The essence of the Gospel of the Kingdom of God was expressed by Paul in his letter to the church at Philippians (3.10), "That I may know him and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death." It reveals the only way to attain the salvation of God and the steps by which we progress in the blessedness of friendship with Christ Jesus.
Firstly, "that I may know him." How can we, confined to a human environment, get to know the Lord Jesus who inhabits eternity with His Father? The answer to this may well vary from one believer to another but are there any basic principles that underlie the relationship? Many will begin, possibly at an early age, to know about Him through the Bible and through His people but they must go on to a really personal friendship. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, in prayer and devotion we talk to Him much like a child begins to converse with its parents. There are times, perhaps right from the beginning of our Christian life, when the Lord speaks clearly and directly to our hearts. This is supported by our familiarity with God's Word which must be allowed to challenge us and also our preconceived ideas about God and His purpose for us. Daily, hourly, moment by moment, we become aware of the Lord. Sometimes, He speaks to us through our brethren in Christ, sometimes through the experiences of life but in it all, His Word remains the 'touch stone' by which we can be sure that the communication is from Him.
Secondly there is "the power of His resurrection". It was God's mighty power that raised Jesus from the dead. The energising power of the Holy Spirit must transform our hearts and lives if our knowledge of Christ is to be fruitful in bringing us to God. At first this transformation may only be recognised by ourselves and those closest to us. But as the years pass, the very likeness of our heavenly Friend becomes apparent to others. There are definite changes in behaviour and our attitudes will affect every word and action. In the closeness of our relationship to the Lord we will want to be like Him so that others will want to share the friendship. This is where the Christian life is so different from 'religious philosophy'. World religions, maybe with high ethical standards, can only inform, they cannot bring real change because they depend on personal effort to change oneself. Christ who is our life, changes for real - or He will do so if we allow Him into our hearts. This is done by mighty power, unique in the universe, which brought again our Lord Jesus from the dead.
Thirdly, the effect of knowing Christ and being changed from this world's standard to those of His, must make us begin to experience "the fellowship of His sufferings". In sharing the life of Jesus it is inevitable that the world will oppose us as it. opposed Him. All who have sought to live godly lives, from the beginning of the world, have found that there are those who oppose them and will oppose them to the point of killing them. Friendship with Jesus, upon whom the world exuded its worst venom, is bound to bring upon them the enmity of some who would wish to destroy our Master. When Jesus called His disciples to follow Him, He left them no doubt about what they must suffer, and as He came to the end of His earthly life He further assured them that as the world had hated Him so it would hate them. Hut then, friends share experiences and have a common goal. Just as Jesus' experiences were part of His preparation to make Him a sympathetic High Priest, so those things through which we pass will prepare us to share His work of transforming the world. But our Father has not left us to bear life's trials alone. The power of the Holy Spirit in our hearts enables us to take whatever the world tries to "throw at us". It is that same Spirit that binds us to Christ and enables us to go wherever He leads.
Finally, "being made conformable to his death" takes us through the experience that Paul described as being 'crucified with Christ'. Right at the beginning of our Christian walk with Christ, we are baptised into His death. But conforming to His death also means sharing His life - His resurrection life - that new life which He entered upon when He went to His Father's throne. It is that putting to death of the human life and that move forward into the new life with Him, that makes us ready to enter the throne room of Heaven, ourselves. "If we suffer 2. with him we shall live with him" wrote Paul to Timothy. Further to the Philippians, Paul writes that conforming to God's dear Son is effective in us and through which we enter His death. So, continues Paul "if by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead."
Paul's longing desire was to know Christ Jesus in the truest sense and to the utmost degree. Knowing Christ meant more to him than anything else in the world and in his quest for it he was prepared to sacrifice every other valued treasure. He declares in verse 7 "what things were gain to me these I counted loss." His material gains, humanly speaking, were weighty; he was "of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, an Hebrew of the Hebrews, a Pharisee of the Pharisees, full of zeal, "in righteousness blameless according to the Law." He had increasing ambition, innumerable friends, exceptional talent and great treasures, yet "I count all things loss for the excellency of the knowing Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as refuse that I may win Christ and be found in him." Paul's wholehearted effort has been an outstanding example to every follower of the Lord and reveals the secret of success in the Christian life and walk. When we consider Paul's gifts and social advantages, his ambition as a scholar and reputation as a citizen it is not surprising that he had a wrong view of Jesus of Nazareth and His followers. The false accusations made against its members incited Saul of Tarsus to persecute the Church. But neither is it surprising that when he met the Lord on the Damascus road and was rightfully informed, with eyes opened to the truth, the same energies helped to change his life. In his defence before King Agrippa he said "I myself was convinced, that I ought to oppose Jesus of Nazareth." After relating his conversion he added, "I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision." What a wonderful confession to make; from that point onwards he expressed obedience to the Divine Will in every detail of his life. His devotion to God and service to others became the chief characteristic of his life; he was poured out as an oblation on behalf of the Church. It is evident that it was the hungering and thirsting to know Him and his prompt obedience that opened the windows of Heaven and brought abundant blessings throughout his ministry. It was also filled with trials and difficulties to the end and he was able to say "for our light affliction that is for a moment works for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory."
Such a life is like the priest's two hands, full of sweet incense, crumbled upon the golden altar with the smoke of sweet perfume ascending beyond the veil into the Divine Presence. To know Him is very different from knowing about Him. So many can say that they know of Jesus, but not many are able to bear testimony to knowing Him with close personal contact and in deep friendship. To really know a person we must understand them and instinctively know their wishes and their will. We shall recognise their trend of thought and be well acquainted with their ways. We shall be conversant with their purposes and accustomed to their tastes and choices and recognise their judgment. To do this we must enjoy close acquaintance, spend time in their company and share their joys, trials, activities and experiences. By these same means we can enjoy close relationship and sweet knowledge of Christ. To know Him we need to be influenced and built up by His word, and walk in His way. Jesus said "The words that I speak to you, they are Spirit and they are life." These enable us to increase in the knowledge of God. In this we can rejoice and give praise and honour and glory to Him. "Thus says the Lord, let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, let not the mighty man glory in his might, let not the rich man glory in his riches: but let him that glories glory in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lard who practice steadfast love, justice and righteousness, in the earth: for in these things I delight." (Jer. 9.23-24 RSV). "This is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ. whom you have sent." (John 17.3).