Knowing God – the key to a transformed life
At Elim Hope Church, we have identified “Knowing God”, “Loving People”, “Living Free”, “Serving Humbly” and “Stepping Up” as our shared values. So this morning with a little bit of arm twisting from the Pastor, I have agreed to demonstrate that I am “living free” by “stepping up” and “serving humbly”, whilst at the same time “loving people” by sharing a few thoughts on the truly mega subject of “KNOWING GOD”!
My message this morning is really reserved for anyone who, like me, finds that the truth of the Elim Hope Church strapline “Jesus transforming lives” hasn’t yet touched us as fully as we would really like.
So, if that’s you, I want to invite you to join me as we consider “Why Knowing God is the key that unlocks personal transformation”. On the other hand, if your Christian life is riding high and trouble-free, then your role this morning is just to pray compassionately for the rest of us!
Now you’ll no doubt be relieved to hear that I am not intending to bring you a fully comprehensive theological presentation on the subject and nor, sadly, am I going to speak from profound personal experience. That’s not only because I’m not remotely equipped in either respect to do such a thing, but also because we all have an important appointment with Sunday lunch awaiting us.
What I am hoping to do, somewhat randomly perhaps, is to dip into the subject, a bit like dipping into a box of chocolates. I’m just going to pick out a few choice thoughts about knowing God and trust that something here may activate your spiritual taste buds and stir you into an even greater seeking after God.
1. “Knowing God” is about being FAMILY
I think that at the very heart of “Knowing God” is the brilliant truth that as Christians, whether boy or girl, woman or man, child, adult or OAP like me, we are all in God’s family. Remember what John tells us in that matchless first chapter of his gospel: John 1:12–13 “Yet to ALL who received him, (- “that’s us) to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God”. So in my book, if we are born of God, then we are his children and if we really are God’s children, then we are in his FAMILY!
I love that when teaching the disciples, the guys that would shortly become the very first children in God’s new covenant family, Jesus, when giving them the pattern prayer that we often use, begins with those words, “Our Father”. Imagine being there with Jesus at that moment and hearing that prayer for the first time. Jesus is praying to His Father and yet calls Him Our Father! Surely that confirms that we’re in the same family! We need to grasp the reality and joy of this; we, you and I, with all our faults, failings and weaknesses, are part of God’s family! Jesus’ Father is our Father too! Amazing!
But in practice are we living like that older brother in Jesus’s Parable of the Prodigal Son. He just couldn’t reconcile himself to the welcome and blessings his wayward younger brother received on his return. Why? Because he himself had failed to really understand and KNOW his Father, and didn’t appreciate what his Father was really like. So, all this time he’d been living like a servant when he could have been enjoying the blessings of being the son that he really was.
Or, are we like the wayward younger son himself, repentant for his failures and planning his return on the basis of an intention to prove himself to be “good enough” from now on, by living as a servant in his Father’s household instead of as a son? In either case, we are failing to grasp who our Father is and what he is really like. And because we don’t KNOW him well enough, we haven’t understood that his great love for us as our Heavenly Father is actually ALL that we ever need, to live in the amazing blessing and privilege of being his sons and daughters.
Now, if God really is our heavenly Father, then knowing him has to be more about a relationship than it is about factual information. Knowing God is a family thing – it is about our relationship with the Father. It is not, knowing ABOUT God, it is KNOWING God himself. It is not collecting knowledge, information, facts, even theological facts, ABOUT God; it is about getting to know God himself. In fact, if we concentrate on just information about God we are in danger of being like those Paul describes in 2 Timothy 3:7 who were “always learning but never able to acknowledge the truth”. We can only really get to Know God as we choose to spend time in His presence.
But here’s the thing: in John 1:18 John the Baptist is recorded as saying: “No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father’s side, has made him known.” And Jesus himself said the same thing in John 6:46 “No one has seen the Father except the one who is from God; only he has seen the Father.”
It is vital then for us to recognise the central role of Jesus in our getting to know God. As Christians, the number one way to get to know the Father is through Jesus. Hebrews 1:3 is clear on this: “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, . . . “. Jesus came into the world to reveal the Father to us – so that we could understand that he is not an impersonal force, but our loving Father. When Philip asked Jesus to show him the Father in John 14:9, Jesus answered: “Don’t you KNOW ME, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me HAS seen the Father.” And in 2 Corinthians 4:6 Paul writes, ”For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the KNOWLEDGE of the glory of GOD in the face of Christ.”
Getting to really know God brings the revelation that we, just as we are, are in God’s family and as his children we are unconditionally loved by our Heavenly Father. And our Father wants, and has always wanted, a relationship with us as his sons and daughters, so He sent Jesus both to solve the problem of our sin and so we can understand what God is really like.
2. “Knowing God” requires a life of personal SURRENDER
The Bible indicates that God created mankind as an expression and focus of His creativity and love. He desired not only to create us but also to enjoy a loving fellowship with us. With no sin in the world at Creation and no sinful rebellion, mankind walked in willing surrender and perfect harmony with God. This was God’s intention and how it would always have been if man had not been seduced into rebelling against God’s command as Genesis chapter 3 tells us.
But once man’s submission was replaced by rebellion, the unity between God and mankind was lost and the relationship was broken. In a sense, the whole of the Bible following the expulsion from the Garden of Eden is the account of God’s provision for restoring his relationship with man.
Ultimately, it was to achieve this that the Father sent Jesus to pay the price for our rebellion, so that we might KNOW Him and walk closely and in complete surrender once more as he has always desired and intended.
Sadly, these days in preaching the gospel, in the western world at least, we tend not make it clear enough that we cannot really get to KNOW God until we are ready to turn a “one off” surrender at the time we are born again into a moment-by-moment surrender that we learn to practice each day of our lives. Many of us still need to climb down from the throne of our life and then stay down. We need to let God have his proper place in our lives. While we cling on to the place of dominance and control in our lives we effectively lock ourselves out from God’s presence and shut the door on getting to know him better and so to being transformed and made available to be used by Him.
This is what Paul was preaching when he wrote in Romans 12: 1, “Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God - this is your spiritual act of worship.” Paul was teaching that true worship is giving our life as a sacrifice to God, by surrendering our WILL to His. This is the only kind of life-walk that is a proper response to knowing the nature, majesty and greatness of God. God is looking for us to live in permanent submission to Him. He is looking for those who are ready to surrender the right to be the leader of their own lives and who will choose to allow God to be truly their LORD.
If we want sparkling, faith-filled, triumphant lives that reflect something of the glory of Christ, rather than lives of failure and fruitlessness, then we need to stop making ourselves our focus instead of God. We need to recognise that the tools of self-effort, determination and discipline, which though not bad in themselves, are just not the right tools for the job of transforming our lives. They seem appropriate. At times they seem to work. But in reality they are about as effective as using as a child’s bucket and spade to build ourselves a skyscraper. They are totally inadequate for the task. Personal transformation only comes as we surrender ourselves to God on a daily basis and determine to really get to KNOW Him by spending time in His presence.
3. “Knowing God” shows us God’s GRACE in dazzling reality
Some weeks ago now I stumbled on what I think is probably a key principle in terms of HOW developing our relationship with God maximises life-transformation. Listen carefully to these familiar verses from Paul to Titus. Titus 2:11-12 “For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. IT TEACHES US to say “no” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, “
Grace teaches us. As we seek to really get to know God we begin to understand more and more the extent of God’s wonderful grace, and that it is His grace that is the basis and foundation of our relationship with him. We begin to learn, and understand, that God himself has done everything necessary so that we can get to really know Him.
Grace teaches us that we are not transformed or changed as Christians by our performance – by our effort, energy or commitment. We are changed by God’s presence and by His provision through Jesus. And that is truly life-transforming because it opens the door for us “to be who God has called us to be” and “to do what God wants us to do”.
It began for each of us at that moment when we heard God speaking to us of our need for salvation, and it continues as we pursue the presence of God in the rest of our Christian walk. But if we do not take advantage of God’s grace and cherish His presence, we simply will not grow.
So, if we do not seem to be growing as Christians, the primary reason is NOT that we are not making enough effort; it’s NOT that we are not performing as we think good Christians should perform. The primary reason is that we haven’t yet understood that it is in the presence of God that His grace changes us. Every time we really meet with God he changes us and the process of “Jesus Transforming Lives”, happens in those intimate and blessed moments that we spend in the presence of God.
But as we’ve said, the corollary of this is: If we do not really get to understand God’s grace and so know Him as He is, then we can never become what he wants us to be, or be available to do what he wants us to do. Though saved, though part of the family of God, we will miss out on the very best that God intends for us. It is not an over statement to say that developing our relationship with God our Father is fundamental, absolutely critical, to fulfilling His purpose for us here on earth.
Really getting to know God is therefore not a side issue to our Christian life; a take-it or leave-it option; something for Christian high-flyers only. It is the prime requisite for accomplishing God’s purpose for our lives and for the personal spiritual growth and transformation that our Father wants for each of us.
If we self-diagnose that we are neither growing nor being fruitful the way we should as Christians, then a failure to really get to KNOW God has to be the number one reason for that failure.
Grace teaches us that to develop as Christians and benefit from the life transformation available through Jesus, we MUST give time and attention to getting to know him. To be transformed, we need to make KNOWING God our “specialist subject”. If we want to become an expert and share expertise with others, this has to be what we should become an expert in! As God himself shared through his great prophet Jeremiah in Jeremiah 9:24 “ . . . let him who boasts boast about this: that he understands and KNOWS me, . . .”
My last thought might seem a strange one:
4. “Knowing God” activates the FEAR OF GOD
“Surely not!” you say. “I thought that being afraid of God was an Old Covenant, Old Testament thing. We Christians enjoy the love and forgiveness of God.” But the flaw in this approach is not just that we DO find the fear of God referred to in the New Testament, by both the apostles Peter and Paul for example, but rather that the “fear of the Lord” is just not the same thing as being “afraid of God”.
Remember what happened when God gave Moses the Ten Commandments. We read about it in Exodus 20 where verses 18–20 tell us: “When the people saw the thunder and lightning and heard the trumpet and saw the mountain in smoke, they trembled with fear. They stayed at a distance and said to Moses, “Speak to us yourself and we will listen. But do not have God speak to us or we will die.” Moses said to the people, “Do not be AFRAID. God has come to test you, so that the fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning.” Moses is saying “don’t be afraid of God” so that “the fear of God will be with you”. A mystery! So they are clearly not the same thing. I think this suggests that the bone shaking terror that comes when God appears in power isn’t meant to make us run, it’s meant to bring us to our knees as we see God for who he really is – in all his awesome majesty and might.
But notice those words “so that the fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning”. I think this is a crucial point. The fear of God can keep us from sinning! And the fear of God comes - when we are in the presence of God.
Knowing God by being in his presence enables us to sense and experience the awesomeness of our holy and mighty God and it makes us hate sin the way God hates sin. Sin is abhorrent and totally offensive to God and the basis of his relationship with his people today is as it was when God commanded Moses to declare to the entire assembly of Israel as recorded in Leviticus 19:2 “Be holy because I, the Lord your God, am holy.”
We cannot really get to know God without finding out this truth about him, and when we do, it is going to change us and it is going make us hate sin with conviction; a conviction that can transform our life and walk with God.
I think that this rings true with our experience. Think about those special moments in your own Christian life when you have felt the presence of God in a powerful way. In these moments we are absorbed with God Himself and all thought and desire for sin just evaporates. Sin and God don’t mix. So the more we draw close to God, the more we get to KNOW Him in that intimate way, the more we will be free from the power and attraction of sin, and the more our lives are transformed.
So, whilst our first response to the term “the fear of the Lord” is to think it means to be afraid of God, that is clearly not the case. God created us for his pleasure and he wants a close and personal relationship with us and that means that we must learn to hate sin.
So listen to Solomon’s very clear definition of what “the fear of God” really is. It is found in Proverbs 8:13 “to fear the LORD is to HATE EVIL;” The fear of the Lord means being filled to overflowing with the kind of loathing of sin that God himself has.
Remember how God gave Job a glowing reference when talking about him with Satan – though, in view of what later happened to poor old Job, I suspect that he might well have wished that God had just kept quiet! But in: Job 2:3 God described him in these words: “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil. . . ” So in God’s eyes, to be blameless and upright, we must be those whose fear of God leads them to hate evil so much that it keeps us from sinning. In Chapter 28, and verse 28 of Job we hear God underlining that very point to all mankind when he says: “The fear of the Lord - that is wisdom, and to shun evil is understanding”.
What then can we learn from these few thoughts about KNOWING God?
For many of us I think, the truth is that living our Christian lives in close relationship with Christ can be an intermittent experience. When we are born-again, and at other special times in our Christian lives, our relationship with God just seems to burst into life; God is so real, so close, and so very special. But then as time goes on our focus on the presence of God can subside and instead of delighting in the experience of our amazing New Covenant relationship with Him, we can slip back into a self-centered existence and a routine of doing things for God or out of a sense of duty rather than enjoying who He is and allowing Him to use us the way He wants.
Sadly, this is but a short step to feeling that we need to earn our blessings from God by good works and self-effort. Without noticing it, we’ve slipped back into an Old Covenant, works-based righteousness – the very thing that Christ came to free us from. The reality though, is that we can never earn righteousness ourselves because as it says in Isaiah 64:6 “ . . . all our righteous acts are like filthy rags;.” In the instant we lose sight of the truth that we have not earned or deserved ANY of God’s blessings but have received them entirely by grace through faith, we bring our personal transformation as Christians to a juddering halt. The answer? We must continually maintain a close personal relationship with God. This is the only way we can really KNOW Him and walk in the transformed life that He alone can give us.
When we enter God’s presence we begin to really get to KNOW God:
• we start to understand that we ARE part of God’s family, and that amazingly, we are his sons and daughters with all the blessings and privileges that brings;
• we are challenged to let go and let God have control of our lives and to surrender to His leadership;
• we begin to really appreciate and experience the wonders of God’s amazing grace in full 3D and Surround Sound;
• we find ourselves developing an intense hatred and loathing for our sinfulness as the fear of God envelopes us;
• and, our hearts and minds begin to be transformed as we taste a life where God, is able use us for his own purposes and as part of His plans.
So, let’s resolve today, and again every day, that we will set our sights on the main thing, on the true focus of our new creation life; let’s determine that we really will get to KNOW GOD.