Dr. Richard L. Strauss
September 16, 1979
Polls show that a great majority of Americans believe in the existence of God. Nearly everyone has had doubts at sometime or other, but when the average person considers the evidence thoughtfully, he comes to the conclusion that there has to be a personal God (70% of American adults, and a higher percentage of teenagers think so, October 1977). But if those same people were asked, "Do you know God personally?" many would admit they had never really thought about that. Having a personal and intimate acquaintance with God is something that has never entered their minds. In fact, they're not even sure God is knowable, or that they would want to know Him if He were knowable.
Everybody has his own mental image of what God is like. Psychologists tell us that image is often formed through his relationship with his earthly father. For some, God is an angry tyrant who is upset with them most of the time. Who wants to know a god like that? For others, God is a strict disciplinarian who is always watching over their shoulder, ready to rap them on the knuckles if they step out of line. You want to get as far as you can from a god like that. For still others, God is an absentee father who is too busy or too aloof to care about them. He created them then forgot about them and now He has other things to do. Why even try to get to know a god like that? And for yet others, God is an old-fashioned great-grandfather who might be nice to know, but who really wouldn't understand them nor have anything in common with them. So why bother to get to know Him?
Most people would like to feel that God is on their side rather than against them. Or that He'll be there when they need to use Him. But know Him personally? That concept is foreign to their thinking.
I've often wondered what God thinks of all this. He is a person, you know. He does think. And He does have feelings. How would you feel if you kept sharing yourself in overtures of friendship, but most everybody you reached out to refused to accept what you said about yourself, insisted on perpetuating their own pre-conceived notions about you, and went on ignoring you?
God is knowable and He wants to be known. As a matter of fact, our eternal state depends upon our knowing Him. That's what John 17:3 says. Would you look at it, please? It's so very important, and so very basic to this whole subject of knowing God.
Jesus is speaking to God the Father. "This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent (John 17:3)."
Knowing God and His Son Jesus is the heart of this whole issue of eternal life. And the word know here does not refer to a casual acquaintance. It is the kind of knowledge that comes through experience and relationship. If knowing God is that important, we ought to talk about how we can get to know Him.
First of all, in order to get to know Him, He's got to reveal Himself. And second, we must respond.
1. The One to be Known Must Reveal Himself
What does it mean to know somebody? Obviously, it means to know something about them. Know what they are like, how they think, and how they are likely to act under certain circumstances. How can that come about? Only when they reveal themselves to us.
If I want to get to know you, I need to make myself available to you, reach out to you in a friendly way and show an interest in you. But that will get me nowhere unless you are willing to reveal yourself to me. You are the key. You decide whether or not I will ever get to know you. If you want me to know you, you will open up and tell me about yourself, how you think, what you really believe, what you are feeling. You will be yourself in my presence—act in a manner that is consistent with your personality; not putting on airs, wearing a facade, masking true self, always putting best foot forward.
I'm of the opinion, by the way, that one reason Christians enjoy so few genuine friendships is that they are afraid to let people know them. They're afraid they wouldn't be 1iked or trusted if anybody knew the real person inside. So they play the old game of cover-up.
God isn't like that. God wants to be known. He is confident that the better we know Him, the more we will love, trust, worship, and serve Him. So He tells us about Himself. He reveals Himself to us and He takes the initiative. It has to be that way. There can be no personal knowledge of Him unless He takes the initiative.
How does God reveal Himself?
- In nature
"The heavens are telling of the glory of God; And their expanse is declaring the work of His hands" (Psalm 19:1)
- In history
"The Most High is ruler over the realm of mankind" (Daniel 4:17)
- In conscience
"For when Gentiles who do not have the Law do instinctively the things of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves, in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them" (Romans 2:14-15)
But those sources don't give us many particulars about His personality or His nature. We need something more. We need to have Him talk to us. He doesn't do that through spooky voices. He does it through the Bible. It is God's Word. The Scriptures were given by the breath of His mouth (2 Timothy 3:16; cf. also Matthew 4:4). In them God tells us what He is like. We learn through them how He thinks, how He feels, how we can expect Him to act. He reveals Himself through His Word.
But God is infinite, and we are finite human beings. How can we, the finite, ever really understand the infinite? How can the human ever truly know the divine? God must reveal Himself to us in some more personal way if we are ever to genuinely know Him. And He did.
"God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the [c]world. And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature (Hebrews 1:1-3a)."
Jesus Christ is the radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of God's nature and being. To know Him is to know God. And the writer to the Hebrews didn't make that up; Jesus said that. Look at John 14:7a—"If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also."
To know Jesus is to know God. And while He has returned bodily to heaven and we can't walk with Him bodily as the disciples did, God has given us both the inspired record of His life, as well as the spiritual faculties we need to know Him through His Holy Spirit who lives in our lives. With those spiritual faculties and the Scripture, it's quite clearly Biblically that we can know Him just as intimately as if we walked with Him on earth.
Of course, those spiritual faculties are not operative when we are born. They are dead; they need to be made alive (Ephesians 2:1). And God does that for us when we acknowledge our sin and put our trust in Christ's death at Calvary for our forgiveness. In a second birth, a spiritual birth, He gives us spiritual life, eternal life (John 3:16). He brings us alive, spiritual speaking. And that's where our knowledge of God begins. That's what John 17:3 is talking about.
Do you know God? In other words, have you been brought into a saving relationship through Jesus so that Have spiritual life? Have those spiritual faculties been made alive? Do you know God? It begins at the cross.
If you haven't made that decision, the rest of this series will be meaningless to you. There is no point in going on until that is settled. It starts with believing that Jesus' death on the cross was a sufficient sacrifice for your sins, and making Him the Lord of your life. Then by knowing Jesus, you can know God.
Once you do have a saving relationship with Jesus, from that point on, we have the spiritual resources to get to know God better. And that's exactly what He wants us to do.
"But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory, both now and to the day of eternity. Amen" (2 Peter 3:18).
How is that going to happen? God has taken the initiative. He has revealed Himself. Now we must respond.
2. The One Who Wants to Know Must Respond
Biblically, there is a three-fold response. We must cultivate a desire to know God. We need to accept what God reveals about Himself. And we must commit to a total involvement with Him.
a. Cultivate a Desire
Let's go back to our human illustration again. If I want to get to know you, you have to open up to me and share yourself with me. But I'm still not going to get to know you unless I respond to your self-revelation. And the quality of my response will depend to a large degree on the intensity of my desire.
Has my first insight into your personality whet my appetite to know you more? While you were the key originally, now I am the key. I decide whether or not I will ever get to know you better. Will I respond to what you share, or will I withdraw?
I'm afraid some Christians have never made this response. They've learned enough about God to acknowledge their need for salvation. They may have met Him personally and experientially in a saving relationship. But they have never moved on from there. They've gotten entangled with other pursuits that have crowded out their time for God, and though they say they know Him, it isn't a very intimate and thorough knowledge.
That may explain their sour dispositions, their gloomy outlook, and their spiritual and emotional depression. I'm coming to the point where I believe that most of our spiritual and emotional problems come from the lack of knowing God very well.
We must have a desire to know Him. This is the most important thing in Christian life. When we know Him, think as He thinks, are burdened with what burdens Him, we know His will. Moses had that desire. We read about it shortly after the golden calf incident. Moses had pitched a tent outside the camp and was meeting with God there.
"Thus the Lord used to speak to Moses face to face, just as a man speaks to his friend" (Exodus 33:11a).
That phrase "face to face" doesn't mean Moses saw God's face; rather, it refers to being in God's presence. Moses was getting to know God personally, but he wanted to know Him better.
"Then Moses said to the Lord, 'See, You say to me, "Bring up this people!" But You Yourself have not let me know whom You will send with me. Moreover, You have said, "I have known you by name, and you have also found favor in My sight." Now therefore, I pray You, if I have found favor in Your sight, let me know Your ways that I may know You, so that I may find favor in Your sight. Consider too, that this nation is Your people'" (Exodus 33:12-13).
There is the desire of his heart: "that I may know You." It was that request that brought forth the great promise of Exodus 33:14.
"And He said, 'My presence shall go with you, and I will give you rest'" (Exodus 33:14).
But even that wasn't enough. Every new revelation of God stirred up a hunger for more. In Exodus 33:18 he cries, "I beseech You, show me Your glory." God's glory is the sum total of all His attributes. Moses longed to know all that a human being can absorb about an infinite God. His soul hungered after a knowledge of God.
That's how a person gets to know Him. He realizes that life in this world is empty and meaningless apart from an intimate and thorough knowledge of the living God who made the world and controls it. He longs to know Him, and cries out from the depths of his soul, "Show me Your glory." That person is ready for an earth-shaking, life-changing experiential knowledge of the living God.
Is that hunger in your life? Only you know. No one else can see into our hearts to know whether we truly desire to know God better.
David had that desire. We see it repeated throughout the Psalms.
"One thing I have asked from the Lord, that I shall seek:
That I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life,
To behold the beauty of the Lord
And to meditate in His temple" (Psalm 27:4).
To "dwell in the house of the Lord" to the Old Testament believer indicated a relationship with God.
"As the deer pants for the water brooks,
So my soul pants for You, O God.
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God;
When shall I come and appear before God?" (Psalm 42:1-2).
Moses and David were great men of God. What made them great? Their desire to know God.
"O God, You are my God; I shall seek You earnestly;
My soul thirsts for You, my flesh yearns for You,
In a dry and weary land where there is no water.
Thus I have seen You in the sanctuary,
To see Your power and Your glory.
Because Your lovingkindness is better than life,
My lips will praise You" (Psalm 63:1-3).
Moses. David. Paul had that desire, too.
"But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but refuse [or dung] so that I may gain Christ" (Philippians 3:7-8).
All the position, praise, power, and possessions of earth were like dung compared to the excellence of knowing Christ. Those things have no eternal value. They aren't worth occupying his mind with. As J.I. Packer said, "What normal person spends his time nostalgically dreaming of manure?" (Packer, Knowing God, p. 21).
I guess if you were raised on a farm and now live in the city, you might. But that's not the normal pattern. Yet unfortunately, many believers doing just that: They are longing for dung. They are longing for the things of this world instead of the knowledge of God, dreaming about manure when they can have the best life has to offer: an intimate relationship with the living God.
To know God was the overpowering passion of Paul's entire life: "That I may know Him and the power of His resurrection" (Philippians 3:10a).
That's one of the prime reasons God used him as He did. The desire was there.
b. Accept What God Reveals
After the desire, the next step is to accept what God reveals about Himself. That body of information that God reveals about Himself is what we call the attributes of God.
An attribute is an inherent characteristic, anything that God reveals as being true of Himself (Tozer, Knowledge of the Holy, p. 20). It isn't so much a part of God, or a quality that He possesses, so much as it is how or what He is—the essence of His being, His ultimate nature. God and His attributes are actually one. As we study these attributes, we are going to learn not only what God is like, but who God is.
As we see God reveal Himself in the Bible, we may say at times, "That is not the way I've always thought about God." But what we've always thought isn't the issue. That may only confuse us. If I have preconceived ideas about you and continue to hold on to them even if they are wrong, after you begin to tell me about yourself, obviously, I'll never get to know you. I must accept what you reveal about yourself.
When God tells you who He is and how He acts, let's believe Him. That's essential to knowing Him.
c. Involve Your Total Being
But there is something more. After desire, and the decision to accept what He reveals, there must be a definite commitment to Him that involves our total being.
I can't really get to know you intimately unless I commit myself to spend time with you, take an interest in what interests you, get concerned about what concerns you, and rejoice in what brings joy to you. I must become totally involved in your life. Getting to know someone requires time. Unfortunately, many of us haven't taken the time, so we have stopped short of that point in our knowledge of God.
If we really want to get to know Him, it's going to involved our total person:
We live in a day of extremes. On one hand are the super-intellectuals who know all the doctrine about God but feel nothing in their relationship with Him. On the other are the super-sentimentalists who can drum up a great emotional religious experience, but don't know the facts about God. And in between are all kinds who say they know God, but don't obey Him with their wills.
All three parts of our personality are involved in knowing God.
We learn about Him with our intellects—we study the Bible, absorb the information He reveals about Himself, meditate on it, think through its implications and applications to our way of living. That's all the function of the mind. The mind has to be involved in knowing God, and must of necessity come first. If we don't have accurate information about Him, we really cannot say we know Him.
But it doesn't stop there. The more we learn about Him, the more emotionally we get involved with Him. That's nothing to be afraid of. Too often we back away from our emotions. When we see the depths of His love for us, it might well bring tears to our eyes, or shouts of joy to our lips. And it will certainly inspire greater love for Him. When we understand the far-reaching implications of His goodness and grace toward unworthy sinners like us, may want to burst out in song, even if we can't carry a tune. When we see people spurn Him, our hearts will be saddened. When we realize how deeply we have hurt Him by our sin, we will feel grief. When we experience the reality of His forgiveness, we will feel relief, and love, and joy, and a sense of security. Those are emotions. A true knowledge of God cannot eliminate them.
But it doesn't stop with an intellectual knowledge and some exciting emotions. We must do something about it. We must choose to act by our wills in a manner consistent with the information we have received and the feelings we have experienced. Some people who say they know God aren't doing that. Let me show you some in the Bible.
"They profess to know God, but by their deeds they deny Him, being detestable and disobedient and worthless for any good deed" (Titus 1:16).
The choices these people have made are not consistent with the profession they make.
"The one who says, 'I have come to know Him,' and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him" (1 John 2:4).
If we really know God, we are going to respond in obedience.
Let's bring it back to our human illustration again. If I have gotten to know you intimately, you will expect certain things from me: loyalty, faithfulness, trust, fellowship, and a sharing of myself with you. Those are things I must choose by an act of my will. If I don't, I can't really say that I know you.
We cannot really say we know God just because we have accumulated some facts about Him or even because we've had an emotional religious experience with Him. If we truly know Him, we are going to choose to do what He wants us to do: spend time with Him in prayer, share ourselves openly with Him—honestly admitting where we fall short of what He wants us to be; depend on Him on the basis of what we know about Him; worship Him because of who we have discovered Him to be. And as we commune with Him in this way our personal knowledge of Him grows even more precious.
If the desire is there, I want to help you by sharing some of the information God has revealed about Himself in the Bible. The rest is up to you. You will have to believe what He says, and commit yourself to total involvement with Him. That may mean some changes in our lives—changes in the way we think; changes in what we live for. But the benefits of knowing God are enormous.
Trusting Jesus as Your Savior
Maybe you don't know God yet. Maybe you're still back there at the cross asking yourself whether you really want to put your trust in Jesus as your Savior. That's where it all begins. There's no hope in knowing the blessing and joy of knowing God if we don't first take our place as sinners before Him, and then believe that He died in our place.
Father, we ask you now that as believers we may be challenged to grow in the knowledge of You. And we ask You that any who may be listening to [or reading] this message without the personal intimate knowledge of Jesus Christ—that begins with a saving relationship with Him—might be willing to acknowledge their sin and trust Him as their own Savior and Lord. We ask it in the name of Jesus. Amen.
You, God, are my God, earnestly I seek you; I thirst for you, my whole being longs for you, in a dry and parched land where there is no water.
Psalm 63:1 NIV
Continue to AT-02: The People Who Know Their God