How Do We Know That We Know God

I preached the following sermon this afternoon during our brotherhood meeting, based on I John chapter 2, verses 20 and 27:

“But you have been anointed by the Holy One, and you all have knowledge.”
“But the anointing that you received from him abides in you, and you have no need that anyone should teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about everything–and is true and is no lie, just as it has taught you–abide in him.”

True knowledge of God is born of grace (“You have been anointed by the Holy One and you all have knowledge”) and kept in love (“abide in him”). In other words, it is a knowledge of the heart – a heart that has been touched and changed by the love of God. It begins in a relationship and it will thrive and survive only in the context of that relationship, i.e., receiving Jesus Christ as your personal Savior and obeying and loving him as your Lord. That is why it is essential for us to abide in him, to maintain and cultivate that loving relationship between him and us. No amount of intellectual arguments can take the place of this loving relationship. It is love which feeds our knowledge of God. Love is the spark that sets the wood of knowledge on fire. Love is the fuel that keeps the fire of knowledge going.

Actually, our position is very much like that of a baby. At such a very young age our brains are still too undeveloped to understand what is going on around us. We have no ability to articulate in words our thoughts and feelings. All we can do is laugh, cry, eat and sleep. But even so, when we see a face smile at us we smile in return. When we see this same face give us a bottle of milk everytime we cry, when we see this same face singing to us with happiness in its voice, when we feel that we are being carried and gently rocked back and forth while this same face sings “rock-a-bye baby” – then though we may not understand what it is all about we go to sleep with a smile and dream of that face. Our minds may be too undeveloped to understand what that face means, but I’m sure our hearts know. That is the face of love. That face means that we are loved. Everytime that face smiles on me I know in my heart that I am in safe hands. Why do I know this? I know because I am loved. Love causes me know. And how do I know all this? I know with my heart, for in the same way that my stomach was made for food, and my eyes for seeing, and my ears for hearing, my heart was made for God’s love. And therefore when the gospel comes to me in the power of the Spirt, and I hear of a God who loved me so much that he left heaven and came to earth to become a man just like us, so that he could die on a cross to pay the penalty for my sins, then my heart leaps for joy towards him! Why? because my heart was made for love; I was made to love him. “My sheep hear my voice and they follow me.” But how can you love someone whom you cannot even see? Isn’t that unreasonable? The answer is: I see him with my heart. And there are reasons of the heart which reason knows nothing about. (Pascal) As St. Augustine once said, “Our hearts are restless until they find their rest in thee.”

The certainty then of our knowledge of God depends a lot on the vitality of our relationship to him – a relationship of love between persons: God and us. But the vitality of this relationship – this relationship of love – depends on our willingness to obey his commands. For his commands are not abstract, impersonal, moral ideals; they are the expression of his heart’s love for us, of his care and his will for our welfare. God’s Word is not merely a set of intellectual propositions in a book of philosophy; it is the living voice of our loving Father. When we disobey his commands, we grieve the one who loves us and disrupts the harmonious fellowship between us. But because our knowledge of God is intertwined with our relationship with him, when the fellowship between us is disrupted, our knowledge of him also suffers. We lose the sense of his presence, he becomes distant. So much then of our doubts regarding the existence of God is the result not of the lack of evidence for his existence, but of our refusal to obey his commands (Rom. 1:18-21). The evidence, then, is not to blame, for it is all around us. The problem is our hearts which refuse to acknowledge the existence of that which threatens our sinful autonomy and ungodly conceptions of happiness.

We cannot expect then to grow in the certainty of our knowledge of God while we secretly cherish sin in our hearts. The knowledge of God is a supernatural light that comes to us as a gift of God’s grace (II Cor. 4:6). The light of the knowledge of God is therefore something we receive rather than achieve (John 1:4, 5, 9-13). But this gift entails a responsibility  – the responsibility of cherishing rather than raging against the light (Mk. 4 24-25; Matt. 6:22, 23). Sin dulls our sense of God’s love for us and weakens our love towards him. And when our love weakens so does our knowledge. For our knowledge of God is inseparable from our love for him and our sense of his love towards us. The more we love him, the more we know him; the less we love him, the less we know him. And love is manifested in and through obedience (John 8:31-32)

A word must be said about the Spirit of truth from whom the anointing of spiritual knowledge comes. Knowledge of God is a gift of the Spirit, as he accompanies God’s word; but once again, it is a gift that he gives in the context of a loving relationship (John 14:15-17, 26; 16: 13a). Our sense of certainty in relation to our knowledge of God ultimately depends on the power of the Spirit, for he not only enlightens our minds as we read and listen to God’s Word, he assures us of the truth of the things we have learned. And how does he do this? By filling our hearts with a sense of God’s love, causing us to respond in love towards God’s truth. We know the truth because, by the Spirit of God, we have tasted the love of God in the Word of God. “Taste and see that the Lord is good!” (c.f., Rom. 5;5) But the Spirit can be quenched and grieved. And when we quench or grieve the Spirit, then we run the risk of the Spirit withdrawing to some degree his enlightening of our minds and his assuring of our hearts. As a result our sense of God’s love for us weakens, our own love towards God weakens, and along with these, our sense of the certainty of our knowledge of God also weakens.

To conclude, how do we fight doubt? Not so much by means of intellectual arguments, (although these have their place) but by fighting the things which hinder us from loving God, by fighting those sins in our lives which darken our spiritual sight and dulls our spiritual taste.


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