INTRODUCTION: This devotional series is based on J.I. Packer’s classic work, Knowing God. There is no greater quest, no more important activity, nothing that should be a higher priority than getting to know God. Too many Christians know about God without making their time with him personal. These devotionals are designed to challenge you to ask questions of yourself, bring these questions before God, make you think, and transform your relationship with God. My prayer is that your study will overflow in emotion, in touching your heart, in connecting with God, and sharing your relationship with others. The book consists of 22 Chapters, thus this series last 22 days. Dig in!
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Packer closes out the book with a charge to live the Christian life – be a disciple! Quoting Oswald Chambers, “the best measure of a spiritual life is not its ecstasies, but its obedience.” The most vital issue of the Christian faith today is not political, social, philosophical, or ecclesiastical (about church). Many Christian books present things in this manner. No, the most vital issue of Christian faith today is obedience to the God we Know. Disciples must follow the God they Know. Christians must imitate the Christ they Know. God’s people must live as God’s people because they Know God.
Painting an unrealistic picture of the Christian life can really damage people’s faith. A misunderstanding of grace and struggling in our faith can lead to either glamorizing or bemoaning the Christian life.
What most of us fail to understand is that this “struggle” is not sub-standard Christianity. Rather, struggle is an intricate part of our walk with God that helps us “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:19).
How exactly does God guide us? Should we be expecting to hear his voice on every little decision that we make throughout the day? Are we hardhearted if we are not constantly seeking input from God on every choice?
We know that God CAN guide us but we are not sure we are clearly HEARING him. Is it because we are not receptive? Are we not understanding his communication? Or are we just preoccupied and inattentive? We believe that God has a plan for us, at least in the big scheme of things, but what about the little things? What is that plan and how does he communicates it to us?
The richest definition of a Christian is one who has God as his father. There is a false teaching that all people are children of God, a concept not in the Bible. God loves his entire creation, but the Bible emphasizes the specialness of being God’s children.
The pinnacle of New Testament teaching about our relationship with God is that God is now our father.
The heart of the gospel is described in several well-known verses:
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16)
God made him who had no sin to be sin [or “a sin offering”] for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Cor 5:21)
Theologians often use the term “propitiation” (translated “atonement” in the NIV), which means “the act of appeasing or making well-disposed a deity, thus incurring divine favor or avoiding divine retribution.” [Wikipedia] In pagan religion this involved offering a sacrifice for sins in exchange for the god’s blessing. Since most of the teaching of the Bible contradicts paganism, you might expect this concept of appeasing through sacrifice to be absent from scripture. Instead, it is central to the Old Testament sacrificial system of atonement and at the heart of the gospel. As Wikipedia quotes Packer himself to explain the distinction, “In paganism, man propitiates his gods, and religion becomes a form of commercialism and, indeed, of bribery. In Christianity, however, God propitiates his wrath by his own action. He set forth Jesus Christ... to be the propitiation of our sins.”
Jealousy attributed to God seems offensive. Biblical statements about God’s jealousy are anthropomorphic (attributing human characteristics to God). Unlike humans, God is never guilty of ungodly jealousy; he exhibits godly jealousy. God’s jealousy is not, “I want what you’ve got” but rather, “I want to protect my relationship with you.”
How do we distinguish God’s holy jealousy from man’s sinful jealousy? When is jealousy godly and when is it sinful?
Why is God's jealousy so important? God jealousy protects his relationship with his children. God’s jealousy demonstrates his passionate desire for a covenant relationship with us. Our response to God's jealousy is either to zealously embrace that relationship or spurn his love.
Consider therefore the kindness and sternness of God: sternness to those who fell, but kindness to you, provided that you continue in his kindness. (Rom 11:22).
By balancing God’s kindness and sternness, Paul debunks both pagan relativism (“all roads lead to God”) and Christian complacency (cheap grace). On the one hand God is good – the very definition of perfect, generous, moral, and kind. On the other he is severe – cutting off those who spurn him, the guilty, those deserving of punishment, and those who choose that alternative. We must accept both aspects of God to avoid worshiping Santa Claus or some austere, distant, and disconnected god/goddess. God’s kindness and sternness perfectly embody his love and draw us to God in gratitude and responsive love. Paul explains, “continue in his goodness, otherwise you will be cut off.” Though he is slow to anger and gives us time to repent, nonetheless, God expects us to come to him on his terms.
The word “wrath” conveys deep, intense anger and indignation. God’s wrath has never been a popular subject, yet Biblical authors never shy away from it. There are perhaps more references to God’s anger than his love. The Bible illustrates God’s wrath throughout history.
Why do we feel so uncomfortable with the subject of the wrath of God (besides our guilt)? Wrath may seem unworthy of God, perhaps showing the God is out of control or cruel. However, God’s wrath is always judicial – he exercises his wrath only to carry out justice in righteous indignation. Just as God’s love never leads God to foolish, impulsive, or immoral actions, neither does his wrath. Cruelty is immoral, yet getting what we deserve is at the root of morality. Wrath is also not what God intends for man, rather it is what men choose for themselves.
Many today downplay or deny the judgment of God. God’s position and ability to judge demonstrate his character, confirming his moral perfection, righteousness, justice, wisdom, omniscience, and omnipotence. God will judge us according to our deeds, words, whether good or bad. We know in our hearts that this is right because we are created in his image.
Our understanding of God’s judgment should change how we live and ultimately make us appreciate the grace of God. When God clothes us with Christ (in baptism Gal 3:26-27), he then treat us as sons rather than as we deserve. How did we, the guilty, turn into the Princes and Princesses, literally the King’s children?
Despite our churches’ best efforts to teach us, do we really believe in grace? God’s teaching about grace counters our tendency to defend our own perceived innocence, conceit, success, and obligation.
Ultimately, our belief in grace is shown by our reaction to it. This is not an intellectual exercise to understand a doctrine but an internalization that causes transformation in our thinking and our lives. Knowing God’s grace justifies us before him, serves as our primary motivation, and carries us through even when we fall.
What does it mean that “God is Love”? (1 John 4)
In one sense, John wanted Christians to consider experiencing God's love to be heaven on earth, the normal Christian experience. When Paul similarly says in Rom 5, “God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit,” he illustrates God's love continuously flooding and overflowing our hearts as a normal experience of Christians.
“God is love” is both the most glorious, transformative statement and the most understood. Glorious and transformative when the love of God saturates our lives and we live in love, imitating Christ, and “we know and rely on the love God has for us.” Misunderstood when interpreted an excuse to assume that God acts toward us only in ways we want, like a Cosmic Santa Clause, restricted to acts of kindness, blessings, and gifts.
God is the King of the Universe who speaks his will to us through the Bible using two forms: instruction and love letter! Through His word, he instructs us in such a way as to create and sustain a safe haven (environment) for humans to come to know him. God also communicates his message to engage our minds and hearts in a relationship with him. His words are paternal – as a parent God desires to protect us and to draw us into fellowship. His message is also amorous – he desires an intimate, passionate love relationship with us.
Wisdom makes us more humble, joyful, and godly so that we can be more quick-sighted to see God’s will, resolute in carrying out God’s will, and less troubled by our own circumstances. However, wisdom only comes through a fear of the Lord that gives us enough humility to actually obey what God says.
As John Bertram Phillips once wrote, “Your God is Too Small!” Our typical view of God seems paltry in comparison with the majestic perspective of Scripture. Today, Christians often see God as personal, but diminish his majesty.
Spend time today reflecting on God's majesty...
Ever wonder how we can know a God and understand his Word when the book we study was written so long ago about a culture so removed from ours? God’s life, character, truth, ways, and purposes never change. We can trust him and therefore know him.
Since our study is on Knowing God, we must understand all three personalities. Yet, if you are like me, you probably spend the majority of your Bible study time focused on Jesus and the Father. I just looked through my library and only found one book focusing on the Holy Spirit and it is called “The Forgotten God”! (I must have given someone my copy of “The Spirit” by Doug Jacoby!). I continue to feel a deeper need to study Him! As Packer observed in 1973, “the work of the Spirit is neglected by the church today.”
What is the most difficult Biblical miracle to believe? The resurrection? Jesus died to take away our sins?
Packer suggests the incarnation. What does incarnation mean? Packer explains this through an exposition on the first few verses of John.
Note: this was not my favorite chapter in the book, though I agree with the premise. Rather than focus on the content from Packer, I have shared below some insights from a recent Men’s Retreat at the Northern Virginia Church of Christ based on the book, “Gods at War: Defeating the Idols that Battle for Your Heart” by Kyle Idleman.
What were we made for? What aim should we set in life? What is the ‘eternal life’ that Jesus gives?
What brings joy, delight, and contentment – more than anything else in life?
There is only one answer to all of these questions: TO KNOW GOD
Jer 9:23 Let not the wise boast of their wisdom or the strong boast of their strength or the rich boast of their riches, but let the one who boasts boast about this: that they have the understanding to know me, that I am the Lord, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight