Knowing the God of the Bible

INTRODUCTION: You might remember the scene in the movie City Slickers where Curley (Jack Palance) tells New York city slicker (Billy Crystal) that the key to life is one thing, just one thing. Naturally Billy Crystal’s character wants to know what that is—and Curley smiles and says, “that’s for you to find out.” The Scriptures tell us that the knowledge of the true and living God is the key to life. J. I. Packer, in his classic work Knowing God wrote, you might think that the most vital issue for any real or would-be Christian in the world today is church union, or social witness, or dialogue with other Christians and other faiths, or refuting this or that –ism, or developing a Christian philosophy and culture, or what have you. But our line of study makes the present-day concentration on these things look like a gigantic conspiracy of misdirection. Of course, it is not that; the issues themselves are real and must be dealt with in their place. But it is tragic that, in paying attention to them, so many in our day seem to have been distracted from what was is, and always will be the true priority for every human being—that is, learning to know God in Christ.[1] What does it mean to “know God”? It does not refer simply to a sense of awareness. It does not refer to simply knowing about something or someone (in the descriptive sense). It is also more than knowledge gained by experience. It is a knowledge that deeply affects us because it changes us. God delights in our knowledge of him. Sinclair Ferguson, one of my former professors said, “What do you and I boast about? What subject of conversation most arouses us and fill our hearts? Do we consider knowing God to be the greatest treasure in the world, and by far our greatest privilege? If not, we are but pygmies in the world of the Spirit. We have sold our Christian birthright for a mess of pottage, and our true Christian experience will be superficial, inadequate, and tragically out of focus.”[2]

I.     WORLDLY KNOWLEDGE: THERE IS A WAY THAT SEEMETH RIGHT UNTO MAN

We live and breathe the air of a culture that denies objective, absolute truth. Noted evangelical sociologist James Davidson Hunter is alarmed over what he calls “Cognitive Bartering” on the part of many evangelicals in our culture today. This can be seen, for example, in the statement of a high-profile self-proclaimed evangelical like Clark Pinnock. He and his circle of open-view theists have “finally made peace with the culture of modernity.”[3] Philip D. Kenneson also identifies himself as an evangelical but categorically insists that there is no such thing as objective truth (and he emphatically adds, “It’s a good thing too!”).[4] How does the world arrive at its concept of truth?

  1. Humanity is the organ of truth and morals, not God.
  2. Humanity can be the final judge of truth and morals when some part of OUR being is absolutized, made into the origin of meaning, and everything else is reduced to it.
  3. Humanity’s reason, feelings, or experiences are absolutized and are made into rationalism, mysticism, and empiricism.
  4. Our conception of God is accordingly to be derived from what man thinks, feels, or experiences.
  5. The Bible is not the final authority. The Bible is to be accepted to the degree it agrees with our reason, feelings, or experiences.

II.    BIBLICAL WISDOM: THE FEAR OF THE LORD

Robert A. Morey contends that there is a distinctively Christian way of knowing truth that does not fall into rationalism, mysticism, or empiricism. It is historically know as Biblicism.

  1. God is the Origin of truth and morals, not man.
  2. God’s revelation in Scripture is the final authority in all matters of doctrine and morals.
  3. Man’s reason, feelings, and experiences are not to be viewed as the origin or final judge of truth, justice, morals, or beauty.
  4. The Bible contains propositional truths that give us facts about God, the world He made, man’s origin, Fall, and need of salvation. Revelation contains inerrant information as well as providing a record of man’s experience with God.
  5. The only valid way to find out such things as whether God knows the future is to examine what the Scriptures have to say on the issue. What someone’s reason, intuition, feelings, or experiences have to say on the subject has no ultimate bearing on the issue whatsoever.
  6. It really does not matter to us if someone feels comfortable or uncomfortable with what the Bible teaches. The basis of historic Christianity, Reformation theology, and evangelical doctrine is the inerrant and totally sufficient Bible.

III.   THE NECESSITY OF KNOWING GOD

J.I. Packer write of this knowledge, “Knowing God involves, first, listening to God’s word and receiving it as the Holy Spirit interprets it, in application to oneself; second, noting God’s nature and character, as His word and works reveal it; third, accepting His invitations, and doing what He commands; fourth, recognising, and rejoicing in, the love that He has shown in thus approaching one and drawing one into this divine fellowship.”[5]

  1. Knowledge of God is important, for only through the knowledge of God can an individual enter into what the Bible terms eternal life (Jn. 17:3; 1 Cor. 2:14).
  2. Knowledge of God is important because it also involves knowledge of ourselves. To know God aright is to know ourselves as we really are (Isa. 6:5; Lk. 5:8).
  3. The knowledge of God also gives us knowledge of this world: its good and its evil, its past and its future, its purpose and its impending judgment at the hand of God.
  4. The knowledge of God is important in that it is the only way to personal holiness (Jer. 9:23-24).
  5. The knowledge of God is important in that it is only through knowledge of God that the church and those who compose it can become strong.

CONCLUSION: The late James Boice wrote, “We do not have a strong church today, nor do we have many strong Christians. We can trace the cause to an acute lack of sound spiritual knowledge. Why is the church weak? Why are individual Christians weak? It is because they have allowed their minds to become conformed to the “spirit of the age,” with its mechanistic, godless thinking. They have forgotten what God is like and what he promises to do for those who trust him. Ask an average Christian to talk about God. After getting past the expected answers you will find that his god is a little god of vacillating sentiments. He is a god who would like to save the world, but who cannot. He would like to restrain evil, but somehow he finds it beyond his power. So he has withdrawn into semiretirement, being willing to give good advice in a grandfatherly sort of way, but for the most part he has left his children to fend for themselves in a dangerous environment. Such a god is not the God of the Bible. Those who know their God perceive the error in that kind of thinking and act accordingly. The God of the Bible is not weak; he is strong. He is all-mighty. Nothing happens without his permission or apart from his purposes—even evil. Nothing disturbs or puzzles him. His purposes are always accomplished. Therefore, those who know him rightly act with boldness, assured that God is with them to accomplish his own desirable purposes in their lives.”[6]

ENDNOTES

[1] J.I. Packer, Knowing God (IVP, 1973), p. 254.

[2] S. Ferguson, A Heart For God (The Banner of Truth Trust, 1987), p. 4.

[3] Modern Reformation “Interview with Greg Boyd: Is God Dependent On Us?” vol. 8, No. 6, Nov/Dec 1999. Boyd is another professing evangelical who espouses the Open-View Theism that denies that God possesses detailed and exhaustive knowledge of the future. This position will be dealt with extensively in this series.

[4] cf. his article with this as its title in Christian Apologetics In the Modern World eds. T.R. Phillips & D.L. Okholm (IVP, 1995).

[5] Packer, op.cit. p. 32.

[6] J.M. Boice, Foundations of the Christian Faith, Vol. I: The Sovereign God (IVP, 1979), p. 24.

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