The Means By Which We Know God

Belgic Confession Article 2

We know him by two means:

First, by the creation, preservation, and government of the universe, since that universe is before our eyes like a beautiful book1 in which all creatures, great and small, are as letters to make us ponder the invisible things of God: his eternal power and his divinity, as the apostle Paul says in Romans 1:20. All these things are enough to convict men and to leave them without excuse.Second, he makes himself known to us more openly by his holy and divine Word,2 as much as we need in this life, for his glory and for the salvation of his own.

1 Psa 19:1-4 2 Psa 19:7-8 and 1 Cor 1:18-21

In Article 1, the Belgic Confession declares who God is and His perfect attributes. In Article 2, the Confession answers the question “How do we know about this one God?”

The Bible tells us that God is known to mankind by two means: (1) to everyone, by the things He created (general revelation); and (2) to believers, by the Word that He gave to them (special revelation). As we will later see, these two means complement each other.

The apostle Paul tells us in Romans 1:18-32 how man has been hard-wired by God to know Him through His creation, but that man denies or distorts this knowledge, leading him to all kinds of wickedness. And since man knows that the Creator is eternal and divine, he knows that he is under God’s wrathful judgment. Moreover, Paul says that God wrote the law on their hearts, their conscience bearing witness against them (Rom 2:14-15). So there is both external (creation) and internal (conscience) witnesses against man — his ungodliness and unrighteousness are without excuse (Rom 1:18, 20).

And yet, this knowledge of a Creator is not sufficient for man’s salvation from God’s wrath. So God, in His grace and mercy towards His people, revealed Himself and His will towards them throughout history — from Adam, to Noah, to Abraham, to Moses, to David and to the prophets and apostles. This self-disclosure of God is given to His people in the Scriptures from Genesis to Revelation, a book which shows them His single, unified plan for their redemption from sin through Jesus Christ, the Living Word of God. (I’ll discuss the Bible more in Articles 3-7).

Unbelievers deny or suppress one or both means of God’s self-revelation. Pagans know inwardly that they sin, and that there’s a Creator who is angry when they sin. But without the Scriptures, this general knowledge cannot lead them into a saving knowledge of Christ. This is why they worship creation, and not the Creator, to appease the god(s) of nature whom they displease.

This is also why a renowned world evangelist was speaking heresy when he affirmed that it is possible for a person to be saved even when he “never had exposure to the Bible… because… I’ve met people in various parts of the world in tribal situations, that they have never seen a Bible or heard about a Bible, and never heard of Jesus, but they’ve believed in their hearts that there was a God, and they’ve tried to live a life that was quite apart from the surrounding community in which they lived.” He’s right in saying that they believed in a god (creator), and that they tried to live good lives (law written on their hearts), but did he ever read John 14:6 (Jesus is “the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through” Him), Acts 4:12 (“without faith it is impossible to please” God), and Isaiah 64:6 (“all our righteous acts are like filthy rags”)?

On the other hand, fools who deny there is a God (Psa 14:1) suppress both means of revelation. They concoct a universe suddenly appearing out of nowhere after a “Big Bang,” like a Swiss watch assembling itself by chance inside a perpetual motion machine after shaking itself for 14-16 billion years. But fools not only reject the Creator of the universe; they also reject the Creator as Redeemer of wicked creatures like them, and scornfully laugh at the Scriptures’ “offense” and “foolishness” (1 Cor 1:23).

So, when you’re trying to persuade an unbeliever to repent and believe in Christ, don’t forget that salvation comes from both means of revelation. You cannot reject the one and accept the other. Without a knowledge of God the Creator, there is no knowledge of God the Redeemer — no one, no one can come to God the Redeemer unless it is granted him by God the Creator (John 6:44, 64). And God the Holy Spirit is the only One who illumines darkened human hearts to accept this knowledge (John 3:3, 8; Acts 16:14). Salvation is the work of the One Triune God.

With grateful heart my thanks I bring,
Before the great thy praise I sing:
I worship in thy holy place
And praise thee for thy truth and grace;
For truth and grace together shine
In thy most holy Word divine. (Psa 138:1, 2; sung to The Solid Rock)

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