The People Who Know Their God
Tim Temple

Introduction

Please open your Bibles to Hebrews, chapter 11. We will read together verses 1-6:

Hebrews 11

1Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.
2For by it the elders obtained a good report.
3Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear.
4By faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, by which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts: and by it he being dead yet speaketh.
5By faith Enoch was translated that he should not see death; and was not found, because God had translated him: for before his translation he had this testimony, that he pleased God.
6But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.

On January 7, l855, C.H. Spurgeon, who was one of the great pastors in all of the English speaking world, addressed his audience at the Park Street Chapel in London, with these words, “I believe that the proper study for God's elect, is God. The proper study of the 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 subject of contemplation will tend more to humble the mind than thoughts of God. It is a subject so vast that all of our thoughts are lost in its immensity, so deep that our pride is drowned in its infinity. There is something exceedingly improving to the mind in a contemplation of the Divinity. Other subjects we can study and grapple with. In them we feel a kind of self-contentment and go away with the thought, ‘Now, I am wise;' but no subject of contemplation will tend more to humble the mind than thoughts of God.

“While the subject humbles the mind, it also expands the mind. He who often thinks of God will have a larger mind than the man who simply plods around this narrow globe. The most excellent study for expanding the soul is the science of Christ and Him crucified, and the knowledge of the Godhead in the glorious Trinity. And yet while humbling and expanding, this subject is also imminently consolatory. Would you lose your sorrow? Would you drown your cares? Then go plunge yourself in the Godhead's deepest sea. Be lost in His immensity, and you shall come forth as from a couch of rest, refreshed and invigorated. I know of nothing which can so comfort the soul, so speak peace to the winds of trial, as a devout musing upon the subject of the Godhead. And it is to that subject that I invite you this morning.''

I couldn't have said it better myself, and so I read it from Spurgeon. That is what we want to talk about today and in the next few weeks. No doubt, by this time, somebody is thinking, “Wait a minute. Maybe in Spurgeon's day people found the study of theology interesting. They didn't have much else to do in 1855 probably, but this is 1995, and surely the subject of theology is boring and impractical to us enlightened people.” That is an understandable attitude, but there is, I think, a very convincing answer to that. We would consider it cruel to bring a native from the deepest forest of the Amazon jungle and set him down in Times Square in New York City without telling him anything about the customs of that place or teaching him a word of English. We would think that a terrible thing to do, and yet, if you stop to think about it, the vast majority of human beings are being just that cruel to themselves, to try to get through life without knowing a single thing about the God Who created this world, Who runs it day by day. In reality, people who don't know anything about God are just stumbling through life with no real sense of direction and no understanding of their surroundings. But as we shall see in a few minutes, the Word of God has many promises to those who do know God.

Recognizing, then, that the study of God is worthwhile, where do we start on such an immense subject as God, the Creator of the universe? Art Linkletter once told a story of seeing a little boy drawing a picture, and he said to the little boy, “Well, what are you drawing?” The little boy said, “I am drawing a picture of God.” Art Linkletter said, “I thought nobody knew what God looked like.” And the little boy looked up confidently at Art Linkletter and said, “They will when I get through.” I hope that when we get through with this study of God, you will have something of an idea of what God is like, because we are not going to depend upon a child's drawing of God or our own drawing of God, but we are going to try to see from the Word of God what He has to say about Himself.

The Possibility of Knowing God

We know it really is not as simple as looking at a picture, don't we? It is like seeing a huge mountain out ahead of us and knowing that we have to climb it. Where do we begin to do something like that? In order to climb that huge mountain, the first thing that we have to do is to take the first step. And the first step in getting to know God is to believe that it is actually possible to know Him. That is why I have asked you to turn to Hebrews, chapter 11. We read together the first six verses, but notice verse 6. It says:

Hebrews 11

6But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.

In Romans, chapter 1, which we studied a year or more ago, we read in chapter 1, verses 19 and 20, that every human being believes that He (God) is—to use the Hebrew terminology. That is, every human being knows that there is a God. God's creation all around us tells us that there is a God, but that doesn't mean that everybody knows Him in the sense of Hebrews, chapter 11, verse 6, which says that He that cometh to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him. Knowing God is reserved for those who deligently seek Him. It is not enough to just look around and say, “Well, there must be a God because of the creation that I see.” If you want to really know God, you have to apply some effort. You have to diligently seek Him. In fact, Proverbs, chapter 2, verse 4, says that getting knowledge of God is like a man searching for silver. Now, how does a man search for silver? He has to dig for it, doesn't he. He has to go out and explore and look at the terrain and find a likely place to begin digging. But for people who are willing to dig for knowledge of God, people who are willing to expend some effort in that regard, the treasure will be richer than any amount of silver that we could ever find.

The Influence of Personal Knowledge

A very important thing to understand at this point is that there is a huge difference between knowing that God exists and actually knowing God. As an example of that let me tell you there is a tremendous difference in my mind between Bill Pierce, whom most of you know, and Bill Clinton, whom all of you know. For one thing, I like Bill Pierce. But I can honestly say that I know Bill Clinton. I suppose that everybody in this room could say that there is a sense in which you know Bill Clinton. We know that he exists. We know some things about him, even though we have never personally laid eyes on him, but we have observed a lot about him from the news media and from other external observable evidences about him. However, there is an entirely different sense in which I know Bill Pierce. I know Bill Pierce in a way that I can't say that I know Bill Clinton. I know Bill in the sense that I have sat through countless school board meetings and Elders' meetings and Sunday School meetings with him. He is active and has been involved in all of those areas in our church over the years. We have prayed together; we have played together, and I would be willing to let Bill Pierce put his hand in my mouth—with a drill in it, for that matter. For those of you who don't know, Bill is a dentist, so that might make a little more sense to that statement. I feel like I know Bill Pierce in a very thorough way, and I have come to love him as a fellow Christian, as a man of God. That is the difference between knowing someone and knowing someone.

What we want to do in this series of studies is to improve the way that we know God—not just knowing about Him, but coming to know Him in the personal way that He makes possible for us to know Him. The difference is that Bill Pierce has had an impact on my life. He has been instrumental in changes that have taken place in my life, because of his personal influence on me, and other men and women in this church have done that likewise. That is true for you, too. People have influenced you and made a change in your life.

Tony Evans, who is the pastor of the Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship, which is a large, influential black church in Dallas—actually it is an interracial church, but it is primarily black, and Tony is a black pastor—says that to know God is to have Him rub off on you. I like that—to have Him rub off on you so that He influences who you are. That is what we want to see in this series of studies. We want to see God in a way that He will rub off on you and that He will influence who we are. I hope that this will be a life-changing study for you and for me as we come to know our God more fully.

The Importance of Knowing God

The amazing thing is that our God, Creator of the universe, actually wants us to have that kind of relationship with Him. He wants us to know Him in that sense. In fact, He actually rewards those who diligently seek Him. In II Chronicles, chapter 16, verse 9, it says:

II Chronicles 16

9For the eyes of the LORD run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to shew himself strong in the behalf of them whose heart is perfect toward him…

Do you see what that verse says? It says God is actually looking for people to bless in this way of coming to know Him. Why should we have an interest in studying about God? I want to give you several reasons for that. God says that to know Him is the most important thing that we can know. Turn to Jeremiah, chapter 9. We have Jeremiah speaking the Lord's own words, a message that God gave to Jeremiah to give to His people. Notice verse 23:

Jeremiah 9

23Thus saith the LORD, Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, neither let the mighty man glory in his might, let not the rich man glory in his riches:
24But let him that glorieth glory in this, that he understandeth and knoweth me, that I am the LORD which exercise lovingkindness, judgment, and righteousness, in the earth: for in these things I delight, saith the LORD.

You see, this verse tells us that the most important thing in life is to know God. In verse 23, we have a list of the things that the world today thinks are important, even though they were written 3000 years ago. Notice what He says: “Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, let not the mighty man glory in his might, let not the rich man glory in his riches.” Here are the three things that probably stand at the top of the list in our world today in importance to people: wisdom, power and wealth. Many people think that it is legitimate to boast about wisdom or about education, particularly if you are about through earning a degree at this point. You probably think the most important thing in the world is to have knowledge, to have wisdom, the higher ranking in the class, the better. It is a wonderful thing to hear that someone whom you know has graduated summa cum laude—not that they have graduated, but that they have graduated with honors. It is easy to think that education is the most important thing that there is.

Other people think that it's okay to boast, to use Jeremiah's terminology, if you are the president or the colonel or the general or the dean or the manager or the head coach; if you have power then it is all right to boast. Still others think that by far the most legitimate thing to boast about is riches; having wealth is the life goal of probably the majority of the people in the United States today. But God says that none of those things are legitimate to boast about. He doesn't say not to have them. He doesn't say that they are not important, but He says that none of those things are worthy of boasting about. The one thing that it is legitimate to boast about more than any of those other standard reasons for pride, He says, is the knowledge of Him. “To know Me,” He says, “is the most important thing in all of life.”

God's Never-ending Love

The word lovingkindness in verse 24, is a translation of the Hebrew word checed . That is a word that means “never-ending love,” or “loyal love.” God says, “The most important thing in life that you can know is that I love you so much that I have kept on loving you while you earned that degree or that money or that place of power.” And God says, “I have loved you even when you failed in that pursuit, and I still love you now, and I will always love you even if and when those things are gone. I love you,” He says, “with an everlasting, loyal, steadfast love.” It is important to remember the sense of that word, He loves us even when we fail, even when we fail Him. II Timothy, chapter 2, verse 13, says:

II Timothy 2

13If we believe not, yet he abideth faithful: he cannot deny himself.

Who wouldn't want to know better a God like that? Who wouldn't want to be intimate with a God like that? I guarantee to you that the more you come to understand and love God and His never-ending love, the more that you are going to love Him, and it will make a difference in your life.

The Usefulness of Knowledge

The knowledge of God is not only the most important pursuit in life, it is also the most useful pursuit in life. Turn with me to John, chapter 17. In John, chapter 17, we have the prayer that Jesus prayed for believers the night before He died. He was praying for you and me, because He prayed not only for those who had believed in Him while He was here on the earth, but He prayed for those who would come after them. And that includes you and me. Notice in John 17, beginning with verse 1:

John 17

1These words spake Jesus, and lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, Father, the hour is come; glorify thy Son, that thy Son also may glorify thee:
2As thou hast given him power over all flesh, that he should give eternal life to as many as thou hast given him.
3And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.

I want you to notice particularly verse 3. Here is our subject again. Notice the last line of verse 3: “That they might know thee.” What does Jesus say about knowing God in this verse? He says that this is life eternal. Do you see that? If we took the time to analyze this verse word by word—we do not have the time to do that this morning, so I am just going to ask you to take my word for it—we would find that what Jesus is talking about is not length of life, but rather quality of life. There is a sense in which eternal life is a quality of length; but in this particular case, Jesus is talking about quality of life. Eternal life means knowing God fully. He is not talking here about how to have eternal life, lengthwise, but he is talking about what will bring a quality of life—life that is eternal, life that is totally fulfilling, life that is totally satisfying. In fact, life will never be all that God intended it to be for you if you don't come to know Him—not just facts about Him, but to come to know Him for who He is.

How sad it is that many of us insist on living our lives without consulting God about much of anything. Isn't that true? Many times we make a decision and we don't bother to pray about it, and then we wonder why it went wrong. But the problem with trying to live lives without consulting God is that our brain is too small, our knowledge is too limited, our understanding is too finite to live life the way it was intended without the input and direction of God. We hear a lot today about living an authentic life style. It seems to be one of the Christian's new buzz words. But listen, the only truly authentic life is the life that is built around the knowledge of and obedience to the One Who created life in the first place. How can we expect to live life to the full if we don't consult the Creator Who has made Himself so readily available to us?

The way most people live life today reminds me of a story that I heard last week. A little boy who lived on the farm was showing his cousin from the city around the farm. As they came around the corner of the barn, the city cousin was amazed to see all the way across the side of that barn a row of arrows, and each arrow had been shot directly into the bull's eye of the target. These targets were painted all along the side of the barn, and every arrow was in the bull's eye. The city boy said, “How in the world did you ever learn to shoot like that?” And the country cousin said, “That's easy. Let me show you.” He picked up his bow and arrow and drew back and shot an arrow into the side of the barn, then he ran around to the end of the barn, got a can of paint and painted a target around the arrow.

Isn't that the way that some of us live our lives? We find something to invest ourselves in, and we get busy and accomplish that, and then we build our lives around that. God doesn't want it to be that way. It doesn't have to be that way. God says, “I want to be the center of the bull's eye in your life. I want you to build your life around Me, and you will accomplish that which you are trying to accomplish by just getting involved in this or that human activity.” That is a sad way for us to live, to invest ourselves in something, get pretty good at it, then call that success. But you will never know what success really is until you can look at it from God's perspective, until He is the One who defines for you what a fulfilling and satisfying life really is.

We have said that the study of God is the most important thing that you can study. It is the most authentic study that you can ever be involved in, but another benefit of the study of God is that it is the most beneficial study that you can be involved in. It is a very beneficial knowledge. Turn with me to Daniel, chapter 11. This chapter describes the government which the Antichrist will someday run; it is still in the future, as far as we are concerned. It will be a total government, a world government, and it will be totally godless as a government. In fact, it will be anti-God. Daniel, chapter 11, and other places in the Scripture tell us about that in great detail. If we were to study Daniel, chapter 11, in some detail, we would see how quickly our world conditions are leading up to that government. That is something that is going to take place, and we shouldn't be surprised to see world events heading in that direction. In fact, I believe, rather than be alarmed about it, we should look up for we know that our redemption draweth nigh, as Jesus said we should. We should continue to seek to elect the best people we can—people that would be in line with the principles of God's Word—but we need to realize that this is where it is all headed.

The Strength of God's People

In Daniel, chapter 11, verse 32, talking about the Antichrist, the wicked world ruler, it says:

Daniel 11

32And such as do wickedly against the covenant shall he corrupt by flatteries: but the people that do know their God shall be strong, and do exploits.

It talks about that wicked government. That wicked ruler will actually flatter people who do wickedly. The covenant mentioned there is a reference to the Word of God and the promises of God. In that government the Antichrist, or whatever his human title will be, will actually commend and flatter people who rebel against the Word of God. But notice the next word there in verse 32. It says, “But,” and then it goes on to describe the activities of God's people, the people who know their God. “The people who know their God shall be strong, and carry on great exploits.” This verse is talking about people who live in a godless society—literally an anti-God society—and yet have the ability to react effectively to the anti-God trends all around them. It is a promise to people who live in a situation like ours. Theirs will be even worse than ours. If ever there was a generation of people who needed this information, it is this generation in which we live, because that's where we are headed, and it's only going to get worse. But, for people who are living in a situation that will be even worse than the situation we live in, the promise of God is that they who know their God will do great exploits for God. I think that is a wonderful promise for us.

The more we come to know God, the more we will be able to stand for God, and the more we will be able to accomplish things for God. Really knowing God gives the ability to make the correct response to the circumstances of life around us. The more we come to know God fully, the more we will know the correct response to the circumstances of life. There are many people in all walks of life around us today who want to fix the situation that we're in. Politicians, business men, professional people—all kinds of people want to fix it, but nobody is quite sure how to do that. To be able to see things from God's perspective gives us the ability to know what to do, even if sometimes the thing to do is nothing.

Courage Based On Knowledge

There is an example of that back in chapter 3. We will not take time to turn back to Daniel, chapter 3, but if you know very much about the Bible, you know that in Daniel, chapter 3, we have the story of the three Jewish friends of Daniel who were able to withstand the demands of the wicked, godless king and actually wound up being thrown in a fiery furnace because of that. It is a well-known Bible story. Because those three young men wouldn't bow down to the image of Nebuchadnezzar, they suffered this great persecution. They wouldn't bow down because of what they knew about God, and when they were given a second chance, and they were threatened with being thrown into the fiery furnace, they knew exactly what to do.

They made an interesting statement when the king gave them that ultimatum. They said, “We have no need to answer you in this matter, Oh, King.” In other words, they didn't even have to discuss it. They didn't have to hold a caucus and decide what they were going to do in this situation; they already knew exactly what to do or, in this case, what not to do; they were not going to bow down to that image. They said, “No matter what you do to us, our God will protect.” You know why they didn't bow down to that image? It wasn't because they had great courage particularly. It was not because they wanted to taunt the king or draw attention to themselves; it was because they knew God, and they knew what God could do for them, and they knew what God wanted them to do for Him. They knew their God, and they were able to do this great exploit. They knew more about the Kingdom of God than they knew about Nebuchadnezzar. They knew God's holy nature. They knew His awesome power; they knew His eternal plan, and they knew that all of those things were bigger than anything the king could do to them. So it didn't matter even if the most powerful king in the world of their day threatened them; their God was bigger than any other god.

You know, there are many Christians today who don't have the courage to talk that way in any situation, because they don't really know God. They don't really understand the power of God and the plan of God, and the holiness of God, and a lot of times even on a much smaller scale situations than those three Hebrews faced. We don't have the courage, because we don't have the knowledge of God that they had.

Becoming people who know their God is the most important and the most useful and the most beneficial thing that we can know, the most beneficial, useful authentic pursuit we can ever undertake. And I hope that by now you are beginning to believe that. If you are beginning to believe that, maybe you will begin asking, “Where do we start? How do we come to have this amount of knowledge?”

A Necessary Desire for Knowledge

The first thing that is necessary is to want to know God. The first thing that is necessary to know God, is to want to know about Him. Psalm 42, verse 1, says:

Psalm 42

1As the hart panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul after thee, O God.

Paul said in Philippians, chapter 3, verse 10, that his greatest longing was, ‘That I may know Him”. Jesus said in Matthew, chapter 5, verse 6:

Matthew 5

6Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.

We have to want to know God before we can come to know Him in this way. All of those verses are saying essentially the same thing; God feeds hungry people. People who are spiritually hungry, God feeds. Someone may be sitting there thinking, “Well, that's the problem. I am not hungry. I want to be hungry, but how do I do that?” Well, that's easy. I mentioned Tony Evans a few minutes ago. He says, “If you want to get hungry, just hang around the kitchen.” Unless you are sick, the sights and the smells of good food being prepared will make anybody hungry, no matter the fact that you may have just recently eaten. Psalm 34, verse 8 says:

Psalm 34

8O taste and see that the LORD is good…

Do you know why most successful cooks are fat people? It is because they keep tasting the food as they prepare it. All you have to do, God says, is to taste of Him, and that will whet your appetite for Him.

Let me ask you something: How long has it been since you have sat down and meditated on the Word of God? I mean to sit down and really think about what some verse is actually saying? How long has it been since you have sat down and tasted God? If you will taste you will see that the Lord is good, and that taste will bring a desire for another taste, and that taste for another, and that for another, and before long you will be starving to know more of God. A very important way to taste the Word of God is to go to a church where the Word of God is taught, to be in a Sunday School class where the Word of God is taught. That will give you a taste of God and that will produce hunger. Get around somebody who feasts on God and His Word, and you'll get hungry.

The Source of Truth

The second thing to begin to get to know God is to turn to the Word of God. It ties in with the first thing that we talked about. In the prayer recorded in John, chapter 17, which we looked at a few minutes ago, Jesus prayed in verse 17:

John 17

17Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth.

Listen, if you are looking for the truth about any subject, go to the Word of God. That is where the truth is. The truth isn't to be found in education, although there are a lot of facts to be found in education, a lot of knowledge to be found in education. But education, no matter how humanly good it may be, is tainted by the sin nature of the people who provide the education.

We all know the truth isn't to be found in politics. Probably the most truthful politician who ever lived was a man by the name of Benjamin Disraeli of England. He was a Christian, by the way, and when he was informed that he had been chosen Prime Minister of England, he said, “I have climbed to the top of the dirty, greasy pole.” Now, there is a politician who told the truth. He understood the nature of his craft. Most of them won't say that. Many times we don't want to know the truth, do we? Do you think your wife really means it when she says, “How do you like my new hairdo?” Do you think she really wants the truth? Do you want to speak the truth if it's not what she is going to want to hear?

Translate that into so many other areas of life. The truth is a very elusive subject, but Jesus Christ said, “My Word is truth.” If you want truth, you can't depend on education. You can't depend on politics. You can't even always depend on people closest to you. The source for truth is the Word of God. The only way to find out about God is to study His Word, and that is exactly what we are going to try to do in this series.

Know Yourself

That leads to one final warning or one final promise. If you mean business about this matter of getting to know God, if you really want to know God, then be prepared to get to know yourself also. In Isaiah, chapter 6, there is a beautiful message about being called to serve God. That is the chapter where Isaiah said, “Here am I Lord, send me.” But in the first verses of that chapter we have the story of how Isaiah saw the Lord high and lifted up and went on to describe that beautiful vision of God. Do you know what Isaiah said when he saw God high and lifted up, when he saw God as God really is? Isaiah said:

Isaiah 6

5Then said I, Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips…

Listen, get ready; if you want to come to know God, you had better get prepared to come to know yourself, and you're probably not going to like what you see. The more we see God as He really is, the more we see ourselves as we really are. But do you know, that is probably the greatest benefit of coming to know about God. We need to see ourselves as we really are, because we really don't like to tell the truth to ourselves about ourselves, do we? We find ways of glossing it over, covering it up, and cleaning it up. We need to know God so that we can know ourselves and so that we can fall down in confession before a holy God, confess our sins and accept His grace and forgiveness and His power to live our lives. The knowledge of God and the knowledge of ourselves may be unpleasant, but if we respond to it properly with repentance, probably with tears, we will be willing to say as Isaiah said, “Here am I, send me.” Are you ready for that? That's what lies ahead if you're ready to mean business about this study of God.


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