The Attributes of God (Part Nineteen)

What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory—even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles? (Romans 9:22-24 ESV).

God is patient. “Far less has been written upon this than the other excellencies of the Divine character. Not a few of those who have expatiated at length upon the Divine attributes have passed over the patience of God without any comment. It is not easy to suggest a reason for this, for surely the longsuffering of God is as much one of the Divine perfections as His wisdom, power, or holiness, and as much to be admired and revered by us. True, the actual term will not be found in a concordance so frequently as the others, but the glory of this grace itself shines forth on almost every page of Scripture. Certain it is that we lose much if we do not frequently meditate upon the patience of God and earnestly pray that our hearts and ways may be more completely conformed thereto” (Pink, The Attributes of God, p. 70).

What is God’s patience, or as we could also call this attribute, his longsuffering or forbearance? Stephen Charnock answered this way. “It is a part of the Divine goodness and mercy, yet differs from both. God being the greatest goodness, hath the greatest mildness; mildness is always the companion of true goodness, and the greater the goodness, the greater the mildness. Who so holy as Christ, and who so meek? God’s slowness to anger is a branch of His mercy: ‘the Lord is full of compassion, slow to anger’ (Psalm 145:8). It differs from mercy in the formal consideration of the subject: mercy respects the creature as miserable, patience respects the creature as criminal; mercy pities him in his misery, patience bears with the sin which engendered the misery, and giving birth to more” (Charnock, The Existence and Attributes of God, Vol. 2, pp. 478-479). With this in mind, we should understand that God’s patience involves a sort of meeting point of God’s holiness and his love. A number of times God reveals himself as slow to anger (Nahum 1:3), and often this characteristic is linked with his compassion, love and grace (Exodus 34:6-7; Numbers 14:18; Nehemiah 9:17; Psalm 103:8).

God’s patience is very great; for example, the apostle speaks of the riches of his patience (Romans 2:4). As the psalmist teaches, God is patient with his people continually, as the Holy One interacts with sinful people (Psalm 78:32-39). Patience shows God’s self-control in the face of provocation that is not only high-handed in the case of the wicked, but which comes from less than totally committed people who speak of our love for him. In human relationships we know the pain that comes when one party is less than faithful. Though we cannot frustrate the God, as we would be frustrated, because God is self-satisfied; nevertheless that does not excuse our lack of faithful love and trying God’s patience (Isaiah 7:13).

The patience of God is an integral part of God’s plan. Having decided to make known to his chosen people the riches of his mercy, it was necessary for the Lord to act with patience toward those he passed by (Romans 9:22-24), in order that he could call us out from that people. Clearly, if God had judged our pagan ancestors immediately, they would not have existed to be part of the line of human reproduction leading to us. For this reason, God acted with patience in the days of Noah (1 Peter 3:20), and afterward, letting the nations go their own way, while still providing for them (Acts 14:16-17; 17:30). God was patient with Israel after the Exodus, enduring their conduct in the wilderness (Jeremiah 11:7; Acts 13:18), in order that Christ might eventually come from Israel (Romans 9:5). And even more directly, God’s patience is directly active in preserving our lives prior to our regeneration and conversion, in order that we might come to salvation (2 Peter 3:9, 15). God’s patience is also evident in his forbearing to punish those who lived before Christ’s sacrifice. He forgave them and justified them through what Christ would do on the cross, and so in his forbearance he left their sins unpunished until Calvary (Romans 3:25-26).

When God is patient, it is an omniscient patience. He sees our sin and abhors it, yet he wills to look on us with pity. God’s patience does not come from his weakness, but from his strength. He has the ability to judge at any time, but chooses to restrain his anger to make known his grace.

God expects us to imitate his patience by being patient and forbearing (Colossians 3:12-13) in our interaction with other people. And we are to be patient in the face of suffering (James 5:7-11). We require patience to finish the course God has marked out for us (2 Timothy 4:7). In fact, patience is a key quality of true love (1 Corinthians 13:4).

Grace and peace, David

The Attributes of God (Part Eighteen)

For the Lord your God is a merciful God; he will not abandon or destroy you or forget the covenant with your ancestors, which he confirmed to them by oath (Deuteronomy 4:31 NIV).

God is merciful. The living God is merciful (Deuteronomy 4:31; Daniel 9:9). But how is God’s mercy to be distinguished from God’s grace? Both are closely related, springing from God’s love and goodness, so we should not draw sharp distinctions between mercy and grace. For example, the repentant sinner is encouraged to return to God and receive a free pardon because God will have mercy. Let the wicked forsake their ways and the unrighteous their thoughts. Let them turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on them, and to our God, for he will freely pardon (Isaiah 55:7 NIV), and God’s forgiveness of his old covenant people is traced to his mercy (Psalm 78:3). Perhaps we can safely say this. Grace is God’s attitude and action toward sinners as undeserving, while mercy is his attitude and action toward sinners in misery. We give great honor to those who endure under suffering. For instance, you know about Job, a man of great endurance. You can see how the Lord was kind to him at the end, for the Lord is full of tenderness and mercy (James 5:11). In the instance of Job, his suffering did not come from his sin, yet he needed God’s mercy.

“It is the great design of the Scripture to represent God as merciful. This is a loadstone [magnet] to draw sinners to him… God is represented as a king, with a rainbow about his throne (Revelation 4:3). The rainbow was an emblem of mercy. The Scripture represents God in white robes of mercy more often than with garments rolled in blood; with his golden scepter more often than his iron rod” (Watson, A Body of Divinity, p. 93).

Here are characteristics of God’s mercy:

  • Like God’s love and grace, his mercy is sovereign and free. God extends mercy to people in misery because he chooses to do so (Exodus 33:19). God’s mercy causes him to extend mercy because he is “a gracious and merciful God” (Nehemiah 9:31).
  • God’s mercy is the source of his redeeming activity, both regarding the old covenant nation (Isaiah 63:9), and the spiritual redemption of God’s chosen ones (Romans 9:15-16). From his mercy comes our rebirth into a living hope. Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Because of his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead (1 Peter 1:3).
  • God delights in extending his mercy to sinners in their misery (Micah 7:18). Being rich in mercy (Ephesians 2:4), he has drawn up a plan of showing mercy to all—to both Jews and Gentiles (Romans 11:30-32).
  • God’s mercy involves powerful action on God’s part. He is able to relieve the suffering (Philippians 2:27) and to give us actual help in our time of need (Hebrews 4:16), as we see many times in the earthly ministry of our Lord (Matthew 17:15; Luke 17:13; 18:38-39).

“One act of mercy engages God to another. Men argue thus, I have shown you kindness already, therefore trouble me no more; but, because God has shown mercy, he is more ready still to show mercy; his mercy in election makes him justify, adopt, glorify; one act of mercy engages God to more. A parent’s love to his child makes him always giving” (Watson, p. 94).

How should we respond to God’s mercy? Since we have been born again because of his mercy, God expects us to exhibit his quality of mercy to others. But love your enemies, do what is good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High. For he is gracious to the ungrateful and evil. Be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful (Luke 6:35-36 CSB; cf. Matthew 5:7; 18:33; Jude 1:22) with an attitude corresponding to God’s delight in mercy (Romans 12:8). God wants us to develop endurance in (2 Corinthians 4:1) and explanation of (1 Timothy 1:12-16) ministry that comes from recognizing that we are recipients of mercy. We are to face the future confidently expecting mercy from God (Jude 1:21). “Go to God for mercy. ‘Have mercy upon me, O God!’ (Psalm 51:1)… Give me not only mercy to feed and clothe me, but mercy to save me; give me the cream of thy mercies; Lord! Let me have mercy and lovingkindness… Though God may refuse us when we come for mercy in our own name, yet he will not when we come in Christ’s name. Plead Christ’s satisfaction, and this is an argument that God cannot deny” (Watson, p. 98).

Grace and peace, David

The Attributes of God (Part Seventeen)

And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness” (Exodus 34:6 NIV).

God is gracious.

Like other words, the word “grace” is used in various ways. All words depend on the context in which they are used to establish their exact meaning. As we study the Scriptures, we find that “grace” is used in three general ways.

  • Grace is the favor God shows or extends to people (Jonah 4:2). In regard to sinners, this favor is always unmerited or undeserved or without cause in the sinner. In the same way, then, there is also at the present time a remnant chosen by grace. Now if by grace, then it is not by works; otherwise grace ceases to be grace (Romans 11:5-6 CSB).
  • Grace is the power of God acting to change a situation or person. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is perfected in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9a CSB).
  • Grace is the response of thankfulness that induces worship and service to God. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; in all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts unto God (Colossians 3:16 ASV).

The Bible teaches us that God is gracious in his nature—that he has the attitude of showing favor and the power that flows out of that attitude to change situations and people (Exodus 34:6; Nehemiah 9:17,31; 111:4; 116:5).

We should know these four important characteristics of God’s grace:

  • God’s grace is eternal. Since it is an essential part of his eternal plan, we must not think that is some sort of “Plan B”. Some teachings give the wrong impression that God first planned to deal with mankind on the basis of works, but when Adam disobeyed, God had to shift to other plan to have fellowship with the now fallen humanity. However, God teaches us that his plan of grace included us in Christ before the beginning of time (2 Timothy 1:9).
  • God’s grace is free, which means that it is without cause in the recipients of grace (Romans 3:24; Ephesians 1:6). From this comes salvation by grace and not by works (Ephesians 2:5,8-9). No person will ever be able to claim that he or she deserved to be saved or somehow earned salvation. In fact, even repentance (Acts 5:31; 11:18) and faith (Acts 18:27; Philippians 1:29) are gifts from God. In this way God receives all the praise for salvation.
  • God’s grace is sovereign; that is, he extends grace to sinners who deserve his wrath as he decides (2 Thessalonians 2:16; Titus 2:11). Since we all deserved wrath because we have rejected God as our God, no one has anything to complain. What ought to surprise us is that the Lord chooses to show grace to anyone!
  • God’s grace is given in the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God (Romans 5:15, 17, 21). No one can expect to find grace apart from Christ. Throughout all eternity, God’s chosen people will enjoy God’s kindness in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 2:7).

How should we respond to God’s grace?

First, our hearts should overflow with gratitude toward God and worship him for his grace (Psalm 86:15). Thankfulness for grace received should form an essential part of the way that we relate to God (2 Corinthians 9:15; Ephesians 1:3). We ought to thank God for his grace to others (Romans 6:17; 1 Corinthians 1:4; Colossians 1:3-4), the blessings we enjoy through those who have also received grace (1 Thessalonians 3:9), and his action in our lives (2 Corinthians 2:14). Second, we should pray that God’s grace would be extended to others (Romans 1:7; Galatians 1:3; etc.). Third, graciousness should be part of our conduct (Colossians 4:6). Fourth, we should live in the expectation of grace from God (Hebrews 4:16) and keep ourselves in the way of grace (Hebrews 13:9).

Grace and peace, David

How and What We Tell Others (Part Three)

2 Corinthians 4:5-6

For we are not proclaiming ourselves but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’s sake. For God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of God’s glory in the face of Jesus Christ (CSB).

The Reformers proclaimed the message of the Scriptures, the good news about salvation in Christ. We must also tell people this good news. The glory of the gospel is known in Jesus Christ as Lord (4:5-6).

The message preached transforms the way a person looks at life. Too many assume that setting forth a moral code is the way to change people. “Make a law and enforce it,” they sternly say. Now if that were true, we would not have any of the destruction caused by drug and alcohol abuse in this country. Nor would there be any sexual or domestic abuse. No my friend, unless you preach the Lord Jesus Christ, you are left with an empty, powerless moralism.

We must seek an acknowledgement that Jesus Christ is Lord. Here is the essence of Christian belief. If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved ( Romans 10:9-10 NIV ; cf. 1 Corinthians 12:3; Philippians 2:6-11). The crucified Christ has been exalted through his resurrection as Lord over all. God’s rule and salvation come through him. He is Lord; that is, Yahweh, and everyone is under his authority.

The message preached is made effective by God. Remember God’s action in the old creation. He said, “Light will shine” (Gen 1:3-4). God commanded and light suddenly appeared throughout the universe he created. And he made the light before he made the sun and the other stars. This is awesome power; it is might that is able to change the basic circumstances of all that is!

Now connect that with God’s action in the new creation. The same all-powerful, living God is responsible for spiritual light (cf. Acts 26:18; Ephesians 5:8; Colossians 1:12-13; 1 Thessalonians 5:4-5; 1 Peter 2:9). When God turns us to him, he floods our darkened hearts with his light. Then we can see! What do we see? We see his glory in the face of Jesus Christ! Our conversion is Christ-focused.

Has this happened to you? Do you understand that God is known through the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ? Or are you still trying to light little candles for yourself by human philosophy, sociology, psychology, religion or spirituality? Your only hope is found outside of your resources and in the power of the true and living God. I have good news for you today. Whoever calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. If you know that Jesus Christ is Lord, go and tell others.

Grace and peace, David

How and What We Tell Others (Part Two)

But if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. In their case, the god of this age has blinded the minds of the unbelievers to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God (CSB).

The Reformation is now five hundred years old, but we are thinking about its continuing significance in our time. We can only live in the time in which the Sovereign God has placed us. For us today, that means in the twenty-first century. Yet, we still face the continuing problems of humanity intent on suppressing the knowledge of God in the face of Christ.

The glory of the gospel is hidden to minds blinded by Satan (4:3-4). Although the glory of God is clearly revealed in this new covenant age, many do not see this glory. Why? At this point in our time, many are very eager to blame the church. “If the church were ________, then people would come.” And so they run off on a wild hunt to find something to attract the young, the hip, the influential, the wealthy, or the whatever. Paul avoids such traps and points his readers to the real reason. The problem is not in the message, but it is in the people apart from Jesus Christ.

Those who fail to see this glory are perishing. This fact should gain our attention! They are in the process of perishing right now. Ruin has seized them, and they are in danger of eternal destruction. We ought to understand the nature of their problem. It seems the longer that you walk with the Lord; it can be easy to forget how you used to think. What do the perishing see when they hear the gospel? They hear a message that is contrary to their world and life view. As Paul earlier wrote, to the Greeks the gospel is foolishness and to the Jews it is a stumbling-block (1 Corinthians 1:22-23). The gospel offends everyone who desperately wants a message that says, “you are not that bad, you can help solve your problems, and you only need to know and follow a series of steps in our program.”

Those who fail to see this glory have their minds blinded. The agent of this blinding is Satan, who is here called the god of this age (cf. John 12:31).  The term “this age” in the New Testament Scriptures refers to the present course of evil, so “god” in this context does not refer to the true God. The true God is the King of the ages (1 Timothy 1:17). Though under the ultimate rule of the living God, Satan can cause all sorts of evil. The evil one can destroy the flesh (1 Corinthians 5:5), masquerade as an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:14), snatch away the gospel message (Mark 4:15), empower his servants to work miraculous signs (2 Thessalonians 2:9), give thorns in the flesh (2 Corinthians 12:7), tempt (1 Corinthians 7:5), scheme (2 Corinthians 2:11; Ephesians 6:11), trap (2 Timothy 2:26), and oppose the spread of the gospel (1 Thessalonians 2:18).

The consequence of this blinding is that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. As Rolfe Barnard, a preacher down south of another generation, said, “Satan puts all his eggs in one basket.” This is all he needs to do to keep people from turning to Christ. “Don’t let them see the glory of Christ.” You must understand that Satan does not care if we talk about people’s “needs”, such as having a better family or education or job or community. He is quite happy to let us exchange the gospel of Christ for a message of personal success or politics or morality or improving the family or social justice. But he does not want them to know that Christ is the image of God. Why? Once you see that Christ is the image of God, then you are confronted with the Mighty Creator who rules over all and to whom all people are responsible, yet amazingly this real living God did not use his Godhead for his own advantage but humbled himself, died on the cross to save sinners like you and me, and then rose again, victorious over death, and ascended to heaven to reign over all as Lord forever. To Christ personal success is the cross, politics is the rule of God, morality is transformation into godliness, improving the family is joining God’s family, and social justice is each one denying oneself for the good of others. These things do not sell well to the proud.

When you tell others the good news to people, remember that you speak to people that have been spiritually blinded. Yet there is real hope, because we follow the Messiah, who is able to give sight to the blind. He does this by the Holy Spirit as we proclaim the gospel.

Grace and peace, David

How and What We Tell Others (Part One)

2 Corinthians 4:1-6

Therefore, since we have this ministry because we were shown mercy, we do not give up. Instead, we have renounced secret and shameful things, not acting deceitfully or distorting the word of God, but commending ourselves before God to everyone’s conscience by an open display of the truth (CSB).

I write this post on the five hundredth anniversary of a great work of God in salvation that began about 1517 and spread across Europe and eventually to its pioneer villages in North America. It is called the Reformation, and it should remind us that God can do unexpected and remarkable things through people and events that seem most unlikely.

My concern in this post is not to talk about that time, but about God’s message in our time, the twenty-first century. The same God still works through the same good news that changed all history in the first century and the sixteenth century. All around the world in our century, the Lord is saving people. In this text, we hear one of Christ’s first spokesmen, a man called Paul, talk about what and how new covenant ministers preach and what God is able to do through that message. Let’s think about what is written for our benefit.

The glory of a gospel or new covenant ministry prompts perseverance and openness (4:1-2). Those who tell others the good news of Jesus Christ must face temptations to disabling discouragement. If anyone had an opportunity to give up, it was Paul (cf. 2 Corinthians 6:4-10; 11:23-29). However, Paul did not give in to discouragement. He explains this to his readers. The word “lose heart” can be translated “not despair”. It carries the idea of behaving badly by getting into such a condition. Despair is the spirit of our age, and people try desperately to escape it by pleasure of some sort. But gradually there is no pleasure that can overcome the damp, freezing chill of hopelessness. The Christian is to have no part with this attitude.

Believers in Christ have sufficient resources to overcome this temptation. The apostle mentions two: the character of new covenant ministry, which is surpassing, enduring, and transforming glory, and the mercy of God. You see, if we would not give up, we must remember what God is doing. He has placed us in a ministry that leads to glory. God’s eternal mercy is for us (cf. Psalm 23:6). Whatever happens, we must view our situation through gospel eyes. “Everything is going to be all right” when we are in forever-glory with the Lord Christ.

Those who tell others the good news must serve according to gospel principles. This influences our mode of ministry in three ways.

  • We renounce secret and shameful ways. The gospel has no room for ways that are underhanded and disgraceful, because the gospel’s very character is openness.
  • We do not use deception nor distort God’s word. Our walk (“use”) or way of life is not unscrupulous, cunning, or sly. We do not stoop to anything to accomplish our goals. Nor do we distort God’s Word. The great cry of our age is “tell people what they want to hear.” Christ’s faithful people will not do that. As unpleasant as it may be for speaker or listener, we must tell people what the Lord has said.
  • We set forth the truth to every conscience. The conscience refers to that faculty of the inner person that recognizes right and wrong moral norms and either accuses or excuses the person because of that norm. Certainly, a person can have wrong moral norms; such as supposing that it is all right to have sexual intercourse outside of marriage or assuming that “the one with the most toys wins”. But that is precisely the reason Paul aimed the truth at the conscience. It takes the truth that is in Jesus to produce godly norms in a human conscience.

The point is that the Reformation, like other awakenings and revival, points to the transformation of all, including those who tell others the good news of salvation by grace. We can thank God that the Reformers told people the true way to be right with God. Sadly, sometimes they did not tell the truth in a loving manner. Let us learn from them and tell the truth, but may we speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15 NIV).

Grace and peace, David

Thoughts on the Reformation (Part Two)

For you are saved by grace through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift—not from works, so that no one can boast (Ephesians 2:8-9 CSB).

Grace is one of the most joyful words of true Christianity. The truth of grace can set troubled hearts and weary minds free to sing and praise and laugh. When we understand the grace of the Holy God to sinners deserving of eternal wrath, we may indeed rejoice with an inexpressible and glorious joy (1 Peter 1:8).  God used his grace to restore joy to the church that was trapped in joyless performance of working for salvation.

I immediately here objectors saying, “Ah, you are wrong; the medieval church believed in grace. So, how can this emphasis on grace be a hallmark of Reformation Theology?” This is a good question, that I’ll answer in two ways.

First, the medieval church had become a religion. One of the characteristics of the religions of the nations is a system of works that provides certain rights and blessings from the god that is worshiped. The medieval church might have mentioned grace in its ritualistic services, but if the meaning of grace is not taught and understood, everything quickly degenerates to the performance of works required by the church. Though grace (unmerited favor for those who deserve wrath) is talked about, what people hear is “do good works, do good works, do good works, and then… maybe… God will be merciful to you.” It is no secret that the Reformation started among people that were long accustomed to performing works of penance for their sins and to pursuing indulgences by taking pilgrimages to shrines or by simply paying cold coins. People did not know the joyful truth that God freely forgives sins, because of the finished, saving work of Jesus Christ.

Second, grace had become a spiritual quantity that was dispensed by the church through her sacramental system. Their concept was that Jesus, Mary, and the saints had earned grace from God, and the church was able to give her faithful followers this grace when the faithful partook of the sacraments. Only after the Reformation were the sacraments officially codified as seven. But the way to receive grace was to go to church’s bishops and priests and participate in the required rituals. This is clearly the performance of good works.

The good news of our text from Ephesians is that we are saved by grace (we’ll talk about through faith in another post) and that all is God’s gift—not from works. God does not save (rescue from sin and its consequences) anyone by good works. Salvation is a gift from the overflowing love of God through Jesus Christ. We’ve earned death by our sins, but God delights to forgive sins and to give eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 6:23).

This good news that people rediscovered from reading the Bible remains good news today. Through grace alone still tells us that God himself acts to save people who have rejected him, have refused to love him, and have rebelled against him, his truth, and his ways. It proclaims that God saves sinners. Has God saved you by his grace?

Grace and peace, David

Thoughts on the Reformation (Part One)

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16 NIV).

The Reformation (1517-1648) was one of the great awakenings (like Pentecost and the First Great Awakening) in the spread of Christ’s kingdom on the earth. Centered in Northern Europe and Great Britain, the power of the Spirit of God and God’s word brought about a very strong witness to the good news of Christ and salvation. Many were born again from above, and a new way of life began in the regions it touched. It showed the value of human life in the here and now, and multitudes lived for the glory of God, including in the 1600s, North America. Like any matter in which people are involved, the Reformation was far from perfect, but that should not prevent us from rejoicing in the salvation of people and much good that resulted through people who had been brought from darkness into God’s marvelous light. Let us avoid the destructive trap of smashing good things because of a few flaws we perceive. It is right to point out errors, so that we can walk more precisely in the truth. But it is very wrong to reject God’s work because of the remaining sin among his people.

The Bible tells us that God sent his Son, Jesus Christ, at his appointed time: But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son (Galatians 4:4 NIV). The Reformation also came in this way. The sovereign God prepared the times and the seasons for the quick spread of the good news through people chosen by him. Among the many preparations were the rediscovery of ancient languages (to rightly understand the Bible in its original languages) and the printing press (which enabled the inexpensive publication of the Bible and messages based on the Bible). God used many men to translate his word into the languages of people, so that men and women could hear, read, and meditate on his message to them.

This was an important development, because prior to this the corrupt medieval church had strictly controlled access to the Bible, and its leaders had told people that they could only know truth through the church. This meant that the church told people that the way of salvation was through its sacramental system. However, when people could read the Bible, they discovered that people are saved by grace through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. When any sinner trusts in the Lord Jesus, he or she is declared right with God. With this in mind, we can appreciate why the first point of Reformation theology is “according to the Scriptures alone”.

In religion, we often see a divided authority. The usual scheme is a holy book, an accumulation of traditions and/or folk practices, and a group of “holy people” that interprets the holy book and the traditions for the adherents of the religion. In practice, this means that the “holy people” are the final authority. This is what happened in the medieval church. It had morphed into a religion that the bishops and priests controlled to keep people paying money in the sacramental system. As long as they controlled the authority structure, they controlled the people. As the Reformers studied the Scriptures, they came to realize that the Bible itself was the written word of God and therefore, our final authority for what we believe and our way of life. The Bible, not the church, declared the way of salvation. Anyone reading the written word of God in a normal manner can clearly understand how to know God and to be right with him, and how to please him.

This first point of Reformation has ongoing value. We do not have to rely on church traditions or her leaders. God wants us to listen to him directly. The practical questions are do we accept the final authority of God’s written word and do we read it carefully, so that we know what God has revealed to us?

Grace and peace, David

The Attributes of God (Part Fifteen)

The one who does not love does not know God, because God is love (1 John 4:8 CSB).

To be loved by the Almighty God, the Creator and Sustainer of all things, is truly awesome. For this reason, we ought to know as much about it as possible. Next, let’s consider the characteristics of God’s love.

  • God’s love is uninfluenced or uncaused by motives apart from God himself. God’s love is spontaneous, flowing out from his loving nature. God traces his love for his creatures, not to their goodness, but to his (Deuteronomy 7:7-8). Anything that he does proceeds from his purpose and grace (2 Timothy 1:9). The expression of God’s love toward his people came from his decision to make the riches of his glory known to them (Romans 9:23-24). In fact, our love for God comes from his love for us (1 John 4:19).
  • God’s love is eternal. God did not develop love when he created. No, God has always enjoyed love within the Persons of the Trinity (John 17:24). But what is even more amazing is that God from eternity set his love upon his people (Jeremiah 31:3) and predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ (Ephesians 1:4-6).
  • God’s love is infinite. It is not measured by our puny ability to calculate or imagine its true glory. Instead, it is as great as God himself (Ephesians 3:18-19). It is a love of such power that it can overcome the greatest obstacles (Ephesians 2:4-5) and move God to give the greatest gift, his one and only Son (John 3:16).
  • God’s love is immutable (Romans 8:35-39). As it springs forth from eternity, so nothing can stop God’s love. It keeps a strong hold on all those on whom God sets his heart (John 10:27-29). This ought to produce great confidence in Christ’s followers, even during the darkest hours and in the face of the worst evil. At all times, we are “brothers loved by God” (1 Thessalonians 1:4). Since God’s love comes from his loving nature, it cannot be changed by our failure to love or trust or obey God.
  • God’s love is sovereign. We have yet to consider God’s sovereignty, but we must know that God loves whom he will. He is under no obligation to love any. All that any human deserves is justice. If we receive mercy instead of condemnation, it is not something that we can control or force God to extend. It is completely a gift of free grace, proceeding from God’s good pleasure (Luke 10:21). A clear example of this is God’s declaration about Jacob and Esau (Romans 9:10-13). “There was no more reason in Jacob why he should be the object of Divine love, than there was in Esau. They both had the same parents, and were born at the same time, being twins; yet God loved the one and hated the other! Why? Because it pleased Him to do so” (Pink, The Attributes of God, p. 93] “God set his love upon Jacob purely as an act of his sovereign will… To most people this is an unpopular teaching, but it is the only way things can be if God is truly to be God. Assume the opposite: God’s love is regulated by something other than his sovereignty. In that case God would be regulated by this other thing (whatever it is) and would thus be brought under its power. That is impossible if he is still to be God. In Scripture no cause for God’s love other than his electing is ever given” (Boice, God the Redeemer, p. 217]

Someone once thought about John 3:16 and the greatness of God’s love and wrote about “Christ—the Greatest Gift”. I have modified a few words to present the idea more accurately.

God: the greatest Lover
so loved: the greatest degree
the world: the greatest wonder
that he gave: the greatest act
his one and only Son: the greatest gift
that whoever: the greatest offer
believes: the greatest simplicity
in him: the greatest attraction
shall not perish: the greatest promise
but: the greatest difference
have: the greatest certainty
eternal life: the greatest possession

Grace and peace, David

The Attributes of God (Part Fourteen)

The one who does not love does not know God, because God is love (1 John 4:8 CSB).

God has revealed his glory as God in all his attributes. The living God wants us to know the whole truth about who he is, and not merely a part of the truth. When we think of the truth that God is love, we ought to realize that many people tend to misuse this one truth to construct a false idea of the true God. When done in ignorance, this causes people to fail to give God the honor that is due him for all that he is. And it leads people into various theological and practical problems, such as, “If God is love and he loves me, why am I suffering?” When done deliberately, it is actually the worship of a false god created by a person’s sinful imagination. An example of this would be, “Since God is love, he would never condemn a person and send him or her to hell.” Therefore, we need to approach this subject with humility and a teachable spirit.

In our time, professing Christians have only a surface acquaintance with the Bible. It is not unusual for a pastor to see blank stares when he refers to most of the main teachings of the Bible that are beyond the simplest gospel references or verses misused by prosperity teachers, for example, Jeremiah 29:11. “There are many today who talk about the love of God, who are total strangers to the God of love. The Divine love is commonly regarded as a species of amiable weakness, a sort of good-natured indulgence; it is reduced to a mere sickly sentiment, patterned after human emotion. Now the truth is that on this, as on everything else, our thoughts need to be formed and regulated by what is revealed thereon in Holy Scripture. That there is urgent need for this is apparent not only from the ignorance which so generally prevails, but also from the low state of spirituality which is now so sadly evident everywhere among professing Christians. How little real love there is for God. One chief reason for this is because our hearts are so little occupied with His wondrous love for His people. The better we are acquainted with His love—its character, fullness, blessedness—the more will our hearts be drawn out in love to Him” (Pink, The Attributes of God, pp. 90-91).

Part of the problem that people have is a misuse of the texts that say, “God is love” (1 John 4:8, 16). Clearly both texts are teaching that God is love; that is, he not only loves, but love is an essential part of his being that he expresses even toward unworthy, guilty sinners! The error that many people fall into is assuming that John is teaching that love is God’s basic attribute, because he says, “God is love.” However, that assumption fails to notice that John also says, “God is light (1 John 1:5) previously in the letter, and that he records the statement of Jesus that “God is spirit” (John 4:24). There is no reason to deduce from any of these texts the priority of one or the other of these three statements to the other. As we have already discussed in the section on God’s holiness, there is much more reason to say that holiness is God’s basic attribute. Perhaps we should remember at this point what love is according to the Bible. Love is setting one’s heart on seeking the good of the one loved, to the point of self-sacrificial giving for the one loved. Therefore, the teaching that “God is love” is tremendously encouraging to human hearts! The Maker and Preserver of all things, the God who is unlimited spirit with unmatchable holiness and justice is also love. He sets his heart on what he created to seek its good (Psalm 145:13,17). But the question asked by inquiring minds is this. If God is love, as the Bible says, then why is there suffering in creation and why do some suffer eternal punishment (Matthew 25:46)? This question deserves to be answered, and more importantly answering it will lead us to a deeper appreciation of the glory of God. We will invest some articles on the love of God. First, we will think about the characteristics of God’s love, then of his love in a general sense, and then his love in saving his people from their sins. Finally, we will consider how the truth of God’s love ought to affect us and the way we live.

Grace and peace, David