How Do We Know Who God Is?

“If you were God, how would you tell a human who you are?”

A difficult question made even more difficult by the very fact that we are not God.  Depending on the culture and gifting of a person, they would reveal themselves differently.  Some might use music.  Others might use a movie.  Yet, God has chosen to reveal himself to us in the timeless mediums of creation and language.

John Feinberg emphasizes the importance of this doctrine, “At stake is… whether God exists, what he is like, and what he expects of us.  If God exists but has remained silent, or if he has spoken but his revelation is mere gibberish, the human race would be hopelessly lost in moral and spiritual darkness.”

Our job is not to question why God revealed himself in the way that he did or why he didn’t reveal other things, but to utilize what he has revealed to his glory.  Deuteronomy 29:29 comes to mind, “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.”  For revelation to truly be revelation, “the one(s) to whom the revelation is given must have been previously either totally or partially unaware of whatever is made known.”

What is the act of God telling us about himself?  In one word, it is revelation.

More simply put, revelation is the revealing of something previously unknown.  Revelation does not mean something is new, but what was previously hidden, is now revealed.  I remember my dad telling me stories about his goofy escapades as a teenager.  Before he told me these stories, I simply didn’t know about them.  When I learned of them, it didn’t change any fact of the stories.   It was simply a revealing – a disclosure – of what was previously hidden.  Revelation is the dropping of a curtain, not the creation of something new.  One can imagine being at a theater, waiting for the show to begin.  The curtains open and an elegant set is displayed, filled with beautiful colors, well-trained actors and actresses, and a wonderful show.  So revelation is God unveiling his beauty, majesty, splendor, glory, and so much more!

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Why does God reveal himself?  It is through revelation that we know God.  It is through revelation that we know his character.  It is through revelation that we know how to follow him.  It is through revelation that we know how to glorify him.  Left to our own devices, apart from his revelation, man would be utterly helpless.  If we are to know anything about God, then he must reveal it.  Consider these words from a few theologians:

  • Herman Bavinck said, “If we are to know something about God, he must come forward out of his hiddenness, in some way to make himself perceivable, and hence reveal himself.”
  • Millard Erickson said, “Because humans are finite and God is infinite, if they are to know God, that knowledge must come about by God taking the initiative to make himself known.”

God is God.  There is no changing that.  But without God telling us about God, we will not know God.  God only speaks when he has a reason or a purpose.  Thus, when God does speak, we would be wise to listen.

There are two types of revelation to consider:

  1. General Revelation
  2. Special Revelation

Knowing each of these helps us to know God better with the purpose to love him more and worship him more thoroughly.

General Revelation

Every culture claims to have some form of religion.  Billy Graham was an anthropology major in college.  In his studies, he found that every single culture has some form of religion.  His claim was that even the atheist clings to some “god,” though it may have no claim to be divine.

Why does every culture have some form of religion?  General revelation can offer the answer!  Herman Bavinck states, ““General revelation is also found in humanity’s religious nature.  In all cultures at all times and places, humans have believed in the existence of a higher reality than themselves, and even of something higher than the human race collectively.”

A few verses shed light on the reality of general revelation:

  • “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork” (Psalm 19:1).
  • “For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made.  So they are without excuse” (Romans 1:19–20).

All of creation – from the smallest molecule to the largest galaxy – is a theater to the existence of God and his glory!

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John MacArthur makes a contribution to the doctrine, “The more a person examines either the vastness of space or the finest particles in his molecular structure, the more he is compelled to recognize with wonder and amazement the true greatness of the Creator.”  From the smallest – yet most intricate – snowflake, to the greatest galaxies, black holes, and the entirety of the universe, all declares the glory of God!

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General revelation functions like the wind.  We may not be able to see the wind, but we can see the work of the wind.  We see the devastating effects of wind in tornadoes and hurricanes.  We see the advantageous effects of wind in sailboats, kites, and windmills.  Likewise, we may not be able to see God, but we can see the works of God as he has revealed them.  C.S. Lewis says, “I believe in God as I believe the sun has risen, not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.”

What is the implication of general revelation?  MacArthur further notes, ““The ultimate end of general revelation is that it leaves people without excuse for failing to recognize the nature of their Creator.  But it conveys nothing regarding the way by which a fallen human being might gain access to or secure reconciliation with his Creator to escape judgment.  That is why God deemed it necessary to also reveal himself directly through special revelation.”  Or as Feinberg puts it, “we disobeyed in defiance of duty, not in ignorance of it.”

The heavens are some of the greatest preachers in the universe, but they are missing the greatest ingredient of hope: Jesus and the gospel.  So, God steps in and makes sure we get the hope through special revelation.

Special Revelation

If general revelation is just that, general, the special revelation must be narrower.  Special revelation narrows and focuses general revelation.

Special revelation solves the problem that general revelation posed.  Special revelation is a grace from God because general revelation communicated nothing of the specifics of salvation.  Here is the summarized object of special revelation:

  • “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16–17).

What is the purpose of special revelation?  It helps us to understand the vagueness of general revelation.  “…from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 3:15).  The main purpose of special revelation is salvation!  Kevin Deyoung makes it simple, “The point of revelation is always to redeem.  The Words of the prophets and the apostles are not meant to make us smart, but to get us saved.  Redemption reveals.  Revelation redeems.”

Outside of Scripture, there are other types of special revelation:

  • Historical events
  • Dreams and visions
  • The incarnation

Revelation For Me

What does revelation mean for me?  We know the people only speak when they have something to say.  When God speaks – or reveals himself – he has something to say.  We would be wise to listen.  Now we know where to hear from God.  Scripture has been given to us among his revelation for us to know him and have salvation.  As R.C. Sproul has said, “The more I know God, the more I can love him.”

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