Revelation: How does God reveal Himself?
When talking with someone, generally the best way to understand what they are saying is to see their face and hear their words. This is because people communicate meaning in multiple ways at once. In the same way, God communicates to us in two ways all the time. These are called general revelation and special revelation.
God reveals himself to everyone everywhere through general revelation. General revelation includes creation, common grace, providence, and conscience.
Concerning creation, Psalm 19:1,4 says, “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork…Their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world.” Isaiah 6:3 proclaims, “The whole earth is full of his glory!” Romans 1:19–20 adds, “For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 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.” Through creation—the heavens and earth, flower and fly, galaxy and quark—God has made himself and his power, love, and glory known. People everywhere see his wisdom, majesty, power and divine nature, justice, and goodness. [FOOTNOTE: Psalm 104; Ps. 8:1; Rom. 1:20; Rom. 2:14–15; Acts 14:17.]
Among the most awe-inspiring aspects of creation is the human body. Every doctor, mother who births a child, grandparent who holds a grandchild, and person reading this with eyes God made sending data to the brain God designed should be brought to worshipful wonder. Psalm 8:3–4 says, “When I look at 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, and the son of man that you care for him?”
Regarding common grace, among the first to use the term was Augustine (AD 354–430) because it is for everyone and therefore common to all human beings. Through common grace, God reveals His love to all people, though not in a saving way. God’s common grace includes the water we drink, food we eat, sun we enjoy, and rain we need, as God is good to the sinner and saint alike. [FOOTNOTE: Ps. 65:9; 104:14; Matt. 5:45.]
God’s common grace allows even those who despise him to learn and make gains in science, philosophy, technology, education, medicine, etc. God’s common grace allows societies to flourish, families to exist, cities to rise up, and nations to prosper. [FOOTNOTE: E.g., Ex. 31:2–11; 35:30–35.] Common grace also allows people who are not connected to God to live decent, moral lives as Good Samaritan(s), though their deeds are not in any way done to God’s glory as acts of worship. The result of God’s common grace is that life is far better than would otherwise be possible if sinners were simply left to themselves. Everyone experiences the grace of God to varying degrees, no matter how sinful they are, because God is loving, good and is determined to do good in love. Anyone who has laughed, held a baby, enjoyed the warmth of the sun on their face, gone for a swim, eaten a good meal, or watched a sunset has enjoyed a measure of God’s common grace.
Externally, God’s common grace is experienced in providence and miracle. God is good, sovereign, and the good things we enjoy in our life are from Him. Just as you get work done with two hands, consider God as metaphorically also working with two hands. On one hand, God works through miracles that are visible revelations of His person and power. Many people have God show up supernaturally in their lives at some point – something often not understood until we have been saved and look back in faith.
On the other hand, God works through providence that are invisible revelations of His person and power. Some people wrongly attribute the cause of God’s providence to luck, fate, chance, or karma. The truth is, God is at work in the lives of people who do not know it and do not know Him. Acts 14:17 says, “he did not leave himself without witness, for he did good by giving you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness.”
Internally, God also reveals himself generally through the conscience he gave us. Most everyone knows it is wrong to murder, lie, and commit adultery, because God has written His morality on human hearts. [FOOTNOTE: Rom. 2:14–15.] Additionally, God the Holy Spirit convicts the whole world of sin, righteousness, and judgment. [FOOTNOTE: John 16:8–11.] Even sinners know to give good gifts to their children because God created us as His image bearers with a conscience that serves as a moral compass. [FOOTNOTE: Matt. 7:11.] While some people ignore or break their conscience, the fact that others see their violation of what is right and good serves only to reinforce the fact that through the conscience God has revealed himself as holy and just. Additionally, people innately appeal to conscience every time they want justice or decry something as wrong or unfair.
Positively, general revelation means that all people know God in a general way. As a result, Romans 1 says that those who “suppress” the truth of God made known through general revelation are “without excuse”; subsequently, their damnation is deserved. [FOOTNOTE: Rom. 1:18–32; 2:5–6, 8–9; John 3:19.] His goodness and kindness shown to all should lead people to repentance of sin and relationship with Him. [FOOTNOTE: Rom. 2:4.] Those who follow the truth path of general revelation can enjoy further special revelation about God that can lead to eternal life. [FOOTNOTE: Acts 10:1–7; Rom. 2:7, 10; 10:15–18.] Innumerable examples could be given, but some include God bringing missionaries to an unreached people group open to the gospel, God sending dreams and visions of Jesus to Muslims in countries otherwise closed to the gospel, and even sending an angel to communicate the gospel of Jesus Christ. In short, we trust the goodness of our sovereign God to deal justly with all people and find creative ways to reveal Himself to them.
For anyone to have a saving knowledge of God requires that, in addition to general revelation, they also must receive and believe special revelation. While general revelation is good and true, it is not sufficient for someone to know that God became a man and died on a cross in our place for our sins.
Christians have always believed that God is real, personal, and relational. We believe it is only by God’s gracious self-revelation that anyone comes to know him. God revealed himself supremely through the incarnation, where the second person of the Trinity humbly entered into human history as the God-man Jesus Christ. During his earthly ministry, Jesus was led and empowered by the third member of the Trinity, God the Holy Spirit. That same Holy Spirit also inspired the writing of the Holy Bible to speak to us about Jesus Christ and regenerate Christians to receive special revelation from the Bible about Jesus.
God continues to reveal himself today, primarily through the divinely inspired, inerrant, and authoritative Bible. The Bible is uniquely and solely God’s completely trustworthy revelation to us today. Scripture is the court of highest authority for Christians and their leaders, by which any alleged revelation from God is to be tested.
Christian belief stands or falls with the Bible. New Testament scholar Darrell Bock puts it like this in an interview I conducted with him:
You can’t talk about Christianity without the Scripture. If you take Scripture away, you won’t have much left. Although you might have a belief in God and might know a little bit about who Jesus is, you wouldn’t know very much. That’s a starting point and a reference point for all of us. Not that we’re worshiping the Book, but we’re engaged with the concepts that put us in proper relationship to God. [ENDNOTE #1]
Because the Bible is so central to what Christians believe, at some point each of us has to settle what we think about the Book. Most disagreements between Christians and non-Christians come down to whether or not we think the Bible is true. A non-Christian might consider a few parts of the Bible curious. They might write some of its words on a sticky note for inspiration. They accept some points but not others. They approach the Bible like a salad bar: “I’ll take that, I’ll leave that, I’ll take that, I’ll leave that.” But for Christians, the Bible is fully true. It is not a salad bar. It is a boxed lunch—take it or leave it.
When Christians make enormous claims about the Bible, they are in fact simply restating what the Bible says about itself. The Bible asserts that God authored the entire book down to every word. It also claims God did this through human authors. These authors retained their own style, voice, perspective, and cultural distinctives, yet God uniquely inspired them to write down what He wanted recorded with complete accuracy. This is different from the Koran or Book of Mormon, for example, which adherents of Islam and Mormonism claim were the result of someone taking dictation. This makes the Bible unique from, superior to, and in authority over everyone and everything else on the earth, because when the Bible speaks God speaks. [ENDNOTE #2]
- Driscoll, M (2019). Christians Might Be Crazy: Answering the Top 7 Objections to Christianity. Dunham & Company, 140].