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SEPTEMBER 11 2016 GOD IS AS REAL AS REAL CAN BE

God is as Real as Real Can Be

[I. Introduction] A long time ago, musicians noted that errand boys in a certain part of London all whistled out of tune as they went about their work. It was talked about and someone suggested that it was because the bells of Westminster were slightly out of tune. Something had gone wrong with the chimes and they were discordant. The boys did not know there was anything wrong with the peals, and quite unconsciously they had copied their pitch. 
So we tend to copy the people with whom we associate; we borrow thoughts from the books we read and the programs to which we listen, almost without knowing it. God has given us His Word which is the absolute pitch of life and living. If we learn to sing by it, we shall easily detect the false in all of the music of the world.  

All of us have been influenced by the thoughts and ideas of the world. We are so frequently exposed to them that, like the errand boys in London, we are not aware that many of our notions and beliefs have been assimilated from the culture through movies, television, and through education in public schools. 

I became a Christian at the age of 20 and for the first year, I continued to believe in evolution simply because that is what I had been exposed to for all my life. Then,  for the next ten years, even though I rejected the false idea of evolution, I believed in an earth that was billions of years old. Again, because that is what I had been exposed to for so long. 

There is another belief that is popular that has influenced all of us. That is empiricism. What is that? It is the doctrine that all knowledge is derived from the five senses. It is a self-refuting doctrine because of the statement, “All knowledge is derived from the five senses,” itself was not observed by any of the human senses but was formulated through reason. What is true is that the five senses are one way which we gain knowledge but not the only way. Even though we may not be familiar with the term “empiricism” and even if we recognize that it is not true, we may have an impression that what we sense with our senses is true or real while other ways of knowing are less certain resulting in believing that some knowledge we may have is doubtful. Why is this important? Because of the core beliefs of the Christian faith, at this time in history, are not empirical in nature. None of these truths are experienced by our five senses: angels, demons, heaven, hell, the forgiveness of our sins, and God Himself. 

I am here to tell you and prove that God is as real as real can be.

Our Scripture reading this morning is I Corinthians 8:1-4. 

The Corinthians had written to Paul asking, among other matters, whether it was acceptable to eat food that had been sacrificed to idols. The first four verses of chapter eight are the beginning of his answer. He would go on to say that eating food sacrificed to idols was not wrong in itself but that it would be wrong if it caused a brother or sister to stumble. This is a principle that we should keep in our hearts for it is apostolic, meaning that it is from the Lord. People are observing our behavior and there are some things that we are permitted to do by the Lord but we may want to refrain from doing because of how it may affect others. 

In verse one he writes that “we all possess knowledge.” We all do possess knowledge. Some of us have more knowledge than others. In one sense it is good to have knowledge because a lack of knowledge can get us into trouble even a lot of trouble. The more you know about something before jumping in the better off you will be. On the other hand, there is a danger in knowledge that Paul points out: when we realize that we know more than another person this can “puff us up.” Or, as the Holman Christian Standard Bible translates it, we can be “inflated with pride.”

In verse 2 Paul says, in effect, if we think that we are superior because we know more, then we do not yet know as we ought to know. Verse 2 reminds me of a song by the group Kansas, Carry On My Wayward Son. A portion of the lyrics are:

And if I claim to be a wise man,
Well, it surely means that I don't know

Love is better than knowledge. I would rather be with a simple person who is loving than a genius who is self-centered, wouldn’t you?

And, the best love that we can have is love for God.  Those who love God are loved BY God. Paul writes that in verse 3. The word “known” in verse 3 is an exact synonym for “loved.”

In verse 4 he writes that “an idol has no real existence.” This will be his basis for allowing the disciples at Corinth to eat food sacrificed to idols: because they are not real we have nothing to worry about in eating sacrificial food. He goes on: “There is no God but one.” In other words, idols are not real but God is! God is real!

God is not only real, but he is as real as real can be.

There are several famous proofs for the existence of God. And, proof is the right word. One can prove that God exists. There are about a dozen or more arguments for the existence of God. Out of those, there are four  that are very powerful. I would even say that three  are irrefutable. But I am not going to talk about any of those this morning. I am going to take a simple, down-to-earth approach (some of those arguments can become complex) that is easy to understand by anyone. I am going to give three reasons why we can not only know God is real, but that he is as real as real can be.

[II.] We can know God is real by our experience. Before we think about our own experience of God, consider the apostle Paul’s. Turn to Acts 22:6-11. 
Here is a man who is knocked off his horse by God, is blinded by a light from heaven, and is spoken to by the resurrected Lord Jesus Christ. The men who are with him also saw the light and hear the voice but do not understand the words. Paul is told where to go. He goes there. Then he is given a vision of what will happen to him before it happens. And then it happens exactly like his vision because God also speaks to Ananias and tells him what to do. Both Paul and Ananias obey God and Paul becomes the greatest of the apostles. Now, if you were living back in Paul’s day would you tell him, “No, Paul, none of that happened to you. I wasn’t there and you were, but I just don’t think that happened to you?” “Why?” Paul might ask.  “Well, because it didn’t happen to me, so it couldn’t have happened to you.” You see, it would be a very foolish thing to speak to Paul in that way. He is the one that had the experience.

Paul’s contact with God was notable in that it consisted of sensory experiences, but what about Ananias? He only has a vision (Acts 9:10-16). No sensory experience, just a vision and a conversation within that vision.

Our experiences of God are not as dramatic as Paul’s, nor even as Ananias’, and they are not attended by sensory experience as was Paul’s but they are no less real. Consider two that every follower of the Lord has and even many unbelievers have.

[A.] The experience of answered prayer.  We have all had prayers answered and sometimes in unusual ways. If we would have kept a prayer journal our whole lives we could look back and see, literally, hundreds of prayers answered. J.P. Moreland, a Christian author, scientist, and philosopher shares some of the prayers that he had and how they were answered. Not long after he came to Christ he decided to attend The Colorado School of Mines in Golden, Colorado near Denver. He had been accepted into their program there but at a rather late date. He was told by everyone that he would not be able to find any housing because of the late date at which he was seeking it. He was also told by those who were discipling him as a new Christian that when he prayed, no matter what the prayer was for, he should be specific in his requests so that, when God answers, he would know that it was from God and not merely a coincidence. So, when he prayed for housing he asked for a white house with a yard, a white picket fence, less than 2 miles from campus, and for less than $130/mo. He began praying that prayer and, surprisingly, he found a house in Denver that was not white, didn’t have a fence and was 12 miles away from campus. But, the rental price was reasonable and, since everyone warned him of how nearly impossible it would be to find any housing at all, he thought he had better take it. He drove out to it and it was good enough. But he was told by the owner that another couple had just been out to look at it a few hours before and had taken it. He felt discouraged. But soon after, a friend who was working as a secretary at Denver Seminary said she saw an ad on the bulletin board at the seminary for a house that was for rent by a local pastor. She got the information for him and he and his wife went o look at it. It was a white house, with a yard, with a white picket fence, renting for $110/mo and was less than 2 miles from campus! God answers mundane prayers. When his daughter was becoming a teenager, he and his wife were concerned about who she might be hanging out with. They wanted her friends to be at their house rather than she going to her friend’s houses. They converted their garage into a recreation room so they could have a place to hang out. The trouble was that they had very little money. So, after they had spent money on the conversion there was no money left to put anything into it. It was a nice looking room that was empty except for one sofa. He said to his family, “Let’s pray for a pool table.” They started praying daily for a pool table. A week went by. Nothing. A second week went by. Their daughter was in a soccer game so they attended that. There were more than twenty families present from their team. As he was just standing around one of the dads came up to him and said, “My wife and I are trying to make room in our house for some new furniture. We have a pool table that we want to get rid of. Would you have a need for one?” Brother Moreland was dumbfounded. He explained to him that he was a follower of the Lord Jesus Christ and that he had been praying for a pool table for 2 weeks! The dad responded by saying that he, too, was a follower of Jesus. Moreland asked him why he came up to him to ask him if he wanted a pool table. He said he didn’t know. He just felt compelled to. God answers small prayers like that, but he also answers prayers for momentous matters. He tells of a time when he was the guest speaker at a small Baptist church. At this church was a young couple who had a baby, only a couple of months old, who had just been diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor the size of a baseball. The parents were very frightened and asked for prayer. A deacon got up and just said a weak, general prayer. He did not even ask the parents or the child to come forward. J.P.’s wife whispered to him, “You have to do something about this.” He said, “I’m just a guest here.” He didn’t want to do anything more. But he was afraid of his wife so he said, “OK.” After he gave the message he asked the parents and the child to come up. He asked the deacons of the church to come forward and they all laid hands on the baby’s head and prayed for healing. Within the next few days, the baby was scheduled for brain surgery. Afterward, the pastor of the church called J.P. and told him that when they opened up his skull the tumor had shrunk to the size of a walnut and they removed it without any damage to the surrounding brain tissue. They tested it again and there were no malignant cells. Three years afterward the child was healthy and cancer free! When he tells atheists about these and even more answers to prayer, eventually they just don’t believe him. (People, sadly, more often just believe what they want to believe rather than fairly considering the evidence and accepting where it leads…to the truth.)

Even those who do not follow the Lord Jesus have the experience of answered prayer. Most people believe in God, over 90%, so although they may not be devoted to Him and they ignore Him most of their lives when trouble comes they will pray. They will pray and, often, God delivers them. They find relief. The relief they find does not cause them to give their lives over to Him in many instances, but they do experience answered prayer.

[B.] There is also the experience of intimacy. Those who follow Jesus commune with Him and with the Father. This communion may be during prayer. But there is also a communion that is wordless. It is a sense of the presence of God. With this sense of the presence of God, there is a love that is mutual. We know that God loves us and we love God in return. This knowledge is not only objective (from the Scriptures), but it is also subjective. We experience his love directly. The right word to describe this is intimacy. We experience intimacy with God and this testifies to his reality.

And this is an added meaning of the word “real” as opposed to the word “true.” The words real and true are synonyms. They mean almost the same thing.  However, often when one uses the word “real” they mean a little more than just true. One can say about another person or a song or an idea that “It is so real to me!” When a person says that they mean that there is a subjective element to its reality or to its message that is in addition to the brute fact that it exists or that it merely carries a truthful content.

Even unbelievers can have this experience. I have a distinct memory of, when I was five years old, my mother telling me that I should pray to God. She told me as best as she could how to do that. After she left my bedroom I got on my knees and I prayed to God. I sensed his presence. After I prayed, I laid on my bed and just thought about God. As I thought about Him I felt as if He cared for me. Even unbelievers can have a fleeting experience of intimacy with God.

We can know God is real by the experiences of answered prayer and through intimacy with Him.

[III.] We can know God is real by the importance of His reality. I was in Starbucks a number of years ago and I was wearing one of my radical t-shirts. The front said in big, bold letters: “Jesus Saves from Hell,” with flames around the word “Hell.” The back said “Repent or Perish.” I ordered my coffee and sat down in one of their comfortable chairs. An atheist was standing by me and was reading my shirt. He said, “Why would you believe something that that you cannot touch, see, hear, smell or taste?” (That was the doctrine of empiricism he was expressing.) I looked at him and calmly asked, “Do you believe in mercy?” He said yes. I think he may have been thinking that I was implying that he wasn’t being merciful asking a simpleton like me such a hard question. Atheists, generally, think they are smarter than everyone else. After he said yes I asked, “Can you touch mercy. Can you see it?” He had no answer. Then I added, “Actually, the most important things in life like mercy, love, compassion, even logic, cannot be seen, heard, or touched. (We can see the results of mercy, love, and compassion, but not those things themselves.) The less important things are the things that can be seen and touched.” He didn’t know what to say. 

There is a mysterious relationship between the importance of something and its reality. Some things are so important that it is impossible for them not to be true.

[A.] God is so important that without Him life would be meaningless. After that experience as a five-year-old boy, I nominally believed in God. But by Junior High School (They call it Middle School here in Missouri.) I had become an atheist. I recall that, once I took on that belief, life seemed so empty and purposeless. Whenever I would think about death I would be filled with fear. The idea of ceasing to exist was terrifying. If there is no God then life is without ultimate significance, value, or purpose. William Lane Craig asks the question, “If each individual person passes out of existence when he dies, then what ultimate meaning can be given to his life?” The answer, of course, is none. And what is true of the individual is also true of the human race as a whole and the entire universe as well. Further, there is no value to life if it all ends forever.  And there is no purpose that lasts which is another way of saying there is no ultimate purpose.

[B.] God is so important that without Him we could not have objective morals. We could not have rationality itself. And, we could not have the ability to prove anything at all. There is not time to develop and adequately show how this is so, but I will say a brief word just about morals. If there is no God then there could not be objective morals. There could only be subjective morals. That is to say, morals would only be the opinions of people either individually or as a society. But a moment’s reflection will show that this cannot be the case. What if a society asserted that it was alright to sexually abuse children. Would the fact that a whole nation said that it was OK make it moral? Of course not. It would be an abomination regardless of how many people thought it was a good thing. But if morals are only subjective then we would have to say that child abuse or racism or misogyny can be good things. But we know in the deepest part of who we are that they are evil. For morals to be objective, outside of us, there must be a divine mind.

We can know God is real by the importance of His reality. For, without him there is no meaning to life, no objective morals, and no rationality.

[IV.] We can know God is real by the Holy Spirit. Yes, the Holy Spirit is God. So, is this another way of saying that we can know God is real because of God? Yes, it is. Someone may say, “That is circular reasoning.” No, it is not. Why not? Because we are not establishing that there is God through reason alone. Rather, we are exploring how we can know that God is real. There is a difference. If it were merely a logical argument then it would not do to use God (the conclusion that we are trying to reach) as part of the argument leading to the conclusion. That is not what we are doing. We are showing how we get to know that God is real. This involves not only our experiences but how those experiences affect us. It is a bigger question than just a syllogism (a formally stated argument). By way of example, let us do a thought experiment. You are in a room with two other people and an angel, but you do not know there is an angel in the room. Both of the other people in the room say to you, “There is an angel in this room.” You say, “How do you know that? I don’t see an angel.” They reply, “We see him. He is standing right over there in the corner. He even said to us, “I am an angel of God. I am here to protect you.” You say, “Well, I have neither heard him nor seen him, so I am extremely skeptical of your claim.” Right after you say that the angel decides to reveal himself to you. He appears to you and he speaks to you. Your doubts are removed. In this scenario, it is clear that the angel himself played a very important role in getting you to realize that he was there. It is the same way with the Holy Spirit. Besides our experiences and the supreme importance of God, God Himself opens our hearts and minds to know that He is real.

The Scriptures clearly testify to this truth. And it is true for both believer and unbeliever.

[A.] The believer can know God is real by the Holy Spirit. 

    And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!”
(Galatians 4:6 ESV)

We become sons of God through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ (Gal 3:26). Once we are sons the Spirit testifies to us within that we are, indeed, the children of God and that God is our daddy (Abba is a term of endearment like “daddy.”). Paul emphasizes this in Romans:

    For you have not received a spirit of slavery bringing you into fear again, but you have received a spirit of sonship in which we cry, Abba, Father! 
   The Spirit Himself witnesses with our spirit that we are children of God.
 (Romans 8:15-16, Recovery Version)

The apostle John also confirms this.

    By this, we know that we abide in him and he in us because he has given us of his Spirit.
(1 John 4:13 ESV)

Even though there are many evidences for God so that all are without excuse, God is not the conclusion of a line of reasoning. He is the Living God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Elijah, and Jesus when he was a man; and He dwells within us!

The Holy Spirit makes God real to the believer.

[B.] The unbeliever, too, can know that God is real by the Holy Spirit.

    Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.
(John 16:7-11 ESV)

It is the Holy Spirit who convicts the wayward person that they have sinned against a Holy God. It is the Holy Spirit who convicts a person that Jesus was a righteous man and more than just a man – Lord and Savior. It is the Holy Spirit who convicts a person that there is a Judgment Day coming. I tell you, all those convictions are necessary to come to a saving faith. But even before those, the writer of Hebrews says, is the conviction that God “exists and that he rewards those who diligently seek him (Hebrews 11:6).”

The New Century version has:

Without faith, no one can please God. Anyone who comes to God must believe that he is real and that he rewards those who truly want to find him.

The CEV: But without faith, no one can please God. We must believe that God is real and that he rewards everyone who searches for him.

The Holy Spirit makes God real to the lost.

[V. Conclusion and Application] It is not the things that we can see and touch like our cars, our bicycles, the money in our billfolds, even our friends, and loved ones, that are the most important things in our life nor are they the most real. God is the most real being there is because he is the fountain of all that is.

•    We can know that God is real by our experience, both through answered prayer and through our intimacy with Him.
•    We can know that God is real by the importance of His reality. Without God, there is no meaning to life and neither is there any foundation for right and wrong.
•    We can know God is real by the Holy Spirit who is within us if we are His and who is convicting us if we are not.

What are we to do? If we have not made complete peace with God, today is the day to do that. Do not ignore the conviction that the Holy Spirit has brought to you about your sin, the way to be free from it, and the Day of Judgment that is coming and is inescapable. 

If you already are a child of God, remember once again that God is everything to you. Let His reality surround you and experience the intimacy that is yours. Take time with Him in a daily way and cease to divide your affections. God is as real as real can be.