Question: "Knowing Jesus vs. knowing about Jesus—what is the difference?"
Answer: Fan magazines help us answer this question. Adoring fans of movie, TV, music, or sports stars buy thousands of dollars’ worth of information, photos, and juicy tidbits. After poring over such material, the fans feel as if they really know their heroes. But do they? They may know certain facts about their chosen hero. They may be able to cite birth date, favorite color, and childhood pets, but, if they were to meet that person face to face, what would the hero say? Does the fan really know the hero?
Jesus responded to this question in Matthew 7:21–23: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’" There were people in Jesus' day who thought they were friends of His because they knew the Law, made strict rules for themselves (and for others), and listened to His teaching. They followed Him, applauded the miracles, and liked some of what He said. But Jesus calls them “evildoers” and states, “I never knew you.”
Today there are thousands who know about Jesus—that is, they know some facts about Him, commit Bible verses to memory, and perhaps attend church regularly. But they have never allowed the facts to become their personal reality. They hold knowledge in their heads without allowing the truth to penetrate their hearts. Jesus explained the problem: “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules" (Matthew 15:8–9; Mark 7:6).
We easily substitute religion for a real relationship with Jesus. We often think that, if we are doing “Christian things,” that's all that counts. We can appreciate the facts of Jesus' death and resurrection, but until we have made Him our Lord, the facts do us no good (John 3:16–18; Acts 10:43; Romans 10:9). There is a difference between intellectual assent and saving faith. Knowing Jesus means we have accepted His sacrifice on our behalf (2 Corinthians 5:21). We ask Him to be the Lord of our lives (John 1:12; Acts 2:21). We identify with Him in His death and consider our old selves to have died with Him (Colossians 3:3; Romans 6:2, 5; Galatians 6:14; 2:20). We accept His forgiveness and cleansing from sin and seek to know Him in intimate fellowship through His Holy Spirit (John 17:3; Philippians 3:10; 1 John 2:27).
When we repent of our sin and surrender our lives to Him, Jesus gives us the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38; John 14:26; 16:13). The Holy Spirit comes to live inside us, changing us forever (1 Corinthians 6:19; 1 John 3:9). The facts we knew about Jesus come alive as we get to know Him personally. Let’s say you’ve read that your favorite movie star has green eyes and a dimple in her chin. Those traits are merely facts on paper until you meet her face to face. Then, suddenly, those green eyes are looking at you, and the dimple springs to her chin when she smiles. She tells you about her day, her fears, and her inner thoughts. You may recall that you had heard those facts before, but now you are experiencing them. You knew about her before, but now you know her. The abstract has become concrete. Things you thought you knew start to make sense as you enter into a relationship.
Jesus is a Person. To know Him is to enter into a relationship. The greatest commandment is to "love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength" (Matthew 22:37; Mark 12:30; Luke 10:27). It's hard to love someone you don't know. Loving Him starts with surrendering to His plan for your life. That's what it means to make Him Lord (Matthew 6:33; Romans 10:9–10; Psalm 16:8). The nature of God is so vast and complex that no human being can fully know everything there is to know about Him. But life is about continually seeking Him, learning more about Him, and enjoying His fellowship (Jeremiah 29:13; Philippians 3:8).