Graham Standish is the pastor of Calvin Presbyterian Church in Zelienople Pennsylvania. He is also an adjunct professor at Pittsburgh theological seminary and Tyndale theological seminary in Toronto. Graham is the author of several books including in God’s presence: encountering, experiencing, and embracing the holy and worship, humble leadership, and becoming a blessed church: forming a church of spiritual purpose, present, and power.
What fascinated me about Graham is the way he shepherded his own presbyterian congregation in discernment and a spiritual practices. He transitioned his church from a congregational model to a spirit led model in which everything from Bible studies to committee meetings are shaped not by Roberts rules of order, but by prayerful attentiveness to what the Spirit is saying and doing in every situation.
After stumbling accidentally across the presence of Jesus in healing patients at a psychiatric hospital where he served as a therapist, Graham enrolled in a PhD program at Duquesne University, where he studied Christian spirituality from Catholic, Protestant, charismatic, and contemplative traditions. His work and writing is permeated by a deeply Trinitarian theology and a simple confidence that God is at work in every situation and our job is simply to discern and cooperate with his movement.
For more information on resources discussed in today’s episode:
Global Disciple Builder: www.globaldisciplebuilder.com
Global Disciple Builder Facebook Group: www.facebook.com/groups/globaldisciplebuilder/
Did you know that our blog offers free online versions of the Pocket Principles® that we publish with our Guided Discussions. A Group that I am leading at my church is currently studying through the Cornerstone Series. Knowing God is the second in that set of workbooks.
If you have trouble finding these with our search tool in the header, you can use this blog as a reference.
Most of us can’t remember being a baby. But we all were, even if there is no hard evidence, (such as those embarrassing photos parents often bring out at holidays.) As babies, we formed critical ideas about ourselves and the world around us. Sociologists and psychologists tell us that one of the most basic ideas that we developed was the understanding that we were distinct, separate from the world around us. We are different from everyone else, even our parents. Our hands were our hands, not somebody else’s. There was an “us” and there was a “not us.”
This concept of being distinct and separate is also true of God. He is different from His creation. He is different from us and all the universe. Nothing can quite compare to Him nor entirely explain Him. In order to develop a true relationship with God we need to understand this. We must realize that “God Is Who He Is”. To understand Who God is, we must understand what He has said about Himself.
God reveals aspects of His character and rule through the natural world. The amazing complexity, order, beauty and grandeur of the physical world tell us something of God’s majesty. But He especially tells us about Himself through Scripture. One unique way that God has revealed Himself in the Bible involves His three-in-one nature. The Church calls this three-person aspect of God: “the Trinity.” Admittedly this is a difficult concept to grasp, but it is central to understanding Him. We can know God more fully by studying how He has revealed Himself through each Person of the Trinity.
Deuteronomy 6:4 declares, “The Lord is our God, the Lord is one!” The Scriptures are very clear, there is only one God. Yet He exists in three eternal and equal persons who are the same in essence, but uniquely distinct from one another. The Scriptures place the three persons of the Trinity together as equals: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19; I Peter 1:2, I Corinthians 12:4-6; II Corinthians 13:14).
The Trinity is a great mystery to us. We cannot fully understand how God can be one God and three persons, because we have no complete and exact comparison for this concept. Many things about our infinite God are hard to understand from our finite, human vantage point. (cf. Isaiah 55: 8-9) Yet we can define and believe this because the Bible teaches it. Just as we do not have to understand electricity in order to believe it exists and to use it, so the Trinity exists despite our inability to fully comprehend this truth.
The persons of the Trinity relate to each other in a living and vital way.
Consider water. It is one substance (H20), but exists in three forms: liquid (water), gas (steam) and solid (ice). Perhaps it is helpful to note that in a similar way God is one being who is expressed in the three persons of the Trinity. Unlike H2O, however, the persons of the Trinity relate to each other in a living and vital way. Generally speaking, within the Trinity, God exhibits three roles: God the Father initiates and plans, God the Son executes the plans, and God the Holy Spirit applies the plans to believers. Within the Trinity, unity is brought about by the Son submitting to the Father and the Holy Spirit submitting to the Son and the Father. God the Father has, in turn, given all authority to the Son to carry out the divine plans.
God the Father
As the first person of the Trinity, God the Father, shows His fatherly relationship toward both believers and non-believers through Creation and His common goodness to all the world. The Scriptures say that God the Father causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the just and the unjust. He provides for the animals and the fields, for the people of His Kingdom and even the people who oppose Him. (Matthew 5:45, 6:25-33, 7:9- 11; Luke 6:35; Hebrews 12).
Furthermore, God the Father demonstrates that He has a unique relationship with believers. God draws us to Himself, graciously bringing us into His family as children (John 6:44, 1:12; I John 3:1). Indeed, God has sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, so that we may truly call Him, “Abba! Father!” (Romans 8:15-16; Galatians 4:6- 7). It is a great and humbling mystery to be called children of the Living God and to be made co-heirs with Jesus Christ the Son (Romans 8:17).
This adoption by God the Father leads to special privileges and responsibilities for His children. In Ephesians 1:3- 14, we see that God the Father freely forgives us and provides every good thing we need. He has special intentions for us—to be holy and blameless—and has revealed His plan to us in Scripture. As a perfect Father, He has assured us of our place in His love by giving us the Holy Spirit as a guarantee of our inheritance as His children. With all the joy and security of beloved children, we have free access to God the Father through faith (Ephesians 3:12).
Likewise, God the Father has endowed His children with responsibilities such as obeying His Word (John 14:21) and representing Him as messengers of reconciliation to the world (II Corinthians 5:20). As members of His family, we are to be a part of His church and to respond to Him in praise and worship (Hebrews 10:24-25; I Peter 2:9).
This adoption by God the Father leads to special privileges and responsibilities for His children.
As we study who God is, we come to understand more of His character and His nature. Through the Scripture, we learn that God is both transcendent (beyond our understanding) in the mystery of His Trinity, and He is immanent (totally accessible) as our heavenly Father. With whole hearts we can call on Him as Lord and Father!
It is important to understand what God has revealed about Himself in Scripture.
• God is a Trinity, existing in three eternal and equal persons who are one God.
• Although the Trinity cannot be fully understood, the Bible teaches us to believe.
• God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit fulfill different roles.
• God the Father is the first person of the Trinity.
• As His children, we have special privileges and responsibilities.
Meditate on and appreciate the transcendence and immanence of God.
Meditate on Ephesians 1 and 2 in order to appreciate the privileges God has given to you.
Meditate on I Peter 2:9-10 and appreciate the high calling God has given to you by entrusting you with significant responsibilities.
Get this Pocket Principle in Knowing God, part of Cornerstone from the WDA Store
A.W. Tozer, a revered Pastor of the last century, wrote, “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.” He realized that how we think and feel about God affects how we relate to Him. And as Christians, our relationship with God should be the most important relationship in our lives. In order to think correct thoughts about God (which is taken up in Pocket Principle™ #4, Correcting False Views of God) we must first understand His attributes, His inherent characteristics.
Having said that, we must realize that we cannot know God perfectly. The finite cannot know everything about the infinite. In our attempts to describe God, to know Him, there is a natural temptation to limit Him; to try to make Him more like us and less than He truly is. We must fight this tendency and meditate on what He has revealed about Himself. We need a big picture of God if He is going to be worthy of our complete trust. Although God reveals Himself through natural and special revelation, His fullest revelation of Himself is found in Scripture, and so this is our best source. In it, God not only reveals Himself, He also tells us how we can know Him personally and grow in our relationship with Him. By applying the following steps, we can gain a true knowledge of God.
Studying Biblical Images Of God
The Bible describes God in many different ways from Genesis to Revelation. It presents His attributes (or characteristics) using descriptions of His nature and His activities primarily in the Old Testament, while the New Testament’s main additions are the triune nature of God (see Pocket Principle™ #5, Trinity and God, the Father) and the embodiment of Him in Jesus Christ (see Pocket Principle™ #6, Jesus, God the Son).
God also reveals Himself in His names. There are several primary names for God used in the Bible. In the Old Testament He is called El (translated “God”), Yehweh (translated “LORD”), and Adonai (translated “Lord”). El seems to be used in contexts where God’s power and justice are in view, such as in creation or the great flood. Yehweh is God’s covenant name by which He revealed Himself to Israel (His people in the Old Testament). Yehweh is used primarily in contexts where God is acting graciously toward His people, such as in creating Eve for Adam or when He speaks to His people directly. Comparable names are used in the New Testament: Theos (“God”) for El and Kurios (“Lord”) for Yehweh. Often more insight is gained when the names of God are used in combination. For example, El Shaddai means “God Almighty,” communicating the idea of God’s power and strength. The attributes or descriptions of God in Scripture can be divided into two groups. The first group is composed of those attributes that we can share with God; attributes He calls us to emulate. For instance, God is holy, and we are called to holiness. “Be perfect [finished, complete, pure, holy], therefore, as your heavenly father is holy.” (Matthew 5:48) Another of these attributes is love. God is love, and we are to love Him with all our heart, soul and mind and our neighbor as ourselves (Matthew 22:37-39). There are many more of these attributes, such as truthfulness, faithfulness, goodness, patience, mercy, justice, righteousness, etc.
The other group of attributes is made up of those that we can never share with God. In these ways, God will always be different and greater than we are. For example, God is “Spirit.” He does not have a body like we do. He is “self-existent.” No one made Him and He is dependent on no one. We, and the rest of the universe, are created by God and are dependent on Him to continue to exist. Other attributes we can never share are His immutability, eternality, infinity, omniscience, omnipotence, omnipresence and sovereignty. (See word definitions in Exhibit entitled “Attributes of God.”)
Balancing God’s Attributes
It is important to keep God’s attributes in balance in our thinking; not to emphasize one attribute over another or to omit an attribute. For example, a person asks, “How can a loving God condemn people to hell?” Another person asks, “How can a holy God have anything to do with sinners?” Each of these questions isolates one attribute of God from the others. The truth is that God is both loving and holy, and He has demonstrated both His love and His holiness by sending His Son to die for us. If we focus on only one attribute, we will have a distorted view of God’s character. The warning here is that we need to be careful not to ignore any of God’s attributes, and they must be kept in balance.
In addition to keeping God’s attributes in balance, it is helpful to have a general principle to use as we organize the attributes. The concept of God as our Father has been suggested as an organizing idea that properly blends His attributes. In Scripture God has revealed Himself as a father figure and believers as His children. Jesus taught His followers to address God as “Father” when praying (Matthew 6:9), and Paul says we have received the Spirit who prompts us to cry out to God, saying, “Abba, Father.” (Romans 8:15)
God’s attributes can also be organized around His three primary attributes: love, holiness and truth. For instance, God’s grace, mercy and goodness can be thought of as parts of God’s love. His justice, righteousness and wrath proceed from His holiness, and His faithfulness and veracity from His truth.
All of God’s other attributes and all that He does must be consistent with each of these primary attributes. As an example, the salvation that God offers to man must be consistent with His love, holiness and truth. God’s holiness is shown when He pours out His wrath against our sins on Christ, who is our substitute. His love is demonstrated by the fact that He pours out His wrath against our sins on Christ, instead of on us. His truth is revealed when He consistently does what He says He will do. In Isaiah 53:5-6 God said He would send a Messiah (Jesus) whom He would punish for our sins. All aspects of salvation are consistent with who God is.
Living Consistently With the Truth About God
There is more to gaining a true knowledge of God than can come from intellectual studies. It is also necessary to experience God, i.e. to interact with Him in the everyday affairs of life. In a similar way, can we truly know a person by just reading about him in a book? We might learn many good, bad and interesting things about him from the book, but can we really be sure we know him if we have never met or spent time with him? The answer is obvious. Personal experience is necessary to truly know a person. The same is true about knowing God. We have to have a real relationship with Him for that to happen.
And He invites us to experience Him. James 4:8 says that if we draw near to God, He will draw near to us. What an incredible offer! One way we can draw near to Him is through prayer. By setting aside time in each day to talk with and listen to God, our relationship with Him grows as we learn how to be still before Him, how to pray requests that are consistent with His will and how to distinguish His thoughts from our own. In John 14:21 Jesus gives another invitation to experience God. This Scripture tells us that if we obey Jesus’ commands, it shows that we love Him. Jesus goes on to say that He will show His love for us in return by revealing Himself to us. Another great offer: Out of your love for Me, obey Me and I will manifest Myself to you! Now He doesn’t say how He will show Himself to us. It could be a direct revelation of Himself or an indirect meeting of our needs in some unexpected way. God is not limited in how He might reveal Himself, but He has promised that we will come to know Him better and better, and His promise is trustworthy.
As we experience God, we also need to choose to live in a way that is consistent with what He has revealed about Himself. Jesus says in John 8:31-32, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” The message of this passage is that to really know the truth and be set free by it, we must first hold to or obey the truth that God has already shown us. In other words, when we obey what we know of God’s Word, He is faithful to affirm it as true and teach us even more truth and change our lives for the better (set us free) through it. Once again, He has given us a great promise.
An Old Testament example of God’s people being challenged to live consistent with the truth God has revealed to them is found in Joshua 24:14-21. God had revealed that He was the only true God to Israel in many miraculous ways. Therefore, when Joshua challenged the Israelites to serve God wholeheartedly and throw away the idols they brought with them from Egypt, their response (at least initially) was to discard the idols and serve God only.
A more current example of living consistent with truth is the challenge for us to live the truth that God is sovereign. For example, when a Christian gives thanks (in all things) even in the midst of difficulty (I Thessalonians 5:18; Romans 8:28) he is affirming that he knows God and believes that He is sovereign and able to care for His own. The Christian’s life is reflecting the truth about God!
Because of the critical importance of how we think and feel about God, we need to make every effort to do the things that lead to a true knowledge of God. We should study biblical images of God, balance the attributes of God and live consistently with what God has revealed about Himself.
• Choose one attribute of God from the list in the Exhibit “The Attributes of God.” Read and meditate on the Scriptures listed on the Exhibit.
• Make a list of “pressure points” in your life; where your life experience conflicts with the truth. Describe how recognizing this conflict can be beneficial to you.
ATTRIBUTES OF GOD
God’s Attributes We Can Share
The characteristic of God whereby He is:
TRUTHFUL: God is completely honest, genuine. John 1:14, 14:6
FAITHFUL: God is completely trustworthy and loyal to His children. II Thessalonians 3:3; Isaiah 49:7; I Peter 4:19
LOVING: God is unconditionally compassionate, caring and devoted toward us. His ultimate love was demonstrated by Jesus on the cross. I John 3:16, 4:9-10
GOOD: God is complete, right, excellent. Luke 18:19; Exodus 33:19
PATIENT: God demonstrates forbearance and endurance towards mankind. II Peter 3:9
MERCIFUL: God is actively good toward those in distress. He does not treat them as they deserve because of their sin. Romans 9:15-16; Exodus 33:19
HOLY: God is totally pure, perfect and complete. He is set apart and above all His creation. Exodus 15:11; Isaiah 6:1-4
JUST: God always acts in a right and fair manner. John 5:30; Psalms 89:14, 97:2
RIGHTEOUS: God is morally perfect. Psalms 89:14, 97:2
God’s Attributes We Can Never Share
The characteristic of God whereby He is:
SPIRIT: God is invisible, immaterial, does not have a body. Genesis 1:2; John 4:24; I Timothy 1:17; Colossians 1:15
SELF-EXISTENT: God is everlasting; has no beginning and no end. Exodus 3:14; Psalm 90:2
IMMUTABLE: God is unchanging in His character and in His purposes. Numbers 23:19; James 1:17; Hebrews 13:8
ETERNAL: God is everlasting and immortal. Psalm 90:2; Isaiah 40:28; I Timothy 1:17
INFINITE: God is unlimited. He is above time and space, unlike His creation. I Kings 8:27; Psalm 147:5; Jeremiah 23:24
OMNISCIENT: God is all-knowing. He knows Himself and all things perfectly (and exhaustively). He knows all the possibilities and probabilities. Psalm 139:1-4, 147:5; Isaiah 40:13,14
OMNIPOTENT: God is all-powerful and almighty. Isaiah 40:21-26; Jeremiah 32:17; Job 42:2; Matthew 19:26
OMNIPRESENT: God is present everywhere at once. Psalm 139:7-12; Acts 17:24,27,28
SOVEREIGN: God has supreme authority, reign and control over His created order. Ephesians 1:11; Isaiah 46:9-11
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What is the truth about where we came from, what life is about, and where we’re going? Think about how vast the mysterious universe is, and how impossible it would be to know all about it. Now consider that we have brains that just weigh about three pounds trying to figure it all out! You may begin to wonder what we can really know about nature, life and death.
In the movie Cast Away ̧ a character played by Tom Hanks is marooned on an island somewhere in the Pacific. In some scenes, there are long sections of near-silence as he sits and stares out into the ocean; the waves pound, pound, pound, pound, and pound again. The viewer experiences something of the forsakenness, the forlornness, the relational emptiness of a situation like this. Is the cosmos just an unthinking mass of matter that rolls on and doesn’t care? Being marooned on such an island would bring into sharp focus the limits of what nature can teach you.
Ancient philosophers reflected the same lostness and futility. Plato, through a character named Simmias, lamented that all our human knowledge was like a raft floating over the waters of life.
“Natural” (or general) revelation, which was discussed in a previous Pocket Principle, is revelation that is generally available to all people through nature” and does not answer the issues mentioned above. If we went through life only knowing what natural revelation could deliver, we wouldn’t have answers for many important questions:
What is behind the power of nature? Is it an impersonal force? Is it God?
Is there a reason why we are here? Why is there something ( i.e. the universe) rather than nothing? Does God have a plan for the world?
What is God like? Does He like me, or is He mad at me because of my sins? Is He going to destroy me?
Is He a God that I can know and with whom I can have a relationship? Can I talk to God? Can He hear me? Does God have a plan for me?
How should I live on this earth? Are some things really right or wrong? How should I relate to other people? What is the best way to live my life?
Is there life after death? If so, is it in heaven? Am I going there?
As you can see, these are crucial questions that are central to much of our lives. Although these questions cannot be answered through natural revelation, the good news is that God also reveals Himself through special revelation. Special revelation can be defined as “revelation given especially to a particular individual or group(s).”
God reveals Himself through special revelation in two main ways: the Bible and specific revelation to individuals and/or communities. Let’s take a look at these two categories in greater depth.
The Bible is a very precious revelation from God. The origin of the Bible is God Himself. (II Timothy 3:16) He used various human authors and inspired what they wrote, working through their personal gifts, styles and cultures. Although the Bible is available to many people it is called special revelation because it is not available universally to everyone in the same way that natural revelation is.
The types of things that the Bible can teach you are incredible. Some of the important truths you can learn from the Bible include:
• The character and nature of God – many things about who God is and what He is like
• God’s existence as a Trinity – the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit
• Prophecies about key events – especially about the Messiah coming
• Jesus as the Messiah and the Savior of the world
• The significance of Jesus’ life, teachings, sacrificial death, resurrection, and His coming again
• How to live the Christian life • How to know God’s will
Of course, there is much, much more. Now, an interesting thing about the Bible is that, well, it’s alive! (See Hebrews 4:12). As you read and study the Bible, you will find that it is “searching you”, telling you things about yourself that you know are true. So, reading the Bible can be an encounter with the Holy Spirit as He reveals truth, uncovers sin, and brings you comfort. Think of it … an actual encounter with God!
One of the best things about the Bible is that it tells us about Jesus Christ. In Colossians 1:15-20:
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by Him allthings were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. And He is the head of the body, the church; He is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything He might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in Him, and through Him to reconcile to Himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.
Do you see that it tells you that Jesus is the image of the invisible God, and that God was pleased to have the fullness of deity
dwelling in Him? In the book of John it tells us that, in Jesus, God came and dwelt among us. (John 1:1,14) In other words, if you want to know what God is like, look at Jesus. (John 1:18) Jesus is the second Person of the Trinity in human form; He is the most full expression of God that finite human beings can understand. (Hebrews 1:1-4)
The Bible tell us more about Jesus’ life and teachings than any other historical source. If you want to get to know who Jesus is, you need to spend a lot of time in the Bible, especially in the four Gospels.
However strange it may seem, you can read the Bible all day and not get much out of it. In order to understand Scripture, the Holy Spirit must take the truths of God’s Word and reveal them to you. (John 15:26, 16:13-14) Not only does the Holy Spirit have a part in you genuinely understanding the Bible; so do you. You need to approach the Scriptures with a humble attitude (an openness to obey what God shows you) if you want Him to reveal Himself to you. (John 14:21)
There are many things that you can understand in the Bible by yourself, with God’s help. But an important part of understanding the Bible is recognizing how God uses other people to help us interpret it as well. He has made us in such a way that we really do need each other … we need to read the Bible individually and in community with other followers of Jesus. Now we are ready to look at our next category of special revelation:
Special Revelation to Individuals and/or Communities
God sometimes brings special revelation to individuals or communities.
One way the Bible mentions is dreams and visions. Of course, dreams and visions are not always (or even usually) from God; nonetheless, the Bible cites numerous occasions where God revealed something to someone in a dream and/or vision. You can read about some of the most famous of these in: Genesis 37, Matthew 1:18-24 and Acts 10.
You need to approach the Scriptures with a humble attitude if you want Him to reveal Himself to you.
Another type of special revelation is miracles. The Bible talks about how God uses miracles to show something to people. Luke 11:14-20 is one place among many where a miracle is used in this way. Of course, this does not mean that people will always attribute the miracle to God. For example, some people in the Luke 11 passage said that Jesus’ power was from the devil. Sadly, they missed the significance of the miracle: to show them that the “the Kingdom of God has come to you”. The Bible is unashamedly full of miracles. And of course, that makes sense … if the God of the Bible exists, then miracles are automatically possible.
Another type of special revelation can be called “promptings of the Holy Spirit”. We see an example of this in John 10. It seems to describe how God talks to us at times through a kind of “inner voice”, or “inner sense”. Not only does the Holy Spirit do this, but the Bible also tells us that Jesus is always with us and that the Father’s presence is continually close by, to be with us and guide us.
Jesus said in John 10 that His sheep hear His voice and follow Him. An important part of the Christian life is cultivating a relationship with God to the extent that you can recognize His voice when He is talking to you. God is alive, and He is personal (that is, He has emotions, will and rationality). He doesn’t want us to just know about Him, He wants us to know Him. You can expect Him to give you personal insights, comfort, admonishment, and guidance. He gave His Son on the cross so that sin wouldn’t separate you from Him … He loves you and wants to know you. He is, The God You Can Know (title of book by Dan DeHaan).
Not only will God give individuals specific inner guidance, He at times will guide communities in a similar manner. In Acts 15 (the Jerusalem Council), the disciples who were the leaders of the Jerusalem church were guided by a “group-sensing”, a community reception of God’s will for them, when they were in a difficult situation.
Many times you may find that God is guiding your church, your small group, your family, etc. in a similar way. Sometimes you will not know what to do individually, but you will find that God’s will becomes clear through a group. This is a good reminder, once again, that God has made us in such a way that we need one another. He is not only concerned with how we are doing with Him, but also how we are doing with each other.
We hope that you will be encouraged to seek God with all of your heart, soul, and mind. Since God has revealed so much of His amazing nature through the Bible, we hope that you will make it a priority to read and study the Bible, individually and with others.
He doesn’t want us to just know about Him. He wants us to know Him.
Remember how important it is to approach the Bible with humility and an obedient heart, and in community with other followers of Jesus. And also keep in mind how near God’s actual presence is to you, and how you can experience Him relationally. Additionally, be aware of how God might be revealing Himself to you in the other ways that were mentioned. May God disclose Himself to you more and more. “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:32)
Keep a daily journal of personal insights God is giving to you.
Read the book of John and record what is revealed about God through Jesus.
Get this Pocket Principle in Knowing God, part of Cornerstone from the WDA Store