Experiential knowing is believing

Experiential knowledge is much better than second-hand knowledge. A person who has life experience in a particular job skill has much better knowledge and confidence than someone who only went to school. I’ve already talked about how apologists often use historical evidence and other arguments for Christ, but it’s experiencing His love and kindness that produces the strongest faith.

I was reading Paul’s line of argumentation for the resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15, and while he does mention the historical evidence at the beginning of the chapter, it’s what he said later that caught my attention:

31 My brothers and sisters, I continually face death. This is as sure as my boasting of you and our co-union together in the life of our Lord Jesus Christ, who gives me confidence to share my experiences with you. (1 Cor.15:31 TPT*)

Paul is telling us that the basis of his confidence in sharing his experiential knowledge was because of their “co-union together in the life of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Then he warns the Corinthians against those who would try to teach them but have no experiential knowledge of God:

34 Come back to your right senses and awaken to what is right. Repent from your sinful ways. For some have no knowledge of God’s wonderful love. You should be ashamed that you make me write this way to you! (1 Cor.15:34 TPT*)

We should pause here and note how opposite this is to Western thought. We dismiss experiential knowledge and put our confidence in someone’s credentials, their education, or their persuasive arguments. Paul was a very learned scholar in his day, yet he considered that as worthless compared to experiencing Christ:

Yet all of the accomplishments that I once took credit for, I’ve now forsaken them and I regard it all as nothing compared to the delight of experiencing Jesus Christ as my Lord! To truly know him meant letting go of everything from my past and throwing all my boasting on the garbage heap. It’s all like a pile of manure to me now, so that I may be enriched in the reality of knowing Jesus Christ and embrace him as Lord in all of his greatness. (Phil.3:7-8 TPT*)

I’m not against education for most things, and I don’t think Paul was saying that either. He was saying that we can only truly know God experientially. And when we do experience God it will be in context of His wondrous love. As John said, this is how we know God (see 1 John 4:7-21).

This is all certainly true for me when it comes to my faith in Christ.

When skeptics and atheists try to tell me there is no God, they might as well be trying to tell me my wife doesn’t exist. I don’t just know about my wife, we’ve been married for almost 40 years. I didn’t learn about her from books or Google. It doesn’t matter what you think you may know about her; I’ve experienced her love firsthand.

I know how she thinks, what she loves, and what she doesn’t like. We’ve lived our lives together more than we we’ve lived them apart.  My believing in my wife is based on this extensive experiential knowledge.

Likewise with Christ. While I do appreciate all the theological and philosophical arguments that apologists give us, and I could give you a solid logical argument for why God exists, that is not why I believe. These arguments are not the basis of my faith. I have faith in Jesus Christ like I have faith in my wife’s existence, because He’s just as real to me as she is. This tangibility is not physical, but my encounters with Him are just as real in a much deeper way.

Clever arguments didn’t lead me to Christ and clever arguments have no power to mislead me away from Him either. As Bill Johnson has said, “A man who has an encounter is never at the mercy of a man with an argument.” 

I don’t just know that Jesus loves me because the Bible tells me so, I know because I have experienced that love profoundly in the deepest part of my being. It has transformed my soul and continues to do so. His love truly is driving out all my fears. My irrefutable evidence is His continual grace and kindness and love flooding my soul with His joy, again and again, sustaining me even through the most difficult times of my life.

To quote from Jonathan David Helser’s song, “Abba”: He’s “more real than the ground I’m standing on.”

Beloved, Jesus is not someone to be simply studied; He’s Someone to be experienced. I know theologically that He holds the cosmos together, but I know Him because He loves me intimately with a perfect love. And whatever else people might think they know, experiencing “God’s wonderful love” is how we truly know anything about Him at all.

This is a truth I hope you grasp. When it comes to the most important things about life, experiential knowing is believing.

* All emphasis added.

About Mel Wild

God's favorite (and so are you), a son and a father, happily married to the same beautiful woman for 39 years. We have three incredible adult children. My passion is pursuing the Father's heart in Christ and giving it away to others. My favorite pastime is being iconoclastic and trailblazing the depths of God's grace. I'm also senior pastor of Cornerstone Church in Wisconsin.
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10 Responses to Experiential knowing is believing

  1. Great post, thank you. 🙂

  2. Oh yes, I highly approve of this notion! Paul was very educated, and likely out killing Jesus followers. It wasn’t until He had an experience of the Jesus kind himself that He began to understand. Sometimes just having head knowledge without Jesus is downright scary.

    Kind of funny, when this pandemic hit, a bunch of pastors were on Twitter saying “seminary didn’t prepare me for this!” It became a meme and I started getting annoyed about it and couldn’t figure out why. It’s because seminary is not supposed to be the foundation of your faith, Jesus is! I got annoyed because I could really see the impact of Western thought, the truth of what you’ve written here, “We should pause here and note how opposite this is to Western thought. We dismiss experiential knowledge and put our confidence in someone’s credentials, their education, or their persuasive arguments.” These poor guys were actually looking at their own credentials, their own education, and realizing it just wasn’t enough. Well of course not, we still need Jesus!

    Laughing too, because I’ve also written about “my invisible husband.” He’s not on the internet and we often engage in different activities. So if people haven’t actually seen you both together, it becomes virtually impossible to prove his existence, much like the challenge of trying to prove the existence of God. I can show you pictures but I could have just downloaded them, I can show you a marriage certificate but I could have just forged it. Heck, I could even show up with hubby in real life…. but I could have just hired an actor? Trying to do apologetics with atheists is often much like that. I still think it’s a good thing, apologetics, the more logic driven aspects of our faith, I’m just saying Bill Johnson really nailed it when he said, “A man who has an encounter is never at the mercy of a man with an argument.”

  3. Anonymous says:

    I think you’ve hit on one of the very difficult issues in dialoguing with people who are non-theists or even deconverts. If they have never truly experienced or known the love and grace or freedom of Christ, how can that ever be shared and explained from the outside.

    For many of these folks, Christian faith looks to be authoritarian, legalistic, confining, mind-numbing, etc. Some people sadly come from churches where they have received an indoctrination that conflates the gospel with law and judgement.

    So, of course, when they move away from all that, it feels like freedom and revelation.

    They’ve received a kind of inoculation against more genuine, mature and deeper Christian faith.

    All of their energy goes into attempting to illustrate the faults of all the churches, or why Christianity must be a hoax. It is so sad and even heartbreaking for me to think that someone could center their life in attempting to move people away from faith in Jesus Christ.

    It seems even more tragic when the person was a former pastor or church leader.

    I can honestly say that before I would intentionally try to draw people away from trust in Christ, and the love of God, even my own children, I would rather God take me home. I’m saying this as a more moderate/progressive Christian believer, not a fundamentalist. ELCA/Episcopal church..

    I don’t feel like we can ever get past all this merely by our words. It takes the grace of God, and the power of His Spirit. We can only trust Him to work in all our lives.

    • Mel Wild says:

      Thanks for your comments, Becky! Your assessment is spot-on, I believe. What you’ve said here is what I’ve seen, too. I especially like what you said here:

      “For many of these folks, Christian faith looks to be authoritarian, legalistic, confining, mind-numbing, etc. Some people sadly come from churches where they have received an indoctrination that conflates the gospel with law and judgement.

      So, of course, when they move away from all that, it feels like freedom and revelation.

      They’ve received a kind of inoculation against more genuine, mature and deeper Christian faith.”

      This is so true and sad, because they are rejecting a religion, an invention of man, rather than a genuine relationship with Jesus. Of course, many of them will object to this because they think they had a genuine relationship with Jesus. But this is not possible, because knowing Jesus changes everything and clever arguments are not going to change that. But it’s actually worse for them now because they have to unlearn so much before being able to open their hearts to Jesus.

      But Jesus NEVER gives up, and there may come a day when they collide with His love and all their arguments and vitriol will melt away in His love!

      Thanks again for your comments. Blessings to you.

  4. Becky says:

    My name is Becky. I didn’t intend to post as anon. 🙂

  5. Pingback: Qualifications for ministry | In My Father's House

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