4 Views on How God Interacts with Creation

Theologians often ponder the distinct attributes of God. God is known to be spirit, omniscient, omnipotent, omnisapient, omnibenevolent, and omnipresent. Creation is finite, holds no knowledge in and of itself, is limited in power, without wisdom, holds no sense of morality,[1] and is limited to space and time. How does an all-powerful, perfect, Creator engage with a limited, imperfect, creation? I have been reading Alister McGrath’s stellar work entitled Christian Theology: An Introduction[2] and noticed four particular theories as to how God interacts with the world. I will present the four theories and will then provide which best represents the Christian tradition in the conclusion.

Deism: A Laissez-faire God.

Deism is a concept that reached its zenith of popularity in the 18th century. Deists accept the existence of God, as well as God’s involvement with the early stages of creation. However, deists do not think that God continues to involve Himself with creation. The God of deism winds up creation like a top and spins it, allowing creation to naturally spin itself out with no intervention. In deism, miracles would seem frivolous if not invalid. McGrath quips, “The Deist position can be summarized very succinctly as follows. God created the world in a rational and ordered manner, which reflected God’s own rational nature, and endowed it with the ability to develop and function without the need for any continuing divine presence or interference.”[3] That is, God developed the world, but is currently “hands-off,” or holds a laissez-faire mentality. The second position allows for more involvement by God.

Thomism: The Prime-Moving God.

Thomism is a concept developed by medieval theologian Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274). Aquinas made the distinction between primary and secondary causes. That is, necessary and contingent actions. Aquinas held that God was the Prime Mover.[4] And from the Prime Mover, creation came to be. Furthermore, God’s actions resulted in secondary actions. Often, as McGrath notes, Aquinas held that “God can act indirectly, through secondary causes.”[5] Therefore, God is completely hands on, however God can serve as an indirect cause through the scope of natural law—that is, cause and effect. God is transcendently causing thing to happen, but those causes result in natural secondary actions within the space-time continuum.

This type of philosophical understanding is especially helpful in understanding how God (who can do no evil) can allow evil in a good world, but use that evil to bring out the greater good. More could be said of this concept. Suffice to say for now, this theory views God as a hands-on God, but resulting in hands-off reactions (however, the hands-off reactions are perfectly within the control of God—unlike the deist understanding). That is to say, God is a prime-moving God.

Process Theology: A Persuasive, Changing God.

Of the four theories presented by McGrath, the process theory is perhaps the most confusing. In the process theory, God is not transcendent,[6] but rather completely immanent.[7] Process theology is attributed to Alfred North Whitehead (1861-1947).[8] In this scheme, the universe is seen as dynamic, always changing. God acts as a persuasive agent without forcing a natural or moral agent. McGrath explains,

“Process thought argues that God cannot force nature to obey the divine will or purpose for it. God can only attempt to influence the process from within, by persuasion and attraction. Each entity enjoys a degree of freedom and creativity, which God cannot override.”[9]

The process viewpoint is so distinct from the normal understanding of divine action that McGrath notes “the God of process thought seems to bear little relation to the God described in the Old or New Testament.”[10]

While process theology is quite controversial, it is enjoined with another theory called occasionalism. This viewpoint is quite different from process theories. The next section will address occasionalism.

Occasionalism: A Dictator God.

The final theory is not covered in great detail by McGrath, but is given as a side note—that is, a bit of an afterthought. For that reason, one would tend to think that the theory is quite controversial. Islamic writer Al-Ghazali (1058-1111) presented the view often termed “occasionalism.” Al-Ghazali did not accept the existence of any natural cause. If a fire burned a forest, the fire was not responsible for burning each individual leaf, rather God was. McGrath uses the example of lightning striking the ground, causing a fire.[11] Al-Ghazali would not attribute the fire to lightning, but as a direct act of God. Thus, God does not indirectly cause anything but directly causes everything. So, which of these theories work best with the theistic Christian worldview?

Conclusion

There are a few considerations that must be addressed before offering a verdict. What does the Bible say of God’s attributes? What does the Bible say of creation? What does the Bible say of God’s work? The following observations are made.

God is immutable, independent, and omnipresent. Much can be said (and has been said here at BellatorChristi.com) of God’s attributes. The Bible makes it clear that God is immutable and independent of creation. God, speaking through the prophet Malachi, says, “I the LORD do not change” (Malachi 3:6).[12] In Acts, it is noted that “God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything” (Acts 17:24-25). God is also shown to be omnipresent as God says, “Am I a God at hand, declares the LORD, and not a God far away” (Jeremiah 23:23-24)?

From the noted attributes given above, process theology is deemed inadequate, and even possibly unbiblical. God is not manipulated by creation (while I do think that God feels emotions). Nevertheless, process theology is eliminated from possibility due to the attributes of God.

God is the Creator of all things and has established systems of operation. Nehemiah notes concerning God that “You are the LORD, you alone. You have made heaven, the heaven of heavens, with all their host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them; and you preserve all of them; and the host of heaven worships you” (Nehemiah 9:6). In the book of Job, God responds to Job saying, “Do you know the ordinances of the heavens? Can you establish their rule on the earth” (Job 38:33)? Throughout God’s message, several systems are noted, demonstrating that God not only created all things, but developed systems of natural operation.

From what we can see Scripturally-speaking as it relates to the creation of all things and the order of operation of natural processes, occasionalism is void. God creates all and knows all. Certainly! But, God has given nature certain laws and functions as ordained from the halls of heaven.

God’s work within creation. If you have been taking notes, you will note that only two systems remain: Deism and Thomism. To answer which of the two find biblical precedence, one will need to discover whether God currently acts in creation. This is not difficult to answer. As one will find countless miracles throughout the Bible, it is appropriately deemed that God certainly does work in creation. Through Christ, God brought about healing to the blinded eyes, sound to the deafened ears, and life to the death-filled soul. Thus, deism is also proverbially knocked out of the competition.

So which of the four theories work? Only Thomism is a viable option. However, it should be noted that God operates more often than what was noted in McGrath’s book. God is functionally working within creation. I believe that God feels emotions and obviously hears prayers. Therefore, one should not take the Thomistic theory to extreme ends. Nevertheless, Thomism is the clear winner as it pertains to God’s operation within creation.

 

© November 21, 2016. Brian Chilton.

Notes

[1] Speaking of creation, not the creatures within creation.

[2] This book comes highly recommended by the Ph.D. theological department at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky.

[3] Alister E. McGrath, Christian Theology: An Introduction, 5th ed (West Sussex, UK: Wiley-Blackwell, 2011), 212.

[4] Especially pertinent in Aquinas’ 5 ways, see the Summa Theologica.

[5] McGrath, 213.

[6] That is, beyond the scope of creation.

[7] That is, within creation.

[8] McGrath, 214.

[9] Ibid., 215.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid., 213.

[12] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture comes from the English Standard Version (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001, 2011).

Is God’s Jealousy a Negative Attribute?

The Bible attributes several attributes to God. Many of the more popular attributes are God’s love, holiness, and grace. Any serious theologian will know the four core “omni” attributes: omniscience (all-knowing), omnipotence (all-powerful), omnipresence (all-presence), and omnibenevolence (all-loving). While these attributes are all positive, many critics pinpoint another attribute of God as being greatly problematic: God’s jealousy.

Critics charge that jealousy is a bad trait to hold. Famed atheist Richard Dawkins claims that God breaks “into a monumental rage whenever his chosen people flirted with a rival god.”[1] Paul Copan notes that “Oprah Winfrey said that she was turned off to the Christian faith when she heard a preacher affirm that God is jealous.”[2] Jealousy is condemned for the human being. One of the Ten Commandments states that a person should not “covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s” (Exodus 20:17).[3] Thus, jealousy seems to be a negative trait. But wait! Doesn’t the Bible claim that God is jealous? It does.

The Bible states at least 13 times that God is jealous for His people. For instance, Moses notes that “the LORD your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God” (Deuteronomy 4:24). Later in Deuteronomy, God says, “They have made me jealous with what is no god; they have provoked me to anger with their idols. So I will make them jealous with those who are no people; I will provoke them to anger with a foolish nation” (Deuteronomy 32:21).

What do we make of this? Jealousy seems to be a negative trait. The Bible presents God as jealous. Therefore, it would seem that God holds negative traits. One is left with three options: 1) One could claim that God holds negative attributes meaning that He is not completely perfect; 2) One could claim that the Bible is erred in its presentation of God; 3) One could claim that our understanding of God’s jealousy could be misunderstood.

The first option demerits the Bible’s presentation of God as valid. If God exists, then God must be a maximally great Being. If the God of the Bible is not a maximally great Being, then the God of the Bible is not really the God of the universe at all.

The second option devalues the Bible, the Word of God. The New Testament writers extracted their understanding of God from the Old Testament. Therefore, if the Old Testament is erred in its presentation of God, then that would carry over into the New Testament. This causes a serious problem for the believer. If we cannot accept the presentation of God in the Bible, then can we accept the God of the Bible?

The third option is best. Our understanding of God’s jealousy must be defined. There must be some misunderstanding that we hold as it pertains to the idea of divine jealousy. In fact, the third option is the only real valid option on the table. When one honestly evaluates God’s jealousy, the person comes to the understanding that God’s jealousy is actually rooted in love. Thus, God’s jealousy becomes a positive trait for three reasons.

God’s jealousy over His people is positive as it relates to God’s passion.

God has a passion for His people. Let’s go back to the passage in Deuteronomy. We all know that Scripture is often taken out of context. Placing Deuteronomy 4:24 in context, one will find that Moses was addressing the issue of the peoples’ covenant with God. God had already blessed the people immensely. God brought them out of slavery. God was about to bring them to a special place prepared for them. God was going to build a great nation out of them. However, the people kept cheating on God. God poured out His love to the nation. He was eventually going to bring the Chosen Messiah, the Savior of the world, in their midst. But they kept cheating on God. Moses says in Deuteronomy 4:23, “Take care, lest you forget the covenant of the LORD your God, which he made with you.”

The marriage analogy is often used to describe God’s jealous passion for His people. Paul Copan rightly notes that “A wife who doesn’t get jealous and angry when another woman is flirting with her husband isn’t really all that committed to the marriage relationship. A marriage without the potential for jealousy when an intruder threatens isn’t much of a marriage.”[4] God had a passion for His people. While Dawkins may think that God’s jealousy is a negative attribute due to the peoples’ “flirting with other gods,” it should be remembered that idolatry is adultery against God.[5] Thus, God’s jealousy is rooted in His love.

God’s jealousy over His people is positive because it relates to God’s purpose.

God’s jealousy is also rooted in His purpose. Wayne Grudem defines God’s jealousy by “God continually seeks to protect his own honor.”[6] Critics may charge, “See! God only concerns Himself with His own glory and elevated role. This means that God is not humble.” But not so fast. Let’s put this in perspective.

Human jealousy is wrong because one covets something that he/she holds no claim in holding. It is wrong for me to covet my neighbor’s car because I hold no claim to the car. In like manner, human pride is bad because it elevates a person’s position higher than what the person possesses. I can think all day that I am the President of the United States. I can walk around like a peacock telling everyone about my successful presidency. The reality is, however, that I am not the President and will most likely never be. But what if someone who holds the office claims to be President? Right now, the President of the United States of America is Barack Obama. Regardless of your thoughts of him and his presidency, let’s ask: is it wrong for Obama to claim to be President? Is it wrong for him to demand respect for his position? Is it wrong for him to do presidential things? No. Why? It is because he is the President. Is it, therefore, wrong for God to call Himself God and to expect to be treated like God? No. Why? It is because He is God. Paul Copan rightly notes, “Is God proud? No, he has a realistic view of himself, not a false or exaggerated one. God, by definition, is the greatest conceivable being, which makes him worthy of worship.”[7]

Simply put: it is not wrong for God to be jealous over His purpose and glory. Such purpose and glory belongs to God and God alone.

God’s jealousy over His people is positive because it relates to the human protection.

I am a big brother. My sister is about 7-years-younger than I. Big brothers normally have a protective instinct. I most certainly do. My sister is a loving, free-spirited woman who always sees the good. I, in contrast, see the world the way it really is. My son is much like my sister. I find that my protective juices flow overtime being a parent. Without guidance, it would be easy for my son to take the wrong path as the first shiny, attractive thing gets his attention. As a parent, it is my job to help keep him on the right track. I have a jealous love for my son because I want what’s best for him.

God’s jealousy works in much the same way. God’s jealous love is actually for the benefit, not the detriment, of human protection. God is omniscient. That means that God knows all things. God is also omnisapient, meaning that God possesses all wisdom. Going back to Copan, he notes, “God seeks to protect his creatures from profound self-harm. We can deeply damage ourselves by running after gods made in our own image. God’s jealousy is other-centered.”[8] I agree wholeheartedly with Copan’s assessment. God’s jealousy is actually for the greater human good.

Conclusion

God’s jealousy is not the same as human jealousy. The difference primarily lies in authority. It is wrong for people to be jealous over something that someone else holds because they hold no true claim to such thing. God, in contrast, having the greatest, supreme authority and power is completely justified in being jealous over His people. His jealousy is actually rooted in His love, purpose, and even human protection. Thus, God’s jealousy is not a negative attribute. It is actually a gloriously positive one.

© August 22, 2016. Brian Chilton.

Sources Cited

[1] Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2006), 243.

[2] Paul Copan, Is God a Moral Monster? Making Sense of the Old Testament God (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2011), 34.

[3] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture comes from the English Standard Version (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001).

[4] Copan, Is God a Moral Monster?, 35.

[5] See the book of Hosea for a full treatment of this analogy.

[6] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 205.

[7] Copan, Is God a Moral Monster?, 28.

[8] Ibid., 40.

Resurrecting Classical Theology

Recently my family and I returned from our vacation at the beach. We stayed on a local island. Instead of staying at the coastal section of the island, we chose rather to stay at the side where the waterway was found. My wife noticed that many of the houses on the coastal side were in much worse shape than those on the waterway side. The waves of the ocean and the salt-enveloped wind had beaten the coastal homes. In stark contrast, the homes at the waterway were protected by the numerous trees in the area.

I used to live in the area for awhile. A friend of mine, who had lived at the coast for most of his life, told me that storms had previously not affected homes as much as they do now. Why? Many of the sand dunes and trees found on these islands were removed to allow for more residential and commercial areas. Thus, homes, even on the mainland, were more prone to the waves and the wind. In a similar fashion, the Christian Church has been subjected to great flaws due to the erosion of classical understandings of the faith.

Attacks on the Christian church from the outside have gathered a lot of attention. Persecution and financial pressures from outside groups often concern Christian leaders and laity alike. Yet, another threat ominously endangers the Church.[1] No, it is not a threat from any government, world religion, or terrorist organization. This threat comes from the Church itself. “What is this danger?” you may ask. It is the danger of losing classical theology. By classical theology, I do not mean any particular view found in a non-Calvinist or Calvinist tradition. Classical theology, as it is used here, refers to the core fundamentals of apostolic Christianity, or the teachings of the New Testament apostles.

Unfortunately, the fundamentals of Classical theology are eroding in many Western churches. Why? Theological liberalism along with secularism, New Age ideologies, and the desire for relevancy have begun to chip away at the underpinnings of Classical theology. Richard Howe made it clear in a session at Southern Evangelical Seminary’s “National Conference on Christian Apologetics” in 2015 that the Church must reclaim Classical theology. I wholeheartedly concur. But how do we resurrect Classical theology? I feel that focusing on four core fundamentals will help.

  1. Resurrecting the classical view of divine omniscience.

Divine omniscience is one particular attribute under attack. By divine omniscience, I mean, as Wayne Grudem defines, the ability of God to “fully know himself and all things actual and possible in one simple and eternal act.”[2] Worded another way, Ryrie states that “Omniscience means that God knows everything, things actual and possible, effortlessly and equally well.”[3]

Classical theology affirms that God knows all that there is to know. However, omniscience has been assaulted by New Age Christianity.[4] New Age Christianity often seeks to excuse God from the problem of evil by claiming that God did not know that a particular bad thing was about to occur.

Such reckoning wreaks havoc on the Church’s understanding of God. Why? If God cannot be trusted to know the future, then how can we trust God in His prophetic utterances? How can we know that history will be unfolded as the Book of Revelation proclaims?[5] How do we know that God will really hold the victory in the end? In reality, a person could not trust that God would, or even could, deliver in all that He has promised. Thus, the New Age Christian lacks the trust in God’s knowledge that the Classic Christian holds. As bad as the New Age Christian attacks God’s omniscience, it is even worse when one considers the assault on God’s omnipotence.

  1. Resurrecting the classical view of divine omnipotence.

Theologically, omnipotence has been understood by classical theology as God’s ability “to do whatever is possible to do.”[6] That is to say, God can do anything that power can do. God has all-power to do all things that are logically possible. God’s omnipotence is a clear teaching of the Scriptures (e.g., 2 Cor. 6:18; Rev. 1:8; 4:8, and etc.). Early Christian teachers accepted divine omnipotence. Augustine of Hippo teaches, “We call Him omnipotent, even though He is unable to die or be deceived. We call Him omnipotent because He does whatever He wills to do and suffers nothing that He does not will to suffer.”[7] So why does New Age Christianity seek to dismiss the omnipotence of God?

New Age Christianity, as it does with the omniscience of God, dismisses divine omnipotence in an effort to explain away the presence of evil. If one could say, “God would like to rid the world of evil, but He just can’t quite do it,” then the New Age Christian feels that God’s omnibenevolence (or all-loving nature) is spared. Some may seek to compromise divine omnipotence in an effort to explain the existence of unbelievers.

The New Age answer causes greater problems with it addresses. If God is incapable of doing all things, then is God truly God? God, properly understood, is the highest being in existence. If God were not all-powerful, then God would really not be God. If God were not all-powerful, then what assures the believer that God will ultimately triumph over evil?

Luckily, better answers are found in Classic Christianity. If one acknowledges human responsibility and the impartation of the human will,[8] then a person can find the answer to these conundrums without sacrificing God’s attributes. Here again, the Classic Christian answer provides a better basis than newer alternatives. In a similar sense, the Triune nature of God is diluted.

  1. Resurrecting the classical view of divine trinitarianism.

One of the earliest heresies to face the Church dealt with the issue of the Triune nature of God. Christians since the days of the inception of the Church have accepted that God was One God, but in three persons. While most Christians accepted this truth, it was through a process that the doctrine known as the Trinity would be properly understood.

Let me say from the outset that the Trinity was not an invention of Constantine as some have claimed. The Scriptures demonstrate the divine nature of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. One of the clearest examples of the Triune nature of God is found in Christ’s baptism (Matt. 3:13-17). In the particular passage, one will find Jesus who “went up from the water” (Matt. 3:16);[9] the “Spirit of God descending like a dove” (Matt. 3:16); and the Father speaking out from heaven saying, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Matt. 3:17). Why is it that modern versions of Christianity seek to demote the doctrine of God’s Triune nature?

Many New Age versions of Christianity have been influenced by heretical groups. Worldviews found outside of the classical Christian understanding[10] have promoted an idea of God that is antithetical to the classical view. Unfortunately, a severe lack of biblical training complemented with a woeful disregard for intellectual understandings of the faith have led to the inclusion of heresies that have been condemned since the 300s. The disregard for the Triune nature of God has also led to a weak view of Christ.

  1. Resurrecting the classical view of divine incarnation.

Finally, the person of Christ has been chipped away by modern ideologies. Some have taken the Gnostic understanding of Jesus. In this understanding, Jesus is seen as a mystical and spiritual person. Jesus’ humanity is ignored. Jesus is thus turned into a Marvel comic character. The opposite is also true. Others have sought to demonstrate Jesus’ humanity while neglecting and dismissing the divine nature of Christ. Individuals such as Rudolf Bultmann have sought to “de-mythologize” Christ. Therefore, any miraculous claim given by the Gospel narratives are bypassed as mere myth.

In either case, the Church is (to use a cliché) standing on thin ice when accepting either of the previous alternatives. Paul records an ancient confession saying that “if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9). As Lord, one acknowledges the divine status of Christ.[11] The apostle John also notes that “every spirit that confesses that Jesus has come in the flesh is from God” (1 John 4:2). The Classic Christian view is that Jesus is both God and man in one person.

Conclusion

This article has been somewhat longer than most posts that I write. But it is longer for good reason. The church is at a crossroads in the Western world. Globally, Christianity is growing at a rapid rate. The Western church, however, has faced many problems. The problems of the Western church originate from increased secularization, decreased biblical knowledge, and an explosion of possible distractions—from technology to careers. The church in the Western world has sought to combat this decline by catering to the culture, all-the-while seeking to become relevant.

While I fully acknowledge that methodologies must change, it is a grave mistake to tamper with the fundamental doctrines that uphold the Christian worldview. By “watering-down” particular doctrines, the church essentially commits the same problem that many coastal areas have done. They take down the very things that buffer them from the storms of life. Houses can be rebuilt. But undermined theology can lead to erroneous doctrines which may hold eternal consequences. Let’s fix this problem by resurrecting and maintaining classical Christian theology.

 

© June 12, 2016. Brian Chilton.

[1] I use the capitalized term “Church” to reference the global community of Christ.

[2] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 190.

[3] Charles Caldwell Ryrie, Basic Theology: A Popular Systematic Guide to Understanding Biblical Truth (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1999), 47.

[4] In this article, I use the term “New Age Christianity” to denote a modern form of Christianity that is found to disassemble the fundamental core of Classical Christianity.

[5] I hold to a futurist understanding of the Book of Revelation.

[6] Norman Geisler, Systematic Theology: In One Volume (Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2011), 487.

[7] Augustine of Hippo, City of God 5.10.

[8] In varying degrees depending upon one’s view of salvation (soteriology).

[9] Unless otherwise noted, all quoted Scripture comes from the English Standard Version (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001).

[10] Such as the Jehovah Witness movement and the Church of the Latter-Day Saints.

[11] Also noted by Thomas in his response to the risen Jesus, “My Lord and my God” (John 20:28).

The Holiness of God (Leviticus 11:44-45)

We have been looking at the attributes of God. One particular attribute that must be discussed as we consider God’s attributes is that of God’s holiness. Holiness means that God is set-apart. In Leviticus 11:44, God says to the people of Israel, “For I am the LORD your God. Consecrate yourselves therefore, and be holy, for I am holy. You shall not defile yourselves with any swarming thing that crawls on the ground. For I am the LORD who brought you up out of the land of Egypt to be your God. You shall therefore be holy, for I am holy” (Leviticus 11:44-45, ESV). Just how are God’s holiness exhibited and, thereby, known? We find four ways the holiness of God is exhibited.

1. The holiness of God is exhibited through His EXCLUSIVITY (“the LORD;” Ex. 15:11).

 God, speaking through Moses, reminds everyone that “I am the LORD.”[1] The personal name for God is the Hebrew term “יהוה” (Yahweh). This personal name is normally translated by the all-caps term “LORD.” The personal name of God means literally “I am what I am.” Termed another way, it means “the self-existent One.” Moses inquires, “Who is like You among the gods, O LORD? Who is like You, majestic in holiness, awesome in praises, working wonders” (Exodus 15:11)? The answer is, “no one.”

Norman Geisler defines holiness, theologically, as meaning that God is “totally and utterly set apart from all creation and evil.”[2] When we speak of God’s holiness, we are acknowledging the fact that He is the only one like Himself. He is the only One worthy of praise and worship. God’s holiness means that He is the ultimate in every way. It is for this reason that the angels proclaim, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God, the Almighty, who was and who is and who is to come” (Rev. 4:8).

I read a story of a minister who visited one of his members. The lady of the house tried to impress the pastor with her spiritual devotion by pointing out the large Bible on the bookshelf. Speaking in a reverential tone, she pointed to the Bible and said that she loved the book because it was the Word of God. Her young son interrupted the conversation and said, “If that’s God’s book we had better send it back to Him because we never read it.”

Often, we try to tell God what we want and how we want Him to work. However, when we understand the great holiness of God, we should simply say, “Here I am Lord, use me.” The exclusivity of God’s holiness ought to leave us in great awe and wonder.

 2. The holiness of God is exhibited through His EXALTATION (“your God;” Ps. 99:9; Isa. 5:16).

God says the He is the personal God of the people. The term “God” is translated from the Hebrew word “Elohim.” Elohim indicates one who is greatly powerful. It was sometimes used of a mighty ruler. Thus, God is not only the self-existent One, He is the exalted ruler. The psalmist writes, “Exalt the LORD our God and worship at His holy hill, for holy is the LORD our God” (Psalm 99:9). Isaiah also notes that “the LORD of hosts will be exalted in judgment, and the holy God will show Himself holy in righteousness” (Isa. 5:16). God is high and lifted up. God is exalted above every known person and creature.

My graduation from Liberty University was unlike anything I have ever seen. 19,432 graduates were in attendance along with 35,000 guests filling Williams Stadium on Saturday, May 14th, 2016. Throughout the service, people gave thanks to God for getting them to graduation. The group Sounds of Liberty sang the song “Just Say Amen.” People were standing with arms raised to God, exalting him, and giving God the praise that He deserves. In a way, it is a picture of the great exalting praise that will take place in heaven.

The exaltation of God’s holiness demands our worship and praise. We often think our problems are big. But when we give God the exaltation that He deserves, we find that God is much bigger than our problems.

 3. The holiness of God is exhibited through His ETHICAL PURITY (“I am holy;” 2 Cor. 7:1).

God reminds the people that he is holy. In this sense, God’s holiness refers to his ethical purity. Wayne Grudem notes that God’s holiness refers to God being “separated from sin and devoted to seeking his own honor.”[3] God’s holiness means that He is the absolute good.

When Grandpa died, Mom was at the hospital. I told her that she would not drive home as she had been awake for over 36 hours and was emotionally strained. While driving to the hospital, I had to set on the cruise control because I was tempted to drive faster than I should. But how did I know that I was breaking the law driving too fast? I did because I knew the law said that the particular stretch of highway was regulated at 65 miles per hour. I had to first know the law before I could know what it meant to break the law. In a similar sense, we must first know God’s goodness before we can know any aberrations from His goodness. Evil is the lack of good as it stems from the lack of God’s presence in one’s life.

God’s holiness means that He is the absolute good. There is no evil or not badness in God. God is absolutely pure. Because of God’s moral purity, we can trust that He has our best interests in mind. We can trust Him in His edicts and in His decrees. We can trust Him to do what’s right.

When we experience someone’s goodness, we should desire to work harder for such a person. When I worked public work, I had one boss who was very kind and another boss who was very cruel. For the nice boss, I worked extra hard. For the boss who was cruel, I only did what was necessary to do the task. As good as God has been to us, we should desire to work hard for Him. We should desire for this holy God to purify us and make us like Himself.

 4. The holiness of God is exhibited through His ELIMINATION OF SIN (“Consecrate yourselves;” Ps. 78:41; 2 Cor. 7:1).

God tells the people in Leviticus to “consecrate yourselves.” The phrase comes from the term “qadash.” Qadash means that one is set apart, devoted, and dedicated unto the Lord. God was in the process of giving the priests and the people means of setting themselves apart for the service of the Lord. Mark Rooker notes that Leviticus chapter 11 ends with a “final admonition to underscore the importance of distinguishing between the clean and the unclean. The reason the Israelites were to obey the dietary laws was that they were to be holy because they had been redeemed by God (11:45). This call to holiness is the climax of the chapter, for all the preceding contents of the chapter prepare for this final admonition.”[4]

God’s holiness is so that He cannot stand in the presence of sin. God’s holiness indicates that God is absolutely pure and holds no sin whatsoever. God must do something with sin. God will either purify sin or He will eliminate the sinner. God gives all of us the opportunity to receive Christ and to be purified. However, God’s atonement of our sins does not mean that He gives us a pass to continue in sin. Rather, it means that He forgives us our sins and purifies us of our sins. If you have received Christ and have not experienced a change in your life, then you really didn’t receive Him. When God enters a heart, He does not leave it as it is. He rearranges, transforms, and casts off those things which are not holy from our lives. Paul writes, “Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God” (2 Cor. 7:1).

The story is told of a rather pompous-looking church leader was endeavoring to impress upon a class of boys the importance of living the Christian life. “Why do people call me a Christian?” the man asked. After a moment’s pause, one youngster said, “Maybe it’s because they don’t know you.”[5]

Evaluate your life. See if there is anything in your life that is causing you to stumble. If so, give it over to the Lord. We are to purify ourselves because we have been purified by a holy God.

 Conclusion:  I was challenged this past couple of weekends. Weekend before last, I was challenged by Dr. Ed Hindson, dean of the Liberty University School of Divinity. He said, “We have the ability to reach far more people than even the Apostle Paul did. When we stand before the Bema Seat of Christ (i.e., the Judgment Seat of Christ), what will we say when He asks us, ‘What did you do with the resources I gave you?’ We are obligated to reach individuals for Christ with all the resources given to us. This past weekend, we celebrated the legacy of my grandfather, Odell Sisk. Altogether, God was showing me that we have a great ministry to do while on planet Earth. God is a holy God. We are to be a holy people. Will we make an impact for God?

 

© May 20, 2016. Brian Chilton.

 

[1] Unless otherwise noted, all quoted Scripture comes from the New American Standard Bible (La Habra, CA: Lockman, 1995).

[2] Norman Geisler, Systematic Theology (Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2011), 566.

[3] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1998), 202.

[4] Mark F. Rooker, Leviticus, vol. 3A, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2000), 180.

[5] Evie Megginson, “A Rather Pompous-looking Deacon…,” SermonCentral.com (March 2001), retrieved May 20, 2016, http://www.sermoncentral.com/illustrations/sermon-illustration-evie-megginson-humor-holiness-loveofthedisciples-apologeticsgeneral-1977.asp.

Qualities of God’s Mercy (Numbers 14:18-19)

Nearly all of us have heard the song Great is Thy Faithfulness. The hymn states, “Great is thy faithfulness. Great is thy faithfulness. Morning to morning new mercies I see. All I have needed thy hand hath provided. Great Is thy Faithfulness Lord unto me.” Unlike some other hymns, this hymn is not the result of some tragic event in Thomas Chisholm’s life but a powerful witness to his daily walk with Jesus as he experienced “morning by morning” new mercies from His Everlasting Father. Pastor Chisholm always trusted his Everlasting Father to take care of him, sustain him, and provide for his daily needs. Just before his death in 1960 he wrote this power, personal witness: “My income has never been large at any time due to impaired health in the earlier years which has followed me on until now. But I must not fail to record here the unfailing faithfulness of a covenant keeping God and that He has given me many wonderful displays of His providing care which have filled me with astonishing gratefulness.”[1] Chisholm’s hymn demonstrates not only the great faithfulness of God, but also the great mercy of God. Chisholm’s health would have failed him much earlier if it were not for the mercy of God. Chisholm realized that he was being sustained by the mercy of God.

We have spoken about the grace of God. Grace was defined as “giving someone something that they do not deserve.” Mercy is quite the opposite. Wayne Grudem defines mercy as “God’s goodness toward those in misery and distress.”[2] In other words, mercy is not giving someone something that they deserve. Some have asked whether mercy is an attribute or an activity. Norman Geisler has stated that “Regardless of whether mercy is itself an attribute or an activity of God, it is deeply rooted in His unchangeable nature. As such, it reveals something extremely important about God’s character.”[3]

1. The mercy of God has the quality of PATIENCE (14:18a).

 Moses acknowledges in his prayer the patience of God as he says “the LORD is slow to anger.”[4] Moses had witnessed God’s great mercy in demonstrating patience in times past. Moses was asking for the same as the people had rebelled against the Lord. People were exclaiming, “We would have been better off in Egypt!”

It’s interesting to note the difference between the lack of patience from the people and the overwhelming patience of God. Remember, mercy means NOT giving someone something that they deserve. Did the people deserve a divine pop in the nose? Yes! However, God demonstrated mercy by his patience. What if God acted to us the way the people acted to God? Would they have been afforded the opportunity to enter the Promised Land? No!

2. The mercy of God has the quality of KINDNESS (14:18b).

Moses continues with his prayer noting that God has “abundant lovingkindness.” This phrase comes from two Hebrew words “rab” and “chesed.” The word rab means “mighty, “strong, or even “numerous.” Chesed means “lovingkindess” that has its root in one’s mercy. Thus, one could say that kindness is rooted in mercy. Moses was pleading for the kindness of God.

Let’s think this over. God had great mercy on the Hebrews keeping them from the plagues inflicted on the Egyptians. God had mercy on the Hebrews allowing them to cross through the Red Sea on dry ground. God had mercy on them by giving them manna from heaven. God had mercy on them leading them into the Promised Land. God had shown nothing but mercy to the Hebrews. Yet, still the Hebrews rebelled against God. Perhaps the problem was not so much with God’s mercy, but with the gratitude of God’s people.

3. The mercy of God has the quality of JUSTNESS (14:18d).

Moses was praying for God’s mercy. But, Moses also realized that there would be some who would not repent no matter how much grace was extended to them.  As we learn earlier in the chapter, many were saying, “Why is the LORD bringing us into this land, to fall by the sword? Our wives and our little ones will become plunder; would it not be better for us to return to Egypt” (14:3)? What was the real sin? The writers of the New Bible Commentary note that “The Lord’s word begins with an accurate analysis of Israel’s sin—it is unbelief.”[5]

Three things can be said about the justness of mercy. 1) Isn’t it amazing that the people, who could not save themselves, thought that they knew better than the One who delivered them? Some people claim that God is unjust for sending people to hell, while at the same time accusing God for allowing evil to go unpunished. The same people will accuse God for not revealing himself to the world, while at the same time accuse God of foolishness for revealing himself on earth as Jesus of Nazareth. God’s mercy is extended, but his mercy does not force the obstinate and those who refuse to repent.

2) It was G. K. Chesterton who said, “Suppose we were puzzled to hear that some men said he was too tall and some too short; some objected to his fatness, some lamented his leanness; some thought him too dark, and some too fair. One explanation (as has been already admitted) would be that he might be an odd shape. But there is another explanation. He might be the right shape.”[6]

3) God is not unjust for sending unrepentant people to hell. God is merciful to allow anyone to go to heaven. It would be unjust of God to allow unrepentant people to enter into heaven.

4. The mercy of God has the quality of FORGIVENESS (14: 18c, 19).

Moses pleads with God to forgive the repentant. Moses played the part of a lawyer. Moses argued: “If the Lord wiped out the nation, it would reflect more on His character than on the character of rebellious Israel. His inability to fulfill His promise to bring this people into the promised land would negatively impact His reputation if He carried out His plan to destroy the nation. Moses, however, knew that the Lord could not let this rebellion go unpunished.”[7] Of course, God knew this all along. Thus, Moses pleaded for God to show mercy through his forgiving nature.

 Mercy is at the heart of forgiveness. People really only hold two options when they are offended: they can hold grudges and seek revenge, or they can forgive giving the people over to God. But really, if we consider all for which God has forgiven us, it should be no big issue to forgive others. Jesus says quite bluntly, “If you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions” (Matthew 6:15). When we hold on to bitterness, we really in the end only hurt ourselves anyhow.  

A medieval story captures the manner in which bitterness holds us a prisoner. Long ago, two monks were traveling and approached an unusually rough river. Standing alone on the bank was a woman who approached the monks and asked if they could help her across so she could return home to her family. Knowing it was forbidden to touch a woman, one monk quickly looked the other way, ignoring her request for help. The other monk, feeling compassion for the desperate lady, decided to bend the rules. Breaking tradition, he lifted her into his arms and carried her safely across the rushing water. Exceedingly grateful, the lady thanked the helpful monk and left for home. The two monks continued on their journey. After miles of silence, the first monk finally said with disgust, “I can’t believe you picked up that woman! You know we’re never supposed to touch the opposite sex.” The compassionate monk replied, “I put her down miles ago, yet you still carry her in your heart.” God grants us mercy by his forgiveness. By God’s mercy, we are afforded the opportunity to forgive others as well.

Conclusion: A little boy named Johnny and his sister Sally stayed at their grandparents’ house for a week during the summer. Johnny had just received a brand new slingshot. However, Johnny wasn’t a good shot. His grandma called him in for supper. Frustrated, Johnny took a shot at his grandma’s pet duck. However, this time he hit the duck in the head and killed it dead. Johnny panicked. He took the duck’s corpse and hid it under a bush. His sister Sally had watched the whole thing. She said to him, “You’d better do what I say or I’ll tell Grandma.” So, the next day after lunch, Grandma said, “Sally, I need you to help with the dishes.” Sally said, “Johnny wants to do it.” Sally looked at Johnny and whispered, “Remember the duck.” Grandpa said to the children, “Let’s go fishing at the pond.” Grandma said, “I need Sally to help with supper.” Sally said, “Johnny wants to help.” She looked at Johnny and whispered, “Remember the duck.” After a few days of being Sally’s slave, doing chores, and obeying her every whim, he confessed to Grandma. Grandma said, “Honey, I was standing at the window when you accidently shot the duck. I forgave you then and there. I was just wondering how long you were going to be Sally’s slave.[8] The grace of God gives us heaven. But it is by the mercy of God that we are forgiven, transformed, and changed. If God has had mercy on you, remember you are a changed individual. Don’t be enslaved by the Devil’s reminders of your past. In life fashion, if you have received the mercy of God, demonstrate that same mercy unto others.

 

© April 29, 2016. Brian Chilton. Published May 5, 2016.

Notes

[1] Kenneth W. Osbeck, Amazing Grace: 366 Inspiring Hymn Stories for Daily Devotions (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1990), 366

[2] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 200.

[3] Norman Geisler, Systematic Theology (Minneapolis: Bethany, 2011), 595.

[4] Unless otherwise noted, all quoted Scripture comes from the New American Standard Bible (La Habra, CA: Lockman Foundation, 1995).

[5] D. A. Carson, et. al., The New Bible Commentary (Liecester, UK: Universities and Colleges Christian Fellowship, 1994), Logos Bible Softward.

[6] G. K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy (New York: SnowBall Classics Publishing, 2015), 57

[7] Michael Rydelnik and Michael Vanlaningham, eds, The Moody Bible Commentary (Chicago: Moody Bible Publishers, 2014), 234.

[8] Adapted from the story given by Ellen Klinke, “The Duck and the Devil,” SermonIllustrationLibrary.org (May 3, 2006), retrieved April 29, 2016, http://www.sermonillustrationlibrary.org/illustration56.

The Graces of God (1 Corinthians 15:10-11)

During the building of the Golden Gate Bridge over San Francisco Bay, construction fell badly behind schedule because several workers had accidentally fallen from the scaffolding to their deaths. Engineers and administrators could find no solution to the costly delays. Finally, someone suggested a gigantic net be hung under the bridge to catch any who fell. Finally, in spite of the enormous cost, the engineers opted for the net. After it was installed, progress was hardly interrupted. A worker or two fell into the net but were saved. Ultimately, all the time lost to fear was regained by replacing fear with faith in the net. God has given us a net of protection. His net is called salvation. One of the attributes of God that emanate from his loving nature is that of grace. God’s grace is defined as “God’s goodness toward those who deserve only punishment.”[i] God is never obligated to show such grace. Rather, it is an act completely done of his own free will.

I am a congruist, meaning that I believe that God’s sovereignty and human freedom completely work in harmony. Thus, I accept terms concerning God’s grace that come from both the Calvinist and Arminian. I have a friend on social media from New Jersey, named Jose Nieves. He calls this “Calminianism.” There may be something to his claim. Millard J. Erickson says that congruism “holds that God works congruously with the will of the individual; that is, God works in such a suasive way with the will of the individual that the person freely makes the choice that God intends.”[ii] Congruism “gives primary place to God’s sovereignty, while seeking to relate it in a positive way to human freedom and individuality. This theology is a dualism in which the second element is contingent on or derived from the first.”[iii]

Side Note: The system of congruism, in my opinion, is not so much found in Calvinism or Arminianism. Rather, it is the admonition that God’s sovereignty and human freedom work in harmony. I think I noted this in a previous article. I had a professor who once said that salvation was like walking through a door. When one entered the door, they would notice over the door frame the words “Whosoever will, let him enter.” After one has passed through the door and looks back upon the frame, one would find the words written “Only the elect will enter.” I think this sums up the system quite well. Nevertheless, I digress. This article is about the graces of God, not congruism.

1. God’s PREVENIENT grace (15:10b; Romans 5:6, 8; Matthew 5:45; Heb. 1:2-3).

In the second section of 1 Corinthians 15:10, Paul notes that “his grace toward me was not in vain” (1 Cor. 15:10b).[iv] Paul has just given an ancient creed dating from the time of the earliest church (1 Cor. 15:3-7). Some scholars believe that this creed may have found its root just from a few weeks to year after the actual resurrection took place. Gary Habermas notes that the early creed found in 1 Corinthians 15:3-7 “links the historical life of Jesus, and the central Christian message of the gospel, in particular (vv. 3-4), with those eyewitnesses who testified to his resurrection appearances, beginning on the third day after his death (vv. 5-7). In addition, Paul had not only met some of these witnesses personally (Gal. 1:18-19; 2:9), but he explains that his message concerning these facts is identical with their eyewitness testimony (1 Cor. 15:11; cf. 15:14, 15).”[v] Paul explains that this historical event made him who he was and that God’s reaching work to save was not in vain.

Prevenient grace is “God’s grace given to all humans indiscriminately.”[vi] Some refer to prevenient grace as common grace. Some identify prevenient grace in differing ways. Prevenient grace holds the idea that God knows what free people would do in particular circumstances. Erickson argues that “God has a foreknowledge of possibilities. God foresees what possible beings will do if placed in a particular situation with all the influences that will be present at that point in time and space.”[vii] In other words, God issues grace to all people. Jesus said that the Father “makes his sun rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matt. 5:45). The writer of Hebrews states that Christ “is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power” (Heb. 1:3). All of us have experienced God’s grace in one way or another. Our existence is an example of God’s great grace.

We often have a tendency to look for the negative. However, we all have reasons to be positive. Regardless of where we are in life, God has bestowed his grace upon us. Just being here to listen to this little message demonstrates the great grace of God that is upon us.

2. God’s EFFECTUAL grace (15:11; John 6:37, 39).

Paul shows that God’s effectual grace, or persuasive grace, is often brought forth through the preaching of the gospel. Paul notes that “Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed” (15:11). Thiselton notes that “whether we are talking about how God’s grace became operative through other apostles…or we are considering Paul as an example of one who received grace and witnessed Christ’s appearance, the apostolic keryma retains the common basis to which the common tradition (vv. 3b-5…) bears united witness.”[viii] In other words, God persuades us to faith much as he did the apostles.

Effectual, or effective, grace indicates that it is “efficacious, that is, effective, to those to whom it is given.”[ix] Norman Geisler compares this to a courtship. “God will woo and court so persuasively that those willing to respond will be overwhelmed by His love.”[x] This is the compelling of the Holy Spirit that we experience when we come to faith. In fact, the entire process of God’s wooing us is a matter of grace. God could have left us as we were. However, God loved us so much that he wanted us to have life eternal. The atonement is brought through the work on the cross, but is applied by the wooing of the Holy Spirit of God. Jesus said that “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out” (John 6:37).

When you courted your spouse, you were in the process of trying to woo that person. God demonstrates his effectual grace by persuading, but not forcing, you into a covenantal relationship with himself.

3. God’s SUFFICIENT grace (15:10a; Hebrews 7:25; 1 John 2:22).

In the first part of verse 10, Paul says that “by the grace of God I am what I am” (15:10a). He has been made what he is by the salvific grace that he experienced through Christ Jesus. Christ’s grace made him both a child of God as well as an apostle.

Sufficient grace, or saving grace, is “God’s grace extended to us to establish a spiritual relationship with God and to grow believers in that relationship.”[xi] God brings us into this relationship. This relationship is sufficient to do the task. You see, salvation is not about a one-time prayer. Many hold the idea that you come to Christ, say a little prayer, and that’s all she wrote. That’s not the case. God regenerates us by this faith. He makes us into a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17). He also justifies us in the faith. This means he claims us as forgiven (Rom. 2:24). God also sanctifies us. This means God works in our lives to make us more into the image of Christ (Rom. 15:16; 1 Cor. 6:11). Eventually, this salvation also means that we will be glorified by God’s grace (Rev. 21:2-3). God does not give us a partial salvation. He goes all the way with his grace.

The writer of Hebrews states, “he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he lives to make intercession for them” (Hebrews 7:25). Jesus said, “And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day” (John 6:39-40). Jesus also says, “My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of my Father’s hand. I and the Father are one” (John 10:29-30). God will save us and he will keep us in the faith.

Craig Groeschel tells the story of being pulled over for an expired tag. He was taken in front of the judge in traffic court. Before him, there were several individuals who would say, “It’s not my fault. I shouldn’t be required to pay the fine.” The judge called Groeschel in front of the court. He said, “What’s your story?” Groeschel responded, “I was driving without a tag.” The judge asked, “What did you say?!?” Groeschel said, “Yes, Your Honor. You heard me correctly. I…am…guilty…I am an idiot.” Groeschel goes on to say, “The judge announced mockingly, loud enough for everyone to hear, ‘We’ve got this guilty person standing in a room full of innocent people. I’ve got to quickly get this idiot out of here before he corrupts the rest of you innocent people. Craig Groeschel, you are free to go. You don’t have to pay the fine. It’s all forgiven.”[xii] We often accuse God of being unfair. However, we really don’t want God to be completely fair. I repeat, we do not want God to be completely fair. Because if he were completely fair, we would not be going to heaven. Grace is a gift given to those who are undeserving. We did not deserve heaven. But God, being gracious as he is, gave heaven to us of his own free will!!! Praise God for his grace today!!!

Copyright, April, 29, 2016. Brian Chilton.

Notes

[i] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 200.

[ii] Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology, 2nd ed (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1998), 385.

[iii] Ibid., 448.

[iv] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture comes from the English Standard Version (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001).

[v] Gary Habermas, The Historical Jesus: Ancient Evidence for the Life of Christ (Joplin, MO: College Press, 1996), 30.

[vi] Erickson, Christian Theology, 933.

[vii] Ibid., 387.

[viii] Anthony C. Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians: A Commentary on the Greek Text, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2000), 1213.

[ix] Paul Enns, The Moody Handbook of Theology, Revised and Expanded (Chicago: Moody Bible Publishers, 2008), 346.

[x] Norman Geisler, Chosen But Free: A Balanced View of God’s Sovereignty and Free Will, 3rd ed (Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2010), 104.

[xi] John S. Feinberg, No One Like Him: The Doctrine of God, Foundations of Evangelical Theology (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001), 355.

[xii] Ibid., 103-104.

3 Manifestations of God’s Love

Not long ago, we had our cat declawed and fixed. He had to be declawed because he would have destroyed our couches otherwise. Our cat’s name is Boo. We named him that because he is jet black and arches his back when he is scared like the Halloween cats you see depicted. Living in town as we do, we have to let him roam around with a harness. It may seem odd to have a cat on a harness. But with him being declawed and living in an urban area, he would quickly be killed either by the neighborhood animals or the ongoing traffic. While I was preparing this message, he was begging to go outside. A few minutes after being out, a truck stopped at a local store unloading supplies. Boo went crazy. He wanted inside badly. He was scared! He tried everything possible to get inside. But he would never by his own power make it. So, I had to go out to him and let him inside. The manifestation of God’s love is very similar. God did for us what we could not do for ourselves. God’s love is a moral attribute. We sometimes use the word omnibenevolent recognizing that God is fully love and fully good. The apostle John puts quite aptly, “God is love” (1 John 4:8). But how do we see God’s love manifested? We see God’s love manifested in three ways. But first, let’s look at S. S. Smalley’s “three observations about John’s description of God as love:

  1. Its background is the Jewish (OT) understanding of God as living, personal, and active, rather than the Greek concept of deity which was abstract in character.

  2. To assert comprehensively that “God is love” does not ignore or exclude the other attributes of his being to which the Bible as a whole bears witness: notably his justice and his truth.

  3. There is a tendency in some modern theologies (especially “process” thought) to transpose the equation “God is love” into the reverse, “Love is God.” But this is not a Johannine (or a biblical) idea. As John makes absolutely clear in this passage, the controlling principle of the universe is not an abstract quality of “love,” but a sovereign, living God who is the source of all love, and who (as love) himself loves (see vv. 7, 10, 19).”[i]

 1. God’s love is manifested in God’s REALITY (4:8b).

 John demonstrates the great reality of love. John is not saying that love is God. There are several varieties of love. Love is not God. Rather, God is love. We must note that “The same construction is found in 1:5 (“God is light”) and in 4:2 (“God is spirit”). The noun love, referring to a process, is the predicate of the sentence; it says something about God’s quality, character, and activity. The translator must take care not to give a rendering that equates God and love. This would imply that the clause order is reversible and that God is love and “love is God” are both true propositions—which is certainly not what John meant to say.”[ii] In other words, John is showing that God is the source of love as love emanates from the person of God.

Wayne Grudem defines love as “self-giving for the benefit of others.”[iii] Norman Geisler defines love as “willing the good of its object.”[iv] Geisler goes on to say that “love and goodness can be treated synonymously. Literally, the word omnibenevolence means ‘all-good.’”[v] Thus, God’s goodness indicates God’s moral excellence and virtue. God’s love denotes God’s desire for the good of others. Goodness and love are moral standards. One must first know love before one can know hate. One must first know good before one can know evil. The only way we can know love and goodness is if we know God. God is the source of goodness and love.

2. God’s love is manifested in God’s RESPONSE (4:9-10).

John’s argument continues in showing the manifestation of God’s love in his response to human sin. John argues that God’s love was made manifest in this way: “God sent his Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:9-10).[vi] God ultimately showed his love for us by making a way for us to enter into heaven. John demonstrates that God loved us first before we could ever even know what love was. God’s act through Jesus freed us from the penalty of sins (1 John 3:5) and to defeat the power of Satan (1 John 3:8).[vii]

We must understand that God was the first mover as it pertains to creation. But, God was also the first lover. All of humanity is the beloved. God loved the world and made a way to save it. Often in modern times, people want to take the credit for God’s love. However, such is not the case. God loved us first so that we could love him. Augustine said, “You cannot therefore attribute to God the cause of any human fault. For of all human offences, the cause is pride. For the conviction and removal of this a great remedy comes from heaven. God in mercy humbles Himself, descends from above, and displays to man, lifted up by pride, pure and manifest grace in very manhood, which He took upon Himself out of vast love for those who partake of it.”[viii] In other words, Augustine is saying that if God had not intervened, humanity would succumb to the depravity of its own pride and sin. God demonstrated his love for you by giving of himself in the ultimate display of love. As Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).

3. God’s love is manifested in God’s RELATIONSHIP (4:7-8a, 11-12).

John provides two powerful points as it relates to God’s manifestation of love in relationships. First, John says, “love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love” (4:8a). But look what he also says in verses 11-12. “Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us” (4:12). What does John mean by that no one has seen God? Akin explains that “No man has seen God in his unveiled essence, glory, and majesty. Indeed, we are incapable as finite sinful creatures of looking on God. It would certainly be our death. He can be seen, however, in the lives of those who demonstrate his love to others.”[ix] So while we do not see the full essence of God, we do see the moving of God in our lives and in the lives of others. In addition, this love will spill out into a person’s relationship with others.

 John argues that since God is love and manifested his love through his Son, then a relationship with the God of love will produce love in the life of the recipient. A person cannot physically see God. For one, God is spirit and immaterial. Two, God’s great power would not allow one to see God and live. God told Moses, “you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live” (Exodus 33:20). However, we can see God in our relationship with him. We can feel his embrace. We can experience the joy from the Holy Spirit. Do you want to annoy a hypocrite? Be genuine. That will annoy the hypocrite worse than anything.

Some of you may have heard this story. It is supposedly a true story although I cannot verify that it is. It is a story of a young man who, while quite athletic and considered a “jock,” notices another young man who was the victim of bullying. The victimized boy, who was somewhat nerdy, wiped tears from his eyes and was in the process of picking up his belongings off the sidewalk when the jock came by to help. The jock began talking to the nerdy fellow while assisting him. The jock walked the nerdy boy home. As they reached the nerdy boy’s home, the jock invited the so-called nerd to play football with him and some of the fellas over the weekend. The nerdy fellow agreed. Over time, the nerdy fellow developed and built up his bodily strength. In high school the former nerd actually began to have more dates than the jock, much to the chagrin of the jock. As expected, the so-called nerd graduated as valedictorian of his class. During graduation, the former nerdy fellow gave the valedictorian speech. Much to the surprise of the jock, the former nerdy fellow thanked the jock for his friendship. He later revealed that on the afternoon when the jock befriended him, the nerd was planning to take his own life. He took all of his possessions home from school that day because he did not want force his mom to come back to school after his suicide. The now valedictorian said that his friend’s act of love and kindness saved his life. The jock, stunned, began to wipe tears from his eyes when he noticed he valedictorian’s mother look at him and say, “Thank you so much!” You will never know the damage that is done from a heart full of hate. However, you will also never know the great blessings and benefits that come from random acts of kindness that truly demonstrate the love and compassion of God.

Notes

[i] S. S. Smalley, 1, 2, 3 John, Word Biblical Commentary (Waco: Word, 1984), 239-240, in Daniel L. Akin, 1, 2, 3 John, vol. 38, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2001), 178.

[ii] C. Haas, Marinus de Jonge, and J. L. Swellengrebel, A Handbook on the Letters of John, UBS Handbook Series (New York: United Bible Societies, 1994), 121.

[iii] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 199.

[iv] Norman Geisler, Systematic Theology: In One Volume (Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2011), 585.

[v] Ibid.

[vi] Unless otherwise noted, all quoted Scripture comes from the English Standard Version (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001).

[vii] Daniel L. Akin, 1, 2, 3 John, vol. 38, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2001), 179.

[viii] Augustine of Hippo, “A Treatise on the Merits and Forgiveness of Sins, and on the Baptism of Infants,” in Saint Augustin: Anti-Pelagian Writings, ed. Philip Schaff, trans. Peter Holmes, vol. 5, A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, First Series (New York: Christian Literature Company, 1887), 55.

[ix] Akin, 1, 2, 3 John, 181–182.

The Functions of the Triune Godhead as Seen in the Baptism of Jesus

In Peter Kreeft’s book Socratic Logic, I read the tale of a man who wanted to tell his friend, a farmer, something important. However, the man approached the fence surrounding the farmer’s property and noticed a large dog barking at him from the other side of the fence. The farmer was busy putting out some hay. The man said, “Sir, I have something I need to tell you. Is it okay for me to come over your fence?” The farmer said, “Sure, come on over!” The man said, “Sir, does your dog bite?” The farmer said, “No, he is a good dog. He won’t bite.” The man began to climb over the fence and the dog barked even louder. The man said again, “Sir, are you absolutely sure your dog won’t bite?” The farmer said, “Yeah, come on over. He won’t bite you!” So the man leaped over the fence. However, the dog bit him on the leg and sent him back over the fence. The man said, “Sir, I thought you said your dog wouldn’t bite!” The farmer looked around and said, “Well, that’s not my dog.” Many times a lack of communication can lead to all sorts of problem. Throughout church history, people have mistaken the roles of the Triune God. These misunderstandings have led to various heresies. Today, we will look at the functions of the Triune God. It is my hope that this message will help everyone understand the unity that Father, Son, and Holy Spirit have together. The unity of the church is stressed as we should be united together as God is united. Also, we are invited into this divine, eternal relationship through the New Covenant. God is one in three persons.

  1. The function of the FATHER as ARCHITECT (3:17).

In the baptism of Jesus, we see the Father’s divine existence as he speaks from the heavens. The voice said to John, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (3:17).[i] Barker and Kohlenberger note that “The voice from heaven was God’s own voice; it testified that God himself had broken silence and was again revealing himself to the human race—a clear sign of the dawning of the Messianic Age.”[ii] Note, God had revealed his plan. Thus, God is the architect of the entire salvation project. 

It is obvious that the Father is understood to be divine. The Father is known by his personal name Yahweh throughout the Old Testament. As we have noted previously, Yahweh means “I am” or the “self-existent One.” As he pertains to the Triune Godhead, he holds the function of the great planner or even the mastermind, if you will. Wayne Grudem writes, “So we may say that the role of the Father in creation and redemption has been to plan and direct and send the Son and Holy Spirit.”[iii] Norman Geisler writes, “By His very title of ‘Father’ and His label of ‘the first person of the Trinity,’ it is manifest that His function is superior to that of the Son and the Holy Spirit. The Father, for example, is presented as the Source, Sender, and Planner of salvation.”[iv] If it were not for the Father, then no plan of salvation would be offered.

2. The function of the SON as ACCOMPLISHER (3:16a).

At the baptism of Jesus, we see that Christ was obedient even in an act that was not mandatory. Jesus had committed no sin for which he had to be absolved. Yet, Jesus was obedient in his baptism and was obedient in his death. The baptism of Jesus would inaugurate his ministry on earth. The Father acknowledged his approval to his Son, in part due to the Son’s willingness to accomplish the salvation of all who would receive his atoning work. Barker and Kohlenberger denote that “These things are linked in the one utterance: at the very beginning of Jesus’ public ministry, his Father presented him, in a veiled way, as the Davidic Messiah, the very Son of God, the representative of the people, and the Suffering Servant.”[v]

On several occasions, the New Testament presents Jesus as God incarnate. This is an imperative doctrine to the Christian faith. Jesus himself acknowledged himself to be God come in the flesh from eternity past (John 17:5). Jesus claimed equality with God in forgiving sins (Mark 2:5). Jesus accepted worship by a leper (Matthew 8:2), from a ruler (Matthew 9:19), from the disciples after calming a storm (Matthew 14:33), from a Canaanite woman (Matthew 15:25), from the mother of James and John (Matthew 20:20), from a demoniac (Mark 5:6), and from Thomas (John 20:28). The miracles of Jesus demonstrate the divine nature of Jesus as he healed various diseases, performed supernatural works over the natural world (i.e. calming the storm, walking on water, etc.), and even raising the dead. Jesus not only claimed to be God. He proved that he was God. Furthermore, Jesus demonstrated his obedience in fulfilling the plan orchestrated by the Father.

3. The function of the HOLY SPIRIT as APPLICATOR (3:16b).

There is yet another player in this Triune Godhead. The Holy Spirit plays a role. The Holy Spirit played an active role in Jesus’ baptism. Notice that in verse 16, Matthew records that the “heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him” (3:16b). The Spirit of God plays the role of applicator as the Spirit applies salvation to the person receiving Christ.

Craig Blomberg writes, “the Holy Spirit descends “like” a dove, which suggests that no actual bird appeared but that some visible manifestation of the Spirit led observers to recognize that God was revealing himself through those attributes regularly associated with a dove—e.g., superintending over creation (cf. Gen 1:2), offering peace (as in Gen 8:10), gentleness in contrast to the judgment of vv. 7–12, or as “the loving character of divine life itself.”[vi] The Holy Spirit led Jesus as the Father directed. The Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son. It should be noted that the Holy Spirit is not an “it,” but rather a “he.” The Holy Spirit is the personal mover at creation and is the personal applier of salvation to the repentant soul. Throughout the Scriptures, the Holy Spirit is shown to be God himself. In Acts, when Ananias and Sapphira were guilty of stealing money from God, Peter said to them, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back for yourself part of the proceeds of the land?…You have not lied to men but to God” (Acts 5:3-4). Ananias and his wife died thereafter. Jesus even tells us that all blasphemies will be forgiven expect one: the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. Jesus says, “Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters. Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. And whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come” (Matthew 12:30-32).

People have often tried to illustrate the Triune nature of God. But most illustrations fall short. For instance, people have used the three stages of water: solid, liquid, and gas. However, this illustration fails because the water changes forms which leads to the heresy of modalism. Some have illustrated God as three links of a chain. However, the links are three different things which leads to the heresy of Tritheism. Some have used the illustration of different roles that a person plays as I am father, pastor, and husband. However, this does not quite work either since I cannot perform all three at the same time which leads to the Sabellian heresy. Are there good illustrations? Well thankfully there are. Norman Geisler provides three. 1. A Triangle is a good example of the trinity. The triangle is one shape but holds three different sides at the same time. 2. One to the Third Power. 1 x 1 x 1 = 1. You have three ones which constitute one. That is a better illustration for mathematicians. My favorite is the third. 3 Love is Trifold. For love to be love, it must contain three elements: a lover, a beloved, and the spirit of love. These three are necessary for love to exist. Ultimately, we will always have to settle for a bit of mystery in our understanding of God’s Triune nature. But having a grasp on the essentials lets us know four important truths.

 

  1. God is three persons, yet one God. There will always be a bit of a mystery about the Triune nature of God. However, we can accept this truth due to the necessity of the Father’s existence, the historical nature of Jesus’ resurrection, and the historical accounts and personal experience that we have had with the Holy Spirit.
  2. God is an eternal relationship. We are invited into that relationship. When we accept Christ as the Lord of our lives, we have been ushered into the eternal relationship of God—a relationship with Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
  3. God has made every effort to save us. Our salvation included the architectural genius of the Father, the accomplishing obedience of the Son, and the applicating and loving presence of the Holy Spirit.
  4. God is united. So, should we. If anything, we see the great importance that God places on unity. We should strive to be united with God. We should also strive for unity with fellow Christians.

 Copyright, April 14, 2016. Brian Chilton.

Notes

[i] Unless otherwise noted, all quoted Scripture comes from the English Standard Version (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001).

[ii] Kenneth L. Barker and John R. Kohlenberger, III, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: New Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 19.

[iii] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 249.

[iv] Norman L. Geisler, Systematic Theology: In One Volume (Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2011), 549.

[v] Barker and Kohlenberger, Expositor’s Bible Commentary, 19.

[vi] Craig Blomberg, Matthew, The New American Commentary, Vol. 22 (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992), 81–82.

How Does God’s Immutability Affect Me?

I have told many before that I am a walking Murphy’s Law. If something is going to happen, it will likely happen to me. A few days ago, I was sick. To make matters worse, my wife was about to leave on a business trip to Orlando. I was so sick that I feared that I might land in the emergency room. I feared that my digestive system was again disturbed. I went to the doctor and they confirmed that I had the flu. I was actually happy that it was the flu rather than my digestive system. My mother-in-law kept my son for me that afternoon and evening. However, my night was about to become bizarre. I took my nausea medicine which makes me woozy. The medicine had just entered my system when our neighbor called and told me that the brake lights were left on. How was that possible? So, I went out in the dark, while woozy, trying to figure out why the lights were on. So, I eventually had to move the truck towards the garage light, take off the battery cables, while becoming increasingly drowsy. Needless to say, my night had changed from strained to downright bizarre. Things often change at dramatic pace. Often, faster than what any of us would like. However, we can find comfort in the attribute of God known as immutability.

 Immutability means that God does not change. Wayne Grudem defines the immutability of God as that “God is unchanging in his being, perfections, purposes, and promises, yet God does act and feel emotions, and he acts and feels differently in response to different situations.”[1] Norman Geisler adds “That God is unchangeable in His nature has solid support in biblical, historical, and philosophical theology. Despite many anthropomorphic expressions, the Bible has clear and repeated references to God’s immutability.”[2]

 In Numbers 23:19, we find Balaam presenting his second of four oracles to Balak. These oracles come after Balaam had the bizarre incident where God spoke through a donkey. The miracle is not so much that God spoke through a donkey, but rather that Balaam spoke back to the donkey! Personally, I have never found a donkey to which I particularly cared to speak. Nevertheless, God used this means to set Balaam straight. Balak wanted Balaam to condemn God’s people. Yet in his second oracle, Balaam responds to Balak’s critique by noting the immutability of God. God does not change. If God chose to bless his people, who was Balaam to say otherwise? So what do we find in Scripture pertaining to the immutability of God? We find four ways that God does not change.

 1. God’s immutable ATTRIBUTES do not change (Numbers 23:19; Psalm 102:26-27).

Beginning with our passage, we read Balaam stating that “God is not a man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and he will not fulfill it” (Numbers 23:19)?[3] Also, the psalmist states that “They will perish, but you will remain; they will all wear out like a garment. You will change them like a robe, and they will pass away, but you are the same, and your years have no end” (Psalm 102:26-27). Both Balaam and the psalmist acknowledge that God’s attributes do not change. Meaning that the attributes that we have discussed and will discuss are unchangeable. God is not one day omnipotent and the next day limited in his power. God remains the same forever.

2. God’s immutable CHARACTER does not change (Hebrews 6:17-18; Hebrews 13:8).

The writer of Hebrews notes that “when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose, he guaranteed it with an oath, so that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us” (Hebrews 6:17-18). The writer also notes that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). The writer of Hebrews shows us that we can find hope and encouragement in the steadfast character of God.

One of the greatest compliments I ever received was from a woman who told me, “Brian, do you know the thing I appreciate most about you?” Anytime a preacher receives a compliment, the preacher’s ears perk up. I inquired, “No, what?” She said, “I appreciate that you are the same every time I see you. Whether in church or out of church, you are the same.” While I appreciate the kind woman’s compliment, we find that it is truly God who completely remains unchanged in his character. Such is the mark of integrity. God most certainly has integrity.

3. God’s immutable PURPOSES do not change (Ephesians 3:8-13; 1 Peter 1:20).

Paul writes in Ephesians that he was to preach “the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things, so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places” (Eph. 3:9-10). Peter also writes that Christ “was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you who through him are believers in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God” (1 Peter 1:20). Paul and Peter teach us that God’s purposes do not change. The plans of God are set before time began. God doesn’t change his purpose one day to the next. God’s plans are set from eternity past.

4. God’s immutable PROMISES do not change (Titus 1:2; James 1:17).

Paul writes to Titus that “in hope of eternal life, which God, who never lies, promised before the ages began” (Titus 1:2). James also notes that “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change” (James 1:17). Paul and James both teach their readers that since God’s character and attributes do not change, therefore God’s promises do not change. Thus, if God promises you something, it is as good as done.

I read a story about a pastor who met with an elderly man at the point of death. Due to his medication, the older gentleman said, “Pastor, I am ready to go. But I wish I could have peace.” The pastor said, “Sir, why do you not have peace?” The gentleman said, “I would have peace if I could simply remember the promises of God.” The wise pastor replied, “Do you think God has forgotten? It doesn’t matter if you remember them. As long as God remembers his promises, he will fulfill them.” The gentleman lying in the hospital bed found peace that night because he realized that God will always fulfill his promises seeing that God is unchanging.

So, how does God’s immutability affect you? Here are five ways.

  1. God will always be faithful, despite the unfaithfulness we experience with others. Nearly all of us have experienced unfaithfulness from time to time. Your experience of unfaithfulness could come from a spouse who discontinued their promised love for you. Your experience of unfaithfulness could have come from a friend who promised to have your back, only to stab you in the very back they proposed to protect. Your unfaithfulness experience could have come from an employer who fired you days before you were set to retire. While we experience unfaithfulness in life, due to his character, God will always be faithful to us.

 

  1. God will always fulfill his promises, in spite of our experiences of worldly lies and manipulations. While some people seek to manipulate you for profit or gain (others just enjoy getting one “over on you”), God will fulfill his promises due to his unchangeable character. Jesus promised that he would never leave you nor forsake you. That is a promise you can take to the bank.

 

  1. God will never change truth, despite society’s promotion of skepticism and doubt. Since God is unchangeable, his truth is unchangeable. Societies have come and societies have gone. But God’s truth still remains. It is said that Voltaire claimed that a hundred years after his death that the Bible would be no more. Ironically, it is said that Voltaire’s home was turned into a Bible translation facility around a hundred years after his death. From his home, a particular Bible society distributed the very Word that Voltaire claimed would be doomed. God’s immutability means that his truth remains forever.

 

  1. God will always be with you, despite the seeming chaos you experience. God’s steadfastness provides order in the midst of our chaos. God will provide order when no one or nothing else can.

 

  1. God will be your rock in an ocean of turbulence, an ever present help in times of trouble. Due to his steadfastness and unchangeable nature, God is an anchor and rock in the midst of the turbulent times in which we live.

Lighthouses_csg007_Kereon,Brittany,France

Turn to God—our unchangeable hope!!!

 

© March 15, 2016. Brian Chilton.

 

Sources Cited

 Geisler, Norman. Systematic Theology: In One Volume. Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2011.

Grudem, Wayne. Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994.

Notes

[1] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 163.

[2] Norman Geisler, Systematic Theology: In One Volume (Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2011), 444.

[3] All quoted Scripture, unless otherwise noted, comes from the English Standard Version (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001).

How Does God’s Aseity Affect You?

One day a group of scientists got together and decided that man had come a long way and no longer needed God. So they picked up one scientist to go and tell God that he was no longer needed. The scientist walked up to God and said, “God, we’ve decided that we no longer need you. We’re to the point that we can clone people and do many miraculous things through science. So, why don’t you go and get lost?” God listening patiently said after he was finished speaking, “Very well, how about this? Let’s say that we have a man-making contest?” “Okay, fantastic!” replied the scientist. “But,” God said, “we have to do it just as I did back at the very beginning.” “Sure,” the scientist replied. The scientist bent down and grabbed some dirt and chemicals. God looked at him and said, “No, no, no. You go and create your own dirt, air, water, chemicals, and universe.” The scientist conceded their defeat.[1]

In Exodus 3:13-14, we read God’s response to Moses. Moses was a Hebrew growing up in Egypt. Egypt had a multiplicity of gods. Here, God had asked Moses to lead the Hebrew people out of bondage. It was natural for Moses to ask, “Who should I tell them is sending me?” God gave his personal name, “Yahweh.” The name Yahweh is a complicated name which means “I AM WHAT I AM.” In other words, it means the “self-existent One.” Theologically, this attribute of God is known as “aseity.” Aseity comes from the Latin term “aseite” or “a se” which means “to exist from oneself.” What does this mean? Due to the complexity of today’s topic and to simplify the issue, many of our points today were borrowed from the section of Norman Geisler’s book Systematic Theology dealing with aseity.[2]

God’s aseity demonstrates God’s ACTUALITY (Exodus 3:13-14).

Looking back at today’s primary text, Moses said to God, “’If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?’ God said to Moses, ‘I AM WHO I AM.’ And he said, ‘Say this to the people of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you’” (Exodus 3:13-14).[3] Here, we find the name “Yahweh aser Yahweh.” The name Yahweh is defined by Strong’s Dictionary as “to exist, be in existence.”[4] In other words, the name of God demonstrates that God is self-existent. Theologically, this is called God’s “actuality” which means that God is independent and self-existing.

God’s aseity demonstrates God’s UNCAUSALITY (Psalm 90:2).

Psalm 90 is a psalm written by Moses. Moses writes, “Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God. You return man to dust and say, ‘Return, O children of man!’ For a thousand years in your sight are but yesterday when it is past or as a watch in the night” (Psalm 90:2-4). In other words, Moses, in his psalm along with Genesis 1:1, teaches that God is the uncaused cause of all things. God had no cause. He is eternal, timeless, in nature.

God’s aseity demonstrates God’s NECESSITY (John 1:3; Romans 11:36).

John writes “All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made” (John 1:3). Paul writes, “For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever. Amen” (Romans 11:36). In other words, they tell us that God’s existence is necessary because of the existence of anything.

God’s aseity demonstrates God’s Immutability (Malachi 3:6).

The prophet Malachi, speaking for God, writes, “For I the LORD do not change” (Malachi 3:6). When we speak about God’s immutability, we mean that God is unchangeable.

God’s aseity demonstrates God’s SUSTAINABILITY (Colossians 1:17).

Paul writes in Colossians 1:17 that God is “before all things, and in him all things hold together” (Colossians 1:17). In other words, God’s self-sustaining existence demonstrates the need for God to hold and sustain all of creation together.

So, how does God’s aseity affect you?

  1. God does not need us, we need him!

So often we feel that God needs us in some form or fashion. God could have existed just fine without creating us. Our existence was never necessary. God’s existence is. Thus, we should realize that God should be the center of our worship and adoration. Worship is God-centered not man-centered.

  1. The universe does not revolve around you, it revolves around God.

Living in a time of self-entitlement, this reality may serve as a blow to the ego as we post on social media to see how many “likes” we can obtain. Often people seek to brag about their accomplishments to obtain approval from another. However, God’s aseity reminds us that the world and the universe really does not revolve around us. It revolves around God.

  1. If we refuse to be used by God, God will use someone else.

A person should be humbled to realize that their existence is not necessary. Yet, the believer should be further humbled to realize that it is a great privilege to serve Christ. If the believer refuses to serve God, God will simply use someone else. God’s mission to extend salvation to humanity is not stopped by one person’s obstinacy.

  1. God speaks his love to us by deciding to create us.

The psalmist writes that “the heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork” (Psalm 19:1). Yet, God’s aseity also demonstrates God’s love for all of humanity. God did not have to create any of us. The fact that we can experience life is a demonstration of God’s great love. God gave us life. Life is a great blessing!

  1. It is unspeakable to think that God would also desire to save us!

If you are humbled by the fact that God demonstrated grace to create you, it is mind-boggling to think that God went out of his way to save you! God would have been perfectly justified in condemning all of humanity to an eternal hell. However, God didn’t. God chose, rather, to save those who would receive his grace. God’s aseity should humble us and cause us to desire to worship God with every morsel of our being.

 

© March 9, 2016. Brian Chilton.

 

Sources Cited

Geisler, Norman. Systematic Theology: In One Volume. Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2011.

Hodgin, Michael E. 1002 Humorous Illustrations for Public Speaking. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2004.

Strong, James. Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon. Woodside Bible Fellowship, 1995.

Notes

[1] Michael E. Hodgin, 1002 Humorous Illustrations for Public Speaking (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2004), 280.

[2] Norman Geisler, Systematic Theology: In One Volume (Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2011), 436.

[3] Unless otherwise noted, all quoted Scripture comes from the English Standard Version (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001).

[4] James Strong, Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon (Woodside Bible Fellowship, 1995).

God’s Omnisapience: What is it and How Does it Affect You?

I had the opportunity to meet a great man of God early in my ministry. He was one who served as a mentor to me. His name is Rev. Gilmer Denny. While Gilmer Denny was an intelligent man, he did not have an incredible wealth of knowledge according to the world’s definition of knowledge. He had no advanced degrees. He penned no books or novels. While he was an intelligent man, Preacher Denny (as he was often called) was a simple man. But, Preacher Denny had one thing that many do not. He had wisdom.

In stark contrast, there is an atheist theoretical physicist teaching at Arizona State University by the name of Lawrence Krauss. Krauss is incredibly knowledgeable in the realm of science and mathematics. In many ways, Krauss holds an incredible amount of knowledge. However, Krauss does not possess a great deal of wisdom. Many have noted Krauss’ poor philosophical abilities. Many scholars and reviewers alike have noted that Krauss would be better served if he kept quiet on philosophical issues, noted on a recent podcast of Reasonable Faith.[1]

Knowledge and wisdom are similar, if not complementary. However, it is quite possible for one to be knowledgeable without being wise. Knowledge is acquired “facts, information, and skills.” Wisdom is better understood to have the “quality of experience, knowledge, and good judgment.” Merriam-Webster defines wisdom as the “knowledge of what is proper or reasonable: a good sense of judgment.”[2] In other words, knowledge is understanding how something works, whereas wisdom is the understanding how to apply information to life. Knowledge requires intelligence. Wisdom requires integrity. We find that God is known to be omnisapient. “Omni” meaning “all” and “sapient” meaning “wisdom.” God is all wise. In Proverbs along with other passages of Scripture, we find that wisdom is applied in four different means.

1.God’s wisdom is applied from his NATURE (Proverbs 2:5; Job 12:13; Dn. 2:20; Rm. 16:27).

In verse 5, Solomon notes that those who seek understanding will “understand the fear of the LORD and find the knowledge of God.”[3] In other words, Solomon notes that God is the source of wisdom. In verse 6, Solomon notes that “the LORD gives wisdom.” Job notes that “With God are wisdom and might” (Job 12:13). Daniel says, “Blessed be the name of God forever and ever, to whom belong wisdom and might” (Daniel 2:20). In other words, wisdom is ultimately given through God as he is the source of wisdom.

2. God’s wisdom is applied by his WORDS (Proverbs 2:1-2, 6; Ps. 19:7; Jer. 8:9).

In verse 1 and 2, Solomon tells his son to listen to his words of wisdom because God had given Solomon wisdom…even though Solomon did not always listen to the wisdom of God. David writes that the “law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple” (Psalm 19:7). Psalm 119 states, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Psalm 119:105). The prophet Jeremiah states that “The wise men shall be put to shame; they shall be dismayed and taken; behold, they have rejected the word of the LORD, so what wisdom is in them” (Jeremiah 8:9)?

3. God’s wisdom is applied by his ACTIONS (Proverbs 2:11-15; Jer. 10:12; Hos. 14:9).

Explanation: In verses 11 through 15, Solomon discusses how God acts in wise ways. In verse 12, Solomon says that God will be about “delivering you from the way of evil, from men of perverted speech” (2:15). Jeremiah states that God is “he who made the earth by his power, who established the world by his wisdom, and by his understanding stretched out the heavens” (Jeremiah 10:12). Hosea states that “Whoever is wise, let him understand these things; whoever is discerning, let him know them; for the ways of the LORD are right, and the upright walk in them, but transgressors stumble in them” (Hosea 14:9).

4. God’s wisdom is applied to his PEOPLE (v. 3-9; Gen. 41:39; 1 Kgs 3:28; James 1:5).

In verses 3 through 9, Solomon advises his son to seek wisdom. The one who seeks for wisdom will find wisdom in the “fear of the LORD and find the knowledge of God” (2:5). Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Since God has shown you all this, there is none so discerning and wise as you are” (Genesis 41:39). The people witnessed the wisdom that God had given to Solomon so much so that they “stood in awe of the king, because they perceived that the wisdom of God was in him to do justice” (1 Kings 3:28). James also notes that “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him” (James 1:5).

So, how does God’s omnisapience affect you? God’s omnisapience affects you in 4 ways.

  1. God’s wisdom combined with his love means that God is going to bring about, not what you want, but what you need. David aptly writes in the 23rd psalm that “The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want” (Psalm 23:1). This does not mean that God will provide his children with every whim and fancy that comes across their mind. Rather, it means that God will provide for the needs of his children. An elderly lady I know once told me how she grew up without many of the luxuries that she possesses today. However, she noted that God always took care of them. They never went hungry and they always had a warm place to stay. Their clothes were not always fancy, but they always had clothes to wear. She said, “God was all that we had and he is all that we needed. I miss those days.”
  1. God’s wisdom promises that he is working to bring things to the best end possible. Perhaps Paul puts it best when he states that “we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). God never promises that one will walk an easy road. God never says that there won’t be briars and thorns in one’s path. He promised that in the end he will work all things (good and bad) for the good of his people.
  1. God’s will is based in his wisdom and love, looking for the best for those who are in Christ Jesus. The writer of Hebrews states that “the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives” (Hebrews 12:6). Sometimes God has to put us through difficult situations to build us up. For instance, God will not give instant patience to his children. Rather, he will put a person driving behind every slow person in three counties only to be met with every red light possible (I am speaking from experience)! Instead of providing instantaneous faith by metamorphosis to his children, God will, rather, put one in circumstances to build one’s faith in God.
  1. God will grant wisdom to the one who searches for him (Romans 12:1-2; James 1:5). As it was noted earlier, James states that “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him” (James 1:5). Do we truly seek wisdom? Do we desire wisdom? God promises that he will provide wisdom to the one searching for him, for the one desiring wisdom. Thus, wisdom is an attribute imputed to the faithful, for those desiring the trait.

Ultimately, one can trust that God is doing the right things to bring about right result. While we do not always know how or what God is currently doing, or why he may be doing a particular thing the way he does, and confused by God’s allowance of certain things and events in life; we can trust in God’s sovereign wisdom to do the right thing in the end. We live in a good world now. But God is working to establish a perfect creation for those in Christ Jesus. Then, we will see the fullness of God’s great tapestry of wisdom in all its glory and grandeur!

 

© March 1, 2016. Brian Chilton.

Notes

[1] William Lane Craig, interviewed by Kevin Harris, “Is This Scientist a Bad Philosopher,” podcast, ReasonableFaith.org (February 14, 2016), accessed March 1, 2016, http://www.reasonablefaith.org/is-this-scientist-a-bad-philosopher.

[2] Merriam-Webster Dictionary Online, Accessed March 1, 2016, http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/wisdom.

[3] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture comes from the English Standard Version (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001).

How Does God’s Omnipresence Affect You?

My mother and I have always been especially close. After I graduated Fruitland Baptist Bible Institute, I was called to pastor a church near Southport named the First Baptist Church of Sunset Harbor…in fact, the only Baptist church in Sunset Harbor. I found great support while at the church. However, the most difficult thing about living at the beach was the absence of my family. My mother had tears rolling down her cheeks as they traveled back to their home. I shed a few tears myself. Then I truly knew the depths of our locational limitations.

In contrast to our locational limitations, God is said to be omnipresent. Again the term “omni” means all. So when we speak of God’s omnipresence, we are saying that God can be in all places at all times. In Acts 17:22-34, we hear the message that Paul delivered before the Athenians. Paul is a great example of one who never changed the message, but employed differing methodologies to reach various people groups. When confronting the paganism of this supreme intellectual city (home to many top-notch philosophers), Paul discussed the omnipresence of God. This passage of Scripture shows the depth of Paul’s philosophical prowess. He uses four types of philosophical tactics to present the gospel: 1) exordium v. 22-23 (introduction of a discourse); 2) proposito v. 23b (a statement or assertion that expresses a judgment or an opinion); 3) probatio v. 24-29 (the test of a certain statement); and 4) peroration v. 30-31 (conclusion intended to inspire enthusiasm). In his message, we find three aspects of and reasons for God’s omnipresence.

God is all-surpassing in his presence due to his ESSENCE (17:24b; John 4:24).

Paul notes that God “does not live in temples made by man” (17:24b).[1] That is, God is not a physical being. Yes it is true that Christ, the incarnate God, came to earth. But, God as he has been from eternity is non-spatial, a spirit. Jesus tells the woman at the well that God is “spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:24). Wayne Grudem defines God’s omnipresence as the following: “God does not have size or spatial dimensions and is present at every point of space with his whole being, yet God acts differently in different places.[2] (Grudem, Systematic Theology, 173). Thus, God is not limited by physical location as we are.

God is all-surpassing in his presence due to his TRANSCENDENCE (17:24-25; Is. 66:1).

Paul notes that God “who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything” (John 17:24-25). That is to say, God is beyond the scope of physical creation. God is not limited by physics, physics are limited by God. When we study the physical nature of the universe, we understand the normal operation. But, God transcends such boundaries as he also transcends space-time.

God is all-surpassing in his presence due to his IMMANENCE (17:26-27; Psa. 139:7-8; Jer. 23:24).

Lastly, Paul notes that God is all-surpassing due to his immanence. This means that God is not a “dead beat dad.” He is a God who is actively involved in creation. Paul notes that God “made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us” (17:26-27). I especially like the last part of Paul’s teaching. Often one may feel that God is distant from them. Feeling perhaps that God has long forgotten them. But, God’s omnipresent nature promises that God is always around us. Closer than we would ever think. So what does this mean to you?

  1. God is with you when no one else can be. You are never alone. Norman Geisler describes omnipresence as “God is everywhere at once…Negatively stated, there is nowhere that God is absent.”[3] God promises that he will be with you now and for all eternity (Matthew 28:20; Gen. 28:15). You are never alone.
  1. God is with your loved ones when you cannot. God is able to protect your loved ones from afar (Gen. 48:21). Even when you are not there, God is. Thus, while we can contact one who is ever-present to look after our loved ones when we cannot…and even when we can.
  2. God is with your loved ones who have already passed. Jesus quoted to the Sadducees who did not believe in the afterlife Exodus 3:6 where God stated that he is “the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob” (Exodus 3:6). Jesus uses this argument to defend the reality of the afterlife. God is with our loved ones in eternity. Our loved ones continue to exist. Those who are in Christ are safely in his arms.
  1. God is working in creation even when you cannot see it. God is beyond the scope of creation, but is always working in creation (Ps. 147:4; Jer. 31:35). Thus while things seem chaotic, God is always at work being present where we cannot.
  1. God’s presence is with the believer in a personal fashion. While God is everywhere, God is personally with those who receive Christ (John 5:38; 8:31; 15:4-9). God’s Holy Spirit (personal presence) is with those who trust in Christ. Therefore, the believer definitely has a companion that is closer than anyone else could.

 

© February 23, 2016. Brian Chilton.

 

Bibliography

 Geisler, Norman L. Systematic Theology: In One Volume. Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2011.

Grudem, Wayne. Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994.

 Notes

[1] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture comes from the English Standard Version (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001).

[2] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 173.

[3] Norman L. Geisler, Systematic Theology: In One Volume (Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2011), 493.

God’s Omnipotence and You

I have always been an avid weightlifter. In high school, I did not take up many of the popular sports. I was too short for basketball, too slow for football, and too uncoordinated for baseball. However, I found something that I enjoyed and found great success in doing: weightlifting. Weightlifting is not a sport where one competes against another person. Rather, it is a sport where one competes against oneself. A person tests their limits. Through the years, I have had great success with the hobby. In my early thirties, I posted a personal best in the bench press lifting 555 pounds and a squat well over 800 pounds. This was something I thought was pretty good until I watched a video of a man named Scot Mendelson posting the world record bench press at just over 1,000 pounds.

800 lbs squat
A picture of Pastor Brian squatting 800 lbs.

I have kept pushing myself through the years. However, digestive problems and other medical issues not only made me realize my limitations, but also took away the ability to post some of the numbers that I once achieved. I realized something that I did not want to accept—I have limited power. While we as human beings will always have our limitations, God does not.

God is known to have the attribute of “omnipotence” (omni, Latin for all; potent, Latin for power). Omnipotence means “all powerful” or “unlimited power.” God is known to be omnipotent in the Bible, partially due to his names. God is called in the Old Testament El Shaddai which means “the Almighty.” In the New Testament God is called the pantokrator which means “almighty” or “all powerful.” Norman Geisler rightly defines omnipotence as the ability in “that God can do whatever is possible to do. Or, God can do what is not impossible to do.”[1] Even still, we must understand that even God cannot do three things:

  1. Act in a way that is contrary to his nature (i.e. he cannot lie, do what is evil—Titus 1:2).
  2. Act in a way that impedes human freedom (he can coerce, persuade, but there must be an aspect of human response, e.g. Matt. 23:37). This does not mean that God could not override human freedom. However, should God override human freedom, human freedom would be lost.
  3. Act in a way that is logically impossible (i.e. create a married bachelor, a squared circle, swear by a name that is higher than his own, etc. Heb. 6:13).

 In Jeremiah chapter 31, we learn that Jeremiah was told to buy a field in a time of great uncertainty. Jeremiah bought the field and gave the deed to Baruch, his associate. However, Jeremiah had doubts as to whether he should have purchased the field. But, Jeremiah prays in chapter 32 and finds strength in the omnipotence of God. So, what does this omnipotence of God mean to you? Let’s look at five areas that God’s power affects the life of the believer.

  1. God’s power exceeds that of the power found in creation. God created everything that exists. Therefore, God is able to work within the bounds of nature and outside the bounds of nature. God can do the miraculous at his will. Creation does not restrain God, rather creation is restrained by God as God creates and sustains all that exists. That being said, nothing is too powerful for God.
  1. God’s power is extended to his children. We are told that we can move mountains with just a morsel of faith (Mt. 17:20). Great power is found in prayer. Because God has the power, not us. If we try to work without prayer, we are merely working by our own power. If we operate by prayer, we are working by the power of God.
  2. God’s power has been and is used to offer every means possible for a person to be saved. God doesn’t desire for anyone to be condemned to hell (2 Peter 3:9). Jesus did not come to condemn, but to save (John 3:16-17). Thus, understand, salvation is not a work that you have done. Salvation is not a work that is achieved. Rather, salvation is a work received as it is a work that God has done. Because of God’s great power, he has made a way for you to live with him for all eternity.
  1. God’s power means that he is the ultimate authority. God’s grant of forgiveness is irrevocable. Jesus said, “I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand” (John 10:28).[2] If God deems you forgiven, then no one else can say otherwise. If you enter into eternity without Christ, then God will rule you guilty. Understand, there is no court superior to God. No Supreme Court can override the edict of God. God is the ultimate authority. The doors God opens, no one can shut. And, the doors God shuts, no one can open. If you are forgiven, you have an eternal promise of eternal life. God cannot lie.
  1. God’s power along with God’s incapacity to lie means that victory is certain! Just because God hasn’t judged the world yet, doesn’t mean that he won’t. God is allowing time for more people to come to salvation. But understand, victory is as certain as the words before your eyes. As Paul says, “If God is for us, who can be against us” (Romans 8:31). Victory is certain. Evil will be defeated. So, stop worrying!

Because God is omnipotent and is also all loving (omnibenevolent), this means that the believer serves a God of possibilities. Where our power is limited, God’s power is limitless. Are you depending on your own power or the power of God today?

 

© February 16, 2016. Brian Chilton.

  

Source Cited

 Geisler, Norman. Systematic Theology: In One Volume. Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2011.

 

Notes

[1] Norman Geisler, Systematic Theology: In One Volume. (Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2011), 487.

[2] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture comes from the English Standard Version (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001).

How Does God’s Omniscience Affect You?

There is an infamous story in the Chilton family. Do you want to hear it? Oh the deception!!! When I was a boy, my mom had just finished her nursing program. As a young boy, I had a bad tendency. I loved to scare her. Maybe it had to do with the little dance she did after I scared her. She told me, “You’d better stop or you’ll regret it.” Like a typical boy, I did not listen. One evening, she returned from her job at Forsyth Hospital. It was dark in the living room. As Mom entered the house, I leaped out from behind a chair and scared her. This time, Mom grabbed her chest making out like she was having a heart attack and fell to the ground. My face became as white as a winter snowfall. I ran to get the phone and began to dial 911. However, by the time I grabbed the phone, Mom popped up and said, “Gotcha! I told you that you would regret scaring me again.” I never scared her after that experience. Mom and I are human. Therefore, we have limited knowledge. Mom had no way of knowing that I would scare her. I certainly had no way of knowing that she would put on a performance that was worthy of an Academy Award. While we are limited in our knowledge, the same is not true of God. God is unlimited in his knowledge. Theologically, such an attribute is called omniscience meaning “all-knowledge.”

This past Sunday, I delivered a message on this very topic. We discovered that God is not limited by time (Psalm 139:4-6; Matt. 6:8; Rom. 8:29). This means that God knows past, present, and future equally. God’s knowledge is not bound by the limitations of time. Also, God is not limited by physics (Psalm 139:13-16; Job 21:22; Ps. 147:4-5). God wrote the book and owns the patent to the physics of the universe. There is not a molecule that moves, an atom that splits, a drop of water that falls, or a grain of sand that shifts that God doesn’t know. Thus, God’s knowledge is not limited by physics. Lastly, God’s knowledge is not limited by location, which we will discuss later with God’s attribute of omnipresence (Psalm 139:1-3, 7-12; Prov. 15:3; 16:9; Heb. 4:13). God knows what is going on in all parts of the world.

But here is an important question. How does God’s omniscience affect you? I argue that God’s omniscience affects you in at least four ways.

  1. God knows everything that is going on in the world. God knows all about the troubles in the world. The book of Proverbs states that the “eyes of the LORD are in every place, keeping watch on the evil and the good” (Prov. 15:3).[1] The promise in the book of Revelation is that he will fix it…if even he waits until eternity to do so. God will judge evil. So while it may seem that evil goes unpunished, God’s omniscience promises that in due time it will.
  2. God created time. God is not on our timeframe. It may be that God has called you to do something. In due time, he will make a way. Peter notes that one should not “overlook this one fact…that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day” (2 Pet. 3:8). This means that God may not act when you want God to act. Rather, God acts in just the right time. As the old saying goes, “God is never too early and he is never too late. God is always right on time.” Just because God has not moved yet, doesn’t mean that he won’t.
  3. God knows everything about you. God knows every aspect of your life, including those hidden recesses of your life that you feel no one else knows. God knows your thoughts. God knows those proverbial “skeletons in your closet.” God knows the greatest thing you have ever done and the very worst. Even still, God still loves you. He wants to save you, transform you, and change you into the person that you can be.
  4. God knows the final end. God has promised that everything will, in the end, work together for those who love God and are called according to his purposes (Rom. 8:28). This promise is not for everyone, but particularly for those who have been saved by his grace, those who have entered into a covenant with him through Christ. God, knowing all there is to know (the things that are and the things that are not, the things that will be and the things that will not be), is going to bring everything to a final good end. What does this mean?

It means that you are free to rest in God’s love. Trust in God’s care. Live in God’s plan. Everything else is needless worry. As long as God knows and is working, everything will be okay. Do what God has called you to do. Those works will be merged in with God’s plan to bring forth something great in due time.

 

© February 10, 2016. Brian Chilton.

Portions of the preceding article came from the author’s message “Omniscience: God’s Unlimited Knowledge.”

 

[1] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture comes from the English Standard Version (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001).

Finding Comfort and Order in the Midst of Chaos

At times, life seems chaotic. It appears that the harder one tries to make sense of the world, the more bizarre it becomes. I recently told my dad, “Just when I think that things cannot get any worse, something happens to demonstrate how much worse it can become.” However, the more I have studied God, the more I realize that chaos is an illusion. If God is what the Bible purports Him to be, then God is omnipotent (all powerful), omniscient (all-knowing), omnipresent (present in all places), a se (unchangeable), immortal (eternal and timeless), holy (the perfect good) and indestructible (incapable of being destroyed). If this is true, then nothing takes God by surprise. In addition, this means that the chaos of the world is fitting within the sovereign plan of God. But wait, isn’t there a lot of evil things taking place in the world? What comfort can we find in these attributes of God?

Joseph was a man who was met with severe forms of evil. He was thrown into a pit by his jealous brothers and was eventually sold as a slave. The people who were supposed to have loved Joseph the most performed one of the highest acts of treachery and evil. Yet, the tables turned for Joseph. Joseph would eventually score a high-ranking position in Egypt under the Pharaoh. His brothers sought help from Egypt. It was then that Joseph was able to forgive and say to his brothers, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today” (Genesis 50:21).[1] How could Joseph say such a thing? There are three things that must be kept in mind.

chaos_to_order

Human actions are free, but planned by God.

There are two seemingly opposing viewpoints offered in the Bible: humans have freedom of the will and God is sovereign (in complete control). How does one reconcile these two truths? Hardline Calvinists (or hyper-determinists)[2] will say that people have no choice in any matter. Hyper-Arminians, especially of the Open Theist variety, will claim that God does not know what will happen. Yet, I feel that the more moderate Thomistic (and even Molinist) compatibilist interpretations fit the realm of Scripture. For instance, the writer of Proverbs notes that “The heart of a man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps” (Proverbs 16:9). That means that man plans his/her steps, but God foreknows and has already established such a free act. Proverbs also states that “The lot is casts into the lap, but its decision is from the LORD” (Proverbs 16:33). I like how the New Living Translation translates this verse. The NLT reads, “We may throw the dice, but the LORD determines how they fall” (Proverbs 16:33, NLT).[3] This may not be good news for the one who goes to Vegas. But free human actions fall into the sovereign plan of God.

God will bring forth an ultimate good despite the seeming chaos of human actions.

Paul writes, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). This does not mean that all things will work in the end for all people. It will work for the good to those who love God and have submitted to his will. God is good and God is powerful. This means that God will bring an ultimate good despite the great evil in the world. Joseph was met with great evil, but he knew that God would use that evil to bring about an ultimate good.

Thus, chaos is an illusion as God is sovereign.

Two classic theologians note that chaos is seemingly an illusion due to the great attributes of God. Norman Geisler writes,

“God is a simple Being, all of whose attributes are one with His indivisible essence. He has no parts; He is one in essence. If He had different parts, He could come apart, but He is immortal and indestructible…But if God is simple (absolutely one), then both foreknowledge and predetermination are one in Him. That is, whatever God knows, He determines. And whatever He determines, He knows. More properly, we should speak of God as ‘knowing determining’ and ‘determinately knowing’ from all eternity everything that happens, including all free acts. If God is an eternal and simple Being, then His thoughts must be eternally coordinate and unified” (Geisler 2010, 145).

Thus, God’s knowledge and actions do not negate free will. Nevertheless, God knows absolutely what free beings will choose. Therefore, God is able to place people in certain times and places, knowing what those beings will choose. Therefore, even with human freedom and the seeming chaos that ensues from bad human decisions, God still is moving to bring things to a greater good. Thomas Aquinas writes,

“It should be noted, however, that with natural things the specification of the act is from form and the exercise is from the agent that causes the motion. But the mover moves for the sake of an end. Thus the first principle of motion with respect to the exercise of the act is from the end…It should be said that man’s will is discordant with the will of God insofar as it wills something God does not want it to will, as when it wills to sin” (Aquinas 1998, 557, 561).

In other words, God does not order evil. God does not will evil to exist, yet evil is the natural outgrowth of the human freedom to will. God is moving upon all of creation with his grace. However, human beings misuse the grace of God afforded to them. God knows that they would. Thus, God is able to use human free decisions to bring about the ultimate good.

All of this is to say, chaos is an illusion. God is working to bring about the greater good which will be actualized in eternity.

Conclusion—the Roller Coaster

I am not a fan of roller coasters. I don’t like the drops and turns as it makes my stomach very queasy. When I dated my wife, I tried to act like a macho man and ride roller coasters with her…I eventually became sick. Roller coasters give the illusion of chaos. However, coasters are designed to provide that experience while they bring the person back to a common end. Life seems to be much like this. Things may appear to be chaotic, but a good, loving, Almighty God has an order and a plan.

Joseph realized that what man meant as evil, God used for the greater good. When we keep this perspective, we will realize that God has an order despite the seeming chaos of the times. Understand, God is still in control. Don’t despair. Don’t lose hope. God will bring an ultimate good out of the midst of great chaos.

© November 2, 2015. Brian Chilton

 

Sources Cited:

Aquinas, Thomas. “On Human Choice. Disputed Question of Evil, 6 (1266-72). In Thomas Aquinas: Selected Writings. Edited and Translated by Ralph McInery. London, UK; New York: Penguin Classics, 1998.

Geisler, Norman. Chosen But Free: A Balanced View of God’s Sovereignty and Free Will. Third Edition. Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2010.

[1] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture comes from the English Standard Version (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001).

[2] Hyper-Calvinism does not represent the general Calvinist viewpoint. Some sects of Calvinism do hold to a hardline, or hyper-Calvinistic, interpretation. The hyper view is what is being discussed here.

[3] Scripture marked NLT comes from the New Living Translation (Carol Stream: Tyndale, 2013).