Known by God:
A Biblical Theology of Personal Identity
This remarkable book combines Biblical truth, personal honesty, theological reflection, Biblical theology, contemporary relevance, and pastoral usefulness! Brian Rosner points out that though ‘self-knowledge’ is frequently recommended, being known by others is vital for human life, and being known by God is of central importance. And again, while we might rightly focus on ‘knowing God’, the deeper truth is that God knows us.
He shows us the ways in which we naturally define and understand ourselves, and then shows us what the Bible teaches about human identity. Next, he unpacks the rich Biblical theme of being known by God in the Old Testament and in the New Testament. This includes belonging to God, being chosen by God, being a child of God and being remembered by God. It also includes being known by Christ, being known by God in Christ, and recognising our family likeness to God and to Christ. He then explores the themes of shared memory and defining destiny, as we are shaped by the incarnation, death and resurrection of Christ, and await our resurrection bodies. Rosner then reflects on how being known by God shapes our lives in humility, comfort, direction and purpose. The book concludes with 8 things we should do if we want to know ourselves as we are known by God.
Known by God is based on a simple Biblical truth, and shows us its richness, diversity, and power. It provides deep insights into many Bible passages, and is profoundly personal and pastoral. Its intellectual and academic integrity is communicated in a very accessible way, and it is a joy to read. It is so helpful to see that being known by other people is such a precious experience, and also so good to be reminded that as we are known by God we are not just individuals, but part of his family. Very good!
I have read the book three times, and found it very stimulating and encouraging. It prompted some more ideas. These are not criticisms of the book, but my own reflections on continuing the trajectory of the book.
The 8 things we should do if we want to know ourselves as we are known by God are: Get baptized; Attend family gatherings; Read and hear the Bible; Pray to our heavenly Father; Sing the faith; Say the creed; Take communion; and Live the gospel [pp. 246-60]. I agree with all of these, and do them! I also find it helpful to do things that are in the world as well as those in the church. So I know myself to be known by God in the beauty and power and diversity of creation and nature; in the joys and frustrations of daily work; in the joys and sorrows of my body; in the gifts of God seen in the lives of unbelievers; in music and the arts and architecture; in machines; and in small acts of kindness in daily life. I know myself to be known by God in his world, as well as in his church family.
The book helpfully focuses on the comfort and joy of being known by God, and it rightly also shows us some of the consequent challenges to our natural ways of thinking and behaving. However there is one aspect of being known by God which does not receive much attention, but which is of vital importance to me. It is that God also knows the secrets of our hearts and lives, he knows our sins and our secret sins. ‘Almighty God, unto whom all hearts be open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hid’. And on the last day, on the day of judgement, these secrets will be revealed. For example,
‘Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy. There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. What you have said in the dark will be heard in the daylight, and what you have whispered in the ear in the inner rooms will be proclaimed from the roofs’
‘But I tell you that everyone will have to give account on the day of judgement for every empty word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned’
‘For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work’
1 Corinthians 3:11-13. See also 2 Corinthians 5:10.
‘For we must all appear before the judgement seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad’
2 Corinthians 5:10.
‘Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it … And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books’
There are some sins which attract me so powerfully, that it is only the fear of God would that stops me. The only cure for hypocrisy is the fear of the final judgement. For me, loving God and wanting to please him is not enough. I need to fear him as judge, as well as trusting him as saviour. This, for me, complements the insights of Rosner’s wonderful and generous book.
Peter Adam, Vic.
(This review first appeared on The Gospel Coalition Australia website)