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Altercations: Abraham, Abimelech, and God’s Awesome Faithfulness

Introduction

Genesis chapter 20 is a peculiar passage. We can ask many questions of it. Why is it there? What purpose does it serve?

Yet with all of Scripture context is king. When we begin to see the passage as it is meant to be seen, in it’s broader context, it makes more sense. So let’s look briefly at the broader context. What are some things from earlier on in Genesis that could shed light on Genesis chapter 20?

Messianic Promises

Genesis 3:15

The first promise we see in Genesis is of a seed that will come and crush the head of the serpent. A descendant of the woman, who by implication of destroying God and mans enemy, will set things back the way they were supposed to be. When we look at Genesis we see glimpses of hope for this very descendant.

Genesis 3:15 is the protoevangelium. It is the first gospel. However, quite ambiguous at first, and at times the line of the seed looks hopeless; we, as the story continues, see the serpent-crushing-seed in full glory. Thomas R. Schreiner rightly says, “We can fairly say that the OT is animated with an eschatological hope. Gen. 3:15 forecasts a day when the seed of the woman will triumph over the seed of the serpent,” though as we will see, “subsequent history appeared to mock the promise.”[1]

We will look at what the immediate understanding of the pronouncement was to Adam and Eve at the outset of Genesis. We will see that they had hope that a seed would be born that would bring some form of deliverance but beyond this we cannot be sure of their understanding.[2] Then we will briefly trace the development and understanding of the Genesis 3:15 promise through the OT and see that we leave the scene still looking for the promised hero of the story. Finally, in the NT we see things happen and come together in ways that could never have been imagined, something like true fiction. We look at the birth of the seed of the woman and explore the culmination of the promise in the victorious King in Revelation who has once and for all crushed the head of the serpent of old.


As we look at this theme in Scripture, we cannot merely look at a word study.[3] In part because the verb for “crush” in Genesis 3:15 is seen only four times in the Old Testament. It is seen twice in our passage and once in Job 9:17 and once in Psalm 139:11 but in both of these cases it is not used with the same imagery. However, we should not make the false conclusion that we do not see Scripture return to this theme. It is more helpful as we look at this passage to look at the scenarios[4] or links that are used to recall the Genesis 3:15 promises and not merely a word study. As Hamilton says the “announcement of judgment on the serpent provides fundamental imagery that is reused and interpreted throughout the rest of the Old Testament”[5] even if שׁוּףּ is not used. As Hamilton says elsewhere, “the themes of biblical theology are broader than individual words.”[6]

In the immediate understanding of the verse, the seed refers to a singular seed but as we see, as the story continues, it also entails a collective aspect.[7] The immediate understanding of the text is seen by the name Adam gives to his wife. Adam names his wife Eve, that is, life-giver, and not death (Gen 3:20).[8] Through this, Adam shows that he has hope. Perhaps, he even hopes to once again enter back into the garden and enjoy renewed and undeterred fellowship with God once the evil serpent gets what is coming to him. Stephen G. Dempster says, “in light of the immediate context, the triumph of the woman’s seed would suggest a return to the Edenic state.”[9]

Later we see that Eve bore Cain and thought she had the serpent crushing seed. She said, “I have gotten a man with the help of the LORD” (4:1) Michael Horton explains that without the definite article, we are especially dependent on the context. Therefore, in light of Genesis 3:15 this verse could be understood to mean, “the man,” that is, the seed.[10] Adam and Eve had hope. They expected a seed (singular), in their lifetime that would bring some form of deliverance, though we cannot be certain as to the extinct of the deliverance for which they hoped.

However, as we read on in the story we see that Eve’s hope is unfounded. Cain was the seed of the serpent and killed his brother Abel (cf. John 8:44; 1 John 3:8-15). Yet she continued in expectation. We see this with the birth of Seth (Gen 4:25). The curse wrought because of rebellion in the garden was not revoked and death spread to all men. We see this in the refrain, “and he died,” in Genesis chapter five yet we see hope of deliverance through Enoch’s experience.

In Genesis chapter six, we do not see the crushing of the serpent as is hoped for but we do see preservation of the line of the seed of the woman, and in fact of all humanity. Actually, careful reading of Genesis will lead one to see the importance that the book places on seed and their preservation. This is especially clear and miraculous in light of the NT and the barrenness of certain women at crucial points along the line of the seed.18

In the first chapters of Genesis, we see a foggy hope of a seed to come that will crush the head of the serpent. However, it is not until further down the road of revelation that the identity of that seed becomes clearer. In fact, we do not even know if the promise is ultimately fulfilled through a collective seed or a singular seed at this point of the OT.[11]

There are important pieces that we must gather from the first few chapters of Genesis that are important if we want to fit the puzzle together at the end. We must note the hope established from the beginning (to reenter Eden?). We must see the importance placed on the seed of the woman. It is also important to remember the crushing language employed. It is with these and similar themes that we can trace the serpent crushing seed through Scripture. At first, the promised one is vague but as we continue, we pick up more pieces that fit in place in unexpected ways. To culminate in what the apostle Paul will call foolishness.

T.D. Alexander sums up well for us. “Although Genesis 3:15 hints at reversal of the alienation arising from the disobedience of Adam and Eve, for the fulfillment we must read further. Here, however, we find the first brushstroke on the biblical canvas concerning a future king through whom God’s salvation will come to humanity.”[12]

Genesis 12

We have seen what the immediate expectation was but what do we see as story of Scripture develops? What more information do we see surface that gives us a hint to the prophesy’s ultimate fulfillment? We have seen that Adam and Eve hoped for a singular seed to be their victor but how do we understand the collective seed and the promised enmity between the two seeds? We have seen that Abel, instead of crushing the serpent, was crushed himself by the serpents seed. We have seen that Seth too, did not crush the serpent. So where is the promised one?

As we ask these questions, we will see a line traced through Genesis and the whole Old Testament, a line of seed and their story. Specifically, a line that has hope, hope in God and His promises, hope in an offspring. As Hamilton says, “People are either seed of the serpent, on the side of the snake in the garden, or seed of the woman, on the side of God and trusting in his promises.”[13] The careful reader of Scripture can see the enmity between the two seeds in Genesis[14] and in fact through the whole Old Testament. There are even physical decedents of the woman, i.e. seed, that are spiritually seed of the serpent.[15]

The Genesis narrative does not go on very long before we see more seed/offspring promises. However, the Abrahamic promises do not continue the language of “crushing” but, as we have seen, we do see the promised enmity. The promise to Abraham is obviously important in many ways but we cannot dive into them here for our purpose. What we do need to see, however, is Abraham’s seed will be given the land (Gen 12:7 cf. Gal 3:16). The land promised, is significant because the righteous seed brings prosperity to the land as they crush and conquer the heads of the serpent’s seed. Thus, maybe Adam and Eve would have been right to think that the promised one would bring in some form of Edenic state.

Hamilton says, “The blessing of all the families of the earth through Abram and his seed (12:3; 22:18) directs readers of the Genesis narrative to a seed of the woman who will crush the serpent’s head, repeal the curses, and open the way to Eden.”[16] Though we do not have times to look at all the accounts, there are many times in the OT when the two seeds are seen in conflict crushing each other. The seed of the woman is seen time after time crushing the seed of the serpent to obtain the Promised Land, a type of Eden.

New Testament

In the New Testament, we see Jesus is the Promised Seed, the Good News.[17] At the close of the OT as we saw there is no serpent crushing seed on the horizon. But there is good news, stretching back all the way to the beginning of the story. This is not the end of the story. The genealogies link Jesus all the way back to David, Abraham, and even the seed of the woman.[18] The “seed” referred to in Genesis 3:15 and 12 is the same seed. The curse evoked because of sin, is revoked in the promised blessing to Abraham’s seed, who is also the seed which will defeat the serpent; namely, Jesus of Nazareth.

This is the good news; Jesus is the good news. Notice the genealogies point to Jesus as being the Christ that was promised to defeat “the Serpent of old” (Matt 1:1-18; Luke 3:23-38 says, “Jesus… the son of Adam,” i.e. seed of the woman). Jesus’ genealogies recall the promise in the garden, the Abrahamic promise, and the 2 Samuel 7 promise. It is significant “that Jesus is named as being born of (i.e., the seed of) the woman (Gal 4:4) and the seed of David (Rom 1:3; 2 Tim 2:8).”[19] Alexander says, “The NT presents Jesus Christ as the one who brings to fulfillment the divine promises associated with the unique line of seed descended from Abraham.”[20]

Conclusion

We see all through out Scripture that if God did not faithfully and sovereignly (e.g. think of the entail barrenness of women within the line of promise) preserve the line of promise His promise in Genesis to defeat the serpent of old and bless the nations could never have been fulfilled. However, God is a God of covenant loyalty, He keeps all of His promises, so God stepped into the altercation between Abraham and Abenelech and God graciously prevented the line of promise from being destroyed.

Clearly God is our Savior. We don’t nor can we save ourselves. Genesis 20 is just demonstration of this truth. God preserves us and keeps His promises to us even when we fail in big ways.

The promises of God do not come to fruition because we or Abraham is good enough. The promises of God come to fruition because God is a good and faithful God. He is gracious and merciful. Let’s praise the LORD in humility!

_________________

[1] Thomas R. Schreiner, New Testament Theology: Magnifying God in Christ (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2008), 25. Similarly, Hamilton says, “From start to finish, the OT is a messianic document, written from a messianic perspective, so sustain a messianic hope” (James M. Hamilton Jr., “The Skull Crushing Seed of the Woman: Inner-Biblical Interpretation of Genesis 3:15” The Southern Baptist Journal of Theology 10, no. 2 [2006]: 30).

[2] I do think it is clear that they would have realized that the problem was not just any “snake” or snakes in general but the snake that tempted them. The supernatural snake is the problem. I believe this would have been clear to them. They had seen other snakes before that in the garden and after they were expelled as well. In addition, they presumably heard God’s judgment on the snake since they expected its promised foe. So contra Robert Alter who says, “The serpent is by no means ‘satanic,’ as in the lens of later Judeo-Christian traditions” (Genesis: Translation and Commentary [W. W. Norton & Company , Inc.: New York, 1996], 13). I believe, it was not just the “later Judeo-Christian traditions” that saw the satanic nature of the serpent but even Adam and Eve understood this to some degree.

[3] “Too much biblical theology has fallen prey to the word-study fallacy and has failed to see that themes can be developed with synonymous terms. Charles Halton has shown that ‘ancient writers felt no compulsion to provide direct links with their allusion….instead, they borrowed imagery and fused it with their own rhetorical purposes.’ I would suggest that this is exactly what happened in the Old Testament with Genesis 3:15,” says Hamilton (God’s Glory in Salvation through Judgment: A Biblical Theology. [Wheaton: Crossway, 2010], 77.).

[4] Cynthia Long Westfall says a “’scenario’ is a linguistic term that is used to indicate ‘an extended domain of reference’ or associated bundles of information that lies behind a text. A scenario includes setting, situations, specific items, and ‘role’ slots” (“Messianic Themes of Temple, Enthronement, and Victory in Hebrews and the Epistles” 210-229. In The Messiah in the Old and New Testaments Stanley E. Porter ed. [Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2007], 212).

[5] Hamilton, God’s Glory in Salvation through Judgment, 77. On the same page he also gives a list of “Imagery from Genesis 3:14-19 in the Old Testament” in Table 2.4. As Hamilton points out, we see imagery of broken heads in Num. 24:17; Jud. 4:21; 5:26; 9:53; 1 Sam. 17:49; Is. 1:4-5; 7:8-9; 28:3; Jer. 23:19; 30:23; Hab. 3:13; Ps. 68:22-24; 74:12-14; 110:6, broken enemies in Ex. 15:6; Num. 24:8; 1 Sam. 2:10; 2 Sam. 22:39, 43; Is. 14:25; Jer. 13:14; 23:29; 48:4; 51:20-23; Ps. 2:9; 72:4; 89:24; 137:9; Dan. 2:34-35; Job 34:22-25, trampled enemies in Josh. 10:24; 2 Sam. 22:39/Ps. 18:39; Is. 63:3, 6; Mal 3:20-21; Zech. 10:5; Ps. 44:5; 60:14; 108:14; 91:11-13, enemies lick dust in Is. 49:23, Mic. 7:17; Ps. 72:9, and stricken serpents in Is. 27:1; 51:9; Ps. 58:5-7, 11; 74:12-14; 89:11; Job 26:12-13; 40:25-41:26.

[6] James M. Hamilton Jr.,“The Seed of the Woman and the Blessing of Abraham.” Tyndale Bulletin 58 (2007): 265.

[7] T. D. Alexander, “Seed” 769-773. In The New Dictionary of Biblical Theology T. Desmond Alexander and Roger S. Rosner eds. (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2000), 769.

[8] Waltke, An Old Testament Theology, 280-81.

[9] Similarly, Edmund P. Clowney, has said, “The term ‘seed’ is ambiguous in Hebrew: it can refer to descendants as a corporate group, or to an individual descendant. Genesis does not specifically resolve that ambiguity. But as it holds before us the line of fathers and sons, it surely points to a second Adam, a Seed who is appointed like Seth, called like Noah, chosen like Shem, and made a blessing to all the earth as the Seed of Abraham” (The Unfolding Mystery: Discovering Christ in the Old Testament [Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 1988], 42).

[10] See John M. Frame, The Doctrine of the Word of God (Philipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing Company, 2010) 57-58, Stephen G. Dempster, Dominion and Dynasty: A Theology of the Hebrew Bible (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2003) 68, and Hamilton, God’s Glory in Salvation through Judgment, 79. It may also be significant that after Adam names Eve, presumably in an act of faith, God sacrifices an animal to cloth them and cover their guilt (Gen 3:21).

[11] Admittedly, even once we come to the NT it looks at times that the fulfillment of Genesis 3:15 still has a singular and a collective aspect to it and this may be true but it only has a collective aspect to it because of the singular seed. Paul says that the God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet (Rom. 16:20). Yet how are they identified with God’s people, it is through the Christ that crushes Satan and death. I could list other things that identify Jesus, the Christ, as finally and ultimately fulfilling the promise to Adam and Eve but this must suffice here. It is true that we (collective) will crush Satan under our feet; I do not want to be at odds with Paul, only we do it as we are in Christ.

[12] Alexander, The Servant King, 19.

[13] Hamilton, God’s Glory in Salvation through Judgment, 84.

[14] Hamilton, God’s Glory in Salvation through Judgment, 84.

[15] In Table 2.9., Hamilton shows the “Seed Conflict in Genesis.” On the individual level we see Cain and Abel (4:1-16), Ishmael and Isaac (21:8-9), Esau and Jacob (27:41), lastly the Sons of Israel and Joseph. On the collective level we see Pharaoh and Egypt and Abraham and Sarah (12:10-20), Kings of the world (Sodom) and Abraham and his men, Lot, Melchizedek (14:13- 24), Abimelech and the Philistines and Abraham and his people (21:22-34), Abimelech and the Philistines and Isaac and his people (26:14-16), the men of Shechem and Simeon, Levi, and Israel (Dinah) (34:1-29), lastly the Sons of Israel and Joseph (37-44). See Ibid.

[16] Hamilton, “The Seed of the Woman and the Blessings of Abraham,” 261.

[17] We could explore many passages further. For instance: Matt 22:44; Luke 10:17-19; Acts 2:35; Rom 16:20; 1 Cor 15:25; Gal 3:16; 4:4; Eph 1:20-22; Heb 2:5-9, 14-15; 10:13; Rev 12; 22:16. We could also look at the two collective seeds in the NT, those who follow Satan and those who follow their Savior.

[18] Of course everyone is the finally the seed of the Eve but this is a literary devise showing the significance of Jesus.

[19] Hamilton cites Wifall in “The Skull Crushing Seed of the Woman,” 43.

[20] Alexander, “Seed” in The New Dictionary of Biblical Theology, 772.

Is Love God’s Main Attribute?

“Unequal weights are an abomination to the Lord,” Proverbs tells us (20:10, 23). And this is no less true when it comes to theology. When we give more weight to God’s love then to His other attributes we are not correctly representing who He is. We are being deceiving. Deceit when it comes to earthly treasure is an abomination. How much greater an abomination when He that is infinitely worthy is falsely treated?!

God’s attributes must not be incorrectly understood. The Bible does clearly teach that God is a God of love (e.g. 1 Jn. 4:8) and continued faithfulness or covenant loyalty (Ex. 34:7; Num. 14:18; Deut. 7:9; Ps. 86:15; 119:90; Lam. 3:22-23; Nahum 1:3; 1 Cor. 1:9; 2 Thess. 3:3; Heb. 10:23). However, the Bible also clearly and repeatedly teaches that God is a God of righteous jealousy (Ex. 20:4-6; 34:14; Num. 25:11; Deut. 4:24; 5:8-10; 6:15; 29:20; 32:16, 21; Josh. 24:19-20; 1 Kings 14:22; Is. 42:8; 48:11; Ezek. 8:3-5; 16:38, 42; 23:25; 36:5-7; 38:19; 39:25; Joel 2:18; Nahum 1:2; Zeph. 1:18; 3:8; Zech. 1:14: 8:2; Ps. 78:58; 79:5; 1 Cor. 10:22; James 4:5) and unrestrained wrath (cf. e.g. Is. 13:6-11; Jer. 7:20; Nahum 1:2-8; Matt. 3:12; Rom. 2:5). The Bible clearly shows that God will not clear the guilty that spurn His grace and patience (cf. e.g. Ex. 34:7; Num. 14:18; Deut. 7:9-11; Lam. 3:22-23, 64-66; Nahum 1:3). Further, the Bible never says that love is God’s main attribute or that God has a main attribute. Rather, God is; and He is perfect in all ways. “Attributes,” such as love, wisdom, etc. are anthropological, they are given so that we can understand God. Thus, these attributes should not and cannot be understood when striped from their connection to the whole of who God is.

Also, though God’s attribute of love is clearly and very much on display through the whole of Scripture other attributes, such as God’s holiness (cf. the emphatic “holy, holy, holy” Is. 6:3; Rev. 4:8), could be agued to be God’s central attribute. We also see in different places in Scripture that God pours out judgment on people, clearly not to show His love, but to be glorified (cf. e.g. Ex. 9:13-16, 34-10:2;14:4; 8:13-18; 2 Sam. 24:1, 10-11; 1 Chron. 21:1, 7-8; Is. 6:9-13; Ps. 92:7 [NASB]; Rom. 9:22-24). Actually, we see various times in Scripture that God’s motivation for salvation is His glory (cf. e.g. Ps. 23:3; 25:11; 31:3; Ezek. 36:16-32 [esp. v. 21, 22, 32]; Rom. 9:22-24). James M. Hamilton Jr. persuasively argues that the story of redemption history and the Bible is not about God loving all people without exception but about “God’s Glory in Salvation through Judgment” (the title of his book).[1]

The Universalist extrapolation that since God is love He will not finally allow people to be damned eternally in hell is unfounded. Some Universalists have extrapolated that God’s glory is seen in that He has mercy and compassion and thus will display His glory more when He repeals His judgment on sinners in hell (some wrongly cite Ex. 33:19). However, these Universalists incorrectly understand the Exodus passage. Instead, through a closer look at the text we see that “God’s glory and his name consist fundamentally in his propensity to show mercy and his sovereign freedom in its distribution. Or to put it more precisely, it is the glory of God and his essential nature mainly to dispense mercy (but also wrath, Ex 34:7) on whomever he pleases apart from any constraint originating outside his own will. This is the essence of what it means to be God. This is his name”[2] (cf. Rom. 9:6-24).

God does not bow to any of His “attributes” but He is continually perfect in a unison of perfection. Wrath does not hold a place over love or love over wrath, the Son does not fight with the Father nor the Spirit with the Son, God’s Name and ways are always and forever perfect. His Name, who He is, His character, is holy (cf. Lk. 1:49). He is I AM. We do not determine who He is or what He should do. He is. And He is perfect in all His ways.

So, no. I don’t think love is God’s main attribute. 

____________________

[1] See Hamilton’s book length treatment God’s Glory in Salvation through Judgment: A Biblical Theology where he goes from Genesis to Revelation to argue his case or see his much smaller article “The Glory of God in Salvation through Judgment: The Centre of Biblical Theology?” in Tyndale Bulletin 57.1 (2006), 57-84. Also Jonathan Edwards argues the same point in The End for Which God Created the World (see John Piper, God’s Passion for His Glory).

[2] John Piper, The Justification of God: An Exegetical and Theological Study of Romans 9:1-23 (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1993), 88-89. Italics his.

The Precious Truth of God’s Sovereignty

The Attributes of God

Introduction

The sovereignty of God is perhaps one of the most difficult doctrines in Scripture and yet one of the clearest. However, just because something is hard does not mean that it’s not helpful.

To think about and discuss the sovereignty of God can be challenging but also sweet. I think for instance of the rough shell of a coconut but of the reward contained inside. Or the difficulty of building a house but of the protective refuge you have at its completion. It may at times be difficult to wade through the deep waters of God’s sovereignty but we will never get to the island of peace if we don’t.

Our knowledge of God’s sovereignty is limited but Scripture certainly does not shrink back from saying that God is in absolute control. The Bible is replete with texts that teach us that is LORD of all (see e.g. Dan. 4:35; Is. 40:13,14; Rom. 9:15-18; Eph. 1:5, 11).

The Westminster Confession of Faith says it this way:

“God, the great Creator of all things, doth uphold, direct dispose, and govern all creatures, actions, and things, from the greatest even to the least, by his most wise and holy providence, according to his infallible foreknowledge, and the free and immutable counsel of his own will, to the praise of the glory of his wisdom, power, justice, goodness, and mercy… God, in his ordinary providence, maketh use of means, yet is free to work without, above, and against them, at his pleasure.”

The word “sovereignty” is nowhere in the Bible, yet the teaching is all over the place. We see that God declared the “the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done.” God says “My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all My purpose” (Is. 46:10). Daniel tells us that “All the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and He does according to His will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay His hand or say to Him, ‘What have You done?’” Job tells us that “He is unchangeable, and who can turn Him back? What He desires, that He does. For He will complete what He appoints for me.” Indeed, “Our God is in the heavens; He does all that He pleases,” says the psalmist (Ps. 115:3; cf. 135:6). That is what is meant by the sovereignty of God.

A.W. Tozer said this in his excellent book The Knowledge of the Holy:

“God’s sovereignty is the attribute by which He rules His entire creation, and to be sovereign God must be all-knowing, all-powerful, and absolutely free. The reasons are these:

Were there even one datum of knowledge, however small, unknown to God, His rule would break down at that point. To be Lord over all the creation, He must possess all knowledge. And were God lacking one infinitesimal modicum of power, that lack would end His reign and undo His kingdom; that one stray atom of power would belong to someone else and God would be a limited ruler and hence not sovereign.

Furthermore, His sovereignty requires that He be absolutely free, which means simply that He must be free to His eternal purpose in every single detail without interference. Were He less than free He must be less than sovereign” (Knowledge of the Holy, 115).

God is Meticulously Sovereign

I learned an important thing from a good friend, a young Christian that was struggling with drug addiction. He told me one night he was really upset so he turned on the radio hoping that it would help him. As he turned on the radio he prayed that God would play an awesome song. And my friend’s song came on, and no it wasn’t “My Heart Will Go On” (you know, the Titanic song); instead, his song is “I am Redeemed” by Big Daddy Weave. And it came on not at the end of the song, but at the very beginning. One of the lines he heard, since he heard the whole thing, was: “I’m not who I used to be. I am redeemed.” This song had a big impact on my friend and helped him fight his enslaving sin of drug addiction that night.

I remember my friend saying, “good lookin’ God.” We can say “good lookin’ God” because He is sovereign. It truly was not blind chance that that song came on at that exact moment. Yes, God orchestrated innumerable things for that to take place. Yes God, the Ruler of every atom in the universe, wanted His son to here at that moment: “You are not who you use to be. You are redeemed.” God is sovereign. God can, and does, answer prayer. At times, even song requests.

We see in Scripture that God is meticulously sovereign. It is not something I made up or would make up. However, it is the clear testimony of Scripture, as is seen by my quite incomplete list of passages below. I list forty-one texts (which is equal to four single-space pages).

God is meticulously sovereign. For instance, flip a coin…

  1. The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the LORD (Proverbs 16:33)

  2. “‘Have you not heard that I determined it long ago? I planned from days of old what now I bring to pass, that you should make fortified cities crash into heaps of ruins” (Isaiah 37:26)

  3. “‘I know your sitting down and your going out and coming in, and your raging against me” (Isaiah 37:28)

  4. “For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.[14] I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.[15] My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. [16] Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them. [17] How precious to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them!” (Psalm 139:13-17)

  5. “For the sake of my servant Jacob, and Israel my chosen, I call you by your name, I name you, though you do not know me. [5] I am the LORD, and there is no other, besides me there is no God; I equip you, though you do not know me, [6] that people may know, from the rising of the sun and from the west, that there is none besides me; I am the LORD, and there is no other. [7] I form light and create darkness, I make well-being and create calamity, I am the LORD, who does all these things” (Isaiah 45:4-7)

  6. “Woe to him who strives with him who formed him, a pot among earthen pots! Does the clay say to him who forms it, ‘What are you making?’ or ‘Your work has no handles’? [10] Woe to him who says to a father, ‘What are you begetting?’ or to a woman, ‘With what are you in labor?’” (Isaiah 45:9-10)

  7. “declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose,’ [11] calling a bird of prey from the east, the man of my counsel from a far country. I have spoken, and I will bring it to pass; I have purposed, and I will do it” (Isaiah 46:10-11)

  8. “Since his days are determined, and the number of his months is with you, and you have appointed his limits that he cannot pass” (Job 14:5)

  9. “Joshua said to them, ‘Do not be afraid or dismayed; be strong and courageous. For thus the LORD will do to all your enemies against whom you fight’” (Joshua 10:25)

  10. “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations” (Jeremiah 1:5)

  11. “For God has consigned all to disobedience, that he may have mercy on all” (Romans 11:32)

  12. “Sharpen the arrows! Take up the shields! The LORD has stirred up the spirit of the kings of the Medes, because his purpose concerning Babylon is to destroy it, for that is the vengeance of the LORD, the vengeance for his temple. [12] “Set up a standard against the walls of Babylon; make the watch strong; set up watchmen; prepare the ambushes; for the LORD has both planned and done what he spoke concerning the inhabitants of Babylon” (Jeremiah 51:11-12)

  13. “With you I break in pieces the shepherd and his flock; with you I break in pieces the farmer and his team; with you I break in pieces governors and commanders” (Jeremiah 51:23)

  14. “Who has spoken and it came to pass, unless the Lord has commanded it? [38] Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that good and bad come?” (Lamentations 3:37-38)

  15. “And all the trees of the field shall know that I am the LORD; I bring low the high tree, and make high the low tree, dry up the green tree, and make the dry tree flourish. I am the LORD; I have spoken, and I will do it” (Ezekiel 17:24)

  16. “In past generations he allowed all the nations to walk in their own ways” (Acts 14:16)

  17. “Thus says the LORD: “For three transgressions of Israel, and for four, I will not revoke the punishment, because they sell the righteous for silver, and the needy for a pair of sandals” (Amos 2:6)

  18. “For behold, he who forms the mountains and creates the wind, and declares to man what is his thought, who makes the morning darkness, and treads on the heights of the earth—the LORD, the God of hosts, is his name!” (Amos 4:13)

  19. “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today” (Genesis 50:20)

  20. “But even the hairs of your head are all numbered” (Matthew 10:30)

  21. “Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the LORD that will stand” (Proverbs 19:21)

  22. “If you say, ‘Behold, we did not know this,’ does not he who weighs the heart perceive it? Does not he who keeps watch over your soul know it, and will he not repay man according to his work?” (Proverbs 24:12)

  23. “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father” (Matt. 10:29 cf. Job. 38:41; Ps. 147:9)

  24. “A man’s steps are from the LORD; how then can man understand his way?” (Proverbs 20:24)

  25. “The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the LORD; he turns it wherever he will” (Proverbs 21:1)

  26. “No wisdom, no understanding, no counsel can avail against the LORD. [31] The horse is made ready for the day of battle, but the victory belongs to the LORD” (Proverbs 21:30-31)

  27. “The king is not saved by his great army; a warrior is not delivered by his great strength. [17]The war horse is a false hope for salvation, and by its great might it cannot rescue” (Psalm 33:16-17)

  28. “You cause the grass to grow for the livestock and plants for man to cultivate, that he may bring forth food from the earth” (Psalm 104:14)

  29. “He determines the number of the stars; he gives to all of them their names” (Psalm 147:4)

  30. “Whatever the LORD pleases, he does, in heaven and on earth, in the seas and all deeps” (Psalm 135:6)

  31. “So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited” (2 Corinthians 12:7)

  32. “In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will” (Ephesians 1:11)

  33. “But I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and though I multiply my signs and wonders in the land of Egypt” (Exodus 7:3)

  34. “He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high” (Hebrews 1:3)

  35. “And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (Colossians 1:17)

  36. “Not to us, O LORD, not to us, but to your name give glory, for the sake of your steadfast love and your faithfulness! Why should the nations say, “Where is their God?” Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases” (Psalm 115:1-3)

  37. “What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! [15] For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” [16]So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. [17] For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” [18] So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills. [19]You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?” [20] But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” [21]Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? [22]What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, [23] in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory” (Romans 9:14-23)

  1. “The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything” (Acts 17:24-25)

  2. “He changes times and seasons; he removes kings and sets up kings; he gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to those who have understanding” (Daniel 2:21)

  3. “God thunders wondrously with his voice; he does great things that we cannot comprehend. [6] For to the snow he says, ‘Fall on the earth,’ likewise to the downpour, his mighty downpour. [7] He seals up the hand of every man, that all men whom he made may know it. [8] Then the beasts go into their lairs, and remain in their dens. [9] From its chamber comes the whirlwind, and cold from the scattering winds. [10] By the breath of God ice is given, and the broad waters are frozen fast. [11] He loads the thick cloud with moisture; the clouds scatter his lightning. [12] They turn around and around by his guidance, to accomplish all that he commands them on the face of the habitable world” (Job 37:5-12)

  4. “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! [34]“For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?” [35]“Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?” [36]For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen” (Romans 11:33-36)

From all of these we see God’s sovereignty. He is constrained by absolutely nothing or no one. He does whatever He pleases! This should be a great comfort to us. Who else or what else would we want to be sovereign, governing all? Nothing! And in what sphere does God do what He pleases? “In heaven and on earth, in the seas and all deeps” (Ps. 135:6). That is, exhaustively. There is no square millimeter in the entire cosmos that the Lord does not call out over: “Mine!”

We vote for a President based (hopefully) on their ability to rightly govern. The President is very much sovereign over America, so it is important that a qualified person is in office, correct? Yes.

When it comes to all things, who is ultimately “in office”? Who is the Sovereign? God. And He is eminently qualified! He always does His pleasure it says, which would be scary, would it not, when it comes to many people, yet in regards to God this is exactly what we desire and need, though we may know it not. God is good, and does good, however unclear to us. Spurgeon famously said, “God is too good to be unkind and He is too wise to be mistaken. And when we cannot trace His hand, we must trust His heart.”

God is All-Powerful

Related to the sovereignty of God is the fact that God is all-powerful. God is the sovereign and all-powerful Lord of the universe (e.g. Gen. 18:14; Job 42:2; Ps. 33:11; 43:13; 115:3; 135:6; Prov. 16:9; 19:21; 21:30; Is. 46:10; Jer. 32:27; Dan. 4:35; Matt. 19:26; Luke 1:37; Eph. 1:4-5; Rev. 3:7). This is known as God’s efficacy. He accomplishes His will.

It may not seem as though the power of God is a practical thing but it is truly very very practical. One of my Professors told me about playing “rock, paper, scissors” with his son. They were playing and apparently making all sorts of wild sign with their hands. My Professor thought for sure he won; he had the first atomic bomb (the son had previously said he had five atomic bombs). But his son kept insisting that he won. So my Professor continued: “son you don’t understand, I have the first atomic bomb, the first atomic bomb beats all the others ones…” Then his son said, “but dad, I have God the Father…” My Professor, a Professor of theology, was humiliated. Even a five year old knows that God is all-powerful… God beats atomic bombs… God beats everything.

The power of God is practical and is practical for more than just “rock, paper, scissor” games.

We see how practical the Lordship of God (sovereignty and power) is when we think of world events. I am glad that it is ultimately God that has power over the universe! I am glad that it is God through the gospel that can save our children. The power of God, though often not thought of, is very important and is very practical for our lives. For if God were not powerful many of His other attributes would be to no end. If God were loving but not powerful He could not carry out His love.

The doctrine of the power of God was important as Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were thrown into the fiery furnace. The power of God was very important when Israel fled Egypt. The power of God was unimaginably important as Jesus’ cold body lay in the grave. The power of God was important as they prayed at Pentecost to be filled with power from on high (Lk. 24:49). And the power of God is important for us now.

The power of God is important because it is the arm that extends all the other attributes of God. Imagine if God was kind and forgiving, yet did not have the power to extend that kindness and forgiveness to us. It would be nice but basically good for nothing.

Imagine that you see Bill Gates at McDonalds. You ask him to buy you a cheeseburger because, after all, he’s Bill Gates. He says he will. He puts his hand in his pocket and pulls out his wallet. He doesn’t have any cash with him and somehow he left his debit card at home. Bill Gates, although amazingly wealthy with seemingly endless resources to buy you an infinite amount of cheeseburgers, actually can’t buy a single cheeseburger. Why? Because he cannot access it.

Michael Jordan knows how to play basketball. Yet, he no longer has the power to play like he use to. So knowledge or desire is not enough in itself, there is a necessary power that needs to be behind it to effect any change. Imagine a judge that is very righteous and just yet has no police force and no jail. A judge can be very just and yet accomplish nothing because they don’t have power. God does not have this problem. He is just, all-knowing, and has endless resources. Yet God is also all-powerful. He can effect change and one day very soon will cast Satan and all those that do not trust in Christ to the depths of hell.

God is not only good and perfect in character but He can also accomplish anything at all that He desires. This is good news.

Do you believe the Lord God is powerful? Do you believe that He made the universe, holds the universe together?! Do you believe He can hold your “universe” together?!

The Practical Importance of the Sovereignty of God

As we think about the meticulous sovereignty of God we don’t want to leave it abstract and philosophical. We want to see the impact that the sovereignty of God has in our everyday lives.

Humility and the Sovereignty of God

When thinking about the sovereignty of God there are many questions that come to mind and rightfully so. To think about something deeply and truly is to have questions. There is not a problem with questions in themselves, they are right and good. Where the problem comes in is the posture of the question. In Proverbs we are told to not be presumptuous in the presence of a king, don’t eat their delicacies it says. Don’t exalt yourself, why? Because it is not your place to do that. The posture before a king, or a President, is one of humility. How much more before God! A mere child does not proudly go up to the President of the United States of America and counsel him on foreign policy, and if he did, we would scoff at him. It is the same with us. We need to know our place before God. Notice, that when Job questioned God, God didn’t reveal His reasoning behind all that happened to Job. Instead, God showed Job what? He showed Him Himself. He showed Job that He did indeed have a reason for all He did. He had a reason by the fact that He is God and He does all He pleases, He does all that is right. What, then, was Job’s response? “I lay my hand on my mouth” (see Job 40:1-7ff).

God reminds us in Isaiah 55:9-9 that His thoughts are not our thoughts, neither are His ways our ways; for as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are God’s ways higher than our ways and His thoughts than our thoughts. Therefore, as we come before the LORD’s throne and look at His sovereignty we must come humbly.

Mystery and the Sovereignty of God

As we discuss the sovereignty of God we must realize that our knowledge is limited. We cannot with our limited capacity understand everything; even when it comes to things that are revealed to us. We certainly cannot completely grasp things that have not even been revealed to us. Deuteronomy 29:29 reminds us: “The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.”

Job 36:22-23 says, “Behold, God is exalted in His power; who is a teacher like Him? Who has prescribed for Him His way, or who can say, ‘You have done wrong’?” Jonathan Edwards has said,

“What are we? and what do we make of ourselves, when we expect that God and his ways should be upon a level with our understandings? We are infinitely unequal to any such thing as comprehending God. We may less unreasonably expect that a nut-shell should contain the ocean” (Edwards, The Works of Jonathan Edwards, 108).

Our response to God’s Lordship should be praise, not presumption; humility, not hostility. As Paul cries out in praise: “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and how inscrutable His ways! ‘For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been His counselor?’ ‘Or who has given a gift to Him that he might be repaid?’ For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be glory forever. Amen” (Romans 11:33-36).

Sin and the Sovereignty of God

“The problem of evil” is something that atheists often bring up (it should be noticed however that they don’t bring up “the problem of good”). To address this question would obviously take a lot more space then we have here but the letter of James does instruct us: “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God,’ for God cannot be tempted with evil, and He Himself tempts no one” (1:13).

A. W. Tozer has said

“While a complete explanation of the origin of sin eludes us, there are a few things we do know. In His sovereign wisdom God has permitted evil to exist in carefully restricted areas of His creation, a kind of fugitive outlaw whose activities are temporary and limited in scope. In doing this God has acted according to His infinite wisdom and goodness. More than that no one knows at present; and more than anyone needs to know. The name of God is sufficient guarantee of the perfection of His works” (Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy, 117).

I will say this however, regarding the mystery of evil and sin. Adam and Eve didn’t and in fact couldn’t “praise God’s glorious grace” in the Garden. They couldn’t worship the pre-incarnate Son as the Lamb that had been slain, why? Because He hadn’t been slain and they didn’t even know He would be! They could not know God like we do, though He walked in the Garden. In the book of Revelation it says of Jesus “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth” (5:9-10). Adam and Eve could not say that.

Suffering and the Sovereignty of God

The doctrine of the sovereignty of God is actually very encouraging when we think about suffering. How is this so? Because God, as the sovereign Lord of the universe, can and will one day soon end suffering for all those who trust in Christ.

I think for example of Romans chapter 8. If God were not sovereign than He could not necessarily

work all things together for good. However, the fact that God is sovereign is a means of great encouragement as it was for Paul when he was going through some of the things that he listed in Romans 8. Nothing—no thing at all—can separate us from the love of God! Why? Because God is sovereign! The sovereignty of God may be a difficult truth to grasp but it is much more difficult if we do not grasp it.

Let’s rework a little bit of Romans 8 and we’ll clearly see how cherished God’s sovereignty is: Who can separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation? Perhaps. Shall distress? Maybe… I am not sure if death or life, or angels or rulers, or things present or things to come will separate us from the love of God. How could I be?

Imagine laying on your deathbed not knowing if God was in control, sovereign over death. What a distressing thought.

Well, praise the Lord we can know! We know that nothing will separate us from the love of Christ Jesus because God is sovereign over all things! What a precious truth. What a practical truth.

So first, we must remember that God is God. He is the creator and sustainer of all, not us. If we understand that, though bad overwhelm us, we will learn with Job not to question the providence of God.

Second, God is good. We see from 1 John that God is love. And we will see next week that God is good and faithful so all God does is good and right and ultimately loving. God’s sovereignty is also good and loving and right though we don’t see or understand it. We must trust God.

Jesus, when He looked helpless and powerless, gave His life up. No one took it from Him, He gave it. He is sovereign and He could have smote all who came to Him. Do you remember what happened when Jesus was betrayed? The people came to Him to arrest Him and Jesus said to them, “Whom do you seek?” They said to Him, “Jesus of Nazareth.” Jesus said to them, “I am He.” It says, in John 18:6 that “When Jesus said to them, I am He,” they drew back and fell to the ground.”

Jesus has power over life and death. He was not a merely a victim on the cross. Jesus reigned from the cross. Remember Hebrews 1:3 remind us that “He upholds the universe by the word of His power,” even the nails in His hands. So, when God’s sovereignty is a hard and mysterious truth, when in the midst of suffering, remember that God sovereignly laid His life down for you in Jesus Christ. When you can’t trace His hand, trust His heart. Trust the fact that He loves you. Remember Jesus stretched out on the cross. Remember that He cares. That He bore the wrath that you deserve.

Trust and the Sovereignty of God

I am sure you remember Bob Ross. Bob Ross would paint his “happy little trees.” He once said, “In painting, you have unlimited power. You have the ability to move mountains. You can bend rivers. But when I get home, the only thing I have power over, is the garbage.” Yet, sometimes Bob Ross would “move mountains” and “bend rivers” and it didn’t seem to make sense.

Sometimes he would say:

“Just ‘smoosh’ it in there. It’s not a real word, but people seem to know what it means” [I don’t know what he means]

“Just put a few do-ers in there…”

“Decide where your little footy hills live”

“Shwooop. Hehe. You have to make those little noises, or it just doesn’t work”

“The only thing worse than yellow snow is green snow”

Or, listen to this: “If you did this with yellow, and you went over it with blue, you would end up with a .. with a translucent… green. And it’s gorgeous. It is GORGEOUS.” Did you know that? Would you have guessed that? I certainly wouldn’t have.

Well, if you have watched Bob Ross you might think he was a little crazy and didn’t know what he was doing. But by the end of the episode you see a beautiful picture. After you have seen one episode you don’t question him as much; you know he is a great painter.

Well, God’s power is analogues to this. God is the Great Painter. He will accomplish His will. Sometimes it doesn’t make sense to us. But we can trust His character. We can trust that the end will be beautiful. Better then we could have imagined.

Not even the terrible sufferings of this present time are worth comparing to the amazing glory that will be revealed to us. God will indeed work all things together for good. He will make all things new. He will accomplish His perfect will.

As Spurgeon said, even when cannot trace God’s hand, we must trust His heart. We must trust that He is good. We must remember that He demonstrated His goodness as He hung, stretched out on the tree, for us.

George Muller, evangelist and Director of the Ashley Down orphanage in England, also trusted that God’s ways our perfect. When Muller’s wife of 39 years was on her death bed he said,

“though my heart was nigh to be broken, on account of the depth of my affection, I said to myself, ‘The Lord is good, and does good; all will be according to His own blessed character. Nothing but that which is good, like Himself, can proceed from Him. If He please to take my wife, it will be good, like Himself. What I have to do, as His child, is to be satisfied with what my Father does that I may glorify Him” (Delighted in God, 162).

The next day Muller read in Psalm 119:75:

“I know, O Lord, that your judgments are right, and in faithfulness you have afflicted me.” Muller read these words over and over again. “’Yes, Lord,’ he said to himself, ‘Your judgments are right, I am satisfied with them. You know the depth of the affection of Your poor child for his beloved wife, yet I am satisfied with your judgments; and my inmost soul says that You in faithfulness have afflicted me. All this is according Your love with which You have loved me in Christ Jesus, and whatever the issue, all will be well’” (Ibid., 162).

When Mary, Muller’s wife passed away, George Muller’s heart was broken. Yet, he preached his own wife’s funeral and he preached it from Psalm 119:68, “You are good, and what you do is good.”

We see the same type of response from Sarah Edwards, Jonathan Edward’s wife. Jonathan Edwards was a pastor, theologian, philosopher, and some say the foremost thinker in American history. After he died of smallpox his wife wrote this to Esther their daughter:

“My dear child, What shall I say? A holy and good God has covered us with a dark cloud. O that we may kiss the rod, and lay our hands upon our mouths! The Lord has done it. He has made me adore His goodness, that we had him so long. But my God lives; and He has my heart. O what a legacy my husband, and your father has, has left us! We are all given to God; and there I am, and I love to be” (Steven J. Lawson, The Unwavering Resolve of Jonathan Edwards, 19).

Sleep and the Sovereignty of God

I love to sleep. I have the tendency to want to be lazy and stay in bed all day. But, at the same time, I hate to sleep. This is because when I’m sleeping I can’t accomplish anything. I have to trust God when I go to sleep. John Piper says, “Sleep is like a broken record that comes around with the same message everyday: Man is not sovereign. Man is not Sovereign. Man is not Sovereign” (Piper, “A brief theology of sleep”). It reminds us that God keeps us and He will neither slumber nor sleep (Ps. 121:4).

I am not sovereign. The CEO of Apple is not sovereign. The President of the United States of America is not sovereign. Terrorists are not sovereign. We can all sleep. We must all sleep.

We can sleep in peace because we know that God is in charge and the world is still churning on without us. The sun doesn’t need us to rise. Realizing that God is sovereign is practical because it allows for rest and relaxation; though not rebellion and rejection of calling.

Just as Jesus slept and escaped from the crowd (e.g. Lk. 5:16), so can we. So must we. Especially if Jesus did. Jesus had more to offer to a lost and broken world then anyone else. Yet He slept. He relaxed with His friends. And so must we. We are responsible, yes. We must be faithful stewards of what our Lord has entrusted to us. We must seek to please Him with all we are. Yet, we can trust our Lord. We can rest. He is sovereign.

Responsibility and the Sovereignty of God

John Frame points out that “although theologians take great interest in the ‘problem’ of divine sovereignty and human responsibility, it is not one of the main concerns of the biblical writers” (Frame, The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God, 120). God rebukes Joseph’s brothers for what they did (Gen. 50:20) but also has good intentions in all that happened.

We also see human responsibility and yet also God’s sovereignty in the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. Jesus was crucified according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God and yet lawless men who carried it out our responsible for their sin (see Acts 2:22-24); as was Judas Iscariot (Matt. 26:24 cf. Acts 4:27-28; Lk. 22:22). Yet Genesis as a book and Genesis chapter fifty is not about sovereignty and responsibility; nor is the book of Acts.

This illustration, though not perfect, may be helpful for some:

“An ocean liner leaves New York bound for Liverpool. Its destination has been determined by proper authorities. Nothing can change it. This is at least a faint picture of sovereignty.

On board the liner are several scores of passengers. These are not in chains, neither are their activities determined for them by decree. They are completely free to move about on the deck, read, talk, altogether as they please; but all the while the great liner is carrying them steadily onward toward a predetermined port.

Both freedom and sovereignty are present here and they do not contradict each other. So it is, I believe, with man’s freedom and the sovereignty of God. The mighty liner of God’s sovereign design keeps its steady course over the sea of history. God moves undisturbed and unhindered toward the fulfillment of those eternal purposes which He purposed in Christ Jesus before the world began. We do not know all that is included in those purposes, but enough has been disclosed to furnish us with a broad outline of things to come and to give us good hoe and firm assurance of future well-being” (Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy, 118).

God will accomplish all of His good pleasure. In other words, the “ocean liner” will arrive in “Liverpool.” Yet, that doesn’t make what we do on the “ocean liner” irrelevant. The fact that God is meticulously sovereign does not negate the fact that we are responsible for our actions. The Apostle Paul believed in the sovereignty of God but he didn’t respond in laziness, as we’ll see below. Instead, he toiled and struggled with all the power that God worked within him (Col. 1:29). See also Ex. 23:31; Deut. 2:33; Judges 3:28-29; 1 Chron. 10:4, 14; 1 Kings 8:58, 61; Lk. 22:22; Acts 21:19; 2 Tim. 2:10.

Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God

When we think about evangelism we are reminded that God is sovereign and man is responsible. Ephesians shows us that God predestines and chooses. However, we see that we must not be inactive.

“Far from it. In this very context, in which our salvation is attributed entirely to the will of God, our own responsibility is also described. For (verse 13) first we heard the word of truth, which is also called the gospel of your salvation; then we believed in him (Christ), and so were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit. Let no one say, therefore, that the doctrine of election by the sovereign will and mercy of God, mysterious as it is, makes either evangelism or faith unnecessary. The opposite is the case. It is only because of God’s gracious will to save that evangelism has any hope of success and faith becomes possible. The preaching of the gospel is the very means that God has appointed by which he delivers from blindness and bondage those whom he chose in Christ before the foundation of the world, sets them free to believe in Jesus, and so causes his will to be done” (Stott, The Message of Ephesians, 48 cf. Packer, Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God).

It may seem strange but when I think about evangelism and the sovereignty of God I think about the California Gold Rush. During the Gold Rush, people went west because there was a good chance that they would strike gold. We who believe in the sovereignty of God, are motivated by the fact that there is a good “chance” of “striking gold” as well. Let me explain…

During the California Gold Rush (1848-55), men and women left everything they knew to go “out west” because they knew that there was a chance—a good chance—that they would strike gold. Clearly, they would not have left family, friends, and security to go west if there was only a random chance of striking gold. However, there was a chance, and so there was a “Gold Rush.”

In total, around 300,000 people saw the potential gold as a great opportunity and set out for California. Men and women left their lives in the East—many times at great cost, sometimes even of life and limb—to travel to the west. This Gold Rush even brought people from as far away as Latin America, Europe, Australia, and Asia. The life of a prospector was a difficult one:  the work was hard, the environment was harsh, and there was the constant fear of Indian attack. Yet, people still went because there was gold in California.

So why does the California Gold Rush remind me of evangelism and the sovereignty of God? Because God says there is “gold” among the nations. Paul tells us that he endures everything for the sake of the elect (2 Tim. 2:10). Thus, far from making Paul relax his missionary zeal it encouraged it. In fact, one night the Lord said to him, “Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent… for I have many in this city who are my people.” (Acts 18:9-10)

Paul was encouraged to keep speaking because God had many elect people in the city. There are elect people among the nations—or “gold”—that only have to hear the gospel of Jesus Christ to be saved. So, it is true that we who believe that God elects people to salvation (see for example Eph. 1:4) but it also true that God uses us as means to bring about that salvation (see Rom. 10:13 for instance). So it is a great evangelistic encouragement to us that there are people ransomed for God from every tribe and language and people and nation (see Rev. 5:9-10). This truth, far from causing us to cease our evangelistic efforts, should cause a type of evangelistic “gold rush.”

One of the greatest encouragements in evangelism and missions is that there is a chance that we will “strike gold.” There is a chance that those to whom we are ministering are of the elect—chosen by God to be saved. Far from discouraging from evangelism, this truth should stir us up all the more to evangelize. When we think about God’s sovereignty we should see “Gold!” God has not only made evangelism possible, but He has in fact guaranteed that our evangelistic efforts are not in vain, for “He has many people in this city” (recall Acts 18:9-10 above). Our eyes should light up with the prospect of spiritual riches for us and for those with whom we can share Christ.

Conclusion

The doctrine of the sovereignty of God can be difficult. But it is also comforting. Saying that God is Lord can sum up this paper. He alone is the Sovereign of the universe. This is good news because God is good, loving, and wise; even when we don’t understand the intricacies of why things happen.

Jesus is the sovereign Lord of the universe that holds all the atoms in place and the stars in orbit (Heb. 1:3). Yet He humbled Himself to the point of death, even death on a cross. Jesus is Lord and He can be trusted. Thus, as Spurgeon said, when we cannot trace His hand, we must trust His heart.

Praise God that though He is “Holy, holy, holy!” He is also “perfect in power, in love and purity.” He is “Holy, holy, holy! Lord God Almighty!” And He is “Merciful and mighty” (Reginald Heber, “Holy, Holy, Holy”). 

Our Missionary God and Our Mission

God incarnated Himself. Became poor, despised. God is the ultimate missionary. He Himself who is the good news, brought good news.

If we are going to be “missional,” i.e. intentionally evangelistic, we must focus on and learn from God the Great Missionary. God’s love is unrelenting and displayed through a vast array of means. It is tangible. It cares. It comes to us. It gives. God’s love is present, active, premeditated.

God’s mission is not disconnected from who He is but expressive of who He is. God’s character, in Christ, literally bled out. God’s missionary heart is not forced but fundamental. God is a God who calls, reaches, and loves the unloving; and He always has been.

We cannot expect our hearts to overflow with missional love unless we meditate on God’s love that we see expressed through the Scriptures. For the good news of Christ to overflow out of our hearts it must daily be in our hearts as good news. We don’t want the gospel and a life of love to be forced, we want it to be so natural that it pours out. We don’t just need our actions to change, we need our character to change. We need to be different. We need to care in ways that we don’t care. We want to intentionally share, not mainly because we have to but because we want to.

We must regularly challenge ourselves by the active nature of mission. God did something. He was not passive. He came. He had a plan (since before the foundation of the world) and He executed it. It cost Him but He carried it out. He opened wide His arms and welcomed in the unloving and hateful world as He hung stretched out on the tree.

We too must be active. We too must enter the world in tangible and intentional ways. We must have a plan and execute it; even if it costs us.

We are ambassadors for Christ, God makes His appeal through us. God speaks through us! So we must implore people on behalf of Christ to be reconciled to God (2 Cor. 5:20).

The Tri-unity of God

The Attributes of God

Introduction

What does the word “Trinity” mean? And do we even see the doctrine of the Trinity in the Old Testament? Or did it just burst upon the scene with the arrival of Jesus? We will see the answers to these questions, and many more below, but first, why is understanding the doctrine of the Trinity important?

It is important because a biblical understanding of the Trinity keeps us from all sorts of unhealthy, unsound, and damaging teaching. It helps us be able to dialogue with Muslims, Jehovah Witnesses, and Mormons; all of which have divergent views on the doctrine of God.[1]

Further, as we study the doctrine of the Trinity we realize the fact that God is triune has huge implications. We can know God because He has revealed Himself to us. We do not merely know that He’s out there, He’s came here. Jesus exegetes God to us. God has tabernacled among us in Jesus. In Jesus, we see the exact image of God (homoousios). Through the Spirit, we know God because the Spirit gives us His word. However, that is not it. The Spirit of God draws us to Himself. And, wonder of wonder, the Spirit dwells in us! The triune nature of God is very important because it is through the (economic) work of the Trinity that we come to know God.

The triune nature of God is essential to our faith and our salvation. Without the unified work of the three Persons in the one God we would be forever damned. We need a perfect wrath absorbing sacrifice. We need “the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God” (Heb. 9:14).

The triune nature of God shows that He is relational, loving, self-giving, and personal. God is not just some distant cosmic force. He has personhood. He has existed in all eternity past in loving relationship, odd to say, with Himself. God actually and amazingly calls us to join in that relationship with Him. He recreates us in His image and welcomes us as His sons and daughters. God welcomes us through communion, and all it represents, to have communion with Himself. God sent His Son, poured out His blood, and His Spirit, in order to welcome us to the feast where we, the Church, shall be His bride. We shall be in a consummated covenant relationship with the King where the story will have an eternal happily-ever-after.

The Trinity also gives fabric and fiber to our human relationships. We have structure and not chaos when we model the Trinity in loving relationship (cf. 1 Cor. 11:3; Eph. 4:4-7).

The Trinity?

The word “Trinity” is not found in the Bible but teaching on the Trinity is. In fact, we see it in the very beginning of the Bible (Gen. 1:1-3; cf. Jn. 1:1-14). “The doctrine of the Trinity teaches both God’s Threeness and his oneness. The adjective triune refers to God as both thee (tri) and one (une).”[2] John Frame says,

“God is one, but somehow also three. This fact is difficult to understand, but it is quite unavoidable in Scripture and central to the gospel. The doctrine of the Trinity attempts to account for this fact and to exclude heresies that have arisen on the subject. Its basic assertion are these: (1) God is one. (2) God is three. (3) The three persons are each fully God. (4) Each of these three persons is distinct from the others. (5) The three persons are related to one another eternally as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.”[3]

God is One

Monotheists believe that there is only one God and Christians agree. There is only one God. But the One God is three Persons in one God.

We see that God is one through various passages. The Shema, the Jewish and Christian confession from Deuteronomy 6:4-5 says, “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” There are also many other passages that we could look at (e.g. Deut. 4:32-35, 39; 32:39; 1 Kings 8:60; Is. 40:18ff; 44:6-8; 45:5-6, 21-22; 46:9; Mk. 12:29; Jn. 17:3; 1 Cor. 8:4-6; 1 Tim. 2:5; James 2:19).

Christians affirm that there is only one God and that God alone must be worshiped (cf. Matt. 6:24; Mk. 12:29; 1 Cor. 10:19-20). Christians affirm the deity of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Christians affirm this because it is the teaching of the New Testament but, as we will see, it is also in the Old Testament, though perhaps veiled.

So, let’s look at God’s Three in One nature in the Old Testament.

The Trinity in the Old Testament?

Imagine you walk into your house at night, the lights are off and it’s very dark. Is their furniture in your house? Is their fixtures? Pictures on the wall? A TV?

How do you know? You know because you’ve have seen your house in the light. However, if I came into your house in the dark I would have no idea what, where, or if there was anything in your house. Why? Because I have not seen it in the light.

But just because I do not understand the contents of the room does not change the fact that there are things in the room. Correct?

That is the way it is with the Trinity. The prophets, priests, and kings did not see the doctrine of the Trinity with the same light with which New Testament and post-New Testament believers see it. They longed to see it as we do (Matt. 13:17) but they didn’t. However, that does not mean that it was not there. It was there all along.

So, where is the Trinity in the Old Testament?

Plurals

Sometimes in the OT the LORD’s name is in the plural form. So in Genesis 1:26 the LORD says, “Let us make man in our image” (cf. 3:22; 11:7; Is. 6:8). Also “’Elohim usually takes a singular verb, but it takes plural verbs in Genesis 20:13; 35:7; Exodus; Nehemiah 9:18; and Isaiah 16:6.”[4] Of course, as John Frame points out:

“We should not try to derive any precise doctrinal content from these grammatical peculiarities. In every language, plural forms sometimes denote singular realities (like pants in English). I do think it significant, however, that the writers and characters of the Old Testament, emphatic monotheists that they were, do not object to these plural forms or try to avoid them, even though the language offered them alternatives.”[5]

Divine Persons

In the OT there entities that are identified with the LORD. First, the Spirit comes to mind. We see the Spirit in various places in the OT. The Spirit was hovering over the waters at the beginning of creation (Gen. 1:2 cf. Job 26:13). God uses His Spirit to accomplish His purpose (Ps. 33:6). The Spirit enters the prophets and they speak God’s word (e.g. 2 Sam. 23:2; Ezek. 2:2).

Second, we see the angel of the Lord in the OT. There are many legions of angels and they are obviously not all divine (cf. Rev. 19:10; 22:9). Yet, it seems the angel of the Lord is. For example, in Genesis 22:11-12 the angel of the LORD says that “you have not withheld from Me [i.e. God] your son.” The angel in Genesis 31:11-13 identifies Himself as “the God of Bethel.” Further, “In 32:30, Jacob says of the man (called an ‘angel’ in Hosea 12:4) who wrestled with him that ‘saw God face to face, and my life was spared.’”[6] (cf. Gen. 16:13; Ex. 3:2-6; 23:20-22; Num. 22:35 (with v. 38); Judg. 2:1-2; 6:11 (with v. 14).

Third, we see that the promised Messiah is also said to be divine in some passages. From Isaiah we see that the Servant of the Lord is the one that will atone for people’s sin (Is. 52:13-53:12). Yet, Isaiah also teaches us that only God brings salvation (cf. Is. 43:3, 11; 45:15, 21; 49:26; 59:15-20; 60:16; 63:8). The crucifixion, the form of execution that Jesus endured, “more than any other, had associations with the idea of human sacrifice.”[7] Jesus’ followers came to see parallels between His death and the Suffering Servant of Isaiah 53. Truly Paul echoes Isaiah 53 (cf. esp. v. 11) in 1 Corinthians 5:21 (see also Matt. 8:17; Luke 22:37; Acts 8:32-33; Heb. 9:28; 1 Pet. 2:22, 24-25).

So Richard Bauckman has shown that there was room for Jesus in the Divine identity.[8] So, for instance, Isaiah 9:6-7 says: “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this.” Also see Daniel 7:13-14 (cf. Davidic promises in 2 Sam. 7; 1 Chron. 17).

Psalm 110:1 shows us that “the Old Testament looks forward to a deliverer who is distinct from Yahweh, yet also bear the title of Lord.”[9]  Paul, for example, would have looked at Psalm 110:1, one of the most quoted Scriptures in the NT (Matt. 22:44; Mk. 12:36; Lk. 20:42-43; Acts 2:34-35; Eph. 1:20; Col. 3:1; Heb. 1:3, 13; 8:1; 10:12; 12:20), and seen that verse 5 says that Adonai (אֲדֹנָ֥י), which was reserved only for deity in the OT, is in fact the Messiah.

Jeremiah 23:5-6 is a very important text for us as well: “’Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In his days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely. And this is the name by which he will be called: ‘The LORD is our righteousness.’”

Our last passage we’ll look at is Isaiah 33:6: “Come near me and listen to this: ‘From the first announcement I have not spoken in secret; at the time it happens, I am there.’ And now the Sovereign LORD has sent me, with his Spirit.” John Frame points out that “the speaker is Yahweh, as the preceding context indicates. But the verse says that Yahweh has been sent by someone else, called ‘the Sovereign LORD,” together with another called ‘his Spirit. From a New Testament vantage point, we can see this as a Trinitarian passage. Interestingly, the following verse adds, ‘This is what the LORD says—your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel”[10] (cf. Ps. 45:6-7; Is. 48:16).

The Trinity in the New Testament?

It is important for us to notice that the “doctrine of the Trinity does not appear in the New Testament in the making, but as already made.”[11] The doctrine of the Trinity is more explicit in the NT then in the OT and it seems to of been more accepted then justification by faith apart from works of the Law. In Paul’s writing for instance he argues against both legalism and license but interestingly no NT writing argues for the Trinity; rather, they suppose a Trinitarian understanding of God. Let’s look at a few texts.

There are a few texts that are explicitly Trinitarian and there are others that are more implicit. We will just look at a sampling of passages.

The classic Trinitarian text comes from Matthew 28:19. We are told to baptize “in the name [singular] of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” The baptism of Jesus is also a very important and popular text: “when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.’” Here we see God the Father (the first Person of the Trinity) speak to the Son (the second Person of the Trinity) and the Spirit descending (the third Person of the Trinity).

Jesus is God

We see the Trinity very clearly in the High Priestly Prayer of John 17. We see the Trinity in the birth narratives. “Jesus is conceived by the Holy Spirit (Matt. 1:18, 20; Luke 1:35) and thus comes to be ‘God with us’ (Matt. 1:23), ‘the Son of God’ (Luke 1:35).”[12] We see that the Spirit of the LORD was upon the Messiah to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor (cf. Is. 61:1-2; Luke 4:18-19). We see the Trinity in Peter’s sermon at Pentecost (Acts 2:33, 38-39). We see the Trinity explicitly in Paul’s closing in the Corinthians: “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all” (2 Cor. 13:14).

We could also look at the use of the word Lord (kyrios) for Jesus when it communicates that He is LORD (e.g. Matt. 21:16/Ps. 8:2; 1 Cor. 1:31/Jer. 9:24). We could look at the Gospel of John’s “I AM” statements (cf. Ex.3:14/Jn. 4:24 “I am [ego eimi], who speaks to you”). See especially John 8:56-58.

The fact that Jesus is God was not only realized very early by the Early Church but articulated very early. So Ignatius of Antioch (c. 50-117) said in his Letter to the Ephesians, Our God, Jesus the Christ, was conceived by Mary according to God’s plan, both from the seed of David and of the Holy Spirit” (18.2 cf. 19.3; Letter to the Romans, 3.3; Letter to Polycarp, 3.2). Polycarp of Smyrna (c. 69-155) said may “the Son of God Jesus Christ, build you up in faith and truth…, and to us with you, and to all those under heaven who will yet believe in our Lord and God Jesus Christ and in his Father who raised him from the dead (Philippians, 12.2). Justin Martyr (100-165) said “Christ being Lord, and God the Son of God” (Dialogue with Trypho, 128) and he said that he would “prove that Christ is called both God and Lord of hosts” (Dialogue with Trypho, 36).

So to conclude our brief survey:

“The most concise, and arguably most fundamental summary of Old Testament teaching is ‘Yahweh is Lord.’ But the New Testament, over and over again, represents Jesus as Lord in the same way that the Old Testament represents Yahweh as Lord. The most fundamental summary of New Testament teaching is, ‘Jesus Christ is Lord’ (Rom. 10:9; 1 Cor. 12:3; Phil. 2:11)” (DG, 650).

The Spirit is God

It says in Acts 5:3-4 “Peter said, ‘Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit…you have not lied to men but to God.’” Thus, we see that the Holy Spirit is God the third person of the Trinity. Also we see that the Holy Spirit is not some impersonal force but is rightly understood as the third person of the Trinity. The Spirit has personhood, the Spirit can be lied to; one cannot lie to impersonal objects or forces. We also see the Spirit’s personhood in that He teaches (Jn. 14:26), can be blasphemed (Matt. 12:31-32), comforts (Acts 9:31), speaks (Acts 28:25), can be grieved (Eph. 4:30), can be resisted (Acts 7:51), and helps us in our weakness (Rom. 8:26). 

Further, as we have briefly seen, Jesus was conceived by (Matt. 1:18, 20; Lk. 1:35), empowered by (e.g. Is. 11:1-2; Acts 10:38), and resurrected by (e.g. Rom. 1:4) the power of the Spirit. The Spirit is also a creating Spirit. In the beginning we see “the Spirit hovering over the waters.” So we see God the Father creates (e.g. Gen. 1:1), the Son creates (e.g. Jn. 1:1-3), and the eternal Spirit also creates (Gen. 1:2; Heb. 9:14). The Spirit also re-creates and brings new life (Jn. 6:63). Regarding the deity of the Holy Spirit we could look at many other texts (cf. Is. 61:1; 63:10; Mt. 12:28; 1 Cor. 3:16; 6:11; Matt. 28:19; Lk. 11:13; Jn. 14:26; 15:26; Rom. 8:26-27; 2 Cor. 13:14; 1 Pet. 1:1-2).

So we see that Scripture teaches us that there are three persons—Father (e.g. Gen. 1:1), Son (e.g. Col. 1:17; Heb. 2:3), and Holy Spirit (e.g. Heb. 9:14)—in the one God (e.g. Deut. 6:4). So Ephesians 4:4-6 says, “There is one body and one Spirit – just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call – One Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.”

Is the Trinity a Logical Contradiction?

When understood aright, the tri-unity of God really becomes an apologetic point. Because apart from divine foreclosure, how would Jews claim God is triune, three in one? Yet, from the beginning Christians were teaching this. Of course, we’ve seen that the tri-unity of God is in the Old Testament, though in veiled form.

So the Trinity, far from defeating Christianity, is actually an argument in its favor. Something hugely significant had to happen for Jews to start expounding their Monotheism in a Trinitarian way (this is to say nothing of the Sabbath, etc.). Christ clearly showed Himself to be God and promised His followers that they would receive power from on high, the Spirit that had already empowered the prophets of old.

The Trinity isn’t a contradiction or illogical, though it is without precedent. We can talk about three leaf clovers, the three forms of water, and the three-headed dog, Cerberus, which guards hades gate but all these analogues fall short.[13] However, just because something is unprecedented or we don’t understand it doesn’t at all mean something isn’t so. Black holes, for instance, are certainly a mystery but that doesn’t invalidate them.

Light is a helpful example for us. Significantly light has paradoxically been explained by scientists and theorists alike as both a wave and a particle (wave-particle duality). It is not claimed that this is completely understood but it is nevertheless believed. Thus Albert Einstein said, “It seems as though we must use sometimes the one theory and sometimes the other, while at times we may use either. We are faced with a new kind of difficulty. We have two contradictory pictures of reality; separately neither of them fully explains the phenomena of light, but together they do.” So scientists believe and claim things that they don’t fully understand, things that are shrouded in mystery, regarding the natural universe (resonance structures); so who are we to deny mystery when it comes to the supernatural God?! 

The person going to a new land for the first time expects to see new things yet they don’t know what and they don’t expect they’ll understand it all. Who are we to look at God any differently? Is it not the height of folly and arrogance to think this way? We realize that there are unprecedented and unclear things that we will see when visiting a new land and culture yet we think we can know what to expect and determine with God? Who are we to say that God cannot be three in one? Are we in the place to judge God? Surely we are not! We can’t or shouldn’t even judge cultures we don’t understand.

A. W. Tozer has said, “Some persons who reject all they cannot explain have denied that God is a Trinity. Subjecting the Most High to their cold, level-eyed scrutiny, they conclude that it is impossible… These forget that their whole life is enshrouded in mystery.”[14] So Albert Einstein has reportedly said:

“We are in the position of a little child entering a huge library filled with books in many different languages. The child knows someone must have written those books. It does not know how. It does not understand the languages in which they are written. The child dimly suspects a mysterious order in the arrangement of the books but doesn’t know what it is. That, it seems to me, is the attitude of even the most intelligent being toward God. We see the universe marvelously arranged and obeying certain laws but only dimly understand those laws.”[15]

We only see dimly. Who are we to say that it is illogical for God to be three in one? Further, it should not surprise us that God would be past finding out (cf. Deut. 29:29; Job 9:10; 36:26; Is. 55:9; Rom. 11:33; 1 Cor. 13:9). He is God. He has created the vast universe that we cannot begin to fathom.

Paul Copan, Professor of Philosophy at Palm Beach Atlantic University, has pointed out that

“while God is one, three self-distinctions exist within the Godhead… Three and one aren’t in contradiction here; to be in conflict, the same category or relationship must be involved. But threeness pertains to persons; oneness pertains to God’s nature or essence. There isn’t one divine nature and three divine natures; there aren’t three persons and one person in the Godhead.”[16]

So, “There’s simply no logical contradiction when Christians say, ‘Three persons, one divine nature.’”[17] The Holy Trinity is indeed a mystery but not an incoherent one.”[18]

In a similar way, the theologian Bruce A. Ware has said,

“God is one in essence or nature, but God is three in person. There is no logical contradiction here even if the concept is beyond our complete comprehension. If God were one in essence and three in essence, or if he were one in person and three in person, then we would have a straightforward contradiction. The so-called doctrine of the Trinity, then, would be total nonsense. But this is not the case. Rather, God’s ‘oneness’ and ‘threeness’ are in different respects or senses. He is one in essence, so the essence of God is possessed fully by each member of Trinity. But he is three in person, so the Father is not the Son or the Holy Spirit, although the Father possesses the identically same nature as does the Son and the Holy Spirit.”[19]

The Essence and Roles of the Persons of the Trinity[20]

Within the Trinity, there may be different functions or tasks of each person in the Godhead but they are in no way out of unison. The word Trinity itself means tri-unity; three in unity. The ontological, essence, or being of the Trinity is the same within all three persons, all are fully God. However, Jesus submits Himself to the Father and the Spirit to both the Father and the Son. They in a way function like a great orchestra playing a wonderful musical piece. They all play the right part at the right time and do it in complete harmony for the betterment of the song. The great song that is sung is of God’s glory in the work of redemption.

Ephesians 1:3 says, “Blessed be the God and Father [first person of the Trinity] of our Lord Jesus Christ [second person of the Trinity]” and later in verse 13 it says that we are sealed with the Holy Spirit [third person of the Trinity]. Here we see some of the functions of the Trinity. We are brought to God so that we can behold His glory through Jesus the Son (Heb 10:19) and then the Spirit is given to us as a guarantee of our inheritance.  So within the Trinity there is ontological equality but economic subordination.

“From eternity, the triune God has existed. Indeed, the self-sufficient Trinity of Father, Son, and Spirit have existed in their free, mutual selfgiving and self-receiving love. Relationship or communion is intrinsic to this “household” (or economy) of divine persons who, though distinct from one another, are inseparably united in other-oriented love. This divine inter- (and inner-) connection of mutuality, openness, and reciprocity has no individualistic competition among the family members but only joy, self-giving love, and transparency. Rather than being some isolated self or solitary ego, God is supremely relational in His self-giving, other-oriented nature. Within God is intimate union as well as distinction, an unbreakable communion of persons. The persons of the Godhead can be distinguished but not separated. God is both community and unity.”[21]

Truly, “The beauty of harmony is a beauty of diversity without discord, of distinctiveness without disarray, of complexity without cacophony.”[22]

So the essence of each person of the Trinity is that they are each fully and eternally God. Yet, they have different functions or roles within the history of redemption. Each person—Father, Son, and Spirit—are all fully God yet they are not the same person. The Father is not the Son, the Son is not the Holy Spirit, and so forth. To state it differently: The Father is God, the Son is God, the Holy Spirit is God; and yet there is only one God.[23]

The LORD Three in One

Why is Understanding the Trinity Important?

In the introduction I hinted at some of the reasons understanding the Trinity is important. I will give a few more here. First, as I pointed out before, I think the doctrine of the Trinity actually adds to the validity of the Christian faith because the teaching is so unprecedented. The doctrine of the Trinity though true and biblical is not unequivocal. Why would Jesus’ first follows have said He was God and said the Spirit that indwelt them was God unless something very significant happened that would allow them to say such things? It seems then, that though the Trinity is indeed a mystery it is not illogical (as discussed above) and actually helps to validate the unprecedented nature of what happened with Jesus and His first followers.

Second, when we understand that each person of the Trinity is equally, fully, and eternally divine then we will wonder at the work and roles of each person of the Trinity and the perspective roles given to husbands and wives, for example, will be understood and carried out as they should be. The various parts of the body of the church will also be able to function and operate as they are called to without feeling either prideful or belittled. Subordination is not inferiority, it is Godlike.[24] When we understand that the authority-submission structure pictures the Trinity—who is equal ontologically in essence but distinct in roles, then we see that when we chafe at the role of authority and submission within our lives, whether at church or home, at heart, we chafe at the very nature of God Himself.[25]

Third, when we understand the Trinity we will be amazed and humbled by passages like Philippians 2:5-11 and by the fact that the Holy Spirit lives within us (1 Cor. 3:16). When we understand the fellowship within the Trinity it will be a stimulus for fellowship within our church and community. In fact, as Bruce Ware has said, “God intends that his very nature—yes, his triune and eternal nature—be expressed in our human relationships.”[26]

Fourth, we see communities and societies have a deep need for true fellowship all over the globe. This is because we were created in the image of the triune relational God. So Paul Copan says, “Because a relational God exists and chooses to create humans in His image, relationality is central to our identity as humans.”[27] We are the way we are because we are made in the image of the triune relational God. We also see that our relational desires can be meant in God, He existed in mutual loving existence for all eternity past. 

Bruce Ware gives Ten Reason to Focus on the Wonder of the Trinity:[28]

  1. The doctrine of the Trinity is one of the most important distinguishing doctrines of the Christian faith and therefore is deserving of our careful study, passionate embrace, and thoughtful application.
  2. The doctrine of the Trinity is both central and necessary for the Christian faith to be what it is. Remove the Trinity, and the whole Christian faith disintegrates.
  3. Worship of the true living God consciously acknowledges the relationship and roles of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
  4. The Christian’s life of prayer must rightly acknowledge the roles of Father, Son, and Spirit as we pray to Father through the Son, in the power of the Spirit.
  5. The Christian’s growth in Christlikeness or sanctification is rightly understood and enriched when seen as the work of the triune God.
  6. The triune relationships of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit cause us to marvel at the unity of the triune God.
  7. The triune relationships of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit cause us to marvel at the diversity within the triune God.
  8. The triune relationships of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit cause us to wonder at the social relationality of the triune God.
  9. The triune relationships of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit cause us to marvel at the authority-submission structure that exists eternally in the three Persons in the Godhead, each of whom is equally and fully God.
  10. The doctrine of the Trinity—one God existing in three Persons in the ways we have described—provides one of the most important and neglected patterns for how human life and human relationships are to be conducted.

Further, Bruce Ware says:

“To illustrate the significance of the Trinity of our faith, consider just briefly the relation of the doctrine of the Trinity to the Christian understanding of salvation. In order for us sinners to be saved, one must see God at one and the same time as the one judging our sin (the Father), the one making payment of infinite value for our sin (the divine Son), and the one empowering and directing the incarnate—human—Son so that he lives and obeys the Father, going to the cross as a substitute for us (the Holy Spirit). The Christian God, to be savior, must then be Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. That is, our salvation comes as the Father judges our sin in his Son, who became incarnate and lived his life in the power of the Spirit as the perfect and sinless God-man, and accomplished his perfect obedience to the Father through the power of the Spirit. Disregard the Trinity and you necessarily undermine salvation.”[29]

Conclusion

The doctrine of the Trinity is important for various reasons. It is important because God is the Lord of all and we are told to know, love, and worship Him. It is important that we know what He is like as far as we are able. When we understand the Trinity, we will wonder at the fact that Jesus reached out to the leper. He, He that eternally was, is, and will be, spoke to the Samaritan woman at the well (this was unprecedented even for a Rabbi in that time as the text shows). We will tremble to think that we are Temples of God, the Spirit dwells in us.

We should wonder at the glorious Trinity, not stand in judgment. Who are we to say that God cannot be three persons in one God? We must throw our hand over our mouth. We must understand that we cannot understand the incomprehensible.

When thinking of the Trinity far from being puffed up in pride we should explode in benediction: “Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Amen.” 

Endnotes

[1] There are a few common divergent views in regard to the Trinity: First, Trithesim is a heretical view of God. Trithesits do not believe in the triune God who is three persons in one God; instead they believe in three different Gods; Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Second, Modalism or Sabellianism. Modalists believe that God is not triune but rather that God has come in three different modes or manifestations as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. So for the modalists there are not three divine persons but only one divine person. Third, Arianism is a heretical view that holds that Jesus was fully human but not fully God. Rather, they believe Jesus was the highest of all created beings.

[2] John Frame, The Doctrine of God¸ 622.

[3] Frame, DG, 621-22.

[4] Frame, DG, 632.

[5] Frame, DG, 632.

[6] Frame, DG, 634.

[7]Martin Hengel, Crucifixion, 87.

[8]See esp. Richard Bauckham, Jesus and the God of Israel (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2008), 19.

[9] Frame, DG, 652.

[10] Frame, DG, 637.

[11] B.B. Warfield, “The Biblical Doctrine of the Trinity,” 143 as quoted in DG, 639.

[12] Frame, DG, 639.

[13] “It may be remarked in reference to them all that they are of little value. They do not serve to make the inconceivable intelligible. The most they can do, is to show that in other spheres and in relation to other subjects, we find a somewhat analogous triplicity in unity. In most cases, however, these illustrations proceed on the assumption that there are mysteries in the Godhead which have no counterpart in the constitution of our nature, or in anything around us in the present state of our existence” (Charles Hodge, Sysetmatic Theology, vol. 1, 478).

[14] A. W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy, 23.

[15] From an interview with Albert Einstein published in G.S. Viereck, Glimpses of the Great, (New York: Macauley, 1930).

[16] Paul Copan, “Is the Trinity a Logical Blunder? God as Three in One,” 211 in Contending with Christianitys Critics.

[17] Ibid., 213.

[18] Ibid., 215.  “Christians have long pondered the mystery of the Trinity, and we’re not here trying to demystify the God whose nature and purposes can’t be reduced to tidy formulas or manageable boxes. We should celebrate the unfathomable God, who’s under no obligation to human demands to clarify everything about Himself (Deut 29:29). And why think our puny minds could grasp these “secret things” (NASB) anyway? Paul reminds us that we know partially and lack the clarity about God’s nature and ways (1 Cor 13:9; cf. Isa 55:9). “The great things of the gospel” (as theologian Jonathan Edwards put it) are astonishing, but mystery or partial knowledge doesn’t imply contradiction.” (Ibid., 210).

[19] Bruce Ware, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, 41.

[20] In some discussions this would be classified as a discussion on the Economic Trinity and Ontological/Immanent Trinity. The economic Trinity has to do with the manifestations of the persons of the Trinity in their unique roles in dealing with creation and particularly in redemption. The ontological/immanent Trinity has to do with the essence of and interworking of the triune God without reference to God’s dealing with creation. So, as we have seen, discussions of the economic Trinity have to do with the different roles of the persons in the Godhead. Whereas, discussions of the ontology of the Trinity have to do with the fact that each person of the Godhead is ontologically equal and divine and relates to the others in mutual love.

[21] Paul Copan, “Is the Trinity a Logical Blunder? God as Three and One,” 209.

[22] Bruce Ware, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit: Relationships, Roles, and Relevance, 135.

[23] So Paul Copan says, “God is one immaterial soul (substance) with three distinct centers of consciousness, rationality, will, and agency (persons) who are deeply and necessarily interconnected, and they share the same unique divine nature” (“Is the Trinity a Logical Blunder? God as Three and One,” 209 in Contending with Christianitys Critics Answering New Atheists and Other Objectors).

[24] Ware quotes P.T. Foryth in Father, Son, and Holy Spirit: Relationships, Roles, and Relevance, 81.

[25] Ware, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, 73.

[26] Ibid., 132.

[27] Copan, “Is the Trinity a Logical Blunder? God as Three and One,” 209.

[28] Ware, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, 15-22.

[29] Ibid., 17.

Who is Jesus?

 Who_Is_Jesus

We find a very telling theological statement in the movie Talladega Nights, “I like to think of Jesus as wearin’ a Tuxedo T-shirt, ’cause it says, like, ‘I want to be formal, but I’m here to party too.’ I like to party, so I like my Jesus to party.” We often have self-conceived versions of Jesus. We may not say that we think Jesus is “wearin’ a Tuxedo T-shirt” but we do very often have misconceptions about who Jesus is.

How can we clear up our misconceptions and why is it so vital? It is vital because if we know Jesus, God the Son, then we know the Father because Jesus has made Him known. Jesus is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of His nature (Heb. 1:3). God’s glory is shown through the heavens (Ps. 19:1-2) but it is most clearly shown through His Son because Jesus is the image of God (2 Cor. 4:4). “The Word [God the Son] became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (Jn. 1:14). Jesus Himself said, “I and the Father are one” (Jn. 10:30) and He said, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (Jn. 14:9).

If we leave Jesus in the cradle as the incarnate Son we are doing Him an injustice because we are forgetting about His pre-incarnate state. We are forgetting about the riches that He lift in heaven to come to earth (2 Cor. 8:9). We are forgetting that all things were made through Him (Jn. 1:3). We are forgetting that He upholds the universe by the Word of His power (Heb. 1:3). We are forgetting that He is utterly “holy, holy, holy” (Is. 6:3; Rev. 4:8). We are forgetting the respect that is due His Name as YHWH. We must have a biblical perspective of Jesus before we will truly know Him and fall at His feet in worship and amazement. If we do not have a biblical perspective of who God the Son is passages like Philippians 2:6-9 and Colossians 1:15-22 will not rightly amaze us and cause us to weep and worship as we should.

So what will keep us from “Tuxedo T-shirt” misconceptions of Jesus? We must remember that are hearts are desperately wicked and we have a bent towards idolatry. We have a tendency to make gods in our own image; including making Jesus in our image. This is an especially difficult temptation for us because Jesus is in the form of a human. He is fully God and fully human yet we must not error on either side here. 

We must know the Word of God; the New Testament and the Old Testament. We must build out view from Scripture not from society, music, movies, our own thoughts, or anything else. We must look at the ways that He has been revealed, not at the ways we would have liked for Him to have been revealed.

The awesome thing is the more we get to know the real Jesus the more we will fall in love with Him and the more we will worship Him as the exalted God. As we see who God is, we will see that gazing upon Him is like seeing a multi-faceted diamond. We can look at any one facet and be endlessly amazed or we can zoom out and see the diamond as a whole and likewise be endlessly amazed. We will now look at different views of Jesus’ work and see different facets and perspectives of who He is and what He has done. 

Jesus is the thread weaved all through Scripture. He is the end and the culmination of all the types and shadows in the Old Testament (2 Cor. 1:20). In Sherlock Holmes mysteries there are all sorts of problems put forward but Sherlock Holmes is the one in the end that solves them. In a similar way all the problems presented in the Bible are solved in Jesus. He is what the whole story of the Bible is truly about.

If we get Jesus out of the cradle, off the cross, and in the glory clouds in our minds it will change the way in which we live.[1] The incarnation of Jesus is absolutely vital and we should never play it down and the cross is also absolutely vital and we cannot play it down but we never only see these views of Christ. We must not only see the humble and suffering Jesus but we must also see the exalted Jesus. He is the Lion of the tribe of Judah. He is described in Revelations with flames coming out of His mouth. Jesus could not be bound by the cradle or the cross, may He never be bound there in our minds. He, as C.S. Lewis has said, is not tame but He is good.

A sampling of who Jesus is:

  1. Jesus is the promised offspring (Gen. 3:15), the long awaited Messiah. He is the son of Adam, the son Abraham, the son of David, the Son of God (Matt. 1:1-16; Luke 3:23-38). He is the offspring that was bruised on the heel by the serpent on the cross but by His death and resurrection He stroke Satan the serpent of old with a death blow by bruising his head (Gen. 3:15; Rom. 16:20). Jesus is the offspring through which the nations are blessed (Gen. 22:18; Gal. 3:16).
  1. Jesus is the better Adam. Sin came into the world through the one man Adam and it is through the one man Jesus that we can receive the free gift of righteousness (Gen. 3:6; Rom. 5:12; 17).
  1. Jesus is the creator of all things and it is in Him that all things hold together (cf. Jn. 1:1-14; Col. 1:15-20; Heb. 1:3).
  1. All through the Old Testament there were lambs sacrificed for intentional sins and even unintentional sins. We know that “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins” (Heb. 9:22) and yet “it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins” (Heb. 10:4). So there was a need for a better lamb. Jesus is that lamb. Jesus is the perfect Lamb without blemish that takes away the sin of the world (Jn. 1:29; Rev. 5:9-10; 12).
  1. Jesus is the true High Priest (Heb. 7:23-28). Jesus went into the holy places not with the blood of animals but with His own blood and thus He secured an eternal redemption (Heb. 9:12). We are as whores (Hosea) but Jesus presents us to God without spot or winkle (Eph. 5:25-27).
  1. Jesus is a better King and long awaited true King. All the Old Testament kings were let downs and failed. Jesus is Kings of kings and Lord of lords. He is the eternal true King (Phil. 2:9-11)!
  1. Jesus is perfectly wise. He is wisdom personified, wisdom incarnate, wisdom in flesh. Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. He always did the right thing He always acted in perfect wisdom.
  1. Jesus is not tame but He is good (cf. Ex. 19:21-24; Lev. 10:1-3; 2 Sam. 6:6-7; Rev. 1:12-18).
  1. Jesus is God. He is fully God and fully man. For example He slept in a boat during a storm at sea and then He calmed the storm. Jesus is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of His nature (Heb. 1:3). God’s glory is shown through the heavens (Ps. 19:1-2) but it is most clearly shown through His Son because Jesus is the image of God (2 Cor. 4:4). “The Word [God the Son] became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (Jn. 1:14). Jesus Himself said, “I and the Father are one” (Jn. 10:30) and He said, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (Jn. 14:9). Jesus is the Great I AM, YHWH (Is. 40:3-5;  Ex. 3:14-15; Jn. 8:58-59; Jn. 18:5-6. Is. 9:6; Lk. 2:11; Is. 7:14; Matt. 1:23).
  1. Jesus is all of this and yet He was born of a woman born to die. He was born to be despised and rejected by man. He is being worshiped in heaven right now and always as the angels say “holy, holy, holy…” 

Do you know Jesus? Will you worship Him as He deserves? 

____________________

[1] Jeff Owens helped me see this in a sermon he preached.

The LORD Sees, The LORD cares

Are you troubled? Are you overcome with grief, fear, and sorrow? Are you questioning where your next meal will come from? Do you hear the nations rage and shrink in fear?

Behold, the nations are like a drop from a bucket,
And are accounted as the dust on the scales (Is. 40:15).

When you weigh yourself, are you worried about the dust on the scale? No! It’s irrelevant. And so, we are reminded:

All the nations are a nothing before Him,
They are accounted as less than nothing and emptiness (v. 17).

We may not know what will happen or how we will get through, but we serve He who does. We serve the One who “stretches out the heavens like a curtain” (v. 22).

If we are down in despair and do not know where our help will come, we must lift up our eyes and see (v. 26a): Who created these? Who numbered the stars? Who calls them all out by name (v. 26; there are some 100 billion stars in our galaxy)?

Thus, why do we say, “My way is hidden from the LORD, He does not see me, He does not care” (v. 27)?

Our LORD says,

Have you not known? Have you not heard?
The LORD is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint or grow weary;
His understanding is unsearchable.
He gives power to the faint,
and to Him who has no might He increases strength.
Even youths shall faint and be weary,
and young men shall fall exhausted;
but they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength;
they shall mount up with wings like eagles;
they shall run and not be weary;
they shall walk and not faint (vv. 28-31).

O’ LORD, our God and Father, we wait on You, we trust You. We know that You see, that You care. 

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