How to Know God

The Bible teaches that God can only be truly known through Jesus Christ, His Son. To begin a relationship with God through Jesus is relatively simple.  The process can be summed up in the following phrases, as they are representative of our heart-posture toward God:

‘I believe’ – you are the real, personal, and good God.
‘I’m sorry’ – for all I have done wrong: all the ways in which I have rejected your Lordship, and been my own boss.
‘Thank you’ – for giving Jesus to die, bearing the punishment for my sins so I can be forgiven.
‘I accept’ – your Lordship over me, and ask you to come into my life and be my friend and leader.


If you’d like to hear more about the Gospel, this sermon series is available for you to listen to.


Listen to this sermon on “What is the essence of Christianity” to learn more about what it means to really be a Christian.


A more detailed version is below:

The Bible begins with the declaration that ‘In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth’.  Everything that exists does so because God brought it into being.  God is the creative genius behind flowers and galaxies, mountains and snowflakes, fish, trees and humanity.  He is the Creator, and therefore He is the Lord of all that is.  

His Lordship implies two things:  

1.It implies power (that is, He can rule).  He has the ability to govern the universe, because He made all.  
2. It implies authority (that is, he has the right to rule). He made everything and can do what He wants with it.  The universe and everything in it belongs to Him.  So God the Creator is Lord, with supreme power and authority.


That sounds threatening unless we recognize that God is good.  He created mankind to be recipients of His love and to love Him in return.  Creation reveals a God who appreciates beauty… who values order but also values creativity and freedom… who invented pleasure and joy… who inspires awe and wonder… instilled values like nurture in animals and in us.  Also, God does not just have the ‘soft’ qualities of goodness, but also its ‘hard’ qualities, like justice, concern for right and wrong, and loving discipline.  


God culminated His creative activity by creating man and woman.  Adam and Eve were unique in all creation in that God formed man – Adam – and breathed into him the spirit of life.  Something came from God and entered Adam, and Adam became a living being.  From Adam, God also formed Eve, so they are of the same substance, the same ‘stuff’.  God said of Adam and Eve that they were created in God’s own image.  Not that they were little gods, but they had an affinity to God that nothing else in all creation did.  They were not only physical but also spiritual beings.  They shared some of God’s attributes: reason, emotion, will, creativity, love of beauty, sense of justice and rightness, and so on.  They also had the ability to know God relationally and intimately, to love and enjoy him, and to receive and appreciate his love for them.


Love requires choice: ‘love’ coerced or instinctual is not love at all.  Love must be freely given.  So God provided Adam and Eve an opportunity to choose to love him: he gave them complete freedom in the Garden of Eden, but set apart one tree and said, ‘You may eat from any tree in the garden except this one.’  But then Adam and Eve fell.  They chose to mistrust God and trust the serpent (read Genesis 3), and so disobeyed God by eating the forbidden fruit.

This mistrust and consequent disobedience we call ‘sin’.  

When Adam and Eve first sinned, it had two effects: 

1. First, it fractured their relationship with God.  It separated them from him.  There was a wall between them, a wall they themselves had erected.  
2. Second, it put them in a position of guilt.  They had committed an offense against the Lord of the universe, and stood guilty.

Sin, by its nature, infects.  What we see in the history of Adam and Eve and their descendants bears witness to the cancerous spread of sin.  Once rooted, it takes over, to the point where no person, no facet of life or human nature remains untainted:  The greatest philanthropist may have issues with pride… the closest loving relationships show streaks of anger or selfishness… a certain level of dishonesty, gossip, lust, or temper shows up in all of us more regularly than we care to admit.


We see this in the Biblical story: the downward spiral of Adam and Eve’s descendants so that by the time of Noah humanity as a whole had embraced sin and lived utterly in opposition to God and goodness.  And even though God judged mankind with a great Flood and started over with Noah, sin, like cancer, has a way of coming back: Noah got drunk, his son mocked him, and before long the whole cycle of sin had begun again. Humanity is gripped by sin, willingly enslaved to it, guilty in it, and cut off from God because of it.


Centuries later, God created a nation, descendants of a man, Abraham.  This nation (Israel) became God’s own personal community, as it were.  They would be the means by which God would effect a change in the sinful condition of the world.  Through Moses God gave to them His perfect Law.  Not just his ‘laws’ or rules, but His Law, His defining how things really are.  It’s like the Law of Gravity: if you jump off a building you will not be punished by falling to the ground.  If you jump, you will fall.  That’s the Law.  So with God’s Law:  integrity, worship of God, honour and care toward other people are objectively right.  Murder and envy and ignoring God are objectively wrong: a violation of the real order of things.  


God’s Law is not something outside Himself, that He created.  God did not ‘decide’ that this is how He wanted things to be.  God’s Law is the expression of His person and character.  One writer has aptly said, “God is allergic to sin.”  It is not that He could tolerate it but chooses to punish it instead.  No.  Sin is repulsive to God’s very nature and therefore contrary to the very order of things as He created it.  God abhors sin like nature abhors a vacuum.


To Israel, God said, via his Law:  “This is what it looks like to be what I created you to be: Worship only me… Honour your parents… Set aside a Sabbath day, a day for rest and worship… Don’t lust, or steal, or kill, or lie, or covet…” —  the Ten Commandments.  (Incidentally, Jesus said, “Even if you don’t act these things out, the very desire in your heart to do some of these things violates God’s perfection.”)


Israel looked at these Ten Commandments and said enthusiastically, “Okay!  We promise!”

The rest of the Old Testament relates their systematic rebellion against that promise.  It is not just the godless pagans who live sinfully.  Even when God steps in, outlines exactly how to live rightly, and establishes a relationship with a community He calls ‘God’s chosen people’… even then they cannot keep His Law. 


Such is sin.  It enslaves entirely.  It makes people heap guilt on themselves.  It builds the dividing wall between us and God higher and thicker.  And all people have sinned.  Some more than others.  Some ‘big’ sins, some ‘smaller’ sins… but those are artificial categories.  No matter at what point or how many times you break the stick, the stick is broken.  Even a single sin means God’s character has been violated.  All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, the Bible reminds us.  We’ve all turned away from God.  Sin has become our default position.  Even when something inside us desires to be ‘a good person’, we find we’re always facing some form of selfishness or anger or lust or envy or gossip or pride or….  They are present in us, no matter how much we wish they were not.  

Therefore we are guilty before a perfect God.  And we are separated from him relationally.


But there is good news:

God sent his Son to earth: Jesus, eternal, divine.  We call that event the ‘Incarnation’, which means that in Christ, Deity took on flesh and became a real human being.  He was tempted in every way, like us, but he – alone of all who ever lived – always chose God’s values over his own temptations.  He lived sinlessly, the life we are created to live but cannot.  


And Jesus died as a substitutionary sacrifice for us: he gave his sinless life for sinful man.  His life of infinite worth he gave as payment for the infinite debt of our sin.  He took our guilt upon himself and bore the punishment we deserved.  The Bible says, The wages of sin is death.  Jesus, sinless, was put to death.  As he hung on the cross, bearing our sin, God turned away, and Jesus experienced the alienation from God that sin brings.


The Bible says, God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, that in him we might become the righteousness of God.  It also says, He was wounded for our sins, and the punishment that brings us peace was put on him.
Jesus, the Son of God, died for our sins… your sins.


Then, on the third day Jesus was raised again to life.  His resurrection is the confirmation and vindication of Jesus’ life and ministry and of his sacrificial death for our sins.  The Bible says that Jesus was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead. 

Jesus during his life had spoken and acted as if he were himself divine: raising the dead, calming storms… if people worshipped him, he accepted it. . . he claimed the ability and authority to forgive sin. . . he claimed to have existed before Abraham. . . he said he would one day come in glory and judge the whole earth and determine the eternal destiny of every person. . . he took the divine name ‘I AM’, and applied it to himself. . .


If Jesus had been crucified and that had been the end of it, it would have been impossible to know whether or not to take him seriously.  But God raised Jesus from the dead, and by so doing God put his stamp of affirmation on Jesus, vindicating him.  It is by his resurrection from the dead we know that what Jesus said was right, and that his demonstrations of divine power were the real thing.  It is by his resurrection from the dead that we know that Jesus is the Son of God.  Therefore we know that his death for our sins was sufficient to effect our forgiveness.


So Christians have rightly made much of the idea of ‘justification’.  Biblically, ‘justification’ is a legal term.  It means ‘to gain right standing as far as the Law is concerned’.  One of the ways the Bible describes sin is as a transgression of the Law of God.  It is not just breaking the rules of God, but violating His character and violating the order of things as they really are.  

When we sin, in any one of the thousand and one ways in which we do sin – gossip, petty pride, lust, murder, addiction, adultery – we transgress the Law of God’s goodness and commit an offense against Him.  Our condition then is one of objective guilt, just like breaking a criminal or civil law makes us objectively guilty in the sight of the Law.  Guilt means that punishment and/or restitution is necessary to restore our right standing, to justify us in the eyes of the Law.  So it is necessary to pay the fine, or do jail time, or be executed, depending on the nature of the offense and the Law of the land.


The necessary punishment or restitution for offenses against God is death, and separation from Him.  This is not because He’s excessively severe.  But because His perfection is infinite, any sin, however ‘small’ it might seem to us, constitutes an infinite offense.  Therefore our guilt is infinite, and the punishment and restitution necessary for our justification is also infinite.  We owe God an infinite debt: our separation from Him, merited by our sin, should rightly be total and eternal.


You see the problem: how can we justify ourselves?  How can we possibly maneuver ourselves back into a position of right standing?  We don’t have the resources.  We can’t do enough good deeds, we can’t be religious enough, even our own death cannot be sufficient unless it be somehow an eternal death.


That’s why Jesus’ death is such infinitely good news for us.  By his sinless life and by his identity as the divine Son of God, his death was sufficient to erase the infinite debt of our sins.  His life of infinite worth, laid down on our behalf at his crucifixion, means that our own eternal death is no longer required of us.  He died in our place. Our sins are dealt with and now we can have right standing with God, not on the basis of what we have done, but on the basis of what Jesus has done for us.  And God, in sheer grace, not only forgives our sin, but actually takes the moral perfection of Christ – the Bible calls that ‘righteousness’ – and imputes it to us.  He credits it to our account, as it were.  (Not that we are now righteous or perfect.  We’re not.  I still sin, and so do you.  But God ‘considers’ or ‘reckons’ us righteous, and deals with us on that basis.)


Of course, if we reject or choose to ignore Jesus, then we are still on the hook for our own sins, and punishment and restitution is still required.  God won’t just ignore our sin.  He would not be good or just if He did.  But He has provided a way for us to be made right with Him, and that is by Jesus.  All we do is accept that gift and respond accordingly, through what the Bible calls faith: believing that Jesus’ death was for your sins, and ordering your life under God’s Lordship.  We don’t serve God in order to get right with Him.  No, our justification is purely and entirely a work of God’s grace.  Forgiveness is not earned.  But we respond to Him in gratitude, and our living under His Lordship is a response of love.


Justification by faith means that we throw ourselves on the mercy of God, by believing and gratefully receiving the death of Jesus on our behalf, for our sins.  And by virtue of that – and only that – do we have right standing with God.


Perhaps an analogy will be helpful: There is a certificate of debt for each of us.  Our name is on top, and our sins are written on that certificate.  On the bottom, on the ‘total debt owing’ line, is the word ‘INFINITE’.  Method of payment: death and eternal separation from God.  We each have one such certificate.  But for those who have by faith accepted Jesus’ death for us, in bold red capital letters there is stamped across our certificate: PAID IN FULL.  And what’s more, there is a column added with the heading ‘credit’, and in that column is written: ‘CHRIST’S PERFECT RIGHTEOUSNESS’.


When, at the end of days everyone stands before the throne of God and are called to account, you will either have a certificate of debt, balance owing: ‘death and separation from God’ or ‘account paid in full, to enter life and intimacy with God’.


By his resurrection from the dead, we know our faith in Jesus is well-grounded.  By his resurrection the credit on our account is guaranteed.  By his resurrection we know that his death is sufficient for our sins.


Jesus was delivered over to death for our sins, and was raised to life for our justification, the Bible says.  


Maybe you have not by faith received Jesus as Saviour.  You have not accepted his death for your sins.  You, then, bear the weight of your sins against God and are responsible to pay the infinite debt, and God in justice will require that of you.  Yet in His mercy and love, He gave His son for you.  Respond to Him today.  Confess your sins.  Confess your need to be saved from the penalty of sin.  And be restored to right standing with God.  


Maybe you have acknowledged Jesus, but don’t realize that Jesus’ death is enough.  You think you still have to fill up what is lacking by being religious or good.  Your goodness does not – indeed cannot – make you right with God.  It is only the death and resurrection of Jesus that justifies.  Relax!  Trust fully in him!  Living rightly in loving response to God’s grace is a joy, where trying to be good enough to maintain God’s goodwill becomes only a burden.  Surrender the need to measure up.  Rest in the knowledge that in Christ, God sees you as good enough.

For those of you who have put your faith in Jesus, you know your sins are forgiven.  Let your heart overflow with worship.  You have been saved by the grace of the God who loves you too much to let you go.  What a great gift from a great God!
The Bible teaches that God can only be truly known through Jesus Christ, His Son. To begin a relationship with God through Jesus is relatively simple.  The process can be summed up in the following phrases, as they are representative of our heart-posture toward God:


‘I believe’ – you are the real, personal, and good God.
‘I’m sorry’ – for all I have done wrong: all the ways in which I have rejected your Lordship, and been my own boss.
‘Thank you’ – for giving Jesus to die, bearing the punishment for my sins so I can be forgiven.
‘I accept’ – your Lordship over me, and ask you to come into my life and be my friend and leader.