How Can We Know God?
Who is God? It’s as important of a question as it gets, and we get it a lot, from international listeners especially. We’re going to address the question today and on Monday as well. This particular question has come to us from listeners like Gimel, Olayinka, Ezekiel, Bobby, Zandi, Matthew, Giovanni, Jerry, Tom, and Esther. Thank you all for the emails. They are all asking the same question to you, Pastor John: Who is God?
I love it when people are clear enough and straightforward enough and honest enough to ask straight out, Who is God? And I think it’s right and helpful to break that question sometimes into parts — namely, How in the world can we even know the answer? Where can we look? Has God actually revealed the answer to the question somewhere? And then, if he has, Who are you, God?
When I put myself in the place of a person asking “Who is God?” I can’t help but think that perhaps the first question someone should ask is, Who in the world does John Piper think he is to answer the greatest question in the world? And the answer is that John Piper is a pointer. The revelation of God to man does not happen in me; all I can do is point to it: There. There it is! That’s the revelation of God. That’s where God has chosen to make known who he is. Look there. Listen to that.
So, where should we look? Where am I pointing? Where does John Piper point? And what will you see when you look there? I’m going to point to five places where I hope you will look — not to me; look there — places where God has revealed himself to us to tell us who he is.
1. Jesus Christ
First, look to Jesus Christ. Jesus said in the Gospel of John 18:37, “For this purpose . . . I have come into the world — to bear witness to the truth.” Then in John 14:6 he said, “I am . . . the truth. . . . No one comes to [God] except through me.” Then in John 8:19 he said, “If you knew me, you would know [God].” You’d know who he is. Why? Because he said in John 10:30, “I and the Father are one.” Nobody in the history of the world has made such lavish claims — maybe you could even say crazy claims — and then backed them up with a life of integrity and beauty and power.
“Jesus himself reveals who God is, and the writers that he chose reveal who God is.”
The greatest decision anybody (like those listening to this podcast) could ever make is whether Jesus was telling the truth. How can you know that? How can you know if Jesus was telling the truth? The answer is this: By getting to know him. By reading the four portraits of his life called the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. If you’re not sure about him, I hope you will make this a top priority in your life: Is Jesus telling the truth about himself and about who God is?
2. The New Testament
Here’s the second place that I point you for a revelation of who God is: before Jesus was crucified and rose from the dead and ascended to heaven, he said to those he had chosen to be his authorized spokesmen, “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth” (John 16:13).
In other words, not only did Jesus claim to speak the truth and to be the revelation of who God is, but he also provided for the truthful writing about him and his truth through those first followers. These writings are called the New Testament. The Spirit-inspired writings say this: “[Jesus] is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power” (Hebrews 1:3). So, Jesus himself reveals who God is, and the writers that he chose reveal who God is.
3. The Old Testament
Here’s the third place to look for who God is: Jesus himself and his followers pointed us to the Jewish Scriptures as a reliable revelation of who God is. The Jews call this book the Tanakh, which is an acronym for the Law (Torah), the Prophets (Nevi’im) and the wisdom Writings (Ketuvim). Christians call it the Old Testament.
Followers of Jesus do not reject the Jewish Scriptures. We believe that Jesus fulfills the Jewish Scriptures; he doesn’t reject them. He said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them” (Matthew 5:17). Which is why the Christian Bible is made up of both Old Testament, the Jewish Scriptures, and New Testament, written by those followers of Jesus.
Here’s the fourth place to look for a revelation of who God is: look to the natural world, nature. Both the New Testament and Old Testament point to nature, and they say, “Look, if you have eyes to see; God is revealed there.” Who he is, is revealed there. Nature is not God, but God is the Creator of nature and reveals himself through nature.
The Old Testament says it this way: “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork” (Psalm 19:1). The New Testament says it like this: “[God’s] invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived . . . in the things that have been made” (Romans 1:20).
Here’s the fifth and final place to look for who God is — namely, look into your own heart, your own conscience. Now, I’m not saying you can dream up who God is out of the imaginations of your own heart and make him be anything you want him to be. A lot of people try to do that. That’s not what I’m saying. That will get you nowhere. What I’m saying is just the opposite: your heart confronts you, if you’re honest, with a stubborn reality that can’t be twisted into anything we please.
The New Testament says this: “[God’s] law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them” (Romans 2:15). In other words, our own hearts tell us there is a God whose law is written on our conscience, and we have broken that law. And we all know it; we feel it deeply in our most honest moments.
‘Show Me Who You Are’
So, when I hear the question, the absolutely essential question that I wish everybody in the world were asking with blood-earnest seriousness, “Who is God?” my first thought is this: John Piper is not a source of revelation. I am a voice crying in the wilderness, so to speak, like old John the Baptist, a pointer: Look! Look! I must decrease, but Jesus must increase (John 3:30).
Jesus is the main revelation of who God is. The New Testament that he has inspired is a true revelation of who God is. The Jewish Scriptures, with Jesus as their fulfillment — the whole Old Testament — is a true revelation of who God is. Nature cries out every morning and every night and all day long that there is a powerful, glorious, wise Creator God.
“Written on our hearts is a revelation that there is a God and that he has a will for his creatures to know him.”
And every person, all of us, knows deep down in our hearts, in the most sober moments of our lives, that we are not a mere collection of atoms and molecules and chemicals and energy in a meaningless evolutionary process. We know — we know — that is not who we are. Written on our hearts is a revelation that there is a God and that he has a will for his creatures to know him and thank him and make much of him, and we know we have all fallen short — which makes the rest of this question all the more important.
Who is God? Is he the kind of being who is not only powerful but personal? Is he mainly angry with the world because we’ve all failed so badly to honor him? Or is he a God of mercy — or of both justice and mercy? Has God taken any action to help us? Might he even want a relationship with us?
So, I would plead with everybody who’s listening: Consider these questions the most important questions of your life. And consider these five places where God has revealed himself. Search them out, test them, and say to God, “I am ready to believe and submit. If this is true, I am ready. Show me who you are.”