Chris Appleby Ministries

Chris Appleby Ministries



Knowing God audio (3MB)

This is a series based on and heavily dependent on Timothy Keller’s Best Seller "The Reason For God" for which I’m deeply grateful. It uses much of his argument though with various additions by myself or the other preachers of the series.

Romans 1:16-23

John 14:8-14

I want to suggest that we all “know” there’s a God. Even those people who would claim no belief in God, when you press them harder would acknowledge that deep within them is something that says there must be some power external to ourselves that sets the rules, that requires justice and fairness.

The God Sense in all of us.

If you think about it, we all know certain things are wrong:- the man who murders his children; the government that tries to wipe out a whole tribe or a nationality group; the businessman who embezzles his clients money; the CEO who makes sexual advances to his young staff members; the sportsperson who takes performance enhancing drugs. These are just a few of the things that happen in our world that provoke moral outrage, not just among believers but throughout the community at large.

But how can this be? The majority of our population would claim to have no faith in God. Most would say they don’t really believe in God. Yet deep within them is a moral compass that tells them whether something is right or wrong.
Despite the fears of religious leaders that moral relativism is the ruling mindset of people, if you look at their deepest responses you’ll see that the vast majority behave as though there was a God who cares about how people behave.
Even if you do hear people say that it’s wrong to impose your moral views on others, because of course we all have the right to make up our own minds, it’s almost impossible to live like that.
You may have seen the Insight program on the ABC a few weeks ago that was examining the experiment going on in NSW to replace Religious Education with classes in ethics. There’s a group calling themselves the St James Ethics Centre. It’s a group without any religious affiliation, unless you consider humanism a religion. Their purpose is to provide a non-judgemental forum for the promotion and exploration of ethics. And they want to run classes in schools teaching children how to make decisions using a framework for ethical decision making. They actually showed one of the classes in action and what became very clear as the class progressed was that while they were being “provided with a shared understanding of ethical language, methods, frameworks (such as codes of ethics and conduct) and decision-making models” they weren’t being given any grounds for making those decisions other than what seemed good at the time or what would serve their interests best. In other words there was no mention of a moral basis for ethical decision making.
But then you might ask whether that’s fair enough. In a world where God’s word is rejected or at least ignored, why would you teach children that some things are right and some are wrong? But as I said, we can’t actually live like that can we? We have deep within us a strong sense both of moral values and of moral obligation. We all have what we call a conscience. We know when we’ve done something wrong, even if no-one else finds out about it. And we all have a strong sense that certain things ought to be done even if they don’t suit us, even if they’re not in our own self interest. We may not always act on it, but we know that the bully should be stopped; we know that the boss who takes advantage of her employees should be reported; we know that the priest who abuses young children should be defrocked. Even if the person can justify their action in their own mind, we know that they’re deluding themselves. The Nazis justified their murder of Jews by claiming they were an inferior race. They may even have been genuine in that belief but we all know they were wrong. We know what they did was evil.
But how do we know?  
We believe some things are right and some are wrong because deep down we know there must be a God. Because otherwise we’d be left with the conclusion of people like Nietzsche and Jean Paul Sartre who concluded that since God was dead there was no reason to be kind or loving or to work for peace. If all there is, is the moment you’re in, then you might as well enjoy yourself and ignore everyone else. Too bad if someone gets hurt. That’s their problem.
And that’s an answer that satisfies very few people in the end. So if we know deep down there must be a God, how can we get to know him? How can we find out what he really wants from us?


God the Creator

Well the starting point for most people is the world around us. As we read in Romans 1 today, “what can be known about God is plain to [people], because God has shown it to them. 20Ever since the creation of the world his eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made. So they are without excuse.” (Rom 1:19-20 NRSV)
We see in the world the grandeur of the creator, the delicate balance that allows life to persist, the amazing ingenuity in the way things work, the power of wind and wave and earthquake and storm. As we noticed a few weeks back when we were thinking about science and God there’s a consistency, a predictability in nature that fits with the idea of a God who creates, who brings order out of chaos who can be relied upon.
Yet we also know that the wonders of creation can be misunderstood. Those scientists like Richard Dawkins genuinely believe that the wonders of our world can be explained by mechanisms like evolution, by time and chance. If you’re not looking to see God in the world of creation you may not find him.
What’s more even those who look at the world and see a god behind it sometimes get it wrong. They see a god but the image they create from what they see is often a distorted image, distorted by their own human experience and expectations. So most, if not all, of the ancient myths around creation are couched in ideas like human procreation or wars between the gods; people came up with the sort of explanation that fitted with what they’d experienced in their own lives.
So clearly we need more than just our own observation to understand a being who is essentially beyond us.
So how are we going to know what God is like and what he expects of us?

God who Speaks

The only way is if God reveals himself to us. This is where Christianity differs from most of the other major religions. Christians believe that God has spoken to his people either directly, as he did with Abraham and Moses, or through prophets who were sent to tell God’s people what he expected from them. And not only did God speak to people but he also made sure that they wrote it down so we’d have a record of what he said and did. So we have an invaluable resource in the Bible don’t we?
Of course having a resource available to you doesn’t help unless you actually use it does it. It’s all very well to have a street directory in your car but if you navigate by trial and error you could take a long time to find your way. Di and I were in a country town the other day and the traffic was pretty heavy so I thought I’d take a back street. The only problem was that the back street led to a car park not the next street over like I expected.
That’s what happens to some Christians when they try to live their lives by trial and error. They think they can work out the answer but it ends them up in some dead end, or worse still it takes them down a path that leads to danger. No, if you want to know what God is like, if you want to know how to live in a way that will please him, you need to read his word. You need to study it; and not just the familiar parts, the gospels and maybe some of the more popular letters of the New Testament. You need to read the lot. That’s why in our preaching series over the past 13 years at St Theodore’s and now St Thomas’ I’ve tried to preach through a selection of books and letters from both the Old and the New Testament. Because I want you to be clear about what God is like.

God With Us

God is very gracious to us isn’t he? Not only has he revealed himself to us by speaking to his servants who’ve recorded what he said, but he’s also come and lived among us. Hebrews 1 puts it like this: “Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, 2but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds.” (Heb 1:1-2 NRSV)
John 1 puts it like this: “And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father's only son, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14 NRSV) In our second reading today Jesus tells Philip: “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, 'Show us the Father'? 10Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works.” (John 14:9-10 NRSV)
If you want to know what God is like you need look no further than Jesus Christ, who is the very image of God. He reveals the Father to us in a way that no prophet could ever do because he is part of the Godhead, albeit in human form.
Of course that presents something of a problem for us because what we find in the person of Jesus is such a rejection of our middle class values that we might find it hard to accept. That God would lower himself to become a mere human being, that he would allow himself to be born in a smelly stable, to be raised by a humble carpenter and a young village girl, that he’d mix with down and outs, outcasts from society, smelly fishermen, tax collectors, doesn’t fit with the middle class image of Christianity that we see around us does it? Yet that’s what God is like. He’s willing to sacrifice himself for the sake of ungrateful and sinful humanity. How do we know that? Because that’s what we see in Jesus, who, “though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, 7but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness.” (Phil 2:6-7 NRSV)

God the Holy Spirit

Finally God makes himself known to those who love him by giving them his Holy Spirit to live within them. Jesus promises his disciples that though he’s going to leave them he’ll send another counsellor to be with them forever. This is the Spirit of truth he says, “who will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.” (John 14:26).
As I’ve said before during this series, this is not a proof. But it is a promise from God that  those who believe in Jesus’ name will receive his Holy Spirit to teach them the truth and lead them in the right way to live. 
So we can not only know about God but we can in fact know God, if we read his word and meditate on it, if we believe what his word tells us about Jesus Christ and if we ask him to come and live within us in the person of his Holy Spirit.

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