Ever heard of the Freudian slip? Coined after Sigmund Freud, the famous Austrian neurologist, the Merriam-Webster dictionary defines it as a slip of the tongue motivated by and reveals some unconscious aspect of the mind[i]. Sigmund Freud discovered this slip revealed restrained or repressed impulses and intentions[ii] locked deep within the unconscious mind and once in while slips through the “cracks”, usually with humorous or even devastating effect.
For those of us who’ve heard this term for the first time, let me illustrate. A boyfriend may “accidentally” refer to her present girlfriend using his ex-girlfriend’s name. Or you accidentally call your dad by your boyfriend’s name, or sometimes when in conversation or heated argument, you accidentally reveal some secret you’ve told no one before. This is what a Freudian slip is.
Some few years ago, I was reading Paul’s letter to the Galatians and noticed this rather strange line of thought. I read it a few times and thought, wait a minute, this sounds like a Freudian slip.
Galatians 4:9 NKJV
But now after you have known God, or rather are known by God, how is it that you turn again to the weak and beggarly elements, to which you desire again to be in bondage?
Paul’s letter was his rant at the Galatians for their departure from the gospel of grace, the unbelievable, incomprehensible good news of God’s unconditional love. This was one of Paul’s letters where he went for the jugular. He was not playing nice here because everything was at stake.
The Galatians had received the good news of grace but had entertained some false teachers who taught the good news of grace was not enough – they needed to add the aspects of the Old Covenant. These teachers claimed that if the Galatians were truly saved, they also needed to be circumcised, observe Jewish festivals, and keep the Ten Commandments. When Paul got wind of this, he sent them a strongly worded letter. Man, he was angry. And in his passionate defense of the good news of grace, the Freudian slip played its card.
Galatians 4:9 (my paraphrase)
But now after you have known God, (ahem, cough, cough, clears throat) or rather known by God, how is it that you turn again to the weak and beggarly elements, to which you desire again to be in bondage?
You have known God
C’mon Paul, now after you have known God? Really? Seriously? This was Paul, the genius of the gospel of grace. Knowing God was the essence of the Law of Moses. The whole sacrificial and covenant system of the Old Covenant was designed so the Jews could know God. These were visual aids to help them know Yahweh. Knowing God was predicated on their part. Unfortunately, two things happened which happen to all of us who are eager to obey the laws of God – eager to know God.
- Guilt and condemnation – if I try my best to know God and fall short.
- Self-righteousness and judgmental – if I try my best and believe that I “know” God.
Most of us fall in the former unfortunate position. We fall under guilt and condemnation because we try our best, but our best is never enough. We follow the rules and obey, but we fall short. For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. (Romans 3:23)
The good Christians who get to “know” God become self-righteous and judgmental. I used to be this person (not yet out of the woods yet). I was a dutiful church boy. I served in the worship team, youth ministry, and had an excellent reputation, but I was also very judgmental and critical of those who didn’t know God the way I knew him. I believed as many do that, those who know their God shall be strong and shall do mighty exploits. (Daniel 11:32)
The result of wanting to know God is you suffer condemnation because you can’t keep up or you lift your chin in pride and strike down those who aren’t as good as you are. Knowing God, therefore, was an Old Covenant perspective practiced by Jewish people in a specific era. Knowing God would have been impossible for non-Jewish people – gentiles – us. Read how Paul describes Gentiles – us.
Ephesians 2:1-3 NLT
Once you were dead because of your disobedience and your many sins. You used to live in sin, just like the rest of the world, obeying the devil—the commander of the powers in the unseen world. He is the spirit at work in the hearts of those who refuse to obey God…. following the passionate desires and inclinations of our sinful nature. By our very nature, we were subject to God’s anger, just like everyone else.
Ephesians 2:12 NLT
In those days you were living apart from Christ. You were excluded from citizenship among the people of Israel, and you did not know the covenant promises God had made to them. You lived in this world without God and without hope.
And this is where the Freudian slip is apparent. As Paul passionately explains the good news of grace to the Galatians (Gentiles), the Old Covenant slips through the cracks of his unconscious mind. This tells us that some of us who understand the good news of grace still have vestiges of the law hidden deep inside us. We are by nature law-driven and performance-oriented creatures. I know in my life there are times I’m conscious of grace – every act of mine is a reflex of grace. I am kind, generous, forgiving, loving, joyful, and most times I am legalistic – I become moody, critical, judgmental, and apocalyptic. In me, lives grace and law and yes, most times, the law slips through the cracks. This is what happened to Paul, and this happens to all of us.
But Paul without missing a beat corrects himself… Cough, cough… rather known by God
Known by God
Known by God is the essence of the good news of grace. The absolute supreme discovery of the good news of grace is that God knows us. Imagine, the God of the universe knows you? Now, this is not casual knowing or acquittance. It is ginosko which means to know, especially through personal experience (first-hand acquaintance). We use it in Luke 1:34, “And Mary [a virgin] said to the angel, ‘How will this be since I do not know (1097 /ginṓskō = sexual intimacy) a man?”[iii]
This is the knowledge that is deep and meaningful. It goes way beyond the casual, Hello, how are you? I know my neighbors. We bump into each other in the driveway, and occasionally at the mall. We greet and find out how we are doing, and head to our homes. That’s it. But I know Jenny, she is my wife. I know how she thinks and acts. I know her fears and doubts, longings and desires, tastes and distastes, laughter and sorrow, her experiences good and bad, in sickness and in health till death do us part. Now multiply this knowing by infinity. You get the idea.
Paul bounces back and recovers the revelation of the gospel of grace – and this is what makes the Christian faith unique and attractive. Wow. God knows us deeply, meaningfully, and infinitely. Read what he God told Jeremiah, I knew you before I formed you in your mother’s womb. (Jeremiah 1:5)
This known by God, good news of grace message is sorely lacking in our churches, homes, and relationships. Our churches are filled with the “know God” message. The emphasis, then, becomes how to apply certain principles to know God, for we know that they that know their God shall be strong and shall do mighty exploits. (Daniel 11:32) It is no wonder the younger generation of Christians are walking away from the Church and the older generation who stay are bitter, tired, and paranoid.
Our generation, now more than ever, needs to hear this message that God knows us. Think of it this way. When a child is born, the first gaze they see is of the parent. For most of their lives, the parent will know the kid. The parent will be involved in all aspects of the kid’s life. The parent will make sure they provide, feed, cloth, and love the kid. It’s only in the kid being known by the parent that the kid gets to know the parent. I thought about it the other day that I was an almost a big kid when I knew my parent’s names. All the while, I called them dad and mum. To this day, I’m still yet to meet a kid who was born and immediately given a manual (bible) on how to know their parent. Kiddo, if you read this manual, you will know who dad is. The parent knows the kid, first of all, and then the kid gets to know the parent. This is how the gospel of grace works.
Here’s something amazing.
Hebrews records this prophetic word by Jeremiah 31:33
For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my laws into their minds, and write them on their hearts, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And they shall not teach, each one his neighbor and each one his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest. For I will be merciful toward their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more.”
Man, I shouted for joy when I read this.
In the good news of grace, we don’t have to teach each other to know the Lord because we shall all know Him. And how will we know him? I will put my laws into their minds, and write them on their hearts, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.
This phrase “I will” is the key. God puts his laws in our minds and writes them on our hearts, he becomes our God, and then makes us his people. In other words, we are known by God.
Man, this should make us live life with confidence, face the future with hope and ingrain in us a rock-solid identity. Just think of it, The God of the universe knows me, so why should I be afraid? The Lord is my fortress, protecting me from danger, so why should I tremble? (Psalms 27:1)
Tim and Kathy Keller in their book, The Meaning of Marriage: Facing the Complexities of Commitment with the Wisdom of God write this,
To be loved but not known is comforting but superficial. To be known and not loved is our greatest fear. But to be fully known and truly loved is, well, a lot like being loved by God. It is what we need more than anything. It liberates us from pretense, humbles us out of our self-righteousness, and fortifies us for any difficulty life can throw at us.
Last, being known by God came at a price. In desiring that we know him, he came down to us and lived among us. God descended from his throne, become human, and in our hands, died a horrible death. On the cross, he turned his face away from himself, suffered judgment for our sins so that we could turn our face towards him and enjoy the blessing of being known by Him. He lost his place in glory so he could lift us up to glory. He became sin so we could become the righteousness of God in Christ.
As I wrote this, I thought, if all this is true (which it is), why am I afraid of the unknown? Why am I worried? Why is my vision limited? Why are my prayers so small? Shouldn’t I dream big and ask this God who knows me big things? Shouldn’t I walk with my head held high? Shouldn’t I be joyful despite the challenges I face? Man, why do I go back again and become a slave once more to the weak and useless spiritual principles of this world?
Man, what if believed I am known by God?
What if you believed you are known by God?
That’s what grace looks like.
[ii] Freud, An Autobiographical Study (1925)]