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Theology You Can Count On
Experiencing What the Bible Says About ... God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit, Angels, Salvation, the Church, the Bible, the Last Things
By Anthony T. Evans, Phil Rawley, Jim Vincent
Moody PublishersCopyright © 2008 Anthony T. Evans
All rights reserved.
THE STUDY OF GOD
It's hard to know where to begin when your subject is God Himself, a subject more important than anything else we could ever study. Nothing can fully express the subject, especially since God is more than the sum total of His attributes. King David said, "Such knowledge [of God] is too wonderful for me" (Psalm 139:6). But God invites us to know Him. He wants us to contemplate all that He is, because nothing else matters without Him.
I like what the great English preacher Charles Spurgeon told his church one Sunday (and J. I. Packer cites in his book Knowing God):
I believe ... that the proper study of God's elect is God; the proper study of a Christian is the Godhead. The highest science, the loftiest speculation, the mightiest philosophy, which can ever engage the attention of a child of God, is the name, the nature, the person, the work, the doings, and the existence of the great God whom he calls his Father.
No study of God can be said to be comprehensive for three reasons. The first has to do with the sheer limitation of the human mind. A finite mind cannot fully grasp an infinite being. Second is the moral problem. The presence of sin, even in our converted state, has limited our capacity for understanding spiritual truth. Third, we have a resource problem. God has simply not told us everything about Himself. What He has told us we can know, but He has not revealed everything.
Because of the greatness of our subject, I will be taking you to many portions of Scripture. But due to the limitations of space and my own finiteness, we will neither exhaust the subject nor be able to give equal attention to all of these Scriptures.
THE STUDY OF GOD
My thesis in this introductory chapter can be stated simply: The study of the knowledge of God is the most important pursuit in life.
Of all the things that matter in our lives, to know God through a purposeful study of His nature, His character, and His perfections should be our driving force. Only then will we be able to define everything else accurately. But let me make three clarifications right now before we get into the heart of this chapter and the book.
More than Awareness
First of all, when I talk about the study of the knowledge of God, I am not referring to an awareness of God. Simply to say there is a God doesn't say a whole lot about Him, because it would be hard to miss Him entirely when you understand that He is an all-encompassing Being. So when I talk about knowing God, I mean more than that you are aware He exists.
More than Information
Second, when I talk about knowing God, I mean more than that you have information about God; that is, knowing that He is the Creator or powerful or big or grand or majestic.
More than Religion
Knowing God also means more than having a religious experience with God or saying that we feel Him. It is valid to have an emotional and religious experience with God, but to know Him involves more than that.
To know God is to have Him rub off on you, to enter into relationship with God so that who He is influences who you are. One of the great tragedies today is that you can go to church and be aware of God; you can go to church and have information about God; and if your church has a great choir, you can even go to church and "feel" God; but you can leave church with Him never having rubbed off on you.
LIFE'S MOST MEANINGFUL PURSUIT
The study of God is the most meaningful pursuit in life. Jeremiah 9:23-24 expresses the importance of knowing God better than I ever could:
Thus says the Lord, "Let not a wise man boast of his wisdom, and let not the mighty man boast of his might, let not a rich man boast of his riches; but let him who boasts boast of this, that he understands and knows Me."
The Right Kind of Bragging
It's amazing how many things we brag about. Some of us can brag about our educational achievements. We've gone through school and we've done well. We've got a bachelor's degree. We've earned a master's degree. Perhaps we even graduated magna cum laude.
Perhaps you started on the bottom rung of the ladder at your company. You've grown up through the company and now you've become a supervisor; you've "graduated" to become a manager. You own your own business, your own success. Now extra money is in the account. The home looks nice. The cars are modern. The suits are authentic.
But God says, "If you are going to brag, if you really want something to shout about, can you brag that you know Me? Because if you can't talk about that, you don't have much to brag about."
Hitting the Right Target
A man once went to visit a farmer and noticed something very odd. On the side of the farmer's barn were a number of targets with holes dead center in each bull's-eye. The visitor said, "My goodness! Every single hole is right in the center of every single bull's-eye! I didn't know you were that good." His farmer friend said, "I'm really not."
"Wait a minute. I see a hole in the center of every single bull's-eye. How could you not be that good and shoot that well?"
The farmer replied, "It's like this. I shoot the hole into the barn first, then I draw me a bull's-eye."
That's the way a lot of us live our lives. We shoot for riches, power, or education and then draw the meaning of life around these things. Then we go around saying, "I hit a bull's-eye!" We give the impression that we know how to shoot, when in actuality we don't know what in the world we are doing. We are as confused as those around us.
But God says, "If you are going to brag, can you brag on the fact that I have rubbed off on you; that My thinking has become your thinking; that My way of living and walking and moving and functioning has become your way? Only when that happens can you say that you know Me." And so we need to say, "We will boast in the name of the Lord, our God" (Psalm 20:7).
LIFE'S MOST AUTHENTIC PURSUIT
The study of God is also life's most authentic pursuit. In John 17, Jesus gave His high priestly prayer in which He prays on behalf of His disciples, including you and me:
Jesus spoke these things; and lifting up His eyes to heaven, He said, "Father, the hour has come; glorify Your Son, that the Son may glorify You, even as You gave Him authority over all flesh, that to all whom You have given Him, He may give eternal life. This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent." (vv. 1-3)
According to Jesus, authentic life is eternal life. Jesus is not referring to how long you are going to live. He's talking about a quality of life in verse 3. Eternal life means knowing God. Life can never be what it was intended to be for you or me unless that life consists of God's life being lived out in us.
Jesus says in verse 3 that the only way you will get eternal life experience in this life is in the knowledge of God. To know God is to live life as it was meant to be lived. That's why Jesus said He came to give us life and to give it to us more abundantly.
To understand life, you have to understand a very simple principle: Eternal life, or the quality of life that God has intended for us, equals the knowledge of Him. Jesus makes a comparative statement in John 17:3. If you want to live, He says, don't go looking for life. Look for the knowledge of God, because authentic life means knowing Him.
Telling the Truth
Only one standard of information clarifies what life is all about: the Word of God. Jesus said to the Father in His prayer in John 17, "Your word is truth" (v. 17). If we are going to live life authentically, we need someone who will tell us the truth. We don't do that with each other. We don't tell people the truth because we don't want to offend them. We don't tell them the truth because we don't want them mad at us. We don't tell them the truth because people like being lied to. Therefore, our relationships are often shallow and never get to where they are supposed to be.
You don't have that problem with God. God calls it as He sees it. He will not tell you, "I'm OK, you're OK." He tells you, "You were dead in your trespasses and in your sins, and you lived according to the flesh, according to the lust of this age." He's not going to make it comfortable or convenient for you. He will tell you the truth, like a good doctor.
The Real You
That's the downside of our study. When God unveils who He is, the knowledge will also unveil who we are. We're faced with the problem Peter had when he ran into Jesus Christ and found out who he was. The revelation of Jesus Christ made Peter fall on his face and say, "I am a sinful man" (Luke 5:8).
The prophet Isaiah saw the Lord and cried out, "Woe is me!" (Isaiah 6:5). Why? Because if you want the real deal, if you really want the truth, God will give you the truth. When you see God as He is, when He unveils Himself, when the true knowledge of God is revealed, it shows you for who you are.
The Real World
The knowledge of God also shows the world for what it is. People spend much time analyzing our world. Philosophers analyze society because people want answers to the fundamental questions of life, such as, Who is man? Where did man come from? Where is he going?
Other people pursue the social analysis of man: how man functions in communication and communion with others, how people relate to each other, how people can stop themselves from hurting one another, and how they can live in peace with one another. The result is often political attempts to make the world right. But when you have the Word of God, you understand the rules of society because God tells the truth about the world.
God also tells the truth about sex, about money, and about all the ingredients that relate to life. He tells the truth about who you are. And so who you are, where you came from, why you are here, and where you are going all come from the knowledge of God.
LIFE'S MOST BENEFICIAL PURSUIT
Nothing will benefit you more in day-to-day living than the knowledge of God. Daniel 11:32 says this: "The people who know their God will display strength and take action."
Daniel was a captive in Babylon, an ungodly nation that was turned over to the Medes and the Persians. Daniel was constantly under oppression. He was constantly being victimized, but he says, "The people who know God even in the midst of a bad situation will know the right steps to take in confronting the issues of life."
The knowledge of God gives the ability to make the correct response to the circumstances of life. The people who know their God will have the confidence and ability to do the right thing. You see, the problem today with people who want to correct the social or political order, who want to change this and fix that, is that they want to do good things, but they don't know the right way.
But the people who know their God will move forward with confidence, and take action. Knowledge of God is not passive. It's not something you do on the sidelines. It really frees you up to do something, but to do the right something.
The knowledge of God also gives security in life. Look at Psalm 46:1-3:
God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change and though the mountains slip into the heart of the sea; though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains quake at its swelling pride.
The psalmist says that even when earthquakes shake things up, those who know God will be secure. When the ground under you starts shaking, there isn't much around you to hold onto.
The knowledge of God also gives wisdom. Paul prays in Ephesians 1:17 "that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him." Wisdom is spiritual insight for earthly application, the ability to know what God wants and the know-how to apply it where you live. Wisdom is to truth as a shoe is to shoe leather. Wisdom means the ability to take a divine, spiritual perspective and turn it into an earthly, functional application.
Proverbs 9:10 puts it this way: "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding." Solomon says God will show you how to live a wise life. A lot of us have book sense, but we don't have common sense.
It's not that we don't have information; it's just that we don't have wisdom, the ability to apply the knowledge we have. But the knowledge of God can give us wisdom, Proverbs says, the ability to make the right decisions in life.
The apostle Peter says the knowledge of God can give you a well-ordered life:
Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord; seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us. (2 Peter 1:2-3)
Peter says the knowledge of God will give you grace, peace, and power. What more could you ask for? A grace life, a peace life, and a divinely powerful life is a well-ordered life, but Peter says it only comes by the true knowledge of God.
If you allow God to work in your life and transform it, He will give you spiritual development:
For this reason also, since the day we heard of it, we have not ceased to pray for you and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that you may walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God. (Colossians 1:9-10)
Paul says that the knowledge of God will change the way you walk. When you know God, you walk differently. You move differently. You act differently. You think differently. Why? Because you are filled with the knowledge of God. With this knowledge comes the knowledge of His will, and the knowledge of His will transforms your life. As He transforms your life, you bear spiritual fruit.
Fruit has two characteristics. First, it always reflects the character of the tree of which it is a part. When you bear spiritual fruit, you begin to look like Christ. Second, fruit is never borne for itself. It is always borne so someone else can take a bite. When you start bearing fruit, other people want to take a bite out of your life. Other people want to be like you, because you are a productive person for the purposes of God.
LIFE'S MOST CHALLENGING PURSUIT
Finally, the study of God is the most challenging pursuit in life:
Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who became His counselor? Or who has first given to Him that it might be paid back to him again? For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen. (Romans 11:33-36)
An Eternal Challenge
Do you want a challenge? Decide to get to know God. It's a challenge first because verse 33 says getting to know God will never end. God is never, and will never be, fully comprehensible to man, not only in time, but in eternity.
Any married person can relate to this You can live with a woman or a man for fifty years and still discover new information. Now, if you can do that with another person over a lifetime, think about our infinite God. It will take eternity and then some to understand Him. The knowledge of God will always be a challenge because you will never learn it all.
Excerpted from Theology You Can Count On by Anthony T. Evans, Phil Rawley, Jim Vincent. Copyright © 2008 Anthony T. Evans. Excerpted by permission of Moody Publishers.
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