Archive for the ‘Doctrine’ Category
The next several articles will focus on these two verses written by the Apostle Paul to the Colossians applied to the various venues of communication that take place in our current culture. This first installment will provide the overview of the contextual meaning of the verses.
“Walk in wisdom toward those who are outside, redeeming the time. Let your speech be always with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer each one.” (Colossians 4:5-6)
The immediate context of this Scripture is a plea from the apostle to the saints in Colossi that they would live and speak in such a way that the Gospel would enjoy further faith in their circle of influence. Of course this is the heart of what we desire to do as ambassadors of the King of kings, Jesus Christ, even today. The big idea here is that what we do and say, and how we do it and say it has a profound impact on the work of the ministry, namely evangelism/discipleship, which we are all called to do. Once again, Paul emphasizes both the walk and the talk of the Christian in gospel work which is reminiscent of 1 Timothy 4:12-13 recently preached at Grace Baptist Church.
He begins this idea by pointing out that our walk (Biblical synonym for normal living) is to be with wisdom specifically directed with wise behavior concerning those who are yet on the outside of Biblical Christianity. The Bible author assumes with his language that we are interacting in our normal lives with those outside of Christianity. This of course then is speaking of normal living with our families, friends, neighbors, and co-workers. He describes the urgency we must have to be wise in our lives by writing, “redeeming the time.” This phrase means to use the time we have in this life in an urgent manner. We only have so much time in this life, are we walking foolishly toward those without Christianity or can they see wisdom in our choices, decisions, pursuits, and desires? Then he moves on to the second aspect of life. In our wise walk toward outsiders, no doubt some will seek to understand why our lifestyle is different than what they are used to seeing and experiencing. Some will certainly mock our living. Some may even persecute us with words or weapons, but as we walk with wisdom and urgency toward those without the family of God, we must respond with boldness in our speech. We must be unashamed to clearly and articulately proclaim the gospel of God in fullness with truth. Yet he continues to qualify this response we must realize is coming. The Spirit says that our responses to any man regardless of whether they are for us or against us must be consistent with how Christ answered those both for him and against him. “Let your speech be always with grace, seasoned with salt.”
What does it mean to have always gracious speech and salty speech? The word “grace” could be defined as undeserved favor and love. Grace is what the Scripture says is the gift from God every man needs abundantly because every man’s sin is abundantly destructive. In other words, if God dealt with sinners as they deserved, that is granting no grace, sinners would have no hope of anything but a fiery eternity without God. But God in his grace gives us repentance and faith and a divine willingness to know and love God and others. Thank God for his grace which we need or else we would be done. Now in applying this then to our responses toward any man (those within and without Christianity) regardless of how they have offended us, we are to be people of grace. We are to not give them what they deserve, but to give them love when they least deserve it. We must look upon those who hate us and respond with giving them not what they deserve, but what they need. This is seen in the second part of the inspired sentence. Let the gracious speech you utter be seasoned with salt. Salt, in the early centuries was needed primarily for preservation. It was used to flavor, but mostly used to cure, or to make that which has the chance of spoiling last. It made something good better and last longer. When we speak, even when we are speaking the gospel, we are to speak it in such a way that shows our love for our neighbor (with grace), but also clearly and accurately, something that will actually benefit them for eternity (seasoned with salt). This twofold approach (grace and salt) applies to the content of what we speak and also to the manner in which we speak it. We have the love of God contained in the Scripture, let us speak it boldly with grace and salt.
In the classic work by John Owen, The Mortification of Sin we learn the importance of a believer killing sin as they walk in the grace and faith of Jesus Christ. Richard Rushing abridged and edited the puritan’s classic work (the men are reading this particular edition during our fellowship time on the first Thursday each month). In chapter 4, Owen argues that one of the reasons why we ought to zealously concern our souls with the business of killing sin is because sin when left alone to grow in our lives will “darken the soul, and deprive it of its comfort and peace.” Owen goes on to illustrate this using the picture of a garden. The way he puts this truth was so impactful, I thought it would be beneficial to simply read what he has written.
“Mortification [killing sin] prunes all the graces of God, and makes room for them in our hearts to grow. The life and vigour of our spiritual life consists in the vigour and flourishing of the plants of grace in our hearts. Now, as you may see in a garden, let there be a precious herb planted, and let the ground be untilled, and weeds grow about it, perhaps it will live still, but it will be a poor, withering and unuseful thing. You must look and search for it, and sometimes can scarce find it; and when you do, you can scarce know it, whether it is the plant you look for or not; and suppose it is, you can make no use of it all. But let another of the same kind be sent in the ground, naturally as barren and bad as the other, but let it be well weeded, and every thing that is noxious and hurtful removed from it, it flourishes and thrives; you may see it at first glance into the garden, and have it for your use when you please.
So it is with the graces of the Spirit that are planted in our hearts. If they abide in a heart where there is some neglect of mortification, and they are about to die, they are withering and decaying. He heart is like the sluggard’s field, so overgrown with weeds that you can scarce see the good corn. Such a man may search for faith, love, and zeal, and scarce be able to find any. If he does discover that these graces are there and alive, yet they are so weak and so clogged with lusts, they are of very little use; they remain, indeed, but are ready to die.
But now let the heart be cleansed by mortification, and the weeds of lust constantly and daily rooted up (as they spring daily, nature being their proper soil), there will be room for grace to thrive and flourish, the graces that God gives will act their part, and be ready for every use and purpose!” (Owen, 24-25).
This illustration resonates with me as one who has been trying to grow a garden for the past several years. Probably the most difficult part of vegetable gardening to me is controlling the weeds. I have tried to cut the weeds down, spray them with weed killer and till them under with machines. But I know that the only way to truly get rid of the weeds in my garden and thus enabling the vegetables to flourish is by painstakingly one by one pulling the weeds up from their roots. Sometimes a large weed looks dauntingly at me, but I find a very small root and a sense of satisfaction comes over me as it appears I am making great progress. Other times, the tiniest of weeds is pulled and the roots seem to go forever and I am discouraged as it comes up in quarter inch segments. In my garden, I have little weeds that wind their tendrils around the bean and tomato plants. Pulling them is a careful job as I might pull up the healthy plants. But I understand, that I cannot just plant the vegetables in the soil and through no effort, sweat and even blood expect to enjoy the fruit of the garden while the weeds remain.
Brothers and sisters, why do we think that will enjoy the graces of God’s bountiful spiritual life, while we neglect the daily task of killing sin and the temptations that surround us? Killing sin is not the end goal of sanctification, but it is an essential element to availing ourselves of God’s good growth in grace.
“For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I may show My power in you, and that My name may be declared in all the earth.” (Romans 9:17)
A few days ago, I was enjoying the cool of the evening (for the first time in a while it seems) in our backyard reading some Scripture. I turned to this text in Romans that I am very familiar with having spent several months preaching through this text. Yet as I read this verse, the beautiful impact of God’s inspired Word struck my soul as I saw this text once more with fresh eyes. What struck me was the absolute simplicity of life from this Holy Word.
In the context, Paul is writing about the just and true nature of a selective God. One cannot read especially the Old Testament with sincerity without noticing that God is a discriminating God who selects according to his purpose and will. He chose Abraham of all the other pagans of the day. He chose Isaac, not Ishmael, the children of Abraham simply because his promise was to both the father and mother of Isaac. Then when Isaac and his wife had children, he chose Jacob, the younger twin rather than Esau. God is a good who chooses according to his good purposes and perfect will. He is obligated to no man, yet he has self-obligated his choices to be consistent both with his own holy character and fulfillment of promises. God is only obligated to fulfill his promises because he is consistent with his attributed of truthfulness. Paul moves ahead 400 + before he even gets to the first possible objection to God’s selective nature, and addresses the issue of Moses standing before Pharaoh. Here we see a fascinating reality. God has not only chosen Moses to lead God’s people out of bondage, but he also chose Pharaoh who would resist that deliverance for two simple purposes. 1. So that God would show (display) his power (dunamis-ability) in Pharaoh. 2. So that God would declare (announce) his Name in all the earth.
God would accomplish this two-fold purpose first through the 10 plagues and decimation of Egypt while he preserved his chosen people; and secondly by liberating his people to carry this message throughout all of the land. Later in the Exodus and Joshua records we find that whenever the Hebrews encountered the pagan peoples and cities of their promised land, the people were afraid because of what God had done in Egypt.
Yet it is not only God’s purpose that he should raise up ungodly nations and leaders like Pharaoh to accomplish his purposes. But every man woman or child who is given life is created for these two purposes. First, to show God’s dynamic ability and second to be heralds (either by their own mouths or the mouths of another) of God’s Name (character, nature, and wholeness of his being). This is why life is so simple; we were created for these two purposes, which converge in the confession, “Man exits to glorify God and enjoy him forever.”
Thinking through this a little further, however caused me to consider not just life, but authority. Pharaoh was a man of authority, and it seems that the phrase, “I have raised you up” is specifically talking about Pharaoh’s prominence and authoritative position. God gave Pharaoh not only life but also an authoritative position in this life to fulfill the same two purposes. As I thought through my personal application, it occurred to me that whether one’s position of authority is that of mother, father, teacher, lay-leader, pastoral elder, councilman, mayor, governor, manager, CEO, congressman, judge, or president or king, the purpose remains the same-whether saint or sinner. God gives authority with the purposes that his power would be manifest, and that his Name would be declared. So then a few verses down, “Who are you to reply against God?” is powerfully convicting. I must not strive and yearn for authority of any kind, but when God gives it according to his perfect will, will I find myself a good and faithful servant, one who is showing God’s power and declaring God’s name?
Some Christian believers might suggest that human reason is always foolish. Unconverted philosophers teach that Divine revelation is useless even non-existent. But truly as created humans, we are given the responsibility by our Creator to exercise human reason undergirded with Divine Revelation. That is to say, we must use our God-given logical processes supported and defined by Sola Scriptura. True wisdom is logic (thinking) informed by Biblical Theology. Reason (human thought) is necessary to live in a reasonable, human environment, but since the human mind (reason) is not infinite, but finitely enclosed in human intellects and varying in ability among many different minds, reason cannot be trusted alone for the formation and development of a free and healthy society. Human reason is not to be despised by Theists, nor is to be deified by humanists. The necessity of reason and the reality that reason is gifted by an infinite Creator means it is not evil, but good in its original state, and therefore should not be vilified by Bible believers. Yet the fact that reason is indeed granted by an Almighty Divine being shows that reason is not independent or infinite, but rather must be informed by something that is both infinite and truly independent; and therefore must not be worshiped. Even the unbelieving founders of the USA understood this. They commonly consented that America would only sustain her freedom if she was regulated and restrained by a moral conscience informed by the Bible (revelation). Humanists like Jefferson and Franklin attest to the reality that something greater than reason must support and undergird true freedom. Divine Revelation, since it is both independent of human reason and infinite in wisdom, coming from an infinite Being, is necessary to inform and define human reason. And so in reality, a society is only sustainable as a free society so long as she adheres to the Revelation which is undergirding her reason. Christians, and notably, the church is the pillar and foundation of such Divine revelation, so they are in essence the restraining force that holds a free society together (via the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit who illuminates Divine revelation within them). Therefore an uninformed Christian who refuses to engage in ardent and systematic Theological study by means of the Bible is more dangerous to the wellness and sustainability of a society than a thousand humanists who pay no lip service to Revelation.
We are studying 1 Timothy 3 in our morning worship. This is a very convicting portion of Scripture. In thinking through these virtues necessary for the minster of God’s church, I was encouraged to adapt them into a more prose style as a personal letter being written to a pastor or aspiring pastor. Go to our website www.graceutah.com to listen the sermon on this passage in full.
A True Man of God
(Adapted from I Timothy 3:1-7)
A true man of God has a general quality of striving to be above reproach, he recognizes that this world, his own flesh and the Devil would love to undue him, so he strives to be blameless and holy. Yet in this pursuit of holiness by grace he realizes that his first relationship second only to God, is his relationship with his wife. He strives to be holy toward his wife. Not only does he refrain from dalliances with sexual lust and perversity, but he makes his marriage bed holy, giving his wife due benevolence in their intimate delights. He loves her first, he lifts her up before their children and in the eyes of the neighbor. He prays for her, he is devoted to her and honors his vows with delight and love. He sacrifices his own desires for her and he gives himself to her, thus he models for the flock of God, the love and devotion God has for them. He is devoted in his marriage, but he is also restrained in his passions. He listens before speaking, he studies the matter before giving an answer, he is mature enough to realize that he is full of weaknesses and that allowing his passions, his desires, his delights to drive his choices will only end miserably, so he is vigilant and restrained, knowing his weaknesses and setting a watch over those areas. Thus he demonstrates in an unrestrained culture the wisdom and restraint of the Chief Shepherd. He is clear-headed and modest. Humility clothes him, not a false humility, but a deep understanding of who is he is and the grace of God that equips and enables him. He is not quick to assume fault nor paranoid, neither jaded by life circumstances. His life is not a party, but with joy and happiness he clearly thinks through the issues of life and makes less of himself and more of God. Jesus is his example as the meekest and most modest of all who was serious about the business of His Father. Thus the people of God learn of a Savior who humbly cares for them and thinks deeply on their behalf. The temptation would come to separate himself from people. Deep thinkers often do their best thinking alone, but he realizes that his sober and modest wisdom from above is made to be given freely to others so he loves strangers and treats guest and those around with grace and kindness, he also develops and uses his gifts to teach others. He teaches other men who themselves will be able to instruct. He teaches the opposition with sobriety and skill. He is well-known for his ability to take a complicated matter and to parse it out to its basic understanding. His teaching is not words filling the air, but exposition of God’s perfect Will in Revelation that urges God’s people to respond rightly and quickly to God’s Word. Because his life is an example of holy submission to God. Because what others see in him they will regard as true of Christ, he is very careful not to become a slave to any earthly thing. Food, alcohol, tobacco, drugs, sex, goods; these are all high on his radar and he is careful to let nothing begin to control him. He must teach God’s Word to God’s people; he must instruct them in holiness and mostly; he must teach them the love the Lord their God with all their heart and soul and mind and will. So if his will, and heart and mind and soul is bent toward some earthly substance, he will only confuse the people of God. So he watches his life and when he finds himself becoming addicted to anything, he cuts that off and sets guards up in his choices. Thus he shows a Lord who serves the church with his own life. In all of this, he must urge God’s people on to God’s holiness, but the temptation will come when they are not moving as quickly as they ought. When his own passions and drive can easily turn his temperament from being patient and gentle into being pushy and violent. He must not push the sheep of God, but lead the flock. He must not be behind them with a whip, but in front with the Rod and Staff. This is how Christ led his people, he went before with gentleness and example, not with anger and violence. The man of God knows that he must guard his own passions, for too quickly he may turn into a bully, but our God is not a bully. Along the way of a life lived in sacrificial service, be certain that Satan will tempt him to get a little more for himself. The words will ring in his ears, “You deserve a little more” “You have worked hard for this” “If they really loved you they would provide for you.” And these little phrases will destroy his soul if they are meditated upon. For when he is faced with the choice of feeding his family or taking that bribe, that gift-with-strings-attached, cheating on his fiscal dealings, gaining from shameful, unethical things-if he hears the voice of truth all will be well, but if he listens to these lies of the tempter he will fall. Beware, man of God that you reflect the ethics of your Master, who committed himself to him who judges righteously. But dear friend, leading sheep of God is not easy. You are not greater than your Lord and he led 12 ordinary yet obstinate men. Do not be quarrelsome, do not be quick to brawl, to fight, to be pugnacious. Jude, the brother of Jesus understood this tendency and so even while saying that the man of God must earnestly contend for the faith, he expressed this as a necessary burden, not a delightful desire to be quick to fight. Be slow to fight, quick to show mercy and grace. For no greater example of this do we see than our Lord in the Garden who healed Malchus’ ear when Peter was quick to fight. Finally, do not be greedy, be free from the love of money. Oh, the people of God can help greatly in this regard. By providing well for those who labor in the word and doctrine, they can help keep his mind from the love of money. But it lies upon you, man of God, to labor not for that which perishes, but to labor as Apelles, “Approved in Christ.” Labor for that great Day of Judgment, not for the silver that takes the wings of a dove and flies away. Laboring for temporal gain will cloud your judgment, will make you lazy, and will cause you lose your reward in heaven. Be careful man of God.
But where do these virtues display themselves? O Man of God, they display themselves in your home. Let these virtues and your progress be first seen in what you model, teach and instruct in your children. For if your children cannot see these virtues in you, then you must not seek to display them before the children of God. Where are these qualities clearly seen? Let them be clearly seen in your conduct of personal and private life, so that your progress will be seen of all. You began newly planted and at that time, were not ready for this task, grow up in these virtues that you would no longer be immature, a novice, but seasoned by reason of use, trained up into godliness. So that your arrogance will be dissipating and your holiness will be increasing. Where are these attributes modeled? They are modeled in how you treat your neighbors, your children’s teachers, your interactions in business, your vehicular habits, your response to governments and authorities, your demeanor with service professionals. Those on the outside of the walls of faith will be used by the wicked one to trip you in these areas. Be strong in the grace of God and in his Word so that you do not fall into those snares. Be diligent in these three areas, your family, your personal life, and your community life. Take heed to yourself first and then to the doctrine and God will grow in his grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ.
Dear man of God, do not neglect these things, for God has called you to a high and holy task, a noble work is yours. May it reflect the greatest nobility of the King who did that great work for you, shepherd God’s flock which is among, taking oversight as a mature elder in the faith.
The fountain of praise springing from my lips is dry
And my heart is filled with longing and grief
O that someone would help me find my wings to fly
When will I see your face and finally feel relief?
My soul aches to know you and experience sweet release
From all that this vile world provides in poisonous doses of pain
If I could but see your providential hand then I could be at peace
But I see neither hand nor power, and feel I shall never be the same.
My pulse quickens, my heart beats with uneasy rhythm,
While the doubts rise and the fears threaten to overtake
But I must cast my wild heart upon the only Sovereign who is risen
And trust The Lord who fears no one—for his name sake.
Where is my bread, where is my wine? They are hardly found
My tears flow unbidden down my cheeks staining the Script
These doubts, fears and heartaches upon my heals like a hound
Bellow and howl longing for my soul, and my steps had well nigh slipped.
Now in the pain, my heart sees a light shining though dim
while the darkness deepens and fear throbs through my pate.
How do I hear a melody though within my ears, I find no hymn?
How can this be though the burdens of soul are so great.
This Word I hear, it comes not from within my jaded heart
It speaks to me through pages stained with tears and blood
But I can hardly glimpse its truth and it threatens to depart
I must hear it, I must know it, it is the path that angel’s trod.
Wait, wait, it is stronger still, it comes from the Master’s tongue
I hear it clearly, its sound higher and nobler fills the space
It is louder now and I hear– though with my ear untrained to its song
A note so lofty, so merciful and perfect, O, Beloved! tis the tune of Grace.
Essential Truth about God—Justice
We humans desire justice. Even those with obvious marks of depravity understand the need for justice. Our entire legal system is predicated upon the notion that justice is not only desired it is attainable. Civilizations that place a high priority on justice will often be wealthier and happier. Two words related to justice used often today are fairness and equality. Although, there is a lot of socio-political baggage that accompanies those two words, in their purest form, we have an ingrained sense for pursuing fairness and equality. But why does this pursuit and sense of justice occupy such a central role in civilized society? God himself typifies pure justice and he chose to communicate that attribute upon us through creation in his image. We not only inherit depravity from our father Adam, but every human also inherits the communicable attributes of God. It is part of what makes us human and distinct from animals.
In Revelation 15:3, the song of the redeemed includes this line concerning God, “Just and true are your ways O King of the saints.” In 1 John 1:9, the author appeals to the faithfulness and justice of God as the basis for forgiveness and cleansing. In Psalm 89:14, we read that justice and judgment are the habitation of God’s throne, meaning that the foundation of God’s authoritative rule rests upon his justice, his righteousness. The Hebrew has two words that are sometimes translated justice, one also translates as righteous or right (which is the most common word), the other is judgment which refers more to the official concept of passing judgment on righteousness or wickedness. In the New Testament Greek language, the word justice is the same word as righteousness or rightness. To say that the Scripture teaches that God is just is an obvious understatement.
No true professing Christian would loudly proclaim that God is unfair, unrighteous or unjust; yet every Christian at some point has struggled and most likely continues to struggle with living out in faith the truth that God is truly just or righteous. This struggle with God’s justice is an internal one borne out of a seeming contradiction from what we have hid in our heart concerning God’s perfect justice and what we experience and observe in our normative circumstances. Clearly when we observe our lives and the circumstances of everyday life, we do not always see justice at work. This often causes us to think some variation of the following thought, “If God is just then why did that bad or terrible thing happen to [insert name of person]?” We struggle to reconcile the justice of God with the seeming injustice of our world in its fallen condition. But the emotional experiences and temporary observations do not infringe upon the characteristic of God. God is not just (or righteous) because he does what is right, but he does what is right because he is just. This is a slight contrast in that compound sentence and we must consider the ramifications of this. If we determine God is just because we observe just things, we will find ourselves depicting the perfections of God based upon our fallible senses. But if we simply take God at his Word and interpret our fallen world in light of God’s justice we will be safer from anti-Biblical judgments. We must be disciplined to look at everything around us and seek to make sense of our circumstances in light of God’s justice rather than to seek to makes sense of God based upon our circumstances.
If God is just, and the Scripture resolutely describes him as such, then this has lasting ramifications both in this life and the life come. First, it means that no unjust or unrighteous act can go unnoticed and even unpunished by God. For God to equivocate once in allowing an unrighteous deed to go without judgment (in this life or the life to come) would consequently mean he has no justice. Second, it means that what we often view as unjust (or unfair) may not be so. Since justice comes from God, he determines what is just or not. Third, it means that we not only need forgiveness for our unrighteousness (the just dying for the unjust) but we need to be people who love justice and seek it in our temporal human relationships. Fourth, the justice of God demands either severe punishment or severe mercy. To Be continued. . .
Essential Truth about God—Freedom-Cont.
In our last installment of the grace newsletter, we noted the freedom that God possesses as creator, sustainer and sovereign of the universe is revealed through the tiny first person being verb, “I am.” In choosing a name to reveal himself to the chosen covenant people, God chose to use a word that would simply explain his self-sufficient existence. The profound nature of God using the present tense being verb to adequately describe himself is boggling to our meager intellects. In this installment, we are going to think about one dynamic application of the freedom of God, the doctrine of election.
Basically, the doctrine of election means that God chooses those that he makes promises to. In the Old Testament, he chose individuals, families, nations, and even rulers to work in and through to demonstrate his glory, mercy, grace, and justice. Most apply the doctrine of election further than just God’s choice, speaking specifically of a theological concept that God chooses those who believe on him for eternal life. This idea of predestination, contrary to what some might think, did not begin with John Calvin and the reformers of the sixteenth century. The doctrine of election and predestination are clearly taught all through the Old Testament and in the New Testament by a variety of authors. Jesus, Paul, Peter, and John are the most obvious New Testament authors that the Holy Spirit used to teach this truth.
The concept of election, that God chooses people, should be considered an undisputed fact of orthodox Christianity. How, when where, why, and who are questions that Bible students have been debating for years. We will never fully understand the doctrine of election or predestination, but to deny that the New Testament teaches such a doctrine is to ignore most of the Old Testament and much of the New Testament as well. Further still, to deny the doctrine of election, most notably by holding God’s will and choices captive to the dictates or desires of mankind is attacking the very concept that God is absolutely free. If God must act in some fashion because man has acted in some fashion is to obligate the Creator to the creation and thus declare that God is not truly free.
Jesus taught in John 6 that all who would come to him were given to him by the Father. He also said in the same context that no one comes to him in faith unless the Father draws him. Jesus then concludes his discourse by saying that the purpose of the Father drawing and then giving people to Jesus to believe on him is so that the eternal, perfect love between the Father and Son would be manifestly poured out upon those who believe. Theologians have debated the point at which the Father draws a person, when people receive faith, and if there are conditions of grace. But most orthodox theologians have affirmed that the freedom of God demands that God’s election is ultimately dependent upon the will of God, not the will of man.
It is my understanding from the Scripture, (notably from my most recent series through the book of Romans), that God mysteriously and providentially has chosen those that are his from eternity past. Not that they existed from eternity past in some pre-existent spiritual state, but that they were known by the God who resides outside of time. And in the fullness of time, God draws those that he has chosen and predestined to believe in him to that point of regeneration where he grants them the faith to believe in Jesus Christ as their only hope of mercy and salvation. Because God has done this merciful work, we respond in repentance and faith, resting fully in the work of Christ on our behalf. And since we are now called his church and since he began this good work in us (justification), he will perform it (sanctification) until he returns to glorify us (glorification). That the work of eternal life is a gift freely bestowed on those who believe is not contradictory to the doctrine of election. That we are responsible to repent and believe in the Christ of the Gospel is not counter to predestination. And that God would choose his church from the immoral mass of sinful, lawless rebels is not “unfair.” For as the free God, should he choose to save all or some of his fallen creation is nothing short of miraculous mercy.
Personal freedom is a right that we cherish as American citizens. We believe that we are given certain rights (originally stated in the founding days of our nation as the right to life, liberty, and pursuit of property), which no man can properly take from us. We also believe at American citizens that these rights come from God directly and are not given by any law of the land, but merely recognized by the law of the land. Furthermore, we recognize that our rights, our freedoms, may be interrupted or vacated by our violation of other’s rights and freedoms. When a person violates another’s right to life, he may very well be forfeiting his own right to life. All civilized societies understand this basic principle of humanity.
Yet in order for these rights to be given to creation, they must be sourced in the Creator. We understand that our rights belong to us, because they have been graciously granted by One who is not bound by the same rules as we are. A person cannot give away something that he does not possess. From an earthly perspective, we have these freedoms in America because they were bought with the blood of our national fathers and mothers. They possessed those rights through conflict and victory. Yet when we back up and get the bigger picture, we realize that there has never been a person from ordinary generation who has possessed true freedom inherently. Full and complete freedom with no anxiety or fear that one might lose their freedoms is not possible to those born into a world as “a creation.” We are always in danger of losing our political and social freedom in this world in which we live. Furthermore, we are always in danger of losing our “right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” And there is nothing we can do to guarantee those rights. For example, people do some amazing and extensive things to try to prolong the right to life, but no matter what men do, we all will one day lose that freedom of life.
Yet, we as Bible-believers understand that God is not bound by the same rules as we are. In order for his title as God to make sense, he must be like no other-we saw this in the last article about God’s holiness. God is not only distinct as the Holy One, he is unequivocally free as the self-existent One. It would difficult to say which passage of Scripture declares this, for the absolute freedom of God is interwoven throughout the entirety of the Bible, through both testaments. One passage of Scripture calls our attention to God’s freedom particularly, although many teach God’s freedom.
In Exodus 3, Moses, chosen by God to deliver the Israelites, encounters God’s holiness in a bush that burns and will not be consumed. It is at this time that Elohim introduces himself to Moses by his covenant name, Jehovah, translated LORD in our English translations. In verse 13, Moses is concerned that the Israelites will not listen to him, especially telling them that a bush sent him to them. God responds by saying that Moses should tell them that “I Am that I Am” sent Moses to them. The Hebrew being verb, “I am” is the same word as what we call Jehovah. This is significant because God was fulfilling to Moses an aspect of his covenant he made with Abraham centuries earlier. In giving his covenant name, God is in essence saying, “I am the self-existent, eternally present One who is free to command as I will.” I simply am “I AM.” “I am not bound to my creation, I am not bound to Abraham or to Israel, or to Moses. I am bound only to my own self, my own character, my own perfection. So I will fulfill my covenant with my people and deliver them from bondage because I can and I will. You tell them Moses, who I am… tell them “I Am!” God obligated himself not to a man or nation but to his own being, and thus he would fulfill his promise, because he chooses to be a God who fulfills his word. He is not capricious, he changes not, but he also is not bound by anyone or anything—He is Free—he is self-existent!
This is part one of a five part series written concerning essential truths concerning God. Obviously, these five truths do not capture the entire scope of God’s Divine nature, that is why we have the entire canon of Scripture. Yet these are five essential truths that will greatly impact how we understand and view God.
Essential Truth about God—Holiness
Many theologians believe that the holiness of God is the foundational attribute of God. This means that instead of saying God is holy and merciful, we ought to say, “God is holy in mercy.” Or instead of saying that God is holy and just, we should say, “God is holy in justice.” This might seem to be a mere semantic differentiation, yet it is important.
To understand properly the holiness of God, we need to study the Old Testament Scriptures where we first encounter God. The Hebrew word for holy is “qadosh.” This word means “separate, distinct, sanctified, hallowed.” In Isaiah 6:3, we are introduced to angelic servants in the courtroom of heaven, ever-present with God called Seraphim, or fiery ones. But even they must cover their feet with wings presumably as a reminder of their creature status, and they must cover their eyes with wings as a reminder that even they cannot look upon the glory of God and live. The praise that echoes in the chamber of heaven for eternity is “qadosh, quadosh, quadosh” Holy, Holy, Holy.
When Hebrew people wanted to show the greatness or the immense value of something, they would repeat it. Jesus did this often in the New Testament to show the importance of words that he spoke, “Verily, verily, I say unto you.” Paul used this to pronounce cursing on those who would preach another gospel in Galatians 1. When Jesus was seeking to rebuke Martha for her service without worship, he called to her, “Martha, Martha.” Even when God appeared to Moses in the burning bush, he called himself “I Am that I Am.” He was not just “I Am” but he was “I Am, I Am”
Yet nowhere in Scripture aside from Isaiah 6:3 does God repeat one of his attributes three times. God is not just holy, He is not holy, holy. He is holy, holy, holy!
So how does this affect us in our lives? Too often we reduce the holiness of God to mere sinlessness. Do not err, God is sinless, impeccable in desire; But when we reduce the definition of God’s holiness to only his sinlessness, we miss some of what it means that God is the three times holy God. God is holy in every way. This means that God is distinct, separate from all his creation in all ways and thoughts. The reason that God tells Isaiah in chapter 55 verse 9 that his (God’s) thoughts and ways are higher and greater than man’s thoughts and ways, is because God is not like man and man is not like God. We cannot think Divine thoughts unless God chooses to dwell within us because we have no capability to do so. There is none like God in heaven above or earth below. God is holy, holy, holy in his cogitations and determinations-he is distinct in his love, no one loves like God; he is distinct in his justice, no one executes justice like God; he is distinct in his mercy, no one shows mercy like God; and we can say that about every attribute of God. He is holy in all his attributes and activity.
When we understand that God is holy, holy, holy, we will fall before God and say like Isaiah, “Woe is me, for I am undone.” The only sensible response to the knowledge of the holy is a deep sense of humility as demonstrated in Isaiah 6. In the OT, when something or someone was consecrated to the Lord, it became “holy unto the Lord” meaning that it now shared in God’s holiness and was to only ever be for a display of God’s distinct, separate glory. The priests were “holy unto the Lord,” sacrifices were “holy unto the Lord,” the tabernacle was “holy unto the Lord.” Beloved, we are called priests (Rev. 5:10), sacrifices (Rom. 12:1), and the temple (Eph. 2:21); therefore we are “holy unto the Lord” devoted fully to nothing but displaying God’s distinct, separate glory. God has touched us with his holiness via his indwelling Holy Spirit, we are “infused” with his holiness, how then ought we to serve Him as his Holy vessels?