Friday, December 6, 2013

Sovereignty, 2b: Immutable Attributes - Does God "Change" If He Is Merciful One Moment and Just the Next?

We saw in our last post that God’s very essence cannot and will not ever change. He cannot be greater than He already is and He will never depreciate in any way, even from within Himself in what could be thought of as a neutral or lateral change. It is as simple as the fact that we do change. Just as simple as that is, we ought to be able to understand that God simply doesn’t change, nor is he susceptible or vulnerable to change by any external force – neither death, life, angels, powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to change God. That is why none of these things will be able to separate us from his love – His adoring attribute, as detailed in Romans 8:31-39.

How can we know for sure that the attributes of God don’t change? Is that to mean He feels all emotions at the same time like someone who never knows what to feel at the right time? Not exactly. Is it that he does change in one regard if he shifts from a judgmental disposition to a merciful one? Or a condemning one to a commending one? Wouldn’t these attributes be manifested differently depending on the prayers of the saints, or the circumstances with which men find themselves in?

These questions are based on flawed assumptions. If God was not omniscient or omnipotent, then perhaps He would have to re-­act to circumstances, rather than having been pro-active in determining the circumstances in the first place. Further, if God had a will that could be imposed on by ours, then perhaps prayers would actually change His mind rather than Him causing men to pray within the eternal will of His immutable Self. That men have actually reversed the original intention of God through prayer has never happened, nor will it. For a helpful look at the point of prayer, in light of God’s eternality, omniscience and immutability, see my post: "If God's Will Doesn't Change, Is Prayer Pointless?"

The study of God’s sovereignty is no small chore and if we could sum up everything about God and His sovereignty in a series of blog posts, then He clearly wouldn’t be an infinite and eternal God. However, we know He is! And so, we take what has once for all been delivered down to us to see what the Holy Spirit has revealed in the pages of Scripture, which is sufficient to equip thoroughly and to build up the body of Christ, so that we may know God and have life in His Name.

A diligent study of God’s nature and character will only elevate our thoughts about God, which is what the Church desperately needs. The higher the mountain of our thoughts and belief of God, the more impossible it will be for the Devil-pricked philosophies and mentalities to scale it. Our thoughts of God could never be too high. As A. W. Tozer rightly said, “The first step down for any church is taken when it surrenders its high opinion of God.” This moves us to study Scripture, so that our opinions of God are accurate, being Biblically based. Tozer believed that there were answers in Scripture that were both full and satisfying saying, “While the name of God is secret and His essential nature incomprehensible, He in condescending love has by revelation declared certain things to be true of Himself. These we call His attributes.”

So the question of the day is: Can God’s attributes change?

In order to approach this properly, we need to remember God’s eternality. He was here before all creation and time as He was the Creator that made it happen. Speaking of the oneness of God the Father with the Son, the Apostle Paul said that “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him.” Paul’s conclusion? “That in everything He might be preeminent” (Col. 1:15-18). That is to say, first in, or before, all things, be it succession, rank, time, etc.

John Calvin wrote in his Institutes of the Christian Religion, “From the power of God we are naturally led to consider his eternity, since that from which all other things derive their origin must necessarily be self-existent and eternal” (Book 1, Chap. 5, Sec. 6).

God has also made it known to us that He has a predetermined plan in the world (Eph. 1:4; Acts 17:26). This will continue to come up through our studies, as it should, for God would certainly not be able to have a predetermined plan if He were subject to change in any way. By the very nature of God – His omniscience, omnipotence and immutability – we are forced into the corner of recognition that God would have to have a predetermined plan for everything with that kind of sovereignty. Being all-knowing alone demands it. He either knows everything that is going to happen, or He doesn’t know everything. The only way for any being to have knowledge of all future events, is to orchestrate them itself. Such it is with God.

All at once, God is all. He is all of His attributes all at once, which is why we sing of Him being our All in All! The Latin word for “all” is “Omni”, hence the way in which we describe His attributes. This is about as good as a finite mind could express our God of infiniteness. And being that God is eternal, having always been in existence without having been created by anything, we can count on the fact that God will remain eternal and immutably so – without any variation or shadow due to change (James 1:17).

All of this must be established in order to have a chance at understanding and believing that the more specific attributes of God are also immutable, such as His mercy & justice, love & wrath, etc. How can God be unchangeable if He, Himself, being these things (i.e. God is love), is also someone who exercises justice and sends unrepentant sinners to Hell? Does He shift a few degrees to the left or right depending on the situation? Isn’t that considered a type of change?

This only seems impossible to answer if our assumption is that mercy and justice are always at odds with each other and cannot coexist fully at the same time. God is always a God of mercy and of justice and, as A. W. Pink once said, His sovereignty determines how it is exercised, for He will have mercy on whom He will have mercy (Ex. 33:19 & Rom. 9:15-18). Where we must stop in our attempt at explaining God is in demanding an answer to “why?” from God. As Paul says about this very temptation, “Who are you, oh man, to answer back to God” (Rom. 9:20)?

This difficult reconciliation of justice and mercy can be better explained in this way: If God were only a God of justice and not a God of mercy, we would all be sent to Hell. Our sin has easily earned us a spot there. If God were only a God of mercy and not of justice, then sin would never be punished and all of human-kind would suffer immensely since the only way to know what justice looks like is to have it existent in the ultimate Judge. The problem of sin would never be rectified since it could never be dealt with…only winked at by God – an absurd possibility! God must be just and merciful all at the same time according to His will. Having mercy on a few does not mean He is not all-merciful based on the fact that all of human kind did not receive mercy; rather He is all-merciful to the few He chose.
Let’s not stop there. Even in God’s selection of whom He has mercy unto eternal life, it would not be right to say that not one person has every experienced the mercy of God, for when the punishment for sin is death, it is obvious in our wicked world that many reprobate minds are experiencing a temporal mercy of God in the time they have to repent of sin. Paul warns us, though, in Romans, not to presume on this gracious gift:

“Do you suppose, O man […] that you will escape the judgment of God?  Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God's kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?  But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God's righteous judgment will be revealed” (Rom. 2:3-5).

You see? Even the wicked experience the grace and mercy of God – every day they aren’t rightly killed by Him. God is indeed all-merciful and just, all at the same time.

Calvin also commented on this temporal mercy of God: “When any one crime calls forth visible manifestations of His anger, it must be because He hates all crimes; and, on the other hand, his leaving many crimes unpunished, only proves that there is a judgment in reserve, when the punishment now delayed shall be inflicted. In like manner, how richly does He supply with the means of contemplating his mercy, when, as frequently happens, he continues to visit miserable sinners with unwearied kindness, until He subdues their depravity, and woos them back with more than a parent’s fondness?”

Jonathan Edwards once said: “This world is all the Hell that a true Christian is to ever endure, and it is all the Heaven that unbelievers shall ever enjoy.” How true it is when we are extended life when it is not deserved. It should be the conviction of every true Christian to tell people about the temporary mercy of God they are already getting, but the coming Judgment that will once and for all come down on anyone who doesn’t yield to God’s kindness leading us to repentance. Christ was the substitutionary death for us!

Tozer talked about the archbishop of Canterbury, Anselm, and his findings when studying the justice and mercy of God. According to Tozer, “Anselm’s findings may be paraphrased this way: God’s being is unitary; it is not composed of a number of parts working harmoniously, but simply one. There is nothing in His justice which forbids the exercise of His mercy. To think of God as we sometimes think of a court where a kindly judge, compelled by law, sentences a man to death with tears and apologies, is to think in a manner wholly unworthy of the true God. God is never at cross-purposes with Himself. No attribute of God is in conflict with another.”

I will end this segment with another human example. There is a story of then Governor George W. Bush who had a difficult decision on his hands as a professing Christian in public office. A middle aged female criminal was tried and found guilty of serious crimes warranting the death penalty. While on death row, in prison, she allegedly placed in her faith in Christ, repenting of her sin and obvious immorality. Some of the public desired to see her released as she seemed to have been genuinely saved by God. Even Bush’s own family urged him to let her go. In Bush’s conviction of justice and mercy, He did not lift the penalty. He stated it was his responsibility to exercise justice as the Governor in power, but that if she was a Christian she would only experience the eternal mercy of God sooner than she ever thought.

Everyone experiences some level of mercy and grace of God, but it is to allow us time to repent of sin and start living obedient lives to God in anticipation of the glory of Heaven where God’s mercy is shown in the presence of His people and His justice is satisfied and shown in the death and resurrection of His Son, Jesus Christ, who graciously paid the penalty of sin for us. This drives the saints to their knees in thankfulness and worship. It is surely in the marvelous truth of God's immutability that we can find peace that surpasses understanding!

To be continued…

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Acceptable Worship. In The Splendor of Holiness.

As a “worship leader”, or music director rather, I am continually engaged on what it means to worship. If I am not being engaged in that question, then I often ask it myself, both to my team and others who may lead churches, or who appreciate this unique aspect of church ministry.

It is an important question.

I think many of us understand that it is not just found in the musical sing-along time of a Sunday morning church service, but at the same time we rarely use the term outside of that context. We talk about worship and quote John 4:23 all of the time and yet somehow we can’t get past the idea that worship is found solely in music and singing. It could be like what Dave Ramsey said about saving money – we always talk about it, but never actually do it! Or we get philosophical about it, but fail to understand or execute its application to our budget.

What we, as Christians, do not want to do, is to be able to talk about worship and where it is found in the Bible and then never actually do it, which presupposes we are doing it correctly, so it is accepted by God. That’s the bigger concern.

The Greek word for worship that we often see translated in the Bible is proskuneo. This word is very direct in its practical application in that it means to prostrate, bow, or kneel in profound reverence. It even means to kiss the hand “towards” someone. It is a physical action that shows submission, obedience and vulnerability.

We can read many passages in the Bible, like in Revelation, where people “fell on their faces and worshiped God” (11:16), or “fell down and worshiped God” (19:4), or when an overwhelmed John fell at the feet of the angel in worship and was rebuked and told to “worship God” (19:10 & 22:9).

This same word, proskuneo, was also used to describe the leper that came to Jesus in Matthew 8:2 when he “bowed down before Him”. Or when the synagogue official in Matthew 9:18 came to Jesus and “bowed down before Him,” asking Jesus to bring his dead daughter back to life. It was a sign of reverent and humble submission.

Even more telling is when Jesus explained in Matthew 18 how the Kingdom of Heaven was like the king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. When one of the slaves had no means to repay him, the king ordered that he and his whole family be sold along with all his possessions in order to be paid back. At this the slave “fell to the ground and prostrated himself before him saying, ‘Have patience with me and I will repay you everything.’”

When the Bible talks about worship it is talking about the literal act of bowing down with our face to the ground in reverence, fear, humility and submission before God. This would be the actual “act” of worship, or the physical posture of worship.

It is no wonder, then, that Paul had to specify to the New Testament believers in Rome what their spiritual act of worship was, or what it was that demonstrated in their hearts that they were in fact bowing down to the holy and awesome God in humility and submission and not the world any longer. He says in 12:1, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.”

So, what is the spiritual act of this falling down before God in worship? Offering our bodies as living sacrifices to Him. This is something the readers understood since the Jews, via the priests, were always offering sacrifices on their altars for different things, be it sin offerings, praise offerings, etc. Now with Jesus acting as the final atonement for sin, being the perfectly sinless Lamb of God, the people had no need for these physical sacrifices anymore. Christ was sufficient! Now they were to offer themselves to God in obedience to God, since it was by God’s mercy that they had been forgiven.

Now, take notice that it also says to be “holy and acceptable” to God.

This echoes what the author of the Book of Hebrews said in 12:28-29, “Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.”

Acceptable worship is only found where there is reverence and awe for Holy God – a consuming fire! When anyone bows down before God with no reverence, no awe, no adoration or submission, then they are not worshiping God acceptably. They are only showing outward signs of compliance and are in fact an offense to God. Proverbs 21:27 says, “The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination; how much more when he brings it with evil intent.” It is the Judas Kiss being perpetuated throughout the ages when we say we worship God, yet do not live obediently to Him in every area of our lives, dealing with sin when it is present. May this never be for us! To come back to Romans 12, we must not be conformed to the world.

One phrase in particular that brings all of these thoughts together was said by David first in 1 Chronicles 16 in an exaltation of praise and worship to God for the safe delivery of the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem from the Philistines. His song is absolutely beautiful and shines brightly from a heart that sought God and His glory. In verses 28-30, specifically, we see an important indicator to acceptable worship:

“Ascribe to the Lord, O families of the peoples,
ascribe to the Lord glory and strength!
Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name;
bring an offering and come before him!
Worship the Lord in the splendor of holiness;
tremble before him, all the earth.”

Right away we see everything we just talked about in Romans and Hebrews. Holiness is to be evident in our heart and lives before God. Our spiritual worship, after all, is to be holy and acceptable as we offer ourselves as living sacrifices to God. Additionally, the word “tremble” found here in David’s song indicates having a fear of God. Fear is a word you get when you combine “reverence” and “awe” – the very things outlined in our Hebrews 12 passage as being necessary for acceptable worship.

But there’s even more to this one line in particular: “Worship the Lord in the splendor of holiness.”

It’s time to open this storm door and step down into the depths of this verse that will reveal even more to how worship is properly offered, thus being truly acceptable before our consuming fire – Holy, Almighty God.

Some theologians would translate this verse to say, “Worship the Lord because of the splendor of His holiness.” While I don’t believe that is the intent of meaning of this phrase in particular, this certainly is a most crucial reason to worship our Lord and there is plenty of evidence in Scripture where we can read of God’s holiness and the command to worship him as such.

David had a magnificent ability to talk about God’s holiness and majesty, especially in the form of songs we find in the Psalms. He was fully convinced and convicted that we must worship God because of His holiness.

Psalm 99 lays out some clear reasons for the believer to worship their God. A condensed look at verses 1-3 reveals: the Lord reigns; He is enthroned upon the cherubim; He is great in Zion; He is exalted; Holy is He!

Then 4 & 5: He loves justice; He’s established equity; He’s executed justice and righteousness; Holy is He!

Finally, verses 8 & 9: He is a forgiving God; He is an avenger of wrongdoing; The Lord our God is holy!

Twice in this chapter we are told, “Exalt the Lord our God; worship at his footstool [and holy mountain]; for the Lord our God is Holy!”

David cannot be clearer: Worship God because He is holy! Drop the gavel. Close the book. Done.

It is no wonder that some theologians take “worship the Lord in the splendor of holiness” to mean we are to worship the Lord because of His holiness, because that is, in fact, a true statement, but given the context of David’s song in 1 Chronicles 16, David is exhorting us to be something God has always wanted us to be – holy.

All over the Old Testament, God is seen telling the people of Israel to “be holy for I am holy.” His reason for taking the people out of Egypt was to bring the nation of Israel to a consecrated place to serve and worship Him as a holy people, since God is a holy God (Ex. 7:16; 8:1; 9:1).

“I am the Lord who brought you up out of the land of Egypt to be your God. You shall therefore be holy, for I am holy.” –Lev. 11:45

“You shall be holy to me, for I the Lord am holy and have separated you from the peoples, that you should be mine.” –Lev. 20:26

The Apostle Peter drove this home in 1 Peter 1 in his own explanation of the mandate to be holy and not to be a part of the world’s sinful lifestyles. He wrote, “As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy” (vv. 14-16).

This is reminiscent of what Paul said in Romans 12:1-2, again, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

Acceptable worship always comes around to the requirement to be holy. That is what defines a Christian. We are holy because God is holy. Indeed, we are holy because God made us holy by His mercies and by His grace.

It just so happens that a portion of David’s song in 1 Chronicles 16 is also re-recorded in Psalm 96, which is what we will use to understand the context of worshiping the Lord in the splendor of holiness. It helps if we break this short Psalm down into four segments:

1)      Verses 1-3 are instructions to the worshiper

2)      Verses 4-6 are reasons for why we ought to worship God

3)      Verses 7-10 are more instructions to the worshiper

4)      Verses 11-13 is a personal expression of praise and worship from David

Knowing this, we can then see our phrase in question is found in Segment 3, the second set of instructions for the worshiper. We are told here to “ascribe to the Lord glory and strength!” This is recognizing God as having all glory and strength and then attributing it to him as such. That’s what ascribing means- To attribute something to someone.

David also tells us to “bring an offering and come into his courts!” In David’s day, this could well be an actual offering on the altar, or perhaps even an offering of a sacrifice of praise (Ps. 116:17). This would be fitting with Hebrews 13:15 for us today, “Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name.” It is, after all, what David is doing in these Psalms- acknowledging His name and attributing to Him glory and strength.

Then, in verse nine, we see, “worship the Lord in the splendor of holiness.”

This verse can actually be read as, “worship the Lord in the splendor of holy attire.”

This is where our study reaches a new level of amazing. You will see what I mean. That key understanding to the translation, in that it can be read as “holy attire”, brings us to a deeper understanding of historical, transcendental worship – that is, worship that is historically consistent and transcends all times, from the OT days to us now.

David is instructing the worshiper to worship in something. What? Splendor. How do you get this splendor and what is it? You get it by being holy, but this not of yourselves, or for yourselves. It too, is the gracious work of God for the glory of God. As Paul told the Philippians, “for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” This is right after he tells them to keep being obedient to God. When we continue to obey God’s laws, we will become more like Christ, which means He is making us more and more holy as He is holy.

God is holy and full of splendor, so we ought to worship in the splendor that is found in holiness! Just as an obedient sacrifice offered on the altar in the OT was a pleasing aroma to God (Ex. 8:21; 29:18,25,41; Lev. 1:9,13,17, etc.), so is the obedient, holy heart on the altar of our lives to God, or in the living sacrifice we offer ourselves as.

The prophet Samuel sternly corrected the disobedient King Saul’s shallow understanding of pleasing and acceptable worship when he said, “Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams” (1 Sam. 15:22).

The helpful understanding we get from the “holy attire” in the Psalm 96 parallel is found from cover to cover in the Bible. The splendor of holy attire was taken very seriously by God, and consequently by the Israelites, when God first laid out the guidelines for acceptable worship in Exodus 28 & 29.

These chapters give elaborate detail to the process that the priests must go through to not only offer an acceptable sacrifice, but consecrate themselves as well. Chapter 28 speaks specifically to the garments of the priests. Verses 2-3 says, “You shall make holy garments for Aaron your brother, for glory and for beauty. You shall speak to all the skillful, whom I have filled with a spirit of skill, that they make Aaron’s garments to consecrate him for my priesthood.”

The exact articles of clothing and the details required for them are then laid out in detail and Moses is constantly told they are to be executed with skillful precision (vv. 3, 6, 8, 15, 27 & 28).

With all of this said, we get to chapter 29, which outlines in detail how the priests are to be consecrated for service to God. There is about a week long process involved in this consecration. Let’s look at verse 21, though. It reads, “Then you shall take part of the blood that is on the altar, and of the anointing oil, and sprinkle it on Aaron and his garments, and on his sons’ garments with him[…]”

This last line is key…

“[…]He and his garments shall be holy, and his sons and his sons’ garments with him.”

Again, in verse 29, it refers to “the holy garments of Aaron” and how they were to be used by his sons after him, by which they would be ordained and consecrated in as well. No one else in Israel had garments like these that were considered holy by God. They were exclusively for the priests. The focus of the whole sacrificial system was to be done in strict obedience to God’s design, in a holy way. When done according to God’s plan, he considered them consecrated and holy to Him.

The purpose of these priests was to make atonement for the sins of the people and to intercede to God for them in this regard and this was no light matter. They were putting their lives at stake by doing this because if they didn’t do something right, they would die. They had to have the right articles of clothing crafted and then worn in the right way at the right time. If they didn’t, God said they would “bear guilt and die” (Ex. 28:35 & 43). This was pass or fail.

Exodus 30:10 says, “Aaron shall make atonement on [the Altar’s] horns once a year. With the blood of the sin offering of atonement he shall make atonement for it once in the year throughout your generations. It is most holy to the Lord.”

So we see through all of this that holiness was of utmost importance to God. The priests were to be consecrated and holy, as were their garments, and the altar they offered sacrifices on. He is, after all, the epitome of holiness. He is a consuming fire and He demands holiness from us.

Even a cursory glance at the sacrificial system of the Old Testament will quickly reveal to us the underlying principle and concept of the need for our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Every single person that ever lived, with the exception of Jesus of Nazareth, is a sinner. Left to our own devices, we will most assuredly end up in the eternal Hell that Jesus so often warned us about. Before Jesus came to this Earth, it was the same scenario for the Old Testament Jews. They had no way to be right before God without a priest interceding for them by offering sacrifices to God for the atonement of their sin.

Hebrews 9:22 says, “Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sins.”

This is why blood was sprinkled on the priests garments – to be made holy, and sprinkled on the altar – to be made holy, and sprinkled on the people – to be made holy. Blood was sprinkled on the tent of meeting and the vessels used in worship as well (vs. 21).

For us, in the post-resurrection world, we have no need for perpetual sacrifices anymore. The blood of Jesus Christ is far greater than any animal and has completely satisfied the requirements for atonement and reconciliation with God forever!

“But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God. Therefore he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant” (vv. 11-15).

This is so important for us to realize the significant difference between the old covenant and the new covenant brought by Jesus. Even though the priests were consecrated to God and considered holy before God, they were still sinners in need of the very sacrifice they were offering for everyone else.

Hebrews 5: 1-3 says, “For every high priest chosen from among men is appointed to act on behalf of men in relation to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. He can deal gently with the ignorant and wayward, since he himself is beset with weakness. Because of this he is obligated to offer sacrifice for his own sins just as he does for those of the people.”

Jesus came to settle this need for our atonement and He did so with a universal stamp of finality. He is perfect, sinless, holy and He is God. He is the only one who could have possibly fulfilled this spiritual need for mankind.

“And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him, being designated by God a high priest after the order of Melchizedek” (Heb. 5:9-10).

Then in 10:11-18, “And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.”

Finally, so as not to lose the lesson here that by Christ’s blood we are made holy, verse 21 & 22 says that “since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water” (Emphasis mine).

Now, because of Jesus’s substitutionary atonement for our sins, by faith and repentance of sin, we are sprinkled with His blood so that we are considered imputed with His righteousness, being made holy unto Him.

Now we can worship Him in the splendor of holiness! It’s the only way to worship acceptably.

Now, referring back to 1 Peter and his exhortation to be holy…how is this fleshed out? Is there a connection to the new covenant believer in regards to the “holy attire” that David talked about in 1 Chronicles and in the Psalms? How are these all tied together?

This is where we get closer to the other cover of our Bibles. Look at Revelation 19.

This is beautiful.

In verse six, “Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the roar of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, crying out, “Hallelujah! For the Lord God Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready…”

As you probably already know, the Bride is the Church, the collective group of the redeemed saints of God – those sprinkled clean by the blood of Jesus Christ.

How has the Church, the Bride of Christ, made herself ready?

Verse 8, “It was granted her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure [emphasis mine]” –

“for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints.”

Holiness! Righteousness! The church is adorned by it because of Christ! It is Christ in us who makes us righteous and holy. It is Christ in us that makes us fit for worship. It is Christ in us that gives us the ability to honor God back at all…

Like the Apostle Paul said in 1 Corinthians 15:10 while humbly recognizing his fallen nature, “By the grace of God I am what I am…”

Let’s make no mistake, either… the Church is granted the ability to be righteous and bear righteous deeds in keeping with repentance. We never would have wanted it or asked for it without God’s sovereign call in our lives. We recognize our responsibility in making the decision to repent of sin, but we recognize our inability to do so without His breathing into our spiritual corpse, life – Regeneration.

It is by grace we are saved and by grace that we can worship Him in the splendor of holiness.

Friends, do not think that acceptable worship is something you can manipulate out of an instrument or experience with the right “flow” of a worship service. True worship is found in those who are truly bought by Christ. These are the true worshipers that the Father seeks and saves. True worshipers worship in spirit (with a right heart before God) and in truth (informed by Holy Scripture). You bring your worship, your sacrifice of praise, to the Sunday morning meeting. You are either a worshiper, or you are not.

Worship God! And worship in the splendor of holiness.

All because of Jesus.




Saturday, April 20, 2013

Sovereignty Study, Part 2a: God's Immutability

One of the most fascinating aspects of God is His immutability, which can be defined as the perfection of God by which He is devoid of all change in essence, attributes, consciousness, will and promises. In short, He is unchangeable.
All throughout Scripture we see evidence of God’s immutability and the attestations of His people who have been impacted by it. On the surface, the fact that God doesn’t change may seem easy to grasp and somewhat irrelevant for practical application, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. God’s immutability is in direct harmony with his eternality and infiniteness. If God were changeable, either by external forces, or somehow by His own will, then the possibility of Him being eternal and consistent in His promises would be up for question. The implications of that would be staggering, significantly casting doubt on His own revealed Word and our faith in Him.
Charles Haddon Spurgeon said with conviction:

“The doctrine of the immutability of God should be more considered than it is, for the neglect of it tinges the theology of many religious teachers and makes them utter many things of which they would have seen the absurdity long ago if they had remembered the divine declaration, “I am God, I change not, therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed.”

As best as you can, think about God and how He has forever existed, even before the world began, knowing that He will continue to exist after the world is recreated. From the universal beginning to the apocalyptic end, He has told us what already happened and what will happen and has established the means for how we ought to live in the middle. He created time. He created existence. He created the past, present and future. How could a God who is subject to change, do this? How could God possibly orchestrate all of these incredibly complicated series of events to work out perfectly in the end if He was liable to change His mind somewhere down the road?
If this were the case, then the prophecies found in Scripture could potentially be wrong, thus nullifying the infallibility and veracity of Scripture. Our faith, originally founded in the promise of the forgiveness of sins, would be left in a panic, wondering if God would change His mind about that, too. The most important questions in life would have no final answers if God were not a God of unchanging finality.
The Essence of God Does Not Change
Does Scripture really get this specific about the immutability of God? It certainly does. As the first part of our definition stated, the immutability of God is the perfection of God by which He is devoid of all change in… essence.
Tozer once said,

“To say that God is immutable is to say that he never differs from Himself. The concept of a growing or developing God is not found in the Scriptures.”

Indeed, that is true. One of the most popular passages in the Bible referring to God’s unchanging nature, in fact, the same one that Spurgeon quoted, is Malachi 3:6, which simply says, “I, the Lord, do not change.”
The context around this verse is extremely important to understanding the significance of it. For one thing, God just got done saying in the preceding verse that He would be a swift witness against all kinds of sinners: sorcerers, adulterers, against those who swear falsely, against those who oppress the hired worker in his wages, the widow and the fatherless, against those who thrust aside sojourners, and against those who do not fear the Lord.
It is after this that he states, “I, the Lord, do not change.
Immediately following that, He says, “Therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed.” Israel was not going to be completely destroyed due to their sins since God had promised Abraham that he would always have a great and vast nation, documented in Genesis 15. What is also important to remember is that Israel has always been on the hook for one thing that was essential to being God’s people: obedience.
When Moses arrived on the scene and was communing with God on Mt. Sinai during the burning bush event, God told Moses in Exodus 19, “If you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. These are the words that you shall speak to the people of Israel.”
Since the Lord does not change, in essence, the Israelites knew they had a God who would never think of sin any differently than he did when He flooded the earth, but they also knew that He would be faithful to carry out His promise to be a great nation unto the Lord when they were obedient to God’s commands. If God varied on any of this, then what God would have to say would not be something that the Israelites could count on. He would be just as good as any man could be to his word, which is unreliable.
In between condemning sin and promising vengeance upon sinners, as well as affirming His promise remained to Abraham, God affirmed His own sovereignty by stating simply, “I, the Lord, do not change.”
James says it another way, “the Father of lights has no variation or shadow due to change” (1:17). Nothing He does alters who He is or contradicts what He has always been. He is the same yesterday, today and forever (Heb. 13:8).
Of equal importance is in understanding that God’s unchanging essence directly coincides with His eternal nature.
Of the earth and all that is in it, the psalmist says in chapter 102, “Of old you laid the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands. They will perish, but you will remain; they will all wear out like a garment. You will change them like a robe, and they will pass away, but you are the same and your years have no end” (25-27).
Verse 27 brings both God’s immutability and eternal nature into the same thought, showing us that they are one together. Stephen Charnock, a Puritan theologian in the early 17th century, is probably known best for his book The Existence and Attributes of God, which was published after his death in 1682. In his exposition of Psalm 102:27 he explains so wonderfully how much truth to God’s sovereignty is found here:

“The essence of God, with all the perfections of his nature, are pronounced the same, without any variation from eternity to eternity. So that the text does not only assert the eternal duration of God, but His immutability in that duration; His eternity is signified in that expression, “thou shalt endure”; His immutability in this, “thou art the same.” To endure argues indeed this immutability as well as eternity; for what endures is not changed and what is changed does not endure. “But thou art the same” does more fully signify it. He could not be the same if He could be changed into any other thing than what He is. The Psalmist therefore puts, not thou “hast been” or “shall be”, but “thou art” the same, without any alteration; thou art the same, that is, the same God, the same in essence and nature, the same in will and purpose, you do change all other things as you please; but you are immutable in every respect, and receive no shadow of change, though never so light and small. The Psalmist here alludes to the name Jehovah, I am, and does not only ascribe immutability to God, but excludes everything else from partaking in that perfection.”

It is no wonder that after this wonderful truth is written, the psalmist ends his psalm with, “The children of your servants shall dwell secure; their offspring shall be established before you” (28).
Tozer suggested that if God could indeed change, it would have to be in one of three directions…

“He must go from better to worse, or from worse to better; or, granted that the moral quality remain stable, he must change within Himself, as from immature to mature or from one order of being to another. It should be clear that God can move in none of these directions. His perfections forever rule out any such possibilities.”

God has always been infinitely perfect and fully holy without any possibility of attaining to something greater. He is the greatest source and example of perfection and holiness we will ever have because He is perfect and holy. His immutability goes hand in hand with His eternality, for if He could change, or was subject to change, then his ability to be our holy, saving, righteous God would be cast into doubt.

Let us not ever doubt that our God is unchanging and unchangeable, lest our own faith fail due to our own unwillingness to believe what Scripture has made so clear. Though the Lord, in His matchless glory and creative genius, has created beings like us humans, or animals, or processes, or insects like the Monarch Butterfly to change as a part of our finite ecosystem, He Himself does not change. Truly, it is for our benefit that the Bible has shown us this divine characteristic of God, so that our faith can stay strong and steadfast.

-How does God’s unchanging essence and eternal nature impact your understanding of Him?

-What were the implications we saw that would come about if God’s essence could change?

-What questions come to your mind now that we’ve seen that God’s essence is unchangeable?

-Could understanding God’s unchanging nature help you in sharing the Gospel more clearly? How so?

Follow up with Part 2b: "Immutable Attributes: Does God "Change" If He Is Merciful One Moment and Just the Next?"

Friday, March 29, 2013

The Exclusivity of Christianity: Easter

I have heard over and over that Christianity and all of the church gatherings that it contains is supposed to be the most inclusive system in the world. Inclusive of all people in all nations. My response? This is absolutely true if all of these people believe the exclusive message of the cross.

Inclusivism is oftentimes propagated with the phrase “Come as you are”, but then there is less of a push to be changed from what you are to something holier and pure. Everyone who has come to believe in Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection had to come as they were, so to speak, but then the Holy Spirit regenerated us into life, from a dead state of spirituality.

Paul told the Ephesians more than once, “You were dead in sin.” He told the Colossians more than once, “You were dead in your sin.” We are born this way. Spiritually dead. (Eph. 2 & Col. 2)

Now, don’t let the word “spiritually” throw this whole concept out of the window for you. Spirituality is as real as mentality and reality itself. In fact, our spiritual state determines our eternal reality and drives our current mentality. Think about this.

You may not consider yourself spiritual, but indeed you are. You have a spirit. The question is: Is it dead? The answer is: We’re born with a dead spirit that has been passed along to us in a sinful world. It started when Adam first sinned with Eve in the Garden of Eden and then as they procreated, they could only reproduce more sinful human beings. Sin begets sin. It cannot produce righteousness.

In a world where many believe that non-life can somehow produce life in a natural, evolutionary way and without God’s help, it is no wonder that many also believe that people can manifest in themselves some form of genuine spiritual life without the powerful touch of the living God.

This is where the exclusivity of Christ comes into play. This is where historical, biblical Christianity is elevated above all other religions that claim to have spiritual life and a method to salvation. Have you ever wondered what the main differences were in all of the religions and the sects, therein? What is it about Christianity?

Let me tell you. Only Christianity, as laid out in the Bible (God’s inspired words) claims the following: That Jesus Christ is the Son of God, so he is God, and he is the only way to salvation.

Jehovah’s Witness’, Mormon’s, Muslim’s, even the Roman Catholic doctrine cannot uphold the claim that only by believing in Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection can you be completely forgiven of sins and inherit eternal life once and for all. Every other religion has some form of works involved. Some form of perpetual need for justification.

Ephesians 2:8-9 says that it is “by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.”

What is it again that we must place our faith in to be saved by this grace? Welcome to Easter.

The prophet Isaiah said, “He was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (53:5-6).

You see, with the sinful state that we begin in this life, we need a Savior. We are headed to Hell when left to our own devices. This is exactly why Jesus, the Messiah (the Christ), came! He doesn’t want anyone to perish without him. The wrath of God is a just wrath. We all deserve it. This is why the love of God provided an atonement that we never could have provided for ourselves.

“Without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness of sins” (Heb. 9:22).

“No one is righteous, no, not one…” (Rom. 3:10)

“All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…” (Rom. 3:23)

But wait!

Verse 24 continues… “and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by His blood, to be received by faith.”

The apostle Paul is writing this to the Romans and he goes on to explain what he just said: “This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.”

The same God who we will suffer from His wrath if we do not believe is the same God that will freely justify us and forgive us if we believe in and put our faith in Jesus Christ’s sacrifice that took our place.

Jesus Christ was no ordinary man. Though he was flesh and blood, he was also fully God. This is something else that almost all religions differ on. Some say he was a prophet, or a good teacher, or even the brother of Satan! Listen to when Jesus asked his own disciples what they thought in Matthew 16:

Jesus: Who do people say that the Son of Man is?

Disciples: Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.

Jesus: But who do you say that I am?

Peter: You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.

Jesus: Blessed are you Peter! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.

This is foundational and necessary to the Gospel message. If Jesus was not the Son of God then he would not be a fitting sacrifice for our sins because he would not be pure and spotless, or blameless. This would change everything! 2 Corinthians 5:21 says that “he made him to be [like] sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

Peter made the great confession that every Christian makes: Jesus is the Son of God. Even the centurion helping to oversee the crucifixion of Jesus, after seeing the darkness and commotion with Jesus breathing his last breath, stated, “Truly this man was the Son of God!” We would hope that this man’s evident devastating realization would have led him to place his faith in the man he just crucified.

The exclusive claim of Christianity is that Jesus is the Son of God, so he is God.

Finally, the ultimate capstone to all Christian doctrine and joy is the resurrection of Jesus! This is what we celebrate on Easter Sunday.

Jesus warned his disciples on numerous occasions that he would be killed, but that he would also then be brought back to life. In Matthew 16:21 it says “From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.”

Again in Matthew 17:22-13: “As they were gathering in Galilee, Jesus said to them, ‘The Son of Man is about to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him, and he will be raised on the third day.’ And they were greatly distressed.

Finally, in chapter 20, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem. And the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified, and he will be raised on the third day.”

This actually happened.

The Apostle Paul, writing to the Corinthians again with passion, said, “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures […]” (1 Cor. 15:3-4).

People, this was it! It was finished. Christ came for us to believe in him for eternal life. To submit to his lordship as the Son of God and believe in his sacrifice as sufficient for covering all of our sin. We submit to Him in obedience to His commands, which is to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength.

If Jesus had not been raised from the dead, then as Paul said in 1 Cor. 15:17 & 19, our faith would be futile and we would still be lost in our sins. Of all people, we would be the most to be pitied!

“The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (v. 56).

I urge you…be reconciled to God. Our sin is real. The penalty of God’s wrath and eternal Hell is real. It is real fire and real anguish, but we have the way out of our sin and its penalty, which is found in the death and resurrection of Jesus, the Christ! Praise God for his love and mercy to offer this to us.

All who call upon the name of the Lord will be saved.

The exclusive claim of Christ’s message is that no one can get to the Father, except through him (John 14:6). Not some spiritual Christ consciousness that false spiritual gurus are perpetuating. Not some Jesus who was just a prophet and teacher that other religions claim. Not some Jesus who needs Mary’s intervention to be convinced to forgive us over and over. No…Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, is born of God (1 Jn. 5:1). Whoever repents of their sin and believes in Christ’s death and resurrection as the satisfaction for our sins’ penalty will not perish, but have eternal life.

As you consider on this Friday, the agony and weight of God’s wrath that Christ bore for us, let us bow in humility to our Lord in thanks and awe. If we have not believed in Him yet, let us not delay, for the day is coming when we will all give an account of this very decision to repent and believe. Let us also anticipate Sunday because it is coming!

“The angel said to the women, ‘Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for he has risen, as he said’ (Matt. 28:5-6).

Happy Easter everyone!

Monday, March 11, 2013

A Study of the Full Sovereignty of God, Part 1

Webster’s definition: Supreme power or authority; Supreme excellence; Freedom from external control.
Webster gave a decent definition of the word, but it falls short of all that it encompasses when speaking of our Holy, living God. 
Scripture beautifully articulates Jesus’ deity, sovereignty and preeminence in Colossians 1:15-20:
“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.”

Why this?
Why study the sovereignty of God?
Is it necessary to believe in?
What would the implications on our faith be either way?
Could God be sovereign over some, or most, things, but not all things?
If the Bible makes one thing unmistakably clear from beginning to end, it is that God is sovereign. The belief or disbelief in the sovereignty of God can easily be the one thing that makes or breaks our understanding of God and our faith as a whole. Whether or not we believe it will have vast implications on everything we do and say. As believers, dedicated to the Word of God, we must believe in this crucial aspect of God, or else the conviction will be sucked right out of us in a world full of trials, tribulations and man-centered philosophies that are so prevalent, even in evangelicalism today.
Put another way, our belief or disbelief in God’s sovereignty will determine whether or not we have a high view of God, or a low view of God. The implications of our belief will be either glorious, or disastrous.
A.W. Tozer once said,
“So necessary to the church is a lofty concept of God that when that concept in any measure declines, the church with her worship and her moral standards declines along with it. The first step down for any church is taken when it surrenders its high opinion of God.”

What this study will hopefully do for you is raise your view of God even more. If it is already high, then hopefully you will have even more reason to worship God with what we will study in this setting. No matter what, our view of God could never be too high.
The Breadth of God’s Sovereignty

What we will do in this study is take a comprehensive look at what the Bible teaches about the doctrine of election and predestination as well as seeing if there is anything to help us with the seeming paradox of free will. The answers are in the text of Scripture and it is important that we know it and teach it because it will determine whether or not we believe everything Scripture says and whether or not we have a high or low view of God.

Hopefully, this will spark the age old questions in your mind that are worth discussing and in fact answering from Scripture:

-What about free will, or human responsibility? How can we be liable to sin?
-Does God predestine people to Hell?
-Are we robots with no real influence?
-If God chooses, then why evangelize?

These questions are crucial for you and I to know. These are some of the first questions that non-believers sometimes ask and they are certainly always asked by people within the Church. The amazing thing is that they can all be answered in the pages of Scripture, so there is no reason for us not to learn them and be changed by them. They are in there for a reason.

Current Events
God’s sovereign rule extends to more than just the Church’s salvation. He orchestrates even the secular current events according to his pleasure and purpose, creating times of peace as well as times of disaster. He sets rulers in their throne as we read in Colossians 1:15-20, whether good or bad, in accordance to his will. Dictators, monarchs, presidents and prime ministers are all within his sovereign rule, being placed in their prominent positions for a reason.

We may often think that bad rulers are proof of where God is not working, but while these rulers may be evil and acting in ways that God will one day judge them for, they are still sovereignly placed and they will still give an account for everything they did on the Day of Judgment. The Antichrist is a perfect example of this.

Through Isaiah the prophet, God gives a summary statement of this when he says, “I form light and create darkness, I make well-being and create calamity, I am the Lord who does all these things” (45:9).

-Why would God allow an atheist to rule a country?
-Isn’t God good and loving? Why would he allow or cause a natural disaster to kill people?
-What about Christian persecution? Would God really allow that?
These questions and more will be answered in Scripture regarding the sovereignty of God in current events as well as all past events. Understanding this aspect of God’s sovereignty will change our lives in how we view hardships and trials that are normally viewed as too much to handle. This part by itself will be one of the most incredible ways to have peace in all situations and circumstances that could possibly come your way.
Personal Plans
Another way we could break down the breadth of God’s sovereignty is in recognizing that He accomplishes His will by determining where we will live and what kind of business we will go about doing. Times and places of individuals are not outside of God’s sovereign control.
While the Bible continually emphasizes that we will be responsible for every careless word we speak (Matt. 12:36) and that we are to manage ourselves appropriately (1 Pet. 2:12), we would be wrong to assume that we are acting completely free from the divine work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Even for unbelievers, we would be wrong to assume that they are living completely free of God’s control and ability to manage even them.
We will see just what the Bible says about God’s rule in our daily lives and year to year progression through time, again, reconciling the fact that we are creatures given a responsibility to be good stewards with what we have, implying an accountability that goes along with our choices. In our personal lives, we exercise a type of freedom that is still not so free as to be independent of the working of God.
The Aspects of God’s Sovereignty
There are a number of specific aspects of God’s sovereignty that sum up just how supreme and preeminent He is. While words could never do justice to his utter holiness and power, we can still articulate the basic truth of His divine and sovereign nature by breaking it down to some logical pieces. In this study we will look at these aspects and discuss what the implications of them are to our faith.
We will be looking at the following realities of God’s sovereignty:
-Omnipotence (All powerful)
-Omnipresence (All present)
-Omniscience (All knowing)
-Immutability (Unchangeable)
If we come to a firm understanding of these truths about God, then our view of Him will become so much higher than it has before and it will illicit true heartfelt worship since our response to His word will be grounded in spirit and in truth (Jn. 4:23). Consequently, if we refuse to believe these truths about God, then many more implications arise about our understanding of God and our faith in Him. Consistency and conviction will be sucked right out of us if we do not believe in God’s sovereignty.
Allowing Scripture to Work
Let us not shy away from these glorious revelations of our Lord of the Church that is found in Scripture, but embrace them aggressively. Let us not allow the past condemnations and denials of people we know who reject God’s sovereignty to scare us into thinking this topic is not worth broaching. Learning about God’s sovereign nature will change us and everything we do. Our view of God will be immensely higher and our worship will be more profound and deep.
Scripture is always the first place we should go to find motivation, conviction, exhortation and truth. It is the one thing that will change us, through the working of the Holy Spirit. Let’s look at God’s revelation about Himself to understand Him better, shall we? This will affect how we do everything:
-The way we run a church
-The way we preach
-The way we evangelize
-The way we react to events and circumstances
-The way we study Scripture
-The way we worship, or lead worship
-The way we walk with the Lord each day
Tozer sums up my own heartfelt conviction about this beautiful and life-changing study:
“I believe there is scarcely an error in doctrine or a failure in applying Christian ethics that cannot be traced finally to imperfect and ignoble thoughts about God.”

In His Sovereign Grip,


Follow up with Part 2a: "God's Immutability"