This is part one in a series of posts on the subject of God and what he is really like. Sequential posts will follow.
THE IDEA FOR THIS SERIES germinated in my thinking thirty years ago. At the time I was struggling to reconcile the apparent wrath and brutality of God in the Old Testament with the love and compassion of God in the New Testament. I knew God was immutable. I knew he didn’t change, but I didn’t know how to prove that from scripture.
While reading Puritan literature, (always a good thing to do), I stumbled across a book by Dr. William Bates (1625-99). Titled A Harmony of the Divine Attributes, it explained how the cross harmonized the attributes of God. Bates suggested that the New Testament does not minimize the wrath of God. It emphasizes it. In the words of New Testament theologian D. A. Carson—
Both God’s love and God’s wrath are ratcheted up in the move from the Old Covenant to the New, from the Old Testament to the New. These themes barrel along through redemptive history, unresolved, until they come to a resounding climax—the cross. Do you wish to see God’s love? Look at the cross. Do you wish to see God’s wrath? Look at the cross.The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God, pg. 70
“Look at the cross!” For the last three decades that is what I have been doing. By meditating on the cross everything the Bible said about God in the Old Testament came into focus. The New Testament does not dispense with God’s wrath, it accelerates it. The New Testament does not introduce the love of God, it takes that idea, so prominent in the Old Testament, and matures it to full expression. This essay, and the ones that will follow, are the fruit of those meditations.
The Importance of the Knowledge of God
A.W. Tozer begins his classic, The Knowledge of the Holy, with these insightful, and oft-cited, words. “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.”
Despite the passing of six decades the truth of this claim stands firm. What we think about God is foundational to everything a person is or will become. Nothing is more important. What we think about God is also foundational to everything a church or culture is or will become.
However, because individuals seldom express their convictions about God publicly, what they really think about God is often concealed in the privacy of their secret thoughts. In fact, because they have often never been asked, many evangelical spouses, who love their Bible and worship together, know little about what each other really thinks about God. If they did many would be surprised. That is because God’s people, those who profess to believe in the God of the Bible, are not always controlled by the Bible when they think about God. Instead, they often manufacture a one-dimensional, overly simplistic god from the depths of their imagination. About this Believer, the 18th-century deist, Voltaire, no friend of Christianity, wrote. “God made man in His own image: man has returned the favor.”
The Knowledge of God Sanctifies
What we think about God is important for a second reason. It is the motor that energizes our sanctification. What really changes the saints is the knowledge of God. In other words, knowing what God is like, and having a conviction about that knowledge, is the key to growth in godliness. That is because we always imitate what we worship. “Those who make [idols] become like them.” (Psalm 115:8).
Think of all the ways the Bible connects the knowledge of God and sanctification. It is the theme of 2 Peter. “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us” (2 Peter 1:3). Paul shared the same conviction. “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another” (2 Corinthians 3:18). Therefore, he told the Colossians to, “Put on the new self which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its Creator” (Colossians 3:10). It is also why Paul took such pains to always proclaim Christ. He knew it was the key to ultimately “presenting everyone mature in Christ” (Colossians 1:28). It is why he exhorted the Corinthians to “bring holiness to completion in the fear of God” (2 Cor 7:1).
The fear of God is a function of the knowledge of God. Does a famine of the knowledge of God, therefore, explain the lack of godliness in the local church? After all, without the fear of God holiness will not be perfected in the saints, and without the knowledge of God, there will be little fear of God.
Pray For The Knowledge of God
That is why Paul consistently prayed like this. “That the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him” (Ephesians 1:17). And later in the same epistle, that you “may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge” (Ephesians 3:18–19). And to the church at Colossae, “We have not ceased to pray for you [to]…increase in the knowledge of God” (Colossians 1:9-10).
For these reasons an accurate knowledge of God is essential to God’s people. No subject is more important. What we think of God defines us. It motivates us. It shapes our godliness. That is why it was a primary apostolic subject for prayer. Is it yours also?
Stay tuned to s blog. What keeps us from the knowledge of God is the subject of future posts.
Here is a great prayer to memorize and pray to yourself on a regular basis. It is Paul’s impassioned prayer in the third chapter of Ephesians. He is convinced that the knowledge of God, driven deep into the heart by the power of the Holy Spirit, is our single greatest need. This prayer makes that abundantly clear. (I have inserted the italics for emphasis).
For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen! (Ephesians 3:14–21).
Questions for further study
- What knowledge does Paul ask the Holy Spirit’s to provide in the above prayer from Ephesians three and why is it important?
- Read 2 Peter 1:3-8. What does Peter see as the role of the knowledge of God in Sanctification?
- Read Exodus 3:1-6 and 3:13-15. Moses encounters God in the burning bush. The bush is on fire, but it is not consumed. Then God announces his name—“I AM THAT AM.” Is there a connection between the status of the bush and God’s declared name? Why does it matter?