4) I Know Your Works (2:2a)
Sin is strengthened by the illusion of secrecy. The wicked justifies his iniquity by saying “in his heart, ‘God has forgotten, he has hidden his face, he will never see it’” (Psalm 10:11). Believing that his thoughts are known only to himself, he covets. Convinced that his fantasies are private affairs, he lusts. Persuaded that no one has access to his heart, he hates and blasphemes and revels in the passions of his flesh. Confident that God is either unable or unwilling to take note of his deeds, he steals, murders, fornicates, and lies.
But Jesus shatters the fantasy, both for Christian and non-Christian, by declaring: “I know your works!” Indeed, this riveting claim appears at the beginning of each of the seven letters. In six of those instances the same refrain is found: “I know your works” (cf. Rev. 2:2,13,19; 3:1,8,15). In the seventh (Rev. 2:9), he proclaims, “I know your tribulation and your poverty.”
How does your knowledge of God’s knowledge of you change your life? If it doesn’t, it should. Consider these affirmations of the knowledge that God has of your soul. It is both pervasive and perfect.
“And you, Solomon my son, know the God of your father and serve him with a whole heart and with a willing mind, for the Lord searches all hearts and understands every plan and thought” (1 Chronicles 28:9a).
“O God, you know my folly; the wrongs I have done are not hidden from you” (Psalm 29:5).
"The eyes of the Lord are in every place, keeping watch on the evil and the good" (Proverbs 15:3).
“Sheol and Abaddon lie open before the Lord, how much more the hearts of the children of man!” (Proverbs 15:11).
“Why do you say, O Jacob, and speak, O Israel, ‘My way is hidden from the Lord, and my right is disregarded by my God’? Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable” (Isaiah 40:27-28).
“O Lord of hosts, who tests the righteous, who sees the heart and the mind, . . .” (Jeremiah 20:12).
"The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately sick; who can understand it? 'I the Lord search the heart and test the mind, to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his deeds’” (Jeremiah 17:9-10; cf. also Jer. 16:17; 18:23; 1 Kings 8:39).
“And the Spirit of the Lord fell upon me, and he said to me, ‘Say, Thus says the Lord: So you think, O house of Israel. For I know the things that come into your mind’” (Ezekiel 11:5).
"For your Father knows what you need before you ask him" (Matthew 6:8).
“And they prayed and said, ‘You, Lord, who know the hearts of all, show which one of these two you have chosen’” (Acts 1:24).
“And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account” (Hebrews 4:13).
“God is greater than our heart, and knows everything” (1 John 3:20).
God's knowledge of the inner man is also affirmed in Deuteronomy 31:21; 1 Samuel 16:7; Psalm 94:9-11; Isaiah 66:18; Jeremiah 11:20; 32:19; Luke 16:15 (“God knows your hearts”); Acts 15:8; Rom. 8:27 (“he who searches hearts”); 1 Corinthians 3:20; 1 Thessalonians 2:4; and Revelation 2:23;. For his awareness of all our activities and ways, see also 1 Samuel 2:3; Job 23:10; 24:23; 31:4; Psalms 1:6; 33:13-15; 37:18; 119:168; Isaiah 29:15; Matthew 10:30.
Let’s think for a moment about how God thinks! The first thing to remember is that whereas we learn by observation and reason (we employ induction and deduction), God simply knows! His knowledge is intuitive, innate, and immediate. He neither discovers nor forgets.
More than that, he knows everything at once! With God the act of knowing is complete and instantaneous. He thinks about all things at the same time, and is never not thinking about them (forgive the double negative!). As Wayne Grudem said, If God “should wish to tell us the number of grains of sand on the seashore or the number of stars in the sky, he would not have to count them all quickly like some kind of giant computer, nor would he have to call the number to mind because it was something he had not thought about for a time. Rather, he knows all things at once. All of these facts and all other things that he knows are always fully present in his consciousness" (191).
God’s knowledge of us and all things is independent, that is to say, he doesn’t get it from anyone or anything external to himself. This was Isaiah’s point in asking rhetorically, “Who has measured the Spirit of the Lord, or what man shows him his counsel? Whom did he consult, and who made him understand? Who taught him the path of justice, and taught him knowledge, and showed him the way of understanding?” (Isa. 40:13-14).
God's knowledge of you and me is both exhaustive and infallible. He knows everything and he knows it perfectly. He holds no false beliefs about us and makes no errors of judgment. God knows exhaustively all his own deeds and plans (Acts 15:18) as well as ours. No secret of the human heart, no thought of the mind or feeling of the soul escapes his gaze. Carl Henry points out: "Psychologists and psychoanalysts speak of deep areas of subconscious experience of which human beings are hardly aware. But God knows all men thoroughgoingly, psychologists and psychoanalysts and theologians included" (V:268).
This is explicitly affirmed in Psalm 139 – O LORD, you have searched me and known me! You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from afar. You search out my path and my lying down and are acquainted with all my ways. Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O LORD, you know it altogether” (vv. 1-4).
"Searching" is an anthropomorphic image, for "God knows all things naturally and as a matter of course, and not by any effort on his part. Searching ordinarily implies a measure of ignorance which is removed by observation; of course this is not the case with the Lord; but the meaning of the Psalmist is, that the Lord knows us thoroughly as if he had examined us minutely, and had pried into the most secret corners of our being" (Spurgeon, 258).
David's choice of words is designed to encompass the totality of his life's activities. God's knowledge extends to every posture, gesture, exercise, pursuit, state, and condition possible. "When I am active and when I am passive and everything in between . . . Thou knowest it all! My most common and casual acts, my most needful and trivial moments . . . none escapes Thine eye!"
Every emotion, feeling, idea, thought, conception, resolve, aim, doubt, motive, perplexity, and anxious moment lies before God like an open book. And God knows all this "from afar"! The distance between heaven and earth by which men vainly imagine God's knowledge to be circumscribed (limited, bounded) offers no obstacle.
Spurgeon said it best: "Though my thought be invisible to the sight, though as yet I be not myself cognizant of the shape it is assuming, yet thou hast it under thy consideration, and thou perceivest its nature, its source, its drift, its result. Never dost thou misjudge or wrongly interpret me; my inmost thought is perfectly understood by thine impartial mind. Though thou shouldest give but a glance at my heart, and see me as one sees a passing meteor moving afar, yet thou wouldst by that glimpse sum up all the meanings of my soul, so transparent is everything to thy piercing glance" (259).
God knows "all my ways", which is to say that every step, every move, every journey, is under his gaze. What possible hope of concealment is there when God knows what we will say before we do? Before we utter a word, God knows it all (thoroughly, completely, accurately; v. 4).
So, if sin is strengthened by the illusion of secrecy, what better way to destroy its power than by meditating on the exhaustive and gloriously infallible knowledge that God has of us! Here again is the declaration of Jesus: “I know your works!”