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Can we know God?

November 2001 | by Derrick Dalcher

2.   The saving revelation of God

Some people know a great deal about the Bible without really understanding it or knowing the God who inspired it. The God that the Bible reveals is a stranger to them, because they fail to use the right key to unlock its teaching.

People often read the Bible for the wrong reasons or with the wrong motives. For them, the Bible is a book of philosophy or history, rather than an infallible revelation of the all-powerful God. They are like the Pharisees, to whom Jesus said: ‘You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and [yet] these are they which testify of me’ (John 5:39). They read their Bibles but failed to see Christ ‘in all the Scriptures’ (Luke 24:27).

A single thread

It is to Christ that the Bible constantly draws our attention. Perhaps we do not see this very clearly to start with, but as we follow the themes that run through the different books, first of the Old Testament and then of the New, the picture comes into focus, ending up with a revelation that is both full and glorious.

A single guiding thread runs through the whole Bible: that of the eternal Son of God.

Christ is present in the Old Testament as the Creator. It is no accident that John begins his Gospel with the opening words of the book of Genesis: ‘in the beginning …’. For ‘all things were made through [Christ] and without him nothing was made that was made’ (John 1:1-3).

Christ is present also under the form of symbols, such as the ceremonial law that God gave to Israel through Moses.

The animal sacrifices, morning and evening; the constant effusion of blood; the altar; the high priest; the religious feast-days; all these things announced and prefigured the person and work of Christ.

By these, God showed the Israelites that one day someone would come to pay the price for their sins.

Christ is also present in the prophecies of the Old Testament. Inspired by the Holy Spirit, all the prophets spoke of the Messiah and of his work. The long prophetic line that stretches from Isaiah to Malachi is full of Christ.

The message of these prophets is not always easy to understand, because they spoke of Christ sometimes in his humiliation, sometimes in his glory. Sometimes they presented him as servant, sometimes as King of kings.

Nor did they always distinguish between his first coming and his return. But, whether they concerned the suffering Christ or Christ glorified, their prophecies were full of him.

Christ proclaimed

Christ is present in the New Testament. The Gospels show him living, working and acting in the world. The book of Acts shows how he was ‘preached’ (that is, taught, proclaimed and announced) among men.

The epistles explain and exalt him. The Bible is full of Christ. That is why the apostle John calls him ‘the Word’ in the prologue to his Gospel.

The central point of the Bible is Christ, for no one can claim to know God if he does not know his Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. Scripture leaves us in no doubt on this issue. Christ himself, in his high priestly prayer, said: ‘And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent’ (John 17:3).

This revelation of God in his Son is so perfect that Jesus could say to Philip: ‘He who has seen me has seen the Father’ (John 14:9). The Bible offers no let-out for anyone who claims to know God but rejects the Lord Jesus Christ.

Jesus himself declared: ‘He who does not honour the Son does not honour the Father who sent him’ (John 5:23). And the apostle John adds: ‘Whoever denies the Son does not have the Father either; he who acknowledges the Son has the Father also’ (1 John 2:23).

Knowing God is knowing his Son, the Lord Jesus Christ!

Saving guilty sinners

God must punish sin because he is holy. But how can he do this, while at the same time saving the sinner? The gospel replies, ‘through the cross of Christ’. There, at Golgotha, we see the anger of God, the repugnance he feels for sin. A holy victim paid the price for the sins of men, those chosen in Christ by grace alone.

Thus Golgotha is also the manifestation of the love and grace of God, who ‘so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life’ (John 3:16).

If there had been another way of saving guilty sinners like us, God would not have sacrificed his Son. But there was no other way. That is why Christ is the Way, the Truth and the Life, the only way to God. He said: ‘No one comes to the Father except through me’ (John 14:6).

To ‘come to the Father’ means to have access to him, and so to know him. No one, therefore, can claim to know God if he does not know the Lord Jesus Christ and does not believe in his saving work upon the cross.

Communication

Do you know God? This is probably the most solemn question that you can ask yourself. Eternity depends upon it. Speaking in the context of the return of Christ, the apostle Paul says: ‘when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels, in flaming fire [he will take] vengeance on those who do not know God, and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ’ (2 Thessalonians 2:7-8).

Christ is returning to punish those who do not know God. Why do they not know him? Because they ‘do not obey the gospel’ of the Lord, but refuse to repent and believe in him.

You may say: ‘Yes, I know the message of the gospel and I want to believe it, but in my heart of hearts I cannot be completely sure of knowing the all-powerful God’. But you do not need books of theology to deal with this!

A little bit of common sense is all that’s needed. We know different people — friends, colleagues, relations — with differing degrees of intimacy. The person I know best is, of course, my wife. How is this knowledge expressed in daily life?

By communication. We need to talk to one another each day. If I go away on a journey, I telephone her, or write. I need to hear her voice or read what she is thinking.

Knowing God personally

Do you feel the need to be in fellowship, in contact, with God, to read his Word, to pray? In a flourishing marriage, each party is continually growing in his or her knowledge of the other.

Every day, my wife learns to know me better; my hopes, my desires, my priorities. Because she loves me, she tries hard not to offend or displease me. Do you try hard to please God, to do his will?

The apostle John writes: ‘by this we know that we know him, if we keep his commandments. He who says, “I know him”, and does not keep his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him’ (1 John 2:3-4).

What then can we say in conclusion? The true knowledge of God is much more than simply an academic or intellectual knowledge. A man can know many things about God, without knowing him personally and closely.

The true knowledge of God comes to a person when God reveals himself in Jesus Christ. Paul puts it, wonderfully, in this way: ‘God … has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ’ (2 Corinthians 4:6).

This always involves a transformation in one’s life, for ‘if anyone is in Christ he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new’ (2 Corinthians 5:17).

Knowing God is something dynamic that produces fruit in a person’s life, the fruit of the indwelling Spirit of God (Galatians 5:22-25). The one who knows God will be changed by God.