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by Jacob Ninan

A Hindu sits in a meditation hall listening to soft music, and a Christian sits in a church building listening to choral music. Both get a feeling of peace and serenity, and imagine it to be communion with God! A Hindu experiences a thrill at the end of a time of physical or mental religious exercise, and a Christian experiences a physical or mental exhilaration at a so-called "praise and worship" meeting. Some have moving experiences and others are excited by discovering new truths from the scriptures. Each one tends to assure himself that he has come to know God. But what is it to know God?

God is spirit (Jn.4:24), and it is in our spirit and not with our body or mind that we get to know Him. When our so-called experience of God, however thrilling it may be, stops short of touching our spirit, we have not really come into contact with God. It is very easy to deceive ourselves in this matter because it is easier to live at the level of our body and mind than our spirit.

It is easier to say and do the right things, especially those that are noticed by others, than to be right in our spirit. It is possible to obtain a name for ourselves as "spiritual" people by a careful practice of external righteousness. Yet our heart (spirit) can be proud, selfish, jealous, critical, bitter, unforgiving or offended. The cleverer we are, the better we can hide our heart from others, and become accomplished hypocrites.

Those who worship God must do so in spirit and in truth (Jn.4:24). It is not a matter of worship alone. God desires truth in our innermost parts, that is, in our spirit (Ps.51:6). We can say that we know God only when we know Him in spirit and truth.

It is possible to have a zeal for God and still miss knowing Him (Ro.10:2). People who do miracles and prophesy in the name of Jesus and even those who purify themselves externally as virgins, may find that the Lord does not know them at all (Mt.7:22,23:25:1-12). The reason is that the truth has not gone deep enough to the level of their spirits.

The Pharisees were perhaps more earnest and zealous in their seeking to please God than most others in Israel. It is not easy to take such minute care to obey God even to the extent of tithing mint and cummin without being earnest. But their error was that they saw only the letter of the law and not the spirit. We are in the same danger when we believe in the inspiration of the scriptures, and try to believe and obey the word exactly as it is written.

When we come to a 'law' even in the New Testament, it is easier to try to obey it externally than to try to understand the spirit behind the word. We know what it is to create a bad impression about someone by just an expression on our face without saying anything untruthful or evil. Having done that, it is easy to justify ourselves thinking that we have kept the law against backbiting. But God who looks at the heart does not find that to be true in our spirit. On the other hand, if parents discuss something bad that their children have done, or if elders talk together about the people under their care, they are not backbiting even though they may 'speak evil behind the back', because it is the law of goodness and love that is at work in their hearts.

Many who are very strict about the New Testament teaching about ornaments, hair style and dresses do not think at all about their own critical and self-righteous attitudes towards those who do not agree with them. Jesus who kept the law against adultery in the highest sense could still find the law of mercy and kindness to deal with a repentant woman (Jn.8:11). One of the problems with the Pharisees was that they kept certain laws while neglecting others (Mt.23:23). Not surprisingly, they kept the laws relating to external behaviour and neglected the laws concerning attitudes. But Jesus said that their attitudes were more vital.

It was by being sensitive to His spirit while He looked at the law that Jesus discovered that getting angry was really the same as murder, and that looking at a woman with lust is the same as committing adultery. The Pharisees, on the contrary, while being very careful about keeping the Sabbath and tithing, had no qualms about putting an innocent Man to death. The chief priests could not bear the thought of using the price of blood for the temple, but had no problem with shedding innocent blood (Mt.27:6). Jesus was angry with the leaders who wanted to keep the Sabbath even if it meant that people could not get healed (Mk.3:1-5;Lk.13:10-14). They could not understand that the Sabbath was meant for the good of the people (Mk.2:27). It had not occurred to them that it was permissible to do good on a Sabbath (Mk.3:4)! They did not know God.

If we do not become sensitive in our spirit, there is no way we can know God. Many imagine that they have become children of God because they have accepted certain doctrines intellectually, and gone through certain forms of 'accepting Jesus', without any conviction of sin in their heart or gratitude to Jesus. Even after they have 'obeyed the Lord' in baptism, and joined a church, and participate in the meetings and other activities regularly, they do not know God in their spirit. Some become experts at the law in being able to define the terminology accurately, and others pick up the language and culture of the church, and explain all their actions by saying that this is how it is done in the church. While jealousy, pride, bitterness, self seeking, etc., continue, they pride themselves in being blameless according to the law in the letter.

We cannot know God if we do not let the Holy Spirit speak to us when we read God's Word or listen to it. It is those who fear God who are able to know the secrets of God and it is those who are willing to learn who can hear God speaking to them (Ps.25:14; Is.50:4). Those who look for clever insights to impress others with, or messages to speak, can get only intellectual knowledge. We cannot be transformed into the likeness of Jesus by being clever enough to find some reference to Jesus in every verse or chapter, but by seeing His glory, being gripped in our spirit and seeking for it (2Co.3:18).

Jesus could discern the differences even among those who believed in Him. He had been tempted in all points as we are, and therefore He knew from His own experience what was in men (Jn.2:23-25). We can grow in spiritual discernment only by being faithful in our own spirit in the different temptations and not by justifying ourselves according to the letter when we know in our spirit we are wrong. It is only when we listen to the Holy Spirit speaking to our spirit in a gentle way, convicting us when we turn to the right or left, that we get to know God and His ways (Is.30:21:2Co.3:18).

It is never profitable to justify ourselves when the Holy Spirit shows our lack, whether directly or through people. If we insist on quoting the date of our conversion and our experiences to convince others that we are all right, we will not make any further progress. But if we can face the possibility that we may have missed some turns on the highway of God in the past, or that we made some wrong turns by listening to some deceivers or ignorant people on the wayside, we can quickly get back on the right road and reach the goal.

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