Life is a Journey - Lesson 6
Learning More About God
When you became a Christian, you understood certain things about God. But did you know that he knows everything? That he is present everywhere? That he is all-powerful? How then should we respond to a fuller knowledge of God? What is worship? How should we respond to what we know of God? (The reference in Section 1 to Isaiah 59:9 should be Isaiah 55:9.)
Learning More About God
I. " Incomprehensibility"
II. " What we can know about God"
III. My response: Worship
A. Definitions of worship
B. Cycle of revelation and response
C. Isaiah 6
1. God is holy
2. God is merciful
3. God has a will
IV. Never let God become small
Looking back over your conversion experience. It’s always a good idea to look back over your conversion experience. What do you think happened when you became a follower of Jesus Christ? Are you unclear about anything? Could you possibly have misunderstood anything? Did anything happen of which you might not be aware?
The change that is happening in your life. “Conversion” means you converted from one thing to another. In your case, you changed from not being a disciple of Jesus to being one. It also means that God is now at work in your life, starting to make you be more like Jesus. Does this surprise you? What actually happened when you became a Christian? What does this new life as a follower of Jesus look like? Does my life change automatically?
When you stumble in your new walk with God. Even though God’s power is at work within you, helping you to become more like Jesus, you will stumble. This is not to remove the joy of your new faith; it is to prepare you for the joy of spiritual growth that lies ahead. God knows this and is not surprised, and it does not affect his commitment toward you. What is “sin”? Is temptation sin? How will you tell God that you sinned and are sorry? Does he forgive? Can you be cleansed?
A crucial element of any relationship is communication, both listening and speaking. God has spoken to us two basic ways, through creation and through his Word, the Bible. What do the terms “inspiration,” “authority,” and “canonicity” mean? Can we trust the Bible? How do I listen to God as I read his word? Am I supposed to do anything beyond reading it?
Healthy communication requires not only listening but also talking. Prayer is simply talking with God, about anything and everything. He is our new Father, and he wants to hear from you. How do you pray? What do you pray about? What if I have trouble listening to him speaking?
When you became a Christian, you understood certain things about God. But did you know that he knows everything? That he is present everywhere? That he is all-powerful? How then should we respond to a fuller knowledge of God? What is worship? How should we respond to what we know of God?
Jesus is the best known person in history. He has had more affect on world history than any other leader or philosophy or political movement. Many people know the name, but who is he? What did he say about himself? What did his followers say about him? And what is the significance and relevance of these questions and our answers?
Jesus did many things while on earth, but the most significant of all was dying on the cross. But what exactly happened? What was accomplished? What does the Bible mean when it talks about Jesus being the “lamb of God”? Is there anything that can help me understand the significance of his death. Do I need to be reminded about it on a regular basis?
Christians are monotheists; we believe in one God. But we are also Trinitarians; we believe in three “persons” of the Trinity — God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Who is this third member of the Trinity? What actually does he do? What is his on-going role in my life? What does it mean to be led and empowered by the Holy Spirit? Do I have to do anything, or does he do all the work? Where would we be if it were not for the work of the Holy Spirit?
When you became a Christian, you started to walk with God. It is a day-by-day process in which sin has less hold on your life and you more and more look like Jesus. But some days are more difficult than others, especially when difficult things happen. Why do these “bad things” happen? Can I keep back parts of myself from God if doing so helps me avoid pain? Are there any consequences to allowing sin in some parts of my life? What does it mean that Jesus is both “Savior” and “Lord”?
While we become God’s children one disciple at a time, as children we are members of a new family with a new father, new brothers and sisters, and a new home. How do I relate to these people? Do I need to spend time with them? Is this an easy or difficult task? How does the early church help us understand these issues? How does my love for God show itself to others?
Disciples are to make more disciples. This is one of the most joyous experiences of your life as you share how God made you alive, and he will do the same for your friends, neighbors, and others. This isn’t a frightening process; it is in fact natural for people who have been changed and are living changed lives. How will people respond to you? What is a “personal testimony”? How do I tell people they too can be a disciple of Jesus? What if they don’t like me?
We are thankful that you have attended Life is a Journey. We trust that it has encouraged you to continue in your spiritual journey. Your next step is to take the next class in the Foundations Program, Bible Survey, A Big Screen Perspective. It will give you a broad stroke understanding of the basic structure of the Bible. Just be sure not to study alone. Get a group together that wants to learn the same information.
When we became a follower of Jesus, we started on the spiritual journey of our life. We went through the gate of conversion and started up the path of discipleship. As we travel the path, we will start to change, not because we have to but because we want to. We won't always make the right decisions; we will stumble, but Jesus and your fellow travelers are there to help you get back on your feet. The further you travel, the more you will learn about God, how to listen to him, and how to talk with him. You will learn more deeply who God is, who Jesus is and what he did, and who the Holy Spirit is and what he does for us. And you will learn about walking with other believers (the “church”) and inviting others to join you (“evangelism”). Because life is a journey, God does not expect you to get everything right the first time; we are all on a learning curve and God is patient with us. However, we were never intended to walk alone. We were saved into a new family, with new brothers and sisters, and a new Father.. In this study, you are encouraged to find an older traveler and invite them to walk with you.
The "Notebook" to which Dr. Mounce refers in the introduction is the Student Guide that you can download or order in paperback form by clicking on the link on the course page on the website (not the app).
Be sure to download the chart (to the right) that aligns questions from the New City Catechism with Life is a Journey. This way, when you have completed each lesson, you can know which catechism questions you will understand.
While the course was originally designed for new believers, we have found that it functions well as a foundation class for all believers.
When we became Christians, there were certain things that we understood about God. We understood that God existed. We understood that God the Son had died for us on the cross to forgive our sin. Hopefully, we understood that God the Holy Spirit would continue to be present with us, to help us and to guide us on our spiritual journey.
What I would like to do now, though, is fill out your picture of God. I want to fill it out by sharing with you three of God’s attributes, three of his qualities. My goal in choosing these three attributes is that I want to paint a picture of God’s majesty and splendor. I want the picture to call you to respond in reverence and awe, ultimately calling you to worship him.
However, I need to warn you that God cannot ultimately be known. He cannot be fully known. No matter how hard I try, no matter how many big words I use, we can never ultimately understand God.
The technical term for this is his “incomprehensibility.” God ultimately is incomprehensible. He cannot be fully known. God is beyond our ability to fully understand. That is why God, through the prophet Isaiah, says, “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts” (Isaiah 59:9). Even though we can know many things about God, we cannot fully understand him.
By the way, even when we get to heaven, we will still continue to grow in our knowledge of him. He will still be ultimately incomprehensible. He will continue to be infinite. You and I will continue to be finite; we will continue to be limited in our knowledge of him. But the good news is that throughout all of eternity, we will continue to grow in our knowledge and our understanding of God. Grow to trust him more; grow to love him more. Yet, we will never achieve a full knowledge of him. That is how infinite he is, how great and majestic and awesome he is.
So we continue to walk with Jesus, both on earth and in heaven. As we continue to grow in our knowledge of him, even though we will never fully understand him, there are at least three things we do know. Three of his attributes.
II. WHAT WE CAN KNOW ABOUT GOD
The first attribute is God’s omniscience. “Omni” is a form that means “all”. So, the doctrine of omniscience is a doctrine that God knows absolutely everything. In Psalms 139, verses 1 to 4, the Psalmist starts by saying, “You have searched me, Lord, and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue you, Lord, know it completely.” God is omniscient. His omniscience spreads out and covers our thoughts. It spreads to even knowing the words we are going to say before we even know what we’re going to say.
Combined with this is the fact that God not only knows the present and the past, but he also knows the future. Through the prophet Isaiah in chapter 46, verses 9 to 10, God says, “I am God and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me. I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come.” The fact that God knows the future is one of the tests in the Bible that our God is the only true God, and all other gods are false gods. From ancient times, only our God has declared what he alone knows will happen. God knows all things. Our thoughts and words, past, present, and future.
Can you and I really grasp what that means? Can we really grasp the fact that God knows everything about everybody? That God knows everything about everything. That he has known everything from the ancient days of the past, he knows everything about our present, and he has known everything about our future. Everything at all times about everybody and everything?
Can we really grasp the fact that God is as acquainted with the movements of distant galaxies as he is with the number of hairs on your head and your thoughts before you think them? Paul spends 11 chapters in the book of Romans trying to explain the plans of God. Finally, even Paul throws up his hands and says, “Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgements, and his paths beyond tracing out! Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor?” (Romans 11:33–34). After 11 chapters of telling us about God, Paul concludes, “Who can fully understand God?”
I don’t think it is possible for us to fully understand what it means for God to know everything about everyone and everything, but aren’t you glad he does? Aren’t you glad there’s nothing that’s going to happen to you that God hasn’t known about before the creation of time? Aren’t you glad that he will never misunderstand you because he knows you better than you know yourself? Aren’t you glad God is omniscient?
God is not only omniscient, he’s also omnipresent. “Omnipresence” is the doctrine that God is present everywhere. If we continue to read in Psalms 139:7seven and 12, the writer says, “Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast. If I say, ‘Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,’ even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you.” God is present absolutely everywhere.
It’s not that God is huge. It’s not even that God is bigger than huge. God simply has no spatial dimensions. In John 4 when Jesus was talking to the Samaritan woman, he says, “God is spirit” (4:24). He didn’t say God is “a spirit,” he said God is “spirit.” “God is spirit” means that he has no spatial dimensions whatsoever. And therefore, he exists everywhere in our reality, and he exists everywhere in his own reality, which is much larger than our reality. God is absolutely everywhere. There is no place where God is not present.
When I was younger, I thought of God as being localized. He’s everywhere, but he’s standing by me and he’s standing by you. I tended to see God in specific places, localized here and localized there. But I was in my office one day, reading Acts 17:8 where Paul is talking to the Athenian philosophers. Paul is trying to emphasize that God is not an idol, and he says, “In him,” meaning in God, “we live and move and have our being.” The verse stopped me, and I started mulling it over. “In him we live and move and have our being.” That’s kind of a mystical thought. What does it mean?
It was one of those surreal moments in my life, and the air from my fan hit me and reminded me of the passage in John 4. Jesus makes the comparison of wind blowing wherever it wants, and you can hear its sound, but actually it’s a pun because the same words can be also translated as the spirit “speaks” and you hear his “voice.” In other words, a comparison is going on between wind and God’s spirit. And it hit me, that just as you and I exist in wind, in air — it’s everywhere around us, so we exist in it — so also you and I exist in God. We live and we move and we have our being in God.
Now, we’re not pantheists. We don’t believe that the wind is God. We believe that God created all things and yet is separate from all creation. And yet Paul says to the philosophers, “In God we live and we move and we have our being.” It was a mind-bending experience for me as I started to realize that God isn’t localized, standing next to me and sitting next to you, but he’s absolutely everywhere. Just as you and I live in the air, and just as the galaxies exist in space, all things — you, me, and the millions of stars and galaxies — all exist in God.
We live and move in him. We have our being in him. That’s the omnipresence of God. And you can even add to that too: it’s not like God is thinly spread throughout all creation. Do you ever think that way? If he’s everywhere, there’s only a little piece of him here and a little piece there. But God is present in his fullness in every place in creation. That’s why I have his undivided attention when I pray and why, at the same time, he can give you his undivided attention. While he is everywhere, he is in every specific location in all his fullness and in all his completeness.
Are you able to grasp that? I can’t, but aren’t you glad that God is omnipresent? Aren’t you glad that even when we want to, there is no place we can go to hide from him? He is wherever we go. In the language of the Psalms, even if we go someplace and call for the rocks to fall on us, he is there. We cannot run from him. Aren’t you glad there is no place where God is not present to help, to encourage, to love and to instruct us? Even in our thoughts, God is fully present. He is omnipresent.
Not only is God omniscient and omnipresent, he is also omnipotent. He is our omni-potentate. He is all-powerful. The word that we use for this, along with “omnipotence,” is the word “sovereign.” God is a sovereign God, which means that he exercises his sovereign rule, his kingly rule, over his creation. He is sovereign; he is omnipotent.
If we continue in Psalm 139:13–16, the Psalmist says precisely this. “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I’m fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth” — the Psalmist metaphor for his mother’s womb — “Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.”
In praising God, the Psalmist says that God formed his life. “You are a powerful God, you wrote out the days of my life even before I existed.” Elsewhere in the Psalms, the writer says, “Our God is in heaven; he does whatever pleases him” (115:3). The biblical definition of “omnipotence” is that God can do anything he wants to do. There are no limits to the exercise of his will.
Once again, I would suggest that this is an attribute of God that we simply cannot fully grasp. But aren’t you glad that God is omnipotent, that he is sovereign over his creation? Aren’t you glad that we can know with absolute assuredness that the book of Revelation is true? God is so powerful that we can be absolutely confident that at the end of time, God wins, and Satan loses. That’s the omnipotence of God, that he can make it happen. Aren’t you glad that God is omnipotent?
When we read in Romans 8:38–39 that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus, we know that the strongest force in reality has guaranteed that nothing can separate you and me from the love of God in Christ Jesus, nothing. Even in the midst of pain, we are able to entrust our souls to an all-powerful God. Even when things are as bad as they can get, God is an omnipotent God, and we know that he will carry us through.
This is the point Peter’s making in first Peter 4:19. “So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful creator and continue to do good.” Even when you and I are suffering and being persecuted for our Christian faith, God is still an all-powerful God. Entrusting ourselves to him is still the best thing to do.
God is omniscient, omnipresent, and omnipotent. This is our God. This is our heavenly father into whose arms we leapt when we became children of God. And this is our heavenly father in whose arms we now live.
III. MY RESPONSE: WORSHIP
The question then becomes, how are you and I going to respond? This question isn’t an academic inquiry in some advanced theology class. It is a practical and significant question. How are you and I going to respond to our omniscient, omnipresent, and omnipotent God?
There’s only one way to respond, and that is to worship. The only appropriate response when faced with the attributes of God is to worship God.
A. Definitions of worship
Because worship is so important, we need to have a clear understanding of what it is. There is a lot of misunderstanding as to what worship is. For example, singing isn’t necessarily worship. A song can become an instrument of worship, but singing for half an hour isn’t necessarily worship. What then is worship? What is its definition?
The English word comes from two parts, “worth” and “ship.” In other words, the word “worship” was created to mean “attributing worth.” Worship is declaring God’s worth. The Greek and Hebrew words that lie behind the English word worship carry the ideas of bowing down and serving. One definition I’ve heard of worship is, “bowing all that we are before all that God is.” That’s a great definition of worship. Another definition is that worship is, “our faithful response to God’s gracious revelation.”
B. Cycle of revelation and response
When God reveals his attributes and his activities to us, we must respond appropriately. Worship is that cycle of hearing God and responding appropriately. So, worship begins with hearing about who God is and what he is doing.
When I was pastoring, our church worked hard to make sure that the revelation of God’s character and activities was clear, that people could hear and understand it. It was why we spent a lot of money on the sound system, and it even controlled the actual shape of the room and the size of the windows.
My understanding of worship controlled how I preached. I was not preaching to entertain people. I was there to express, with clarity, the activities and attributes of God so that the people could hear it and understand it.
A desire for clarity of the revelation of God affected how we read God’s Word, how we prayed, how we sang. The lyrics and the songs had to be correct. The volume of the melody could not overpower the strength of the lyrics. We worked for clarity all the time because worship involves the clear revelation of the attributes and activities of God.
But worship isn’t just hearing; worship is also responding appropriately. As one person said, worship is not a spectator sport. Worship isn’t sitting in the stands. We must respond. We must respond to the revelation of God. If the attributes and the activities of God are laid out before us, and there’s no personal heartfelt response, then there’s no worship. We must respond. Worship is the cycle of the clear declaration of the activity and the attributes of God, and then our appropriate response. If you want to be entertained, my suggestion is to stay home and read a book. That’s not what the Christian worship service is about.
C. Isaiah 6
There are a lot of places where we could go in Scripture to talk about this, but the most powerful passage is in Isaiah 6. Here you can see what real biblical worship is. We’re shown the cycle of worship three times.
1. God is holy
Starting at verse 1, “In the year the king Uzziah died, I saw the Lord” — Isaiah had a vision. He was taken to heaven — “high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphim”— special angelic creatures — “each with six wings; With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another” ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.’ At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke.”
Seraphim really know how to worship. They understand the revelation of God as they fly before him for all eternity. God has given them six wings so that their response will be appropriate to the revelation. With two wings each of them covers their own eyes in humility. With two wings each covers their own feet. And with two wings they can fly so they can continually sing the anthem of holy is the Lord almighty. The Seraphim are responding to the revelation of God appropriately. They are worshiping him.
This is the revelation that Isaiah experiences, so the question is, how is Isaiah going to respond to that revelation?
“’Woe to me!’ I cried. ‘I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.” That’s worship. Isaiah was given a vision of heaven. He was shown God, the Seraphim and the ongoing worship that is happening all the time in God’s throne room. Isaiah then responds appropriately, acknowledging his sin and his unworthiness to be in the presence of God.
A common song in modern worship says, “I want to see you, Lord, I want to see you high and lifted up.” Every time I hear that song, I think, do you all really know what you’re saying? Do you really understand what you’re asking for? Because if you and I say, “We want to see you, Lord,” and we do see him, we are not going to be standing with smiles on our faces and our hands outstretched.
We’re going to be flat on our faces before him because we’re going to see more clearly than at any other time in our lives that we are sinners worthy of nothing but judgment. So, the next time you sing that song, think through what you’re saying because when Isaiah saw the Lord high and lifted up, he fell flat on his face because it was the only appropriate thing to do. When we see God’s holiness, when we understand our sin and respond appropriately, that’s worship.
2. God is merciful
What is interesting in the Isaiah story is it appears that because Isaiah responded properly, God chooses to reveal more. So, the cycle of worship repeats itself. “Then one of the Seraphim flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. With it he touched my mouth and said, ‘See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.’”
God is revealing to Isaiah that he is a God of mercy and the source of forgiveness. He is willing to forgive. Because Isaiah had responded appropriately in the first cycle of worship, God reveals more about himself. God is a God of mercy, who simply sends the Seraphim with coal to touch Isaiah’s lips and say, “You’re forgiven.” While it is not explicitly stated, it certainly is implicit that Isaiah responded properly to the gift of the coal and received God’s free, merciful gift of forgiveness. That’s the second cycle of worship — revelation and response.
3. God has a will
Because Isaiah responded properly in worship, there is another cycle of revelation and response. “Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?’” God is revealing that he has a will, that he has work to be done. He has revelation he wants to be shared. How else could Isaiah respond to this revelation other than how he does say, “Here am I. Send me!” Notice, Isaiah didn’t say, “Oh God, tell me what you want me to do first. How much is this going to cost me? Am I going to have to leave my home? Will I be happy? Will I feel good about myself?” No. Isaiah simply says, “Here am I. Send me,” which is the only appropriate response in worship to the revelation that God has a will. He has a desire for your life and for mine.
Isaiah’s response should be the normative response for all believers in worship. True worshipers are those who understand God’s will. They understand God’s mercy and his holiness. When they hear those truths about God, they respond. They worship by responding appropriately, confessing their sin, receiving the free gift of forgiveness, and saying, “Here am I. Send me!”
My prayer for each of you is that this becomes your normative response in worship. I pray that when you worship, you will say with abandon, “Here I am. Do with me whatever you want, God! I believe you are all good. I believe you are all wise. I believe you have my best interest at heart, but ultimately you have your best interest at heart. I can’t wait to go and do whatever you ask me to do.”
IV. NEVER LET GOD BECOME SMALL
The challenge of Isaiah 6, the challenge of knowing the attributes and activity of God, is first and foremost to never let God become small. Never let God become a localized deity. Never think that you know more than he knows or think that you can hide from him. Never think that he isn’t powerful enough to help you with your problems. All of us must keep all of this in perspective. When we look at what is happening in our lives and realize that the God to whom we pray is omniscient and omnipotent and omnipresent, and he loves us, how can we not but respond in worship?
As you and I grow in our Christian walk, may our understanding of God grow with us. May we understand that the God whom we serve, the God who loves us, is without limit in everything.
He is without limit in terms of his wisdom. He is omniscient. He knows us better than we know ourselves. And he still loves us. God is without limitation in his presence.
God is omnipresent. He has no spatial dimensions. You and I, our community, and the galaxies in the universe all exist in him.
God is without limitation in his power. He is our omni-potentate, our sovereign. He is mighty to save.
May we never just sit and not respond to that knowledge of God. May our response always be appropriate for what God has revealed to us, which means we must be quick to acknowledge his holiness and our sin, and quick to receive his mercy and our forgiveness. We need to be quick to do his will, even if we don’t know what it is. We need to raise our hands and say, “Here am I, Lord. I am your child; send me.”
When we get to heaven, we will see him clearly. Not dimly as in a mirror as we do now, but face to face. You and I who are his children will spend all eternity constantly growing in our knowledge of him and our love for him. And we will continue to respond as we should, and that means we will worship him more and more every day, forever and ever. That’s our God.
And aren’t you glad you are his child?