This website represents an effort to bring together members of the body of Christ in fellowship around His word and seeking the guidance of His Spirit to abide in Jesus. Our discussions will usually center around Scriptures being studied in a class I lead on Friday nights, but will also involve other areas of theology and current events as they relate to God’s Word. My prayer is that it will be a forum for edification and equipping of the saints for ministry. Soli Deo Gloria!
In Esther we find a story where God is clearly the main character although he is not named. We also see a heroine who has to grow into that role and answer the question of whether she will identify with Yahweh or not. For us it raises important questions about identity, purpose, and following God’s will.
In 1 Samuel 13-14 we find an account of extraordinary faith that gives us an example of how Yahweh God is faithful to His people and gives us guidance for living boldly for Him in our lives today.
Message from June 30, 2013
So last week we did a lot of reading of Scripture. Below I have placed an outline of the ideas and verses we discussed. Most importantly was a continuation of our discussion of the idea that the gospel is not so much an invitation as a command and thus “belief” in the NT sense is not merely intellectual assent to a set of propositions, but rather and entrusting of oneself to Jesus and a ceasing of trusting in whatever else you used to trust (which is referred to as repentance). This means that salvation is a radical change in the character or nature of a person, which is why we spent so much time looking at the Scriptures dealing with regeneration and the baptism of the Holy Spirit (which, yes, comes on every believer at conversion, and no, is not always marked by the sign of speaking in tongues). It is these two actions of the Holy Spirit that allows Him to unite us with Christ such that His death and resurrection are counted as belonging to us. Again, we see that from beginning to end our salvation is the work of God as he rescues, redeems and remakes us into His image.
- Our faith as a heart attitude vs. “the faith”, the content of our belief (Eph, 2:8; Jud. 3)
- Faith is from God (Matt. 16:16-17, Rom. 1:8, Phil. 1:29, II Thess. 1:2-3; Rom. 12:3, Lk. 17:5)
- Faith is based on knowledge (I Cor. 15:1-8, Eph. 1:17, I Jn. 1:1-3)
- Faith involves more than assent to knowledge (Jn. 3:2, Acts 26:27-28, Jas. 2:19)
- Faith is confidence in knowledge accepted (Matt. 11:28-30, Jn. 3:16)
- Faith involves repentance (Lk. 24:46-47, Acts 2:37-38, 3:19, 11:18, 17:30, 20:21, Heb. 6:1)
- Necessitated by our corruption of nature (I Cor. 2:14, Eph. 2:1-5, Col. 2:13)
- A work of the Father (Jn. 1:12-13, Jas. 1:17-18)
- Based on Christ’s work (I Pet. 1:3)
- Through the activity of the Holy Spirit (Jn. 3, Tit. 3:5)
- Instrumental role of the Scriptures (Jn. 15:3, Eph. 5:26, 6:17, Jas. 1:18, I Pet. 1:23, Heb. 4:12-13)
- Results of Regeneration
1. Spiritual death becomes spiritual life (Rom. 8:10, II Cor. 5:17, Eph. 2:5)
2. We are born into God’s family (Jn. 1:12-13, Rom. 8:16-17, I Pet. 1:3-4)
3. Begins the process of sanctification (Rom. 6:11, 8:13, Gal. 5:25, I Jn. 2:29, 3:9, 4:7, 5:1-4, 18)
4. Turns us from “sinners” into “saints” (Rom. 5:8, I Cor. 1:2)
Baptism (Indwelling) of the Holy Spirit
- Provision of the new covenant (Jn. 3:1-10, cf. Ezek. 36:26-27, Acts 2:16-21, cf. Joel 2:28-32, Heb. 8:6-13, cf. Jer. 31:31-34)
- Promised by John the Baptist as coming through Jesus (Matt. 3:11, Mk. 1:8, Lk. 3:16, Jn. 1:26)
- Still future after Christ’s resurrection (Jn. 14:17, Acts 1:5)
- After Pentecost other believers received the baptism just as the apostles had (Acts 10:47, 11:16, 19:1-7)
- The experience is seen as universal for believers (I Cor. 12:13)
Union with Christ
- Result of conversion and regeneration
- Accomplished by the baptism of the Holy Spirit (Rom. 6:3, Gal. 3:27, I Cor. 12:13)
- Foundation of the objective aspects of salvation
- Prevents salvation from being understood as a mechanistic transaction
- Indicated by the repeated phrase “in Christ”
1. Grace “in Christ” (II Tim. 1:9)
2. Salvation “in Christ” (II Tim. 2:10)
3. Redemption “in Christ” (Rom. 3:24)
4. No condemnation “in Christ” (Rom. 8:1)
5. Justified “in Christ” (Gal. 2:17)
6. Believers united “in Christ” (Rom. 12:5)
7. New creation “in Christ” (II Cor. 5:17)
8. Sanctified “in Christ” (I Cor. 1:2)
9. Maturity “in Christ” (Col. 1:28)
10. Resurrection “in Christ” (I Cor. 15:22)
11. Glorification “in Christ” (I Pet. 5:10)
In our last discussion, we rounded out our comments about election and we grounded that discussion in Ephesians 1:3-14 in which God’s sovereign initiative as the author of salvation is made manifest by the apostle Paul. As far as our ordo salutis (order of salvation) is concerned, this step of election, whether understood in the Calvinist/Reformed sense (God’s election being unconditional, based on no quality in those chosen) or in the Arminian/Wesleyan sense (God’s election being conditioned on the foreseen faith of those chosen), took place in eternity past as part of the divine eternal decree. The notes from last week spell out the biblical teaching on election, so this post will focus on the next step in the Ordo, which is that of calling.
Before turning to that, however, it is worth mentioning that one idea that dominated our conversation was the distinction between the Calvinist and Arminian systems in explaining why all are not saved. For anyone answering that question, the response will be that there is something God desires more than that everyone be saved, since Scripture says He desires everyone to be saved and yet all are not saved. On an Arminian understanding, the higher priority is the preservation of human free will/choice. On a Calvinist understanding, the higher priority is achieving the maximal glory of God and that in God’s economy, an outcome in which some are not saved serves to glorify Him to a greater extent than if everyone were saved. Ephesians hints at this purpose in election when it uses the phrase “to the praise of His glorious grace” in describing why God chose the elect. Even clearer is Romans 9:10-24 in which Paul interacts directly with this idea and suggests that those saved will praise God more for His grace, seeing that not all received it. We analogized this to how we value things more highly when they are rare and not everyone has them. The critical thing to keep in mind in considering this is that everyone deserves damnation and so the question must never be “Why does God not save everyone?” but rather “Why does He save anyone?” In this way, Paul asserts, His justice and wrath are on display as well as His mercy and grace in ways that would not be the case if all were saved. This at least is the Calvinist understanding of why God does not save everyone.
In approaching the Arminian view that God’s highest goal is maintaining human freedom, we must understand what is meant by “freedom” as well as by the terms “will” and “choice”. Regarding this question there are four views of the interaction between divine sovereignty and human freedom generally. Two of these are contrary to Scripture and not acceptable options. The first of these is called “hard determinism” and overstates God’s sovereignty in such a way that human choices are merely illusions and meaningless. The second, represented recently by the view known as “Open Theism” exaggerates human freedom in such a way as to deny not only divine sovereignty but also divine foreknowledge. The assertion is that a choice cannot be free if it is certain to take place (which divine foreknowledge requires). This brings us to the definition of freedom and the remaining two (acceptable) views. The “libertarian” view defines freedom as being the possibility to choose between two alternatives in such a way that either course could have been taken. This is the view of freedom championed by the Arminian system that requires that sinners actually be able to accept or reject the gospel offer. God’s perfect knowledge of the future in this system is based on His intimate and perfect understanding of what prompts free will agents to make the choices they do, thus their choices can be free and yet certain at the same time. The “compatibilist” view defines freedom as being merely a choice made without external compulsion or force. The Calvinist system embraces this definition in that total depravity robs us of the ability to choose to accept the gospel offer and yet that rejection is free because no one forces us to do so. In the same vein (anticipating our next topic), regeneration changes our wills such that we desire to accept the gospel offer and therefore we do. Again, no compulsion is present and yet the choice is rendered certain because the orientation of our wills (altered by the Holy Spirit) determines it. That is a very brief summary of these views, but it helps illuminate how the two systems explain and understand their positions to be within bounds of Scripture.
Turning now to the step of calling, the first thing to be noted is that Scripture uses the term or idea of “calling” in at least two senses when using it in reference to salvation (as opposed to an apostolic or prophetic calling). The first sense is that of the external and general gospel call which is issued by people to people in time and does not penetrate further than the ears and minds of the audience. This is what is described in Romans 10:14-17 and what we call evangelism. The words of this calling have no unique or special power, and, as many of us can attest, have no guarantee of success. The second sense Scripture uses of this word, however, is the internal and particular call given by God to the elect that is the authoritative summons of the king (remember we have adjusted our terminology to be in line with Scripture that the gospel issues a command more than an invitation and is to be obeyed rather than accepted). This is the calling described in the following passages: Rom. 8:30, I Thess. 5:24, II Pet. 1:3, 10, Rev. 17:14, Jn. 6:44, Acts 16:14. These passages make it clear that there is a unique and effectual calling given to the elect. This calling also gives us a sense that salvation, as I have often contended, is about far more than merely being forgiven of our sins and avoiding their consequences. Consider the following list of what Scripture says our calling moves us from and to:
1. Out of darkness (I Pet. 2:9)
2. Into fellowship with Christ (I Cor. 1:9)
3. Into His kingdom (I Thess. 2:12)
4. To be saints (Rom. 1:7, I Cor. 1:2)
5. To peace (Col. 3:15)
6. To freedom (Gal. 5:13)
7. To hope (Eph. 4:4)
8. To endurance (I Pet. 2:20-21)
9. To holiness (I Thess. 4:7)
10. To good works (II Thess. 1:11)
11. To the promise of an eternal inheritance (Heb. 9:15)
12. To eternal life (I Tim. 6:12)
My prayer is that in talking through this doctrine of salvation we begin to respond more and more to this calling in our lives, “working our our salvation with fear and trembling, since it is God who works in us for His good pleasure.”
PS The two books I recommended in our last class were “Evangelical Convictions” which is a summary of the Statement of Faith of the Evangelical Free Churches of America which mirrors the historical essentials of orthodox Christian belief, and “Love in Hard Places” by D. A. Carson which treats the topic of reconciling God’s love and justice in real world situations.
Soteriology is the study of the doctrine of salvation. It comes from the Greek word “soter”, which means savior. In the 2nd century Christians used the symbol of a fish to symbolize their commitment to Jesus and used the Greek word for fish (“Icthus”) as an acronym for their most basic beliefs about Him. ”I” = Iesus (Jesus) “C” = Chirstos (Christ/Messiah) “Th” = Theou (of God) “U” = Uios (the Son) “S” = Soter (Savior). This emphasis on Jesus’ role as Savior reflects the Old Testament approach to Yahweh as a redeeming God seen in passages like Isaiah 44:21-45:25. In reading this passage last Friday we highlighted the recurring use of salvation terminology, especially the title “redeemer” used repeatedly of God. We then noted that this redeeming action of Yahweh is tied to His absolute sovereignty over His universe that He created. From large-scale historical movements (the rise of Persia conquering and replacing Babylon as the superpower of the Ancient Near East) to minute and intimate human decisions (the birth and naming of Cyrus), Yahweh perfectly directs events towards His purpose of delivering a people for His glory. We will be spending the last few summer sessions discussing how the accomplishment of Jesus on the cross (which was the foundation of Yahweh’s redemption) can be appropriated to our benefit. As I have said many times, Scripture says that those who have trusted in Christ have been saved, are being saved and will be saved. Salvation is a process which many theologians express in what is called the “Ordo Salutis” (Order of Salvation). This is how we will be structuring our discussions by following this outline:
Pre-temporal aspect of salvation
Changes within the person at the moment of salvation
Baptism with the Holy Spirit
Changes in status of the person at the moment of salvation
Union with Christ
Ongoing aspects of salvation until death
Final completion of salvation at resurrection
Last night we began to discuss the aspect of election, which we noted has been a contentious one in church history with people either following the Reformed/Calvinist perspective or the Arminian/Wesleyan perspective. We noted that contrary to what many people have suggested, these are not equivalent systems. That is to say, one of them must be right and the other wrong, since they are saying opposite things. At the same time, it is not my view that a difference on this issue should formally separate believers in fellowship and is certainly not a matter of orthodoxy vs. heresy (as say, the view of the Trinity is). I laid out the contrast between the two views using the TULIP acronym of the Reformed system, although we noted that these were a response to the 17th century challenge to Reformed theology in Holland brought by Jakob Arminius. Here they are:
Reformed System Arminian System
Total Depravity/Inability to respond to God Prevenient Grace removed every human’s inability
Unconditional Election Election based on God’s foreknowledge of a person’s response of faith
Limited Atonement intended for the elect Unlimited Atonement intended for the whole world
Irresistible Grace Grace can be resisted
Perseverance of the elect Possibility of the loss of salvation
We covered the depravity question a few weeks ago, so you can consult those notes as review. When talking about election, I believe Scripture says 8 things clearly enough that to deny them is not appropriate. These statements can seem contradictory and the two systems above are each trying to explain the relationship between divine sovereignty and human freedom/responsibility.
1. God wills all to be saved (I Tim. 2:1-6; II Pet. 3:9, Ez. 33:11)
2. God extends the gospel command to all men (Acts 17:30, Rev. 22:17)
3. Men are responsible to respond to the command (Matt. 23:37, Jn. 5:40)
4. God does choose some to be saved (Matt. 22:14, John 15:16, 19, Acts 9:15, 13:48, Rom. 8:28-30, 11:7-8, I Cor. 1:26-31, Eph. 1:4-5, 11, Col. 3:12, I Thess. 1:4-5, II Tim. 2:10, Tit. 1:1, I Pet. 1:1, 2:9, 5:13, II Jn. 1, 13, Rev. 13:7-8, 17:8, 14)
5. God does pass over others to be condemned (Matt. 11:25-26, Rom. 9:17-22, I Pet. 2:8, Jude 4)
6. God’s election is linked to His foreknowledge (Jn. 6:64, Rom. 8:29, I Pet. 1:1-2)
7. God’s election is linked to His sovereign grace (Rom. 9:10-16, 11:5-6, Eph. 1:6, II Tim. 1:9)
8. God’s election serves to further His glory (Rom. 9:23, Eph. 1:12, I Thess. 1:2, II Thess. 2:13)
Given those eight statements, the question is not whether God chooses who will be saved or not, but why He chooses whom He does? The question is also not whether or not we make a choice to be saved, but rather why we make the choice we do. The Arminian says God’s choice is based on our choice which is a perfectly free one. The Calvinist says our choice is the result of God’s choice made as part of His sovereign decree in eternity past for no apparent reason found within us. As I said, we only began this conversation last week and will certainly continue it this coming Friday.
The central element of Christian doctrine is our teaching about the person and work of Jesus. If we get Jesus wrong, we do not have a savior capable of rescuing us from our sin. If we get some element of Jesus wrong, we will wander into error in some other area of doctrine as a result. We cannot pay too close attention then to what we believe about Jesus of Nazareth. The early church understood this and of the 7 ecumenical councils that hammered out fundamental statement of the faith, at least two were focused on this question. Nicea in 325 gave us the creed that lays the groundwork for Trinitarian thinking. Chalcedon in 451 gave us what has been called the “box” that defines the necessary elements of the person of Jesus. The creed states the following:
“We then, following the holy Fathers, all with one consent, teach men to confess one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, the same perfect in Godhead and also perfect in manhood; truly God and truly man, of a reasonable soul and body; consubstantial with the Father according to the Godhead, and consubstantial with us according to the manhood; in all things like unto us, without sin; begotten before all ages of the Father according to the Godhead, and in these latter days, for us and for our salvation, born of the Virgin Mary, the Mother of God, according to the Manhood; one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, Only-begotten, to be acknowledged in two natures, inconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably; the distinction of the natures being by no means taken away by the union, but rather the property of each nature being preserved, and concurring in one Person and one subsistence, not parted or divided into two persons, but one and the same Son, and only begotten, God the Word, the Lord Jesus Christ, as the prophets from the beginning [have declared] concerning him, and the Lord Jesus Christ himself has taught us, and the Creed of the holy Fathers has handed down to us.”
The box then, has four sides: 1) Jesus is God, meaning that everything that is an essential aspect of being God is true of Jesus; 2) Jesus is human, meaning that everything that is an essential aspect of being human is true of Jesus; 3) Jesus has two distinct natures, a divine and a human, such that He is a “God-man” with each nature being unchanged by being united in His person; 4) Jesus is only one person, not two persons each with a separate nature. Take away one of the sides (open the box in other words) and you have an insufficient Jesus.
Six ways of demonstrating that Scripture teaches Jesus’ divinity
1) Direct declarations or clear statements (there are more of these than you might think: Is. 7:14, 9:6, Jn. 1:1, 14, 5:18, 10:30, 20:28, Acts 20:28, Rom. 9:5, Phil. 2:6, Titus 2:13, Heb. 1:8, II Pet. 1:1, I Jn. 5:20).
2) Divine Titles and Names: Yahweh/LORD (Is. 40:3/Matt. 3:3, Ps. 110:1/Matt. 22:44, Ps. 102:25- 27/Heb. 1:10-12), Shepherd (Ps. 23:1, Jn. 10:11), Bridegroom (Is. 62:5, Matt. 25:1-13), Judge (Joel 3:12; 2 Tim. 4:1)
3) Divine Essence, shares the nature of the Father (Phil. 2:6, Col. 1:15, Heb. 1:3)
4) Divine Attributes: Aseity (Jn. 5:26), Eternality (Prov. 8, Is. 9:6, Mic. 5:2, Jn. 1:1-3, 18 8:58, 17:5, 24, I Cor. 8:6, Col. 1:16-17, Heb. 1:1), Immortality (Jn. 2:19-22, 10:17-18, Heb. 7:16, I Tim. 6:16), Immutability (Heb. 13:8), Omnipotence (Is. 9:6, Matt. 28:18, Rev. 1:8, also his nature miracles), Omnipresence (Matt. 18:20, 28:20, Eph. 1:23, Col. 3:11), Omniscience (Jn. 16:30, 21:17)
5) Divine Works: Creation (Jn. 1:3, Col. 1:16, Heb. 1:2), Providence (Col. 1:17, Heb. 1:3), Forgave sins (Mk. 2:5-10)
6) Receives Worship (Mt. 2:11, 14:33, 21:15-16, 28:9, 17, Jn. 9:38, Heb. 1:6, Rev. 5:4-14, cf. Acts 10:25, 14:14-15, Rev. 19:10, 22:8-9)
With all of that being said, it must now be born in mind that Jesus is also fully human, and that being human brings with it limitations that do not seem consistent with being divine. This is what is meant when we say that Jesus cloaked His divinity and did not avail Himself of all of those benefits during His ministry on earth. In this way He experienced the following things in the same way that we do:
Being born (Gal. 4:4), He grew (Lk. 2:40, 52), He hungered (Matt. 4:2), He thirsted (Jn. 19:28), He tired (Jn. 4:6), He died (Jn. 19:32-35), He resurrected (Lk. 24:39) He possessed limited knowledge (Matt. 24:36), He was astonished (Mk. 6:6, Lk. 7:9), troubled (Jn. 12:27, 13:21), sorrowed (Jn. 11:35), expressed great emotion (Matt. 23, Heb. 5:7), and grew in wisdom and maturity (Lk. 2:40, Heb. 5:8-9).
According to the creed, in one very important respect, He was not like us, however, and that is with regard to sin. Jesus was morally perfect (Heb. 9:14). This means that there was never a temptation that even for a millisecond seemed attractive to Him. And yet He was genuinely tempted (Matt. 4, Heb. 2:10, 17-18; 4:15; 1 Jn. 2:15). Yet because the root of His personality is the divine nature and because whatever one of Jesus’ natures does, the whole person does, He could never have sinned because God cannot sin, and yet the temptations were real. The reality of an attack does not depend on its chances of success. A mosquito cannot succeed in penetrating a tank’s armor, but that does not mean it cannot try. This explains the relative ease with which Jesus dismissively deals with Satan’s temptations in the wilderness.
So since Jesus is the perfect God-man, He can pay the price for our sins. Because He is God, He can offer an infinite sacrifice. As a sinless man, His sacrifice can be accepted in exchange for other humans (at least potentially; next week we talk about how humans actually benefit from His death). He must have both natures, but it must be one person on that cross such that we can say that God experienced death on the cross in order to effect our redemption.
We did not have time to cover these final items in our discussion but we will touch on them next week. They are provisions of Christ’s death, the ways the NT describes what He did for us on the cross.
1. Substitution/Sacrifice (Is. 53:6,12, Mt. 20:28, Jn. 1:29, Rom. 5:8, 8:1, I Cor. 5:21, Gal. 3:13, I Tim. 2:6, Heb. 9:28, I Pet. 2:24, 3:18)
a. Crediting of our sin to Christ
b. Crediting of Christ’s righteousness to us
c. Foreshadowed in OT sacrifices
2. Propitiation (Rom. 3:25, Heb. 2:17, I Jn. 2:2, 4:10)
a. Satisfies the wrath of God
b. Makes the application of his substitution for us possible
c. Related to the mercy seat in the OT
3. Redemption (the objective effect Mk. 10:45, Jn. 8:34-36, I Jn. 5:19, Heb. 2:15, Col. 1:12- 14, Gal. 3:13, Rev. 5:9, the subjective effect Rom. 6:1-10, I Cor. 6:20, Tit. 2:14)
a. Image is from the market place
b. A price has been paid
c. A slave set free
4. Reconciliation (Rom. 5:1,10-11, II Cor. 5:18-20, Eph. 2:14-16, Col. 1:20-22)
a. God was propitiated, men were reconciled (to God and each other)
b. Christ’s death makes it possible, faith makes it actual
c. Enmity and alienation on our part is replaced with peace and adoption
5. Conquest of Satan and demons (Col. 2:15)
The teaching on sin is in many ways where world religions begin to diverge from one another. Dealing with the problem of evil in the world, and more specifically, in humanity is at the foundation of any coherent worldview. Without a proper understanding of Scripture’s stance on sin, we will get Jesus and His work and our salvation wrong. We began our study of theology with God, but in examining the infinitely perfect being, we immediately see that we ourselves fall far short of him and that leaves us feeling appropriately uncomfortable. As with anything else, we begin with a definition of sin.
Definition (from Wayne Grudem): “Sin is any failure to conform to the moral law of God in act attitude or nature.”
In defining it as a failure to conform to something, Grudem indicates that God Himself is the standard and that evil is not a co-eternal force or substance, but rather a shortcoming in good things God has made. This is consistent with Genesis 3 and James 1 which indicate that sin has its origins within the created being as a rejection of God and an exaltation of self. Man was made in God’s image in an exalted condition (Gen. 1:26-27 and Psalm 8) but was able to, and did (consistent with, but not directly caused by, God’s foreordained decree) fall into sin. They bent their wills, which were created inclined towards God, back towards themselves, and here is where it gets sticky, because Romans 5 makes it clear that their (Adam and Eve’s) failure is ours in some way as well.
We inherit two things specifically from Adam (and note it is Adam and not Eve from whom we inherit them). The first is guilt and the second is corruption. We are counted as guilty “in Adam” and so are corrupted in our own wills as he corrupted himself. This means a number of things for us:
1) We are born bad (Ps. 51:5, Eph. 2:3)
2) Every part of us is bad (Gen. 6:5, Jer. 17:9, Rom. 1:21)
3) We are unable to do good (Rom. 3:9-20)
4) We cannot change ourselves (Jer. 13:23)
While that list is bad enough, God has extended what is called “common grace” which simply means that we are not as bad, nor as bad off, as we could be. That being said, we are still thoroughly wicked, with no righteousness, but we are capable of actions that do not render us total sociopaths every second of the day. This is because God has left us vestiges of His love and grace within and among us. We still twist these things to serve self and creation rather than God, so it is all idolatry in the end. This includes things such as:
1) Family affections (Matt. 7:11)
2) Social affections (Matt. 5:46-47)
3) Civil affections (Acts 22:29)
4) Aesthetic affections (1 Kings 5:18)
5) Religious affections (Acts 22:3-4)
With our situation seeming so dire, how could it get worse? We return again to the reality that we are created as image bearers of an infinitely holy and just God. Therefore, He responds to our sin in ways appropriate to His being. Namely as a Holy God,
He hates sin and those who love it (Deut. 12:31, Ps. 5:5; 11:5, Prov. 6:16-17, Jer. 12:8, Hos. 9:5, Mal. 1:2-3)
He regards them as His enemies, with enmity (Ex. 23:22, Is. 63:10, Lam. 2:4-5, Jas. 4:4)
He expresses wrath and anger towards them (Deut. 9:8, Ps. 2:12, Jn. 3:36, Rom. 1:18; 3:5-6, Rev. 6:16)
*These three aspects of God’s Holy response to sin are also summarized nicely in Nahum 1:2-8 towards the Ninevites (after Jonah’s short-lived revival faded).*
As a Just God,
He gives His law as an expression of His character (Lev. 11:45)
He demands perfect obedience to it (Matt. 5:48, Jas. 2:10)
He rewards those who obey (Matt. 5:12, 1 Cor. 3:14)
He punishes those who disobey (Deut. 32:35-36, Jer. 11:2; 50:15, Mic. 5:15, Rom. 12:19, Heb. 10:30-31)
As the Living God, His natural response to sin results in
Physical death (Gen. 2:17; 3:19, 22, Rom. 6:23, 1 Cor. 15)
Spiritual death (Eph. 2:3)
Eternal death (Matt. 10:28; 25:34-46, Rev. 20:11-15)
So it is not a cheerful picture of humanity that Scripture portrays, and yet we are led to hope because of what God originally created us for (His glory) that He will not leave us in this state. That is what prompts Him to reveal Himself in Christ the redeemer, which is who we turn our attention to next.
After finishing a three week discussion on Theology Proper (the nature of God Himself), I thought it might be helpful to provide a summary of what we covered both to cover any gaps due to the delightfully meandering nature of our meetings and to provide a jumping off-point and resource for any further study you do on your own. The two main topics we addressed were those of God’s attributes and His existence as a triune being.
Incommunicable Attributes of God (those which bear no resemblance to any characteristic or experience in human beings)
- Aseity (a.k.a. independence or freedom): that God is not dependent on any thing for His existence and is therefore free to do as He likes. It is His core characteristic, demonstrated by His name of Yahweh (“I AM THAT I AM”). Ps. 50:10-12
- Immutability (a.k.a. unchangeableness): as a logical consequence of His aseity, God cannot be changed in His being, attributes, thoughts, or opinions. Num. 23:19, Heb. 13:8
- Infinity (limitlessness): this also is a logical consequence of His aseity, since if He were dependent He would have limits. This also lays over all of His other attributes in the sense that He possesses all of His attributes in an unlimited way. Ps. 90:2, Col. 1:16; 2 Pet. 3:8
- Omnipresence/Immensity: that God cannot be contained or defined in spatial terms. This has two components. He is firstly, transcendent, which is to say that He is beyond and above and superior to the created universe. He is also immanent, which means He is fully, personally, and profoundly present in His creation at a subatomic level. His way of being present is therefore wholly unlike ours. 1 Kings 8:27, Jer. 23:23-24
Communicable attributes (those which bear some resemblance to human characteristics or experiences)
- Spiritualty/Invisibility: stated negatively, God does not exist in a physical/visible form. This does not prevent Him from revealing Himself in visible ways at times, however. Jn. 4:24
- Personality: that God is not merely an idea, principle, power or force, but is a person in the same way that you and I are persons, possessing intellect (Is. 1:18), will (Jn. 6:40) and emotions (Eph. 4:30), dealing with His creation relationally and having names.
- Omniscience: that God knows all things about His creation including events past, present and future certainly, fully and thoroughly as well as all possible realities that do not get brought to pass (i.e. He knows what would happen if things went differently). This attribute is grounded in His sovereignty, that He decreed all these things from eternity past. He knows these things because he planned them. Ps. 139:1-6
- Omnipotence/Sovereignty: we did not get to talk about this one as much as I would have liked but it will come up again. This is God’s effectual control over creation such that everything that happens is according to His will in some sense and yet humans and angels are morally responsible for their choices. Below is a list of aspects of God’s sovereignty given in Scripture. The passages are worthy of attention and reflection.
i. The Universe (Job 38:22-30, Ps. 104:14, Ps. 135:6-7, Matt. 5:45)
ii. Illness (healing ministries, but also Ps. 106:15, Is. 10:16, Jn. 9:3, Acts 12:23, I Cor.
11:30, cf. Jas. 5:16)
iii. Animals (Matt. 6:26, 10:29, II Kings 2:24)
iv. “Chance” (I Kings 22:34, Prov. 16:33)
v. Affairs of Nations (Ps. 22:28, Dan. 4:32, Acts 17:26, II Ki. 19:20-37, , Is. 45:1-25,
cf. Pr. 21:1, Ezr. 1:1, 6:22)
vi. Our Lives (Ps. 139:16, Pr. 16:1,9, 20:24, Jer. 1:5, 10:23, Gal. 1:15-16)
vii. Evil/Calamity (Ex. 14:17, cf. Rom. 9:17-18, II Sam. 16:11, I Ki. 22:20-23, Job 1-2 [1:21-
22, 2:9-10], Is. 10:5, 45:7, Am. 3:6b-7)
- Goodness as Holiness/Perfection/Righteousness: that God is good in the sense of always doing what is right, since He is the standard of righteousness. He does not follow the rules, His nature is the rule (more on this next week when we discuss sin). Hab. 1:13, Gen. 18:25, Rom. 2:11
- Goodness as Love, Mercy, Grace, Patience: that God is good in the sense that even though He must righteously hate sin, He desires to save sinners from the consequences of their sin. Deut. 7:7-8, Jonah 4:2
- Jealousy/Wrath: that God cannot allow another to be glorified above Him and cannot condone or allow evil to go unpunished (much more on this next week). Nahum 1:2-8
- Truthfulness/Faithfulness: that God can be trusted to be Himself always. (Jn. 17:17; 1 Thess. 5:24)
Definition – The Father, Son and Holy Spirit are three eternal Persons who equally share one infinite, undivided divine nature.
1.) There is only one divine being – unity means God is the only one of His kind and does not have parts, “echadh” indicates compound unity, “yachid” absolute singleness (i.e. “mongenes”) never used to describe God, “elohim” allows for plurality, “let us” in Genesis (Ex. 20:3-5; Dt. 6:4; I Kings 8:60; Isa. 45:5-6, 21-22; Jas. 2:19; I Tim. 2:5-6; I Cor. 8:4-6; Eph. 4:6)
2.) There are three divine persons – Father (II Cor. 1:2; Gal. 1:1; Eph. 1:2); Son (Is. 9:6, Mk. 2:8-10, Jn. 1:1-3, 18, 5:18, 8:58, 10:30, 20:28, Rom. 9:5, Phil. 2:6, Col. 2:9, Titus 2:13, Heb. 1:8, II Pet. 1:1, The Alpha-Omega proof: Rev. 1:8, 21:5-7, 22:12-13, 16, 20); Holy Spirit (Ps. 139:7-8, Jn. 3:5-7/I Jn. 3:9, Acts 5:3-4, 13:2, I Cor. 2:10-11, II Cor. 3:17-18, 6:19-20), Trinitarian formulas/benedictions: (Matt. 28:19, I Cor. 12:4-6, II Cor. 13:14, Eph. 4:4-6, I Pet. 1:2, Jude 20-21)
3.) The three persons simultaneously exist – Father is not Son, Son is not Father, neither is Holy Spirit; The Angel of the Lord (Gen. 18, 22, Jdg. 2) and the Spirit of the Lord discussed in OT (Ps. 110:1; Is. 48:16; Mt. 3:16-17; Mt. 28:19-20; Jn. 1:1-18; 14-17; Rom. 8:27; I Cor. 12:4-6; II Cor. 13:4; Eph. 4:4-6; Heb. 7:25; I Pet. 1:2)
The most important thing to remember is that God’s way of existing, which we call the trinity, is unlike anything in all of creation so that all analogies not only fall short of illustrating the truth but actually unintentionally illustrate heresy. That being said, God did give us two “hints” (I won’t call them illustrations) of how He exists within ourselves (“Let us make man in our image”). The three faculties of the soul are parts of a unity that can be distinguished but not separated from the soul as parts in the same way that the members of the trinity can be distinguished but do not exist of themselves. The other hint is in marriage, where two persons become “one flesh” in a way that in God’s eyes only ends with death.
What I have most enjoyed about the discussions we’ve had around these topics is the reminder of what a great God we serve. I’ve said it many times, but I’ll say it again: God is God and we are not. I pray we increasingly understand that.
In my previous post I asserted that the study of doctrine should foster unity among believers in Christ, rather than division. One thing that leads me to make that statement is an observation I made some years ago and have since found to be true in many contentious areas of Christian theology. It seems to be the case that Scripture often addresses things that are “mysteries” in the sense that two ideas are held in tension as both being true in a way our finite minds cannot quite comprehend. Orthodox theology tries to explain what Scripture teaches by balancing those types of competing ideas without abandoning either one. This is hard work and requires diligent study of the Scriptures. Heretics, in addition to be wrong, it turns out, are often intellectually lazy as they tend to emphasize one biblical teaching at the expense of another. A concrete example of this is the Trinity. The briefest definition of the doctrine is that God has always existed as one being in three persons. This is not a contradiction but it is a mystery. We cannot understand it, but we can define it. Heretics either abandon the oneness (Mormonism) or the three-ness (JWs), or the eternal-ness (Oneness Pentecostals). Another prime example is the Calvinist-Arminian debate. The two ideas in tension here are the sovereignty of God and the free will of humans. Both ideas are taught in Scripture and neither Arminians nor Calvinists deny either one. They are each systems trying to define the relationship between the two. Note we will never fully grasp how a sovereign God affects His purposes using morally responsible free agents any more than we can fully grasp His triune existence, but we can define what Scripture teaches. Thus, heretics will deny either that God is sovereign (Open Theists) or that man is free (“Hyper-Calvinists”). Orthodox Christians will affirm both and disagree as to why each being (God and man) does what they do. In other words, in the case of salvation and election, does God choose me for salvation because I chose Him (Arminianism), or is it the other way around (Calvinism)? Viewed in this light the disagreement is much more minor (although still very significant) and engaging in a discussion that is informed, open and charitable will produce unity even in the midst of disagreement as we learn to balance the mysteries of God’s existence and work in a way that keeps us on the orthodox “straight and narrow” and out of the heretical “ditch”.
If you’re interested in having those sorts of conversations, contact me for information about where and when through the website (or find out about it at www.thebeaconoc.org) and join us this Friday.