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

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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

 

When Tragedy Strikes

On Sunday night, the most deadly shooting in American history by a single gunman occurred in Las Vegas, Nevada. As of now, the death toll is nearing 60, with over 500 others injured. Before I begin addressing this tragedy from God’s Word, I must share that our prayers are with those affected by this horrific event. God’s grace be with you all.

The question on many people’s minds after Sunday night’s shooting is, “Why?”

Scripture warns us against putting our own interpretation on tragic events like this and attempting to fill in the blanks that only God knows. But Scripture does not leave us totally in the dark during times like this. While we may never have Christ’s perfect knowledge and know the infinite number of reasons any one event occurs, we can have a biblical worldview with which to make sense of these things.

Why would someone commit such acts of evil?

One of the first things investigators delve into after a shooting tragedy is the issue of the gunman’s motive. Ironically, we cannot even discern at times the motives for why we do the things we do, let alone someone else. The world is full of people who often do the right things for the wrong reasons.

Yet Scripture does tell us that our sinful actions stem from a sinful nature. James says it this way: “What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you?” (James 4:1). Scripture doesn’t even stop at that, but gives us a deeper reason into the insanity of our own sinful actions. This sin nature, which we have from birth, is an inherited one. Adam and Eve freely chose to doubt God’s goodness in the garden and believe the lie of the devil over the truth of God’s Word. God’s just curse on His good creation would touch every facet of life, from the microscopic viruses that attack us, to the life destroying storms of nature, to the ferocity of wild animals, even down to the twisted cravings that cause a toddler to yell, “Mine!”

I’ve heard it put this way: “We are not sinners because we sin. We sin because we are sinners.” Yet we can in no way blame God for our sinful desires anymore than a child can blame his parents for leaving the cookies out on the table and making him eat them. James says elsewhere, “Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he Himself tempts no one” (James 1:13). Were there no God to stop us, there would be no limit to the evil our hearts could create. This is why it was good for God to interrupt the plans of the people building the Tower of Babel, and this is why it is good God has given us the common grace of conscience, law enforcement, and fellow citizens who know some things are truly evil and aim to stop them.

Why would God allow such evil to occur?

When asked His thoughts on a terrible evil of His day, Jesus gave a surprising response in Luke 13 that we would do well to consider. “There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish” (Lk. 13:1-5). 

Jesus basically says what we should take away from tragic events such as this is the awareness that our lives are a vapor, we will soon face God’s judgment, and therefore we must repent before our lives are cut short. It is not our place to draw false assumptions. It is our place to pray and check our spiritual pulse to make sure we’re ready to stand before God’s judgment throne.

Someone once said, “If God is God, He can’t be good and if God is good, He can’t be God.” But this leaves the definition of “good” in the creature’s hands instead of in God’s. The presence of evil does not negate the presence of God or prove God’s guilt. Rather, the presence of evil exposes our belief in ultimate “right” and “wrong”, in something called justice and righteousness, and clues us into the fact that God’s “ways are higher than our ways and His thoughts than our thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9). Or listen to the way the psalmist lays it out: “Why should the nations say, “Where is their God?” Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases” (Psalm 115:3). We cannot know why God allows evil, but we can know that God does all things for the glory and honor of His name. In the midst of the plagues God sent on Egypt, He told the evil Pharoah, “But for this purpose I have raised you up, to show you my power, so that my name may be proclaimed in all the earth” (Exodus 9:16). Even Satan himself is just another creature which God will bring into judgment. Martin Luther once said, “The devil is God’s devil” and another quote attributed to him has him say, “Satan is on a leash, whose length is determined by God.” This should reassure us all that no evil will finally stand a chance to God’s righteous wrath.

Why didn’t we see this coming?

The Las Vegas gunman’s brother was reported as saying, he never saw this coming. He said his brother had no history of mental illness whatsoever and said it was like an asteroid that came out of nowhere.

We cannot see the depths of evil that lie deep in our hearts sometimes until they are exposed by our sinful actions. Everyone of us have been surprised by our own evil choices at times. We think or say or do something that shocks even us, and all we can do is honestly repent before God and those we’ve offended. For those who resist the guide of their conscience continually, it becomes incapable of pricking and is so hardened that more intensified acts of evil carry less and less guilt (1 Tim. 4:2). Serial killer Ted Bundy confessed this of himself when interviewed about his actions. Bundy said his sinful trajectory began with lust, was fed by more and more aggressive pornography, and eventually led him to feel little guilt over the horrible murders of his victims. There are many more evil perpetrators out there who have yet to act out their intentions. We may never see them before it is too late, for they look just like us. As we look ourselves in the mirror, we must not think to highly of our own goodness to think we’re beyond evil ourselves.

What hope is there for our broken world?

Thankfully God has inserted Himself into the picture. Astoundingly God didn’t come here and remain untouched by our evil. He didn’t create a bubble around Himself and come to teach a bunch of pithy platitudes. He personally allowed the evil and brokenness of this world to kiss Him in the face as it were. To punch Him in the face. To spit on Him. To mock Him. To beat Him to a bloody pulp. And to pin His naked body to a cross. Jesus asked, “Why?” from the cross, though He knew the answer. God was punishing our sins on His own beloved Son so that all who turn in faith to Him can have life. At the resurrection, the work of Christ was proven successful and His victory over the grave was obvious. But the gospel isn’t just about our personal beliefs. It is also about cosmic redemption (Romans 8:19-25). By taking the curse on Himself, Jesus was reversing the curse and promised that this ultimate reversal would come at His return (Gal. 3:13). All the marred results of life in this world will be burned away when Jesus returns and the creation will once again sing and dance before Him (Isaiah 55:12). After the consummation, there will be no more hurricanes or hospitals, no more shootings or shots, no more wars or wild animals. All will once again be at peace. Christ’s church must continually say, “Come, Lord Jesus!” But for those who aren’t ready for His return, this is a call for repentance and faith in Christ. 

One day, we will all know the answer to the question, “Why?”, but until then, we must only remember who is truly in control of this chaos.

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).

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.

Fighting Fear with Fear

When a forest fire rages out of control, sometimes firefighters must fight fire with fire. By burning the area around the fire, they leave nowhere for the fire to go. When it comes to the fear of man, we must fight fire with fire, by cultivating a healthy fear of God.

In Matthew 10:28, Jesus says, “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” 

I am a pansy. 

There, I said it. I’m far too concerned with what people think of me over what God thinks of me. If you’re like me, you are regularly frustrated at how often your decisions in life are based more on the fear of man than the fear of God. Don’t get me wrong; I don’t care about sounding offensive in many situations. I’ve been cussed at, threatened, and insulted by non-believers for sharing the gospel with them and not lost one minute of sleep over it. But when it comes to people I am close with, I hold their opinions often too highly and care more about offending them than God. Why is this?

In this text, Jesus is preparing his disciples for the world’s hatred of them. He had just shared with them that persecution is to be the Christian’s constant companion in this sin-cursed and broken world, but now he tells them how they should respond emotionally to it. Jesus compares the true bite behind people’s bark with the bite behind the bark of his holy Word, and there is no comparison. People can kill the body (which is going to die anyway), but God can cast the soul into eternal, conscious torment in hell. To live with an unhealthy fear of people, however, is to live with an unhealthy fear of God. It makes perfect sense to fear the God to whom we all must give an account. It makes no sense whatsoever to fear people who cannot shake your soul’s security. Perhaps this is why Isaiah put it so rightly when he said, “Stop regarding man in whose nostrils is breath, for of what account is he?” (Isaiah 2:22).

But how do you know when you have crossed the line between Christian kindness and fear of man? How do you know when you’re living in the fear of man instead of the fear of God? I think the answer from our text is that anytime we’re okay with being silent about Christ for fear of what others may think of us, we’ve crossed that line. I’ve always heard it said that good Christian leaders have learned to develop a tough skin and a soft heart. On the one hand, we must so fear God that we’re not swayed by people’s opinions, while on the other hand, we must so love God’s image-bearers that we spend time getting to know them and doing the hard work it takes to reach them with the gospel.

But we must not forget that the source of all our God-fearing boldness stems not from us, but from Christ. Jesus’ deep reverence for his Father led him to endure the shame of the cross, despite the great cost. His willingness to be betrayed and deserted by his own disciples, rejected by the ones he came to save, and forsaken by his Father to endure our wrath is astounding. Yet Jesus embraced such a hard life to save us and now he calls us to fearless obedience to God from hearts full of reverence for him. 

The late Jerry Bridges has noted that the fear of God refers to reverential awe. Because we revere and stand in awe of the Lord God, we can overcome this unhealthy fear of man in our lives. After all, they can only kill us…and we’re invincible anyway!

God Meant It for Good

As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good” (Genesis 50:20a)

Perhaps the biggest issue people have with Christianity is how a good God can coexist with the evil and suffering of this world. More ink has been spilt trying to give a sufficient answer to the question of God’s goodness in an evil world than I could write in ten lifetimes, but in this one verse we find perhaps the best concise explanation. 

Let’s at least get one thing out of the way before we break down what is going on in this text: the problem of evil cannot really be a problem to God. Were God to face a real dilemma He cannot solve, such as the presence of evil, He would cease to be the sovereign authority of all creation. The problem of evil then is really only a problem from our human perspective. The old saying, “If God is God, He is not good. If God is good He is not God”, from a play by Archibald MacLeish, sums up the belief of many regarding this issue. Yet in the life of Joseph, we encounter a God who is God and He is also good. On the one hand, He is in total sovereign control of all things (including evil and suffering), while on the other hand, He is altogether good and loving. Isn’t that the kind of God we all know exists anyway? One who is truly God and is truly good?

The story of Joseph’s life is quite remarkable. A dearly loved and favored son, Joseph dreams a strange dream of his family bowing before him only to be sold into slavery by his own brothers for even mentioning it to them. He is then falsely accused by an evil seductress and imprisoned, only to later be released by Pharaoh for interpreting dreams, and ends up becoming second in command over all Egypt and saving multitudes from a dreadful famine. 

Joseph’s story has traces of evil and suffering all over it: favoritism, envy, hatred, slave-trading, betrayal, lies, temptation, false accusations, prison, and famine. Yet at every turn in Joseph’s story, the reader is reminded of God’s good purposes and presence. In his slavery, imprisonment, and rise to power, we are told, “God was with Joseph.” Apparently a good and sovereign God can coexist with evil and suffering in this world. But how?

Later in his life, Joseph’s dreams have been fulfilled. He stands as second in command to Pharaoh and his brothers finally come bowing before him. The very plot meant to destroy Joseph’s dreams actually was the instrument by which those dreams were fulfilled. Had Joseph never been sold into slavery, he would have never been falsely accused, and had he never been falsely accused, he would have never been imprisoned, and had he never been imprisoned, he would have never been released to become Pharaoh’s right hand man, and had he never become Pharaoh’s right hand man, multitudes would have perished in a severe famine.

In Genesis 45:5-8 Joseph tells his brothers, “do not be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life…God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth…so it was not you who sent me here, but God.” The psalmist, in Psalm 105, is so bold as to add that God, “summoned a famine on the land” and “sent a man ahead of them, Joseph.” How do we reconcile these two seemingly contradictory statements? You sold me…God sent me. You meant evil…God meant it for good. Famines are bad…but God summoned it. 

First we must realize that what often seem like contradictions in our Bibles are actually not contradictions at all, but paradoxes. A paradox is the coming together of two parallel truths that don’t seem to be reconcilable. When 19th Century Baptist preacher Charles Spurgeon was asked to reconcile God’s sovereignty with man’s responsibility, he said, “I wouldn’t try…I never reconcile friends.”

The glorious truth obvious to Joseph and to all God’s suffering saints throughout the ages and needs to be understood by us as well is: behind every drop of suffering and behind every dark spot of evil, God is sovereignly working out His good and perfect plan. This truth is one some believers foolishly run from, yet which is given by God as a support for them in the trials of life. Instead of embracing God’s sovereignty and goodness behind our suffering and behind the evil of our world, many believers choose to attribute all supposed “bad” events to Satan and all supposedly “good” events to God. I was in a Bible study once with a godly Christian woman who said her father’s death was all the work of Satan and refused the thought that God could have been sovereign behind it. After a time of her own prayerful reflection and study, she told the group that she now understood that God was sovereign and did allow her father to die for His own good purposes.

Think of the most ungodly and heinous act in human history. Now, can you confidently say, “The perpetrators meant it for evil, but God meant it for good”? Perhaps you were thinking of the Holocaust or September 11th. But these crimes pale in comparison to an even more despicable crime: the crucifixion of God’s only Son. The early church understood the cross to be both the most heinous crime ever committed and an offense God predestined to occur for His own good purposes in redemption. In Acts 2:23 we read, “this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.” So on the one hand, there are “lawless men” who “killed” Jesus and on the other hand, Jesus’ death was “according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God.” Then again in Acts 4:28 the church prays that all the evil perpetrators (Herod, Pilate, the Gentiles, and Jews) did, “whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.” 

If God is sovereign over a famine in Joseph’s day and all the sin leading up to that event in his life and the horror of Christ’s crucifixion, then He is sovereign over every evil event and amount of suffering in this world. Yet God always has a good purpose which He brings out of evil and suffering. The ultimate good purpose of all evil and suffering in this world will be realized in the new heavens and new earth when the bride of Christ will finally be redeemed out of this sin-cursed world and all will be renewed. Until then, may we learn to rest in God’s sovereign care over our lives even as we live in a world full of sin and suffering. 

After all, what hope would there be if there were no sovereign and good God behind the helm of this world and behind the wheel of our own lives?

When God’s Will and Our Will Collide

We’ve all been there. You have your entire day planned out and all is smooth sailing…then it happens. Your car won’t start or you lose your keys or your baby has an allergic reaction and you’ve got to rush to the doc right now (me this week).

In moments like this it is so easy to carry hidden frustration toward God because of your circumstances, but this would be a failure to trust His wisdom, goodness, and sovereignty over your life. We may seem more spiritual when life is all smiles and we’re sipping a Starbucks on a breezy, carefree day, but God doesn’t see it that way. What we call interruptions to our will are actually perfectly coordinated and strategic elements of God’s will being worked out in our lives. The Christian life, among other things, is a series of God-planned interruptions uniquely crafted to wean us from self and teach us to depend upon Him; the sooner we learn this, the better. This is because of the focus of God’s will and the unique possibilities of accomplishing that will through our lives. 1 Thessalonians 4:3a states, “For this is the will of God, your sanctification.”

Since God’s driving purpose in our lives is our sanctification, and since we are best sanctified to God through hardship and suffering, His will often collides with ours. Were we to have the ability to be God for a day, we might try to sanctify someone by giving them a blissful sunny day, a leather-bound journaling Bible, and two child-free weeks at a rustic cabin in the woods that looks like a Thomas Kinkade painting. But this only reveals how man-centered and comfort-driven our view of sanctification is. While our approach at being God would make people feel more spiritual, they wouldn’t actually be more spiritual than if they had been pressed by hardship to cry out to the Lord in desperation. The single person may feel more spiritual because they have less demands on them that are pressuring them and causing their sin to be exposed. Marriage makes us feel less spiritual only because living and loving another sinner is hard work and it brings out more of our selfishness. Having children makes us feel even less spiritual because these little, needy, and ill-tempered humans demand things from us and bring out the sin that was below the surface when we were single.

So how can we remind ourselves that God is working in the difficult interruptions of life? Here is a statement to carry with you and even recite in your mind whenever God interrupts your will to carry out His: God’s will, God’s way, God’s time, God’s day.

God’s Will, Not Ours

Flat tire. Sickness. A screaming toddler with an ear infection. Exhaustion. When it happens again and you’re tempted to lose it, remind yourself that God is in charge. A year or so ago news channels were all abuzz over a cruise liner that headed directly into a hurricane despite the fact that the captain knew about it prior and didn’t change course. Now picture God behind the helm of this ship called your life and He is charting the perfect course toward your sanctification. We sometimes wish we could grab the wheel and steer clear of all trouble, but the Lord knows best when we need to enter a hurricane head on. Prince of preachers Charles Spurgeon rightly said, “I have learned the kiss the waves that push me against the Rock of Ages.”

God’s Way, Not Ours

Our way to accomplish sanctification isn’t usually God’s, but we must trust that His way is best. Another Spurgeon gem is: “When you cannot trace God’s hand, you can trust God’s heart.” It’s true that, ‘there is more than one way to skin a cat’, but God knows the best way to sanctify a child of His and chooses it every time. Our trials appear random, but don’t be deceived. Peter says it this way: “In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious that gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:6-7, underline mine). 

Like a good carpenter, God uses a variety of tools to sanctify us: weather patterns, migraines, grumpy people, you name it. The trials are “various” (same word in James 1:2), but these are each “necessary.” So the next time something happens you didn’t plan for, remind yourself this is God’s necessary means of sanctification in your life today.

God’s Time, Not Ours

We like things to happen on time. Who wants to wait? But Moses waited forty years in the back side of the desert. Noah waited for over a century before the flood came. Abraham waited for most of his adult life before God finally kept His promise when he reached 100 years of age. God loves to sanctify using time. Maybe it’s a prayer request that seems five years late or something that you doubt will ever happen since you’ve waited so long, but remember God’s timing is best. Also don’t forget that, “with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day” (2 Peter 3:8). So calm down, you’ve only been around an hour or so.

God’s Day, Not Ours

Lastly, we must remind ourselves each day that it isn’t really our day at all…its God’s; and it’s all for His glory. Psalm 118:24 reminds us: “This is the day that the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.” The specific “day” the psalmist mentions is Good Friday. A few verses earlier we see, “the stone” being “rejected” by the builders and it all being “the LORD’s doing.” Jesus prayed in Gethsemane: “Father, take this cup from me…yet not my will, but yours.” Jesus gave up the will of His flesh so that God’s will of redeeming sinners could be accomplished.

Will we not then daily pray alongside Jesus, “yet not my will, but yours”?

God’s One Dominating Attribute is Not Love

Normally when one studies the attributes of God, you find a list which includes characteristics, qualities, and personality traits that make up the whole character of God.  These attributes are said to make up the whole character of God, they are who He is, and they describe how He interacts with man.  The question comes after reviewing the long list of God’s attributes, “Does God have one attribute that dominates the others?”  In other words, does one of God’s attributes describe God’s character better or clearer than all the others, so much so that this one attribute defines God’s existence all by itself without the others?  Our modern day thinks the love of God is the dominating attribute.  I disagree, and to tell you why hear R.C. Sproul:

When we use the word holy to describe God, we face another problem.  We often describe God by compiling a list of qualities or characteristics that we call attributes.  We say that God is a spirit, that He knows everything, that He is loving, just, merciful, gracious, and so on.  The tendency is to add the idea of theholy to this long list of attributes as one attribute among many.  But when the word holy is applied to God, it does not signify one single attribute.  On the contrary, God is called holy in a general sense.  The word is used as a synonym for His deity.  That is, the word holy calls attention to all that God is.  It reminds us that His love is holy love, His justice is holy justice, His mercy is holy mercy, His knowledge is holy knowledge, His spirit is holy spirit.

So there you have it.  The holiness of God is not a mere attribute, but the one defining and supreme characteristic of God that defines and fills out all the other attributes.  Have you noticed that out of all things the heavenly host could have proclaimed about God, they praised God with what the Church has long called the trisagion? What is that?  From the beginning of the Bible to the end of it, we find the heavenly host praising God saying one thing:

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty.”

God’s Love Producing Good in Us

“A man may love another as his own soul, yet his love may not be able to help him. He may pity him in prison, but not relieve him, bemoan him in misery, but not help him, suffer with him in trouble, but not ease him. We cannot love grace into a child, nor mercy into a friend; we cannot love them into heaven, though it may be the greatest desire of our soul. . . . But the love of Christ, being the love of God, is effective and fruitful in producing all the good things which he wills for his beloved. He loves life, grace and holiness into us; he loves us into covenant, loves us into heaven.”

John Owen

The Gospel is Not “Yea, Yea” and then “Nay, Nay”

John Bunyan on a glorious truth that warms my heart. Does it warm yours?

He cannot say and unsay, do and undo. As a spirit of adoption He told me that my sins were forgiven me, that I was included in the covenant of grace, that God was my Father through Christ, that I was under the promise of salvation, and that this calling and gift of God to me is permanent and without change. And do you think that after He has told me this, and sealed the truth of it to my precious soul, He will come to me and tell me that I am yet in my sins, under the curse of the law and eternal wrath of God? No, no, the word of the gospel is not “yea, yea” and then “nay, nay.” It is only “yea, and amen!”

(The Fear of God, page 43)