Knowing God

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How does a person get to know God?  There are those who think God is unknowable; that we create God in our image and give Him our characteristics.  But God is not a subjective fantasy.  He is an objective reality who may be known personally.  John, writing to his friend, Gaius, explains how this is possible.

If you want to know God, you must obey His commandments, 1 John 2:3—14 

If you are intent on getting to know God, the first thing you’ll have to do is know what He expects of you.  However, God is not to be confused with a Cosmic Cop, whom you blindly obey.  God’s commands are different because they are designed for your benefit, not your punishment.  Living in obedience to God’s Word guarantees the best life possible for you and as you get to know what His commands are (and what they are all about), you will be getting to God. 

Living as Christ did, verses 3—6 

And how can we be sure that we belong to him? By looking within ourselves: are we really trying to do what he wants us to?  Someone may say, “I am a Christian; I am on my way to heaven; I belong to Christ.” But if he doesn’t do what Christ tells him to, he is a liar.  But those who do what Christ tells them to will learn to love God more and more. That is the way to know whether or not you are a Christian.  Anyone who says he is a Christian should live as Christ did.

How we humans acquire knowledge isn’t as simple as you may think.  As far as the Greeks were concerned, knowledge came through rational, reasoning contemplation.  The more you sit around thinking, the more knowledge flows into your head.  But to the Gnostics, knowledge was gained in a mystical, magical fashion.  Think:  Timothy Leary and his “turn on, tune in, and drop out” philosophy.  But to John, a great thinker in his own right without the aid of LSD, concluded that ultimate knowledge is the knowledge of God in Jesus Christ gained through salvation.  How does this happen?  When we are saved, we read God’s Word and learn about the right way to live.  The more we take on Christ’s characteristics, the more like Him we become, the more we get to know God.  David Smith observed:

To know about Christ, to understand the doctrine of His person and work is mere theory; we get to know Him and to know that we know Him by practice of His precepts.

“Practice of His precepts” is the ten dollar way of saying:  do what He tells you to do.  Of course, there is always the danger that our faith might become a matter of doing only or of learning only.  That’s an unacceptable imbalance addressed by Paul Moon:

Emotionalized religion without discipline becomes sentimental, and intellectual religion becomes sterile.  Moral discipline is the path to Christian character.

Noting a new commandment, verses 7—11 

Anyone who says he is walking in the light of Christ but dislikes his fellow man is still in darkness.  (1 John 2:9  TLB)

To some of John’s readers, some of his ideas must have sounded revolutionary.  He needed to assure them that, unlike false teachers, he was not running around peddling new-fangled ideas.  His teachings were as old as, well, the Old Testament!

This ancient idea of “loving one another” really is the acid test of one’s Christian faith.  We can talk all day long about the love we have for people, but if we are never getting involved with them, how can we say we love them?  Indeed, how can we say we love God?   There must be consistency between your confession and your conduct.  In other words, if you claim to be a Christian, you had better live like one.  And nobody can do better than he knows.  How does a Christian live?  He reads the Word of God to learn, and then he lives what he has learned.

These are strong words for the so-called “apostle of love.”  A believer cannot walk in the light if he harbors hate in his heart.  It just can’t be done.

Your strong love for each other will prove to the world that you are my disciples.  (John 13:35  TLB)

Now, it should be noted that both John and Jesus are referring to the love between believers.  This does not mean Christians are off the hook in terms of caring about the non-believers all around them.  A consistent teaching throughout the New Testament is the absolute, non-negotiable necessity of “loving your neighbor.”  However, that must begin with loving fellow members of the Body of Christ.

Love God, not the world, 1 John 2:15—19 

The admonition in verse 15 to “stop loving this evil world” seems to be odds with the whole notion of living as Christ did.  What do we do with the famous John 3:16—

For God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son so that anyone who believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.  (TLB)

This apparent contradiction vanishes when we read 1 John 2:15 in context.  Christians are to aspire to a higher standard of living, and this can only be accomplished if we end our pursuit of the dark things of this world.  This certainly can’t include sinners!  God loved sinners so much, He sent His Son to save them!  If God loved them, we must also.  No, what John is referring to are set forth verse 16—

…all these worldly things, these evil desires—the craze for sex, the ambition to buy everything that appeals to you, and the pride that comes from wealth and importance—these are not from God. They are from this evil world itself.  (TLB)

Anybody who claims to have never struggled with the things John listed in verse 17 must be dead.  There isn’t a Christian who has ever lived that didn’t wrestle with temptation, sometimes night and day.  And sometimes, like the runner who stumbles and falls because every muscle in legs aches, we stumble and fall.   C.S. Lewis comments—

God knows our situation; He will not judge us as if we had no difficulties to overcome.  What matters is the sincerity and perseverance of our will to overcome them.

Just so.  The fallen runner gets back up, and so must the fallen saint.

John paints a rather bleak and pathetic picture of the world:

And this world is fading away, and these evil, forbidden things will go with it, but whoever keeps doing the will of God will live forever.  (1 John 2:17  TLB)

Here are two great reasons (as if you needed more!) to not love the things of this world.  First, they are terribly impermanent.  The wealth, the fame, the beauty, the power, all the things men chase after their whole lives are transient.  They, even now, are fading away whether you see it or realize it or not.  The state of the world reminds us these famous words:

Like sands through the hourglass, so are the days of our lives. 

And second, it’s terribly shortsighted and foolish to expend time, energy, and resources in obtaining temporary things when it makes more sense to pursue the will of God, for it is eternal.

The dreaded antichrist(s), verses 18, 19 

So, it seems like a no-brainer so far.  We can easily pass the tests of the faith.  Right?  Not so!  John warns his readers that there are evil forces arrayed against the Christian with the sole purpose of thwarting his walk of faith.

These “against-Christ” people used to be members of our churches, but they never really belonged with us or else they would have stayed. When they left us it proved that they were not of us at all.  (verse 19  TLB) 

Charles Stanley’s comments on the very people John wrote about are to-the-point:

The best way in the world to deceive believers is to cloak a message in religious language and declare that it conveys some new insight from God.

Isn’t that the truth?  Christians are not necessarily gullible; it’s just that we want to believe the best about people, and when somebody comes to us claiming to be a believer but has new ideas, we may be tempted to think God has given this special person some new insight.  However, we need to exercise some discernment!  We’re not Gnostics!  We need to heed not only John and Charles Stanley’s warnings, but also this one:

And no marvel; for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light.  Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also be transformed as the ministers of righteousness; whose end shall be according to their works.  (2 Corinthians 11:14  AV) 

Keep on keeping on…in Christ!  1 John 2:20—29 

There are false teachers all around us.  They are on TV in behind our pulpits.  They look good and use the right words.  Thank God we have help to keep us on the straight and narrow!

But you are not like that, for the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you know the truth. So I am not writing to you as to those who need to know the truth, but I warn you as those who can discern the difference between true and false.  (verses 20, 21  TLB)

We as true believers are not empty like these pseudo-Christians, for we are full of God’s Holy Spirit!  And we can discern the difference between true teaching and false.  Notice that John makes that plain!  Discernment isn’t just a possibility, it’s a guarantee.  This same Holy Spirit has been called the “Conservator of orthodoxy.”  That’s a real fancy way of saying that He will only ever teach the Christian the true, unadulterated truth.

Why, then, do so many Christians fall prey to false teachers?  Corrie Ten Boon’s words of wisdom are so apropos:

Trying to do the Lord’s work in our own strength is the most confusing, exhausting, and tedious o fall work.  But when you are filled with the Holy Spirit, then the ministry of Jesus just flows out of you.

Amen and amen!  We fail because we “go it alone” when we don’t have to.  The most foolish man in the world is the Christian who thinks he can live right if he just tries hard enough.  That’s utter nonsense!  Of course, we must expend an effort, but we must also let the Holy Spirit empower us and live through us.  That’s not easy for many of us to do, but if we would walk in the light, live as Christ lived, and honor Him, we must.  The great preacher G. Campbell Morgan wrote:

To the individual believer indwelt by the Holy Spirit there is granted the direct impression of the Spirit of God on the spirit of man, imparting the knowledge of His will in matters of the smallest and greatest importance.  This has to be sought and waited for.

Stay in fellowship with Christ, verses 28, 29 

And now, my little children, stay in happy fellowship with the Lord so that when he comes you will be sure that all is well and will not have to be ashamed and shrink back from meeting him.  Since we know that God is always good and does only right, we may rightly assume that all those who do right are his children.  (TLB) 

These verses remind of what Jesus told His disciples in John 15:4, 5

Take care to live in me, and let me live in you. For a branch can’t produce fruit when severed from the vine. Nor can you be fruitful apart from me.  Yes, I am the Vine; you are the branches. Whoever lives in me and I in him shall produce a large crop of fruit. For apart from me you can’t do a thing.  (TLB)

Abiding in Christ has nothing to do with joining a church or proclaiming one creed or another.  It’s a living relationship with the Living Word.  It’s living as He lived in obedience to His commands.  And as we become proficient at doing that, we will getting to know God.

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