Friday, April 27, 2018

God's Divine Perfection - Definitions, Reflections And Applications

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Exodus 15:11 "Who is like You among the gods, O Lord? Who is like You, majestic in holiness, Awesome in praises, working wonders?"

Introduction: Why Nothing Can Ever Be Like God

As a runner, I find myself ever striving for improvement. My plans are to run a 10K race tomorrow and a half-marathon in two weeks. Racing reminds all participants that there are persons faster and better than themselves. The paradox of running is that in finding out 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). I always find other Christians that are further along in their faith or deeper in prayer than myself. On a moral, spiritual and physical level, I as a creature am being perfected. As 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". 

Anything else - whether animals, human beings, galaxies or angels - have room for improvement. There are other comparable objects and beings that are better, bigger and brighter. Our Milky Way Galaxy, for instance, is physically immense. 

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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. Angels are revealed in over 400 places in the Bible. Whether good or bad, they all exists in varying ranks. They are comparable to one another. 

There are always stronger angels, bigger galaxies and better runners. All objects and beings are incomplete by themselves - capable of improvement - viz. imperfect. Job 15:15 reminds us:

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

Even angels, which are spiritual beings devoid of sin, possess a creaturely form of perfection that is ever possible for improvement (that is, arch-angels have a level of perfection that their angelic counterparts do not possess). 

Nothing in all creation is like God. The Danish philosopher Soren Keirkegaard once used the somewhat cumbersome phrase: "infinite-qualitative distinction" to describe God's quality of life and perfection to that of His creation. In a more clearer description, 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. 

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 author Ravi Zacharias describe God once in a lecture, which fits well within our topic of "Divine Perfection":

"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".

Ravi Zacharias' thoughts may aid us in approaching what we mean when we speak of Divine Perfection.

Arriving At What We Mean By God's Perfection

This question raised 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 cross. Faith alloyed with reason is needed 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.

But now what about God? 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? Answering this question is part of the project of what we call "perfect being theology". 

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. 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. 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. These schemes of religion, wherein multiple deities are worship, is called "polytheism". All forms of polytheism either collapses in on itself or requires the invention of more sub-deities by its devotees. 

No concept of Divine perfection was conceived of in ancient Greece and Rome (even though such a quality was sought after and much discussed). 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. 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 the great theologian Thomas Aquinas in his section of his massive work "Summa Theologica" on the topic of Divine perfection, God's perfection refers to how He possesses all excellencies of life and wisdom in an 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? 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.”

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. However, 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. 

One 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. Truly 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).  

Saturday, April 21, 2018

How God's Grace And Wisdom Frame The Book Of Romans

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Romans 16:25-27 "Now to Him who is able to establish you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery which has been kept secret for long ages past, 26 but now is manifested, and by the Scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the eternal God, has been made known to all the nations, leading to obedience of faith; 27 to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, be the glory forever. Amen."


Have you ever turned to the back cover of a book to see how it ended? Paul's letter to the church at Rome is consider his most important. The Epistle to the Romans presents a full treatment on the theological and practical implications of the Gospel. The introductory section to Romans contains themes that mesh well with the closing of the book. Romans 1:1-7 states:

"Paul, a bond-servant of Christ Jesus, called as an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, 2 which He promised beforehand through His prophets in the holy Scriptures, 3 concerning His Son, who was born of a descendant of David according to the flesh, 4 who was declared the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead, according to the Spirit of holiness, Jesus Christ our Lord, 5 through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles for His name’s sake, 6 among whom you also are the called of Jesus Christ. 7 to all who are beloved of God in Rome, called as saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ."

How God's Grace and Wisdom Frame The Book Of Romans

The introduction, Romans 1:1-7, describes how people are brought to saving faith in Jesus through the Gospel. The closing verses of Romans 16:25-27 focus upon the basis upon which the Gospel rests. 

As a note: the reader is urged to view the underlined portions I have underscored in the texts of today's post, since we will recall them later in this post. 

It is with the beginning and end that we respectively witness the means by which sinners are won to faith and the marvelous foundation upon which faith in the Gospel is rooted. The signature note of Romans 1:1-7 is that of God's grace. The closing melody of Romans 16:25-27 is that of God's wisdom. 

God's grace is God doing and providing for us what we could never provide nor achieve by ourselves. God's wisdom involves God's use of His divinely appointed means (both good and bad) to achieve His most noble ends (which are always good), (see Genesis 50:20; Romans 8:28). Therefore we see two book-ends to the book of Romans: God's grace and God's wisdom. 

What details about God's Grace and Wisdom Bracket the Book of Romans

We have observed how God's grace and wisdom function as book-ends to hold together the Book of Romans. The question is, what details of each of these attributes of grace and wisdom depict God's work in salvation? If we look first at Romans 1:1-7, wherein is expressed God's grace in human salvation, we find a particular chain of avenues by which God ordained to bring forth the Gospel to sinners:

1. "through His prophets", 1:2

2. "through whom we have received", i.e. Christ, 1:5

3. "among whom", i.e. the nations or gentiles, individual sinners are lovingly called by God, 1:6

When Paul speaks of "through the prophets", that is theological shorthand for the Old Covenant or Old Testament scriptures. We mustn't forget the foundation of scripture as the chief instrument by which human salvation derives (see 2 Timothy 3:15; Hebrews 4:12; James 1:18; 1 Peter 1:23). 

This first "instrument" of scripture, that God in His grace uses to call forth sinners, points beyond itself to Christ. Christ is the center and circumference of the prophetic scriptures (see Luke 24:44). Christ is the one by whom grace is channeled and is the source of all salvation by grace through faith (John 14:6; Acts 4:12; 1 Timothy 2:5; Titus 2:11). 

Then the last instrumental means that God uses to channel His redemptive grace to sinners are the nations themselves. Passages such as Matthew 24:14 and Romans 11 detail how God is calling forth all kinds of people from every nation to respond to His gracious call. Both God's general revelation, or non-saving common grace on all men, as well as His focused saving grace on sinners in each nation, provide the context of genuine responses of faith to the Gospel. None can say they have not somehow benefited from all Christ achieved. For those persons that truly respond to the Gospel, the same shall be redeemed (Ephesians 2:8-9; Romans 10:8-9). Anyone saved by grace through faith can only credit God's saving grace for their salvation  (see 2 Corinthians 4:1-6). All others that persist in their refusal of the Gospel or actively reject God's revelation of His power through the general revelation of creation and the conscience perish in their sins as consequent of their choice to refuse God's well-meant offer of grace (John 3:36; Acts 13:46-47). 

Interestingly, when we turn to the closing verses of Paul's masterpiece of Romans 16:25-27, we find three related categories as those found in Romans 1:1-7. The following function as foundations for the Gospel as expressions of God's wisdom:

1. "according to my Gospel", Romans 16:25, i.e. "according to the Gospel as preached by me". Paul is the author of Romans and apostle to the nations. The Gospel he preaches was taught to Him by Christ following his conversion (see Galatians 1-2). This is the message of the Gospel which he states was "handed down to him" as Christ's death, burial, resurrection and post-resurrection appearances according to the scriptures (see 1 Corinthians 15:1-10). It is the Gospel which comprises the key theme of Romans itself (see Romans 1:16-17). The Gospel expresses God's wisdom and derives from Him (see Romans 11:33-36). 

2. "according to the revelation", Romans 16:25, i.e. the mystery as hidden from plain sight to the Old Testament prophets but fully disclosed in the New Testament. This mystery is two-fold. Firstly, how God would send forth Christ, the second Person of the Trinity, to incarnate Himself in the humanity of Jesus of Nazareth. Then secondly, included in the mystery was the commissioning of the church as the main instrument for propagating the Gospel in this present age until Christ's return (see Matthew 24:14; 28:18-20). 

3. "according to the commandment of the eternal God", 16:26. The Gospel is rooted in the "all-wise God". The covenant of redemption agreed upon by the Father, Son and Spirit concerning the Son's incarnation and plan of salvation came before the creation of the world (see Isaiah 43:10-11; 2 Corinthians 5:15-21; Ephesians 1:1-14; 2 Timothy 1:9; Titus 1:2; Revelation 13:8). God found it best to raise up a chosen nation among the nations, namely Israel, in the Old Testament (see Exodus 19; Deuteronomy 7:1-9; Amos 3:1-4). Once Christ came, God temporarily set-aside Israel so as to call for all sorts of people from every nation and language (including those among the Jews) to compose His church. Romans 11 spells out the two complementary arrangements God has for Israel and the nations. The salvation of the nations will drive Israel to jealousy to pine after the Messiah - Christ. Meanwhile in temporarily setting aside Israel, the nations get the chance to hear the Gospel in this present age. Once Christ returns, Israel as a nation (not necessarily every individual Jew) will be redeemed upon seeing her Messiah (see Romans 11:25-26; Revelation 1:7). This combined arrangement enables sinners responding to the Gospel call to compose the body of Christ - i.e. the church. 

Closing thoughts:

When one takes the time to read the introduction and conclusion to Paul's epistle to the Romans, the discovery is made of God's grace and wisdom framing the letter. The details are extraordinary when we begin to see how God's grace (Romans 1:1-7) and wisdom (Romans 16:25-27) weave their ways like two threads of gold through the tapestry of Romans. May we look today to the God of grace who is all wise in setting forth salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. 

Friday, April 13, 2018

The Holiness of God

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Isaiah 6:3 “Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord of hosts, The whole earth is full of His glory.”


Sometimes there is still an advantage to owning a car with a cassette player. This past week I had the occasion to listen once again to R.C. Sproul's classic teaching series: "The Holiness of God" (I happened to have the original 1988 cassette tapes). Dr. Sproul passed away in December 2017. Through his books and message are now available online, the legacy of his concern for Biblical truth continues. Out of all the things he taught, "the holiness of God" stands as his signature teaching series. I'll never forget the time I read his book by the same name: "The Holiness of God". The truth of God's holiness was never so made clear as it was in R.C. Sproul's book and teaching series. 

Re-listening to the series reminded me of the crucial importance of the holiness of God. In the above opening text of Isaiah 6, we find God's holiness repeated in redounding praise three times. Many commentators have noted that as each angel cried out "holy, holy, holy", another angel would join in antiphonal chorus, then another, and another - resulting in all of Heaven filled with this overwhelming theme of God's holiness. 

I find it interesting that Isaiah, the first of the writing prophets, highlights this quality of God in the escalated degree of what is called in the Hebrew "plural of majesty". Holiness alone, among all the attributes, is thrice mentioned. John the Revelator, the final author of scripture, repeats this same refrain in his vision of God in Revelation 4:8

"And the four living creatures, each one of them having six wings, are full of eyes around and within; and day and night they do not cease to say, Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God, the Almighty, who was and who is and who is to come.”

Briefly defining "the holiness of God"

The Baptist Faith and Message 2000 states about God's holiness:

"God is infinite in holiness and all other perfections."

On one level, holiness can and often refers to moral purity. We often refer to the "Bible" as "the Holy Bible" because of the purity and reverence it carries. However, the idea of "moral purity" is but a starting point when thinking of this quality of God. Whenever we apply holiness to objects or other people, it connotes "separation". In scripture, we find the distinction made between "the profane" or "common" and "the holy". Once God has touched a particular object or person, that individual or object is "set-apart" from the surrounding space. Wherever God in His deity intersects with our human experience - such experience is described as "sacred". Space and time itself is made holy or "sacralized" whenever God acts and works within a particular point and time. 

A.W. Tozer writes the following on God's holiness in his landmark book: "Knowledge of the Holy":

"God’s holiness is not simply the best we know infinitely bettered. We know nothing like the divine holiness. It stands apart, unique, unapproachable, incomprehensible and unattainable. The natural man is blind to it. He may fear God’s power and admire His wisdom, but His holiness he cannot even imagine. Only the Spirit of the Holy One can impart to the human spirit the knowledge of the holy. Yet as electric power flows only through a conductor, so the Spirit flows through truth and must find same measure of truth in the mind before He can illuminate the heart. Faith wakes at the voice of truth but responds to no other sound. “Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.”

God is intrinsically holy

God alone is "Holy" in the most essential sense. Sometimes theologians and philosophers make the distinction between something having "intrinsic value" versus "extrinsic value". The former refers to the value a person or object has in and of itself apart from considerations of outside related objects or people. Extrinsic value refers to how an object or person is valuable relative to another person or object outside of itself. 

God alone is intrinsically Holy. He was holy before creation. He is holy regardless of whether we exist or do not exist. In fact, we could add a third definition of God's holiness - namely, the uniqueness of God in His being. New Testament scholar D.A. Carson has noted that out of all the adjectives used to describe God's holiness, "uniqueness" gets us the closest. God's intrinsic holiness has led many thinkers to refer to God as "Wholly Other", as well as of course referring to Him by the similar sounding phrase: "Holy Other". We could clarify holiness further by reinforcing it with the definition: "uniquely other".

Some Biblical Texts That Speak Of God's Holiness

Numerous texts could be cited to demonstrate the volume of Biblical teaching on God's holiness. However, for sake of space, we will reserve ourselves to a handful of key texts on this subject. Proverbs 9:10 is the text from whence derives Tozer's book mentioned above: "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding." Psalm 99:1-3 gives us one of the clearest expositions on God's holiness:

"The Lord reigns, let the peoples tremble; He is enthroned above the cherubim, let the earth shake! 2 The Lord is great in Zion, And He is exalted above all the peoples. 3 Let them praise Your great and awesome name; Holy is He."

From Psalm 99, we learn how God's holiness informs us of His other attributes. Holiness is what makes God, God. Holiness is all of God's goodness and attributes in concentrated, unapproachable, uncreated light. Other qualities of God, such as His divine necessity (that is, God cannot be other than what He is); Divine aseity (that is, God's self-sufficiency and independence); transcendence (that is, God quality of infinite life unshared by any creature, as well as He alone being the Creator of all things) and sovereignty (that is, God's eternal government and influence over, in and through all things) are all realities because of God's holiness. Holiness is both an attribute of God and His essential quality. Holiness also informs the other attributes of love and govern His character. 

How Christ's Holiness is Truly Divine Holiness

Whenever we come to the New Testament, we discover further truths of holiness. To save on the length of today's post, we will restrict ourselves to the Person of Christ in the Gospels. Holiness describes Christ. In Mark 1:24, the demonic host refers to Christ as "the Holy One of God". Luke 1:35 ascribes this quality of holiness to Christ not only due to His Divine nature as God, but also as a result of His assumption of true humanity in the virginal conception by the Holy Spirit. Peter confesses Jesus to be
the Holy One of God" in John 6:69. This quality of holiness in Christ is not the extrinsic holiness we mentioned earlier that results from people or objects touched by God. Christ as the eternal Son of God came as "intrinsically holy". Furthermore, as a Divine Person becoming incarnate, Christ's humanity meant that in a unique way, the incarnate Son's humanity was "intrinsically holy". Peter's response to Jesus' calming of the storm on the Sea of Galilee in Luke 5:8 is much like how people and angels would respond when in the presence of God: 

"But when Simon Peter saw that, he fell down at Jesus’ feet, saying, “Go away from me Lord, for I am a sinful man!” 

As we look at Christ's ministry in the Gospels, we find both repulsion and intrigue. Christ's uniqueness and unparalleled life and ministry marked Him separate. His touch upon sinners rendered them saints. His commissioning of twelve unlikely men resulted in those men becoming apostles. 

Closing thoughts on God's holiness - Applications

Christ's expression of holiness was unique, pure and "wholly other" due to His being God in the flesh. God's holiness is crucial to Christian identity, mission and purpose for living in this world. Is it no wonder that the Christian is called to holiness (see 1 Thessalonians 4:7-8; 1 Peter 1:16). We are called to "be holy, as God is holy". Only with Christ, by the Holy Spirit (Whom we didn't get to discuss in today's post, however, He as the third Person of the Trinity possess the same eternal property of Divine holiness as the Father and Son) can the Christian live out this command. 

Friday, April 6, 2018

The Transcendence of God - Meaning, Significance and Applications

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Isaiah 55:8-9 “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,” declares the Lord. 9 “For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
So are My ways higher than your ways
And My thoughts than your thoughts."


In the last post we began considering two properties of God's being that work together to reveal what kind of God He is and who He is. We began the last post with the following question: "what is God like?" We focused attention on what is called God's immanence and God's transcendence. The last post mentioned both of these traits, with space devoted mainly to defining immanence. We noted that God's immanence has to do with how God is able to make Himself known and felt at every point in the creation. As theologian Wayne Grudem has noted, the term "immanence" literally refers to how God works "in" and "through" creation. 

In today's post we are going to consider the second property of God's being known as "transcendence". 

A way to begin thinking of God's transcendence

A.W. Tozer's book: "Knowledge of the Holy" is an excellent book for exploring the doctrine of God. In his chapter on God's transcendence, Tozer begins with the following thought:

"To think accurately about this, however, we must keep in mind that “far above” does not here refer to physical distance from the earth but to quality of being. We are concerned not with location in space nor with mere altitude, but with life."

In the same chapter, Tozer lays out a very compelling illustration that captures how God's transcendence speaks of the infinite quality of life possessed alone by God:

"It is spirit that gives significance to matter and apart from spirit nothing has any value at last. A little child strays from a party of sightseers and becomes lost on a mountain, and
immediately the whole mental perspective of the members of the party is changed. Rapt admiration for the grandeur of nature gives way to acute distress for the lost child. The group spreads out over the mountainside anxiously calling the child’s name and
searching eagerly into every secluded spot where the little one might chance to be hidden."

Tozer continues:

"What brought about this sudden change? The tree-clad mountain is still there towering into the clouds in breath-taking beauty, but no one notices it now. All attention is 
focused upon the search for a curly-haired little girl not yet two years old and weighing less than thirty pounds. Though so new and so small, she is more precious to parents and friends than all the huge bulk of the vast and ancient mountain they had been 
admiring a few minutes before. And in their judgment the whole civilized world
concurs, for the little girl can love and laugh and speak and pray, and the mountain cannot. It is the child’s quality of being that gives it worth."

Tozer then closes his illustration:

"Yet we must not compare the being of God with any other as we just now compared the mountain with the child. We must not think of God as highest in an ascending order of beings, starting with the single cell and going on up from the fish to the bird to the
animal to man to angel to cherub to God. This would be to grant God eminence, even pre-eminence, but that is not enough; we must grant Him transcendence in the fullest meaning of that word.

Some Attributes of God that are closely related to His transcendence

God's transcendence is what sets Him apart from His creation. As witnessed in the passage from Isaiah 55:8-9, God's thoughts and ways are unlike our own. Moreover, God is much higher than the heavens. These designations refer to God as qualitatively in a category all to His own. 

Closely related attributes of God point the way to God's transcendence. There is what is termed God's "aseity", which refers to God's self-existence and self-sufficiency (see Isaiah 43:10-11; 44:6). 

The first activity of God revealed in the Bible is that of Creator. As the Transcendent cause of the universe, God is both independent of His creation and causally prior to it (see Psalm 33:6 and 1 Corinthians 8:6). 

Since the creation (both the invisible and visible realms) had a beginning in the finite past, this means that the creation as a whole is dependent upon God or what theologians deem "contingent". 

God as the transcendent cause of all things cannot be any other way or thing that what He is. While the universe could had been arranged in a number of ways, and didn't have to exist, such qualities are not ascribable to God. To say God must exist and thus cannot "not-exist" is what we call God's "necessary-being". These attributes of God (namely, God's aseity, creative power and necessity) are just some of the attributes that point the way to this quality of God's transcendence. To neglect God's transcendence would be to neglect God - period!

Some important scriptures that testify to God's transcendence

Some of the most incredible scriptures in God's word expound on this quality of God's being. Psalm 90:2 exclaims:

"Or You gave birth to the earth and the world, even from everlasting to everlasting, You are God."

God's transcendence is revealed clearly in Isaiah 40:28 -

"Do you not know? Have you not heard?
The Everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth does not become weary or tired. His understanding is inscrutable."

Whenever we turn to the New Testament, we find this same property describing the deity of Christ. Colossians 1:16-17 figures prominently in any discussion on Divine Transcendence:

"For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him. 17 He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together."

One more example in the New Testament that highlights Divine transcendence, particular with reference to the Son (and by extension the other two members of the Godhead, since the author is quoting Psalm 102:25-27), is found in Hebrews 1:9-11

But of the Son He says,

“Your throne, O God, is forever and ever, and the righteous scepter is the scepter of His kingdom. 9 “You have loved righteousness and hated lawlessness; Therefore God, Your God, has anointed You With the oil of gladness above Your companions.” 
10 And, “You, Lord, in the beginning laid the foundation of the earth,
And the heavens are the works of Your hands; 11 They will perish, but You remain; and they all will become old like a garment."

Applications and significance of God's transcendence

Whenever we consider God's transcendence, we must also consider the counterpart attribute of Divine immanence. The soul of every human being thirsts for completion and thirsts to worship something greater than itself. Fallen human beings attempt to satiate these impulses in the created order. By bearing the image of God, mankind finds itself coming-up short in attaining these twin goals. The Gospel reveals that the soul's longings for completion and worship are not found in the creation - but the Creator. Theologian Michael Horton comments on how transcendence and immanence work together in God's self-disclosure of Himself ("The Christian Faith: A Systematic Theology For Pilgrims On The Way, Zondervan 2011, page 224):

"On the one hand, the revelation of God's name is a sign of transcendence, measuring the gulf between God's majesty and the human servant. Misusing God's name required the death penalty under the old covenant (Ex 20:7; Lev 24:16). Nevertheless, this name is also a sign of God's immanence, having been given to His people as a pledge of His personal presence, to be invoked in danger and praised at all times." 

God's transcendence means that God is worthy of worship. God's immanence means I can know this God Whom I worship. God makes Himself known to me in the revealed Word of God and by the living Word - the Lord Jesus Christ. 

Closing thoughts:

Today we considered God's transcendence. We noted that this property of God's being sets Him apart from the creation. Some attributes which point the way to God's transcendence include His aseity, creative power and necessity. We also consider some of the key Biblical texts that shed further light on transcendence. We then considered how this quality of God is essential to our worship and adoration of Him. By noting how God's transcendence and immanence function together in His being, we come to better (not comprehensively) understand the God of revealed scripture. 

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

The Immanence Of God - Its Meaning, Significance And Application

Image result for god's immanence
Isaiah 55:6-7 "Seek the Lord while He may be found; Call upon Him while He is near. 7 Let the wicked forsake his way and the unrighteous man his thoughts; And let him return to the Lord, and He will have compassion on him, and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon."


What is God like? Whenever we endeavor to answer such a question, we are treading upon the holiest of ground. The prophet Isaiah enables us to behold the God of the Bible with our faces to the ground while at the same time experiencing what it is like in the cradle of His hand (see Isaiah 40:11 and 40:28). Isaiah 55 stands out as one of the premier chapters in the Bible for considering what God is like. God's very being is defined by two properties that appear, on first glance, to contradict one another: namely, God as "immanent" and "transcendent". As one considers more closely the Bible's revelation of God, these two truths function as twin pillars that inform the Biblical view of God.

Briefly defining "immanence" and "transcendence"

When I say "immanence", I refer to the quality of God's being that grants Him access to every point in the created realm. Theologian Wayne Grudem describes immanence as having to do with God working "in" and "through" His creation. Whenever I speak of "transcendence", I mean that quality of God's being that renders Him distinct and "above" His creation. 

Both of these properties of God's being keep in mind that God is the transcendent Creator, distinguished from His creation, that is ever Personally and immanently involved in the affairs of it. Although scripture distinguishes both of these traits in respective clusters of Biblical texts, we must ever keep in mind that God is both at the same time. Jeremiah 23:23-24 teaches that God is both immanent (i.e. near and at every point) and transcendent (i.e. distinct from and far and above His creation):

“Am I a God who is near,” declares the Lord, “And not a God far off? 24 “Can a man hide himself in hiding places
So I do not see him?” declares the Lord.
“Do I not fill the heavens and the earth?” declares the Lord."

Or again, notice Romans 11:36

"For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen." 

Today's post is going to focus on God's immanence, with the next post dealing with the second quality of God's transcendence. 

Further reflections upon God's immanence

Isaiah 55:6-8 reveals the immanence of God. The reader is encouraged to "seek the Lord while He may be found" and "to call upon Him while He is near". As mentioned already, God's immanence refers to His presence that has equal access to every point in creation. God's omnipresence captures what we mean when we talk of God having causal influence at every point in creation. With regards to  the immanence of God, the additional emphasis is the way in which God desires to make Himself known in those points. 

To illustrate, I as a human being have an immaterial soul and a physical body. As I type, my fingers move over the keys by the intention of my mind. There is not one part of my body that is not equally accessed by my immaterial mind (or soul). Furthermore, whenever I direct my fingers to type, I am imposing my desire to express myself through my fingers, even though I could just as equally wiggle my toes or blink my eyes at the same time. 

Analogies break down of course. Certainly, we are not suggesting that the universe and all of creation functions somehow as God's "body" and that He is somehow the "soul" of the universe. Such an error, called "panentheism" or "process-theology", depersonalizes God and subtracts one of His eternal attributes (usually either His omnipotence, omniscience or both). The point of the comparison is to show that, just as my immaterial self can influence any and every point in my physical body, God (in a far more profound way, which is described by what we'll discuss in the next post, namely His "transcendence") is ever making Himself known to every point in creation.

Some Scriptures that speak about God's immanence  

A handful of scriptures can help round out our discussion on God's immanence. Knowing that God desires to know us and to make Himself known fits under the umbrella of what we mean when we say He is "immanent". Deuteronomy 4:7 states: 

"For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as is the LORD our God whenever we call on Him?" 

God's immanence emphasizes that in addition to being the Ultimate immaterial reality, God is intensely Personal. As a person (revealed firstly as Father), God possesses intellect, emotion, will, intention and wisdom. Remarkably, as immanent, the Old Testament's implicit hinting of God as a plurality of persons is made explicit and defined by the New Testament's revelation of God as Tri-Personal. 

Another text, Acts 14:17, speaks on God's sustaining of His creation (i.e. "Providence") by this property of His immanence:

"Yet He has not left Himself without testimony to His goodness: He gives you rain from heaven and fruitful seasons, filling your hearts with food and gladness."

As another text, Job 12:9-10 reminds us - 

“Who among all these does not know that the hand of the Lord has done this, 10 In whose hand is the life of every living thing, and the breath of all mankind?"

One final text before we close out today's post on God's immanence is found in Acts 17:24-27 -  

"and He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation, 27 that they would seek God, if perhaps they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; 28 for in Him we live and move and exist, as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we also are His children."

Closing thoughts

Today we began to consider God's immanence and transcendence. We mostly focused our attention on the former of these, suggesting that God's immanence refers to the quality of God's being that grants Him access to every point in the created realm. God's immanence lies at the background of such important doctrines as God being Personal (and henceforth, Tri-Personality or the doctrine of the Trinity) and His governing of the creation (i.e. "providence"). Knowing that God is "near" means He is knowable and desires for us to know Him. Once a person has by grace through faith trusted in Jesus Christ, the immanence of God is most keenly experienced by the indwelling ministry of the third-Person of the Trinity - the Holy Spirit. Such a redemptive indwelling enables the Christian to experience God's immanence on a most personal level. In the next post, we will consider the other property of God's being mentioned at the beginning: namely, God's transcendence.