KNOWING CHRIST - KNOWING GOD

Copyright © Rosemary Bardsley 2003

STUDY ONE: WHAT ARE WE HERE FOR?

[This Study relates to Knowing Christ - Knowing God Worksheet 1 designed for use in group study situations. Some of the suggestions in the Study Tasks are specific for group study leaders; these can be adapted for personal study.]

INTRODUCTION

Our world today, perhaps more than any other generation, and especially in the 'western world', powerfully and increasingly displays the meaning of the word 'lost'. People don't know who they are or why they are here or where they are going. Individually and corporately there is a massive disintegration going on:

  • Respect for human life is rapidly diminishing - evidenced in moves to legalize abortion, euthanasia - at both ends of life, embryonic stem cell research and cloning, as well as in the massive increase in the incidence of abuse and assault. This is also evident in the mentality that places the well-being of animals, forests, etc, on an equal par with, or above, the well-being of humans.
  • Moral standards are in rapid decline - boundaries formerly firmly fixed no longer exist, the whole idea of an absolute standard relevant for everyone at all times is not even considered, what is 'right' has become whatever the 'norm' or the consensus of opinion is, and this 'boundary' is consistently becoming broader and flimsier.
  • Personal meaning and significance (that is our inner security and identity) has crumbled - this is devastatingly evident in the high suicide rate and in the high incidence of depression and similar illnesses.
Study Task #1: Think about ways in which these three aspects of life are disintegrating in your society.

A. WHY IS IT LIKE THIS?

Over the past two centuries three powerful influences have combined to produce the present state of our society:

1. Secular Humanism, which denies the existence of any supernatural entities - including God. 'Nature', the physical world, is all that there is. Man, the most developed part of nature, is responsible for and capable of fulfilling his own destiny. Our future and that of our planet is in our hands. In the absence of any 'god' there are obviously no absolute standards of right and wrong: we are not answerable to any 'out there' above us deity who has laid down the rules for living.

[Do not confuse with 'humanitarianism' which = expressing human kindness to other humans.]

2.The Theory of Evolution, which effectively eliminates the concept of a Creator God, as defined in the Bible. In eliminating the Biblical God evolution also eliminates the Biblical meaning of human life, robbing human life of its uniqueness, and goes hand in hand with Secular Humanism in eliminating absolute moral standards.

3. Liberal Theology, working hand in hand with the two above in their denial of the supernatural and of absolutes, denies that the Bible is the inerrant Word of God, and does not even consider that God, in his sovereign power, could have overruled its writing. Church-goers exposed to this mentality are left without any sure and absolute definition of God, without any belief in the deity of Christ, with no belief in miracles - including the virgin birth and the resurrection, and with little perception of the sinfulness of man or the meaning of salvation.

[Do not assume that all theology is bad. Some theology is very good: it all depends on how closely it represents Biblical teaching.]

The net result of all of this is

4. Postmodernism, in which there is no such thing as truth to be found, so one does not even look for it. One does not know, and cannot ever know, who one is - or even if one really is, what life is all about - or if it is about anything at all, what is right or wrong - or even if there is such a thing as right and wrong. In fact one lives with the assumption that there is no meaning, no purpose, no absolutes. [Note to study leader: for the sensitive thinking person this can quickly lead on to nihilism the despairing state of mind where nothing at all has any meaning or purpose. It is no wonder that people seek either identity or escape in addictions to drugs, sex, extreme sports and the like, or eventually to suicide.]

Study Task #2: If you are leading a study group allow the group time to list the characteristics and impact of these in their notes at Task #2 on the Worksheet. This might require time for discussion. You might find that this will stir up discussion as some of the folk suddenly realize why things are as they are. There also might be some controversy arising out of the reference to the Theory of Evolution. If so, refer them to www.AnswersInGenesis.org .

B. SUBSTITUTES FOR MEANING AND PURPOSE

In the perceived absence of God, truth and meaning, we, that is we humans, find our significance in a number of ways.

We create our own 'gods' : either physical idols or 'philosophical', conceptual idols. Thus we find such ideologies as

  • Polytheism - the worship of many gods
  • Deism - the belief in a 'hands-off' god, who created the world then ceased to have any involvement or interest in it.
  • Fatalism -the belief in a hard-hearted, loveless god who has pre-determined every single thing, and to whom it is irrelevant to pray.
  • Pantheism - the belief that all is god, all is one, therefore I, (and everything else) am god. The New Age mentality lies here - seeking for union with 'the god within' or 'the cosmic power of the universe' which is in all that exists.
  • Agnosticism - the belief that it is impossible to know if there is any 'god' or what he/it is like if there is.

[Notes to group leader [or for extra personal study]: [1] Scripture reference to use here if there is time: Romans 1:18-32, where the persistent corruption and distortion of the concept of 'god' is recorded. [2] Also, if there is time, draw attention to the fact that the whole of Scripture is pervaded by the contrast between the one true God and the 'gods' of man's creation. [3] If people want to pursue this refer them to Isaiah 40-46 where the awesome and incomparable majesty of God is contrasted to the puny insignificance of idols.]

We search for meaning, significance and purpose in

  • Materialism - in which we take our significance in the amount or quality of our physical possessions and wealth.
  • Non-physical materialism: in which we take our significance from our personal achievements and the praise and affirmation they generate.
  • Legalism - a form of non-physical materialism, in which we gain our significance from our ability to live according to a moral or ritual code [either imposed upon us from outside ourselves by state, church or social group, or one we have created for ourselves].
  • Mysticism - in which we find our meaning and significance in the inner experiences of our mind and emotions.
  • Subjectivism - in which we interpret the whole of life according to our own experiences. What works for me is right for me; what works for you is right for you. The meaning and purpose of human life is thus as varied as the number of individuals there are on earth.
  • Hedonism - in which we value everything in terms of whether or not it makes us feel good, or gives us a 'buzz'. If it does it is good; if it doesn't it is bad.

As Christians we must not assume that the quest for meaning, significance and purpose in these ways is limited to unbelievers. At every one of the points listed above Christians are involved, seeking in them to find personal fulfilment, completeness and contentment, and seeking by them to 'big-note' themselves in the presence of their fellow Christians, of the world, and of God.

Examples of how each, in their order listed above, have seduced Christians:

Materialism

Prosperity teaching and Word of Faith teaching promise us unlimited health and wealth, and consider Christians who do not have wealth and health to be failures; even non-charismatic Christians frequently view the presence or absence of God's blessing in material/physical terms.

Non-physical materialism

All to frequently Christians take significance from their ministry or from their spirituality - the number of souls we have saved, the size of our church, the years, days or hours per week of our service, our spiritual gifting, our faithfulness in quiet time habits, our personal success/progress in striving for holiness, and so on.

Legalism

The automatic inclination of the human heart, including the Christian heart, is to relate to God, ourselves and others in terms of the level of one's obedience to law . We rate ourselves and others on this basis. We rate God's relationship with us on this basis. We rate our identity of 'success' or 'failure' on this basis. We assume that we are close and more acceptable to God when we obey a command and removed and less acceptable when we disobey. We set aside the message of the Gospel of grace and relate to God as though we were still under the condemnation of law and sin. We also do the same to others, refusing to pass on to them the very grace of God that enables our existence as Christians.

Mysticism

Christian 'experience' is the source of significance - visions, dreams, hearing God's voice, ecstatic experiences, getting supernatural guidance through inner impressions and feelings, communicating with angels, finding personal messages from God in coincidences and the like, looking for signs and wonders, hearing God's call, having a wonderful quiet time, participating in exhilarating corporate worship - all of these become the source of meaning and purpose and significance and fulfilment.

Subjectivism

Christians leave aside the Bible as the source of absolute truth and define truth in terms of their personal experiences. Rather than the Bible being used to validate or invalidate and interpret an experience, the Christian's subjective, personal understanding of his/her experience is used to interpret and identify the meaning of the Bible, and the subjective meaning they, or others, have given to their experience is thus imposed on the Bible and, sometimes, made normative for everyone. The Bible is made to conform to subjective experience, rather than subjective experience being under the authority and judgement of the Bible.

Hedonism

Christians assess reality from the hedonistic mindset: this is clearly evident, as an example, in attitudes to church services, which are assessed in terms of how exciting or moving they are or how good they made one feel, irrespective of whether or not the Lord was honoured and his truth proclaimed.

Study Task #3: Have the students complete Task #3 while you are presenting the above material. Leave time for discussion here: there are some extremely significant points. Don't let the group think that they are currently immune and guiltless here - these things are very pervasive, insidious and subtle, and the cause of many of the difficulties that Christians experience in their relationship with God and in their Christian walk today.

C. WHAT DOES THE BIBLE SAY?

In contrast to all of this the Bible is very clear in its answer to the question 'What are we here for?' It expresses its one answer in a number of ways:

Task #4: Have the group look up the following verses and make notes of what they say about the purpose of human existence. Encourage discussion of the meaning of these verses.
  • Genesis 1:26,27: 'Then God said: "Let us make man in our image, in our likeness ... So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him ... '
  • Deuteronomy 10:12: ' ... what does the Lord your God ask of you but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul ... '
  • Isaiah 43:7,10: ' ... whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made ... whom I have chosen so that you may know and believe in me'.
  • Jeremiah 9:23/24: 'Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom or the strong man boast of his strength or the rich man boast of his riches, but let him who boasts boast about this: that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord ... '
  • Zephaniah 3:17: 'He (God) will take great delight in you ... he will rejoice over you with singing.'
  • Mark 12:30: 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.'
  • Acts 17:27 -28: 'God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us. For in him we live and move and have our being ... '
  • 1 Corinthians 8:6: ' ... there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live ... '
  • Ephesians 1:10: ' ... to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ.'
  • Ephesians 1:12: ' ... in order that we ... might be for the praise of his glory.' [also 1:6 &14]
  • *Ephesians 1:23: ' ... the fullness of him who fills everything in every way'
  • *Ephesians 2:10: ' ... created in Christ Jesus to do good works ... '
  • *Ephesians 3:21: ' ... to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations'
  • *Ephesians 4:13: ' ... until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ'.
  • *Philippians 1:21: ' ... for me to live is Christ ... '
  • Colossians 1:16: ' ... all things were created by him and for him ... in him all things hold together.'
  • 1 Peter 2:9: ' ... a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.'
  • Revelation 21:6: 'I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End'

The one answer expressed in all of these answers is: we are here for God.

  • Created by him to reflect of his glory.
  • Dependent on him so that we may find fulfilment in him.
  • Saved by him to express his glory.
  • Loved by him in order that we may love him.
  • Known by him in order that we may know him.

In all of this God is wholly for us in order that we may be wholly for him.

It is God who gives meaning, significance and purpose to human existence. It is only in this relationship of knowing God that human life achieves its maximum potential. It is only in knowing God that we are truly human. It is only in knowing God that we can live the life for which we were created.

[Note to Study Leader : differentiate between 'knowing God' and 'knowing about' God. This distinction will become very obvious as these studies proceed.]

CONCLUSION:

'What is the chief end of man? Man's chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever' (Westminster Confession of Faith: The Shorter Catechism).

'This is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent' (John 17:3).

Task #5: The asterisked verses in the list above contain a common element. Challenge the group to study these verses again to find that common element, and to identify how this common element is the key to the purpose of God for human life to be achieved. [This common element is Jesus Christ. It is only in and through him that we can know God, and, knowing God by knowing Christ, that we fulfil our God-ordained potential and purpose as humans. This finding fulfilment/ completeness/ purpose/ meaning/ significance in knowing God in knowing Christ, seeing God in seeing Christ, receiving God in receiving Christ is the theme of these studies.]

SOME QUOTES:

[1] From JI Packer: Knowing God: 'What are we made for? To know God. What aim should we set ourselves in life? To know God. What is the 'eternal life' that Jesus gives? Knowledge of God. ... What is the best thing in life, bringing more joy, delight, and contentment, than anything else? Knowledge of God. ... What, of all states God ever sees man in, give Him most pleasure? Knowledge of Himself ... ' (p31).

[2] From John Calvin: Institutes of the Christian Religion: ' ... it is certain that man never achieves a clear knowledge of himself unless he has first looked upon God's face, and then descends from contemplating him to scrutinize himself. ' (1.1.2)

[3] From Calvin's Commentary on Jeremiah 9:24: 'Today all sorts of subjects are eagerly pursued; but the knowledge of God is neglected ... Yet to know God is man's chief end, and justifies his existence. Even if a hundred lives were ours, this one aim would be sufficient for them all.'

[4] From Leon Morris: The Gospel According to John : ' ... to know God means more than knowing the way to life. It is life ... . To know Him transforms a man and introduces him to a different quality of living. Eternal life is simply the knowledge of God. ' (p 719,720).

[5] From G.C. Berkouwer: 'Man: The Image of God': 'Man cannot truly know himself if he ignores the light of God's revelation ... The Bible never speaks of man in himself, as isolated, but always in terms of his relationship to God ... ' (21,34).

[6] From Karl Barth: Dogmatics in Outline: 'Christian faith is the illumination of the reason in which men become free to live in the truth of Jesus Christ and thereby to become sure also of the meaning of their own existence and of the ground and goal of all that happens.' (p22)

'To know Him is to know all. To be touched and gripped by the Spirit in this realm means being led into all truth. If a man believes and knows God, he can no longer ask, What is the meaning of my life? But by believing he actually lives the meaning of his life ... The Christian Creed speaks of God as the ground and goal of all that exists. The ground and goal of the entire cosmos means Jesus Christ. And the unheard-of thing may and must be said, that where Christian faith exists, there also exists, through God's being trusted, inmost familiarity with the ground and goal of all that happens, of all things; there man lives, in spite of all that is said to the contrary, in the peace that passeth all understanding, and which for that very reason is the light that lightens our understanding.' (p26,27).

[7] From Francis Schaeffer: Whatever Happened to the Human Race?: 'If there is no personal God, nothing beyond what our eyes can see and our hands can touch, then Woody Allen is right: life is both meaningless and terrifying. As the famous artist Paul Guaguin wrote on his last painting shortly before he tried to commit suicide: "Whence come we? What are we? Whither do we go?" The answers are nowhere, nothing, and nowhere.'

RECOMMENDED READING:

Knowing God, JI Packer.

Whatever Happened to the Human Race? Francis Schaeffer