3. The People Who Know Their God
“What’s wrong with my spiritual life? Why don’t I have the peace and joy that other Christians have?” I couldn’t begin to count the number of people who have asked questions like those through the years of my pastoral ministry. They have read in the Bible that Christians are supposed to have “joy inexpressible and full of glory” (1 Peter 1:8), but they cannot even begin to imagine what that kind of a Christian experience must be like. If they were writing a treatise on the Christian life it would be more like “gloom irrepressible and full of worry.”
No Magic Formula
I do not have any magic formula to put the sparkle into your Christian life. There are many factors in Scripture that affect our spiritual well-being, but one thing is certain—our personal, intimate, experiential knowledge of God is one major factor. The spiritual benefits of knowing God are literally exciting. We shall be talking more about them in conjunction with each individual attribute, but let us consider a few general advantages as we get started, in order that we might sharpen our spiritual appetite and arouse our thirst for God. Here are some of the good things we will enjoy as our knowledge of God grows.
Scripture declares that “the people who know their God will display strength and take action” (Daniel 11:32). That is a great promise. But in order to understand it we need to know a little Jewish history. The Jewish people have experienced some fierce persecutions through the centuries, but none worse than under Antiochus Epiphanes, the Syrian king who reigned from 175 to 164 B.C. He assumed the name Theos Epiphanes which means “the manifest God,” but the Jews changed one letter in his name (in their language) and called him Epimanes, which means “mad man.” And mad he was! His hatred for the Jews was literally insane.
Daniel anticipated his reign prophetically in this eleventh chapter of the book. And he did exactly what Daniel predicted. He ordered the Jewish sacrifices to cease and polluted the temple of God by offering swine’s flesh on the altar. In addition to that, he prohibited the observance of the sabbath and the circumcision of children, ordered all copies of Scripture destroyed, set up idolatrous altars, commanded the Jews to offer unclean sacrifices, and insisted that they eat swine’s flesh. Anyone who disobeyed his edicts was sentenced to death. It was an ancient holocaust. As Daniel anticipated this atrocity he asked himself how these people would ever be able to survive. The answer was not long in coming: “the people who know their God will display strength and take action” (11:32).
And that is exactly what they did. A group of courageous men called the Maccabees led a heroic revolt against Antiochus. Their exploits, against insuperable odds, were nothing short of phenomenal. They knew their God, laid hold of His sovereign power and might, took action, and broke the grip of Antiochus on Israel. Their story is a saga of strength, the mighty power of people who know God. People today who truly know God have the same degree of courage and strength. They stand for righteousness, oppose wickedness, endure persecution when necessary, triumph through suffering, and accomplish great things for God’s glory. There is no other way to have spiritual power except through the knowledge of God.
Daniel himself was a man who knew God. When the presidents and princes of the Medo Persian Empire prevailed upon King Darius to issue a decree prohibiting anybody from making petitions to any god or man except the king, or be cast into the lion’s den, Daniel went right on praying to the God of Heaven (Daniel 6:4-15). Not even the threat of death could keep him from it. He knew his God, and people who know God have the courage and strength to do His will even though the whole world be against them and everybody around them be giving in to sin. We too can have the spiritual power to do God’s will and to make a significant impact on the godless world in which we live. As our knowledge of Him increases and our friendship with Him grows more intimate, He makes His power more readily available to us.
Peter tells us something about people who know God. He says, “Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord” (2 Peter 1:2). His statement reveals that both grace and peace are increased in the believer’s life by the full or thorough knowledge of God. Grace is God’s favor, His gracious care, faithful assistance, and help. We enjoy God’s help to the extent that we know Him. That should be easy to understand. If we do not know Him very well, we will not know what help He has available, or even that He is offering us any help. We must know Him in order to be able to accept the benefits He extends to us.
But it is the peace that I want to address here—an inner tranquillity, a quiet confidence, a stability and control in the face of difficult circumstances. It multiples in us through the knowledge of God who controls our circumstances. How desperately we need peace in our uptight world! When we have peace, we realize that there is no reason to worry over every new problem. The all-powerful God who loves us and cares about every detail in our lives is going to see that it turns out best. The better we get to know Him, the more we rest in His wise plans for our future.
There is a great illustration in the book of Daniel of the peace that comes from knowing God. King Nebuchadnezzar had erected a ninety-foot statue of himself before which all his subjects were commanded to bow. To refuse meant death in the fiery furnace. But Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were men who knew God. They could not bow before that golden image. When it became obvious that they had refused, they were brought before the king and given one last chance. Nebuchadnezzar proudly announced, “if you will not worship, you will immediately be cast into the midst of a furnace of blazing fire; and what god is there who can deliver you out of my hands?” (Daniel 3:15)
The answer of those three men of God is one of the classic Biblical expressions of faith. They began by saying, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to give you an answer concerning this” (verse 16). There was no disrespect in their words. They were merely admitting that the accusation was correct and that they had no defense. They did what they had to do. But they continued, “If it be so, [that is, if we are thrown into the fire] our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire; and He will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But even if He does not, let it be known to you, O king, that we are not going to serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up” (verses 17-18).
They knew an all-powerful God who was able to deliver them. He who created fire and who made their bodies could certainly keep them from being burned. And they believed He would. But even if they did not fully understand God’s plan and purpose for them at that time and He did not deliver them, it really did not matter! They would be better off in His presence anyway. In either case, they would not disobey Him by bowing before the image. They had perfect peace and tranquillity in the face of a torturous death because they knew God.
Wouldn’t you like to have peace like that? Wouldn’t you like to stand up to any trial, any problem, any danger, or any threat, and be able to say confidently, “It really doesn’t matter what happens to me. I know that God will work it together for good. I want only to do His will and glorify Him.” That degree of peace depends on an intimate knowledge of God. As we learn to know Him better and begin to sense His unlimited power coupled with His undying love, we will learn to relax in Him—just as a little child relaxes peacefully in his father’s arms while a storm rages outside.
Paul was a man who enjoyed the benefits of knowing God, and he longed for his converts to share those same blessings. He often prayed to that end, and in those prayers we learn more about the advantages of knowing God. For the Ephesians he prayed, “that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him” (Ephesians 1:17). The word spirit is not a reference to the Holy Spirit. The Ephesians already had Him dwelling in their lives. Paul was referring to a mental attitude or disposition of true spiritual understanding which the Holy Spirit alone could produce in them, that is, the ability to comprehend God’s truth and appropriate it. He wanted them to be able to grasp spiritual realities and the application of those truths to their lives.
Some of us have a deficiency in spiritual understanding. We read the Word of God without comprehending what it says, and we totally miss its implications for us. We would like to have what Paul prayed for, a spirit of wisdom and revelation, the ability to discern divine truth, but we never seem to attain it. Where is it to be found? How can we get it? Does it require a degree in theology? Paul tells us where it is located—in the knowledge of Him. The people who intimately know their God have spiritual understanding that far surpasses their formal education. The time they have spent with Him has given them more insight into the purpose of life than any of the world’s great universities could ever provide.
Peter and John were men like that. They were preaching Christ in the temple courtyard and the Jewish religious leaders were furious. They took the two disciples into custody and questioned them about their activities, insisting that they reveal by what power they performed their miracles. Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, delivered a powerful testimony to the person of Christ that demonstrated not only his familiarity with recent events in Jerusalem, but also his grasp of Old Testament Scripture (Acts 4:8-12). It was an amazingly articulate expression of faith from an uneducated fisherman. Where did he get that kind of wisdom? The record goes on to tell us: the Jews “began to recognize them as having been with Jesus” (Acts 4:13). They had come into a personal and intimate knowledge of the living God through His Son Jesus Christ. They had walked with Him and talked with Him for three and one-half years. As a result they had an understanding of spiritual truth that those religious rulers could not begin to match with all their theological training and sanctimonious religiosity. People who know God have wisdom.
Your Real Purpose
Isn’t that what you really want? Not so you can amaze your friends with your knowledge of Scripture or your grasp of theological truth. But so that you can know what life is all about, and make an impact on their lives for the glory of God as they observe the reality of Christ in you. It will happen when you get to know Him intimately.
Paul’s prayer for the Colossians describes another advantage of knowing God: “For this reason also, since the day we heard of it, we have not ceased to pray for you and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that you may walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God” (Colossians 1:9-10). There is some difference of opinion as to how this should be translated. While most of our popular translations render it as a prayer for the Colossians to increase in the knowledge of God, most commentators understand it to mean that the knowledge of God is the means by which we bear fruit and increase in every good work. They would translate it something like this: “bearing fruit and increasing in every good work by the knowledge of God.”
Now that is a thought for believers to mull over. Some are asking, “Why can’t I do what is right? Why don’t I have the love and joy and peace that I crave?” Here is one reason. Our fruitfulness and our growth depend on our knowledge of God. We ought to be able to understand that since it works the same way in the human realm. As I grow in my knowledge of my friends I enjoy being with them more and I have a greater desire to please them. That is what occurs in our relationship with the Lord. The more we know of His love for us the more we love Him in return (1 John 4:19). And the more we love Him the more we want to please Him (1 John 5:3; John 14:15).
There is another human analogy that will help us understand this truth. Psychologists tell us that we acquire similarities to the people we get to know intimately and with whom we spend much time. As we spend time with our Lord and grow in our knowledge of Him we begin to develop Christ-like traits, the very things which the New Testament refers to as fruit. In other words, we will bear fruit and increase in every good work by the knowledge of God. Try getting to know Him better. You will enjoy it.
A Psalm writer named Asaph did. He was in bad shape spiritually. He says he came close to stumbling; his steps had almost slipped (Psalm 73:2). He was on the verge of a serious spiritual defeat, angry with God because ungodly people were doing better than he was. He certainly was not growing until, he says,
I came into the sanctuary of God; Then I perceived their end (verse 17).
Being in the sanctuary of God was an Old Testament way of expressing fellowship with Him. Asaph got to know God—His love, His care, His guidance, and His all-sufficiency. Then he went on to say,
Nevertheless I am continually with Thee; Thou hast taken hold of my right hand. With Thy counsel Thou wilt guide me, And afterward receive me to glory. Whom have I in heaven but Thee? And besides Thee, I desire nothing on earth. My flesh and my heart may fail, But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever (verses 23-26).
His knowledge of God changed his life and gave him a growing delight in walking with Him. He could say, “But as for me, the nearness of God is my good” (verse 28). The closer he got to God the more he grew and the better he enjoyed his spiritual experience. It can be our good too. We will experience new growth and fruitfulness when we get to know Him.
There is one more general blessing of knowing God that I would like to point out. It is found in Paul’s letter to the Galatians. Those Galatians had a problem with legalism. Their Christian lives were a grind: “I’ve got to do this, I’ve got to do that, I can’t go here, I can’t say that.” They lived in constant fear that they had not done enough to please God and that led to overwhelming feelings of guilt. The only way to compensate for their guilt was to try harder. They were probably saying, “I must grit my teeth and give it all I’ve got. But I really don’t feel like it. I wish God would get off my back.” So along with the fear and guilt there was probably resentment against God for the pressure they were feeling. One word sums up that kind of Christian life—bondage!
God never intended us to live like that. Knowing Him truly, personally, and intimately delivers us from bondage. Paul wrote to them, “But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how is it that you turn back again to the weak and worthless elemental things, to which you desire to be enslaved all over again?” (Galatians 4:9) They came to know God and their knowledge had delivered them from bondage. But as sad as it was, they had willfully chosen to put themselves back under the very bondage from which they had been delivered. Why? What was their problem?
Trying to please God without growing in our knowledge of Him will put us under bondage every time. We think we have to perform to be accepted. So we struggle and strive to please Him, never sure we have succeeded, frustrated over the pressure we think He is putting on us, and yet afraid to stop trying. That kind of life is sheer misery.
When we understand His love, His grace, His forgiveness, and His unconditional acceptance of us in Christ, obedience is no longer a struggle or a grind. It is free, natural, and joyful. In fact, it is actually fun. We obey Him not because we think we must do it in order to gain His approval, but because we want to. We consider it a delightful privilege. We love the one who has already accepted us, undeserving though we are, and we enjoy pleasing Him. Paul pleads with the Galatians and with us, “Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage” (Galatians 5:1 KJV). The only way we can do that is to get to know Him better.
There is actually no end to the blessings of knowing God. As Peter put it, “His divine power has granted to us every thing pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence” (2 Peter 1:3). Everything we need to assure us of eternity in God’s presence is found in our knowledge of Him. Everything we need to help us live godly lives here and now is found in our knowledge of Him. Everything! It sounds again as though getting to know God could be the most important aspect of our Christian lives. What are we waiting for? Let’s begin to grow in our knowledge of Him.
Action To Take
Begin to think about God at frequent intervals throughout the day. In each new situation ask yourself, “What difference would it make if I knew God’s perspective on this? How would I respond if I really knew God?”