Robert's Sermons

Amazing Grace

Part 4 - 'Knowing God'


How do we know God? How do we comprehend Him? How do we relate to God? How are all those wonderful stories about God in the Bible spanning thousands of years converted today into His life-changing supernatural presence in our life? How do we experience divine things? How do we know Jesus is alive and real today? How do we know we have eternal life? I believe the Lord would have us face those questions honestly at this point in our examination of the gospel of God’s amazing grace. That process may confirm that we really do know God in the deepest sense or we may have to admit that our faith and belief in God has been more a faith and belief in some teaching about God and we are yet to encounter God Himself in a rich, personal, supernatural way.

Perhaps we have not yet experienced that real relationship with God which Jesus died to secure for us. God may show us that we have been trying to relate to Him through religious activity. By that I mean we ‘go to’ Church; read our Bible; pray; give of our time; talent and resources; read books; go to conferences; get involved in ministries within the Church and community; pray a certain way; believe certain things; do all sorts of things for all sorts of reasons – but underlying all that activity is a deep desire in us to really know and experience God as a person. Well, that’s God’s desire too!

The Lord wants to remind us today that doing our religious duty just won’t cut it with Him. It never will. None of those activities are wrong in themselves – but if we do them in order to please God or get blessings from Him, the Bible calls them dead religious works and they lead to spiritual stagnation, not the abundant Christian life! We must never forget that all those activities are things you and I can do in our own strength as human beings and they can be totally devoid of any real meaning or power. As spiritual as they may appear, unless they are the fruit of something else – they are dead works! Worse still, religious activity can effectively replace God Himself in our lives. The Bible calls that idolatry. We may not burn incense and bow before a golden calf but our religious deeds can become idols in the same way as anything can which takes the place of God.

We are actually pretty clever. We can achieve an enormous amount in our own strength. We may even do it all in God’s name. We can fill Church buildings with people; we can get thousands of them to jump through religious hoops and get their name on a membership roll; we can get people to believe what we believe. In fact, we can run a Christian organisation extremely well with all the technology and skills that are around today. We can even call it a Church and get away with it for a very long time. However, in reality, all we may have is a group of well-meaning people who spend their time acting out a role, singing about God, hearing about God and knowing all there is to know about God – yet still not knowing God as a person.

Let me explain it this way. If you tell me all there is to know about a friend of yours, I still don’t know that person, do I? You might spend years talking to me about your friend but I still haven’t met them personally. I don’t know the touch of their hand, the look in their eyes, the smile on their face, or the sound of their voice. I only know about them. We can know about God in the same way. We can know about Christ’s death for us, we can write songs and books, or be the head of a Christian organisation and hold important Church positions – and yet still never have experienced a vital, personal, intimate relationship with the God about whom we know so much.

The things of God can never be known by our physical senses, they are revealed by His Holy Spirit. We can never know God fully with our minds – never! The Bible does talk about our mind being renewed and our mind has a vitally important role to play in living the Christian life. In fact, I believe we need to use our mind far more than we do when learning about God and His ways. Every heresy and all bad theology that has ever risen up in the Church has been the result of sloppy thinking and a failure to wrestle with the practical outworking of the Truth which God reveals to us. However our mind is not all that needs to be engaged if we are to have an intimate relationship with God. It’s really not that difficult to understand why this may be the case. Our spirit is the agency by which we embrace spiritual things – and the human spirit has died – it is dead because of sin and has to be made alive again before we can comprehend spiritual things. So when I say that we are not able to apprehend God through our intellect, I’m not saying anything new or profound. It just makes sense.

When musical instruments are played, we don’t hear them with our eyes, do we? When there is a beautiful sunset – we don’t enjoy it with our ears. God gave us ears to hear and eyes to see, and it would be ridiculous to confuse the two. It’s just as ridiculous to try and relate to and experience a spiritual, infinite God with our fallen, finite minds. Now don’t get me wrong, understanding God with our minds is vitally important. Our thoughts run our lives and if you think the wrong things about God then it will most certainly hinder your ability to relate to Him. So our minds are vitally important. Our minds can inform our spirit – but that is all they do – they do not fulfil the function of our spirit. The truth I am highlighting here is simply that our minds are not what we use to relate to God as a person. Intellectual knowledge does not equate to or guarantee a relationship.

As a result of the ignorance of this truth, the Church now appears to have two Christs, We have the Christ of history – the bearded, sandalled man from Palestine – the Christ about Whom we know a great deal from the records we have been given. We then have the living, risen Christ as revealed to our spirit by the Spirit of God. We never got to meet the bearded, sandalled Christ from Palestine, although we know a lot about Him. Yet we do get to meet the risen, living Christ who is present today. Now there is only one Christ, whether He has skin on or not, but can you see the difference between the two in how we relate to our Lord? Can you see how it might be possible that the only Christ we know (or think we know) is the one who lived in the flesh on the other side of the world and died before we were born?

Just think about this for a moment. You can read the whole New Testament and not encounter the living Christ on one single page! You may be convinced that He is the Son of God, and still not find Him as the living Person He is. “No man knows the things of God, but the Holy Spirit.” (1 Corinthians 2:11) One glorious flash of revelation from the Holy Spirit can teach you more about our Lord Jesus as a person than ten years in a Bible College! You can learn so much aboutJesus – but it will mean nothing until the Holy Spirit shines His light into your heart. We take beliefs, texts of Scripture, creeds and theology and build them up like a wall – but we can’t find the door! We stand in the darkness and all about us is this intellectual knowledge of God – but we don’t have true knowledge of God at all – for the only true knowledge of God is that which His Spirit reveals supernaturally. If we don’t experience God as a person – we really don’t experience Him at all.

Now that I have your attention, let’s take a look at what the Apostle Paul said about this:

“When I came to you, brothers and sisters, I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. I came to you in weakness and fear, and with much trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on men’s wisdom, but on God’s power. We do, however, speak a message of wisdom among the mature, but not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. No, we speak of God’s secret wisdom, a wisdom that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began. None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.”

“However, as it is written: “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him” – but God has revealed it to us by his Spirit. The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the man’s spirit within him? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us. 

This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words. The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned. The spiritual man makes judgments about all things, but he himself is not subject to any man’s judgment: “For who has known the mind of the Lord that he may instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ.” (1 Corinthians 2:1-16)

Two things are made very clear in this incredibly important passage. Firstly, fallen human beings do not have the ability to comprehend divine things and secondly, God can give us that ability. The Bible makes it very clear that spiritual things are hidden behind a veil and within our fallen nature we do not have the ability to comprehend them. We come up against a blank wall in our understanding of God. Verse 14 tells us: “The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.”

Isaiah confirmed this centuries before Christ came to earth:

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”  (Isaiah 55:8,9)

In our natural human state we cannot understand or receive the things of the Spirit of God. They are foolishness to us. God gave us a spirit to engage with Him personally, and an intellect to apprehend truth or knowledge about Him – there is a huge difference. Bible study does not, of itself, lift the veil or penetrate it. The verse does not say, “No man knows the things of God except the man who studies his Bible!”  It says that no man knows the things of God except by the Holy Spirit. Jesus did not say we should worship Him in truth. He said we should worship Him, “in spirit and in truth.” We believe the Holy Spirit inspired the writing of the Bible – therefore the Holy Spirit must also inspire its reading and understanding. I believe that to understand a Bible verse it takes an act of the Holy Spirit equal to the act which inspired that verse to be written in the first place.

“All Scripture is inspired by God, and is profitable …” (2 Timothy 3:16)

“… a man can receive nothing, except it be given him from heaven.” (John 3:27)

“I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you.” (John 16:12-14)

Now that is perfectly plain, isn’t it? The One who reveals God to us, the one who reveals Christ to us, is the Spirit of God. That’s what Paul says in our passage today:

“We do, however, speak a message of wisdom among the mature, but not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. No, we speak of God’s secret wisdom, a wisdom that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began.  None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. However, as it is written: “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him.” (1 Corinthians 2:6-9)

Isn’t it strange how often we quote a passage and stop where we shouldn’t stop? Most people stop at this point because that accurately describes where they are in relation to God – ignorant and distant – but everything changes when we read one more verse:

“But God has revealed it to us by His Spirit.” (1 Corinthians 2:10)

Now there is nothing wrong with our mind, it is good. God created it – it must be good! He gave us our intellect and it has an important job to do. However, that job is not the apprehending of divine things – that is only possible through our spirit as it is touched by the Holy Spirit. Some scholars included Paul among the six greatest intellects that ever lived, but this intellectual giant said:

“When I came to you … I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God … my message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power.” (1 Corinthians 2:1-4)

Paul had confidence in this gospel because it was personally revealed to him (Galatians 1:11,12). He had a graphic, first-hand experience of the saving grace of his Lord. He knew that salvation was all of God and to His glory, because he had come face to face with it, and was radically impacted and transformed by it. The other Apostles confirmed it (Galatians 2:1,2; 6-8). Paul was sure that God had chosen him from his birth, forgiven his sins, saved him by grace and Paul had done nothing to earn it, nor could he pay it back. However, he submitted this revelation to those who had been apostles before him. Nothing was added to his message of the absolute, amazing grace of God. When a clear contradiction of that gospel arose, he confronted Peter about it and showed him his error. The fact that Peter was in authority in the church in Jerusalem didn’t influence Paul; he stood firmly on the truth of the gospel (Galatians 2:11-14). Paul’s confidence did not come from his profound scholarship. It was a direct result of revelation by the Holy Spirit, and was proved by subsequent events.

In Jesus name, understand this: if you have been reasonedinto Christianity through your intellect – then sooner or later some wise philosopher or smart thinker is going to come along and reason you right out again! But if the Holy Spirit has turned your spiritual lights on and given you that inner conviction and special relationship with God, then no one can ever reason you out of your faith … because its roots are not in your mind … but in the depths of your spirit … the place where nobody has access except God. Christianity stands or falls on the illumination of the Holy Spirit.

When Jesus asked the disciples who people thought He was, they began to reason in their minds. Some of them said, John the Baptist, others said Elijah. Now they could have reasoned all day long – they loved religious debates just as much as some of us do! But the Holy Spirit ended that useless debate when He came upon Peter and revealed something that Peter didn’t know beforehand. Peter said, “You are the Christ – the Son of the living God!” Jesus then acknowledged that the Spirit of God had revealed that to Peter. It’s really simple – it’s the Holy Spirit or it’s darkness.

If our faith is to be New Testament faith, if Christ is to be the living, communicating Christ of God, rather than the Christ of our intellect, or the Christ of history, then we must enter beyond the veil. We must press in until the illumination of the Holy Spirit fills our heart and we are learning at the feet of Jesus Himself – not at the feet of man. The Apostle John understood this very well:

“As for you, the anointing you received from him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about all things and as that anointing is real, not counterfeit – just as it has taught you, remain in him.” (1 John 2:27)

The man who wrote those words was a teacher – so how could he write that we do not need anyone to teach us? One of the gifts of the Spirit is teaching, so he couldn’t mean that we do away with teachers in the Church. What he did mean is this: Your knowledge of God is not taught to you from outside – it is received inside by an inner illumination of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit of the living God eliminates any dependency we have on ourselves. He does not allow us to depend on human wisdom, human intelligence, human effort, human ability, efficiency or personality. A genuine Christian faith is totally dependant every second of every day on a perpetual miracle of God. If you are a true, Spirit-filled believer, you are a miracle of God! The world cannot understand you at all. You are an alien, a stranger, a pilgrim en route to your promised land. You have been born again into an entirely different realm, a radically different Kingdom. The Spirit of God has touched your spirit and God has become a real person to you – living and working within you.

God wants to pour out His unconditional love on everyone and let them know that they are accepted by Him in Christ, and that they can do nothing at all to change that! Satan is the accuser – that is what his name means – and he wants to do all he can to remind us of our weaknesses and sins (especially past sins because he knows we can’t do anything about them). Now when God’s unconditional love and acceptance takes root in our hearts – Satan knows that he loses his grip on us. As we have already seen, God wants to release us from a purely intellectual faith (if such a thing exists). He often has to offend our minds to open our hearts; but Satan will keep bringing up reason and logic, and other people’s bad experiences, to keep our understanding of God in our heads. He has deceived a large section of the Church into thinking that God can be understood and comprehended in just our minds – leaving many with no real experience of God at all.

God wants a relationship – not intellectual assent and religious activity! He wants us to be released from the prison of human wisdom and expectation. He wants us to relate to Him spirit to Spirit – not through a set of man-made pharisaic rules, requirements and dry doctrines. He wants our service, devotion and obedience to flow from an overwhelming sense of His love – not out of guilt, shame, manipulation, obligation or Christian duty. But Satan wants to bring Christians back under the Old Covenant law. He wants to fill us with guilt and shame and a sense of failure as he constantly reminds us of those areas that are not up to scratch in God’s eyes – you know that little niggling voice in our conscience that we may have mistakenly thought was God … ‘How’s your quiet time going? … You missed Church today … Now that wasn’t 10% was it? … You call that a prayer life? If you want to be a first class Christian, you’d better get your act together…

That’s not God – God is never the accuser. I believe there are many people in the Church who have been under constant attack from the enemy and don’t even know it. Worse still, they have been deceived into thinking that their guilt and shame and feelings of inadequacy have come from God!  Nothing could be further from the truth! Jesus hung on a cross, His heart and body and soul crushed by the enormous weight of the sins of all mankind, and He cried out in anguish, “My God, my God why have you forsaken me?”  At that very moment He was bearing all your guilt, all your shame and all your inadequacy so that you would never have to take any of that stuff into your life again!

In fact when you allow the enemy to accuse you and drag you down; when you take on board old sins and guilt; when you read some clever pop psychology book that takes you back into your past and tells you all the problems you have and why you are the way you are; when you take that garbage on board – you are turning your face away from Jesus on that cross. You are literally denying what He has done for you. You have fallen away from grace and are once again carrying the guilt and sin and pain and rejection that Jesus already carried for you – once and for all time. Paul says there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus!  All that condemnation fell on Jesus and it is an offence to the cross of Christ for us to pick any of it back up again! God wants to set all captives free from this bondage. He wants to restore New Testament Christianity to His Church.  He wants the book of Acts to be a commentary on the life of the Church today – not just the first century Church!  He wants to release the full ministry of Jesus in this nation. Yet before He can do that, He must release us once and for all from the notion that we can truly know God via any means other than the revelation and illumination of the Holy Spirit to our spirit.

The ‘religion’ of Christianity is on notice – it’s an offence to God. He wants real Christianity – which is a personal, vibrant, powerful relationship with the Living God through the indwelling of His Holy Spirit. Jesus, the Lord of the Church, is confronting the religious leaders of today just as He did the Pharisees all those years ago. He is calling on those who bind up His children to step aside and let His Holy Spirit take up His rightful place in the Church. God is at work among His people and those who are prepared to be stretched, to grow, to have old ways, thoughts and judgements challenged by the Word of God will experience the love, power and strength of God in a new and dynamic way.

Those who are prepared to expose all they think, believe, say and do to the light of the Holy Spirit as He shines afresh on the Word of God; those who are prepared to hunger and thirst after God … shall be filled! Any real relationship must be based on truth, which is why it is vital that we truly know God in order to relate to Him the way He desires. The good news is that God has revealed Himself to us, and enabled us to be in relationship with Him. He has done all that is required, and continues to do that in us.

“No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him. But God has revealed it to us by His Spirit.” (1 Corinthians 2:9-10)

Let those who have ears to hear, listen to what the Spirit is saying to the Church today.