21. A Jealous God
Jealousy is an ugly word. “It is the green-eyed monster,” said Shakespeare in Othello. It has overtones of selfishness, suspicion, and distrust, and implies a hideous resentment or hostility toward other people because they enjoy some advantage. It is possessive, demanding, and overbearing; and that is repulsive. It stifles freedom and individuality, it degrades and demeans, it breeds tension and discord, it destroys friendships and marriages. We view jealousy as a horrible trait and we hate it.
We do not read very far in the Bible before we hear God saying, “You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth. You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God” (Exodus 20:4-5). A jealous God! How can a God who is holy, just, loving, gracious, merciful, and long-suffering possibly be jealous? We need to explore a side of jealousy that may have escaped us.
The Meaning of God’s Jealousy
The root idea in the Old Testament word jealous is to become intensely red. It seems to refer to the changing color of the face or the rising heat of the emotions which are associated with intense zeal or fervor over something dear to us. In fact, both the Old and New Testament words for jealousy are also translated “zeal.” Being jealous and being zealous are essentially the same thing in the Bible. God is zealous—eager about protecting what is precious to Him.
One thing He views as especially important to Him in the Old Testament is the nation Israel. She belongs to Him as His special possession, His unique treasure.
For the LORD has chosen Jacob for Himself,
Israel for His own possession (Psalm 135:4).
In fact, He views her as His wife. Through the Prophet Hosea He said to the nation, “And I will betroth you to Me forever” (Hosea 2:19).
No man with any moral fiber wants to share his wife with another man, and neither does God. He expects exclusive devotion from her. When she goes after other lovers, that is, when she worships other gods and thus commits spiritual adultery, He is said to be jealous. When the term jealousy is applied to God in Scripture it is usually because His people are worshiping idols. In the second of His ten commandments He warned them not to do that, but they failed to listen to Him.
For they provoked Him with their high places,
And aroused His jealousy with their graven images (Psalm 78:58).
That same idea is present in the New Testament. After a discussion of idolatry in the church of Corinth, Paul asks, “Or do we provoke the Lord to jealousy?” (1 Corinthians 10:22)
The marital relationship may be the best way to help us understand the difference between sinful jealousy and righteous jealousy. I can be jealous over my relationship with my wife in a wrong way or in a right way. For example, if I feel resentment or anger merely because I see her talking to another man, that would be self-centered possessiveness and unreasonable domination—in other words, sinful jealousy. It would stem from my own selfishness or insecurity rather than from my commitment to her and to what is right.
But, on the other hand, if I see some man actually trying to alienate my wife’s affections and seduce her, then I have reason to be righteously jealous. God gave her to me to be my wife. Her body is mine just as my body is hers. I have the exclusive right to enjoy her fully, and for someone else to assume that right would be a violation of God’s holy standards. I am zealous for the exclusiveness and purity of our marriage, and that is a righteous jealousy. Jehovah feels the same way about His relationship with His “wife.” There is no selfishness in His jealousy. It is the appropriate expression of His holiness.
There is a difference between jealousy and envy in Scripture. They are two entirely different words in the Greek New Testament. Jealousy involves the desire to have what somebody else has. That may be wholesome, particularly when we desire to develop in our own lives the positive spiritual qualities we see in others, or when we seek to enjoy the spiritual riches which are ours in Christ just as we see others enjoying them. In like manner, God wants what is His: the exclusive devotion of His people. It is only right and good that He should. But for us, jealousy may degenerate into something bad, as when we feel frustrated and bitter because we cannot obtain what we want, or when we find fault with those who have what we want or who keep us from getting it. God is not capable of experiencing that sinful jealousy. The point is, jealousy can be either good or bad.
On the other hand, envy is nearly always bad. It is a feeling of displeasure over the blessings others are enjoying and it makes us want to deprive them of that enjoyment. Jealousy wants what others have, while envy wants to keep them from having it. It is a vicious and malicious trait which Solomon calls “rottenness to the bones” (Proverbs 14:30 KJV).
There are some notorious examples of sinful jealousy and envy in Scripture. For example, because of Joseph’s favored position with his father and because of the regal coat which Jacob gave him, “his brothers were jealous of him” (Genesis 37:11). Their sinful attitudes resulted in sinful acts; first they plotted his death, then cast him into a pit, and finally sold him into slavery. Selfishness and sinfulness were written all over their lives.
Another example of sinful jealousy is found in the book of Acts when the apostles preached with power and performed miracles of healing. Multitudes were added to the Lord and the Jewish religious rulers were furious over this threat to their position and authority. Scripture records, “they were filled with jealousy” (Acts 5:17). First, they threw the apostles into prison and later had them flogged. Their selfish motives were unmistakable.
When we are jealous in a sinful way, we often try to hurt others, just as Joseph’s brothers and the Jewish religious leaders did. We pick at them, find fault with them, and gossip about them. Critical attitudes toward other people are often spawned by selfish jealousy. But there is not a trace of selfishness in God’s jealousy. It is perfectly pure, as its expressions reveal.
The Manifestation of God’s Jealousy
He Is Jealous for His Holy Name. It wasn’t long after God first spoke of His jealousy that He had occasion to demonstrate it. Moses had come down from the mount with the two tablets of the law in his hands only to find the people of Israel carousing in idolatrous worship before the golden image of a calf. He dashed the tablets to the earth, burned the calf and ground it to powder, then commanded the Levites to discipline the people. It was a vivid expression of God’s jealousy operating through His servant Moses.
When the crisis was past, God invited Moses back to the mount for a fresh encounter with Himself. That was when He revealed His glory to Moses as no one had ever seen it before. Moses saw Him as a compassionate, gracious, long-suffering God who abounds in mercy and truth (Exodus 34:6). The culmination of that revelation came a few moments later when God said, “Watch yourself that you make no covenant with the inhabitants of the land into which you are going, lest it become a snare in your midst. But rather, you are to tear down their altars and smash their sacred pillars and cut down their Asherim—for you shall not worship any other god, for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God” (Exodus 34:12-14).
God’s name is the epitome of who and what He is, and He says His name is Jealous. Jealousy is not merely a passing mood with God. It is the essence of His person. He cannot be other than jealous. Since He is the highest and greatest being there is, infinitely holy and glorious, He must be passionately committed to preserving His honor and supremacy. He must zealously desire exclusive devotion and worship. To do less would make Him less than God. He said about Himself:
I am the LORD, that is My name;
I will not give My glory to another,
Nor My praise to graven images (Isaiah 42:8).
God is sovereign and supreme over all. Were He to share His glory with other so-called gods, He would be elevating them to a position that would not be consistent with their true nature, and it likewise would be making Him untrue to His own nature—less than the preeminent God He is. He must be faithful to Himself and maintain His high and holy position, and He wants His creatures to attribute to Him that degree of honor. Basically, that is what He means when He says, “I shall be jealous for My holy name” (Ezekiel 39:25). His jealousy does not grow out of insecurity, anxiety, frustration, covetousness, pride, or spite, as ours usually does. It is the natural and necessary by-product of His absolute sovereignty and infinite holiness.
If God, by virtue of His essential being, must be jealous for His uniqueness and His supremacy above all, then those who know Him and want to please Him should be just as jealous for Him. If we are serious about our relationship with Him, we shall exalt Him above everyone and everything else in our lives; we shall be absolutely dedicated to living for His honor; we shall be zealously committed to doing His will. The primary goal of our lives will be to show the world that our God is the one true and living God—that He alone makes life meaningful and worthwhile.
That is the way the prophet Elijah lived his life. He risked his physical safety to prove that Jehovah is God when he stood alone against the prophets of Baal and called down fire from Heaven on his water-soaked sacrifice. The fire of the Lord did fall, and it consumed the sacrifice, the wood, the stones, the dust, and licked up the water in the trench around the altar. “And when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces; and they said, ‘The LORD, He is God; the LORD, He is God’” (1 Kings 18:39). It was a spectacular victory for the Lord over the pagan idols of the Canaanites. And it all happened because that one lone prophet could say, “I have been very jealous for the LORD God of hosts” (1 Kings 19:14 KJV).
We live in a pagan society where money is god and material possessions are the chief object of man’s worship. We need people who will be very jealous for the Lord God of hosts, people who will stand alone if need be against this insidious and contagious brand of idolatry and show the world that the Lord is God, people who will adopt a simpler lifestyle and use their resources for His glory rather than for their own comforts and pleasures.
In our pagan society, Satan holds the adoration of some and superstition grips the hearts of others, alternative brands of idolatry which suggest that supernatural forces other than God have ultimate control of our lives. We need a nucleus of people who will be jealous for the Lord God of hosts, who will stand against every expression of idolatry, who will look solely to the Lord and His Word for guidance and strength rather than to horoscopes or lucky charms, and who will allow Him to control their lives so thoroughly that His sovereign power is evident to all who observe them.
The Apostle Paul qualified for that company. “According to my earnest expectation and hope, that I shall not be put to shame in anything, but that with all boldness, Christ shall even now, as always, be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:20-21). His great desire was to bring glory to Jesus Christ, to show the world by the way he lived and by the way he died the magnificence and preeminence of the Saviour. That is being jealous for God.
We see it again in Paul’s last visit with the Ephesian elders: “But I do not consider my life of any account as dear to myself, in order that I may finish my course, and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify solemnly of the gospel of the grace of God” (Acts 20:24). The focus of his life was communicating the truth of God’s grace. He let nothing interfere with that overriding purpose. Whatever else he had to do was always secondary to and supportive of accomplishing that goal, and he maintained it even to death. That is what it means to be jealous for God.
Forty great soldiers from Cappadocia in Rome’s vaunted twelfth legion shared Paul’s jealousy for God some two hundred fifty years after his death. Licinius was reigning over the eastern portion of the empire but was sensing an increasing military threat from the west. He became more and more repressive in his policies, particularly toward Christians. To solidify his strength, he called on his armies to demonstrate their support by offering a sacrifice to the pagan gods.
Most of the legion stationed at Sebaste, a city south of the Black Sea, dutifully complied, but the forty Cappadocians, all Christians, respectfully declined. For more than a week they were placed under guard, where they sang and prayed together continually. Their captain pleaded with them: “Of all the soldiers who serve the emperor, none are more loved by us and more needed right now. Do not turn our love into hatred. It lies in you whether to be loved or hated.” “If it rests with us,” they replied, “we have made our choice. We shall devote our love to our God.”
It was sundown when they were stripped and escorted shivering to the middle of a frozen lake with guards stationed along the shore. A heated Roman bathhouse stood ready at the shore for any of them who were prepared to renounce their faith in Christ and offer a pagan sacrifice. Their jailer stood by with arms folded, watching, as a bitter winter wind whipped across the ice. But through the whistling wind the soldiers could be heard singing:
Forty good soldiers for Christ!
We shall not depart from You as long as You give us life.
We shall call upon Your Name whom all creation praises:
Fire and hail, snow and wind and storm.
On You we have hoped and we were not ashamed!
As midnight approached, their song grew more feeble. Then a strange thing happened. One of the forty staggered toward shore, fell to his knees and began crawling toward the bathhouse. “Thirty-nine good soldiers for Christ!” came the weakening, trembling song from the distance. The jailer watched the man enter the bathhouse and emerge quickly, apparently overcome by the heat, then collapse on the ground and expire. The other guards could not believe what they saw next. The jailer wrenched off his armor and coat, dashed to the edge of the lake, lifted his right hand and cried, “Forty good soldiers for Christ!” then disappeared over the ice into the darkness.
All forty were dead by the next day, but it was the jailer who caught the captain’s notice as their bodies were being carted away. “What is he doing there?” he demanded. One of the guards replied, “We cannot understand it, Captain. Ever since those Christians came under his care, we noticed something different about him.” The martyrs of Sebaste were jealous for the name of their God, and it had a profound impact on that jailer who looked on. Our jealousy for God will have a similar effect on the people around us.6
We should be reminded, however, that it is possible to be jealous for God in the wrong way. Paul accused the Jews of his day of having a misdirected jealousy: “For I bear them witness that they have a zeal [jealousy] for God, but not in accordance with knowledge” (Romans 10:2). The Jews thought they were exalting the Lord above all gods, but in their system of salvation by performing religious rituals and deeds they actually exalted themselves above God. It was a jealousy for God all right, but not consistent with the knowledge God has revealed about Himself in His Word.
The discovery that God is jealous for His holy name is not a challenge to become religious. It is a challenge to put our trust in God’s gracious provision for our salvation—the death of His sinless Son—and a challenge to develop a way of life that reveals Him to a lost world.
He Is Jealous for Our Best Interests. Not only is God jealous for Himself, but He is also jealous for us. He has a passionate, consuming zeal for our best interests, and He wants us to share that zeal by being jealous for one another.
When the mighty Assyrians threatened to destroy the city of Jerusalem, King Hezekiah brought their insolent threats before the Lord in prayer. God’s answer, delivered by the prophet Isaiah, reassured Hezekiah that God would put a hook in the nose of Assyria’s king and lead him right back to where he came from (Isaiah 37:29). Jerusalem would be saved. “For out of Jerusalem shall go forth a remnant, and out of Mount Zion survivors. The zeal of the LORD of hosts shall perform this” (verse 32). Because God was jealous for His people and wanted them to have what was best for them, He would protect them through that siege and deliver them from destruction.
Later God allowed the nation Israel to be disciplined by the Babylonians. He loved them dearly and His discipline was the expression of that love. But then He was ready to restore them and bless them, so he said, “I am exceedingly jealous for Jerusalem and Zion” (Zechariah 1:14). Then He described what He was about to do: He will return to Jerusalem with mercy and rebuild His house there. He will cause the towns of Israel to overflow with prosperity and provide comfort for Zion once more (Zechariah 1:16-17). God is jealous for those whom He loves and takes positive steps to help them, just as we are jealous for those whom we love when they are threatened, wronged, or abused. He wants only the best for us, and at this very moment He is planning things that will bring benefit and blessing to our lives.
God wants us to have the same attitude toward each other as fellow believers: to be jealous for one another’s best interests. Paul said Epaphras felt that way toward his Christian friends at Colosse: “For I bear him record, that he hath a great zeal for you, and them that are in Laodicea, and them in Hierapolis” (Colossians 4:13 KJV). His jealousy for them led him to pray for them daily, as the context indicates. If we shared God’s jealousy for other believers, we would be busily engaged in intercessory prayer, faithfully bringing their needs to God’s attention. Our prayer lives would not be wholly occupied with our own problems, but we would beseech God on behalf of the specific needs of others in the body of Christ.
The Apostle Paul also shared God’s jealousy for other Christians. When his converts at Corinth began to fall for the subtle perversion of the gospel being propagated by Satan’s servants who had infiltrated the church, Paul said, “For I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy; for I betrothed you to one husband, that to Christ I might present you as a pure virgin” (2 Corinthians 11:2). As their spiritual father, he had promised them to Christ, their spiritual bridegroom, and it was his desire to present them to their husband as a pure bride, untainted with the distorted doctrine of those false apostles. For that reason, he faithfully taught them the truth at great personal sacrifice and encouraged them to submit to it.
If we shared God’s jealousy for others, we too would be filling our minds with God’s truth and graciously sharing it with those whom God sends our way. We would want what is best for them, and we know that patterning their lives according to His Word will always result in their greatest possible good. If we cared enough we would share the very best—the eternal truths of God’s Word.
So our God is a jealous God! The truth of His jealousy challenges us to give God His due and to put Him before all else. But it likewise guarantees that He is looking out for our best interests. Getting to know Him as a jealous God will increase our level of devotion to Him, deepen our trust in Him, and strengthen our dedication to pray for others and faithfully share His truth with them.
Action To Take:
Examine your life style prayerfully. Have other things assumed a more prominent place in your life than your relationship with the Lord Himself? If so, take some decisive and concrete steps to put Him in the position He deserves to be.
Are you jealous for the spiritual welfare of other believers? If you have never done so, begin making a list of others’ needs and bring them before the Lord daily in prayer.
Related Topics: Theology Proper (God)
1. Treasures of Wisdom
Suppose that you owned one of those famous magic lamps, and your own private genie promised to grant you anything in this world you desired. What would you ask for? Wealth would probably be one of the most popular requests. Some think more money would solve almost all their problems. Good health might also rate high, particularly among those who have lost it. Happiness would be the leading desire for others. One worldwide poll of young people revealed happiness as the number one goal in life.
There was a man who had such a choice offered him, not by a fictitious genie, but by the true and living God. God appeared to King Solomon one night and said, “Ask for whatever you want me to give you.” Solomon answered, “Give me wisdom and knowledge, that I may lead this people, for who is able to govern this great people of Yours?” (2 Chronicles 1:7,10 NIV) God was pleased that Solomon asked for wisdom rather than riches, honor, long life, or victory over his enemies, so He granted his request. Scripture testifies that all Israel “saw that the wisdom of God was in him” (1 Kings 3:28).
God has wisdom, infinite and perfect wisdom. Job was willing to admit that, even while he was enduring grievous affliction that made no sense at all to him. “With Him are wisdom and might,” he declared (Job 12:13). The Prophet Daniel said much the same thing after God supernaturally revealed to him Nebuchadnezzar’s dream and its meaning: “wisdom and power belong to Him” (Daniel 2:20). The fact is well established in Scripture—our God is distinguished by wisdom.
The Meaning of God’s Wisdom
What is wisdom? The words used in Scripture have the idea of skill and expertise. For example, Bezalel had the wisdom to make artistic designs in gold, silver, bronze, stone, and wood for the tabernacle (cf. Exodus 31:1-5). When he did his work, he had a goal in mind, a plan to reach that goal, the proper materials to use, and the skill to bring it all about. When applied to God, wisdom seems to refer to His establishing the best goals and choosing the best and most effective means to accomplish them.
Wisdom is mental excellence in its greatest sense, more comprehensive and far-reaching than mere knowledge. Knowledge is an awareness and understanding of the facts. Wisdom is the ability to adapt those facts into accomplishing a desired end. God knows all the facts, but also has the ability to work everything He knows into a perfect plan that accomplishes His perfect purpose.
Wisdom implies a final end or goal. So if we ever hope to understand God’s wisdom, we must first understand the primary goal toward which He is moving. God is infinitely holy and righteous, He is sovereign, the highest and greatest, infinite goodness. In other words, He Himself is best. If God exists for what is best and He Himself is best, then He must of necessity exist for Himself. He lives to demonstrate His own glory.
That may sound selfish, but it really is not. It is essential because of who God is, and it is to our advantage for Him to be who He is. If He existed for anyone outside of Himself, then the one for whom He existed would be greater than He, and therefore god, and we could not be certain who he is or whether he is interested in our welfare. But that cannot be. God is God and there is none greater. His chief end must therefore be to bring glory to Himself. He has the skill to weave everything there ever was or ever will be into the ultimate accomplishment of His glory. That is His wisdom.
God never faces a situation He cannot handle or a problem He cannot solve. We certainly do. I often get myself into predicaments where I simply do not know which way to turn or what action is best to take. When I face a major decision I try to gather all the facts, because a person’s decisions are only as good as his information. But even with all the facts, I still may not know the best course to take, because I lack the wisdom God has. But God is the master of every situation. He knows all the facts, and He knows how to use every one of them to attain the perfect results. Nobody else can do that. God’s wisdom is unique. That is why Paul called Him “the only wise God” (Romans 16:27). God alone has perfect wisdom in and of Himself. All other wisdom is merely a reflection of His.
The Expressions of God’s Wisdom
Everything that God does reveals His wisdom, but several specific things are mentioned in Scripture. For instance, creating the world was an expression of His wisdom.
O LORD, how many are Thy works!
In wisdom Thou hast made them all;
The earth is full of Thy possessions (Psalm 104:24, cf. Proverbs 3:19).
God put the universe together in such a manner that it displays not only His goodness, but also His wisdom. And that brings glory to Him.
The heavens are telling of the glory of God;
And their expanse is declaring the work of His hands (Psalm 19:1).
A second expression of God’s wisdom was sending His Son. Jesus Christ is the personification of God’s wisdom. In the eighth chapter of the book of Proverbs, wisdom cries out for men to hear. It seems to be a person, and the further we read the more convinced we become. He existed from everlasting, before the earth was. He was the Father’s delight and rejoiced in the Father’s presence (Proverbs 8:22-23,30). Wisdom can be none other than the eternal Son of God. The Apostle Paul calls Him “the wisdom of God” (1 Corinthians 1:24). In Him “are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Colossians 2:3).
If you want to get to know the God of wisdom, study the life of Jesus Christ. As a boy, He “kept increasing in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men” (Luke 2:52). When He began His public ministry, He taught with such penetrating perception and amazing authority that people asked, “Where did this man get this wisdom, and these miraculous powers?” (Matthew 13:54) He confronted the hypocritical scribes and Pharisees with such crisp thinking that they could not answer Him (e.g. Matthew 22:46). They had the finest theological minds of the day, but their mouths were stopped before the wisdom of Jesus Christ. God gave the world the most complete and comprehensive demonstration of His wisdom possible when He sent His Son to earth. And it brought great glory to Him. Near the end of Christ’s life He could say to His Father, “I have brought you glory on earth” (John 17:4 NIV).
However, that was not the final expression of God’s wisdom. He likewise discloses it by redeeming the lost. “For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe” (1 Corinthians 1:21). The people of the world think they can get to know God by using their own human wisdom. God knows they cannot, so in perfect wisdom He has provided a way. His wisdom seems like foolishness to them, but through it, He manages to deliver people from their bondage to sin and bring them into a satisfying relationship with Himself. How does He do it? Paul goes on to tell us: “For indeed Jews ask for signs, and Greeks search for wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block, and to Gentiles foolishness, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Corinthians 1:22-24).
Christ crucified! That is the means God has provided for mankind to know Him. To the average unbeliever it seems ridiculous to think that God’s Son should have to die on a cross to pay the penalty for man’s sin. But that is the heart of God’s wisdom, the message that brings eternal salvation. The death of God’s sinless Son was necessary to satisfy His offended holiness, deliver mankind from bondage to sin, and open the door to His presence.
Those who believe that message are brought into a living union with God through Jesus Christ and become members of His Church. Nothing displays God’s wisdom and demonstrates His glory more dramatically than that body of redeemed sinners who have been eternally forgiven and accepted by His grace. “His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 3:10 NIV). Because it displays His wisdom it also glorifies Him. “Unto Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen” (Ephesians 3:21 KJV).
God has another way of expressing His wisdom—by ordering the lives of believers.
Man’s steps are ordained by the Lord,
How then can man understand his way? (Proverbs 20:24)
God in wisdom has already mapped out the course of our lives to bring the greatest glory to Himself. His wise plan even includes the means by which He will use our volitional choices, some of which may be contrary to His desires, in order to achieve His perfect end, as difficult as that may be for us to understand.
His plan also includes the means by which He will use the trying circumstances in our lives to achieve His perfect goal. We can trust Him in the dark places of life, because He in His wisdom knows the way through the darkness. Maybe you have visited one of the world’s famous caverns. If you have, you were probably led through it by a guide. You trusted him and committed yourself to him because you were confident that he knew the way. To refuse to follow him would not only have endangered your own life, it would have insulted his wisdom. To do anything less than commit ourselves completely to our Lord in simple trust during the troubling times in our lives is to insult His wisdom. To resist Him, question Him, doubt Him, or criticize what He allows in our lives is to deny that He is the only wise God, and claim that we are wiser than He.
We may not always enjoy what God does, but our enjoyment is not His primary goal. Our happiness will come, but it will come as we grow in the likeness of His Son. That is His great goal for our lives, because as we grow to be more like Jesus, not only will we experience greater happiness ourselves, but God’s principal goal of bringing glory to Himself will also be fulfilled. Allowing trials to enter our experience is part of His wise plan to accomplish His perfect end. To understand His wisdom in ordering our lives will help us to lay hold of His peace in the disturbing circumstances of life.
The Enjoyment of God’s Wisdom
The most exciting aspect of God’s wisdom is that He offers to share it with us. Many of us would be willing to admit that we could use a large supply of it in order to handle the circumstances we confront daily. Having God’s wisdom does not necessarily mean we will know why God allows certain things to happen to us or how He will work them together for good. It simply means that we will know the right thing to do in each situation, the thing that will bring the greatest glory to Him.
Scripture makes it clear that we need divine wisdom. Solomon devoted nearly nine chapters in the book of Proverbs to the need for wisdom. Just as he sought it from God, so he encourages us to do likewise: “Wisdom is supreme; therefore get wisdom. Though it cost all you have, get understanding” (Proverbs 4:7 NIV). The New Testament echoes that need: “Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men, but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil. So then do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is” (Ephesians 5:15-17). Again, real wisdom is basically knowing the right thing to do in every situation—knowing and doing the will of God.
Scripture suggests that we especially need God’s wisdom in our encounters with unbelievers (Colossians 4:5), when wrestling with trials (James 1:2-5), and in the use of our tongues (James 3:8-13). But there are countless other occasions as well when we desperately need wisdom. We know it comes from God, “For the LORD gives wisdom” (Proverbs 2:6). But how do we get it? There are several basic prerequisites.
The first is to admit our need. Solomon said, “with the humble is wisdom” (Proverbs 11:2). The humble are those who do not think more highly of themselves than they should. They are willing to admit that they do not have all the answers, that their opinions may not always be right, and that they need to know the mind of God. In other words, they have a teachable spirit. They are willing to learn and are open to change. We will enjoy God’s wisdom only if we admit that we need it.
The second prerequisite is to fear the Lord. The Psalmist said, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom” (Psalm 111:10). To fear God is not to cower before Him in terror, but to bow before Him in awe, respect, and total trust in His purposes for our lives. Just as we will put our confidence in a guide’s wisdom and follow him through a dark cave only when we respect him, so we will be open to receiving and following God’s wisdom only when we respect Him and believe that He will not lead us astray. To fear Him, then, is to submit ourselves to Him. We need not only teachable spirits, but broken wills.
The third prerequisite is to study God’s Word. By loving God’s Word and meditating on it daily, the Psalmist discovered that he was wiser than his enemies, that he had more insight than his teachers, and more understanding than the aged (Psalm 119:97-100). Through the Word, he found wise guidance in life:
Thy word is a lamp to my feet,
And a light to my path (Psalm 119:105)
God’s wisdom is revealed in His Word and that is where we must find it.
The final prerequisite is to pray. “But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all men generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him” (James 1:5). Sometimes praying for wisdom is the last thing we think to do when we face a knotty problem, a difficult decision, a pressing emergency, or an alarming crisis. The Lord is standing ready to give us His wisdom and we often think about everything we can do to work out the problem except talking to Him about it. Regardless of how big or how little the matter may be, He invites us to ask Him for wisdom.
Ask Him for wisdom in the business deal with which you have been struggling. Ask Him for wisdom in handling the problems you encounter in raising your children. Ask Him for wisdom concerning the information on which you should concentrate for that upcoming exam at school. Ask Him for wisdom in working out the tension and hard feelings you have been experiencing with another believer. Ask Him for wisdom in coping with your pain or sorrow. Ask Him for wisdom in balancing your checkbook. Ask Him for wisdom concerning what to prepare for dinner. Ask Him for wisdom concerning the right things to say to your wife when she is feeling blue. He cares about all those things, and more.
The Recognition of God’s Wisdom
How do we know whether the wisdom we are exercising is from God or from men, whether it is divine wisdom or human wisdom? One way will be to compare it to the truth of God’s Word. His wisdom will always be consistent with all of His Word. But there is one special passage in the Word that tells us particularly how to identify God’s wisdom: “But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy” (James 3:17). Here is the acid test.
First, God’s wisdom is pure, unmixed with error, untainted by immorality, unclouded by selfish motives, cleansed of all personal ambition. If we are looking out for our own interests, we are probably operating by man’s wisdom rather than God’s. Secondly, God’s wisdom is peaceable, not quarrelsome, contentious, or cutting, but promoting the harmony and peace that draws people together. If our words or actions are arousing antagonism in others, we are probably operating by man’s wisdom rather than God’s. Thirdly, God’s wisdom is gentle, that is, fair, moderate, forgiving, forbearing, and considerate in the demands it puts on others. If we are putting pressure on others to conform to our way of thinking, we are probably operating by man’s wisdom rather than God’s. Fourthly, God’s wisdom is reasonable, easy to be entreated, not stubborn or inflexible, but pliable and willing to listen to reason. If we have already made up our minds and refuse to be influenced by any more facts, we are probably operating by man’s wisdom rather than God’s.
Fifthly, God’s wisdom is full of mercy and good fruits. It shows genuine concern and extends practical help toward others in need, even when they have wronged us. Sixthly, God’s wisdom is unwavering, not hesitant or vacillating, but standing firm on Biblical principles, undivided in allegiance to God and consistent from day to day. And finally, God’s wisdom is without hypocrisy. When we are operating by God’s wisdom we do not wear masks, play roles, or deceive people by putting on a good front. We do not try to conceal our true thoughts, feelings, or motives in order to make ourselves look good or to accomplish our own ends. We are open, honest, and straightforward.
Here is God’s standard for measuring His wisdom. When we begin to get our wisdom from Him, our homes will be happier, our lives more effective, and our God greatly glorified. And there is really no time to lose. As the Psalmist put it, “So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts to wisdom” (Psalm 90:12 KJV).
Action To Take:
What difficulties are you presently facing? Ask God for wisdom in handling them. Measure your words and actions by the sevenfold standard of divine wisdom revealed in James 3:17. If you have doubt about whether you are operating by man’s wisdom or God’s wisdom in any one of the seven, ask other members of your family what they think, then prayerfully consider their advice.
22. Let God Be True!
When our Lord Jesus stood trial, the civil judge in the case was a puzzling and pathetic figure named Pontius Pilate, the Roman procurator of Judea. He had little understanding of the Jewish people and had gained a reputation for total insensitivity to their customs and manner of life. Yet he feared the damage they could do to him by their continual complaining to Rome, so when he heard the case against Christ, he was torn between displeasing the Jews and condemning an innocent man.
He thought that a personal conversation with the accused might help him make a more intelligent decision, so he retreated from the crowd and entered into the palace to talk with Jesus privately. “Are You the King of the Jews?” he asked. After Jesus explained that His kingdom was not of this world, Pilate persisted with his questioning: “So You are a king?” Jesus replied, “You say correctly that I am a king. For this I have been born, and for this I have come into the world, to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.” At that, Pilate threw up his hands and exclaimed in total exasperation, “What is truth?” Then he went back outside to the Jews, never waiting for Jesus to answer his question (cf. John 18:33-38).
“What is truth?” It was a good question and it deserved an answer. Christ could have given Pilate one if he had waited just a moment longer. But he did not really want an answer. He was not honestly seeking the meaning of truth. Like many people today, he was expressing skepticism about the whole subject of truth. He was doubtful that there was any such thing, or that anyone could know it if there were.
Statements like, “This is true,” or “This is right,” are meaningless to some intellectuals, those who deny the possibility of absolute truth. They insist that truth is relative, that what is true for one may not be true for another, or what may have been true in the past is not necessarily true today. They claim that it’s all in the way you see it, and it really does not matter how you see it because, in the final analysis, nobody has any ultimate answers. Some would even say that life is a laugh, death is a bad joke, and everything is quite absurd.
But above this din of confusion and despair, another voice is heard, the voice of this same Jesus ministering to His disciples on the night before His trial in Pilate’s court: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). It was the same claim made by Jehovah when He revealed Himself to Moses on Mount Sinai centuries before. He called Himself “The LORD, the LORD God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth” (Exodus 34:6). There is such a thing as truth, and it resides in a person, a person whom King David called the “God of truth” (Psalm 31:5). What does it mean that God is truth?
He Is the Truth
“But the LORD is the true God,” declared the prophet Jeremiah (Jeremiah 10:10). The New Testament echoes that same message. For example, Jesus referred to His Father as “the only true God” (John 17:3). Paul commended the Thessalonians because they “turned to God from idols to serve a living and true God” (l Thessalonians 1:9; cf. also John 3:33; 1 John 5:20-21). The meaning is clear—the God they trusted is the only real God. All other so-called gods are really not gods at all, but woefully inadequate imitations of the one genuine God. When we read that He is the true God, it is usually because He is being contrasted to false gods, particularly to idols.
Listen to Jeremiah again as he describes the gods men fashion with their own hands:
Like a scarecrow in a cucumber field are they,
And they cannot speak; They must be carried,
Because they cannot walk!
Do not fear them, For they can do no harm,
Nor can they do any good (Jeremiah 10:5).
Why worship gods who cannot communicate with us, minister to us, or even transport themselves from one place to another? “They are worthless, a work of mockery” (Jeremiah 10:15). The word worthless refers to a vapor, something unsubstantial or unreal. Worshiping an idol makes no more sense than swearing your allegiance to a zucchini squash.
But what a contrast is the Lord, the true God, the living God, the everlasting King. He made the earth by His power and established the world by His wisdom. He stretched out the heavens by His understanding. He causes the clouds to ascend from the end of the earth, makes lightning for the rain, and brings the wind from His storehouses (Jeremiah 10:10-13). He is the only God who has done what God must do to be God. His actions substantiate who He says He is. We can understand that from the physical world. For instance, we may claim to have pure gold in our possession, but pure gold must be gold not only in appearance but also in true reality. It must have all the properties and characteristics of pure gold. So the true God must be God not only in name, but in truth and actuality.
The same idea is suggested when He is called the God of truth, as in Psalm 31:5. The Old Testament word for truth comes from a root indicating firmness, stability, or a reliable basis for support. It refers to something that rests on trustworthy facts. The New Testament word has the idea of being open and unconcealed, and therefore being real and genuine rather than false or imaginary. The God of truth is the God whose disclosures about Himself are consistent with the facts and with the nature of things as they are. He has integrity. He is who He says He is.
Isaiah also called Him “the God of truth” (Isaiah 65:16), but he used a different word which is translated “amen” every time it occurs in the Old Testament. Isaiah called Him literally “the God of the Amen.” The word amen means “verily” or “truly,” and refers simply to something that is so. When God says “amen,” He is asserting that something is and shall be so. When we use the term, we are saying essentially, “Let it be so.” But when it is applied to God as a title, it means He is the God who truly is, the only true God, the God of truth, the God who is truth.
Interestingly enough, Jesus is also called the Amen (as in Revelation 3:14). He is the embodiment of all God is. That is why He could say to His disciples, “I am the truth,” and why He could tell Pilate that He came to bear witness to the truth. That is why John could say, “grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ” (John 1:17). He is the visible manifestation of the eternal God. He is no imposter or deceiver. Jesus Christ is the God of truth. The Apostle John stated it powerfully: “And we know that the Son of God has come, and has given us understanding, in order that we might know Him who is true, and we are in Him who is true, in His Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God and eternal life” (1 John 5:20). Jesus Christ is the true God.
He Knows the Truth
God not only is the truth but He knows the truth. The Psalmist went so far as to say that His truth reaches to the skies (Psalm 108:4), another way of stating that it is complete, perfect, and unlimited.
We can illustrate that from the human realm also. Some people are mechanically inclined and enjoy building things. I have a friend who likes to restore antique cars. He tears them apart and puts them back together again. He knows them inside and out, right down to the last nut and bolt. People are normally familiar with the things they build. Scripture teaches that God created all things (e.g. Ephesians 3:9). Since He obviously knows all there is to know about everything He made, we are driven to the inescapable conclusion that He has complete and accurate information about everything there is. The Psalmist said, “The truth of the LORD is everlasting” (Psalm 117:2). He has all the true facts; they will always be true, and He will never forget any of them.
I certainly cannot make that claim. I am not very mechanically inclined, and when I put something together there is no guarantee that I will remember how it works the next time I use it. Some time ago I purchased a bicycle rack for my automobile so my wife and I could get away and enjoy a little togetherness. I followed the instructions carefully, installed the rack on my car, and we had a great time together. It was nearly a year before I tried to use it again, and I could not figure out how to attach it to my car. I had to find the instructions and read them again. Facts do not always stay with me very long. Just because I prepare and preach a sermon does not necessarily mean that I will remember everything I said the next time I need that information. But all truth resides in God permanently.
All truth is God’s truth and we are totally dependent on Him for our knowledge of truth. Since He is the author of truth and since He created our capacity to grasp truth, we can come to a knowledge of things as they are only through Him. Anything we think we know to be true must coincide with the truth He possesses; that is, it must be in accord with reality as He knows it.
He Reveals the Truth
God has no intention of hiding His truth from the people He made. His desire is for everyone to come to a knowledge of the truth (1 Timothy 2:4), so He takes the initiative and reveals Himself to us. The fact that He is truth guarantees that He will reveal Himself as He really is, that His revelation will be perfectly reliable, that what He says will correspond exactly to the way things are. A God of truth will never deceive us or reveal to us error or falsehood. He must speak the truth. At least four times in Scripture we are assured that God does not lie (Numbers 23:19; 1 Samuel 15:29; Titus 1:2; Hebrews 6:18).
People lie. We all know that. We have all been lied to and we have all distorted the truth for our own advantage at one time or other. Whatever men may be like, we have no reason to question God. The Apostle Paul said, “Let God be found true, though every man be found a liar” (Romans 3:4). When He speaks, it is true, accurate, and correct to an infinite degree.
But how does God reveal His truth to us? One major method is through His Word. “All Scripture is God-breathed” (2 Timothy 3:16 NIV). It actually “proceeds out of the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4). It was revealed when “men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:21 NIV). So we would expect Scripture to be true. And that is exactly what it claims for itself:
The words of the LORD are pure words;
As silver tried in a furnace on the earth, refined seven tines (Psalm 12:6).
The fear of the LORD is clean, enduring forever;
The judgments of the LORD are true; they are righteous altogether (Psalm 19:9).
Thou art near, O LORD,
And all Thy commandments are truth (Psalm 119:151).
The sum of Thy word is truth,
And every one of Thy righteous ordinances is everlasting (Psalm 119:160).
Jesus added His divine testimony: “Sanctify them in the truth; Thy word is truth” (John 17:17).
If God’s Word is truth, then it is necessarily without error. Truth and error are antithetical and mutually exclusive. If it is true, then it cannot be in error, and if it is in error, then it cannot be true. Yet there are some who claim to be Christians who insist that it is unnecessary to believe in an inerrant Word from God. They say that the Bible is inspired by God, but they consider it to be no problem if it contains historical, scientific, numerical, or chronological mistakes. The subject of inerrancy has become one of the major theological issues among evangelicals in our generation, and it is not an issue on which we can afford to remain neutral. To weaken the Biblical doctrine of inerrancy is to set us adrift on a sea of human speculation and rob the Christian message of its uniqueness and power.
If parts of the Bible are true and parts are false, what criteria can we use for determining which parts we can accept as correct? Who will make that decision? The parts that are false cannot be from God since He is the God of truth, so they must be of human origin. Yet Scripture claims to be from God in its entirety. If we are the ones who determine what is true and what is false, then we are elevating ourselves above Scripture, and ultimately above God Himself.
If the Bible is not true in its historical facts, then we cannot be sure it is true when it speaks about eternal salvation or daily responsibility. We are left with no sure word from God. We cannot be certain that anything about the Biblical message is true, and we are free to follow the spirit of our age. Some professing Christians who have denied the inerrancy of Scripture have already adopted the world’s standards in matters such as homosexuality, abortion on demand, and divorce and remarriage for any cause.
The Bible was written by human authors who left their mark on the finished product by their own individual personalities, literary styles, and particular emphases. But what they wrote in its original form was exactly what God wanted it to be. It is His truth and it cannot be diluted with falsehood.
Admittedly, there are problem passages in the Bible, but none of them is without some reasonable answer. We must acknowledge that some passages are open to varying interpretations, but careful study with hearts that are open to God’s Spirit and wills that are yielded to Him can lead to an accurate understanding of their meaning. There may be some passages on which we all will never agree here on earth, due possibly to our deeply ingrained presuppositions or prejudices. But God still knows what He means, and someday we shall all understand it as He does.
The Bible obviously includes some of the erroneous ideas of Satan and self-willed men, but it is still an accurate account of what they said or thought. It does not tell us everything there is to know, but what it does tell us is truth. If man is ever to know God and have the assurance of eternal life, then God must speak to him, and a God of truth will speak the truth, without error, fraud, or deceit. First believe Him, then spend time studying His Word and come to a knowledge of the truth.
He Requires the Truth
Unfortunately, believing in an inerrant Bible alone is not going to impress a lost world very much. The people of the world can find somebody who believes almost anything, and one religious opinion is just as good as another, as far as they are concerned. People want to see something that works in everyday living. When God’s truth is demonstrated by a life of honesty, integrity, and absolute truthfulness, then people will notice. And that is what God desires of us.
David learned that lesson after a major crisis in his life. He had committed the sin of adultery, then tried to cover it by dishonesty and deceit. The whole sickening affair had brought reproach on the name of God. But David had repented and was reflecting on his relationship with the Lord when he made this incisive observation: “Behold, Thou dost desire truth in the innermost being” (Psalm 51:6). When we fulfill God’s desire and allow His truth to become a part of our inner person, then we will be able to speak truthfully and act truthfully toward others. They will see the reality of God’s presence in our lives and turn to Him.
Then I will teach transgressors Thy ways,
And sinners will be converted to Thee (Psalm 51:13).
The Apostle Paul put it like this: “Therefore, laying aside falsehood, SPEAK TRUTH EACH ONE OF YOU WITH HIS NEIGHBOR, for we are members of one another” (Ephesians 4:25). That kind of living will have an impact on the world. When a Christian businessman tells the truth about his product and can be trusted to do what he promised to do, people will notice the difference. When a Christian employee is honest about reporting the number of hours he works and how he uses those hours, unbelieving employers will notice the difference. When a Christian student is honest at examination time even when he has opportunities to cheat, others will feel the impact of his witness. When a Christian family is truthful with the neighbors about the damage their dog did to the neighbor’s flower garden, or when the twelve year old boy in the family is honest about the window he broke when nobody was home to see him, then those neighbors will begin to listen to a testimony about a God of truth whose message of truth can bring the assurance of everlasting life.
Living in the knowledge of God’s absolute truth has other far-reaching implications for our lives as well, such as bowing to His authority over us. If everything God says in His Word is absolutely true, then we are responsible to act on the basis of it, to do what He tells us to do. Something that is true requires that we heed it. For example, if a sign says, “Dangerous Curve Ahead, Maximum Safe Speed 15 M.P.H.” and it is true, then we had better reduce our speed to 15 miles per hour. Truth demands compliance. Many of us resist that. We live in an age of rebellion against authority. Some of us reserve the right to live as we please and seek our own happiness anywhere we think we can find it. But a true God whose Word is truth demands our total submission and faithful obedience. That may sound oppressive and burdensome but, on the contrary, it is the only way our lives can operate smoothly and effectively.
Most products work better when we use them according to the manufacturer’s instructions. We are free to ignore the manual if we choose, but that does not always turn out to be true freedom. It may restrict the product’s usefulness and the satisfaction it brings. One of my sons purchased a thirty-five millimeter camera and took it with him on a once-in-a-lifetime trip. But on one roll of film he failed to heed the instructions, did not engage the gear in the film properly, and did not check to see if the spool was turning as he advanced the film. By the time he reached forty exposures he realized there was something wrong, but by then it was too late. He had taken forty never-to-be-repeated shots on the same frame. He was free to ignore the instructions, but the end result was frustrating.
Just so, our lives operate most satisfactorily when we live by the principles which our Maker has revealed in His manufacturer’s manual, the Bible. To ignore His truth leads not to freedom, but to bondage, frustration, and failure. Jesus said, “and you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:32). By letting His truth find expression in our lives, we can be free to live and grow and become all we were meant to be.
Action To Take:
How much time do you give to reading and studying the Bible in an average week? If you have not already done so, build into your daily schedule some time to spend in God’s Word.
Examine your life prayerfully for possible areas of dishonesty, then determine before God to correct them.
Related Topics: Theology Proper (God)
23. Great Is Thy Faithfulness
When God predicts that He will cause a son to be born to a husband and wife who are nearly one hundred years old, more than just His power is in question. His credibility is likewise at stake. Is He reliable? Is He trustworthy? Can we expect Him to do what He says He will do? When that promise was made to Abraham, he literally fell on his face and laughed (Genesis 17:17). Abraham had not yet fully come to believe that God’s Word could be trusted. And neither had Sarah, his wife. When she heard the same promise, she too laughed (Genesis 18:12). Her faith had not grown beyond the example she observed in her husband.
The narrative in Genesis does not record specifically when it happened, but at some point in their walk with God, both Abraham and Sarah became convinced that God would do what He promised to do. The Apostle Paul told us about Abraham: “And without becoming weak in faith he contemplated his own body, now as good as dead since he was about a hundred years old, and the deadness of Sarah’s womb; yet, with respect to the promise of God, he did not waver in unbelief, but grew strong in faith, giving glory to God, and being fully assured that what He had promised, He was able also to perform” (Romans 4:19-21).
The writer to the Hebrews tells us the story from Sarah’s perspective: “By faith even Sarah herself received ability to conceive, even beyond the proper time of life, since she considered Him faithful who had promised” (Hebrews 11:11). She not only believed that God could give her a son, but also that He would because He is a faithful God. His Word is reliable and His promises are trustworthy.
The faith of Abraham and Sarah was not misplaced. “Then the LORD took note of Sarah as He had said, and the LORD did for Sarah as He had promised. So Sarah conceived and bore a son to Abraham in his old age, at the appointed time of which God had spoken to him” (Genesis 21:1-2). It happened just exactly as God said it would and when He said it would. God is truly faithful.
The Explanation of God’s Faithfulness
The Old Testament word for faithfulness is related to the word for truth. They both come from the same root which means “firmness” or “stability.” Faithfulness actually grows out of truth. What is true must also be trustworthy. Even a pagan soothsayer named Balaam had to admit that the God who tells the truth will also keep His Word. He said to the king of Moab,
God is not a man, that He should lie,
Nor a son of man, that He should repent;
Has He said, and will He not do it?
Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good? (Numbers 23:19)
Since God cannot lie, we can count on Him to do exactly what He promised—to be perfectly reliable, always steady and stable, never fickle or vacillating. That is His faithfulness. His Word is infallible and unfailing. Since it is without error, it will surely come to pass.
It is interesting to note how often faithfulness and truth are used together in Scripture. For example, Isaiah said, “Thy counsels of old are faithfulness and truth” (Isaiah 25:1 KJV).
Great Is Thy Faithfulness
The Apostle John also said that God’s words are “faithful and true” (Revelation 21:5; 22:6). He said that Jesus Christ, the living Word in flesh, is “the faithful and true Witness” (Revelation 8:14), and that at His return to the earth He will actually bear the title, “Faithful and True” (Revelation 19:11).
All of God’s attributes operate in conjunction, never in isolation. If everything about Him is true, then He has no alternative but to be faithful. We sometimes go back on our word because we are unable to do what we intended to do, such as when we have been hindered by a storm from taking our children on a picnic we promised them. But God is omnipotent. He can do anything He pleases, even control the weather. He has no reason to be unfaithful. We may also be unfaithful because we are influenced by others. For instance, a wife may have promised her husband that she would prepare his favorite dish for dinner. But some socially prominent women, whose acceptance and friendship she desires, have invited her for coffee. The time has gotten away from her and it is too late to keep her word. But God is totally self-sufficient. He does not need anyone else’s approval to meet His needs. He is His own reason for everything He does.
We may fail to keep our word because we lose interest, like the husband who promised his wife he would build her some new kitchen cabinets, but simply got tired of carpentry and sold his tools. God never loses interest. He is immutable. He never changes His mind. We may not follow through because it no longer suits our selfish purposes. One couple said they would assume responsibility for a Sunday school department, but failed to follow through because they acquired a new motor home and decided they did not want to be tied down on weekends. But God is love; He acts for the good of others rather than for His own selfish interests.
Scripture extols God’s faithfulness. The Psalmist said it surrounds Him (Psalm 89:8); that is, it is part of His being and affects everything He does. Moses assured the people of Israel that because God is faithful He could be expected to keep His covenant and carry out His promises (Deuteronomy 7:9). He has done exactly that. For example, He gave them the land He promised them, He gave them victory over their enemies, and He gave them rest from their conflicts just as He said He would. “Not one of the good promises which the LORD had made to the house of Israel failed; all came to pass” (Joshua 21:45). That is the essence of God’s faithfulness.
God’s faithfulness to His covenant promises is assured even if His people forsake His law, refuse to walk in His judgments, violate His statutes, and break His commandments (Psalm 89:30, 37). Although He will discipline them, He will not violate His covenant, alter the utterance of His lips or, as He says, “deal falsely in My faithfulness” (Psalm 89:33). He can be counted on to do what He promises.
God’s faithfulness is unlimited (Psalm 36:5). The Psalmist went so far as to say,
Forever, O LORD, Thy word is settled in heaven.
Thy faithfulness continues throughout all generations (Psalm 119:89-90).
Because God has spoken in truth and His word is sure, every generation can count on what He has said. No wonder Jeremiah exclaimed with joy, “Great is thy faithfulness” (Lamentations 3:23).
The Extent of God’s Faithfulness
Since God’s faithfulness is part of His essence, it affects everything He says and everything He does. Several specific applications of His faithfulness are made in the New Testament.
First of all, He is faithful in assuring our salvation. The spiritual lives of the Corinthian Christians left much to be desired, but Paul commends them for “awaiting eagerly the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ, who shall also confirm you to the end, blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, through whom you were called into fellowship with His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord” (1 Corinthians 1:7-9). Paul is confident that the Lord will make them steadfast and preserve them from falling away, right up to the moment they enter His presence. That confidence does not rest in the strength or ability of the Corinthians, but in the faithfulness of God. If He promised eternal life to those who receive His Son, then He will deliver what He promised. He will never allow them to perish.
A similar assurance is expressed about the Thessalonians: “Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Faithful is He who calls you, and He also will bring it to pass” (1 Thessalonians 5:23-24). Paul longs to see every one of them standing before the throne of God, wholly set apart unto the Lord, perfectly pure and blameless. He is confident that they will, not because they have the innate power to make themselves holy, but because the One who called them is faithful. God promised to glorify every person He called and justified—every one without exception (Romans 8:29-30). God does what He says He is going to do.
What a satisfying assurance! Once we have acknowledged our sin and trusted Christ as our Saviour, there is no need ever again to worry and fret over our eternal destiny. Our faithful God confirms us in Him forever, and with that issue eternally settled, we can give our attention to growing in our knowledge of Him.
I have talked to people who have struggled for years about the assurance of their salvation. They have been perpetually preoccupied with whether or not they really are saved, and this has hindered them from growing in God’s grace. They will not graduate from that plateau until they take God at His Word and realize their salvation is settled forever. It is like a marriage in which the wife is asking herself, “Does my husband really love me? Is he really committed to this marriage?” As long as those doubts persist, she will never be free to grow in her relationship with her husband. Similar doubts keep us from growing in our relationship with the Lord. “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you shall be saved” (Acts 16:31). A faithful God will do what He promises. He will save you when you trust His Son. You can count on it, because He is faithful.
Secondly, He is faithful in providing for our victory. God wants us to enjoy victory over sin and triumph through trials, but He has not left us on our own to achieve it. He offers us help. “No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, that you may be able to endure it” (1 Corinthians 10:13). The word temptation may refer either to a trial from God who seeks to purify and strengthen us, or a solicitation to sin from Satan who seeks to destroy us. In either case, God promises to protect us from more than we can bear and to provide with every temptation or testing a way of escape. His faithfulness guarantees it.
The term way of escape was used of a narrow mountain pass through which a trapped army might escape an impossible situation. God always has an escape available when temptation strikes. When we yield to temptation, it is because we have ignored His provision and refused to take His way out. In the case of trials, the way of escape may simply be the strength to endure, but it will be there. We can count on it. A God who never fails to keep His Word has promised it.
A similar promise was made to the Thessalonians: “But the Lord is faithful, and He will strengthen and protect you from the evil one” (2 Thessalonians 3:3). God promised to guard them against Satan’s attacks by strengthening them, buttressing their faith, and providing the support they required. When I have succumbed to temptation, it has not been because God failed to keep His Word, but because I chose at that moment to ignore what He had made available. The mountain pass to freedom was in sight, but I closed my eyes to it and walked headlong into Satan’s trap. God’s strength was accessible, but I chose to handle the situation myself.
God has been faithful to His promise. He has given us His Spirit to live in us and help us, and He is the Spirit of power. He has equipped us with His Word which sets Satan on his heels. He is continually available for communication through prayer. He has created us with a human will by which we may choose to flee from the enticement to sin (cf. 1 Corinthians 6:18; 10:14; 1 Timothy 6:11; 2 Timothy 2:22). When we step out by faith to obey Him, He meets us there with His strength. These are resources which He has faithfully provided, and when we use them we enjoy His victory.
In the third place, He is faithful in forgiving our sins. Unfortunately, most of us only use God’s resources for victory intermittently, and as a result we sin. But God’s faithfulness reaches us even then. “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). In that verse our sins are viewed both as a debt that needs to be forgiven and as a stain that needs to be cleansed. We can enjoy blessing in both of these circumstances, when we acknowledge our sins to God, when we agree with Him that they are vile and repulsive, an offense to His holy nature.
God forgives us on the basis of two aspects of His character. One is His righteousness or justice. He has already punished His Son in our place, so justice has been served and He now has no reason to withhold forgiveness. The second is His faithfulness. When He looked ahead to Israel’s new covenant nearly six hundred years before Christ, He said, “I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more” (Jeremiah 31:34). We share in the benefits of that new covenant (cf. 2 Corinthians 3:6). Though our sins seem so horrible that God could never be expected to forgive them, He says He will, and He is always faithful to His Word. Confess your sins to Him, then take Him at His Word. Believe that He has forgiven you and cleansed you from all unrighteousness.
Finally, God is faithful in sustaining us through suffering. One of the times we are most tempted to doubt God’s faithfulness is when suffering strikes our lives. It often makes no sense to us and we see no reason for it. We may search our lives, and although we find some sins which we have previously overlooked, we still cannot believe we deserve what God has allowed to happen to us. We begin to think that He has forgotten us or really does not care about us.
The people of Jerusalem in Isaiah’s day were beginning to think that way. Israel was a tiny nation surrounded by giant powers which were continually menacing her. Listen to her complaint:
But Zion said, “The LORD has forsaken me,
And the Lord has forgotten me” (Isaiah 49:14).
But the Lord was right there with words of encouragement.
Can a woman forget her nursing child,
And have no compassion on the son of her womb?
Even these may forget, but I will not forget you.
Behold, I have inscribed you on the palms of My hands;
Your walls are continually before Me (verses 15-16).
He had allowed them to suffer, but He could never forget them in their suffering because He is faithful. And He does not forget us. He really does care.
How can we appropriate this great doctrine of God’s faithfulness and enjoy calmness and contentment when hard times come? The only way is to do what Peter suggested: “Therefore, let those also who suffer according to the will of God entrust their souls to a faithful Creator in doing what is right” (1 Peter 4:19). As the Creator, God has the power to carry out His perfect plan for our lives and to accomplish His perfect purposes through our suffering. And as the faithful Creator, He can be counted on to do it. Therefore we can consciously entrust ourselves to His care with complete confidence, and hand the safekeeping of our lives over to Him, believing that He will do what is best. When we do that, we will have peace in the midst of adversity.
I recently met a successful salesman who was struck totally blind at the age of forty-four. Not only was his sales ability hindered but his enjoyment of sports and his capacity to appreciate the great outdoors seemed to be terminated. His anger with God was intense. On one occasion he laid on the floor and cried, begging God to take his life and threatening to commit suicide. It seemed as though God said to him, “Don, trust Me. I have a great plan for your life.” But still the resentment lingered.
A short time later he insisted on going for a walk. When no one in the house was free to take him, he angrily fumbled around and found his cane, located the front door, and against his wife’s protests made his way down the front steps and across the yard, determined to prove something to himself and his family. He crossed the road, and in a state of disorientation accidentally stumbled into a creek. As he sat there waist deep in the water, it seemed as though God was saying, “Are you cooled down now, Don? Trust me. I have a great plan for your life.” That was the moment he entrusted himself to his faithful Creator. A few years later he was serving the Lord effectively as a representative for a mission to the blind, finding more joy and satisfaction in his Christian life than he had ever known before. God is faithful in sustaining us through suffering.
The Encouragement of God’s Faithfulness
God will not only be faithful in assuring our salvation, providing for our victory, forgiving our sins, and sustaining us through suffering, but He will also be faithful in keeping every promise He has ever made. That is the greatest encouragement we could possibly have. The Bible contains thousands of precious promises from God, and at least one of them will have application to every conceivable situation we can possibly encounter—financial reversal, terminal illness, the loss of a loved one, family tensions, or anything else. A faithful God can be trusted to keep every promise. The writer to the Hebrews encouraged his readers with these words: “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful” (Hebrews 10:23).
After assuring the Corinthians of God’s faithfulness, Paul makes this astounding statement: “For as many as may be the promises of God, in Him they are yes; wherefore also by Him is our Amen to the glory of God through us” (2 Corinthians 1:20). The words “in Him” refer to Christ. Jesus Christ is the absolute certainty that all God’s promises will be fulfilled. A God who loves us enough to give us His Son will certainly keep all His other promises as well. Christ’s coming was as though God had written beside every promise in the Bible, “Yes, so be it, I will keep My Word.” When we believe His promises, our lives bring glory to Him—as Paul said, “to the glory of God through us.”
People in the world today are fed up with empty religious claims. They want to see something that does what it says it will do. Few things give evidence to the reality of life in Christ more powerfully than a believer who exhibits genuine peace in trying circumstances. That is the by-product of knowing a faithful God and believing His promises. When we are assured that He cares because He is loving and good; when we are convinced that He is in control because He is omnipotent; when we believe that He is with us and knows all about the problem because He is omnipresent and omniscient; when we believe that He is working everything together for good because He is sovereign and wise; then we will have peace when things around us are falling apart. And that will make a powerful impact on the world.
It is important to understand that some of God’s promises are conditional. If we fail to keep the conditions, and as a result God does not fulfill the promise, His faithfulness obviously cannot be impugned. We must study the context to see if there are any conditions stated or implied.
Many other promises in the Word are absolute and unconditional. God is going to keep them whether we believe He will or not. He will fulfill His Word whether we are faithful to Him or not. The Apostle Paul said, “If we are faithless, He remains faithful; for He cannot deny Himself” (2 Timothy 2:13). To be faithless may also mean to be unbelieving. When God’s promises are unconditional, neither our faithlessness nor our unbelief will affect His faithfulness. They will rob us of our peace, our joy, and our testimony, but He will just keep right on doing what He promised to do, keep right on being faithful to His Word. What a wonderfully faithful God! Believe Him. Experience the peace, the joy, and the power which faith in His Word will bring. Then you too will exclaim enthusiastically, “Great is Thy faithfulness!”
Action To Take:
Think back to a time in your life when you doubted God’s faithfulness. Now list the ways He has since proven Himself faithful, the things He has done which He promised in His Word He would do.
Related Topics: Theology Proper (God)
24. The King of Glory
When young people want us to know that something is of major importance, they sometimes say, “Man, that’s heavy.” The subject of glory is in that category. It is heavy! As a matter of fact, the most common word for glory in the Old Testament comes from a root that means literally “to be heavy.” In Old Testament times, a person’s weight was his glory.
Now please let me explain that statement. It does not mean that overweight people were any more glorious than underweight people, or that we all ought to start eating more in order to increase our glory. It simply means that a person who was considered to have glory in that day was usually one who had some kind of weight, such as the weight of riches, the weight of power, or the weight of position. A man’s glory referred to what he was and what he had—his honor, his reputation, or his possessions.
The Biblical References To God’s Glory
When we read through the Old Testament, it does not take long to discover that God has glory. It was first mentioned when the people of Israel grumbled because they had no food. Moses promised them a miraculous provision of manna from Heaven which would be an evidence of the glory of the Lord (Exodus 16:7). God’s faithful provision for His people was part of His weight of glory.
As the Old Testament progresses, it becomes evident that God not only has glory, but also that He is glorious. David calls Him “the God of glory” (Psalm 29:3), and later declares, “For great is the glory of the LORD” (Psalm 138:5). The phrase “the glory of the LORD” appears with such frequency, we begin to suspect that it refers to more than just one attribute of God. It is the Lord Himself in all His intrinsic and eternal perfections, the sum and substance of all His attributes, the totality of all His inherent majesty. God’s glory is who He is, what He possesses, and what He is like. God’s glory is God Himself in His essential being.
When God promised to show Moses His glory, He revealed His mercy, His grace, His long-suffering, His goodness, His truth, His forgiveness, and His righteous wrath against sin (Exodus 33:22; 34:6-7). When David asked, “Who is the King of glory?” the answer came back, “The LORD strong and mighty” (Psalm 24:8). His glory in that case referred primarily to His power. When the Psalmist said, “Tell of His glory among the nations” (Psalm 96:3), and “Ascribe to the LORD the glory of His name” (verse 8), things such as His honor, His majesty, His strength, His beauty, His sovereignty, His justice, His righteousness, and His faithfulness were mentioned (verses 6,10,13). God’s glory is all that He is.
Furthermore, He can never lose any of His glory and still be God. That is not true of human beings. We can lose anything we might be known for—our position, our reputation, our money, or anything else—and still be as human as we ever were. But God would not be God if He lost His glory. That is one reason why He cannot share any of it with any other god.
I am the LORD, that is My name;
I will not give My glory to another,
Nor My praise to graven images (Isaiah 42:8).
God must exercise His wrath against people who exchange His glory for images (Romans 1:18-23). He cannot allow anyone to diminish His worth or detract from His majesty.
There have been occasions in human history when God has allowed His glory to take limited visible form, and it has always been revealed in terms of brightness and radiant light. The Psalmist said, “For the LORD God is a sun and a shield” (Psalm 84:11). Evidences of His brilliance are found all through the Bible. For instance, when He gave the law to Moses on Mount Sinai, His glory covered the mount like a consuming fire (Exodus 24:16-17). When Moses came down from that encounter with God “the skin of his face shone” (Exodus 84:29), another indication that God had revealed Himself to Moses in resplendent light.
When the people of Israel finished constructing the tabernacle, an amazing thing happened. “Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle. And Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting because the cloud had settled on it, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle” (Exodus 40:34-35). That cloud of glory seems to have been brilliant light, so bright that Moses could not look at it or stand before it. It was called by the Jews the Shekinah, a non-Biblical term derived from a Hebrew verb meaning “to dwell,” emphasizing God’s presence among His people in that shining cloud of glory. The same Shekinah glory filled Solomon’s temple years later when it was completed (1 Kings 8:10-11). When Ezekiel saw a vision of the glory of the Lord, he too described it in terms of brightness: “As the appearance of the rainbow in the clouds on a rainy day, so was the appearance of the surrounding radiance. Such was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the LORD” (Ezekiel 1:28).
A similar idea is present in the New Testament word for glory, a verb that means “to think.” It referred to a man’s self evaluation (what he thought of himself), or his reputation (what others thought of him). When it is applied to God, it carries over the Old Testament idea of His majesty and splendor, the totality of His essence—what He is and how He expresses Himself. It does not take long before His glory is visibly manifested in brilliant light. When a group of shepherds heard the announcement of Messiah’s birth from an angel of God, “the glory of the Lord shone around them” (Luke 2:9). God’s glory shines!
The Apostle John wrote that “God is light” (1 John 1:5). He predicted that the New Jerusalem will not need the sun or moon, “for the glory of God has illumined it” (Revelation 21:23). The Apostle Paul taught that God “dwells in inapproachable light; whom no man has seen or can see” (1 Timothy 6:16). All through the Bible God is depicted as light. Just as no man can look directly at the brightness of the sun with his naked eye without destroying his eyesight, so no mortal man can gaze at the undiminished brightness of God’s glory without being consumed (Exodus 33:20). Yet, there have been sufficient veiled glimpses of His radiant glory through history to give men some idea of the majesty and splendor of His being. Even today, we see the evidences of His glory.
The Present Revelation of God’s Glory
God must exist to glorify Himself. There is no one higher or greater for Him to glorify, so we can expect Him to keep on demonstrating the perfections of His person and revealing the radiance of His glory. He does this in several ways, the first being in creation. Just as we saw God’s goodness and His wisdom revealed in creation, so also do we see His glory.
The heavens are telling of the glory of God;
And their expanse is declaring the work of His hands (Psalm 19:1).
It is impossible to contemplate the starry heavens and fail to see the glory of God. They reveal that He exists, for such a glorious creation demands a Creator. They reveal His power, for such a powerful effect demands a more powerful cause. They reveal His wisdom, for their amazing design demands an all-wise divine Designer. And they reveal His infinity, for their extent defies discovery by man’s best scientific efforts.
But the heavens are only the beginning. The earth likewise reveals His glory: one of the seraphim cried to Isaiah in his vision of God, “The whole earth is full of His glory” (Isaiah 6:8). It is impossible to contemplate the beauty of a flower, the perfection of a snowflake, the loveliness of a tree, the strength of the mountains, the vastness of the oceans, or the amazing instincts of the animal kingdom and fail to see the glory of God.
But the highest of God’s glorious creation is man. He reflects the very image of God (Genesis 1:26-27). David wrote concerning him:
Yet Thou hast made him a little lower than God,
And dost crown him with glory and majesty! (Psalm 8:5)
It is impossible to contemplate the intricacies of the human body, the capabilities of the human mind, or the complexities of the human personality and fail to see the glory of God. No man can contemplate God’s dealings with the human race through history and fail to see His glory, particularly His love, His grace, His mercy, His long-suffering, as well as His wrath against sin.
Nothing, however, can possibly reflect the glory of God like the God-man Himself—Jesus Christ. Christ claimed to have possessed equal glory with the Father before the worlds were formed (John 17:5). When He came to earth, those who saw His glory recognized it for what it was: “glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). His divine glory was veiled by human flesh throughout His earthly life, but on one momentous occasion that veil was pulled aside: “And He was transfigured before them; and His face shone like the sun, and His garments became as white as light” (Matthew 17:2). Peter, James, and John beheld the magnificent glory of the eternal that day. When Peter wrote, years later, about his thrilling experience, he said, “we were eyewitnesses of His majesty. For when He received honor and glory from God the Father, such an utterance as this was made to Him by the Majestic Glory, ‘This is My beloved Son with whom I am well-pleased’” (2 Peter 1:16-17).
All other manifestations of God’s glory grow dim in the light of this revelation in Jesus Christ. The writer to the Hebrews called Him “the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature” (Hebrews 1:3). Just as surely as the radiant light that flooded the Old Testament tabernacle was the visible manifestation of God’s glory, so was Jesus Christ. He is the Shekinah glory of God because He is God in flesh, the express image of God’s person, the very impress of God’s being. In the same way an image on a coin exactly matches the mold from which it was cast, so Jesus Christ bears the exact stamp of God’s nature. He is, as the Apostle Paul called Him, “the Lord of glory” (1 Corinthians 2:8). Since He is continually being revealed to us in His Word, we have the exciting prospect of personally beholding the very glory of God as we get to know Jesus Christ. “For God, who said, ‘Light shall shine out of darkness,’ is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6).
The Proper Response To God’s Glory
I had a professor in seminary who used to say, “Revelation demands response.” The primary reason God reveals His truth to us is to transform our lives. If we profess to know the truth, but refuse to let it affect the way we live, we are guilty of hypocrisy. God has revealed to us His glory. What then should our response be? What are we going to do about it?
If God’s ultimate goal for all things is His own glory, and if He goes to great lengths to manifest His glory, then we as His children should also establish as our highest goal in life the demonstration of God’s glory. We should live to glorify Him. The Apostle Paul said that very explicitly: “Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31; cf. also Romans 15:6; 1 Peter 4:11).
To glorify God simply means to bring His innate glory to light, to expose it, manifest it, reveal it, demonstrate it, make it known. It is to put God on display and show Him off for who He is. Suppose you decide to take up painting and you work very hard to develop your talent as an artist. You finally reach a stage of proficiency that permits you to produce a masterpiece. What are you going to do with it? Hide it in the attic? Hardly! That painting gives testimony to your talents. It is your glory. You hang it in a prominent place so others can see it. You show it off. In the same way, when we glorify God, we bring His glory to light for others to see. We make His attributes prominently known.
There are several ways by which we do that. The first is by heartfelt worship. When Moses saw the glory of the Lord, there was no question in his mind about what he should do: “And Moses made haste to bow low toward the earth and worship” (Exodus 34:8). To worship God is simply to acknowledge His glory. The Psalmist said,
Ascribe to the LORD the glory due to His name;
Worship the LORD in holy array (Psalm 29:2).
God wants us to acknowledge who He is, to confess that we understand who He is, and to bow in submission to Him as He is. That is true worship.
Some people think worship is merely following a prescribed form of service in the proper building, saying the right thing, and singing the right song in the right order. Worship may take place in that setting, but it does not necessarily happen that way. Worship is basically the joyful response of our hearts to the revelation of who God is and what He has done. It can take place any time, anywhere, and should take place regularly—not just when we are in a church building. But it cannot take place unless we are growing in our knowledge of the Lord. When we know Him and rehearse His attributes and acts in appreciation, gratitude, praise, and adoration, He is glorified.
One lone Samaritan leper showed us how. Jesus had healed ten lepers and sent them to the priests for the cleansing ceremony. “Now one of them, when he saw that he had been healed, turned back, glorifying God with a loud voice, and he fell on his face at His feet, giving thanks to Him. And he was a Samaritan.” Jesus asked, “Was no one found who turned back to give glory to God, except this foreigner?” (Luke 17:15-16,18) By rehearsing God’s love, His mercy, His goodness, and His power, and by thanking Him for His act of healing, that leper gave glory to God. People learned something about God that day through the leper’s thanksgiving, and in that way God was glorified. The Lord said, “Whoso offereth praise glorifieth Me” (Psalm 50:23 KJV).
The second means by which we can glorify God is holy living. Jesus said, “By this is My Father glorified, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples” (John 15:8). The fruit Jesus spoke of may have included converts brought to Him through our witness (John 4:36), or contributions made for the needs of others (Romans 15:28), but it certainly includes a Christlike character (Galatians 5:22), as well as conduct that honors Him (Colossians 1:10)—in other words, holy living. Jesus was also talking about the way we live when He said, “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16). The quality of our lives should be such that the very character of the Lord is displayed to the people around us.
The Apostle Paul was talking about moral purity when he exhorted us to glorify God in our bodies (1 Corinthians 6:20). We can actually display the holiness of God by keeping ourselves from sexual immorality. We can demonstrate other aspects of God’s character as well by the way we live. When we submit to His will, we display His sovereignty. When we accept others unconditionally, we display His love. When we show kindness to those who have wronged us, we display His grace. When we reach out to those in need, we display His mercy. When we are honest, we display His truth. When we pray, we display His power. When we trust Him, we display His faithfulness. In all these, He is glorified.
When we fail to glorify God because of sin in our lives, we must confess and forsake that sin in order for Him to be glorified. A greedy Israelite named Achan took clothing, silver, and gold for himself during the conquest of Jericho, contrary to God’s command. Joshua confronted him: “My son, I implore you, give glory to the LORD, the God of Israel, and give praise to Him; and tell me now what you have done. Do not hide it from me” (Joshua 7:19). When we acknowledge our sin and turn from it, our holy God is glorified.
The most significant means by which we can glorify God is simply getting to know Him as He is. The source of many of our problems as Christians is our unwillingness to accept God as He is. We want to remake Him as we would like Him to be so that we can live as we want to live, and the result is heartache and tragedy. Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “But we all, with unveiled face beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit” (2 Corinthians 3:18). As we focus our attention on God’s glory and get to know Him as He truly reveals Himself, we become progressively more like Him. His character rubs off on us and we begin to display Him more perfectly. That brings glory to God.
We will never give much time or attention to knowing God, however, as long as we are glorying in ourselves or in any earthly thing. “Thus says the LORD, ‘Let not a wise man boast of his wisdom, and let not the mighty man boast of his might, let not a rich man boast of his riches; but let him who boasts boast of this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the LORD who exercises lovingkindness, justice, and righteousness on earth; for I delight in these things,’ declares the LORD” (Jeremiah 9:23-24). Life’s greatest joy is knowing God in a personal, precious, loving, intimate, yet submissive relationship. It is not that “good buddy” relationship which some talk about flippantly and irreverently. It is not that “get God on my side” attitude which is motivated by a desire for success in worldly pursuits. It is a Creator-creature relationship that recognizes His lordship, His right to be God in our experience. When we abdicate the throne of our lives and let Him be our sovereign Ruler, our King of glory, then and then alone will He be glorified.
Most of us will struggle with this until our dying day. As our knowledge of God grows, we will discover additional areas of our lives which have not yet been brought under His sovereign control. Every new challenge will meet with new resistance from our sinful natures and will require new surrender to His lordship over our lives.
But someday the struggle will be over and we ourselves shall be glorified (cf. Romans 8:29-30). That does not mean we shall take the place reserved only for God, but that our stubborn natures will be changed and we shall be made like our glorious Saviour (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:52; Philippians 3:21; 1 John 3:2). We shall become vessels that are perfectly fitted to express His glory throughout eternity. Then God’s purpose for saving us will have been fully realized; our entire existence will be perfectly and uninterruptedly directed to the praise of His glory forever (cf. Ephesians 1:6,12,14).
“Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to make you stand in the presence of His glory blameless with great joy, to the only God our Saviour, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen” (Jude 24-25).
Action To Take:
List some of the things you are doing which you believe bring glory to God. Thank Him for the desire, the ability, and the privilege of so glorifying Him.
List some of the things in your life which do not glorify God. Ask Him to help you change them.
Related Topics: Theology Proper (God)
25. Helpful Books on the Attributes of God
Bavinck, Hemman. The Doctrine of God. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1951.
Berkhof, Louis. Systematic Theology. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1949.
Boettner, Loraine. Studies in Theology. Phillipsburg, New Jersey: Presbyterian Reformed Publishing, 1953.
Buswell, James Oliver, Jr. A Systematic Theology of the Christian Religion. 2 vols. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1962.
Chafer, Lewis Sperry. Systematic Theology. 8 vols. Dallas, Texas: Dallas Theological Seminary Press, 1948.
Chamock, Stephen. The Existence and Attributes of God. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1958.
Clarke, William Newton. The Christian Doctrine of God. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1909.
Culver, Robert Duncan. The Living God. Wheaton, Illinois: Victor Books, 1978.
De Haan, Dan. The God You Can Know. Chicago, Illinois: Moody Press, 1982.
Hodge, Charles. Systematic Theology. 3 vols. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1952.
Hook, Phillip. Who Art in Heaven. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1979.
Kerr, William F., ed. God, What Is He Like? Wheaton, Illinois: Tyndale House Publishers, 1977.
Packer, J. I. Knowing God. Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1973.
Pentecost, J. Dwight. The Glory of God. Portland, Oregon: Multnomah Press, 1978.
Phillips, J. B. Your God Is Too Small? New York: The Macmillan Company, 1954.
Pink, Arthur W. The Attributes of God. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1975.
Rees, Paul Stromberg. Stand Up in Praise to God. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1960.
Shedd, William G. T. Shedd’s Dogmatic Theology. 3 vols. Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, Inc.
Strauss, Lehman. The First Person. Neptune, New Jersey: Loizeaux Brothers, 1967.
Strong, Augustus Hopkins. Systematic Theology. 3 vols. Old Tappan, New Jersey: Fleming H. Revell.
Thiessen, Henry Clarence. Lectures in Systematic Theology. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1949.
Toon, Peter. God Here and Now. Wheaton, Illinois: Tyndale House Publishers, 1979.
Tozer, A. W. The Knowledge of the Holy. New York: Harper and Row Publishers, 1961.
In The Name Of The Father, Son And Holy Spirit: Constructing A Trinitarian WorldviewRelated Media
It is part of the pathos of Western theology that it has often believed that while trinitarian theology might well be of edificatory value to those who already believe, for the outsider it is an unfortunate barrier to belief, which must therefore be facilitated by some non-trinitarian apologetic, some essentially monotheistic ‘natural theology.’ My belief is the reverse: that because the theology of the Trinity has so much to teach about the nature of our world and life within it, it is or could be the centre of Christianity’s appeal to the unbeliever, as the good news of a God who enters into free relations of creation and redemption with his world. In the light of the theology of the Trinity, everything looks different. [Colin Gunton]1
A worldview is the framework through which we understand and evaluate existence. It is the set of assumptions we hold regarding the basic constitution of the world and our place within it. Whether it be eclectic or coherent, conscious or assumed, our worldview determines how we understand ourselves, other human beings and the values by which we function from day to day.
At the core of each basic worldview is the question of God. Our belief or non-belief regarding a divine Being is influential, if not determinative, for virtually everything else. A pantheist presumes that because God is everything and everything is God, the individual himself is innately divine. Because God (e.g., Brahma) is absolute unity, usually it is assumed that the world of particulars is illusion — thus one’s human individuality is also mere illusion. To enter into oneness with this all-inclusive deity (itself apersonal, arational and amoral) a person must through one means or another erase his individual consciousness. When a worldview begins with an all-inclusive, apersonal deity, there is no final place for the human being or for ethics on either an individual or a social level.
Whereas pantheism has no place for the individual, polytheism (as in ancient religions, tribal animism, some forms of modern spiritism and Mormonism) allows a place for the individual but offers no absolute which unifies the universe. Without an infinite God, such cosmologies lack a sufficient framework that gives meaning to the particular and therefore to finite existence. For example, Mormonism asserts that God the Father is finite and in a process of development through a cosmic hierarchy of wives and offspring. Yet by what measure is God’s development assessed? Without a truly infinite deity everything else becomes philosophically relative, if not arbitrary.
The atheist suffers a similar dilemma. Without an infinite point of reference, all particulars finally lack meaning. Nietzsche’s why is lacking? Whether individually or collectively, the human being becomes his own criterion for determining all significance and values. To be sure, the individual has a place in atheism. But without an ultimate structure beyond himself that provides meaning, his freedom is finally meaningless. Postmodernism carries human pointlessness yet another step by rejecting not only faith but also rationality and hope for understanding ultimate truth.
Classical theism believes in a personal, infinite Being who created the universe out of nothing and the human individual in his finite personal image. As such, human ontology (one’s fundamental personhood) is grounded in divine personaity itself. In theism, therefore, man has unique meaning and special distinction over all impersonal creation. Nevertheless, a monotheism which defends God as a single-personned being (e.g., Judaism, Islam, Jehovah’s Witnesses) is markedly inadequate, and that for several reasons as will be shown.
By historic confession, a Christian worldview is centered in the Trinitarian concept of God. Through biblical revelation, we understand that the one God exists as three persons in dynamic relationship.2 If Colin Gunton is correct (as cited above), the most powerful apologetic for Christian faith is the doctrine of the Holy Trinity with its broad-sweeping and extraordinary implications for human existence.
The purpose of this monograph is to outline a transcultural Trinitarian worldview, one that attempts to define a universal framework of Christian faith for believers today. It is presupposed that the biblical basis and historical development of the doctrine of the Holy Trinity are essentially correct as expressed in the Niceno-Constantinoplan Creed. Rather than a detailed discussion of any single aspect, the work is designed to be a synthesis of important Trinitarian themes. The seven-part overview presents the Godhead’s internal and external relationships from before the beginning of creation, through various aspects as related to creation, and on to the eternal future. These seven aspects of Trinitarianism are designed to serve as biblical-theological anchors which help unify varying contextualized Christian perspectives of faith from the different cultures of the world.
Of course, given the cultural plurality of “worldviews,” such an attempt may already be viewed as misguided by some. It is said that each culture should develop its own theology, as has indeed been the effort by many since the 1960s. However, all classical Christian faith is heir both to Scripture and tradition, particularly in the doctrines of the Holy Trinity and the hypostatic union of Christ. Moreover, with the unraveling of many Christian truths in the wave of contextualization in the 1970 and 80s, not a few in the “Third World” have expressed the need to reaffirm the central truths of Christian faith. Increasingly over the last fifteen years, evangelical and Roman Catholic theologians of various parts of the world — while continuing the process of theological inculturalization — have also sought to reaffirm the essential truths Christian tradition.3 The following presentation attempts to construct an elemental Trinitarian structure that is transcultural, apologetic and practical for the life of the believer and the church.
I. The Trinity Before Creation
Before any and all creation, God was completely self-sufficient and all-inclusive. All that existed was God. There was nothing that was not God.4 Without beginning, the Supreme Being is infinite in each of his many characteristics. Yet rather than contain all opposites, God eternally chooses to be himself, and his choosing is forever expressive of his nature. God’s attributes are not contradictory but rather entirely consistent with one another, for God is simple and God is one.
Moreover, the Supreme Being is profoundly personal. “Though alone” before creation, as Hippolytus remarks, “he was multiple.”5 In Holy Scripture, God reveals himself as three persons. Whereas order and function differ, each person is shown to be equal and one with the other, of the same essence and quality. Yet each is also eternally distinct as person.6 Thus, the members of the Holy Trinity can be known and worshiped together as God, or known and worshiped individually as God.
Ultimately, this Most High God is mystery. Some aspects of the divine nature may not be revealed nor could they be comprehended by finite beings. Rather our understanding of God is based upon revelation given in a finite situation and in conditions that have meaning for us as finite beings. It is through God’s grace in self-revelation (especially through Jesus Christ and the Bible) that he can be known. Yet what God has revealed of himself is true to what he is and fully sufficient to know and to love him.7 We conclude that God, before any and all creation, existed as all-inclusive, self-sufficient and tri-personal as Holy Trinity.
II. The Trinity And Impersonal Creation
Although some propose a created order that is co-eternal in the past with God, classical Christian faith affirms creation as being called into existence out of nothing (ex nihilo).8 There was an absolute beginning to creation. When God created, he deliberately chose to limit himself because he created something that was not himself. In creating something out of absolute nothing, God no longer remained all-inclusive.9 The rock, the tree and the animal were not God. In contrast to all pantheistic theologies, the God of the Bible did not flow or emanate out into the physical world.10 To the contrary, all space, energy, matter and time exist as God’s creation and artistry and not as his essence. Nevertheless, the existence of these dimensions is entirely sustained by the personal Creator’s presence intertwined with creation while remaining wholly other.
The question of why God created is not easily answered, apart from the classical Christian response, “to the praise of his glory” (Eph 1:12-13). Some deduce that the divine motivation for creation is best found in the overflow of loving self-givingness between the three persons of the Godhead. The deep love, goodness and joy of each member of the Trinity toward the other spills forth in the creation of that which is external to God, the realms of angels and mankind.11 As such, all creation exists and is sustained, not by necessity nor by divine selfishness, but by the abundance of Trinitarian grace.
So, God brought the created order into existence out of nothing. He freely sustains it and is personally involved with all dimensions of existence. Yet the creator God is never to be confused with his creation.
III. The Trinity And Personal Creation
Besides space, time and matter, the Triune God chose to create other persons. By creating finite beings in the divine image, God limited himself again. Now he was no longer the only personal and moral agent in existence. Unlike God, of course, all created beings are finite — whether in heaven or on earth (e.g., it seems that Satan, though spirit, is not capable of being directly present in more than one place at the same time). In creating finite personal beings, God remained infinite but he was no longer personally and morally all-inclusive.
Contrary to the atheist and pantheist, the theist affirms that human personhood and dignity are based on the nature of the Creator. While broader than the commonly referred to aspects below, divine personhood includes the capacities of thought, volition and emotion: (1) God thinks and reasons in a logical manner, although not necessarily in the same thought patterns that we use;12 (2) God chooses voluntarily, makes decisions and possesses absolute freedom of will;13 and (3) the God of the Bible apparently manifests a multiplicity of emotions — all as a moral, purposeful Being. Just as Scripture establishes that each member of the Godhead reasons, exercises free will and manifests a plurality of feelings, so we as finite persons evince similar characteristics. Even at the turn of the twenty-first century, modern science is without response as to how the several pounds of chemicals and water that compose the human brain can express self-consciousness, intelligence, self-direction and a plethora of emotions. Creativity, aesthetic appreciation, dominion, moral motions and a sense of eternality seem also to be aspects of the divine image in which man is created.
Classical Christian faith asserts, therefore, that although human beings have fallen into sin and suffer the scars of the fall, the imago dei is not disfigured beyond recognition. In contrast to the existentialist and the determinist, the Christian has a basis to find meaning in all human activities and functions: in man’s acts of creativity, kindness and justice; in his emotions of joy, sadness and anger; in his thoughts, language, scientific praxis and study of the objective history; and in the distinction between fantasy and reality. We are truly persons with eternal value because the Creator and Absolute of the universe is also personal and has made us for relationship with himself and others.
Not only is human personaity patterned after the divine, it is suggested that the imago dei includes the capacity to be indwelled by a spiritual being. As the Son is in the Father and the Father in the Son, and as the Spirit is in the Father and the Son and bears them in himself (as “the Spirit of Christ” and “the Spirit of the Father”) — in brief, as each member of the Godhead mutually inhabits the other, in a similar way the human being is structured perichoretically, that is, for the indwelling of another (Jn 17:20-26). As corporal beings, we cannot inhabit one another (although human sexual intercourse approaches the same concept and therefore is sacred). But, because he images the divine persons themselves, a human being is capable of and designed to be inhabited by another. This is why a man or woman can be indwelled by the Holy Spirit or by a demonic spirit, while retaining his or her own individuality. The habitation by another personal agent does not replace or generally subsume the human being who normally retains some ability to yield or not to a spiritual presence. It is suggested, therefore, that the divine image includes not only personhood but also the capacity for indwelling by another as a reflection of divine perichoresis.14
IV. The Trinity And Unity-Diversity In The Universe
Since the ancient philosophers, the tension between the unity and the diversity of the universe has been a major and enduring problem, largely without solution. The pole of absolute unity presents man locked in cosmic determinism. Whether religious or secular, the human being is ultimately a tiny part in a massive machine where he has neither control nor value. This is implicit in the religious determinism of Hinduism and Islam, and in the secular determinism expressed in aspects of behavioral psychology, health sciences and philosophies such as dialectic materialism. Conversely, the pole of absolute diversity presents the human being as free, yet within an absurd cosmos without purpose or direction. Without a unifying absolute, everything exists by chance and chance alone — a position expressed in secular existentialism and the works of many twentieth century artists. The human being is reduced to either a cog in a cosmic machine or an astronaut adrift in space with neither spacecraft nor planet in sight. If there is no infinite, absolute point of reference in the universe, then all of the particulars (the rock, the man, societal values, etc.) have absolutely no meaning. Moreover, if such a point of reference is to give significance to all existence, it must be personal — or more properly, it must be an infinite, personal Supreme Being.
Outside of biblical Christianity there is no structure that satisfies the tension between the one and the many.15 Different from other forms of theism, the Holy Trinity as three persons in one God incorporates unity and diversity within itself. This divine reality is reflected in virtually all creation, be it in the estimated 50 billion galaxies spanning 500 million light years across the known universe, or in sub-atomic particles with their mysterious compositions of quarks, leptons and gauge bosons (where a single top quark can emit 30 billion volts of energy). Whether vastly enormous or incredibly small, the universe manifests unity in its diversity and diversity in its unity. There is order between individual components and the total scheme of creation.16 In contrast to all other religions and philosophies, the concept of the Holy Trinity presents meaningful relationship between the one and the many in the universe. While Eastern Christendom has emphasized the diversity of the three persons in mysterious unity, and while Western Christianity has stressed the unity of the divine essence expressed in three persons, both views fit within the Niceno-Constantinoplan Trinitarian formula that has defined classical Christian faith through the centuries.
Summarily, then, the Trinity embodies unity and diversity within itself and that unity and diversity is reflected in all of God’s creation. Every thing and every person has real significance because each is created by and finally exists in relationship to the Triune God.
V. The Trinity And Humanity As Family And Society
Christian faith implies that apart from the tri-personal God of the Bible, human society lacks an adequate ontological foundation. Many in the twentieth century argue that personal relationships have become increasingly “without reason,” that language is meaningless, that loving intimacy is simply the rustle of biological hormones, that mankind’s societal and “friendship” associations merely float “within the context of no context.”17 In the midst of these anti-humanitarian affirmations, the Christian faith proclaims that family, friendship and social order assume profound meaning when we understand people as created in the communitarian image of the Triune God.18
Because human ontology derives from God’s own relational reality, intrinsic to every person is the need and yearning for social relationships. We are in fact dependent upon interpersonal activity for even the most rudimentary elements of human development — for example, thought itself is dependent upon language, which is acquired within a social milieu. The Bible indicates that innate to mankind is the capacity not only to think, will and feel but also to commune at the most intimate and transparent levels with both the Creator and one another.
Because the divine image is described as male and female and because divine persons assume titles such as Father and Son, many in Christendom perceive the imago dei as familitas.19 In the Godhead, there is equality of nature yet distinctions of roles. The Holy Trinity shares deity without inferiority yet evinces eternal distinctions of relation and function within the hierarchy of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Although some today disagree, classical Christian faith has often drawn implications for the human family based upon essential equality with distinctive roles as husband, wife and children. Fundamental, however, in the divine example are the honor, love and self-givingness of each member of the Godhead toward the other.
Since the earliest church fathers, parallels have also been drawn between the Trinity and the church. Applications are drawn from divine unity-in-diversity, the headship of Christ over variously gifted believers, and the role of church leadership in light of the universal filiation and priesthood of every member. The imago dei as ecclesia has rich implications for the believing community on every level.20 One clear implication is that as the Godhead prior to creation did not content itself with itself but brought creation into existence and then provided redemption to sinful mankind through the cross, so the local church is called to give itself to a lost world. As the Son and the Spirit are the two hands of God extended to a lost world, so self-sacrifice and mission are integral to the life of the church as the communtarian image of God.
Finally, too, the Trinity is sometimes set forth as imago civilis, a model of social and political structure.21 Dictatorial models of political (and ecclesial) structures are as far removed from a Trinitarian worldview as are anarchistic and egalitarian structures in which all authority is rejected. While the sinfulness of the humanity in the world must always qualify socio-political applications, the doctrines of the Trinity and creation provide the foundation for absolute equality among human beings whatever gender, race or socio-economic class. Simultaneously, the Christian God serves as a model for order, authority and submission on a diversity of social functions..
As evidenced in the remarkable person Jesus Christ, therefore, the Christian faith leads us to the depths of our humanity. Rather than obscure our personhood and significance (as in both atheism and pantheism), biblical Trinitarianism is the seedbed in which our humanity grows to transcend horizontal limitations and blossoms red-bright in relationship with the infinitely personal God. In short, whether individually or socially, the human being fits nicely in the order of creation. In Trinitarianism, his humanity has found a home.
VI. The Trinity, Love And Forgiveness
A significant characteristic of the Christian God along with moral perfection (holiness) is love. Divine love not only defines the intra-Trinitarian relations but also serves to unite the Creator with his creation, and even creation with other creation.22 In that God is love, each person of the Trinity loves not so much himself but especially the other two persons. As defined in 1 Corinthians 13, love by nature is not directed inwardly but outwardly — as Richard of St. Victor observed — in the sharing and giving of oneself to the other.23 In contrast to Islam, Judaism and other religions which defend God as exclusively one person, the Triune God of the Bible cannot be accused of selfishness or egocentrism. Nor is this God lonely, needing someone to love, or with whom to communicate or to actualize himself reciprocally as Person. Not surprisingly, mono-personal concepts of God tend either to minimize divine infinity (so that God is perceived as personal) or to minimize divine personhood (so that God be perceived as infinite). In short, it seems from every vantage that for God to be infinitely personal and to be love, he must exist as at least two persons.24 A mono-personal God is not “big enough” to be God.
In a similar way, the nature of forgiveness is a serious dilemma for non-Trinitarian theists. How does a holy God forgive? No human being is morally perfect as God is perfect. Yet if God, as Moral Absolute of the universe, shows mercy and forgives the sinner then he has violated his righteous justice. And if God exercises justice against the sinner, then he has denied his mercy. For a mono-personal God, compassion contradicts holiness, forgiveness is finally contrary to justice. God’s judgment and mercy are arbitrary, if not capricious. In Islam, Allah is believed to stand above the bridge of death that connects earthly life with paradise. Underneath this narrow bridge is the flaming chasm of hell. A man who lived a life of 90% good and 10% evil may be granted permission to cross the bridge of death into paradise. But a man with less virtue (85%) would be pushed off the bridge by Allah into the abyss below. The truth is that neither man nor woman can have any peace that Allah will forgive. Ultimately Allah must compromise his justice to grant mercy. Conversely, the Bible declares that God of Christian faith is both just and the justifier of those who believe (Ro 3:23-26). As tri-personal, the Christian God is the Holy Judge, the Sacrificial Lamb (who pays the price that divine justice demands), and the sanctifying Spirit who works in the fallen world convicting and leading sinners to salvation. With God’s absolute holiness satisfied at the cross, true forgiveness can be freely offered to all who believe.
VII. The Trinity In Time And Space
Unlike the cyclical concepts of time in classical pantheism, the biblical perspective of time is linear; that is, history has a beginning, direction and finality.25 The Christian faith takes objective history seriously. In this light, Judeo-Christianity is the only major religion with a large number of prophecies; more than one fourth of the Old and New Testaments is prophetic genre. God enters time and interacts in dynamic relationship with human beings. Simultaneously, this same sovereign God also exists above time, transcending time in any sense common to his creation.26 Because time itself is a dimension of his own creation, God is not limited or restricted by time (although some would argue that he chooses to restrict himself). While there are mysteries left unexplained in revelation, it is possible that God may even stand above all time instantly, the end being as real as the beginning. But having affirmed God’s unique eternality (whatever the qualifications), we must also insist that the Godhead is not static or without dynamism. The Trinity is infinitely alive and personal within itself, and acts accordingly toward all his creation. As God enters linear history, he works in the life of each of human being in a way that is personal, authentic and free. While he may know of a non-believer’s refusal of faith in the future or of a believer’s moral failure during the next week, God personally relates to us — and often graciously — in the present.
Seen from a biblical viewpoint, time and space have beginning but they have no end. For example, the regenerate person becomes heir of eternal life, having himself a beginning but he never will cease to exist. This does not mean that he or she in the afterlife becomes timeless or omnipresent as is God himself (ideas of afterlife borrowed from Greek pantheism). Rather, the child of God will live forever with a glorified body in some form of linear time, although the categories and dimensions of time and space may be very different. Eternal life for the Christian means not atemporality but everlasting life filled with the plenitude of the Lord — a never-ending life of elevated quality. Conversely, those who reject God’s grace are destined to, in Jesus’ words, “eternal fire/punishment” (Mt 25:41,46). Although the nature of future existence seems very unlike the present, the basic categories of time and space will remain (“the new heaven and new earth”) as they appear essential to the existence of finite personal beings. God has committed himself forever to his creation.
Not only does the Holy Trinity operate dynamically in history, more remarkable still, God enters his creation. The Son has entered creation in the incarnation and further sealed his bond with creation through bodily resurrection and corporal glorification.27 In Jesus Christ, spiritual and physical realities were forever yoked together as the Logos assumed human nature and then a glorified body. Yet, as Athanasius (d. 373) expressed, “The Word was not confined within the body; neither was he there and no place else.” Instead, “when he was in human bodily form, he himself gave life to that body; and at the same time, he was giving life to the entire universe and was present in all things; yet he was distinct from the universe and outside of it.”28 God the Son exists simultaneously inside and outside creation, not confined to but active within the orders of time and space. As with the Son, so the Holy Spirit continually works in history and particularly indwells the lives of believers, yet he too exists both inside and outside the created order.29 Thus, the Holy Trinity’s presence embraces creation and non-creation, preserving God’s transcendent reality while recognizing also God’s profoundly personal engagement within creation.
Conclusion: The Trinity And Eternal Glory
Our outline has attempted to construct a basic Trinitarian worldview that is transcultural and universal. Perhaps, better said, it serves as a scaffold to begin the process. Yet certain affirmations can be made with relative certainty: (1) before any creation, the Triune God was self-sufficient and all-inclusive; (2) in creating ex nihilo, God is distinct from finite existence yet sustains it by his presence; (3) infinitely tri-personal, God created man and woman in his image, thus human ontology is grounded in the divine; (4) as three persons of one essence, the Trinity incorporates the unity-in-diversity reflected in all creation; (5) the equality-in-order of the Godhead informs proper social relationships for family, church and society; (6) as a plurality of persons, the Christian God can be both holy and loving, holding perfect justice and forgiveness together at the cross; and (7) the Triune God stands beyond all time and space yet is eternally committed to creation and mankind through Jesus Christ.
Nearly everything mentioned until now is related to our existence, our own limited experiences. However, if God existed as all-inclusive before creation, then he is now in all “places” and all “dimensions” where there is no finite creation or divinely ceded nihil. Surrounding and through the few dimensions of creation resides the infinite Lord, the Lord of all, exercising his magnificent character.30 For those who are Christians, redeemed by the work of Christ at Calvary, finite creation constitutes an enormous crib over and around which the Triune God hovers, affectionately caring for his own. All creation will someday recognize the greatness and beauty of God, together with the unfathomable debt it owns to the Almighty for its existence, preservation and provision of salvation in Jesus Christ. This overwhelming understanding of our indebtedness to God may be our primary role as his creation. In glorifying the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit we are fulfilled as finite persons in the eternal plan of God. Nevertheless, there is no more blessed glory than that glory given by one member of the Holy Trinity to the other, each wholly comprehending and exalting the magnificence of the other.
The Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed31
- We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all that is, seen and unseen.
- We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father,
- God of God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one Being with the Father. Through him all things were made. For us men and for our salvation he came down from heaven; by the power of the Holy Spirit he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary, and was made man. For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate; he suffered death and was buried. On the third day he rose again in accordance with the Scriptures; He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end.
- We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father (and the Son). With the Father and the Son he is worshipped and glorified. He has spoken through the prophets.
- We believe in one holy, catholic and apostolic Church.
- We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
- We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.
1 Colin E. Gunton, The Promise of Trinitarian Theology (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1991) 7.
2 Recent works on the biblical, historical and contemporary development of Trinitarianism include: E. Calvin Beisner, God in Three Persons (Wheaton: Tyndale House, 1984); Leonardo Boff, Trinity and Society, trans. P. Burns (Maryknoll: Orbis, 1988); Gerald Bray, The Doctrine of God (Leicester: InterVarsity, 1993); Gordon H. Clark, The Trinity (Jefferson MD: Trinity Foundation, 1985); David S. Cunningham, These Three Are One: The Practice of Trinitarian Theology (Oxford: Blackwell, 1998); Millard J. Erickson, God in Three Persons: A Contemporary Interpretation of the Trinity (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1995); Ronald J. Feenstra and Cornelius Plantinga, Jr., eds., Trinity, Incarnation and Atonement: Philosophical and Theological Essays (Notre Dame: Univ. of Notre Dame, 1989); Bruno Forte, The Trinity as History: Saga of the Christian God, trans. P. Rotondil (New York: Alba House, 1989); Edmund J. Fortman, The Triune God: A Historical Study of the Doctrine of the Trinity (new ed., Grand Rapids: Baker, 1982); Gunton, The Promise of Trinitarian Theology; William J. Hill, The Three-Personed God: The Trinity as a Mystery of Salvation (Washington: Catholic Univ. of America, 1982); Eberhard Jüngel, The Doctrine of the Trinity: God’s Being Is in Becoming, trans. H. Harris (Edinburgh: Scottish Academic Press, 1976); G. A. F. Knight, A Biblical Approach to the Doctrine of the Trinity (Edinburgh: Oliver & Boyd, 1953); Catherine Mowry LaCugna, God for Us: The Trinity and Christian Life (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1991); Bertrand de Margerie, The Christian Trinity in History, trans. E. J. Fortman (Still River: St. Bedes, 1982); Alister E. McGrath, Understanding the Trinity (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1988): Jürgen Moltmann, History and the Triune God: Contributions to Trinitarian Theology, trans. J. Bowden (London: SCM Press, 1991); Moltmann, The Trinity and the Kingdom: The Doctrine of God, trans. M. Kohl (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1981); Robert Morey, The Trinity: Evidence and Issues (Grand Rapids: World, 1996); Michael O’Carroll, Trinitas: A Theological Encyclopedia of the Holy Trinity (Wilmington: Michael Glazier, 1987); John J. O’Donnell, The Mystery of the Triune God (London: Sheed & Ward, 1988); Karl Rahner, The Trinity, trans. J. Donceel (New York: Herder & Herder, 1970); William G. Rusch, The Trinitarian Controversy (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1980); Christoph Schwbel, ed., Trinitarian Theology Today: Essays on Divine Being and Act (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1995); John Thompson, Modern Trinitarian Perspectives (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1994); Peter Toon, Our Triune God: A Biblical Portrayal of the Trinity (Wheaton: Bridgepoint, 1996); Thomas F. Torrance, The Christian Doctrine of God: One Being Three Persons (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1996); Torrance, The Trinitarian Faith: The Evangelical Theology of the Ancient Catholic Church (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1988); Torrance, Trinitarian Perspectives: Toward Doctrinal Agreement (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1994); Kevin J. Vanhoozer, ed., The Trinity in a Pluralistic Age: Theological Essays on Culture and Religion (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1997); Miroslav Volf, After Our Likeness: The Church as the Image of the Trinity (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998); and A. W. Wainwright, The Trinity in the New Testament (London: SPCK, 1962).
3 See Andrew D. Clarke and Bruce W. Winter, eds., One God, One Lord: Christianity in a World of Religious Pluralism (2d ed., Grand Rapids: Baker, 1993) and Ada Beanson Spencer and William David Spencer, eds., The Global God: Multicultural Evangelical Views of God (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1998). In terms of Nicea, less orthodox attempts at reconceiving the Godhead are found in Jung Young Lee, The Trinity in Asian Perspective (Nashville: Abingdon, 1996); A. Okechukwu Ogbonnaya, On Communitarian Divinity: An African Interpretation of the Trinity (New York: Paragon House, 1994); and L. Boff, Trinity and Society, where Jesus and Mary are prototypical of the eschatological hypostatic union of the Logos in all men and the Spirit in women.
4 Tertullian (d. c. 225) wrote, “before all things God was alone, being his own universe, location, everything. He was alone, however, in the sense that there was nothing external to himself.” Adversus Praxean, 5. Zwingli echoed the same idea: “Since we know that God is the source and creator of all things, we cannot conceive of anything before or beside him which is not also of him. For if anything could exist which was not of God, God would not be infinite.” “An Exposition of the Faith,” in G. W. Bromiley, ed., Zwingli and Bullinger, trans. G. W. Bromiley (London: SCM Press, 1953) 249.
5 Hippolytus (d. c. 236), Contra Noetus, 10.
6 The words essence and person are difficult to define, nor is there consensus as to their precise meanings within the broader structure of the Niceno-Constantinoplan Creed. Beginning with the oneness of God, the Western view has largely understood the divine essence (Lat. substantia; Gr. ousia) as a spiritual reality (the sum of divine attributes) expressed in three subsistencies — Father, Son and Holy Spirit. From Augustine to Barth, analogies tended to conceive of Trinity in psychological terms (the threefold expression of one Being). Conversely, adopting social analogies, Eastern Orthodoxy focused on the relationships of three persons who share the same divine nature. Divine unity was confessed but left undefined (“mystery”) except in terms of perichoresis — the mutual indwelling of each member of the Godhead in the other. In the last thirty years, Western Augustinian-Thomistic essentialism has been increasingly set aside for Eastern Orthodoxy’s stress on Trinity as community.
7 Karl Rahner is famous for his repeated argument that “the economic Trinity is the immanent Trinity and vice versa.” While most question the “vice versa,” few would deny that what God has revealed of himself in salvation history is true to what he actually is. Classical Christian faith holds that the biblical record reveals exactly but not necessarily completely (against Rahner) what God is in his transcendence and ontology. Against the Arians, the church fathers argued that God would exist as Trinity whether creation existed or not. At the same time, they employed biblical terms to articulate the eternal distinctions of the Godhead (while doing little to define the terms): the Son is eternally begotten of the Father and the Holy Spirit eternally proceeds from the Father and, in the West, from the Son.
8 Cf. Jn 1:1-3; Ro 11:36; Col 1:16-17; Heb 1:2; 11:3; Rev 3:14. Leonard Verduin, in Somewhat Less Than God (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1970) 11-13, questions the concept of ex nihilo creation, arguing that it assumes a time when God was uncreative — thus a state contrary to his nature. Verduin proposes a creation eternal in the past but ontologically dependent on God for its existence.
9 3The notion of God creating space within himself for creation is seen in mystical Judaism (the zimsum or self-limitation of God), Nicholas de Cusa, F. W. J. Schelling, E. Brunner and is articulated by Jürgen Moltmann in God in Creation, trans. M. Kohl (New York: Harper, 1985) 87: “1. God makes room for his creation by withdrawing his presence… The space which comes into being and is set free by God’s self-limitation is a literally God-forsaken space… 2. God ‘withdraws himself from himself to himself’ in order to make creation possible. His creative activity outwards is preceded by this humble divine self-restriction… 3. If God is creatively active into that ‘primordial space’ which he himself has ceded and conceded, does he then create ‘outwards’? Of course it is only through the yielding up of the nihil that a creatio ex nihilo is conceivable at all. But if creation ad extra takes place in the space freed by God himself, then in this case the reality outside God still remains in the God who has yielded up that ‘outwards’ in himself…” See also Hans Urs von Balthasar, Theodramatik II, 1 (Einsiedeln: Johannes, 1983); Jüngel, God as the Mystery of the World, 376-396; O’Donnell, The Mystery of the Triune God, 159-182; and Thomas N. Finger, Self, Earth and Society: Alienation and Trinitarian Transformation (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1998) 306-312.
10 Various modern theologians propose forms of Christian panentheism (all is in God but God is more than the material universe) where God is said to incarnate hypostatically in the material world: Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, The Heart of the Matter, trans. Rene Hague (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1978) 15-102; Charles Birch and John B. Cobb, Jr. The Liberation of Life: From the Cell to the Community (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ., 1981); Sally McFague, Models of God: Theology for an Ecological, Nuclear Age (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1987) esp. 69-78; Matthew Fox, The Coming of the Cosmic Christ (New York: Harper & Row, 1988); and L. Boff, Trinity and Society, 230-231.
11 Especially the Cappadocians taught that the purpose of the Christian life was to enter into Trinitarian fellowship through theosis or divinization — a theology that continues central to Eastern Orthodoxy. Vladmir Lossky, The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church, trans. Fellowship of St. Alban and St. Sergius (London: James Clarke, 1957) 67-134; Lossky, In the Image and Likeness of God, eds. J. H. Erickson and T. E. Bird (Crestwood NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary, 1974) 97-140; Thomas Hopko, “The Trinity in the Cappadocians,” in Christian Spirituality. Vol. 1: Origins to the Twelfth Century, eds. B. McGinn and J. Meyendorff (New York: Crossroad, 1989) 305-509.
12 In non-theistic philosophy the reason for reason is largely lacking, often determined by arbitrary factors such as language and genetics. Christian theologians (E. J. Carnell, R. Nash, N. Geisler) often assert that principles of reason are based on God’s own character. See John Paul II’s Fides et Ratio (1998); T. F. Torrance, God and Rationality (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1997); Norman Geisler, Philosophy of Religion (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1974, 1982) 87-309; Gordon H. Clark, Religion, Reason and Revelation (Philadelphia: Presbyterian & Reformed, 1961).
13 Human choice or “free-will” is another phenomenon without adequate explanation in the non-theistic world, despite the fact that existentialism and humanism presuppose autonomous choice as foundational to their systems. Likewise, the pantheist has little if any explanation or place for human volition. Indeed, individual human consciousness (non-Atman) is what separates man from God, it must be denied in order to enter into unity of the All-Inclusive.
14 This is argued more extensively in J. S. Horrell, “O Deus Trino que se d, a imago dei e a natureza da igreja local,” Vox Scripturae 6:2 (Dec 1996) 243-262. See Jn 17:21-26. The Greek term perichoresis is often referred to in Latin as circumincession.
15 See Colin Gunton, The One, the Three and the Many: God, Creation and the Culture of Modernity. The 1992 Bampton Lectures (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ., 1993); and R. J. Rushdoony, The One and the Many: Studies in the Philosophy of Order and Ultimacy (Philadelphia: Craig, 1971).
16 Gunton, The Promise of Trinitarian Theology, 142-161, observes that, against Augustine, Aquinas and Calvin’s static vision of the universe, Trinitarian creation better corresponds with recent scientific discoveries reflecting more “freedom” and dynamism in the structure of the universe. Also T. F. Torrance, Reality and Scientific Theory (Edinburgh: Scottish Academic Press, 1985), 160-206.
17 From George W. S. Trow’s Within the Context of No Context (New York: Atlantic Monthly Press, 1981, 1997).
18 See Alistair I. McFadyen, The Call to Personhood: A Christian Theology of the Individual in Social Relationships (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ., 1990); Catherine Mowry LaCugna, God for Us: The Trinity and Christian Life (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1991) esp. 243-317; John Zizioulas, Being as Communion. Studies in Personhood and the Church (London: Darton, Longman & Todd, 1985); and Donald Macleod, Shared Life: The Trinity and the Fellowship of God’s People (Fern, Scotland: Christian Focus Publications, 1994).
19 The Cappadocians understood the Godhead as communal, Basil even likening the Trinity to the first family of Adam, Eve and Seth (Epistula 38.4). Divine family has long been a secondary idea in Roman Catholic Mariology, as has (in all Christendom) the Savior’s self-sacrifice for the church as a marital model in Eph 5. See also Cornelius Plantinga, Jr., “The Perfect Family,” Christianity Today (March 4, 1988) 24-27; R. P. Stevens, “The Mystery of Male and Female: Biblical and Trinitarian Models,” Themelios 17:3 (April/May 1992) 20-24; and Randall E. Otto, “The Imago Dei as Familitas,” JETS 35:4 (Dec 1992) 503-513.
20 Tertullian, Clement of Rome, Hippolytus, Clement of Alexandria and the Cappadocians drew out various implications of a Triune God for church, although Luther and Calvin did not — Heinze Schutte, Im Gesprch mit dem Dreieinen Gott: Elemente einer Trinitrischer Theologie. Festschrift für Wilhelm Breuning, eds. M. Bohnke and H.-P. Heinz (Düsseldorf: Patmos, 1985) esp. 361-362. See also Miraslov Volf, After Our Likeness: The Church as the Image of the Trinity, trans. Doug Stott (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998) esp. 191-220; Stanley J. Grenz, Created for Community: Connecting Christian Belief with Christian Living (2d ed., Grand Rapids: Baker, 1998); and works in footnote 19.
21 Notable works include Moltmann, The Trinity and the Kingdom; L. Boff, Trinity and Society; Charles Sherrard MacKenzie, The Trinity and Culture (New York: Peter Lang, 1987); Douglas M. Meeks, God the Economist: The Doctrine of God and Political Economy (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1989); and John Thompson, Modern Trinitarian Perspectives, 106-123.
22 In a helpful series, D. A. Carson, “The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God,” 1998 Griffith Thomas Lectures, Dallas Theological Seminary (pending Bibliotheca Sacra 156:621-624 (1999), discusses five different biblical foci of divine love: (1) the special intra-Trinitarian love; (2) God’s providential love over all creation; (3) God’s salvific love toward the fallen world; (4) God’s peculiar selecting love toward the elect; and (5) God’s conditional love toward believers related to their faith and obedience.
23 Richard of St. Victor (d. 1173), De Trinitate, 1.20, speaks of God as the Supreme Good and love: “It is never said of anyone that he possesses charity because of the exclusively personal love that he has for himself — for there to be charity, there must be a love that is directed towards another. Consequently where there is an absence of a plurality of persons, there cannot be charity.” He goes on to say that the only adequate expression of this infinite love (and joy and glory) is toward another person of equal capacity to receive it and to respond in a like manner. Although in Scotland, Richard of St. Victor’s elaboration on the Trinity as a community of love approximates the Eastern Orthodox perspective.
24 Brian Hebblethwaithe, “Perichoresis — Reflections on the Doctrine of the Trinity,” Theology 80:676 (July 1977) 257 states: “If personal analogies are held to yield some insight into the divine nature (perhaps because man is supposed to be made in the image of God), then there can be no doubt that the model of a single individual person does create difficulties for theistic belief. It presents us with a picture of one who, despite his infinite attributes, is unable to enjoy the excellence of personal relation, unless he first creates an object for his love. Monotheistic faiths have not favoured the idea that creation is necessary to God, but short of postulating personal relation in God, it is difficult to see how they can avoid it. There does seem to be something of an impasse here for Judaism and Islam. Hinduism, at least in its more philosophical forms, avoids this problem by refusing to push the personal analogies right back into the absolute itself. The personal gods of Hindu devotional religion are held by the philosophers to be personifications at a lower level of reality of the one absolute being, beyond all attributes. (Hence, incidentally, the so-called Hindu Trinity of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva is no real analogue for the Christian Trinity)” — as in Raimundo Pannikar, The Trinity and the Religious Experience of Man: Icon — Person — Mystery (Maryknoll: Orbis, 1973).
25 Scripture includes micro and macro (creation-destruction-recreation) cycles in linear time. Christian and Trinitarian perspectives of time are discussed in: James Barr, Biblical Words for Time (London: SCM Press, 1962); Emil Brunner, “The Christian Understanding of Time,” Scottish Journal of Theology 4 (1951) 1-12; Oscar Cullmann, Christ and Time, trans. F. V. Filson (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1964); John J. O’Donnell, Trinity and Temporality (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1983); Arthur H. Williams, “The Trinity and Time,” Scottish Journal of Theology 39:1 (1986) 65-81.
26 Church fathers debated the concept of eternity, some defending that God exists in time, others that God in his transcendence exists outside of time. Siding with the latter, Augustine, The City of God XI, 6, suggested that time was created along with the universe. The debate continues today between classical Christian theologians and process and freewill theism advocates.
27 See T. F. Torrance, Space, Time and Incarnation (London: Oxford Univ., 1969) and Space, Time and Resurrection (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1976).
28 Athanasius, De incarnatione, 17.
29 If not merely metaphorical, the language of Scripture suggests that God the Father also can assume finite form within the order of creation (e.g., “the Ancient of Days,” “He Who Sits Upon the Throne”) — as can the Spirit (“like a dove”). See Amos Funkenstein, “The Body of God in 17th Century Theology and Science,” in Millenarianism and Messianism in English Literature and Thought 1650-1800, ed. Richard H. Popkin (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1988) 150-175, traces how God “lost his body” in Christian theology; and Robert W. Jenson, “The Body of God’s Presence: A Trinitarian Theory,” Creation, Christ and Culture: Studies in Honour of T. F. Torrance, ed. Richard W. A. McKinney (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1976) 85-91.
30 Thomas Finger, “Modern Alienation and Trinitarian Creation,” Evangelical Review of Theology 17:2 (April 1993) 205: “As long as this space remains ‘empty’ enough for creatures to retain distinct identities, this image need not be panentheistic. I think it can help us conceive how the divine love is not really distant from our world, but still surrounds us; and how sin may not be running from God so much as pushing away the One who longs to draw near.”
31 From the Alternative Service Book of the Church of England (ICET, 1980) in Gerald Bray, Councils, Creeds and Christ (Leicester: InterVarsity, 1984) 206-207 (italics reflect the additions of the Council of Constantinople in 381).
Preface to the Attributes of God
No study is of more importance or value than a study of the nature and attributes of God. It is our hope that these messages will enhance your knowledge of God, resulting in a greater love for Him and for others.
This material is from a series of messages on the attributes of God delivered by Bob Deffinbaugh, a teaching elder at Community Bible Chapel in Richardson, Texas. Anyone is at liberty to use this material for educational purposes, with or without credit. Community Bible Chapel believes the material contained in this series to be true to the Word of God, and desires to further, not restrict, its potential use as an aid to the study of God’s Word.
Related Topics: Theology Proper (God)
1. Exploring the Excellencies of God
The religion section of the Dallas Morning News recently contained an article entitled, “Letting God Grow Up.”1 Rabbi Jack Bemporad, a leader in Jewish-Christian dialogue, has co-authored a new book, Stupid Ways, Smart Ways to Think about God. From reading only this article, Bemporad seems to be saying that we must forsake what we have learned about God as children and think of God in more adult terms. While I can agree with some of the author’s ideas, overall I must differ with him. For example, the article informs us,
To a large extent, atheists seldom reject a credible God but usually ‘reject some stupid way of thinking about God,’ the authors say, calling some ideas about God ‘so ridiculous they are not worth believing.’
Some “childish” ideas about God are wrong and should be rejected. Among these is the thought that God is a “cosmic bellhop . . . ready to serve you.” Disturbingly, however, Rabbi Bemporad also includes the concept of God’s wrath as a childish idea. I think he is basically saying: “Men believe in the kind of God they wish to believe in and reject the kind of God they dislike.” He seems to place little emphasis, if any, on the description of God found in the Holy Scriptures. Bemporad seems to believe our theology needs to adjust to our desires, rather than recognizing that we must adjust our theology to who God really is.
Although I am hardly surprised by them, I certainly do not agree with the views unbelievers hold of God. But even more distressing is the shallow, inaccurate view of God held by professing Christians. We desperately need in our time to radically revise our thinking about God. The purpose of this series is to explore the excellencies of God, to realign our thinking about God with those divine characteristics revealed in the Scriptures.
This lesson attempts to demonstrate the importance of studying the attributes of God. We shall first consider the testimony of some great men of God before looking at some of the practical benefits of such a study as taught in the Scriptures. Finally, we will see how the attributes of God impacted the lives of two great men of old, Job and Moses. My hope is that this lesson will stimulate you to begin your own personal study of the attributes of God. It is a study which could transform your life.
Throughout history, great men of God have devoted themselves to the study of God’s character and encouraged others to do likewise. Consider what some of those men of God have to say about studying the attributes of God.
Over 30 years ago, A. W. Tozer wrote concerning the desperate need for the church to revise its concept of God due to a very distorted conception of Him:
It is my opinion that the Christian conception of God current in these middle years of the twentieth century is so decadent as to be utterly beneath the dignity of the Most High God and actually to constitute for professed believers something amounting to a moral calamity.2
Tozer goes on to say,
The heaviest obligation lying upon the Christian Church today is to purify and elevate her concept of God until it is once more worthy of Him—and of her.3
A. W. Pink is of the same opinion:
The god of this century no more resembles the Sovereign of Holy Writ than does the dim flickering of a candle the glory of the midday sun. The god who is talked about in the average pulpit, spoken of in the ordinary Sunday school, mentioned in much of the religious literature of the day, and preached in most of the so-called Bible conferences, is a figment of human imagination, an invention of maudlin sentimentality. The heathen outside the pale of Christendom form gods of wood and stone, while millions of heathen inside Christendom manufacture a god out of their carnal minds.4
In one of his letters to Erasmus, Martin Luther said, “Your thoughts of God are too human.”5 Speaking for God, the psalmist of old penned the same thought in these words:
21 These things you have done, and I kept silence; You thought that I was just like you; I will reprove you, and state [the case] in order before your eyes (Psalms 50:21).
It would be difficult to over-estimate the importance of the study of God. Charles Haddon Spurgeon’s words are often quoted by those who embark upon a study of the attributes of God:
Nothing will so enlarge the intellect, nothing so magnify the whole soul of man, as a devout, earnest, continued, investigation of the great subject of the Deity. The most excellent study for expanding the soul is the science of Christ and Him crucified and the knowledge of the Godhead in the glorious Trinity.6
The proper study of the Christian is the Godhead. The highest science, the loftiest speculation, the mightiest philosophy, which can engage the attention of a child of God, is the name, the nature, the person, the doings, and the existence of the great God which he calls his Father. There is something exceedingly improving to the mind in a contemplation of the Divinity. It is a subject so vast, that all our thoughts are lost in its immensity; so deep, that our pride is drowned in its infinity. Other subjects we can comprehend and grapple with; in them we feel a kind of self-content, and go on our way with the thought, “Behold I am wise.” But when we come to this master science, finding that our plumbline cannot sound its depth, and that our eagle eye cannot see its height, we turn away with the thought “I am but of yesterday and know nothing.”7
The study of God’s nature and character is the high calling of the Christian and is of great importance and practical value:
What were we made for? To know God. What aim should we set ourselves in life? To know God. What is the ‘eternal life’ that Jesus gives? Knowledge of God. ‘This is life eternal, that they might know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent’ (John 17:3). What is the best thing in life, bringing more joy, delight, and contentment, than anything else? Knowledge of God. ‘Thus saith the LORD, Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, neither let the mighty man glory in his might, let not the rich man glory in his riches; but let him that glorieth glory in this, that he understandeth and knoweth me’ (Jer. 9:23f.). What, of all the states God ever sees man in, gives Him most pleasure? Knowledge of Himself. ‘I desire . . . the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings,’ says God (Hos. 6:6) . . . Once you become aware that the main business that you are here for is to know God, most of life’s problems fall into place of their own accord . . . What makes life worth while is having a big enough objective, something which catches our imagination and lays hold of our allegiance; and this the Christian has, in a way that no other man has. For what higher, more exalted, and more compelling goal can there be than to know God?8
But is the study of God’s character not just a matter for preachers and theologians? Does such a study really have any practical value? J. I. Packer raises this very question and promptly answers it:
Why need anyone take time off today for the kind of study you propose? Surely a layman, at any rate, can get on without it? After all, this is 1972, not 1855. A fair question!—but there is, I think, a convincing answer to it. The questioner clearly assumes that a study of the nature and character of God will be unpractical and irrelevant for life. In fact, however, it is the most practical project anyone can engage in. Knowing about God is crucially important for the living of our lives . . . Disregard the study of God, and you sentence yourself to stumble and blunder through life blindfold[ed] as it were, with no sense of direction and no understanding of what surrounds you. This way you can waste your life and lose your soul.9
As we commence a study of the attributes of God, I would like to challenge you to embrace this endeavor as your own personal commitment. Consider the following ways the study of the attributes of God impacts the life of the Christian.
(1) The way to “see” God is to come to know Him through a study of His character as revealed in the Scriptures.
No man can see God and live (Exodus 33:20). No man has seen God at any time (John 1:18). Men have “seen” God partially at various times when He has appeared in various forms (see Exodus 24:9-11; 33:17-34:7; Isaiah 6:5). In every instance when God manifested Himself visibly to men, there is only a partial revelation of His glory, for man could no more look upon the full display of God’s splendor than one can look directly into the sun. Even in the coming of our Lord, who manifested the Father to men (see John 1:18; 14:8-9; Hebrews 1:1-3), the full revelation of His glory was “veiled” with only an occasional glimpse of that glory, such as at His transfiguration (see Matthew 17:1-8). It was not the physical appearance of our Lord which impressed men. Indeed, we know absolutely nothing about our Lord’s physical appearance, other than it was not particularly appealing or attractive so men might be drawn to him on the basis of His appearance alone (see Isaiah 53:2).
We are among those who have not “seen” our Lord (John 20:29; 1 Peter 1:8). Our grasp of the nature of God as revealed in Jesus Christ must be limited to what the Scriptures teach concerning His teaching, ministry, and character. In the final analysis, we can “see” and know God through the Scriptures as they reveal His character to us.
(2) The character of God is the basis and standard for all human morality. The final verse of Judges reads:
In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes (Judges 21:25).
One might think the solution to this dilemma was a human king, but it was not. The kind of “king” Israel wanted was in effect an idol. They wanted a king whom they could see, a man who would go before them into battle. They wanted a king like all the other nations (see Deuteronomy 17:14-17). When the people approached Samuel and demanded to have a king, God indicated they really were rejecting Him as their king:
5 And they said to him, “Behold, you have grown old, and your sons do not walk in your ways. Now appoint a king for us to judge us like all the nations.” 6 But the thing was displeasing in the sight of Samuel when they said, “Give us a king to judge us. “And Samuel prayed to the LORD. 7 And the LORD said to Samuel, “Listen to the voice of the people in regard to all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me from being king over them (1 Samuel 8:5-7).
Thus when the Israelites demanded a human king, they were rejecting God as their king. When the Book of Judges informs us the Israelites had no king, it means the nation did not acknowledge and serve God as their King (Exodus 15:18; Psalm 10:16; 29:10). And it is without God as King that men set the standard for their own conduct; every man “does what is right in his own eyes.”
God gave the Law to the nation Israel after He became their “King” at the exodus (Exodus 15:18). He demonstrated His power and sovereignty, even over Pharaoh. And as Israel’s “King,” God set down the constitution for the kingdom He was setting out to establish. The form of the Mosaic Covenant, as has been observed by scholars, was the same as other treaties of that day between kings (or suzerains) over their subjects (or vassals). God was the standard of morality, and God therefore set the standard for the conduct of His people. The laws God set down at Mount Sinai were those which proceeded from His own character. God said to His people, “Be ye holy, for I am Holy” (Leviticus 11:44-45; 19:2; 20:7; see 1 Peter 1:16).
Is it any wonder “every man does what is right in his own eyes” today? Is it so difficult to explain why our culture rejects and abhors the thought of moral absolutes? Do we wonder why the church has become so wishy-washy about morality? The Bible tells us why. We have ceased to ponder and appreciate the moral perfection of God. And once our view of the holiness of God is diminished, our moral values decline proportionately. A study of the character of God will establish and undergird morality.
(3) Failure to think rightly about God is the sin of idolatry, and it leads to countless other sins.
Tozer rightly identifies mistaken or distorted views of God as idolatry:
Among the sins to which the human heart is prone, hardly any other is more hateful to God than idolatry, for idolatry is at bottom a libel on His character. The idolatrous heart assumes that God is other than He is.… Let us beware lest we in our pride accept the erroneous notion that idolatry consists only in kneeling before visible objects of adoration, and that civilized peoples are therefore free from it. The essence of idolatry is the entertainment of thoughts about God that are unworthy of Him.”10
Thinking wrongly of God is idolatry and is demeaning to Him because it always views God as being other (and less) than He is. But this idolatrous evil of thinking wrongly of God is also the root of many other evils. Thinking wrongly about God leads to sin. Tozer writes,
I believe there is scarcely an error in doctrine or a failure in applying Christian ethics that cannot be traced finally to imperfect and ignoble thoughts about God.11
Wrong thoughts about God were the root of the fall of man in the Garden of Eden. In Genesis 3, the character of God is first demeaned by Satan. By Satan’s devious question and answer tactics, God is portrayed as a liar (“Has God said . . . ?” verse 1), (“You surely shall not die!” verse 4). Based upon the assumption that God was less than He first seemed to be (and was!), Eve acted independently of God, and she and her husband thus disobeyed God by eating the forbidden fruit. An inadequate view of God is at the root of many sins.
(4) Knowing God intimately is our calling and destiny, our future hope, our great privilege and blessing, and thus it should be our great ambition.
23 Thus says the LORD, “Let not a wise man boast of his wisdom, and let not the mighty man boast of his might, let not a rich man boast of his riches” (Jeremiah 9:23).
12 For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I shall know fully just as I also have been fully known (1 Corinthians 13:12).
10 That I may know Him, and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death (Philippians 3:10).
2 Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we shall be. We know that, when He appears, we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him just as He is (1 John 3:2).
14 For this reason, I bow my knees before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name, 16 that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man; 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; [and] that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fulness of God (Ephesians 3:14-19).
(5) A study of the attributes of God is the basis for our enjoyment of God and our spiritual growth.
A personal relationship with God requires that we know God personally, as a Person. The attributes of God are descriptions of the character of God, and it is through the knowledge of His characteristics that we come to intimately know and enjoy God as a Person.
By faith in Jesus Christ, we have been saved so “we might become partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4). We have become a part of the church, the body of Christ, which is growing up “to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fulness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:13). By “seeing Him as He is” we become like Him (1 John 3:2); knowing God’s character is therefore the basis for our own transformation into His likeness.
(6) The attributes of God are foundational to our faith and hope.
Knowing the character of God assures us that He can and will do all that He purposes and promises. Faith in God is trusting in God, and His attributes are the basis for that trust because He is able and willing to do all that He has promised.
23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful (Hebrews 10:23).
6 And without faith it is impossible to please [Him], for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and [that] He is a rewarder of those who seek Him (Hebrews 11:6).
19 Therefore, let those also who suffer according to the will of God entrust their souls to a faithful Creator in doing what is right (1 Peter 4:19).
9 If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9).
(7) A study of the attributes of God enhances our worship.
We worship God for who He is. The attributes of God are a description of who He is. When God is worshipped in the Bible, He is worshipped in response to His attributes. He is worshipped as the eternal One:
8 And the four living creatures, each one of them having six wings, are full of eyes around and within; and day and night they do not cease to say, “HOLY, HOLY, HOLY, [is] THE LORD GOD, THE ALMIGHTY, WHO WAS AND WHO IS AND WHO IS TO COME” (Revelation 4:8).
Especially in the Psalms we find the worship of God linked to an acknowledgment of His attributes:
17 I will give thanks to the LORD according to His righteousness, And will sing praise to the name of the LORD Most High (Psalms 7:17).
1 Oh give thanks to the LORD, for He is good; For His lovingkindness is everlasting (Psalms 107:1).
(8) A study of the attributes of God should enhance our prayer life.
Knowing God’s character not only instructs us about what we should pray for—that which is in accord with His character—but it also assures us God is able and willing to answer our prayers. We do not pray to just anyone; we pray to Him who hears our prayers and is willing and able to answer them. Once again, in the Book of Psalms we see the petitions of men linked to the attributes of God.
1 (For the choir director; for flute accompaniment. A Psalm of David.) Give ear to my words, O LORD, Consider my groaning. 2 Heed the sound of my cry for help, my King and my God, For to Thee do I pray. 3 In the morning, O LORD, Thou wilt hear my voice; In the morning I will order [my prayer] to Thee and [eagerly] watch. 4 For Thou art not a God who takes pleasure in wickedness; No evil dwells with Thee. 5 The boastful shall not stand before Thine eyes; Thou dost hate all who do iniquity (Psalms 5:1-5).
(9) A study of the attributes of God enhances our witness.
Men can only be saved when they come to recognize they are lost, and they will see their sin only when they begin to recognize God as the One who is holy and righteous and just. Paul’s conversion is a dramatic illustration of this recognition of human depravity in the light of God’s glory (see Acts 9:1-22).
Our principle task is not the winning of souls, but the demonstration and promotion of God’s glory:
31 Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31).
9 But you are A CHOSEN RACE, A royal PRIESTHOOD, A HOLY NATION, A PEOPLE FOR [God’s] OWN POSSESSION, that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; 10 for you once were NOT A PEOPLE, but now you are THE PEOPLE OF GOD; you had NOT RECEIVED MERCY, but now you have RECEIVED MERCY (1 Peter 2:9-10).
The attributes of God are both His characteristics and His “excellencies.” His nature and character are His excellence, His perfection, His glory. Knowing God’s excellence is the starting point for practicing and proclaiming it among men. In so doing, some will be saved, but God will be glorified whether or not men are saved. The elect will be saved to the glory of God (Romans 9:23), and the lost will glorify God in the day of His visitation (1 Peter 2:11-12).
(10) Seeking to know the character of God enhances and enriches our study of the Scriptures.
The Scriptures are the primary source for our instruction concerning God’s attributes.12 As we seek to learn the character of God, we will soon discover that we have a new outlook on the Scriptures. Even those texts we may have considered boring come to life as we begin to see God’s character described therein. Imagine coming to the place where, like David, we could pray these words concerning the Old Testament law:
15 I will meditate on Thy precepts, And regard Thy ways. 16 I shall delight in Thy statutes; I shall not forget Thy word. 17 Deal bountifully with Thy servant, That I may live and keep Thy word. 18 Open my eyes, that I may behold Wonderful things from Thy law (Psalms 119:15-18).
97 O how I love Thy law! It is my meditation all the day (Psalms 119:97).
Seemingly obscure and difficult to understand portions of the Bible come to life when we look to them for insight into the character of God. Prophetic texts (like the Book of Revelation) have much to tell us about God’s character. Perhaps we spend too much time and effort trying to solve mysteries we were not intended to comprehend (see Deuteronomy 29:29) rather than focusing on the character of God, which is often quite clearly portrayed in highly symbolic or obscure texts. When we come to the Scriptures to learn what God is like, we shall not be disappointed.
(11) When we focus on the attributes of God, we begin to view life from a new perspective—from God’s perspective.
Nothing will more radically change the way we look at life and our circumstances. In Psalm 73, Asaph confesses that when he began to view his life from God’s perspective he saw things in an entirely different light. When our desire is to know God, to know His nature and character, then we welcome those circumstances which facilitate a more intimate acquaintance with God. And so the apostle Paul tells us that he welcomes suffering when it facilitates knowing God:
8 More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish in order that I may gain Christ, 9 and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from [the] Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which [comes] from God on the basis of faith, 10 that I may know Him, and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death (Philippians 3:8-10).
A desire to know God intimately by the knowledge of His character puts our service into perspective and protects us from what some call “burn out.” Think of the account of Mary and Martha in the Gospel of Luke:
38 Now as they were traveling along, He entered a certain village; and a woman named Martha welcomed Him into her home. 39 And she had a sister called Mary, who moreover was listening to the Lord’s word, seated at His feet. 40 But Martha was distracted with all her preparations; and she came up [to Him,] and said, “Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to do all the serving alone? Then tell her to help me.” 41 But the Lord answered and said to her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things; 42 but [only] a few things are necessary, really [only] one, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:38-42).
Mary chose the “one thing,” the “better thing,” to worship and adore the Lord, sitting at His feet, delighting in all that He is. Martha chose a lesser thing and became embittered that Mary was not working with her. When knowing God becomes our priority, serving Him becomes an outworking of our devotion, not a hindrance to it.
A study of the attributes of God—seeing God as He is—is a life-transforming experience. Seeing God in His greatness and glory has transformed lives. Knowing God as fully as possible was the goal of the great men and women of God in the Bible. The great men of the Bible were those who had a passion to know God; they were men who had come to “see” God. Let us now focus our attention on two men whose lives were transformed by gaining a greater grasp of the attributes of God.
Job, by God’s assessment, was “a blameless and upright man, fearing God and turning away from evil” (Job 1:8). God allowed a series of disasters to afflict Job through the agency of Satan. Job was “counseled” by three friends, which only added further to his suffering. Job was weakening under the weight of his afflictions when God personally rebuked him. God did not explain to Job why He had allowed suffering to disrupt his life. He did not inform Job of Satan’s involvement or of His own purpose for all that had taken place. God simply reminded Job that He was God and of some of His attributes as God (Job 38-41). He reminded Job of his finite nature and his fallibility. Job repented. He no longer asked to know why God was working as He was in his life. He no longer needed to know. All He needed to know was that what was happening was God’s work, and that God, as God, would and could do what was best. The attributes of God put Job back on track, spiritually speaking, and assured him that if he knew God, he knew enough. His suffering was never explained, because it ultimately came from the hand of God.
Notice these words, at the end of the Book of Job:
7 And it came about after the LORD had spoken these words to Job, that the LORD said to Eliphaz the Temanite, “My wrath is kindled against you and against your two friends, because you have not spoken of Me what is right as My servant Job has” (Job 42:7).
These words indicate something very important, for they reveal that God distinguished between Job and his response to his affliction and his three friends with their response to his affliction. Job’s friends were wrong! They needed to repent. Their error? They did not speak what was right about God.
Job had spoken rightly about God, but when? I think Job spoke rightly about God at the beginning of his troubles (Job 1:21-22) and then at the end of them when he repented:
1 Then Job answered the LORD, and said, 2 “I know that Thou canst do all things, And that no purpose of Thine can be thwarted. 3 ‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’ “Therefore I have declared that which I did not understand, Things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.” 4 ‘Hear, now, and I will speak; I will ask Thee, and do Thou instruct me.’ 5 “I have heard of Thee by the hearing of the ear; But now my eye sees Thee; 6 Therefore I retract, And I repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42:1-6).
Job is saying: “Before my suffering, I knew about You. But, now, after my suffering and after your words of rebuke (reminding me about your attributes), I have now come to know You.” Job “heard of God” by the hearing of the ear, but now Job “has seen God.” Job came to know God more fully. Job’s suffering served the higher purposes of God of which Job was still ignorant. But they also served God’s purpose for Job, which was to cause him to more fully know and appreciate God’s attributes, and thus to more fully know God. The attributes of God caused Job to think rightly about God and to thus respond rightly to his suffering.
Moses was likewise radically changed as a result of his increasing knowledge of the attributes of God. Consider the sequence of events in Moses’ life which revealed to him the attributes of God and in turn brought about increasing intimacy with God.
Moses’ first encounter with God is described in Exodus 3:
1 Now Moses was pasturing the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian; and he led the flock to the west side of the wilderness, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. 2 And the angel of the LORD appeared to him in a blazing fire from the midst of a bush; and he looked, and behold, the bush was burning with fire, yet the bush was not consumed. 3 So Moses said, “I must turn aside now, and see this marvelous sight, why the bush is not burned up.” 4 When the LORD saw that he turned aside to look, God called to him from the midst of the bush, and said, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.” 5 Then He said, “Do not come near here; remove your sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” 6 He said also, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” Then Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God . . . 11 But Moses said to God, “Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh, and that I should bring the sons of Israel out of Egypt?” 12 And He said, “Certainly I will be with you, and this shall be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall worship God at this mountain.” 13 Then Moses said to God, “Behold, I am going to the sons of Israel, and I shall say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you.’ Now they may say to me, ‘What is His name?’ What shall I say to them?” 14 And God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM”; and He said, “Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’” 15 And God, furthermore, said to Moses, “Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel, ‘The LORD, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you.’ This is My name forever, and this is My memorial-name to all generations” (Exodus 3:1-6, 11-15).
Moses’ first encounter with God revealed several important attributes of God, even if he failed to grasp or believe them. First, Moses was instructed that the God of Israel is an eternal God. The burning bush did not “burn up;” it simply “burned on.” The flaming bush was a symbolic manifestation of God, who is eternal. He, like the fire, does not end. And so, in this same encounter, God told Moses one of His names. God is the great and eternal “I AM” (verse 14). Moses would come to appreciate the eternality of God in the years to come. Is it any wonder the one psalm (90) Moses penned was a psalm reflecting on the eternality of God?
Second, Moses was assured of God’s continual presence with him as he went to Egypt to carry out his divinely given task (see verse 12). This never-ending presence is celebrated by David in Psalm 139 and is assured the disciples by our Lord in His giving of the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20; see also Hebrews 13:5). Moses would soon be appealing to God to do as He had promised (see Exodus 33:12-16; 34:8-9).
Third, in Moses’ encounter with God in the burning bush, he was instructed about the holiness of God. Moses was told not to come near to the bush and to take off his sandals for the ground around that bush was holy (Exodus 3:5-6). The holiness of God would become a prominent theme in Moses’ ministry.
If Moses was kept at a distance from God in Exodus 3, the remainder of the Book of Exodus describes Moses’ intense desire to draw near to God to know Him more fully. When God delivered Israel from Egypt, He appeared in the form of a cloud, separating them from the Egyptians and leading them into the promised land (see Exodus 14:19-20). On Mount Sinai, where God gave the Law to the Israelites, He manifested Himself to the nation by fire, smoke, a cloud, thunder and lightening, and earth quaking (Exodus 19:16-19). The people and the priests were kept at a distance and not allowed to even gaze upon God (19:21-25).
A very unusual thing takes place in Exodus 24. Moses, along with Aaron and his two sons, Nadab and Abihu, accompanied by 70 of the elders of the people, are granted a special manifestation of the glory of God:
9 Then Moses went up with Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel, 10 and they saw the God of Israel; and under His feet there appeared to be a pavement of sapphire, as clear as the sky itself. 11 Yet He did not stretch out His hand against the nobles of the sons of Israel; and they beheld God, and they ate and drank (Exodus 24:9-11).
And yet after this amazing revelation of God to these leaders of the nation, in the absence of Moses they took part in the making of an idol against emphatic instructions of God to the contrary:
2 “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. 3 You shall have no other gods before Me. 4 You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth. 5 You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me, 6 but showing lovingkindness to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments” (Exodus 20:2-6).
1 Now when the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people assembled about Aaron, and said to him, “Come, make us a god who will go before us; as for this Moses, the man who brought us up from the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.” 2 And Aaron said to them, “Tear off the gold rings which are in the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring [them] to me.” 3 Then all the people tore off the gold rings which were in their ears, and brought [them] to Aaron. 4 And he took [this] from their hand, and fashioned it with a graving tool, and made it into a molten calf; and they said, “This is your god, O Israel, who brought you up from the land of Egypt.” 5 Now when Aaron saw [this,] he built an altar before it; and Aaron made a proclamation and said, “Tomorrow [shall be] a feast to the LORD.” 6 So the next day they rose early and offered burnt offerings, and brought peace offerings; and the people sat down to eat and to drink, and rose up to play (Exodus 32:1-6).
How amazing! These Israelites had witnessed God’s triumph over the “gods” of Egypt at the exodus. They sang praises to Him after they passed through the Red Sea (Exodus 15:1-18). They saw the spectacular manifestations of God’s presence on the mountain. Aaron and his sons and 70 of the leaders of the nation were privileged to eat a meal in God’s presence. And yet, after the absence of Moses for a short time, they were willing to make an idol in direct disobedience to what they had just been commanded.
God threatened to wipe out this rebellious people. He offered to make a new nation from the offspring of Moses (Exodus 32:9-10). Moses pled with God to have mercy on His people, and thus fulfill His promise to Abraham, and to bring glory to Himself among the nations (see Exodus 32:11-13). God withheld His wrath and promised to be with Moses as he led the people into the promised land. But He would keep His distance from this obstinate people:
1 Then the LORD spoke to Moses, “Depart, go up from here, you and the people whom you have brought up from the land of Egypt, to the land of which I swore to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, saying, ‘To your descendants I will give it.’ 2 And I will send an angel before you and I will drive out the Canaanite, the Amorite, the Hittite, the Perizzite, the Hivite and the Jebusite. 3 [Go up] to a land flowing with milk and honey; for I will not go up in your midst, because you are an obstinate people, lest I destroy you on the way” (Exodus 33:1-3).
While God kept His distance from the stiff-necked Israelites, He drew nearer to Moses so that he alone enjoyed an intimacy with God unmatched since the Garden of Eden:
7 Now Moses used to take the tent and pitch it outside the camp, a good distance from the camp, and he called it the tent of meeting. And it came about, that everyone who sought the LORD would go out to the tent of meeting which was outside the camp. 8 And it came about, whenever Moses went out to the tent, that all the people would arise and stand, each at the entrance of his tent, and gaze after Moses until he entered the tent. 9 And it came about, whenever Moses entered the tent, the pillar of cloud would descend and stand at the entrance of the tent; and the LORD would speak with Moses. 10 When all the people saw the pillar of cloud standing at the entrance of the tent, all the people would arise and worship, each at the entrance of his tent. 11 Thus the LORD used to speak to Moses face to face, just as a man speaks to his friend. When Moses returned to the camp, his servant Joshua, the son of Nun, a young man, would not depart from the tent (Exodus 33:7-11).
One would think Moses would be satisfied with such an intimacy with God, but he was not. He wanted more, more of God. Wanting to know God more intimately, he made this petition:
12 Then Moses said to the LORD, “See, Thou dost say to me, ‘Bring up this people!’ But Thou Thyself hast not let me know whom Thou wilt send with me. Moreover, Thou hast said, ‘I have known you by name, and you have also found favor in My sight.’ 13 “Now therefore, I pray Thee, if I have found favor in Thy sight, let me know Thy ways, that I may know Thee, so that I may find favor in Thy sight. Consider too, that this nation is Thy people.” 14 And He said, “My presence shall go [with you,] and I will give you rest.” 15 Then he said to Him, “If Thy presence does not go [with us,] do not lead us up from here. 16 For how then can it be known that I have found favor in Thy sight, I and Thy people? Is it not by Thy going with us, so that we, I and Thy people, may be distinguished from all the [other] people who are upon the face of the earth?” 17 And the LORD said to Moses, “I will also do this thing of which you have spoken; for you have found favor in My sight, and I have known you by name.” 18 Then Moses said, “I pray Thee, show me Thy glory!” (Exodus 33:12-18).
The answer to Moses’ request is recorded in the following verses:
19 And He said, “I Myself will make all My goodness pass before you, and will proclaim the name of the LORD before you; and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show compassion on whom I will show compassion.” 20 But He said, “You cannot see My face, for no man can see Me and live!” 21 Then the LORD said, “Behold, there is a place by Me, and you shall stand [there] on the rock; 22 and it will come about, while My glory is passing by, that I will put you in the cleft of the rock and cover you with My hand until I have passed by. 23 Then I will take My hand away and you shall see My back, but My face shall not be seen.”... 1 Now the LORD said to Moses, “Cut out for yourself two stone tablets like the former ones, and I will write on the tablets the words that were on the former tablets which you shattered. 2 So be ready by morning, and come up in the morning to Mount Sinai, and present yourself there to Me on the top of the mountain. 3 And no man is to come up with you, nor let any man be seen anywhere on the mountain; even the flocks and the herds may not graze in front of that mountain.” 4 So he cut out two stone tablets like the former ones, and Moses rose up early in the morning and went up to Mount Sinai, as the LORD had commanded him, and he took two stone tablets in his hand. 5 And the LORD descended in the cloud and stood there with him as he called upon the name of the LORD. 6 Then the LORD passed by in front of him and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth; 7 who keeps lovingkindness for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin; yet He will by no means leave [the guilty] unpunished, visiting the iniquity of fathers on the children and on the grandchildren to the third and fourth generations.” 8 And Moses made haste to bow low toward the earth and worship (Exodus 33:19–34:8).
This incident in the life of Moses should instruct us certainly, but it should also motivate us to follow in his footsteps. We can find a number of lessons in this text for us.
(1) Living close to God is dangerous for those who harbor sin and unrighteousness. God made it clear that sinful men must keep their distance (Exodus 19:21-24). If God were present among His people and they persisted in their sin, He would destroy them (Exodus 33:3). Sinful men cannot fellowship with a holy God as sinners.
(2) God desires to fellowship with men, and He provides the means for fellowship. God revealed Himself to the Israelites, to their leaders, and especially to Moses. God wanted to manifest His glory to men. He glorified Himself in Egypt by the defeat of Pharaoh and the Egyptians. He glorified Himself by delivering the nation Israel and by keeping His covenant promises to Abraham and his descendants.
God manifests His glory to His chosen ones so they may worship and serve Him. Men cannot fellowship with God because of their sin. Moses petitioned God to go with them into the promised land and also to forgive them of their sins (Exodus 34:9). Because of man’s sin, God made provision for His people to fellowship with Him. First, God called His people apart so they could worship Him (see Exodus 4:22-23). Then God gave His people the Law, which distinguished the holy from the unholy. The Law defined that which is displeasing and detestable in God’s sight. He also provided barriers which kept certain boundaries between God and men. The tabernacle was one such barrier. Only one man went into the holy of holies once a year. And finally God provided blood sacrifices so that sinful men might be forgiven and thereby enter into fellowship with Him. When the Lord Jesus was crucified on Calvary, He was the full and final sacrifice, having died for sin once for all, so that now there are no barriers between men and God for those who are forgiven and justified in Christ (see Hebrews 9 and 10).
(3) Knowing God was the incentive for Moses to know Him even more intimately. When God first appeared to Moses, he was afraid to look at Him, and so he hid his face (Exodus 3:6). By Exodus 33, Moses pleads with God to behold Him in His glory. What could have prompted this change in Moses? I believe it was his growing knowledge of God. No man had ever been privileged to fellowship with God as had Moses. God met regularly with Moses and spoke with him “face to face, just as a man speaks to his friend” (32:11). And yet Moses wanted more of God. The more we come to know God, the more we wish to know Him. Knowing God produces both the motivation and the means for knowing Him further.
(4) Not knowing God intimately prompts us to keep our distance from God and finally results in idolatry—creating a “god” of our own making. This we learn from the nation Israel. They were instructed to keep their distance from God, and they wanted it this way. Let Moses intercede with God. Let Him live dangerously by coming into close contact with Him. They would keep their distance. And yet they soon were busily fashioning and worshipping a “god” of their own making, a “god” who could be near them. But this was not the same God who gave them His Law, who forbade idolatry and immorality. This was a “god” whom they could worship and serve while sinning. And so they did, to their own destruction. When we do not seek to know God, we find ourselves drawing back from Him and eventually fashioning a “god” of our own making.
(5) Moses’ motivation was that God knew him fully, and thus, he wished to know God more fully.
12b Moreover, Thou hast said, ‘I have known you by name, and you have also found favor in My sight.’ 13 “Now therefore, I pray Thee, if I have found favor in Thy sight, let me know Thy ways, that I may know Thee, so that I may find favor in Thy sight. Consider too, that this nation is Thy people” (Exodus 33:12b-13).
There is a very close relationship between being known by God and seeking to know God (see 1 Corinthians 8:3; 13:12; Galatians 4:9).
(6) Moses wished to know God more fully in order to serve Him better. Moses’ desire to know God more fully was not self-serving. He sought to know God more intimately in order to be able to fulfill his calling of leading the nation Israel:
12 Then Moses said to the LORD, “See, Thou dost say to me, ‘Bring up this people!’ But Thou Thyself hast not let me know whom Thou wilt send with me. Moreover, Thou hast said, ‘I have known you by name, and you have also found favor in My sight.’ 13 “Now therefore, I pray Thee, if I have found favor in Thy sight, let me know Thy ways, that I may know Thee, so that I may find favor in Thy sight. Consider too, that this nation is Thy people” (Exodus 33:12-13).
Moses was commanded to bring the people of Israel up into the land of promise. How could He do so if He did not know Him who was to go with him. To see God more fully was to be better prepared to serve Him.
(7) Moses wished to know God more fully, not just for his own sake but for the sake of others. Moses had already been assured of God’s presence with him (Exodus 3:12; 33:14). Moses seeks both a greater revelation of God’s glory and for His presence with His people, Israel (33:15-16; 34:9). All through this text in Exodus 33 and 34, Moses is interceding for the nation Israel. His personal request to see God’s glory is linked to his petition that God be present with His people.
(8) Knowing God is to know His “ways,” to know His character. Moses pled with God,
13 “Now therefore, I pray Thee, if I have found favor in Thy sight, let me know Thy ways, that I may know Thee, so that I may find favor in Thy sight” (Exodus 33:13).
We cannot know God intimately and personally without knowing God’s character, His “ways.” This is why Moses pled with God to know His ways, that he might know Him.
(9) The grace of God is both the basis and the goal of knowing God. Look at these words of Moses one more time:
13 “Now therefore, I pray Thee, if I have found favor in Thy sight, let me know Thy ways, that I may know Thee, so that I may find favor in Thy sight” (Exodus 33:14, emphasis mine).
Do you see it? The expression, “I have found favor (or grace) in Thy sight” is repeated in this one verse. Having found favor in God’s sight, Moses can appeal to God to know Him more fully. And coming to know God more fully is sought in order to find God’s favor. Grace is both the basis and the outcome of knowing God—and it is all of God’s grace.
(10) God’s character is His glory. Finally, notice the revelation of God’s glory is the revelation of God’s character:
5 And the LORD descended in the cloud and stood there with him as he called upon the name of the LORD. 6 Then the LORD passed by in front of him and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth; 7 who keeps lovingkindness for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin; yet He will by no means leave [the guilty] unpunished, visiting the iniquity of fathers on the children and on the grandchildren to the third and fourth generations” (Exodus 34:5-7).
What constitutes God’s glory? God’s full glory cannot be seen by men, even by a man like Moses. It would be something like trying to look directly into the full radiance of the sun. But God did reveal to Moses some of His attributes. The splendor and blaze of the physical manifestation of God on that mount was but a visual symbol of the glory of His person, His character. God’s grace and compassion are His glory. His lovingkindness is His glory. His faithfulness is His glory. His holiness and justice are His glory.
My sincere hope is that each of us could join with Moses and say with him, “Let me see Thy glory.” There is no greater joy and privilege in life than to behold the glory of God. Heaven will be enjoying the glory of God for all eternity—and we can start now. But if we would see God’s glory, we must study His attributes. And we dare not study them as mere academic qualities. These are the characteristics of God as a Person. And the outcome of our study should be that of Moses. We should respond in worship and the service which is its expression (see Exodus 34:8-9). Let us not only seek to see the glory of God personally but also seek to bring others into His presence as well, to His glory.
A study of the attributes of God allows no casual bystanders. We either respond in worship and service, or we turn from God, creating in His place a “lesser god” of our own making, a “god” in whose presence we feel comfortable, even while we sin. As we commence this study, may we do so with great zeal, with our eyes open wide to what this study requires of us.
1 “Letting God grow up,” by George W. Cornell, The Dallas Morning News, Saturday, March 5, 1994, p. 44A.
2 A. W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy (New York: Harper and Row, Publishers, 1961), p. 10.
3 Ibid., p. 12.
4 Arthur W. Pink, Gleanings in the Godhead, pp. 28-29.
5 Cited by Arthur W. Pink, Gleanings in the Godhead, (Chicago: Moody Press, 1975), p. 28.
6 C. H. Spurgeon, as cited by Pink, The Attributes of God, p. 80.
7 Sermon on Mal. 3:6, by C. H. Spurgeon, as cited in Pink, The Attributes of God, p. 80.
8 J. I. Packer, Knowing God (Downers Grove: Inter-Varsity Press, 1973), pp. 29-30.
9 Ibid., pp. 14-15.
10 A. W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy, p. 11.
11 Ibid., p. 10.
12 We know there are three primary sources of revelation concerning the character of God: God’s creation, nature (Psalm 19:1-6; Romans 1:18-20), the Son of God (John 1:14-18; Hebrews 1:1-3), and the Word of God (Psalm 19:7-14; 119; 2 Peter 1:3-4). It is only in the Word of God that the Son of God is described (see John 20:30-31; 1 John 1:1-4).
Related Topics: Theology Proper (God)
2. The Power of God
Centuries ago, God promised Abraham and Sarah they would have a son through whose offspring the world would be blessed. But there were problems. Abraham and Sarah were getting on in years, and Sarah was barren. When told she would be the mother of Abraham’s child, the child of promise, Sarah laughed. In response to her laughter, God spoke these words to Abraham:
13 And the LORD said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh, saying, ‘Shall I indeed bear [a child,] when I am [so] old?’ 14 Is anything too difficult for the LORD? At the appointed time I will return to you, at this time next year, and Sarah shall have a son” (Genesis 18:13-14, emphasis mine).
When God rescued the nation Israel from their bondage in Egypt, He led them into the wilderness, where the “menu” was a miraculous provision of manna. But the Israelites began to grumble because they could not enjoy the variety of foods they had eaten in Egypt. In response to their grumbling, God promised to give this great company a diet of meat for an entire month. If the feeding of the 5,000 seems difficult, imagine feeding this hugh congregation. Moses had the same thoughts and expressed his concerns to God:
21 But Moses said, “The people, among whom I am, are 600,000 on foot; yet Thou hast said, ‘I will give them meat in order that they may eat for a whole month.’ 22 Should flocks and herds be slaughtered for them, to be sufficient for them? Or should all the fish of the sea be gathered together for them, to be sufficient for them?” (Numbers 11:21-22).
But God asked another question in response to Moses, a question vitally important to every Christian today:
23 And the LORD said to Moses, “Is the LORD’S power limited? Now you shall see whether My word will come true for you or not” (Numbers 11:23, emphasis mine).
The answer to this question is crucial, and the answer of the Bible is clear and unequivocal:
3 But our God is in the heavens; He does whatever He pleases (Psalm 115:3).
17 “‘Ah Lord GOD! Behold, Thou hast made the heavens and the earth by Thy great power and by Thine outstretched arm! Nothing is too difficult for Thee’” (Jeremiah 32:17).
26 And looking upon [them] Jesus said to them, “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26).
24 The LORD of hosts has sworn saying, “Surely, just as I have intended so it has happened, and just as I have planned so it will stand, 25 to break Assyria in My land, and I will trample him on My mountains. Then his yoke will be removed from them, and his burden removed from their shoulder. 26 This is the plan devised against the whole earth; and this is the hand that is stretched out against all the nations. 27 For the LORD of hosts has planned, and who can frustrate [it]? And as for His stretched-out hand, who can turn it back?” (Isaiah 14:21-26).
The earliest manifestation of God’s power is seen in the creation of the world in which we live:
20 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 (Romans 1:20).
Throughout Scripture, the creation of the world is cited as a compelling testimony of the power of God.
(For the choir director. A Psalm of David.) 1The heavens are telling of the glory of God; And their expanse is declaring the work of His hands. 2 Day to day pours forth speech, And night to night reveals knowledge. 3 There is no speech, nor are there words; Their voice is not heard. 4 Their line has gone out through all the earth, And their utterances to the end of the world. In them He has placed a tent for the sun, 5 Which is as a bridegroom coming out of his chamber; It rejoices as a strong man to run his course. 6 Its rising is from one end of the heavens, And its circuit to the other end of them; And there is nothing hidden from its heat (Psalms 19:1-6).
6 By the word of the LORD the heavens were made, And by the breath of His mouth all their host. 7 He gathers the waters of the sea together as a heap; He lays up the deeps in storehouses. 8 Let all the earth fear the LORD; Let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of Him. 9 For He spoke, and it was done; He commanded, and it stood fast. 10 The LORD nullifies the counsel of the nations; He frustrates the plans of the peoples. 11 The counsel of the LORD stands forever, The plans of His heart from generation to generation. 12 Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD, The people whom He has chosen for His own inheritance (Psalms 33:6-12).
In Psalm 33, the heavens testify to the existence of God and His attributes and thus proclaim His glory (Psalm 19:1-6). David continues the theme of creation’s proclamation of God’s character in Psalm 33 where the power of God is highlighted. Verse 6 states the power of God in creating the world, emphasizing that all this took place by the mere speaking of a word (see Genesis 1:3ff.; Hebrews 11:3; 2 Peter 3:5). In verse 7, David indicates God not only created the heavens, He controls them. And in verses 10 and following, David goes on to tell us God likewise controls the affairs of men; God is in control of history.
(For the choir director. A Psalm of David the servant of the LORD, who spoke to the LORD the words of this song in the day that the LORD delivered him from the hand of all his enemies and from the hand of Saul.) And he said, 1 “I love Thee, O LORD, my strength.” 2 The LORD is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, My God, my rock, in whom I take refuge; My shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. 3 I call upon the LORD, who is worthy to be praised, And I am saved from my enemies. 4 The cords of death encompassed me, And the torrents of ungodliness terrified me. 5 The cords of Sheol surrounded me; The snares of death confronted me. 6 In my distress I called upon the LORD, and cried to my God for help; He heard my voice out of His temple, and my cry for help before Him came into His ears. 7 Then the earth shook and quaked; and the foundations of the mountains were trembling And were shaken, because He was angry. 8 Smoke went up out of His nostrils, And fire from His mouth devoured; coals were kindled by it. 9 He bowed the heavens also, and came down with thick darkness under His feet. 10 And He rode upon a cherub and flew; and He sped upon the wings of the wind. 11 He made darkness His hiding place, His canopy around Him, Darkness of waters, thick clouds of the skies. 12 From the brightness before Him passed His thick clouds, hailstones and coals of fire. 13 The LORD also thundered in the heavens, And the Most High uttered His voice, hailstones and coals of fire. 14 And He sent out His arrows, and scattered them, And lightning flashes in abundance, and routed them. 15 Then the channels of water appeared, and the foundations of the world were laid bare At Thy rebuke, O LORD, at the blast of the breath of Thy nostrils. 16 He sent from on high, He took me; He drew me out of many waters. 17 He delivered me from my strong enemy, And from those who hated me, for they were too mighty for me. 18 They confronted me in the day of my calamity, but the LORD was my stay. 19 He brought me forth also into a broad place; He rescued me, because He delighted in me (Psalms 18:1-19).
Psalm 18 praises God for His strength, strength in which he can take refuge (see verses 1-2). Verses 3-7 praise God for the deliverance He gave David from the hand of his enemy, Saul (see also verse 1). David was in great distress, and God rescued him. David poetically depicts in verses 7-15 God’s response to His cry for help, as though God called upon all the forces of nature to come to his aid. In a word, David tells his readers God will, so to speak, move heaven and earth to deliver one of His children in distress. We can trust in God and find in Him a place of refuge, because He is the one true God whose power includes the control of all the forces of nature.13
After having first displayed His power at creation, God’s second great demonstration of power is seen at the Exodus,
1 And afterward Moses and Aaron came and said to Pharaoh, “Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, ‘Let My people go that they may celebrate a feast to Me in the wilderness.’” 2 But Pharaoh said, “Who is the LORD that I should obey His voice to let Israel go? I do not know the LORD, and besides, I will not let Israel go” (Exodus 5:1-2, emphasis mine).
Pharaoh’s obstinance was by divine design. While Pharaoh hardened his own heart, at the same time God hardened his heart so that he would resist God, providing the occasion for God’s power to be demonstrated to the Egyptians, the Israelites, and the surrounding nations:
3 “But I will harden Pharaoh’s heart that I may multiply My signs and My wonders in the land of Egypt. 4 When Pharaoh will not listen to you, then I will lay My hand on Egypt, and bring out My hosts, My people the sons of Israel, from the land of Egypt by great judgments. 5 And the Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD, when I stretch out My hand on Egypt and bring out the sons of Israel from their midst” (Exodus 7:3-5).
30 Thus the LORD saved Israel that day from the hand of the Egyptians, and Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the seashore. 31 And when Israel saw the great power which the LORD had used against the Egyptians, the people feared the LORD, and they believed in the LORD and in His servant Moses (Exodus 14:30-31).
6 “Thy right hand, O LORD, is majestic in power, Thy right hand, O LORD, shatters the enemy” (Exodus 15:6).11 “Who is like Thee among the gods, O LORD? Who is like Thee, majestic in holiness, awesome in praises, working wonders? 12 Thou didst stretch out Thy right hand, the earth swallowed them. 13 In Thy lovingkindness Thou hast led the people whom Thou hast redeemed; In Thy strength Thou hast guided [them] to Thy holy habitation. 14 The peoples have heard, they tremble; Anguish has gripped the inhabitants of Philistia. 15 Then the chiefs of Edom were dismayed; the leaders of Moab, trembling grips them; All the inhabitants of Canaan have melted away. 16 Terror and dread fall upon them; by the greatness of Thine arm they are motionless as stone; Until Thy people pass over, O LORD, until the people pass over whom Thou hast purchased” (Exodus 15:11-16).
The nation Israel praised God for the power He displayed in delivering them from their bondage in Egypt. They confessed that their deliverance proved God to be God alone, and the word of their deliverance would strike terror in the hearts of the other nations. They saw this deliverance as proof of God’s power and assurance of their entrance into the land as God had promised. The exodus was indeed a demonstration of God’s omnipotence.
Later, Moses would remind the second generation of Israelites of this great event and of the power of God to which it bore witness:
32 “Indeed, ask now concerning the former days which were before you, since the day that God created man on the earth, and [inquire] from one end of the heavens to the other. Has [anything] been done like this great thing, or has [anything] been heard like it? 33 Has [any] people heard the voice of God speaking from the midst of the fire, as you have heard [it], and survived? 34 Or has a god tried to go to take for himself a nation from within[another] nation by trials, by signs and wonders and by war and by a mighty hand and by an outstretched arm and by great terrors, as the LORD your God did for you in Egypt before your eyes? 35 To you it was shown that you might know that the LORD, He is God; there is no other besides Him. 36 Out of the heavens He let you hear His voice to discipline you; and on earth He let you see His great fire, and you heard His words from the midst of the fire. 37 Because He loved your fathers, therefore He chose their descendants after them. And He personally brought you from Egypt by His great power” (Deuteronomy 4:32-37).
And so in the later books of the Old Testament, the creation of the world and the creation of the nation Israel (by means of the exodus) becomes a major theme. In the Book of Psalms, these events and the power of God to which they bear witness, become the basis for Israel’s hope and for her worship and praise:
5 For I know that the LORD is great, And that our Lord is above all gods. 6 Whatever the LORD pleases, He does, In heaven and in earth, in the seas and in all deeps. 7 He causes the vapors to ascend from the ends of the earth; Who makes lightnings for the rain; Who brings forth the wind from His treasuries. 8 He smote the first-born of Egypt, both of man and beast. 9 He sent signs and wonders into your midst, O Egypt, Upon Pharaoh and all his servants. 10 He smote many nations, and slew mighty kings, 11 Sihon, king of the Amorites, and Og, king of Bashan, And all the kingdoms of Canaan; 12 And He gave their land as a heritage, A heritage to Israel His people (Psalms 135:5-12).
The prophets make much of these events and of the power of God to which they point. They do so because they are calling Israel to trust in God and place their hope in Him. They do so because they speak of even greater events God is going to bring to pass, events which involve a “new creation,” and therefore require the power which only God, the Creator, has:
5 Thus says God the LORD, Who created the heavens and stretched them out, Who spread out the earth and its offspring, Who gives breath to the people on it, And spirit to those who walk in it, 6 I am the LORD, I have called you in righteousness, I will also hold you by the hand and watch over you, And I will appoint you as a covenant to the people, as a light to the nations, 7 To open blind eyes, to bring out prisoners from the dungeon, And those who dwell in darkness from the prison. 8 I am the LORD, that is My name; I will not give My glory to another, Nor My praise to graven images” (Isaiah 42:5-8).
24 Thus says the LORD, your Redeemer, and the one who formed you from the womb, “I, the LORD, am the maker of all things, Stretching out the heavens by Myself, and spreading out the earth all alone” (Isaiah 44:24).12 “It is I who made the earth, and created man upon it. I stretched out the heavens with My hands, And I ordained all their host” (Isaiah 45:12).
2 “Why was there no man when I came? When I called, [why] was there none to answer? Is My hand so short that it cannot ransom? Or have I no power to deliver? Behold, I dry up the sea with My rebuke, I make the rivers a wilderness; Their fish stink for lack of water, and die of thirst. 3 I clothe the heavens with blackness, and I make sackcloth their covering” (Isaiah 50:2-3).
While imprisoned in Jerusalem, Jeremiah was instructed by God to redeem a field in Judah from a relative, even though the period of the nation’s captivity in Babylon had already commenced. Jeremiah’s prayer in response to this action reveals his grasp of God’s power demonstrated in creation and in the exodus:
17 ‘Ah Lord GOD! Behold, Thou hast made the heavens and the earth by Thy great power and by Thine outstretched arm! Nothing is too difficult for Thee, 18 who showest lovingkindness to thousands, but repayest the iniquity of fathers into the bosom of their children after them, O great and mighty God. The LORD of hosts is His name; 19 great in counsel and mighty in deed, whose eyes are open to all the ways of the sons of men, giving to everyone according to his ways and according to the fruit of his deeds; 20 who hast set signs and wonders in the land of Egypt, [and] even to this day both in Israel and among mankind; and Thou hast made a name for Thyself, as at this day. 21 And Thou didst bring Thy people Israel out of the land of Egypt with signs and with wonders, and with a strong hand and with an outstretched arm, and with great terror; 22 and gavest them this land, which Thou didst swear to their forefathers to give them, a land flowing with milk and honey. 23 And they came in and took possession of it, but they did not obey Thy voice or walk in Thy law; they have done nothing of all that Thou commandedst them to do; therefore Thou hast made all this calamity come upon them. 24 Behold, the siege mounds have reached the city to take it; and the city is given into the hand of the Chaldeans who fight against it, because of the sword, the famine, and the pestilence; and what Thou hast spoken has come to pass; and, behold, Thou seest [it.]” (Jeremiah 32:17-24).
Old Testament prophecies concerning the coming Messiah included the fact of His power. He was called the “Mighty God” (Isaiah 9:6). At the time Messiah’s birth was announced to Mary, she was told this miraculous virgin birth would take place by the power of God:
34 And Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” 35 And the angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy offspring shall be called the Son of God. 36 And behold, even your relative Elizabeth has also conceived a son in her old age; and she who was called barren is now in her sixth month. 37 For nothing will be impossible with God” (Luke 1:34-37).
Our Lord’s power was evident through the many miracles He performed (see Acts 2:32; John 3:2). The people were awe-struck by the evidences of His power:
43a And they were all amazed at the greatness of God (Luke 9:43a).
When John the Baptist began to have second thoughts concerning Jesus, our Lord sent this word back to him:
4 And Jesus answered and said to them, “Go and report to John what you hear and see: 5 [the] BLIND RECEIVE SIGHT and [the] lame walk, [the] lepers are cleansed and [the] deaf hear, and [the] dead are raised up, and [the] POOR HAVE THE GOSPEL PREACHED TO THEM. 6 And blessed is he who keeps from stumbling over Me” (Matthew 11:4-6).
Jesus made it clear His power extended beyond the merely physical realm. He employed His power to heal in order to show that His power extended to the forgiving of sins (Luke 5:17-26; see also Matthew 9:1-8; Mark 2:1-12). The greatest demonstration of our Lord’s power was His resurrection from the dead:
17 “For this reason the Father loves Me, because I lay down My life that I may take it again. 18 No one has taken it away from Me, but I lay it down on My own initiative. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This commandment I received from My Father” (John 10:17-18).
38 Then some of the scribes and Pharisees answered Him, saying, “Teacher, we want to see a sign from You.” 39 But He answered and said to them, “An evil and adulterous generation craves for a sign; and [yet] no sign shall be given to it but the sign of Jonah the prophet; 40 for just as JONAH WAS THREE DAYS AND THREE NIGHTS IN THE BELLY OF THE SEA MONSTER, so shall the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth” (Matthew 12:38-40).
4 Who was declared the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead, according to the Spirit of holiness, Jesus Christ our Lord (Romans 1:4).
In His first coming, a few men were given an occasional glimpse of the full power of our Lord (see Mark 9:1-8; 2 Peter 1:16-19). But He makes it clear that in His second coming, all will see Him coming with power:
30 “And then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the SON OF MAN COMING ON THE CLOUDS OF THE SKY with power and great glory” (Matthew 24:30).
64 Jesus said to him, “You have said it [yourself]; nevertheless I tell you, hereafter you shall see THE SON OF MAN SITTING AT THE RIGHT HAND OF POWER, and COMING ON THE CLOUDS OF HEAVEN” (Matthew 26:64).
The last book of the Bible emphasizes the power of the Lord Jesus Christ:
11 And I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels around the throne and the living creatures and the elders; and the number of them was myriads of myriads, and thousands of thousands, 12 saying with a loud voice, “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing” (Revelation 5:11-12).
God is omnipotent whether we believe it or not. But it is vitally important that we do believe He is omnipotent. An individual’s grasp of the power of God will transform his thinking and his actions. Consider these illustrations of the way God’s power transformed the lives of several men in the Bible.
First, let us turn our attention to Abraham. Here is a man who, at the beginning of his life, had grave doubts about the power of God. But in the end, his firm belief in God’s power enabled him to act in a way that makes him a model of faith for all Christians.
In the early days of his life, Abraham lacked confidence in the power of God. He made his way to the land of Canaan in obedience to the revelation He received from God (see Genesis 12:1-3). But when a famine came in the land, Abram made his way to Egypt, a decision which does not seem prompted by faith in God’s power or His promises. When he and Sarai arrived there, they conducted themselves as they habitually did throughout much of their marriage (see Genesis 20:30)—they deceived others about their relationship. It is apparent from Abram’s words in Genesis 12:11-13 and Genesis 20:11-13 that Abram was afraid when he took his wife to a foreign land. Because there was no “fear of God in that place” (Genesis 20:11), he thought God’s power was somehow nullified. It seems Abram thought God’s power was sufficient to protect him only when he was in the right place and when the people of that place feared God.
How foolish we now consider Abram’s thinking. God not only protected Abram, He also protected Sarai, Abram’s wife. Abram lived, and Sarai did not become another man’s wife. Abram also prospered in these foreign places, coming out not only alive but richer (see Genesis 12:20–13:2; 20:14-16). In fact, God was powerful enough to close the wombs of every woman living in Abimelech’s kingdom of Gerar (20:17-18).
Abram did not believe God’s power was sufficient to enable he and his wife Sarai to bear a son because they were getting old, and Sarai was barren. So Abram sought to produce a son some easier way, first by adopting a servant as a son (Genesis 15:2), and then by producing a son by taking his wife’s handmaid, Hagar, as a concubine (Genesis 16). God purposed to produce a son in a way that would demonstrate His power, by miraculously producing a son in their old age through a woman who had been barren all her life.
The great test of Abraham’s life came when God called him to take this son, the son in whom all Abraham’s hopes rested, and sacrifice him on Mount Moriah (Genesis 22:1-19). Here, Abraham was set to obey God, and the New Testament tells us clearly how he could do so—he was convinced of the power of God to resurrect his son from the dead:
17 By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac; and he who had received the promises was offering up his only begotten [son]; 18 [it was he] to whom it was said, “IN ISAAC YOUR DESCENDANTS SHALL BE CALLED.” 19 He considered that God is able to raise [men] even from the dead; from which he also received him back as a type (Hebrews 11:17-19, emphasis mine).
The key words here are “God is able.” Abraham’s belief that “God is able” was his belief in the power of God to raise the dead. Abraham had a resurrection faith, just as we are to have (see Romans 10:9). Abraham’s growth in faith is paralleled by his increasing belief in the power of God—whether the power to give two people “as good as dead” with respect to child-bearing a son (Romans 4:18-21)—or the power to raise a son from the dead.
Abraham, who began with little faith in God’s power, grew to have great faith in the power of God. In some ways, David’s faith in the power of God diminished over time. When we are first introduced to David, he is ready to do battle with Goliath, the giant who arrogantly spoke blasphemously against God. David was confident, not in his own abilities, but in God’s ability to silence this heathen by putting him to death through David and his sling:
33 Then Saul said to David, “You are not able to go against this Philistine to fight with him; for you are [but] a youth while he has been a warrior from his youth . . . 36 Your servant has killed both the lion and the bear; and this uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them, since he has taunted the armies of the living God.” 37 And David said, “The LORD who delivered me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear, He will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine. And Saul said to David, “Go, and may the LORD be with you” (1 Samuel 17:33, 36-37).
David’s problem was that he, like the nation Israel, began to take credit for what God did through His power. God had warned the Israelites about this false pride:
11 “Beware lest you forget the LORD your God by not keeping His commandments and His ordinances and His statutes which I am commanding you today; 12 lest, when you have eaten and are satisfied, and have built good houses and lived [in them], 13 and when your herds and your flocks multiply, and your silver and gold multiply, and all that you have multiplies, 14 then your heart becomes proud, and you forget the LORD your God who brought you out from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. 17 Otherwise, you may say in your heart, ‘My power and the strength of my hand made me this wealth.’ 18 But you shall remember the LORD your God, for it is He who is giving you power to make wealth, that He may confirm His covenant which He swore to your fathers, as [it is] this day” (Deuteronomy 8:11-14, 17-18).
I believe this is just what happened to David. Taking too much credit for what God had accomplished seems to have been the cause of two of David’s most serious and devastating sins. Twice in the biographical account of David’s life we read of David failing to go to war at the time when kings customarily went to battle:
1 Then it happened in the spring, at the time when kings go out [to battle,] that David sent Joab and his servants with him and all Israel, and they destroyed the sons of Ammon and besieged Rabbah. But David stayed at Jerusalem. 2 Now when evening came David arose from his bed and walked around on the roof of the king’s house, and from the roof he saw a woman bathing; and the woman was very beautiful in appearance. 3 So David sent and inquired about the woman. And one said, “Is this not Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite?” 4 And David sent messengers and took her, and when she came to him, he lay with her; and when she had purified herself from her uncleanness, she returned to her house (2 Samuel 11:1-4, emphasis mine).
1 Then it happened in the spring, at the time when kings go out [to battle,] that Joab led out the army and ravaged the land of the sons of Ammon, and came and besieged Rabbah. But David stayed at Jerusalem. And Joab struck Rabbah and overthrew it . . . 1 Then Satan stood up against Israel and moved David to number Israel. 2 So David said to Joab and to the princes of the people, “Go, number Israel from Beersheba even to Dan, and bring me [word] that I may know their number.” 3 And Joab said, “May the LORD add to His people a hundred times as many as they are! But, my lord the king, are they not all my lord’s servants? Why does my lord seek this thing? Why should he be a cause of guilt to Israel?” 4 Nevertheless, the king’s word prevailed against Joab. Therefore, Joab departed and went throughout all Israel, and came to Jerusalem (1 Chronicles 20:1; 2 Chronicles 21:1-4, emphasis mine).
It may well be these two events, whose descriptions are separated from each other in the Scriptures, are the result of the same failure on David’s part to go to war with his troops. In both cases, Israel was at war with Rabbah. In both cases, in the spring when kings normally went to war, David did not. He stayed home. And the result was he ended up in bed with a loyal soldier’s wife and eventually became a secret ally of the enemy army he used to kill the soldier Uriah to “hide” his sin. In the second instance, David numbered his troops, resulting in an outbreak of divine wrath upon the nation Israel.
The results of David’s sin are glaringly apparent in these Old Testament texts. My purpose here is to consider why David stayed home rather than go to war as kings normally did and as David should have done. I would suggest David began to take credit for the victories God accomplished through His power. David seemed to be so confident of defeating his enemies that he need not even go out to war with his troops. He could serve as commander and chief while between the sheets, and it is just here, between the sheets, that David lost the biggest battle of his life. So too David instructed Joab and the princes of Israel to number the troops of Israel. Even though Joab strongly urged him not to do this, David insisted, at great cost to the Israelites.
But why number the Israelites? For the same reason many of us keep track of “decisions for Christ” or “attendance this week” (not that this is wrong in and of itself). Many of us want to have numbers because we believe there is strength in numbers. David seems to have numbered the Israelites so he could feel confident about winning the battles he waged against the enemies of the nation Israel. Gideon’s 300 men would not have given David great confidence at this moment in his life. David seems to have looked upon Israel’s victories as his victories and Israel’s strength in numbers as his strength. He was wrong. David was never stronger than in his weakness as a youth, when he stood up against Goliath in the power of God and not in his own strength.
The life of Daniel and his three friends, recorded in the Book of Daniel, provides yet another example of the way faith in the power of God made men of faith heroes of the faith. When Daniel refused to cease praying to his “God,” king Darius was reluctantly forced to cast him into a den of lions. The last words of Darius before he left Daniel in the den of lions overnight expressed his hope that Daniel’s God might deliver him:
16 Then the king gave orders, and Daniel was brought in and cast into the lions’ den. The king spoke and said to Daniel, “Your God whom you constantly serve will Himself deliver you” (Daniel 6:16).
The king was right, and the words he spoke in response to Daniel’s divine deliverance give credit where credit is due, to God, by whose power Daniel was delivered from the “power of the lions:”
26 “I make a decree that in all the dominion of my kingdom men are to fear and tremble before the God of Daniel; for He is the living God and enduring forever, and His kingdom is one which will not be destroyed, and His dominion [will be] forever. 27 He delivers and rescues and performs signs and wonders in heaven and on earth, who has [also] delivered Daniel from the power of the lions” (Daniel 6:26-27).
Likewise, it was through the faith of Daniel’s three friends in the power of God that Nebuchadnezzar came to make a similar confession. Nebuchadnezzar had a great golden statue set up before which all men were to bow in worship when prompted by the king’s musicians. Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego refused to bow down to this image, infuriating the king who made this threat:
14 Nebuchadnezzar responded and said to them, “Is it true, Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego, that you do not serve my gods or worship the golden image that I have set up? 15 Now if you are ready, at the moment you hear the sound of the horn, flute, lyre, trigon, psaltery, and bagpipe, and all kinds of music, to fall down and worship the image that I have made, [very well.] But if you will not worship, you will immediately be cast into the midst of a furnace of blazing fire; and what god is there who can deliver you out of my hands?” (Daniel 3:14-15, emphasis mine).
What a challenge to the power of God! Notice the response of Daniel’s three friends. Their response is first of all an expression of faith in God’s power to do anything He chooses. It is secondly an expression of submission on the part of these men to the will of God, which may be to deliver them from the fire or to deliver them through a fiery death (compare Philippians 1:19-24):
16 Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego answered and said to the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to give you an answer concerning this matter. 17 If it be [so,] our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire; and He will deliver us out of your hand, O king. 18 But [even] if [He does] not, let it be known to you, O king, that we are not going to serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up” (Daniel 3:16-18).
In fact, God delivered these three men in a way they could never have imagined. Rather than keeping them from the fire, He brought them through the fire, alive, and without as much as the smell of smoke on their clothing (see 3:27). Nebuchadnezzar was soon to learn yet another lesson concerning the power of God compared to his own “power.” He discovered that his “power” had been given to him by the God of all power. After God humbled him and took away his power, he came to his senses and issued these words for us to hear and heed:
1 Nebuchadnezzar the king to all the peoples, nations, and [men of every] language that live in all the earth: “May your peace abound! 2 It has seemed good to me to declare the signs and wonders which the Most High God has done for me. 3 How great are His signs, and how mighty are His wonders! His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, And His dominion is from generation to generation . . . 34 But at the end of that period I, Nebuchadnezzar, raised my eyes toward heaven, and my reason returned to me, and I blessed the Most High and praised and honored Him who lives forever; for His dominion is an everlasting dominion, and His kingdom [endures] from generation to generation. 35 And all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, but He does according to His will in the host of heaven and [among] the inhabitants of earth; and no one can ward off His hand or say to Him, ‘What hast Thou done?’ 36 At that time my reason returned to me. And my majesty and splendor were restored to me for the glory of my kingdom, and my counselors and my nobles began seeking me out; so I was reestablished in my sovereignty, and surpassing greatness was added to me. 37 Now I Nebuchadnezzar praise, exalt, and honor the King of heaven, for all His works are true and His ways just, and He is able to humble those who walk in pride” (Daniel 4:1-33, 34-37).
No one who takes the Bible seriously can deny the power of God. God is omnipotent; He is all-powerful. This truth transformed the lives of men in the past, and it can transform our lives today. Allow me to suggest several ways the power of God intersects our lives today.
(1) The first thing we should do, in light of the power of God, is to fear, honor, and serve God and God alone.
1 Then God spoke all these words, saying, 2 “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. 3 You shall have no other gods before Me. 4 You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth. 5 You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me, 6 but showing lovingkindness to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments. 7 You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not leave him unpunished who takes His name in vain” (Exodus 20:1-7; see also Joshua 4:23-24; Psalm 115:1-15).
(2) Recognizing the Bible teaches God is infinitely powerful should remove the word “impossible” from our vocabulary.
How often we excuse our sin by appealing to our human inability. “But I’m only human,” we say. So we are. But God has not only saved us by His power, He also works in us to sanctify us by His power:
8 And those who are in the flesh cannot please God. 9 However, you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him. 10 And if Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, yet the spirit is alive because of righteousness. 11 But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who indwells you (Romans 8:8-11).
18 [I pray that] the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you may know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, 19 and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe. [These are] in accordance with the working of the strength of His might 20 which He brought about in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead, and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly [places], 21 far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age, but also in the one to come (Ephesians 1:18-21).
14 For this reason, I bow my knees before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name, 16 that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man; 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; [and] that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fulness of God. 20 Now to Him who is able to do exceeding abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us (Ephesians 3:14-20).
9 For this reason also, since the day we heard [of it], we have not ceased to pray for you and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, 10 so that you may walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please [Him] in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; 11 strengthened with all power, according to His glorious might, for the attaining of all steadfastness and patience; joyously 12 giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in light (Colossians 1:9-12).
29 And for this purpose also I labor, striving according to His power, which mightily works within me (Colossians 1:29).
(3) Our weakness is not a barrier to the power of God. Rather, recognizing our weakness is the basis for our turning to God, depending upon His power to work in us. In this way, God receives all the glory.
7 But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the surpassing greatness of the power may be of God and not from ourselves (2 Corinthians 4:7).
7 And because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to buffet me—to keep me from exalting myself! 8 Concerning this I entreated the Lord three times that it might depart from me. 9 And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may dwell in me. 10 Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong (2 Corinthians 12:7-10).
When we minister in the power of God, we need not trust in our own strength and in human methods. Indeed, we dare not do so. Through the “weakness” of a cross, God brought salvation to men. Through the “foolishness” of the message of the cross, men are saved. Through weak and foolish men, God has chosen to proclaim His gospel. Through weak and unimpressive methods, the gospel is proclaimed, trusting in the power of God to convince and convert sinners. In this way, men must give God the glory, and they must trust in Him and in His power, not in men:
20 Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not [come to] know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. 22 For indeed Jews ask for signs, and Greeks search for wisdom; 23 but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block, and to Gentiles foolishness, 24 but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. (1 Corinthians 1:20-24).
26 For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; 27 but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, 28 and the base things of the world and the despised, God has chosen, the things that are not, that He might nullify the things that are, 29 that no man should boast before God (1 Corinthians 1:26-29).
2 For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified. 3 And I was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling. 4 And my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, 5 that your faith should not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God (1 Corinthians 2:2-5).
This is not the way the church operates today. When we preach, we employ the marketing methods of our day, proven to be successful in producing results. We use persuasive techniques which sell soap and breakfast cereals. When we seek to train and develop leaders, we train men to be leaders following the model and methods of our secular culture rather than teaching them to be servants. The church is more often run on the basis of “good business” principles than on biblical principles. And we offer “therapy” in a thinly disguised version of (poor) secular psychology and psychiatry, rather than challenging men and women to think biblically and to obey the Word of God. Is evangelicalism not like the state of the church Paul sadly describes as the church of the last days?
5 Holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power; and avoid such men as these (2 Timothy 3:5).
We would come to Him in prayer first
If we really believed God is omnipotent, we would come to Him in prayer first, not as a last resort after having tried every other means and failed. We would forsake trusting in the idols of our day and trust in Him. We would humbly acknowledge that all the blessings we have are a gift of His grace and the result of the working of His power. Our prayers would be filled with praise and thanksgiving, seeing God as the Source of every blessing.
We would be filled with faith and hope, knowing that no purpose of God can be thwarted (2 Chronicles 20:6) and that every promise God has made will be fulfilled, in His time, and exactly as He has promised.
We would not give so much credit to Satan
If we really understood the power of God, we would not give so much credit to Satan. We would not look at Satan as though he and God were closely matched rivals who have battled for centuries. We would not dare suppose that in the end God will barely defeat this one who is our deadly foe. We would realize that God is the Creator, and Satan is but a creature. We would know that God’s power is infinite, while Satan’s is finite. We would not minimize Satan’s power, but neither would we overstate his power. God is not battling with Satan with the hope of defeating him; Satan is already a defeated foe, whose final demise is certain (John 12:31; 16:11; Luke 10:18). In the meantime, God is using Satan and his rebellion to achieve His purposes (see 2 Corinthians 12:7-10).
We would not believe the lies of the “good-life gospeleers”
If we really understood and believed in the power of God, we would not believe the lies of the “good-life gospeleers,” those hucksters who line their own pockets by assuring donors that God is standing by with all His power, eager to do their bidding. They lay claim on God’s power by “faith,” by claiming certain possessions like money and healing. “God doesn’t want us to suffer,” they say, “but to prosper.” If they really believed in God’s power, they would know God’s power can just as well sustain us through suffering and affliction as it can deliver us from suffering and affliction. They refuse to accept that God often works through suffering to sustain and purify the saint and to demonstrate His grace and power to a lost and dying world (again, see 2 Corinthians 12:7-10).
We would not be so reluctant to obey
If we really believed in the power of God, we would not be so reluctant to obey those commands of God which seem to leave us vulnerable (like, “sell your possessions and give to the poor,” or see 1 Corinthians 7:29-30 for a more general version). And we would not excuse ourselves from obeying the “impossible” commands like, “love your enemy.” We would live our lives much more dangerously if we really believed God is omnipotent.
18 [I pray that] the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you may know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, 19 and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe. [These are] in accordance with the working of the strength of His might . . . 16 that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man; 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; [and] that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fulness of God (Ephesians 1:18-19; 3:16-19).
What the New Testament Teaches About the Power of God
(1) Creation is a witness to God’s power (Romans 1:20).
(2) The gospel is powerful; the power of God can save and radically change men (Romans 1:16).
(3) Saints are saved, kept, and constantly empowered for life and ministry by the power of God (Romans 15:13, 18-19; 1 Corinthians 1:18; 6:4; Ephesians 3:7; Colossians 1:11, 29).
(4) The resurrection of Christ, and subsequently of every Christian, is through the power of God (Romans 1:4; 1 Corinthians 15:43).
(5) Even the unbelief and rebellion of men is used by God to demonstrate His power (Romans 9:17).
(6) God’s delay in punishing evil-doers is not an indication of His inability to handle the situation, but an indication of His intention to demonstrate His power (Exodus 9:13-18; Romans 9:22).
(7) God’s choice and use of Christians, as foolish, weak and earthy vessels of clay is to demonstrate His power (1 Corinthians 1:18–2:5).
(8) God’s power is ministered to and through man’s human weaknesses, rather than through man’s natural human strengths.
8 Concerning this I entreated the Lord three times that it might depart from me. 9 And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may dwell in me (2 Corinthians 12:8-9).
4 For indeed He was crucified because of weakness, yet He lives because of the power of God. For we also are weak in Him, yet we shall live with Him because of the power of God [directed] toward you (2 Corinthians 13:4).
What God’s Power Enables Him To Do
(1) All power belongs to God—“Thine is the power. . .” (Matthew 6:13).
(2) He can therefore do all things (Matthew 19:26; Mark 14:36).
(3) Nothing is impossible for God (Luke 1:34-37).
(4) He is able to do what He has purposed (Job 42:1-2; Isaiah 14:27).
(5) He is able to do what He has promised (Romans 4:21).
(6) He is able to judge because He can save and destroy (James 4:12).
(7) He is able to destroy the body and soul in hell (Matthew 10:28).
(8) He is able to forgive sins (Matthew 9:6).
(9) He is able to save us (Isaiah 63:1; Psalm 54:1; Romans 1:16), forever (Hebrews 7:25).
(10) He is able to defend us, to overcome our enemies (Psalm 59:9-11).
(11) He is able to deliver us (Daniel 3-4).
(12) He is able to protect (Psalm 79:1; 91:1) or rescue us (Psalm 79:11).
(13) He is able to make us stand (Romans 14:4).
(14) He is able to come to our aid when tempted (Hebrews 2:18).
(15) He is able to establish us as His saints (Romans 16:25).
(16) He is able to keep Christians (John 10:29; Romans 8:31-39), to keep us from falling (Jude 1:24-25).
(17) He is able to keep that which we have committed to Him to the day of His coming (2 Timothy 1:12).
(18) He is able to raise the dead (Hebrews 11:17-19).
(19) He is able to provide everything for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3).
(20) He is able to empower us to carry out the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20).
How Is The Power of God Exercised or Demonstrated?
(1) In weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9-10; 13:4).
(2) In simplicity and clarity, rather than human sophistication and persuasion (1 Corinthians 1 and 2 Corinthians 2:14-17; 4:1-6).
(3) In a simple proclamation of the gospel (Romans 1:16).
(4) By the exercise of spiritual gifts (Ephesians 3:7).
(5) By prayer (Ephesians 3:14-21).
(6) By dying daily and thus being conformed to Christ’s death (Philippians 3:10).
22 What if God, although willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction? (Romans 9:22)
13 Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit (Romans 15:13).
18 For I will not presume to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me, resulting in the obedience of the Gentiles by word and deed, 19 in the power of signs and wonders, in the power of the Spirit; so that from Jerusalem and round about as far as Illyricum I have fully preached the gospel of Christ (Romans 15:18-19).
18 For the word of the cross is to those who are perishing foolishness, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God (1 Corinthians 1:18).
24 but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God (1 Corinthians 1:24).
19 But I will come to you soon, if the Lord wills, and I shall find out, not the words of those who are arrogant, but their power. 20 For the kingdom of God does not consist in words, but in power (1 Corinthians 4:19-20).
4 In the name of our Lord Jesus, when you are assembled, and I with you in spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus, (1 Corinthians 5:4).
14 Now God has not only raised the Lord, but will also raise us up through His power (1 Corinthians 6:14).
24 then [comes] the end, when He delivers up the kingdom to the God and Father, when He has abolished all rule and all authority and power (1 Corinthians 15:24).
43 it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; (1 Corinthians 15:43)
5 in beatings, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labors, in sleeplessness, in hunger, (2 Corinthians 6:5)
6 in purity, in knowledge, in patience, in kindness, in the Holy Spirit, in genuine love, (2 Corinthians 6:6)
7 in the word of truth, in the power of God; by the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and the left, (2 Corinthians 6:7)
19 and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe. [These are] in accordance with the working of the strength of His might 20 which He brought about in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead, and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly [places], 21 far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age, but also in the one to come. (Ephesians 1:19-21).
7 of which I was made a minister, according to the gift of God’s grace which was given to me according to the working of His power (Ephesians 3:7).
10 that I may know Him, and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; (Philippians 3:10)
21 who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself (Philippians 3:21).
5 for our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction; just as you know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake (1 Thessalonians 1:5).
9 And these will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power, (2 Thessalonians 1:9)
11 To this end also we pray for you always that our God may count you worthy of your calling, and fulfill every desire for goodness and the work of faith with power; (2 Thessalonians 1:11)
7 For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline. 8 Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, or of me His prisoner; but join with [me] in suffering for the gospel according to the power of God, (2 Timothy 1:7)
5 holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power; and avoid such men as these (2 Timothy 3:5).
(7) God saves us by His power.
(8) The kingdom of God and power:
19 But I will come to you soon, if the Lord wills, and I shall find out, not the words of those who are arrogant, but their power. 20 For the kingdom of God does not consist in words, but in power (1 Corinthians 4:19-20).
(9) God’s power and the gospel:
18 For the word of the cross is to those who are perishing foolishness, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God (1 Corinthians 1:18).
24 but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God (1 Corinthians 1:24).
(10) God’s power and the resurrection of Christ.
(11) God’s power and the Scriptures.
(12) God’s power and the Holy Spirit.
13 Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit (Romans 15:13).
18 For I will not presume to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me, resulting in the obedience of the Gentiles by word and deed, 19 in the power of signs and wonders, in the power of the Spirit; so that from Jerusalem and round about as far as Illyricum I have fully preached the gospel of Christ (Romans 15:18-19).
(13) God’s power and human weakness.
(14) God’s power and those who oppose God and His servants.
22 What if God, although willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction? (Romans 9:22)
16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek (Romans 1:16).
20 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 (Romans 1:20).
17 For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “FOR THIS VERY PURPOSE I RAISED YOU UP, TO DEMONSTRATE MY POWER IN YOU, AND THAT MY NAME MIGHT BE PROCLAIMED THROUGHOUT THE WHOLE EARTH” (Romans 9:17).
13 While David seems to be speaking poetically and figuratively here, we can find a number of instances in the Scriptures where God did summon the forces of nature to deliver His people. See, for example, Exodus 9:18-33; Deuteronomy 7:20; Joshua 10:12-15; 24:12; 2 Kings 1:9-14.
Related Topics: Theology Proper (God)