Posted in Knowing God

God is Good, He is Love, and He Desires; But, the Potter is not like the Clay

There is no peace between God and man, until that man admits his treachery, throws down his arms of rebellion and surrenders swearing fealty to the King.  For this reason, the gospel cuts both ways. While we might refer to it as good-news, it is only good to those who acknowledge, embrace and submit to it.

This truth makes little headway into segments of popular Christian thought. The approach that gets much more “air time” is: God is love, God is good, and He gets no joy out of the wicked perishing; therefore, God desires all people to be saved. The first three statements about God are true, the conclusion is suspect however. Part of the reason, or maybe it’s the entire reason (who can say for sure?), is rooted in our understanding of the nature of God.

Recently, I heard a popular Christian apologist (Michael Brown) argue for the conclusion thus far presented. He gave a slew of biblical verses to back up his conclusions, but the one that caught my attention was Acts 17:30. He took this command of God and assigned it to the desire of a loving, good God who desires all people to be saved.

As I said earlier, this is a very popular argument presented by the modern Evangelical Church. My question is how accurate is it? That’s what I intend to look at in this closing post, and my main concern is whether we have unknowingly made the Potter like the clay?

In what follows, I’m going to cite the passage from which a specific truth of God is drawn from and then compare it with a panoramic view of the rest of Scripture, in order to see if the modern conceptions of God are valid. To attempt this in a blog post is perhaps a bit much, but I’ll put forth an effort.

If, along the way, you see something I’ve missed or have a question about why I draw a particular conclusion, then by all means speak up. I enjoy the dialogue, even if the voice is a dissenting one. Let’s get started…

God is Good = God is a god of goodness = God’s goodness applies to All

Jesus makes this categorical statement about God being good in a response to a rich young ruler seeking eternal life.

  • “And Jesus said to him, ‘Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone’” (Mark 10.18; also, Matt 19.17; Luke 18.19).[i]

Jesus identifies two truths in one statement. The first is often smooshed over: “man is not good.” According to Jesus man is not good, he’s evil. The second is that “God alone is good.”

(Just in case there’s an atheist or agnostic reading this, I want to quickly point out that Jesus is not saying: He’s not God. The gospels identify Him as God in the flesh, and Jesus says He shares equal status with the Father. No mere creature can make that claim, and the Jews often recognizing this immediately want to put Him to death for blasphemy. Which, they do when the predetermined time comes for Him to offer Himself up for His sheep.)

What this statement about God is not saying is that God’s goodness is offered in the same degree to all people. Nor is it saying that God’s goodness prevents Him from doing things that man finds fault with. Whether or not you are guilty of making the Potter like the clay is seen in how you deal with those “troublesome” passages of Scripture.

In the second century a heretic by the name of Marcion denied that Jesus and the “God of the Old Testament” were the same God, because the God of the Jews was so wicked towards humanity. Not too long ago there was a popular professing Christian blogger “Rachel Evans” who admitted that she struggled with many of writings of the Old Testament. Passages that were troublesome because she could not rectify how a “good God” could do such things. Her conclusion was then to deny the historical reliability of them.

When I was working on my B.A., the wisdom-lit professor struggled with how Christians should handle the imprecatory Psalms of David.  His conclusion (again a popular one) was that the language was to be interpreted hyperbolically, for surely a good God would not really want those things to come to pass. And yet, we read that David is a prophet (Acts 2.30), a man after God’s own heart (Acts 13.22), and he was being carried along by the Holy Spirit when he wrote them (Acts 1.16, 4.25). That is to say, they were righteous, good prayers that God sanctioned and God would acknowledge.

I think it is natural to blanch at them at first glance[ii], but the wise person will recognize that this is precisely how God dealt with the nations that were not His people.  Lest we forget the Canaanite conquest, or the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, or the catastrophic Flood of Noah’s day, and many, many more cases that we are either ignorant of or ignore in the Bible. Were not the children of such wicked ones “dash[ed]…against the rock[s]?” (Psa 137.9). God makes a clear distinction between those who are His and those who are not. He gives good to those who honor Him (Psa 31.19). He is not required to give the same good to those who do not (Psa 31.17).

God is Love = God is a god of love = God love Everyone Unconditionally

The apostle John’s 1st epistle is sometimes nicknamed the “love letter.” One reason is because the love of God is one of its key themes (this is true of much of his writings). Here is one example:

  • “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love…So we have come to know and believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him” (1John 4.7-8, 16).

Clearly, God is defined as love. That love of God was made known through the giving of the One and Only Son, Jesus. When these statements are read, they are intended to be read in context. John has in mind a specific people that the love of God was made manifest. Those people are defined in the gospel.

Jesus came to “save His people from their sins” (Matt 1.21). He purposefully laid down His life for those people, referring to them as sheep (John 10.11, 15). He also makes a distinction between those who are His and those who are not. His people hear His voice and listen to Him (John 10.3, 16, 26), but those who are not His follow the will of another (John 10.27; cf. v.5). Jesus specifically prays for those who are His (to those He freely gives His love), but He refuses to pray for those who are not His own (John 17.9).

We ought not look at the love of God as if it is indiscriminate. God’s love is unconditional for His people, not for the whole world—i.e. every person on the planet; past, present and future. This is not a teaching limited to the New Testament, but red letter “Christians” fail to see or comprehend this.

It is true that God loves even His enemies. He gives to them wealth, time and power. When they need bread, He doesn’t give them a stone (Matt 7.9). Even the devil and his demons enjoy what I can only assume one might call the general love of God. He is kind to them, when He need not be. But they can never receive His special love. This is reserved for God’s people; the elect.

Does God desire all people to be saved? Does He draw all people to Himself? Have you not read:

  • “For you are a people holy to the LORD your God. The LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth” (Deut 7.6; repeated 10.14-15; 14.2)

Why, would God pick some people to be His but not All people? That doesn’t seem fair! Because…

  • “It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the LORD set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the LORD loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers…” (Deut 7.7-8a; emphasis added).
  • “Behold, to the LORD your God belong heaven and the heaven of heavens, the earth with all that is in it. Yet the LORD set his heart in love on your fathers and chose their offspring after them, you above all peoples, as you are this day” (Deut 10.14-15; italics added).

God chose them, because He chose to love them. If He chose to love them, and chose them, then it follows that He did not love the rest of the world in the same capacity. Nor should we conclude that this love God displayed was meant for every person in Israel; at the time of the Exodus, through the period of Judges, or the time of the Kings, or the diaspora, or in the 1st century under John the Baptist and Jesus’ ministry, or the subsequent ministry of the apostles.

Within Israel the nation, there was a nation[iii] that was truly devoted to God. A number that God had preserved despite the covenantal unfaithfulness of the rest (1Kgs 19.18). These are referred to the remnant. It is the remnant that God showed special love to, not the entire nation (Isa 10.20-22; Rom 11.4-5). And not even those limited to the physical descendants of Abraham, for the true offspring of Abraham have always been through the child of promise (Rom 9.7-8).

God is not joyful over the death of the Wicked = God desires All people to be Saved

The Word of God, spoken by the prophet Ezekiel during the time of Babylonian conquest against the southern kingdom of Judah; including the destruction of Jerusalem and the robbing and burning of the temple:

  • “Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, declares the Lord God, and not rather that he should turn from his way and live?” (Ezek 18.23; 32; 33.11).

The context is a whining group of sinners complaining that their punishment is too great to bear. They claim they are suffering for their father’s sins (previous generation) and not their own. They’ve been given sour grapes to gnash their teeth upon. God’s point, however, is that every person is held accountable for their own course of action. They are responsible for their own behavior.

The conditional statements of “If, then” do not speak of ability, but categorical facts of reality. Unfortunately, this is a common error in reasoning. What such statements conclude is the result is conclusion of the condition met. For example: A person who does not commit murder will not be found guilty of murder. A person who does murder, will be found guilty of murder. Etc., etc., etc.

The people accused God of injustice, but He points out that they are the ones who are really unjust. It is not as if God is rubbing His hands together in gleeful anticipation of killing the sinners. He does not find joy in their sin. Nor is He jumping up and down with laughter at their being found guilty.

Doesn’t this mean that God desires all people to be saved? To turn and repent? Depends on the meaning of “desire.” There are distinctions in God’s desire, just as there are in His love and goodness.

Does God desire for mankind to worship other gods, to craft idols and blaspheme His good Name? No. This is an example of God’s prescriptive will. He has an objective standard that image bearers were created to obey. To obey pleases God (cf. Heb 11.6; James 2.26). For example,

  • “The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent” (Acts 17.30).

God is not happy about His creature’s disobedience. In this sense then, God does not desire to see the death of the wicked which such behavior guarantees. However, there are times when God’s desire of purpose (His decreed will) determines the outcome through the sinful choices of fallen creatures.

No one made Joseph’s brothers hate him and sell him into slavery. They chose to do it. And yet, we read that God decreed it to take place:

  • “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today” (Gen 50.20).

Oddly familiar when you compare it with the following:

  • “this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men…Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified…For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself” (Acts 2.23, 36, 39; italics added).

On the one hand sinful man rebelled against what God desired (the keeping of His Holy Commands), but on the other hand man’s rebellion fulfilled what God desired (keeping His decreed plan), fulfilling the words of the prophets (cf. Acts 3.18; 13.27, comp Isa 46.10).

To argue from passages like Acts 17:30 that God desires all people to be saved is in contradiction with what God says in other places. It is out of line with His Godly nature as the Bible reveals. And it offers a disproportionate view of God.

How so?

In short, they assume that God loves without distinction all creatures equally. That His goodness limits Him to a human understanding of what is good. His lack of joy from sinners perishing equates to a universal desire for all men everywhere to turn to Him.  And from such assumptions it is concluded: God’s love is unconditional, His goodness prevents Him from doing anything conceived as “bad” from a human point of view, and His desire for humans to repent is comparable to one who hopes and wishes and longs for people to come to Him, but He is left to the whims of the creature whether or not that outcome will ever present itself.

The end result being, the creature has fashioned God into his/her own image. Or, rather the image that they prefer God to be. The root of such thinking is in assuming that the Potter is like the clay.

ENDNOTES:

[i] All Scripture unless otherwise noted shall be of the English Standard Version.

[ii] As may be seen in this link, John Piper gives a heartfelt answer that admits his own struggles with what to do with these prayers (see here). They are difficult because they attack our sensibilities, but we should be reminded that they are God-breathed prayers (2Tim 3.16-17), and are therefore good for the believer. Unless of course you’d like to assume that you are more righteous than a prophet of God under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Wisdom, however, will dictate the circumstance where/when such prayers are worthy.

[iii] To avoid confusion, the English word “nation” is not limited in the sense of a country with borders, for the term can also refer to a body or group of people within a whole.

Image by: <a href="http://Image by oskiles from Pixabay“>oskiles

Posted in Knowing God

God is NOT like Us

God is not like us. He doesn’t look like us. He doesn’t think like us. He doesn’t feel like us. He doesn’t act like us. He doesn’t speak like us. He doesn’t know like us.

We need to let that fact sink in—The Potter is not like the clay (Isa 29.19). Why? Because it will have a direct impact on what you believe about the Lord, about the Christian faith, and how you reason through the Scriptures effecting the way you live.

The problem arises when we give little thought to who God truly is. When we begin assuming that God is more of “a god,” rather than the Holy One, the Great I AM. Someone that has some power and knowledge, but in the end is not that different from you or I.  The Greeks and Romans had plenty of those sorts of gods. So did the Egyptians and the Canaanites. We could even throw in the Hindus, American Indians, and any other mythology that one might cling to.

I’m not mud slinging here, so please be patient. Many of the Jews in the New Testament were of the same mind. Thus, Jesus rebuked them for setting up idols[i] and supplanting the Word of God with their own “word.” The very same thing the apostle Paul does when he enters Athens.

(Hold on a minute. Before I go further, I need to let you know now where I am going before I get there. My goal is to deal with a misuse of Acts 17:30, but I need to do some contextual work first. This tends to make for longer posts. My wife is always getting on my case for that. So, the only solution I can think of is to break it up a bit. Point being, if it appears that I leave on a bit of a cliff-hanger. You know haven’t finished the job, so to speak. Know that I do plan on wrapping things up in my next post. Okay, let’s continue….)

Acts 17:16-34 Contextually Considered

What is the first thing that you will hear learned Christians say when they read Paul’s interaction with the Aeropagus in Acts 17:16-34? He congratulated them on being “very religious,” he even cited their poets, he did!  I’ve met quite a few that glaze over Acts 17:16,

  • “Now while Paul was waiting for them in Athens, his spirit was provoked within him as he saw that he city was full of idols” (italics added).[ii]

Paul got angry at what he saw in Athens. Just as angry as Jesus got with the Jews during His earthly ministry. Well, what got Paul so riled up? The Greeks were worshipping idols—the creative efforts of their own minds—rather than the God who made them. He highlights this in his speech before the intellectual elites:

  • “Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription: ‘To the unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you” (Acts 17.22-23; emphasis added).

“Oh, he was so cordial and polite…he was!” “He was?” “Yeah…!” “Yeah?” “Yeah!”

Yes, Paul was cordial to his audience. He graciously said to them “Men of Athens….” He acknowledges who they were. He noted their status before others, but then he said this:

“You fellows are a bit ignorant. You have all these idols, all of these gods you worship and just to make sure you got all your bases checked you even add one to the ‘unknown god.’ Well, what you are ignorant of…what you think you worship, ‘I will proclaim to you.’”

Now you might not catch the weight of those words coming from the apostle’s mouth, so let me help. Who was his audience? They were the learned men of Athens. They were the intellectuals, the sages, the wise men of Greece. They were constantly seeking knowledge, and they assumed that they were the proper arbiters of it. Paul has not only told them they are wrong, but badly informed. They profess to have knowledge, but their knowledge of things is false.

Like the Hebrews in Isaiah’s day, these Greeks assume that the Potter is like the clay. And they’ve displayed this arrogance all throughout their city. Paul does not congratulate them, but rebukes them. Then, he corrects them. God does not “live in temples,” (v. 24) “nor does He need anything from you,” (v. 25) nor is it right “to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image informed by the art and imagination of man” (v. 29).

Essentially, Paul is saying this “Everything that you conceive in your hearts about God is wrong. God is not fashioned by you; He is to be worshiped and revered by you. You ought to have recognized these things, the evidence is all around you. He gives life and breath, and yet you grope around in the dark as if he is far, but He is near!”

And on the heels of this explanation, what does the apostle conclude? What does he say to the Athenians? This…

  • “The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent…”(Acts 17.30).

In other words, God allowed this discrepancy on you part, but now the time of ignorance has passed. They are over. Now you are commanded to repent!

Two seemingly innocent assumptions are sometimes smuggled in at this point. What are they?

First, that this “ignorance” is innocent or accidental. It is not, it was purposeful, willful!

Second, that this “command to repent” is an invitation, rather than an edict from God. It is not, it is a binding demand.

If we only look earlier in the text, we see this notion identified in the charge against the apostles/disciples of Christ:

  • “These men who have turned the world upside down have come here also…and they are all acting against the decrees of Caesar, saying there is another king, Jesus” (Acts 17.6).

Kings demand obedience. A King that calls for repentance is commanding the person(s) in question to lay down their arms in surrender, in submission. Do we dare assume that Paul’s command here is any less than this? He is an ambassador of the One God, the one true King, and the message is you are “commanded to repent!”

Invitation or Demand: Something that Needs Weighed and Considered

Why then do modern Evangelicals prefer to call Acts 17:30 an invitation to accept Christ, rather than a demand to surrender to Him? Because it’s less offensive? Because Jesus is called the Prince of Peace, so the idea must be “peace, peace” when we present the gospel? Because the Lord is identified as the “Lamb of God” do we then assume that means He is meek and gentle?

Is it due to the notion that God is a God of love, or that He’s good, or that He gets no joy over the death of the wicked? Do these concepts, which are certainly true of God—we could turn to the passages where they are drawn from—drive us to a misunderstanding of the true nature of God? Do many, unknowingly perhaps, make the Potter like the clay? In other words, do our convictions (assumptions/biases) we hold to be true of God, mislead us into making God like us? Thinking and acting like a human rather than the Sovereign Creator of all things?

To be continued…

ENDNOTES:

[i] Some might suppose what idols did the Jews have? How about the Temple, the city of Jerusalem, their namesake as a child of Abraham, the Law and the Prophets, circumcision, etc., etc. Idols do not have to be graven images made by human hands; idols are manifested in the heart—from the wellspring of evil. This means that even the gifts that God has given us when viewed disproportionately from their true purpose are turned into, and therefore, abused as idols.  There are several indicators in the Bible that point out this was one of the chief sins of the Hebrew people…but they are not alone.

[ii] All Scripture unless otherwise noted shall be of the English Standard Version (ESV).

Image by Phaidros Krugmann

Posted in Attributes of God, Beliefs, Christian Perspective, Communication, dialogue, Knowing God, love, Personal Testimony, Theology, Witnessing

False Ideas and the Idols we make: Witnessing to a Witness

Opening Thoughts…

Historically one of the first major heretics to arise out of the Christian faith was a man by the name of Marcion (2nd century; taught 140-155 A.D.). He denied many of the writings of the New Testament (hereafter N.T.) that seemed to share too much affinity with the Jewish faith of old. He took issue with the God of the Old Testament (hereafter O.T.) because he did not like the wrathful version of God he saw there. He looked at Jesus as the exact opposite; a person who was kind, good and loving. A version of this man’s teachings, based upon the same faulty assumptions, is still existent today.

When people read the N. T. this false veneer is presented on their interpretation of Jesus of Nazareth. He is portrayed as non-offensive and non-combative; a kind, loving, beggarly individual that would never say anything mean (he’d never want to hurt a person’s feelings) or sarcastic (he’d never want to cause contention with people). For many, the version of Jesus many people hold to today (even professing believers) is not compatible with what we read in the O. T. description of Holy God. It is often said, “Jesus loved everybody unconditionally.” Did he now? Is that really how He is described in the N.T.?

Witnessing to a Witness?

Yesterday, I had a forty-minute dialogue with a Jehovah’s Witness. He was attempting to invite me to a meeting they were having—a memorial service to the Last Supper. As he explained to me their position I politely listened. After he was finished I asked if he understood what the true meaning of the Last Supper was. “Well, to remember Jesus’ life,” he said. “Why is that important,” I asked? “What purpose did the cross of Jesus serve? What necessity did the blood of Jesus meet? To whom is His sacrifice applied, and what does it accomplish?” Besides his immediate detour on a discussion of whether or not the “Roman cross” was really a cross or “a stake,” he struggled with answering the questions I posed.

He said, “if you would only come to our meeting, then you would know our position.” In response I asked, “If I come to your meeting, would I be permitted to speak?” He shook his head and said, “no…you couldn’t do that, but won’t you be open minded, and just listen?” “If you did,” he added “you’d see the similarities that we have in our thinking.” Again I inquired, “Would you go to a seminar that atheists were holding and listen to them with an open mind?” Immediately, he said, “No, of course not!” “Why,” I pressed “for you would find that there are some things that you share in common with the atheist. There are things that they hold to that are common to all people.” He said, “But, they do not believe in God.” “Ah,” I said, “and herein lay our dilemma. You would suggest to me that I ought to go to your meeting to listen to what you have to say with an open mind. I could listen to what you have to say, just as I can listen to what an atheist has to say, because I am confident that by the Holy Spirit I can discern the truth from error. However,” I stated “if I were to offer you a similar invitation to my church to listen to my sermon, to hear my teaching, would you do so? Would you and your friends here be able to be as open-minded as you insist I should?” “Of course not!” he said. “That’s a problem,” I explained “for I see that you are not being very consistent .”

Trying to steer the conversation back to the reason why he came to my home he inquired once again, “Will you not come? I admit that I am not being consistent, but if you came to our meeting you would learn what we believe about this (the Lord’s Supper, what he continually called a memorial service) and in time might learn the truth.” Laughing a bit at his persistence I countered, “Why do you take communion?” (Now, I already knew that only the “anointed” in their cult were allowed to participate in taking communion at their memorial service, and the higher ups keep a running count of who claims to be of the “anointed class;” the 144,000 of Revelation 7:14; 14:1, 3). However, I had my own agenda at the moment and I wanted to make a point to a man that started off the conversation with me pretending to believe the Bible is the authoritative word on the subject of his beliefs.

He did not miss a beat in explaining to me that only the “anointed” could participate in the elements. I told him that I found that peculiar on two accounts. One, the Bible teaches that the disciples of Christ were to “do this in remembrance of [Him]” (Luke 22.19), and what we ought to notice if we read the Scriptures is that this rite was participated in by all members of the Christian community as seen in Acts (cf. 2:42, 46) and specifically in 1Cor 11:20-32. Two, on what grounds do you attempt to limit participation in what Christ commanded? From where do you get the designation “anointed” only, as the only class of Christians that may participate in the Lord’s Supper? Surely, the Bible does not teach this. Neither the Christ nor His apostles taught this, so why do you?

At this point he tried to show me Rev 21:17 where the text speaks of measuring the wall of the temple and its measurement is “144 cubits.” He then said, “This coincides with the 144,000….” I interrupted at this point, “You mean the 144,000 from the 12 tribes of Israel spoken of earlier in the book?” “Yes,” he said “this coincides with…” Again, I interjected “what’s a cubit?” “What?” he said. “Oh, well a cubit coincides with….” “No,” I stopped him “what is a cubit?” When he attempted the same song and dance I said to him, “A cubit is a unit of measurement isn’t it, similar to a foot?” “Yes, but it coincides with….” “the 144,000?” I finished. “Right, that’s right,” he told me without any hesitation.

I pointed out “Nope, that’s wrong. Rev 21:17 is speaking about a unit of measurement not a grouping of people. You are taking that text out of context and adding your own meaning to it, just as you do with the Lord’s Supper. Jesus told his followers to do this ‘in remembrance of him’ because it is His blood that paid the ransom price for our sinful lives. Jesus became a curse (cf. Gal 3.13), he became sin even though He never sinned, so that we might become the righteousness of God (cf. 2Cor 5.21). Jesus died to save His people from their sins (Matt 1.21),” I explained.

I continued, “The problem is that we do not believe in the same Jesus, we do not believe in the same God of Scripture—who is Triune in nature—for my God did for me what I could not do for myself. My works, my choice is not what saved me, my Lord saved me and I cannot deny my Lord.” He then attempted to adopt the same language as I had used for a few moments, but I ended up stopping him. I explained, “You use the same language that I use, but you do not mean the same things. The Father sent the Son into the world to die for His people (people given to Him by the Father), and the Son laid down His life for His people, and the Holy Spirit raises Christ’s people up regenerating them.”

With a look of confusion on his face he proceeded to say, “Though much of what you say Kris is true; much of what you say is ignorant and it comes from your ignorance.” Laughing a bit, I told him “Since you called me ignorant, I must ask have you not read? ‘God chose the weak out of the world, the poor out of the world and the foolish out of the world…’ (1Cor 1.27-28; paraphrased) you call me an ignoramus and that’s fine; God called me, I am His, and I cannot deny Him. He saved me from hell…but you my friend, you do not have this.”

Closing Thoughts…

About this point, you may have wondered if I forgot what I opened up with at that beginning of this post, but I have not forgotten. After my last statement my dialogue with this J.W. grew a bit animated. His disdain for the doctrine of hell became apparent. He identified my God as one who is wrathful and cruel. He said, “What sort of awful God would condemn a person like us, who lives what? Seventy or Eighty years to an eternity in torment! A loving God would never do such a thing, that wouldn’t be fair…seventy years for forever!?! God destroys those who do not faith in Him, who do not freely choose Him…He wouldn’t do what you suggest.” In the remaining couple of minutes in our conversation I asked if he believed God was truly holy and tried to explain the depths of our sin and need for Jesus as a substitute, but he would have none of it.1 He left in a hurry and I prayed for the man and the people who were with him.

This reaction of disdain and disgust is the norm when a person reads the commands of God, and the penalties that follow for our sin against Him. People have made God into an idol. They have elevated one or a few of His attributes, like love or goodness, above all others. The moment that God does not fit the mold that people have formed in their hearts of who they believe the God of the Bible should be, they offhandedly reject Him.

God is more than the supposed defining mark of love and goodness. He is also holy and therefore hates sin. He is Just and therefore, as judge delves out justice in all cases. God is many things, for many attributes are given in Scripture that accurately define His perfect characteristics (i.e. character/nature), but to elevate one over and above another gives a disproportionate view of who He is; and, is therefore by definition an idol. To do that with the God of Scripture is to take His Name in vain and blaspheme Him. This, ironically or not, warrants a penalty of a death sentence; to which (no surprise here!) people complain about, as being much too harsh. And to that kind of thinking I will respond with the words of the late R.C. Sproul, “What is wrong with you people!”

______________________________________________

ENDNOTES:

1 I also spent some time with him in John 12:37-41 and Isaiah 6:1-10 proving that Jesus was the one whose glory Isaiah saw in the past as Yahweh (Jehovah), but no matter how clear the text was before him (even in his New Word Translation—NWT) he was confused by what he was reading and hearing (cf. Acts 9.22).

Posted in Beliefs, Christian Living, Christian Perspective, Knowing God, Law, love, morality, Reason

A Dose of Humility is Needed

I find it a little perturbing when Christians attack God’s Law because they find it archaic, culturally bound, and overtly harsh. I’m always wondering to myself, “Is this accurate? Is this the sort of attitude that Christians ought to have towards what God has deigned sufficient and necessary for us to know how we ought to live?”

Let’s be honest, we don’t like being told what to do. I mean when we strip it down to the bear bottom the problem is not so much with what God has commanded to be done, but rather the idea that anyone would tell us how we ought to live. “Do we not have any say in this!?!” “Can we not decide for ourselves what is morally right and wrong?” “Are we not wise enough to choose correct path as we weigh the evidence before us in creation and in our own hearts!?!”

The answer is NO.

I remember when my kids were little (two of them are getting ready to graduate here in a couple of years) and the reaction that they would give when told “no.”

My youngest sister used to tease my parents dog (a Chihuahua) by telling it “no.” If the dog were close, she would point her finger at it and say “Minnie—that was her name—No…nooo….nooo.” The reaction of the little dog was comical, but you wanted to make sure that your finger wasn’t too close to its mouth or you’d get nipped. Minnie would turn her head ever so slightly and begin to snarl, eventually chewing you out with a shrill little bark.

This was similar, although not exactly the same, to one of my kids when they were told “no.” A temper tantrum would ensue. No I don’t know about how this was dealt with in your home, but judging from what I see sometimes at the supermarket not very many people today used the approach I did; punishment quickly came next. The age of the child determined the type of punishment they’d get.

When my oldest was about three years old he wanted to grab things on the coffee table that he didn’t need to touch. Some of you out there would probably just move it up to a higher area to avoid the problem altogether. If the items were dangerous to the child sure that makes sense, but there are some things that need to be left in our way in order for us to learn. We receive instruction and when we fail to abide the instruction we get disciplined.

So, when he wanted something on the table that he was not allowed to have I told him “No, you can’t have that. Leave it alone.” After a moment of consideration he went right back for what he was restricted from having. I’m sure his little mind thought, “If I see it, why can’t I grab it? I see you grab it, so why are you telling me no?” I warned him one more time, and the pause of consideration on his part was much shorter. As he reached his hand out to grab it—all the while looking right at me, to see what I’d do—I caught his hand and delivered a quick smack on it and told him firmly, “I said no.”

He looked up at me with his big blue-green eyes as they filled with tears, and then the flood gates opened up. He cried for a few moments, and then I brought him near explaining to him that it was wrong to do it, because I said so: “You’re not allowed to have it,” and then I hugged him and told him I loved him.

He didn’t know it at the time, but my heart was deeply moved by the scene. I hated that he cried as he looked at me heartbroken, but I also knew it was a necessary lesson. If more parents today took disciplining their kids seriously (notice I’m not saying abusing them), then many of the ridiculous attitudes we see on display at the grocery store or on the evening news would not be happening.

  • “Because the sentence against an evil deed is not executed speedily, the heart of the children of man is fully set to do evil” (Eccl 8.11).

The pain of that day taught my son to heed my word. He understood that when I said “no” that is what I meant. Temper tantrums were few and far between in our house. I’m not saying that they never happened, they did, but discipline helped curb the hearts and behavior of my kids. Even to this day my wife and I have had people come up to us in restaurants or in other places commenting on how well behaved our children are; polite and courteous.

Question, did I need to tell my child the reason behind my command? Did they have “a right” to know my rationale behind the law I had given?

The answer is NO.

Why then do we want God to give us justification for why He declares a certain behavior as off-limits? Why do we suppose to suggest that it is necessary for Him to tell me His reasoning why He says “NO?” Of course, this is not limited to the Law of God for we often want to question God for why He allowed this tragedy, or why He willed for this to happen when so many things from our vantage point seem horrible.

Listen to the answer we are given in Scripture:

  • “But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, ‘Why have you made me like this?'” (Rom 9.20).
  • “Shall a fault finder contend with the Almighty? He who argues with God, let him answer it…Dress for action like a man; I will question you, and you make it known to me. Will you even put me in the wrong? Will you condemn me that you may be in the right?” (Job 40.2, 7-8)
  • “Woe to him who strives with him who formed him, a pot among earthen pots!” (Isa 45.9)

It seems to me that we need to learn a little humility when we come before the Word of God. If He commands us in one way, do we dare go another? If He says this is the right course of action, do we dare say “tell me the reason!” Should we not rather say with the one we profess to be our Lord: “Not my will be done, but thine” (Luke 22.42); and “I do as the Father has commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father” (John 14.31).

Is this not heavenly wisdom rather than earthly wisdom when we bow the knee before our God and King, acknowledging His divine right over us? It is. And then, is it not utter foolishness when we challenge His Word or course of action because we fail to understand it? It is.

Let us choose Godly wisdom and pray for humility, before we open our mouths uttering blasphemies in ignorance.

Posted in Beliefs, Biblical Questions, evidence, faith, Knowing God, Revelation, Salvation, Theology, Worldview Analysis

Knowledge of God not Possible without Revelation

Suppose God never chose to reveal Himself to His creation. He never spoke to us. He never had His Word(s) written down and preserved for us in a book. Would we know Him? Would it be possible to know Him? God by His very nature is immaterial. He has no physical substance. He is Spirit.

So, I ask again would it be possible to know God without Him having revealed Himself to us?

Jesus says in a couple of different places that such a thing would be impossible. If God did not choose to reveal Himself to His creation, then they could not/would not know Him.

  • “All things have been handed over to Me by My Father, and no one knows who the Son is except the Father, and who the Father is except the Son, and anyone to whom the Son wills to reveal Him” (Luke 10.22).1

Now Jesus makes this statement after praising God for keeping the truth hidden from the supposedly wise and learned in the world. The very thing we find Paul teaching in 1Cor 2:5 where he says, “so that your faith would not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God.” For, if true knowledge of God—that is to truly know who He is and draw near Him—were obtainable by natural means, without God opening the hearts of sinners, then those who crucified Christ would not have done so.

  • “but we speak God’s wisdom in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God predestined before the ages to our glory; the wisdom which none of the rulers of this age has understood; for if they had understood it they would not have crucified the Lord of glory” (1Cor 2.7-8).

Again, we find Jesus teaching this very truth in John 6. Here Jesus is confronted with people who have witnessed His miraculous power and yet still do not believe in Him. He says, “I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me will not hunger, and he who believes in Me will never thirst. But I said to you that you have seen Me, and yet you do not believe” (John 6.35-36).

Jesus promises life to all who come to Him. He compares himself to living bread and living drink, and while this allusion most certainly has the wilderness experience in mind, when Moses led Israel from Egypt and complaining Israel was given manna to eat and water from a rock to drink, this also points to the words of the prophet Isaiah 55:1-3.

  • “Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good and delight yourselves in rich food. Incline your ear, and come to me; hear that your soul may live; and I will make with you an everlasting covenant, my steadfast, sure love for David” (ESV).2

Now Jesus is not finished with his audience at Capernaum. He says to those who do not believe—again, even though the evidence of His true nature is right in front of their face—”All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out” (John 6:37). The order of operation as disclosed by Jesus is very precise and cannot be rearranged without mispresenting God. Each one the Father gives to the Son will come to the Son, and the Son will not cast them out.

Why do they come?

Because the Father has given them to the Son; He is the source of their belief. If we compare what Jesus has already taught about belief (Luke 10.21-22), with what He is disclosing now, then we should rightly conclude that belief in the Son is the result of the Father’s action (i.e. giving). To those then the Father has revealed the Son, the Son reveals to them to the Father, which is actually the Son’s purpose (it’s the Holy Spirit’s role too, but we haven’t got there yet).

  • “No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he [Jesus, the Word-made-Flesh] has made him known” (John 1.18; cf. 6.45-47; 14.6).

All of those who have had the truth of God revealed to them will come to Jesus Christ. There is a difference between how one comes to Christ and we see this constantly repeated in the recorded gospel ministry of Jesus. Not everyone who professes belief (faith) is a true believer in Jesus.

Why?

Some are the type that we witness in John 6. They’ve seen what He can do (evidence), but they really don’t know who He is. Because the truth has not been revealed to them; externally they might find the Lord appealing, but internally there has been no true change of heart.

Jesus explains to his audience that He has “…come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me, that of all that He has given Me I lose nothing, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life, and I Myself will raise him up on the last day” (John 6.38-40). Jesus has just promised eternal life to all who believe.

Who believes?

Those who believe come to Him, but the reason they come to Him Jesus says is because the Father has given them to the Son. The heavy implication from this teaching is immediately felt by Jesus audience and they begin to grumble (John 6.41). Again, this harkens back to the disbelief of those who had been delivered from Egypt but were cursed to wander in the wilderness. Despite all the evidence they saw, they failed to see who God truly is; therefore, they grumbled against Him and any who faithfully represented Him (e.g. Moses). The same is true of this class of people. They have come to Jesus, but they do not believe. Jesus says this is because they haven’t been given by the Father, and so they grumble.

The complaining Jews are rebuked by the Lord. “Jesus answered and said to them, ‘Do not grumble among yourselves. No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day” (John 6.44; emphasis added). This is a hard teaching from the Lord when properly understood. His own disciples, people who had been following Him for a long time and had witnessed many things that He did, could not bear to hear it/accept it (cf. John 6.60). Again, Jesus reiterates this hard truth to them, “For this reason I have said to you, that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted him from the Father” (John 6.65; emphasis added).

Why?

Because, “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life” (John 6.63). Yes, but isn’t it true that God wants all people to come to Him, to know Him, to know, love and embrace the Son? Isn’t Jesus purpose for everyone to know Him and His words as true? Is it?

Does Jesus say that?

I’ve heard this argument presented when speaking of the parables of Jesus, but you have to ignore what is going on in the text in order to come to that conclusion. Jesus often taught things that were difficult to hear and accept, and He did not apologize for what He said. Nor does He soften His message to appease His audience (then and now). The disciples asked the Lord why He taught in parables (Matt 13.10), when many people were confused by the true meaning—even them. Listen to what He says, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given” (Matt 13.11; ESV; italics added; cf. Luke 8.10; Mark 4.11-12).

Looking back at what Jesus said in Luke 10:22 as He was rejoicing in the Holy Spirit (v. 21), the fact remains that unless God chose to reveal Himself to His creatures; no one would truly know Him.

Is it possible to know God if He does not reveal Himself?

Just from this brief investigation in Scripture it does not appear so. Further credence seems to be given to Paul’s words in 1Cor 2:14, “But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised.” The difference for the Christian is our internal disposition due to what has been given to us:

  • “Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know the things freely given to us by God” (1Cor 2.12).
  • As Jesus explained to His disciples, “I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you” (John 14.16-17; ESV).

The point being, only those to whom God has revealed Himself may truly know Him.

“Yes, but that can’t be true, Kris, for we read in Romans 1 that all people can know God from creation itself,” you say. It is true that Romans 1 does point to the fact that all human beings know God, but there is a question we need to ask….

In what sense is this knowledge of God spoken about?

Paul starts off in Romans 1:18 explaining that the wrath of God rests against all human beings, because they “suppress the truth in righteousness.”

What truth do people supposedly suppress?

Paul answers that question in vv. 19-25.

  • “Because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but became futile in their speculations, and their foolish hearts was darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools…For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshipped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever Amen” (Rom 1.19-22, 24-25).

There is a sense where every man, woman and child knows that there is a Creator. Paul’s point is pretty clear that this is evident to all, because God has made mankind in that way. We are all image bearers. We were created to image (mirror) our Creator, but since the beginning God’s wrath has been resting against us as a result of Adam’s sin. He was the first to exchange the truth of God for a lie, turning from the incorruptible God to corruptible creatures (Rom 1.23).

However, Paul’s point here in Romans 13, is not that nature can truly make us know God in a genuine, meaningful way. Rather, the verdict is we know enough of the truth that we stand condemned. We are, as fallen creatures, “without excuse” (Rom 1.20); or, without an apologetic. We have no defense against God’s righteous judgment. In other words, we all stand guilty for our sin—i.e. idol worship—and the Lord is revealing that to us.

Yes, but what about the other testimonies of Scripture?

Sometimes you will hear a person make an appeal to one of the prayerful songs of praise in the Hebrew songbook—Psalms. We need to remember that the psalmist (whether it is David or another) is not neutral towards God. Therefore, comments about God’s handiwork declaring the glory of God (cf. Psa 8; 19) say nothing about people in general knowing God personally. In fact, we find quite the opposite when we take the time to read what is written:

  • “For you, O Lord, have made me glad by your work; at the works of your hands I sing for joy. How great are your works, O Lord! Your thoughts are very deep! The stupid man cannot know; the fool cannot understand this” (Psa 92.4-6; cf. Psa 14.1-3; Rom 3:10-12).

Again, we see the clear indication of what man in his natural fallen state cannot do.

Faith in God is based on what?

The Christian faith is rightly called a Trinitarian faith. We do not believe in three gods (polytheism), nor do we believe in different modes of God (Sabellianism) as if the God of the Bible is constantly changing masks, and we flatly deny any concept of Unitarianism (denial of the Trinity). We believe in One God in three divine persons.

  • “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one” (Deut 6.4; ESV).

One divine being, eternal/immutable revealed in three divine persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The Father is neither the Son nor the Spirit; The Son is neither the Father nor the Spirit; The Spirit is neither the Father nor the Son. Each person of the Triune Godhead function is differing roles solidified and committed to One central purpose/divine will.

In terms of salvation, it is the Father who sends the Son into the world to redeem His people that He is giving to the Son. The Son willing lays down His life for His sheep taking their place on the Cross, saving them from their sins. The Spirit is sent by the Father and the Son to represent the Son in order to regenerate what was lost in order to raise them up to eternal life. All three persons work cohesively in this effort as God to have a people committed to them (Him) for all eternity.

What about other those other things intimately tied to the Christian faith-system?

How do I know what sin is? How do I know the price that is necessary to atone for it? What is Holiness and why should I be concerned with it? How can I know to live righteously, to whom shall I turn? Or maybe I shouldn’t turn to anyone other than my own self, my own heart? How do I know that people are lost and need evangelized? How do I know that Jesus is the Christ? That He died for sinners? Maybe it was a hoax or He never existed? You tell me that He did exist and His death and resurrection were not a hoax, but how can I be sure. You say that there is evidence for it, but other present evidence against it that sounds just as compelling if not more so. Can I truly be sure that the Christian faith is real, when there so many other options out there? Who is to say which religion is right, or if religion isn’t really just a construct that people have invented to cope with difficulties in life? Karl Marx called it an opiate of the people, maybe it is.

Now, please show me how these may be known—truly known—from creation? How is such knowledge even obtainable without God having revealed Himself to us in such a fashion? The answer is it is not. NOT possible. Without God’s revelation, His spoken-written Word preserved throughout the ages for His people, and without confirmatory evidence4 witnessed in creation (both internally and externally) it would be impossible to know God.

Here’s the problem when we give evidence as the supreme priority for our faith in the God of the Bible…we would know nothing about Him or about ourselves without His breathed-out Word (2Tim 3.16-17). As vital as creation is as a revelatory source it does not actually tell us anything. It has to be interpreted. This is the Achilles heel of Natural Law Theory.

Nature does not teach laws. Nature does not teach. Nature is always interpreted, and interpretation will always be subjective to the individual and the source they lean upon as authoritative. There is a real danger is saying that your faith rests on evidence. What happens when some new line of evidence overturns what was previously assumed as right? According to Scripture the order is supposed to be reversed. Our faith is to rest upon God’s Word (cf. Deut 8.3; Matt 7.24), and then His understanding of all things is what is supposed to guide our own (cf. Isa 11.1-5).

When our faith in God is rested upon anything other than Christ’s Word (the Holy Bible) we are just building sandcastles.

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ENDNOTES:

1 All Scripture shall be of the New American Standard Version (95′) unless otherwise noted (NAS95).

2 The reader would do well to note that entirety of Isaiah 55, paying particular attention to the latter verses where God’s salvation is brought about by His Word which never returns to Him barren, but always brings about the will of God.

3We can even include Romans 2 where he speaks of human hearts bearing the mark of His Law to some degree (Rom 2.14-15). Again, this knowledge is not enough to provide salvation, but further indicts all people.

4 Evidence is secondary in regards to any faith-system as the faith-system in question will have a direct bearing on the way in which the evidenced is viewed. Evidence then is used as confirmation of one’s beliefs not the ground for it. There is ample evidence for the Christian worldview, but these “facts of nature” are interpreted in light of what our worldview teaches.

For example, the Bible teaches that all men are sinners—everybody sins. We can take this teaching and then compare it with what we find going on in the world around us. The evidence will either confirm or deny our beliefs. Some evidence is difficult to assess in light of one’s worldview. In those cases, rescuing devices are erected in order to protect the foundation of one’s beliefs.

Here is an example from an evolutionary perspective. Genetic material does not create informational material—i.e. information comes from some outside source. One way that an evolutionist might attempt to get around this dilemma is by stating that there is a mechanism that happens naturally from genetic material, but we haven’t identified it yet. Give us enough time and we will. Might take a million years, but we’ll get their eventually. Christians use a similar tactic when it comes to things they have difficulty answering. However, the point is that we do not abandon our commitments (faith) because some difficulty is presented to us—i.e. our faith is not rested upon evidence.