How Do We Know God?
By Pastor Ron Jones, D.D.
C The Titus Institute, 2007
What are some differences between a Christian’s relationship with God who is a spirit being and his or her relationship with another human being?
Christianity is not a ritual or a life of do’s and don’ts. It is a life of knowing and following Jesus Christ and being a child of God the Father. It is a life of true spirituality as we live by the Spirit.
From the very moment that we are born we are a part of relationships with others and others with us. We have family relationships with our mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, grandparents, aunts and uncles and cousins. When we grow up and get married, we now have relationships with our spouses and children if we have them, and with parents-in-laws, brothers and sisters-in-laws and a whole host of other relatives
Not only that, but we also have relationships with those outside family. We also have friendships with people we like and care about; some are casual; some are deep; some last for a short time; some are for a lifetime.
We have all kinds of other relationships with other believers at church, neighbors, teachers and other students if we go to school, bosses and fellow employees if we work, and a whole host of others that come into our lives on a regular basis.
All these relationships, however intimate or shallow whether they involve family, friends, or acquaintances, affect us dramatically in our daily lives. They can bring us love, joy, blessing and fulfillment. They also can bring us confusion, discouragement, anger and sadness. Our relationships with others have a powerful impact on our lives. But we as believers in Jesus Christ are not just human beings with relationships with other human beings. Christians have a relationship with the living God through Jesus Christ.
The moment we accepted Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior we came into a relationship with the triune God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This relationship we now have with God is the most important relationship we have. It is a relationship with the most important being in the universe. It is a relationship, which has the greatest impact in our lives and on all our other relationships. It is the relationship to which we give our greatest commitment and love. It is one from which we receive our greatest love, joy, peace and satisfaction partially now and fully forever in His presence.
Even though this is true, often there seems to be a real confusion about this relationship - about what it means to “know God.” There is vagueness about how we relate to God and He to us on a daily basis. We know that we have a personal relationship with God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ because we have trusted Christ to save us. We know that we are to pray and read the word. We know that we are to grow in our relationship with Him. But beyond these general statements there seems to be a lot of confusion.
If we were to be open, most of us would admit we’re not quite sure we’re relating to God properly on a daily basis and not quite sure we're doing enough in our relationship with Him. We would admit that we are not quite sure how to relate to a spirit being like God versus a human being we can physically see, hear, and touch. We look at the saints in the Bible and we wonder if maybe they knew something about their relationship with God we don’t.
In this article, we want to open up the pages of Scriptures and answer the question:
How Do We Know God?
We also want to answer some other questions.
How do we relate to God on a daily basis?
How do we know when God is relating to us?
Is a relationship with a Spirit being radically different from a relationship with a physical human being?
How do we grow in our relationship with God?
These are the questions we want to answer and attempt to clear away the confusion, which clouds our thinking. As we do, I trust that you will be able to better relate to the Lord and enjoy your relationship with Him and that you might know what you need to do to grow in your relationship with Him.
We have divided our study into several points.
I. We know God intellectually
II. We know God experientially
III. We know God as our Father
IV. We need to grow in knowing God our Father and Jesus our Savior.
V. We know God emotionally
The first thing we need to understand is that all “persons” are basically known in the same way. All relationships involving “persons” have the same key elements involved.
All “persons” are basically known in the same way.
Our relationships with our parents or friends or our wives or husbands or even the God of the universe may differ in degree of love and commitment, in personalities involved, in roles and responsibilities, and even in regard to whether we are together or absent from them physically, but as far as "knowing them" they all involve two aspects of knowledge.
1. Intellectual knowledge - knowing about them
2. Experiential knowledge - experiencing them personally
I. We know God intellectually
In Jn.17:3 Jesus says, “And this is eternal life, that they might know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.”
The word "know" in this verse means "to know intellectually and experientially.” The word “they” refers to believers.
Jesus is speaking about the intellectual and experiential knowledge of God the Father and Jesus Christ which believers come to possess by coming into a personal relationship with God.
Relationships create this kind of knowledge. For example, when my wife and I got married we came into a relationship as husband and wife. We began to ‘know’ each other in the context of a marriage relationship. That knowledge involved both intellectual and experiential knowledge. I came to know facts about her and I experienced those facts in my life.
The first aspect of our relationship with God is “knowing God intellectually.” This is how all relationships begin. We can't truly know somebody unless we know facts about him or her. It is the same with God.
A. We know God intellectually - “knowing about” God
A relationship involves knowing about someone discovering and understanding facts about someone’s personality, their likes and dislikes, their feelings, their experiences in the past, and the purposes and plans they have for life. In my relationship with my wife I have come to know much about her, the characteristics of her personality, what she likes and dislikes, her feelings about things, her purposes and plans and many other characteristics. This is an important part of knowing her.
How have I come to discover these things? There are two primary ways.
1. Revelation - she reveals them to me by telling me.
She tells me that she likes to do certain things and doesn’t like to do other things.
2. Observation - I observe her attitudes and actions.
I see the way she lives which reveals lots about her. If she is eating dinner and gulps down steak with a joyful expression on her face, I discover she likes steak. If she grimaces when she eats spinach and eats very little of it, I discover she doesn’t like spinach.
In these two ways, I come to an intellectual knowledge of my wife. She reveals herself to me – who she is and what she is all about. I then observe her so I can get to know her better.
Revelation and Observation are the two primary ways we “know about” someone. It is the same in our relationship with God, the Father, Son and Spirit. Our relationship with our wonderful God involves intellectual knowledge, “knowing about Him.” Discovering and understanding facts about His character and personality, His likes and dislikes, His past experiences, His plans and purposes, and the like.
How do we discover these things? The same way as I would with my wife
with one exception - God is not physically with us, but the general method
is the same.
1. God reveals Himself by speaking to us about Himself in His Word
Heb. 1:1-2 says, “God, who at various times and in diverse ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by his Son…”
God has spoken about Himself in the prophets (OT) and in His Son (through the apostles and their associates – NT).
When Adam and Eve fell into sin and God cast them out of the garden, they forfeited direct communication from God on a daily basis as they had experienced in the garden. They and their children would not experience that kind of communication again until they came to live with him in heaven. But they still needed to know and understand God and His will, so God chose to speak to certain individuals and have them write that revelation down.
Through His written revelation we discover all the facts we need to know about God. We learn that he is powerful and sovereign, yet loving, gracious and merciful. We learn he hates sin, and loves righteousness.
God tells us this in Isaiah 43:10-12.
“’You are my witnesses,’ says the Lord, ‘and my servant whom I have chosen so that you may know and believe me, and understand that I am he. Before me there was no God formed, neither shall there be after me. I, even I, am the Lord and beside me there is no savior. I have declared and saved and proclaimed, when there was no foreign god among you.’ ‘Therefore you are my witnesses,’ says the Lord, ‘that I am God.’”
Here, God tells the Israelites that He had called them to be His people that they might know and believe (trust) God. Then in v. 11-12 God reminds them who He is. In v.11 God says that he is the Lord, the sovereign ruler of the universe and the only Savior. There is nobody else. In v. 12 he says that he is the one who has spoken, revealing Himself, His plan and purposes to people. The Israelites came to know God first by what He revealed to them about Himself through Isaiah and the other prophets. So, too, we, because we have Isaiah’s words, know about God, His character and attributes.
The Scriptures are like a letter that reveals all about the person. Is a letter less valid than a phone conversation? A letter reveals a person differently than a physical conversation, but it is equally valid. This is divine revelation designed by God to help us know about Him. Through this revelation we can come to a point of knowing all that God wants us to know about Him in this life and because the word of God is so full of revelation about God, I can come to know more about God than I ever could know about anyone else!
Think about it. Through the Scriptures we can come to know more about God than we could about a physical person we know because the Scriptures give us such a broad picture of the nature of God. Isn’t that amazing? So, that’s the first way we come to know about God - through Him telling us about Himself in His Word
2. We observe God's nature and character, attitudes and actions in His Word
This is different than the first point in that the first point has to do with direct statements by God about Himself as we saw in Isaiah. Here, it is the portrait of God's nature and character we receive when we open the pages of the Scriptures and see Him at work in the lives of people.
The Scriptures are not written as a theological textbook stating the character and nature of God, but rather are a history. The Bible is a portrait of God and His dealing with human beings. The Bible is not only the written revelation of what God has said, but also how He has acted which reveals as much about Him as what He has said just like any relationship. We often say that actions are louder than words because we understand how much a person’s actions reveal about him or her. God has revealed much about himself through his actions recorded in the Bible.
The Bible is full of narration of how God acted with the Israelites in the OT and the church in the NT and even how he will act in the future in the book of Revelation, all revealing much about Him by the record of His words and actions.
For example, Exod.14:21 records an incredible demonstration of God’s power when it says, “And Moses stretched out his hand over the sea and the Lord caused the sea to go back by a strong east wind all that night, and made the sea dry land and the waters were divided.”
In Matt. 9:2-7, Matthew records the words and powers of Jesus toward a paralyzed man. It says, “And, behold, they brought to him a paralyzed man, lying on a bed. Jesus seeing their faith said to the paralytic ‘Son, be of good cheer, your sins are forgiven.’ And, behold, certain of the scribes said within themselves, ‘This man blasphemes.’ And Jesus knowing their thoughts said, ‘Why do you think evil in your hearts?’ For which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven’ or to say, ‘Arise, and walk?’ But so that you may know that the Son of man has power on earth to forgive sins, (then he said to the paralytic) ‘Arise, take up your bed and go to your house.’ And he arose and departed to his house.
This passage which Matthew has recorded for us reveals much about Jesus’ divine authority to forgive sin and his divine power to heal the paralyzed.
All the words and actions of God revealed in the Bible are there to reveal to us something about God. That is, by the way, why the narration is as important as the actual words God spoke in revealing who He is.
So, the first aspect of our “knowing God” involves intellectual
knowledge knowing facts about Him through what He has said and how He
has acted throughout history as recorded in the Scriptures.
The Scriptures must be embraced by faith.
This knowledge of God, which is contained in the Scriptures, must be embraced by faith. We must believe what God says about Himself and trust Him. We must trust what the Scriptures say about God if it is to have a spiritual impact on us. Faith is the key to our relationship with God. That faith involves both believing that what God says about Himself in the Scriptures is true and submitting our lives to follow the Scriptures.
Ps.119 was written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit to give us a portrait of an OT believer who was committed to trusting and obeying God’s word. Read what he says as he prays to the Lord and asks the Lord to work in his life just as he wrote in his word which the Psalmist is trusting and obeying.
“How shall a young man keep his way pure? By living according to your word.
With my whole heart I have sought you; Oh let me not wander from your commandments. Your word I have hid in my heart, that I might not sin against you.”
My soul is heavy with sorrow, strengthen me according to your word.
Turn my eyes away from worthless things, restore me in your way.
You have dealt well with your servant, O Lord, according to your word.
Order my steps in your word and let no iniquity have rule over me.
We cannot trust God Himself without first trusting His Word because that is how God reveals Himself to us. So we do not merely accumulate intellectual knowledge of God as we would about Abraham Lincoln or George Washington. We embrace the revelation of God about Himself as true and we commit ourselves to follow it.
The second aspect of our “knowing God” or “knowing”
someone in a relationship is experiential knowledge.
B. We know God experientially
This is knowledge of someone through experiencing him or her in our lives. I know my wife experientially as well as intellectually, that is, I experience her faults, virtues, feelings and the like. I know she loves me intellectually because she told me, but I also experience that love as she makes sacrifices for me. I know intellectually that she does not like it when I do certain things because she tells me and I experience that when she gets upset with me when I do them. This is the second way I get to know my wife or anyone else. I experience who she is in my life. All relationships have this second aspect to it including our relationship with God
Experiential knowledge of God comes from experiencing God’s attributes as he works in our lives.
We do not just know God intellectually, we actually experience Him working on a daily basis as he displays his attributes in our lives.
We can see this in an incident in the book of Acts.
“And the angel of the Lord spoke to Philip, saying, ‘Arise, and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza, which is desert.’ And he arose and went. A man of Ethiopia, an eunuch of great authority under Candace queen of the Ethiopians, who had the charge of all her treasure, and had come to Jerusalem to worship was returning, and sitting in his chariot reading Isaiah the prophet.
Then the Spirit said to Philip, ‘Go near and join this chariot.’ And Philip ran there to him and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah, and said, Do you understand what you are reading?’ And he said, ‘How can I, unless someone should guide me?’ And he invited Philip to come up and sit with him.’ The place of the scripture which he read was this, ‘He was led as a sheep to the slaughter, and like a lamb mute before his shearer, so he did not open his mouth. In his humiliation his judgment was taken away and who shall declare his generation? For his life is taken from the earth.’ And the eunuch answered Philip, and said, ‘Please tell me, of whom does the prophet speak? Of himself, or of some other man?’ Then Philip opened his mouth and began at the same scripture and preached to him Jesus.
And as they went on their way, they came to a certain water and the eunuch said, ‘See, here is water, what prevents me from being baptized?’ And Philip said, ‘If you believe with all your heart, you may.’ And he answered and said, ‘I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.’ And he commanded the chariot to stand still and they went down into the water, both Philip and the eunuch and he baptized him. And when they were come up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught Philip away so that the eunuch saw him no more; and he went on his way rejoicing.”
God worked in the lives of both Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch. He displayed his attributes of power and sovereignty as he led these two men together. He displayed his love and mercy as Philip explained the gospel and the Ethiopian embraced it by faith and came into eternal life!
Philip received the privileged of being used by God to lead this Ethiopian to faith in Christ as he explained the Word of God. The Ethiopian received the privilege of new life in Christ as God opened up his heart to his Word.
Although, today God is not moving believers to talk to other specific people through auditory commands, everyone that comes to Christ comes through God’s work as he displays his attributes in their lives and the lives of those who share with them.
Both Philip and the Ethiopian experienced God in their lives. This is how we also know the Lord, by experiencing His attributes in our lives, in, of course, less dramatic ways.
God displays His attributes in our lives through three primary channels:
1. Through His Word
“For whatever things were written beforehand were written for our learning, that through patience and comfort of the scriptures we might have hope.”
God touches us by encouraging us through His Word. As we see how God displayed His attributes in the lives of believers in the past and worked in, through, and around them, we are encouraged because we know God will display His attributes in our lives as well and work in, through, and around us.
How many people have been encouraged in their faith as they have read how God rescued Daniel from the lion's den? How many have been encouraged by what God did in Joseph's life in taking the broken pieces of his life after being sold into slavery by his brothers and out of that brought incredible blessing for Joseph, his family, and the whole nation of Israel? How many believers have been comforted when they have lost a loved one or gone through severe trials through what God has said in Psalm 23? The Holy Spirit comforts us through the Word of God.
2. Through other believers
2 Cor. 7:6-7 says,
“Nevertheless God, that comfortss those that are cast down, comforted us by the coming of Titus. And not by his coming only, but by the comfort with which he was comforted in you, when he told us your earnest desire, your mourning, your fervent mind toward me so that I rejoiced the more.”
We experience God's love through other believers. God comforted Paul
through Titus’ message of the love of the Corinthian believers toward
Paul. We experience God’s love through the love of other believers.
We also experience God's other attributes through other believers. As
other believers show us mercy as they attempt to comfort us or they show
us righteousness as they attempt to help us turn from sin, they are being
used by God as his instrument that we might experience his mercy or righteousness.
3. Through His work in our lives
God works in the circumstances of our lives to display his attributes in our lives.
a. He meets our needs
“But my God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.”
As believers, God has promised to meet our needs and this He does. We experience this all the time. When God meets a financial need, we experience God’s faithfulness, sovereignty and power. We all see His power, His sovereignty, His mercy, His grace, and His love displayed in our lives and the lives of others as he meets our needs as his children. We all have stories that we could tell of God’s provision for us.
b. He trains us through trials
We experience His training of us as our Father.
Heb. 12:11 says,
“Now no discipline for the present seems to be joyful, but grievous; nevertheless afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who are trained by it.”
God brings or allows trials into our lives. When we are allowing ourselves to fall into sin and the Lord disciplines us we experience His Love (Heb.12:6). When we confess our sins we experience God’s forgiveness (Heb.12:10 - forgiveness shows God’s holiness). When we pray and God answers our prayers we experience His faithfulness, sovereignty, power, and love (Jn.14:14).
There are so many ways that we experience God’s attributes in our lives and thus know Him experientially. There are ways this is done dramatically in our lives. But there are also hundreds of times God displays His attributes in our lives during the week we don’t even notice. The blessings of God are all around us if we look for them. This is what it means to know God experientially. But again the key is faith.
To experience God's attributes fully in our lives, we need to trust God on a daily basis.
“I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ lives in me. And the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.”
But again we need to trust God that what He has said in the Scriptures is true and that He will work on our behalf. We need to trust him that he will display His attributes in our lives. He will not necessarily display His attributes in the same way as He did in a revelatory period, but He will still display His attributes.
You ask, "But I am a Christian, but I do not see God working in my life?" This may be due first to the fact that you may not be looking in the right places or not trusting the Lord enough and asking Him to work. Look around you, God is working in so many ways that we don’t even notice them. God is prompting you to obey, pray, and read His word. God is convicting you of sin. God is comforting you through trials through other believers. God is demonstrating His grace as He gives to us so many blessings we don’t deserve. God is demonstrating His sovereignty as He leads and guides us. God is demonstrating His power by answering our prayers.
If you want to enjoy your relationship with God and enjoy the fullness of your experience with Him, get off the feeling roller coaster and start allowing God to work in your life and look around at what He is doing. We have to realize that in a country where we are not in danger and where many of our needs are met by our income that God often works in less dramatic ways than he would if we were in danger or in desperate straits.
This may be due to a second possible cause, which is that you may not
be helping fulfill the Great Commission where Jesus promised to work through
you. Turn and serve the Lord by getting involved in the lives of other
believers. If all you are focused on is your needs, God is limited to
what he can do once He has made choices for your life at any given moment.
If you are focused on encouraging others through your spiritual gift,
then the Lord can work in, through, and around you in mighty ways.
III. We know God as our Father
We relate to God as our Father because that is who He is to us. Each of us as believers in Jesus Christ has a father-son, father-daughter relationship with God.
1 Jn. 3:1 says,
“Behold, what manner of love the Father has bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God.”
Our relationship with God is filled with the love a father has for his son or daughter. But not the love of an imperfect human father, but an ideal perfect father. A Father who loves us and is deeply concerned about our welfare and good. A Father who has committed Himself to care for us, protect us, guide us. A Father who is always there and always available no matter what.
This is so important to remember everyday. God desires that we relate to Him as a personal, loving, caring Father, not as a distant God who is king of the universe. This is a shift in our thinking because we tend to see God as the Creator and king of the universe rather than as our Father. We often think, "God wants me to trust Him" instead of "My Father wants me to trust Him."
The second statement is one that is personal, intimate, and loving, the first is impersonal. Ask yourself, "How would I act if God were my father and everything that the Bible says about Him were true?" Then act like it, because if you have accepted Jesus Christ as you Savior, it is true.
We also have a personal relationship with God the Son, the one who became a man. In the family of God, Jesus Christ is not only our Savior and shepherd, but also our big brother in the family of God.
In Jn. 20:17 Jesus calls his disciples “brothers” and speaks of ascending to “his Father and their Father.”
Jesus comes alongside of us and says follow me as I have followed our Father. He says submit to me as I have submitted to our father. We need a human intermediary who was also divine. We need someone we could relate to, someone who felt our human condition. That is Jesus Christ. He is our big brother, our Savior, our Lord - we follow Jesus as He follows our Father.
God's brilliant plan is to allow us the privilege of relating to Him in His three persons, Father, Son, and Spirit. But we need to grow in our relationship with God our Father.
IV. We need to grow in knowing God our Father and Jesus our Savior.
Every relationship we have needs to grow and develop. If our relationships do not grow they eventually flatten out until we are just going through the motions although the relationship may still exist. Our relationship with God must also grow...if it does not, it won’t fizzle out in terms of our being children of God, but our experience of that relationship on a daily basis will become flat.
2 Pet. 3:18 says,
“But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and for ever. Amen.”
Peter says we are to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. This is the goal in our relationship with God that we might grow in our relationship with Him. That’s where greater joy and excitement come into the picture. How do we grow in our relationship with God? The same way we grow in any relationship with anyone else. We need to grow in our intellectual knowledge of God and we need to grow in our experiential knowledge of God
How do we do this?
a. We need to grow in our intellectual knowledge of God by growing in our knowledge of His revelation about Himself in His Word.
1 Pet. 2:2 says,
“As newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the word so that you may grow in respect to salvation.”
The more we study the Word, the more we know about God, and the more we grow in our knowledge of Him. This is the joy of studying the Word. Our primary motivation is not obligation, but love. We should approach the Word with an attitude of one who is getting to know the one he loves more and more.
“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.“
Paul tells us that we are to let the word of Christ dwell in us richly. This means that we need to allow the Word to come into our minds and transform our lives as home owners come into a home and transform it by their presence.
Four simple approaches to study God’s Word are given in the article “Growing Through Bible Study and Prayer.”
But don’t I have to read and study the Bible all by myself with no Bible helps and let the Lord speak to me about it? No. Paul says to “Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly.” He doesn’t say how or when. God does not focus on what method we use to learn the Bible, what he focuses on is our learning it. And with that learning trust it and him.
b. We need to grow in our experiential knowledge of God by giving God the maximum opportunity to display His attributes in our lives
The more God displays His attributes in our lives the more we will know Him experientially and will grow in that knowledge.
How do we give God the maximum opportunity to display His attributes in our lives? By interacting with Him on a daily basis and growing in our interaction with him.
A relationship is an interaction between two persons. Our relationship with God is a daily interaction between us and our father. How do we grow in our interaction with Him?
1. We trust God our Father in greater and greater ways.
Ps. 37:5 says,
“Commit your way to the LORD; trust also in him and he shall bring it to pass.”
When we depend on God as our Father, we are interacting with Him. “Way” refers to your activities, the things you are doing in your life. David says if you commit your way to the Lord, that is, submit it to His will and trust in Him to work it out in your life through and around your efforts, He will work (it it’s His will) and accomplish it.
The key way that God demonstrates His attributes is by working in our lives as we trust Him. Ps. 37:5 says that the more we trust God, the more we allow God to work in our lives and thus the more we get to know Him experientially
2. We communicate with God our Father regularly.
Relationships involve communication. This involves prayer and the Word.
We speak to God as we pray and God speaks to us as in his Word.
We pray to God.
“Ask, and it shall be given to you. Seek and you shall find. Knock and it shall be opened to you. For every one that asks receives and he who seeks finds and to him who knocks it shall be opened. Or what man is there among you, whom if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent? If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more shall your Father who is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?”
Prayer is not an obligation to be done, prayer is communication with our Father. God never intended prayer to be a ritual, but a seeking of him. I want my kids to speak to me, to share their concerns, their fears, everything with me as their father. I want them to ask me for help as long as they want to listen to my advice. I love them and want to help them.
If you want to grow in your experiential knowledge of God you need to pray more, not as an obligation, but as an interaction with God. We interact with God through trust and prayer.
A simple approach to prayer is given in the article “Growing through Bible Study and Prayer.”
God interacts with us by answering our prayers and by speaking to us through his Word.
God answers our prayers.
Jas. 4:2 says, “You lust and do not have. You kill and desire to have and cannot obtain. You fight and war, yet you do not have because you do not ask.”
When James says this, he is saying if you want to see God answer more prayers, make sure you are not praying out of sinful desires and make sure you actually pray. If we purify our motives, then we should bring our needs before our Father who desires to answer our prayers. Because we do not pray much in our lives, we do not see God working as much in our lives. It is not that we forfeit God’s blessings as much as it is that we don’t receive extra blessings that we could receive had we asked.
For example, I will bless my children for being my children. I give them many things they never ask for because I am their father and I love them. However, when they ask and I say yes, they get more than they would have, had they not asked. The more we pray, the more God works.
God speaks to us in his Word.
God's Word is like a letter, it tells us how he feels about things, what his priorities are. When we go to his Word and follow it, he is communicating to us through it. When we do it daily, he communicates with us daily. We don't need an emotional experience with his Word in order to have him speak to us.
“For whatever things were written beforehand were written for our learning that we, through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures, might have hope.”
God comforts us, encourages us, convicts us, guides us and gives us hope through his Word. When we read it as a word from our Father and apply it because he is our Father, we are listening to God, whether or not we feel any emotion.
3. Submit to God and honor Him.
Our relationship with God is a relationship of Father-child which is primarily a relationship of submission to his will and priorities. For example, the growth of my relationship with my children is dependent on their submission to me. If they are defying me, how can our relationship grow?
This is the same as our relationship with God our Father. I love my children no matter what, but they will not experience the full joy of our relationship without submitting to my will and priorities as their father.
In Jn.14:15 Jesus said, “If you love me, you'll obey my commandments.”
Obedience between a father and child is not one of just doing it to get that person off your back or because you have no choice. Obedience means a submission of the heart. My father loves me and knows what is best for my life. Christ's commandments are the revealed will of God in the Scriptures.
Christ gives two kinds of commandments to follow, specific commands, and general priorities. He does not tell us everything to do. What he does is what I do with my kids. I give them two kinds of rules - certain clearly revealed ones they are to follow and then I set up ones that give my general priorities or principles that they can use as a guideline for living in my house.
The rest is up to their free choice. For example, a specific command is "do not fight with your brother or sister. That is wrong and it is always wrong." A general rule or priority is “show your brother and sister respect and love.” Our father gives to us the same kinds of commands. When we submit to these commands, and try to implement them in our lives with his help, we are going to grow in our relationship with him.
We are also going to see Him display His attributes in our lives. If you want to know if you are doing this, ask yourself, “If anybody followed me around during the week (not on Sunday), would they know that God is my Father.” We need also to be concerned about honoring Him. Desiring to bring our Father honor is an important ingredient in our relationship with him.
Jn.5:23 says, “That all should honor the Son, even as they honor
the Father. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who
My children should respect and honor me because I am their father, and this should be a joy for them because I have shown them that I love them deeply. We should honor God our father because He is God and he is our father, but we should want to do this, it should be a joy because He had shown us such incredible love.
In conclusion, so this is how we grow in our relationship with God our father and Christ our Savior, Lord, and brother. The blessing of the Christian life is having God as our Father and having Christ as our Savior, Lord, and brother.
Ps.34:8 says, “Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is
the man who trusts in Him.”
V. We know God emotionally
When God created us with an intellect, will, and emotions, God created us like himself. He has an intellect, will, and emotions. He created us like that so we could relate to Him with all three parts of our personality. If I were to ask you to give an emotional evaluation of your relationship with God, your loving Father, not necessarily what it is at this very moment, but what it is regularly and consistently, what would you say?
If you are like most people, you probably would fall in the category of either of two extremes. “My relationship with my Father has very little emotion in it at all. I don't “feel” much toward Him. But I want to trust and obey Him.” Or you might say, “I tend to have a very up and down emotional experience with my Father and tend to drive my relationship by those feelings. But they are never consistent.”
God intended for us to experience emotion with Him as we do in all of our relationships with others.
Christianity tends to fall into two extreme camps when you talk about
emotions and God. First, emotions are irrelevant in our walk with God.
Second, emotions are the primary driving force in our walk with God.
One group tends toward doctrine and truth as the measuring stick toward responding to God. The other tends toward emotional highs as the measuring stick toward responding to God. Both are on the extreme end and are unbalanced in their understanding of a relationship with God as the Scriptures describe it.
The Scriptures show us four truths about the emotional element in our relationship with God. I say "show" because God did not write the Bible to be a textbook, but rather as "life-book." We often see truths displayed in the lives of those who trusted and loved God. And we can draw some important conclusions based on those truths and examples. Emotions and the emotional element of life are all over the Bible.
These four truths are:
A. As we trust and submit to God, we will walk by the Spirit and our emotions will respond according to the fruit of the Spirit we manifest.
B. As we focus on God, our emotions will respond according to the fruit of the Spirit.
C. As we see God display his attributes in our lives (i.e. experience God), our emotions will respond.
D. We should regularly feel a sense of "Abba Father intimacy"
toward God if we are driving our relationship by trusting God as our Father
Let's look at the first point:
A. As we trust and submit to God, we will walk by the Spirit and our emotions will respond according to the fruit of the Spirit we manifest.
As we trust and submit to what God says about himself and our relationship with Him, we will walk by the Spirit and our emotions will respond according to the fruit of the Spirit we manifest.
1. God made emotions to be responders to what we are believing or trusting in our minds at any given moment.
2. God wants us to trust and submit to what He says about Himself and His relationship with Him and our emotions will respond accordingly.
David was a man whom God called "a man after my own heart." The psalms that David wrote which are inspired by the Holy Spirit show us that David's emotions responded to what he was believing and trusting at any given time. The psalms are often an honest portrayal of the realities of our human struggle with trusting God. They are filled with emotion, real emotion.
“How long will you forget me, O LORD? Forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long shall I take counsel in my soul, having sorrow in my heart daily? How long shall my enemy be exalted over me? Consider and hear me, O LORD my God. Enlighten my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death and my enemy say, ‘I have prevailed against him.’ Those that trouble me rejoice when I am moved.”
“But I have trusted in your mercy; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation. I will sing to the Lord, because he has dealt bountifully with me.”
In v.1–4, David is distraught as he struggles with trusting the Lord. His emotional response of sorrow is from "feeling" that the Lord has forgotten him. But is his feeling based on reality? No! The Lord has not forgotten him. David is pouring out how he feels to the Lord in response to his perception, which was not accurate that the Lord had forgotten him or hidden his face or presence from him.
What was happening in David's mind is what was affecting his emotions. These first two "how long" questions do not reflect truth about what God had done, but truth about how David was feeling about it. His emotions were responding to what was going on in his mind as he began to believe for a brief time that the Lord had somehow forgotten him. But what does he do about it? He seeks the Lord and prays to Him. This is the lesson of the psalm.
David apparently wrote this psalm when he was running for his life, being pursued by his enemies. And for a time, they were triumphing over him.
In v. 3-4, David asks the Lord to "Enlighten my eyes" which means help me to see this situation with the eyes of faith, that I might see God in this dark situation. My spiritual sight grows dim and I feel on the edge of dying, the sleep of death. Notice, how his emotions are responding to what is happening in his mind as he struggles with how he is perceiving the situation. But then something changes in v.5
In v.5-6, the conjunction “but" indicates a change of direction in how he is perceiving the situation, a radical change. David realizes that he is not trusting the Lord. It is one of those moments in prayer to the Lord when the Lord brings to your realization that trust is the issue.
The Lord has not forgotten you. The Lord has not abandoned you. You need to trust Him. And so David reaffirms His trust in the Lord. He reaffirms His trust not in a solution, but in the one thing a believer can always trust the Lord for - His unfailing love.
In v. 5 Notice how his emotions change from discouragement to rejoicing as a response to his change in his mind as he refocuses on faith.
In v. 6, David says, “I will sing to the Lord, because he has dealt bountifully with me.” I will sing because God has been good to me in the past which shows his unfailing love. David ends his psalm trusting firmly in the character and nature of God. He does it first in his mind and then his emotions follow. Our emotions are responders to what is going on in our minds toward God. They respond in many ways
Ps. 42:11 says,
“Why are you in despair, O my soul? And why are you disturbed within me? Hope in God, for I shall yet praise him, who is the help of my countenance, and my God.”
How does David remove the despair of His soul? He does this by hope, trusting that God will deliver Him. It is not by seeking some emotional experience of God to heal his despair. Hope is faith in what God will do in the future. Paul displayed this himself in several places in the NT.
2 Cor.12:7-10 Paul writes,
“And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure. For this thing, I sought the Lord three times, that it might depart from me. And he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my strength is made perfect in weakness.’ Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then am I strong.”
Paul was "glad" and "delighted." Those are emotional responses to a very difficult situation. How can this be? Because Paul had submitted to God's will for Him and He trusted God and what God had said "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is perfected in weakness." Paul really believed what the Lord has said, as He believed and accepted that truth, the power of the Holy Spirit produce joy in his life.
Gal.5:22-23 tells us that some of the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, and peace. These characteristics are all emotional in some way. Gal.5:16 says to “live by the Spirit” which means to trust and submit to God and thus allow the Holy Spirit to work in your life. These characteristics and their respective emotions are a result of our faith and submission to the Lord. The Holy Spirit produces them in us as we trust and submit.
This brings us to our second point.
B. As we focus on God, our emotions will respond according to the fruit of the Spirit.
God created us to respond to him emotionally as well as intellectually and willfully as a result of focusing on God and seeing him display His attributes in our lives. As we contemplate the magnificence of the nature and character of God, we should respond with joy and wonder which is both intellectual and emotional.
“Oh sing to the LORD a new song, for he has done marvelous things. His right hand, and his holy arm, has gained him the victory. The LORD has made known his salvation. He openly demonstrated His righteousness in the sight of the nations. He has remembered his mercy and his truth toward the house of Israel. All the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God.
Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth. Make a loud noise, and rejoice, and sing praise. Sing to the LORD with the harp, with the harp, and the voice of a psalm. With trumpets and the sound of the horn make a joyful noise before the Lord, the King.”
This is a call to sing joyfully based on who God is and what He has done. Singing is a physical and emotional activity. This will happen in various degrees depending on your emotional makeup. Those who are by personality more emotionally expressive will manifest this rejoicing differently than those who are not that way. But we should focus on God and contemplate his character and nature and past works and "feel" a sense of joy in response. Sometimes that joy can be a calm response of joy.
The issue is God is so incredible that if there is only a flat neutral response regularly toward Him (not necessarily at any given moment), then something needs to be changed in your Christian life. The positive emotions of joy and peace are a response to who God is by His very nature and character. It is not something one tries to artificially produce by listening to music and the like. We need to regularly focus on His nature and character to allow our emotions to get in tune with who He is. We also have emotional responses when God displays His attributes in our lives.
C. As we see God display his attributes in our lives (i.e. experience God), our emotions will respond.
We see God work in, around, and through our lives and we feel a sense of joy and well-being from being loved by Him.
David wrote Psalm 34 after God delivered him from a king, Abimelech. David had been captured and faced certain death, but the Lord displayed his power in and rescued David. It is a song of godly joy and peace. Listen to the words of some of the verses.
“I will bless the Lord at all times; his praise shall continually be in my mouth. My soul shall make its boast in the Lord. The humble shall hear it and be glad. Oh magnify the Lord with me and let us exalt his name together. I sought the Lord and he heard me, and delivered me from all my fears.”
David was responding emotionally in the display of God’s power, sovereignty and love in his life. This is the Biblical pattern of knowing God and experiencing Him. There is nothing more exciting in life than watching the God of the universe work in our lives
We can experience that joy and peace not only when God delivers us, but also in the midst of our trials and troubles.
Paul wrote the letter of Philippians to a group of believers who were discouraged about Paul being imprisoned in Rome. Paul writes to them to express that they should be rejoicing because of what God was doing as a result of his imprisonment. People were hearing about Jesus as news spread about the reason that this Jewish Roman citizen was imprisoned and other believers became bolder to share the gospel.
Paul writes, in Phil.1:12-14,
“But I want you to understand, brethren, that the things which happened to me have turned out rather to the furtherance of the gospel so that my imprisonment in Christ have become known in the whole palace and in all other places and many of the brethren in the Lord, displaying confidence by my bonds, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.”
Later, he says that he rejoices in that and in the fact that whatever happens as he presents himself before the Roman authorities will result in bringing glory to Jesus Christ as he boldly stood for Christ no matter what the authorities decided to do with him.
Paul writes in Phil.1:18-20,
“What then? In every way, whether in pretence, or in truth, Christ is preached and I rejoice in that, and yes, I will rejoice. For I know that this shall turn to my deliverance through your prayer and the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ, according to my earnest expectation and my hope, that in nothing I shall be ashamed, but that with all boldness, as always, so now also Christ shall be magnified in my body, whether it be by life, or by death.”
In the midst of his trial, Paul was rejoicing and peaceful because he saw what God was doing through him and would do through him as a result of it. But to respond with such positive Holy Spirit produced joy and peace, Paul had to focus on how God was displaying and would display his attributes in his life and thus glorify himself through Paul.
For the believer, we should experience positive emotional responses to God's work in our lives. But we have to look for God's work. We have to trust the Lord so that He can work in our lives.
This is also why often if we are not serving the Lord in some way in touching the lives of others, we don't have much joy. Once God has dealt with your personal needs, how else can he work in your life, if you are not serving Him in some way?
In Phil.1:12 Paul saw God using Him in the lives of others for His kingdom. So, our emotions in our relationship with the Lord are to be responders to the nature and character of God and His working in our lives as we trust and submit to Him.
Fourth, we should respond emotionally to being a child of God.
C. We should regularly feel a sense of "Abba Father” intimacy toward God if we are driving our relationship by trusting our Father regularly and growing in Him.
Paul writes in Gal.4:6,
“And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, ‘Abba, Father.’”
That is a cry of recognition that God is now our Father, but more than that, that He is now our “Abba,” our "Dad.” “Abba” is a term of affection and endearment. There is affection in our relationship with our Father.
Jesus touches on this subject in Jn.16:27 where he says,
“For the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God.”
Jesus says, “for the Father loves you, because you have loved me.” The Greek word (phileo) used here for love has affection involved in it. It is caring about the other person that involves affection for that person. His love for us is not cold, but is based on the affection a father has for his child.
I have affection for my kids - that is part of being their Father. They have affection for me. That is part of them being my child. It is normal and natural. I don't "feel" it every minute, but it is there and stimulated when I interact with them. It is the same in our relationship with God as our Father.
We don't always feel a warm closeness to Him, but we should regularly. Not every second, but regularly. God’s children should have affection for him. We say Dad Father because we recognize God is our Dad Father.
Now, the feeling of affection comes as a result of embracing that truth
by faith. We embrace that truth; then we turn to God and interact with
Him through prayer and the Word by faith. We must continually remind ourselves
and embrace God through prayer by faith that God is our Abba Father in
order to experience that "Abba Father" warmth and intimacy.
Warmth and intimacy is important, not every minute that is impossible,
Why is the emotional element in our relationship with God so important?
1. Because we are emotional beings.
We don't drive our relationship with the Lord by our emotions, rather we drive our relationship by faith and focusing on God and as a result our emotions will move in the direction of joy and peace. This is not every moment, but as a regular characteristic of our relationship with our Father. Human beings are emotional creatures and these emotions of intimacy with God are part of the blessing of being a Christian.
2. Because so many Christians are looking for the wrong kind of emotional experiences from God.
This emphasis on faith and God's Word is crucial to understand because many Christians have the mistaken notion that there is something more than this in our relationship with God, a strong, emotional experiential element that is missing.
Many Christians seek to experience God emotionally by artificial emotional experiences of “God’s presence.” They want a powerful emotional experience of union with God that will carry their faith to a new level. This does not match the Biblical way we are to grow in the Lord. As we deepen in our faith in the Lord through a deeper knowledge of God in His Word and by seeing God displaying His attributes in our lives, we carry our emotions to a new level.
Many Christians tend to want more than faith, they want an emotional experience, feeling God and they want direct communication with God. They want to hear God speak or at least give them definite strong sense impressions of what he wants. All of which is living by emotions or sense impressions that you may have (kind of an intuition) rather than by faith in God's word. But nowhere in Scripture is that idea of knowing God emotionally or God communicating through sense impressions ever taught.
God made our emotions to be responders to what is going on in our minds. He did not make our minds to be responders to our emotions. Our emotions respond to what God does in our lives, that’s their purpose, as in any relationship. And our relationship with God is based on our faith in what His Word says about it, not how we feel about it at any given moment.