September 18, 2017

September 17, 2017 - Galatians 4:9

Theme: The Lord Knows Those Who Are His
1. By a relational knowledge
2. For a saving faith

Out text for study this weekend is Galatians 4 but we look intently at verse 9:

Galatians 4:9 But now after you have known God, or rather are known by God, how is it that you turn again to the weak and beggarly elements, to which you desire again to be in bondage?

Can you imagine losing everything you have or know overnight? Going from prosperity to poverty; from educated to illiterate; from famous to obscure? We all have fears of losing the things which are most important to us in life. Most people would shudder to think about losing the things I just mentioned. Sometimes the idea of hitting the reset button on life is spoken of positively; in times when we’ve cornered ourselves into a bad situation, or when plans haven’t worked out the way we wanted. But, we don’t often think of the other end of the reset spectrum, namely losing what we have. That’s probably because it hardly ever happens. You can lose a lot in life without losing everything.

If it’s difficult to imagine the total loss of your knowledge, it’s well-nigh impossible to imagine the loss of God’s knowledge. Think of God, the eternal One, the all-knowing One, the righteous One. How vast His knowledge is! What if you had that and lost it all? It would be devastating to say the least. Yet, when it comes to people’s fears of loss in life, they often ignore losing out on God’s knowledge.
Maybe that’s because people have a hard time thinking that they could have the same knowledge of God. The honest truth is that even in perfection we will never be fully the same as God. He will always be Creator, we will always be the creation.

But, here in verse 9 of Galatians 4 Paul peels back the curtain of faith and talks about the danger of losing God’s knowledge; not in the sense that we change who God is but that we change who God intended us to be. Paul’s fear for the Galatians was that they would return to the “weak and beggarly elements” from which they came and thereby lose how they knew God and how they were known by God. Paul is describing the gift of faith. It is both a knowledge that we possess and a knowledge that God has of us. But, just like the many fears of people in the world, this aspect of faith is often overlooked by Christians, yet it is the very reason we have hope of life with God.

This is why I want to single out verse 9 today. It is simply too profound to gloss over and its implications are far-reaching in our lives. In a way, verse 9 encapsulates the entire purpose of the book of Galatians. This is the cliff-notes version, the one sentence summary. Everything we’ve covered so far in this sermon series is contained in these words. Paul wrote this letter because the Galatians had brought their faith in Jesus under fire by allowing false teachers to sow lies. These lies, if not checked and destroyed, would bring them back to the same place there before Paul met them – unbelief. 

To show them the seriousness of this prospect, Paul reminds that what they would be losing. First – their knowledge of God. He describes faith as knowing God and that certainly fits. This is the primary way we think of faith. It is a conscious, relational trust with God. Here, the word “know” is used to describe faith’s connection. But, there are always different levels of knowledge. I may know about something, say open heart surgery, but not have a deeper connection than simply knowing it is a medical procedure. Likewise, there are many people who “know” of God, but they don’t have a relationship with Him. Paul writes in Romans 2 about how people know God exists because He was written His law in their hearts. Because of that very fact, Paul says there is no excuse for unbelief. Even more advanced knowledge of God doesn’t guarantee truth faith, either. The Pharisees knew a lot more about God than the average person but they didn’t have faith.

The key for us is in the word itself. The Greek has two words for knowledge. The first indicates head knowledge of facts. The second indicates a more intimate knowledge by association. In verse 9 I’m sure you can guess that the second word is used for both our knowledge of God and His knowledge of us. One commentator describes the difference as knowledge by perception vs. knowledge by relationship.

There are two important distinctions about relational knowledge:

1. There is ownership involved. If I go over to a friend’s house and help him with some yardwork, I may know the ins and outs of his lawnmower or hedge-trimmer better than he does. I may be able to use them more skillfully than he can. But, at the end of the day, they are both his. I do not know them as owner. The first part of chapter 4 talks about God’s ownership of you. You are like a servant to the Master. You are a child to the Father. One of the troubling areas of the Galatian church was that they were excluding Gentiles from this ownership aspect. They had been led to believe that only Jewish people were important to God so if someone wanted to be God’s child they had to live and act Jewish. That was wrong. Christ is the binding link for all people to God.

2. There is an effect to relational knowledge. Ownership sounds like an oppressive thing, but God tells us it’s actually the key to our liberation. Eventually, that servant who becomes an heir receives the inheritance. The free gift of life eternal is something that all believers are waiting for. It is the effect to our faith and only a relational knowledge of Christ allows that effect to happen.

Okay, so heart knowledge is better than head knowledge – that’s easy enough to understand. But, the next question is the one where Christians go in different directions. Once our knowledge of God is introduced the logical thought is, how much? How soon can we start knowing God? How much do we need to know about God? Essentially, these questions all boil down to one – How can I be assured that I am saved? And make no mistake, that is an important question and it’s one that every Christian wrestles with.  

When facing these questions, it’s the relational, effective knowledge that God has of us that makes the difference. There’s more to faith than what we know. The knowledge of faith is not one-sided. Knowledge is required, to be sure, but not ours. It is being known by God that is most important. As Paul writes, it’s almost as if he catches himself. He says, “But now after you have known God, or rather are known by God…” It’s so easy and natural to think that faith is all about what we know about God. But, that’s not even the most important aspect of faith. The word that separates these two realms of knowledge, “rather”, more fully means “to a greater degree” or “for a better reason.” This is not a truth that only applied to the Galatians in their setting. God’s knowledge of who we are is better, more superior reason for believing than our knowledge of Him.

This is the great treasure that Paul warned the Galatians about losing. It is the treasure that he explained in the chapters 1-3 as being created and sustained by the gospel. If they fell from faith it would not mean a loss of perception knowledge. They would still know all the facts about God that they knew while they believed. It would be a loss of relational knowledge, and not only their knowing God, but God knowing them. Ask yourself, what’s the bigger loss?

Go back to that question all Christians wrestle with – how can I be sure I’m saved? If we only think our knowledge of God we will always fall short of full confidence. Don’t misunderstand, I’m not calling for ignorance among believers. Knowing God is absolutely a part of faith and as faith grows that knowledge is also meant to grow. But, our knowledge of God is not the key to our confidence of faith. The Bible is clear in a number of other places on this matter too:

As our Great Shepherd Jesus says this: “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me.” (John 10:27)

To false believers Jesus says, “And then I will declare to them,`I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’” (Matthew 7:23)

Paul told Timothy that “the solid foundation of God” is this “The Lord knows those who are His.” (2 Timothy 2:19)

And perhaps most telling of all is Paul’s description of perfect love in 1 Corinthians 13, “For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known.” Paul’s great hope was that in heaven he would know as God knows now – how God knows him now. That is the completion of faith -  that is the pinnacle of our hope. We know some now. God knows all now. One day, we will be with Him. As great as our knowledge may be in this world, it is nothing but a dim mirror when compared to God’s. What then, should be use to encourage one another in that faith? According to God’s Words, the answer is abundantly obvious. 

As I said before, the implications here are far-reaching. The basis of our faith is God’s grace in Christ. This is almost universally accepted by all Christians. Grace is, by nature, a passive thing from our perspective. We are on the receiving end. Most evangelical Christians will not disagree on this point. However, a great divergence exists when it comes to faith. Christians talk about the same Bible, the same Savior, the same grace, yet there are vastly different teachings and applications when it comes to faith. Why?

I believe that modern Christianity has taken the passive nature out of faith. If we wouldn’t do it the same to grace, why would we when it comes to faith? It makes no sense to emphasize our passivity in grace and but then shift the emphasis to our activity in faith. Not only is the intrinsic nature of faith always the same as grace, namely passive from the human perspective; they are more importantly both the gifts of our Savior Jesus. He fought and died to share His grace and to lead us to faith. He promised the gift of the Holy Spirit to help make that possible in our lives. That is why we confess, “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength, believe in Jesus Christ my Lord, nor come to Him, but the Holy Spirit calls me by the gospel…”

The pressing question of how can I be secure in my faith has created a rift in Christianity. Therefore, it still matters that we emphasize true faith. It still makes a difference that we trust in God’s knowing over our own. And it is still important that we practice our faith according to these truths.

The profound truth in this single verse is that God’s relational knowledge of you is greater than your relational knowledge of Him, even though both are involved in faith. But when we apply this to our lives, we understand even more. Our perception of God follows our relationship with God. Therefore, is it really too hard to believe, then, that a 1 or 2 day old infant could believe in Jesus? Is it too much to shower the deathbed at the nursing home with promises of grace and life eternal? In those setting the perceptional knowledge of the individual is absent – but the effective, relational knowledge is ever present in His Word. If nothing is impossible for the eternal God, let us never relegate faith to our realm of knowledge alone. And when we look for something to trust, let us turn to Him, and the fact that He knows us today as we hope, one day, to know Him in heaven.   

To close, I’d like to share a quote about faith with you from prominent American pastor. He says, “Imagine you are on a high cliff and you lose your footing and begin to fall. Just beside you as you fall is a branch sticking out of the very edge of the cliff. It is your only hope and it is more than strong enough to support your weight. How can it save you? If you mind is filled with intellectual certainty that the branch can support you but you don’t actually reach out and grab it, you are lost. If your mind is instead filled with doubts and uncertainty that the branch can hold you, but you reach out and grab it anyway, you will be saved. Why? It is not the strength of your faith but the object of your faith that actually saves you. Strong faith in a weak branch is fatally inferior to weak faith in a strong branch.”

Would you reach out and grab the branch? I propose even asking that question is wrong. What you should ask is, Has God reached down, of His own accord, and grabbed you hand? Has he entered time and space and conquered the very pit of hell for you? Is Jesus strong enough to save you? Does God know those who are His? Any of those questions are much more appropriate, for if you truly believe everything about you sin yet and then are led to trust that you must reach out and grab salvation, you are just as lost as when you began. 

The truth is this: “Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so.” Jesus is my hope, my strength, my defense, the sole object of my faith. This matters not only when it comes to how He saved me, but also when I receive that salvation in my heart. This is my boast, not that I have known God, but that He has known me, long before and long after… Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

Preached at Redemption, 9-17-17 

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