How Men Come To Know God
God's Word teaches the absolute necessity of knowing God. In John 17:3, Jesus in His prayer to the Father said, "And this is life eternal, that they might know Thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom Thou hast sent." In 2 Thessalonians 1:8, that truth is stated in negative form. Paul said that Jesus shall be revealed from heaven "in flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ." In both these passages, "knowing God" means a great deal more than having some understanding of His existence. Of necessity it includes all of those concepts, convictions and emotions that lead to action that brings about a right relationship with God.
Man's first concept of God comes through creation or, as some might state it, through nature. In Psalms 19:1, we are told that "the heavens declare the glory of God and the firmament showeth His handiwork." Then in the verses that follow it is stated that the knowledge created things bring is not limited by the language men may speak or where they may live. Paul, as he argues that the Gentiles are guilty before God and in need of the gospel, shows that God's eternal power and Godhead can be known by "the things that are made" (Rom. 1:18-21). Who can look at majestic mountains, the beauty of a rising or setting sun, or walk through a flower garden without being impressed with the glory of the Creator? How could a person stand by the ocean and watch the mighty waves roll in, without remembering that it is God who says, "Here shall thy proud waves be stayed"? The awesome power of God is revealed in nature. In addition, the goodness and severity of God are made known by created things around us. The air we breathe, the water we drink and the food we eat have all been supplied by a gracious and good God. But the God who created the sun and the gently falling rain, is the God who can allow the storms to rage. Man, himself, is a part of God's creation and had we been able to see man before sin entered his life, we could have had a better understanding of God's love and concern. However, we can come close to that experience by watching children. A poet has written these lines:
"The innocent child.
You, my son,
Have shown me God
Your kiss upon my cheek
Has made me feel the gentle touch
Of Him who leads us on.
The memory of your smile when young
Reveals His face "
What mother does not have some knowledge of God's love and holiness as she cares for her little ones day after day? Where is there a man who doesn't understand God's love a little better as he basks in the adoration of his grandchildren?
By His Word
Not only has God made Himself known through creation, but we can be eternally grateful that our knowledge and understanding does not stop there. God has revealed Himself through His Word - the Bible. By a diligent investigation of this book we can come to a much fuller understanding of God than would be possible through nature alone. By a study of God's Word, we learn much about God through His dealings with man long before there was a written revelation. When we read the accounts of Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, Noah and the flood, Abraham, the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah and Israel's sojourn in Egypt, many of the attributes of God stand out. God had the record of these events penned long after they occurred "for our learning" (Rom. 15:40). Many of the modern-day misconceptions about God could be dispelled by seeing His love, goodness, justice, mercy, anger, discipline, etc., displayed in these events.
Then, as we study God's divine revelation - the Bible - we come to that time when we have a clearer picture of God's dealings with man as those events occurred. We study the book of Exodus and see Moses as he goes up on Sinai to receive the Ten Commandments from God along with the other laws that were joined to that decalogue. Through an investigation of the Old Testament, our understanding of Jehovah is enlarged. Another article in this special issue deals with the names of God and a study of these reveals much about His power, authority, righteousness, etc. We also learn that God is not bound by time - He is eternal. He is not limited by space - He is omnipresent. His justice, holiness, and goodness are infinite. He can know anything and everything He chooses to know (see Psa. 8,89,90,139; Isa. 6:1-3; etc.). Perhaps something that needs to be stressed is that God's impartiality is evident even in the Old Testament. God made a promise to Abraham that in his seed all families of the earth would be blessed (Gen. 12:3). From that time on, God's dealings with man revolve around the fulfillment of that promise! What a wonderful God is revealed to us in the Old Testament as we see Him perfecting His plan to send His own Son to the world. From Adam until now there has never been a person (save Jesus) who lived above sin. The God of the Old Testament is a God who knew that to be true and began to make provisions for man's salvation.
Thus far in our investigation of God, we have seen that man's first concept of God comes through the created things around him. The light from this source might be likened to that given by the stars. But God has given Himself a better witness than this. He has revealed Himself to man through the Old Testament, and this might be compared to the light that comes from the moon. Then comes the sunlight of revelation - the New Testament. This is heaven's complete and final revelation to man and all that man needs is provided therein. God is Spirit and He is to be worshiped (Jn. 4:24). God is love (1 Jn. 4:8). God is faithful (1 Cor. 1:9). God is not slack concerning His promises and is not willing that any should perish (2 Pet. 3:9). God is all wise (Rom. 16:27). God is good (Matt. 19:17). He cannot lie (Tit. 1:2). He is able to make Israelites out of stones (Matt. 3:9). All things are possible with Him (Matt. 19:26). God knows the hearts of all men (Acts 1:24). He does not forget (Heb. 6:10). It is a fearful thing for the disobedient to fall into His hands (Heb. 10:31). God is just and the justifier of those who believe in Jesus (Rom. 3:26). These Scriptures just touch the "hem of the garment," but they may help us to appreciate the amount of information given to us about God in the New Testament.
But perhaps the most practical information we have about God in the New Testament is that provided in the life of Jesus Christ. In John 14, Jesus spoke with His disciples about God, and He pointed out to them that if they had known Him, they should have known His Father also. Philip, one of the twelve, took it all very literally, and so he said to Jesus, "Lord, show us the Father and it sufficeth us." Jesus' reply was, "Have I been so long time with you, and yet hast thou not known Me, Philip? Believest thou not that I am in the Father, and the Father in Me?" Not one of our readers would think for a minute that God and Jesus looked alike physically. God is Spirit and "a spirit hath not flesh and bones. . . " (Lk. 24:39). Jesus was God (divine) according to John 1:1, and He was made flesh (v. 14). In the New Testament, we can see Jesus as He lived on earth. As we see Him reacting to circumstances, as we see His tears, as we hear His groaning, as we witness flashes of anger at the evil conduct of men, as we hear Him condemn the hypocrisies of the Pharisees and preach the Sermon on the Mount, as we view His walk from Gethsemane to the cross, and as we hear Him commission the apostles to "go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature," we are seeing and hearing God!
Philip had a "front row seat" and had seen God as no Old Testament worthy had ever seen Him, but failed to appreciate it. But had you ever realized that we today have advantages that Philip and other never had? It is like seeing a football game on TV. It is true that you miss being an eye-witness, and the excitement of being in the crowds, etc., is lacking, but when the game is over, you have had a better view of the entire happenings than someone in the stands. We have a prospective of the life of Jesus from four inspired writers, and in addition to that, in the epistles the Holy Spirit has provided, we have application of the teaching of Jesus to our everyday lives. How blessed we are to have "all scripture," and we can know God as no others have ever known Him.
Before this article is finished, however, we need to observe that Jesus' statement in John 17:3 means a great deal more than a mere knowledge of the existence of God and an appreciation of His attributes. Vine says that "ginosko in the N.T. frequently indicates a relation between the person knowing and the object known . . . . Thus in Matt. 7:23 `I never knew you' suggests `I have never been in approving connection with you."' For God to know us, He must approve us. In 2 Timothy 1:19, Paul said that ". . . the Lord knoweth them that are His." God approves, God endorses those that are His. In Matthew 25:1-13, where Jesus tells the story of the five wise virgins and the five foolish ones, in verse 12, he said to the foolish virgins, "I know you not." He did not approve or endorse their conduct. Now, if God's knowing us means that He approves or endorses us, would it not follow that for us to know God we must approve or endorse God and what His Word teaches? In 1 John 2:3-5, the Holy Spirit says, "And hereby we do know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments. He that with, I know Him, and keepeth not His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But whoso keepeth His Word, in him verily is the love of God perfected. Hereby know we that we are in Him." Jesus said that life eternal depends on knowing Him and knowing His Father. So in order to have life eternal, we must obey God and His Son, Jesus. Paul spoke of people who "profess that they know God, but in works they deny Him, being abominable and disobedient, and unto every good work reprobate" (Tit. 1:16). Each of us ought to have as his goal in life to know God and to be known of Him. We need to approve God and what He teaches, that He might approve us.
Here may be some who read these words who have never done more in approving or endorsing God than believing that He is. One of the purposes of this article is to encourage all of us to have a greater appreciation of God and His attributes. But we must go further. We must repent of our sins because the Lord requires it (Acts 17:30; Lk. 13:3). We must confess the faith we have in God's Son before men (Matt. 10:32; Acts 8:37; Rom. 10:9-10). We must be immersed in water in order to reach the saving blood of Jesus (Mk. 16:15-16; Acts 2:38; Rom. 6:1-6; Gal. 3:26-27; 1 Cor. 12:13; 1 Pet. 3:21). But we need to point out to each of us that there is a life to live after baptism. Knowing God is on-going. We could, at any time in our lives, affirm that we "know Him, but in works deny Him, being abominable and disobedient, and unto every good work reprobate." May each of us know God by becoming Christians (obeying the gospel), and then maintaining that relationship by humble service (obedience) to the end of our lives.
Guardian of Truth XXIX: 2, pp. 48-50