|Study 1: God || Study 2: The Spirit Of God || Study 3: The Promises Of God || Study 4: God And Death || Study 5: The Kingdom Of God || Study 6: God And Evil || Study 7: The Origin Of Jesus || Study 8: The Nature Of Jesus || Study 9: The Work Of Jesus || Study 10: Baptism Into Jesus || Study 11: Life In Christ||1.1 The Existence Of God || 1.2 The Personality Of God || Doctrine In Practice 1: Knowing God || 1.3 God's Name And Character || Doctrine In Practice 2: Grace || Doctrine In Practice 3: The All Seeing God || Doctrine In Practice 4: God Is Omnipotent || Doctrine In Practice 5: Responding To The One God || 1.4 The Angels || Doctrine In Practice 6: God As Creator || Digression 1: God Manifestation || Digression 2: Why The Trinity Was Accepted|
Belief In Practice 1: Knowing God
Practicing The Presence Of God
Believing in God's very existence of itself affects a man's behaviour. "The living God" is a phrase often used by men in prayer or desperate straits. God is, He is the living One, and He therefore is a rewarder of those who seek Him. Dostoevsky in The Brothers Karamazov [through the mouth of one of his characters] aptly observed: " If there is no God, everything is permitted" . And the reverse is so true: seeing there is a God, all aspects of life come under this imperative. All religions apart from the Truth place a mask over God. To claim to be able to know the one true God is too much for them. So they have created false doctrines to cover Him up, to turn Him into what they would fain like or wish Him to be. In this sense, as Maxim Gorky said in a terrible phrase, " man created God after his own image" . Gorky's idea is essentially repeated by Sigmund Freud in his book The Future Of An Illusion, where he claimed that the God people have in their minds is essentially a projection of their own father figure. If their father was abusive and angry, then this is how they see God. If their father was kind and loving, then this, they decide, is what God is like. Freud's theory is probably true for most people in this world who claim a belief in God. The false idea that God is an angry old man appeased by the blood and violent punishment of His son seems to me to be rooted in the poor parental experience of theologians. They have no experience of practicing the presence of God as Father. This is not the God revealed by open minded Bible study. For us who know and believe the true God of the Bible, God is God, who He is as revealed in His word, and we must resist this temptation to project onto Him our own perceptions of a father.
One of the most tragic misunderstandings of all time is the trinity- which claims that there are three " persons" in a Godhead. Trinitarian theologians borrowed a word- persona in Latin, porsopon in Greek- which was used for the mask which actors wore on stage. But for us, God doesn't exist in personas. He exists, as God the Father. And we practice the presence of that God. The real, true God, who isn't acting, projecting Himself through a mask, playing a role to our eyes; the God who is so crucially real and alive, there at the other end of our prayers, pulling at the other end of the cord... What we know of Him in His word is what and who He really is. It may not be all He is, but it is all the same the truth of the real and living God. And this knowledge should be the most arresting thing in the whole of our existence. So often the prophets use the idea of " knowing God" as an idiom for living a life totally dominated by that knowledge. The new covenant which we have entered is all about 'knowing' God. And Jer. 31:34 comments: " They shall all know me…for I will forgive their iniquity" . The knowledge of God elicits repentance, real repentance; and reveals an equally real forgiveness. It is possible for those in Christ to in practice not know God at all. Thus Paul exhorted the Corinthian church: " Awake to righteousness and sin not: for some have no knowledge of God" (1 Cor. 15:34 RV). The knowledge and practice of the presence of God ought to keep us back from sin.
All basic Bible doctrines are meshed together, not only by logic and theory and exposition, but by the fact that one aspect of the spiritual life which they elicit leads into another. The existence of God means that there will be a judgment, and therefore our lives must reflect the fact that we believe that we live under judgment. The wicked think: " He will not require it. All [their] thoughts are, There is no God" (Ps. 10:4 RV). They admit there is a God insofar that they think God will not " require" an account of their lives; and thus effectively they act as if they are atheists. Their inward self-talk is that " There is no God" . Thus they say: " God has forgotten…he will never see it…why does the wicked despise God, and say in his heart, You wilt not require it?" (Ps. 10:11,13). Note the parallel between their thinking " There is no God" (:4), and thinking that God will not " require" our thoughts and actions of us one day. To believe in God is to believe in His ultimate judgment of us. And thus it would be true that if there were no God, anything would be possible for us.
All too easily we can think that we believe that 'God exists' just because we can reel off 'the watch argument' and other apologetic reasons. But " what we need to know, of course, is not just that God exists, not just that beyond the steely brightness of the stars there is a cosmic intelligence of some kind that keeps the whole show going, but that there is a God right here in the thick of our every-day lives…it is not objective proof of God's existence we want but, whether we use religious language for it or not, the experience of God's presence. That is the miracle we are really after. And that is also, I think, the miracle that we really get" (1). To this I for one can say 'Amen'. For it is in the apparent trivia of life that we see Providence the most clearly, hour by hour.
But it can be that we accept God's existence without really believing that He is, therefore, all powerful, and that all His attributes which the Bible reveals are actually functional and real for us today. The unfaithful captain of 2 Kings 7:2 mocked Elisha: " If the Lord should make windows in heaven, might this thing be?" . He forgot that there are windows in Heaven (Gen. 7:11; Mal. 3:10) through which blessing can be given. He believed in God's existence. But he didn't think this God could do much, and he doubted whether He would ever practically intervene in human affairs. We must be aware of this same tendency.
Many times the idea of " Your father which is in heaven" is used in the context of faith in prayer being answered (Mt. 7:11; 18:19; 21:22; Mk. 11:24; Jn. 14:13; James 1:5,6,17 etc.). It's as if the reality of God actually existing in Heaven in a personal form should be a powerful focus for our prayers. We have the highest imperative to develop into that which bears God's moral image, seeing we are made in His physical image- for God is a personal being. Exactly because " Your hands have made me and fashioned me" , David asks for strength to put on God's moral image: " Give me [therefore] understanding, that I may learn your commandments" (Ps. 119:73). The reality that He truly exists in a personal form is almost terrifying when first grasped: " An 'impersonal God'- well and good. A subjective God of beauty, truth and goodness, inside our own heads- better still. A formless life-force surging through us, a vast power which we can tap- best of all. But God Himself, a personal being, alive, pulling at the other end of the cord, perhaps approaching at an infinite speed, the hunter, king, husband- that is quite another matter. There comes a moment when the children who have been playing at burglars hush suddenly: was that a real footstep in the hall? There comes a moment when people who have been dabbling in religion suddenly draw back. Supposing we really found Him?" (2). Our Sunday School Christianity may well have been no more than kids spooking around with each other after an evening meeting. But the personal reality of God is startling and gripping and eternally demanding.
I think it is worth all of us pausing to ask the most basic question: Do we really believe that God exists? " Those who say that they believe in God and yet neither love nor fear him, do not in fact believe in him but in those who have taught them that God exists. Those who believe that they believe in God, but without any passion in their heart, any anguish of mind, without uncertainty, without doubt, without an element of despair even in their consolation, believe only in the God-idea, not in God" (3). The Jews must have been shocked when the Lord Jesus told them to " believe in God" (Jn. 14:1 RVmg.). For there were no atheists amongst them. What Jesus was saying was that their faith was in the God-idea, not in the real God. For if they believed the Father, they would accept His Son. We must ask whether we feel any real passion for Him, any true emotion, any sense of spiritual crisis, of radical motivation… Consider how the prison keeper " rejoiced greatly…having believed in God" (Acts 16:34 RV). He was unlikely to have been an atheist [atheism wasn't very common in the 1st century]. But he grasped for the first time the real import of a real and relevant faith in the one true God as a personal being.
Inspiration To Dynamic Living
In passing, I would argue that the false trinitarian perception that there are three ‘personas’ in the [supposed] trinity has led to a denial of God the Father being a real, live person, with all the unique individuality which attaches to a ‘person’. The fact that God is a person means that who we are as persons, our being as persons, is of the ultimate importance. Having a personal relationship with a personal God means that we in that process develop as persons after His image; for there is something magnetically changing about being in relationship with Him. We are changed from glory to glory, by simply beholding His face and inevitably reflecting the glory there, which glory abides upon us in the same way as it stuck to the face of Moses even after his encounters with the Angel of Yahweh (2 Cor. 3:18-21 RV). And yet we live in a world which increasingly denies us ultimate privacy or isolation; the loudness of the world is all permeating, all intrusive, to the point that Paul Tillich claims: “We cannot separate ourselves at any time from the world to which we belong”(4). And at times, we would all tend to agree with him. We just can’t seem to ‘get away from it all’ and be with God, no matter where we go on holiday, with whom we go, even if we slip off for an hour to be quite alone in the local park. But ultimately, I believe Tillich was wrong. We can separate from the world’s endless call and insistent pull, even if we’re stuck with an unbelieving or unhelpful partner, sniffly kids, long hours at work, the TV always on, the phone always ringing. Because we as unique and individual persons can personally relate to the personal God and His Son, thus finding the ultimate privacy and isolation which being human in this world appears to preclude. But further, it’s actually in the very razzamattaz of our mundane, frustrated experience in this world that we can come to know God, and in which God reveals Himself to us. And how does all this happen in practice? To experience God is to know Him. So often the prophets speak of ‘knowing God’ as meaning ‘to experience God’. Because God is love, to love is to know God (1 Jn. 4:8). Quite simply, how deeply we have loved [and I am speaking of ‘love’ in its Biblical sense] is how deeply we have known God- and vice versa. And that love is worked out in the very earthliness and worldliness of human life in practice.
The Supremacy Of Love [Robin Jones]
It's easier to live by rules than by love. To live by love you have to really care about other people, to live by rules you don't have to. You can just follow the rules and be outwardly seen to do the right thing...
Maybe it's because people are naturally self centered that God gave Moses so many rules, rules that would make them do the right thing. Rules were the next best thing, but they are not the replacement for caring and loving in practice. If we really cared about others, we wouldn't need to be told to leave the gleaning for the poor etc.... but because mankind is not naturally like this, God gave Moses many rules so people would do the right thing. Of course God wanted it to be from the heart, not just obedience to rules.
When Jesus came, he tried to show that it's what God had always intended.
He wants us to love one another as he has loved us- hence he described
his command to love each other as he loved us as "A new
commandment I give to you". Great men such as David understood this,
he was called a "man after God's heart". But just as it was
under the law of Moses, so it can be today... you can obey rules, keep
Church traditions, be seen to be outwardly righteous as the Pharisees,
but without love, without really caring for others, it's shallow. This
is why Jesus said "by their fruits you shall know them". It
becomes evident by what we do whether we really care about others. None
of us are perfect, but if we can try our best to be more thoughtful and
caring and genuinely loving to other people, then it really shows and
is a witness of itself. The reverse is also true. If we don't really care
about others, if we hang on to grudges, if we don't forgive, our time
is spent trying to tear down instead of build up. It's even possible to
kid ourselves that we find justification from scripture to do it in the
name of God, yet what it really shows is that we do not really love the
other person. So much harm has been done in the name of God, yet God has
made it clear that he wants us to love others as He has
Love must be the motivating factor for everything we do, it must be behind every action and thought. We could learn the whole Bible off by heart, quote the order of the Kings of Israel, but without love our actions are meaningless and we can't view all the other advice from God in the right way. 2nd John places so much emphasis on love and the humanity of Jesus, and warns that those who don't understand these things should be avoided. Yet what John is saying is sometimes misunderstood and misused to drive people away, the very opposite of what John has been saying. John is saying that the people to avoid are the ones who don't understand love, Christ's teachings, and the humanity of Christ. That is how important these things are. So it's vitally important that we understand that love should be behind our every thought and action and dealings with others, and it will affect how we understand God's word to us. It will open up a whole new way of seeing and living.
Being Born Again
The life of true love is a new life. Reading the word of God can cause
God’s Spirit to dwell in us. This is such an important aspect of our lives
that Jesus said to Nicodemus that we must be born again! And He also said
that we must be “born of water and the spirit” (Jn. 3:3-5). All too often
people are “born of water and the doctrines of men”. The Pharisees even
asked John the Baptist for baptism, i.e. to be born of water; but he basically
told them that they must be born of the spirit. The Jews of Jesus' day
had a rigid set of doctrines- and Jesus even endorsed what they taught
by saying to His disciples: “do as they say but not as they do”. But they
just didn't have God’s spirit dwelling in them. They had head knowledge
but did not bring forth the fruits of repentance. We are told by Paul
what the fruits of the spirit are in (Gal. 5:22). They are (firstly!)
love, then joy, patience, peace, kindness, gentleness, forgiveness. Being
born of the spirit produces these attributes in us. It’s not only reading
God’s word that changes our hearts to become “spirit filled”, but also
being encouraged by other faithful believers. Heb. 10:24 speaks of how
we should “stir one another up to love and good works”. Another way we
can be “born of the spirit” is by talking to God in prayer, in fact we
are told that prayer in not just something we recite to God at meals,
but a way of life (Rom. 12:12).