Experiencing God  


Elder Phillip N. Conley


III John 11, "Beloved, follow not that which is evil, but that which is good. He that doeth good is of God: but he that doeth evil hath not seen God."

This morning, potential continues to go unrealized. While no one will ever maximize their talents and capabilities to their fullest extent, I fear that many times we "sell ourselves short" by failing to seize mightily upon the great power and strength that has been showered upon us from the Almighty. Granted, this power and strength is not ours naturally, but it has been freely given and should be used to His praise, honour, and glory. This great power and strength comes from the implanted faith that God deals to us in regeneration, and from that faith we can do great things that were previously not possible or even considered. Natural man considers the things of faith to be absurd, but to the faithful, watching servant, these things are right and just before God. The Apostle John gives us the basic layout of how a man gets closer to maximizing his potential in experiencing God and His power.

One of the primary things that John is known for is being the "Apostle of Love." While he exhibits many of those qualities, John also shows a persistent proclivity in his writings to truth. II and III John especially focus on the importance of truth and its non-negotiable necessity. Part of the truth that he professes is unashamed adherence to that which is good and complete intolerance for evil. Though we would like to focus on the second sentence of this verse, notice how absolute his first sentence is. Many claim that God's word is too hard to understand and/or way too complicated to figure out. Though some of the visions and prophecies are cloudy, many of the passages and lessons are just as simple as this. I suggest that their claim to complicatedness of God's commands is really shade being thrown towards concepts that they would rather not follow. John simply and absolutely states that we should cleave to good and abhor evil. No exceptions. Non-negotiable.

The second sentence thought is what really captures our mind this morning. From this absolute principle that precedes it, John makes a rather grand observation. The first part of the observation is that anyone that does good is of God. This principle harmonizes with many other places in Scripture that distinguish between man's Adamic nature and the nature of Christ that comes in regeneration. Natural man does not incline towards God nor have any regard for His commands. (I Corinthians 2:14, Romans 8:7) Therefore, if someone does good, that is evidence that the nature of Christ is already given much like John's point in I John 5:1-2. One of the common arguments that our people get against the doctrines of election and predestination is as follows: "So you say that God before time elected and predestinated His people. Nothing can change that. Nothing alters who is or who isn't. So, election is like this great big circle with the elect in it, and everyone else outside it. But, what about the guy that wants in the circle? You say he can't get in, because he's not one of the elect." My simple reply to this line of reasoning is, "Your circle's not big enough." If someone ever has a desire towards God or does that which is good according to His commands, it is evidence that he is of God and thereby shows His election and God's work upon and within him.

As I grow older, it becomes more and more apparent to me how hideous that false doctrine can be. It is hideous not just for its erroneous concepts but also the consequential damage that it produces. For example, if I was an absoluter, I could never be outraged with murderers, not could I even get bothered if people divided churches. After all, if it was fixed, then it had to happen right? Friends, that is one of the most sallow situations that I could imagine a child of God being in. Utter hopelessness about life. In keeping with our current line of thought, consider what someone - especially a minister - would have to think who did not believe in the doctrines of grace. How would a minister feel wondering if those that he ministered to daily would be with him in heaven or not? Those that I preach to regularly are the same people that I fully expect to see in heaven some day. There is no wondering or quaking within my spirit about their eternal health. How can I have such hopeful resolve about this matter? I see them do good. The good that I see evidences their gracious state, and I can preach to them freely in liberty of the Spirit knowing that they have in heaven something reserved that fadeth not away. What a blessed peace!

The second portion of John's observation is not exactly what one might expect. He does not draw a contrast of opposites. Had he done that, the verse would have read this way, "He that doeth good is of God: but he that doeth evil is not of God." That is a contrast of opposites. Rather John gives us a different perspective by way of warning. Remember his first sentence that is absolute in its resolve. What happens when someone does evil? They do not see God. This is a condition that unfortunately does not only plague those unchanged souls in the world. Even a child of God born of the Spirit carries around vestiges of his carnal nature. Paul described it as a body of death in Romans 7. Because of this corrupt nature that we still have, we can destroy much good by doing things that are evil.
As a side note, I will say that though I am thankful to say in full assurance that those I minister unto are those I expect to meet in heaven, I cannot say the opposite with equal force. I have met and continue to meet people that seem interested only in themselves. Their lives are such that I cannot see any love, joy, peace, etc. that would indicate a spiritual nature. However, I cannot say in full assurance that I fully do not expect to see them in heaven. When someone exhibits kind grace and charity, I say, "They are a child of God." When someone exhibits none of these things, I say, "To my best evidence, I really don't know." Anyone that knew the dying thief until his "11th hour" would have likely said he was hell-bound. Yet, even cases not that extreme can leave us not knowing based on the lifestyle pursued. That is why I am supremely thankful that the gavel does not rise and fall under my arm. (II Timothy 2:19)

This road of doing evil is one that unregenerates and disobedients can alike go down. Since both can travel this road, John did not lump them together in an eternal state, but he did lump them together in a fellowship state. Workers of evil do not see God. The word "see" here is best understood as "experience." The word "see" can have many different connotations, but due to God's nature, experiencing Him is what is most fitting in this thought. To experience God is to see His hand and watch care upon us. One of my favorite examples of this is found in Mark 4 when Christ stills the storm and waves of the sea. Mark takes the time to tell us that there were many little ships on the sea that night, but only those in the boat with Christ could assuredly say where the deliverance came from. All the ships benefited, but those with Christ saw the source. This country of ours has been blessed for many years with freedom and liberty, but many living here do not see where the deliverance comes from.

Children of God living in malice and strife can fail to see God for long seasons. King Saul went astray to the point that God would not even answer his prayers. Sampson failed to see God as his strength to the point that he naturally did not see anything else again. Solomon spent many of his latter years in abject disobedience failing to see God's hand and having to lament the vanity of all things under the sun from the book of Ecclesiastes. Many of God's children today miss the great opportunities and blessings of experiencing God through His church, word, gospel, fellowship, etc. due to the wicked lifestyles that they pursue . So much time running to waste! So much loss of potential!

Evil is so easy to slip into. All it takes is too high an opinion of self. When we raise our thoughts of who we are above what they should be, we automatically by extension lessen who God is in our minds. If we are pretty good in our own eyes, He is not as needed or valuable to us. When a man's ways please himself, he is headed on a road leading to destruction and peril. Have you heard people today espouse a belief in God but deny the necessity of church or worship? Has anyone lately promoted the idea of doing "your own thing" even if it flies contrary to the Bible? These mindsets garner the affection of the natural mind that loves promotion of self, but they will hinder us from experiencing God and His power. Though we may still be blessed in a sense based on those we are around, we will not understand how or in what way we are blessed. The governor of the feast in John 2 knew that they had wine - and really good wine at that - but he had no idea where it came from. The servants knew because they did that which was good by following Jesus' commands to the letter. They experienced the blessing of not only the miracle but an understanding of its nature and source.

Today, miracles happen all around us. One of the most profound in my opinion is when a frail man of the dust is blessed to open a very old book and bring forth things both new and old to the edification of the hearers and the glory of God. The preaching of the gospel is a miracle on the same level as healing the sick (Matthew 11:5), yet so many miss the experience and/or fail to see that it is of God. Does this mean that everyone that scoffs at the necessity of the gospel and its power is necessarily damned to hell? Not at all. It simply means that everyone walking down this path is going to miss experiencing God in a special way.

My life is full of wasted filler. Mediations and studies have been ruined. Fellowship has been severed. Yet, I can blessedly find other times when I experienced Him very profoundly. These times serve as markers and reminders to draw nigh to Him. Though we will all see Him with our own eyes some sweet day, let us put away evil here so that we can experience Him and His power while we walk here below. His hand is not slack, nor His arm shortened. He is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we can ask or think. Therefore, let us strive to go higher and higher in our service to Him. The moment we think we "have arrived" is the moment that evil has crept back in to rob us of seeing Him while we are here. For whatever time I have and however many days I will be on earth, I want to see and experience His power. Being blessed by His hand is wonderful but understanding how it came is truly priceless.