Who Are You – Do You Know? – Brian Rosner

Wednesday, August 30th, 2017

Being known by God gives our lives comfort, humility and significance

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“I think it’s ironic that we’re told to be true to ourselves but it’s probably harder than ever before to know who we are.”
“There is this urge in every human being as the Bible indicates and is borne out in human experience, to look for something bigger than ourselves. To connect with something larger, to have a sense of awe.”

“He remembers us, our names are written in the Book of Life, He knows our names, and Jesus says He calls His sheep by name.”

Comments from Brian Rosner who has published a new book called ‘Known By God: A Biblical Theology of Personal Identity.’

There is lots of popular Christian literature that helps us to ‘Know God’.   But what do we know about the idea that we are also ‘Known by Him’?

‘Knowing God’

It brings into focus the idea that Knowing God and being Known by God affects our ‘personal identity’.

Brian Rosner

The common consensus on personal identity today is usually all about ‘Doing It Yourself’.  As a consequence, there’s a growing understanding of what people’s identities look like when they are detached from God.

Brian Rosner, principal of Ridley College in Melbourne, said many Christians are familiar with the J.I. Packer book ‘Knowing God’ and that knowing God personally is one of the ways we do evangelism.

“Knowing God is the sort of thing that drives us and makes life not futile and pointless. There are a good twenty odd references in the Bible to being known by God and there are critical points on the Bible’s story line,” Brian outlined.

He was referring to Abraham, David, Moses, the prophet Jeremiah and the nation of Israel as examples of all being known by God. The New Testament also makes a contribution.

‘Weird identities’

“For example in Galatians 4 Paul says to the Galatian Christians, ‘At one time you didn’t know God but now you do know God.’ But then he corrects himself and says, ‘Or rather you’re known by God,” Brian said, saying that even Packer in his book says that being known by God is really the foundation of our relationship with God.

20Twenty host Neil Johnson contributed the thought that some people have distanced themselves from God and are working on all sorts of weird identities as they search to find themselves and are not wanting to know God.

Brian admitted there’s a shift in Western culture in the area of identity formation.

“People now form themselves from within. You can see that in the advice you hear everywhere to be true to yourself and follow your heart. That’s good as far is it goes but it doesn’t take you very far in the end.”

“I think it’s ironic that we’re told to be true to ourselves but it’s probably harder than ever before to know who you are,” Brian expressed before describing the world we live in today as an ocean, unlike previous social environments where we were mostly all swept along in the same direction.

‘We’re spoilt for choice’

“Now you can move in any direction you like. We’re spoilt for choice and we’ve got that horrible tension where being true to yourself sounds like an ironic dig in a sense.”

“It’s actually hard to be true to yourself if you don’t know who you are.”

Neil Johnson picked up on that and raised Paul’s next words to the Galatians where he asked them, ‘How is it that you’re turning back to those weak and miserable forces.’

“If you’re not going to be finding your identity in God you’re likely to be finding weak and miserable forces,” Neil added.

“It doesn’t sound too complimentary does it,” Brian responded. “I think there’s a real danger in neglecting looking up to find out who you are.”

“Even in Australian culture where the census revealed religion is in decline, there’s a good 20 percent of people who claim to be spiritual in some sense,” Brian tabled and mentioned Arthur Stace’s campaign some decades ago in Sydney where he wrote the word ‘Eternity’ on footpaths.

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‘Known by God’

“So there does seem to be this irrepressible urge for some kind of connection with the divine with God, and that urge needs to be met if people are to have a stable and a satisfying sense of self,” Brian observed.

But Neil Johnson’s urge was to stick with the Scriptures, particularly Paul’s warning to the Galatian Christians as quoted a further verse for Brian to make comment on.

“Paul says, ‘Do you wish to be enslaved by them all over again?’ Is there something special in being known by God and knowing God that brings us this level of freedom as Christian believers, whereas alternatives to finding our identity could be aligned to the idea of being enslaved?”

Brian responded by saying the alternative to knowing God and ‘looking up’ and being known by Him in return, is idolatry in the end.

“There is this urge in every human being as the Bible indicates and is borne out in human experience, to look for something bigger than ourselves. To connect with something larger, to have a sense of awe.”

‘I never knew you’

But as Brian Rosner pointed out, there are problems with the alternatives to connecting with the true and living God.

“Those things end up being idols and from the Bible’s perspective idols are gods that fail. They end up demeaning and disappointing those who worship them,” Brian commented.

Brian gave an explanation to clarify any misunderstandings people might have about God when considering His omniscience and omnipresence. In other words, He’s always with us and He knows all about us regardless of what we do.

“But there is a sense in which God only knows personally and intimately in a relational sense, those who come to faith in Jesus.”

“At the last judgment Jesus will say to those who are condemned, ‘I never knew you.’”

It’s that personal relational knowledge Brian said is best compared to a child and its parent. And again he refers to Galatians chapter 4 saying it’s all about the doctrine of adoption.

‘God gives us our identity’

“When we come to faith we are adopted into God’s family and then God knows us as His children.”

Brian said that in the human experience it’s certainly the case that parents in one sense give their children their identity by knowing them.

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“They name them. They give them their earliest experiences and they know what they’re like. In every sense there’s this personal intimate knowledge,” Brian admitted.

“That’s the sense in which God gives us our identity – as a father or as a mother knows their child.’

Neil quoted Jesus from the Book of John chapter 10. “I know My sheep. They listen to My voice.’ This idea of listening is an important part of finding our identity,” said Neil.

Brian said it’s a universal urge of all human beings to be known, recognised and remembered.

‘Recognised, remembered, known’

“Hugh Mackay the Australian social researcher wrote a book called ‘What Makes Us Tick’ and he names ten desires that drive us.”

“The one he says is most important that stays with us our whole lives is the desire to be recognized, remembered, to be known. And that’s what God does for us in Christ,” Brian highlighted.

“He remembers us, our names are written in the Book of Life, He knows our names, and in the John 10 passage you just mentioned, Jesus says He calls His sheep by name,” Brian added and referred to Jesus comments in John 20 where Mary Magdalene comes to the empty tomb.

“She meets Jesus but doesn’t recognize Him. But finally comes to recognize Him when He says to her, ‘Mary.’”

Brian said it’s that personal intimate knowledge and the fact that he knows Mary’s name is so significant.

‘Who am I?’

He said his new book, ‘Known By God: A Biblical Theology of Personal Identity,’ was written from personal experience.

Brian was going through his own identity crisis some 20 or more years ago describing it as a difficult patch in his life.

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“Knowing God had always been a very important motivation and drive for me,” Brian confessed, saying it was the idea that God knew him.

“If I didn’t know myself then at least God did,” said Brian before telling a story about Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German pastor who was involved in the plots to kill Hitler and who was executed just before Germany surrendered.

“Just a few months before his execution he wrote a poem called ‘Who Am I?’”

Brian called it an anguished program where Bonhoeffer repeats the question ‘who am I’ some seven times.

“Deep inside Bonhoeffer’s struggling for certainty. He’s worried about all sorts of things and the last two lines goes like this: ‘Who am I? Lonely questions mock me. Who I really am, You know me, I am Yours.’”

What Dietrich Bonhoeffer had written was a great comfort for Brian Rosner, aware in the knowledge that God knew him and had given him a safe and secure identity.


Brian grew up in southwest Sydney and spent sixteen years studying and working overseas before returning to Australia in 2000. He has worked as an electrician’s off-sider, a public servant, a school teacher, and a university and theological college lecturer. His ministry experience has ranged from student work and the local church to theological education, a field in which he has been serving for most of the last twenty years.

Brian’s father was an Austrian Jew who became a Christian while living with his parents as a refugee in Shanghai. Brian was raised in a Christian family, but it wasn’t until his university years that the Lord took hold of his life and his faith and trust in Christ crucified and risen took root.

He is also passionate about promoting the gospel in the public sphere and is a fellow of The Centre for Public Christianity. In recent years his articles have appeared in The Age and The Australian and he has been interviewed on Compass and The Spirit of Things.

Brian is married to Natalie and has four children and one grandchild. As one known and loved by God, Brian seeks to find his adequacy in God as he serves as the Principal of Ridley College.


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