Can I Know God Personally?
Romans 10:5–13 – Explore God
Seventh Sunday after Epiphany – February 24, 2019 (am)
Can I know God personally? This is the final, the ultimate question in our Explore God series. Having discerned that there is, indeed, a purpose in life that is wrapped up with our realizing the full intention of our design as human beings, as bearers of the image of the God Who is actually there, Who really does exist, and Who made us for relationship with Himself, to magnify His glory and enjoy Him forever, and to reproduce others who do the same until the earth [is] full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea (Isa.11:9). This magnificent vision anticipates a day when all pain and suffering will not only be removed from our lives, but the memory of ever having endured it will be swallowed up by our awe-filled enjoyment of God in all His glory, and by the confidence that each and every expression of evil that produced such pain has been answered by His perfect justice. On that day we will be celebrating the great salvation that has been accomplished by the Lord Jesus Christ and has ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation (Rev.5:9). We’ll be celebrating the complete fulfillment of the Word of the God Who is there!
These are the questions we’ve addressed so far, leading us up to today’s finale: can I know God personally? However, if we’ve listened carefully throughout this series, all the way back to the beginning, we’ve heard that being known by God, and knowing Him in return, expresses the very purpose of life perfectly! We even heard it directly in that beautiful image from Isaiah just now: the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea (Isa.11:9). So, absolutely [we] can know God personally! In fact, we were made to know Him! That’s how the Westminster divines articulated our primary purpose: The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever—to [know Him personally]!
And the amazing thing is that this is just what God wants! We don’t have to go in search of Him to get to know Him! I remember, back when I was in college, when I first decided to stay in Chicago over the summer and get a job. I applied at a couple of places in tall buildings down in the Loop. Finding the right floor, and the right office, then the right person to talk to about the type of job I was seeking was truly like trying to find a needle in a haystack, but the hay stack was sixty stories high and surrounded by countless other haystacks, and there was only one needle! I was so relieved when I finally found the person I was supposed to contact that I smiled expressed my greeting as though I were being reunited with an old friend! But all I received back was a confused, almost suspicious, look that instantly told me I’d already blown any chance of receiving a job there. I felt like a spare part that didn’t fit in any machine in the vicinity. And I went back to the dorm thinking I might as well go on home after all.
If we can feel like nothing in the presence of mere people, what are the chances that God Himself wants to know us, or to be known by us? Yet, He really does! Let’s answer today’s question with four affirmations.
God Has Made Himself Known
This is an amazing affirmation to be able to make. It’s not a given that a god of any sort will show or reveal itself. Part of the power and influence of a higher being is its mystery, its mystique. When no one ever sees it, the stories about its power and prowess can grow into mythic proportions; they can become legend! Who can think of a way to defeat the Loch Ness Monster? It’s invincible precisely because no one knows its size or strength, or even whether it’s real! It can be as great and powerful as anyone wants to make it! But when a great being shows itself, you can see any weaknesses right alongside its strengths. Then it’s one step closer to being domesticated just because some of the mystery has been revealed. When Oz was behind the curtain he seemed like a powerful wizard. But once it’s open, he’s a mere man.
But our God has revealed Himself anyway, and has demonstrated that He’s real, and even greater than His creatures imagined! He’s made Himself known and even spotlighted some amazingly mysterious aspects of His character. Yet, in so doing He’s proven to be greater still! And He also makes Himself knowable. He’s taken the necessary step toward His becoming knowable, the absolutely essential step for there to be any possibility of His being personally known!
He’s given us His name. Amazing! Let’s unpack this a bit in order to appreciate what this means. He’s given us the label that expresses His identity, that captures His character. He’s given us that which communicates familiarity, relationship, intimacy. So, God isn’t just showing Himself, He’s getting familiar! When Moses was negotiating with God regarding whether he alone would be used to deliver Israel from Egypt, he asked God His name. And Exo.3:14 God said to Moses, “I am who I am.” … [I will be Who I will be.] Then later, when Moses was receiving the replacement tablets of the Law on Mt. Sinai, he asked to see God’s glory, Exo.33: 19 And [God] said (right on the heels of saying to Moses: I know you by name ), “I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘The Lord’ (probably… a shortening of the… phrase in 3:14 [Cole 76])…. Then God did so, even more fully than before. The difference between His answer in Exo.3 and 34 is kind of like if you asked me my name and I were to say: Daryle, or perhaps I would add: Worley. That’s Exo.3. But God’s answer in Exo.34 would be like my answering: My name is L. Daryle Worley, Jr., son of L. Daryle & Lois (Cox) Worley, husband of Jean (Lawhead), father of four, grandfather of three (soon four!), Pastor of GCD, and proclaimer of the eternal gospel. Exo.34:6 The Lord passed before [Moses] and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, 7 keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty (now this is a description we’ll have to come back to), visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.”
This expresses the heart of God with regard to His intent to be personally known. But beyond this…
God Has Promised that He Will Be Known
When His Spirit moved in the heart of Jeremiah to promise a new covenant relationship with His people, the prophet wrote: 31:31 Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, 32 not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, … declares the Lord. 33 For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts (no longer on stone tablets!). And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34 And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”
Here’s the positive fulfillment of that mysterious promise that’s expressed in the very name of God; He will [forgive] iniquity and transgression and sin (Exo.34:7). We’ve yet to see how it is that He’ll by no means clear the guilty (Exo.34:7), but we know that [forgiveness] will be at the heart of the new relationship with Himself, and so will personal relationship be, knowing Him. God has promised that He will be known. And…
There Is No Joy Like Knowing God, and Being Known
One of the sweetest chapters in the Bible, 1Co.13, speaks of the foundational importance of love in all we do. With his concluding thoughts there, Paul wrote: 12 … now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. This [knowing] speaks of our relational intimacy with God when we’re finally free of our sin in His direct presence forever. Responding to God in loving service—using the gifts He’s given us as the spoils of His victory over sin and death through His death and resurrection—is one way we love God (Joh.14:15). And 1Co.8:3 … if anyone loves God, he is known by God. As we serve God in love, responding to the gracious and merciful reconciliation He’s provided, we enter into the ever-deepening joy of relationship with Him that is described as [being] known by [Him]. That’s one place we sense connection with Him personally, here and now.
Luk.10:20 Nevertheless, Jesus adds, do not rejoice in this, [the mere joy of your service], but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” Rejoice in your relationship with God. Rejoice that you’re known by [Him], and therefore know and love [Him]. This is the truest joy we can ever know! This is the joy that finds its ultimate fulfillment in the life and relationship we will experience with God once we are finally and fully free of all that separates us from Him. It’s a joy that is best expressed in a passage we visited way back at the beginning of this series: Rev.21:1 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, …. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. 4 He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” 5 And he who was seated on the throne… said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true. 6 … To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment. 7 The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son, not just friend or distant family, but devoted Father.
Bottom line: not only can we know God personally, nothing else can beat knowing Him personally for generating joy! So, how does it happen? Where does it start?
We Come to Know God Personally in Jesus Christ
It starts with Jesus—embracing Him by faith, trusting in Him as our Savior, as the One Who has absorbed the just penalty for our sin and reconciled us into relationship with God. Jesus has bridged the gap between us and God making it possible for us to know God personally. As John put it: Joh.1:18 No one has ever seen God; but the only God, who is at the Father’s side, [Jesus] has made him known to us.
So, that’s where our text for today plugs in. It addresses our last point here: how we come to know God personally, where it starts. Rom.10:5 For Moses writes about the righteousness that is based on the law, that the person who does the commandments shall live by them. The one who follows God’s law perfectly will know God and know life. The problem is, apart from Jesus no one has ever done that. 6 But the righteousness based on faith says, “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’” (that is, to bring Christ down) 7 “or ‘Who will descend into the abyss?’” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). 8 But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); This is a strange statement, but essentially Paul is talking to the rest of us here, all those who haven’t lived perfectly according to the commandments and therefore don’t know God or life. What He’s saying is that we don’t need to go out in search of reconciliation with God, of salvation. We don’t need to find someone to go up to heaven and urge Christ to come, because He’s already come! Neither do we need to send someone beyond death to call Him back to life, because He’s already been raised! So, what is most needed for our salvation has already been done! The only thing left is very near to us. In fact, it comes from our mouth and from our heart 9 because, if [we] confess with [our] mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in [our] heart that God raised him from the dead, [we] will be saved. [Confession] and [belief], that’s all that remains for us to begin the life-long quest of knowing God personally—this God Whose purpose it is to be known. 10 For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. 11 For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” 12 For … the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. 13 For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord in trusting belief will [begin to experience the joy of knowing God personally]! Much of that joy can be known here and now. But so much more will arrive with the new heavens and new earth. So, what do we receive now? Eph.1-3 gives a list: every spiritual blessing in the heavenlies, we’re [chosen] in Him, we’re predestined for adoption, given a family [name], redemption, forgiveness, intimacy with God, peace with Him and with all His people from every tribe, language, and nation, wisdom, understanding, power in our battle with sin, help in prayer (Rom.8:26), a future inheritance, love, all that pertain to life and godliness (2Pe.1:3). In fact, Rom.8:32 He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? If you have not embraced Christ by faith and entered into the joyful pursuit of knowing God personally, I urge you, do it right now, here, this morning!