Monday, December 30, 2019

How to be more spiritually healthy in the upcoming year

Image result for christian spiritual health

Titus 1:1-3 Paul, a bond-servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, for the faith of those chosen of God and the knowledge of the truth which is according to godliness, 2 in the hope of eternal life, which God, who cannot lie, promised long ages ago, 3 but at the proper time manifested, even His word, in the proclamation with which I was entrusted according to the commandment of God our Savior


     What is meant when we talk of healthy churches or healthy Christianity? A healthy church, or Christian, has the following traits: they prioritize God, pray, place others first, prize scripture and have a passion for evangelism. What can you and I do, in dependence upon the Holy Spirit, to become more spiritually healthy in the upcoming new year? Today we will offer the following answers to this question by noting that the primary trait of Christian spiritual health is when we focus on God. Below we will spell out what it takes to focus our attention on the Lord.

1. Live a life sensitive to God.          Titus 1:1,4

      If we make it our business to focus on God, it will cost us much. Our world and culture are certainly not interested in our spiritual health. We will battle distraction, disappointment and discouragements in our quest to focus on God - yet, the effort will be well worth it! When it comes to the individual Christian life or church life, God uses testings of all sorts to make us stronger in our faith. 2 Corinthians 4:17-18 reminds us: 

"For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, 18 while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal."

      When Paul wrote his short letter to Titus, he was urging him to finish up the work that he (Paul) had begun on that island (see Titus 1:5). The island of Crete is a tenth of the size of the state of New York, yet, it was a considerably difficult work. As any survey of the Titus 1:10-16 will discover, Paul and Titus both had their work cut out for them. Nevertheless, Titus had a proven track record of focusing on God in tough situations.

     Titus' life evidenced a sensitivity to God.  We find 12 or so references to him in the New Testament. We know he was used greatly by God in sorting out the mess Paul dealt with at the church of Corinth. In surveying those letters of Paul, we find a couple examples of how Titus cultivated a sensitivity to God. 

a. He refreshed the souls of others

2 Corinthians 7:6 "But God, who comforts the depressed, comforted us by the coming of Titus."

b. He resolved to influence others for God. 

2 Corinthians 8:16 "But thanks be to God who puts the same earnestness on your behalf in the heart of Titus."

      Clearly Titus was a spiritually healthy Christian, called by God to leverage such influence upon other believers. As I was reading the little letter written by Jude, Jesus' half-brother at the end of the New Testament, I found a recipe for cultivating sensitivity to God. Let me cite the text first, then give you the recipe. The text in question is found in
Jude 1:20-21 

"But you, beloved, building yourselves up on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit, 21 keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting anxiously for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to eternal life." 

     Whenever I read that text, I wrote down the following recipe for cultivating sensitivity to God: pursue His word + prayer + practice your faith + put your focus on Christ’s 2nd coming = greater spiritual sensitivity. If we will but consider Titus' example and Jude's words, we will become a more spiritually healthy people and thus, churches. In addition to having a greater sensitivity to God, spiritually healthy people and churches do something else when attempting to focus on God.

2. Lean on the Sovereignty of God.
    Titus 1:1-2
    When we speak of, "God's Sovereignty", we refer to the right He has to have authority over our lives, history and everything. A high view of God, in proportion to a lower view of ourselves, will yield a proper view of everything else. Leaning on God's Sovereignty means I'm trusting Him with the outcomes as I put forth the effort to obey. Psalm 103:19 gives a wonderful description of God's Sovereignty: "The Lord has established His throne in the heavens, And His sovereignty rules over all." Romans 11:36 is my favorite passage in the Bible, since it speaks of how far His Sovereignty extends: 

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

      We can note God's Sovereignty operating in the first two verses of Paul's short letter to Titus.

a. Titus 1:1, “Paul  and apostle”. Sovereignty in sending the Gospel. 

       Paul identifies himself as an "apostle", a "sent one". God sends those that communicate the Gospel to those who need to hear it. Romans 10:14-15 states this truth of God's Sovereignty in the sending of the Gospel: 

"How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher? 15 How will they preach unless they are sent? Just as it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news of good things!”

b. Titus 1:1b Sovereignty in saving faith. 

      We see side-by-side, the necessity of faith to receive the Gospel and God’s Sovereign choosing. The Southern Baptist doctrinal statement, Baptist Faith and Message 2000, notes the following of what we see in Titus 1:1 whenever Paul speaks of doing what he does, "for the faith of those chosen of God" , 

"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."

       The Bible consistently places both God's Sovereignty in salvation beside mankind's need to respond in faith to that salvation. We find the doctrine of election in roughly 100 spots in the Bible. For example, Abraham was chosen by God and called to be a blessing (Genesis 12:1-7; 18:19). Yet, we also find in Abraham's journey with God that: "he believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness" (see Genesis 15:6; Romans 4:3). 

      Within Abraham's own family, we find God choosing Isaac, the younger, over Ishmael, the oldest son (Genesis 17:19). We find that when Isaac had his twin boys, Jacob and Esau, it was Jacob God chose, rather than Esau (Malachi 1:2). Yet, in both Isaac's life and Jacob's, there was a necessary moment where they each needed to respond to God's saving call by faith (Isaac in Genesis 22 and Jacob in Genesis 28). 

      God's Sovereignty in salvation is continued on in the New Testament, with the accompanying response of faith following. Jesus told his disciples in John 15:16 - "You did not choose me, but I chose you." We find of course in that same chapter of John 15 Jesus' repeated emphasis of "abiding in Him", which is another way of exercising trust or faith in Him. In 2 Thessalonians 2:13-14 we read:

"But we should always give thanks to God for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God has chosen you from the beginning for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and faith in the truth. 14 It was for this He called you through our gospel, that you may gain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ." 

     Affirming reliance upon God's Sovereignty gives the Christian, and churches, more reason to actually do evangelism. The Apostle Paul was told in Acts 18:9-11 

"And the Lord said to Paul in the night by a vision, “Do not be afraid any longer, but go on speaking and do not be silent; 10 for I am with you, and no man will attack you in order to harm you, for I have many people in this city.” 11 And he settled there a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them."

      The underlined phrase in Acts 18:10 tells us that God already was at work in specific people in Corinth whom had not yet believed. God didn't tell Paul who they were. Thus, Paul knew that he and his fellow workers needed to share the Gospel with everyone, while trusting God for the results. Although we may not know how God's Sovereignty and human responsibility exactly fit together, all we know is "that they fit together". We are to exercise ourselves in the spiritual disciplines of prayer, Bible reading, corporate worship and evangelism as prescribed to us by the Lord Jesus Christ. Thankfully, such activities are never in vain, since the goals of such efforts are designed by God, and the results are completely in His hands. We can have a greater level of spiritual health in the upcoming year when we focus on God by developing a greater sensitivity to Him and leaning on His Sovereignty. There is one more thought to consider before we close out today, namely.....

3. Look to the scriptures revealed        by God.    Titus 1:3-4

As Paul states to Titus in Titus 1:3-4,

"but at the proper time manifested, even His word, in the proclamation with which I was entrusted according to the commandment of God our Savior, 4 To Titus, my true child in a common faith: Grace and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Savior."

       Paul reminds Titus, and us, that God's Word, the Bible, is the source of not only Christian salvation, but continued growth in sanctification. Put another way, the preaching of the Word of God, week after week, year after year, decade after decade, is aimed at saving the lost and feeding the saints. We read of the importance of looking to the scriptures for our spiritual health in other key passages. Romans 10:17 tells us: So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ. Or again, Romans 15:4 

"For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, so that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope."

    We also find Paul reminding another young pastor, Timothy, of the central place the Word of God is to occupy in the spiritual well-being of his life and the people to whom he serves in 1 Timothy 4:16, 

"Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; persevere in these things, for as you do this you will ensure salvation both for yourself and for those who hear you." 

     The Apostle Peter underscores the necessity of scripture for spiritual health in 1 Peter 1:23-25, 

"for you have been born again not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, that is, through the living and enduring word of God. 24 For, “All flesh is like grass, And all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, And the flower falls off, 25 But the word of the Lord endures forever.” And this is the word which was preached to you."

Closing thoughts:

    As we close out today's post, we have expressed how important it is for spiritually healthy Christians and churches to focus on God. We suggested three practices to accomplish greater spiritual health in the upcoming new year:

1. Live a life sensitive to God.
2. Lean on the Sovereignty of God.
3. Look to the scripture revealed by          God.

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Four reasons for Jesus' virgin-birth

Image result for virgin birth of jesus
Luke 1:35 "The angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy Child shall be called the Son of God."

Galatians 4:4-5 "But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, 5 so that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons."


      Have you ever received a gift that you didn't know what to do with once you had received it?  Some gifts are that way. Whenever we consider the sending of the Son of God – the Lord Jesus Christ – His virgin-birth was the greatest gift ever given. Sadly, very few people grasp why God the Father sent the Son into the world to become man for us. So, why did the Son of God come into our world through the virgin birth? What spiritual significance did it have? Why does it matter to you? Today’s post will center on answering these questions.  

1. Foundational to human salvation - 
    Luke 1:26-31.
    We read in Genesis 3:15

“And I will put enmity Between you and the woman, And between your seed and her seed; He shall bruise you on the head, And you shall bruise him on the heel.”  

     The victory of Jesus over Satan was never in question, since it was predicted He would, “bruise the serpent’s head”. Matthew 1:21 points us to the identity of the “seed of the woman” in Genesis 3:15, 

“She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” 

     What the virgin birth achieved was the bringing-in of the Savior to accomplish the foundation of human salvation. But notice another reason for the virgin birth…

2. Fulfillment of prophecy - Luke 1:32- 

     J. Barton Payne’s, “Encyclopedia of Biblical Prophecy”, lists 127 prophecies fulfilled by Jesus in the course of His first coming. God’s prophetic plan included both good and ill decisions in the bringing about of His prophetic purposes. The question before us is this, “how would God deal with what otherwise would had been a major conflict in His prophetic plan?” 

     Prophecies in the Old Testament describe how God would bring about an ultimate descendant from David’s bloodline to sit on Israel’s throne. Yet, we also read of how one of David’s descendants sinned so badly that God cursed that very bloodline. Jeremiah writes in Jeremiah 22:30

“Thus says the Lord, ‘Write this man down childless, A man who will not prosper in his days; For no man of his descendants will prosper sitting on the throne of David or ruling again in Judah.’” 

     In Joseph’s lineage, recorded in Matthew 1, we find the dreaded cursed-man, Jeconiah, that we read about in Jeremiah (see Matt 1:11). The value of Joseph’s bloodline was to provide legal proof that Jesus had rights to the throne of Israel. However, because of Jeconiah, this otherwise legal bloodline was also cursed. Thankfully, God had already “fool-proofed” the plan of salvation in both its historical, spiritual and prophetic portions. Joseph would not be the biological father of Jesus’ humanity. 

     However, Luke’s Gospel informs us that Mary was also a descendant of King David, reckoned by way of a different descendant of David, hence, a non-cursed bloodline. The virgin birth ensured Jesus’ humanity would both legally make Him heir to the throne while Mary’s made him biologically an heir to the throne. Only in Christ can all conflict cease, and thus, fulfill every prophecy. But notice a third reason for the virgin birth…

3. Fundamental to Jesus’ mission -            Luke 1:34-35.

    The prophet Micah wrote the following words over six-centuries prior to Jesus’ coming in Micah 5:2

“But as for you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, too little to be among the clans of Judah, From you One will go forth for Me to be ruler in Israel. His goings forth are from long ago, From the days of eternity.” 

     Jesus had a mission that required Him, as truly God, to also be, truly man. Other Old Testament scriptures allude to the pending virgin-birth, as we find in Jeremiah 31:22

“How long will you go here and there, O faithless daughter? For the Lord has created a new thing in the earth—A woman will encompass a man.” 

     Indeed, the one “encompassed by a woman” with respect to his humanity would also be eternally Divine. Jesus came to live, to die, to rise from the dead and ascend into Heaven. His mission was clear: pay the price for sin, defeat Satan and become the mediator between God and His people (see Luke 19:10; 1 John 3:8; 1 Timothy 2:5). But now let’s consider a fourth reason for the virgin birth…

4. Forwards us to the cross - Luke 1:36-

     Luke 1:37 has an angel responding to Mary in her question of how she, as a virgin, to bring forth the Son of God in human flesh with the following statement: “nothing is impossible with God”. That word, “impossible”, as it appears in the original Greek text, occurs only one other place in the entire New Testament - Luke 18:26-27. Luke 18:26-27 reads this way, 

“They who heard it said, “Then who can be saved?” 27 But He said, “The things that are impossible with people are possible with God.” 

       Shortly after Jesus spoke those words to His disciples, He then made a prediction about His pending death and crucifixion within a span of a few verses. Notice how God’s ability to bring about the virgin-birth conception is tied directly to the salvation He would accomplish through Christ’s life, death and resurrection. Preachers of old have well said: “the shadow of calvary ever falls on the cradle at Bethlehem.” 

Closing thoughts:

So today we have learned four reasons for the virgin birth:

1. Foundation to human salvation
2. Fulfilled prophecy
3. Foundational to Jesus’ mission
4. Forwards us to the cross

Thank the Lord for the greatest gift that could ever be given – Himself as the Person of the Son, taking unto Himself a true, human nature, through the virgin-birth-conception. 

Thursday, December 12, 2019

The glory of God's attributes

Image result for rays of the sun
1 Timothy 6:16 "who alone possesses immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen or can see. To Him be honor and eternal dominion! Amen."

Purpose of today’s post:

      Today’s post will focus upon God’s “attributes”. If you were to take out your license, you would find basic descriptions or “attributes” about yourself. An attribute is a trait which designates a person or object. We can use a little phrase to summarize this part of our discussion, “what God is”. In the course of this post, we’ll use two categories for talking about God’s attributes: 

1. God’s “communicable attributes”      
    (traits He shares with us).

2. God's “incommunicable attributes” 
   (traits unique to God and unshared 
   with creatures). 

    In Exodus 34:1-8, God revealed to Moses “what He is” – listing His attributes – resulting in Moses’ promptness to worship Him. 

Thinking about the God that reveals Himself
    Four truths stand out about our physical world: it could had been different than what it is and, it had a beginning, the cause to our universe must exist and, there must be a cause to our world that had no beginning. These ideas direct us to starting points for thinking of God. This God has made known what was otherwise unknown to His creatures in activities called, “revelation”. Below we consider two types of revelation.

God is the kind of God that reveals Himself generally in creation and specifically in scripture and through Jesus Christ.

    Biblical passages such as Psalm 19:1-6 and Romans 1:18-20 and 2:14-15 describe how God reveals or “unveils” truths about Himself through all He has created and our human consciences. Such revelation from God through the created realm is what we call: “general revelation”. The task of drawing-out thoughts and assembling them together to describe what we see from such “general revelation” is called: “natural theology”.  All human beings, regardless of where they live or what they believe, have such “in-built” knowledge about God (see Psalm 19:1-6; Romans 1:20-21). General revelation, shining upon the reason of man with such an innate knowledge about God, reveals the following attributes:

1. God is spirit or immaterial, non-
    physical (Acts 17:25-30).         

2. God is invisible (Romans 1:20).

3. God is incomprehensible yet 
    knowable (Job 11:7-8).

4. God is omnipotent or all-powerful 
    (Romans 1:20).

5. God is good, the source of moral 
    values and duties (Matthew 5:45; 
    Romans 2:14-15).

6. God is Personal, since a mind is 
    required to make a world that is 
    understandable (Psalm 8:1-4).

7. God is transcendent, or beyond the 
   creation as to His Divine life      
   Jeremiah 23:24).

8. God is immanent, or is “near” in the  
    sense of us have no ability to escape 
    Him (139:1-7).

9. God is just, placing us as moral 
    creatures in obligation to Himself 
    (Romans 1:18-19).

10. God is the Creator, eternal, 
     unending, making all that is made 
     from nothing (1 Corinthians 8:6).

    God’s attributes or “perfections” are known intuitively by all people. Sadly, like a pressed-down spring, mankind “suppresses” what He knows, living in spiritual-denial. Often in moral situations, mankind’s knowledge of God will “slip-out”, betraying his claims to ignorance. This is “what God is” at the level of general revelation. Both scripture and Christ are collectively termed: “special revelation”, meaning, there is “specific revelation” God has given of Himself in them. In addition to the above perfections, the Bible and the Lord Jesus Christ speak of other truths concerning God.

1. God is Holy, set apart in a unique 
    way from everything (Psalm 99; 
    Isaiah 6).

2. God is good, that is, He is most 
    excellent in and of Himself (Psalm 
    136; Mark 10:18).

3. God is self-sufficient, independent, 
    or what Bible teachers call, “aseity” 
    (Isaiah 43:10-
    11; 44:6).

4. God is love, that is, He is self-giving 
    of Himself for others enjoyment (1 
    John 4:8).

5. God is merciful, not giving to us 
    what we otherwise deserve (James 

6. God is gracious, giving us what we 
    don’t deserve (Titus 2:11-12).

7. God is long-suffering, withholding 
    wrath to give room for repentance 
    (2 Peter 3:9)

8. God is jealous, that is, He is 
    passionate for His character to be 
    upheld (Exodus 34:14).

9. God is wrath, which means He 
    constantly opposes sin (Nahum 1:2;
    Romans 1:18).

10. God is One, unified in His being 
      and attributes (Deuteronomy 6:4-

11. God is Sovereign, exercising His 
     comprehensive right-to-reign over 
     all things (Psalm 103:20; Romans 

12. God is wise, exercising His 
      knowledge and power to bring 
      about the most excellent 
      ends by the most appropriate 
      means (1 Timothy 6:16). 

13. God is immutable, that is, He is 
      unchanging in His essence (Mal. 
      3:6; Heb. 13:8).

      Author J.I. Packer notes on page 18 of his classic book, “Knowing God”: “How can we turn our knowledge about God into knowledge of God? The rule for doing this is demanding but simple. It is that we turn each truth that we learn about God into matter for meditation before God, leading to prayer and praise to God.”

Applications for your life:

1. Take time this month to look up the 
    passages listed with the above 
    attributes. Use them in prayer and 
    watch how your prayers become 
    more focused.

2. Pray God would use general 
    revelation to shed new light into the 
    hearts of your unsaved loved-ones, 
    friends, co-workers, so they would 
    have a readiness for the special 
    revelation of His Word.

Thursday, December 5, 2019

The eternal God and the supernatural realm

Image result for eternal god"
Psalm 90:1-2  "Lord, You have been our dwelling place in all generations.
2 Before the mountains were born
Or You gave birth to the earth and the world, Even from everlasting to everlasting, You are God."  


   Today's post aims to introduce readers to a Biblical view of the supernatural realm. In order to begin, we must first consider the nature, attributes and identity of God. Below are a series of thoughts which serve to pull together such a consideration. May this post raise our awareness of God's supernatural power and presence. 

1. Scriptures and definition of the eternal God and supernatural.

       As we begin to consider the supernatural realm, we must begin with the only being that is eternal by nature - God. God is eternal. As we consider this first heading under “eternity”, we can refer to God’s existence by the phrase: "that God is". Hebrews 11:6 expresses: “And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.” Eternity is foundational to thinking about God (see Romans 1:20; Colossians 1:16-17; 1 Timothy 1:17).

      We could define eternity as: "without beginning, without end, fullness of being without the limitations of time." Passages such as Psalm 90:2; 102:25; Isaiah 57:15; John 1:1-3; Hebrews 9:14; 1 Timothy 6:16; Rev. 4:8 speak to us of God's eternity.  Boethius, a 6th century Christian thinker, defines eternity as: 

“the complete, simultaneous and perfect possession of everlasting life.” 

In thinking about: "that God is", i.e., His existence, other related perfections fill out our basic idea about God.

1. There is God’s Divine "immensity", that perfection dealing with God's relationship to space as He being in it and beyond it (see 1 Kings 8:27; Acts 17:25-30).

2. There is Divine infinity, speaking of the endless extent of the Divine nature. Paul speaks of God's Divine power or omnipotence in Romans 1:20.

3. God being a spiritual, immaterial being, per Jesus' words in John 4:24.

4. God as a Personal being that creates, Genesis 1:1; 33:6; 1 Cor 8:6; 2 Peter 3

Ways to think about God’s Divine eternity and the supernatural realm.

      New Testament passages such as Colossians 1:16-17 and Hebrews 1 speak of “God” and “everything else”. The “everything else” refers to creation. Creation is divided up into two distinct and somewhat interactive realms: “visible” and “invisible”. The “invisible” realm is another way of talking about “the supernatural realm”, as it refers to an unseen part creation (God of course is His own, separate, uncreated reality apart from creation). God of course is deemed “invisible” (1 Timothy 1:17), spiritual (John 4:24) and personal (Acts 17:25-30). He differs by the fact He is without beginning (Psalm 90; 102; Revelation 4:8) and self-existing apart from and prior to creation (Isaiah 44:6; 43:10-11). There is an illustration I can think of to approach the otherwise incomprehensible truth God’s Divine eternity and His relationship to the supernatural.

Illustration: God and “everything else”
“God” <--∞ --> “angelic realm, humans, cats, wooly-worms, amoebas, atoms”

The little sign separating God and everything else is the infinity sign. No matter whether a creature is an archangel or the smallest of smallest things, there lies an infinite, qualitative distance between the created realm and God. For God to communicate to us by revelation is an act of grace on His part. 

Where we get this notion of divine eternity?

1. Scripture.

2. The beginning of the universe

For the universe to have begun, it needed its origin in a cause that is without beginning. Moreover, for there to be a finite universe, produced by an eternal being, the eternal being had to have had a will and and a mind (since the infinite cause, God, brought about a finite effect, the universe).

3. The attributes of God

Consideration of God's attributes demonstrate this most essential perfection of eternity. Omniscience, omnipotence, omnipresence and other perfections require a God that is not bounded by time.

Take-aways for your life.

1. What we learned today. As we close this post, we note that reference to the phrase: "that God is" means His existence. Eternity was defined as: "without beginning, without end, fulness of being without the limitations of time." Standard arguments for God’s existence bolster this claim of Divine eternity, since they show that the finite realm of creation requires a timeless, spaceless, immaterial, infinitely powerful, all present mind with a will we call: "God"

2. We need greater awareness of the supernatural realm

A.W. Tozer once remarked about God’s Divine eternity and the supernatural realm’s relevance to our lives:2. “A spiritual kingdom lies all about us, enclosing us, embracing us, altogether within reach of our inner selves, waiting for us to recognize it. God Himself is here waiting our response to His Presence. This eternal world will come alive to us the moment we begin to reckon upon its reality.”

3. How we live day-to-day

Giving time to think about God’s eternity lifts our focus from the horizontal, visible world of our five senses to that of the “stuff” that drives us to worship. To realize that we live out our daily lives and spiritual lives before a holy, eternal God to whom we are accountable, and that, in the Person of the Son, came as “God with us” to be “man for us”, ought to sharpen our awareness of Him.

4. Strengthening our prayer lives

When we pray, we ought to think of prayer as “the greatest adventure”, since we are treading into the very foothills of God’s eternal presence. We could say far more, but let us live this week in light of this truth that God, is, eternal.

Saturday, November 30, 2019

How much does God know?

Image result for stained glass windows"
Isaiah 41:21-23 “Present your case,” the Lord says. “Bring forward your strong arguments,” The King of Jacob says. 22 Let them bring forth and declare to us what is going to take place; As for the former events, declare what they were, That we may consider them and know their outcome. Or announce to us what is coming;
23 Declare the things that are going to come afterward, That we may know that you are gods; Indeed, do good or evil, that we may anxiously look about us and fear together. 24 Behold, you are of no account, And your work amounts to nothing; He who chooses you is an abomination."


     God's Divine omniscience refers to His ability to know any and all true facts about everything. This is staggering to think about. The above opening text from Isaiah 41 has God issuing a challenge to "wanna-be" gods or idols that, in reality, are not deities at all. God alone is omniscient. The 19th century theologians Charles Hodge writes in Volume 1 of his "Systematic Theology":  

"We pray to a God who, we believe, knows our state and wants, who hears what we say, and who is able to meet our necessities".

Hodge lists the following scriptures which elevate to our attention God's omniscience: Psalm 104:9; 139:1,2,12; 147:5; Proverbs. 15:3,11; Ezekiel 11:5; Matthew 10:30; Acts 15:8; Hebrews 4:13. This is the God of sacred scripture! Psalm 147:5 states most plainly: 

"Great is our Lord and abundant in strength; His understanding is infinite."

      So how much does God know? How is it that God knows what He knows? We can attempt to approach an answer by considering typical ways that theologians describe Divine omniscience as revealed in the Bible.

1. God's self-knowledge.

     Jesus makes the following statement in Matthew 11:27 - 

"All things have been handed over to Me by My Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father; nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and anyone to whom the Son wills to reveal Him."

     Let Jesus' words sink in for just a moment. God, by nature and definition, is infinite (Psalm 90:1-2). The Person of the Father, by nature, is God. We understand from Moses in Deuteronomy 32:8 that the Father knows all things, including the future of the nations. The Son comprehends the Father, which tells us that the Son is as much God as the Father is God, since no other creature - angel or man - can comprehend all that God is (see Isaiah 6:2-3; 1 Timothy 6:16). This self-knowledge of God is expressed by the Father and the Son in their full comprehension of one another. The Spirit too expresses this same sort of unending omniscience, comprehending the Son (John 14:26) and the Father (Romans 8:26; 11:33-35). 

2. God's knowledge of all things that "could be", or "natural knowledge".

       God's comprehension of Himself is a knowledge that takes into view the boundless vistas of "what He is" and "how He is" as God. In our definition of omniscience offered earlier, God's knowledge of, "any and all true facts about everything", begins with Himself. However, what about all those things outside of Himself? How much does God know about those things which He could make or did make. In the mind of God, all things are known directly and all-at -once. Furthermore, God's knowledge includes all things that could possibly be. Put another way, in God's mind, He knew all possible versions of history that "could-had-been" had He decided to bring anyone of them into reality. 

      This aspect of God's knowledge, whereby He knows all things that "could-be", is what we call His "natural knowledge". The reason for this is that all possible outcomes of every event, time and person, are as much known by Him as those same things that did come about in this version of time known as creation. 

      We know God knows what is "possible-to-know" by the sheer amount of predictive prophecy in the Bible. According to J. Barton Payne's, "Encyclopedia of Biblical Prophecy - The complete guide to scriptural predictions and their fulfillment", we find a total of 395 predicted fulfilled prophecies about 12 different nations and various events and 127 fulfilled prophecies centering about the life of Christ. H.A. Ironside aptly refers to predictive prophecy as a form of, "prehistory", meaning that, in the mind of God, the predicted event is already a "done-deal". For God to know with certainty the potential outcomes of future events gives us but the tip of the iceberg to what all lies in His natural knowledge of "things-that-could-be". 

3. God's knowledge of "all-things-that-are" or actual knowledge.

     God's omniscience includes knowledge of Himself and all those things that "could-had-been". But now, what can we note of God's knowledge of our actual world? As all possibilities were present in God's Divine mind, He decreed out of those innumerable possibilities that one version of history which He would bring about in His creation of time and space (see Romans 11:36; Ephesians 1:11). We refer to God's omniscience of our actual world as His, "actual" knowledge or sometimes by the designation, "free-knowledge". Theologian William G.T. Shedd summarizes God's actual knowledge:

"The divine decree is formed in eternity, but executed in time. There are sequences in the execution, but not in the formation of God’s eternal purpose."

     Shedd gives an example of how God's decree to bring about all He knew "could-be" to "what came to be" by Christ Himself:

"There were thirty-three years between the actual incarnation and the actual crucifixion, but not between the decree that the Logos should be incarnate and the decree that he should be crucified. In the divine decree, Christ was simultaneously because eternally incarnate and crucified: “The Lamb was slain from the foundation of the world” (Rev. 14:8). Hence divine decrees, in reference to God, are one single act only." 

       What always blows my mind is to realize that in one act, God knew what "could be", and thus decreed the one possibility out of those many to be our world. In sum, God does not decree our world because He looked ahead to a so-called "tunnel of time" independent of Himself, but instead, knows all about our world by what He decreed from the vastness of His omniscience. You and I require many successive thoughts in our planning. Truly, God's omniscience is staggering. He thinks it all in "one shot". Let me briefly mention one more category sometimes mentioned by theologians when it comes to answering the question: "how much does God know?"

4. God's knowledge of "what we would do if in different circumstances" or "middle knowledge".

       If we consider God's "natural knowledge" of all things that "could-be" as a first logical moment in God's mind, then His decree precedes the second logical moment to bring about our version of history or, "all things that are". Some Christian thinkers are convinced that the standard, theological account I outlined above doesn't go far enough. 

     In the 16th century, a brilliant man by the name of Luis de Molina proposed that there is a "middle logical moment" or type of knowledge in God's mind between His "natural" and "actual knowledge". According to Molina, whenever God chose to create the world, He took seriously the free-will decisions of His creatures. He foresaw what they "would do" if in a potential set of circumstances. Surprisingly, there are a number of scriptures that seem to support this alleged notion of "middle-knowledge" (1 Samuel 13:13-14; Jeremiah 38:17-18; Matthew 11:21-23; 1 Corinthians 2:8, just to list several). According to Molina, as God was decreeing to create, He included what his creatures "would do", and, by considering the purpose He so designed to take place, God brought about our version of history.

       So for example, in 1 Corinthians 2:8, Paul notes that if the Romans and Jews had comprehended that Jesus was really "God in the flesh", then they would not had crucified Him. For those influenced by Molina's view, this represents an example of an alternative version of history that could had come about if the perpetrators of Christ's crucifixion would had known differently, and thus evidence for God's middle knowledge. Although such a version of history was "possible" in God's omniscience, yet, it was not "feasible", since God rather chose to bring about our version of history with the cross (see Acts 2:22-23; 4:27-28). 

        I won't say much more on this point, since I find it mostly convincing yet, also see why some would find it more speculative than anything. To summarize, we can portray the above four headings of God's omniscience as follows:

natural knowledge-(middle knowledge?)-decree---actual knowledge of our world

Closing thoughts

      In today's post we considered the question: how much does God know? We explored the Biblical teaching on the subject of Divine omniscience. We defined omniscience as, "knowing any and all true facts about everything". We noted that God first comprehends all things about Himself as scripture teaches from the activities between the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We then noted how God's Divine omniscience includes His natural knowledge, that is, knowledge of all things that "could possibly be". We then discovered that out of all the innumerable possibilities in God's mind, God decreed to bring about our world, thus demonstrating His "actual knowledge" of our world, which includes exhaustive, direct knowledge of all times, places, and people. Lastly, we considered whether or not God included people's decisions in His plans, or what theologians call, "middle-knowledge". 

     To borrow and paraphrase an illustration from the 5th century Christian thinker, Augustine, I feel like  a little boy who thinks He has grasped the ocean by dipping a cup into it and exclaiming to his parents:
"I've scooped up the ocean". This little post has submerged itself into the vastness of God's omniscience. This is but a small cup, which I hope, causes us to be in awe of our amazing God!

Friday, November 29, 2019

Questions to ask when in pursuit of knowing God

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Jeremiah 9:23-24 Thus says the Lord, “Let not a wise man boast of his wisdom, and let not the mighty man boast of his might, let not a rich man boast of his riches; 24 but let him who boasts boast of this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the Lord who exercises lovingkindness, justice and righteousness on earth; for I delight in these things,” declares the Lord.


     The prophet Jeremiah urges upon us the purpose of life: "knowing God". I have found that whenever approaching any subject, it is important to ask the right questions. Frankly, none of us can think too much about God. The problem with our church world and the world in general is that we think much more about ourselves, less about others and lesser still about God. I would hope that the questions I list below may contribute toward the reversal of the problem. May we think most about God, more about others and lastly about ourselves. So, what questions might we ask when in pursuit of knowing God?

1. What is God like?

2. How is it that God exists?

3. How can we know God exists?

4. Who is God?

5. How can we personally know God?

       Theology is defined as: "the study of God". The five above questions occupy the first and most important area of theology called: "Theology Proper", due to God as the "first" or "proper" beginning point of theology. If you and I don't have our thoughts of God right, everything else will drift. 

       The first question: "What is God like?", deals with God's being or "what He is". The second question, "How is it that God exists?", deals with God's attributes, or those perfections which express "that He is in virtue of what He is". The third question, "how can we know God exists?", address theistic arguments that explore various evidences for God's existence. The fourth question, "Who is God?", concerns how one experiences Him. Then the final question, "How can we personally know God?", centers on experiencing God in saving faith and discovering His identity through the scriptures - an identity expressed by the doctrines of the Trinity, Christ (also called "Christology") and the Holy Spirit (also called "Pneumatology). 

Closing thought:

       Remember, the depth of our heart's devotion in worship to God can go no deeper than our minds willingness to think more highly of God. To God be the glory! 

Sunday, August 25, 2019

The rich meanings of believer's baptism in the New Testament

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Colossians 2:11-12 "and in Him you were also circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, in the removal of the body of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ; 12 having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead."

The practice of New Testament baptism is rich in meaning. The target of today's post is to explore the spiritual realities pictured by this important practice in the life of the church as prescribed by our Lord Jesus Christ. 

Unfolding the rich meaning of the New Testament ordinance of water baptism
Whenever one thinks about the sheer number of texts devoted to baptism, we find the following numbers testify to the importance of it.

1. 22 New Testament passages speak of the act of water baptism, whether it was being performed in the early church or was included in the instructions of an apostle or an associate of an apostle.

2. 8 New Testament passages serve to unfold the meaning and richness of this very important practice of Christ's church.

3. Of the above referenced passages, there are eight I will devote the remainder of this post to explaining and applying baptism's significance, since they serve to expound its importance.
a. Baptism is a command. Matthew 28:18-20
Baptism is a command of the Lord Jesus Christ, and points to the meaning of discipleship and the Great Commission. This command of Jesus expresses that baptism is for those who have by grace through faith believed on Jesus Christ and thus are disciples. This is why baptism, at least in Baptist circles, is called: "credo baptism" or "believer's baptism".

b. Baptism is a convert's public            association with Christ. Acts 19:5

Baptism includes the idea of having associated oneself with Jesus Christ, hence the phrase: "baptized in the name of Jesus".

c. Baptism identifies with Christ's 
    death, burial and 
    resurrection. Romans 6:3-4

Baptism speaks of having identified oneself with Christ in His death, burial and resurrection. The word "baptism" itself comes from a verb and corresponding noun that, unless otherwise prohibited by context, speaks of immersion or dipping of the candidate into water. This text is one we can point out in understanding the proper mode of baptism.

d. Baptism by water pictures the 
    new convert's baptism by the 
    Holy Spirit at conversion, 
    whereby the Spirit unites us to 
    Christ. 1 Corinthians 12:12-13

The baptism here refers to the Holy Spirit connecting the new believer to Jesus Christ. Thus, Spirit baptism is an event which occurs at salvation, rather than some subsequent "second work of grace" done by the Spirit after salvation. Just as a baptismal candidate is "united" to the water by his or her immersion, so it is with the Spirit's work of uniting us to Christ in salvation. An example of this usage of baptism is found in 1 Corinthians 10:2, which reads - "and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea." The Hebrews who crossed the Red Sea were led by the pillar of cloud - a manifestation of the presence of God or a "theophany". The historic Exodus from Egypt and the Red Sea crossing was meant to convey that these people were no longer united to Pharaoh, but to their leader Moses and ultimately, to Yahweh which redeemed them by His hand. 

e. Baptism pictures how the  
    believer is clothed in Christ's     righteousness. Galatians 3:27

Water baptism also communicates the idea of someone who has been "clothed" with Christ - His life, character and nature. The two doctrines which describe the believer's new position before God are justification and adoption. In justification, God legally declares the sinner, at saving faith, to be "just-as-if" they never sinned, hence, crediting them with the righteousness of Jesus Christ (Romans 3:24; 4:3; 2 Corinthians 5:21). In adoption, the sinner is simultaneously set right with God in a relational sense, transferring from enmity to sonship with God (John 5:24; Romans 8:14-16; Galatians 4:4-6; Ephesians 2:5-6; 1 Peter 2:11-12). We know Galatians 3:27 teaches baptism's portrayal of these two truths by how it relates just a few verses back to Galatians 3:23-26, where justification and adoption are mentioned.  

f. Baptism pictures the believer's 
   prior installation into the body of 
   Christ by the Holy Spirit. 
   Ephesians 4:5

The Spirit's baptism of the new convert into Christ at conversion, along with water baptism following conversion, infer that both have a logical relationship to one another.  Water baptism signifies or "points beyond itself" to a preexisting reality in the life of the new convert, whereby the Holy Spirit installed them into Christ at conversion by His work of spiritual baptism.  In experience and scripture, they are two distinct events in terms of sequence. Thus, people do not get water baptized to get saved. Instead, they get water baptized because they have been born again. 

g. Baptism portrays how the 
    believer has forsook the world 
    for Jesus. Colossians 2:12

Baptism communicates that the person being baptized has turned their back on the world and former way of life as a result of God's prior working of saving faith in their life through the Gospel. Circumcision was a rite in the Old Testament that pictured a saint's identification with God's Covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and New Testament Baptism signifies the New Testament saint's tie of faith with Jesus Christ. Some well meaning and Godly people attempt to build the practice of infant baptism from texts such as these, however we do not see one example of infant baptism being practiced by the church nor apostles in the New Testament.

h. Baptism includes the believer's 
    public profession of faith. 1 
    Peter 3:21

Baptism is not something done to get saved, but rather something one does because they were saved. It is the pledging to God of a good conscience and thus, a public profession of one's prior faith to a group of witnesses.

How Southern Baptists understand the act, meaning and mode of Jesus' ordinance of water Baptism

It is so important to derive our understanding of any doctrine or practice from the scriptures - which constitutes our final authority of faith and practice. In looking at the Southern Baptist's understanding of water baptism, one can compare the following statement in the Baptist Faith & Message 2000 to the above scriptures:

"Christian baptism is the immersion of a believer in water in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. It is an act of obedience symbolizing the believer's faith in a crucified, buried, and risen Saviour, the believer's death to sin, the burial of the old life, and the resurrection to walk in newness of life in Christ Jesus. It is a testimony to his faith in the final resurrection of the dead. Being a church ordinance, it is prerequisite to the privileges of church membership and to the Lord's Supper."

Closing thoughts

The BFM 2000 appears consistent with the Biblical evidence for communicating the rich meaning of water baptism as so given by Jesus to His church. As always, the final court of appeal is the scripture. Baptism in the New Testament is rich in meaning. It pictures and communicates the richness of the Gospel, the scriptures, the Christian life and Christ Himself. May this post be used of the Lord today to bring clarity to the discussion, understanding and practice of believer's baptism.