Here is artist, visual theologian, and animator Chris Powers of the ministry Full of Eyes with a visual representation of the verse from 1 Corinthians 8:3. His work can be viewed on Patreon (where you can support him also), website Full of Eyes, and Youtube. His explanationis below.
Artist’s statement below:
1 Corinthians 8:3, “…if anyone loves God, he is known by God.”
The Passage Explained
The tense of the verbs used in 1 Corinthians 8:3 sheds some light on Paul’s intended meaning. Translated in a way that emphasizes the verbal tenses, 1 Corinthians 8:3 could read:
“But if anyone is loving God (present active tense), he has been known by God (perfect passive tense).”
Paul’s point here is not that our love for God somehow causes us to stand out in the crowd so that God acknowledges us, or that our love “earns” or “secures” or “attracts” His knowledge of us. Rather, he is teaching that God’s knowledge of us is the foundation for our love of Him.
Now, of course, since God’s knowledge is perfect and infinite, God “knows” all people. How, then, can I say that His knowledge of a person is the basis of their love for Him? If God knows all people, and if Paul tells us that God’s knowledge of a person leads to their love for God, then how is it that all people do not love God?
The answer comes when we realize the sort of knowledge Paul likely has in view here. He is not talking about God’s general knowledge of all people, but of the saving, choosing, predestining knowledge that He has for His elect people. It’s the sort of knowledge that we read about in Romans 8:29-30,
“For those whom He foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, in order that He might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom He predestined He also called, and those whom He called He also justified, and those whom He justified He also glorified.”
In this passage, God’s knowledge of a person constitutes their being predestined to glory in Christ. The idea is not that God knows that a person will trust Christ and so—on the basis of that knowledge—predestines them. Rather it is because God knows them as His own that they subsequently trust Christ. In Romans 8:29-30, God’s knowledge of a person is an effective knowledge, a choosing knowledge, a knowledge that causes the one known to become what God—in His sovereign will as Creator—knows them to be, namely, His elect people.
God’s knowledge of us is foundational to who we are, in fact, it might be argued that we are nothing other than what God knows us to be. We are His creatures, sustained from moment to moment by His will (Hebrews 1:3), if He ever—even for one second—”forgot” about us, we would be obliterated from the timeline of reality….we would cease to exist. We are only because God knows us to be. And since His knowledge of us is the spring of our existence, if He knows us to be His children in Christ, then that is what we are. This is why His foreknowledge of His people as being united to Christ eventually manifests in their lives as individual choices to trust in Christ—we are in Christ because He knows us to be in Christ, not the other way around.
It seems to me that Paul has this sort of “Romans 8:29-30 knowing” in mind when he says in 1 Corinthians 3:8 that, “if anyone is loving God, he has been known by God” (my translation). In other words, a person’s love for the One True God as revealed in Jesus Christ is a strong proof they have been known by God and are thus chosen as one of His own. When our hearts and minds behold the glory of God in Christ (2 Cor.4:6) and rise up to Him in adoration and faith and hope, we are bearing witness to ourselves and others that God has known us—from all eternity—to be His own in His Son (this same concept seems to be stated in different words in Romans 8:15-16 where the cry of our hearts to God as “Abba” bears witness that we are His children).
However, it must be noted that there is no love for God if there is no love for others. Paul makes this clear in 1 Corinthians 8 and following as he elaborates on the absolute necessity of building others up, laying down one’s rights for the good of neighbor, etc. The love for God that bears witness to having been known by God must also be Christ-like love for other.
So, in response to the Corinthians who were using their knowledge as a bludgeon to beat others into submission, Paul dismisses their “knowledge” as worthless and points instead to the necessity not primarily of knowing, but of being known, being known by God. If God has known us, then we will be marked by a love for God that manifests as a self-giving, Christ-imaging love for others.
But how can one seek this knowledge? How can one seek to be known by God? You cannot. Rather, Paul shifts the emphasis from building one’s self up to building others up, i.e., to loving others. If anyone has true knowledge, it will bear the fruit of love of God and others, and where such love is present, it bears witness—not only to the knowledge of the one who loves—but (and more fundamentally) to God’s knowledge of them. If there is no love, then there is no evidence of knowledge—neither a person’s knowledge of God, nor God’s electing knowledge of that person.
The Picture Explained
In this picture I tried to emphasize the two types of knowledge that Paul addresses in 1 Corinthians 8:1-3. At the edges of the image are those who “think they know something,” that is, those whose knowledge builds themselves up rather than building others up. The “light” around their heads is dark gold to show the flawed nature of their knowing, they “do not yet know as they ought to know.”
In the center of the image is a depiction of the second sort of knowledge that Paul mentions, namely, being known by God. The woman’s head and shoulders are encompassed within the halo that represents God’s knowledge of her in Christ, portraying that not only is she known by Him, but that His knowledge of her illuminates her understanding as well (Galatians 4:9). Her outstretched hands are in the wounded hands of the Son, showing that God’s electing knowledge of her entails her being purchased by the atoning work of Christ.
However, the woman’s outstretched hands also place her in a posture that images Christ on the cross. God’s knowledge of her in Christ results in her conformity to the love of Christ. This self-giving love is also pictured by the water flowing from her heart into the Christian community, even over those who do not love in return.
More foundational than knowing something about God, is to be known by God in His Son, Jesus Christ. To be known in this way by the Creator of the universe is to be His blood-bought child, and will of necessity result in our knowing and loving Him in Christ, which in turn, results in our love for those around us. Love is the measure of knowledge.