Knowledge of the Holy One: The Ever-Present God

I remember vaguely, what felt like, the long rides laying in the back of my parent’s station wagon in the early hours of the morning picking up my dad from his job at the factory (this was, of course, before car seats and the bubble-wrapping of our kids for their safety). It would be late at night or early in the morning while the moon was still bright in the sky; the bumps on the road, the bed mat in the back, and the chill of the early hours. I remember it so well because I recall being afraid that the moon was following us. Every street we turned down, every intersection we crossed, every time a building would shield us from its ever-seeing eye it would emerge on the other side, never ceasing to watch over us. For a little, sleepy boy this was pretty scary.

Today, I can look back on that and laugh but it does remind me of the ever-present God who created all things and is never absent, even in the unseen world. And honestly, God’s omnipresence can be a terror for those who seek to hide themselves or their works, just as I was scared as a little boy, or a comfort to those who know Him and are known by Him. That God is omnipresent in the material realm, the spiritual realm, and even in eternity is clear from the Scriptures and I pray a comfort to you.

The Ever-present God in the Material Realm

Psalm 139:7-18 declares that from the north to the south, from the east to the west, in darkness or light, God is there; even while in our mother’s womb and before we were conceived. What a comfort! What a joy! That God is always with me,  is already where I am going, and will be there when I’m gone is my fuel, strength, and confidence in evangelism, discipleship, ministry, and missions. That we are joining God in what He’s already doing, that we are partnering with Him instead of He with us, is the confidence King David shared when he said, “…even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil, for you are with me…” (Psalm 23:4). Where can you go that He is already not? What has He asked you to do that He has not joined you in, led you to, and is walking with you through? Praise God!

The Ever-present God in the Spiritual Realm

Amos 9:2-3 can be seen as a “sister-text” to the Psalm 139 passage mentioned above. Here, God doesn’t reveal His presence as a comfort for His children but as a terror for those who oppose Him. “If they dig into Sheol, from there shall my hand take them; if they climb up to heaven, from there I will bring them down. If they hide…I will search them out and take them…” What a terrifying reality.

This is not so much of a statement on God’s spatial presence as it is His relational presence. Some have argued that God is so holy that He cannot be in the presence of sin but that is a distortion of His Omnipresence. God is everywhere, in His fullness, at all times but withholds good from those who hate and oppose Him.

Like a two year-old believing he is hidden as he covers his eyes, so are those who believe that God is not present in their iniquity. We laugh when we see a toddler hide behind a small lamp stand and fill his diaper because he honestly believes that no one knows what he’s doing. But God’s ever-presence spiritually is no laughing matter. As His presence is a comfort to those who love Him, His presence should be a terror to those who oppose Him; for nothing is outside of His present reality.

The Ever-present God in Eternity

Revelation 21:22-27 give believers a glimpse of the physical presence of God in eternity as God Almighty and the Lamb are the center of life and the focal point of eternity. To think of God’s intimate, personal, and very real presence in Heaven is no stretch at all. It’s the hope of our endurance!

But what of Hell, is God present in Hell? Revelation 14:9-12 paints a terrifying and tragic picture of the eternal state of those who refuse to believe in the resurrected Christ and repent. In this passage we read, “…[they] will drink of the wine of God’s wrath, poured full strength into the cup of his anger, and [they] will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb.”

In the presence of the Lamb? Jesus will be in Hell? John MacArthur writes, “Unrepentant sinners will be banished from God’s presence relationally; they will be forever barred from the loving fellowship with Him that believers will enjoy. They will not, however, be away from His presence in the sense of His sovereignty and omnipresence—even in Hell.” Yes, even in Hell. All of His Goodness withheld, all His Wrath poured out in full strength, un-watered down, un-filtered, un-relenting, all-consuming, superintended by the Savior once spurned.

God’s omnipresence can be a comfort or a terror. To those whom He has poured His ever-present grace upon, His presence is the salve of our weary sin-soaked souls. To those who spurn His call to faith and repentance, a terrifying reality that I pray God would remedy in them, by His grace and for His glory.

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The “Share the Gospel by Your Life” Lie

Enough is enough, really.

Have you heard it? Perhaps you’ve said it. Maybe you’ve even taught it or preached it…“You don’t have to share the Gospel with words. The most powerful Gospel is shown by your actions.” Putting it very simply and plainly, that’s nonsense. And it’s worse than nonsense when it comes from pastors, teachers, and preachers; the ones called & supernaturally equipped by God to take His Word about salvation from His wrath through Christ’s substitutionary atonement and share that Word with a world of people condemned unless they believe the Gospel and repent (Mark 1:15).

The Gospel must be presented with words. The Gospel is only fully presented with words. The Gospel comes from the Word and the Word is powerful & effective (Isaiah 55:11; Romans 1:16; Hebrews 4:12-13).

Paul writes to the Romans that belief comes from hearing and hearing comes through preaching and preachers are sent to do just that, proclaim the Good News of God’s salvation (Romans 10:14-15). And just in case the Romans, and we for that matter, didn’t get it the first time he summarizes those verses and repeats himself in verse 17 when he says, “Faith comes through hearing and hearing through the word of Christ.” Note that Paul does not say “preach the Gospel and use words when necessary.” Can you imagine if Paul would’ve evangelized the Gentiles with that lie? He’d have been a happy-go-lucky, kind-hearted, forgiving, polite, tent maker who never saw a single person saved from their sin and given eternal life.

Yes, we need to live the Gospel. The Gospel of Jesus Christ never, and I repeat, never leaves a life unchanged. Yes, you can observe, through actions, a difference between someone who is a Christ follower and someone who is not.

But being kind does not share that Jesus Christ died to pay your sin debt and that he rose from the dead for your justification (Romans 4:25).

But being polite does not share that Jesus Christ is the way, the truth, and the life and that no person will ever be in God’s presence unless they come through Christ (John 14:6).

But being joyful does not share that Christ bore in his body your sins and that by his wounds you can be healed (1 Peter 2:24).

But being nice to people does not share that their good works and their best obedience is not the measurement of God’s satisfaction of them and that their best effort will never earn them eternal life (Galatians 2:15-16).

You may be asking, “Where is this blog post coming from? Why the aggression about this topic?” Honestly, I expect this from the world. I expect the world to say things like “don’t worry about telling people about Jesus,” but I don’t hear it from the world, I hear it and read it regularly from the Christian community. Church, and church leaders, we need to stop believing and stop propagating this lie! We need to repent & tell everyone about the forgiveness of sins through Christ alone.

Christian:

“…do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord…” (2 Timothy 1:8)

“…what you have heard from me…entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also…” (2 Timothy 2:2).

“I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus…preach the word; be ready in season and out of season…” (2 Timothy 4:1-2).

“…the Lord stood by me and strengthened me, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it” (2 Timothy 4:17).

May you find yourself in the company of Jesus Christ who “must preach the good news of the kingdom of God…for [he] was sent for this purpose” (Luke 4:43).

May you find yourself in the company of the Apostle Paul who was “eager to preach the gospel” to a people he had never met before (Romans 1:15).

And may you find yourself as an answer to Christ’s prayer as he prayed for laborers to harvest God’s people (Matthew 9:38).

Don’t get sucked into the lie that the Gospel is best presented by your way of life. The Gospel is best presented with the Word of God, coming from a life that has been changed by God, bearing witness to the power, love, grace and mercy of God found only in the cross of Christ.

“For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive…”—The Gospel of Jesus Christ, from 1 Corinthians 15:3-6

The Knowledge of the Holy One: El Shaddai

Recently, I have been on a quest to, as my wife and I joke, become ‘less fleshy.’ Beginning the Monday after Thanksgiving, I began a wholefood meal plan and workout routine (when I’m not cheating). One thing I’ve found is that in consuming small amounts of “good fuel” and then expending that “fuel” at the gym leaves me running on empty and depleted of energy. In short, I have to keep eating to keep powered. That’s not rocket-science is it?

But this is not, and never has been, true of El Shaddai, The Almighty, Omnipotent One. As A.W. Tozer so aptly penned, “…the Lord God omnipotent can do anything as easily as anything else. All His acts are done without effort. He expends no energy that must be replenished. His self-sufficiency makes it unnecessary for Him to look outside of Himself for a renewal of strength. All the power required to do all that He wills to do lies in undiminished fullness in His own infinite being.”[1] For he who holds not the power to do as He has determined is not, after all, sovereign or powerful; but God is. Just as, he who attempts to carry out his own pleasure and finds himself short of ability is not God; but God never fails to accomplish that which he desires. The Sovereign, Almighty One is just that!

Fifty eight times, the Bible refers to God as The Almighty. From the beginning of God’s Self-Revelation to the end, the omnipotence of God is directly stated, implied, demonstrated, celebrated, feared, and praised, and necessarily so. In the Old Testament, Job, was the man chosen by God to predominately declare his omnipotence. Thirty-one of the forty-eight references to God as Almighty are found in the pages of the troubled and rewarded righteous man. In the New, it is the Revelation of Jesus Christ to John that most pronounces the unbridled, unhindered power of El Shaddai. God Himself, the angelic host, the elders around the Throne, the saints awaiting Christ’s second advent, the martyrs, and the Church all profess the omnipotence of God, by declaration of identifying Him as “…the Lord God Almighty.” Nine out of ten New Testament references to “the Lord God Almighty” are found in Christ’s Revelation. It is important to note that in the entirety of Holy Writ, “Almighty” is used of God alone; never man, never beast, never any created thing. God is God alone and God alone is Omnipotent!

Ephesians 3:20-21 may, perhaps, be the greatest expression of the incomprehensibility of the omnipotence of God. The Holy Spirit through the Apostle Paul encourages Christ’s Church in reminding us of the Truth in which believers find shelter and abide (Psalm 91:1). This is a familiar passage to the Publicans readership, as it is with all students of Scripture. But let me share with you Steven Lawson’s[2] exposition of this passage with nothing more than the passage itself. I pray that it moves you to a place of glorying God in Christ Jesus, as it did me. Prayerfully read and meditate on each word, each morsel of Divine Bread, and let it feed your soul.

“Now to him…”

“Now to him who is able…”

“Now to him who is able to do…”

“Now to him who is able to do far more…”

“Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly…”

“Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all…”

“Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all we ask…”

“Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all we ask or think…”

“Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all we ask or think, according to the power at work…”

“Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all we ask or think according to the power at work within us…”

“Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all we ask or think according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church…”

“Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all we ask or think according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus…”

“Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all we ask or think according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations…”

“Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all we ask or think according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever…”

“Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all we ask or think according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.”

It is this Almighty God that has chosen to reveal Himself to us in spoken Word, written Word, and incarnate Word and we would do well to find our strength and rest in Him, for He alone is the Source of both!

As Pink leads his readers, “may [we] all tremble before such a God…[and] ‘Kiss the Son, lest He be angry, and we perish from the way, when His wrath is kindled but a little’ (Psalm 2:12)…and adore such a God…[for] ‘Who is like unto you, O LORD, among the gods? who is like you, glorious in holiness, fearful in praises, doing wonders’ (Ex. 15:11)…and trust such a God…who ‘is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?’ (Psalm 27:1).”[3]

The God who lacks no strength or ability to accomplish that which He has purposed, that is the True and Living God and there is no other. “God’s power is like Himself: infinite, eternal, incomprehensible; it can neither be checked, restrained, nor frustrated by the creature.”[4]

[1] AW Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy, pg. 67

[2] Steven Lawson, The Attributes of God DVD, Ligonier Ministries

[3] AW Pink, The Attributes of God, pg. 42-43

[4] Steven Charnock

The Advent of God’s Faithfulness

Hear the Word of the Lord:

“The Lord God said to the serpent, ‘Because you have done this, cursed are you above all livestock and above all the beasts of the field; on your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life. I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her Offspring; He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel…”

“Now the Lord said to Abram…’I will make you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing…and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed’…And Abraham lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him was a Ram, caught in a thicket by his horns. And Abraham offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son.”

“Then Jacob called his sons and said, ‘Gather yourselves together, that I may tell you what shall happen to you in the days to come…’Judah, your brothers shall praise you…[and] the scepter shall not depart from you, nor the ruler’s staff from between your feet until [Shiloh] come…and to Him shall be the obedience of the peoples…’

Your Lamb shall be without blemish…take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses…They shall eat the Flesh that night, roasted on the fire; with Unleavened Bread…[This] is the Lord’s Passover…The Blood shall be a sign for you, on the houses where you are. And when I see the Blood, I will pass over you, and no plague will befall you to destroy you…This day shall be for you a memorial day, and you shall keep it as a feast to the Lord; throughout your generations, as a statute forever, you shall keep it as a feast…’

“…and the Lord said, ‘I will raise up for them a Prophet like you, [Moses], from among their brothers. And I will put my words in His mouth, and He shall speak to them all that I commanded Him. And whoever will not listen to my words that He shall speak in my name, I myself will require it of him…”

“…say to my servant David, ‘Thus says the Lord of Hosts…I took you…I have been with you…I will make for you a Name…I will raise up your Offspring after you, One of your own sons, and I will establish His Kingdom…and I will establish His Throne forever. I will be to Him a Father, and He shall be to me a Son…I will confirm Him in my House and in My Kingdom forever, and His Throne shall be established forever…'”

“…the Lord Himself will give you a sign. Behold the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and you shall call His name Immanuel…and the government shall be upon His shoulder, and His name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace…”

“…But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah [of Judah]…from you shall come forth for me One who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from old, from ancient days…And He shall stand and shepherd His flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord His God. And they shall dwell secure, for now He shall be great to the ends of the earth. And He shall be their Peace.”

“And the Angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to Him the throne of his father David, and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end…And she gave birth to her firstborn Son and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths and laid Him in a manger…And the angel said to them, ‘Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a Baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger…Glory to God in highest, and on earth peace among those with whom He is pleased!”

“Kiss the Son, lest He be angry, and you perish in the way, for His wrath is quickly kindled. Blessed are all who take refuge in Him.”

Amen.

As surely as God’s faithfulness delivered to us the Promised Messiah, He is coming again to take all those who eagerly await Him to be with Him. “And so we will be with the Lord, forever…Even so, come Lord Jesus.”

The Knowledge of the Holy One: God is Sovereign

I remember all the buildup and hype very well. It was 20 years ago that Mike Tyson made a meal of both of Evander Holyfield’s ears in the boxing ring as he faced the man who just, one year earlier, dethroned him as the WBA World Heavyweight Champion. The “bites” were as strange as the fight was epic but even that monumental fight pales in comparison to the fight that often arises when the Sovereignty of God takes the ring against man’s desire to rule and reign over himself.

“That God is, and the God who is, is the God who reigns…this is the bedrock doctrine of all doctrines. This is the immovable mountain of God’s supreme authority and his right to exercise his rule; absolute, active, continual reign over heaven, earth, and even hell itself. It is His undisputed right to govern all that He has created, with unhindered, unrivaled majesty.”[1] This is God’s Sovereignty. This is what it means to be God; for no god is God unless he holds within Himself the authority and power to rule and reign over that which He presides.

We hear His sovereignty confessed, even from the unbelieving world, when it is so boldly proclaims “Who do you think you are? God?” Inherent in such a rhetorical question is the authority that God possesses to do as He pleases. A.W. Pink opens his writing on God’s Sovereignty by stating that “Being infinitely elevated above the highest creature, He is the Most High, Lord of heaven and earth. Subject to none, influenced by none, absolutely independent; God does as He pleases, only as He pleases, always as He pleases. None can thwart Him, none can hinder Him.”[2]

Who, especially in orthodox Christianity, would take the ring against such an august confession of The Sovereign God of Creation? Sadly, many. But God’s, inerrant, infallible, authoritative, and sufficient Word is replete with the testimony of the Absolute Sovereignty of the Most High:

Genesis 1:3 “God said ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.”

Job 37:6-13 “To the snow He says, ‘Fall on the earth,’ likewise to the downpour…He loads the thick cloud with moisture; the clouds scatter His lighting. They turn around and around by His guidance, to accomplish all the He commands themHe causes it to happen.”

Psalm 115:3 “Our God is in the heavens; He does whatever He pleases.”

Psalm 135:6 “Whatever the Lord pleases, He does, in heaven and in the earth, in the seas and in all deeps.”

Daniel 4:35 “…He does according to His will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitant of the earth; and none can stay His hand or say to Him, ‘What have you done?’”

Ephesians 1:11 God “works all things after the counsel of His will…”

Romans 11:36 “For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things.” (emphasis added)

And perhaps the most indisputable proof of His Sovereignty comes from His own mouth in Isaiah 14:24 & 46:10 when The Almighty, El Shaddai Himself, roars from His Throne Room,  “As I have planned so shall it be, and as I have purposed so shall it stand…My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose…”

From the counsel of none other, the Triune God spoke and the heavens leapt into being (Gen. 1 & 2); they had no other choice but to obey. By the will of none other, the wind and the waves obeyed the command (Matt. 8:23-27) of the Holy One of Israel (Is. 41:14 & Luke 4:34) and peace immediately rested and stilled the tumult; they had no other choice but to obey. By the authority of none other, the demons were cast into the swine and fell headlong to their demise (Mark 5:13); they, too, had no choice but to obey. And from the voice of none other, spiritually dead men and women are raised to life and made right with their King, their Maker (John 6:37; Rom. 9:16-21; Eph. 1:5-6, 2:8-9); they had no other choice but to obey.

Space & time, the natural & spiritual realm, even humanity itself is subject to The One, True, and Sovereign, Almighty.

The Prince of Preachers, Charles Haddon Spurgeon exhorts us all, even still today, when he said, “There is no attribute more comforting to His children than that of God’s sovereignty. Under the most adverse circumstances, in the most severe trials, they believe that sovereignty has ordained their afflictions, that sovereignty overrules them, and that sovereignty will sanctify them all.”[3] What greater comfort could there be to God’s people? God has, by His sovereign will, decreed all things, ordained all things, orchestrated all things, brought all things, and caused all things to be in order, to bring you to this very moment, and has guaranteed that this event is working out for your greatest good and His greatest glory (Romans 8:28 & Isaiah 43:7)!

What kind of God could want something for you that He had not the power to carry out? What kind of God could decree something of you and not have the resources to accomplish that which He proclaimed? What kind of god would God be, if He must impotently, idly sit by hoping that what He commands, what He decrees, what He proclaims, what He wills must take second fiddle to the fickle, unstable, always changing will of His creation? This god is no God at all!

The God of the Bible, the God of Adam & Eve, the God of Abraham, Isaac, & Jacob, the God of Elijah, the God of David, the God of the prophets, the God of the Twelve, the God of the Apostle Paul, and The Only Sovereign reigns supreme, asks permission of no one to act, and is restricted by no one or nor could be withstood even if everyone stood against Him…

Thus says God, Yahweh, who created the heavens and stretched them out, who spread out the earth and what comes from it, who gives breath to the people on it and spirit to those who walk in it: I am Yahweh; I have called you in righteousness; I will take you by the hand and keep you; I will give you as a covenant for the people, a light for the nations, to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness. I am Yahweh; that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to carved idols. Behold, the former things have come to pass, and new things I now declare; before they spring forth I tell you of them. -Isaiah 42:5-9

“So Yahweh controls the entire course of nature and history for his own glory and to accomplish his own purpose.” [4] Who else can make such claims and deliver? Who else holds the power within himself to consult with no one and act alone, guaranteeing the outcome? Who else but El Shaddai?

The Sovereignty of God is what makes God so attractive to the believer, so fearful to the unregenerate, so hated by idolaters, and so rejected by those who wish to be a god unto themselves.

Rest in His Sovereignty, God’s chosen, beloved by Yahweh, saved and kept by His sovereign grace in Christ. God is God; a truth that can never and will never change.

[1] Steven Lawson, The Attributes of God DVD Teaching Series

[2] AW Pink, The Attributes of God, pg 25

 

[3] Ibid. pg. 25

[4] John Frame, Systematic Theology, pg. 21

The Knowledge of the Holy One: Holy, Holy, Holy

MJ or Kobe? The Shark or Tiger? Montana or Brady? Rivera or Hoffman? Howe or Gretzky? However you choose, you’re sure to find someone, somewhere who can explain one over the other and possibly begin to sway you toward someone not even in consideration. And such is the case when considering the attributes of God.

As the World Trade Centers once dominated the New York City skyline, the holiness of God is argued by some as the supreme attribute that towers above the others. This, of course, is figurative language since, as RC Sproul contends, “…all of God is all of his attributes in their entirety. God’s holiness is immutable, omnipotent, eternal, and omnipresent. In like manner his immutability is holy, omniscient, and eternal…Every attribute we ascribe to him applies to the whole of God. His attributes all exist mutually in a kind of reciprocity of attributes.”[1]

As was once true of NYC and the WTC, one cannot cast their gaze toward the face of God without the holiness of God gleaming against the night sky with brilliance and clarity. But what does “holy” mean, anyway?

Defining Holy

John Frame, in his excellent work [2] defines holiness in this way: “Holiness, then, is God’s capacity and right to arouse our reverent awe and wonder. It is his uniqueness (Ex. 15:11; 1 Sam. 2:2), his transcendence as our Creator. It is his majesty, for the holy God is like a great king, whom we dare not treat like other persons.” But this, if I may be so bold, describes God’s holiness from a reactive position. It’s almost sounds like God’s holiness would be lacking if humanity were not here to react to it/Him. Surely, that is not Frame’s position, in spite of how it may sound.

Pink, deriving at his definition from Revelation 15:4, 1 John 1:5 & Habakkuk 1:13, explains holiness as “the very antithesis of all moral blemish or defilement.”[3] Although I agree with the Holy Scriptures and Pink’s assessment, moral purity doesn’t quite go far enough, does it?

Tozer tackles the 400lb gorilla of God’s holiness with meekness, humility, and obscurity, when defaults to “Holy is the way God is. To be holy He does not conform to a standard. He is the standard. He is absolutely holy with an infinite, incomprehensible fullness of purity that is incapable of being other than it is.”[4] And I can’t say that I blame him for retreating here! After all, this peasant has sought an audience with the King that I might know Him, and as my acquaintance grows my understanding becomes overwhelmed in the Sea of His Resplendence and I, too, come away in awe, incapable articulating what my heart screams about my interaction with Him.

It was one of our modern treasures from God that helped this beggar digest the meat of God’s glorious holiness. “When the Bible calls God holy, it primarily means that God is transcendently separate.”[5] What Sproul is saying is that God holiness means that he is completely distinct from all things (holy/sanctified: to be set apart), He is transcendent over all things (to be set above all), and His moral purity is the backdrop against which all things are measured (He is unstained by any imperfection).

He is Transcendentally Separate in His essence, being, and nature and all that God does is a natural outflow of who He is. Therefore, the Holy One’s activities are by necessity holy, separate, and above; even above our comprehension (Isaiah 55:8-9). It was Rudolph Otto who made a strong case God’s “Complete Otherness;” a point which I can concede so long as this proposition isn’t taken to mean that God is completely unknowable; only that he is entirely unknowable.

“Holy, holy, holy is Yahweh of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory”(Yahweh in place of LORD added)![6] Transcendentally Separate, Transcendentally Separate, Transcendentally Separate, in essence and action is the God of Heaven, the Only, True, Living God. His glory is observable in all that is, ever was, and ever will be!

How Should We Respond to the Holiness of God?

Very simply: We adore, sing praises, marvel, stand in awe, fall prostrate, gawk, stand and point with our jaws gapping wide…silent because of his effulgence (it’s ok, stop what you’re doing and look up effulgence…it’s worth the extra 30 seconds if you’ve read this far already), if that were possible.

Worship.

It’s the only appropriate response to the Majesty that is the Holiness of God; a single word sentence full a beauty, complexity, and profundity that makes the heart of your Creator explode with joy as you experience Him! But this can only be done rightly in Spirit and in Truth, having been made holy by Him who is Holy.

Isaiah was purged of his filth and stood on his feet by a Divine act in the presence of the Holy One (Isaiah 6:7). And how did he respond? Paraphrasing, “Whatever you want, whatever you ask, wherever you send, pick me!” Like a 10 year old with his hand raised high, stretching his little fingers ever so higher, straining for even an additional millimeter so as to be noticed by “the big kids” while picking teams for sandlot kickball…”Pick me, pick me. I’ll do it for you! I’ll do a good job, I promise!” Isaiah responded in fear, terror, dread, and brokenness until the Holy One washed him clean, stood him upright, and gave the sinner the confidence needed to draw near to the throne of the Holy (Hebrews 4:16).

True Israel, the Church, is commanded to respond in faith, trust, and dependence upon Him. In Isaiah 43:3, God identifies Himself as “…the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.” But just before He does, He issues this command in verse 1, “Fear not, for I have redeemed you.” The source of our trust and dependence upon Him stems from the utter incomprehensible truth that He saved us, redeemed us, and that by the His own blood at Calvary. If a holy God was willing to purchase our freedom from sin’s grip and its just sentence of death, what could we not trust and depend upon Him for? What is there to fear if the terror of The Holy One’s judgement has been replaced by the peace afforded to us by our position in His Son? This was the glory of Paul’s closing argument in Romans 8:31-39, “If God is for us, who can be against us…Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect…Who is to condemn…Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness or danger, or sword?..No…For I am sure…[nothing] in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Faith.

It’s the only appropriate response to the Majesty that is the Holiness of God; a single word sentence full of beauty, complexity, and profundity that makes the heart of your Creator explode with joy as you experience Him! And yes, I am aware that I just copied a sentence from above. But, faith in the Holy One of Israel, Israel Himself, Jesus Christ, is the first acceptable act of worship stemming from the heart of flesh given rebellious man at regeneration. Listen to the words of Jesus from the disciple whom Jesus loved, “‘Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal.’ Then [the people said to Jesus], ‘What must we do, to be doing the works of God?’ Jesus answered them, ‘This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.”[7]

The Holiness of God on Display

Did you see it? The Gospel, that is. We respond rightly to the holiness of God by responding rightly to the Holy One of God (Mark 1:24), “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). Sproul[8] agrees with Pink[9] when they write that God’s holiness is most visible in the cross of Christ (as well as perhaps all other attributes). Sproul writes, “The cross was at once the most horrible and the most beautiful example of God’s wrath. It was the most just and the most gracious act in history. God would have been more than unjust, He would have been diabolical to punish Jesus if Jesus had not first willingly taken on Himself the sins of the world. Once Christ had done that, once He volunteered to be the Lamb of God, laden with our sin, then he became the most grotesque and vile thing on this planet. With the concentrated load of sin he carried, he became utterly repugnant to the Father. God made Christ accursed for the sin He bore. Herein was God’s holy justice perfectly manifest. Yet it was done for us. He took what justice demanded from us. This ‘for us’ aspect of the Cross is what displays the majesty of its grace. At the same time justice and grace, wrath and mercy. It is too astonishing to fathom.” 

Indeed, it is.

Faith fueled worship empowered by God’s Spirit, from God’s Truth. That’s how God’s chosen from all ages have always responded to God’s Holiness.

How Then Shall We Live? 

The great puritan pastor and theologian Stephen Charnock accurately summarizes the new life in Christ afforded to those who have been birthed to holiness by Holiness, “As [holiness] is the splendor of all the Divine attributes, so it is the flower of all a Christian’s graces, the crown of all religion.”[10] We would do well to wear such a crown in obedience to our Lord as he charges all men everywhere, especially Believers, “…be holy, for I am Holy…”[11] (emphasis added).

May God grant us the grace necessary us to be so.

[1] RC Sproul, Truths We Confess, pg. 36-37

[2] John Frame, Systematic Theology, pg. 276-279

[3] AW Pink, The Attributes of God, pg. 33

[4] AW Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy, pg.105

[5] RC Sproul, The Holiness of God, pg. 46

[6] Holy Bible, ESV, Isaiah 6:3

[7] Ibid. John 6:27-29

[8] RC Sproul, The Holiness of God, pg. 147

[9] AW Pink, The Attributes of God, pg. 34-35

[10] Stephen Charnock, Existence and Attributes, pg. 529

[11] Holy Bible, ESV, Leviticus 11:44

The Knowledge of The Holy One: What is God? Pt. II

Close your eyes for a moment (yes, I know you can’t keep reading if your eyes are closed) and consider this: There was a “time” when there was nothing but God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit; always, perfectly content, having never changed and in no need of change. Before the first blog, before the Internet, before television and televangelists (we could probably do without both of these entirely), telephones and telegrams, before there were mountains and seas, birds and trees, before there was man and beast, even before there was light, God was. He is the Eternal One, entirely self-sufficient, perfectly content, in need of nothing outside of His own unchanging abundance. Wow! Such thoughts are too much for me (Psalm 139:6)!

In “What is God, Pt. 1” I considered God’s spirituality, immateriality, invisibility, and infinity from the Westminster Shorter Catechism question four when it asks “What is God?”

Answer: God is a spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth.

It is my aim in this post to address His eternality; from which logically flows his self-sufficiency and immutability.

God’s Eternality

God’s eternal nature and being is clearly proclaimed, without excuse or defense, in the Scriptures. One cannot study the nature of God without being confronted by this obvious, yet incomprehensible reality. Perhaps the Everest of the Spirit’s proclamation concerning God’s eternality is found coming from the hand of Moses and divinely preserved for us in Psalm 90:2 when he penned, “…from everlasting to everlasting you are God.” A.W. Tozer masterfully expounded upon this passage in his book on God’s attributes when he wrote: ‘From the vanishing point to the vanishing point’ would be another way to say it quite in keeping with the words Moses used…The mind looks backwards in time till the dim past vanishes, then turns and looks into the future till thought and imagination collapse from exhaustion; and God is at both points, unaffected by either.[1]

This is an unimaginable reality; an incomprehensible truth for the finite. Perhaps one could consider eternity future. It is feasible, for us to begin from where we started and gaze into the distant future, the unforeseeable future, and look beyond this millennia, maybe even a millennium of millennia’s, if you’ve been created with expansive creativity. But you cannot, indeed no created being can, have intimate personal knowledge beyond their creation. You see, we cannot even consider the Eternality of God without assigning words to it/Him that deal with time; a concept He created and therefore lives outside of. Let’s take a shot at it…

Q) What was God doing before the earth began?

“Before” & “Began” both deal with and operate inside of time. God lives above and outside of such temporal considerations.

Q) What was God doing when there was nothing else but Him?

“When”…a word engulfed in the sea of time keeping. The Eternal One created the when, the was, and the is; all words describing “being.”

Q) How long…ugh, that won’t work either

Genesis 1:1 makes no apologies, excuses, or defenses for the pre-existence of God; it simply states that He is, He created, and that’s how we know He was. “God dwells in eternity but time dwells in God.”[2]

God’s Self-Sufficiency & Immutability

Entire books, perhaps even volumes, could be written on either of these subjects stemming from God’s eternal nature so please forgive my feeble attempt to reduce these into digestible morsels.

Stemming from God’s eternality is the necessary doctrine of God’s self-sufficiency (aseity) and inability to change (immutability). The simple fact that God has always been naturally leads to his lack of need for anything outside of Himself and the fact that He has no need of anything demonstrates that He is perfectly complete, lacking in nothing, and therefore has no need to add anything to Himself or remove anything in order to improve; He is perfectly perfect. Clearly, an attribute that we cannot comprehend as we are infinitely needy and dependent.

A.W. Pink, when considering God’s Aseity & Immutability quotes from Exodus 15:11 in the Song of Moses, “Who is like you, O Yahweh, among the gods? Who is like you, majestic in holiness, awesome in glorious deeds, doing wonders?” Undoubtedly, the question is rhetorical intended to ignite passionate praise of the Infinite, Eternal, and Unchangeable One! Pink continues, “During eternity past, God was alone: self-contained, self-sufficient, self-satisfied; in need of nothing.”[3] The Sovereign Self-Sufficient reminds every reader of his self-sufficiency, and lack of need when He states “If I were hungry, I would not tell you, for the world and its fullness are mine.”[4] The Apostle Paul, the great missionary to the Gentiles, proclaimed God’s self-sufficiency in Romans 11:34-36 when he penned, “…who has known the mind of the Lord or who has been his counselor? Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid? For from him and through him and to him are all thing. To him be glory forever. Amen.” The Scriptures are replete with proclamations of unimaginable realities of God’s gaining nothing from us because he has nothing missing from which he derives need. 

How wonderful that God is self-sufficient! What kind of impotency would be displayed by a god who needs; not Jehovah. It is we who need Him!

Naturally, because He is lacking in nothing He does not, indeed cannot, change. Change would indicate an improvement or a declination. Therefore, the Eternal, Self-Sufficient, Immutable One can be relied upon, trusted in, and rested in; for his Faithfulness will naturally be infinite, eternal, and unchangeable!

What joy & peace is derived from, as well as Spirit-filled praise can be given from, a simple glimpse (if there is such a thing) into the attributes of God. It is only then, when we know God rightly (Proverbs 9:10), that we can begin to know anything.

[1] A.W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy, pg. 39

[2] Ibid. pg 39

[3] A. W. Pink, The Attributes of God, pg 5

[4] Psalm 50:12, ESV

Knowledge of The Holy One: What is God? Pt. 1

How can a man know God? How can that which was created comprehend its Creator? How can the finite grasp the Infinite?

While the answer to the aforementioned questions obviously direct us to our incapability of knowing God in His fullness, we have nevertheless been blessed with the ability know God (2 Pt 1:3) through His revealing of Himself in nature (Romans 1:19-20)), His written & spoken word (Hebrews 1:1, 2 Tim. 3:16), as well as primarily and expressly in His Son, Jesus Christ (John 14:6-11). God is not hiding from man; His works are visible, His word is discernable, & His Son was observable. With that being said, let us begin our pursuit of The Knowledge of the Holy One with awe and wonder in the incomprehensibility of what God is.

Question Four of the Westminster Shorter Catechism asks: What is God?

Answer: God is a Spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable…

How can we, the physical, comprehend spirituality; the finite, infinity? Is it possible to understand eternity? And what of immutability, God’s inability to change? These are high and lofty considerations. Forgive my simple language as I attempt to illuminate The Light.  A.W. Tozer rightly implies our inability to explain or grasp these truths when he said, “The weightiest word in any language is its word for God.”[1] For when I have completed this post, there will still be more that could have been thought, said, or written; and so it will always be, even in eternity.

God is a Spirit: The spirituality of God is a clear statement of fact from the Lord Jesus Christ. John 4: 24 says, “God is spirit…” This simple statement is packed full of profundity leading the contemplator to awe-full worship! Steven Lawson provides three considerations concerning the spirituality of God: He is Immaterial, He is Invisible, & He is Infinite.[2]

God is Immaterial: Although God reveals Himself in his Holy Word using anthropomorphic language (the hands of God, the heart of God, the face of God, etc.) it is only to help our created minds, full of limitation, comprehend who The Holy One is, not what His physical being is like. God, a Spirit, is without spacial limitations. He has no height that can be measured. He has no mass from which one could weigh Him. He is without form, substance, or matter. Because God is immaterial, He is understandably not restricted by the material. He is above it, over it, through it, and intimately and intricately in control of it, as the Sovereign Creator of all matter. The physical realm, and all that is in it, is restricted by its created limitations but not so with the Immaterial, Eternal Spirit. He is without limitation, without restriction, and gave “birth” (if you will) to the material.  The Apostle Paul rightly unifies the material world under its Immaterial Creator in Ephesians 4:6 when he wrote of “…one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (emphasis added).

God is Invisible: In essence, being without form or limited by the physical realm, God is invisible. We must, however, be careful “not to exclude God from the realm of the visible, but to regard him as the Lord of visibility, the Lord of light…[3] This means not that [God] can never be seen under any circumstances, but rather that, as Lord, he sovereignly chooses when, where, and to whom to make himself visible.”[4] Man’s eye, being a part of the created order, is limited to the physical, material realm and therefore must be divinely and supernaturally enabled to see Him who is Spirit, or He who is Spirit must put on visibility; hence, theophanies and the incarnation of Jesus Christ. Even in our greatest hour of discovery, with the development of machinery that can take mankind’s sight into the most intricate parts of the cell or into the deepest corners of the universe, still we observe creation; and the Creator is necessarily above and apart from His Creation as He is greater than that which was created. John 1:18, Colossians 1:15 & 1 Timothy 1:17 all confirm the invisibility of God as the inspired writers pen, “No one has ever seen God…the invisible God…the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God…” for it is impossible for the material to observe the essence of the Immaterial, Invisible One.

God is Infinite: Lawson so profoundly states, “As a spirit-being, without a physical body, God has no boundaries or limits…free from any physical limitations…in no way limited by this time and space world and therefore is Infinite! There is no place that his being does not permeate with the fullness of all that He is.”[5] And still He is more! Consider this: Your desktop contains all that is knowable upon it; all that you do know and all that is yet to be learned; not by you alone but by all of humanity for all time. Anything that is knowable and everything that has been known and ever will be known resides upon that top. Surely, the sum of all such knowledge is incomprehensible and still God is more because even “knowledge” is finite, created, a substance or essence of creation and He is its Creator. He is More because He is above His creation and the Creator is necessarily, abundantly, and infinitely more than that which came from Him. Knowledge is limited and God is not. Knowledge has its boundaries, its end, its finality but God does not. All things are finite, all things had a beginning, and most will have an end but He did not and does not. He is Infinite; beyond comprehension. Wayne Grudem writes of The Infinite One in this way, “…he is infinite in that he is not subject to any of the limitations of humanity, or of creation in general.”[6] Consider, if you will, for a moment that even the concept of limitations falls under the created order, and therefore The Almighty towers above it. Naturally, or better yet, supernaturally, God’s infiniteness is the source of the “Omni’s” that will be dealt with in the future. As the Psalmist so aptly understood, “Great is our Lord…his understanding is beyond measure” (Psalm 147:5). Again, from the Psalmist the sobering words of our finiteness ring true, “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high; I cannot attain it” (Psalm 139:6). Amen, and amen.

God’s spirituality, immateriality, invisibility, and infinity are overwhelming truths that, as limited, finite parts of creation, we have a difficult time contemplating; let alone comprehending. Indeed, comprehension is out of our reach, both now as well as in eternity. As those who cannot comprehend, we must press on and make it our aim to apprehend that knowledge of the Holy One which is within our grasp while safeguarding against “the most wicked propensity of fallen humanity…to exchange the true God for one that we have made and can control.”[7] 

Let that which is beyond your comprehension usher you into worship, in Spirit and in Truth, as you apprehend that which He has revealed. After all, this is why you were created; to gaze upon His glory and enjoy him forever!
Citations:

[1] Tozer, AW: Knowledge of the Holy, pg. 5

[2] Lawson, Steven: The Attributes of God, DVD Session 3; Ligonier Ministries

[3] Frame, John: Systematic Theology, pg. 392

[4] Ibid, pg. 392

[5] Lawson, Steven: The Attributes of God, DVD Session 3; Ligonier Ministries

[6] Grudem, Wayne: Systematic Theology, pg. 167

[7] Sproul, RC: Truths We Confess Vol. 1, pg. 34

 

Knowledge of the Holy One

Certainly, spiritual well-being ebbs & flows for the saints this side of eternity; at least for this one it does. It was in an ebb that the Lord revealed to me that the biggest part of my problem was that I had focused on everything in life around me, except Him. Undoubtedly, this reality was not only a contributing factor…it was the chief.

Created with a hunger and thirst implanted in me at regeneration (Ezekiel 36:27), I began a personal study into the attributes of God (again) trusting that as I gazed upon the Creator, arrayed in all His glory, I could not but be pulled from my spiritual slumber. And that I was, and still am. How could one fix their eyes upon the Beautiful, the Majestic, “the Father of Lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change” (James 1:16) and not be in awe, not be changed, stirred, and moved? Certainly, Isaiah was in awe, changed, and moved as he cried out “Woe is me! For I am ruined! Because I am a man of unclean lips, And I live among a people of unclean lips; For my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts” (Isaiah 6:5).

I asked, and am still asking, questions as simple as “Who is God? What is God like? and What is my appropriate response?” What a privilege and joy that God has, in his infinite, eternal, and unchangeable wisdom, chosen to make Himself known to us. This is the essence of worship, is it not? Revelation & Response: As God reveals Himself, all men respond either in worship of Him or of some lowly, unworthy created being or substance. Consider for a moment, the utter pointlessness of our existence if we could not know God and worship Him rightly.

Now some may want to take exception to such a statement to begin with. Some believe that the burden of proof lies with the existence of God not His attributes. But common sense dispels such objections as childish, at best.

Our mere existence points to an Existence greater than ourselves because we can know beyond doubt that something never came from nothing; it’s an impossibility, a scientific impossibility even. Calvin penned in the very first words of his Institutes, “Our wisdom insofar as it ought to be deemed true and solid wisdom, consists almost entirely of two parts: The knowledge of God and of ourselves.” If we exist at all, then surely there is One who existed before us all, before everything, before anything! Before the tangible or intangible, before time, matter, or space, before a human thought was ever conceived, there was God; existing in perfect satisfaction within Himself and fully satisfied by His own existence.

It is this God that we need to know.

As A.W. Pink believed, “A spiritual and saving knowledge of God is the greatest need of every human creature.” It is with this prayerful intention that I embark to walk alongside the Publicans readership as we, together, mine the infinite, eternal, and unchangeable depths of The Holy One. Our journey will never be complete, could always go deeper, and will never exhaust the vast riches of the glories of our Triune God but I invite you to come along with me. It is my aim in the coming weeks to provide for you one attribute on which to meditate, grow, and praise the God who is.

Will you join me?

Will you take this journey with me?

I pray that you will; I know you’ll be blessed just as I have been blessed by a good God who gives good gifts! “[God’s] divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence…” (2 Peter 1:3). Oh, that God would grant to us high and lofty thoughts of Him that stir us to love and “good works which he prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:10b).

I Want to Be That Man

Don Whitney, in his Spiritual Disciplines of the Christian Life, reminds every Christian who is seeking maturity in Christ that “there is simply no healthy Christian life apart from a diet of the milk and meat of Scripture.” Oh, how true that is. The Word of God is irreplaceable in the Christian’s pursuit of personal holiness; there simply is no substitute.

God transforms us by the renewing of our minds—Romans 12:2

God cleansed us by the washing of water with His Word—Ephesians 5:26

God pierces our consciences, discerns our thoughts and intentions of our hearts by His Word—Hebrews 4:12

God draws us to Himself and reveals Himself to us through His Word—Romans 10:17

It is no surprise to those who are pursing Christ that His Word plays an intricate role in our sanctification. But, as students of the Word we (and by we I mean “I”) can get lost in the “meat of Scripture,” as Whitney described it and lose sight of the “milk.” Milk feeds, nourishes, and sustains the infant & the mature alike.

As I was reading through the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) I was moved by the Holy Spirit and reminded that the academic pursuit of God alone is an exercise in futility.

Let me explain: As a preacher, teacher, and theologian I often approach the Scriptures from that position, recording notes in my Bible like “Your reward should motivate you” (from Matthew 6:20-21). When in reality, my notes should read “My reward should motivate me.” For truly, the Holy Spirit is seeking to transform ME, cleanse ME, pierce ME, and draw ME; milk before meat.

The meat of Scripture, the intellectual pursuit of exegesis & exposition, often take priority in my study & pursuit of the knowledge of God which leads to a spiritual dryness, and understandably so.

So, it was in the milk of Matthew 7:24-25 that the Lord reminded me of who I needed to be and caused me to re-think, re-read, and then apply that which he was teaching me. The Holman Christians Standard reads this way: “Therefore, everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them will be like a sensible man who built his house on the rock. The rain fell, the rivers rose, and the winds blew and pounded that house. Yet it didn’t collapse, because its foundation was on the rock” (emphasis added).

In other words, don’t just hear the Word and not act upon it but rather apply to your life that which is being taught (James 1:22-25 as well). Hear, act upon that which you heard, and you will be firmly established upon The Rock (not Dwayne Johnson), Jesus Christ. I want to be that man.

Profound, huh? Not really…just reality. Milk, not meat, is still needed; even greatly needed. As a dear friend of mine often reminds me, “Our orthopraxy must always match our orthodoxy.” For orthodoxy without orthopraxy is worthless!

May God bless you richly as you apply His Word and thereby glorify Him with your life!

Adopting the Divine Attribute

When God’s people hear “Be patient” (James 5:7-8) from the Holy Scriptures we must come armed with more knowledge and understanding than the world in our circumstances if we are to be obedient to this command. I may be entirely wrong about this assumption but I believe that the vast majority of the populace, even inside the church, view patience as an attitude toward a circumstance. But God’s Word deals with two primary kinds of patience, endurance for a season and mercy toward a people.

Thirty-six times the New Testament (ESV) uses the word patience, or a variant of that same root word. But of those thirty-six times, twelve of them speak directly to “enduring for a period of time.” The Greek word “Hupomeno” (transliterated) is used in these instances, but never of God’s patience. This seems to make sense to me as I consider the fact that God lives outside of time, has ordained all things, and is working all things together according to the counsel of his own will. However, when God’s patience comes into view the Greek word “Makrothumeo” (transliterated) is used; and that twenty-four times.

“Makrothumeo” is not a passive patience but an active patience. A patience that manifests itself in tangible ways. The Theological Dictionary of the New Testament describes Makrothumeo as “to delay [God’s] wrath, i.e., its outbreak…to be longsuffering…” God’s Makrothumeo is made most fully known in His divine self-revelation to Moses in Exodus 34:6-7 when “The LORD passed before [Moses] and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin…”

We find the manifestation of divine patience (Makrothumeo) scattered all throughout the New Testament:

Matthew 18:26 & 29—Patience manifested in mercy, grace, and the forgiveness of a debt owed. Makrothumeo of God the Father

1 Timothy 1:16—Patience manifested in mercy toward the Apostle Paul so that he might become an example of God’s patience to others. Makrothumeo of God the Son.

Galatians 5:22—Patience as a fruit produced by the Holy Spirit through the lives of believers submitted to His leading. Makrothumeo of God the Holy Spirit

Most interestingly, the Makrothumeo of God is commanded of believers. Literally, the manifestation of Godly Patience, exhibited in mercy, grace, forgiveness, and love is a non-negotiable for the Redeemed, the Called-Out-Ones, The Church! Stop right now and read James 5:7. Seriously. It’s Makrothumeo…

How do we handle persecution, hardship, trial, racism, neglect, sexism, transgenderism, LGBTQ, political differences, marriage problems, disputes with the neighbor, struggles with our kids, etc…? The Makrothumeo of God: mercy, grace, being slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love, and forgiving even as we have been forgiven.

As AW Pink reminds us in his Attributes of God, “When tempted to be disgusted at the dullness of another, or to be revenged on one who has wronged you, call to remembrance God’s infinite patience and longsuffering with yourself…Since this divine attribute is manifested only in this world, God takes advantage to display it toward ‘His own.’” We would be wise to do the same.

“Therefore be emulators of God…” (Ephesians 5:1).

Lord, let it be true of me first.

Church Growth & Decline

“If we’re not growing, we’re actually declining.”

Have you ever heard that before? The cultural business trends and models have crept into the Church and given pastors and congregations a skewed view of successful ministry. It’s easy to fall into, really. Numbers equal success and expansion is the fruit of faithful ministry; or is it?

We all want to grow. We want to see fruit and we often times consider numerical growth as fruit and a blessing from the Lord. But what if decline is blessing? Can a shrinking congregation, a downsizing small group, or a program being completely eliminated actually be a blessing? Pastors, could you rejoice in this? Congregants, could you encourage each other in this?

Most of The Publicans readership is familiar with Ahab and Jezebel from 2 Kings. Their partnership in leading Israel was wicked through and through and it was in this wickedness that “growth” was rampant. When anything goes, often times, an increase in numbers will result. But God raised up Jehu (2 Kings 9-10) to deliver His judgement on the wicked house of Ahab.

But it’s not Israel’s growth during idolatry that drew my attention. It was 2 Kings 10:32 and the sovereignty of God that jumped off the page at me. Here it is in several versions:

ESV—“In those days the LORD began to cut off parts of Israel…”

NASB—“In those days the LORD began to cut off portion from Israel…”

HCSB—“In those days the LORD began to reduce the size of Israel…”

NLT—“At about that time the LORD began to cut down the size of Israel’s                                          territory…”

Why would the Lord reduce the size of territory? Why would the Lord intentionally hamper growth? Perhaps it’s because the Lord didn’t understand then what we know now, namely, that if we are to be successful then we must be growing. And growth is up to us: how we present ourselves, whether or not we are relevant, and making the masses comfortable (I hope you can read sarcasm).

Don’t misunderstand me, I pray that God saves all 13,241 people who reside in Greene County, Illinois (we’re pretty small, huh?) and that Christ’s Church explodes in genuine, heart-exuberant, God pleasing praise and worship until the glorious appearing of the Lion of Judah! But is that God’s plan? What if God’s plan is to cut off parts of Eldred Baptist Church? What if God’s plan is to reduce the size of the local body in our area? What if God’s plan is to prune Greene County and in so doing enrich worship in Spirit and in Truth in those who belong to Christ thereby bringing purity to our worship, a pleasing aroma to Him? What if we started defining successful ministry by the accuracy of the presentation of the Gospel, the authenticity of the heart in worship and adoration of the King, with humble submission to God’s perfect will and way, regardless of what the latest Christian magazine or best-selling book on growth tells us is success?

Brothers and sisters, I pray to encourage you in times of growth and decline, the Lord is Sovereign. Preach the Gospel and praise God as He grows or declines the church; after all, the Church is Christ’s and the gates of Hell will not prevail against it.

C.H. Spurgeon: Of all I would wish to say this is the sum: my brethren, preach CHRIST, always and evermore. He is the whole gospel. His person, offices, and work must be our one great, all-comprehending theme. The world needs still to be told of its Savior, and of the way to reach him…We are not called to proclaim philosophy and metaphysics, but the simple gospel. Man’s fall, his need of a new birth, forgiveness through an atonement, and salvation as the result of faith, these are our battle-ax and weapons of war.[1]

John S Hammett: …a successful church and a successful pastoral ministry is one that pleases Christ by honoring God’s Word and his design for the church…If God has given us instruction in his Word concerning his people, he is honored and a church is successful to the degree that it follows his instruction. Thus, the successful church is the faithful church.[2]

The Holy Spirit through Paul: I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives growth.[3]

 

 

[1] Lectures to My Students, vol 1, 1897

[2] Biblical Foundations for Baptist Churches, pg. 352-353

[3] 1 Corinthians 3:6-7, ESV

Refuge

In a fallen world, tragedy visits us all.

Tragedy may manifest itself in natural disasters, a broken home, betrayal of a friend, loss of a job, or death of a loved one. For some, the incomprehensible strikes, questions rage, doubts swirl, and we cry out to God in desperation! Our tragedy drives us to the only Refuge and He protects us within His walls and provides for us in His love. Such was the case with the passing of Job.

Job Allen Peterson, my nephew, lived an hour and twenty-four minutes on July 8, 2017. Tragedy. Death is a tragedy. It is not our friend; in fact, Paul, in 1 Corinthians 15:26, says that it is our enemy. Death is an enemy of God, the Author and Giver of life. Death, too, is an enemy of ours as it steals that which God gave the unique of all creation; namely, his breath in our lungs. But this tragedy is not like any other I’ve ever been a part of.

It was truly a day of thanksgiving when, on Thursday, November 24, my brother-in-law quietly shared with me that he was expecting his second child. I can remember the joy that filled my heart for him as we sat on the porch swing and praised God. I was like a seven-year-old boy bursting with excitement over new news when only weeks later I clued our congregation in on our upcoming blessing when I accidentally let the cat out of the bag while preaching. Children are a blessing from the Lord (Psalm 127:3-5) and our family celebrated and praised the Giver of Good Gifts.

While we, the family, were awaiting the phone call following the first sonogram, Job’s parents were receiving news that would change their lives forever. There was something wrong. There were tests and phone calls and doctor visits and more tests and waiting and waiting and waiting…praying and praying and praying.

The baby that we would come to know as Job didn’t have kidneys, a bladder, or lungs. No kidneys meant little-to-no amniotic fluid and no amniotic fluid meant his lungs wouldn’t develop. Who knew that a kidney transplant was possible on an infant or other means were possible remedy the bladder issue? But no lungs? How could this happen? Would God intervene? Certainly, He is capable. But is He willing? A miracle is what was needed. So, we prayed. We dove into the Word. We trusted. We cried. We struggled. We rested. We prayed. We praised. We cried. We trusted. We prayed. As long as he was in the womb, there was still a chance; there was still time. But that day came and Job never developed lungs.

The incomprehensible had struck but the incomprehensible wasn’t the passing of Job; it was the comfort, peace, strength, and supernatural faith that God gave his parents and the rest of Job’s family. I’ve been processing this for a while now and I’ve had to change my use of adjectives. It became clearer and clearer that my description of God’s grace as “unbelievable” was a poor representation of the God who is not unbelievable but is incomprehensible.

Let me explain.

(1) Just days before receiving the news that his baby would likely not survive, God reveals himself to my brother-in-law, graciously gives him new life in Christ and ignites a flame of passion for knowing the Lord that could not be extinguished by even this tragedy of tragedies.

(2) Amidst the struggle and the pain, Job’s parents consistently rested in the sovereignty and goodness of God and committed to praising God if He chose to save Job and to praise God if He chose not to. Which was not mere lip-service but is a reality of life for them.

(3) On Saturday, July 8, the Lord delivered Job safely into the arms of his mommy who carried him, protected him, provided for him, and nurtured him. In spite of the odds, and in spite of the doctor’s best guess that Job would not survive the delivery, our Gracious God gave Job’s mommy and daddy an hour and twenty-four minutes together.

(4) As Job passed from this life to the next, together, we praised, we prayed, we cried, we held his little hands, and stroked his beautiful hair, and we felt the presence of God like never before.

(5) As Job’s mommy held him tight to her breasts, as tears of joy and pain rolled down her cheeks from deep within, you could hear the faint sound of worship in song coming from his mother who had only minutes to share the most important message Job could ever hear; God’s glory & goodness in Jesus Christ.

(6) Four days later, we gathered around a tiny casket and praised the God who gives life. There were a few tears and our hearts were saddened but that was not the focus of that day. The “God of all comfort who comforts us in our affliction” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4) was present. The God who provides “peace that surpasses all understanding” (Philippians 4:7) was present. The God who “is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1) was present. The focus of Job’s funeral was on the supernatural comfort, peace, & strength that is promised to those who belong to Lord of Hosts and was provided by God through this storm.

Who is this God who gives such good gifts? Who is this God who strengthens the weak, comforts the afflicted, and can put a song on praise on our lips amidst the pain of such loss? He is Jehovah Jireh, the Lord who provides (Genesis 22:14). He is Jehovah Rapha, the Lord who heals (Exodus 15:26). He is God and He is Good and all that he does is good (Psalm 119:68).

“I love you, O Jehovah, my strength. Jehovah is my rock, my fortress, and my deliverer, my God, my rock in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. I will call upon Jehovah, who is worthy to praised and I am saved from my enemies” (Psalm 18:1-3).

Words are not enough. Blogs are insufficient. But it is our privilege and honor to give what we can as an offering of praise…“Great is the Lord and most worthy of praise; his greatness no one can fathom” (Psalm 145:3).

The Downward Slide

I remember it like it was yesterday. I couldn’t have been more than 10 years old and one of my neighbor’s parents built their kids a half-pipe right next to their house. I remember it being about 1,453 feet tall from my little 65lb frame. Maybe it wasn’t 1400+ ft. but it was probably close. It was big enough that I was too afraid to take the plunge once I ascended the mountainous structure. I just remember thinking, “This is way higher than what it looked from the ground.”

So, I did what every scared 10 year old boy would do in front of his friends…I pretended my bike was messed up and sent my trusty steed down the ramp without its hero. Which, of course, left me perched at the peak of Everest with a bruised ego and a new plan. I would take the downward slide on the back-side padding the Good Lord gave me…Can you imagine where that left me? Every inch I descended, toward what I thought would be glory, fame, and fortune on the sandlots of South Roxana, left me with small splintered reminders of my downward slide.

Iain Murray reminds us of the splinters that arose in Spurgeon’s day as the Church began to ask “What gains might be made by Christianity if the church was willing to adopt a less rigid and less uncritical attitude to the contents of Scripture…”[1]. Many of The Publicans readership is familiar with the Down-Grade controversy of Spurgeon’s day and the cry of the Prince of Preachers that stands as a prophetic voice, even still today. In the September 1887 issue of The Sword and the Trowel Spurgeon wrote:

“The house is being robbed, its very walls are being digged (sic) down, but the good people who are in bed are too fond of the warmth, and too much afraid of getting broken heads, to go downstairs to meet the burglars…Inspiration and speculation cannot long abide in peace. Compromise there can be none. We cannot hold the inspiration of the Word, and yet reject it; we cannot believe in the atonement and deny it; we cannot hold the doctrine of the fall and yet talk of the evolution of spiritual life from human nature; we cannot recognize the punishment of the impenitent and yet indulge the ‘lager hope’. One way or the other we must go. Decision is the virtue of the hour.”[2]

Those words could just as easily have been written on June 2, 2017. The phrase “Down-Grade Controversy” may have been coined for Spurgeon and his battle but the American Church faces its own downward slide today. The American Culture & Faith Institute’s most recent study reveals a terrifying reality of spiritual adultery in the American Church and the virtual abandonment of a biblical worldview (https://www.culturefaith.com/groundbreaking-survey-by-acfi-reveals-how-many-american-adults-have-a-biblical-worldview/). This downward slide has generational consequences. The spiritual adultery (James 4:4) of the greater American church has left our pews virtually empty of two to three generations. What’s even worse is that this is indicative of their relationship with God through Jesus Christ; empty, void, absent.

I am on the cusp of the Gen-X and Millennial generations having been born in 1979. Regardless of where a researcher places me, my generation slides down the half-pipe on our splinter-ridden rears to an abysmal 4-7% espousal of Christian Orthodoxy and a Biblical Worldview. Take those adulterous numbers and pass that down to the Mosaic’s (18 and under, children of Millenial & Gen-X) and you’ll find that 0.5% of our latest generation see the world through biblical lenses. Spurgeon was right, “the house has been robbed.” And it’s being robbed by the very fathers and husbands who God has tasked with spiritual leadership of their homes. Abidcation is the sin and apostasy is its fruit.

Thankfully, the words of our Lord Jesus Christ will ever ring true: “…the gates of hell shall not prevail against [my Church].”[3] Take heart, brothers & sisters, everything is not lost. The Lord Jesus himself assures us that the will of the Father is that he “should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day.”[4] With this confidence of assurance in Christ’s work, what then shall we do? Let us, as reformers, turn to the inspired, inerrant, authoritative, sufficient, Word of God to give us direction.

James 4:7-10—10 Realities of Repentance

Submit—Submission to God is to voluntarily place ourselves under his authoritative Word. As believers submit to God’s Word we will find that his commands are not burdensome[5] but a delight and our counselors[6]

Resist—Resistance is, as Kurt Richardson suggests, a defensive posture.[7] To actively resist the devil is to consciously secure a victory. Follow Christ’s model of resistance with God’s Word as your sword and faith as your shield.

Draw Near—Unlike the human heart, the heart of God is not repulsed by the wretchedness of man that approaches him in confession. Instead, as we actively draw near to the Throne of Grace, in repentance, the Father draws near to us as he runs toward us to welcome us home & clothes us with his ring & his robe.

Cleanse & Purify—These deliberate consecrating actions deliver the word picture to the mind of the Old Testament priests who would take intentional steps to remove the physical filth from their bodies that represented the spiritual filth of sin before they would approach God.

Wretch, Mourn, & Weep, Change from Laughter & Joy to Mourning & Weeping—A broken and contrite heart will not be despised by our Gracious God.[8] The Church needs a new relationship with sin; perhaps not a new but biblical one.

Humble—Until we are humbled, either in recognition of our sin or by God’s judgement, there will be no exaltation. For “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”[9]

May God find it in his gracious love to grant us a national, godly sorrow that leads to repentance. Without his grace, we, our children, and our children’s children will find that we have more than  plintered bottoms; our families will have an eternity separated from a loving and gracious God. Lord, let that not be found in my home.

Citations:

[1] Iain Murray: The Forgotten Spurgeon, The Banner of Truth Trust

[2] Ibid., pg 152

[3] Matthew 16:18 ESV, Crossway, 2001

[4] John 6:39 ESV, Crossway, 2001

[5] 1 John 5:2-4 ESV, Crossway, 2001

[6] Psalm 119:24 ESV, Crossway, 2001

[7] Kurt Richardson, New American Commentary. Vol 36, B & H Publishing

[8] Psalm 51:17 ESV, Crossway, 2001

[9] James 4:6 & Proverbs 3:34 ESV, Crossway, 2001

Reflections from the Major League

Encased between “the amber waves of grain” and infinite rows of corn is the small community in rural Illinois that God has called me to serve. It is by His grace and for His glory that He has called my family here to advance the Kingdom (Mt. 6:33) and we are truly blessed. Outside of millions upon millions of bushels of corn, wheat, and soybeans, there just isn’t much that is produced in the middle of fly-over country; except that one guy.

Recently, one of our high-school standouts was noticed by a Major League baseball scout and was drafted into one of their franchises. He, like so many others before him, is currently working his way through the Minors as he refines his skill-set with the hopes of one day donning the MLB logo and taking the field as a professional at the top of his game…corn, wheat, soybeans, and that one guy. I hope he makes it; what an inspiration he will be to the little leaguers who take the field that year!

Just last week, I had the blessing, and privilege, of serving on one of my best friend’s ordination council as he was commissioned and charged with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Some might conclude that he has made it to “the Majors” as a pastor who bears the glorious title of “Reverend” (please take that with all satire intended). But it was he who spoke of being “out of his league” when he stated to his assessors, “I feel as if I’m still in Tee Ball as I sit with you all who are in the Majors.” I remember that feeling well as I sat being examined by my soon-to-be colleagues. I remember thinking, “I hope they don’t see how unprepared I am; how ill-equipped I am; how inadequate I am for the task.” And yet, this is exactly where I still find myself today.

My response to my now ordained brother in Christ was, “When the tables are turned and you are examining someone else for ordination you won’t feel that way anymore.” I didn’t mean that he was now also in the Majors but that we are all still in the Minors; strike that—we are all profound sinners saved by God’s marvelous grace, called out of darkness into his marvelous light, that we might proclaim the excellencies of Him who called us (that sounds less than Tee Ball like that). There are no “Majors, Minors, or Tee Ball” in God’s economy. Our Puritan brothers, with all their faults and failures, saw themselves so clearly:

“Eternal Father,

Thou art good beyond all thought, but I am vile, wretched, miserable, blind; my lips are ready to confess, but my heart is slow to feel, and my ways reluctant to amend. I bring my soul to thee; break it, wound it, bend it, mould it. Unmask to me sin’s deformity, that I may hate it, abhor it, flee from it.My faculties have been a weapon of revolt against thee; as a rebel I have misused my strength, and served the foul adversary of thy kingdom. Give me grace to bewail my insensate folly, grant me to know that the way of transgressors is hard, that evil paths are wretched paths, that to depart from thee is to lose all good. I have seen the purity and beauty of thy perfect law…yet I daily violate and contemn in its precepts…yet I choose devises and desires to my own hurt, impiously resent, grieve, and provoke [your Spirit] to abandon me. All these sins I mourn, lament, and for them cry pardon…” (The Valley of Vision, pg. 124-125)

Does this sound like the pride of accomplishment from a “Major Leaguer?” The honest self-evaluation of the Puritans and their openness to provide, to all who would peer, a glimpse into their souls demonstrate to the world that even those who appear to “have arrived” are still a work in progress. This is why the Lord could pray, “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth…I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through [the disciples] word…” (John 17:17-20). The Disciples didn’t have it all together, the Puritans didn’t have it all together, your pastor doesn’t have it all together, and I don’t have it all together.

This is, I’m certain, why my friend’s statement stung so deeply. It’s true, we ebb and flow in spiritual lives from time to time and I was definitely in an ebb; and elongated ebb…and I was likened to being in “The Majors.” You see, I knew where I was in my walk with Christ and regardless of what others may have seen, I knew I was not on the field with the pro’s; I was nursing some wounds and making my way back to the Great Physician who could heal my soul.

It has been attributed to many people throughout the years but I first heard it from a circuit speaker for Alcoholics Anonymous name Earl H. Earl said that he struggled all his life with this one thing: He was comparing his insides with other’s outsides and he was losing every time. What the recovering heroin junky and alcoholic was saying was that he knew who he really was; deep inside there was a scared, inadequate, weakling in desperate need of something greater; someone greater. And when Earl measured himself against the façade people often portray in public his fears and inadequacies were exacerbated.

But isn’t this where we should find ourselves before the cross of Christ; broken, desperate, and in need of something we cannot get anywhere else, searching for forgiveness, fulfillment and restoration? Isn’t this why the Apostle Paul, inspired by the Holy Spirit, cried out in anguish, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:24-25a)

So, I can write today, pray today, read God’s Word today, praise and worship today because even though I may not be in “The Majors” I am in pursuit of that for which Christ Jesus has laid hold of me. I “press on” (Philippians 3:12, 14) as the Apostle says. God has saved me by his grace and called me to a life of Christ-likeness, yet I sin; “but he gives more grace.” (James 4:6) Aren’t those the most beautiful words for a work in progress like myself…But he gives more grace…Ahhhh; like cool drink from the Fountain of Life in the arid plains of sin and despair. And for that sweet grace I will ever proclaim his excellencies.

“Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.” (Ephesians 3:20-21)