God is Bigger Than You Think (Part Eight: Mercy)

God is Bigger Than You ThinkThe infinitude of the mercy of God is either the most welcome or easiest to digest for the postmodern world.  Mercy has been defined as the refusal to dispense the justice deserved to the one to whom it is deserved.  To the one who is absolutely and obviously guilty, judicial fairness is dismissed and forgiveness is poured out in abundance.  As A.W. Tozer writes:

The mercy of God is infinite too, and the man who has felt the grinding pain of inward guilt knows that this is more than academic.  “Where sin abounded, grace did much more abound.” Abounding sin is the terror of the world, but abounding grace is the hope of mankind.  However sin may abound it still has its limits, for it is the product of finite minds and hearts; but God’s “much more” introduces us to infinitude.  Against our deep creature sickness stands God’s infinite ability to cure.[1]

The truth that there is no sin committed against God or others that cannot be forgiven through Christ’s sacrificial death is a biblically-based fact and a bedrock of Christianity.  It liberates the guilt-ridden soul from the prison of despair and shame, setting it free to bask in the beautiful and freeing grace of Christ.  Infinite mercy woos the heart that has received such clemency to do the same with the smaller, more finite offenses committed against us.

How should I respond to the infinite mercy of God?  This answer is found in the parable of the unforgiving servant in Matthew 18:30-35.  When the servant who had been granted leniency for his exorbitant debt refused to do the same for a fellow servant who owed an extremely smaller balance, he was taken by the master and thrown into prison until the impossible debt had been paid.  This parable was meant by Jesus to represent the mercy of God in the lives of those whom His mercy has been infinitely allotted.  His point is clear that the objects of God’s infinite mercy should be unequivocally disposed to administering the same (Matt. 5:7).

If I genuinely caught a glimpse of this truth and began to display this mercy to others, hostility within and without would dissipate, permitting me to reflect the beautiful glory of God as was His intention.

[1] A. W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy: The Attributes of God: Their Meaning in the Christian Life (San Francisco: HarperOne, 1978), 47.

The Best Part of Disney World

I spoke with a lady today who works at Disney World from a country that is openly hostile to the gospel. As I shared that a friend of mine was once a missionary in her home country, she told me that it is very hard to share Christ there and that cries every night for her countrymen.

This less-than-five-minute interaction left me with a truth that had remained previously unknown to me…

I don’t cry enough for the lost.

Please don’t get me wrong; I truly care about people and desire them to come to know Christ. However, I’ve never wept over the spiritual separation of those I’ve never met.

And as a pastor, that is to my shame.

The more I think about it, I am struck with how replete Paul’s letters are with evidences of such a concern. Specifically in Romans 9, Paul writes of his own nation, Israel:

I am speaking the truth in Christ-I am not lying; my conscience bears me witness in the Holy Spirit-that I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh (9:1-3, bold mine).

Later in this letter, Paul declares that “my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved (10:1).” For the apostle Paul, the salvation of his countryman was so precious that it caused anguish in his heart to the point that he would have been willing to forfeit his own eternal joy with Christ.

I wonder if it was, in part, this deep compassion which caused Paul to be the man of God that we know him to be. Is this the key to being a man or woman whom God uses in His grand narrative? Can a person possess such a desire today?

I hope so.

And it is with that hope that I want to commit to being burdened by the Holy Spirit for the salvation of those whom God is placed in my path. Whether over family, friends, neighbors or casual acquaintances, I want to be a man who weeps for the salvation of people.

Otherwise, what good am I?

God is Bigger Than You Think (Part Seven: Love)

God is Bigger Than You ThinkIf a researcher were to ask the average person on the street to define what God is like, invariably answers such as “God is love” or “He is a loving God” would surface.  The commonly held opinion on the character of God is that His power and/or His mighty acts are only for the direct happiness caused in the lives of individuals.  God is seen as tolerant of shortcomings as opposed to angry over sin; more as a comforter rather than a confront-er.

It is not my intent to deny the selfless love of God in the individual lives of His children.  On the contrary, it is my opinion that the modern Christian has settled for a shallow view of the love of God.[1]  As J.I. Packer writes in his book Knowing God:

St. Johns twice-repeated statement, “God is love” (1 John 4:8, 16), is one of the most tremendous utterances in the Bible – and also one of the most misunderstood.  False ideas have grown up round it like a hedge of thorns, hiding its real meaning from view, and it is no small task cutting through this tangle of mental undergrowth.  Yet the hard thought involved is more than repaid when the true sense of these texts comes home to the Christian soul.[2]

In keeping with the thesis that God’s infinitude permeates all other attributes, it can be clearly said that God’s love has no boundaries seen or unseen.  No person exists or has ever existed that is outside of God’s selfless love to one degree or another.  God’s love for all of mankind was manifested in the person of Jesus Christ (John 3:16) via His penal substitutionary death on the cross (Rom. 5:8).  This love is by definition selfless and sacrificial, extending to all of humanity without any reservation.

This, however, should not be misconstrued to mean that all will benefit in regards to eternal salvation.  As Dr. Ryrie writes: “The heresy of universalism grows out of an unbalanced concept of the attributes of God.  It teaches that since God is love He will ultimately save all people.  But God’s perfections of love does not operate apart from His other perfections, including holiness and justice.  Therefore, love cannot overpower holiness and save those who reject Christ and die in their sins.  Furthermore, universalism in reality does not have a proper definition of love, since it sees only the affection aspect of love and not the correcting aspect.”[3]

How can I profit from such a truth?  By seeing the infinite love of God revealed in the gospel, I can rise out of my spoiled Christian consumerism that tells me that I am the center of God’s universe and embrace the Great Commission as Christ intended.  Jesus stated that His mission was to come into the world in order to save the world (John 3:17) and that the church was to “make disciples of all nations (Matt. 28:19).”  The truth that God is love and that this love is infinite is, and should rightly be, my basis for sharing the truth of Christ’s redemptive work with those in my sphere of influence.  Without the belief that God can save the sinner, presenting how He has done so would be inane.

[1]“For complex reasons, many in the Western world, both Christians and unbelievers, have drifted towards understandings of the love of God that are demonstrably sub-biblical, sometimes patently anti-biblical.”

Brian S. Rosner, T. Desmond Alexander, Graeme Goldsworthy and D. A. Carson, eds., New Dictionary of Biblical Theology: Exploring the Unity and Diversity of Scripture (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2000), 646.

[2] J. I Packer, Knowing God (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1973), 106.

[3] Charles Ryrie, Basic Theology: A Popular Systematic Guide to Understanding Biblical Truth (Chicago, Ill.: Moody Publishers, 1999), 45.

God is Bigger Thank You Think (Part Six: Goodness)

God is Bigger Than You ThinkThe word good is nearly impossible to define without using the word itself.  When one thinks of something as good, he or she often views the item or idea as immediately pleasing to him or herself.  It is up to the subjective mind of the receiver to discern whether or not that which is received is good or bad.  However, when God is spoken of as good, this is always in the objective sense in that He is unanimously good.  The goodness of God is not a personal opinion; rather it is a universal truth that cannot be denied based on any circumstance.

The goodness of God has been defined as saying that in all the works of God, He acts to the benefit of His creation rather than to its detriment.  All that God allows is for the fulfillment of His perfect will and the advantage of His people.  Scripture is littered with the concept of the undisputed goodness of God:

“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose (Rom. 8:28, bold mine).”

“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.  Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me.  But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.  For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong (2 Cor. 12:7-10, bold mine).”

“So we do not lose heart.  Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.  For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen.  For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal (2 Cor. 4:16-18, bold mine).”

God’s absolute goodness has no boundaries in that there is no instance which happens that can deny or destroy His ultimately beneficial end.  Every situation, no matter how horrible or difficult, is one for which God has no answer that will not eventually result as a testimony of His goodness.[1]

If this is true, how does the child of God allow this to infuse his or her life?  Simply by putting this truth into the mind and heart, the believer has the potential of victory in all trials, anxieties, hardships, pain and horrific circumstances.  Immersing oneself in the absolute and infinite goodness of God cements the resolve of the believer to endure such obstacles, seeing beyond the temporary pain and beholding the “eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison (2 Cor. 4:18)” promised within the pages of God’s holy Word.

[1] Grudem explains that “Scripture also tells us that God is the source of all good in the world.  ‘Every good endowment and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change’ (James 1:17; cf. Ps. 145:9; Acts 14:17)…Much more than an earthly father, our heavenly Father will ‘give good things to those who ask him’ (Matt. 7:11), even his discipline is a manifestation of his love and is for our good (Heb. 12:10.  This knowledge of God’s great goodness should encourage us to ‘give thanks in all circumstances’(1 Thess. 5:18).” Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Leicester: Zondervan, 1995), 198

God is Bigger Than You Think (Part Five: Sovereignty)

God is Bigger Than You ThinkThe aforementioned understanding of God’s infinite knowledge naturally flows into the concept of God’s infinite sovereignty over universal and personal circumstances.  Ryrie defines sovereignty as:

The word means principal, chief, supreme.  It speaks first of position (God is the chief Being in the universe), then of power (God is supreme in power in the universe).  How he exercises that power is revealed in the Scriptures.  A sovereign could be a dictator (God is not), or a sovereign could abdicate the use of his powers (God has not).  Ultimately God is in complete control of all things, though he may choose to let certain events happen according to natural laws that He has ordained.[1]

More succinctly put: God can do whatever He wants, however He wants, whenever He wants, with whomever He wants.  God is not limited in His control over the universe, or in His actions with mankind.  There is nothing that is outside of His realm of control, both good and bad, and nothing happens except from His allowance.  Conversely, God, like a skillful weaver, intertwines all circumstances to form His beautiful tapestry of history for His glory alone.

One may ask: “Doesn’t this view of God’s will all but eliminate the personal choice of man?”  On the finite surface the answer would appear to be “yes”, however, Dr. Ryrie takes it to a deeper level when he explains that:

The sovereignty of God seems to contradict the freedom or actual responsibility of man.  But even though it may seem to do so, the perfection of sovereignty is clearly taught in the Scriptures, so it must not be denied because of our inability to reconcile it with freedom or responsibility.

Also, if God is sovereign, how can the creation be so filled with evil?  Man was created with genuine freedom, but the exercise of that freedom in rebellion against God introduced sin into the human race.  Though God was the Designer of the plan, He was in no way involved in the commission of evil wither on the part of Satan originally or of Adam subsequently.  Even though God hates sin, for reasons not revealed to us, sin is present by His permission.  Sin must be within God’s eternal plan (or God would not be sovereign) in some way in which He is not the author of it (or God could not be holy).

Sovereignty / freedom forms an antinomy… One can accept the truths of an antimony and live with them, accepting by faith what cannot be reconciled; or one can try to harmonize the apparent contradictions in an antimony, which inevitably leads to overemphasizing one truth to the neglect or even denial of the other.  Sovereignty must not obliterate free will, and free will must never dilute sovereignty.[2]

There is an amazing comfort and blessing which flows from the understanding that God’s sovereignty is infinite in that there are no boundaries that limit God in His control.  As David recorded in Psalms 37: “The steps of a man are established by the Lord, when he delights in his way; though he fall, he shall not be cast headlong, for the Lord upholds his hand (Psalm 37:23-24).”  Ryrie spells it out like so: “God has plan (Acts 15:18), which is all-inclusive (Eph. 1:11, which He controls (Psalm 135:6), which includes but does not involve Him in evil (Prov. 16:4), and which ultimately is for the praise of His glory (Eph. 1:14).”[3]

[1] Charles Ryrie, Basic Theology: A Popular Systematic Guide to Understanding Biblical Truth (Chicago, Ill.: Moody Publishers, 1999), 49.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.