Friday, September 21, 2007

Building a Culture of Faithfulness (Part 2)

A Biblical Understanding of the World

As we begin, it is necessary to understand that from a biblical perspective there are only two basic world views: Christian and non-Christian. There are various types of these two worldviews, but they all boil down to these two. They can be distinguished by their presuppositions – that is, their most fundamental convictions about reality, knowledge, and conduct. The Christian worldview holds that “the one living and true God has self-attestingly revealed Himself in the Christian Scriptures.”[i] The non-Christian worldview is based upon unbelief and an unwillingness to submit to Jesus, who is the way, the truth, and the life. From the Bible we learn the framework of reality through which we can properly interpret the world.

The Personal, Triune God Is Great and Good

Men, have you ever stopped to think about the difference between your car, your dog, and your wife? Even to make this comparison invites your wife’s scorn or wrath. Why? Because you know that your wife is in an entirely different category from your car or your dog. She is a person. Without even reflecting on it, we automatically know that a person is something quite different from a machine or an animal.

One of the most important truths we can know about God is that he is personal. He is not a machine or a force. Although the Bible never directly states that God is personal, everything the Bible says about God reveals that he is a personal being.

  • God is alive (Deut 5:26; Josh 3:10; 1 Sam 17:26, 36; Ps 42:2; 84:2; Jer 10:10; Matt 16:16; Rom 9:26; 1 Thess 1:9; 1 Tim 4:10). God has energy in himself which he directs by his own intelligence into activity. God is able to do things (e.g. speak; create, preserve, and direct the universe; deliver his people; save men from sin; judge and punish sinners).
  • God is intelligent (1 Sam 2:3; Isa 11:2; Pro 3:19-20; Rom 11:33).
  • God has purpose (Isa 14:26-27; Eph 3:11).
  • God is active (Deut 11:7; Ps 92:4-5; John 5:17; Phil 2:13). Out of his own self-sufficient energy, God does things (e.g. creation, providence, salvation).
  • God is free (Ps 33:10-11; 115:3; 135:5-7; Job 23:13; Dan 4:35; Eph 1:11). God is not bound by anything outside of himself.
  • God is self-conscious (Exod 3:14; 1 Cor 2:10-11). God knows himself exhaustively.
  • God is emotional (Ps 5:5; 103:13; 145:8; Jer 31:3).[ii] God is maximally engaged in the outworking of his plan in creation.

The fact that God is personal rules out any form of pantheism, materialism, and fatalism. God is not an abstraction, a philosophical absolute, or a distant “supreme being.” Only in Christianity is the “absolute principle” personal. The personal is more fundamental than the impersonal.

Christians have “become disturbed over permissiveness, pornography, the public schools, the breakdown of the family, and finally abortion. But they have not seen this as a totality – each thing being a part, a symptom, of a much larger problem. They have failed to see that all of this has come about due to a shift in the world view – that is, through a fundamental change in the overall way people think and view the world and life as a whole. This shift has been away from a world view that was at least vaguely Christian in people’s memory (even if they were not individually Christian) toward something completely different – toward a world view based upon the idea that the final reality is impersonal matter or energy shaped into its present form by impersonal chance”

Francis Schaeffer, A Christian Manifesto

Not only must we understand that God is personal, we must also recognize that he is three-in-one. Christians often note how important God’s tri-unity is to our salvation: the Father chooses and sends the Son, the Son becomes a man and accomplishes redemption, and the Spirit applies redemption to us. There is an eternity’s worth of good truth to meditate on and rejoice over in that last sentence. Nevertheless, this does not exhaust the practical ramifications of God’s tri-unity.

God’s tri-unity is the basic ground of all of created reality. It is also the pattern for all personal relationships.

Biblical Evidence that God is One

  • God’s unity means that the whole essence of God is in each person of the Trinity.
  • Each of the three persons is recognized as God.
    • The Father is God (John 6:27; John 20:17; 1 Peter 1:2).
    • The Son is God (John 1:1, 18; Titus 2:13; Heb 1:8; 1 John 5:20).
    • The Holy Spirit is God (Acts 5:3-4; 1 Cor 3:16).
  • These three persons are one and the same God.
    • The Father and the Son are One (John 5:18; 10:30, 33; 14:10-11; 17:22).
    • The Father and the Spirit are One (1 Cor 2:11; 3:16).
    • The Son and the Spirit are One (Rom 8:9; Gal 4:6).
    • The Father, Son, and Spirit are One (John 14:16, 18, 23).

Biblical Evidence that God is Three-in-One

  • Old Testament Suggestions
    • Suggestions of plurality – Psalm 2:7; 45:6-7; 110:1
    • Suggestions of three persons – Isa 48:16; 61:1
  • New Testament Proof
    • The baptism of Jesus – Matt 3:16-17
    • Announcement to Mary – Luke 1:32, 35
    • Formula of Christian baptism – Matt 28:19
    • Apostolic benediction – 2 Cor 13:14
    • Personal distinctions in the Godhead
      • The Father and the Son are distinct persons (John 3:6; 5:26; Gal 4:4).
      • The Father and the Son are distinct from the Spirit (John 14:6-17; 15:26).
    • Several other texts – 1 Cor 12:4-6; Eph 2:18; 4:4-6; 2 Thess 2:13; Heb 9:14; 1 Peter 1:2; Jude 20-21; Rev 1:4-5
  • The three persons are objective to each other.
  • The three persons are equal in being, power, and glory. All are called God and can be worshiped (e.g. John 5:23).

The unity-in-diversity and complex harmony of the Trinity is not just a theological puzzle for nerdy academics to debate. It provides the necessary basis for philosophy, ethics, art, biology, psychology, sociology, law, politics, economics, history – in short, everything!

Now, since the personal, triune God is the ultimate creator and sustainer of everything that exists, it is welcome news to learn from the Bible that he is great and good. From beginning to end, God is the main subject of the Bible. The Bible reveals much about God’s personal qualities through names, images, and descriptions. The personal qualities that make God who he is are usually called his attributes. Since God is who he is, it is impossible for us to come up with one way of categorizing God’s attributes that adequately conveys everything about God. In fact, the Bible itself does not attempt to do this. Thus the following list is simply one way of trying to grasp God’s personal qualities that make him who he is.

God is Great

· Self-existence or life (Exod 3:14; John 5:26)

· Infinity (Ps 147:5; 1 Kings 8:27; Rom 11:33)

· Perfection (Ps 18:30; Matt 5:48)

· Omnipotence (Jer 32:17; Isa 40:28; Rev 19:8)

· Omniscience (Ps 147:4; Isa 46:9-11; 1 John 3:20)

· Omnipresence (Ps 139:7-10; Jer 23:23-24; Acts 17:27-28)

· Wisdom (Ps 104:24; Rom 11:33; 16:27)

· Eternity (Ps 90:1-2; 102:11-12; Heb 1:12)

· Immutability (Ps 33:11; Mal 3:6; Jas 1:17)

· Incomprehensibility (Ps 145:3; Isa 55:9; Rom 11:33)

God is Good

· Holiness (Isa 6:3)

o Holiness of majestic transcendence (Ps 99:3, 9)

o Holiness of moral purity (1 Peter 1:15-16)

· Truth

o God is the true God (Jer 10:10; John 17:3; 1 Thess 1:9)

o God is the truthful God (1 Sam 15:29; John 17:17; Titus 1:2)

· Love (John 3:16; 1 John 4:8)

· Righteousness and justice (Deut 32:4; Ps 89:14; Rom 3:26)

· Faithfulness (Ps 119:90; Lam 3:23; 1 Cor 10:13)

· Mercy (Deut 4:31; Ps 103:4; 2 Cor 1:3; Eph 2:4)

· Grace (Rom 5:17; Eph 1:7; 2:8)

Since God is the creator, sustainer, and director of the universe, God’s personal characteristics are the governing factors of all of reality. So in our interpretations of life, we must do so from the perspective of who God is. Later on, we will apply this to our national history as Americans and to our current situation. But remember, this is not an abstract exercise. Building a culture of faithfulness means that we are getting to know and live for an incredibly great and good Person, and so we answer the Psalmist’s call, “Delight yourself in the Lord” (Ps 37:4)!

God’s Grandeur

Gerald Manley Hopkins (1844-1899)

The world is charged with the grandeur of God.

It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;

It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil

Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?

Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;

And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;

And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil

Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.

And for all this, nature is never spent;

There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;

And though the last lights off the black West went

Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs –

Because the Holy Ghost over the bent

World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.

[i] Robert L. Reymond, The Justification of Knowledge (Evangelical Press, 1976), 72. Cornelius Van Til puts it this way, “A truly Protestant apologetic must therefore make its beginning from the presupposition that the triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, speaks to him with absolute authority in Scripture” (The Defense of the Faith [Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1967], 179).

[ii] See John Frame, The Doctrine of God (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed, 2002), 608-11.

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