How Big Is Your God?

I’ve never read the book Your God Is Too Small by J.B. Phillips, but I resonate with the title. Each of us are hard-wired from the fall with a smaller view of God than we ought to have. Indeed it’s entirely possible to hold to a “big God” theology, while actually having a small god mentality in the nuts and bolts of everyday life. This reality hit home to me recently while preparing for our weekly church prayer meeting. We’re in a series on the prayers of Scripture in which we study a Bible prayer or teaching on prayer and then pray accordingly. We were to begin with a brief look at James 1:5-8, which speaks of the importance of faith when we pray, then spend some time praying big prayers to our big God. As I studied the text, however, I realized that I was acting as the double-minded man James described who is unstable as water and shouldn’t expect anything from God. I had secretly (unconsciously?) carried anxiety over a few “major” issues in life, ministry, family, etc. and had not been casting these burdens God’s way because I foolishly treated these issues as bigger than Him. I had a “big God theology,” but a small god mentality when it came to these. I realized that I needed to cling in faith to the big God revealed in Scripture. The following is my attempt to work through this in my own heart and I think it will be of help to some of you. 

Scripture is full of texts referring to how incomparable our God is. I noticed these “Who is like you?” verses popping up all over the place in my Bible reading and the following is my attempt to help myself and you grapple with them… 

  1. BEHOLD YOUR GOD

What follows here are a list of the Scriptures that speak of God’s incomparability. Read them each through prayerfully and ask the Lord to give you a bigger vision for who He is from His Word.

There is none more powerful 

Exodus 15:11- “Who is like you, O LORD, among the gods? Who is like you, majestic in holiness, awesome in glorious deeds, doing wonders?”

Jeremiah 10:7, 10- “Who would not fear you, O King of the nations? For this is your due; for among all the wise ones of the nations and in all their kingdoms there is none like you….But the LORD is the true God; he is the living God and the everlasting King. At his wrath the earth quakes, and the nations cannot endure his indignation.”

Jeremiah 49:19b- “For who is like me? Who will summon me? What shepherd can stand before me?”

Ps. 86:10- “For you are great and do wondrous things; you alone are God.”

Isaiah 37:16- “O LORD of hosts, God of Israel, enthroned above the cherubim, you are the God, you alone, of all the kingdoms of the earth; you have made heaven and earth.”

His power is also revealed in the fact that He alone can claim the title of Creator:

Neh. 9:6- “You are the LORD, you alone. You have made heaven, the heaven of heavens, with all their host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them; and you preserve all of them; and the host of heaven worships you.”

Isaiah 40:25- “To whom then will you compare me, that I should be like him? says the Holy One. Lift up your eyes on high and see: who created these? He who brings out their host by number, calling them all by name; by the greatness of his might and because he is strong in power, not one is missing.”

Isaiah 44:24- “Thus says the LORD, your Redeemer, who formed you from the womb: “I am the LORD, who made all things, who alone stretched out the heavens, who spread out the earth by myself”

Jeremiah 10:16; 51:19- “Not like these is he who is the portion of Jacob, for he is the one who formed all things, and Israel is the tribe of his inheritance; the LORD of hosts is his name.”

There is none more helpful 

Deuteronomy 33:26- “There is none like God, O Jeshurun, who rides through the heavens to your help, through the skies in his majesty.”

Psalm 35:10- “All my bones shall say, “O LORD, who is like you, delivering the poor from him who is too strong for him, the poor and needy from him who robs him?””

Isaiah 44:7- “Who is like me? Let him proclaim it. Let him declare and set it before me, since I appointed an ancient people. Let them declare what is to come, and what will happen…Is there a God besides me? There is no Rock; I know not any.”

Micah 7:18-20- “Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity and passing over transgression for the remnant of his inheritance? He does not retain his anger forever, because he delights in steadfast love. He will again have compassion on us; he will tread our iniquities underfoot. You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea. You will show faithfulness to Jacob and steadfast love to Abraham, as you have sworn to our fathers from the days of old.”

There is none more trustworthy 

1 Kings 8:23; 2 Chron. 6:14- “O LORD, God of Israel, there is no God like you, in heaven above or on earth beneath, keeping covenant and showing steadfast love to your servants who walk before you with all their heart;”

There is none more righteous 

Psalm 71:19- “Your righteousness, O God, reaches the high heavens. You who have done great things, O God, who is like you?”

Luke 18:19- “And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.”

Revelation 15:3-4- And they sing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying, “Great and amazing are your deeds, O Lord God the Almighty! Just and true are your ways, O King of the nations! Who will not fear, O Lord, and glorify your name? For you alone are holy. All nations will come and worship you, for your righteous acts have been revealed.”

There is none more exalted 

Psalm 113:4-9- “The LORD is high above all nations, and his glory above the heavens! Who is like the LORD our God, who is seated on high, who looks far down on the heavens and the earth? He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap, to make them sit with princes, with the princes of his people. He gives the barren woman a home, making her the joyous mother of children. Praise the LORD!”

There is none more sovereign

Isaiah 46:5, 9b-11- “To whom will you liken me and make me equal, and compare me, that we may be alike?…for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose,’ calling a bird of prey from the east, the man of my counsel from a far country. I have spoken, and I will bring it to pass; I have purposed, and I will do it.”

As you come to God in prayer and worship, consider how incomparable He is and let His majesty and glory overwhelm you. Then think on the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. The God who stands alone in power and glory has come down in weakness and humility to endure the agony of the cross for sinners. Jesus has risen in power and now lives to intercede for His own. There is no other God and there is no other Savior like ours.

  1. BELIEVE YOUR GOD

Now for the hard part. God gives us these words of His grandeur not only to stimulate our thinking, but to transform our daily living. The next step in responding to these texts is to confess and repent before God of your small view of Him. I love the scene in Mark 9 where Jesus comes to heal a man’s demon-possessed son, and the man says to Jesus, “if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” And Jesus said to him, “‘If you can’! All things are possible for one who believes.” Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, “I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:22b-24). Even a prayer confessing one’s small view of God is a prayer of faith, because it acknowledges His power to overcome our unbelief. Another way to overcome our fear of man or love of self or spiritual laziness is to memorize and meditate on Scripture. Put some of the above texts to memory and pray them back to God every time you find yourself growing anxious or tempted or prideful. There is nothing that will cut the head of the Goliaths of sin in our lives like remembering just how colossal our God truly is. When God sent the twelve Israelite men to spy out the land, there problem was that they compared their enemies with themselves and not with God. They were comparing the wrong way and so the result was that they concluded, “we seemed to ourselves like grasshoppers, and so we seemed to them” (Numbers 13:33b). They should have compared these giants to God. Then they could have said with Isaiah, “It is he who sits above the circle of the earth, and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers; who stretches out the heavens like a curtain, and spreads them like a tent to dwell in” (Isaiah 40:22). Another helpful way to overcome our problem of comparisons is to jot down all the “big” issues in your life that seem impossible to change (marriage/singleness issues, lost family members, stubborn sin patterns, anxiety about the future). Grab a stack of sticky notes and fill your desk or table with the big ones in your life. Now read back over those Scriptures above and hand them over to the God of all creation, asking Him to help you see them in the right light. There is a reason Jesus spoke of mountains being cast into the sea with only mustard seed faith! When we are regularly comparing our problems to our infinite God, we will then move into behaviors that exalt Him and deny self. We will move past our sinful idleness and anxiety into serving and helping real people whom He created for His glory. 

So, how big is your God?  

Jesus’ Questions for an Anxious Heart

Anxiety is something many of us face on a regular basis. From the womb to the tomb, we encounter a multitude of events that can lead us to doubt God’s good plans for our lives. In His famous Sermon on the Mount, Jesus questions our sinful tendency to worry. Jesus was a master of answering questions with deeper questions, thus causing us to consider life from an eternal perspective. In Matthew 6:31, Jesus portrays our anxiety as worrisome questioning and fretful concern which wonders, “What shall we eat? What shall we drink? What shall we wear?” Yet Jesus’ answer to these questions comes in the form of more questions. Aside from commanding us three times, “Do not be anxious,” Jesus leads us to consider the foolishness of our fearful anxiety.

Is not life more…? (v. 25)

The first question Jesus uses to counter our fretfulness zooms out to view the full scope of our lives in light of what is currently worrying us. Ironically, Jesus identifies the most extreme causes of worry, implying that all other less-important causes are covered as well. Our Western mindsets worry primarily about much less significant things like financial stability, social likeability, and that inner feeling of success in life. But life is more than food, clothes, friends, account numbers, titles, and degrees. So when we begin to worry about something, we must learn to ask ourselves, “Isn’t life more than [insert your worry here]?” The rhetorical yes answer will remind us to live not by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.

Are you not of more value than they? (v. 26)

Jesus’ second question turns our attention to what theologians call the imago Dei. As humans, we have been created in the image of God. Genesis 1:27-28 states, “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them. And God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.’” Jesus had just called the people to consider the birds flying about over their heads there near the shore of the Sea of Galilee. This reminds me of when God, “took Job to the zoo” (Mahaney) in Job 38-41, but the focus is different. Here Jesus wants us to consider our heavenly Father’s care for His creation. If God cares for the little animals under Adam’s dominion, then most assuredly He cares for Adam’s race. This side of the cross, we know God’s special love for those made in His image has been proven. Romans 8:32 reminds us, “He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?”

Which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? (v. 27)

Worry and fretfulness not only cannot add time to our earth clock, but has been proven to take away from it. Not only do we waste time when we stress and worry over things, but we put our health in danger. So the next time you find yourself doubting God’s faithfulness in your life circumstances, consider the time you are wasting.

Will God not much more clothe you? (vv. 28-30)

From worries over food to worries over clothing, Jesus encourages us to consider God’s loving concern for His people. Earlier Jesus said to look up at the birds for a reminder of God’s provision and now He calls us to look down at the grass for it. We serve a God who provides the richest of clothing for the most lowly of His creation, so we should take heart. God will give His children what they need to glorify Him.

The remedy: Trust your Father and Make Him Known (vv. 31-34)

Once we have questioned our anxieties through Jesus’ approach, we have no reason for them remaining. We’ve discovered that life is more than what bothers us, God has a special love for those in His image, life is too short to worry, and we will have all we need to serve Him. But now what do we do with our lives? Jesus says we should live by faith in God and live for the fame of God. Those who seek to know God and make Him known will have all they need to further know and make Him known. Instead of filling our lives with doubts and concerns, we must fill them with faith that is active in the world for the glory of God. Faith in God fuels living for God’s fame. Since our heavenly Father loves us enough to send His Son to Calvary’s cross in our stead, we can now spread His kingdom in this world. And the good news is, we don’t even have to worry about His kingdom spreading, for He promised to build His church.

Luke: The Faith-growing Gospel

Greetings, salutations, introductions, and openers are generally overlooked, ignored, and discounted. They are often viewed as the “lets get this out of the way because the content of what is written is what’s important.” But for the student of Scripture, the one who genuinely believes that all Scripture is breathed out by God, even the introduction is given to us by God and is profitable for teaching, reproof, correcting, and training in righteousness. Luke’s introduction is just that; praise God!

In Luke’s introduction (Luke 1:1-4) a few gems sparkle brighter than the rest. Luke informs “most excellent Theophilus” (Friend of God) that the purpose of his writing this Gospel is to (1) provide an orderly account, a logically flowing narrative of the Christ’s life, ministry, death, burial, & resurrection & (2) that Luke was offering it to him “that [he] may have certainty concerning the things [he] has been taught” (Lk 1:4). What a joy this must have been for Theophilus, the gentile convert, to have an orderly, logical account intended to solidify his already laid down faith. Just as concrete laid, in time, grows to profound strength, so too Luke’s Gospel will take the faith already laid and harden it into a firm foundation in our souls.

An Orderly Account

One need not “check his brain at the door” of Luke’s Gospel account. Luke was man of immense intellect, an historian, and a passionate pursuer of Truth. This becomes clear as one opens up and explores his introduction; even the manner in which it was written. His usage of the Greek language of his day, his balance in the structure of his writing, and his word choice all demonstrate that Luke intended to provide for his reader a record worthy of trust, both theologically and historically. The doctor was concerned greatly with sharing Christ with orderliness, multiple eye-witness testimonies, and even his personal witness so that Theophilus could be sure of what he had been taught. And in God’s providence, the gentile author providing this account to a gentile audience has left us, a greater gentile audience, with a repository of Truth solidifying our faith, factually, historically, and theologically. Praise God!

Certainty of Our Faith

Theophilus had been taught the Gospel, had believed the Gospel, and now was being given a thorough, written account of the Gospel that his faith might be firmly rooted, concreted, having certainty that what he had believed was legitimate, solid, and trustworthy. Luke’s Gospel account contained several “proofs” that would bring Theophilus, and consequently us, this certainty of faith: Proof from Prophecy, Proof from Miracles, and Proof from Growth.

Proof from Prophecy

When taking Luke/Acts as a continuous unit, as Luke intended, one theologian counted 47 references & allusions to how the life, death, & resurrection of Jesus Christ fulfilled the O.T. Scriptures. Imagine what 47 pieces of written evidence, backed up by eye-witness testimonies, in a courtroom would render; certainly, proof beyond a reasonable doubt. What a comfort to know that the God who said “this” would happen also made it happen and left us the proof of his happenings!

Proof from Miracles

For Luke, the proof was in the pudding. In Acts 2:22, Luke records that God confirmed Jesus identity by the “mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst…” The miracles that the people remembered seeing Jesus do was God’s proof that Christ’s message was legitimate. This was Jesus claim as well in Luke 7:18-22 when He confirmed that he was the long-promised and awaited Messiah and the proof of His identity was in the blind seeing, the lame walking, the lepers cleansed, the deaf hearing, the dead living, and the poor receiving the good news, all by His divine hand; and this, too, was a fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy concerning the Messiah. The miracles of Christ were proof that the message of Christ was authentic!

Proof from Growth

Even a casual stroll through Luke’s account of the early church, Acts, radiates certainty as the masses were coming to faith in Christ they could not see. At first there were only 120, and then 3000, with more being added daily, and then 5000, followed by rapid expansion of the Word of God regionally (Judea, Galilee, & Samaria) that caused massive spiritual growth across geographical boundaries to such that they could no longer be numbered (Acts 2-12). Finally, as if to place an exclamation point, the missionary journeys of Paul, commissioned by the Holy Spirit, caused explosive multi-continental growth of Christianity fulfilling the prophetic word given by Gamiliel in Acts 5:33-39 “…if [the Gospel of Jesus Christ] is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God.”

The Gospel of Luke is sure faith-builder. It was written as such and intended to be just that for Theophilus and continues to stand as such today! May God increase our faith as we joyfully feast upon “every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4)…even the introductions.

Faith: A Receiving and A Resting

One particular genre I always enjoy and in which we can see a great deal about who we are is music. There is a list of songs as long as the Mississippi river that mention faith. Faith is a very widespread concept in popular culture. But faith in this respect is usually spoken of in relation to a lover, or has having faith in yourself. Both of these fall enormously short of the Biblical idea of faith.

In the Bible when the word faith is used it more resembles an idea of trust, a believe, hope, conviction, confidence, expectation, reliance, and dependence upon God Himself. In question 86 of the Westminster Shorter Catechism it asks “What is faith in Jesus Christ? Answer: Faith in Jesus Christ is a saving grace, whereby we receive and rest upon Him alone for salvation as He is offered to us in the gospel.”

Think of it like this – when we turn from or repent of sin we don’t turn towards nothing…we turn to faith, and not just faith in general like so many people speak of but faith in a Person, namely, the Person of Jesus Christ. And what happens in the heart once we turn? As the catechism says there are two things that happen: a receiving of Jesus and a resting in Jesus.

A Receiving of Jesus

As the Apostle John begins his gospel and begins unfolding the incarnation of the Son of God, the Word made flesh he says this in 1:9-13. “The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, yet the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and His own people, did not receive Him. But to all who did receive Him, who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood not of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” So Jesus came into the world that He had made. He came into to His own, yet His own did not know Him or receive Him. Then in v12 we find the wondrous moment of contrast where John points out that not all rejected Him, some did receive Him. What does it mean to receive Jesus? v12 continues and explains it for us, “…to all who did receive Him, who believed in His name…”

To receive Jesus, therefore, is to believe in His name. This word ‘believed’ in John 1:12 is the Greek verb ‘pisteuousin’ which is used by Paul in its noun form ‘pistis’ which we translate as ‘faith.’ So, to receive Jesus is to believe in His name. And, to believe in His name is the same as having faith in Him. v12 shows us what it means to have faith in Jesus, v13 shows us the origin of our faith in Jesus. When you receive Him, or believe in His name, or have faith in Him John says you become a child of God who is born, not by the will of man, but by the will of God. So the sovereignty of God is on display in the faith of man, in that, just as God grants repentance, so too God gives faith to His people. That’s why v13 is placed after v12.

That God gives faith as a gift to His people is confirmed in Ephesians 2:8-9 when Paul says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.” There are many important things to glean from this verse, it’s one of the pinnacle passages describing justification by faith alone. But one often overlooked thing in this passage is the small phrase “And this” in the middle of v8. What is the word ‘this’ referring to? Paul has just spoken of us being saved by grace through faith, so grace and faith are in view. When he continues on and starts the next sentence with “And this” he means “And grace and faith” are not your own doing, it is the gift of God. So both grace and faith are gifts from God.

A Resting in Jesus

To explain this idea of resting in Jesus I want to describe the conversion experience of Martin Luther. Some of you already know this story, but I know some of you don’t. Here’s how it played out. Looking back throughout Luther’s life there’s an intriguing pattern to notice. Every five years he was involved in, or had himself, a major controversy. In 1505 he was almost struck by lightning and ran into the monastery. In 1510 he visited Rome on an errand and became disenchanted with Roman Catholicism by all the wickedness he saw. In 1515 he had what proved to be his most pivotal controversy, and to this day it is called ‘The Tower Experience.’ After doing much in depth study of the Scriptures Luther came to believe that the proper way to interpret the Bible is to find the ‘sensus literalis’ which means we should interpret the Bible according to it’s literary genre. Well, later that year Luther was assigned to teach through Paul’s letter to the Romans. So in his private study in preparation for his lectures he came to Romans 1:16-17 and came to a screeching halt. That passage says, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written (quoting Habakkuk 2:4) ‘The righteous shall live by faith.’”

Luther came to a halt because he found v17 repulsive. It was the word ‘righteousness’ that haunted him. He said, “I hated that word ‘the righteousness of God’ by which I had been taught according to the custom and use of all teachers that God is righteous and punishes the unrighteous sinner.” This, for Luther, was a barrier to God, a chasm between the holy God and his unholy heart that cannot be crossed. Luther saw no way around it and despaired of all hope. He was not righteous, thus, he could not live by faith. But, then Romans 1:17 broke upon his soul. He saw that what Paul was teaching was that there is a righteousness that is received as a result of faith and not as a result of works, and that once a person received this by faith they were reconciled to God.

What made the difference for Luther was that he was now studying the Greek text of Romans, not the Latin. You see, in the Latin text of Romans the word for righteousness is ‘eustificare’ which comes from the Roman legal system and means to make righteous. So the Latin meaning of this word in Romans 1:17 is that God’s very righteousness is in view. But in the original Greek the word was different. The Greek word for righteousness was the word ‘dikaiosune’ which means to count or to declare one as righteous. This was Luther’s awakening. Luther saw that Paul was teaching, not of God’s own righteousness, but of a righteousness God gives freely by His grace to people who don’t have a righteousness of their own. Then he read St. Augustine on Romans and saw that he also believed this. Then Luther said this, “At last meditating day and night, by the mercy of God I began to understand that the righteousness of God is that through which the righteous live by a gift of God, namely faith. Here I felt as if I were entirely born again and had entered paradise itself through the gates that had been flung open.”

This ‘Tower Experience’ explains a lot of why Luther was the way He was. Luther was so unwavering and steadfast against the onslaught that would soon come his way for teaching the doctrine of justification by faith alone because he knew that when looked upward he beheld a reconciled Father because of Jesus’ work, not an angry Judge. Luther received Jesus by believing in His name and having faith in Him and as a result Luther rested in Jesus.

Phil. 3:8-9 confirms this rest of soul that comes by faith and shows us what all of this leads to. “Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For His sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith…”

Luther’s boldness as we’ve seen, and our boldness comes from this. We can live like v8, we can count knowing Christ as better than all things, we can count all things as rubbish compared to knowing Jesus our Lord because God has done v9 to us! He has given us a righteousness that is not our own, a righteousness that stands full and final in our account never to be removed.

See a pattern in all of this:

Receiving Jesus leads to resting in Jesus.

Resting in Jesus leads to recognizing Jesus’ worth above all things.

Recognizing Jesus’ worth above all things leads to risking all for Jesus.

Receiving, resting, recognizing, risking – begun by faith, sustained by faith, and Lord willing…finished by faith.