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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of systematic theology today by continuing to examine God’s communicable attributes. Today we are going to look at God’s will. Dr. Spencer, this is an extremely difficult and important topic. How would you like to start?

Dr. Spencer: I want to start by defining what we mean by the will.

Marc Roby: That sounds like a good thing to do. And perhaps we could start off with a dictionary definition of the noun “will”. If I look in my Webster’s dictionary, probably the definition most appropriate to this discussion is that the will is the act of choosing or determining.[1]

Dr. Spencer: That’s a fairly good short definition. Charles Hodge defines the will as the power, or faculty, of self-determination.[2] In other words, it is the ability to make decisions about what to do.

Marc Roby: Of course, we don’t always have the power to carry out what we decide to do.

Dr. Spencer: No, we don’t. And that’s a critical difference between us and God. Whatever God ultimately decides to do will, in fact, be done. We read in Proverbs 19:21 that “Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but it is the LORD’s purpose that prevails.” [3] And, in Isaiah 55:10-11 God tells us, “As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.” God’s will, expressed through his powerful word, is always efficacious.

Marc Roby: And we are again confronted by the Creator/creature distinction.

Dr. Spencer: That we are. And Hodge goes on to say that “The will is not only an essential attribute of our spiritual being, but it is the necessary condition of our personality. Without the power of rational self-determination we should be as much a mere force as electricity, or magnetism, or the principle of vegetable life. It is, therefore, to degrade God below the sphere of being which we ourselves occupy, as rational creatures, to deny to Him the power of self-determination; of acting or not acting, according to his own good pleasure.”[4]

Marc Roby: That’s an important point. God reveals himself to be a personal God, not an impersonal force as is sometimes imagined.

Dr. Spencer: And because God’s will is efficacious as we noted a minute ago, John Frame says that “a simple but accurate definition” is that “God’s will is anything he wants to happen.” Or that “God’s will is what pleases him.”

Marc Roby: Saying both that God’s will is what pleases him and that it is efficacious immediately raises a theological problem. In 2 Peter 3:9 we read that “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” So, if God’s will is efficacious, and he wants everyone to come to repentance, it would seem reasonable to conclude that everyone will, ultimately, be saved. But the Bible clearly teaches that not everyone is saved. How do you handle that problem?

Dr. Spencer: Well, we have to be more careful in defining and talking about the will. When we use the word “will” we mean different things at different times. Now this discussion will take a while, but we’ll get back to God’s will later. Let me give a human example to explain what I mean.

Marc Roby: Okay, please do.

Dr. Spencer: Suppose it’s a really cold, rainy miserable Saturday in January here in California and I’m watching a golf tournament on TV that is being played in Hawaii, where it is at that time sunny and beautiful. I might be prompted to say something like, “Boy, I wish I was there instead of here.” Now the question I want to ask is whether that expression is a true statement of my desires.

Marc Roby: It would certainly be understandable if it were.

Dr. Spencer: And in one sense it might genuinely be my desire. It would, in fact, be more pleasant to be there at that particular moment. But then you have to back up and think about it a bit. I have the financial wherewithal to travel to Hawaii and the poor weather was most likely predicted in advance. Therefore, if being in Hawaii on that Saturday was really and truly what I desired most, I could have been there. We can conclude, therefore, that my statement of desire, while genuine, was not the final judgment I made on the matter. When all of the factors were taken into account my greatest desire was to be right where I was.

Marc Roby: I see your point.

Dr. Spencer: The great theologian Jonathan Edwards wrote that “It is that motive, which, as it stands in the view of the mind, is the strongest, that determines the Will.[5] To put it more colloquially, his thesis, which he defends quite convincingly, is that we do exactly that which we most want to do at any given moment, but limited, of course, to those things which we are able to do.

Marc Roby: I think most people would balk at the idea that they always do what they most want to do. There are many examples of things we do that we would rarely say are what we most want to do at the moment. Like go to work in the morning, or do physical exercise, or refrain from eating a second piece of cake and so on.

Dr. Spencer: I had exactly that sort of objection when I first heard this idea as well, but the objection doesn’t stand up under careful scrutiny. Let’s examine the examples you gave. We have all experienced waking up in the morning, looking at the clock and just wishing that the day would go away. The last thing we want to do is get up and go to work, or school if we’re younger. We don’t need to go into all the reasons why we might feel that way on any given day, I’m pretty sure that all of our listeners can relate to the sentiment.

Marc Roby: I certainly know that I can. And I could give you a good list of reasons if you like.

Dr. Spencer: Well, let’s save those for another discussion. But given that we sometimes feel that way, and recognizing that we occasionally do give in to those sinful inclinations and stay home, why do we usually get up and go to work or school anyway? The answer is that when we consider all of our available options, getting up and going to school or work is actually what we most want to do!

For example, consider work. I know that if I don’t get up and go to work, I’m going to have to give some explanation to my boss. And if that happens very often, I’m going to lose my job. If I lose my job, I can’t pay my rent, can’t buy my groceries and so on. If I have a family, there are others who will be affected as well. So, when I consider all of these factors, the thing I actually want to do most is get up and go to work.

Marc Roby: Unfortunately, I see your point. Perhaps a simple way to put it is to use the common expression “all things being equal”. In other words, all things being equal, I would rather not get up and go into work, but all things are not equal. There are unpleasant consequences that would result from not going to work.

Dr. Spencer: That is a good way to put. It is virtually never true that all other things will work out the same independent of my decisions. Decisions have consequences, and those consequences are considered as part of the process our minds go through in deciding what we most want to do at the moment. I suppose you could say that is a mild form of coercion, but whether you think about it that way or not, it is reality. Even if we lived in a world where we didn’t have to work, there would still be constraints. If I wanted to eat something, I’d have to get up and go get it. Or, even in some future world with super capable robot servants, I would at least have to tell the robot what it is I want it to bring me.

Marc Roby: I think I might like that future world.

Dr. Spencer: There are times when we all would. But let’s look at the second thing you listed that people do, but usually don’t say they enjoy, getting physical exercise. There are again consequences for neglecting the task. And let’s link it with the third thing you mentioned, refraining from eating a second piece of cake. If we just eat all that we want to eat and don’t get any exercise, we all know what the result will be. We will get more and more overweight and over time will develop a number of health problems related to our inactivity and weight and these things will make our lives less enjoyable. Now, it’s obvious from looking at people that different individuals choose different levels of physical fitness, so not everyone decides on the same balance between momentary pleasure and long-term health.

Marc Roby: And there are huge variations in people’s natural metabolisms and body types that contribute to the differences as well.

Dr. Spencer: That’s all true. But Edwards’ point is valid. All things considered, we do that which we most want to do at any given moment.

Marc Roby: Now, of course, most of our decisions are not carefully thought out, so we can’t really say we sit down and think all of this through every time we decide whether or not to eat a second piece of cake.

Dr. Spencer: Of course not, we are all creatures of habit. But if we are adults we hopefully think about our behavior and work to change bad habits, so even snap decisions are really the result of our underlying priorities and thought. It’s also true that we don’t always consider all of the consequences of our actions as carefully as we should, which can bring us trouble. But, ultimately, all of these things are free choices we make and my only point is that when we say we are doing something we don’t want to do, that isn’t really completely true. Unless we are being physically forced, we are, in fact, doing what we most want to do. It’s just that our decision is being influenced by other factors so that our choice is not always the one that maximizes our immediate pleasure. So, when I say these are free choices, I mean that they are free only in the sense that no one is physically forcing us. No decisions are free in the sense of having absolutely no consequences or causes.

Marc Roby: We’ve gotten pretty far away from the theological problem we were addressing. How does all of this tie back in to understanding how God’s will can be efficacious, and that he can want everyone to come to repentance, and yet not have everyone actually come to repentance?

Dr. Spencer: What we’ve been talking about with human beings applies directly. God reveals himself to us in terms that we can understand. Therefore, just as I can truthfully say that I would like to have a large chocolate milkshake along with my lunch most every day, and yet I freely choose not to, in the same way God can honestly say that he wants everyone to come to repentance and yet not cause that to actually come about. God saying that he wants everyone to come to repentance is called his will of disposition;[6] in other words, it tells us something about the inner desires of God.

Marc Roby: We also read in Ezekiel 18:23 that God told the prophet to say to the people, “Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked? declares the Sovereign LORD. Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live?”

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. God would, in a sense, be pleased if everyone was saved. But in another sense, he would not because there are consequences that would follow from that decision, which make another course of action more desirable. As I just illustrated by the fact that I don’t drink chocolate milkshakes with lunch very often, we don’t always follow some of our inner desires, and neither does God, because all other things are not equal. What God actually does is called his decretive will[7] because whatever God decrees should happen, does happen.

Marc Roby: Now, in the case of you having the milkshake for lunch every day the undesirable result would be your putting on a bunch of weight you don’t want to carry. But what would the undesirable result be if all people came to repentance? And I should note that this would surely include, as true repentance always does, saving faith and would therefore mean that everyone would go to heaven. How could that be bad?

Dr. Spencer: In and of itself, having everyone go to heaven is not bad; in fact, it would be very good, which is why God says that he wants that. But, if he brought every single person to repentance, then he would not justly judge anyone. It must be, as much as we may not like the fact, that the world we actually live in is the one that best fulfills God’s primary purpose of making his own multifaceted glory manifest.

Marc Roby: In other words, God’s ultimate purpose in creating this universe is better served by not having every single person come to repentance and faith, even though, in one sense, such a result would be pleasing to him.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. Sin must be punished. And God chose to mercifully save some by punishing his Son in our place, but others he treats with perfect justice, which demands their eternal punishment.

Marc Roby: That begs a question though; why not simply create a universe with no sin in the first place? Then there wouldn’t be any need for the just punishment of anyone.

Dr. Spencer: That is a question that people have pondered for many years and even true Christians will give different answers. The most common answer by far in our day is that in order to create beings that are not mere puppets God had to endow us with what is called libertarian free will, which means that our decisions must not be directly caused by anything, even our own character. John Frame puts it this way; “This position assumes that there is a part of human nature that we might call the will, which is independent of every other aspect of our being, and which can, therefore, make a decision contrary to every motivation.”[8]

Marc Roby: That view sounds illogical to me. If we don’t make decisions on the basis of our own nature, our likes and dislikes, combined with other motives, then how on earth would we make any decision?

Dr. Spencer: I agree that it is illogical. And we will talk about this much more when we get to discussing biblical anthropology, in other words, the Bible’s view of man. But to stay on topic with God’s will I don’t want to go into deeper right now other than to point out that this would ascribe to man more freedom than God himself has! We will talk at length next time about the fact that God is constrained by his own nature; for example, he cannot lie. In other words, even God does not have libertarian free will. And yet, this view is common among those who believe that it is within every man’s power to choose whether or not to accept God’s offer of salvation in Jesus Christ.

Marc Roby: Of course, that view must surely be wrong because it is in opposition to the biblical doctrines of God’s decretive will and predestination.

Dr. Spencer: It most certainly is, and we will get to a deeper discussion of those doctrines in later podcasts. But for now, I want to stay on the topic of God’s will, and we have talked a lot about man’s will only to enable us to define some terms and develop an understanding based on the realm that we are more familiar with.

In any event, the idea that in order to be fully human men must have a libertarian free will is contradicted by the fact that we will not be able to sin in heaven, which Frame correctly calls “the consummate state of human existence”[9]. The existence of heaven proves that God can create a place where sin is impossible and the fact that heaven is held out to us as the ultimate and best possible place, the very home of God, proves that human nature will be at its highest and best form in heaven. Therefore, libertarian free will is clearly not necessary.

Marc Roby: We’re almost out of time, so let me summarize what we’ve discussed so far. We have seen that God’s will, like our own, takes into account the consequences of a given action, so that it can simultaneously be true that he would honestly like to see all people be saved, and yet for other reasons he does not, in fact, save all people. We have also seen that the idea that God didn’t create a sinless universe because he had to allow human beings libertarian free will in order to prevent our being mere puppets, is not an acceptable explanation because we will not be able to sin when we get to heaven.

Dr. Spencer: That’s a good summary. But you could also phrase the last part differently; we will not have the freedom to sin when we get to heaven.

Marc Roby: I think we’ll have to come to that statement next time and I look forward to that conversation. And, as always, we invite our listeners to email their questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org and we will respond.

 

[1] Webster’s Third New International Dictionary, unabridged, Merriam-Webster Inc., 2002, pg. 2617, definition 3a.

[2] Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, Eerdmans, 1997, Vol. I, pp 402-403, the definition I am giving here is what he says is generally used “In our day” (he wrote in the late 19th century) and what he says is the definition actually used in practice (“in the prosecution of the subject”) by theologians.

[3] All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® (1984 version). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™.

[4] Hodge, op. cit., Vol. I, pg. 403

[5] J. Edwards, A Careful and Strict Inquiry into the Modern Prevailing Notions of that Freedom of Will, which is supposed to be essential to moral agency, virtue and vice, reward and punishment, praise and blame, in The Works of Jonathan Edwards, Hendrickson Publishers, 2005, Vol. I. pg. 5

[6] e.g., see R.C. Sproul, Can I Know God’s Will?, Reformation Trust Publishing, 2010, pg. 20 (available for free in pdf form from https://www.wtsbooks.com/common/pdf_links/9781567691795.pdf)

[7] e.g., see John Frame, The Doctrine of God, P&R Publishing Company, 2002, pg. 531

[8] Ibid, pg. 138

[9] Ibid, pg. 141

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Yes Single


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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of systematic theology today by continuing to examine God’s communicable attributes. Today we are going to look at the fact that God is jealous. Dr. Spencer, most people think of jealousy as a negative trait and, therefore, not a trait that is befitting for God. How would you respond to them?

Dr. Spencer: I would point out that the word jealous, like most words, has a fairly wide range of meanings, and not all of them are negative even in our modern usage. I should, for example, be jealous to guard the exclusivity of my relationship with my wife.

Marc Roby: I’m sure she would agree with that statement.

Dr. Spencer: I am too. Our society seems to have lost the idea that being faithful to our commitments is important, and it has especially lost the notion that a marriage commitment is a sacred, life-long covenant commitment. In Malachi 2:16 we read, “‘I hate divorce,’ says the LORD God of Israel” [1], and God expects husbands and wives to be faithful to their spouses in marriage. We see clearly how important this is by the fact that adultery in the Old Testament was a capital offense and in the New Testament it is grounds for divorce. John Frame defines the biblical concept of jealousy in the following way: “Jealousy (Heb. Qin’ah, Gk. zēlos) is a passionate zeal to guard the exclusiveness of a marriage relationship, leading to anger against an unfaithful spouse.”[2]

Marc Roby: I want to point out that you correctly called marriage a covenant commitment, which means that it is a formal and serious commitment, not something casual. And God frequently alludes to the human marriage relationship as an analogy to the relationship his people have with him.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, he does. In fact, it is important to note God’s overall sovereignty and plan in this regard. Marriage is not a humanly contrived or instituted relationship. It was established by God and was intended from the very beginning to be part of his plan for creation. And, as we have discussed before, God’s purpose in creation is the manifestation of his own glory[3], so marriage contributes to that. We have also mentioned before that marriage between a man and a woman, and the children resulting from that union, do a better job of reflecting the glory of our triune God than individual human beings can.[4]

Marc Roby: And the marriage relationship is also used by God to teach us many things. We learn more about our own inpatient, selfish sinful nature, and as we work to make our families function properly, we learn patience, what it means to truly love others sacrificially, the importance of authority and many other things as well.

Dr. Spencer: And I’m sure we could come up with other reasons for the marriage relationship being important, but to get back to our topic of God’s jealousy, it is not a negative thing at all. It is in fact, a very good thing. We should be zealous to guard something as precious as our exclusive relationship with our spouse.

Marc Roby: I think part of the problem with people considering jealousy to be a negative trait is that human beings often corrupt that trait. For example, they can be irrationally and sinfully suspicious of their spouse without cause.

Dr. Spencer: That’s very true. And that is definitely not the kind of jealousy that God has. As with all of the communicable attributes we must be very careful to strip sinful human perversions of them from our thinking. I think it will be useful to quote again something I quoted in Session 42 when we were discussing the science of hermeneutics, or how to properly understand the Bible.

In his book Interpreting the Bible, A. Berkeley Mickelsen wrote that “Grief, anger, wrath, etc., are all genuine responses of God. The metaphorical element arises from the fact that human grief, anger, and wrath are a complex array of elements. Grief can involve self-pity; anger can be filled with an irrational obsession for revenge; wrath can be overlaid with a passion to return in kind. Yet these elements must be excluded from an accurate picture of God’s grief, anger, and wrath. God’s response is genuine; it is the human counterpart that is tainted by corrupt elements.”[5]

Marc Roby: And so, applying that thought to God’s jealousy, John Frame quotes from the Song of Solomon 8:6, which says, “Place me like a seal over your heart, like a seal on your arm; for love is as strong as death, its jealousy unyielding as the grave. It burns like blazing fire, like a mighty flame.” And then Frame notes about this verse that “Here, fiery jealousy is part of love, the prerogative of love that is as strong as death. It is the proper attitude of a man toward his wife (cf. Prov. 6:34). It is entirely right for him to be zealous for her purity and for the exclusiveness of her love for him.”[6]

Dr. Spencer: That’s a very good passage. Our society has greatly cheapened the institution of marriage, which is, I think, why so many people don’t even bother to get married today. But when marriage is given the respect and honor it should have, and people treat it with the seriousness they should, it is a truly beautiful and wonderful thing. In God’s plan marriage is the most intimate relationship two human beings can ever have. They should both come to it as virgins and the commitment they make to one another and to God is to be absolutely faithful to each other, forsaking all others, until death separates them.

Marc Roby: Not many people think about marriage that way anymore.

Dr. Spencer: And that is to their great loss. Real love is sacrificial and focused on the other person. It isn’t just a feeling, it is a firm commitment to do for someone else that which is best for that person. We only learn that to the fullest extent possible when we commit ourselves to working out whatever problems arise in a marriage. There cannot be any plan B. I can’t have in mind that I will stay married so long as we are both happy or so long as it makes me happy, or so long as I still “love” my wife.

Marc Roby: I think that anytime someone goes into a marriage with that kind of attitude, the probability of the marriage ending in divorce is about 100%.

Dr. Spencer: I completely agree. We’ve both been married to our wives for long enough to know that it isn’t always wonderful. I’m a sinner. And my wife is a sinner. And whenever two sinners live together there will be trouble.

Marc Roby: And our children are also sinners, which introduces even more trouble!

Dr. Spencer: That’s true. But as I said a moment ago, real biblical love is not something you can fall in and out of, it is a firm commitment to do what is best for the other person. When we get married, we make a vow before God to love our spouse, and we are to keep our vows. It is, as we noted earlier, a covenant commitment. Being faithful is extremely important.

Marc Roby: And the extreme value and importance of marriage shows why being jealous, in the proper sense, is a good thing.

Dr. Spencer: That’s exactly right. As I said earlier, God is the sovereign creator and everything he does works together to accomplish his purpose of making his own glory manifest. So I am quite sure that when God established the institution of marriage, he had in mind that it would, in addition to many other things, teach us something about our covenant relationship to him and the importance of our being faithful in that relationship.

Marc Roby: And God compares idolatry to adultery. For example, Jeremiah Chapter 3 uses adultery as a metaphor for the Jewish people being unfaithful to God.

Dr. Spencer: That’s a great chapter to make this point, so let’s take a moment to look at it.

Marc Roby: Let me begin by reminding our listeners of the history that they need to know to understand this chapter. Jeremiah prophesied in the late 7th-century B.C. Prior to this time the united Jewish kingdom of Saul, David and Solomon had been divided into two and the northern kingdom, here referred to as Israel, had already been destroyed and its people taken into captivity by the Assyrians in the late 8th-century B.C. The southern kingdom of Judah was all that remained and they were soon to be defeated and taken into captivity by the Babylonians. Jeremiah was one of the prophets God sent to warn his people of this coming disaster.

Dr. Spencer: And now, with that history in mind, let me read Jeremiah 3:6. It says, “During the reign of King Josiah, the LORD said to me, ‘Have you seen what faithless Israel has done? She has gone up on every high hill and under every spreading tree and has committed adultery there.’” The references to every high hill and every spreading tree refer to the pagan altars at which the Jewish people had been worshipping pagan idols.

Marc Roby: And God then refers to the destruction and captivity of the northern kingdom of Israel in Verse 8. Jeremiah tells us that the LORD said, “I gave faithless Israel her certificate of divorce and sent her away because of all her adulteries. Yet I saw that her unfaithful sister Judah had no fear; she also went out and committed adultery.”

Dr. Spencer: And that verse establishes the point I wanted to make perfectly. God compares sending his unfaithful people into captivity with divorce and he compares their unfaithfulness with adultery. God should be jealous of his covenant people. How wicked it was for them to forget all that he had done for them and to run off and worship false gods made of wood and stone.

Marc Roby: And God mocked these idols in the chapter just before this. We read in Jeremiah 2:27-28, “They say to wood, ‘You are my father,’ and to stone, ‘You gave me birth.’ They have turned their backs to me and not their faces; yet when they are in trouble, they say, ‘Come and save us!’ Where then are the gods you made for yourselves? Let them come if they can save you when you are in trouble! For you have as many gods as you have towns, O Judah.”

Dr. Spencer: Whenever any of God’s people trust in something other than God, the Creator and Lord of all creation, they and the things they trust in deserve to be mocked. God wants his people to be holy and blameless and able to worship and serve him properly, and that is absolutely impossible when they worship false gods.

Marc Roby: I’m sure that when you used the phrase “holy and blameless” you had Ephesians 5:25-27 in mind, where the apostle Paul commands us, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.”

Dr. Spencer: That is exactly what I had in mind. And those verses clearly indicate God’s jealousy. Remember that Frame said that God’s jealousy is “a passionate zeal to guard the exclusiveness of a marriage relationship”. And here in Ephesians 5 we see that. God uses the example of Christ as the husband and the church as his bride to explain to us how we should be concerned for the eternal welfare of our wives. Jealousy is an aspect of true love.

Marc Roby: And it is also related to wrath and judgment, because God will judge those who oppose his church and his people and he will pour out his wrath upon them. We read in Nahum 1:2 “The LORD is a jealous and avenging God; the LORD takes vengeance and is filled with wrath. The LORD takes vengeance on his foes and maintains his wrath against his enemies.”

Dr. Spencer: That is absolutely true. We read over and over again in the prophets about the coming judgment against God’s enemies. God is jealous for the glory and honor of his own name. We read in Isaiah 42:8 that God says, “I am the LORD; that is my name! I will not give my glory to another or my praise to idols.”

And God’s church, which is called the body of Christ in 1 Corinthians 12:27 and the bride of Christ in Revelation 19:7, is meant to bring him glory as well. Therefore, because God is very jealous to protect his own glory, he is also very jealous to protect the glory of his church.

Marc Roby: And that should be a great comfort to all members of God’s church. If the supreme Lord of the universe is jealous to protect our honor and glory, we are safe.

Dr. Spencer: Very true. And the Bible makes clear that God is jealous. We’ve already seen that in several verses, but there some others we have yet to share that are quite explicit about this being an important aspect of God’s being. For example, when God renewed his covenant with his people after their horrible apostasy in having Aaron create a golden calf to worship while Moses was still on Mount Sinai meeting with God, we read in Exodus 34:14 that God told the people, “Do not worship any other god, for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God.”

Marc Roby: And when God says his “name is Jealous” he is clearly saying that it is an essential part of his nature.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, that is exactly what he means.

Marc Roby: And that episode in Israel’s history is a remarkable example of God’s gracious love and man’s terrible sin. God had brought the people out of their slavery in Egypt by doing mighty miracles among the Egyptians, and had established his covenant with them. We read in Exodus 24:7 that Moses, “took the Book of the Covenant and read it to the people. They responded, ‘We will do everything the LORD has said; we will obey.’”

Dr. Spencer: And the Book of the Covenant included the Ten Commandments. The second commandment is given in Exodus 20:4-6 and it says, “You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.”

Marc Roby: And, amazingly, it was right after the people had said “We will do everything the LORD has said; we will obey”, that they had Aaron make the golden calf for them to worship. How unbelievably gracious it is that God would not destroy them for their almost immediate violation of the covenant.

Dr. Spencer: It is amazing that God would be that gracious and would renew the covenant rather than destroying them for violating it. But his doing that was a result of his own covenant faithfulness and for his own glory. In Exodus 15 we read what is called the Song of Moses, which he sung after God had destroyed Pharaoh’s army when it came after the Jewish slaves who had left Egypt. In that song, in Exodus 15:13, we read, “In your unfailing love you will lead the people you have redeemed. In your strength you will guide them to your holy dwelling.”  The words “unfailing love” translate the Hebrew word hesed. We mentioned this word in Session 77 as well, it primarily refers to God’s covenant love for his people.

God’s covenant love, which includes his jealousy, is the reason he did not destroy his people. He will bring to fruition his plan of salvation. No one can thwart this plan, not Satan or his demons, not the world, and not even the sins of God’s own people. He will discipline us and he will work within us to be transformed, and ultimately, he will perfect us, but in his jealous zeal he will not allow the people he has chosen for himself to be lost.

Marc Roby: What great comfort that provides to us. As Paul wrote in Philippians 1:6, he was “confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”

Dr. Spencer: And God will accomplish this for his own glory. He has chosen his people and he calls us his treasured possession. When the Israelites first arrived at Mount Sinai after leaving Egypt, one of the first things God said to them through Moses was, “Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession.” We read that in Exodus 19:5.

Marc Roby: And we noted in Session 67 that God’s people are called his treasured possession six times in the Old Testament. What an amazing thing that is.

Dr. Spencer: It is an astounding thing. But I want to wrap up our discussion of God’s jealousy by tying together all the strands we’ve been discussing. God’s purpose in creation is the manifestation of his own glory. God is loving and faithful and he will have a loving and faithful covenant people to be with him in heaven and display his glory. He is zealous for his glory and will not allow his plans to fail or an enemy to succeed, and that zeal for the honor of his own name is his jealousy. It is a wonderful attribute of God.

Marc Roby: That’s a good summary and with that we are out of time for today. As always, we invite our listeners to email their questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org and we will respond.

[1] All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® (1984 version). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™.

[2] John Frame, The Doctrine of God, P&R Publishing Company, 2002, pg. 458

[3] See Sessions 2, 67 and 74.

[4] See Session 29.

[5] A. Berkeley Mickelsen, Interpreting the Bible, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1974, pg. 185

[6] Frame, op. cit.

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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of systematic theology today by continuing to examine God’s communicable attributes. Today we are going to look at the peace of God. Dr. Spencer, how would you like to begin?

Dr. Spencer: By noting that God’s peace is not often listed as an attribute, but it is an important part of a complete description of God’s being. Wayne Grudem does list it separately and justifies that, I think quite reasonably, by citing 1 Corinthians 14:33 where the apostle Paul wrote that “For God is not a God of disorder but of peace.” [1]

Marc Roby: And, of course, the context for that statement is that Paul was discussing proper order in church worship. The Corinthian congregation had evidently developed some serious problems in terms of over emphasizing certain gifts, in particular, speaking in tongues, and their worship services were not as orderly as they should be.

Dr. Spencer: And the result of this disorder was that the church as a whole, the body of Christ, was not being built up. This chapter follows the famous chapter on love, 1 Corinthians 13, and Paul is laboring to instruct the church in Corinth how to use all of their gifts in love for the edification of the body of Christ.

One interesting thing about 1 Corinthians 14:33 is that peace is contrasted with disorder, or confusion, not with conflict or war. The peace being spoken of here is much more comprehensive than just an absence of conflict. It is a positive statement about well-being.

Marc Roby: Certainly the Hebrew word for peace, shalom, also signifies much more than the absence of conflict. Jewish people still use the word as their standard greeting to one another. Vine’s Expository Dictionary says that shalom means “peace; completeness; welfare; [and] health” and that the “root meaning” is to be whole.[2]

Dr. Spencer: Vines also points out that the Greek translation of the Old Testament, called the Septuagint, often translates shalom with the Greek word σωτηρία (sōtēria), which means salvation.[3] The theologian John Frame says that “Theologically, [peace] represents the fullness of the blessings of salvation: peace as opposed to war, but also completeness, wholeness, and prosperity.”[4]

Marc Roby: I can’t think of anything that even comes close to bringing the peace that salvation brings.

Dr. Spencer: Neither can I. And the theme of peace is very common throughout the Bible. In fact, the famous Aaronic blessing from Numbers 6:24-26 is, “The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you; the LORD turn his face toward you and give you peace.”

Marc Roby: And, of course, God is the only one who can give us peace in the ultimate sense of that term, that of salvation.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. As we discussed in Session 79, the defining problem of the human race is that God is holy and we are not, we are guilty sinners. And since, as it says in Hebrews 9:27, “man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment”, salvation is the one thing we truly need. Without it, we will spend eternity in hell being justly judged for our sins. But with salvation, we have peace in the greatest possible sense.

In Romans 5:10 we are told that prior to coming to Christ in faith we were God’s enemies. In Romans 1:18 we read that we were under his wrath. And in Romans 8:17 we read that “the sinful mind is hostile to God.” So how wonderful it is when we read in Romans 5:1, “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ”.

Marc Roby: That is great news. And we should note that you must have peace with God, that is you must repent, believe and be saved, before you can have the peace of God in your heart. If we have done that, then God is no longer our enemy. We are reconciled to him and he even adopts us as his children and gives us the privilege of calling him “Abba”, Father, as we read in Romans 8:15.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, that is amazing. And sin doesn’t only bring separation between us and God, it brings problems into the relationships we have with other human beings. All anger, malice, hatred, strife and wars are caused, ultimately, by sin. When God brings peace to us in the ultimate sense, these will all disappear.

Marc Roby: That’s a wonderful thing to look forward to.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, it is. But getting back to my statement that this theme of peace is very common throughout the Bible, let me illustrate. In the book of Judges we read about Gideon, who was the fifth recorded judge of Israel during the period of the judges, from around 1400 B.C. to 1050 B.C. God used him to deliver his people from the oppression of the Midianites, and in Judges 6:24 we read, “So Gideon built an altar to the LORD there and called it The LORD is Peace.” That phrase, “The LORD is Peace” is Yahweh shalom in Hebrew and is one of many phrases helping to define who God is. We also read a wonderful and well-known prophecy about the coming Savior in Isaiah 9:6; “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”

Marc Roby: That is a glorious prophecy about the coming of Christ, the Prince of Peace. Written, I might add, around 700 years before Jesus’ birth! And in the very next verse, Isaiah 9:7, we read that “Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end.”

Dr. Spencer: And the Hebrew word used in both of those verses is again, shalom. We are told the same thing in the New Testament. There are five places where God is referred to as the “God of peace.” For example, in Romans 15:33 the apostle gives the benediction, “The God of peace be with you all. Amen.” Then, in the next chapter, we read a very interesting verse. Paul wrote, in Romans 16:20, that “The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus be with you.”

Marc Roby: That is interesting. You wouldn’t normally think of a “God of peace” crushing anyone. That doesn’t sound so peaceful.

Dr. Spencer: Well, it isn’t in the normal sense of that word. But it is the same Greek word in both of these verses. This gives us a great illustration of the breadth of meaning to the word peace in the Bible. While it certainly can refer to a cessation of hostilities and an absence of conflict, the deeper meaning is, as we saw for the Hebrew word shalom, an inner peace and wholeness and being reconciled to God. It is not all inconsistent to say that you can be at peace while you are simultaneously vigorously opposing Satan’s attacks. The peace that God gives to us is not a peace that is dependent on our momentary circumstances because it is founded on our having the most important relationship of all, our relationship to God, fully restored by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. That is why the prophet Habakkuk could exclaim, in Habakkuk 3:17-18, “Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will be joyful in God my Savior.”

Marc Roby: That verse shows that there is a close connection between peace and joy. We are told in Romans 14:17 that “the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit”.  Only the peace and joy provided by God can explain Paul and Silas being able to pray and sing hymns to God in the middle of the night while sitting in a Philippian jail, with their feet in stocks, having been severely beaten as we read in Acts 16:25.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, that’s true. And in Philippians 4:6-7 Paul commands us, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” In that verse, the phrase “the peace of God” is a genitive of possession, it means the peace that belongs to God, but is given to his people. And when you look at situations like Paul and Silas in the Philippian jail, or the great Christian martyrs who sang while being burned at the stake, like John Huss,[5] you realize that the peace of God truly does transcend all understanding.

Marc Roby: And at the end of that passage in Philippians 4 we see another of the places where God is called the “God of peace.” In Philippians 4:9 Paul wrote, “Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.”

Dr. Spencer: Yes, that is an important verse. God gives his peace to us, but we must put into practice the things he has commanded. The life of a Christian is one of constant change. We will never be perfect in this life, but we are called to live holy lives and we should be striving to do so more and more all through life. We are being transformed into the likeness of Christ.

Marc Roby: Which is the process of being sanctified.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. And the final two places where God is referred to as the “God of peace” in the New Testament both occur in the context of sanctification. In 1 Thessalonians 5:23 Paul wrote, “May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through.”

Marc Roby: Now of course, we must work as well, we can’t just sit back and expect God to do the work of making us holy.

Dr. Spencer: No, we can’t. The classic passage to deal with that is  Philippians 2:12-13 where after speaking about the humble obedience of Christ and his great glory to come Paul wrote, “Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.”

Marc Roby: That’s a marvelous passage for showing that. God works in us, but we must work out. And he goes on to say what the goal is, in Verse 15 it says, “so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe”.

Dr. Spencer: What a wonderful purpose that is! And the final passage where God is called the “God of peace” also deals with this topic of sanctification. In Hebrews 13:20-21 we read, “May the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.”

Marc Roby: It is wonderful to realize that in spite of our great weakness, God is able to equip us with everything we need to do his will.

Dr. Spencer: That is a wonderful realization, but it is something that we are told over and over again in the Bible. I don’t want to wander way off our topic of peace, but just for example, in 2 Corinthians 9:8 we read that “God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.” And in Philippians 4:13 Paul wrote, “I can do everything through him who gives me strength.”

Marc Roby: And we are clearly told that God has prepared good works for each of us to do. In Ephesians 2:10 we read that “we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”

Dr. Spencer: That is a very good thing for us to keep in mind at all times. God has work that he has planned for us to do and we should be busy doing that work. But it is not a work of drudgery. Because God is peace, he is also working to produce peace in us. With the exception of Jesus’ time on the cross, where by mutual agreement the Father poured out his wrath on his own Son while he bore our sins, there has always been perfect fellowship within the persons of the godhead. And even in Christ’s sacrifice on the cross there was perfect agreement within the godhead. And God is working to produce that same mind-boggling unity and peace within his people. It begins when we are saved and therefore have peace with God, but it doesn’t end there. We still sin, and we still have internal struggles and strife with one another, but God is working to deal with all of our problems. It is interesting that the great 17th-century Puritan, Stephen Charnock, briefly discussed the peace God gives to his people under the heading of God’s power.

Marc Roby: That is an interesting place to put it.

Dr. Spencer: It is. But it makes perfect sense because only God is able to produce real peace in his people. Charnock writes, “As none but infinite power can remove the guilt of sin, so none but infinite power can remove the despairing sense of it.”[6]

Marc Roby: That’s an interesting point. And it reminds me of Christ appearing to his disciples after his resurrection, which is the most amazing demonstration of God’s power imaginable. In John Chapter 20 we see three times, in Verses 19, 21 and 26, Jesus saying to them, “Peace be with you!”

Dr. Spencer: That’s true. In Ephesians 6:15 the gospel is called “the gospel of peace”. I remember very well how I was before I was saved at the age of 38. There were occasional times of feeling desperately alone, afraid and anxious. Knowing that there was something missing from my life and that was critically important, in fact necessary. And I praise God for mercifully opening my eyes to my need for Jesus Christ. I think one of the most poignant passages in all of Scripture is Luke 19. Jesus Christ is making his triumphal entry to Jerusalem at the beginning of passion week and we read, in Verses 41-42, “As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it and said, ‘If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes.’”

Marc Roby: That is a frightening thought, to reach the point where there is no more opportunity to find peace with God.

Dr. Spencer: It is an absolutely terrifying prospect. And it is my sincere prayer that God will grant everyone who listens to this podcast a broken heart to see their need for Jesus Christ. That they may come to know this peace that passes all human understanding, both now and eternally.

Marc Roby: I think that is a wonderful place to end for today. So let me remind our listeners that can email their questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org and we will do our best to answer.

 

[1] All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® (1984 version). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™.

[2] Vine, W.E., Merrill F. Unger, William White, Jr., Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words, Thomas Nelson, 1996, pg. 173

[3] Ibid, pg. 464

[4] John M. Frame, The Doctrine of God, P&R Publishing Company, 2002, pg. 443

[5] E.g., see D. Kleyn & J. Beeke, Reformation Heroes, Reformation Heritage Books, 2009, pg. 24

[6] Stephen Charnock, The Existence and Attributes of God, Two Volumes in one, Baker Books, 1996, Vol. II, pg. 79

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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of systematic theology today by continuing to examine the holiness of God. Last time we looked at the fact that God’s holiness is emphasized in Isaiah 6:3, where the seraphs were crying out, “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty”. [1] In particular, this emphasizes the fact that God is separate from his creation, he is transcendent. That led us to discussing the fact that God is the Lord of his creation. Dr. Spencer, how do you want to proceed today?

Dr. Spencer: I want to explore the practical implications for the Christian life of the fact that God is Lord or, to be more specific, that Jesus Christ is Lord.

Marc Roby: Which is, of course, the basic confession of a true Christian, Jesus is Lord. Which is only two words in the Greek, Ἰησοῦς κύριος (Iēsous kurios).

Dr. Spencer: That’s true. And the lordship of God is fundamental to his being. As the Creator and Judge of the universe he has made, he can’t be anything other than the Lord of his creation. John Frame talks about this at length in his book The Doctrine of God. He makes a very strong statement about it. He writes, “The liberal theologian wants to avoid at all costs the notion that he belongs to someone else, that he must think according to someone else’s standards, that he must obey someone else without question. He may be willing to use the term Lord, but the biblical doctrine of God’s lordship is inimical to his most fundamental instincts. In this respect, liberation theology and the other modern theologies are not new. But these positions are, at this point, fundamentally anti-Christian. The central message of Scripture is that God is Lord.”[2]

Marc Roby: Yes, that is a very strong statement, but it is also completely correct. These liberal theologians don’t want to believe that they belong to someone else, but we are told in Romans 14:8 that “If we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.” Frame is certainly correct in saying that this view is anti-Christian.

Dr. Spencer: That statement definitely is correct. In fact, by my count there are 13 places in the 1984 NIV Bible we are using where it refers to those who belong to the Lord, or belong to Christ, or belong to him or some similar statement.[3]

Marc Roby: That’s pretty clear. And it is hard to know what it would mean for Jesus Christ to be Lord if his people did not belong to him. The liberal theologians also do not want to be told how to think as Frame points out, but Paul wrote, in 2 Corinthians 10:5, that “We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”

Dr. Spencer: And they don’t want to obey without question, but in Matthew 28:20, Jesus tells us to go and make disciples, “teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you”.

Marc Roby: And in John 14:15 Jesus said that “If you love me, you will obey what I command.”

Dr. Spencer: And in Luke 11:28 Jesus said that “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it.”

Marc Roby: And Jesus also said, in John 14:23, that “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.”

Dr. Spencer: And in the next chapter we read, in John 15:10, that Christ said, “If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love.” Then, in Acts 5:32, we are told that the Holy Spirit is given to those who obey God. In Romans 1:5 Paul says that “Through him and for his name’s sake, we received grace and apostleship to call people from among all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith.” And Chapter 6 of Romans is written specifically to point out that although salvation is by grace, true salvation sets us free from our bondage to sin so that we will no longer live as slaves to sin. Romans 6:2 sets the tone for the whole chapter by asking the rhetorical question, “We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?”

Marc Roby: And the clear answer is that we can’t.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. We could go on and on, but the fact that Jesus Christ must be your Lord, or he will not be your Savior, is an abundantly clear teaching of the entire New Testament. And the lordship of Jesus Christ is his prerogative as the Creator of the universe. In Colossians 1 the apostle Paul is speaking about Christ and writes, in Verse16, “For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him.”

Marc Roby: We are also told in Hebrews 1:1-2 that “In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe.”

Dr. Spencer: I think we have clearly established that this universe was created by Jesus Christ. He is God. And God is holy and he is lord. I want to move on to examine the implications of his lordship for us as Christians. Let me quote John Frame again to begin the transition. He writes that “Holiness, then, is God’s capacity and right to arouse our reverent awe and wonder. It is his uniqueness, his transcendence. It is his majesty, for the holy God is like a great king, whom we dare not treat like other persons. Indeed, God’s holiness impels us to worship in his presence.”[4] And, finally, he notes that “Holiness, then, is a very rich concept. It speaks of God’s transcendence and separation from finite and sinful creatures. But it also speaks of how God draws them to himself, making them holy. Holiness marks God’s transcendence, but also his immanence, his presence to redeem us. He is not only ‘the Holy One,’ but ‘the Holy One among us,’ ‘the Holy One of Israel.’”[5]

Marc Roby: Those are marvelous quotes. It is hard to grasp both God’s transcendence and immanence. And we should probably explain that when we mention immanence in this context, it is important to note that it is spelled with an ‘a’, not an ‘i’. Imminence spelled with an ‘i’ refers to something that is going to happen soon, but immanence with an ‘a’ is the opposite of transcendence. While transcendence refers to something that goes beyond normal limits or is beyond comprehension, or is not subject to the limitations of our physical universe, to be immanent means to indwell or to be inherent or to operate within.

Dr. Spencer: That is a very important point since the words are pronounced the same. And the prime example of God being both transcendent and immanent is Jesus Christ himself. In telling us about the birth of Jesus, the apostle Matthew wrote, in Matthew 1:22-23, that “All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: ‘The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel’—which means, ‘God with us.’” And Matthew is quoting the famous Old Testament prophecy from Isaiah 7:14. So Jesus Christ is not only God, the Creator of the universe as we just noted, he also came down to dwell with us, he walked among us, and he gave his life as an atoning sacrifice to pay for our sins. He is God with us.

Marc Roby: And when he ascended into heaven, he sent the Holy Spirit to be with us to guide us and strengthen us. He gave this promise to his disciples. In John 16:7 we read that Jesus told them, “But I tell you the truth: It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.” And Jesus clearly says that this Counselor is the Holy Spirit in John 14:26 where we read, “But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.”

Dr. Spencer: And at the end of the Great Commission, in Matthew 28:20, Christ promised us, “surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” So it is clear that God is both transcendent and immanent. But Frame said something else that is critically important. He said that “Holiness marks God’s transcendence, but also his immanence, his presence to redeem us.” It is the redeeming that I want to talk about now, because God’s holiness plays a major role.

Marc Roby: How so?

Dr. Spencer: Well, God’s purpose in redeeming us is to make us into a holy people, fit to be his adopted children, brothers and sisters of Christ, and to spend eternity in heaven with him. As we noted last time, in 1 Corinthians 1:2 the apostle Paul describes those to whom he is writing as “those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be holy”. And in Hebrews 12:14 we are told that “without holiness no one will see the Lord.” In 2 Peter 3:13 we are told that “in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness.” In Hebrews 12:23 we read about the souls, or spirits, of those who have already died and gone to heaven and they are called, “spirits of righteous men made perfect”. We could go on citing Scriptures, but the message is abundantly clear, heaven is a place of perfection. God is perfect and all who dwell with him must be perfect, they must be holy. God’s purpose in saving us is not just to pardon our sins and then leave us the way we are, his purpose is to transform us. As Paul wrote in Romans 8:29, “For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.”

Marc Roby: That is a glorious thought, that someday we will be conformed to the likeness of Jesus Christ.

Dr. Spencer: And in our final, glorified state, we will see him face-to-face and dwell with him and all the other saints in perfect fellowship for ever and ever. But perfection does not happen in this life. Our transformation begins with new birth, which is necessarily followed by repentance and faith, which then leads to our being justified and adopted as God’s children. We then go through a process of sanctification in this life. When we die, our souls are perfected, as we just read, and go to be with God. Then, when Christ comes again, God will raise up our bodies and we will receive glorious new resurrection bodies. In that final glorified state, we will dwell with God forever.

Marc Roby: It doesn’t matter how many times you hear about or think about God’s ultimate plan for us, it always leaves me utterly speechless and longing for Christ’s return.

Dr. Spencer: It is an amazing thing to think about. And the holiness of God, or to be more precise, Jesus Christ, is our pattern. During this life we participate in the process of sanctification. We are called to put to death the sin that remains in us and put on righteousness. We are to strive for moral perfection, which is the aspect of God’s holiness in which we can share. As we noted, there are two aspects to the holiness of God, one is his transcendence, his separateness from his creation. And we can’t become holy in that sense. But the second aspect to God’s holiness is his moral perfection and we can share in that.

Marc Roby: In other words, we can be like Jesus in his moral perfection and obedience to the will of the Father.

Dr. Spencer: Exactly. A few years ago it was popular to wear bracelets that had WWJD embossed on them, which stands for What Would Jesus Do? There is a problem with this whole concept since Jesus is God and we are not, so we shouldn’t always do what he would do. But ignoring that problem for the moment, the answer to the question “What would Jesus do?” is clear. Jesus himself said, in John 8:29, “The one who sent me is with me; he has not left me alone, for I always do what pleases him.” Jesus was perfectly obedient. In his humanity, Jesus made his will subservient to the will of the Father. When he was praying in the garden of Gethsemane prior to his crucifixion, he prayed, as we read in Matthew 26:39, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” And, as Christians, that should be our cry as well.

Marc Roby: In fact, Jesus taught us to pray for God’s will to be done in the Lord’s prayer.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, I think it would be very instructive to look at that prayer, because if you think about what Jesus told us to pray, it is very different from the prayers of most professing Christians. Which is an obvious problem and should cause us to repent and change.

Marc Roby: We read this prayer in Matthew Chapter 6. In Verses 9-13 Jesus tells us, “This, then, is how you should pray: ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.’”

Dr. Spencer: Very good. We don’t have time to go through the entire prayer, but notice that it begins with a preface, “Our Father in heaven”. The Westminster Shorter Catechism does an outstanding job of analyzing this prayer. And Question 100 asks, “What does the preface of the Lord’s Prayer teach us?” And the answer given is, “The preface of the Lord’s Prayer, which is, Our Father in heaven, teaches us to draw near to God with all holy reverence and confidence, as children to a father, able and ready to help us; and that we should pray with and for others.”

Marc Roby: In other words, we are to focus on the transcendence of God. He is in heaven and we must revere him, and he is able to help us.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. And then comes the first petition, which is, “hallowed by your name.”

Marc Roby: Perhaps it would be good to define the word ‘hallowed’ since it is not at all common. To hallow something means to honor it as holy, to consecrate it.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, that does help. And the answer to Question 101 in the Catechism says, “In the first petition, which is, hallowed be your name, we pray that God would enable us, and others, to glorify him in all that whereby he makes himself known; and that he would dispose all things to his own glory.”

Marc Roby: That again is a magnificent answer.

Dr. Spencer: It is. And I’m quite confident that it is very different from the prayers of most professing Christians. Our chief concern should be the glory of God. And we glorify him the same way Jesus glorified him, by being obedient subjects of our heavenly Lord and King.

The prayer goes on though and I really want to focus on the next two petitions. The answer to Question 102 of the Catechism says, “In the second petition, which is, your kingdom come, we pray that Satan’s kingdom may be destroyed; and that the kingdom of grace may be advanced, ourselves and others brought into it, and kept in it; and that the kingdom of glory may be hastened.”

Marc Roby: And when we request that God’s kingdom come, we are asking for him to rule, and especially that he would rule us.

Dr. Spencer: That is precisely the point I wanted to make. A kingdom has no real meaning unless there is a king who rules. So people who think that they can be Christians and not come under the rule of God need to think again. The Lord’s prayer tells us differently. And the next petition is similar. The answer to Question 103 of the Catechism says, “In the third petition, which is, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven, we pray that God, by his grace, would make us able and willing to know, obey, and submit to his will in all things, as the angels do in heaven.”

Marc Roby: There are two words most modern people despise in that answer, obey and submit.

Dr. Spencer: And, again, that is precisely my point. Jesus Christ submitted his will to the will of the Father and lived a life of perfect obedience and we are called to be conformed to his image. The dominant characteristic of his life is his submission and obedience. Therefore, the dominant characteristic of the life of a Christian should be submission and obedience to our gracious, loving, merciful, just and holy Lord, Jesus Christ.

We will always be creatures, even when we are glorified in heaven, so we cannot be holy in the sense of being set apart from creation. But we can, must and will be holy in the moral sense if we are truly God’s children. The holiness of Jesus Christ is the pattern for us as Christians. That is the practical significance of the holiness of God to us.

Marc Roby: And that is a great place to end for today. I’d like to remind our listeners that they can email questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org and we will do our best to answer.

 

[1] All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® (1984 version). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™.

[2] John M. Frame, The Doctrine of God, P&R Publishing Company, 2002, pg. 25

[3] See Mrk 9:41, Jn 8:4, Rom 1:6, 7:4, 8:9, 14:8, 1 Cor 7:39, 15:23, 2 Cor 10:7, Gal 3:29, 5:24, Jms 2:7, 1 Jn 3:19

[4] Ibid, pg. 28

[5] Ibid, pg. 29

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[Download PDF Transcript]

Marc Roby: Before we begin today, Dr. Spencer and I want to wish all of our listeners a blessed 2019. It is our prayer that God will draw you to himself and build you up in the most holy faith. We’d love to hear how God is using this podcast in your life and invite you to email your questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org.

And now let’s resume our study of systematic theology by continuing to examine God’s communicable attribute of holiness. Last time we looked at God’s revelation to the prophet Isaiah. Dr. Spencer, how do you want to proceed today?

Dr. Spencer: I want to spend some more time on the revelation given to Isaiah, but with a different emphasis. Last time we focused on the impact God’s holiness has on us as sinful creatures.

Marc Roby: Which is that it should drive us to our knees in fear and trembling and cause us to cry out with the Philippian jailer, “What must I do to be saved?” [1] (Acts 16:30)

Dr. Spencer: That is exactly the response we should have. But today I want to focus more on what this attribute tells us about the being of God.

Marc Roby: We already know that his holiness means he is separate from his creation, and that he is morally perfect.

Dr. Spencer: In fact, as we discussed in Session 71, God is the ultimate standard for what is morally right, just as he is the ultimate standard for what is true or what is good. There is however, more that we can learn about the being of God from his holiness. But before we get into that, it is important to note that this is the only attribute of God ever repeated three times in the Bible. Remember that in Isaiah 6:3 the seraphs were crying out, “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty”.

Marc Roby: And that repetition is for emphasis, right?

Dr. Spencer: Absolutely. We do the same thing. For example, someone might describe a certain task as not just being difficult, but being very, very difficult. But here we have the word holy repeated three times, which is why you sometimes hear God referred to as the thrice holy God. It is a little bit like our printing something in bold italics and underlining it. We really want that thing to stand out. And so, God wants his attribute of holiness to stand out. The Bible never once refers to God as “love, love, love” or “wrath, wrath, wrath” or “mercy, mercy, mercy” for example. We need to be careful of course to not think that God’s holiness somehow diminishes the importance of his other attributes, but we clearly need to take it very seriously.

Marc Roby: One indication of the importance of holiness is that in 1 Corinthians 1:2 the apostle Paul describes those to whom he is writing as “those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be holy”.

Dr. Spencer: Very true. As we noted last time, Hebrews 12:14 tells us that “without holiness no one will see the Lord”. This is a common emphasis all through the Bible. God is holy and his people must be holy. And God is in the business of making us holy. In Ephesians 5:25-27 the apostle Paul commanded, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.”

Marc Roby: There is a lot packed into those two verses.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, there is. First, we see that Christ “gave himself up” to make the church holy, which speaks about his sacrificial death. Then, secondly, we read that he is cleansing his church “by the washing with water through the word”, which speaks about our being sanctified through reading and obeying the Bible, which is the word of God. And, thirdly, we see that Christ is going to present the church “to himself”. Interestingly, in John 10:29 and again in John 17:24 Christ refers to his people as being given to him by the Father. So both are true; God the Father gives us to the Son and God the Son purifies us to present us to himself. It is hard to grasp, but we are the Father’s gift to the Son.

Marc Roby: It is astounding grace that the Son would want such a gift!

Dr. Spencer: I agree. But it is a little easier to understand when you realize that he doesn’t want us just the way we are. He wants us the way we will be when he is done working in us. Jesus Christ will not be our Savior if he is not also our Lord. And as our Lord he is at work transforming us. In Romans 8:29 we read that “those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.” This being conformed to the likeness of Christ is the process of sanctification, which all true believers go through. We will talk about this more in our next session, but for now I want to focus on this idea that Jesus Christ is Lord.

Marc Roby: Which is not something many modern churches talk about.

Dr. Spencer: You’re right about that. There is a completely unbiblical idea that is very common in the modern church, which says that I can accept Jesus as my Savior without also having him as my Lord. But there are two fatal problems with that thinking. The first is that Jesus Christ is the Lord of the universe whether we acknowledge that fact or not.

Marc Roby: And even if we don’t choose to voluntarily acknowledge that fact in this life, we will when it comes time for judgment. Philippians 2:9-11 tell us that “God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

Dr. Spencer: That is a scary thought; if you reject Christ now, on the day of judgment you will confess him as Lord and then go to hell. But getting back to our topic, the second fatal problem with the thinking that Jesus can be your Savior without being your Lord is that the Bible makes it absolutely clear he must be your Lord or you do not belong to him and he did not die for you. In Matthew 7:21 Jesus himself told us that “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” We can call Jesus Lord, we may think he is our Savior, but on the day of judgment only those who have done the will of the Father enter the kingdom of heaven. In other words, only those who have obeyed.

Marc Roby: Jesus also said in John 14:15, “If you love me, you will obey what I command.”

Dr. Spencer: That is the same idea. We could go on, but we made this point before and will get to it again in our next session, so for now let me just say that the biblical case is so strong that if one of our listeners is struggling with the idea that obedience is necessary, my best counsel is to take a week and sit down and read through the New Testament, making note of how may times and in how many ways it says that you must obey if you are God’s children.

We are saved by grace alone through faith alone, our works play no part in earning salvation. But if we are not living a changed life, striving for obedience out of love for God, then we have not been changed. We are not born again, and we will not be in heaven.

Marc Roby: And that fact is intimately linked with the holiness of God since heaven is where God is in the fullest sense.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, it is. James Boice, in his book Foundations of the Christian Faith, points out that the Bible “calls God holy more than anything else. Holy is the epithet most often affixed to his name. Also we read that God alone is holy.”[2] Now, in saying that God alone is holy he is referring to the first meaning we have discussed for the word holy; namely, that of separation from creation. And that is why I wanted to spend some more time on this attribute, I want to emphasize this dominant aspect.

Boice points out that people tend to think of holiness mostly in terms of morality and, therefore, as something that admits to degrees. One person can be a little more or less holy than someone else.

Marc Roby: When we do that, it is our natural, that is to say sinful, tendency to pick particular behaviors to focus on so that we come out on top.

Dr. Spencer: That is exactly what we tend to do. If someone has no trouble with putting on weight, there is a tendency for that person to be judgmental toward those who are overweight. If we have been blessed with good jobs and financial security, it is easy to look down on someone who has troubles with personal debt. And the list can go on and on. I am not diminishing the fact that gluttony and fiscal irresponsibility are sins, but I think you get my point. Our natural sinful tendency is to minimize our own sins and to be more judgmental toward the sins of others.

Marc Roby: And such thinking leads to thinking less of other people and more of yourself, which is the opposite of true Christian character.

Dr. Spencer: And when people think about holiness only in these terms, they also tend to think of God as just better than they are, but not completely different than they are. But the reality is that he is radically different – it isn’t just a matter of degree. Which is why Isaiah was undone when he saw God as we learned in our last session.

Marc Roby: And while Isaiah’s experience may be the most exalted view of God given to anyone in the Bible, he was not the only person who had the experience of coming face-to-face, so to speak, with the holy God. I am thinking of Job’s confrontation with God, where Job declared, in Job 40:4-5, “I am unworthy—how can I reply to you? I put my hand over my mouth. I spoke once, but I have no answer— twice, but I will say no more.”

Dr. Spencer: That is another great example. Putting his hand over his mouth was a polite way of saying that he shut up. And in Job 42:5-6 he proclaimed “My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.”

We must come to grips with what is truly meant by the holiness of God, and when we do, we too will be quiet and repent. Boice writes that “in its original and most fundamental sense, holy is not an ethical concept at all. Rather it means that which is of the very nature of God and which therefore distinguishes him from everything else. It is what sets God apart from his creation. It has to do with his transcendence.”[3]

Marc Roby: And to be transcendent means to go beyond normal limits or to be beyond comprehension, or to not be subject to the limitations of our physical universe.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, those ideas can all apply. Boice goes on to say that holiness “is the characteristic of God that sets him apart from his creation. In this, holiness has at least four elements.” And he then goes on to present the four elements, which he says are: first, majesty, second, will, third, wrath and fourth, righteousness. The fourth element, righteousness, refers to the moral aspect of holiness and we don’t need to spend more time on that now.

Marc Roby: And majesty is also fairly clear. It refers to having sovereign power and authority, great dignity or grandeur. But what does Boice mean by saying one element of God’s holiness is will?

Dr. Spencer: I would summarize this point by saying that he is referring to the fact that God has personality. He wants to avoid any cold notion of holiness as an abstract concept. We must remember that God is personal. He has his sovereign will and he acts in accordance with it. For example, as we saw a couple of minutes ago from Philippians 2:9-11, it is God’s will that every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.

Marc Roby: Alright. What about wrath? I doubt that many of our listeners would have mentioned that as an aspect of God’s holiness.

Dr. Spencer: I’m sure that quite a few would have left that off of their list. But many others agree with Boice on this point. Wrath is, as Boice put it, “an essential part of God’s holiness”[4]. He also points out that we must guard against thinking of God’s wrath in human terms. It is not an emotional response to some personal affront. Boice writes that “It is, rather, that necessary and proper stance of the holy God to all that opposes him.”[5] R.C. Sproul wrote that “If there is no wrath in God, then there is no justice in God. If there is no justice in God, then there is no goodness in God. And if there is no goodness in God, then there is no God. A God without wrath is not God.”[6]

Marc Roby: That’s a very strong statement. But I see the logic. I think it could be rephrased by saying that in order to be just, God must punish sin, which means he must have wrath in the sense that Boice noted, namely that of being the “necessary and proper stance of the holy God to all that opposes him.”

Dr. Spencer: I think that’s a fair restatement. And it agrees with what God tells us in his word. In Romans 3:25-27 we read in part that “God presented him [meaning Christ] as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, … so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.” In other words, sin, which is opposition to God, must be punished for God to be just. Jesus Christ died on the cross as a substitute for his chosen people, which is called substitutionary atonement. He took the punishment that they deserved, which satisfies God’s wrath and allows God to declare those who are united to Christ by faith just, meaning that the penalty due them for their sin has been paid.

Marc Roby: I remember we mentioned these verses in Session 73 as a great example of God’s justice, love and wisdom all working together.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, we did mention them then. And we could have mentioned God’s wrath as well, because his wrath is not only an aspect of his holiness, but it is also obviously intimately linked with his justice. Sin must be punished by a holy and just God because it is opposition to him and he is the sovereign Lord.

Marc Roby: You mentioned before that Jesus is Lord whether people acknowledge that fact or not.

Dr. Spencer: And the lordship of God is a fundamental aspect of who God is, although that statement doesn’t do his lordship justice, it is far more than just an aspect of who God is. As the Creator and Judge of the universe he has created, he can’t be anything other than the Lord of his creation. The theologian John Frame writes that “God’s lordship is grounded in his eternal nature, and therefore in his attributes.”[7]

Frame has an interesting discussion about God’s attributes in The Doctrine of God. He writes that “We should think about God’s attributes as servants, within the covenant relationship.”[8] I don’t want to go too far off track here, but his point is that as creatures we think about God in language and concepts that we can understand, but at the same time these are based on God’s revelation to us, so they tell us things about God that are true.

Marc Roby: And, to stay on track with our current discussion, God certainly does reveal himself as holy, in fact thrice holy as we have seen in Isaiah 6:3.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, that’s right. And although God’s lordship can be related to a number of God’s essential attributes, I think it is natural for us to talk about it in the context of his holiness because God’s holiness speaks about his being completely set apart from his creation, and by definition lordship also speaks about being completely set apart, to be more specific, to be above, to be in control.

Marc Roby: It sounds as though we are getting ready to switch topics. Talking about God’s holiness in terms of his being separate from his creation has led us to the concept of his lordship.

Dr. Spencer: We are about ready to switch, but we’ll have just a bit more to say about holiness next time first.

Marc Roby: Alright, I look forward to that, but we’re out of time for today.

[1] All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® (1984 version). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™.

[2] James Boice, Foundations of the Christian Faith, Revised in One Volume, InterVarsity Press, 1986, pg. 125

[3] Ibid, pg. 126

[4] Ibid, pg. 128

[5] Ibid

[6]R.C. Sproul, Truths We Confess: A Layman’s Guide to the Westminster Confession of Faith, P&R Publishing Co., 2006, Vol. 2, pg. 283

[7]John M. Frame, The Doctrine of God, P&R Publishing Company, 2002, pg. 388

[8] Ibid, pg. 390

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