21st Century Discipleship Resources

Teaching Extra 02 - Knowing God

Discovering the 'unknown God'

An opening reading: Acts 17:22-31

A. The question of God

1. People all over the world believe in God. There is a deeply rooted instinct in human beings that inclines them to believe in an 'ultimate power' or 'supreme being' existing invisibly beyond the things we see and touch.

2. Belief in God explains where the world has come from, why human beings have come to exist and why we have a sense of purpose and of morality. We are all part of an adventure, the object of which is to come to know, love and serve our creator. A repeated theme in the Bible is that, 'The fear [or respect] of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding' (Proverbs 9: 10). Wisdom is about knowing how to live life. Knowing how to live life comes from knowing what the purpose of life is. Believing in God is about believing in an ultimate, God-given purpose for life.

3. Yet people all over the world have differing ways of conceiving of God. It is important to think rightly about God, or else nothing else will be seen in proper perspective. We learn to think the right thoughts about God by paying attention to the ways in which the Bible portrays and communicates God. In this session we pick up on some of these ways of thinking.

B. God the Creator

1. God is the origin of everything that is. The opening words of the Bible are: 'In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth' (Genesis 1:1). These words suggest that:

  • the universe has not always existed

  • it is not an accident of chance

  • there is a spiritual force or power behind the universe we see

  • that power is personal - someone rather than something

  • to understand the world we need to understand the God who is behind it all.

2. God is still holding the world together. It would be wrong to believe that God made the world and then lost interest in it. God continues to hold everything together and to give life to all. The whole universe depends on God: 'For in him we live and move and have our being' (Acts 17:28). This means that:

  • we owe God thanks for creating and sustaining us

  • God is all around us and interested in us all.

C. The God of love

How does God show his love and interest in human beings? Two particular ways emerge from the Bible:

1. God chose a particular nation - Israel, or the Jewish people - through whom he could make known his character to the world at large: To Abraham, that nation's founding father, he promised: 'I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you' (Genesis 12:2-3). For this reason, Israel's experience and worship of God are of first importance in knowing and understanding the ways of God. God spoke to Israel by many prophets and teachers. Israel therefore became a 'witness' to God: 'You are my witnesses', declares the Lord, 'and my servant whom I have chosen, so that you may know and believe me and understand that I am he... I, even I, am the Lord... You are my witnesses that I am God. Yes, and from ancient days I am he' (Isaiah 43:10-13).

2. Eventually, from that same nation of Israel, came one unique human being, who would be God's supreme way of communicating with ordinary people. He would build upon God's revelation to Israel and take it further. His name is Jesus Christ. Many things need to be said about Jesus, whom we call the Son of God, but for the time being, the most important thing is that God himself has spoken to the world in him: 'In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son' (Hebrews 1:1-2). 'In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God... The Word became flesh and lived for a while among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth' (John 1:1,14). This means that:

  • what Jesus did and taught is crucial to our understanding of God

  • Jesus is absolutely central to understanding and knowing God

  • Jesus prayed to God as his 'Father' and taught us to do the same, as in the 'Lord's Prayer'.

D. God with us

It was said of Jesus that he was 'God with us' (in Hebrew, 'Emmanuel' - see Matthew 1:23). God was working for us in Jesus. It is also true that God is with us spiritually all the time. We therefore also speak of 'the Holy Spirit', the presence of God invisibly throughout the world. In talking about God, therefore, Christians speak about the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. These are the three ways in which they experience God with them. For this reason, another important Christian prayer, alongside the Lord's Prayer', is 'the Grace':

'May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all' (2 Corinthians 13:14).

(See also Appendix 1 'The Trinity'.)