Classic Christianity teaches that God principally revealed himself through nature, history, providence, and revelation—speaking to His creatures and servants in a myriad of ways. Scripture communicates that fear of the Lord, or reverential awe, is the beginning of wisdom (Ps. 111:10; Prov. 9:10; 15:33) and knowledge (Prov. 1:7). The apostle Paul, likewise, talks about God’s law beginning lodged in the hearts of all people, fixing within them a conscience so that every person is able to determine right from wrong (Rom. 2:14–15). This is what the French Reformer John Calvin termed the sensus divinitatis, the sense of the divine. As fallen creatures, though, we naturally suppress the knowledge of the divine inside us and, try to extinguish the light contained within. Be that as it may, no human can escape the reality of the Almighty that is implanted upon the heart, though many suppress the truth of the Triune God (Rom. 1:18ff).

This innate sense of God—referred to as general revelation and given to all humanity universally—has limitations, revealing only certain aspects about God. While a flower in bloom or snow-capped mountains might display God’s creativity and majesty, it does not, most notably, disclose the pathway of salvation. In fact, general revelation supplies us with enough knowledge to condemn us, leaving us guilty and without excuse before a thrice-holy God.

The term special revelation, by contrast, is used to denote the essential truths God has revealed in the Bible, exposing humans to the much-needed elements required for salvation. Any person who has ever read or heard the command, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31) has been exposed to God’s special revelation and has been granted a gracious opportunity to yield to the sensus divinitatis to repent and believe. Either way, we are all creatures who will one day be judged for our actions, for either accepting or rejecting that intrinsic sense of the divine, the God who is revealed in Holy Scripture.

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