Posts Tagged 'theology'



ATONEMENT, Part 2

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The Atonement that had been in God’s plan since eternity and foreshadowed throughout the Old Testament found its fulfillment in the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, the climax of God’s redemptive plan for man.

It’s a significant fact that the Gospel writers spend considerable time going into the details of Christ’s suffering and death, while spending virtually no time on the first 30 years of His life. Time and again they write of the Passion in the context of numerous Old Testament prophecies, showing that they considered the event of primary importance.

1. Atonement: Fact

The death of Jesus was no accident. He was not murdered. His life and ministry were not “cut short.” The truth is, the suffering and death of Jesus were not unfortunate surprises; Jesus was not “caught off guard.” He knew from the very beginning that His suffering and death were all part His destiny. He knew that He “must suffer.”

And he said, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.” (Luke 9:22 NIV84)

Jesus knew He was no mere victim of blind fate. Without a doubt Jesus knew that He was the linchpin of God’s plan for the redemption of mankind.

At His baptism, Jesus and many others heard the stirring words: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” (Luke 3:22 NIV84). These words were stirring because with one sentence, Jesus’ Sonship and His deity were confirmed in public. They were also the fulfillment of two prophecies:

I will proclaim the decree of the Lord:He said to me, “You are my Son; today I have become your Father. (Psalms 2:7 NIV84)

Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him and he will bring justice to the nations.” (Isaiah 42:1 NIV84)

The Servant mentioned in Isaiah 42 is the same Servant spoken of in Isaiah 53. In the latter chapter, He is the “Suffering Servant.” So even at His baptism, Jesus would have been aware of His identity (the Son of God and the Messiah), His mission, and His destiny (suffering and death). The baptism of Jesus could be regarded THE turning point in human history because at that moment, the sinless Son of God completely identified Himself with the sinful people He came to save. His work of Atonement began the moment He came up out of the waters of baptism.

Many times during His earthly ministry, Jesus talked to His disciples about His mission and His sufferings:

“…the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:28 NIV84)

During the Last Supper, our Lord left His disciples with instructions on how to commemorate His atoning Work. The Communion Service Christians celebrate is not dissimilar to Passover, which the Jews celebrate.

The disciples, however, were unable to grasp the necessity and the scope of Jesus’ mission and words. It wasn’t until after the Resurrection and the Ascension that the divine light dawned on them.

2. Atonement: Necessity

Why did Jesus do what He did? Couldn’t God have found a less severe way to save mankind? The need for atonement is based upon two undeniable facts: God is holy and man is not. The result of these facts is that the two parties, God and man, cannot in any way co-exist in the same time and space.

God is absolutely holy in every way, from His character to His conduct. God as the great Creator of all, fashioned man and his world according to a set of very definite laws. We may think of the “law of gravity,” for example, but it goes even deeper than that. Consider Romans 2:14, 15–

Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law, since they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them. (Romans 2:14-15 NIV84)

When God made man, He placed His set of laws into man’s innermost being. Whether man is aware of this or not or whether man acknowledges it or not, it is a fact. Because of this fact, all men are responsible for how they live their lives; they are responsible to the One who placed His laws in him.

For in him we live and move and have our being.’ (Acts 17:28 NIV84)

Sin has made it impossible for man to live by God’s laws imprinted on his heart. Sin has completely ruined the kind of relationship God wanted to have with His creation. Because God is holy, unrepentant human beings cannot be in His presence. Therefore, when unrepentant man dies, he is not allowed to be in God’s presence. He is, in fact, cast out of God’s presence forever.

God is not unfair in dealing with man this way. God is sovereign; He is the Creator. But beyond that, God has, through the ministry of His prophets and in His Word, made it clear that one who is righteous (like God) is unable to have fellowship with one who is unrighteous.

Do two walk together unless they have agreed to do so? (Amos 3:3 NIV84)

All sin is an act of rebellion against God; it is violence against the law of God under which man is to live. Sin separates man from God:

But your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear. (Isaiah 59:2 NIV84)

Because unconverted man is a lawbreaker and that sin is, at its core, a frontal attack on God’s honor and holiness, there is no possibility for that man to have any kind of fellowship with His Creator. However, God still wants to have fellowship with him, therefore atonement must be made; that sinner must be made right.

If the New Testament teaches anything it’s that atonement is possible and necessary. It is possible, not because man is able to do it for himself but because God, in grace and mercy, makes it possible on his behalf. Man cannot atone for himself, so Jesus did it for him at Calvary. On the Cross, sins are atoned for, God’s honor restored, and His law satisfied.

3. Atonement: Nature

When we say, “Christ died for our sins,” we are talking about the essence of “atonement.” The very word means, “to cover.” What is covered? In the atonement of Christ, both the sins and the sinner are covered. When sin is covered, God no longer sees it and it is no longer a cause of His wrath.

Yet he was merciful;he forgave their iniquities and did not destroy them. Time after time he restrained his anger and did not stir up his full wrath. (Psalms 78:38 NIV84)

In this way the priest will make atonement for them, and they will be forgiven. (Leviticus 4:20 NIV84)

In reference to Leviticus 4:20, when the sacrificial blood was applied to the altar by the priest, the offerer was assured of the promises made to his forefathers:

The blood will be a sign for you on the houses where you are; and when I see the blood, I will pass over you. No destructive plague will touch you when I strike Egypt. (Exodus 12:13 NIV84)

According to numerous verses throughout the Old Testament, the effects of the sacrifice of atonement – the covering of sin – included the following:

Jeremiah 18:23; Isaiah 43:25; 44:22 – the sin was blotted out.
Isaiah 6:7 – the sin was removed.
Psalm 32:1 – the sin was cast into the depths of the sea.
Isaiah 38:17 – the sin was cast behind God’s back
Psalm 78:38 – the sin was pardoned.

All these components taken as a whole teach that the Old Testament atonement, which itself foreshadowed Christ’s ultimate Atonement, covered up a sinner’s sins, nullified their effects on both the sinner and on God, and made the sinner as if he had never sinned.

Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross has the same effects on all sinful men who by faith appropriate its effects. But in addition to “atonement,” there is an other part to Christ’s work on the Cross: propitiation.

God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished… (Romans 3:25 NIV84)

The phrase “sacrifice of atonement” is translated “propitiation” in other translations and carries with it the idea of “being brought near” to God. So then, Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross not only has the effect of covering up and removing the sin from the sinner, it brings man closer to God. How is this possible? It’s because Christ’s sacrifice, His propitiation, takes away that which causes God’s wrath: our sin. Access to God, the greatest of all privileges afforded mortal man, was bought at a great price: the precious Blood of Christ. And this was foreshadowed in the Old Testament. James Denney sums it up:

Just as in the ancient Tabernacle, every object used in worship had to be sprinkled with the atoning blood, so all parts of Christian worship, all our approaches to God, should consciously rest upon the atonement. They should be felt to be a privilege beyond price; they should be penetrated with the sense of Christ’s passion, and of the love with which He loved us when He suffered for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God.

The work of Christ was atoning. It was a propitiation. It was also substitutionary. The animal sacrifices in the Old Testament were substitutionary; they did on the altar what the Israelite could not do for himself. The altar represented God; the priest represented the sinner; the sacrifice was the Israelite’s substitute, which God accepted on his behalf.

Can you see how what Christ did was so similar? Christ did on His Cross what we could never do for ourselves. Christ, in His work, was both the Priest and the Sacrifice. When He offered Himself on the altar of His Cross and shed His precious blood, He bore our sins, literally not figuratively, lifting them off us and carrying them away from us. Jesus came between God and man, stood, as it were, in front of God’s wrath, absorbing it all so none of it could ever touch us. Never could there have ever been a more perfect sacrifice.

4. Atonement: Results

There are two big results of Christ’s Atonement. First, redemption. This comes from the idea of “buying something by paying a price.” Consider:

…just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. (Matthew 20:28 NIV84)

Our redemption was costly, it cost the Son of God His very life’s Blood. Many Christians take their redemption for granted, something that caused Paul to write this to the Corinthians:

Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies. (1 Corinthians 6:19, 20 TNIV)

Jesus taught something very profound when He said this:

What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul? (Matthew 16:26 NIV84)

Our Lord taught that the soul – the essence of a person – could be lost and that there was no way it could ever be bought back. The Psalmist supports this teaching:

No one can redeem the life of another or give to God a sufficient ransom – the ransom for a life is costly, no payment is ever enough… (Psalm 49:7, 8 TNIV)

Every human being living without Christ is literally “owned” by sin; they have forfeited their very souls. They are eternally lost. These lost souls are what the Son of God came to save.

…the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. (Matthew 20:28 TNIV)

This was why Jesus came into the world: to lay His down His life as a ransom payment so that those who had forfeited their lives may get them back again.

The second great result of the Atonement is our reconciliation.

All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. (2 Corinthians 5:18, 19 TNIV)

Sinful man is God’s enemy. Through the Atonement, we who were at war with God have been brought into a peaceful relationship with Him. The Atonement is like a great, eternal peace treaty between God and man.

It should be stressed that God’s anger was not such that He stood far off from the sinner waiting to have that anger assuaged. It wasn’t God that was reconciled to the sinner; the sinner was reconciled to God. God was the offended One, not man. God was the One who made the very first overture when Adam and Eve sinned: He clothed them; He reached out to them. God continues to reach out to sinful man today. God is the author of our atonement, our redemption, and our reconciliation.

Say to them, `As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die, house of Israel?’ (Ezekiel 33:11 TNIV)

ATONEMENT

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When Adam and Eve sinned, God promised atonement:

“And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.” (Genesis 3:15)

This first promise is also the first prophecy and says that a descendant, referred to here as “her [Eve’s] offspring,” would do irreparable harm to the serpent, Satan. Just after God spoke these words, He gave Adam and Eve a practical illustration of the idea of “substitution”; that a sacrifice – a life for a life – would be needed to fulfill that promise:

The Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them. (Genesis 3:21)

We have evidence that the first family understood God’s promise and illustration in the actions of Cain and Abel. The sons of Adam and Eve understood both the concept and the need for atonement. In Genesis 4 we see them offering their own sacrifices to the Lord. God rejected Cain’s offering, but He wasn’t condemning Cain, He was teaching a lesson. He spoke to Cain with all the patience of loving parent:

Then the Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it.” (Genesis 4:6-7)

There was no anger in what God said in response to Cain’s offering. There was no punishment inflicted on him. What did God explain to Cain? If Cain continued in his present state – angry and downcast – he would be sinning. But if he would present a sin-offering, his sin would be pardoned. Cain’s offering needed to be more like that of his brother’s. Abel the man wasn’t necessarily any better than his brother, but his offering was. What was wrong with Cain’s offering? It was the result of HIS work, and God did not find it acceptable.

Now Abel kept flocks, and Cain worked the soil. In the course of time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the Lord. (Genesis 4:2-3)

This was the lesson: sin is atoned for, not by our works of righteousness, but by God’s mercy. Forgiveness of sin is wholly a work of God; we cannot earn God’s pardon through our efforts.

Abel’s offering was acceptable because it was offered in faith, something we learn from a verse in the New Testament:

By faith Abel offered God a better sacrifice than Cain did. (Hebrews 11:4)

The death of Jesus is described in the same kind of language as the sacrifices of the Old Testament. For example, when John the Baptist referred to Jesus as “the Lamb of God,” everybody that heard him understood exactly what he meant. However, we who are living 2,000 on have no relationship to those words. Unless we have even a modicum of knowledge about the Old Testament idea of a life-for-a-life, those words, “the Lamb of God” have little or no power.

1. Atonement in the Old Testament: Concepts and Reality

The sacrifices in the Old Testament and the whole sacrificial system were types – examples – pointing God’s people to the perfect or ultimate Sacrifice, Jesus Christ. They were to prepare the people of God for the time when Christ would come to completely fulfill the first promise and prophecy of the Bible.

The whole idea of “atonement” and “sacrifice” was in no way an afterthought of God brought on by the Fall of man. In fact, Jesus Christ is described this way in Revelation 13:8–

...the Lamb that was slain from the creation of the world. (Revelation 13:8b)

In other words, God’s plan of sacrifice was ordained in Heaven even before the creation of the material universe. When Jesus is referred to as “the Lamb of God,” God’s people would have immediately been reminded of their Passover Lamb, that was chosen several days before it was killed:

Tell the whole community of Israel that on the tenth day of this month each man is to take a lamb for his family, one for each household. (Exodus 12:3)

Take care of them until the fourteenth day of the month, when all the people of the community of Israel must slaughter them at twilight. (Exodus 12:6)

Jesus Christ, like the Passover Lamb, was chosen before the creation of the world to be offered as the final Sacrifice for man’s sin.

He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake. (1 Peter 1:20)

When we understand this, we understand that Christianity is in no way a “new religion” that began with the coming of Jesus into the world 2,000 years ago but it is in reality a manifestation of God’s eternal plan. All the clues that pointed to Jesus scattered throughout the Old Testament were there to be seen by God’s people for generations.

Beginning with the very first animal sacrifices in Genesis, we see an innocent animal dying so that man’s guilt may be covered. That is the primary purpose of sacrifice: a covering for a guilty conscience. In fact, the word “atonement” means “to cover.”

But did the ancient people get what God was trying to teach them? The answer is obvious: yes, they did. Even though man took a very good and righteous concept, sacrificial worship, and perverted it, the fact that there sprang up religions all over the world that involved the killing of innocent creatures to appease a deity, shows that buried deep in the subconsciousness of all men is an understanding of “atonement.” All men seem to instinctively know that the God who made him has every right to kill him unless an acceptable offering is made. In behind the idolatries of every human religion and cult, is an understanding that there is a great “spirit” or a great god above all other gods who made man, gives and takes life, and demands atonement.

Paul makes it clear that at one time, all people on the earth knew God:

For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. (Romans 1:21)

So just as fallen man still bears the image of God, marred as it may be, and the marks of his divine origin, so even religions, false and otherwise, with their sacrifices, bear some marks of an original Divine revelation from God to man.

2. Atonement in the Old Testament: Efficacy

Where the God-instituted sacrificial systems of the Old Testament (from Adam’s time to Noah’s time and finally to the Mosaic Covenant) effective? Where those who offered the prescribed sacrifices in the proper way pardoned?

The answers to these and other questions surrounding the Old Testament sacrificial system are found in the letter to the Hebrews in the New Testament. This letter was written to Hebrew Christians who were depressed and discouraged and tempted to return to their former religion, Judaism. In doing so, they would go back to the Temple and it’s animal sacrifices. The author of that letter did his best to persuade them to remain faithful, for to return to the Temple and it’s priests and animal sacrifices would be to exchange the reality for the shadow. The overall argument of Hebrews is that the Old Covenant was good as far as it went, but the New Covenant is better in every way.

The Old Testament sacrifices were good because that whole system proceeded from the heart and mind of God. They were good because they fulfilled a plan that originated in Heaven as part of God’s plan of redemption: they were a means of grace.

He shall burn all the fat on the altar as he burned the fat of the fellowship offering. In this way the priest will make atonement for the man’s sin, and he will be forgiven. (Leviticus 4:26)

As faithful Israelites participated in the various sacrifices, they were conscious of two things. First, repentance was not enough; it had to be accompanied by an outward act that showed the community of faith that sins where covered.

In fact, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness. (Hebrews 9:22)

If an Israelite claimed to have been forgiven, there had to be proof; one of his animals had to have been sacrificed.

Secondly, that outward act of sacrifice had to be accompanied by inward expressions of sacrifices; things like praise to God, and an attitude of humble thankfulness.

You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it;you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. (Psalms 51:16-17)

This was something that Solomon completely understood:

The Lord detests the sacrifice of the wicked, but the prayer of the upright pleases him. (Proverbs 15:8)

The Bible makes it plain that merely “going through the motions” in terms of offering the prescribed sacrifices were not at all acceptable to God.

However, Jesus Christ’s One sacrifice in the New Testament is better in every way. Faithful, thinking Israelites realized that their present means of sacrifice was not perfect. How could the blood of a mere animal compensate for the sins of a man, created in the image of God? Obviously, the offering had absolutely nothing in common in any way with the offerer and the shed blood of that animal had no power to do anything for anybody.

But those sacrifices are an annual reminder of sins, because it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. (Hebrews 10:3-4)

The writer to the Hebrews, a Hebrew himself, understood that at best those animal sacrifices demanded by the Lord were a very temporary means of atoning for sin only until the perfect Sacrifice would come. The sacrifice of animals only covered the outward acts of sin but were of no spiritual value.

…the gifts and sacrifices being offered were not able to clear the conscience of the worshiper. They are only a matter of food and drink and various ceremonial washings–external regulations applying until the time of the new order. (Hebrews 9:9b, 10)

The very fact that these sacrifices had to be repeated over and over and over proved that they were far from perfect.

The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming–not the realities themselves. For this reason it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship. If it could, would they not have stopped being offered? For the worshipers would have been cleansed once for all, and would no longer have felt guilty for their sins. (Hebrews 10:1-2)

Thinking, faithful, and enlightened Israelites knew something better was coming their way. The prophet Jeremiah was one who knew the truth. He knew:

(a)  The people could never keep the Law because their sins were so deeply etched into their inner-most being :

Judah’s sin is engraved with an iron tool, inscribed with a flint point, on the tablets of their hearts and on the horns of their altars.” (Jeremiah 17:1)

(b)  Their hearts were desperately wicked and deceitful:

The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure.Who can understand it? (Jeremiah 17:9)

(c)  That nobody was capable of changing their hearts any more than they were of changing their skin color:

Can the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard its spots? Neither can you do good who are accustomed to doing evil. (Jeremiah 13:23)

(d)  His people had long passed the point where sacrifices did any good:

What do I care about incense from Sheba or sweet calamus from a distant land? Your burnt offerings are not acceptable;your sacrifices do not please me.” (Jeremiah 6:20)

3. Atonement in the Old Testament: Some were justified

The Bible teaches that in spite of the limitations of the Old Testament sacrificial system, people were indeed saved before the atoning work of Christ. Abraham was said to have been justified by faith (Romans 4:23). Moses was glorified (Luke 9:30, 31) and Enoch and Elijah were translated. Many, many people who lived and died before the New Testament era were godly and true believers. How could they have been saved before Christ did His work on the Cross?

They were saved in anticipation of, and looking forward in faith to, the future perfect Sacrifice just as we, today, are saved in consideration of, and in looking back to, Christ’s past Sacrifice. Christ’s once-for-all Sacrifice was so powerful, it reached back in time and and reaches forward in time to save all those who, by faith, trust in His atoning work on their behalf.

Naturally, those true believers in the Old Testament did not enjoy the blessings of salvation afforded believers today. We enjoy the abiding presence of God through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, they did not. They did not enjoy the fullness of the gifts of the Spirit and they certainly did not have the completed revelation of God at their fingertips! Believers are so blessed today, and yet we fall into the exact same sinful and destructive thought patterns and behaviors the Israelites of the past did.

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THE TRANSCENDENCY OF GOD

The Cat’s Eye Nebula lies three thousand light-years from Earth. One of the most famous planetary nebulae, NGC 6543 is over half a light-year across and represents a final, brief yet glorious phase in the life of a sun-like star

We have already discussed the “essence” or “substance” of God. God may be a Spirit, but that doesn’t mean He has no substance. Just because we can’t see Him doesn’t mean He has no essence. God has substance, He is a Person, and He has a personality, just as all living beings do. But God’s essence is not the same as ours. Even though He interacts with us and the rest of His creation, He dwells in another place; a realm different than ours yet existing alongside ours. From time to time in the history of the world, God has “crossed over” and inserted Himself in the history of the material universe, occasionally intervening in the affairs of man. God has condescended to relate to man in ways that man can understand and relate to.

In addition to essence, God possess certain attributes. God’s attributes are objective, arising out of His essence. That is, God is who He is, not what man perceives Him to be. God has attributes whether man sees them or not; whether man understands them or not.

There are two broad types of attributes that any living person may possess: “non-moral” and “moral” or God’s transcendent attributes and God’s immanent attributes. God’s non-moral or transcendent attributes would include things that are part of His nature; things like His omniscience, omnipotence, and so on. God’s moral attributes or His immanent attributes would include things like His righteousness and love.

We will begin with God’s transcendent, non-moral attributes.

1. God is omniscient

God’s omniscience means that God knows Himself and He knows all other things. Literally, God knows “all things.” Technically, it means that God knows all things, actual and possible; past, present, and future, and He knows all these from all eternity. God knows all things immediately and perfectly, simultaneously and exhaustively.

God is the source of all wisdom, Job 28:20—24

Where then does wisdom come from? Where does understanding dwell? It is hidden from the eyes of every living thing, concealed even from the birds in the sky. Destruction and Death say, “Only a rumor of it has reached our ears.” God understands the way to it and he alone knows where it dwells, for he views the ends of the earth and sees everything under the heavens.

Job 28 is a watershed chapter, for in it some profound things are revealed to us about the storehouse of God’s wisdom. Job, even with his limited, finite mind, understood the true nature of wisdom. Because God is the creator of all things, God knows all things. Even though nature itself seems so profound and beyond understanding, God created it, therefore He understands it. Science reveals but a fraction of nature’s complexities to man. God knows all there is to know about the world man lives in.

God not only has a complete and perfect grasp of nature and the material world, He holds it all together!

The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. (Hebrews 1:3a)

God’s exhaustive knowledge of man, Psalm 139:1—6

Jeremiah correctly observed something very profound about man:

The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it? (Jeremiah 17:9)

Know thyself” is a Greek saying of unknown origin, but it’s an impossible task! Man cannot fully “know himself” because, as Jeremiah said, man’s heart—his inner self—cannot be trusted to be truthful. Charnock wrote:

God knows Himself, wherein He excels all creatures. No man doth exactly know himself, much less doth he understand the full nature of a spirit; much less still the nature and perfection of God.

For centuries science and medicine have sought to unlock the mysteries of the human mind and the working of our emotions. But the inner man remains a mystery.

You have searched me, Lord, and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue you, Lord, know it completely. You hem me in behind and before, and you lay your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain. (Psalm 139:1—6)

David, the poet of the soul, tried to understand himself; his thoughts and motives, but in the end concluded that only God could fully understand his inner man. God, David concluded, sees all and knows all, therefore only God can fully know the inner man.

Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting. (verses 23, 24)

The mystery of God’s mind, Romans 11:33

Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out!

If a man could live a thousand years, devoting himself to the study and understanding of the workings of God’s mind, his pursuit would be in vain. How can any mortal comprehend a God whose knowledge is so perfect and so complete that—

even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. (Matthew 10:30)

The apostle Paul in Romans 8—11 considered God’s redemptive plan for mankind and he ended up simply marveling at God’s mind. Paul had been given the slightest glimpse into the inner workings of God’s mind and His thoughts and concluded that “his paths are beyond tracing out.” Even if God would tell us everything we wanted Him to, this is simply no way we could grasp what His words!

No doubt God wants man to learn all he can about Him, but in the end, our finite minds cannot grasp God’s infinite mind. However, what remains a mystery to us, is not a mystery to God. God knows Himself and He knows us perfectly.

Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. (1 Corinthians 13:12)

2. God is omnipotent

God is omnipotent, meaning “all powerful.” But this particular attribute of God means even more than that. It means that God is free and able to do whatever He wills. This may sound frightening, but it shouldn’t. Since God’s will is limited by His nature, then He will only do that which is in complete harmony with that nature.

There are some things God cannot do:

  • He cannot look at sin;
  • He cannot deny Himself – …if we are faithless, he will remain faithful, for he cannot disown himself. (2 Timothy 2:13);
  • He cannot lie – ...it is impossible for God to lie… (Hebrews 6:18);
  • He cannot sin – ...God cannot be tempted by evil… (James 1:13)

Furthermore, God cannot do absurd things or anything that would go against His nature. God would not make a square circle or a rock too heavy to lift because God is not ridiculous nor would He do ridiculous things.

God’s power demonstrated in creation, Genesis 1:1, 2

The creation of the material universe and the immaterial universe are the purest manifestations of God’s absolute power. God created all things without using anything else; He literally brought things into existence where nothing existed before. There were no secondary causes in creation.

God’s power demonstrated in the life of Israel, Jeremiah 32:21, 27

When God works providentially in the life of believers, that is a manifestation of God’s ordinate power. From time to time in the life of the material universe, God has inserted Himself and intervened in the affairs of His people, causing things align themselves in such a way as to advance the His will and benefit His people.

You brought your people Israel out of Egypt with signs and wonders, by a mighty hand and an outstretched arm and with great terror. “I am the Lord, the God of all mankind. Is anything too hard for me? (Jeremiah 32:21, 27)

God’s power explained by Paul, Ephesians 3:20

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us…

Paul had been praying that his friends in Ephesus would experience the fullness of God’s presence in their lives. He wraps up his prayer with this profound thought: God’s power is at work in believers as they seek to do His will. In other words, as believers seek to serve the Lord, they become extensions of His power on earth!

Paul was a man intimately familiar with God’s power. It radically changed his life. It miraculously sustained and preserved his life. It supernaturally directed his every step. No wonder the apostle was able to say this:

I can do everything through him who gives me strength. (Philippians 4:13)

3. God is omnipresent

God is everywhere, all the time, at the same time. In relation to man, God is literally all over His creation. This part of God’s transcendency should be obvious. If God is so big, He must be everywhere.

Perhaps the greatest Scriptural witness of this aspect of God’s transcendency is what David wrote in Psalm 139:7 – 12…

Where can I go from your Spirit?Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there;if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn,if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me,your right hand will hold me fast. If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,” even the darkness will not be dark to you;the night will shine like the day,for darkness is as light to you.

With us and beyond us, 2 Chronicles 6:18

But will God really dwell on earth with men? The heavens, even the highest heavens, cannot contain you. How much less this temple I have built!”

King Solomon finally completed the Lord’s temple when he realized this profound truth. God cannot be contained in a room or a building. All around ancient Israel were nations that each their gods. Each nation, and even each people group with these nations, had gods that dwelled with them. These were local gods. But the God of Israel was no local God! He could not be contained to a temple or region. He is the God who is above and over all creation. Yet at the same time, that immense God chooses to dwell within His people. Faber notes:

For God is never so far off, as even to be near. He is within. Our spirit is in the home He holds most dear. To think of Him as by our side is almost as untrue as to remove His shrine beyond those skies of starry blue. So all the while I thought myself homeless, forlorn, and weary, missing my joy, I walked the earth myself God’s sanctuary.

The hapless prophet Jonah discovered the omnipresence of God the hard way. It took his being swallowed by a gigantic fish to acknowledge the fact that God is everywhere, even with him in the belly of a fish!

But Jonah ran away from the Lord and headed for Tarshish. He went down to Joppa, where he found a ship bound for that port. After paying the fare, he went aboard and sailed for Tarshish to flee from the Lord. (Jonah 1:3)

From inside the fish Jonah prayed to the Lord his God. (Jonah 2:1)

From inside the fish Jonah prayed to the Lord his God. And the Lord commanded the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land. (Jonah 2:10)

Believers should take great comfort and hope from this aspect of God’s transcendency. It means that no matter where a believer may find himself, in pleasure or in pain, God is there. When a loved one on the other side of the country is suffering, He is there, too. When tragedy strikes a believer on the other side of the world, God is also there.

But that which comforts the believer should terrify the unbeliever. There is nowhere they can hide from His view or eventually His judgment.

Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account. (Hebrews 4:13)

 

THE ESSENCE OF GOD

The terms “essence” and “substance” mean pretty much the same thing when used of God. The “essence” of God is that which is behind all outward manifestations of God – that is, God’s essence is the reality of God itself, material or immaterial. The “essence” of God refers to the basic aspect of the nature of God. God is not a philosophy or an idea or even the personification of an idea. God is a Person, He has “essence” and “substance.”

1. God is Spirit

“God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.”

God is a substance, but not a material substance. God is a Spirit therefore He is a spiritual substance. As human beings, we are tripartite, that is, a person is a spirit, he has a soul, and lives in a body. When we look at people, we can’t see their immaterial parts – soul and spirit – only their material or physical part – the body. God has no body to observe and this fact enables skeptics and doubters to question God’s reality simply because we can’t observe Him or experience Him in the material realm. The Bible, however, makes plain the existence of another realm that is just as real as our material realm: the realm of the spirit. There is a dimension that exists alongside our dimension and this is the dimension in which God dwells. From Genesis onward we can observe God’s work in our dimension from His. For example, God created man in our dimension but gave him a spirit; we read about angelic (spirit) visitors, audible communications from God to people, and of theophanies, which are physical but limited manifestations of God clearly perceptible by man. From time to time, God breaks through from His realm into ours so that we may observe and experience Him, His presence, and the things of the spirit in a way that is real to us.

False worship

Then the Lord spoke to you out of the fire. You heard the sound of words but saw no form; there was only a voice. (Deuteronomy 4:12)

You saw no form of any kind the day the Lord spoke to you at Horeb out of the fire. Therefore watch yourselves very carefully, so that you do not become corrupt and make for yourselves an idol, an image of any shape, whether formed like a man or a woman… (Deuteronomy 4:15, 16)

God does not have a body like ours or like anything in our material world. The ancient Israelites were surrounded by nations that worshiped idols; gods they made in the image of things they could see with their eyes. God had commanded the Israelites not to make any images that would represent God; images that looked like things in the material world. Sadly, when the faith of the Israelites wavered, the first thing they did was to craft idols to help them worship an invisible God.

Real worship

“God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.” (John 4:24)

The Israelites fashioned idols to represent God. Because their faith was lacking, they needed something to see to help them worship Someone they could not see. “Why” the Israelites made idols is irrelevant because God expressly told them never to do it. God is a spirit, therefore His people must worship Him in spirit and in truth. Using a “worship aid,” like an idol, is not worshiping truthfully, rather it is dishonest worship because while a person may think they are worshiping the invisible God, they are in reality devoting themselves to the idol – the thing representing God.

Because human beings are tripartite beings, they must worship God with all of their being: body, soul, and spirit. Using an idol may get the body to worship but does nothing for the soul and spirit.

Freedom through the spirit

Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom… (2 Corinthians 3:17)

Other translations read like this: “The Lord is that Spirit,” referring to Jesus Christ. When people turn to Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, away from things like the Law of Moses, we experience spiritual freedom. The Israelites under Moses could not experience God personally; they had no freedom of worship. But Christ is not confined to the written word, He is “the” or “that” Spirit which may be worshiped anywhere, any time and His presence is wherever His people may be. Not only that, the Spirit of Christ is what sets people free from the bondage to both sin and the Law.

The divine nature of Christ

The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. (Colossians 1:15)

The Son of God, as the second Person of the Trinity, was pure Spirit prior to His Incarnation. Through the Incarnation, the Son of God was united with human flesh to create the Man Jesus Christ – fully human and fully divine, one Person with two natures, perfectly united. The Father and the Son are equally God and united in purpose, yet two distinct Persons. Jesus Christ came to reveal God to us and to reconcile us to God.

Our invisible, immortal God

…who alone is immortal and who lives in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or can see. To him be honor and might forever. Amen. (1 Timothy 6:16)

On its surface, this verse seems to state the obvious. Immortality is nothing new. Angels are immortal. Demons are immortal. Even human beings are immortal in the sense that the body may die but the spirit lives on forever. However, all these immortal beings have “created immortality.” God is different because His immortality is inherent – its part of His essence. Our immortality is derived from Him.

2. God is a Person

Aristotle wrote about the “Prime Mover,” a force behind what we can see. Thomas Carlyle spoke of the “god-stuff” in religious rituals. Hegel and the other idealistic philosophers represented God as an impersonal spirit. All the smart people were wrong. God is a Spirit and He therefore must have a personality. The very fact that He relates to us must mean He is a Person, even if He is a Person at a level unfathomable by us.

Covenant maker

God said to Moses, “I am who I am. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I am has sent me to you.’ ” God also said to Moses, “Say to the Israelites, ‘The Lord, the God of your fathers—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob—has sent me to you.’” (Exodus 3:14, 15)

Only people can make covenants or contracts with other people. God heard the cries of the Hebrews in Egypt and that moved Him to initiate a covenant with them through His friend Moses. God is a Person in a way that is a mystery to us, but that difference didn’t prevent Him from entering into a covenant with other people.

Deliverer

I am the Lord, and there is no other; apart from me there is no God. I will strengthen you, though you have not acknowledged me, so that from the rising of the sun to the place of its setting people may know there is none besides me. I am the Lord, and there is no other. (Isaiah 45:5, 6)

In this 8th century BC prophecy, God revealed to Isaiah that He would raise up a deliverer who would bring an end to the Babylonian Captivity and restore the Jews to their homeland in the 6th century. It was a very precise prophecy, God named this deliverer – Cyrus.

This passage of Scripture revealed to the Jews that God is both transcendent and immanent. He is transcendent in that He exists outside of our realm. God is not limited in any way by the things that limit us, including time. He alone knows “the beginning from the end,” so it shouldn’t surprise us that God named a man who was to be born 200 years hence! But God is also immanent; He is close to us and He is able to relate to us in our world. Just as He entered into a covenant with Moses, He spoke to Isaiah.

Provider

If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. (Matthew 6:30 – 32)

During His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus stressed the idea that we shouldn’t put our trust in material things; that we shouldn’t worry about things in our material world. God looks after all of His creation, from living animals to inanimate things like flowers. But God, as He relates to human beings, is like a Father. All human fathers look after their children, how much more does God our Father look after us? It is part of God’s nature to care for those He created.

3. God is eternal and unchanging

Eternity in His hands

The idea of the “eternity of God” means that He is infinite in relation to time. That is, He is without beginning and without end. God is completely free from the constraints of time because time is a part of our dimension, not His. That God is eternal is taught throughout the Bible: Genesis 21:33; Psalm 90:2; 102:27; Isaiah 57:15; 1 Timothy 6:18.

God exists by reason of His nature, not His volition. He simply IS. God is, therefore, free from the succession of time. Eternity for God is now. In fact, we read this in 2 Peter 3:8 –

But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day…

However, time does exist to God; He knows what a “day” is. Yet, He sees the past and future as clearly as He sees the present. How is this possible? It is simply because God is the cause of time!

By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible. (Hebrews 11:3)

Unchanging, unchangeable

But the eternal God is also the unchangeable God. In theology we call this “the immutability of God.” Everything we are familiar with in our dimension changes, either for the better or for the worse. But God cannot change for the better because He is already absolutely perfect; He cannot change for the worse for the exact same reason. God is exalted over all things, even the possibility of change. God can never be any wiser, more compassionate, more truthful or more gracious. He is all these things in their totality.

I the Lord do not change. (Malachi 3:6)

God cannot possibly change, therefore when He speaks – when He makes a promise or gives His Word – His words are eternal in their force! That’s why God’s covenant with Israel, for example, is eternal.

Every single attribute of God; every aspect of His character is unchanging. From eternity past to eternity yet to come, nothing about God will change because He cannot change.

Similarly, Jesus Christ cannot change:

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. (Hebrews 13:8)

What applies to God the Father must also apply to God the Son. Therefore, there is no expiration date on any of the benefits we have received through Jesus Christ. Forgiveness of sins never stops; victory over sin never ends, and our salvation never needs to be re-upped!

God is completely reliable

“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.”

Because God doesn’t change, He doesn’t change His mind, even though it may appear like He does to us. He can be counted on to do all things He said He would do, the way He said He would do them. He will not – He cannot – treat us differently than He has promised. Therefore, no matter what, He cannot love us less. He cannot help us more. He cannot disregard any of the promises He has made to His children. God already knows the end from the beginning. All this may be mysterious to us, but there are no mysteries to God. Nothing is hidden from Him, nothing is unknown to Him, and nothing takes Him by surprise.

When we consider these things about God – the fact that He is a Spirit, and a Person, that He is eternal and immutable – we should worship and exalt Him. Understanding these points of theology is not an intellectual exercise! The more we learn about God, the greater our wonder of Him grows. How can we not humbly bow down and worship a God who is so great?

Almighty God,
The Great I AM,
Immoveable Rock,
Omnipotent, powerful,
Awesome Lord,
Victorious Warrior,
Commanding Kings of Kings,
Mighty Conqueror.
And the only time,
The only time I ever saw Him run,
Was when He ran to me,
Took me in His arms, held my head to His chest,
And said, “My son’s come home again.”
He lifted my face, wiped the tears from my eyes,
And said, “Son, do you know I still love you?”
He caught me by surprise,
When God ran.

God always catches us by surprise!


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