2.25.2007

KNOW this: come as you are—don't stay as you are

Yesterday, I attended a conference at which I gave the following little "sermonette" (since tweaked). It was the type of thing I normally wouldn't even attend, but I realized how important this event could be to others. The fact that a few people planned to share personal stories caught my attention right up front. But the title of the conference, “Knowing God,” really drew me in to the significance of this weekend.

On mini ministry, I often refer to the now abbreviated tagline, “Don’t believe because you’re told. Believe because you KNOW.” You’ll now see the last half of that phrase, “Believe because you KNOW” on the site’s home page.

See, I know what it’s like to be on both sides of the fence when it comes to knowing God.

I know what it’s like to believe what you’re told, whatever that may be, because your friend or relative or somebody you think knows more than you said so.

I know what it’s like to think you know God, to think you’re seeking after Him, when I really had no idea who He was or what I was talking about.

And I now know that after I depart from this world, I want to hear my Lord say something akin to “well done good and faithful servant” rather than “depart from me, I never knew you.”

It will be 10 years this year since I became a Christian. To me, it’s an interesting spiritual milestone. And in some ways, I think it’s emboldening me to share my rather unique story more. If you have never read my story, which I believe really shows the difference between just knowing about God and truly knowing Him, please take a moment to do so now by clicking here.

For me, the difference between knowing about God and actually knowing Him personally became very clear, inside and out. And understanding that difference is vitally important for every individual.

Biblically, we have many examples of those who are convinced they know God and know what He wants them to do. One of the more disturbing of these stories is found in Matthew 7:21-23, to which I briefly alluded earlier. There Jesus says, “Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, 'Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?' And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!'”

Clearly, these people truly believe they know Him. They tell how they did great things, things I can’t even imagine doing, “in His Name.” But, you may notice, they are concentrating only on their own works, saying “Look what we did!” There is no mention of anything Jesus did for them or through them.

Before I knew Christ, I had a tendency to focus on the things I didn't do. I thought I was pretty impressive because I was around others who smoked and drank and did drugs and lived promiscuously, but I didn’t do any of those things. I even remember others commenting on my moralism, which simply increased my trust in my self. Nevermind the sins I did do, the sins I desired to do (but was too scared to take part in) or the sins I later ended up doing anyway. But, by way of comparison to others I knew, I was cool. I guess if God was grading on a curve, I would have been “in.”

I think there’s some promotion of the “I’m okay” mentality in all it’s various forms today because we live in a “come as you are” society. I hear that a lot. “Come as you are to church. Come as you are to God. He will accept you.” Unfortunately, if we leave it there, that really leaves people hanging. It is true that the Lord calls people to Himself as they are, sinful human beings with nothing to offer, and only the shed blood of Jesus Christ will save them from that sin. But if “coming as you are” as we tend to present and understand it is the end (often to the exclusion of what Jesus did), it’s easy for people to think they’re “okay,” just like I did. Maybe they even prayed a prayer or walked an aisle. And some who’ve been around churches a little longer may take this a step further and excuse themselves by claiming “freedom in Christ,” abusing that phrase to do as they desire.

But even though Christ reached out to people as they were and where they were, he never said “stay as you are.”

To a crippled man, Jesus said, "See, you have been made well. Sin no more, lest a worse thing come upon you."

To a rich young ruler, Jesus addressed the sin of greed saying, “Go your way, sell whatever you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, take up the cross, and follow Me.” And we know that man went away sad because he didn’t want to change.

To all of us, Jesus says something key in John 14:15, "If you love Me, keep My commandments.”

Keeping His commandments, doing His will, is one way we show that we truly know God—to ourselves and to the world. If we know Him, there will be change. Not legalistic rules-following, or working to impress God, but a genuine, God-enabled desire from a heart of praise to do what God commands in His Word.

Those of us who know God should be eager to do so anyway, especially in light of Matthew 11:29-30, in which Jesus says “Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”

Before I knew God, I took everything upon myself. I thought I had to do it all. After all, I didn’t know there was anyone to ask for help, or that there was someone I could “cast my cares upon.” I had a couple of minor nervous breakdowns and at least one serious bout of depression trying to handle life on my own.

Now that I do know the Lord, and have for some time, I understand life in a completely different way. But I still see a serious difference between the times when I’m focused on Him and when I’m not. I haven’t dealt with any breakdowns or serious depression since then, but I naturally have times of feeling down or sad or angry. And when I stop concentrating on poor me, I suddenly realize that my focus is completely in the wrong place, like Peter looking at the wind and the waves. But when my head is where it ought to be, I love the realization that God is in control, and if I am simply doing His will as He enables and don't fight His control, I begin to see life as the direction He is taking me for His glory, not as a maze for me to struggle through or one hurdle after another to overcome.

Jesus does tell us we don’t need to worry, God will take care of us. We don’t have to worry about what we’ll eat or drink or wear. We don’t have to worry about tomorrow, we can just concentrate on today. But He is speaking these things to those who truly know Him. And at the beginning of my walk with the Lord, one thing that concerned me greatly was whether I, in fact, truly did know Him.

In 2 Corinthians 13:5, the Apostle Paul tells those in the Corinthian church, "Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not know yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you are disqualified."

He tells them to be certain their faith is genuine, to be sure they actually have been approved by God.

A resource which I like to refer to from time to time in order to examine myself can be found in the back of John MacArthur’s study Bible. It is a list highlighting “The Character of Genuine Saving Faith.”

He first highlights seven things that don’t prove or disprove whether a person truly knows God. These are:

• Visible Morality
• Intellectual Knowledge
• Religious Involvement
• Active Ministry
• Conviction of Sin (or guilty feelings)
• Assurance (That would be simply believing you know God, or feeling you’re Heaven bound.)
• Time of Decision

None of those on their own say anything one way or another about whether we know God. But MacArthur then lists eleven proofs that will come as a result of authentic Christianity. He has multiple Scripture references beside each which I won’t record here, but this list reads:

• Love for God (After all, this is the greatest commandment, “And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.”)
• Repentance from Sin
• Genuine Humility (Note the word “genuine.”)
• Devotion to God’s Glory
• Continual Prayer
• Selfless Love (And that fits the second greatest commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”)
• Separation from the World (Remember, this is not total retreat from the world, but not becoming involved with sin in the world.)
• Spiritual Growth
• Obedient Living (Which would be following His commands out of a thankful heart desiring to please and serve the Lord.)
• Hunger for God's Word
• Transformation of Life

I personally fit some of the first list before I knew the Lord, but none of the second until I grew in my understanding of Him and relationship with Him. Now I’m thankful to say I’ve seen all of these things in my own life, again thanks only to the changes the Lord brought about in me, as Jesus is “the author and finisher” of my faith.

As I watch Him work in me, watching the changes He continues to make, I think one of the more enjoyable realities of that change is in knowing where I will spend eternity.

I’ve recently enjoyed talking to others about what Heaven might be like. I look at the things we know of this reality and this creation, and realize that we can barely fathom that ball of fire that sits in the sky warming our planet, or how a tiny spider knows to spin such elaborate patterns. What possible wonders await us there in glory, and in the new Heavens and on the new Earth? What will it be like to be able to worship the Lord unimpeded, face-to-face, with no veil between us and no disruption from sin?

One of the greatest verses about “knowing God” that I came upon is John 17:3, in which Jesus says to the Father “And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.”

Eternal life. Not the eternal death I deserved and He saved me from, but life that began the day I received Christ as Savior. Not separation from God, but knowing the one true God and knowing Jesus, the One sent as our atonement for sin.

Now I will have all of eternity to continue learning about God, praising Him, serving Him and getting to know Him, perhaps never fully comprehending the grace I’ve been given, or his mercy that endures forever.

In the words of the psalmist:
“You have turned for me my mourning into dancing;
You have put off my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness,
To the end that my glory may sing praise to You and not be silent.
O LORD my God, I will give thanks to You forever.” (Psalm 30:11-12)

Praise the Lord that we have a God whom we can know, now and forever.

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