How to Know God

by Bill Rudge

Christ’s disciples were first called Christians at Antioch (Acts 11:26). Its original meaning was that of servants and followers of Jesus Christ. Today, this term has a much broader and oftentimes entirely different meaning than its initial use. It has become one of the most misunderstood words in our language.

Many believe that a Christian is someone who merely goes to church, believes in God, lives a good life, or tries to keep the commandments. While it is true that such things as joining a church, water baptism, living a godly lifestyle, and a loving attitude should definitely be marks of a believer, these should never be misconstrued as being the criteria for someone becoming a Christian. We must study Scripture and, based upon its authority, determine what it really means to come to faith in Jesus Christ.

Not by Works

According to Scripture, doing good works or keeping God’s Law does not make anyone a Christian. The apostle Paul explains that one of the purposes of the Law in the Tanakh (Old Testament), which is based upon the Ten Commandments, was to show us that we all are sinners and can never achieve the standards required by God. Man, because of his sinful nature, continually falls short of the mark. This dilemma reveals our need for a Savior ––

By the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin (Romans 3:20).

Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith (Galatians 3:24).

Therefore they said to Him, “What shall we do, so that we may work the works of God?” Jesus answered and said to them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent” (John 6:28,29).

Paul makes it clear that God’s righteousness can only be obtained through faith, and that Israel did not attain it because they sought it not by faith, but by works. He states ––

Why not? Because they pursued it not by faith but as if it were by works. They stumbled over the “stumbling stone.”

As it is written: “See, I lay in Zion a stone that causes men to stumble and a rock that makes them fall, and the one who trusts in Him will never be put to shame” (Romans 9:30-33 - NIV).

By Faith

It is by faith in Jesus Christ, therefore, that we are saved. He is the stone mentioned in the above passage. Those who reject Him stumble and fall; those who trust in Him are saved.

II Timothy 1:9 ––

[God] who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was granted us in Christ Jesus from all eternity.

Titus 3:4-7 ––

But when the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared, He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by His grace we would be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.

Nothing is more tragic than someone pursuing a false hope of salvation through his or her own works and self-effort when Jesus offers true salvation as a free gift. The apostle Paul writes ––

For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast (Ephesians 2:8,9).

We maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law (Romans 3:28).

We know that a man is not justified by observing the Law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by observing the Law, because by observing the Law no one will be justified (Galatians 2:16 - NIV).

For I testify about them that they have a zeal for God, but not in accordance with knowledge. For not knowing about God’s righteousness and seeking to establish their own, they did not subject themselves to the righteousness of God. For Christ is the end of the Law for righteousness to everyone who believes (Romans 10:2-4).

Only through the shed blood of Jesus Christ is forgiveness available and a restored relationship with the Father made possible. Only Christ is the perfect sacrifice and substitute that satisfied a holy and just God.

II Corinthians 5:21––

He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.

Colossians 1:22 ––

He has now reconciled you in His fleshly body through death, in order to present you before Him holy and blameless and beyond reproach.

Although we are all guilty of sin and rebellion, when we put our faith in Jesus Christ, His perfect righteousness is applied to our lives. We become acceptable to God solely through faith in Christ’s sacrificial death –– “without shedding of blood there is no forgiveness” (Hebrews 9:22). The animal sacrifices in the Hebrew Scriptures were merely a foreshadowing of the death of God’s Son on the cross.

For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God (I Peter 3:18 - NIV).

Jesus paid the penalty for our sins. He suffered and died in our place. We don’t have to “perform” for God out of fear and guilt, but are now free to serve and obey Him because we know and love Him.

That is why the apostle Paul could so boldly say ––

If anyone else has a mind to put confidence in the flesh, I far more: circumcised the eighth day, of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the Law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to the righteousness which is in the Law, found blameless. But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith (Philippians 3:4-9).

Paul also said in Acts 20:24 ––

But I do not consider my life of any account as dear to myself, so that I may finish my course and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify solemnly of the gospel of the grace of God.

Faith and Works

Good works done after accepting Christ stem from a heart of gratitude. Thankful for what the Lord accomplished on the cross, a believer does good deeds, but these acts are only the fruit and result of salvation, not the cause for it.

Paul emphasizes that we are not justified by moral and ceremonial acts performed in obedience to the Law, but through faith in Christ. James, however, places emphasis on the resultant good works that flow out of true Biblical faith. He stresses that we are not justified merely by a barren orthodoxy –– which even the demons possess and shudder (James 2:19), but by true faith that produces works (James 2:14-26).

Paul and James are in agreement. Paul concurs that the faith which saves ultimately results in good works –– “deeds appropriate to repentance” (Acts 26:20). See also Ephesians 2:8-10.

The Bible is therefore clear. We are not saved by dead faith (James 2:17) nor by dead works (Hebrews 6:1; 9:14) but by a living faith which results in “love and good deeds” (Hebrews 10:24).

In summary, the apostle Paul tells us we are saved totally by faith and as a result of that saving faith, good works follow. James agrees that the proof of saving faith is works of righteousness.

Works flow out of one’s inner heart –– one’s nature, and that nature can only be changed by God’s grace. The new birth is a work from above –– not the work of man (John 1:12,13).

An interesting account in the Gospels tells of Zacchaeus, a chief tax collector, welcoming Jesus to his home –– an act of faith and acceptance. Zacchaeus then shows the fruit of faith by promising to give half his possessions to the poor and paying back fourfold anyone he had cheated. Jesus said to him ––

Today salvation has come to this house …. For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost (Luke 19:9,10).

There is a delicate balance between grace and obedience:

Works are the unmistakable evidence of the loyalty of the heart; they express either belief or unbelief, faithfulness or unfaithfulness. The judgment [Revelation 20:11-15] will reveal whether or not one’s loyalties were with God and the Lamb or with God’s enemies.

God’s Righteousness

We cannot expect to be accepted by God because of our own goodness. Romans 3:23 points this out emphatically: “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” This does not mean that we cannot do good, but according to God’s standard of righteousness, we all miss the mark.

In all the religions of the world, there are people seeking to establish their own righteousness to earn salvation. In Biblical Christianity, however, it is the righteousness of Jesus Christ which makes possible salvation as a free gift through faith to those who will receive it.

I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes .... For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith” (Romans 1:16,17 - NIV).

The Hebrew Scriptures state concerning Abraham ––

Then he believed in the Lord; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness (Genesis 15:6).

See Romans chapter four for additional insight on Abraham being justified by faith.

Not a Religion

The world is filled with various religions, but salvation is found only in Jesus Christ. Scripture tells us ––

And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved (Acts 4:12).

Religion is one’s attempt to worship God with man-made traditions and ideas, but true faith is one’s belief and love for God through His Son Jesus Christ. Religion is what one does for his God, but salvation is what God has done for us ––

... that God was reconciling the world to Himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them (II Corinthians 5:19 - NIV).

Jesus Christ is God’s unique revelation of salvation. This is why Jesus (as recorded in the Gospel of John) could honestly say ––

I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me (John 14:6).

Some people have just enough religion to make them miserable. While they know the “language” and go through all the “motions,” they have never known the joy and peace of having a real and personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Nobody is more miserable than the person trying to be a Christian in his or her own strength. Many have, therefore, turned away and rejected what they thought was Christianity, but in truth is not.

A Relationship

A person I knew had attended church all his life but was never taught that he could know Christ in a real and personal way. Being disillusioned with what he thought was Christianity, he began searching for answers in Eastern religions. He felt God was impersonal and unknowable. I showed him numerous Scriptures that proved to him that God does want us to know Him and have a personal relationship with Him. God’s Word helped clarify for him the true meaning of being a Christian. He realized that this was what he had always longed for.

Know the Lord

I shared the following illustration with a couple –– the husband had cancer and didn’t have much time to live –– who were religious, knowing about God, but they didn’t know the Lord in a personal way. I said, “If a stranger would walk in your front door and say, ‘Hi, I’m home! I’m going up to my room,’ you would respond by quickly saying, ‘I don’t know who you are. Get out of here!’ However, if one of your own children walked in and said the same thing, you’d say, ‘Glad to see you! Come on in!’ ”

In the Bible, Jesus said there will be those who think that they are His children because they go to church or profess to believe in Him, but when they stand before Him, He will in essence say, “Get out of here. I never knew you –– you’re not My child” (Matthew 6:21-23). In contrast, Jesus will say to those He knows, “I know you. You’re mine - enter into the joy of your Lord.”

I assured them that we can know now what type of greeting we will receive when we meet the Lord. I shared the words of Paul in II Timothy 1:12, “….I know Whom I have believed and I am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him until that day.”

While I was buying blueberries, the young lady selling them told me about the recent death of her father. She was still grieving, so I asked her if her father knew the Lord. I wanted to find out her perspective in an attempt to bring her some hope and encouragement. She said, “Yes, he made his peace with God.” I asked, “How about you?” She informed me she went to church but wasn’t close to the Lord.

I said to her, “You can tell me about your father and even show me pictures, and although I can know all about him, I will never have a personal relationship with him like you had.” I continued, “Most people who go to church know about God like I would about your father, but God wants us to know Him in a personal way as you knew your father.” Her eyes lit up as she told me that this is what she longed for.

After prayer, she hugged me as tears streamed down her face. She said, “This was not a chance meeting; I was meant to talk to you.” I invited her to a Bible study where she could grow in her relationship with Jesus Christ and she enthusiastically accepted.

It is interesting to note that the Greek word for “know” (ginosko), used when Jesus said, “I never knew you; depart from Me ...” (Matthew 7:23) is the very same word used for “know,” which was used by Mary when she said to the angel Gabriel, who had come to announce the birth of Jesus, “How shall this be, seeing I know not a man?” (Luke 1:34 - KJV). She never had an intimate relationship with a man. The same Greek word for “know” was used again when Jesus said ––

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

Scripture teaches that we must know the Lord by having an intimate and personal relationship with Jesus Christ. A Christian is someone who has a restored relationship with God the Father through a personal faith and acceptance of His Son Jesus and His finished work on the cross. The true concept of Biblical Christianity is not a lifeless external form of religion, but a living vital personal relationship with the God of the universe who is knowable and seeks to be known.

New Lordship

Before I became a Christian, I was my own god, running my life my own way. I didn’t want anybody, including God, telling me what to do. When I came to faith in Jesus Christ, however, I submitted to His Lordship. The throne of my life has now been restored to its rightful King. Rebellion and pride used to separate me from God. The peace I now have with God has been made possible by His own provision –– His Son Jesus Christ. Romans 5:1 puts it this way ––

Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.

To be justified means to be declared righteous. God now forgives us and accepts us because of the imputed righteousness of Christ. His righteousness, in effect, becomes our righteousness.

The qualifying factor for us to receive God’s forgiveness and to be declared righteous by Him is that we “believe in” the Lord Jesus Christ. Following an amazing chain of events, the Philippian jailer asked Paul and Silas, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” They said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved” (Acts 16:30,31).

Romans 10:9,10 states ––

... that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation.

A Greek word study will reveal that to “believe in” means to be persuaded of, and hence, to trust in, rely on, and be faithful to. To “believe in” is not merely acknowledging the reality of Christ, but a belief that results in your accepting His free gift of salvation, having confidence in Him as the only way of salvation, and thereby committing your life to Him. It means to persevere in trust and obedience.

John 1:12 ––

But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name.

Feelings

When you give your life to Christ, the feelings may or may not be there, but the fact remains –– you are now forgiven and beginning a new life in Christ. Feelings are merely an emotional response as you realize and appreciate what God has done for you in Jesus Christ and what the Holy Spirit has begun in your life.

If you obtain a marriage license and get married, you may or may not feel differently. It doesn’t matter how you feel. The fact is that you are now married. It’s the same with God. By faith one receives God’s forgiveness and restoration in Christ, and according to God’s Word, a new life and relationship begins.

I John 5:11,12 ––

And the testimony is this, that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has the life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have the life.

New Creation

Jesus said to Nicodemus in John 3:3 ––

Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.

Jesus informed Nicodemus, a Pharisee and member of the Sanhedrin, that one could not see or enter the Kingdom of God without spiritual rebirth. One must be “born again” or “born from above.”

Ephesians 2:4,5 states ––

But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved).

II Corinthians 5:17 says ––

Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.

This does not mean that once we accept Christ, we become perfect and no longer sin, but it does mean that our attitude of rebellion and self-centeredness begins to change to obedience and Christ-centeredness. We begin growing and maturing in this new life as we develop a whole new way of thinking and acting.

As we yield and submit to Jesus Christ through obedience to His Word and Spirit, He begins to mold and develop our lives. As we make our lives available to Him so He can work in and through us, we are enabled to begin fulfilling God’s ultimate goal for our lives –– being conformed to the image of His Son (Romans 8:29; II Corinthians 3:18).

How good it is to know that our new birth is only the beginning of our new relationship with the Lord and the beginning of a continual growth process in our new life. You now have the assurance from Scripture that God “is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13), and that “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6 - NIV).

Is Your Name in the Book of Life?

This world is not all that there is to life. Jesus Christ will return as the victorious King and Judge of the world. Those who have rejected God’s provision of salvation –– Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God –– will be eternally separated from God’s presence where there will be “weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Those who have believed in the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation will receive glorified bodies and rule and reign with Him for eternity.

John 5:24 promises ––

Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life.

Have you committed your life to Jesus Christ? Is your name written in the Book of Life? If you do not willingly make Him Lord of your life now, you will suffer the eternal consequences.

Revelation 21:27 emphatically states ––

and nothing unclean ... shall ever come into it [God’s Holy City], but only those whose names are written in the Lamb's book of life.

Revelation 20:15 strongly warns ––

And if anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.

Experience His Reality

Years ago, by God’s grace, I chose to commit my life to Jesus Christ. Making a 180-degree turn, I began following Him as Savior and Lord. It’s called repentance –– dying to self and living for Christ. I asked His forgiveness for my life of rebellion and sin and acknowledged His rightful position as Lord of my life. I obeyed His Word by being baptized, and developed a consistent life of Bible study, prayer, and fellowship with other Biblical Christians. I strive to live for the Lord with all my heart, with all my mind, and with all my strength.

You, too, can have new life in Christ. Repent and believe in the Lord Jesus. As one whose name is written in the Lamb’s Book of Life, you will inherit all that God has prepared for those who love Him and obey His Word. Once you experience a life-changing faith in Jesus Christ, you will want to grow in Him and begin uncovering the depths of the treasures of wisdom and knowledge in Him and His Word.

How you answer the questions, “Who is this Jesus?” and “How can I know Him?,” is eternally significant.

John 3:16 ––

For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.

I do hope you will join me and the millions of others throughout history whose lives have been dramatically changed through the transforming power of the resurrected Christ. Coming to know the Lord will be the wisest and most courageous decision you will ever make. Living fully for Him is the most exciting, challenging, and fulfilling lifestyle available.