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Don Stewart :: Is It Possible for Humans to Know God Personally?

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Is It Possible for Humans to Know God Personally?

God and Us – Question 1

Is knowledge of God something that is possible? The Bible speaks loud and clear. The answer is “Yes,” the living God can be known by humankind. In fact, God goes out of His way to have a personal relationship with human beings.

1. God Himself Is Our Only Source of Knowledge about Him

It is important to understand that God Himself is the only source of knowledge that we have about Him. Nature can be misunderstood. Our human reason is inadequate and experience can be misleading. It is through the God of the Bible and Him alone that we understand who He is and what He is like. Therefore, we must take the time to study and meditate what He has revealed to us in His Word.

The psalmist wrote,

God blesses those people who refuse evil advice and won’t follow sinners or join in sneering at God. Instead, the Law of the LORD makes them happy, and they think about it day and night. They are like trees growing beside a stream, trees that produce fruit in season and always have leaves. Those people succeed in everything they do. (Psalm 1:1-3 CEV)

The only way we can know anything about God is that if He tells us. Indeed, we cannot find out these truths on our own.

Scripture reveals three truths about God. First, He cannot be completely understood. Second, we can know some facts about Him. Third, we can know Him in a personal way. From Scripture we can make the following observations.

2. God Cannot Be Completely Understood by Humans

First, because of who God is, we cannot completely understand Him. This is spoken of as God being incomprehensible. This has the idea that there is no one who can fully understand Him.

In fact, in the Book of Job, Scripture asks the following question about the ability of humans to understand the Lord.

“Can you search out the deep things of God? Can you find out the limits of the Almighty?” (Job 11:7 NKJV)

The answer is no. We certainly cannot discover His limits. We do not have that capability.

The prophet Isaiah says that nothing can compare to God. He wrote the following.

To whom then will you liken God? Or what likeness will you compare with Him? (Isaiah 40:18 NASB)

The answer, of course, is “Nobody.” There is no one which can compare to God. Indeed, He is like no other being in the universe.

In another place, the psalmist testified to the greatness of God. He said that His greatness is unsearchable. He said,

Great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised; and His greatness is unsearchable. (Psalm 145:3 NKJV)

The Contemporary English Version puts it this way.

You are wonderful, LORD, and you deserve all praise, because you are much greater than anyone can understand. (Psalm 145:3 CEV)

Therefore, no one, no matter how brilliant or how educated, can completely understand God. There will always be more things that we can learn about Him. Knowing this truth should always keep us humble. Furthermore, it should give us this desire to learn more about Him.

3. We Can Know Some Things about God

Although we cannot know everything about the God of the Bible, we can know somethings about Him. The Bible tells us truths about God that we, as humans, can know. While these truths are limited, they can be comprehended by finite humanity.

For example, we can know that God is holy, God is love, and that God is righteous. We can also know that God is infinite, He is everywhere present, and He is all knowing. Human beings are able to comprehend, to some degree, these truths about God. Therefore the God of the Bible is knowable in the sense that we can know certain things about Him.

We may not know everything about Him, but He has revealed enough about Himself so that we can understand some things about His character. These things that we know about Him are true. Therefore, we can know God truly but we cannot know Him exhaustively.

4. The Bible Says That He Can Be Personally Known

There is something else that the Bible teaches. Not only can we can know certain truths about God, human beings can also know God personally. This is the difference of knowing facts about someone and knowing someone personally.

Scripture stresses the fact that we, as individual humans, can have a personal relationship with the living God. This only comes about when a person trusts God for their salvation through Jesus Christ.

Jesus spoke to His disciples about the fact that they can know both Him and God the Father. John records Jesus saying,

“If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.” (John 14:7 NRSV)

What a tremendous thought! We can actually know the God who created the universe.

On the night of His betrayal, Jesus prayed to His Father and said the following.

“And this is the way to have eternal life—to know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, the one you sent to earth.” (John 17:3 NLT)

This speaks of knowing in the experiential sense. It is more than knowing facts about God.

In another place, this same John, who was one of Jesus’ closest disciples, wrote the following to believers.

And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding so that we may know him who is true; and we are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life. (1 John 5:20 NRSV)

Again, the wonderful truth is stated. We can actually know God.

The Believers Knew God The Father

John also noted that believers do indeed know God the Father. He emphasized this truth as he penned the following words.

I write to you, fathers, because you have known Him who is from the beginning. I write to you, young men, because you have overcome the wicked one. I write to you, little children, because you have known the Father. (1 John 2:13 NKJV)

Those of us who have believed in Jesus Christ can know both Him as well as God the Father.

The writer to the Hebrews spoke of a future day when everyone would know the Lord. He put it this way.

“And they shall not teach one another or say to each other, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest.” (Hebrews 8:11 NRSV)

What a wonderful day that will be.

Since knowledge of the Lord is possible, the Apostle Paul explained to the Philippians what his utmost desire consisted of.

I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death... (Philippians 3:10 NRSV)

Above all else, Paul wanted to better know Jesus Christ in a personal, intimate way. This should be our goal also.

When a person has that relationship with the living God, they reflect His love to others. John put it this way.

Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. (1 John 4:8 NRSV)

Knowing God helps us to know how to love. True love stems from knowing Him.

Having personal knowledge of the God of the Bible was not limited to the New Testament. The prophet Jeremiah wrote,

This is what the Lord says: “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, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight,” declares the Lord. (Jeremiah 9:23-24 NIV)

Therefore, we discover that those who lived before the time of Jesus could know and understand the Lord to some degree.

Although the Creator of the universe is all-powerful and incomparable, He is personally knowable; He can give love to us and we can receive it from Him. This kind of knowledge, however, does not come about by means of human wisdom. Jesus said,

“All things have been handed over to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.” (Matthew 11:27 NRSV)

It is the Lord, the God of the Bible, who graciously allows humans to have knowledge of Himself. He takes the initiative and loves us first. We then respond to His great love.

5. One Must Personally Experience the Need for God

For a person to know God in a personal way, they first must feel the need. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said,

“Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.” (Matthew 5:6 KJV)

God wants people to have the desire to know Him. We need to need Him. He looks for individuals that have that desire.

Once a person realizes their need, the next step is to exercise faith toward God. It is only by faith that a person can know God. The writer to the Hebrews stated,

And without faith it is impossible to please God, for whoever would approach him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. (Hebrews 11:6 NRSV)

Without faith, we cannot truly please God.

The psalmist wrote,

O taste and see that the Lord is good; happy are those who take refuge in him. (Psalm 34:8 NRSV)

When we do taste, we do indeed discover that the Lord is good.

The need for God must first be there. The psalmist wrote about the need of the human heart by comparing to a deer looking for water.

As the deer pants for streams of water, so I long for you, O God. (Psalm 42:1 NLT)

The heart cry of all humanity, to personally know the living God, can only be met in Jesus Christ. He alone can meet this need.

6. Eternal Life Is an Eternal Relationship with God: It Begins at Conversion

Eternal life can be defined as knowing a person, Jesus Christ. On the night He was betrayed, when Jesus Himself prayed to God the Father He defined what eternal life was all about. It is knowing both the Father and the Son. He said,

“And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” (John 17:3 NRSV)

This begins a relationship between us and the living God. It is an eternal relationship. Indeed, it is one that will never end.

7. Knowledge about God Can Increase

Knowing God in a personal way begins at our conversion experience. We hear the good news about Jesus and then respond to it. Paul wrote,

If you declare that Jesus is Lord, and believe that God brought him back to life, you will be saved. By believing you receive God’s approval, and by declaring your faith you are saved. Scripture says, “Whoever believes in him will not be ashamed.” (Romans 10:9-10 God’s Word)

Believers can know and understand the way that God works. We read in Hebrews how the children of Israel heard God’s voice, yet disobeyed.

Who were those people that heard God’s voice and rebelled? Weren’t they the same ones that came out of Egypt with Moses? (Hebrews 3:16 CEV)

We can hear from the Lord but that does not necessarily mean that we will be obedient. It is our choice whether to obey or disobey.

This knowledge of God can increase. Paul prayed for God to increase the believer’s knowledge of Him. He wrote the following to the Philippians.

And this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight to help you to determine what is best, so that in the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless, having produced the harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God. (Philippians 1:9-11 NRSV)

He wanted those in Philippi to increase in their knowledge of the Lord. This further indicates that it is possible for our knowledge to grow.

He also wrote something similar to the Colossians. He put it this way.

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 will 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 NASB)

The Message translates these verses as follows.

Be assured that from the first day we heard of you, we haven’t stopped praying for you, asking God to give you wise minds and spirits attuned to his will, and so acquire a thorough understanding of the ways in which God works. We pray that you’ll live well for the Master, making him proud of you as you work hard in his orchard. As you learn more and more how God works, you will learn how to do your work. (Colossians 1:9-10 MsgB)

Our knowledge about God can, and should increase. This is one of the messages which comes through loud and clear in Scripture.

8. The Holy Spirit Was Given to Help Believers Understand God

God also has given the Holy Spirit to help believers so that we may better understand Him. Paul wrote the following to the church at Corinth.

...but just as it is written, “Things which eye has not seen and ear has not heard, and which have not entered the heart of man, all that God has prepared for those who love Him.” For to us God revealed them through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches all things, even the depths of God. (1 Corinthians 2:9, 10 NASB)

It is the work of the Holy Spirit which teaches us about the deep things of the Lord. Since the Holy Spirit is Himself God, He is in a position to reveal these deep truths.

The Holy Spirit also helps believers distinguish truth from error. We read the following in the first letter of John.

But you have received the Holy Spirit, and he lives within you, so you don’t need anyone to teach you what is true. For the Spirit teaches you all things, and what he teaches is true—it is not a lie. So continue in what he has taught you, and continue to live in Christ. (1 John 2:27 NLT)

The Holy Spirit has been given to teach believers. Jesus promised that He would lead believers into “all truth.”

9. We Can Be Friends of God

We can know the living God on an intimate, personal level. Jesus called His disciples “friends.” We read of Jesus saying the following.

“No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.” (John 15:15 RSV)

According to Jesus, believers can be God’s friends. What an awesome privilege this is.

In the Old Testament, we find that Abraham was called a friend of God. The prophet Isaiah records the Lord saying,

“But you are my servant Israel, Jacob, whom I have chosen, the descendant of Abraham, my dear friend.” (Isaiah 41:8 God’s Word)

All of us should want to be “God’s dear friend.”

The Bible says that the Lord spoke to Moses as one speaks to a friend. It says the following in the Book of Exodus.

Inside the Tent of Meeting, the LORD would speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend. Afterward Moses would return to the camp, but the young man who assisted him, Joshua son of Nun, stayed behind in the Tent of Meeting. (Exodus 33:11 NLT)

This intimate relationship is further stressed by the fact that we can speak to the Lord in endearing terms. Scripture says the Holy Spirit causes the believer to cry out Abba, or Father. This is a term of intimacy. Paul wrote to the Galatians and said,

And because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” (Galatians 4:6 NRSV)

We cry out to the Lord from the bottom of our hearts.

The Lord also confides in those who put their trust in Him. We read of this truth in the Book of Proverbs. It says,

Friendship with the LORD is reserved for those who fear him. With them he shares the secrets of his covenant. (Psalm 25:14 NLT)

It is possible for humans to be friends of God. This is great news!

10. We Love Him without Seeing Him

Although we grow in our knowledge and love for God this takes place without us ever seeing Him. Peter wrote loving the God whom we have not seen.

Although you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy... (1 Peter 1:8 NRSV)

The unseen God is the object of our affection. We know He is there and we love Him dearly.

11. We Look Forward to His Return

Finally, we look forward to the return of Jesus Christ. Paul wrote to Timothy about the fact that Jesus will one day come back and judge the living and the dead. He said,

I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom... (2 Timothy 4:1 NASB)

Paul said that he eagerly looked forward to that day when Christ would return. So should we.

He also wrote to Timothy the following words.

And now the prize awaits me—the crown of righteousness that the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give me on that great day of his return. And the prize is not just for me but for all who eagerly look forward to his glorious return. (2 Timothy 4:8 NLT)

The blessed hope for the believer is the return of Christ.

12. Though We Can Know God We Will Never Completely Understand Him

One final thing must be covered. Even in eternity we will not completely understand God. Indeed, there will always be things that we will learn. Paul spoke of a time when we will know God more fully. He wrote to the Corinthians,

Now we see things imperfectly as in a poor mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God knows me now. (1 Corinthians 13:12 NLT)

“Know completely” in this verses means “more accurately.” Paul never said that we would be omniscient, or have all knowledge. The idea is that we will know God more fully in eternity. Yet we will never understand everything about Him. He is the infinite, God while we are His finite creation.

From the totality of Scripture, we can conclude that the God of the Bible is both personal and knowable. He wants His highest creation, human beings, to have a relationship with Him. We should want to do likewise.

Summary – Question 1
Is It Possible for Humans to Know God Personally?

According to the Bible knowledge of God is possible. However, the only source where this knowledge can be found is in His Word, the Bible. Indeed, there is no other source to which we can go to have accurate knowledge about God.

Scripture teaches us several things about our knowledge of God. To begin with, we cannot understand everything about Him. He is infinite and we are finite. It is impossible for us to fully comprehend even one aspect of His character.

Yet the Bible says that we can know some truths about God. These truths, while not telling us everything about God, tell us enough so that we can have a good idea of what He is like. Yet no matter how much we do know there will always be more things to learn.

There is more. The God of the Bible is personally knowable. Knowledge of God is not the same as personally knowing Him.

Consequently it is possible to know facts about God without knowing Him personally. God has revealed facts about Himself so that human beings can have a personal experience with Him. This is the main goal.

Indeed, Scripture assumes that we can understand Gods’ commands and obey Him. Knowing the living God is the greatest thing that a human being can experience. Consequently, it must be a priority in a person’s life.

To begin with, a person must want to know God. First and foremost the desire should be there to know the God of the universe. This puts us on the path to discovering who God is and what He wants from us.

After that they must come to God in faith. Knowledge of God begins the moment a person believes in Jesus Christ. It is relationship which will never end. Believers must continue in faith as they grow in their knowledge of Him.

While we will grow in our knowledge and understanding of God, it will never be perfect. This is true for both time and eternity. There will always be new things that we will be able to learn about God. Learning will never stop.

This sums up some of the things which we can learn about God. The good news is that we can indeed know Him.

Our Ability to Know Him (Introduction) ← Prior Section
Why Does the Bible Portray God through Family and Personal Relationships? Next Section →
CONTENT DISCLAIMER:

The Blue Letter Bible ministry and the BLB Institute hold to the historical, conservative Christian faith, which includes a firm belief in the inerrancy of Scripture. Since the text and audio content provided by BLB represent a range of evangelical traditions, all of the ideas and principles conveyed in the resource materials are not necessarily affirmed, in total, by this ministry.


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