Sunday, December 10, 2023

Post # 26 The Doctrine of God - P1 God's Attribute Of Mercy - Its Definition And Richness



    In our study through the attributes of God, we've looked at what are called "incommunicable" and "communicable" attributes. The latter of these are those perfections which God shares or "communicates" to His creatures.  Among the communicable attributes are a subdivision of what we could term "moral attributes". 

    Perfections such as love, faithfulness, and goodness are examples of communicable, moral attributes. Such moral perfections highlight for us the moral character of God. In today's post, we are interested in considering one of my favorite attributes of God - mercy. 

What is meant by God's mercy?

    Theologian Wayne Grudem comments on God's mercy, "God’s mercy means God’s goodness toward those in misery and distress." Certainly, the mercy of God expresses the goodness of God toward those who don't deserve it and who did nothing to merit such a bestowal of goodness. This writer and you the reader fit under that categories of "undeserving" and "unable to merit" God's mercy. We read for instance in Exodus 33:19 of God's promise to Moses' request to show him His glory,

"And He said, “I Myself will make all My goodness pass before you, and will proclaim the name of the Lord before you; and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show compassion on whom I will show compassion.” 

    The reader can note that the underlying Hebrew words translated "gracious" is the same word elsewhere translated "mercy". At this point, it may prove useful to distinguish between God's compassion and mercy. We've noted in past posts how each of God's attributes gives us "all of God", meaning each is a true and entire expression of His Divine being. To have one attribute entails having access to all the others. 

    Mercy and compassion do have much overlap, so we won't press their distinction too far. Mercy is God witholding from us what we do deserve. Grace is God giving to us what we don't deserve. In noting those distinctions, we find that God's compassionate love, expressed in grace and mercy, is what underlies their commonality to one another. Baptist theologian J.P. Boice in his "Abstract of Systematic Theology" notes the distinction. He first writes of God's compassion, 

"The third form of love is the love of compassion. This corresponds to our idea of pity. It is benevolent disposition to those who are suffering or in distress.
This also may be exercised towards the guilty or the innocent, if it be possible to suppose that guilt and suffering are separable."

Boice then focuses on mercy,

"A fourth form of the love of God corresponds to what we call mercy.
This can be exercised only toward sinners. Its very nature contemplates guilt in its objects. It consists, not only in the desire not to inflict the punishment due to sin, and the neglect and refusal to do so, but in the actual pardon of the offender."

    In the Bible, we find a close connection between God's compassion and mercy, making them at times virtually indistinguishable. If we consider mercy as God withholding what we do deserve, then compassion is God showing Divine pity as a consequence of His mercy. The Hebrew Old Testament uses the same word to render our English "compassion" and "mercy". 

    We saw above the NASB translation of the underlying Hebrew text of Exodus 33:19. As the Holy Spirit led Paul to write what he wrote under Divine inspiration, He would use the Greek translation or Septuagint translation of Exodus 33:19 to capture the nuance of God's mercy in Romans 9:14,

"or He says to Moses, 'I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.'”

The infinite richness of God's mercy

    As mentioned already, the common way mercy is defined, which I still find helpful and soothing, is this, "mercy is God not giving us what we deserve". Thomas Watson, that great 17th century Puritan author, notes the following about the superabundance (i.e. "richness") of God's mercy,

"The Lord has treasures of mercy in store, and therefore is said to be ‘plenteous in mercy’ (Psa 86: 5), and ‘rich in mercy’ (Eph 2: 4). The vial of God’s wrath drops only, but the fountain of his mercy runs. The sun is not so full of light as God is of love."

Watson goes on,

"God has mercy of all dimensions. He has depth of mercy, it reaches as low as sinners; and height of mercy, it reaches above the clouds. God has mercies for all seasons; mercies for the night, he gives sleep; nay, sometimes he gives a song in the night (Psalm 42:8). He has also mercies for the morning. His compassions ‘are new every morning.’ (Lamentations 3:23)."

    Twentieth century author A.W. Tozer writes of God's mercy in his classic book, "Knowledge of the Holy", page 64, reminds us that God's mercy, like all of His attributes, is an eternal perfection, 

"If we could remember that the divine mercy is not a temporary mood but an
attribute of God’s eternal being, we would no longer fear that it will someday cease to be."

Tozer then completes his thought,

"Mercy never began to be, but from eternity was; so it will never cease to be. It will never be more since it is itself infinite; and it will never be less because the infinite cannot suffer diminution. Nothing that has occurred or will occur in heaven or earth or hell can change the tender mercies of our God. Forever His mercy stands, a
overwhelming immensity of divine pity and compassion."

More next time....


Monday, December 4, 2023

Post # 25 The Doctrine of God - God's Attribute of Omnipotence: Reflections And Applications


    In this series of posts we have attempted to introduce the reader to the being and attributes of God. Such a study, called "The Doctrine of God", or as known by its theological term "Theology Proper", makes its goal to raise the mind and heart of the reader to God. Today's post aims to introduce the reader to the attribute of God's omnipotence.

    The term "omnipotence" derives from two Latin terms, "omni" meaning "all" and "potence" referring to "power". Strictly speaking, to say God is all powerful is to say He is able to do anything that corresponds to His character. Theologian Wayne Grudem gives the following definition, "God's omnipotence means that God is able to do all His holy will" (Systematic Theology, 2nd edition, page 258). Author Charles T. Grant, in the Winter 2002 edition of "The Emmaus Journal", writing an article entitled "Our Heavenly Father", notes of Divine omnipotence,

"Omnipotence means that God can do whatever He desires to do. “My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please” (Isa. 46:10). “Our God is in heaven; he does whatever pleases him” (Ps. 115:3). It does not mean that God’s actions are without rational or moral restraint. Rather it implies that God is able to do everything which is consistent with His nature." 

    When talk of omnipotence, we must qualify the term with reference to what God can and cannot do. Scripture tells us that God cannot lie (Titus 1:2). Why? God is a God of truth - i.e. the "True and Living God" (Jeremiah 10:10; 1 Thessalonians 1:9). We've studied in past posts how God cannot change His essential nature (Malachi 3:6). We know that God cannot be unfaithful to His promises, since He is always faithful (2 Timothy 2:13). 

    These qualifiers do not cancel out Divine omnipotence, but rather serve to sharpen what the Bible says on the subject. God can do all according to His nature, which means such attributes as His eternality, immensity, omniscience, omnipresence, and Divine independence help us to see how the power of God is indeed unlimited. 

    It doesn't take much to find God's omnipotence in the Scripture. Near the end of the New Testament we find the following glorious statement of God's omnipotence,

"Then I heard something like the voice of a great multitude and like the sound of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, saying, “Hallelujah! For the Lord our God, the Almighty, reigns." 

That term "Almighty" tips the reader off to identifying this woondrous attribute. In Genesis 17:1, Abraham identifies God as "El-Shaddai" or "God Almighty". Job 11:7 reminds us of the infinite depths of God in light of His omnipotence, “Can you discover the depths of God? Can you discover the limits of the Almighty?" The Christian is reminded of God's omnipotence in upholding them through all of life in 2 Corinthians 6:18 “And I will be a father to you, And you shall be sons and daughters to Me,” Says the Lord Almighty." A quick scan through any Bible concordance will yield nearly sixty places where this main term "Almighty" is used with respect to God's omnipotence. 

Exploring further Biblical statements on Divine omnipotence

    As we mentioned, God's omnipotence is found throughout the Bible. I've mentioned to the reader some places that utilize the term "Almighty". Several more are worth mention to aid us in appreciating this perfection of God. Throughout the books of Genesis, Exodus and Ezekiel, we find reference to God being the "Almighty". I already referenced Genesis 17:1. The significance of this verse reference is that it is the first time we come across this title is in Genesis 17:1, 

"Now when Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to Abram and said to him, “I am God Almighty; Walk before Me, and be blameless." 

    In four other places in Genesis (28:3; 35:11; 43:14 and 48:3) we find God speaking to the patriarchs and revealing Himself as God Almighty. By Exodus 6:3, God reveals Himself to Moses and, with this designation of Himself as "God Almighty", gives the specific name by which He reveals Himself to His people as "I AM Who I AM". This covenant name speaks of God's self-existence and thus sustaining Himself by His own omnipotent, never ending power. Ezekiel 10:5 rounds out the places in the Old Testament we will consider with respect to this name God Almighty, wherein we read, 

"Moreover, the sound of the wings of the cherubim was heard as far as the outer court, like the voice of God Almighty when He speaks." 

    The point of these texts is to demonstrate that from God's very names, we see already implied that He is indeed the Omnipotent God. 

Reflecting and meditating on God's omnipotence in Psalm 139:13-16.

    Truly when we focus on any of God's attributes, they ought to stir our hearts to worship. A.W Tozer notes in his classic work "Knowledge of the Holy" the following about God's omnipotence, 

"God possesses what no creature can: an incomprehensible plenitude of power, a potency that is absolute." 

    He then later makes this helpful observation with respect to God's omnipotence, 

"God has delegated power to His creatures, but being self-sufficient, He cannot relinquish anything of His perfections and, power being one of them, He has never surrendered the least iota of His power. He gives but does not give away. All that He gives remains His own and returns to Him again. Forever He must remain what He has forever been, the Lord God omnipotent." 

    Psalm 139:13-16 outlines for us some basic features of this incredible attribute. We could assign "realms" over which God is said to wield His omnipotent power in this Psalm.

1. God's omnipotence over the realms of the extremely small. Psalm 139:13-16

    To speak of "sub-atomic" refers to that level of physical reality that corresponds to the extremely small distances we find when considering atoms, their constitute particles (such as the nucleus and its orbiting electrons) and the complex physical laws used to describe their behavior. Now I won't stray too far into the weeds on this point, knowing full-well how unimaginably complex these considerations can get. 

    The idea of "quantum physics" deals broadly with the various laws and equations that describe what extremely small systems do under certain conditions. Thus, all of the atoms making up the DNA molecules, chromosomes and such were providentially held together in the proper discrete energy levels (called by physicists "quanta") to be at the right moment and places. God governs their motions to then construct the biological material ordained by Him to produce what would be the physical nature of King David. We don't have time to get into the discrete and mysterious way God endues each person's physical nature with consciousness and personality. I know this point is bewilderingly complex - but isn't that the point? to show in small measure God's incredible power at work in the realm of the extremely small. 

2. God's omnipotence over the realm of time and the very large. Psalm 139:16

    God's omnipotence includes His power to affect future events and outcomes, as well as His interactions with the free-decisions made by human beings. How is it that God's omnipotence on the one hand and human responsibility on the other do not conflict? This millennia-old discussion will not be solved in this post, nor can it claimed to be entirely comprehended. We can say at least we do not know how both work, only that they do co-exist, with human self-determination being a reality while never cancelling out God's all-pervasive omnipotence in the realm of His will. 

    At bare minimum, what we do know is that God has so chosen to create a world wherein He exercises His Sovereign, omnipotent power through secondary means and causes. The outcomes of time and history are credited to His ultimate purposes, whilst the details and means to getting to those ends, especially when it relates to evil choices, fall completely in the realm of the creature. Two quotes may aid us in grasping this point. The first comes from the Westminster Confession of Faith's declaration of God's Providence, 

"Although, in relation to the foreknowledge and decree of God, the first Cause, all things come to pass immutably, and infallibly; yet, by the same providence, He orders them to fall out, according to the nature of second causes, either necessarily, freely, or contingently." 

    The second quote showing God's omnipotent will and man's responsibility to be complementary is found in the Baptist Faith and Message's summary: 

"God is all powerful and all knowing; and His perfect knowledge extends to all things, past, present, and future, including the future decisions of His free creatures."

    God's power, though being potentially unlimited in regards to what He can do in the realms of the very small and very large, is nonetheless governed by His own internal character. When we say "governed", we are referring to the fact that there are things God "cannot do". The old familiar question, "could God create a rock to heavy for Himself to lift", is ultimately a meaningless question, since it entails a logical contradiction - something which would conflict with God's orderly and perfect nature. 

    God cannot do what which is logically impossible, since He Himself is the source and standard of what we mean by logic. We know that God "cannot lie" nor sin (Habakkuk 1:13; Titus 1:2; Hebrews 6:18), since God is by nature Holy and just. Henceforth God governs the boundaries (if we can use such a term) of His omnipotence. As the later author Herbert Lockyer once quipped,

"God is a being, that, if compared to a circle, has a center that is everywhere and a circumference that is nowhere".   

Closing thoughts

    In bringing the true practical meaning of this attribute home to the Christian, Tozer writes, 

"Omnipotence is not a name given to the sum of all power, but an attribute of a personal God whom we Christians believe to be the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ and of all who believe on Him to eternal life. The worshiping man finds this knowledge as source of wonderful strength for his inner life. His faith rises to take the great leap upward into the fellowship of Him who can do whatever He wills to do, for whom nothing is hard or difficult because He possesses power absolute." 

    Nothing in the created realm limits God. He and He alone is God. Let us then worship Him today that is the One, omnipotent Creator, Redeemer and Ruler of the universe. 

Thursday, November 30, 2023

Post #24 The Doctrine of God - P2 The Attribute of Divine Perfection, Reflections And Applications


    In our last post we began to look at the Divine attribute of God's perfection here We had offered a provisional definition of God's Divine perfection, "God as the most perfect being is, in-and- of-Himself, incapable of improvement." Put another way, God is "completely complete". We noted in the last post how God's perfection can operate as a communicable attribute - something He shares with His creatures. In this post, we will explore the incommunicable side of this attribute. To remind the reader, an "incommunicable" attribute speaks of what is unique to God, unshared with His creatures.  

    The 11th century theology Thomas Aquinas devotes the fourth question of His massive work "Summa Theologiae" upon the subject of God's perfection. On three occassions Aquinas notes how God, in His perfection, "lacks nothing that is required to be God". What this means is there is no potential in God of becoming better or worse, stronger ror weaker, wiser or more ignorant. He is entirely Perfect. God does not need anything or anyone to supplement His wisdom, strength, or goodness (see Isaiah 43:10-11; Psalm 46:10-11; Romans 11:34-36; 1 Timothy 6:16). 

Nothing in all of creation is like God

    When we talk of God's perfection as an incommunicable attribute, one thing meant is this, nothing in all creation is like God. A.W. Tozer compares the life and intrinsic value of a little child lost amidst mountains as qualitatively different from all the vastness of such mountains. 

    Tozer tells the story of a group of hikers in the foothills to view a particular mountain. Along the way they are in awe of what they are seeing. For them, that whole mountain range is most supreme. Then suddenly, one of their company screams in panic, for their little three-year old daughter has wandered off. Suddenly the company of hikers become a search party, calling out her name. The little life of a 30lb child is of near-infinite value in comparison to what comparitively is now a large mound of rocks and dirt. When they find the little girl, everything is put into perspective. That mountain scene does not compare to the girl. Multiplied to an infinite degree, not all of creation itself is even close to the perfection of Almighty God. 

    Clearly nothing compares to God. Isaiah raises a rhetorical question in Isaiah 40:18 that points us in the direction of considering God in terms of His Divine Perfection:

"To whom then will you liken God? Or what likeness will you compare with Him?"

I heard one speaker describe God in a lecture, 

"God is the only being who is explained by Himself within Himself. All other entities are characterized by requiring something outside of themselves to account for their existence. God, however, is alone in being His own reason for why He exists".

Why all other concepts of deity are mere idols compared to the One, Perfect God

    We've defined God's perfection, and have attempted to illustrate it. How then can we appreciate it? Why does the Bible labor to show that man-made ideas of deity are products of idolatry? 

    The questions raised earlier in Isaiah 40:18 (as well as the opening text Exodus 15:11) of "who is like God?" forces us to cross a boundary that reason alone cannot. For sure, faith alloyed with reason is needed. Yet, God's revelation from the Bible must be our guide to wing the precarious flight from our created realm to God in His infinite perfection. God's Word and so-called considerations of God's perfection of attributes (i.e. perfect being theology) will act as navigational controls in attempting to express God's perfection.

    Theologian Paul Helm describes what "perfect being theology" as starting with the assumption that God "is a being than which no greater can be conceived". By getting this fundamental thought of "what makes God, God" fixed in my mind, I can then proceed to work through what are often called "great-making properties" (that is, qualities that differentiates God from everything else). For instance, as I think upon God's omnipotence, omniscience, omnipresence, goodness, and wisdom, I draw from that central assumption that God alone doesn't merely contain such characteristics, but is completely complete (i.e perfect) in them. God has always had every attribute we've been discussing in this series, never acquiring them at some point. Some Scriptures that provide the basis for such "Perfect-being theology" are Genesis 22:16; Hebrews 6;13-14; 2 Samuel 7:22; Nehemiah 9:32; Jeremiah 32:18; Titus 2:13; Psalm 95:3; 96:4; 77:13; Exodus 18:11; Psalm 145:13.

     Whenever we speak of God's perfection, are we talking merely of a level above the highest archangel? As to perfection itself being a scale upon which we place people, galaxies and angels - is God somehow at the highest level of that scale? Or ought we consider God's perfection in a completely different sense? God is on a different scale of being - namely His own. 

    Theologian Keith Ward describes this quality of God as "Perfect Being" as: "having the consciousness to enjoy all things beautifully good." 

Isaiah 40:25 has God raising the question we observed in verse 18 of the same chapter:

“To whom then will you liken Me that I would be his equal?” says the Holy One."

    God's perfection (i.e. His quality of being "completely-complete" or "incapable of improvement") makes all other wanna-be deities not worthy of worship. The idols of antiquity were material deities made of precious metals and stone and the ideas of the human imagination. In the Greek and Roman Pantheons, the various deities were always subject to improvement. They each had deficits that required supplementing from their fellow deities.  

    The Apostle Paul critiques such a Graeco-Roman religious system in Acts 17:29 - 

"Being then the children of God, we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and thought of man."

    Is it no wonder that all other so-called deities are concluded as non-existent or human figments, somehow connected to the deceptions of the kingdom of darkness (see 1 Corinthians 10:18-22).
The God of the Bible alone is Perfect. 

God's perfection in relationship to His other attributes
   In terms of moral attributes, we call God's perfection "holiness". Holiness refers to the sum of all His moral attributes (goodness, wisdom, grace, justice, mercy, etc.,) in "perfect union" within His nature as God. Nothing can be added to nor taken away from God as holy. The prophet Micah comments on God's perfect being expressing such Divine moral qualities in Micah 7:18 - 

"Who is a God like You, who pardons iniquity And passes over the rebellious act of the remnant of His possession? He does not retain His anger forever, 
because He delights in unchanging love."

    Other attributes that describe God in His infinite existence are suffused with this quality of Divine perfection. God's Divine Aseity, which refers to His self-sufficiency and independence (from the Latin a se meaning 'from oneself'), expresses His perfection of self-sufficiency, as stated in Isaiah 44:6 - 

“Thus says the Lord, the King of Israel and his Redeemer, the Lord of hosts: ‘I am the first and I am the last, And there is no God besides Me."

    We could speak of other attributes. The point is that God alone is "completely complete" or "incapable of improvement" in regards to His perfection. 

    To summarize, Thomas Aquinas, in the section of his massive work "Summa Theologica" on the topic of Divine perfection, He comments on how God's perfection expresses how He possesses all excellencies of life and wisdom in-and-of Himself, never lacking nor in want. The sun may shine on various objects and possess the qualities of the objects upon which it sheds its light. Still, the sun exhausts its fuel and requires objects for us to appreciate its light. God on the other hand requires neither ourselves nor His creation, since His light is both inexhaustible and undiminished with or without us.  

Applying Divine Perfection To Our Everyday Lives

    So how can God's Divine perfection help me out in everyday life? Three areas come to mind.

1. Worship. 

    For one thing, God's Divine perfection means He is worthy of my worship. When I preach on Sunday morning, sing songs of praise or live daily for Him - I find He alone is worthy. Revelation 4:11 demonstrates how God's perfection is cause for worship around His throne in Heaven:

“Worthy are You, our Lord and our God, to receive glory and honor and power; for You created all things, and because of Your will they existed, and were created.”

2. My thought-life. 

    The 11th century theologian Anselm of Canterbury described God in His perfection of being as:

"the greatest conceivable being, apart from which nothing can be greater conceived". 

    In other words, if I could think of a greater being, then that being would be God. How I think of God is related to my worship of Him. Remember, the God of the Bible is incapable of improvement. Hence, He alone is worthy of my thoughts, my time, my worship. The fact that God by definition is a being of which no other greater being can be imagined (since He possesses attributes like omniscience, omnipotence and all-goodness), then He alone is Perfect, since He is completely-complete or perfect. 

3. Knowing Jesus better.

    A final application of Divine perfection relates to how one thinks of the Lord Jesus Christ. The Divine Person of the Son came to incarnate Himself in true humanity (see John 1:14; Philippians 2:4-11; Colossians 2:9; Hebrews 2:11-14). Touching His divinity, Christ never changes (Hebrews 1:8) and is the same yesterday, today and forever (Revelation 1:8). By way of His incarnation, we discover that Christ took unto His Person a truly human nature so that I as a human being could somehow participate, have access to and enjoy the otherwise inaccessible Divine Perfection of which He shares with the Father and Spirit as One God (see Romans 9:5; 1 Timothy 2:5; 2 Peter 1:3-4). 

    Christ alone, as truly God and truly man, bridges by His Person the otherwise inaccessible, infinite divide between God in His infinite perfection and everything else.  Christ alone makes knowing God in salvation not merely a possibility, but a reality for those who by grace through faith trust in Him as Savior, Lord and Treasure (see John 14:6; Acts 4:12). 

Monday, November 27, 2023

Post #23 The Doctrine of God - P1 God's Attribute of Perfection And How It Sheds Light On Running, The Christian Walk, And Creation.



    In today's post, and the next, we will continue exploring the doctrine of God by noting His attribute of "Divine perfection". So what is Divine perfection? God as the most perfect being is, in-and- of-Himself, incapable of improvement. Put another way, God is completely complete. For now I'll leave that definition as it stands, since we will return to it and expand upon it in the next post. 

    We've noted in a previous post here that there are some attributes of God that we call "communicable" and "incommunicable". In some cases, there are attributes of God which can occupy both categories, meaning that in one respect something like God's "holiness" is shared or communicated to His people. Simultaneously, God's holiness is "incommunicable" or uniquely His own in its intensity and essence. 

    As I will show below, God's attribute of perfection appears to operate similarly. For instance, in one respect, the Bible urges believers to "be perfect as the Heavenly Father is perfect" (Matthew 5:48), suggesting a relative form of perfection in the believer that is ever improving, becoming more and more what Christ had intended the Christian to be. Hebrews 12:15 reinforces this notion by urging Christians to pursue the Lord in sanctification, suggesting that perfection (not sinless perfection, but rather progress of improvement) in sanctification. We find then that "perfection" in this sense is a "communicable attribute". 

    Yet of course we find God's perfection to be an absolute, "incommunicable attribute". "Perfection" as an incommunicable attribute of God is alluded to by Jesus in Mark 10:18, wherein He states, "God alone is Good."  

    In this post, we will approach God's Perfection by first noting its "communicability", beginning in the realm of athletics, through the Christian life, and then noting what we see in the realm of creation. If there were not a communicable side to God's attribute of perfection, we would not know why it is so important in so many areas of knowledge and life. Indeed, as those bearing His image, something about the relative perfection we long for in this life gives us glimpses of the evidence we have the absolute, incommunicable perfection of God Himself. The incommuincable side of God's perfection is what we will focus upon in the next post, noting why it is worthy of our contemplation and pursuit in the Christian life. 

    As Moses wrote under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Exodus 15:11 "Who is like You among the gods, O Lord? Who is like You, majestic in holiness, Awesome in praises, working wonders?"

Striving for perfection in one's pursuit of the Perfect One, Jesus Christ

    Perfection. Although unattainable in this life, yet is what one is to strive for in their Christian walk. Such a reality is of course what God is - Perfect. But let's develop what we mean by this truth by illustrating it. As a runner, I find myself ever striving for improvement. Racing reminds all participants that there are people faster and better than themselves. I've found this true whether running 5k's, 10k's, half-marathons, marathons, or ultra-marathons. Aging certainly reinforces this notion that there are indeed people faster and stronger than myself! The paradox of running is that in discovering how much better I could do, I find the drive to improve. 

    On a spiritual level, I find myself as a Christian ever needing improvement. The biblical term for Christian growth is "sanctification" (see 1 Thessalonians 4:3). As it pertains in the world of athletics, so it does in the Christian life. I always find other Christians that are further along in their faith or deeper in prayer-lives than myself. On a moral, spiritual, and physical level, I as a creature am being what is called "perfected". The use of "perfected" here refers to attainment of an intended design or ultimate goal. When designers test aircraft, they use windtunnels to "perfect" their designs before setting them aloft. Certainly, "perfection" in the moral sense can refer to absence of sin - a reality that is only attainable for the Christian upon death or in the rapture when Christ comes to retrieve His saints, dead and alive (see Hebrews 12:22-24; 1 John 3:1-3). 
    The sense of "perfection" we're emphasizing here has more to do with moral and spiritual conformity to "The Pattern" - the Lord Jesus Christ. This (hopefully) will aid us in our eventual contemplation upon God's "Divine Perfection" in the next post. 

    To understand growth in sanctification in this life, one must see the process as a progression, intermingled with fits and starts. I liken Christian growth in sanctification to an onward and upward slope with little jaggedy edges of ups-and-downs. Interspersed in our seasons of growth are those crisis moments where we decide to trust in God or in ourselves. 
    All Christians ought not to compare themselves to others, but to Christ Himself as their standard, their pattern (see Hebrews 12:1-2). As in the sport of running, recognizing that I strive for perfection, while knowing I won't attain it until I leave this world, paradoxically motivates me to strive all the more. As the late author A.W. Tozer once remarked:

"The paradox of faith is that all at once, when we think we have apprehended God, we are ever in pursuit of Him". 

Beginning to contemplate God's perfection by realizing that nothing compares to Him

    Anything else - whether animals, human beings, galaxies or angels - have room for improvement. We've already worked out this principle in the realm of athletics, as well as how it operates in Christian sanctification. The realm of creation itself stretches our minds to further prepare for contemplating and appreciating God as The Perfect Being. There are other comparable objects and beings that are better, bigger and brighter. Our Milky Way Galaxy, for instance, is physically immense. 

Image result for milky way galaxy

Astronomers tell us that on average, the Milky Way Galaxy is composed of over 100 billion stars and is 100 thousand light years across. Yet, the Andromeda Galaxy, lying some two-million light years distant, is twice as large and may contain over twice as many stars. The James Webb Telescope has discovered galaxies that are not only the most distant observed, but which are also in the same state of maturation and size as our own. While such discoveries are calling into question current theories of galactic evolution, origins, and even the proported age of the universe itself, the Biblical record of God having created all the stars, all at the same time, is yet again scientifically confirmed. Indeed, our universe is vast, yet there is a portion of the created realm greater than it.

    Angels are revealed in over 400 places in the Bible. Whether good or bad, they all exist in varying ranks. While stars and galaxies populate our physical universe in the millions, billions, and trillions, the numbers assigned to the angels advance into the hundreds of trillions (Revelation 5:11). Space does not permit referencing these ranks and powers of angels. Just as in the physical universe, all the angels, archangels, and other such beings are comparable to one another. Although we find good angels and their evil opposites more powerful and more swifter in their rankings, yet there are upper limits. The infinite gulf of being that persists between the lowliest amoeba and God is the same as between the mightiest archangel and God. In other words, His absolute perfection and all other creaturely relative perfection is incomparable.  

    All objects and beings are incomplete by themselves - capable of improvement. Strangely enough, whenever there is room for improvement, and when there is an ultimate standard against which all other standards fall short, we call such a condition "imperfect". Job 15:15 reminds us:

"Behold, He puts no trust in His holy ones, And the heavens are not pure in His sight." 

Our realtively short exercise of approaching God's perfection in its communicable form in creation should cause us to long for dwelling upon His incommunicable, absolute perfection.

Closing of today's post.

    The goal of today's post was to explore how God in someways has communicated or shared His attribute of perfection with His creation, since without it we would not know what such a standard is. The communicability of God's Divine perfection functions in sports, the Christian life, the physical universe, and the angelic realm. Truly, we come to appreciate the beauty of creation, the need for moral and spiritual improvement, and the natural drive to compete as a result of the Perfect Creator's Divine handiwork. God's attribute of perfection refracted through all His creatures points us back to Himself. 
    We also began to see too how God's attribute of perfection is "incommunicable", meaning that there is something about it that is unique to Himself. Clearly nothing compares to God. Isaiah raises a rhetorical question in Isaiah 40:18 that will sets us up for the next post 

"To whom then will you liken God? Or what likeness will you compare with Him?"

Thursday, November 16, 2023

Post #22 - The Doctrine of God - P2 The Attribute of the Love of God - The Varied Ways God Reveals His Love Outside The Trinity


    We noted in our last post in this series here that God's love is that perfection which involves the Self-giving of Himself in and through the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. God's love, like all the other attributes, is His nature, His being, in action. His love has no beginning and no end. We took time last post to develop the thought that God's love properly begins within the life of the Trinity. 

    Further, we noted how this attribute provides access to introducing us to the Doctrine of the Trinity. Even though I do not intend to say much more on the Trinity until future posts in this series, we nonetheless mustn't ever divorce our theology about God's nature and attributes (what God is) from who He is as the Trinity.

    In today's post I want us to cover the remaining expressions of God's love which He reveals in His creation. In addition to the love shared between the Trinity, there are at least four additional expressions of His love. 

    Theologian D.A. Carson wrote a book entitled "The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God". As I said in the last post, God's love is an attribute we think we know much about. Yet, whenever we study the Bible, we find God's love is far richer than we realize. Carson lists five ways the Bible talks about God's love in his book. 

1. The peculiar love of the Father for the Son, and the Son for the Father (page 16). We noted this in the last post. 

2. God's providential care over all which He has made (page 16). 

3. God's salvific stance toward's His fallen world (page 17). 

4. God's particular, effective, saving love toward His elect (page 18). 

5. God's love is directed toward His people in a provisional or conditional way (page 19). 

    For the sake of this post, I'll retool the four remaining headings of Carson as follows,

1. God's beneficient love, or His loving activity toward creation in general.

2. God's benevolent love, or His loving general will toward human beings.

3. God's electing love, that is, the love He expresses more particularly towards sinners He redeems in saving faith.    

4. God's conditioned love, or that love God shows towards His people in their obedience to Him. 

    As we work our way through these expressions, I'll provide Scripture and short exposition for each.  

1. God's beneficient love, or His loving intention toward creation in general.

    This first expression of God's love deals with what theologians call "God's beneficent love", that is, His loving activity towards all He has made. 

    The term "beneficient" derives from the Latin terms "bene" meaning "good" and "facare" meaning "to make, manufacture, to create from nothing". This first term appropriately describes the relationship God intended all along to have with His creation. God's beneficent love is seen in the goodness He expressed toward the creation. Some seven times we see God declaring "it is good" in each completed phase of the creation in Genesis 1. 

    J.P. Boice in his "Abstract of Theology" comments on how this general love of God toward His creation is a spill-over from the love He expresses as Trinity,

"Were God but one person, in this way only could such love be exercised. But in the Trinity of the Godhead, there is found, in the love of the separate persons towards each other, another mode in which this love of complacency may in this highest sense be exercised. Such love is also felt by God for his purposes. As he perceives them to be just, wise and gracious, he approves and regards them with complacent love. But this love extends itself also to the creations, which result from this purpose."

2. God's benevolent love, or His loving will toward rational creatures, particularly human beings in general.

    This second term speaks of God's good ("bene") will ("volens") toward rational creatures, mainly all human beings. Scriptures such as Genesis 1:26-28 and Genesis 9:1-5 speak of man being made in "God's image". God's personal investment and declaration over Adam and Eve in His creation of them tells us that God had general, good, loving intentions toward them. 

    In Job 38 and Psalm 104, we find God sharing with the angels He made the joy of creating our world, an experience that prompted the angels to sing forth in joy from the moment they were made. Such benevolent love, also called by an older term, "love of complacency", refers to God's "bent" in the direction of wanting the very best for all He made. J.P. Boice explains,

"This love of complacency, however, as it is exercised in its highest degree towards himself, so also is it exhibited, in the nearest approach to that, towards those beings who are most like himself, having been made in his nature and likeness. An innocent angel, or an innocent man is therefore by nature a joy to God, as is the child to the father who sees in it a peculiar likeness to himself."

    Even after the fall of our first parents, resulting in the intrusion of sin into our world an all humanity (Romans 5:12-21), God's benevolent will never changed. Paul writes in Romans 8:20-21, 

"For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God."

    God's benevolent love includes His love toward all people of all nations. We read in Ezekiel 18:33 that God does not rejoice over the death of the wicked. Jesus had "a love" for the young man who inquired about what he must do to be saved (Mark 10:21). This general sort of love did not lead to the man expressing saving faith. Nevertheless, one cannot say Jesus did not have a general sort of love toward people. 

3. God's electing love, that is, the love He expresses more particular towards sinners He redeems in saving faith.

    This third expression of God's love deals with the type of love God has towards those sinners whom He chose to love from before the beginning of time for the sake of the Son (John 10:29; 2 Timothy 1:9; Titus 1:2). Such love arose from within God Himself, without beginning. Such love was without prompting from whatever He knew these particular sinners would choose or not choose ahead of time (see Ephesians 1:4-5). God, being God, chose upon whom He desired to show mercy (Romans 9:14-15).  

    Such truth as God's electing love in salvation has occupied every Baptist confession of faith since the Reformation and every major church father in centuries leading up to the Reformation. The Baptist Faith and Message 2000, in its fifth article, is but the latest example, 

"Election is the gracious purpose of God, according to which He regenerates, justifies, sanctifies, and glorifies sinners. It is consistent with the free agency of man, and comprehends all the means in connection with the end. It is the glorious display of God’s sovereign goodness, and is infinitely wise, holy, and unchangeable. It excludes boasting and promotes humility."    

    God's electing love is found in roughly one-hundred places in the Bible. If we didn't have Sovereign election, we wouldn't have redemptive history. For instance, God's electing purpose of grace was responsible for choosing Israel from all other nations to be His people (Deuteronomy 7:7-9; Amos 3:1-7). His electing purpose included the Son going to be incarnated as the man Jesus Christ, who alone is the way, the truth, and the life (Isaiah 42:7 and John 14:6). His electing purpose of grace explains the "why" of human salvation. 

    We know the "what part", that is, "what must I do to be saved?" Answer, "believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be saved" (Acts 16:31). Then there is what I call "the who part". In whom must I believe in order to be saved? "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you shall be saved" (Acts 16:31, Romans 10:9). 

    We all understand the "what" and the "whom" of saving faith. But now, why does anyone believe? This "why" part is explained by the mystery of God's elective purpose of grace. The old hymn "I know in whom I have believed", based off 2 Timothy 1:12 and found in both Baptist and United Methodist Hymnals, expresses it this way in its second stanza,

"I know not how this saving faith to me he did impart, nor how believing in his word, wrought peace within my heart."

    The old hymn has it right. I cannot comprehend how God's elective purpose of grace in election and the necessity for belief and repentance fit together. I know not "how" they fit, only "that they fit". This mystery is paralleled in not comprehending how the Divine will and human will of the incarnate Son of God operate within His person. They do not mix. They do not contradict. They do not morph into each other. They each, in the language of the old Chalcedonian Creed of 451 A.D., "retain their own particular properties". 

    Just as we cannot deny the two wills resident in the two natures of our Savior, each with its will in no conflict in the same person - the Savior, so it is in the Bible's portrayal of God's electing love in choosing sinners and their necessity to respond to His call in the choosing of Him. 

    The mystery of God's Sovereign will and the human will in the Person of our Savior explains why Biblical plan of salvation has this similar mystery. God's electing love ought to be cause for praise and humility, causing us to go to all people with God's command to all men to believe, repent, and be saved. 

4. God's conditioned love, or that love God shows towards His people in their obedience to Him. 

    So we've looked at God's eternal love within the Trinity, His benevolent love, beneficent love, and electing love. This final expression of God's love has to do with how God shows His love to the Christian in their obedience. When I give in stewardship, I am told God will supply my needs (Philippians 4:19). When I yield to God's will in obedience, I am told He will guide me in every step (Proverbs 3:5-6; 16:9). The believer's obedience is not the cause of God's love. Rather, God's love is what prompts the believer to obey Him (1 John 4:18). 

Closing thoughts

    As we noted in the last post, theologian Wayne Grudem defined God's love as, "God's love means He eternally gives of Himself to others". As we have spent time meditating on this attribute, the above definition applies, whether speaking eternally of God's love within the persons of the Trinity and His intention to show electing love, or to His generalized love expressed in time in creation and to all people. God's love is rooted in the kind of God He is - the God who loves. May these reflections cause us to praise this wonderful God!

Friday, November 3, 2023

New Book Announcement! My Wife Has Published Her First Book: "Next Of Kin"


    Today's post is a special announcement regarding my wife D. Emily Smith. She has published her first book, "Next of Kin", and today it has released for sale to the public. The volume is a Christian fiction novel, with a page-turning plot and clear Gospel message. Readers may go to Amazon to view the book and purchase it here

Tuesday, October 31, 2023

Happy Reformation Day 2023 - The Importance Of The Protestant Reformation And Two Contemporary Challenges



       I begin today's post by quoting from Paul's letter to the Church at Rome in Romans 4:1-3,

"What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh, has found? 2 For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.”

       Today, October 31, will mark a significant date on the calendar. Many people may think of "Halloween" when I mention October 31st. However, there is a far greater set of reasons to celebrate. An event of historic proportions occurred over 500 years ago that would shape the course of Christianity even to this day - the Protestant Reformation. 

The big deal that led to the Protestant Reformation

      What was the Reformation? In 16th century Europe, cries for reform in the Medieval Catholic Church ensued. Within the church, 14th century Christian thinkers such as John Huss and John Wycliffe preached sermons that urged people to "return to the Gospel" by "returning to the Book" - the Bible. Moral, spiritual and theological corruption invaded the church in Europe through centuries of accumulated human tradition and Biblical illiteracy. Roman Catholic scholars such as Desiderius Erasmus (who would become a major theological opponent of Martin Luther, the historically recognized initiator of the Protestant Reformation) was even urging the need for reform.  

       Early 16th century Germany was ripe for the actions of Martin Luther when he nailed a public document to the door of the church in Wittenburg Germany. Luther challenged Roman Catholic leaders to a public debate over the abuse of Pope Leo X selling documents which promised less time in purgatory in order to pay for the construction of the then new St. Peter's Basilica (Church) in Rome. This peddling of lessening people's time in purgatory was known in those days as "selling of indulgences". The Roman Catholic Church taught that an over abundance of merit before God was "indulged" or available at the appropriate price. Many people sought to purchase these documents with the thought of their dead loved ones having an easier time in the after-life. Astute thinkers like Martin Luther knew that this idea was not taught in scripture (that is, indulgences and Purgatory itself). 

How the Reformation got to the root of major spiritual problems and the point of this post

      The Reformation would soon get to the root of the problems abounding in 16th century European spiritual life. Those problems include ultimate authority (the Bible or the church?) Another issue what this "how is a person justified" or "made right before God"? Is faith alone in Christ sufficient to receive such justification or is participation in the church's sacramental system required to attain righteousness? 

      The two issues of ultimate authority for Christianity and how a person is made right with God ever remain top areas of contention in our world. As we think about October 31, all Bible believing groups, including Southern Baptists, are deeply indebted to what God did through the Protestant Reformation that began on October 31st, 1517. Today's post is aimed at issuing forth two direct challenges to Southern Baptists and all other Bible believing groups about Reformation Day, October 31st: 

1. A rejoicing challenge.
2. A take back challenge. 

1. The Challenge to Rejoice 

      So why rejoice over Reformation day, October 31st? Three reasons....

a. The recovery of "sola scriptura
    or "scripture alone"

      First of all, as mentioned already, the root or "formal cause" of Luther's "call for reform" had to do with ultimate authority in the Christian life and church. Martin Luther had become a professor of theology in 1512, tasked with the responsibility of expounding books of the Bible to theology students. As he wrestled with lack of peace in his own soul, the matter of ultimate authority would throb in the backdrop of his mind. Yes, Luther would come to terms with the "material cause" of the Reformation - the doctrine of justification or "how a person is made right with God". He did so by his preparation of lectures on Paul's letter to the Romans. Yet, in the years following his "Tower experience" conversion in 1515, Luther would champion the view of Jesus and the Apostles - "Scripture alone". In short, "sola scriptura" affirms that the Bible, not human tradition, constitutes the grounds of authority that shapes life, explains the after-life and addresses the conscience.

    To sharpen what Luther was needing to address in the Reformation, the big question was this: is it the Pope and his statements concerning who went to heaven and who did not constitute the ultimate authority for the church, or is it sacred scripture that God alone revealed to communicate matters pertaining to this life and the one to come?

    As Martin Luther wrestled over such questions, his conclusion was - Scripture alone! Doubtless, other forms of authority such as church leadership, conclusions from reason and other forms of knowledge had their place in Luther's thinking. Yet, all of those said authorities were subsumed under scripture. Luther and other Reformers, such as Ulrich Zwingli, John Calvin, John Knox and others affirmed the "magisterial" role of scripture in its relationship to reason, tradition and church leadership.

b. The recovery of justification by 
    faith alone or "sola fide" (faith 

      So the recovery of Scripture and its unique authority (sola scriptura) is the first cause of celebration. The second reason to rejoice over October 31st and Reformation Day is due to the recovery of the Gospel of Justification by Faith Alone (sola fide). In contrast to the man-made traditions of the Roman Catholic Church of the Middle Ages, Luther and those after him re-asserted the Biblical truth that faith by itself is both the necessary and sufficient means of receiving the gift of salvation. Old Testament passages such as Genesis 15:6 and New Testament passages such as Ephesians 2:8-9 affirm "sola fide"  or salvation by means of "faith alone". Thus, justification by faith alone became the central doctrine, "the stuff" or "material cause" driving the vehicle of the Protestant Reformation. The doctrine of scripture alone (sola scriptura) was Luther's fuel in the engine that drove His call for reform - Justification by faith alone (sola fide). Luther himself noted that Justification by Faith is the one article upon which the church rises or falls.

c. Recovering the truth about the Biblical concept of the church

      We've observed "sola scriptura" (Scripture's unique authority) and "sola fide" (the only means of receiving the Gospel is by faith alone apart from works). The third reason to celebrate Reformation Day, October 31st, is because the Biblical concept of the church was recovered. 

    A phrase that historians and theologians use to summarize the need to continue reformation of the church is "semper reformanda" (always needing to reform"). What this little Latin phrase is driving at is that no church can ever claim they have become perfectly Biblical in their practices, doctrine, and life. In as much as the Protestant Reformation was a historical movement, the work of keeping the church Biblical, and ensuring such, is an ongoing task. 

    As Martin Luther denounced the Roman Catholic Church's system of indulgences, a second question emerged: how is a man or woman made right with God? A church that does not derive its authority from the scriptures nor teaches the Biblical concept of the Gospel - justification by faith alone, cannot be deemed a true church. 

        Roman Catholicism of 16th century Europe, as well as today, communicates faith to be necessary for salvation - however it teaches that faith by itself is not sufficient.  According to Rome, one must participate in the Roman Catholic church system of baptism, confession, penance and Mass to be deemed right by God and to stay right.  The Gospel in the Reformation's recovery of the church shined forth not as a candle but as a brilliant sun. If God had not raised up men like Martin Luther to spark the Reformation movement, then the recovery of Biblical authority, justification by faith in the Gospel and the necessary truth of the local church may had turned out quite different.
        So we need to answer the challenge to celebrate Reformation day due to what God did in calling us back to the Bible, the Gospel and the Church. 

2. The Take-Back Challenge: Let's take back October 31st and celebrate God's Word, the Gospel and Jesus' mission for His church

       We've look at the challenge to rejoice over what God did in the reformation of the 16th century. So what about today? This brings us to our second challenge - "the take-back challenge". It is time to take back October 31, and use this day to proclaim the truth of scripture and the reformation, sparked on October 31, 1517. Truly the message of the Reformation is a message about "after darkness, light" (post tenebras lux).  Gospel Light, not darkness, should characterize our lives as Christians.  

      October 31st has been for years a time for paganism to observe one of the so-called "spirit nights" on their yearly calendar.  Rather than promoting a day of darkness and wickedness, witches, ghosts and goblins, Christians need to take a God-centered event like the Reformation and remind themselves of how God led His church back to the Bible, the Gospel of justification by faith alone and recovery of the Biblical concept of the church.  
        The Reformation was about calling forth people from spiritual darkness into the light of Jesus Christ.  Someone once said, "it is more effective to light a candle than merely curse the darkness".  Let's light the Gospel light and shine the glory of the Gospel.  As Jesus said in Matthew 5:16 

“Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven."