Thursday, July 14, 2016

How can you know that the God of Christianity is true and real

John 17:3 "This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent."

Author A.W Tozer has written books on the subject of knowing and experiencing God on a personal level. In his classic work “The pursuit of God”, he comments: “A spiritual kingdom lies all about us, enclosing us, embracing us, altogether within reach of our inner selves, waiting for us to recognize it. God Himself is here waiting our response to His presence. This eternal world will come alive to us the moment we begin to reckon upon this reality.”

Oftentimes in discussions with non-Christians throughout the years, the one question that would occasionally surface would be: "how do you know that what you believe is true?" I'm sure that if every Christian was honest, there have been those times in their life where such questions as "how do I know this is real" rise in the mind during times of great struggle. It is important for people to realize that the reality of the God of Christian theism counts as genuine knowledge. To put it another way: the God of the Bible, revealed in the Person of Jesus of Nazareth is both knowable and makes Himself known to those so touched and open to His grace. Today's post will aim to explain two ways you can know that the God of Christianity is true and real. 

We can know that the God of Christianity is real by way of the authenticating witness of the Holy Spirit
Apologist Dr. William Lane Craig distinguishes between "knowing" Christianity to be true and "showing" Christianity to be true. Today's post has to do with the first of these: namely "knowing". It has been suggested by great Christian thinkers like Alvin Platinga that knowing God counts as a form of what he calls "properly-basic" knowledge. Such knowledge is genuine knowledge of certain facts that has justification and good reasons behind it apart from argument and evidence. For example, one cannot "prove" that the external world exists outside of one's mind apart from appealing to the external world. 

Such knowledge is "properly basic" and thus, for the one who has healthy-functioning mental faculties, they are warranted in their belief that the external world is real. Other examples such as "knowledge of other minds" or knowledge that the food in my stomach and all reality around me had not popped into being five minutes ago with the appearance of age cannot be "proven" by science. Nevertheless, to say one would not be warranted in holding to such beliefs would be at best unreasonable. 

This blogger would suggest that personal knowledge of God counts among what would be a form of "properly basic knowledge". In other words, many Christians know God personally without and apart from the many theistic arguments and evidences for His existence.  Indeed, such a fact doesn't lessen the value of such arguments. Instead, we must realize that that the capability of knowing God personally functions as a first-line of warrant or "true knowledge" of God. All of ways of arriving at knowledge about God, such as arguments and evidences, function as secondary forms of warrant or grounds for knowing that we know that the God of Christianity is real. 

Scriptures that testify to the Holy Spirit's delivery of first-hand knowledge of God
Certain Biblical passages reveal how a Christian possesses true knowledge of God by the inner witness of the Holy Spirit. The indwelling Spirit, bearing witness to the Gospel’s great truths (John 14:16-17; 16:8-12; Col 2:2; 1 Thess 1:5; 1 Cor 2:10-13; 1 John 2:20,27) and the Christian's own personal identity in Jesus Christ (Romans 5:5; 8:14-16; Galatians 4:6) delivers first-hand knowledge of God. The proper basicality of God’s existence is witnessed in both general revelation and special revelation.

Explaining what the self-authenticating witness of the Holy Spirit looks like in a person's life
So, what does this self-authenticating work of the Spirit look-like and act-like? How can it be described or compared to what often-times could be fraudulent experiences that claim to experience God in other religions (i.e the Mormon's "warming in the bosom")? Dr. William Lane Craig has described this self-authenticating work of the Holy Spirit in delivering true knowledge of God in the following manner:

1. The experience of the Holy Spirit is unmistakable or verifiable to the one who has it. Sin can quench such an experience, and continual exercise in spiritual disciplines such as prayer and Bible reading serve to heighten this awareness.

2. This authenticating witness of the Spirit occurs apart from arguments & evidence

3. This authenticating work does not function as a premise in a religious argument, since it is an immediate experience of God in the Christian's life.

4. In certain contexts (like church services), responses to certain truths indicate that the person is genuinely experiencing God by the Holy Spirit.

5. Such an experience of the Spirit's authenticating work provides personal assurance and genuine knowledge that the God of Christianity exists

6. Arguments and objections that attempt to overthrow the Christian's faith are overwhelmed by this authenticating witness of the Spirit for the Christian who gives themselves regularly to fellowship, prayer and the scriptures. 

Closing thoughts
We have considered today how you can know that the God of Christianity is true and real. Theistic arguments and evidences for God's existence, though valuable and useful in making the case for the Christian worldview, function in a secondary role for providing warrant or reasonable foundations for why we believe Christianity to be true. Such arguments serve to "show Christianity to be true". Today's post aimed to answer the question as to how one can know that the God of Christianity is real. We considered the self-authenticating ministry of the Holy Spirit to provide the first-line of warrant or justification for demonstrating how we "know-that-we-know" that God is real. Relevant scriptures and a six-point description of what such an experience looks like were provided. It is hoped that this post has sharpened our thinking and deepened our hearts in understanding how you and I can know God on a personal level. 

P2 - Why knowing God is the most important thing - further and final reflections

1 John 5:20 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. This is the true God and eternal life.

In yesterday's post we began considering why knowing God is the most important thing. We zeroed in on how knowing God answers the common purposes for both salvation and life in general. In reading the first three questions contained in the Westminster Shorter Catechism, each answer given highlights the priority of knowing God:

Q. 1. What is the chief end of man?
A. Man's chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.

Q. 2. What rule hath God given to direct us how we may glorify and enjoy him?
A. The Word of God, which is contained in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, is the only rule to direct us how we may glorify and enjoy him.

Q. 3. What do the Scriptures principally teach?
A. The Scriptures principally teach what man is to believe concerning God, and what duty God requires of man.

This series of questions and answers represent what truly lies at the heart of Christianity: namely the need to know God. As author J.I. Packer notes: "The question is not whether we are good at theology, or 'balanced' (horrible, self-conscious word!) in our approach to problems in Christian living; the question is....that we have known God; and because we have known God the unpleasantness we have had, or the pleasantness we have not had, though being Christians does not matter to us? If we really knew God, this is what we would be saying, and if we are not saying it, that is a sign we need to face ourselves more sharply with the difference between knowing God and merely knowing about Him."

Today's post will continue and conclude our reflections upon why knowing God is the most important thing in salvation and in life by noting this theme in both the Old and New Testament scriptures.

The emphasis of knowing God in the Old Testament
In the Old Testament, knowing God represented the center and circumference of spiritual life. Take Moses for example. It wasn't enough for him to just know about God or to observe Him from a distance. Natural knowledge can at best know about God. Morally religious people can marvel at the trappings of religion without marveling at the God which they represent. Do you and I want to know God? Or are we just satisfied to stand as it were from a distance? We see these contrasting stances in Exodus 33:10-15 "Whenever Moses entered the tent, the pillar of cloud would descend and stand at the entrance of the tent; and the Lord would speak with Moses. 10 When all the people saw the pillar of cloud standing at the entrance of the tent, all the people would arise and worship, each at the entrance of his tent.11 Thus the Lord used to speak to Moses face to face, just as a man speaks to his friend. When Moses returned to the camp,his servant Joshua, the son of Nun, a young man, would not depart from the tent. 12 Then Moses said to the Lord, “See, You say to me, ‘Bring up this people!’ But You Yourself have not let me know whom You will send with me. Moreover, You have said, ‘I have known you by name, and you have also found favor in My sight.’ 13 Now therefore, I pray You, if I have found favor in Your sight, let me know Your ways that I may know You, so that I may find favor in Your sight. Consider too, that this nation is Your people.” 14 And He said, “My presence shall go with you, and I will give you rest.” 15 Then he said to Him, “If Your presence does not go with us, do not lead us up from here."

The emphasis of knowing God in the New Testament
The New Testament speaks to this same fundamental truth. The Apostle Paul expresses the need to know God in Jesus Christ in Philippians 3:8-11 "More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, 9 and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, 10 that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death;11 in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead."

Conclusion: May we ever make it our aim to know God
As a Christian, I know my main aim is to know God. Yet there are times I waver in that conviction. Why? A.W Tozer notes in his book, The Pursuit of God , page 52: "But the very ransomed children of God themselves; why do they know so little of that habitual conscious communion with God which the scriptures seem to offer? The answer is our chronic unbelief. Faith enables our spiritual sense to function." Knowing God is all at once a growing reality for the Christian who at the same time must grow in his attendance to it by prayer, Bible reading and fellowship with God's people. May we make it our aim to know God and desire to know how we can desire more to know Him. God, and the knowledge of Him, defines the purpose of life and spiritual life found in Jesus Christ.