Question: How may we know there is a God? Answer: The light of nature in man and the works of God plainly declare there is a God; but his word and Spirit only do it fully and effectively for the salvation of sinners.
The first questions we have addressed in The Baptist Catechism have to do with the question of the existence of God. These are questions to answer atheists who deny God exists. Question #3 is an answer to agnostics, those who believe we cannot know God exists. How can we know there is a God? From both a general and a special way.
By general, I mean, general revelation. By this we mean that in the heart of man and in nature there is truth about the existence and nature of God sufficient enough to condemn man for that knowledge. We saw last week in Romans 1:18–23, that Paul says that all men have the knowledge of God in their hearts but suppress the truth. Specifically v. 20 reads, “For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.” Psalm 19:1 also reads, “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.” Man is without excuse as to knowledge of the existence of God because inherently they possess this truth and suppress it and the creation itself reverberates with the beauty and majesty of the glory of God!
So, in the light of nature in man, and the works of God plainly declare there is a God. But, this general revelation is not sufficient to save people. This knowledge is general in nature. It simply communicates enough about God and His nature to know that He exists, He is sovereign, and He is the creator-judge. Thus, it is enough to condemn man to sin. That is why when the question is asked, “What about those who have never heard the Gospel,” they are without excuse because the knowledge in them and in creation is enough to condemn. But to save, we require special revelation.
By special revelation we mean that there is a special knowledge about God, sin, salvation, Jesus Christ, necessary to be saved that is available only in the Bible. Without the Word of God men are doomed to remain in darkness. For while they have knowledge sufficient to condemn, only in the Bible do they have knowledge to be saved. Peter writes in 1 Peter 1:19, “And we have something more sure, the prophetic word, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.” The Word of God is a lamp shining in a dark place. Apart from the Word there is death and doom and Hell. The Word provides the light to shine into the darkness and bring men to faith!
God takes the Word of God preached and by the ministry of the Holy Spirit brings people into knowledge of sin and the understanding of the existence of God and the provision of salvation in Jesus Christ. 1 Corinthians 2: 12 reads, “Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God.”
Apart from the Spirit of God, the Word does not effect the change in man necessary to accept the existence of God. The natural man might be able to understand the “meaning” of God’s Word but the Spirit of God helps to understand the “significance” of God’s Word. So apart from the Word of God and the Spirit of God there is no knowledge to save. Thus we echo then with Paul, “For ‘everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’ How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!’” Let us preach the Word to bring men to faith!