Dr. Richard L. Strauss
September 23, 1979
"What's wrong with my spiritual life? Why don't I have the peace and joy that some other Christians have and that I know I should have?" Did you ever ask a question like that? I couldn't begin to count the number of people who have come to me through the years with questions like these. They're trying to find some vitality for their Christian life. They read about "joy unspeakable and full of glory" in 1 Peter 1:8, and feel as though their walk with God is so far removed from that, they can't even begin to imagine what it must be like. If they were writing a treatise on the Christian life it would be more like "gloom unspeakable and full of worry."
I don't have any magic formula to put the sparkle back into your Christian life. There are many factors in the Bible that affect our spiritual well-being. But one thing I have discovered for sure: Our personal, intimate experiential knowledge of God is one of the major factors. The benefits of knowing God are exciting. We will be talking about the throughout this series in conjunction with each attribute, but I'd like to share a few general passages by way of introduction, just to whet our appetites and arouse our thirst for God.
However, I must warn you: These advantages are for those who truly know God, not just know about Him. For the folks who have committed themselves to total involvement with Him—intellect, emotions, and will. When we take that step, and our knowledge of Him begins to grow, we can count on enjoying some good things.
We're going to talk about five of those things today.
The first thing we can enjoy is power. This is our memory verse this week:
"But the people who know their God will display strength and take action" (Daniel 11:32b NASB).
This is a great promise. In order to fully understand it, we need to know some Jewish history. Jewish people have experienced some fierce persecutions, but none greater than those under Antiochus Epiphanes, the Syrian king who reigned from 175 to 164 BC. He assumed the name Theos Epiphanes, which meant "the manifest God." But the Jews changed one letter and called him Epimanes, which meant "mad man." And mad he was. Daniel is anticipating his reign prophetically in Daniel 11:21-35. He calls him a vile person (Daniel 11:21), and implies in the context that his activities will foreshadow another vile person who shall arise at "the time of the end" (Daniel 11:35)—the Antichrist who shall terrorize the earth during the Great Tribulation, whom he calls the willful king (Daniel 11:36). The person of Antiochus looks forward to Antichrist.
Antiochus' hatred for the Jews was literally insane. He did exactly what Daniel predicted in Daniel 11:31.
"And forces shall be mustered by him, and they shall defile the sanctuary fortress; then they shall take away the daily sacrifices, and place there the abomination of desolation" (Daniel 11:31).
Antiochus ordered Jewish sacrifices to cease and polluted the temple of God by offering swine's flesh on the altar. Besides that, he prohibited the observance of the Sabbath and the circumcision of children, he ordered all copies of the Scriptures destroyed, he set up idolatrous altars and commanded Jews to offer unclean sacrifices and eat swine's flesh. Anyone who disobeyed was sentenced to death. It was an ancient holocaust. As Daniel anticipated it prophetically, he asked himself, "How would these people be able to survive?"
That's when he wrote, "But the people who know their God will display strength and take action" (Daniel 11:32b NASB).
And that's exactly what happened. A group of courageous men called the Maccabees led a heroic revolt against Antiochus. Their exploits, against insuperable odds, were nothing short of phenomenal. They knew their God, His righteousness, His sovereign power—so they displayed strength and they took action. And they broke Antiochus' grip on Israel. Their story is one of mighty power—the power of people who know their God.
People who know God have the courage and strength to oppose wickedness, to face persecution, to triumph through suffering. There's no other way to have that kind of power, except to know God.
Daniel himself was a man who knew God. When the presidents and princes prevailed upon King Darius to issue a decree prohibiting anybody from making any petition of any god or man except the king for 30 days or be cast into the lion's den, Daniel went right on praying to the God of heaven (Daniel 6:4-15). He had to. He knew his God, and people who know Him spend time in His presence. They love to spend time in His presence and share their lives with Him. So Daniel continued to pray, in front of his window, just as he always did. He didn't change. Not even the threat of death could keep him from it.
People who know God have the courage and strength to do what is right, to stand for righteousness and truth, though they stand alone, though the whole world be against them. Even when everybody else is giving in to sin in their school or in their neighborhood or at their work, they stand for what is right. And there is no other way to have that kind of spiritual power but to know God. Let's get to know Him.
(2 Peter 1:2)
Peter tells us something about people who know God.
"Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord" (2 Peter 1:2).
The word "knowledge" means intensive knowledge. It has a prefix in front of it in the original language that makes it mean intensive or thorough knowledge. Both grace and peace are multiplied to the believer through the intensive knowledge of God. (We're going to talk more about this tonight, because those two words, "grace" and "peace," introduce Paul's letter to the Galatians.)
Grace is God's favor, His gracious care, His faithful assistance. His blessing; His help. We enjoy God's help to the extent that we know Him. That's logical. If we don't know Him, we're not aware of what help He has available, or even that He is offering any help. We must know Him to be able to accept what He offers.
Now that doesn't mean that we earn God's grace by getting to know Him. Rather, it's simply a fact that we experience God's help when we know Him because we'll know what's available and what help He offers.
But it's that peace that I want to talk about. How desperately we need that peace in this uptight world. It's an inner tranquility—a quiet confidence that the sovereign God who loves us is in control of our circumstances. It's that confidence that whatever He allows to happen to us will be best in the long run. So there's no sense in worrying, no point in going into a cold sweat over every new problem. It really doesn't matter what happens. God is going to see that it turns out right.
There's a great illustration of that, also in the book of Daniel. The conceited King Nebuchadnezzar had a 90 foot statue set up, before which all his subjects were to bow. To refuse meant death in the fiery furnace (Daniel 3:1-7). Daniel wasn't there for this trial—his position next to the king (Daniel 2:49) may have exempted him from bowing, or he may have been away because of his involvement in other government affairs at the time. We're not told. But Daniel is not mentioned in the story.
His three friends, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego faced this trial without him. That's all right, because their faith was not in Daniel; it was in God. They were men who knew God! When it became obvious that they had refused to worship the king's image, they were brought before him and given one last chance.
"Nebuchadnezzar spoke, saying to them, 'Is it true, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, that you do not serve my gods or worship the gold image which I have set up? Now if you are ready at the time you hear the sound of the horn, flute, harp, lyre, and psaltery, in symphony with all kinds of music, and you fall down and worship the image which I have made, good! But if you do not worship, you shall be cast immediately into the midst of a burning fiery furnace. And who is the god who will deliver you from my hands?'" (Daniel 3:14-15).
Their answer is one of those classic Biblical expressions of faith that can never be forgotten.
"We do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter" (Daniel 3:16, NIV).
There's no disrespect here. They're just admitting that the accusation was correct, they have no defense, they had to do what they did. But read on to see what else they say. This is a classic Biblical expression of faith.
"If that is the case, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us from your hand, O king. But if not, let it be known to you, O king, that we do not serve your gods, nor will we worship the gold image which you have set up" (Daniel 3:17-18).
God is able to deliver them. That's no big thing to Him. The God who created fire, and who made their bodies, could certainly keep them from being burned if He wanted to. And they are believing that He will.
But it is possible that they do not fully understand His present plan and purposes, and part of that plan may be to allow them to be burned to death in that fire. After all, other people have died for their faith. If that's the case, and He doesn't deliver them, and He allows them to die, it really doesn't matter! They're better off in His presence anyway. In either case, they are not going to disobey Him and bow before that image. They have perfect peace.
Wouldn't you like to have a peace like that? To be able to stand up to every trial, every problem, every danger, every threat, every illness (including cancer) and be able to say confidently, "It really doesn't matter what happens to me. God is able to do anything, and whatever He does, I know God will work it together for good. I just want to obey Him."
There isn't any way we can have that kind of peace apart from an intimate knowledge of God. It cannot be multiplied to us without a knowledge of God.
Paul was a man who knew God. We saw in the last message (Show Me Thy Glory) that it was the major goal of his life (Philippians 3:8, 10). And he longed for his converts to enjoy the same blessings of knowing God intimately that he enjoyed. He often prayed to that end. And in those prayers, we learn more about the advantages of knowing God. Look at his prayer for the Ephesians.
"Therefore I also, after I heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints, do not cease to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers: that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him" (Ephesians 1:15-17).
Now let's pause there. He wants them to have the spirit of wisdom and revelation. He's not referring to the Holy Spirit. They already had the Holy Spirit in their lives. Instead he wants them to have a mental attitude or disposition (which the Holy Spirit alone can produce in them) of true spiritual understanding, an ability to comprehend God's truth and appropriate it to their lives. He goes on to amplify what he means in Ephesians 1:18-19.
"The eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that you may know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the exceeding greatness of His power toward us who believe, according to the working of His mighty power" (Ephesians 1:18-19).
He wants them to be able to grasp spiritual realities. So many of us as Christians have a deficiency in spiritual understanding. We read the Bible without comprehending what it says, and we totally miss the implications for our lives.
We long to have what Paul prayed for: a spirit of wisdom and revelation, the ability to discern divine truth. Where is it to be found? He can we get it? Does it require a degree in theology?
Paul tells us where to find it: "in the knowledge of Him" (full, intense, complete knowledge). The people who know their God thoroughly have a spiritual understanding that far surpasses their formal education. They have true wisdom.
The disciples were men like that. They were preaching Christ in the temple courtyard and the Sanhedrin was furious. They took Peter and John into custody and questioned them about their activities.
"And when they had set them in the midst, they asked, 'By what power or by what name have you done this?' Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, 'Rulers of the people and elders of Israel: If we this day are judged for a good deed done to a helpless man, by what means he has been made well, let it be known to you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead, by Him this man stands here before you whole. This is the "stone which was rejected by you builders, which has become the chief cornerstone." Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved'" (Acts 4:7-12).
That is an extremely articulate expression of faith from an uneducated fisherman. Where did he get that kind of wisdom? The next verse tells us.
"Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated and untrained men, they marveled. And they realized that they had been with Jesus" (Acts 4:13).
Were Peter and John uneducated and untrained? Yes, but they had walked with Jesus and talked with Him for 3-1/2 years. As a result, they had an understanding of spiritual truth that the Sanhedrists couldn't begin to match with all their theological training. People who know God have spiritual wisdom.
Isn't that kind of wisdom what you really want? Not so you can amaze your friends with your knowledge of the Bible but so that you can make an impact on their lives for the glory of God as they observe the reality of Christ in you. That can never happen until we get to know Him intimately and thoroughly.
Look at another of Paul's prayers for another group of believers.
"For this reason we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; that you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him, being fruitful in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God" (Colossians 1:9-10).
There is some difference of opinion on how this is to be translated. Most of our translations render it as a prayer for the Colossians to increase in the knowledge of God. But most of the commentators agree that the knowledge of God is the means by which we bear fruit and increase in every good work (Abbot—ICC, Expositors, Lightfoot, Vincent, Wuest). It should be translated, "bearing fruit and increasing in every good work by the knowledge of God" (Expositors).
There's a thought to chew on: "bearing fruit and increasing in every good work by the knowledge of God."
So there is another benefit of a thorough knowledge of God: fruitfulness and increasing in every good work.
Some are asking, "Why can't I do what is right? Why can't I obey God? Why don't I have that love and joy and peace I crave?" Here it is right here. Our fruitfulness and our growth depend on our knowledge of God.
You can understand that. It works the same way in the human realm. A growing knowledge of another person increases our enjoyment of that person and gives us a growing desire to please him. The same thing occurs in our relationship with the Lord. For example, the more we know of His love for us, the more we love Him (1 John 4:19). And the more we love Him the more we want to please Him (1 John 5:3a—"For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments"—and John 14:15). That's bearing fruit and increasing in every good work by the knowledge of God. Try it. You'll enjoy it.
A Psalm-writer name Asaph did. He was in bad shape spiritually. He says he came close to stumbling, his steps had almost slipped (Psalm 73:2, NASB). He was struggling, on the verge of a serious spiritual tailspin. Now your problem may be different from his, but problems are problems, and sometimes they get us down. Asaph's problem was that he was upset with God because ungodly people were doing better than he was. "Why, God, are all these ungodly people around me prospering? Why not me?" He tells us he was stumbling. Certainly, Asaph wasn't growing...until we get to verse 17.
"Until I went into the sanctuary of God" (Psalm 73:17).
That's the Old Testament way of expressing fellowship with God. He got to know God, God's love, God's care, God's guidance, God's all-sufficiency:
Nevertheless I am continually with You;
You hold me by my right hand.
You will guide me with Your counsel,
And afterward receive me to glory.
Whom have I in heaven but You?
And there is none upon earth that I desire besides You.
My flesh and my heart fail;
But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.
That's Psalm 73:23-26.
Fellowship with God, getting to know God, changed his life. He tells it was a good thing to do:
"But it is good for me to draw near to God; I have put my trust in the Lord God, that I may declare all Your works" (Psalm 73:28).
There is one more blessing of knowing God I would like you to see. It's found in Paul's letter to the Galatians.
Those Galatians had a problem with legalism. Their Christian lives were a grind. "I've got to do this, got to do that, can't go here, can't say that." They lived in constant fear that they hadn't done enough to please God. That led to overwhelming feelings of guilt.
The only way to compensate for guilt was to try harder. "Got to grit my teeth and give it all I've got. But I really don't want to. I wish God would get off my back." So along with the fear and guilt came resentment against God. One word sums up this kind of Christian life: "bondage."
God never intended us to live like that. Truly knowing Him personally and intimately delivers us from bondage.
"But now after you have known God, or rather are known by God, how is it that you turn again to the weak and beggarly elements, to which you desire again to be in bondage?" (Galatians 4:9).
They came to know God, or better, were known of Him (that is, He took the initiative). That knowledge delivered them from bondage, yet they had willfully chosen to put themselves back into the very bondage from which they had been delivered. What was the problem? Some of us have done this, too, and I'll tell you why: Trying to please God without growing in our knowledge of Him will get us under bondage every time.
That may be the most important thing I've said: Trying to please God without really knowing Him brings us into bondage.
We think we have to perform to be accepted. When we understand His love, His grace, His forgiveness, His unconditional acceptance of us in Christ, then obedience is no struggle. It's not a grind. It's no longer bondage. It's free and natural; it's joyful; it's actually fun.
Does obeying God seem fun to you? If not, you're probably in bondage.
You see, we don't obey because we think we have to in order to make ourselves acceptable. We obey because we want to, because we love the One who has already accepted us, undeserving though we are. Living for Christ becomes a treat instead of a treatment. Paul pleads with the Galatians and with us.
"Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage" (Galatians 5:1).
The only way to do that is to get to know God better. Let's do it.
There's really no end to the blessings of knowing God.
"As His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue" (2 Peter 1:3).
Notice there are two things provided to us through the knowledge of God: all things pertaining to live, and to godliness. Everything we need to assure for us eternal life is found in our knowledge of God. And everything we need to help us live godly lives is found in our knowledge of Him—everything!
It sounds like getting to know Him could be the most important thing in our Christian lives. What are we waiting for?
Trusting Jesus as Your Savior
Now if you've never been introduce to God, you've got to start there. This comes through Jesus.
"And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent" (John 17:3).
Have you acknowledged that you are a sinner and have you put your trust in Jesus, believing that His death paid for the consequences of your sin? That's where it begins.
Father, we ask You to work in our hearts through this meditation on Your word. I pray that we may be found like Daniel and his friends, and many others through the centuries, as people that know their God. May we enjoy these benefits and all others that can only be found through an intimate knowledge of You.
We pray that some may be so excited by the potential of getting to know the God of the universe that they start where it all begins, at the cross of Christ. For it's in His name we pray. Amen.
But the people who know their God will display strength and take action.
Daniel 11:32b NASB
Continue to AT-03: God Is Spirit