Tuesday, August 22, 2023

Post # 9 The Doctrine of God - God's Attribute Of Divine Independence (A.K.A. "Divine Aseity") With Applications


    In our study through the doctrine of God, we've talked about God's existence, knowability, along with an introduction to His attributes. In our study on the attributes of God, we noted two major sub-categories. The first category of Divine attributes is what we call "communicable attributes", meaning those qualities that God shares and somehow communicates to His creatures (particularly human beings). The second grouping are what we called "incommunicable attributes", meaning that God alone bears characteristics unique to His being, activity, and way of relating within Himself as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. 

    As we turn our attention to that latter group (the incommunicable attributes), we begin with God's attribute of Divine independence. Theologian Wayne Grudem describes God's Independence as follows,

“God does not need us or the rest of creation for anything, yet we and the rest of creation can glorify Him and bring Him joy. God in His being is self-sufficient (Acts 17:24-25; Job 41:11; Psalm 50:11-12)."

    The attribute of Divine independence (also known as the doctrine of Divine Aseity, with the term "aseity" being a Latin term meaning "from oneself") is, in the words of theologian Matthew Barrett, the gateway to entering any study of the Divine perfections or attributes of God.

How God's Independence or Divine Aseity shows us the "Godness of God"

    When you read through Isaiah 43-44, you find celebrated a characteristic of God that is unique to Himself. Isaiah 43:10-11 states, “You are My witnesses,” declares the Lord, “And My servant whom I have chosen, so that you may know and believe Me and understand that I am He. Before Me there was no God formed, and there will be none after Me. 11 “I, even I, am the Lord, and there is no savior besides Me." Isaiah 44:6 says similarly, “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." Astute readers may have caught on to the repeated idea of "I am the Lord, there is no other", which tips us off to this attribute of Divine independence.

    This trait, as I mentioned above, is what Bible teachers call "aseity" (a-say-itee). I like to think of this eternal quality of God as being "God's Godness" or "what makes God - God". Theologian Dr. R.C Sproul writes concerning God's Divine Aseity: 

"When we affirm that God is eternal, we are also saying that He possesses the attribute of aseity, or self-existence. This means that God eternally has existed of Himself and in Himself."

   Unlike everything else, which derives its existence from God (whether the universe, galaxies, people, animals, plants, and so forth) - God is His own source of His own life. The Wetsminster Confession of Faith describes this attribute of God beautifully in its second article "Of God and the Holy Trinity",

"He is the alone fountain of all being, of whom, through whom, and to whom are all things;and hath most sovereign dominion over them, to do by them, for them, or upon them whatsoever himself pleaseth (compare Acts 14:11,15; Mal 3:6; James 1:17). 

    God's Divine independence speaks not only to the type of life God enjoys within Himself as Father, Son, and Spirit, but it also distinguishes the kind of God He is in comparison to all He has made. The universe itself is dependent on God, since it was He who spoke it into existence (Genesis 1:1-2; Psalm 33:6). 

    We can comfortably conclude at this point that the Bible teaches this truth of God's independent existence in-and-of-Himself or Divine Aseity (such as Psalm 90:1-4; 102:25-27; Isaiah 40:28-31; 43:10-11; 44:6; John 5:26 and Revelation 4:10). Below are some other Biblical passages that help us see why it is vital to understand this attribute for our lives today.

The Bible's teaching on God's Divine Aseity (Independence)

1. Exodus 3:14 "God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM”; and He said, “Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’”

    Here we see God revealing His most intimate, covenant name - Yahweh or I am who I am. Is it not interesting that at the heart of God's redemption of His people that He would reveal His very name as His very character as the self-sufficient God? This is highly appropriate for God to do, showing that He is uniquely able to save His people. 

2. Psalm 90:1-4 "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. 3 You turn man back into dust And say, “Return, O children of men.” 4 For a thousand years in Your sight Are like yesterday when it passes by, Or as a watch in the night."

    Here we find God's Divine aseity as a source of comfort to His people. Moses is the author of this Psalm and had been the first man in history to had received the revelation of God's covenant name "Yahweh" which refers to His self-existence or aseity.

3. Psalm 102:25-27 “Of old You founded the earth, And the heavens are the work of Your hands. 26 “Even they will perish, but You endure; And all of them will wear out like a garment; Like clothing You will change them and they will be changed. 27 “But You are the same, And Your years will not come to an end."

    This precious text contrasts God's divine aseity with the relative brevity of the universe. Theologians and philosophers refer to the universe and all of its contents as being "contingent", meaning that it depends on something greater and outside of it for its existence. God is "from Himself" (to use the Latin term associated with our English word "aseity" "a se", meaning "from oneself"). Again this simply means God is self-sufficient and without need of the universe to sustain Himself. Interestingly enough, Hebrews 1:4-13 incorporates Psalm 102:25-27 to describe the deity of the Lord Jesus Christ. 

4. Isaiah 40:28-31 "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. 29 He gives strength to the weary, and to him who lacks might He increases power. 30 Though youths grow weary and tired, And vigorous young men stumble badly, 31 Yet those who wait for the Lord Will gain new strength; They will mount up with wings like eagles, They will run and not get tired, They will walk and not become weary."

Isaiah is centering on God's Divine aseity to provide comfort to the people of God. 

5. Isaiah 43:10-11 “You are My witnesses,” declares the Lord, “And My servant whom I have chosen, so that you may know and believe Me and understand that I am He before Me there was no God formed, And there will be none after Me. 11 “I, even I, am the Lord, And there is no savior besides Me."

    Isaiah uses the phrase, "there was no God formed and there will be none after me", to demonstrate why the pagan deities possess neither reality nor are worthy of worship. We find this similar type of language used by Isaiah in Isaiah 44:6; 45:6, 11,18. 

    Sometimes we find the best way to begin thinking about God, and such mind-bending concepts as Divine aseity, through describing what God is "not". God is not finite, but infinite. God is not material, but immaterial or spiritual. God is not mortal but immortal. This way of describing God is what we call "apophatic theology", meaning that we state what "God is not". It is oftentimes discovered that once we have asserted what God is not, we exclude all other created things from the category of being we call God. God, and God alone is self-sufficient or "a se" (a-say, the Latin phrase translated "aseity"). 

6. John 5:26 "For just as the Father has life in Himself, even so He gave to the Son also to have life in Himself".

    When Jesus asserted the Divine aseity of the Father, He was hardly stating anything controversial, since the Old Testament plainly expresses the Divine Aseity of the Father. However, when Jesus claims that He too possess this same quality, now his opponents find all sorts of red-flags raised in their minds. 

    This is one of several statements found throughout the four-Gospels where Jesus claims Himself to be truly Divine. Divine aseity is at the heart of what makes God-God. Touching His Deity, the Son of God is aseity.

7. 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."

    As Paul closes out his letter to young pastor Timothy, he ends with a doxology or exclamation of praise to God. Paul wrote 1 Timothy to instruct a young Pastor on what he needed to preach and how to pastor. Timothy needed to possess a high view of God. Divine Aseity would be at the center of this young pastor's God-centered ministry. This ought to give us a clue today concerning how big of a vision of God we need in the contemporary church.

8. Revelation 1:8 “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.”

    The Apostle John sees a profound vision of Jesus. This verse is truly a commentary on that one, ineffable holy name "Yahweh" first revealed to Moses in Exodus 3:14. We find references to Divine Aseity in other places in Revelation such as Revelation 4:10-11.

Why God's Divine Aseity is so important 

    The modern classic book on the doctrine of God by J.I Packer, "Knowing God", lays out the practical and profound reasons why Christ-followers ought to include God's aseity in their everyday lives:

"In theology, endless mistakes result from supposing that the conditions, bounds, and limits of our own finite existence apply to God. The doctrine of his aseity stands as a bulwark against such mistakes. In our life of faith, we easily impoverish ourselves by embracing an idea of God that is too limited and small, and again the doctrine of God’s aseity stands as a bulwark to stop this happening. It is vital for spiritual health to believe that God is great (cf. Ps. 95:1–7), and grasping the truth of his aseity is the first step on the road to doing this."

Below the reader will find four life-practical reasons for focusing on God's Divine aseity.

1. Aseity is the essential starting place for the worship of God

    To begin, Divine Aseity is important for the worship songs we commonly sing. One of my favorite hymns that celebrates the Aseity of God is the song "Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing." The lyrics of the hymn begin as follows: 

"Come thou fount of every blessing Tune my heart to sing Thy grace Streams of mercy never ceasing Call for songs of loudest praise". 

    How do great songs of worship like this hymn rely on God's Aseity? The fact that God is described as a fountain means that He is His own source of blessing. We are dependent on God for everything and celebrate the Triune God of scripture that alone is our source of life and eternal life. A fountain of water feeds itself in producing a beautiful stream of water to be enjoyed by all who look upon it. Likewise, God's Aseity refers to all that we see of Him flowing outwardly from within the kind of God he is: eternal, self-sufficient, infinite, holy, immaterial, changeless, uncreated and many more attributes expressed in the Bible. There is God. There is everything else. The universe and all it contains is not even a footnote in comparison to the vast aseity of God. 

    The Apostle Paul's burst of worship in Romans 11:36 assumes Divine Aseity: "For from Him and to Him and through Him are all things. To Him be the glory for ever and ever, amen."

2. Aseity is essential to understanding God in His Word

    Another reason we could cite as to why God's Aseity is so important is in how the revelation of Himself to us in His Word requires Him to possess this quality. Isaiah brings out three main titles of God: Savior (Isaiah 43:3), Creator (43:15) and King of Israel (43:15). As you read these chapters, you find a repeated phrase that speaks of God's Aseity - namely that God is the only Lord, and there is no other, neither before nor after Him. (Isaiah 43:10-11; 44:6-8).  God's Aseity insures that God is the sole source of salvation, the sole source of all things as Creator and the Sole King over His people.

3. Aseity is essential to waging war on worldliness

    Isaiah then contrasts God who is Aseity to that of man made idols that are not gods at all (Isaiah 44:9-20). Quite the opposite of Aseity is the fact that idolatry is foolishness, since men take blocks of wood or stone and take half for firewood and half to make an image.  Those false gods cannot save, only condemn. 

    Furthermore, idols cannot create but only destroy and they cannot reign but only be worthless. The idols that we combat are those idols that come up in our hearts. Whenever we begin to think that God or Christ is not enough, and that we need to "supplement" He and His word, we have drifted into the realm of idolatry or worldliness (1 John 2:15-17). Only when we see God in His Aseity do we realize the lie of sin, that nothing can fully complete except God alone.

4. Aseity is essential for the work of salvation

    Only the God that is Aseity, the God that is His own Source of life and eternal power, can redeem and forgive (Isaiah 43:10-11;44:21-28).  For example, when you turn to Colossians 2, you discover two essential truths about Jesus Christ: He being truly God and truly man. Take everything you just learned about God in Isaiah 43-44 and apply it to the Son, Jesus Christ. The Lord Jesus Christ, touching His Divinity, shares the same exact qualities with the Father, being the "fulness of Deity in bodily form" (Colossians 2:9). 

    The Son shares in the same nature of aseity as the Father, meaning He can be regarded as the Savior, Creator and King (Colossians 2:10-11). Equally important is the fact that the Son came to begin sharing in our humanity, meaning He could now die for our sins and raise from the dead (Colossians 2:11-15). By being both truly God and truly man, Jesus Christ's saving work carries with it infinite value and is effectively applied to all who by grace through faith believe on Him (Colossians 2:1-7).

Closing thoughts:

    Celebrate God's aseity. Praise Christ today for His aseity - the quality that makes Him an equal sharer with the Father and the Spirit and thus the source of your salvation. Also praise Him that He came to share in your humanity so that He could shed His blood for you and rise from the dead.

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