big for me to handle. I feel no peace, just turmoil.

But even though David never saw Jesus in the flesh or the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost, he prayed, “Where shall I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence?” (Ps 139:7)

It is remarkable how David knew and trusted the personal God who was active in his past, present and future, the God beyond time and space (Ps 139:13-16). And this understanding of God both as Creator and providential ruler gave David great consolation, confidence and courage. He was utterly convinced of God’s protective hand and leading light in his life (Ps 139:10-12).

How much more should we cherish the Lord’s presence, power and purpose as we look back on the cross and look forward to the moving of the Holy Spirit in our world and in future generations? Three thousand years since David died, Christ has not left us alone as orphans. Wherever we find ourselves, the risen Lord has made his home with us by His Spirit (John 14:23).

And so, let’s ask ourselves, “Where can I go from his Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence?” Of course the answer to these rhetorical questions is the same– Nowhere!! The Lord knows us warts and all, and yet he still loves and accepts us. He is there to help us when we’re struggling in ways that we have not even dared to admit to anyone else.

The Prince of Peace is beside us wherever we are, settling our troubled hearts (John 15:2716:33). Each new day, the Helper is directing us to Christ and reminding us of all that He has taught us in His Word (John 15:26). The Spirit of truth is always stirring our hearts, convicting us of sin and giving us the power to overcome (John 16:813).

Instead of fear and slavery to sin, Christ has given us the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!”. And the Holy Spirit will hold us fast until we see Christ face to face.

Psalm 139 reminds us that God accepts and loves his children despite knowing everything about us. Is it not the greatest privilege in the world to know and be known by God? Imagine living each day as if it were true.

Join us next week as we focus on Psalm 139:14-16 in “Fearfully and wonderfully made.”

The Great Divide

Part 4 of The Second Coming series, by Rosie Moore.

Jesus gives us a glimpse of his full majesty and mission in the last eschatological parable recorded by Matthew. In the parable of the sheep and the goats, we see that Christ’s return will be in stark contrast to the humble scene of his birth in Bethlehem, ‘while shepherds watched their flocks by night’. The second coming will usher in the final judgment, when Christ the King will separate the nations of the world, like a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. The parable is about the great divide between two contrasting groups, the boundary between life and death.

Final judgment is the ultimate goal of history, when the Lord’s majesty, justice and mercy will be on full display.

When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left 34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’

44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’

45 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’

46 “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.” (Matt 25:31-46)

Three aspects of the final judgment struck me most in this parable:

  1. Only two identities will separate humanity.
  2. The mark of Christ’s sheep is their love for one another.
  3. Judgment day is the only rational basis for justice in this world.

1. Only two identities

If you’re a city dweller, you may be confused about Christ’s analogy of sheep and goats. Sheep and goats look similar, but being raised as a farm girl, I can assure you that they are very different animals!

Sheep have wool and goats have hair. Sheep tails point down and goat tails point up. Sheep are grazers, while goats are browsers that tend to eat everything in sight. Sheep have a strong flocking instinct and follow their shepherd, while goats are more independent.

In Jesus’ time, shepherds allowed their sheep and goats to graze together in the day, but at night they would divide them into two separate groups, as their coats provided different levels of protection against the cold. In case you’re wondering, there’s nothing inherently good or bad about sheep and goats. They’re all delightful creatures, doing exactly what God made them to do. But Jesus used them as a useful picture of two different animals with distinct characteristics and destinies.

Jesus tells his disciples that on the final day, there will be a great divide of humanity unlike anything the world has seen. He will separate the nations on the basis of two identities—Sheep and goats, the righteous and the unrighteous. There is nothing fluid about these identities. They are binary.

Nor will the Lord ask on that day, “What would you prefer to identify as today—a sheep or a goat?” Since sheep and goats are separate species, we cannot choose or alter our identity on that day. Since they have different DNA, a sheep can never become a goat, and vice versa.

Moreover, the destinies of the sheep and goats are also in stark contrast: The blessed and the cursed. Those who are invited to come into God’s kingdom and those who are told to depart. Those who inherit an eternal kingdom prepared for them since the world’s creation, and those who go to eternal punishment. The sheep on the right hand of the King (a position of honour and privilege) and the goats on the left. Outcomes are based entirely on whether people are sheep are goats.

Some argue that this parable is about believers’ rewards or doing good works to escape judgment, but it is difficult to see how this is possible. There is no hybrid identity or destiny in this parable. So if we care about what Jesus is saying, it’s crucial to define our terms. Who do the “sheep” represent?

Scripture consistently identifies God’s redeemed people as his sheep. For example, believers often say together the words of David,

Know that the Lord, he is God!
    It is he who made us, and we are his;
    we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture (Ps 100:3).

In John 10, Jesus identified Himself as the good shepherd promised by the prophet Ezekiel—the one who would rescue his flock and judge between people (Ezek 34:2223). Jesus claimed to be God’s Shepherd who knows his sheep and calls them each by name, who leads them out and gives them abundant life (John 10:310). He lays down his life for his sheep (John 10:1114).

Jesus himself said that He is gathering his sheep from every nation into one flock and one sheepfold (John 10:16). These are the sheep from every nation who will inherit Christ’s future kingdom (Matt 25:34-36).

And so, the ‘sheep’ in Christ’s parable can only be those who know His voice and follow him as their own Shepherd (John 10:4). The sheep are those who enter the safety of the sheep pen via the door, who is Christ himself (John 10:912-13). They do not find some alternative way to climb in.

“I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture” (John 10:9). And so, it is only by repentance and faith in Christ that we become His sheep– Jews and Gentiles alike (Matt 4:17Acts 20:21).

Isn’t it amazing to think that Christ knows his sheep from every nation on earth, through every generation of history? He will not have to be introduced to his people. He will call out each one by name on the final day of judgment. And God’s sheep will follow their Shepherd all the way into the new creation—a kingdom of justice and righteousness. There, they will find eternal shelter in His presence:

“They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore, the sun shall not strike them nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” (Rev 7:16-17)

2. The mark of Christ’s sheep.

Care and compassion for spiritual siblings are spontaneous instincts of Christ’s sheep, as irrepressible as huddling in a flock, grazing on grass or drinking from a stream. On the other hand, carelessness and callousness reveal the heart of a hypocrite.

It’s evident from the parable that Christ is not judging the nations on the basis of their charity, but on the basis of their identity (Matt 25:33). Since Scripture cannot contradict itself, we can be sure that we are always saved by grace, through faith in Christ, not by our works. Nothing changes on the day of judgment (Eph 2:8-9Rom 11:6).

But the King’s response in Matthew 25:40 and 45 are striking statements about the distinctive DNA of Christ’s people. True disciples will be known for their intuitive, unselfconscious charity towards their brothers and sisters in Christ– “the least of these brothers and sisters of mine”. And we need not guess what Christ meant, because He defined his ‘brothers and sisters’ in the spiritual sense (Matthew 12:46-50.)

So, in this parable, Jesus is not describing a generic compassion for all in need (which is also a good thing), but is highlighting the special kind of love that flows naturally out of his followers when they see their spiritual family in need– whether hungry, thirsty, unclothed, sick or in prison. We need only think of the many persecuted Christians around the world, as well as those close to us who are facing troubles, to know that ministries of mercy and compassion are really needed in Christ’s Church. It’s what identifies us as God’s people.

Remarkably, Christ identifies so deeply with the Church—his body—that whatever was done by the sheep, or omitted by the goats, was done to Him too. This bond is illustrated by Christ’s High Priestly prayer where he asks his Father to create unity and love amongst his present and future followers (John 17:11212326).

Therefore, we can be sure that our Shepherd shares in the suffering and persecution of his Church today, the body for whom He died. It also stands to reason that Christ is greatly offended when believers hurt, lie and slander one another.

But when we minister to a fellow Christian who is grieving or needy, we are not performing some sort of ritual for Christ, nor earning brownie points for the day of judgment. Notice the genuine surprise of both the sheep and the goats at Christ’s verdict. They weren’t even aware of what they were doing when they acted or failed to act for his sake (Matt 25:37-3944).

This brotherly and sisterly love will always be the distinctive mark of a sheep waiting expectantly for Christ’s kingdom, because down-to-earth charity is the fruit of true faith (James 2:14-24).

“We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love each other. Anyone who does not love remains in death.” (1 John 3:14).

3. The only basis for justice.

What’s clear from the parable of the sheep and the goats is that Final Judgment will be both a fearful and wonderful thing, as God will do what is right in the end, and all the world will know that it is just. Justice is a buzzword today, but the Bible tells us that God will establish perfect justice on earth.

Deep down in our hearts, most people long for justice to be done. The idea that there might be no judgment at all—that people might get away with gross evil, abuse, tyranny, corruption, theft, oppression, rape, child trafficking, genocide, violence, greed and murder —is sickening.

Every human cry for justice is based on the fact that we’re made in God’s image and we instinctively know the difference between right and wrong. The Lord’s judgment is a pledge that the Creator hears our cries for justice and will not ignore any injustice or sin. He will overthrow evil and put all things right. His throne is established on justice.

Seven hundred years before Christ’s parable, Isaiah prophesied that one day the righteous Messiah would establish justice on earth:

And he will delight in the fear of the Lord.

He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes,
    or decide by what he hears with his ears;
 but with righteousness he will judge the needy,
    with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth.
He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth;
    with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked (Isaiah 11:1-4)

A few decades after the Lord’s death and resurrection, the Apostle John saw this apocalyptic vision of Christ the Judge:

“I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and wages war. 12 His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns. He has a name written on him that no one knows but he himself. 13 He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God. 14 The armies of heaven were following him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean. 15 Coming out of his mouth is a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. “He will rule them with an iron scepter.” He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty. 16 On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written: King of kings and Lord of lords (Revelation 19:11-16).

If we believe that history has no goal or purpose– that we are just the product of time and chance; that the fittest should survive and the weak should not; that there’s no final day of reckoning– then there cannot be a rational basis for applying justice in this world. There’s not even a logical foundation for right and wrong.

But Christ’s parable assures us that the day of reckoning is coming for all of us. We will either face judgment as a sheep, because Christ has absorbed the demands of justice on our behalf. Or we will face judgment as a goat, because we’ve not taken shelter in the Shepherd.

Christ’s redeemed people need not fear that day. It is a day of mercy, hope and blessing for his sheep. We are called his eternal heirs and siblings, not because we are better than others, but simply because Christ has absorbed God’s judgment in place of those who have placed their trust in Him. At the Reckoning, the sheep will be glorifying God because of His grace, nothing else.

The Good Shepherd has taken the punishment we deserve by laying down his life for his sheep. Isn’t it only natural that we would do the same for our brothers and sisters, as we wait for him to return?

This is the last devotion in a series on “The Second Coming”. If you’d like to read the previous three in this series, just click on the links below.