Roman Catholicism and Protestantism alike both claim to be Christian. The latter spawning many denominations and church traditions, the former one church which claims greater authority than the Bible itself and believes that salvation is in the church and its sacraments. Considering this, someone may reasonably ask: "Do I have to become a Roman Catholic or an Anglican or a Presbyterian or anything else to be a Christian?" Certainly not! Knowing God is a personal experience and an intimate relationship based not upon tradition, but truth. Truth, not in the sense of a mere adherence and acceptance of facts contained in some particular creed formulated to convey the tenets of Biblical Christianity, but truth as it is in Jesus Christ the Son of God who explicitly and exclusively said: "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me" (John 14:6).
Knowing facts about the gospel and involvement in any religious tradition does not make a person a Christian, but faith in the living Son of God does. And it is through Christ that we truly know God and, more importantly, He knows us.
There are two questions which need to be considered regarding what it means to know God. The first is fundamental and the second practical. Firstly: 'How do I come to know God and enjoy relationship with Him?' And secondly: 'What does it mean to know God in daily life and experience?' The first question is clearly foundational to the second and it is where we must begin in any discussion about God and ourselves for how I claim to know God seriously affects how I relate to Him and what I expect from Him.
'How Do I Come to know God and Enjoy Relationship with Him?'
While many people claim to know God based on their religion or church tradition, it is what the Bible says that is all important since it is the only infallible guide to truth and ultimate meaning. If the Bible is the word of God then it transcends all the ideas of men and under its authority we all stand. The Bible teaches that we can only know God personally and in reality by faith in His Son the Lord Jesus Christ. Because of sin the human race has been alienated from God (Ephesians 2:1-3) and as sinners we are actually enemies of God (Colossians 1:21-22) and are deserving of His wrath. We needed a saviour and mediator who could reconcile us to God and that is why God sent His Son into the world. He came as Saviour and through His death on the Cross for our sins and by His resurrection from the dead, He is the Mediator between God and men (1 Timothy 2:5-6). It is through faith in Jesus Christ that I become a child of God and a citizen of His kingdom (John 3:3, 16). Being born of Christian parents or into a so called Christian country or belonging to a particular religious tradition doesn't make me a child of God, nor does any amount of piety or church attendance. It is only through faith in Christ that we are born of God and it is only by faith in Christ and because of divine grace that we are justified before God and enjoy peace with Him through the Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 3:24; 5:1). We must know peace with God in order to enjoy the peace of God.
It is only then by the experience of salvation by grace through faith alone that we can have a true knowledge of God and are therefore able to live for Him (Ephesians 2:8-10). God's grace revealed in the gospel is the basis of our knowing Him; not one of us can earn either His favour or acceptance by our own effort. Grace is what displays the beauty of the gospel - God has provided everything we need as sinners entirely free and without any merit on our part. In response He asks to repent of our sins and put our unreserved trust in His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.
'What Does it Mean to know God in Daily Life and Experience?'
Living by faith is the practical reality of knowing God. 'The just shall live by faith' is the great foundational statement of Christianity and is quoted three times in the New Testament (Romans 1:17; Galatians 3:11 and Hebrews 10:38). It comes originally from the Old Testament book of the prophet Habakkuk. Habakkuk was deeply perplexed by the seeming silence and inactivity of God regarding his prayers and the moral conditions of Israel (Habakkuk 1:1-4). Then when God did finally answer Habakkuk what he heard was not what he expected to hear. Rather than help him, it only perplexed him all the more. But God spoke again and in what he said the second time is found this precious gem of truth: 'The just shall live by his faith' (Habakkuk 2:4). The 'key' by which Habakkuk could enter into a life of peace and contentment in the midst of trying times was faith and this is the case for every child of God. Habakkuk was to trust God even when the way was dark and things were tough. Understanding this turned his perplexity into praise (Habakkuk 3:17-19). This has ever been the case for God's children and the Bible says that 'without faith it is impossible to please Him' (Hebrews 11:6). It was the apostle Paul who wrote from a prison that 'I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content ... I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me' (Philippians 4:11 & 13). This was because of his faith in God and Christ. Not only was he 'a bondservant' and 'an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God' (Romans 1:1; 2 Timothy 1:1) he was also fully assured that wherever he was or whatever happened to him 'neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord' (Romans 8:38-39).
God is faithful and both cares and is compassionate toward His children, but this does not mean that He is like Santa Claus or that he ever promised life would be 'a bed of roses'. He will however give grace for life's trials: 'No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it' (1 Corinthians 10:13).
So how does a believer handle life with all its problems? On March 6, 2012 I stood at the bedside of my uncle and friend who in a few hours was about to leave this world for the next; he was age 64 and had fought Leukaemia for the previous five years. What marked him during his illness and in the final moments of his life on earth, was a real contentment and a true courage; he never blamed God but trusted His grace. This doesn't mean of course that a believer in Christ is immune to heartache, disappointment and tears like everyone else in difficult circumstances, but it does mean that the true child of God and believer in Christ does not blame God, they trust Him even though often they don't understand the reason why.
I encourage every reader to ensure that you know God through the revelation He has given of Himself in scripture for it is only as we know Him according to truth that we will be enabled to trust Him unreservedly and enjoy His peace. Paul wrote to the Christians in Philippi these words: 'Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus' (Philippians 4:6-7).
Biblical Christianity is not a theory and knowing God is not imaginary. These are realities by which we can live and die with courage and certainty. If you are happy with the vague assurances of men rather than the certainty of the word of God and if you are happy with religion based on tradition rather than upon truth, that is your choice, but in the end it will be a tragic choice and a sad disappointment. The Bible assures us that we can depend upon Christ the 'Cornerstone':
“Behold, I lay in Zion A chief cornerstone, elect, precious, And he who believes on Him will by no means be put to shame.” 1 Peter 2:6