Why Are We Here? The First Question of the Catechism
Jeremiah 24:7; John 17:3; Ephesians 1:17; 2 Thessalonians 1:8
January 5, 1997
As this is the first Sunday of a new year, it is an appropriate moment to begin a new sermon series. Beginning today, and continuing into May, we will be considering the attributes of God in a series called “Our Awesome God.” In particular, this sermon series will focus on the person of God the Father. Who is our Heavenly Father and what is he like?
This is a series I have long wanted to preach, but never felt the right time had come. As I prayed about 1997, I wanted a church theme different from what we have had before. The Lord laid upon my heart that in 1997 instead of focusing on who we are or what we are to do, we should instead focus on God himself—especially on God’s glory. We have adopted as our theme the Latin phrase made famous during the Reformation: Soli Deo Gloria, which means “To God alone be the glory.” Our theme verse for the year is 1 Corinthians 10:31, “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.”
I believe there are many practical benefits to be had from this emphasis. It certainly should increase our knowledge of who God is and lead us to deeper worship of our Heavenly Father. It will also promote godly living in the congregation by exposing and helping us see our Christian duty in the light of God’s greatness. In preparing these messages I have endeavored to bring in scriptures from many different parts of the Bible so that we will get a sense of the vast sweetness of biblical truth. Finally, I hope that this series will introduce us to aspects of Bible doctrine we haven’t learned before.
With that background, let us consider four passages that speak to the vital importance of knowing God:
1. Jeremiah 24:7 “ I will give them a heart to know me …”
2. John 17:3 “Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God.”
3. Ephesians 1:17 “… So that you may know him better”
4. 2 Thessalonians 1:8 “Those who do not know God …”
From these verses we may discern several important truths: First, we were made to know God! That is our privilege, our calling, and our very purpose for existing. Second, knowing God is the privilege and duty of every believer. It is a privilege afforded to every believer and a duty every Christian must pursue. Third, we can always know God better than we do. That’s precisely the point of Paul’s prayer in Ephesians. No one can ever claimed to have arrived at a perfect knowledge of God. Fourth, those who do not know God have missed the central truth of the universe. Second Thessalonians 1 warns us that God will judge those who do not know him. In that great day, no excuses will be accepted and no substitute knowledge will suffice. Since it is possible and necessary to know God, those who do not know him face a terrible future.
A few days ago noted scientist Carl Sagan died at the age of 62. He is perhaps the most famous scientist of the last 20 years. He gained his lofty position primarily for his work hosting the series Cosmos on PBS. And he is remembered for his oft-repeated statement that “the cosmos is all that ever was, or is, or ever will be.” He was a thoroughgoing secularist, humanist, agnostic, and ardent evolutionist. To the very end he remained skeptical of any claims to God’s existence. He died as he lived—an unbeliever. If the Bible is true at all, he faces the fiery judgment Paul mentioned in 2 Thessalonians 1.
That story reminds me of a brief anecdote J. I. Packer tells regarding a acquaintance whose career was derailed because of his evangelical convictions. When asked if he harbored any ill feelings he replied quite simply: “I’ve known God and they haven’t.” Packer goes on to note most of us would not feel comfortable speaking in such straightforward terms. But the terms are entirely biblical. Knowing God does make a difference and is in fact the defining characteristic of those who follow Jesus Christ. To know God deeply and intimately more than makes up for the things we lose because of our faith.
All true Presbyterians know the answer to this question: “What is the chief end of man?” Answer: “To glorify God and enjoy him forever.” This is question one from the Westminster Shorter Catechism. God put us here in order that we should know him, and in knowing him, glorify him, and by glorifying him, enjoy him forever. Thus, there is knowledge that leads to a relationship that brings glory that results in unending joy. If you want the joy, you must start by knowing God. And that’s what this series is all about.
The Testimony of Others
Before we move on, let’s consider the testimony of several Christian leaders regarding the importance of knowing God. First, consider the words of Charles Haddon Spurgeon, who in the 19th century pastored the famous Metropolitan Tabernacle in London and is widely considered as the greatest preacher the English-speaking world has ever produced.
Nothing will so enlarge the intellect, nothing so magnify the whole soul of man, as a devout, earnest, continued investigation of the great subject of the Deity. The most excellent study for expanding the soul is the science of Christ and Him crucified and the knowledge of the Godhead in the glorious Trinity.
The proper study of the Christian is the Godhead. The highest science, the loftiest speculation, the mightiest philosophy, which can engage the attention of a child of God, is the name, the nature, the person, the doings, and the existence of the great God which he calls his Father.
A. W. Tozer, longtime pastor of an Alliance church here in Chicago, and author of many greatly-loved books, says:
The heaviest obligation lying upon the Christian Church today is to purify and elevate her concept of God until it is once more worthy of Him.
Finally, here are two quotes from John Piper, pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis:
It is not the job of the Christian preacher to give people moral or psychological pep talks about how to get along in the world; someone else can do that. But most of our people have no one in the world to tell them, week in and week out, about the supreme beauty and majesty of God … so I am persuaded that the vision of a great God is the linchpin in the life of the church, both in pastoral care and missionary outreach.
Christian preachers, more than all others, should know that people are starving for God … who but preachers will look out over the vast wasteland of secular culture and say, ‘Behold your God!’ Who will tell the people that God is great and greatly to be praised? Who will paint for them the landscape of God’s grandeur? Who will remind them with tales of wonder that God has triumphed over every foe? … if God is not supreme in our preaching, where in this world will the people hear about the supremacy of God? If we do not spread a banquet of God’s beauty on Sunday morning, will not our people seek in vain to satisfy their inconsolable longing with the cotton candy pleasures of pastimes and religious hype?
Several years ago Christianity Today interviewed Piper and asked how practical it was to preach so much on the greatness of God and the doctrines of grace. He answered by recounting a conversation he had with a couple who found out that their child had been molested by an uncle and they said, “Pastor, if we didn’t know and understand how great and how powerful God was we don’t think we could have made it through!” Practical? Yes! Nothing more practical than God himself as revealed in his Word.
At this point I think it’s important to heed the two warnings issued by J.I. Packer in Knowing God (pp. 26-27).
A. It is possible to know about God without knowing God intimately.
This is the danger of sterile intellectualism. It often happens despite our best efforts. Because we evangelicals love to do theology, it’s very easy for us to slip into the trap of thinking that because we have read the latest book or attended the newest seminar or listened to our favorite preacher on the radio, that we therefore have truly developed an intense relationship with God.
Knowledge is good and absolutely essential, but knowing God is more than knowing facts about God. It’s like trying to get to know your wife by reading her resume.
Tony Evans, speaking of knowing God only through academic study, says it is “like having a relationship with the Postmaster General on the basis of one’s ability to lick a stamp. Hardly a life-changing experience.”
B. It is possible to know about godliness without knowing God intimately.
This is the danger of information overload. This often happens in our “How-to” age. Every Sunday our people come to church and their message is, “Make it practical, pastor.” We want to know how to pray, how to fight discouragement, how to witness to Mormons, how to overcome sexual sin, how to be better parents, how to read Greek, and so on. All these pursuits are good and worthy in themselves, but they don’t necessarily increase our knowledge of God. As a result, our spiritual state is a mile wide and an inch deep.
To quote J.I. Packer, “A little knowledge of God is worth more than a great deal of knowledge about him.”
The Benefits of Knowing God
Let’s wrap up this message with a brief statement of what will happen to us as we increase in the knowledge of God.
A. New Perspective
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. Jeremiah 9:23-24
We all like to brag, don’t we? We brag about our college degree or about our latest promotion or about how well our children are doing or about our new car, our new house, our new clothes, or how many important people we know. It’s almost as if we have to validate our own existence by bragging about who we are to someone else.
Boasting is foolish because it causes us to think that we’re more than we really are. Money is not the measure of life nor is strength or wisdom. All of it is a gift from God. It’s all on loan from him. He gave it to us, he can take it back any time, and in the end, we’ll have to answer to what we did with what the Lord gave us.
In this passage God is saying, “If you brag about anything, brag that you know me!” The rest of it doesn’t matter. And if you can’t brag on God, you’ve missed the whole point of life.
That brings me back to the fundamental question: Why Are We Here? Knowing God is why we are here! Settle this first. Unless you know who God is, you will never know who you are.
B. New Boldness
“But the people who know their God will firmly resist him.” Daniel 11:32. Here is an amazing verse from a passage in Daniel that speaks about the difficult circumstances in the Last Days. As the world begins to crumble before Christ returns, as the Antichrist rises to world domination, the people of God will come under intense persecution. But those who know God will find the strength to take action in the midst of the most difficult circumstances. If you know God, you won’t just let your testimony slide. You’ll be strong, you’ll speak out, you’ll be bold, you’ll openly identify with Jesus Christ. You won’t fear what man can do to you.
This week I received a letter from Shane Corona, who is imprisoned at the Pontiac maximum-security facility. He came to Christ through the ministry of Glen and Jane Fitzjerrell a year and a half ago. I had the privilege of baptizing him last June. Here is a portion of what he had to say:
I want you all to know that you and everyone at Calvary are in my prayers always. It isn’t any easier out there. I just finished fasting for three days successfully. It was hard, especially not smoking. But I made it through the power of God. I really feel good about that. I mean I feel cleansed in my mind and stronger in the Lord. You all will always be in my prayers. Keep up the good work for the Lord. I got him covered in here. I’m starting with my cellie. God bless and thank you. Your brother in Christ, Shane.
Those words are remarkable, especially his statement that “it isn’t any easier out there.” Here’s a young man in prison for up to 15 years, yet he is fasting, praying, and setting out to win his cellmate to Christ. That kind of boldness comes only from knowing God personally.
C. New Evaluation
But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ. Philippians 3:7-8
Losses and Crosses don’t matter. The only thing that matters in life is knowing Christ personally. For Paul, being a Jew and a Pharisee to boot was great profit, but not compared to knowing Christ. All his vast knowledge meant nothing. It was just rubbish in his mind. In the end he lost “all things” but counted it as nothing that he might gain the knowledge of Jesus Christ. This kind of evaluation comes only from knowing God personally.
D. New Contentment
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: ‘‘For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:35-39
If you know Jesus Christ, you can face the worst life has to offer. Each week I meet folks who are going through great difficulties. Some are destroyed by their troubles, while others find the strength to keep going and even to manage a smile now and then. Last Sunday a woman battling cancer came to church. She looked unsteady on her feet, but when I saw her, she said, “God has been good to me.” That’s true biblical contentment. It’s possible only by cultivating a daily relationship with Jesus Christ.
E. New Humility
Consider these verses of scripture:
Ephesians 3:14 “…I kneel before the Father”
Philippians 2:10 “That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow …”
Psalm 95:6 “Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the Lord our Maker.”
Whenever the living creatures give glory, honor and thanks to him who sits on the throne and who lives for ever and ever, the twenty-four elders fall down before him who sits on the throne, and worship him who lives for ever and ever. Revelation 4:9-10
Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing in the center of the throne, encircled by the four living creatures and the elders. … He came and took the scroll from the right hand of him who sat on the throne. And when he had taken it, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Revelation 5:6-8
Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, singing: ‘‘To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!” The four living creatures said, ‘‘Amen,” and the elders fell down and worshiped. Revelation 5:13-14
Why did Paul say, “I kneel” and why did the Psalmist call for people to bow before the Lord? Why did the 24 elders fall down before the Lamb? The answer is not hard to find. Once you know God, you then can know yourself properly. In heaven we will bow down and worship God. It’s a good thing to start now so it won’t seem strange then.
Over the years I have come to understand that there are only two theologies in the world. Here they are in very simple form: There is …
Big God and Little Me
or there is
Little God and Big Me.
When you come into the knowledge of God, you will have a Big God and a little you. But for most of us, it’s the other way around. Our view of ourselves is so big that God shrinks down to a manageable size. But the Bible has a special name for a god you can manage. It’s called an idol! Men make idols because they want a god that serves their purposes.
The God of the Bible is far bigger than we imagine. He cannot be contained in any building or statue made by human hands! The bigger your God, the smaller your view of yourself, and the quicker you will fall down in worship and praise.
“I Was Wrong”
Why are we here? To Know God. Until you understand that, you have missed the purpose for life itself.
This week I’ve been reading an amazing book by Jim Bakker, the televangelist who built the huge PTL empire only to see it collapse amid scandal and charges of corruption in 1986-87. Rev. Bakker went to prison for four or five years for mail fraud and allegedly bilking his followers out of millions of dollars. As you might expect, he doesn’t believe he cheated anyone out of any money. However, he does admit that his whole view of God was wrong. In fact the book is called I Was Wrong. As he recounts his spiritual journey behind bars, he finally comes to the conclusion that God sent him to prison for a very specific purpose. He had become so consumed with building a religious empire that he somewhere along the way forgot all about God. So God sent him to prison so he could learn about God! It’s as simple as that.
If knowing God is that important, I wonder what he’ll have to do to get our attention? Our biggest problem is not that God isn’t speaking, it’s that we’re so busy we can’t (or won’t) slow down long enough to hear his voice.
You Can’t Define a Kiss
What then should we do? “Let us press on to acknowledge the Lord,” says Hosea 6:3. To press on means to move toward the goal with undiminished vigor. It means to set your eyes on the knowledge of God and let nothing turn you away.
Tony Evans uses a delightful illustration that drives the point home:
I can’t fully explain what it means to know God. I can use the terms, but it’s like defining a kiss. Webster has the terms. He calls it “a caress with the lips; a gentle touch or contact.” But anyone who has kissed someone knows that a kiss is really much more than that. You can’t fully explain it, but Lord have mercy, it’s good when you get it! I can’t fully explain what getting to know God will feel like, but I know that you will like it when it happens. (Our God Is Awesome, p. 34)
He’s right. I can preach and write and you can listen and read, but you’ll never fully understand what I mean until you begin to know God personally. You can’t define it fully, but when you encounter Almighty God, your life will never be the same again. Which is why Psalm 34:8 says, “Taste and see that the Lord is good.” He is good, but you’ll never know till you open your mouth and taste for yourself!
One final word and I am done. You may be wondering where you should begin. “I don’t know the Lord at all. But I want to,” you say. Good! The first requirement for knowing God is to admit you need him. He delights to make himself known to those who want to know him.
You can have a relationship with God through his Son the Lord Jesus Christ. He came that you might know God personally. He died on the Cross to open the way to heaven. He paid the price for your sins. Will you now open the door of your heart and trust him as your Lord and Savior? “Lord Jesus, I welcome you into my heart. I believe you died for my sins and rose on the third day. Here and now I trust you as my Savior and Lord. Amen.” That’s a simple prayer but it could change your life forever. Cry out to the Savior and he will come to you. God never says no to a willing heart.