Who was the “Angel of the Lord”?

Throughout the Old Testament, one finds an intriguing figure who is known as the Angel of the Lord (Hebrew, “mal’ak YHWH). The Angel of the Lord is not to be confused with an angel of God. There is a difference. The Angel of the Lord is given an extremely high status as he speaks for God. He appears at critical junctures, providing advice and giving stern warnings. But who is this mysterious figure? Is the Angel of the Lord an archangel like Gabriel? Is the Angel of the Lord the same as Michael the archangel? Or is he someone else? In this article, we will examine some of the Old Testament passages involving the Angel of the Lord. These passages provide necessary clues to the Angel’s identity.

Distinct from Yahweh[1] (Zechariah’s Night Visions).

On February 15th, 519 BC, the prophet Zechariah was given eight night visions. Through these night visions, God provided profound truths to the prophet pertaining to salvation, the promise of blessing, and judgment against opposition. The Angel of the Lord holds a profound role in these night visions. In the first night vision, the Angel of the Lord speaks to Yahweh, saying, “O LORD of hosts, how long will you have no mercy on Jerusalem and the cities of Judah, against which you have been angry these seventy years” (Zechariah 1:12)?[2] What is most notable in this passage is that the Angel of the Lord, while of utmost importance, is shown to be distinct from Yahweh. So is the Angel of the Lord simply a messenger of God? Not so fast. Consider Genesis 16:7 and following.

Identified with Yahweh (Genesis 16:7-12).

In Genesis 16, one finds the culmination of a series of problems between Sarah and Hagar. Sarah was the mother of Isaac and Hagar was the mother of Ishmael. Sarah (then Sarai) had irreconcilable differences with Hagar, an Egyptian servant. Sarah sent Hagar away with her son Ishmael (who was the son of Abraham). Yes, this was an ancient series of Days of our Lives. Nevertheless, Hagar and Ishmael wandered in the wilderness. The Angel of the Lord appeared to Hagar and promised to take care of her and Ishmael. He also promised to make a great nation from Ishmael’s descendants. After the Angel spoke with her, Hagar replied to the Angel, “You are a God of seeing…Truly here I have seen him who looks after me” (Genesis 16:13). The place was named Beer-lahai-roi, which means “the well of the Living One who sees me.” This is not the only time the Angel of the Lord is identified with God. For instance, the Angel of the Lord says to Joshua the high priest who wore excrement smeared vestments (representing the sin of the people), “Behold, I have taken your iniquity away from you, and I will clothe you with pure vestments” (Zechariah 3:4). The Angel forgave the sins of Joshua and the people, something only God could do. Thus, the Angel of the Lord is divine.

Visible Manifestation of Yahweh (Exodus 3:1-6).

The Angel of the Lord is divine, yet separate from Yahweh Himself, as identified earlier. The Angel of the Lord often appears to humanity as a divine manifestation of God’s presence. For instance, Moses encountered the Angel of the Lord in the burning bush. Exodus notes that “the angel of the LORD appeared to [Moses] in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush. He looked, and behold, the bush was burning, yet it was not consumed…God called to him out of the bush, ‘Moses, Moses!”… “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’ And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God” (Exodus 3:2-4, 6). The Angel of the Lord appeared to Abraham offering comfort and a stern warning to Lot to leave the area of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 14). So how are we to understand the Angel of the Lord? There is an interesting parallel between the Angel of the Lord and Jesus Himself.

Jesus’ Association with the Angel of the Lord (John 1).

The apostle John, in his gospel, provides an interesting prologue, popular to many. John notes that “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made” (John 1:1-3). John teaches that Jesus was the Word, thus Jesus is shown possess an eternal nature. It is quite interesting that Jesus, defending the resurrection, argued by noting God’s response to Moses, “And as for the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was said to you by God: ‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’ He is not God of the dead, but of the living” (Matthew 22:31-32). Jesus’ statement is especially interesting as it is the Word of God, spoken by the Angel of the Lord. The Angel of the Lord is an eternal person, not identical to Yahweh, but identified with, or even as, Yahweh. Jesus is noted to be the same. So what does all this mean as it concerns the Angel of the Lord?

Conclusion

From examining the evidence, the Angel of the Lord cannot be considered an ordinary angel. The Angel of the Lord cannot be accepted as an archangel, either. The Angel of the Lord is a separate entity from Yahweh, yet he is closely identified with Yahweh. The Angel of the Lord is by all intent and purposes a visible manifestation of Yahweh to human beings. Now when one considers that Jesus is acknowledged as an eternal person who is separate from the Heavenly Father, yet closely aligned with the Father and, like the Angel of the Lord, holds a divine essence, it appears that one can hold a necessary link between the Angel of the Lord and Jesus Himself. Therefore, this article holds that the Angel of the Lord is the pre-incarnate Christ. The Angel of the Lord is Jesus as He existed before the incarnation. Individuals are mistaken when they hold that Christ is not present in the Old Testament. In fact, the presence of the Messiah may be more evident than one supposes if the Angel of the Lord is identifiable with the pre-incarnate Jesus. Much more could be said about this issue. But for now, suffice it to say, the Angel of the Lord is no ordinary character.

 

© September 12, 2016. Brian Chilton.

[1] Yahweh is the personal name for God the Father.

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

Advertisements

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.

Allow Biblical Theology to Shape Systematic Theology, Not Reverse

This week on the Bellator Christi Podcast, I had the opportunity to interview Dr. Chad Thornhill. Dr. Thornhill is the Professor of New Testament Greek, the Chair of Theological Studies, and Associate Professor of Apologetics at Liberty University. Dr. Thornhill discussed his findings from his book A Chosen People: Paul, Election, and Second Temple Judaism as it pertained to the understanding of individuals in the Second Temple Judaist period.

In addition to his discussion pertaining to his research, one of the most important points made by Thornhill on the podcast related to biblical hermeneutics (that is, Bible interpretation). He said that he taught his students not to read information back into Scripture, seeking to prove a particular point. Rather, the student should interpret the Bible according to the information given by the author to his intended audience.[1] This technique is much more difficult as it must involve in-depth research by the Bible student. But the difficulty is worth the time invested as it presents a far more accurate interpretation.

Truthfully, adherents of all theological interpretations have been guilty of reading into a passage what the person wants to read. This is true for both Calvinists and Arminians, for Molinists and Thomists alike. In the end, biblical theology must shape a person’s systematic theology. What is meant by “biblical theology” and “systematic theology”?

Biblical theology is understood as the “study of the Bible that seeks to discover what the biblical writers, under divine guidance, believed, described, and taught in the context of their own times.”[2] In other words, biblical theology is the understanding of the biblical writer’s theology. What did he believe? What was he intending to communicate? What did he desire for his readers to know? What were the circumstances surrounding his message? To answer these questions, one must use exposition to find the answers; that is, to remain true to the writer’s intention. Using this method, a person will eventually see the big picture of the Bible, which leads to a true systematic theology. Now, what is “systematic theology”?

Systematic theology is understood as an articulation of “the biblical outlook in a current doctrinal or philosophical system.”[3] Systematic theology looks at the overall picture as it pertains to particular doctrines. Whereas biblical theology will seek to examine, for example, what John believed about Jesus in his Gospel and letters; systematic theology will show what the Bible teaches about the identity of Jesus. It is imperative that one possesses a strong biblical theology before one can hope to hold a strong systematic theology.

Often and unfortunate as it may be, biblical expositors will often elevate the systematic theology of John Calvin, Augustine, Aquinas, Arminius, Wesley, and Molina over that of the biblical text. When this is done, the expositor will jump through hoops in order to twist the Scripture into his/her theological system. Expositors force passages such as John 3:16, 2 Peter 3:9, and Romans 9 into their paradigm, while often being untrue to the nature of the text. If such a passage does not fit into one’s systematic theology, then that particular aspect of one’s systematic theology needs to be examined against the biblical text and against the overall message of the Bible itself. The great theologians such as those mentioned earlier need to be studied fervently. If perchance a person holds to a doctrine that has been rejected by the vast number of theologians throughout history, then one had better possess strong and valid reasons for accepting such a claim. Yet while Calvin, Aquinas, Wesley, Molina, and Arminius are important and extremely knowledgeable, one should take note that they are not infallible. The Scriptures are infallible. The theologians were mere mortal men trying to understand the truths of Scripture. So, we should study them with the understanding that if their teachings contradict the Scriptures, then the Scriptures should be accepted and the particular theologian’s viewpoints rejected.

Systematic theology is extremely important! My major in graduate school was in theology, particularly systematic theology, so I hold a great deal of interest in the matter. Do not misread the message of this post. I believe that systematic theology is of utmost importance. However, I do think the challenge offered by Dr. Chad Thornhill should be adhered by all students of the Bible. The Bible should shape our systematic theology, not the other way around. Such is true also for a person’s political and social beliefs. If the Bible is God’s Word (which I believe it is), then it is the final authority of truth.

© August 16, 2016. Brian Chilton. 

Sources Cited

[1]  Chad Thornhill, interviewed by Brian Chilton, Bellator Christi Podcast (August 15, 2016), podcast, http://www.blogtalkradio.com/pastorbrianchilton/2016/08/15/election-from-the-perspective-of-second-temple-judaism-w-dr-chad-thornhill.

[2] Walter A. Elwell, Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology, Baker Reference Library (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1996), Logos Bible Software..

[3] Ibid.

 

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.

4 Ways that God is Grand (Psalm 27)

Scott Kelly recently broke a record for the longest time in space. Kelly spent 12 months in space. Kelly went on record saying, “It’s not as fun as you might think it would be. It’s a type 2 kind of fun—a fun that occurs when it’s over.” Kelly went on to say, “The views, especially from space walks, are spectacular. The colors are more vivid than you ever expect.” Kelly also said something that many others who have traveled in space have said, “The more I travel in space, the more I feel like an environmentalist. It’s just a blanket of pollution in certain areas, something that we can correct if we put our minds to it.” Many astronauts have said, “When I see the earth from space, I see just how special our planet is. We need to take care of it. We also need to take care of each other.” Many who have traveled in space have noted how seeing the grandeur of the earth changes their perspective.

In similar regard, when we acknowledge the grandeur of God, our perspectives change greatly, as well. In the 27th psalm, David expresses his confidence in God’s protection even while facing his enemies. Due to David’s “reference to war (v. 3), and the concept of sonship (v. 10) favor this as a royal psalm.”[1] Some have called this a ““A Prayer of Praise.”[2] As we speak of the grandeur of God, we see at least 4 ways that God is grand.

1. The grandeur of God’s BEAUTY (27:4-5).

In verses 4-5, David notes the grandeur of God’s beauty. David petitions God, saying, “One thing I ask from the LORD, this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the LORD and to seek him in his temple” (24:4).[3] Notice that David uses four words in verses 4-6 “house,” “temple,” “dwelling,” and “sacred tent” “to affirm that wherever God chooses to reveal himself, that is where he wants to be.”[4] David wants to observe more of the beauty of God.

But what do we mean when we speak of the “beauty of God?” Does this simply mean that God is pleasing to the eyes and senses? Actually, it means much more. Norman Geisler defines God’s beauty as “the essential attribute of goodness that produces in the beholder a sense of overwhelming pleasure and delight.”[5] Wayne Grudem defines God’s beauty as “that attribute of God whereby he is the sum of all desirable qualities [sic].”[6] This is the positive side of God’s goodness. That is, God’s goodness is something that we should desire, something we should crave. Paul writes that the beauty of God, found in Christ, was given “to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless” (Ephesians 5:27). People crave beautiful things. However, we often crave the baser desires of physical beauty or materialism. True beauty is found in goodness. True goodness is found in God. Therefore, God is true beauty.

2. The grandeur of God’s PERFECTION (27:1-3, 13).

In verses 1-3, David addresses God’s perfection by way of his trust in God. In verse 1, David writes that “The LORD is my light and my salvation” (27:1). Bratcher and Reyburn note that “Only here in the Old Testament is Yahweh called my light; this means he is the source of life and vitality.”[7] The Moody Bible Commentary notes that “the word light [sic] here, as elsewhere in the OT, is a metaphor for comprehensive salvation, spiritual and physical, both present and eternal.”[8] In verses 2-3 and also in verse 13, David continues to express his trust in God because he knew God was perfect and could be trusted.

When we speak of perfection, we are acknowledging another aspect of God’s grandeur which complements the aspect of God’s beauty. Whereas beauty is the positive aspect of God’s grandeur and goodness (being that he is something that is to be desired), God’s perfection is the negative aspect of God’s grandeur and goodness (being that he holds no flaws whatsoever). Grudem states that “God’s perfection means that God completely possesses all excellent qualities and lacks no part of any qualities that would be desirable for him.”[9] God holds no character flaws. God holds no weaknesses. God can be trusted because he is the ultimate good. When we experience the presence of God, we should crave God’s presence much as did David. Do we have the same desire to be where God is?

3. The grandeur of God’s MAJESTY (27:6-12; Isaiah 6:1-7).

In verses 6-12, David expresses his trust that he would be “exalted above the enemies who surround me” (27:6). David’s heart sought to seek God (27:8). While David primarily speaks of his confidence in God, one could argue that David placed his trust in God’s ability to protect him because of the great majesty of God. The prophet Isaiah described the majesty of God the best that he could in Isaiah 6:1-7. He portrays God as “high and lifted up” (Isaiah 6:1).

When we speak of the majesty of God, we are saying, as Norman Geisler notes, that “God’s majesty consists of unsurpassed greatness, highest eminence, unparalleled exaltation, and unmatched glory.”[10] God’s majesty is associated with his honor and strength (1 Chronicles 16:27), God’s greatness and power in (1 Chronicles 29:11), and so on. Majesty is rooted in beauty and splendor. Who looks at a pile of mud and says, “Oh, how majestic”? Rather, one observes the tranquil ocean, a rugged mountain peak, a vividly colorful flower, a mighty animal, or a distant galaxy and say, “Oh how majestic!” Rather than provide the “ooo’s” and “ahh’s” that accompany many of the physical observations of beauty, we should provide wholehearted praise to the majestic God when we observe and acknowledge his grand beauty.

4. The grandeur of God’s INEFFABILITY (27:13-14; Deut. 29:29; Job 11:7: Isa. 55:8).

This characteristic is not so much an attribute of God as much as it is our limitations in fully understanding the grandeur of God. David understood that there were some things that he could not fully comprehend. While he was facing his enemies, he did not know why he must face them. Also, he did not know what would take place. However, David could still say, “I remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living. Wait for the LORD; be strong and take heart and wait for the LORD” (27:13-14). As the commentators of the Moody Bible Commentary noted, this “does not indicate passivity or inaction, but rather trust and confident anticipation that [God] will take action.”[11]

 The term “ineffability” literally means “incapable of being expressed.”[12] When we speak of the ineffability of God, we are acknowledging the presence of mystery as it relates to God. Mystery does not indicate a paradox (something that is a logical fallacy or logically inconsistent). Rather, again as Geisler notes, mystery is “something that does not go against reason, but beyond reason.”[13] The trinity is not something that is logically flawed and goes against reason. Rather, the trinity is something that is difficult to explain and goes beyond the capacities of reason. We should expect such things with the Creator of the universe.

There are many things in life that we cannot know. God can be apprehended (that is, we can know certain things about God), but God can never be fully comprehended (that is, understanding every detail about God). But that’s okay. We can answer many questions about God. But, there are many questions that are beyond our comprehension. For instance: why does God take a good person in the prime of his life while he allows an evil person to live many years? Why does God allow bad parents to have children while many good parents are unable to have children? Why did God allow my grandfather to take his life? Why is my godly grandmother lying in a nursing home with the horrible disease of Alzheimer’s? While I do think that there are answers to these questions, you and I can never fully comprehend why. But what I have found is that if we can trust God in the things that are knowable, then we can trust God in the things that are unknowable.

So what can we take from this?

  1. God’s beauty means that his goodness is to be desired. Have you ever recalled a time of great purity and goodness? I recall it with my time spent with my grandparents as they were people of faith. Contrast that with a time where you were in sin. Sin makes one feel dirty. Seek out the beauty of God!
  2. God’s perfection means that he holds no flaws and serves as a perfect example for you. While we have heroes in this life of whom we try to emulate, the only perfect example is that of God. Be mature as God is mature.
  3. God’s majesty means that he is highly exalted and worthy of praise. The natural response of viewing a majesty scene of nature is to exclaim “Oooo! Ahhh!” The natural response of exposure to God’s majesty is that of total and complete worship. God is majestic and worthy to be praised!
  4. God’s ineffability means that we while we may apprehend some aspects of God, we will never fully comprehend God. Relish in God’s mysteries. If you are like me, you want to know. It nearly drove me crazy trying to figure out how God’s sovereignty fits in with human freedom. I finally had to settle for congruism which acknowledges that both divine sovereignty and human freedom mysteriously coexist. It’s okay not to know everything about God. In fact, it’s impossible that you would ever understand God completely. God is God and you are not. So, do as David did. Trust God despite your lack of divine comprehension.

 

© April 5, 2016. Brian Chilton.

Notes

[1] Kenneth L. Barker and John R. Kohlenberger, III, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: New Testament, Abridged ed (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 828.

[2] Robert G. Bratcher and William David Reyburn, A Translator’s Handbook on the Book of Psalms, UBS Handbook Series (New York: United Bible Societies, 1991), 261.

[3] Unless otherwise noted, all quoted Scripture comes from the New International Version (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011).

[4] D. A. Carson, et. al., eds, NIV Zondervan Study Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2015), 1010.

[5] Norman L. Geisler, Systematic Theology: In One Volume (Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2011), 526.

[6] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 219.

[7] Bratcher and Reyburn, A Translator’s Handbook on the Book of Psalms, 261.

[8] Michael Rydelnik and Michael Vanlaningham, eds, The Moody Bible Commentary (Chicago: Moody Bible Publishers, 2014), 784.

[9] Grudem, ST, 218.

[10] Geisler, ST, 524.

[11] Rydelnik and Vanlaningham, eds, The Moody Bible Commentary, 785.

[12] Geisler, ST, 528.

[13] Ibid., 530.

6 Questions about Death Answered by the Bible

On the National Geographic Channel, Morgan Freeman hosts a documentary called The Story of God: The Story of Us. I must say that I did not know what to expect going into this series. Would this documentary serve as an attack on the Christian faith? Would the documentary serve a hidden agenda? While I do believe that the documentary (like any documentary, show, book, or movie) does hold to a particular worldview that it holds in place, I was pleasantly surprised that the first installment of the show was well done and not confrontational towards the Christian faith. Over the next few weeks, I wish to evaluate the topics presented on the show from a Christian worldview.

The first episode of The Story of God confronted the idea of death. Freeman’s documentary brought six questions to mind. This article will provide those six questions and brief answers. For each of these questions, we could devote an entire article to each. Thus, to say that these answers are abbreviated is indeed an understatement.

Question 1: Why do people die?

Death is defined as the cessation of life. Human death (Heb. “mawet;” Gk. “Thanatos”) is a direct result of sin. Solomon writes, “The wages of the righteous is life, but the earnings of the wicked are sin and death” (Proverbs 10:16).[1] The apostle Paul states more explicitly that the “wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23). Paul also states that “just as sin entered the world through one man (referring to Adam), and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned” (Romans 5:12). The Bible also acknowledges two kinds of death: physical death (Romans 5:12) and spiritual death, or “second death” (Rev. 20:14). The second death refers to an eternal existence in an abode apart from the eternal presence of God (Rev. 20:14-15; Mark 9:47-48), otherwise known as hell.

Question 2: How did Jewish believers up to the time of Christ view life after death?

In Freeman’s documentary, it was noted that the Jews of Jesus’ day did not hold a clear perception of what happened after death. However, this is not necessarily true. Whereas Old Testament is not as explicit concerning the afterlife as is the New Testament, the lack of the OT’s explicit nature of the afterlife does not indicate the absence of any teachings on the matter. The OT describes the afterlife as a shadowy place called Sheol. It is not non-existence, but it is not the same as life on earth either. Many scholars hold that the Jewish people in the OT and of the time of Second Temple Judaism[2] held to a two-tiered view of Sheol. This is clearly seen in Jesus’ Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31). However, this view did not originate with Jesus. The commentators of the Faithlife Study Bible denote that “The ot more broadly contains definite hints of a hope beyond sheol for the righteous.”[3] Asaph notes in Psalm 73 that God will “guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will take me to glory” (Psalm 73:24). N. T. Wright also suggests that the Pharisees of the Second Temple Judaism period “held to a belief in resurrection in this period…had also developed regular ways of describing the intermediate state.[4] In that world, nobody supposed the dead were already raised; resurrection, as we have seen, describes new bodily life after a present mode of ‘life after death’.”[5]

It appears that there may have been an idea of a type of heavenly and hellish existence compartmentalized in the Sheol concept. Wayne Grudem states that “it seems likely that Old Testament believers also entered immediately into heaven and enjoyed a time of fellowship with God upon their death. However, it may well have been true that additional rich blessings and much greater rejoicing came to them when Christ returned to heaven at his ascension.”[6] In my estimation, while I do feel that the believers of the OT period entered into a paradise (a conscious existence with God), I do not feel that they had full access that would have been available until after Christ’s death.

Question 3: Does the Bible teach reincarnation?

No. Reincarnation finds its home in pantheistic (Buddhist) and panentheistic (Hinduism) worldviews. Reincarnation is the view that a soul passes from an earthly mode of existence to another mode of earthly existence until one becomes pure energy (like God). If a person lives a bad life, they may come back as a rodent in the next life. If someone lives a righteous life, they may continue to escalate the human experience until they exit the wheel of reincarnation and enter into the abode of God (pure energy). In stark contrast, the Bible teaches that “people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment” (Heb. 9:27).

Question 4: What does the Bible teach will happen to a person after they die?

The NT expounds upon the base work given in the OT concerning the intermediate state and the resurrection. The Bible teaches that once a person dies he or she will be taken into the presence of God in what is called an intermediate state. Evidence of this doctrine is found in Jesus’ promise to the repentant crucified victim (Luke 23:43) as well as Paul’s teaching that one who leaves the body goes to the direct presence of God (2 Cor. 5:8). After the intermediate state, God will resurrect all people at the end of human history. Some will be resurrected to eternal life with God (Rev. 20:6) and some will be resurrected with bodies to face eternal punishment (Rev. 20:11-14).

Question 5: Does the Bible teach the doctrine of purgatory?

The issue of purgatory was not examined in Freeman’s documentary; however, purgatory is a doctrine held in some Christian denominations. Purgatory is the idea that righteous individuals will have to face a period of time in fire for unconfessed sins. Those in purgatory serve their time and then are ushered into heaven. But, is there any biblical evidence for such a view?

No. The only comparable teaching that is similar to the doctrine of purgatory is that of the Judgment Seat of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:10). While one’s deeds are tested by fire, it does not appear that the person is in the fire (1 Cor. 3:13), rather one’s deeds are tested. Good deeds are offered as rewards. Bad deeds are destroyed by the fire. Thus, one can assume that purgatory does not hold a biblical basis, whereas the Judgment Seat of Christ does.

Question 6: What is the resurrection and why is it necessary?

Resurrection is the final reunification of soul and body. The body will be a glorified body which will never more die (1 Cor. 15:35ff). While the Bible teaches a duality of soul and body, it is clear that both soul and body are meant to be unified in a holistic fashion.[7] Therefore, while the soul is saved and the mind transformed, the body will be the last to be redeemed. The body will be redeemed at the resurrection of the dead.

This article has examined some of the questions that arose from watching Morgan Freeman’s documentary The Story of God: The Story of Us. Each of these questions deserve greater examination which we may do in future articles.

 

(c) April 4, 2016. Brian Chilton.

Notes

[1] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture for this post comes from the New International Version (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011).

[2] The time leading up to the first century AD.

[3] John D. Barry et al., Faithlife Study Bible (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2012).

[4] That is, the period between death and the final resurrection.

[5] N. T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2003), 133.

[6] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 822.

[7] Norman Geisler calls this view “hylomorphism” which “holds that there is a form/matter unity between soul and body.” Norman Geisler, Systematic Theology (Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2011), 736. This does not mean that there is not some form of dualism between soul and body and neither does it negate the existence of a conscious existence in the intermediate state. Rather, it holds that the soul and body are meant to be unified and will in its complete recreation.

God’s Big Plan Found in the Hymn of Christ (Philippians 2:6-11)

I have, among many other issues, a medical problem. I have what is called “myopia.” Myopia is the technical term for “near-sightedness.” I can see close up, but I cannot see far off. I grew up in foothills of North Carolina, close to the Virginia border. It’s an area where the mountains are nearly always in view. When I was about seven or eight years old, I began to notice that the mountains began to look fuzzy. At some times, it appeared that there were two sets of mountains when in reality only one existed. The ophthalmologist helped my problem by prescribing glasses for me. To this day, I have to wear either glasses or my contact lenses to see properly. Otherwise, I cannot see except for things nearest to me.

Often, we suffer from spiritual myopia. We see things that are closest to us and those things taking place in the world. Such a focus may leave us feeling overwhelmed. When we feel such emotions, we know it is time to put on our spiritual lenses. This Easter, we need a special reminder of God’s really big plan found in and through the life of Christ. Today, Paul provides to us an ancient hymn. The majority of scholars believe that this hymn predates the writing of the New Testament. The hymn, popularly called “The Hymn of Christ,” dates back to the earliest church. Along with other early confessions (Romans 10:9) and creeds (1 Corinthians 15:3-7), Paul likely received the hymn of Philippians 2:6-11 in AD 35 when he met with the apostles in Jerusalem (Galatians 1:18), particularly Simon Peter and James the brother of Jesus, to confirm the gospel message that he was preaching.[1] What do we find of God’s big plan found in Christ? We find a five-point plan.

 1. Christ’s PREEXISTENCE is evidence of God’s ETERNAL plan (2:6).

Paul first notes that Christ was in the form of God. Though Christ “was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped” (2:6).[2] In other words, Paul is saying that Jesus was divine. Jesus existed before he was born. This is a tough concept to imagine. However, Paul further shows that Christ did not use his divinity as a means of praise or adulation. Rather, Christ humbly left the throne of heaven to fulfill the Father’s plan. Due to God’s omniscience, God realized that if he made individuals with free will that eventually humanity would choose wrong. Why allow humanity to choose? It was to allow for perfect love to be exemplified. The sheer logic of it all dictates a salvific plan. God chose from the foundation of the world to save you! Writing of God’s salvific plan, Paul notes that “This was according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through our faith in him” (Ephesians 3:11-12).

 2. Christ’s HUMANITY is evidence of God’s HUMBLE plan (2:7).

The hymn goes on to say that Christ did not use his divinity to escape any of the human attributes he possessed. While Jesus was 100% God, he was also 100% human. Christ left the portals of heaven to be born in a manger with stinky animals. Jesus could have chosen to have been born to a ritzy, flashy family. Rather, he was born into a family of faith: Joseph and his precious mother Mary. Jesus could have used his divinity to override his humanity. The Gospels note that there were times where Jesus could not perform miracles due to the lack of faith by the people (Mark 6:5). Jesus could have overridden their faith, could have chosen to not be tempted by Satan, and could have called down legions of angels for protection from the cross (Matthew 26:53); however, Jesus never did so because he chose to humbly fulfill the Father’s plan. Some commentators have noted that there is a distinct difference between Adam and Christ. Adam was the first created human being who desired to be God for his own glory. In stark contrast, Christ is God who became human in order to save humanity for the Father’s glory.

 3. Christ’s SACRIFICE is evidence of God’s SALFIVIC plan (2:8).

The hymn goes even further with God’s plan. God’s Messiah would leave the portals of heaven, would humbly take on flesh, and “humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (2:8). Richard Melick writes, “The impact of crucifixion on the Philippians would be great. No Roman could be subjected to such a death, and the Jews took it as a sign that the victim was cursed (Gal 3:13).[3] Christ chose to die on the cross out of his great love for you and out of his great obedience unto God the Father. He could have chosen any other means of death, yet Christ chose to die one of the most excruciating deaths possible to demonstrate his great love towards you. But why did Jesus choose the cross? Fleming Rutledge, I think accurately, states that “The horrible death envisioned for the Suffering Servant and the horrific death suffered by Jesus Christ respond to the gravity of sin.”[4] But I think Christ’s sacrifice also demonstrates another reality: that good people must sometimes suffer. Without the cross, there is not a crown.

 4. Christ’s RESURRECTION is evidence of God’s EXALTING plan (2:9).

In verse 9, the hymn alludes to Christ’s resurrection by the phrase “highly exalted” (2:9). By the resurrection, Christ was given a name that is above all others. G. Walter Hansen notes four ways we can understand Christ’s exaltation.

First, the hymn does not view the reward as the motive for Christ’s obedience. Thus, Christ’s obedience does not exemplify obeying in order to deserve a reward. Second, the hymn does not present the reward as redemption from sin…The reward given to Christ was vindication by God: God vindicated Christ’s death on a cross by exalting him to the highest place. Third, the hymn views the reward as a gracious gift. God gave the name above every name not as compensation for Christ’s work, but as proof of divine approval of his work. Fourth, the hymn views the reward as divine confirmation of Christ’s true identity, not as an acquisition of a new position. The true identity of the one existing in the form of God and equal to God was hidden by the humiliation of death on a cross, but was revealed by God’s act of exalting him and giving him the name of Lord. As long as these four qualifications of the concept of reward are kept in mind, God’s exaltation of Christ may be properly understood as God’s way of graciously rewarding Christ by vindicating him after his death on a cross and by revealing his divine nature after his humiliation.”[5]

 In other words, the resurrection reveals to the world Christ’s divine nature and his plan. Without the resurrection of Christ, people would have thought that Christ’s death was merely a tragedy. The resurrection of Christ reveals that our sins had been atoned and that death had been defeated. The resurrection shows the object through which salvation has been given.

 5. Christ’s ASCENSION is evidence of God’s VICTORIOUS plan (2:10-11).

In verses 10 and 11 of “The Hymn of Christ,” the hymn notes that eventually “every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (2:10-11). This passage of Scripture indicates that at some point in time every person will acknowledge the identity of Jesus Christ. In ancient times, divine names were given to the Roman Caesars as it was believed that they ruled over all the land. However, this hymn notes that the true ruler of all is Christ Jesus the Lord. Isaiah writes speaking for God, “By myself I have sworn; from my mouth has gone out in righteousness a word that shall not return: ‘To me every knee will bow, every tongue shall swear allegiance” (Isaiah 45:23). Christ ascended to the right hand of the Father after appearing to the disciples multiple times over a 40 day period…once even appearing to more than 500 people at one time (more likely 1,500 to 2000). As Christ has gone, Christ will return. While things may seem chaotic, understand that Christ rules supremely.

 A few weeks ago, my wife went on a business trip to Orlando, Florida. The week was awful while she was gone. I came down with the flu. My son had to stay out of school one day of the week. I had to take him to the doctor. We were so glad when Mommy came back home. We kept anticipating her arrival. We missed her motherly instinct. Most of all, we missed her! We tracked her flight as she was heading home. As she flew overhead, my son and I went outside to wave at her as her jet passed by our home. My son jumped up and down saying, “Mommy’s home!” Mommy’s home!” As the world gets crazier and crazier, I think it is like tracking the flight plan of King Jesus. We know that these signs tell us that soon we will be shouting, “Jesus is taking us home! Jesus is taking us home!” It’s all part of God’s big plan!

 

So here are a few principles we can take home.

  1. God’s plan is much bigger than our perceptions. Many people mistook what the Messiah would do. God’s plan was far bigger than what anyone expected. You may not understand what God is doing today, but understand his plan is far better for your ultimate and eternal future.
  2. God’s plan included the utmost humility. Live humble lives. Christ took on the humblest role than anyone could. Can we think that we can live any differently? In a world of self-entitlement, self-gratification, and self-promotion, the Christian should step back and remember that Christ did not choose to be born in Herod’s palace, but rather a manger to faithful people living in poverty.
  3. God’s plan included suffering for the Messiah. Our lives may include suffering for the glory of God. As mentioned earlier, we live in a self-entitlement generation. However, we should understand that there is often a cross before a crown. If the perfect Son of God had to suffer in this life, what makes us think that we are any different?
  4. God’s plan includes an end result that is far greater than anything that occurs here on earth. Christ’s resurrection and ascension assures us that his promises are true and steadfast. There is a life far greater than anyone can ever imagine awaiting those who are in Christ Jesus. The pains of this body will be replaced by the ultimate glorified body in the resurrection. It is a body that “is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body” (1 Corinthians 15:42-43, NIV).[6]

 

Keep working for Christ! God’s plan is far greater than the problems of this life.

 

© March 30, 2016. Brian Chilton.

Notes

[1] If one accepts the later dating for Christ’s crucifixion (April 3, 33AD) and resurrection (April 5, 33AD), Paul would have received this information a mere 3 years after the actual crucifixion and resurrection of Christ (that is if one accepts that the term “year” used of Paul in Gal. 1:18 refers to parts of years). Even if one accepts the earlier dating for Christ’s crucifixion (April 5, 30AD) and resurrection (April 7, 30AD), we are still only speaking of 5 years after the events of Christ took place. The information found in these early creeds, confessions, and hymns make up the bedrock of the earliest church’s belief system.

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

[3] Richard R. Melick, Philippians, Colossians, Philemon, vol. 32, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1991), 105.

[4] Fleming Rutledge, interviewed by Mark Galli, “Why Did Jesus Choose the Cross? The reason he died a bloody, horrible death.” ChristianityToday.com (March 25, 2016), accessed March 25, 2016, http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2016/march/why-did-jesus-choose-cross.html.

[5] G. Walter Hansen, The Letter to the Philippians, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI; Nottingham, England: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2009), 161.

[6] Scriptures marked NIV come from the New International Version (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011).

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).

The Pneumatology of Watchman Nee (Part 4: Spiritual Empowerment and Nee’s Impact)

The following excerpt is from the author’s academic paper “The Impact of Watchman Nee’s Pneumatology.” This article will conclude our series.

Hui is correct when he says that Nee “argues that we must distinguish between being ‘filled with the Holy Spirit’…and being ‘full of the Holy Spirit.’”[1] While Watchman Nee would be considered charismatic in his pneumatology, one cannot stretch this aspect too far. Watchman Nee writes that

the principle on which we receive the enduement of the Holy Spirit is the very same as that on which we receive forgiveness of sins…Is it possible that the Son of God shed His Blood [sic] and that your sins, dear child of God, have not been forgiven? Never! Then is it possible that the Son of God has been glorified and you have not received the Spirit? Never![2]

In other words, Nee believes in a special fullness of the Holy Spirit, but it is difficult to ascertain whether he believes this to be a separate event as do many Pentecostals. While one may be quick to ask, how is it that one could be less than full of the Holy Spirit; it should be noted that Paul the apostle himself stated that one should not “quench the Spirit” (1 Thessalonians 5:19). If it is possible to quench the Holy Spirit, then is it possible to lose focus on the Holy Spirit? It would indeed appear so. Paul writes to believers in Ephesus that they should not “get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18). That is, the believer’s controlling factor is the Holy Spirit.

While Nee’s pneumatology finds itself well within the network of the Wesleyan tradition and thereby outside of the Calvinist tradition, Nee’s pneumatology is not terribly different than most evangelicals. The focus that Nee places on the Holy Spirit is to be admired. While Nee’s focus on the Holy Spirit would get him through incredible difficulties, Nee’s emphasis on the Holy Spirit would have an impact on the house church movement.

Impact Upon The House Church Movement

Thus far, this paper has examined the life and pneumatology of Watchman Nee. But, what emphasis would this hold on the so-called house church movement? The House Church Movement arose from, as Lee notes, “Tensions and conflicts with the Communist government.”[3] As it was noted earlier in Nee’s biography, Christians in the House Church Movement were met with severe punishment, imprisonment, and even death if caught. Timothy Tennent notes that individuals like Watchman Nee “wrote many Christian books, pamphlets, and hymns that helped to foster and nurture networks of unregistered house churches.”[4] Nee’s emphasis on the spiritual direction and comfort of the Holy Spirit gave the adherents of the church movement hope to endure even the most difficult of circumstances. Nee eloquently states that the “Christian experience begins with sitting and leads to walking, but it does not end with these. Every Christian must learn also to stand. Each one of us must be prepared for the conflict.”[5] The Chinese House Church Movement continues to grow despite mounted efforts to destroy them. The great irony is that the church is at its best when it faces situations at their worst. What impact can modern Western Christian extract from Nee’s pneumatology?

The Modern Impact of Watchman Nee’s Pneumatology

Watchman Nee’s pneumatology holds three important areas of impact for the modern Western Christian. First, Nee’s pneumatology afforded him the ability to endure the most horrific of circumstances. Nee did not possess a self-serving attitude. Western theologies such as the infamous health and wellness gospel promote a sense of entitlement to the degree that no pain is anticipated by its adherents. Yet, Nee demonstrates that authentic Christianity comes with a great price. The Christian may be expected to “deny himself and take up his cross daily” (Luke 9:23) in order to follow Christ.

Next, Nee’s pneumatology focused on the direction and strength given by the Holy Spirit. Thus, Nee depended on God. Western Christianity has become overly individualized. In the land of the so-called “selfie,” many people in the Western world have become infatuated with selfish behaviors and fall down before the altar of their own narcissism. In stark contrast, Nee provides the antidote to such self-serving attitudes—to fully trust in the Holy Spirit. The modern hyper-cessasionalist, to their own detriment, often journeys too far in the opposing direction in order to counteract charismatic ideologies. Spiritual dependency upon the Holy Spirit is a necessity if one is to be defended in spiritual warfare. The work of ministry is also dependent upon the working of the Spirit as attested by all orthodox Christians, Western and Majority World Christians alike.

Finally, the modern Western Christian can learn from the primacy that Nee gave the kingdom of God. This primacy did not make life easy. In fact, the Little Flock ran into difficulties with the Communist Party of China when they decided to focus completely on the kingdom of God rather than secular political agendas. While politics is an extremely important field, Nee’s pneumatology serves to illustrate that the Christian needs to first focus on the “kingdom of God and his righteousness” (Matthew 6:33). It is easy for one to lose their bearings when the kingdom is not stressed. Nee’s pneumatology demands that God’s kingdom must come prior to the kingdoms of the world.

Conclusion

This paper has shown that the pneumatology of Watchman Nee had a significant impact on Nee’s theology as well as the House Church Movement in China. The paper has also served to show the impact that Nee’s pneumatology can offer for the modern Western Christian. While many theologians may differ with Nee on his soteriology, his ecclesiology, his charismatic beliefs, or even his eschatology; most all Christians can appreciate the dependence upon the Holy Spirit that Nee fervently emphasized through his life. Modern Christians face uncertain times. Majority World Christians face increasing pressures from persecution, whereas Western Christians find themselves a minority as North America and Europe become increasingly secularized. Individuals like Bonhoeffer in Germany and Nee in China serve as fantastic examples in how the Christian can endure in almost any circumstance. The modern Christian would do well to learn from the great persons of faith given to us by God throughout history. Such persons serve as illustrations of what God can do in a person wholly surrendered unto the Spirit of God.

Copyright, February 2, 2016. Brian Chilton.

Bibliography

Adeney, D. “Nee, Watchman,” Who’s Who in Christian History. Edited by J.D. Douglas and Philip W. Comfort. Wheaton: Tyndale House, 1992.

Erling, Bernhard. “Story of Watchman Nee.” Lutheran Quarterly 28, 2 (May 1976): 140-155. Accessed November 20, 2015. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost.

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

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

Hui, Archie. “The Pneumatology of Watchman Nee: a New Testament Perspective.” The Evangelical Quarterly 76, 1 (January 2004): 3-29. Accessed November 20, 2015. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost.

Lee, Joseph Tse-Hei. “Watchman Nee and the Little Flock movement in Maoist China.” Church History 74, 1 (March 2005): 68-96. Accessed November 20, 2015. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost.

Nee, Watchman. Sit, Walk, Stand. Carol Stream: Tyndale House, 1977.

_____________. The Normal Christian Life. Fort Washington, PA: Christian Literature Crusade, 1980.

_____________. The Spiritual Man: In Three Volumes. New York: Christian Fellowship Publishers, Inc., 1968.

Tennent, Timothy C. Theology in the Context of World Christianity. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2007.

Endnotes

[1] Hui, “The Pneumatology of Watchman Nee,” The Evangelical Quarterly, 5.

 

[2] Nee, The Normal Christian Life, 85-86.

 

[3] Lee, “Watchman Nee and the Little Flock Movement in Maoist China,” Church History, 70.

 

[4] Timothy C. Tennent, Theology in the Context of World Christianity: How the Global Church is Influencing the Way We Think About and Discuss Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2007), 235.

 

[5] Nee, Sit, Walk, Stand, 39-40.