The foundation of spiritual knowledge is expressed in Prov. 1:7. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge: but fools despise wisdom and instruction.”
Man, by nature, does not fear God (Rom. 3:18). He is proud, arrogant, rebellious, self-reliant, presumptuous, and a long list of similar attributes. Some brands of religion teach their followers a kind of fear of God but it is a fear “taught by the precept of men” (Is. 29:13). This kind of “fear” only produces religious professors who draw nigh to God with their lips but whose hearts are far from Him.
The only fear that is of any value whatsoever is that taught by God himself. Job reached a place where he said to God, “I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear: but now mine eye seeth thee. Wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes.” Job 42:5-6.
Job was allowed by God to go through a place of deep and heart-rending trial. The Lord waited while Job and his friends tried in vain to use their religious knowledge to explain what had happened to him. Then, at the proper time, the Lord intervened and Job acquired a different kind of knowledge — a knowledge that only comes when God steps in and reveals Himself in some measure to a human heart.
This kind of revelation isn’t necessarily a phenomenal experience. Most often it is simply an inward awareness that there is a God who is great and over all and that we are small, weak, ignorant and needy before Him.
Such knowledge comes only from God Himself and creates a fear — a deep respect for this great Being that works to restrain our sinful presumption. It is not salvation but it is the beginning of true spiritual knowledge that starts God’s elect on the road to salvation.
Whenever one of God’s elect encounters Him in any measure, there is a corresponding degree of awareness of what we as human beings are in contrast. We are naturally prone to measuring ourselves by other human beings. We are so corrupt that we are even secretly glad at the weakness of others because it feeds the pride that causes us to feel that we are better than they are.
But when we see ourselves in the light of God’s greatness, holiness, wisdom, power, etc., our perception changes dramatically. Job said, “I abhor myself and repent in dust and ashes.” Job 42:6. Isaiah said, “... Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts.” Is. 6:5.
Paul is a classic example first of a religious man, then later on of a man who came into possession of true spiritual knowledge. He recounts his religious qualifications in Phil. 3:4-6. It is an impressive list and shows the degree to which he excelled in the religion of the Pharisees.
No one could deny that he was very zealous and sincere. He himself wrote in Rom. 10:2 of those who had a zeal for God but not according to knowledge.
Sincerity is good but it is no guarantee of spiritual success. Suppose a man is traveling along a road that leads to New York. But suppose also that his sincere belief and intention is to go to Chicago. All the sincerity in the world will not alter his destination. If his ignorance and error are not corrected he will most surely arrive in New York if he continues his present course.
This is a picture of most religion. Had God not sovereignly intervened, Paul (or Saul as he was then known) would most certainly have continued on his Pharisaical course. He probably would have perished when Jerusalem was destroyed in 70 A.D. He would have perished certain of his standing before God. But he was wrong!
Are you as zealous and sincere as Saul of Tarsus was? If he could be as sincerely wrong as he was, how do you know you are right?
One of the key truths revealed in the life of Paul is that of the sovereignty of God. Nothing but a sovereign act of God could have stopped Saul. One minute he was a self-righteous, self-confident Pharisee, zealously seeking to stamp out what he thought was heresy against God; the next he was reduced to blindness and utter need.
For three days he waited in darkness for someone sent by the Christ he had formerly hated to come and tell him what to do! What a transformation!
Closely coupled with this truth is the knowledge of our utter and complete dependence upon God. How helpless we are if He does not first make Himself known to us and work with our proud, hard hearts.
Prov. 16:5 says, “Every one that is proud in heart is an abomination to the Lord...” God has seen to it that we all occupy the place of blind, helpless, needy sinners totally dependent on His grace. There is no room for boasting. Rom. 3:27. Eph. 2:8-9.
If anyone is “in Christ” it is because God has taken the initiative. There is no room for “flesh” to glory in God’s presence. I Cor. 1:27-31.
In John 5:30, Jesus said, “I can of mine own self do nothing: as I hear, I judge: and my judgment is just; because I seek not mine own will, but the will of the Father which hath sent me.” How is it that so many religious people today are so sure of themselves? What kind of a spirit is it that produces such presumption?
The only reasonable place for us is one of humility and submission before a great and holy God before whom we will one day stand and give an account. “God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble.” James 4:6.
I Cor. 8:2 says, “And if any man think that he knoweth any thing, he knoweth nothing yet as he ought to know.” There is no room for being cocksure and complacent in God.
One key ingredient of true spiritual knowledge is the keen awareness that we are helpless undeserving sinners. We have touched on this but it needs further emphasis.
When any human being truly encounters God and is allowed to “see” Him in any measure as He is, that person also sees himself for what he is. Job abhored himself. Isaiah saw himself and all his people as “unclean.”
When Jesus revealed himself to Peter and his fellow fishermen in a miraculous fish catch, Peter’s response is described in Luke 5:8: “When Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord.”
As surely as we are utterly dependent upon God for spiritual knowledge, so are we dependent upon God for our righteousness. Any approach to God based on any righteousness we might think we possess is wasted effort. God has no respect for any man who imagines that he is acceptable and qualified to approach Him through anything he is, or anything he has done, is doing or intends to do. Read Luke 18:9-14 about the Pharisee and Publican who went to the temple to pray.
God desires to reveal Himself and to enter into a relationship with men, but He is looking for a certain kind of man. Is. 66:2 says, “... but to this man will I look, even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and trembleth at my word.” See also Is. 57:15.
Jesus said in Matt. 18:3, “And said, Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.” Most men are far too proud to take the place of a child before God. Yet, in reality, what are we before His greatness?
Read Solomon’s prayer for wisdom (I Kings 3:6-9). In particular he said in verse 7, “...I am but a little child: I know not how to go out or come in.” That is a good place to occupy.
False religious knowledge produces evil fruit in all who are influenced by it in any measure — even God’s elect. That fruit includes such things as pride, presumption, complacency, spirits of division, zeal, ambition and other such things.
It’s good if we can say from our hearts, “Lord, I don’t know anything as I ought to know it and I’m totally dependent upon you. I desire to know what you want me to know, whatever will bring glory to you and help to fulfill your sovereign will in my life.”
The central key to all spiritual knowledge is set forth in Matt. 16:13-20. Jesus first asked his disciples, “Whom do men say that I the Son of man am?” They responded, “Some say that thou art John the Baptist: some, Elias; and others, Jeremias, or one of the prophets.”
Then Jesus wanted to know what they thought. Peter’s answer is recorded in verse 16: “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
In verse 17 Jesus highlighted the difference between Peter’s understanding and that of men in general. Peter was a blessed man because God Himself had revealed it to him. The alternative source of “revelation” was flesh and blood — the opinions and ideas of men.
This difference is critical because revelation is the rock upon which Christ is building his church (vs. 18). It is the only foundation that will stand. All else is shifting sand that can only lead to spiritual ruin in the end (Lk. 6:46-49).
For any communication of knowledge to qualify as revelation there must be a personal active present tense involvement by God Himself.
Man in his natural state knows nothing about God nor does he care. All he cares about is following his natural inclinations and seeking to gratify his natural desires. Rom. 3:9-18. I John 2:15-17. All that he is and knows and does is corrupted by sin and spiritual blindness. II Cor. 4:3-4. He calls evil good and good evil. Is. 5:20.
No man ever comes into possession of spiritual knowledge without the direct personal intervention of God. I Cor. 2:9-14.