16 While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he was greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols. 17 So he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and the God-fearing Greeks, as well as in the marketplace day by day with those who happened to be there. 18 A group of Epicurean and Stoic philosophers began to dispute with him. Some of them asked, “What is this babbler trying to say?” Others remarked, “He seems to be advocating foreign gods.” They said this because Paul was preaching the good news about Jesus and the resurrection. 19 Then they took him and brought him to a meeting of the Areopagus, where they said to him, “May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting? 20 You are bringing some strange ideas to our ears, and we want to know what they mean.” 21 (All the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there spent their time doing nothing but talking about and listening to the latest ideas.) 22 Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: “Men of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. 23 For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you. 24 The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands. 25 And He is not served by human hands, as if He needed anything, because He Himself gives all men life and breath and everything else. 26 From one man He made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and He determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. 27 God did this so that men would seek Him and perhaps reach out for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us. 28 ‘For in Him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are His offspring.’ 29 Therefore since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone - an image made by man’s design and skill. 30 In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now He commands all people everywhere to repent. 31 For He has set a day when He will judge the world with justice by the man He has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising Him from the dead.”
32 When they heard about the resurrection of the dead, some of them sneered, but others said, “We want to hear you again on this subject.” 33 At that, Paul left the Council. 34 A few men became followers of Paul and believed. Among them was Dionysius, a member of the Areopagus, also a woman named Damaris, and a number of others.
Hebrews 11:6 says, “without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to Him must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who earnestly seek Him.” This verse seems to state the obvious by saying we must believe He exists – after all, that would seem like a minimum requirement to be a Christian. To put it another way, how could you be a Christian if you don’t believe in the existence of God?
This is where we start from on our journey to salvation. Other translations say, “He who comes to God must believe that He is.” God is.
Interestingly enough, the Bible makes no attempt to prove the existence of God. It merely proclaims the truth of His existence as a fact, and builds on that foundation. It’s been said that if you do not believe the first four words of the Bible – In the beginning God – you cannot believe the rest of it.
The Bible is not an interesting book containing some wise sayings and good moral lessons. It is the living, breathing Word of God, and the truth it proclaims stands on the truth that God is.
There is more than enough proof all around us for the existence of God. The more you look at the intricate beauty and detail in the world the more laughable the idea that it all came about by some big explosion becomes.
Paul writes in Romans 1, “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities - His eternal power and divine nature - have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.” (Romans 1:18-20)
As I wrote in the bulletin this morning, there are many who vehemently deny the existence of God. That is their choice and it is their right, but I cannot buy into the argument that some people weigh up the evidence that God is against the evidence that God isn’t, and then reach the conclusion that there is not enough evidence to prove that He exists, so therefore He doesn’t. That simply makes no sense. Instead, what non-believers have done is examine the overwhelming evidence, have chosen to ignore it or explain it away with fanciful theories, and say, “I refuse to believe in God.” Now before someone starts sending me copies of books by Richard Dawkins and Stephen Hawking, I’m not interested in reading them. Like other Bible-believing Christians, I believe that God is.
This may sound rather fundamentalist, but isn’t that precisely what Christians believe and proclaim? God either is or He isn’t. There is no room for grey areas here. Again, Hebrew 11:6 puts it best: “Without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to Him must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who earnestly seek Him.”
But what does all of this mean to us here and now? How should our strong conviction and belief that God is affect our lives?
Firstly, believing that God is gives us an elevated view of human beings. We are created in God’s image. Genesis 1:26-27, “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.’ So God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.”
As human beings, made in God’s image, we are not just one of the animals driven by instinct. We are rational, reasoning, moral and spiritual beings. This knowledge is what causes us to stand in awe of the God who created us. It enables us to examine our hearts and see the damage done to them by our sin, and then wonder why He has loved us so much. David writes in Psalm 8, “When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him? You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honour. You made him ruler over the works of your hands; you put everything under his feet: all flocks and herds, and the beasts of the field, the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea, all that swim the paths of the seas. O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!”
When we come to a deeper understanding of just who we are in Christ, every part of our lives is affected by this awesome truth.
We begin to see (or at least we should see) other people as equally precious to God, whether they are Christians or not. The next time you’re angry with someone else, just stop for a moment and consider this: That person who is the reason for your anger is also made in the image of God. Jesus died for that person’s sins as well as yours. Just try it, and you might be surprised at how the Spirit of God will change your perspective of that situation.
Imagine how different the world would be if Christians took seriously and lived out Paul’s instructions in Philippians 2:3 – “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.” Or if we actually did what Jesus tells us to do in Matthew 7:12 – “Do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” When we believe in God, we’re able to see other people for who they really are: Eternal beings created in God’s own image.
Secondly, believing that God is gives us a whole new sense of purpose for our existence.
Knowing that there is a God enables us to answer the so-called big questions: “What is the meaning of life? Why am I here?”
Once we begin to understand the awesome majesty and holiness of the God who created us, we realise we are accountable and answerable to someone far greater than ourselves. King Solomon ends the book of Ecclesiastes with this statement: “Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil.”
We begin to learn that life is not simply about eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die. We discover that life is not a finite journey to be filled with as much pleasure and as little pain as possible. Instead, it is a pilgrimage toward an eternal reunion with the God who created us. Life without God makes no sense whatsoever, but with Him, it all begins to make sense to us. None of us welcomes pain and suffering, but when Christians experience those times we know that there is a greater purpose that we simply cannot see or understand. We know that God remains on His throne and He is always in control. Only Christians can grasp and understand the opening question and answer of the Westminster Catechism: “What is the chief and highest end of man? Man’s chief and highest end is to glorify God, and fully to enjoy Him forever.” That’s it. There is the answer to the big questions of life.
In the words of Hebrews 11:6 again, faith that God is naturally leads us to conviction that He does reward those that diligently seek Him, and this diligent search results in a life that seeks to be obedient to Him. Of course, our sinful nature remains at war with this desire, but it remains the desire of Bible-believing Christians. Our greatest wish becomes pleasing God instead of ourselves. Jesus uses the wonderful analogy of the vine and the branches in John 15, and in verses 8-11 He says, “This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in His love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.”
Thirdly, believing that God is puts real joy into our lives.
As we well know, life is filled with many unpleasant experiences. Some of us suffer all kinds of hardships, and occasionally we find ourselves asking, “What’s next, because I don’t think I can handle much more of this.” Life seems really unfair at times, and our hearts break for those who seem to have to deal with one thing after another, but how much harder would it be without God? Without the hope of heaven and eternal fellowship with God, life would be dismal, utterly meaningless and frankly not worth living. But for those who know and believe Jesus, there is a deep-seated joy that sustains and strengthens. We rejoice because through trials Christians are perfected for the ultimate goal of heaven and eternity with the Father. 1 Peter 1:6-9, “In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith - of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire - may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honour when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen Him, you love Him; and even though you do not see Him now, you believe in Him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”
In chapter 4 Peter gives us further reasons to rejoice, and helps put the hard times into an eternal perspective when he writes, “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when His glory is revealed. If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler. However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name.” (1 Peter 4:12-16)
The fourth point is that when we believe God is, we have no need to fear our greatest enemy: death itself.
If there is no God, then death is the senseless end to a senseless life. We are like the animals in the end, but more miserable, because we understand more and have a higher intellect than the rest of the animal kingdom. Animals have no desires beyond mere survival. They don’t dream of a better, more fulfilling life. They have no understanding of the purpose of their existence. I know this is bound to upset some people, but what is the difference between animals in the wild, living on instinct alone, and those people who choose to believe there is no God? If there is nothing after death, then what is the meaning of life? Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die. That’s all they have if you really think about it. Without Jesus, all you have is a hopeless end, regardless of how wonderful your life was and how many people loved you. But with Christ, we have an endless hope – a knowledge and a firm belief in the promises of eternity. The Christian and non-Christian views of death are poles apart. To the Christian, death is a door. It is no longer a miserable end to fear, but the instead it is the first step on the last leg of a wonderful journey to God. When we are in Christ and He is in us, we are prepared for death.
In our reading from Acts 17 today, Paul encountered some highly intelligent men – men who were grappling with the big questions of life. They were men who were trying to make some sense of the purpose of their existence. When he proclaimed the resurrection of Jesus and told them about the one true God, we’re told that some of them sneered. There are still people like that in the world today – those who choose to reject the God of the Bible, and they are still trying to make sense of their lives.
But those who earnestly seek God and believe He exists have a whole new perspective of life itself. As Christians we agree with Paul’s words, “In Him we live and move and have our being.” In the words of Stuart Townend’s wonderful song, “In Christ alone my hope is found. He is my light, my strength, my song.”
Going to Church on Sundays is not what sets Christians apart from the rest of the world. What sets us apart from the non-believing world is everything: everything we have, everything we believe and everything we are. When you become a Christian you are no longer the person you once were. You are a new creation, a whole new person with a whole new purpose for living.
Once you say that God is, and you choose to believe that God exists, everything changes, as Jesus Christ now becomes the centre of your life.
Yes of course you’re going to fail Him. That’s the challenge that faces every sinner, but when things do go wrong, remember that Jesus died for your sin. He continues to offer you the grace and the mercy you need to live for Him instead of for yourself.
Our purpose, the reason for our existence, is the glory of God. Every aspect of our lives should praise God, worship Him, proclaim His greatness and accomplish His will. This is what glorifies Him. We were created by Him, for Him, and once we begin to understand this we find ourselves wanting to serve and worship Him beyond an hour on a Sunday morning.
In a moment we will be singing a hymn that summarises perfectly the new purpose we have for our lives: “To Him we come, for Him we go, with Him we serve,” and the last verse “Onward we go, faithful bold and true, called His will to do day by day, till at the last with joy we’ll see Jesus in glorious majesty, live with Him through eternity, reigning Lord!”
Once you say “God is”, and you believe that with all your heart, nothing in your life can ever be the same again.
Homegroup Study Notes
Read Acts 17:24-28
If you were asked to describe in just one sentence the difference between a Christian and a non-Christian, how would you answer?
What fruit or evidence should you see in a Christian’s life that God really has made a difference? (See Galatians 5:22-23)
The first question of the Westminster Catechism is “What is the chief and highest end of man?” The answer is “man’s chief and highest end is to glorify God, and fully to enjoy Him forever.”
Discuss this statement in your group. How does this differ from the way that non-believers understand the Christian faith?
On Sunday we considered 4 ways that our lives change when we believe that God exists and we accept salvation in Christ:
1) We see human beings as creatures made in God’s image,
2) We have a new purpose for living,
3) God brings real joy into our lives,
4) We no longer fear death.
How have you experienced each of these principles in your life?
What other changes have you noticed?
Paul writes in Acts 17:28, “In Him we live and move and have our being.”
The Christian faith is quite clearly more than just a belief system, and goes far beyond merely going to Church once a week.
Using Acts 17:28 as a reference point, what changes do you think you should or could (with God’s help of course) make in your life?