Knowing God Through Experience

You will never be satisfied with just knowing about God. We often try but this always proves to be lacking and deficient. Life is so defeated when we just know about God, just a lot of facts and stats from the Bible. Knowing him comes only through experiencing him as he reveals himself to you.

I love that story of Moses at the burning bush (Exodus 3-4). God initiates a relationship with Moses by speaking through that bush that burned yet was not being consumed. Eventually Moses asks the “elephant in the room” question, “When they ask me the name of this God who sent me, what am I supposed to tell them?” God tells him, “Tell them I AM THAT I AM has sent you” (Exodus 3:13-14). Moses comes to know God more fully through experience.

Abraham similarly came to know God more fully through experience. God asked him to sacrifice his only son, the son of promise, the one he loves. It was a test of obedience. God stopped the sacrifice and provided a ram in place of his son, and Abraham passed the test. The event was significant in the life of Abraham and he named the place, YHWH Yireh, “The LORD will Provide.”

Interestingly enough, Abraham did not use the past tense (since the ram was already provided), he used a “future” language. The significance is that this is the same location that generations from that time, God would provide the ultimate sacrifice of his own Son to provide salvation for the whole world (Genesis 22:14). God’s provision “will be seen.”

The next question is for us, “When and where have you experienced God so fully, intimately, and significantly that you actually are able to NAME that place?” How did you come to experience God? What name did you call him? This story in your life may be your salvation story, or it may be a time since your salvation where God became a real person to you. I’d love to hear your story.

If your interested, I have a list of Names of God throughout the Bible.

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Making the Wrong Decision

The Purpose of this Lesson: To give assurance that God will love us and use us even when we make bad decisions.

A major barrier to making a decision can be the fear of making the wrong choice.

On a scale of 1-10 (1 = I’m sure everything will work out; 10 = A wrong decision will destroy my entire life), how fearful are you about making a wrong decision? What experiences in your life have contributed to or relieved your fears?

Think of the worst decision you have made. Why was it wrong?

God had promised Abram and Sarai that they would have many descendants and become a great nation. On the basis of this promise, Abram had left everything familiar and had followed God to the strange land of Canaan. However, after living there for ten years, Abram and Sarai were still childless (and at eighty-five years old, well past their childbearing years). Impatient with God’s failure to act, they made a desperate decision. Read Genesis 16.

1. Which character in this story are you most like and why?

  1. Sarai-regretful of a decision you have made?
  2. Abram-wondering what went wrong?
  3. Hagar-blamed for someone else’s bad choice?
  4. Ishmael-the product of others’ dysfunction?

2. What decisions do Sarai and Abram make in this story?

Abram and Sarai “decided to resort to surrogate marriage, which was a perfectly respectable practice in the other cultures of the ancient Near East. A child born to a slave-girl could be regarded as the wife’s own child, if she had no children of her own. Many in ancient times saw nothing wrong in surrogate marriage, and surrogate motherhood is still an issue in contemporary society. Genesis, however, clearly does not agree with the practice” (G. J. Wenham, J. A. Motyer, D. A. Carson, and R. T. France, eds., New Bible Commentary [Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1994], p. 72).

3. Looking at these decisions from our perspective, several millennia after the fact, why were these decisions so flawed?

Abram had slipped from faith and allowed himself to be guided by reason and the voice of his wife. “Each of the three characters displays the untruth that is part of sin, in false pride (Genesis 16:4), false blame (Genesis 16:5), false neutrality (Genesis 16:6); but Sarai’s mask soon slipped (Genesis 16:6b), to show the hatred behind the talk of justice” (Derek Kidner, Genesis [Downers Grove, IlL: InterVarsity Press, 1967], p. 126).

4. Why do you think Abram and Sarai believed these decisions to be for the best?

5. What were the consequences of Abram and Sarai’s decisions for themselves? For Hagar? For the world?

“The obvious evils which resulted are. . . the fracturing of otherwise proper interpersonal relationships between Sarai and Hagar with the accompanying damage to Sarai’s dignity and the production of contempt for Sarai from Hagar. Hagar is ‘used,’ but Sarai is not truly benefitted. . . . Contempt, as well as a son who turned from Abram’s way, was Sarai’s heritage for failure to wait for Yahweh to fulfill in His way the promise of seed” (Harold Stigers, A Commentary on Genesis [Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 1976], pp. 161-62). Ishmael is considered to be the father of the Arabs and Abram’s subsequent son, Isaac, to be the father of the Jews-a rivalry that continues to the present day.

6. What have been the consequences of your worst decisions?

7. Where does Sarai place the blame for her troubles?

Notice that Sarai first places the blame on God when she says, “The Lord has kept me from having children” (Genesis 16:2). Then, when she gets her way, she blames both Abram and Hagar (“You are responsible for the wrong I am suffering. I put my servant in your arms, and now that she knows she is pregnant, she despises me” [Genesis 16:5]).

8. Why do you think people are reluctant to take responsibility for their decisions?

9. What good does God bring out of these bad decisions?

God’s mercy brings good out of human folly. A promise was given to Hagar that was similar to the promise given to Abram. When Ishmael is called “a wild donkey of a man (Genesis 16:12),” this is “not in the sense of a boorish, desert yokel, but in another sense. A man would not be derogated by this epithet, for the ass was a prized animal; a man so designated would be a choice person. . . . Yet he will possess something of the character of the wild ass of the desert in that he will be intractable and oppose his neighbors” (Stigers, Commentary on Genesis, p. 162).

10. Why did God intervene instead of simply letting everyone live with the mess they had made?

This passage gives evidence of the love of God who picks us up when we fail. It is also evidence of God’s determination to bring about his plans. He had made a promise to Abram that was an integral part of his greater plan of salvation. Abram’s failure would not frustrate God’s plan-and our bad decisions won’t frustrate it either.

11. After reading this report of Abram and Sarai’s mistake, what can you expect God to do with your own bad decisions?

12. What is comforting about being seen by God, even at our worst moments (Genesis 16:l3)?

Our worst moments are also our moments of greatest need. God is near to point out responsibility and offer aid in assuming it.

Confess to God the mistakes you have made and ask him to bring good from them.

Now or Later

King David seemed to make as many bad decisions as he did wise ones. He tried to hide from King Saul by living among the enemies of Israel and almost had to go to war against his own people (1 Samuel 27-29), he committed adultery and covered it up with murder (2 Samuel 11-12), he contributed to a family feud (2 Samuel 13-14), and he took a census of Israel and Judah (2 Samuel 24). Read what he has to say about finding forgiveness for our bad decisions in Psalm 32.

  1. According to this psalm, what should we do about our bad or sinful decisions?
  2. What will happen if we do not come to God with our mistakes?
  3. What will happen if we do?
  4. In what ways have you acted like a horse or a mule (Psalm 32:9)?

Warren Wiersbe Outline:

Family adventure and vacations may often include detours, the same was for Abraham and Sarah. The conflict in their home brought conflict into the world, the affects we see to this day. The Arab-Israeli conflict begins right here.

This is also a great lesson on God’s people walking by faith, making decisions about the future and how they respond to adversity, detours and setbacks. We often must wait to see God’s promises fulfilled; while we tend to rush ahead of God’s timing.

Waiting (Genesis 16:1a) Abraham is now 85 years old. Abraham had been walking with the LORD for 10 years. God’s promise a child and descendants. There is a period of waiting and people don’t like to wait. It is through faith and patience that we inherit the promises (Hebrews 6:12). Why did God wait so long? Perhaps for the couple to be “as good as dead” (Hebrews 11:12) because God needed to get all the credit. Abraham could still father a child (remember Hagar & Ishmael?) so the time for the miracle baby had not yet arrived.

  1. The first evidence of faith is that whatever is done by faith is done for the glory of God (Romans 4:20).
  2. A second evidence of faith is a willingness to wait on the Lord. “He who believes does not walk in haste” (Isaiah 28:16). When we stop trusting, we make haste.
  3. A third evidence of faith is acting on the authority of God’s Word, “faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God (Romans 10:17). Hebrews 11 record the “Hall of Faith” filled with examples of people waiting to receive the promise.
  4. Finally, when we act in faith, God give peace and joy in life, “the God of hope will fill you with joy and peace in believing” (Romans 15:13).

Scheming (Genesis 1b-4a) Sarah knew that she could not bear a child, but Abraham was still capable. God identified the father of many nations but not the mother. Logically it would be Sarah, or maybe God had other plans. Now comes the “second-guessing,” which is dangerous. True faith is based on God’s Word (Romans 4:20) and not man’s wisdom (Proverbs 3:5-6).

Sarah was not concerned with the glory of God; her goal was to get a child (Genesis 16:2). Perhaps there was disappointment with God or even blaming. Delays are not necessarily denials. Maybe Sarah felt that God was holding out on her, which sounds familiar (Genesis 3:1-6).

While multiple wives was legal, it does go against God’s original design (Genesis 2:24). Hagar and Ismael are not declared Abraham’s wife and son, but Sarah’s main, or bondwoman, and her son (Genesis 16:8, 21:10). Hey, whatever is not of faith is sin (Romans 14:23). So, this couple does not faith the tests or evidences of faith.

Fighting (Genesis 16:4b-6) When you follow the world’s wisdom, you end up fighting like the world (James 3:13-18). Family fights are likely the most painful of all. Had Hagar maintained the attitude of a servant, things may have been different, but she became proud (Proverbs 30:21-23). This family turned from faith to the flesh (Galatians 3:3) and the flesh behaves in a certain way (Galatians 5:19-21). They were at war with selfishness in their hearts (James 4:1-10).

Sarah became, or grew, “little” in Hagar’s eyes. Then Sarai said to Abram, “This is all your fault! I put my servant into your arms, but now that she’s pregnant she treats me with contempt. The LORD will show who’s wrong—you or me!”

That last phrase was as close to cursing that believers do in the Bible: harm, contempt, despise: the Hebrew word chamas (related to the Arabic word ḥamas) also occurs in Genesis 6:11 (“the earth was filled with violence [chamas]”). The word elsewhere describes deceit and general disregard for law and human life (Deuteronomy 19:16; Psalm 11:5; Isaiah 60:18; Ezekiel 7:23). Here, it refers to injustice.

  1. Sarah’s solution was to blame her husband and mistreat her servant (Genesis 16:5-6).
  2. Abraham’s solution was to abdicate his spiritual leadership (Genesis 16:6a).
  3. Hagar’s solution was to run away from the problem (Genesis 16:6b) a tactic she learned from Adam and Eve (Genesis 3:8). When Abraham fled to Egypt (Genesis 12:10-20) there was peace for a time, then trouble.

Submitting (Genesis 16:7-16)

Hagar had to submit to God: (Genesis 16:7-14) After the confrontation with the angel of the LORD (Genesis 16:11), Hagar called him GOD (Genesis 16:13). The angel called her “Sarah’s maid” (Genesis 16:8) so evidently GOD did not accept the “marriage” of these two. “The God who sees me” indicates that he is personal, concerned about abused people and unborn babies. When we submit to God, he helps us to do the tough things that we know need to be done, like returning to Sarah and apologizing for her behavior.

Sarah had to submit to God: How did Sarah feel when Hagar came back and reported that God had talked to her? This poor servant-girl? God concerned with this slave-girl’s baby? The Bible doesn’t say, but we know Hagar came back into the family and was not mistreated again.

Abraham had to submit to God: Throughout this event, he played a very passive role. He let Sarah talk him into marrying Hagar, allowed Sarah to mistreat Hagar, and let Sarah drive her out of the camp. Things went well until Isaac was born. In Genesis 21:9-10, the problems continued. Abraham did not offer any help, but later GOD made up for that (Genesis 21:13), because he was going to make Ishmael a great nation, too.

There is a great theme of life right here: Return and Submit (Genesis 16:9)

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The Importance of Godly Faith

The last part of James chapter 2 teaches us about various kinds of faith… and we thought faith was something we already understood and often take for granted. James wants to let us know that faith is more than just the things we believe about Jesus. “Faith” and “belief” are the same root word in the original language of the New Testament. Faith can be described as a verb rather than a noun, and we generally translate the word “believes” because is seems weird to say, “Everyone who faiths that Jesus is the Christ has become a child of God” (1 John 5:1).

Here is a brief overview of this section on Godly Faith (James 2:14-26): James contrasts having only head faith with having head, heart, and hand faith.

  1. Two examples of having only head faith (James 2:14-20)
    1. In regard to the destitute (James 2:14-18): Head faith by itself is empty faith and attempts to minister to the poor by pious words not accompanied by works.
    2. In regard to the demons (James 2:19-20)
      1. The fiction (James 2:19a): “Do you still think it’s enough just to believe that there is one God?”
      2. The facts (James 2:19b-20): “Well, even the demons believe this, and they tremble in terror.”
  2. Two examples of having head, heart, and hand faith (James 2:21-26)
    1. Abraham (James 2:21-24): He proved his faith by his willingness to offer up his son Isaac.
    2. Rahab (James 2:25-26): She proved her faith by protecting the two Israelite spies.

Here is the meat of what James is teaching us about faith:

Faith is certainly an essential element in the Christian life:

  1. Without faith, it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6)
  2. We are saved by faith (Ephesians 2:8)
  3. Believers are challenged to walk (live) by faith (2 Corinthians 5:7)
  4. When you think about it, whatever we do apart from faith is described as sin (Romans 14:23)

It is important to realize, however, that there are different kinds of faith, but only one that is truly “saving faith.” In James 2:14-26, we find James discussing the different kinds of faith, with an emphasis upon faith which works toward salvation. According to Warren Weirsbe, let’s take a look at three kinds of faith.

Dead Faith (James 2:14-17)

This kind of faith substitutes words for actions. People with this kind of faith know the correct Christian vocabulary for prayer and sound doctrine, and can even quote the right verses from the Bible, but their “walk” does not measure up to their “talk.” Is only an intellectual faith. In one’s mind, he or she knows the doctrine of salvation, but they have never really submitted themselves to God and trusted in Jesus for salvation. They know the right “words,” but they don’t back up their words with their “works.”

James gives an illustration: a poor believer comes to you without proper clothing or food. Dead faith notices the person but does nothing to meet their needs (James 2:16). These are two basic needs for anyone addressed elsewhere in Scripture (1 Timothy 6:8, Matthew 6:31, 32, Genesis 28:20). Believers are called to help (Matthew 25:40), and this help is an expression of love (Galatians 5:6, 1 John 3:17, 18, Luke 10:25-37).

So the question is, can this faith save someone? The answer is, “no.” Three times in this passage, James emphasizes that “faith without works is dead” (James 2:17, 20, 26). So, any declaration of faith that does not result in a changed life
and good works is a false declaration: a dead faith; a faith that has reached only the head. Dead faith is counterfeit faith and lulls the person into a false confidence that he has everlasting life.

Check your own faith:

  1. Does your walk measure up to your talk?
  2. Do your works measure up to your words?

Demonic Faith (James 2:18-19)

James reminds us that even demons believe in God (there are no atheists or agnostics here). Isn’t that a shock to know that even the demons have faith?

  1. They believe in the deity of Christ (Mark 3:11-12)
  2. They believe in the existence of a place of condemnation (Luke 8:31)
  3. They believe that Jesus will be the Judge (Matthew 8:28-29)

So, what sort of faith do the demons have? We saw that the man with “dead faith” was “touched only in his intellect” so perhaps the demons are “touched in their emotions” (note that they “believe and tremble”). This is probably only one step above a “dead faith” (it involves both intellect and emotions). Maybe the location of this faith is in the heart.

Does this faith save anyone? James is again saying, “no.” A person can be enlightened in his mind and even stirred in his heart and still be lost. True saving faith involves something more, something that can be seen and recognized: a changed life (James 2:18). Being a Christian involves trusting Christ and living for him. This is a true statement: you first receive the life, then you reveal the life (Ephesians 2:10). James 2:20 brings an image to barren or idle faith, like money drawing no interest.

Do you have this kind of faith? You do if you just believe the right things and feel the right things. Perhaps if your service to God does not go beyond intellectually embracing the right doctrines and emotional experiences (just attending services).

Dynamic Faith (James 2:20-26)

We know from other passages that such faith is based upon the Word of God (Romans 10:17). Dynamic faith involves the whole person and leads to action.

  1. Dead faith touches only the intellect: the head understands the truth.
  2. Demonic faith involves both the mind and the emotions: the heart desires and rejoices in the truth.
  3. Dynamic faith involves the intellect, the emotions, and the will: our hands lead us toward action.

James illustrates his points in two well known character from the Old Testament: two people who could not be more different from one another.

  1. Abraham was the father of the Jews; Rahab was a Gentile
  2. Abraham was a godly man; Rahab had been a sinful woman, a prostitute (side note: oddly enough the word can also be translated “innkeeper” so she really ran a guest house). The word in James 2:25 actually means an immoral person.
  3. Abraham was the friend of God; Rahab had belonged to the enemies of God

So what did they have in common? Both exercised saving faith in God.

  1. Abraham demonstrated his saving faith by his works (James 2:20-24). He was justified before God and his righteousness was declared; he was justified before men and his righteousness was demonstrated.
  2. Rahab demonstrated her saving faith by her works (James 2:25-26). She is even listed in the Hall of Faith in Hebrews 11:31. She believed God’s Word and knew the city was doomed (Joshua 2:11) yet she responded with her mind and heart, and also her will; her hands went into action. Even with her limited information about God, she was a giant in dynamic faith and one of the first soul winners in the Bible.

The emphasis of this passage that faith without works is a dead faith (James 2:20, 26). “Faith only” (the only time this phrase is found in the Scriptures) cannot justify anyone (James 2:24). Perfect faith brings out good works in us (James 2:22).

It is important that each professing Christian examine his or her own heart and life, and make sure that they possess true saving faith, which is a dynamic faith. Satan is the great deceiver and one of his schemes is imitation. If he can convince a person that counterfeit (lesser or limited) faith is true faith, then he has that person in his power.

How often do we profess to know God but our actions deny him (Titus 1:16)? We need to carefully maintain good works (Titus 3:8).

Application: It is time for evaluation and examination. Here are some questions we can ask ourselves as we examine our personal faith:

  1. Was there a time when I honestly realized I was a sinner and admitted this to myself and to God?
  2. Was there a time when my heart stirred me to flee from the wrath to come? Have I ever been seriously worked up over my sins?
  3. Do I truly understand the gospel, that Christ died for MY sins and then rose again? Do I understand and confess that I cannot save myself?
  4. Did I sincerely repent of my sins, making the decision to turn from them? Do I hate sin and love God? Or do I secretly love sin and want to enjoy it?
  5. Have I trusted Christ and him alone for my salvation by responding to the commands He has given?
  6. Has there been a change in my life? Do I maintain good works, or are my good works occasional and weak?
  7. Do I seek to grow in the things of the Lord? Can others tell that I have been with Jesus?
  8. Do I have a desire to share Christ with others? Or am I ashamed of him?
  9. Do I enjoy the fellowship of God’s people? Is worship a delight to me?
  10. Am I ready for the Lord’s return? Or will I be ashamed when he comes for me?

To be sure, not every Christian has the same degree of faith; those who have had more time to grow should be stronger in faith, but for the most part, this spiritual inventory above can help a person determine his or her true standing before God.

May our prayer be similar to that of the Psalmist:

Search me, O God, and know my heart;
try me and know my anxieties;
And see if there is any wicked way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting. (Psalm 139:23-24)

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