Challenges to Preaching

There is a dangerous tendency even in evangelical circles to reduce preaching either by one, to an expression of the minister’s personal experience or two, a general instruction in religion and morals (although example and instruction are good in themselves) moralism is not.

Remember, preaching is a means of grace only as the preacher repeats the Word he has received from God. Faith comes not by feeling, speculating, seeing, or striving, but by hearing the Word preached (Rom. 10:14–17).


What is the Image of God?

Creation’s origin cannot be appropriately understood apart from its eschatological aim. Creation was “very good” but in a real sense unfinished; it had before it the promise of a consummation in everlasting Sabbath blessedness. Humans were created in covenant relationship with God and one another for the purpose of securing this blessedness. Every nonbiblical anthropology begins with an assumption of the autonomous individual—intrinsically independent from God and creation and standing in sovereign judgment over God and creation.

I take the “days” of creation as analogical (though not mythological). They are God’s accommodation to his ordained pattern and commandment of six days of labor and one of rest. Eschatology is the principal motive: we were created and called to imitate God’s pattern of work (Adam’s trial of obedience) and rest (the Sabbath enjoyment held out to him). This original, creational covenant relationship is intrinsic to the meaning of being created in God’s image. All people retain some sense of God as their Lawgiver and Judge and of their obligation to love him and one another. This status as a commissioned servant of God, created in his image, renders every person both dignified and accountable. The fall did not obliterate humanity’s covenant relationship with God but divided humanity between the rebellious children of Cain and those of Seth, who called on the name of the Lord (Genesis 4).

To be created in God’s image is to be called persons in communion. Human existence and identity is not lodged in self-consciousness or in the ability to reason or to will; it is the result of being spoken by God and spoken to by God. And though all are determined as persons by the mere fact of our creation and calling in God’s image, our realization of the purpose of our personhood depends on whether we correspond to God’s intentions. Throughout Scripture, the faithful servant of God is the one who responds to the Great King’s commission, “Here I am.” Such an answer opens us up to the call of our neighbors as well as to God. The image’s relational character is undermined if it is identified with any faculty or capacity within the individual. The image is chiefly the law of love for God and neighbor written on the conscience.

Humans certainly differ from other creatures in their natural capacities for rational reflection, language, and deliberative action. By themselves, however, these distinguish us merely as more complex forms of biological life in certain respects. It is God’s command and promise and the role we have been given in his unfolding drama that marks our uniqueness. In short, the significance of the image of God is our moral likeness to our Creator and our covenantal commission in Adam to usher all creation into God’s everlasting Sabbath. The image is constituted by the following four characteristics.

  • Sonship/royal dominion—As children and servant-kings of God, we are meant to exercise righteous, respectful, responsible dominion over the rest of creation.
  • Representation—Like priests, we are meant to be analogues of God, official embassies of his character, will, and actions; this places the image in the realm of judicial commission (ethical relationship) rather than being a mirror of the divine essence (ontology).
  • Glory—We were created as temples indwelled by the Holy Spirit, filled with the Father’s glory in his Son.
  • Prophetic witness—We were created to hear God’s Word and then respond faithfully, to him in praise and to others in witness to God’s character and works.

The commission of imaging God, which Adam and his children have twisted and spurned, is truly fulfilled in all its kingly, priestly, and prophetic aspects in the eternal Son who became man, Jesus Christ, the very Image of his Father.


Understanding the Doctrine of Providence

Though God reigns and his purposes are sure, the apparent randomness of nature (discussed in the previous chapter) also characterizes history. We must avoid the twin dangers of hypersupernatural fatalism and antisupernatural materialism.

Direct/Indirect Cause: The Doctrine of Concursus
Concursus, or “concurrence,” in theology refers to the simultaneity of divine and human agency in actions or events. A biblical view of concursus requires more than God’s general oversight of history. Scripture testifies both to his predestination of all that comes to pass (primary or direct causation) and to the reality and responsibility of the decisions and actions of humans (secondary or indirect causation). In permitting evil, God not only lets it happen; he determines how far it will go and how he will work it out for good. Yet God’s work in hardening hearts is not the same as in softening them: God gives the redeemed a new heart, while he gives the wicked over to their own desires. God is neither the author of evil, nor a mere spectator of it. Fatalism and materialism share a common assumption of univocity between God’s willing and acting and human willing and acting; either our activity must give way to God’s or vice versa. But God’s activity and our activity do not need to get out of each others’ way; God causes all history to serve his sovereign purposes without canceling the ordinary liberty, contingency, and reality of creaturely causation.

The Revealed/Hidden Distinction
Scripture distinguishes between matters hidden from us and those revealed to us (Deut. 29:29). God’s hidden will is distinguished from his revealed will. We must not attempt to figure out God’s secret providence; we must attend to the means he has provided for our salvation (Word and sacrament) and to earthly welfare (family, friendships, vocation, and so on). Though God has not promised to reveal to us everything we might want to know about his will for our lives and about our trials, we should trust his promises as sufficient for faith and life in Christ. After all, the time and place where evil seemed most triumphant was the cross, where it was forever defeated.

Common Grace/Special Grace|
Providence belongs to God’s common rather than special (or saving) grace, although the former ultimately serves the latter (e.g., Eph. 1:10; 3:9–12). Common grace is responsible for God’s kindness and benefits to all people indiscriminately.

  • It restrains personal and corporate human sin.
  • It restrains God’s wrath and delays his judgment.
  • It bestows goodness and kindness upon unbelievers.

To affirm God’s common grace is to recognize the God-given truth, goodness, and beauty in the world, not simply its sinfulness and corruption. When we disparage these, we are holding the providential work of the Holy Spirit in contempt.

Providence/Miracle
Unlike ordinary providence, miracles are God’s extraordinary suspension or alteration of natural laws and processes. The difference does not concern whether God is involved in every aspect of our lives, but how. The question is not whether causes are exclusively natural or supernatural, but whether God’s involvement in every moment is providential or miraculous.


Cultural Challenges to the Doctrine of Providence

Some notion of divine providence is one of the most universally attested religious assumptions throughout history, yet it is one of the most contested in the modern world, for two main reasons:

  • It is difficult to acknowledge gifts, much less a transcendent Giver, in a world of supposed givens; contemporary technologically advanced cultures are often far removed from the actual, personal sources behind the goods and services we enjoy.
  • A secularized, romantic notion of providence was employed to give divine sanction to imperialist cultures, nations, and ideologies, with devastating consequences; the terrors of the twentieth century disillusioned many regarding a “benevolent Providence” undergirding unending historical progress.

Christians must realize that, while God’s saving will in Christ has been clearly revealed in the gospel, the precise activity of God’s providential governance remains largely hidden (even from believers).


A Summary of the Communicable Attributes of God

God’s communicable attributes are those that belong to God alone but are also predicable of creatures in an analogical sense.

I. Omniscience and Omnipotence: God’s Knowledge, Wisdom, and Power
God is all-knowing. Our knowledge is partial, ectypal, composite, and learned, but God’s is complete, archetypal, simple, and innate. God’s knowledge and wisdom are true (logically as well as ethically) because God is truth. God’s knowledge is consistent with all his other attributes; he knows independently, eternally, and unchangeably, in harmony with his wisdom, power, and faithfulness. God’s knowledge of creaturely existence and history is exhaustive because he has decreed all things from the beginning and works all things according to his will (Eph. 1:11).

A. Free Agents and the Infinite-Qualitative Distinction
Debates over divine and human freedom often share a problematic assumption that “freedom” is the same sort of reality for God and for humans. Hyper-Calvinists and Arminians (especially open theists) are both wrong in supposing there is only one “freedom pie” that must be apportioned between God and us. “Freedom” is analogically rather than univocally applied to God and humans: God has all the freedom appropriate to him as God, and we have all the freedom appropriate to us as (fallen) creatures who live and move and have our being in God and his sovereign, good purposes Just as in the paradigmatic examples of Joseph’s slavery in Egypt (Gen. 50:20) and the crucifixion of Christ (Acts 2:23), God’s free decree does not take away human freedom or moral responsibility but establishes it.

B.  Sovereignty and Omniscience
God knows our thoughts completely, but his are inaccessible to us apart from accommodated revelation—and his way of knowing transcends us entirely. On one hand, Scripture teaches that God has predestined the free acts of human beings; on the other hand, God manifests himself as a genuine partner in human history. God genuinely invites the whole world to salvation in his Son yet effectually calls and gives faith to all and only those whom he has elected from eternity. Though God’s revealed purposes are sometimes thwarted or changed, his unchanging purposes (the “secret things” of God, Deut. 29:29) cannot fail.

C. Sovereignty and Omnipresence
Because God is Trinity, he acts not only upon creation externally but also with and in it—not only causing but winning and effecting real creaturely willing and consent. A biblical view of God’s sovereignty must recognize the following three correlatives.

  1. Only when we see that God is qualitatively distinct from creation can we see that he is free to be the Creator and Redeemer, while we are free to be creatures and the redeemed.
  2. Only when we understand God’s sovereignty in light of his simplicity can we avoid the notion of divine despot, with an absolute will unconditioned by his intrinsic character.
  3. We must always bear in mind that in every exercise of will and power, God is not a solitary monad but Father, Son, and Spirit; sovereignty is not brute force or unmediated control.

II.       Goodness, Love, and Mercy
God’s knowledge, wisdom, and power are inseparable from his goodness, love, and mercy. God is independent in his goodness and love and thus is free to be good to all he has made and to love even his enemies. We can never pit God’s love against his other attributes, idolizing “love” in a way that marginalizes God’s sovereignty or goodness (including his righteousness, holiness, and so on). The clearest witness to the complete consistency between all God’s attributes is the cross. If God’s love could trump his other moral attributes, the cross represents the cruelest waste. Rather, what makes God’s love so comforting is that it is unconditioned by anything in us, expressed out of satisfied abundance rather than lack or fear. While God is not free to be unmerciful, he is free to decide whether he will have mercy on some rather than others—this is, after all, the opposite of every sinner’s just deserts. Indeed, grace is not something (else) that God gives but God’s own redeeming favor shown to the undeserving on account of Christ.

III.     Holiness, Righteousness, and Justice
At the same time that God is good, loving, and merciful, he is holy—distinct from all creatures in his being, majesty, and ethical purity. The merciful character of God’s holiness reveals his movement toward impure creatures in covenant love, setting apart a holy people for himself. In the Old Testament righteousness is both a forensic and relational term—a “right relationship.” Although God’s righteousness is intrinsically related to his mercy (since he is just and the justifier of the ungodly), his righteousness cannot be collapsed into his mercy. As the revelation of his moral will (law), God is perfectly righteous to condemn all as transgressors; as the revelation of his will to save (gospel), God is perfectly just to forgive and redeem through faith in Christ. In both cases, God upholds his righteousness.

IV.     Jealousy and Wrath
Like his mercy and grace, God’s jealousy and wrath are displayed only in response to an offense. God does not need to show mercy or wrath in order to be who he is, but these are the responses we should expect from God who is good, holy, and just. The doctrine of analogy again proves fruitful in considering God’s jealousy and wrath, which carry almost entirely negative connotations in our human experience. Instead of denying these clearly biblical attributes of God, we must reinterpret our understanding of according to how God has described himself to us. God’s wrath always expresses his wisdom and love, which have been spurned and transgressed by those whom he created to love. God who is holy, righteous, and loving must exercise wrath against sin, injustice, and hate. The unique lordship of YHWH is a constant theme in Scripture, as is God’s jealousy for his name, his glory, and his people’s covenantal allegiance. God’s jealousy must be understood in light of his exclusivity: God is God alone. In us, jealousy is often a form of coveting that which is not really ours; in God, jealousy is a form of protecting his character and his people, which are both precious to him.

(HT: A summary of Michael Horton’s, The Christian Faith, Chapter Seven)


A Summary of the Incommunicable Attributes of God

God’s incommunicable attributes are most often criticized as being a philosophical or metaphysical corruption of the biblical understanding of God. But whenever such metaphysical claims have been rejected, they are replaced by others no less metaphysical. While we should never assume that the God of the Bible is identical with the “God” of classical philosophy, we must also recognize that every doctrinal account of God’s identity and character will include metaphysical claims. The question is not whether we have an ontology of God’s being and attributes but whether our ontology is biblically faithful.

A.Simplicity
God is noncomposite: he is simultaneously all that his attributes reveal. This does not mean that his attributes cannot be distinguished from one another, but that none of them are separable from God or carry a greater or lesser importance for his character. God is eternal even when he acts in time. He is not more holy than merciful, or more loving at some times than he is righteous at other times. He is holy even in showing mercy, and righteous in demonstrating his love. All that God is, is what he will always be; and in all his activity God is self-consistent.

B.  Self-Existence (Aseity)
God exists and acts apart from any external dependence. While God is perfect without us, he freely and generously creates and relates this creation to himself. Creatures exist in constant dependence on our relation to him. Independent of creaturely limitations, he can be trusted to bring about his sovereign purposes on behalf of his people (Ex. 3:14–15). Some—like open theists—criticize this doctrine as a Stoic ideal of detached self-sufficiency, lacking the mutual drama between God and the world seen in the Bible. Many want to deny any difference between God in himself and God as he reveals himself to us. In such ontologies of “overcoming estrangement,” God and the world are inherently related and mutually dependent. Yet God’s freedom from creation does not preclude but undergirds the very possibility of his true freedom for creation. God’s aseity marks the fundamental divide between biblical faith and all forms of pan(en)theism. At the same time, the (Stoic) deism characteristic of an ontology of “the stranger we never meet” is overturned by God’s free decision to enter into relationship with the world he has made. While the Stoic sage desires to sever his dependence on the world of which he is necessarily a part, the independent God desires to bring dependent (and sinful) creatures into communion with himself.

C. Immutability
God is unchangeable. Perfect and complete in himself from all eternity, he has no “potential” to be realized; any change would be toward imperfection. This does not mean God is static or inert; rather, he is wholly active in the fullness and completeness of his own being and cannot become more or less who he is. God is unchangeable, and so he is reliable in his judgments and promises. While his being and character do not change, his activity (energies) is manifold and freely determined. Many modern theologians who understand God’s being as “becoming” in history have challenged God’s immutability by appealing to the incarnation: “the Word became flesh” (John 1:14). But the eternal Son’s assumption of human nature in the unity of his person in no way constitutes or diminishes the character of his divine nature. It is crucial to avoid two extremes: either that God is detached, unfeeling, unresponsive, or that he acts and feels and responds in the very same ways we do. Though God genuinely responds, he cannot be overwhelmed by surprise; though he truly experiences opposition, he is not overcome; and so on. The total witness of the Bible requires that we affirm both: there is real change, partnership, and conflict between God and human beings, but not within God’s inner being.

D. Impassibility
Unlike the caricature of much contemporary criticism, God’s impassibility is not unresponsiveness or emotional apathy but immunity to suffering. God’s emotional experience and responsiveness in free relation to the world are always analogical. On one hand, we must deny that God is untouched or unaffected by creaturely suffering, experiencing neither joy nor sorrow, love nor hate; on the other hand, we must affirm that God is Lord—never the passive victim, but always the free and active Judge and Justifier. To avoid the extremes of utter detachment and mutual dependence, we should keep in mind the following five points regarding God’s immunity to suffering.

  1. We must avoid a false choice between either God’s necessary relatedness to the world or the world’s unrelatedness to God.
  2. It is crucial that impassibility is an essential attribute of the triune God; though the persons engage in relationships with the world, their divine nature is not by itself the subject of action and response.
  3. We must recognize that God speaks to us analogically—in terms adequate to our understanding rather than adequate to his being.
  4. A Christian doctrine of God should supplement causal categories with (Trinitarian) communicative analogies; God is not simply Aristotle’s Unmoved Mover, but the Father who speaks to us in his Son by the Spirit.
  5. We must beware of allowing a theology of the cross to become a theology of glory; a theology of “the suffering God” may inadvertently lead to a legitimization of suffering and evil, since these are said to be an integral part of God’s very being.

E.  Eternity and Omnipresence
Eternity and omnipresence refer to God’s transcendence of time and space, respectively. God’s eternity is his existence above or beyond time, simultaneously possessing the fullness of his boundless life and eternally encompassing the whole of creaturely (temporal) life. Some hold that God is sempiternal, existing within time but without any beginning or end. Biblically, however, it seems time itself is a creaturely category—like space—attributable to God only in an analogical sense referring to his transcendence of it (e.g., Ps. 90:1–4). Properly understanding God’s eternity (and the limits of our understanding in the face of this mystery) is related to the meaning of his omnipresence: it is God’s transcendence of space that brings the deepest assurance of God’s presence in all places (e.g., Ps. 139:7–8). God’s presence with his people indicates, not his spatial absence somewhere else, but his covenantal commitment to be with us to save and to bless. God is “omnitemporal” in the same way; he comprehends all times and is active within time, because he is not contained by it.

(HT: A summary of Michael Horton’s, The Christian Faith, Chapter Six)


The Princeton Formulation of Inerrancy

The formulation of B. B. Warfield and A. A. Hodge is perhaps the best articulation and development of the church’s historical doctrine and may be summarized as follows.

  1. A sound doctrine of inspiration requires a specifically Christian ontology; all misconceptions of or challenges to the historical view of inerrant inspiration ultimately rest on false suppositions regarding the relation between God and creatures.
  2. Scripture’s redemptive-historical progression and development must be highlighted; inspiration is organic rather than mechanical (as in the dictation theory).
  3. The question of apparent contradictions and errors must be squarely faced and addressed.
  4. It is the communication that is inspired, not the authors themselves; we should not imagine the prophets and apostles to be personally omniscient or infallible.
  5. The Bible is inspired and without error in all its “real affirmations”; the human authors’ recorded claims and affirmations, not their scientific or cultural assumptions and backgrounds, are the inspired and inerrant Word of God.
  6. Inerrancy is not the foundation of the doctrine of Scripture (much less of the Christian faith); Christianity is true not because it rests on an inspired and inerrant text, but vice versa.

The inerrancy debate in American evangelicalism is largely one between Old Princeton and Karl Barth. The former is often caricatured as fundamentalism, while the latter is equally caricatured as liberalism. Nonetheless, Barth’s view, like fundamentalism and liberalism, is quite different from that of Protestant orthodoxy here in America. Barth’s criticism of traditional inerrancy stems from his actualism—that is, his ontology of God as “being in act,” specifically applied to the free activity of revelation as identical with the very being of God. Revelation is always an event of God’s self-revelation in Christ, never an objective deposit. Scripture is the church’s normative witness to revelation, and as a creaturely witness it is not only fallible but (like Christ’s human nature) necessarily fallen. Barth also tends to collapse inspiration into illumination, since he seems to allow no qualitative distinction between revelation in and through the Bible and the church’s reception and interpretation of it. Some evangelicals have attempted to reconcile Barth’s views with the church’s traditional understanding, but these continue to employ the fundamentalist caricature rather than the truly classical view of inspiration and inerrancy.

HT: Summary taken from chapter four of Michael Horton’s The Christian Faith.


Understanding How the Justice & Goodness of God go Hand & Hand

Righteousness or sometimes called the Justice of God
Many understand the justice of God like that of Johnny Cash, who writes, “Go tell that long tongue liar, Go and tell that midnight rider, Tell the rambler, the gambler, the back biter, Tell ’em that God’s gonna cut ’em down.” Yet Justice does carry two sides, but it shows forth his wrath and judgment, but does include his grace and mercy as we will see. Joel Beeke has stated that in the justice of God, “we see the moral purity in addition to God’s holiness.” As the righteous God he is, God has established a moral order for the universe.  His righteousness means that not only is he righteous and just in himself, but that he will also treat all his creatures fairly. Righteousness is associated with straightness or consistency, and integrity within relationships. In that sense, righteousness is an attribute to God and man. (Psalm 7 gives us this understanding). When it comes to God we may say that divine righteousness is the divine self-consistency within God’s own character and will.  Louis Berkhof describes this as a “strict adherence to law” but we need to understand that this is not to be conceived of in a neutral fashion. God is a law unto himself, not in a way that is given to sudden or unaccountable changes, but in a sense that is true to his own character that never changes. We cannot apply to God what was said of God’s people under the Old Testament, “everyone did what was right in his own eyes then.” God is never a law to himself in this way. God cannot deny himself, for he is faithful to himself and his holy character. The justice of God is the inherent and infinite righteousness of God. God is always straight unto himself. In the Old Testament, the basic words denoting righteousness and justice cluster around two word groups.

The Biblical Terminology of Justice
1. Misphat (mish–pawt): Comes from meaning to judge, it is the result or act of judging, giving a verdict, sentence, or decree.  It is translated often with justice, judgment, ordinances, and right. There are twenty -five passages in which this word is used in reference to God himself and his justice, ordinances and judgments. Examples; Gen. 18:25 reads “Far be it from you to do such a thing, to put the righteous to death with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked! Far be that from you! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?” Deut. 32:4, “The Rock, his work is perfect, for all his ways are justice. A God of faithfulness and without iniquity, just and upright is he.” The other word used within the Jesus’ Testament is…

2. Tsadaq ([t]saw-dak): There are various nouns associated with this verb and all of which basically speak of conformity to an ethical or moral standard of righteousness. In the Old Testament that standard is the character and nature of God himself. God is called righteous and just in himself. The Bible repeatedly indicated that forensically, his judgments and dealings with all mankind are just. In the New Testament we find a rich set of words that connote the righteousness of God. Specifically…

3. Dikaios (dik-ah’-yoce): This is the New Testament term thatmeans just, agreeably to right, uprightly, righteousness. These terms are used in a variety of ways, but commonly refer to right conduct before God, or God’s right conduct to men.  The phrase “the righteousness of God” as used by Paul speaks of a forensic transaction whereby the sinner is pardoned and justified by God.  With such a comprehensive term there is a wealth of biblical material.

The Elements of Justice
1. God’s Moral Purity: Righteousness is very close to Holiness; God does what is right, and does so while always being holy. It is a summary term in Scripture for God’s moral correct behavior or thinking. Some examples; Isaiah writes about the Lord speaking in righteousness in chapter 45, “By myself I have sworn; from my mouth has gone out in righteousness.” In the New Testament there are similar references; Matt. 6:33 speaks to “seek God’s kingdom and his righteousness.” In Romans 5:18 “so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. Sometimes Christ is referred to as the Righteous One, 1 John 2:1, “My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.” This whole concept of God’s righteousness and moral purity is spoken of in reference to covenant. This brings us to the second area of Justice, the…

2. The Covenantal Context of Justice: This is particular in reference to God’s living relationship with his people, set again and again in this covenantal context.  It means that God’s righteousness is his total consistency with his covenantal revelation of himself and his covenantal pledge to his people. God shows his righteous acts to all the villages of Israel.  In terms of manifesting righteousness, it is expressive of divine integrity bound up in it.  God’s divine-human relationship is forged in the context of covenant.  That is the reason why the supreme revelation of divine righteousness is found in Jesus Christ on the cross, there the heart of God was revealed in covenantal righteousness, and it is a critical aspect of his dynamic relationship to us. In this context we can speak of human righteousness in the covenant creature.  Precisely because we are created in the divine image of the God who is consistent with his covenant, righteousness is both possible and required in us. When Jesus’ Testament speaks about human righteousness, it speaks of possessing integrity in our covenantal relationship with God. That is why the believer in the Old Testament who is described as righteous, is the one who is radically faithful to his covenant obligations (Deut. 24:13).  God looks upon this action as righteous in his own sight. There are two aspects vivid in Jesus’ Testament. The principle that the righteousness of God is manifested in one, terrible condemnation, and two, merciful deliverance.  This is a result of a proceeding truth, which is, the absolute integrity of God to the revelation given of himself in his covenant. If we lack either perspective which lies at the root of his righteousness we lose the full biblical picture of God’s righteousness. There is a side that speaks of his love and grace and that which speaks of his re-trib-u-tive justice. Example:  Consider Martin Luther. Luther named the righteousness of God as retributive, viewing the idea as a thought of punishing.  He hated the word righteousness.  That righteousness is not to be equated only with punishing/retributive justice and began to understand God’s righteousness as manifested in the gospel as part of God’s mercy and covenant faithfulness.  Luther came to understand that as a righteous God he is a Savior. This moves him from seeing it in terms of justice as also manifested in grace and salvation within the context of covenant.

3. Justice &Righteousness (from the root ṣdq) in the Old Testament it is a simultaneously forensic and relational term. It is a “right relationship” that is legally verified by obedience to the covenantal stipulations. It is related closely to mišpaṭ (justice). God’s righteousness is also connected with his mercy, especially in the Psalms. “The maintenance of the fellowship now becomes the justification of the ungodly. No manner of human effort, but only that righteousness which is the gift of God, can lead to that conduct which is truly in keeping with the covenant.” God has a moral vision for his creation, which is revealed in the various covenants that he makes with human beings in history, and his righteousness involves his determination to see that vision through to the end for his glory and the good of creation. At the same time, God’s righteousness cannot simply be collapsed into his mercy (i.e., justification by grace through faith). As the revelation of God’s moral will (i.e., law), God’s righteousness condemns all people as transgressors; as the revelation of God’s saving will (i.e., the gospel), God’s righteousness saves all who believe (Ro 3:19–26). In both cases, God upholds his own righteousness. Against Albrecht Ritschl’s view, which collapses righteousness into mercy, Barth affirms that God’s righteousness includes the concept of distributive justice—“a righteousness which judges and therefore both exculpates and condemns, rewards and also punishes.” Yet for Barth, this condemnation turns out to be just another form of love and grace. According to Barth, God’s wrath is always a form of mercy. However, in Scripture, God’s wrath is his righteous response to sin and his mercy is a free decision to grant absolution to the guilty. As we have seen, God is free to show mercy on whomever he will and to leave the rest under his just condemnation. The righteousness that God discloses in the law brings condemnation, but the gift of righteousness that God gives brings justification and life (Ro 3:19–22). Once again, it is at the cross where we see the marvelous unity of divine attributes that might seem otherwise to clash. This paradox is lost if mercy, righteousness, and wrath are synonymous terms.

The Applications of Justice
To the saved: There are much more nuanced applications for the believer of Christ than the unbeliever.

1. We should reflect God’s justice/righteousness.

2. In financial dealings we should be equitable, reflecting the fairness of God.  This is something that is not thought of as often as it should be.

3. We should revere God’s justice. We read of that in 1 Peter 1, where Peter speaks in vv. 17-19.  We understand that God judges rightly and only by Christ’s righteousness that we have been saved.  The Lord loves judgment and forsakes not his saints.

4. We also hope in God and his justice for remuneration, Isa. 30:18.  God will make things right on the Day of Judgment. We know that he will be righteous and judge even though we don’t see it here.  2 Thess. 1:4-8. We should defer to God’s justice for retribution, Rom. 12:19.  God is in control and exercises just retribution.

5. We should appeal to God’s justice; we do so in our intercessions. Example; Gen. 18:23-25, Abraham’s intercession for Sodom and Gomorrah. Shall not the judge of all the earth do right?  He appeals to the righteousness of God.  We should model that for our people too.  We should rest in God’s promises that he will perform them since he is always righteous and true to his Word.  God is always true to his word of warning and salvation and grace. He is just in his dealings with his children. He protects us and guards us and works all things together for good.  God will not forsake us nor make any mistakes with us.  God is righteous. We should bless and praise God for his righteousness, Ps.  33:4-5 reads, “For the word of the LORD is upright, and all his work is done in faithfulness. He loves righteousness and justice; the earth is full of the steadfast love of the LORD.”

To the unsaved: They are called to repentance.  No one can escape God’s righteous judgment. Rom. 2:3 reads, Do you suppose, O man—you who judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself—that you will escape the judgment of God?” [6]  People need to be warned and we need to warn them in our ministry not to despise God’s goodness and forbearance.  Paul goes on to say in Romans 2:4, the unbeliever looks around and doesn’t see punishment for wrong done right now and presumes that God will not punish at all forgetting God’s timeless character. God’s righteousness stands over that and declares that God will judge without respect of person, by standards of law and gospel therefore you must repent and get right before God, you must immediately seek his face in repentance and faith.

The Goodness of God
Is one of the most familiar themes of the Scriptures when speaking about God.  He is good in an incredible diversity of ways to all his creatures. Most Reformed systematic theologians take up the attributes of mercy, grace, loving kindness, and longsuffering.  That does not mean that each of these terms are identical, but it does mean that a God who is fundamentally good expresses that goodness in many different ways like; mercy, grace, loving kindness, and longsuffering. Michael Horton wonderfully writes on this area, “God’s knowledge, wisdom, and power are inseparable from his goodness. In fact, in the strict sense, Jesus said, “No one is good except God alone” (Mk 10:18). God’s infinite goodness is the source of all creaturely imitations. Precisely because God does not depend on the world, his goodness is never threatened. God is good toward all he has made, even his enemies (Ps 145:9, 15–16; Mt 5:45). He can afford to be, because he is God with or without them.

The Biblical Terminology of Goodness
1. Towb (tobe = tove): This is the most common word within the OT.  It is used as an adjective, sometimes as a verb, but mostly as a noun, translated good, goodness, kindness, prosperity, bountiful.  It’s specifically used of God’s goodness 84 times in the OT.  The LORD is good and does good.

2. tuwb (toob = toov): meaning; goodness, gladness, to go well with, and it is used of God at least 17 times with the OT.

3. yatab (yaw-tab): to do good and to do well; used of God 19 times in the OT; refers to God’s beneficent attitude particularly in his dealings towards his people. In the NT we read of 2 main family words…

4. agathos (ag-ath-os): the most general word for good, what is morally proper, beneficial.  Translated as good or well, used 10 times of God’s goodness in the NT.

5. chrestotes (khray-stot’-ace): refers to moral excellence; usually translated goodness, kindness, gentleness, used 6-7 times of God of its eight times used in the NT. All of these combined, the Scriptures speak 136 times that God is referred to as good.

The Displays of God’s Goodness
1. Creation: God is concerned about the well being of his own creation and does things to promote that well -being, but not outside of righteousness and holiness.  Rather because he does what is righteous and holy he promotes their well-being. One of the classic texts is James 1:17, “every good gift and perfect gift…no variableness or shadow of turning.” Another text is Matt. 7:11, where it refers to human beings knowing how to give good gifts to their children….It comes as no surprise to us given the inherent goodness of God that Scripture abounds with God’s goodness in a variety of ways. God declares his creative goodness when he declares his creation good.  In Ps. 136:5-9, his goodness endureth forever. Puritan Stephen Charnock, spends 11 pages on the display of God’s goodness in creation. There he expounds the idea that the world was made for man, to gratify man with all his goodness. Creation drips with God’s goodness.

2. Providence: Ps. 136:25 reads, “who gives food to all flesh, his goodness endures forever.”  God gives it to all flesh, all living creatures. He provides food for man and beast alike. His providence manifests itself in a variety of ways: in its covenantal foundation, Gen. 6:17-19 and 9:8-11.  The point is that God is good to Noah as a covenant keeping God in the realm of natural things.  God perpetuates life in our family and society. He tempers the curse that man deserves, Gen. 9:2.  He makes abundant provision to keep us alive, restrains sin in society, and calls men to repentance.  God is lavish; his providence is not only keeping people alive but he gives abundantly.  How good God is in so many ways in his providence that we often take for granted.  There is a special kind of goodness that he manifests in a special providence over those that fear him.  The Lord preserves all them that love him. It focuses particularly on his children. The Lord pities them that fear him.

3. Redemption: Preeminently God’s goodness in his redemption of us.  This is apparent in his dealings with the exodus and redemption from Egypt.  Manifested today as well in redeeming us from sin in Jesus Christ and in bringing the Holy Spirit to teach us the things of God.  Every individual believer in his path of salvation experiences the goodness of God.  We receive every spiritual blessing as believers in Christ Jesus.  That is God’s goodness. God applies his redemption to us initially (Eph. 2:1-10), but also by continuing to apply redemption to us over and over again.  Goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.  One day, God’s goodness will lead us into the new heavens and new earth, we will sin no more, Ps. 23:6.

One theologian wrote, “Well my goodness gracious let me tell you the news, My head’s been wet with the midnight dew, I’ve been down on bended knee talkin’ to the man from Galilee, He spoke to me in the voice so sweet, I thought I heard the shuffle of the angel’s feet, He called my name and my heart stood still, When he said, “John go do My will!” Johnny Cash experience the goodness of God.

The Practical Applications of God’s Goodness
1. We should contemplate God’s goodness, Ps. 107:43 reads, “Whoever is wise, let him attend to these things; let them consider the steadfast love of the LORD.”

2. We should hunger and plead to grasp God’s goodness.

3. We should proclaim God’s goodness. Having been forgiven much they ought to forgive much.  Having tasted of the love of God we ought to love him.  Our lives ought to reflect that goodness in our lives, imitate it, and love our enemies, Matt. 5:45.

4. We should anticipate God’s goodness.  We should not wallow in unbelief and fear the worst and we forget that God is always good, Ps. 27.  One way to not become overwhelmed in trying circumstances is to consider, when has God not been good to me?  That will take care of your problems. We should appreciate his goodness; treasure it, love it, Ezra 3:11.

5. We should show deep respect for God for his goodness, Ex. 34:8.  The goodness of God ought never to produce shallowness in us, but sacred worship.  Irreverent familiarity is an abuse of God’s goodness and doesn’t come from him.  So many say that God is good and flippantly go on their way, but a real understanding of God’s goodness makes us make haste, bow our heads and worship.

 

 


Understanding both, the Justice and Goodness of God

Righteousness or sometimes called the Justice of God

Many understand the justice of God like that of Johnny Cash, who writes,

“Go tell that long tongue liar, Go and tell that midnight rider, Tell the rambler, the gambler, the back biter, Tell ’em that God’s gonna cut ’em down.” Yet Justice does carry two sides, but it shows forth his wrath and judgment, but does include his grace and mercy as we will see.

Joel Beeke has stated that in the justice of God, “we see the moral purity in addition to God’s holiness.” As the righteous God he is, God has established a moral order for the universe.  His righteousness means that not only is he righteous and just in himself, but that he will also treat all his creatures fairly. Righteousness is associated with straightness or consistency, and integrity within relationships. In that sense, righteousness is an attribute to God and man. (Psalm 7 gives us this understanding). When it comes to God we may say that divine righteousness is the divine self-consistency within God’s own character and will.  Louis Berkhof describes this as a “strict adherence to law” but we need to understand that this is not to be conceived of in a neutral fashion. God is a law unto himself, not in a way that is given to sudden or unaccountable changes, but in a sense that is true to his own character that never changes. We cannot apply to God what was said of God’s people under the Old Testament, “everyone did what was right in his own eyes then.” God is never a law to himself in this way. God cannot deny himself, for he is faithful to himself and his holy character. The justice of God is the inherent and infinite righteousness of God. God is always straight unto himself. In the Old Testament, the basic words denoting righteousness and justice cluster around two word groups.

The Biblical Terminology of Justice

1. Misphat (mish–pawt): Comes from meaning to judge, it is the result or act of judging, giving a verdict, sentence, or decree.  It is translated often with justice, judgment, ordinances, and right. There are twenty -five passages in which this word is used in reference to God himself and his justice, ordinances and judgments. Examples; Gen. 18:25 reads “Far be it from you to do such a thing, to put the righteous to death with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked! Far be that from you! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?” Deut. 32:4, “The Rock, his work is perfect, for all his ways are justice. A God of faithfulness and without iniquity, just and upright is he.” The other word used within the Jesus’ Testament is…

2. Tsadaq ([t]saw-dak): There are various nouns associated with this verb and all of which basically speak of conformity to an ethical or moral standard of righteousness. In the Old Testament that standard is the character and nature of God himself. God is called righteous and just in himself. The Bible repeatedly indicated that forensically, his judgments and dealings with all mankind are just. In the New Testament we find a rich set of words that connote the righteousness of God. Specifically…

3. Dikaios (dik-ah’-yoce): This is the New Testament term thatmeans just, agreeably to right, uprightly, righteousness. These terms are used in a variety of ways, but commonly refer to right conduct before God, or God’s right conduct to men.  The phrase “the righteousness of God” as used by Paul speaks of a forensic transaction whereby the sinner is pardoned and justified by God.  With such a comprehensive term there is a wealth of biblical material.

The Elements of Justice

1. God’s Moral Purity: Righteousness is very close to Holiness; God does what is right, and does so while always being holy. It is a summary term in Scripture for God’s moral correct behavior or thinking. Some examples; Isaiah writes about the Lord speaking in righteousness in chapter 45, “By myself I have sworn; from my mouth has gone out in righteousness.” In the New Testament there are similar references; Matt. 6:33 speaks to “seek God’s kingdom and his righteousness.” In Romans 5:18 “so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men Sometimes Christ is referred to as the Righteous One, 1 John 2:1, “My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.” This whole concept of God’s righteousness and moral purity is spoken of in reference to covenant. This brings us to the second area of Justice, the…

2. The Covenantal Context of Justice: This is particular in reference to God’s living relationship with his people, set again and again in this covenantal context.  It means that God’s righteousness is his total consistency with his covenantal revelation of himself and his covenantal pledge to his people. God shows his righteous acts to all the villages of Israel.  In terms of manifesting righteousness, it is expressive of divine integrity bound up in it.  God’s divine-human relationship is forged in the context of covenant.  That is the reason why the supreme revelation of divine righteousness is found in Jesus Christ on the cross, there the heart of God was revealed in covenantal righteousness, and it is a critical aspect of his dynamic relationship to us. In this context we can speak of human righteousness in the covenant creature.  Precisely because we are created in the divine image of the God who is consistent with his covenant, righteousness is both possible and required in us. When Jesus’ Testament speaks about human righteousness, it speaks of possessing integrity in our covenantal relationship with God. That is why the believer in the Old Testament who is described as righteous, is the one who is radically faithful to his covenant obligations (Deut. 24:13).  God looks upon this action as righteous in his own sight. There are two aspects vivid in Jesus’ Testament. The principle that the righteousness of God is manifested in one, terrible condemnation, and two, merciful deliverance.  This is a result of a proceeding truth, which is, the absolute integrity of God to the revelation given of himself in his covenant. If we lack either perspective which lies at the root of his righteousness we lose the full biblical picture of God’s righteousness. There is a side that speaks of his love and grace and that which speaks of his re-trib-u-tive justice.

Example:  Consider Martin Luther. Luther named the righteousness of God as retributive, viewing the idea as a thought of punishing.  He hated the word righteousness.  That righteousness is not to be equated only with punishing/retributive justice and began to understand God’s righteousness as manifested in the gospel as part of God’s mercy and covenant faithfulness.  Luther came to understand that as a righteous God he is a Savior. This moves him from seeing it in terms of justice as also manifested in grace and salvation within the context of covenant.

3. Justice &Righteousness (from the root ṣdq) in the Old Testament it is a simultaneously forensic and relational term. It is a “right relationship” that is legally verified by obedience to the covenantal stipulations. It is related closely to mišpaṭ (justice). God’s righteousness is also connected with his mercy, especially in the Psalms. “The maintenance of the fellowship now becomes the justification of the ungodly. No manner of human effort, but only that righteousness which is the gift of God, can lead to that conduct which is truly in keeping with the covenant.” God has a moral vision for his creation, which is revealed in the various covenants that he makes with human beings in history, and his righteousness involves his determination to see that vision through to the end for his glory and the good of creation.

At the same time, God’s righteousness cannot simply be collapsed into his mercy (i.e., justification by grace through faith). As the revelation of God’s moral will (i.e., law), God’s righteousness condemns all people as transgressors; as the revelation of God’s saving will (i.e., the gospel), God’s righteousness saves all who believe (Ro 3:19–26). In both cases, God upholds his own righteousness. Against Albrecht Ritschl’s view, which collapses righteousness into mercy, Barth affirms that God’s righteousness includes the concept of distributive justice—“a righteousness which judges and therefore both exculpates and condemns, rewards and also punishes.” Yet for Barth, this condemnation turns out to be just another form of love and grace. According to Barth, God’s wrath is always a form of mercy. However, in Scripture, God’s wrath is his righteous response to sin and his mercy is a free decision to grant absolution to the guilty. As we have seen, God is free to show mercy on whomever he will and to leave the rest under his just condemnation. The righteousness that God discloses in the law brings condemnation, but the gift of righteousness that God gives brings justification and life (Ro 3:19–22). Once again, it is at the cross where we see the marvelous unity of divine attributes that might seem otherwise to clash. This paradox is lost if mercy, righteousness, and wrath are synonymous terms.

The Applications of Justice

To the saved: There are much more nuanced applications for the believer of Christ than the unbeliever.

1. We should reflect God’s justice/righteousness.

2. In financial dealings we should be equitable, reflecting the fairness of God.  This is something that is not thought of as often as it should be.

3. We should revere God’s justice. We read of that in 1 Peter 1, where Peter speaks in vv. 17-19.  We understand that God judges rightly and only by Christ’s righteousness that we have been saved.  The Lord loves judgment and forsakes not his saints.

4. We also hope in God and his justice for remuneration, Isa. 30:18.  God will make things right on the Day of Judgment. We know that he will be righteous and judge even though we don’t see it here.  2 Thess. 1:4-8. We should defer to God’s justice for retribution, Rom. 12:19.  God is in control and exercises just retribution.

5. We should appeal to God’s justice; we do so in our intercessions. Example; Gen. 18:23-25, Abraham’s intercession for Sodom and Gomorrah. Shall not the judge of all the earth do right?  He appeals to the righteousness of God.  We should model that for our people too.  We should rest in God’s promises that he will perform them since he is always righteous and true to his Word.  God is always true to his word of warning and salvation and grace. He is just in his dealings with his children. He protects us and guards us and works all things together for good.  God will not forsake us nor make any mistakes with us.  God is righteous. We should bless and praise God for his righteousness, Ps.  33:4-5 reads, “For the word of the LORD is upright, and all his work is done in faithfulness. He loves righteousness and justice; the earth is full of the steadfast love of the LORD.”

 To the unsaved: They are called to repentance.  No one can escape God’s righteous judgment. Rom. 2:3 reads, Do you suppose, O man—you who judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself—that you will escape the judgment of God?”  People need to be warned and we need to warn them in our ministry not to despise God’s goodness and forbearance.  Paul goes on to say in Romans 2:4, the unbeliever looks around and doesn’t see punishment for wrong done right now and presumes that God will not punish at all forgetting God’s timeless character. God’s righteousness stands over that and declares that God will judge without respect of person, by standards of law and gospel therefore you must repent and get right before God, you must immediately seek his face in repentance and faith.

The Goodness of God: Is one of the most familiar themes of the Scriptures when speaking about God.  He is good in an incredible diversity of ways to all his creatures. Most Reformed systematic theologians take up the attributes of mercy, grace, loving kindness, and longsuffering.  That does not mean that each of these terms are identical, but it does mean that a God who is fundamentally good expresses that goodness in many different ways like; mercy, grace, loving kindness, and longsuffering. Michael Horton wonderfully writes on this area,

“God’s knowledge, wisdom, and power are inseparable from his goodness. In fact, in the strict sense, Jesus said, “No one is good except God alone” (Mk 10:18). God’s infinite goodness is the source of all creaturely imitations. Precisely because God does not depend on the world, his goodness is never threatened. God is good toward all he has made, even his enemies (Ps 145:9, 15–16; Mt 5:45). He can afford to be, because he is God with or without them.

The Biblical Terminology of Goodness

1. Towb (tobe = tove): This is the most common word within the OT.  It is used as an adjective, sometimes as a verb, but mostly as a noun, translated good, goodness, kindness, prosperity, bountiful.  It’s specifically used of God’s goodness 84 times in the OT.  The LORD is good and does good.

2. tuwb (toob = toov): meaning; goodness, gladness, to go well with, and it is used of God at least 17 times with the OT.

3. yatab (yaw-tab): to do good and to do well; used of God 19 times in the OT; refers to God’s beneficent attitude particularly in his dealings towards his people.

In the NT we read of 2 main family words…

4. agathos (ag-ath-os): the most general word for good, what is morally proper, beneficial.  Translated as good or well, used 10 times of God’s goodness in the NT.

5. chrestotes (khray-stot’-ace): refers to moral excellence; usually translated goodness, kindness, gentleness, used 6-7 times of God of its eight times used in the NT.

All of these combined, the Scriptures speak 136 times that God is referred to as good.

The Displays of God’s Goodness

1. Creation: God is concerned about the well being of his own creation and does things to promote that well -being, but not outside of righteousness and holiness.  Rather because he does what is righteous and holy he promotes their well-being. One of the classic texts is James 1:17, “every good gift and perfect gift…no variableness or shadow of turning.” Another text is Matt. 7:11, where it refers to human beings knowing how to give good gifts to their children….It comes as no surprise to us given the inherent goodness of God that Scripture abounds with God’s goodness in a variety of ways. God declares his creative goodness when he declares his creation good.  In Ps. 136:5-9, his goodness endureth forever. Puritan Stephen Charnock, spends 11 pages on the display of God’s goodness in creation. There he expounds the idea that the world was made for man, to gratify man with all his goodness. Creation drips with God’s goodness.

2. Providence: Ps. 136:25 reads, “who gives food to all flesh, his goodness endures forever.”  God gives it to all flesh, all living creatures. He provides food for man and beast alike. His providence manifests itself in a variety of ways: in its covenantal foundation, Gen. 6:17-19 and 9:8-11.  The point is that God is good to Noah as a covenant keeping God in the realm of natural things.  God perpetuates life in our family and society. He tempers the curse that man deserves, Gen. 9:2.  He makes abundant provision to keep us alive, restrains sin in society, and calls men to repentance.  God is lavish; his providence is not only keeping people alive but he gives abundantly.  How good God is in so many ways in his providence that we often take for granted.  There is a special kind of goodness that he manifests in a special providence over those that fear him.  The Lord preserves all them that love him. It focuses particularly on his children. The Lord pities them that fear him.

3. Redemption: Preeminently God’s goodness in his redemption of us.  This is apparent in his dealings with the exodus and redemption from Egypt.  Manifested today as well in redeeming us from sin in Jesus Christ and in bringing the Holy Spirit to teach us the things of God.  Every individual believer in his path of salvation experiences the goodness of God.  We receive every spiritual blessing as believers in Christ Jesus.  That is God’s goodness. God applies his redemption to us initially (Eph. 2:1-10), but also by continuing to apply redemption to us over and over again.  Goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.  One day, God’s goodness will lead us into the new heavens and new earth, we will sin no more, Ps. 23:6.

One theologian wrote,

“Well my goodness gracious let me tell you the news, My head’s been wet with the midnight dew, I’ve been down on bended knee talkin’ to the man from Galilee, He spoke to me in the voice so sweet, I thought I heard the shuffle of the angel’s feet, He called my name and my heart stood still, When he said, “John go do My will!” Johnny Cash experience the goodness of God.

The Practical Applications of God’s Goodness

1. We should contemplate God’s goodness, Ps. 107:43 reads, “Whoever is wise, let him attend to these things; let them consider the steadfast love of the LORD.”

2. We should hunger and plead to grasp God’s goodness.

3. We should proclaim God’s goodness. Having been forgiven much they ought to forgive much.  Having tasted of the love of God we ought to love him.  Our lives ought to reflect that goodness in our lives, imitate it, and love our enemies, Matt. 5:45.

4. We should anticipate God’s goodness.  We should not wallow in unbelief and fear the worst and we forget that God is always good, Ps. 27.  One way to not become overwhelmed in trying circumstances is to consider, when has God not been good to me?  That will take care of your problems. We should appreciate his goodness; treasure it, love it, Ezra 3:11.

5. We should show deep respect for God for his goodness, Ex. 34:8.  The goodness of God ought never to produce shallowness in us, but sacred worship.  Irreverent familiarity is an abuse of God’s goodness and doesn’t come from him.  So many say that God is good and flippantly go on their way, but a real understanding of God’s goodness makes us make haste, bow our heads and worship.

 


Enjoying the Omnipotence of God

Puritan Richard Baxter writes,

From this greatness and immensity of God also your soul must reverently stay all its busy, bold inquiries, and know that God is to us, and to every creature, incomprehensible. If you could fathom or measure him, and know his greatness by a comprehensive knowledge, he were not God. A creature can comprehend nothing but a creature. You may know God, but not comprehend him; as your foot treads on the earth, but does not cover all the earth. The sea is not the sea, if you can hold it in a spoon.”

Defining God’s Omnipotence
Chapter eight in our book covers the doctrine theologians call the omnipotence of God, commonly referred to in the Reformed circles as the Sovereign Power of God. The term omnipotencecomes from the Latin Potestas which means power, and Omni meaning all – thus we use the theological term omnipotence to describe that God is the all-powerful one. As creatures we have power too, this attribute is communicable, but incommunicable in that our power is limited, whereas God’s power is without limits or an end. God alone has self-existent power; this is something we do not have. The Scriptures teach of God’s incommunicable power (Omnipotence) specifically in three ways;

1. He alone has infinite power in Ephesians 1:19-23 “and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.”

2. He alone has eternal power in Romans 1:20 “For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.”

3. He alone has unchangeable power in Isa. 40:28 “Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable.

 

The Misconceptions of God’s Omnipotence
1. Total Omnipotence:
This is the doctrine of scholastics who claim that God is capable of doing everything without any limitation whatsoever. They are usually those who commonly enjoy telling others that God cannot be placed in a box. This understanding of total omnipotence leads to absurd conclusions that God for example can sin, cease to exist, effect contradictions making yes equal no, or the common question I get in seminary, “what if God chose to leave the Trinity” as if an unchangeable covenant between them could take place. It is important for us to know that the Scriptures make it clear that there are things that God cannot do. God is not a man that he should lie, and we know God cannot lie. 2 Tim. 2:13 we read, “If we are faithless, he remains faithful— for he cannot deny himself.” God will keep his promise in remaining faithful and cannot deny himself.  James 1:13 reads, “Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one.” God cannot be tempted with evil. The Scriptures, the very Word of the Lord himself limits what God can or cannot do. God does not have unqualified power to unaccountable changes of mood or behavior (commonly called capricious (ca-pri-cious). Three things in God’s character limit his power; One, his ideality, he is ideal. Two, His immutability, he is unchangeable, and three, his sovereignty, he cannot do something against his decree. The point we need to maintain on omnipotence is that God is consistent in his nature and cannot do something inconsistent with his own perfections.

2.  Actual Omnipotence: This view of God’s Omnipotence claims that God can only do what he actually does since he is unchangeable. Some people have dressed this up and called it process theology (which I mentioned before when dealing with God’s immutability). Those who espouse this error try to disconnect God in every way discretely from the evil they see in the world.  This particular understanding of omnipotence teaches that God cannot do anything about it, that he is helpless in himself, that he cannot fix or aid the problem of sin within the world. God is doing the best he can and would put an end to evil if he could, but he cannot.  This depreciates and belittles God’s credibility and weakens him in that it would make God a liar, because God has repeatedly asserted that God is over all things, good, and even evil. For example we read in Eph. 1:11, “In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will.” Jesus himself asserts that this is false in Matt. 26:53, “Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels?” Jesus could have summoned angels, but refrained from doing what he could have done.

Biblical Concept of God’s Omnipotence: In summary God can do anything and everything that he wills to do merely by willing it, since nothing can restrain him and nothing is too hard for him. This omnipotence is commonly broken down into three areas by theologians.

1. Concrete Substance: Most Reformed theologians (Calvin, Berkhof, Bavinck, and Brakel) refer to this as God’s ordinate power.  This relates to what God ordains and orders and purposes to do. They recognize the close association of God’s will and God’s power.  God’s power is part of his sovereign will.  There is overlap here; systematic theologian Louis Berkhof “classifies it as an attribute of sovereignty.” The great Princeton Theologian Charles Hodge distinguishes the power of God from the sovereignty of God. While yet the Dutch theologian Herman Bavinck: doesn’t give it separate treatment, he states “there is a great deal of overlap” between the power and sovereignty of God.  Because I am more infatuated with the Dutch than Presbyterians, I have followed Bavinck’s example this morning – combining the Lord’s power overlapped with his sovereign rule (joking of course).

The focus on the word sovereignty draws our attention to the authority of God. God has power to effect and bring to pass what he will. Sovereignty has the right to do what he wills. The difference is in this area, it differs on the exclusive right of God that he disposes of creation as he wills. This is what man hates to hear, because man despises anything that challenges his autonomy.  Man resists sovereign power because that gives God the right to do with us as he will.  Some Reformed theologians properly define it as God’s sovereign will, like Berkhof (Cf. page 80) and Stephen Charnock (page 364) and Charles Hodge (vol. 1, 407-8). This teaches us three things: One, to give the Almighty the praise and honor that are his due, two, we ought to face our own limitations to recognize that we are not omnipotent, our entire life depends on God, and three, we should trust God and not charge him foolishly even when we experience severe afflictions.

2.  Supernatural Instrument: God can do everything merely by willing it. That is the supernatural instrument. He needs no other means (Ps. 33). He is capable of working miraculously without created means and working above them at his pleasure, even though he usually works through means.

3.  Infinite Source:Since nothing can restrain God, nothing is too hard for him – this is hard to grasp in our finite minds. The Scriptures speaks that nothing is too hard for the Lord.  This infinite source is an infinite source for us in daily life as well. It speaks of the infinite potentiality of God, who serves in relationship to resistance, in relation to difficulty, and in relation to feasibility.  No amount of opposition can oppose successfully God’s design, and there is no task God cannot complete.  Nothing is beyond the realm of feasible for God, to do exceeding above what we ask or think, as Paul reminds us in Eph. 3:20.  “Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us.” Some refer to this as God’s absolute power, because the Scripture presents it in absolute terms.  The actual exercise of God’s power does not express its limits in absolute power of God.  God’s power to do everything falls within the scope of God’s infinite potentiality. This distinction is used discreetly and we must have great caution here as well because some scholastics have employed this distinction of total omnipotence. There is a sense in which we can speak of God’s absolute power, but not mean total omnipotence. For a further study on this area, you can read Louis Berkhof on page 80 or Charles Hodge in volume 1 on page 409 on God’s supernatural power exercised without means. 

Practical Applications taken from God’s Omnipotence
1. This should teach us that all rebellion is futile.

2. This should teach us to trust God in all situations to believe what he says and what he promises to do, even if it is scientifically impossible. Past Example, Sarah laughed, but God rebuked her for laughing, there were those who laughed at the plagues of Egypt, but God rebuked. Present Example, today the world laughs at creation but God will rebuke. It is important to understand that God’s Word is true – let God be true, because every man is a liar.

3. As for pastors, it can become depressing I am sure to not come across, or see conversions taking place in one’s congregation they are ministering in. This doctrine should teach the pastor and his members that God’s infinite potential is able to convert the most hardened sinner.  We cannot do it and we learn that more and more by experience. No matter how wholeheartedly one may preach, the pastor does not convert the sinner, but with God all things are possible because of his power, men like Saul become Paul.

The Display of God’s Omnipotence
One can see God’s sovereign power in a number of ways within the Scriptures.

 

  1. God’s Omnipotence in Creation: Psalm 33:6-9, “By the word of the Lord the heavens were made, and by the breath of his mouth all their host. He gathers the waters of the sea as a heap; he puts the deeps in storehouses. Let all the earth fear the Lord; let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of him! For he spoke, and it came to be; he commanded, and it stood firm.”
  2. God’s Omnipotence in Providence: Jeremiah 32:17-19, “Ah, Lord God! It is you who have made the heavens and the earth by your great power and by your outstretched arm! Nothing is too hard for you. You show steadfast love to thousands, but you repay the guilt of fathers to their children after them, O great and mighty God, whose name is the Lord of hosts, great in counsel and mighty indeed, whose eyes are open to all the ways of the children of man, rewarding each one according to his ways and according to the fruit of his deeds.”
  3. God’s Omnipotence in Salvation: Luke 2, the virgin birth, miracles of Christ, crucifixion, resurrection and ascension and the application of salvation by his Spirit.
  4. God’s Omnipotence in Eschatology: The consummation of salvation here takes place, the 2nd coming of Christ, the glorification of the Church, the purification of the world by fire, the Final Judgment, eternal punishment of the wicked, eternal glory of heaven, and the abyss of hell; all proclaim God’s omnipotence sovereign power and rule over all things.

 

The Practical Relevance of God’s Omnipotence

  1. God’s supreme power instructs his people, it instructs us to bend the knee to no man and to call no man master, to serve the Lord not to live in the face of fear of man.
  2. God’s supreme power helps us to see deceivers for what they really are.
  3. God’s supreme power comforts his people in that what he has done for us, he will continue to do, until his return in Jesus Christ.
  4. God’s supreme power exhorts his people to bless him and praise him in creation, providence and redemption, to acknowledge and honor him, and to have confidence in him.
  5. God’s supreme power exhorts us to obey him and hope and wait for him, to seek him with great expectancy.
  6. God’s supreme power calls sinners to cease rebellion against the Lord and flee to Jesus Christ for pardon before such power consumes them.

 


Stephen Charnock’s Understanding of God

Stephen Charnock 2 croppedFor Stephen Charnock (1628-1680) the being of God is necessarily bound up with the concepts of essence and existence. In Charnock’s exposition of John 4:24 “God is a Spirit”. “He hath nothing corporeal, no mixture of matter, not a visible substance, a bodily form. Charnock notes that (John 4:24) is the only place in the whole Bible where God is explicitly described as a Spirit.  Charnock states if God exists He must be immaterial because material by nature is imperfect.  Charnock also describes God in two ways, by affirmation God is good and God has no body.

Charnock begins by noting the difficulty of this topic. In his attempt to understand eternity Charnock contrast the attributes of God with the concept of time. Eternity is perpetual duration, without beginning or end, but time has both beginning and an end.  He explains how God as God must be eternal, and that eternity properly belongs to God. The Scriptures constantly speak of God as eternal (Exodus 3:14, Rom. 16:26). Nothing can give being to itself. Acts, whatever they may be, are predicated on existence, a cause precedes an effect. God’s very existence proves that He has no being from another, otherwise He would not be God therefore God must be eternal.

Charnock describes how when God acts He does so according to the counsel of His own infinite understanding. No one is His counselor. Charnock speaks of the divine will as something that is not rash, but follows “the proposals of His Divine mind, he chooses that which is fittest to be done.” Knowledge and wisdom differ insofar as knowledge is the “apprehension of a thing, and wisdom is the appointing and ordering of things.” God possesses an essential and comprehensive wisdom. The Son of God however is the personal wisdom of God. Wisdom, as a necessary perfection in God, is manifested in the Son of God, who “opens to us the secrets of God.” The work of Christ manifests the wisdom of God as both the just and the justifier of the ungodly; but Christ also reveals the preeminent wisdom of God, for in the incarnation the finite is united with the infinite, immortality is united to mortality, and a nature who made the law is united to a nature under the law all in one person.

For StephenCharnock Christ is the image of God’s holiness because since God in His glory is “too dazzling to be beheld by us,” the incarnation makes it possible for the elect to not only behold the holiness of God in the face of Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 3:18), but also become holy like God through Jesus Christ. Therefore in God’s goodness he provides a means in which we can apprehend this holiness, the application of this therefore has a Christ centered focus.

Charnock  affirms a threefold dominion in God, that which is natural and therefore absolute over all things; that which is supernatural or gracious, which is the dominion God has over the Church; and that which is glorious (i.e. eschatological), which refers to the kingdom of God as He reigns over saints in heaven and sinners in hell. The first dominion is founded in nature; the second in grace; the third in regard to the blessed in grace; in regard of the demand, in demerit in them, and justice in him. The dominion of God is to be distinguished from His power. The latter has reference to His ability to affect certain things, whereas the former speaks of His royal prerogative to do as He so chooses.


There is No Falling Back

The whole human race is connected onto the belt of Adam, common person for us natural man, and when we are taken from Adam and hung on Christ’s belt, there is no falling back (election). We believe by faith in Christ, rooted in election.

Deny the doctrine of election, you deny the Gospel, you are enabled to believe because you are elected.


An Act Immutable

The number of the elect can neither be increased or diminished, this act cannot be changed, contains the whole sum and scope of the Gospel.

God was not drawn on to love us beyond what he intended, there is no new thing to God, known from beginning of time.


Why Does God Permit Evil?

Recently preparing my lessons/lectures on the topic of “Why Suffering Exists if God Exist” for my high school apologetics course I came across a quote by Tim Keller. I found it worthwhile to repeat here for those that still follow along with my blog.

God only allows Satan to accomplish the very opposite of what he wants to accomplish. He only gives Satan enough rope to hang himself…God hates evil. He’s against it. He didn’t create a world in which evil existed. But He permits it. Why? He permits Satan only to bring evil into Job’s life in such a way, in such an amount, that actually completely defeats Satan’s real intention. Satan is only allowed by God to actually defeat himself and achieve the very opposite of what he wanted… He permits evil and suffering to come into your life only to the degree that it defeats the actual intention of Satan for you. Only to the degree that it makes you a great person. Only to the degree that it actually defeats itself.

*Words found in Timothy Keller Sermon Podcast, “Questions of Suffering.”

HT: Keller Quotes ~ The words of Dr. Timothy Keller

 


Why Question Worship?

I am often struck by the number of church congregation services that seem to have an evangelists approach rather than a pastor leading his congregation in true worship of God during their Lord’s Day morning worship.  I think one of the largest issues with this problem in America is a question that is commonly asked among pastors, elders, small groups and within the church. It goes something like this, “what type of worship do you like?” or “what style of worship fo you favor?” or “how to you feel worship should be done?” Besides the problem of creating a dichotomy between singing and preaching on the Lord’s Day (as if only one of them are worshipping) lies the problem that Evangelicals continues to create, address, fix, create, address, fix again, crate, address with a different group, and are left to fix once again. The never ending cycle of programed worship, leading to only selective groups, leaving out others, left with continually fixing the worship style, pattern with man’s thoughts, feelings, and what they themselves enjoy during worship service. The problem, the church continues to ask the question “what do we want during worship service?” and not the question “What has God commanded of His people during worship service?” As long as Dispensational roots are sunk in deep to American Evangelicals, who really applies Deuteronomy 12:32, “Whatever I command you, you shall be careful to do; you shall not add to nor take away from it.” Dispensationalism or not, understanding the use of moral law would be of great help and discernment on what one does during worship,

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, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing lovingkindness to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.”

This is just one of the many reasons why confessional protestantism helps again at truly understanding the Scriptures. Systematically looking at matters of importance throughout all of the Scriptures, identifying the Truths within Scripture and standing firm upon them within the Church. Recently chapter 22, section 1 of the London Baptist Confession has become a constant read for reminder in my family and personal life. It reads,

The light of nature shews that there is a God, who hath lordship and sovereignty over all; is just, good and doth good unto all; and is therefore to be feared, loved, praised, called upon, trusted in, and served, with all the heart and all the soul, and with all the might. But the acceptable way of worshipping the true God, is instituted by himself, and so limited by his own revealed will, that he may not be worshipped according to the imagination and devices of men, nor the suggestions of Satan, under any visible representations, or any other way not prescribed in the Holy Scriptures.

As Jeremiah has said, “Who would not fear You, O King of the nations? Indeed it is Your due! For among all the wise men of the nations And in all their kingdoms, There is none like You.”