Why it matters what Christians believe about God.
My friend tilted his head, the way you do when you have asked a question and the response was not a response you were expecting. The question I responded to was this, “Pastor Paul, why is it so important to study the Bible every day? I’m a Christian and I believe that Jesus is the Son of God. I’m saved. I don’t really need more convincing. And I don’t really have time to set aside and study it. And if I’m being totally honest, I don’t want to study the Bible. Hearing about God on Sundays just seems like it’s enough for me. Besides, If God wants to tell me something, can’t he just tell me? Otherwise, he can tell me when I die and get to Heaven.”
The answer I gave, that puzzled my friend was this, “God is either who he claims to be or he’s not. It’s as simple as that. Jesus claims to be the Messiah, God’s Son, sent to rescue people from their sins. Either that’s true or it’s not. If it is true, and I believe it to be so, then what Christians have to realize is that eternity with God is not something that begins when we die or when Jesus returns to earth. Eternity and relationship begin now.”
I went on to give my friend this picture; “Let’s say, a young woman and a young man meet for a first date. There’s some excitement in the air. Could there be romance? They both wonder. He picks her up at her house. As the night begins, the man wants to break the ice so he begins by asking questions about the young woman, her likes, her dislikes, her childhood memories, the kind of music she listens to, the kinds of food she loves. He wants to get to know her. He is truly interested in knowing the deep part of who she is. He is looking for a relationship and it’s clear. The woman loves this! She tells him everything about herself. For more than an hour, she talks and talks. She thinks, “He truly must be interested in me”. She thinks, “Maybe he is falling in love with me.”
But then something strange begins to happen because the woman doesn’t want to know much about the man except the surface stuff. She asks a few questions of the man like “What is your middle name? And where were you born?” But apart from that, the woman isn’t interested in much except talking about herself. There begin to be long stretches of awkward silence. To fill the void in conversation, the young man begins to share his likes and dislikes, his preferences in life, and his hopes and dreams. As the young man talks, she begins to look at her phone and she surfs social media. As the night goes on, the man pours his heart out to her and tells her story after story from his past. The man reveals some deep stuff. He tells stories of his past and laughs hard. He tells other stories of pain and regret. His voice catches and he has to pause to get past tears.
The entire night she rarely looks up from her phone. Every once in a while, she will nod and say, “Yep, wow, cool, or no way”. As the night goes on, the man talks less and less. She is clearly preoccupied with her social life online. It’s late, the car stops in front of her house. She gets out of the car, leans back in the open window and says, “I had a really great time with you tonight. I’m sorry, tell me your name again.” He tells her his name again. Then she turns around and without looking back again, says “Call me.”
It’s not about studying the Bible for study’s sake. We pour over the words of God because we want to know him.
I asked my friend, “Do you think that guy and that girl have a solid relationship that will stand the test of time?” He laughed and said, “No”. Then he asked, “I’m the girl in the relationship right?” I said yes.
It’s not about studying the Bible for study’s sake. We pour over the words of God because we want to know him. We are to hunger over the words of God. But what so many Christians fail to see is that their relationship with God is only on the surface. Sure He knows us intimately. And yet when it comes to getting to know God at a deeper level, we’re too busy with the rest of life to ask him who he really is. And like the girl on the date, we are oblivious that what God is after in a relationship, to know him and be known by him. That’s the definition of a relationship. God knows us and certainly he wants us to pour our hearts out to Him in prayer. (See Philippians 4:6) But he also wants us to know him. (See John 17:3)
I’m convinced that in America there are hundreds of thousands of people who call themselves Christians, but they are not actually saved by Christ. And the dread for me is that they may be headed for eternity, separated from God and all others in Hell. All the while, thinking they are in right relationship with God. Many of those go to church regularly and even pray, they listen to Christian music and say Christian-sounding phrases, but their relationship with God is non-existent. And yet, many of these Christians believe that when their life is over, they will go to Heaven to be with God and all the other Christians. (see Matthew 7:21-23) That thought frightens me as a pastor. My job is to share the life-giving, life-saving message of Jesus Christ in the Gospel. Jesus came to die for the sins of people and to give them his righteousness. (see Mark 2:17 and John 3:16) All that, for a relationship!
And for real, legitimate Christians, who are saved by Christ Jesus and have a relationship with him, I sometimes see a lackadaisical attitude in getting to know God in a deeper way through the study of the Bible. Like my friend, “If God wants to tell me something, can’t he just tell me? Otherwise, He can tell me when I die and get to Heaven.” What he didn’t understand is that God desires for us to know him now! Consider what God tells his people in Jeremiah 9:23-24.
23 “‘This is what the Lord says:
The wise person should not boast in his wisdom;
the strong should not boast in his strength;
the wealthy should not boast in his wealth.
24 But the one who boasts should boast in this:
that he understands and knows me—
that I am the Lord, showing faithful love,
justice, and righteousness on the earth,
for I delight in these things.
This is the Lord’s declaration. (CSB)
Modern American Christianity is rife with the belief that God will just give you a thought or a whisper if he wants you to know something. Certainly it is possible that God may speak to you from out of the blue. But without a good understanding of the Bible, how would you even recognize God’s voice and how he speaks and the kinds of things that he says? I have to admit that I cringe a little when people tell me that, “God told me…”. I always ask if it was something that they got from deep study of scripture? But usually, their message from God is just something that popped into their mind. I get frustrated with this type of “hearing from God”. Because many times, as people tell me what they sense God told them to do or to know, it doesn’t line up with scripture or the character of God that I know from Bible study. And it’s just interesting to me when people put “their message from God” into words, it sounds an awful lot like the way they speak. That makes me think that it’s probably not God speaking them, but just their own thoughts and desires and possibly something much more sinister, some evil spirit, posing as God. In a sense, when someone claims to speak for God, but God is not speaking to them, it’s that they are creating a “god” in their own image. And that is not the real God. And even worse, it is a false God.
One of the treasures I enjoy most as a pastor is the spiritual growth of Christians. As new believers, and some long-time believers, begin to practice regular spiritual disciplines of following Jesus as their Lord and Savior, there are signs of growth. Maturity begins to show. It’s during the hard times of life that you see the real spiritual growth of a believer in Jesus. Spiritual disciplines are important for that growth. Disciplines like regular weekly church attendance, worship, meeting with a small community of believers inside the church, keeping an attitude of repentance, seeking to live a holy life and quickly repenting of sin when we fail. There’s joyfully giving back to God, and serving in the local church are such critical spiritual disciplines to a Christian’s development. A person that regularly shares their faith and actively helps other Christians grow (called by some discipleship), as well as simply being part of the local Body of Christ, the local church. These are all great disciplines and believers in Jesus should practice them.
But the most important discipline a person can practice to grow in their faith is to get to know God in a one-on-one relationship. That is done in daily prayer and spending time reading and studying the Bible. Listening to what God is saying. And that is exactly what happens when people study the Bible and begin to understand it in context with the power of the Holy Spirit speaking from its pages. God speaks to Christians through his words written in scripture. (See 2 Timothy 3:16) And God will never contradict himself. In other words, an impression you might get and you suspect it might be God will never go against what is in his written word, the Bible. (See Malachi 3:6, Hebrews 13:8, James 1:17) In today’s age, so many Christians go on what they think they know about scripture or on impression or even their emotions. But this is dangerous ground to operate out of.
Consider the words of Jesus when he tells us in John 15:9-13.
9 “As the Father has loved me, I have also loved you. Remain in my love. 10 If you keep my commands you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love.
11 “I have told you these things so that my joy may be in you and your joy may be complete.
12 “This is my command: Love one another as I have loved you. 13 No one has greater love than this: to lay down his life for his friends. (CSB)
How can we understand the character of God and his personality if we don’t spend time letting his words wash over us in prayer and Bible study?
How can we know the words of Jesus if we never read them? How can we know the Father’s commands and how to remain in his love if we don’t study the Bible and understand them? How can we understand the character of God and his personality if we don’t spend time letting his words wash over us in prayer and Bible study? How can we know when it’s God whispering in our ear or our spiritual enemy Satan? The answer is we can’t if we are not in God’s word and know him.
I will make the bold statement that I have never met a mature Christian that got that way by not reading and studying the Bible.
One of the joys of my life as a pastor is that I get to help people understand who God is through preaching and teaching the Bible. To help others know God deeply and to recognize his voice. I want you to get to know his character. My plan is that I am going to begin writing regular posts and podcasts on the character of God to help Christians begin to go deep in their study of scripture. Don’t let that scare you. Think of it more like that date with the young woman and the young man. God wants you to know him deeper. Maybe it’s time. Will you make some space in your day to begin to study the character of God? To get to know God at a deep personal level? Look up from social media and get to know the one who loves you with deep unfathomable love. I promise you that it will change your life! I hope you will join me on this journey.