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 today. 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 that 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, I have some really great news for you – 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 long 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 Cor. 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 about Jesus – 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 – and only the Holy Spirit can reveal the person of God to our spirit.