Posts Tagged 'Who Is God'

Who Is God, Part 6

We’ve come to the end of another series, and hopefully you’ve learned some things you didn’t know before or been reminded of things you’ve forgotten. It’s essential that we know as much as is possible about our God if we want to have the best relationship possible with Him. But there’s another reason to know God better. Paul wrote to Timothy about it.

For everything God made is good, and we may eat it gladly if we are thankful for it, and if we ask God to bless it, for it is made good by the Word of God and prayer. If you explain this to the others you will be doing your duty as a worthy pastor who is fed by faith and by the true teaching you have followed. Don’t waste time arguing over foolish ideas and silly myths and legends. Spend your time and energy in the exercise of keeping spiritually fit. Bodily exercise is all right, but spiritual exercise is much more important and is a tonic for all you do. So exercise yourself spiritually, and practice being a better Christian because that will help you not only now in this life, but in the next life too. This is the truth and everyone should accept it. We work hard and suffer much in order that people will believe it, for our hope is in the living God who died for all, and particularly for those who have accepted his salvation. (1 Timothy 4:4 – 10 | TLB)

Paul was warning Timothy, a young pastor, about false teaching and false teachers. False teachers love to foist their weird ideas on everybody. These false teachers of Paul’s day were running around teaching all manner of foolishness that some Christians were actually buying. Things like marriage is bad, exercising all day is good, and some foods are bad and should be avoided at all costs. Paul would have none it. He said, “Everything God made is good.” Period. No exceptions. And the Christian shouldn’t waste his time doing things that matter very little in the face of eternity. Don’t place your hope for a good life on your retirement accounts. Don’t place your hope for a good life on never eating fatty foods…on exercising eight days a week…or faithfully using your blue trash bin, or abstaining from this or that. Paul couldn’t be clearer: “Our hope is in the living God who died for all, and particularly for those who have accepted his salvation.” That’s right. Hope for today and for the future isn’t in your spouse or your church or your philosophy. It’s got to be in God Himself. And if you want to have genuine, sincere hope in the living God, you need to know Him. It’s too bad that so many Christians know what false teachers are teaching – and even false teachers themselves – better than God and His Word.

Knowledge: The best defense

Peter was a friend of Paul’s and he also understood the importance of knowing God and His Word.

Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires. (2 Peter 1:4 | TNIV)

When you read Peter’s two letters, it becomes clear that as far as he was concerned, the best defense is a good offense. Like Paul’s warning to young Timothy, Peter wrote about the dangers of false teachers and false teaching. His major concern was that his readers – young, immature Christians – would find false teaching alluring and be led astray by it.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Becoming rock steady in your beliefs begins with something Peter mentioned almost in passing in verse 2:

Grace and peace be yours in abundance through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord. (2 Peter 1:2 | TNIV)

Those first two words, “grace” and “peace” are important and shouldn’t be glossed over too quickly. Since I’ve spent considerable time defining them, I won’t do that again, except to note their order. It’s always “grace” then “peace.” You can never experience the God’s “peace that passes all understanding” until you have received His amazing “grace.” Grace always comes first; it is always the starting point for anything we receive from God. Salvation, blessings, answers to prayer, anything you can think of comes after God’s grace.

But now notice what comes next. Peter wants his readers to have “grace” and “peace” in abundance. That means He wants them to literally overflow with those things. The key to experiencing overflowing “grace” and “peace” is not necessarily praying for them but through acquiring more knowledge of God and of Jesus Christ. It was Sir Francis Bacon, the man with one of the best last names ever, who wrote this famous quote in one of his works:

ipsa scientia potestas est

You probably know it like this: “Knowledge itself is power.” And in the case the Christian, that is certainly true, but it’s a very specific knowledge: Knowledge of God and of Jesus Christ will lead to an ever-increasing supply of “grace” and “peace.” In case you think this was all Peter’s idea, here’s Paul’s version of it:

What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead. (Philippians 3:8 – 11 | TNIV)

Of course, Paul being Paul used many more words than did Peter to say essentially the same thing. But even before Paul and Peter there was a fellow named Daniel who made a very similar observation from the courts of Babylon:

And such as do wickedly against the covenant shall he corrupt by flatteries: but the people that do know their God shall be strong, and do exploits. (Daniel 11:32 | KJV)

Daniel is writing about the end times and the Antichrist, but his point is well-taken. People who know their God will be strong and do great exploits. And it follows that a Christian who doesn’t know the Lord all that well will not be strong and will do very little for Him. In all, the words “knowledge” and “know” are used over a dozen times in Peter’s letter and it refers to a personal knowledge; knowing a person for who he or she is, not from what you can glean from a classroom or a text book. Knowing God can never be a theoretical or academic exercise. This kind of knowledge comes from both understanding God’s Word and experiencing the presence of God and of His grace on a continuous basis.

Spiritual provision

So far in this letter, knowing God and knowing His Word form the best defense against falling to false teaching. But the next couple of verses give us two profound truths.

His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires. (2 Peter 1:3,4 | TNIV)

The two profound truths are these: Knowledge of God and promises of God and both of these things are involved in living a holy life.

Knowledge of God

God has provided everything necessary for a Christian to lead the good life – a life that is Godly and righteous. This fact, that God gives you the resources to live right, shouldn’t surprise anybody. Christ draws all people into a relationship with Him, and His power enables them to respond.

God’s “divine power” is really the same power that raised Jesus from the dead, and it is this exact same power that works in our lives.

And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you. (Romans 8:11 | TNIV)

God, through the Holy Spirit, empowers you to live a godly life; making you strong and giving you spiritual victories. This power is accessed through “our knowledge of him.” Please note that, because it’s not what most Christians think. Their answer to righteous living is to “pray about it.” That’s church-speak for, “I don’t want to do any of the work, I want God to do it all.” There are a lot of lazy Christians like that, and this type of believer will talk a blue streak about how much they pray, yet a closer examination of their lives shows they know very little about God and are generally unimpressive in the things they do for God. Knowing God means reading and studying His Word. You can’t know about God by listening to sermons or reading books about Him, although you should be doing both.  But knowing God is a supernatural transaction: You do your part by reading and studying the Bible, and God does His part by illuminating that Word in your heart. It’s that intimate knowledge of Christ that gives us power to live and to grow. Everything – everything – you need to live a successful, victorious, powerful Christian life is found in Christ, and when you find Christ as Lord and Savior, you receive those things. You are made complete in Him.

For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and in Christ you have been brought to fullness. He is the head over every power and authority. (Colossians 2:9, 10 | TNIV)

But all that divine provision is activated by knowledge of Him gained in through the Scriptures.

Promises of God

The second great truth involves the promises of God. At salvation, we receive everything we need to live a godly life, but also priceless spiritual promises. In the Bible, there are really two kinds of promises from God. The first group of promises flow into our lives when we accept Christ as Savior. Some of those promises are things like these:

Forgiveness of sins – past, present, and future;
Adoption by God;
Spiritual growth by the Holy Spirit;
Comfort during the hard times;
Provision of our needs;
The sure hope of Heaven when we die;
Resurrection of our bodies when the Lord returns;
Reigning with Him in His kingdom.

That list is by no means exhaustive, but you get the idea. Nothing we do impacts those promises. Those are gifts from God that we can’t earn. But in addition to promises like those, Christians may receive promises based on their actions. For example, there is the promise that we will become like Christ. That starts with the new birth, but after that it’s up to us to do the things that cause us to grow into Christ-likeness. That’s why the very next group of verses go like this:

For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. (2 Peter 1:5 – 7 | TNIV)

As Lou Barbieri wrote that the Christian life if like the use of power steering on a car. The engine provides the power for the steering, but the driver must actually turn the wheel. Without the engine, it’s almost impossible to steer your car. Without the supernatural power provided by God, living the Christian is almost impossible. The Lord provides the power to run our lives, but we must turn the wheel. In a very real sense, the Christian really does determine the course of his life.

This is a wonderful and often overlooked aspect of God’s character. He will do so much for us, all we have to do our part.

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Who Is God, Part 3

In this series on God, we have learned a couple of very important things about His nature and character. First, God is holy. This is more than just how He acts; it’s how God is. God is holy, and that means that God is separate from His creation. Every child knows this simple truth: God is in Heaven, we are on Earth. God is even separate from His children, even though we may have personal fellowship with Him through the Holy Spirit and the work of Jesus Christ, He is still “up there” and we are “down here.”

We also discovered that God is love. God not only loves, but He is love; love is part of His character. There is nothing but love about God. God loves the world – He loves all the people of the world – and He sent His only Son to save them. While God loves everybody, only some will be saved because only some will choose to choose God’s love. While God loves everybody, He especially loves those who chose to accept His invitation to become part of His family.

Speaking of that, here’s another very important thing about God: His revelation. Even though God is “up there” and we’re “down here,” God has revealed Himself to us! And He’s been doing it for a very long time. That’s the subject of this third message on the topic, “Who Is God?”

We’ll be looking at a number of verses in the anonymous letter addressed to some Hebrew Christians, but before we do, there are some verses in John’s gospel that should be looked at first.

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.” Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.” Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work. Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the works themselves. (John 14:6 – 11 | TNIV)

Verse six is the solution to the dilemma of all men, everywhere: Where do I go after I die? Regardless of what anybody may say, everybody fears what will become of them after their last breath has been taken. Even the atheist lives in fear of “what’s next?” Nobody wants to take a chance at death. Jesus gives the simple yet profound answer: You get to God (Heaven) through the Son of God. There is no other way to enjoy eternal life in “the good place” except through faith in Jesus Christ. Christ is the way – the only way – to God. Now, that doesn’t mean that anybody is excluded, for anybody may place their faith and trust in Jesus Christ.

And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”. (John 12:23 | TNIV)

The Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let those who hear say, “Come!” Let those who are thirsty come; and let all who wish take the free gift of the water of life. (Revelation 22:17 | TNIV)

So anybody is free to respond to the call of God to be saved. Anybody! Nobody is excluded from the invitation to believe and be saved. Nobody. Of course, God in His foreknowledge knows who will and who won’t believe, but the invitation goes out, because God is nothing if not fair and just.

The point of what Jesus was saying to Philip was simply this: God is in Him and He is in God; the two of Them are inseparable. In other words, if a person is curious about God, then he should take notice of Jesus. If a person is curious about what God thinks about this or that, they should study Jesus. The two are one.

Our Lord is the ultimate self-expression of God. In an odd way, almost everybody knows this fact of God and they acknowledge it, at least one time a year when they sing the words Charles Wesley wrote:

Veiled in flesh the Godhead see; Hail the incarnate deity.
Pleased with man as man to dwell, Jesus our Immanuel.

And, of course, we know “Immanuel” means “God with us.” So it’s not a secret, this marvelous, miraculous fact of God’s self revelation. But you may wonder, when did God start doing this? For that, we turn to the New Testament letter to the Hebrews.

God, the revealer

In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways…. (Hebrews 1:1 | TNIV)

That’s how the ultra-modern, up-to-date TNIV translated the Greek, but in this case, the good old KJV comes a little closer to what that Greek really means: “at various times and in various ways.” It may seem like an insignificant difference to you, but here’s why the KJV’s rendering of the Greek is so important to know. We’re learning here not only that God spent a long time revealing Himself to His people, but that He didn’t do it all at once, or all in once place, or always in the same way. The process of this self-revelation was a continuous one, and it was a revelation that more than one person received. God, in the past (that means throughout the Old Testament) took great care to reveal bits and pieces of Himself to “our ancestors,” that is, to many, many Jews of the past. But, as we’ll learn, nobody in the past had a complete picture of God. Nobody. Not Isaiah. Not Jeremiah. Not David. Not Daniel. Not Moses. Nobody.

Throughout the Old Testament, or “in the past” according to the author of this letter to the Hebrews, God showed some important aspects of Himself to His people through the prophets and other means. Back then, God’s people learned things like this:

• God was the Creator. From His mind and power came the material universe – all that we can see, touch, and experience – and immaterial universe – the spiritual realm that we have yet to experience.
• God was the one who established the laws of morality and ethics. He set Himself up as the judge of His people’s hearts and actions.
• God made covenants or agreements with His people. And while historically His people were always reneging on their end of the covenants, God never did. He always kept His word.
• God, as awesome and transcendent as He is, is still vitally interested in the individual. He spoke to people. He appeared to people as “the angel of the Lord.” He is seen caring for people’s needs and providing even the small things for His people’s comfort.
• God is seen as forever faithful. Though He got angry with His people and judged them, God never, ever abandoned them or walked away from them.

So, in a general sense, God revealed some astounding things about Himself to His people. And He kept it up. Continuously, all throughout the centuries of the Old Testament. But then something happened, and everything changed.

but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. (Hebrews 1:2 | TNIV)

Contrasted with “in the past” is the phrase, “in these last days.” In concrete ways in history, God was revealing Himself. But now, in our time, something has changed. Now God is revealing Himself in His Son. Whereas in the past, God spoke through prophets, now He’s doing it through His Son. And the Son gives us a much more complete picture of the Father, because as we learned from what John wrote, and what Jesus Himself said, He and the Father are one.

That little word, “but,” that begins this second verse, tells us something important. The revelation of God throughout the Old Testament was good, BUT, with Jesus coming into the world, it’s now perfect. The revelation of God through His Son is perfect and complete. You’ll notice that now God’s revelation doesn’t come to us in “various was,” but ONE way: the Son. Jesus Christ is the perfect revelation of God. Or put another way, only in Jesus Christ do we get a perfect picture of God the Father.

“In the past,” God relayed His messages through human vessels, and humans are imperfect at best. And when God intervened in nature and things like that, not everybody saw it and it could be misinterpreted. But “in the last days,” in our day today, God spoke through Jesus – the Son – directly. This is vitally important because of the next verse:

The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven. (Hebrews 1:3 | TNIV)

Jesus is the “exact representation” of God’s being. In the Greek, that’s a startling declaration. “Exact representation” is the translation of a single Greek word, charakter, which means “expression” or “stamp.” Jesus is the exact “expression” of God. He is not an approximation of God’s character, but an exact copy or version of God’s essential character – His being – has been “stamped” onto Jesus like an image is stamped onto a coin.

So when you read the Gospels and you study Jesus’ interaction with people, you’re really reading about how God interacts with people. When you see Jesus crying at the tomb of a friend who was cut down in the prime of his life, that’s also God’s reaction to a situation full of sorrow and sadness. When you see Jesus getting angry with hypocrites, that’s how God feels about them. When you see Jesus having compassion on the sick, the lame, the hungry, that’s how God feels.

God’s revelation in Jesus is complete. You can’t learn more about God any other way. He’s not revealing anything else about Himself to anybody anymore. Jesus was and is the final, ultimate revelation of God to man.

Who Is God, Part 2

If a Christian wants to have a complete, balanced, healthy relationship with God, then he must know God; he must make it his quest to know all that is knowable about the Lord. Since what may be known about God is only found in the Bible, it goes without saying that knowing what the Bible says about the subject is essential. Too bad so many well-meaning Christians don’t understand this simplest of truths. God is not known by singing hymns or listening to gospel songs all day. He is not known by reading books about Him, although they may be helpful. He is not known by praying, although you should pray. God is known by knowing the Bible.

It may surprise you to know that human beings actually have an innate need to know God. One of the Greek words for “man” is anthropos, which literally means, “the one looking up.” In a way, man is looking for God, though he may not know it. Because of that, man is a praying creature. Even people who have no relationship with God will utter words of prayer during some crisis, “just in case,” they would say. Man is not an animal, but he may become like one because man without God has no clue how special and dignified a creation he really is. Man is special because he alone was created in the “image” and “likeness” of his Creator. That sets man apart from all of creation and makes him the crowing creative achievement of God the Creator.

God, the Creator, is a holy God, meaning that He is separate from His creation. He is above it and beyond it. God is in Heaven and we are on Earth, so God is separated from His greatest creation, even from the people He redeemed by the blood of His Son.  God, in some respects, continues to be separate from them. We may enjoy precious fellowship with God, but He is still “up there,” and we are still “down here.” When our salvation is finally consummated and we have been ushered into the actual presence of God in Heaven, that impassable gulf will finally be breached.

God is holy, but God is also love. And that’s the subject of this second message in the series.

A statement of fact

God is love, and God also loves the people He created. The classic verses on this subject is one we all know so well, we could cited it with our Bible closed. Here it is from the KJV, the version we probably have memorized:

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. (John 3:16 | KJV)

There is no more profound verse on the love of God for sinful man than John 3:16. God loved “the world,” that is, God loved the people He created who are now lost in sin, so He offered His only Son to be their atoning sacrifice, thereby making it possible for sinful man to believe and have faith and, and a result, enjoy everlasting life with Him in glory. This verse along with a couple of others, perfectly captures the love of God for the people He created:

You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:6-8 | NIV84)

One of the sinners Christ died for was one Henry Moorehouse. Do you know who he is? He’s also known as “Harry Moorehouse, the English Evangelist.” He was born in Manchester and as a young man he spent considerable time in local jailhouse, and after being bailed out time and again by his very patient father, young Harry found himself a soldier in the army, where his talents for fighting and getting into trouble could be put to better use.

Upon getting out of the army, Harry happened to pass by a tent revival meeting where Richard Weaver was preaching. It must’ve been a raucous service because Harry, thinking there was a fight going on inside the tent, buttoned up his jacket and raced in, ready to fight. Of course, there was no fight, just an excited preacher. Harry, disappointed, turned to leave, but then he heard the one word that would forever change his sorry life: JESUS. Harry couldn’t leave that tent; Jesus got a hold him and wouldn’t let him go. In an instant – in a moment of time – all the rage and anger of Harry’s heart melted away and this restless wanderer became a different man. He heard about the love of Jesus and that love invaded his heart and made him a “new creation.”

You likely never heard of “Harry Moorehouse, the English Evangelist,” but you probably heard of one of his friends, D.L. Moody, the American Bible teacher and preacher who would found The Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, which is still going strong today. One of the men who influenced Moody the most was Moorehouse! Once, Moody hosted Moorehouse at his Institute, and for an entire week, The English Evangelist preached on John 3:16. An entire week’s worth of sermons featuring that single, life-changing verse.

The preaching style of Moorehouse, according to Moody, was very different from his own. Instead of preaching that God was ready to judge the sinner and execute perfect justice, Moorehouse told the congregation that God wanted every person to be saved because He loved them. Moody said of his preaching:

I didn’t know God thought so much of me. It was wonderful to hear the way he brought out Scripture. He went from Genesis to Revelation and preached that in all ages God loved the sinner.

Moorehouse ended the last sermon of the week like this:

For seven nights I have been trying to tell you how much God loves you, and this poor stammering tongue of mine will not let me. If I could ascend Jacob’s ladder and ask Gabriel, who stands in the presence of the Almighty, to tell you how much love God the Father has for this poor lost world, all that Gabriel could say is: For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. (John 3:16 | KJV)

An example from the Old Testament

In trying to understand the love of God, there are are some verses in the Old Testament that answer a lot questions on the subject. In the last book of the Old Testament, the book of Malachi, a book that a lot of Christians think is all about tithing, we read this startling verse:

I have loved you,” says the Lord.“But you ask, ‘How have you loved us?’“Was not Esau Jacob’s brother?” the Lord says. “Yet I have loved Jacob…”. (Malachi 1:2 | NIV84)

God declared to His then-backslidden people, “I have loved you,” and these people in their backslidden state, questioned that love. But God was adamant: “I HAVE LOVED you…” These people had lost their love for God, and therefore their spiritual senses had become dull; they honestly thought God had stopped loving them. As if that could ever happen! But a spiritually dull person is almost always wrong when it comes to spiritual matters.

To prove to his wayward people that He did, in fact, love them, the Lord pointed to His favored treatment of Israel (Jacob) over their ancient enemy, Edom (Esau). You’ll recall that Jacob and Esau were brothers, and Israel and Edom were the nations that descended from each of them respectively. The state of Israel – prosperous and thriving for much of its history – versus the state of Edom – always at war with somebody and always struggling to get by – proved that God preferred Israel over Edom. If their hearts hadn’t been so hardened, Israel would have remembered how God protected them historically, and fought for them, and freed them from their captivity.

In looking at the love of God for Israel, we can learn a couple of very salient points about the love of God in general.

God’s love is not earned or deserved

Looking at what the Lord said through His prophet Malachi, this what we read:

I have loved you,” says the Lord.“But you ask, ‘How have you loved us?’“Was not Esau Jacob’s brother?” the Lord says. “Yet I have loved Jacob, but Esau I have hated, and I have turned his mountains into a wasteland and left his inheritance to the desert jackals.” (Malachi 1:2-3 | NIV84)

Can God really hate? It may seem strange that in a sermon about “God is love” that we read that God hated a person is a bit shocking. God actually hates a lot things; sin, lying, pride, and other things, but here the word “hate” is used in the sense of “preference.” God preferred Israel over Edom. And His treatment of Israel proved that He preferred them over Edom. The Edomites were nasty people, just as Esau was a nasty man.

But on the other hand, Jacob wasn’t exactly a paragon of virtue, either. He was a liar, a cheat, and a conniver, and con artist. Yet God preferred him over his brother? Here is a point about God’s love: Nobody can earn it and nobody deserves it. Jacob didn’t any more than his brother did, yet here we have it stated that God preferred Jacob over Esau. The choice of Jacob was God’s sovereign choice, not influenced by anything or anybody. It was a choice made in grace.

God’s dealings with us are always out of grace. We are saved by grace, we are empowered for Christian service by grace, and we are kept by grace. The fact that God loves us is an act of grace that no believer deserves, yet enjoys nonetheless.

God’s love never changes

When we speak of God’s love, we’re talking about agape love. This kind of divine love is above all other forms of love. Agape love means, first of all, that God’s love for the believer is absolutely perfect – God cannot love you more and He cannot love you less. God’s love for you is perfect. God’s love won’t lessen when you misbehave nor grow when you do something righteous. His love is perfect. His love is constant. Like the North Star; God’s love is always there.

Secondly, because His love is perfect, it never changes. In the Hebrew, the force of Malachi 3:2, 3 isn’t just “Jacob I love and Esau I hate,” rather, it’s “Jacob I loved and I continue to love.” It’s important to note this because as God spoke these words to Israel through His prophet, Israel had become a corrupt, discouraged, backslidden nation. They were lazy in their faith and treated God with contempt. Yet God continued to love them just as He always had. God’s love for His people didn’t change because of their misbehavior.

God’s love is truly amazing. It’s almost beyond comprehension that God is able to love like that. But it’s a fact; it’s in the Bible.

God loves everybody

And so we return to John 3:16 for the last point. God’s love is universal. If His love isn’t conditional, then it naturally follows that He loves “the world,” just as John said. This is what we could call God’s “merciful love.” The result of this “merciful love” is spelled out by Peter:

The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. (2 Peter 3:9 | NIV84)

God wants everybody to be saved. That’s why Jesus is said to have been “coming soon” for over 2,000 years! It’s the slowest “soon coming” in history! But that’s why. God is waiting for the last possible moment to get as many sinners saved. God’s love is universal, but salvation isn’t. Not everybody is going to get saved. And therein lies the rub. Don’t confuse God’s love for the sinner with salvation. The love of God compels God to call all people to repent and believe. But the love of God doesn’t compel Him to save everybody with no corresponding actions on the part of the sinner.

 

 

 

 

 

Who Is God , Part 1

What do you know about God? How well do you understand Him? If you are a Christian, then God should be the most important Person in your life, therefore you should know Him very well and know all about Him. Sadly, a lot of Christians are blissfully unaware of even the most basic facts of God – His nature, character, His divine attributes. How embarrassing it will be for you when you stand before God and you realize you knew more about your spouse, or your kids, or your co-workers than you ever did about the God created you, saved you, and made you His child. For the next few weeks, we’re going to take a look at what the Bible reveals about God so that we can all get to know Him better, and in doing so we’ll appreciate Him more and love Him with a deeper, more informed love.

Just to get us started, let’s take a very interesting verse; something that the apostle Paul wrote to his friend, young Pastor Timothy:

That is why we labor and strive, because we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of all people, and especially of those who believe. (1 Timothy 4:10 | TNIV)

Right away your probably see something in what Paul wrote that looks a little off, given what we know about salvation: “God…is the Savior of all people…especially of those who believe.” The question that should pop into your head is, “Who else is God saving except those who believe?” What did Paul mean when he wrote, “especially of those who believe?” We’ll delve into that, and the rest this verse in detail later on in this series, but for now, I want to focus on another phrase of great import: “We have put our hope in the living God.” That’s the essence, really, of what salvation is all about: Trusting God. It only goes to reason that if you know more about God, then you’ll have more hope. Or, we could say, the more you know about God, the more hopeful you will be. And hope is an important thing:

Know also that wisdom is like honey for you: If you find it, there is a future hope for you, and your hope will not be cut off. (Proverbs 24:14 | TNIV)

As we begin to learn all that we can about God, the first aspect of His Person is the foundation of all the others. God is holy. When we talk about the holiness of God, what do we mean?

Holiness of God

Let’s go back to the beginning. In the book Exodus, we read this concerning the holiness of God:

Who among the gods is like you, Lord? Who is like you—majestic in holiness, awesome in glory, working wonders? (Exodus 15:11 | TNIV)

That verse hints at what is involved in God’s holiness. Somehow it relates to the fact that no other god, and of course those other “gods” refer to little gods created in the minds of men, comes close to being like the true God.

This aspect of God’s character means that God is absolutely morally pure. God cannot sin nor can He tolerate sin. You may think that “holy” means things like “good” or “well behaved” or “decent,” but it may surprise you to know that the root meaning of “holy” is “separated” or “separate from.” But in what sense is God separated? First, and most obvious, God is separated from man: He is in Heaven, we are on earth. There is a distance between God and man; we don’t occupy the same time and space. But God is also separated from man in His nature and character. For example:

• God is perfect, man is imperfect;
• God is divine, man is human;
• God is morally perfect, man is sinful and corrupt;

Very simply put, holiness is the distinction that sets God the Creator apart from all that He created, including man.

And throughout the Bible, God tried to drive this point home to His people. For example, in the written words of Scripture, we read all about how God is holy. But even when He supernaturally revealed Himself to man – in visions, for example – He did so in such a way to show how holy or separate He is. There are several examples of this, but Isaiah’s vision of the transcendent God is maybe the best.

In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphs, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another: “Holy, holy , holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.” At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke. ( Isaiah 6:1 – 4 | TNIV)

What an awesome scene! No earthly king or potentate could compete with it. That’s what God was trying to impress upon Isaiah: God is NOT like anybody or anything on earth or elsewhere. That’s what the holiness of God means. And that’s what separation looks like.

Did the coming of Jesus change any of that? In other words, is God still separated from redeemed man?

Another side of God’s holiness

In John’s first letter, we read this:

This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. (1 John 1:5, 6 | TNIV)

You don’t see the word “holy” in those verses, but that’s what John was writing about. Instead of writing “God is holy,” John wrote, “God is light.” Of course, light has nothing to do with holiness, but John contrasts the idea that “God is light” with the fact that there is no darkness in Him. There’s that idea of separation again – light is separate from darkness. Light is not the same dark and we all know that when you turn a light on, the darkness goes away – the two cannot co-exist in the same time and space. God must forever be separate from sinful man. The two cannot co-exist. That’s essentially what John was getting at when he wrote: “If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth.” In other words, if a person – any person – claims to be a Christian but lives a life steeped in sin, then they are lying about being a Christian. They can’t be. Now, that’s not to say that Christians are sinless. They sin. But, because they have been redeemed by Jesus Christ, they are able to have some fellowship with God. They can’t have that fellowship apart from Christ.

But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ. (Ephesians 2:13 | TNIV)

This is absolutely essential for people to understand – John needed his readers to understand it. If a person wants to have fellowship with God and with the Son of God, he needs to understand what makes that fellowship possible. Because God is holy, He remains necessarily separate from sinful human beings – that’s all people, by the way. But because the blood of Christ washes away our sins, we are able to experience, to a certain degree, the presence of God on an ongoing basis.

P.T. Forsyth, in his work, “Cruciality of the Cross,” made this statement about the blood of Christ:

The blood of Christ stands not simply for the sting of sin on God but the scourge of God on sin, not simply for God’s sorrow over sin but for God’s wrath upon sin.

That’s a fancy way of saying this: Sin caused Jesus to bleed, and God caused Jesus to bleed. Sin, in the sense that our Lord was beaten up and stabbed by sinful man. God, in the sense that His Son was being punished for your sins, not His; He’s forever sinless. The Son of God bore the wrath of God the Father in His body, on the Cross. And because He did that, Christians can enjoy the presence of God. Now, it’s not a perfect presence though. Because there is still a real separation between God and even His children. He’s still “up there” and we’re “down here.” But through the work of Jesus Christ and the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit, we are able to be in God’s presence, wherever we are, any time.

Summary

To sum up, there are three things we need to remember when we say God is holy. First, there is a chasm or a great gulf between God and sinner.

Surely the arm of the Lord is not too short to save, nor his ear too dull to hear. But your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear. (Isaiah 59:1, 2 | TNIV)

Your eyes are too pure to look on evil; you cannot tolerate wrongdoing. Why then do you tolerate the treacherous? Why are you silent while the wicked swallow up those more righteous than themselves? (Habakkuk 1:13 | TNIV)

But not only is the sinner cut off from God, God is cut off from the sinner. Before man fell from grace, God and man walked together in the garden. Their fellowship occupied the same space and time. Now, though, that kind of unbroken fellowship is impossible.

Second, if a man wants to approach God, he must do so based on the merits of Another. No man can come into the presence of God because of his sin problem. But, thank God, Jesus came and has made that free access possible.

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. (Romans 5:1, 2 | TNIV)

For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit. (Ephesians 2:18 | TNIV)

Lastly, even though we have free access to God through Jesus Christ, we should still approach Him with reverence and godly fear.

Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our “God is a consuming fire.” (Hebrews 12:28, 29 | TNIV)

Why fear? Because God is holy and you aren’t. So you should rightly fear being in His presence. When you understand what the holiness of God is, then you will have a right understanding of how bad sin is and what it does to you.

“I am unworthy—how can I reply to you? I put my hand over my mouth. I spoke once, but I have no answer—twice, but I will say no more.” (Job 40:4, 5 | TNIV)

That is an example of how we should all go into God’s presence, in an attitude of  humiliation, contrition, and of dependence.  When we see ourselves correctly, we will have a correct view of the holiness of God.


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