7 Differences Between Knowing About Jesus and Having a Personal Relationship with Him

Contributing Writer
Updated May 03, 2024
7 Differences Between Knowing About Jesus and Having a Personal Relationship with Him

“Do you have a personal relationship with Jesus?” 

This became the popular phrase for salvation as Evangelicalism began to grow in popularity and influence in Western culture. Much of the previous conversion techniques focused on outward engagement: baptism, taking communion, going through a confirmation class, and putting your name on the member list at a local church. Yet people can perform all of these acts and still not live a transformed life, and many people and spiritual leaders have proven this through their corruption despite their religious actions. 

True transformation begins from within, as Jesus and the New Testament make very clear. That inward change begins with an interaction with God, who is first a Person we can now engage with through the work of Christ. Therefore, people began to differentiate between relationship and empty religion by asking, “Do you have a personal relationship with Jesus?” 

Some say it’s been overused to the point of a cliché. Anything can become an empty religious tradition, even a statement attempting to avoid it. At the same time, the principle behind the cliché is sound. A personal encounter with Christ and the Father changes our hearts and, by extension, our lives. The inner transformation will result in different actions. 

So, what is the difference between an empty religious tradition and a genuine relationship? Here are seven differences between knowing about Jesus and knowing Jesus personally.

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Man knelt down at the edge of a cliff with a map; what is the difference between knowing about Jesus and knowing Him peronally?

1. Revelation

When we experience the revelation of Jesus through the Holy Spirit, it goes beyond mere intellectual knowledge or factual understanding. Instead, it involves a profound spiritual encounter that transforms hearts and minds. 

The revelation by the Holy Spirit brings about a deep sense of conviction, understanding, and intimacy with Jesus. It opens our eyes to the truth of who Jesus is—the Son of God, the Savior of humanity, and the source of eternal life. This revelation instills a sense of awe and reverence for Jesus, compelling us to respond in faith and surrender to his lordship.

Paul talks about this in 1 Corinthians 2:10-12: But God has revealed them to us through His Spirit. For the Spirit searches all things, yes, the deep things of God. For what man knows the things of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so, no one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God.”

Here, Paul explains how we can’t know anything about God through intellectualism or emotionalism. Just as we can’t know the inner heart of a man or woman without their self-revelation, we can’t know God unless he reveals himself to us. This is even more so since he is transcendent and unlike us in many ways. 

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Woman watching the sunset; the difference between knowing about Jesus and knowing Him personally.

2. Intimacy

All humans require two things to survive: intimacy and purpose. Just as we can’t know a person unless they reveal themselves, this revelation leads to the intimacy with God we desire. Humanity was created for this intimacy with God and had it at Creation, and yet through the Fall, we experience separation. We can read a book about a person, but we can’t be intimate with a book. We need to meet and know the person. 

We find this intimacy we long for through Christ. Jesus declared, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). Through a personal relationship with Jesus, we are brought into communion with the Father, experiencing the intimacy of a loving and transformative relationship.

Intimacy with the Father is the result of knowing Jesus as Lord and Savior. Through Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross and subsequent resurrection, we’ve been reconciled to the Father and adopted into his family as beloved children (Ephesians 1:5). This intimate relationship is characterized by trust, love, and mutual fellowship as we come to know the Father’s heart and delight in his presence.

Knowing Jesus brings about transformation. As we abide in Jesus and his Word, the Holy Spirit empowers us to bear fruit reflecting God's character (John 15:5). This intimate relationship with the Father shapes our identity, purpose, and destiny as we walk in obedience and alignment with His will.

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Business man stopping to help a homeless man; the difference between knowing about Jesus and knowing Him personally.

3. Motivated by Love

While there are consequences for disobedience and even rewards for faithfulness, our ultimate motivation is now love. Without a personal relationship with God, we can't know him, much less love him. And if we're to be transformed from within, love must also be our motivation. 

Jesus Himself emphasized the centrality of love in His teachings, declaring that the greatest commandments are to love God with all one's heart, soul, and mind and to love one's neighbor as oneself (Matthew 22:37-39). Through his life, death, and resurrection, Jesus demonstrated the depth of God's love for us, sacrificially laying down his life for the redemption and reconciliation of mankind.

Living by obligation only gets us so far. Religious force or obligation is based on fear, not love. And God desires for us to live in his love. 

Once we encounter his love, we can respond to him with the same. It involves opening one's heart to receive God's love and grace, surrendering to his will, and allowing his love to transform every aspect of our lives, knowing he always desires the best for us. 

This also shows us how to love others as he loved us. Jesus taught His disciples, "By this everyone will know that you are my disciples if you love one another" (John 13:35). Through knowing his love, we are empowered by the Spirit to show compassion and kindness and to extend forgiveness and grace to others. This includes sharing the greatest of love through declaring the Gospel

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Friends supporting a friend; the difference between knowing who Jesus is and knowing Him personally.

4. Personal Transformation

We need to change. Desperately. All humanity has sinned, rebelled against God, and earned death and God’s wrath. We require his atonement and forgiveness, but the Father doesn’t stop there. Through Christ and the Spirit, we are changed from within to live differently, no longer hurting others but loving them. 

Religious duty is performance; as performance, we are actors, not sincere followers. This performance may fool some or all, but it never fools God. 

As we develop a relationship with Jesus, we are reconciled to the Father and receive the gift of salvation, being justified and forgiven, made righteous in God’s sight. Through a personal relationship with Jesus, we are empowered by the Holy Spirit to grow in faith, love, and obedience. They are transformed from the inside out as they are conformed more closely to the image of Christ, reflecting His love, compassion, and character in their lives.

In addition, knowing Jesus personally equips us to face the challenges and trials of life with courage and resilience. As we trust in Jesus’ promises and rely on his strength and guidance, we are empowered to overcome obstacles, persevere in faith, and experience victory in the midst of adversity.

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Man humbly praying with his head down on a Bible; difference between knowing about Jesus and having a personal relationship with Him.

5. Humility

God gives grace to the humble and resists the proud. Simply knowing about Jesus leads to pride, intellectually or based on our own ability to know or communicate. However, when we are face to face with the only power, the Creator and Judge of all things, we recognize who he is and who we are in reality. 

Jesus Himself exemplified humility in his earthly ministry despite being the Son of God. He demonstrated servanthood by washing His disciples’ feet, teaching them that true greatness comes from serving others (John 13:1-17). By knowing Jesus personally, we are inspired to follow his example of humility, recognizing our dependence on God and the need for His grace and mercy.

Knowing God intimately leads to a deeper understanding of our own limitations and shortcomings. In the presence of Jesus, we become aware of their sinfulness and inadequacy, acknowledging our need for forgiveness and redemption. This awareness fosters humility as we surrender our pride and self-reliance, submitting to God’s will and guidance.

This humility leads us to have confidence in Christ and him alone, not in ourselves. Through this personal experience, our worship and prayers become sincere and powerful. As a result, we become thankful and generous to others. 

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Woman looking up to the clouds, praising God.

6. Awe and Wonder

Our culture has lost its awe and wonder at life. God created all good things for us to enjoy and desires for us to live a life of wonder and creativity. Adam and Eve were placed in a perfect garden to explore and replicate. After the Fall, struggle and fear replaced the loving awe we longed for. Simply knowing about God and his works may intrigue us, but we won't experience joy and wonder through God's personal revelation of all he's done and will do. 

Jesus Himself revealed the awe-inspiring reality of God's presence and power. In his teachings and miracles, Jesus displayed God's authority over nature, sickness, and even death, leaving those who witnessed his works amazed and filled with wonder. Not everyone who witnessed Jesus' miracles responded with wonder. Many religious leaders felt threatened and resisted the God they claimed to worship. These scribes and priests missed the awe and wonder apart from knowing God intimately. 

Jesus said if his disciples saw him, they saw the Father (John 14:9). Knowing Jesus personally opens the door to a deeper understanding of the Father's character and attributes. This revelation of God's character fills us with awe and wonder as we marvel at the depth of his love and grace towards humanity.

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Man praising God; difference between knowing about Jesus and having a relationship with Him.

7. Genuine Hope and Peace

When we develop a personal relationship with Jesus, we experience a deep sense of assurance and confidence in God’s promises, leading to a profound inner peace that transcends circumstances.

Jesus offers this promise of hope and peace to those who follow him. He said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (John 14:27). The world’s peace is based on situations, the absence of conflict in our lives. And yet, many who live luxurious lives still experience deep inner conflict struggles. We require a deeper peace and rest. Through a personal relationship with Jesus, believers receive this shalom—a peace that surpasses understanding and guards our hearts and minds (Philippians 4:7).

With this peace, we now anchor our hope in his unchanging character and promises. Jesus says, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die” (John 11:25). This secure hope in Jesus’ victory over sin and death brings comfort and assurance, even in the face of life’s uncertainties and trials.

Knowing Jesus personally leads to a deep trust in God’s providence and sovereignty. Believers are confident that nothing can separate them from the love of God in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:38-39). This inner peace radiates outward, impacting relationships and interactions with others. We become agents of his peace in the world, bringing hope and reconciliation to a broken and hurting world. 

The Gospels tell a story about Jesus meeting a wealthy young man. Even though the young man had wealth and worldly comfort and followed the basics of God’s Law, he knew he needed something more. He came to Jesus and asked what he had to do to be saved. What was missing? 

Jesus called this young man to give up his worldly comfort and wealth and give it all away to have treasure where it matters, in the eternal heaven. Jesus saved the most important part for last. “Come, follow me.” (Matthew 19:16-22)

Come and be with me, Jesus says. Walk side by side with me in a relationship. Know me. Listen to me. See me. Trust in me alone, not anything in this world. That’s what you’re missing. 

Unfortunately, the young man loved his wealth and worldly comfort so much he couldn’t part with it. He went away sad. He walked away from the very answer to his question, Jesus. 

May we not make the same mistake. May we not get caught up in the religious game or traditions and miss Christ at the heart, the most important part. The only important part. Without him, it all means nothing. Let’s cling to him and have a relationship with him. With Christ are all his benefits. 

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Britt MooneyBritt Mooney lives and tells great stories. As an author of fiction and non -iction, he is passionate about teaching ministries and nonprofits the power of storytelling to inspire and spread truth. Mooney has a podcast called Kingdom Over Coffee and is a published author of We Were Reborn for This: The Jesus Model for Living Heaven on Earth as well as Say Yes: How God-Sized Dreams Take Flight.

Originally published Monday, 25 March 2024.