Kingdom of God Intro: Jesus’ people in his kingdom under his rule

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The Kingdom of Jesus: His Rule, His Place, and His People
“Though we do not have kings in America, or want them, our unconscious mind both has them and wants them. We all know what a true king is, a real king, an ideal king, an archetypal king. He is not a mere politician or soldier. Something in us longs to give him our loyalty and fealty and service and obedience. He is lost but longed for and will some day return, like Arthur.”[1]

The Bible is the story of kings and kingdoms through and through.[2] From Genesis 1 when God commissions his image-bearers to exercise dominion until Revelation 21-22 when Jesus restores a kingdom on the new earth, the whole story smells thick with the aroma of kingdom. And yet, in the opening quote Peter Kreeft pins down an interesting reality that has haunted American evangelical theology.[3] Because we are a people who prize democracy—which means we dislike, dread, or don’t understand kings—American churches have taught very little about “the kingdom of God.” Not that this is the only reason we’ve avoided teaching on the kingdom of God.[4]

The shock of it all is that we haven’t downplayed a theme on the margins of the Bible but one of the primary themes in the NT—and the Bible as a whole. It’s clear that for Jesus, the Kingdom of God was both at the heart of his teaching and his role. John the Baptist prepares the way for Jesus by preaching that the kingdom is nearing (Mt. 3:2). Jesus tells the Jews—who would have heard him with Messianic and Kingly expectations from the OT—that the kingdom is now among them (Lk. 11:20; 17:21). He commissions his disciples before and after the resurrection to preach the good news (gospel) of the kingdom (Lk. 9:2; Acts 1:3). In the Epistles, the exact phrase “kingdom of God” becomes less prominent but the same ideas are retained (Col. 1:13; Heb. 12:18-29). All of that to say, if the Kingdom of God was a priority in Jesus’ teaching and mission, and if it’s at the heart of NT theology, then we should probably make it a priority in our understanding of the NT.

A thorough investigation of kingdom would require tracing its importance and development through every epoch, as well as more in-depth exegesis on a host of NT passages rich with a theology of the kingdom. That can’t be done here—and others have already done it—so I will try to give a fast-break summary of major ideas and descriptions of kingdom in the NT. I will also be arguing for the present (already) aspect of Jesus kingdom being the Davidic kingdom Israel had been looking for. My hope is that by providing a basic framework of the kingdom of God we can begin to take next steps in understanding and then living in light of Christ’s Kingdom we are a part of right now.

A View from the Chopper
Recently I’ve enjoyed doing travel research. I’m a huge fan of history but also like good food, different cultures, and beautiful sights. Researching a location usually begins with the 30,000 foot view. What are the eye-catching zoomed out views of a worthy site (city, landmark, scenery)? How is the place generally described and what gives you a basic feel for the place? It’s similar to a helicopter tour that shows you the city as a whole. But, soon after that, you have to start getting into specifics. What are the specific buildings to see, where is a good hotel, where do I get on a bus? The helicopter view is great in its breadth but walking in the streets is where you really see the depth of a city. This summary will start with the helicopter view and then later on allow us to start navigating the roads and stepping into the must see landmarks when it comes to the kingdom of God. As we take this tour, there will be sites I don’t have the time to point out—not because they aren’t important—so you’ll just have to go back and check them out on your own.

Where We’re Headed
There is much to be said so I will unpack this important idea in 7-8 posts. If you stick with this you will not be an expert on the kingdom of God, but, you will hopefully know a little bit more than when you started. I’ll be honest up front, I’m primarily summarizing a Reformed understanding of the kingdom of God in the NT in its present (already) form, and making a theological defense for why this present kingdom is the promised Davidic kingdom. Here’s a summary of the upcoming posts.

• The OT backdrop on kingdom
• Two misunderstandings on the kingdom
1) Jesus fundamentally understood the kingdom of God promised in the OT differently than the Jews of his day.
2) The kingdom is already present in a real sense and is not wholly future
• The already-not-yet temporal pattern to the kingdom
• How the kingdom of God could be described
1) Working off of Graeme Goldsworthy: God’s people in God’s place under God’s rule
2) Working off of Geerhardus Vos: It’s theocentric, powerful, righteous, and based on God’s graciousness.
• The importance of Ascension to understanding that it is the Davidic Kingdom
• The importance of Pentecost to understanding that it is the Davidic Kingdom
• The Kingdom of God is the eschatological new creation kingdom

Footnotes:
Header image courtesy of the images & graphics Jedi, Greg Pilcher.
[1] Peter Kreeft, The Philosophy of Tolkien (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2005), 44.
[2] The word for “kingdom” is used 162 times in the New Testament.
[3] Kreeft does not here make the connection between American democracy and the misunderstanding and downplaying of kingdom from the Bible. In the beginning of the section on Kingdom, Faithmapping does hint at the connection. Daniel Montgomery and Mike Cosper, Faithmapping (Wheaton: Crossway, 2013), 29-30.
[4] Two other reasons could be mentioned. First might be our need for proof texts where the word “kingdom” is used rather than being able to make connections with thematic allusions like “throne,” “reign,” “David’s Son,” and others. Second, the prominence of dispensational theology in much of America, which until the last 20 years saw the kingdom of God as almost entirely future, minimized preaching and teaching on the kingdom of God.

Jesus, the Davidic King

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“Being therefore a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would set one of his descendants on his throne, he foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption. This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses. Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing. For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he himself says,‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.”’” (Acts 2:30-35)

It’s hard for me to believe that Dispensationalists would claim that Jesus is not the Davidic King reigning right now on the Davidic throne over the eternal Kingdom of God promised to David’s Son. That view has however become a minority as classical and revised dispensationalists are either on or nearing the theological endangered-species list (at least in academic and biblical-theology circles). Among the numerous responses that I’ve found helpful, here are some quotes from Progressive Dispensationalism (which on a spectrum is closer to Covenant Theology than Dispensational Theology) by Craig Blaising and Darrell Bock.

Craig Blaising and Darrell Bock bring up three of the most common classical or revised dispensational objections to Jesus’ reign as Davidic King. I’ll mention the first two and quickly summarize their response (although I recommend reading this section in their book in its entirety).

In sum: “Beginning in Acts 2, Jesus’ apostles began to preach that His resurrection was the fulfillment of the covenant promise to ‘raise up’ David’s descendant. The promise to raise up a descendant, in 2 Samuel 7:12, is connected with the promise to establish His kingdom or, putting it another way, to establish His throne. Peter argues in Acts 2:22-36 that David predicted in Psalm 16 that this descendant would be raised up from the dead, incorruptible, and in this way, He would be seated upon His throne (Acts 2:30-31). He then argues that this enthronement has taken place upon the entrance of Jesus into heaven, in keeping with the language of Psalm 110:1 that describes the seating of David’s son at God’s right hand.” (p. 177)

Objection 1. “The throne Jesus received at His ascension was not the throne promised to David.”.
“First of all, the objection fails to observe the fact that every New Testament description of the present throne of Jesus is drawn from Davidic covenant promises….In Acts 2:30-36, the resurrection, ascension, and seating of Christ in heaven at the right hand of God (Ps. 110:1) are presented in light of the prediction ‘that God had sworn to him [David] with an oath to seat one of his descendants upon his throne’ (Acts 2:30). No other throne is discussed in this text except the Davidic throne.” (p. 182)

“The second problem with the objection is that it fails to comprehend the relationship between God’s heavenly rule over Israel and the rule of His chosen king….Because of the covenant orientation of the heavenly throne to Israel, Jesus’ enthronement there makes Him the Christ, the anointed king of Israel. And because God, the King of Israel, had covenanted to David that his descendant would rule Israel and all the nations, this installation of Jesus (the son of David whom God has raised up from the dead) in heaven by the divine King of Israel portends an imminent descent to the Jerusalem throne.” (pp. 184-85)

Objection 2. “Jesus’ present activity is best understood as divine sovereignty, not Davidic kingship.”
“First of all, we note that the Bible explains Jesus’ present activity in Davidic as well as divine terms….Repeatedly through the Book of Acts and the Epistles, it is as the Christ (that is Messiah, the anointed Davidic king of Israel), seated at the right hand of God (the Davidic position) that He is active today.” (p. 185)

Craig A. Blaising and Darrell L. Bock, Progressive Dispensationalism (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1993), 174-283. Pages 182-187 are worth reading in their entirety.

Links to articles

A few people have asked where they could find the articles I wrote a couple of weeks ago so I thought I’d link them here.

Here is a link to my article “What Does It Mean to “Remember” in the Lord’s Supper?” from The Gospel Coalition.

And, here is a link to my article “8 Characteristics of Gospel-Centered Sanctification” from Gospel-Centered Discipleship.

I recently did a radio interview with Pilgrim Radio about my article on sanctification. Their radio stations are out West so anyone local interested in listening would have to stream it as it’s being played. It’s airing tomorrow (Thursday) at 5:30AM and 3:30 PM and then 12:30 AM Friday morning (Thursday night).

Don’t Confuse or Divide Indicative & Imperative

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“For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.” Romans 6:14

More often than not when somebody throws out the “we’re not under law but under grace” phrase it’s either used to say, “Hey, come on! I’m a Christian so my sin’s not all that big of a deal,” or “Don’t give me any commands. That’s old-school, like Moses and the Old Testament era old-school.”

In light of this, we might forget that the phrase is actually tied to an exhortation for holiness, “sin will have no dominion over you.” That statement is both a fact based upon our dying and being raised in Jesus (Romans 6:1-13) as well as a reminder of what reality should look like in light of that fact: we shouldn’t let ourselves live under sin’s dominion (Rom. 6:15-23).

As someone who wants to daily find refreshment in free grace while also wanting to mature in Christ in a manner propelled by that grace, I find Romans 6:14 to be a huge help. It gives me an encouragement to pursue holiness without making either my energy in that pursuit or how far I make it in that pursuit the source of my confidence before God. Douglas Moo provides a helpful explanation as to why the indicative and imperative should neither be confused nor separated.

“‘Indicative’ and ‘imperative’ must be neither divided nor confused. If divided, with ‘justification’ and ‘sanctification’ put into separate compartments, we can forget that true holiness of life comes only as the outworking and realization of the life of Christ in us. This leads to a ‘moralism’ or ‘legalism’ in which the believer ‘goes it on his own,’ thinking that holiness will be attained through sheer effort, or ever more elaborate programs, or ever-increasing numbers of rules. But if indicative and imperative are confused, with ‘justification’ and ‘sanctification’ collapsed together into one, we can neglect the fact that the outworking of the life of Christ is made our responsibility. This neglect leads to an unconcern with holiness of life, or to a ‘God-does-it-all’ attitude in which the believer thinks to become holy through a kind of spiritual osmosis. Paul makes it clear, by the sequence in his paragraph, that we can live a holy life as we appropriate the benefits of our union with Christ. But he also makes it clear, because there is a sequence, that living the holy life is distinct from (but not separate from) what we have attained by our union with Christ and that holiness of life can be stifled if we fail continually to appropriate and put to work the new life God has given us. Jeremiah Bourroughs, a seventeenth-century Puritan, put it like this: ‘…from him [Christ] as from a fountain, sanctification flows into the souls of the Saints: their sanctification comes not so much from their struggling, and endeavors, and vows, and resolutions, as it comes to them from their union with him.'”[1]

[1] Douglas Moo, The Epistle to the Romans (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996), 391.

The Father’s Love in Adopting (Part 3)

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In the first post on the Father’s love I introduced both the challenge and the importance of seeing God the Father as loving. As we meditate on the biblical truths of the depths of his love and begin resting in that love we will be refreshed with newfound freedom and security to keep drawing near. Therefore, thinking rightly of God our Father is not just a matter of having our theological ducks in a row but it’s a game changer in living the Christian life. We will consider seven NT examples of how God puts his love on display for us, wanting us to know about it and be wrapped up in it.

1) The Father’s love for us is nowhere more clearly seen than in the sending of his only Son—freely, unprompted, undeservedly—to reconcile us back to himself.

2) The Father’s love for us is seen in that Jesus is sent to reveal the Father to us. The Father desires to be known and understood.

3) God the Father’s love can be seen in the friendly and familial vocabulary describing a believer’s relationship with God. He is called our Father, an endearing term unlike the formidable Deity of other religions. We are known as God’s children, sons and daughters, beneficiaries of adoption, and heirs. J.I. Packer writes, “What is a Christian? The question can be answered in many ways, but the richest answer I know is that a Christian is one who has God as Father.”

Before Christ we were enemies of God, separated and condemned because of our sin. God is holy and will not let wrongdoing go unpunished. However, when we believe in Christ—the one who God did not spare so that he might take the full punishment of our sins—we are no longer enemies but children. Consider the following three verses as examples.
“See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.” (I John 3:1)
“But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” (John 1:12)
“For in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith.” (Gal. 3:26)

The longing in every person’s heart for a father who cares, loves, and protects points us to the perfect Father. Our greatest earthly examples of fathers are but a tiny glimpse of the goodness of God. Here again we must let the Scriptures speak for God and refuse any seditious thoughts Satan or self might project on God. God holds himself out to us as a Father who will always love his children. This love is unconditional, free, eternal, and undeserved. It is not won or kept by performance but is given as a promise. We should embrace him as sons and daughters, not fear him as servants. God wants to be known and seen in this way which is why he uses intimate and familial language of Father and children. “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying ‘Abba! Father!’ So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God” (Gal. 4:4-7). Paul was well aware how quickly we retreat back to fearing God as slaves so he presses the truth we can trust him like children.

Here’s one way I think about it. Imagine two people in your mind’s eye. First, imagine someone you feel comfortable with because you know how much you’re loved and accepted. Maybe that’s a spouse, parent, best friend, or a person at church. When you’re with them you don’t ever have to worry about being anything other than yourself. Imagine a second person you feel like you always have to measure up for, or who you don’t ever really feel at ease with because it seems you always have to impress them or be on your best behavior. You think if they saw the real you or you don’t do things just right then they wouldn’t like or accept you. Maybe this person is a parent, an employer, or a “friend”.

Now, think of the difference if you were just sitting in your living room with the first person either watching TV, reading, or talking. How free do you feel? Now imagine the second (intimidating) person is hanging out in your living room? How do you feel? You probably feel fearful or anxious, like you have to be on. Unfortunately, many of us think about God as if he’s this second person. We relate to him as if we’ve got to impress him or convince him we’re good. We don’t think he loves us and accepts us. This changes our relationship and how we act.

The Bible describes our relationship with God differently. “For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’” (Rom. 8:15). Because of our justification in Christ, the Bible describes God the Father as the person in the room we should completely trust and therefore find rest with—awake to the fact we are truly known and yet fully loved and accepted. The Father doesn’t hold back love until we do change or earn it. It’s a full stream of love that is unconditional.

Imagine if we thought of and related to God on these terms. How different would your daily Christian life be if you believed and experienced that God is completely for you? This freedom puts oxygen back in our lungs that had been sucked out by fear. It’s the difference of practically living according to the gospel and living according to works. God is a Father who sees us and knows us, yet still loves us. He doesn’t put up with us, instead, he loves us and even likes us. This releases us from anxiously keeping up a façade or toiling to attain his love. We can rest in the way he delights in us. We don’t have to dress up before him in our nice clothing like we’re entertaining a guest. Instead, since he’s family, we can put on our jeans and enjoy the company. “The LORD your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing” (Zephaniah 3:17).

Additional Resource:
One book I would recommend in this area is Scotty Smith’s Objects of His Affections.

The Father’s Love in Sending (Part 1)

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Loving God is hard. That’s a strange thought in light of the fact God is the only perfect being with boundless love and unending goodness, untainted by even the tiniest spot of evil. And yet, our experience proves that loving God is in fact curiously hard for us. Even more remarkable is how difficult it can be to let ourselves be loved by God. There is no richer, more desirable and comforting place for the Christian than in the love of the Father. But, there is no more alienating and lonesome place than to feel estranged from His love.

For many Christians, the love of Jesus comes through loud and clear, but God the Father often seems distant and looming. Unfortunately, many of our perceptions of God have been distorted by earthly shadows. Usually topping the list are experiences of fathers who failed, dealt with us according to our performance, or were a figure invoking more fear than freedom. Coming in at a close second might be religious leaders or other authority figures heavy on the “truth” and light on the “grace. Because of those inadequate human representations of God and because of performance-driven tendencies assuming God relates to us according to what we deserve, we must hit the refresh button on our false notions with the truth of God’s Word. Not just once, but we need to go back to the Scriptures repeatedly to let God’s priceless promises silence our false fears. Rinse and repeat.

Throughout Scripture, God reveals himself in relationship (covenant) through his words and actions. These demonstrate his character, motives, purposes, and attributes. God being the perfect being that he is, his attributes aren’t like human traits that strengthen or weaken nor are they like moods that come and go. God is all his perfect attributes perfectly, all the time. One of those attributes is love. God is love and therefore expressions and illustrations of his love fill the Bible.

Those are the facts, but unfortunately our experience doesn’t often beat to the drum of those facts. We might read the Bible and yet struggle to see the Father’s love. We find it hard to believe it can be true. We resist and keep God at arms distance. Sometimes we do this because we don’t feel his love on a day to day basis like we desire and so walls of doubt begin to shut him out. Other times we unwittingly read his word not through the lens of God’s love and grace to us in Christ but through tinted lens of condemnation and fear.

For some then, it takes work and careful reading so as to not misread the Scriptures with their assumptions of God—based on past experiences or personal feelings—but to read and see beautiful ways God expresses his care, compassion, and kindness to us. Rest assured, the work required and the patience you might need to keep at it in the midst of discouragement are worth it in the end. Growing in both believing and feeling the Father’s love leads to the warm embrace of assurance and the joy that it brings. My hope is that our grasp of God’s love will move from a general and vague idea to a sweet and personal experience. God desires as much and once the fountain of the Father’s love is opened we’ll find ourselves stepping into new streams of gratitude, contentment, joy, and safety.

The examples in the story of the Bible proving and picturing God’s love abound. Here are seven such examples—one at a time—from the NT of how God clearly and convincingly conveys his fatherly love to his children.

1) The Father Gives His Only Son To Gain Adopted Sons and Daughters
The Father’s love for us is nowhere more clearly seen than in the sending of his only Son—freely, unprompted, undeservedly—to reconcile us back to himself. We love Jesus for his sacrificial suffering on the cross to rescue us from sin. No question about it, Jesus deserves every ounce of gratitude and love we possess. But, don’t miss that the same Scriptures showing us Christ’s love in dying also reveal the immense love of the Father in sending and sacrificing. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). He so loved us that he gave his only begotten Son. No verse has been placarded in more places than John 3:16 and yet somehow we miss the particular and pursuing love of the Father as the dispatcher. The Father is the fountain of the love and Christ is the stream that carries it to us. Every time we return to the cross and find ourselves awash in the love of Christ be amazed at the Father who sends.

The Lie
Whether from the lies of the accusers or deception from our own minds, Christians can act as if Jesus is the good guy who convinces the fear-inducing father to show mercy. It’s as if we think the NT story is that God wants to bring down the gavel because he’s fed up with our unrelenting bent to ruin things. So, to patch things up, the Son sneaks away from heaven and shows us love by dying in our place. Now the Father is compelled to become a tad bit gentler with these new and unwanted family members Jesus brought home. Of course, we wouldn’t say we believe anything close to that but that’s how all too many people unconscientiously view God the Father.

The Truth
In reality, this couldn’t be further from the truth. The Father dearly wants to be in a loving and intimate relationship with us so he sends the Son to bring us back. Both the Father and the Son stagger us in the way the cross expresses their love. The Bible reminds us that the Father sent Christ for us with a full awareness of how sinful, broken, and messy we were. “But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). Isn’t that the point of grace? We certainly didn’t deserve it before receiving Christ nor do we earn or keep it because how we act as Christians. The all-encompassing work of Christ covers our sins from the past, our sins today, and our sins in the future. There are no exceptions. No “but you don’t understand what I’ve done” and no “my case falls outside the lines.” There is no sin too filthy to outmatch the purity of Christ’s blood. There is no one who has sinned so often or to such a degree that they’ve exhausted the infinite grace Christ purchased for them.

This unmerited and unprompted love of God shines even brighter against the backdrop of our dark and ill-deserving condition. That’s why John erupts into saying, “Here is love!” when he thinks about the Father giving Jesus to get wayward children into his family. “In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (I John 4:9-10). God knows all things fully and so make no mistake, he knew better than you how undeserving you are, but he still sent Jesus to save us from our sins because he loves us and he wants us back.

John Owen called this the great discovery of the gospel.[1] Without the gospel we can only think of God as offended and angered by our sin—and rightly so—but through the gospel our relationship is reconciled and changed so that we can now know him as love. In the gospel God offers some amazing benefits of salvation but none are greater than the gift of himself. It is a gift of communion with God as our Father, full of an affectionate love our hearts ache for.

Every day we have vivid reminders of our sin and so we return to the gospel to find grace that justifies us not because of what we’ve done but because of what Jesus has done for us. This glorious and free grace comes to us through Christ but finds its initiating source in the Father. In his wonderful book The Bruised Reed, Richard Sibbes pushes us to not only see the beauty of Jesus in willingly taking the commission of Savior, but also to “see the sweet love of God [the Father] to us,” in commissioning his Son for the work of our salvation. “This saving object [Jesus] has a special influence of comfort to the soul, especially if we look not only on Christ, but upon the Father’s authority and love in him”[2]. The cross is the exclamation and the evidence of how much the Father loves us.

I watch the following video often as a reminder of the “mega-love” (Piper) of God.

Footnotes:
[1] John Owen, The Works of John Owen, ed. William H. Goold, 24 vols (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, republished 1997),II:19. Owen says we have communion with the Father in his love that is free, undeserved, and eternal. We are to eye it, to receive it, and to return it as we are delighted in it. “This is the great discovery of the gospel…here he [Father] is now revealed peculiarly as love, as full of it unto us; the manifestation whereof is the particular work of the gospel.”
[2] Richard Sibbes, The Bruised Reed (Carlisle: Banner of Truth, Reprinted 2008), 2.

Remember Remember

In the movie V for Vendetta, the masked man frequently speaks these key words: “remember, remember.” Referencing Guy Fawkes and the failed Gunpowder Plot on November 5, 1605, the character known only as V quotes the famous poem: “Remember remember, the fifth of November…” Throughout the movie, the call to remember is a call to action. V is not merely interested in history for history’s sake (though he recognizes history’s importance and power), but he sees it as a catalyst for the past speaking into the present.

Continue reading Remember Remember

Stephen Charnock on God’s Eternality & Immutability: It Matters

CharnockI get it. Thinking about the attributes of God can be tough work, but it is work with a payoff. As our minds do the heavy lifting our hearts reap the benefits of bigger affections. We often think of God in small, bland, and largely insignificant terms. We bring God to our level as we construct our view of him by tiny, often misguided thoughts. Thinking biblically—i.e., theologically—quickly leads to our view of God being shattered as we see him getting larger and larger in immensity, glory, and holiness.

Thinking through God’s attributes also helps us know how God relates to us. A firmer grasp on who God is directly relates to who God is for me. Most of God’s self-revelation in Scripture is relational, or covenantal. God explains himself in the context of how he relates to his creation, especially his own people. The fact that God reveals himself not primarily in philosophical or scientific terms but in relational terms should convince us he wants our theology about him to directly influence our relationship with him.[1}

I’ve started slowly reading A Puritan Theology: Doctrine for Life.[2] Is there any other way to read the Puritans than slowly? Chapter 4 concentrates on Stephen Charnock’s (1628-1680) Discourses upon the Existence and Attributes of God. Charnock, like any good theologian, doesn’t talk about God’s attributes in isolation from each other as if sometimes God is more of one attribute than the other. Instead, God is all of his attributes to their fullest extent at once. Furthermore, these attributes are actually God’s essence. God isn’t simply loving, but he is love. “For though we conceive the essence of God as the subject, and the attributes of God as faculties and qualities in that subject, according to our weak model…yet truly and really there is no distinction between his essence and attributes; one is inseparable from the other. His power and wisdom are is his essence.”[3]

God’s eternity teaches that there never was a time when he was not. There is no beginning or end to God. “His duration is as endless as his essence is boundless.”[4] Here is one description Charnock provides.

“[God] is not in his essence this day what he was not before, or will be the next day and year what he is not now. All his perfections are most perfect in him every moment; before all ages, after all ages. As he hath his whole essence undivided in every place, as well as in an immense space; so he hath all his being in one moment of time, as well as in infinite intervals of time….He is what he always was, and he is what he always will be.” [5]

As the quote indicates, there is a clear synthesis between God’s eternality and God’s immutability. God always has and will exist (eternal) and he always has and will exist in the fullness of his perfections (immutable). There is no change in God because he eternally exists as the whole essence of all his perfections which are “most perfect in him every moment.” Beeke and Jones quote Charnock to explain how these two attributes of God relate. “Immutability in God is a ‘glory belonging to all the attributes of God.’ God has attributes and perfections that are different, but ‘immutability is the center wherein they all unite.’ What God is, He is eternally and unchangeably.”[6]

Doctrine for Life
Let’s briefly consider how God’s eternality and immutability are what the subtitle of the book suggests, doctrine for life. If God is all of his perfections perfectly—all the time—then I never have to pit his attributes against one another. Nor should I worry if at any given moment he is acting out one of his attributes more than the other. Because every person I know is the opposite of this, unless I intentionally remind myself God is not like us I will think of him in finite and false terms. For example, how I treat you might depend on not only the day but the moment you run into me. If I had some great coffee and an easy drive into work, then I’ll probably be in a good mood and so I’ll act with more grace and patience than normal. However, if my morning gets off to a rough start or the day goes south quickly, then you’re more likely to get the impatient and graceless me.

When I’m not thinking rightly about God I start believing his relationship with me and how he treats me must be similar. Maybe God’s had enough of my failings and is tired of me not getting it—and so I imagine I’m in danger of God deciding to give up or lash out on me. When trials or seemingly avoidable pains are placed on my path I can quickly conclude God is not as good or caring as he used to be. Our faith operates from our theology, and unfortunately our theology often starts to err as it’s built upon false thoughts from our own minds instead of truthful thoughts from the mouth of God (Bible). This is why theology is vital for all Christians. We study the Bible so we can know God better and more rightly.

The truth is it takes work on our part to think of God rightly and not piece together a view of God based upon how fallen people act and upon my own thinking and assumptions. Studying God’s eternality and immutability does me good because it reminds me God is not like me or anyone else I’ve come across. He doesn’t relate to me according to up and down moods he’s in but according to his unchanging and perfect character. If he is perfect in all his attributes and is them perfectly all the time, then I can trust he always deals with me according to his goodness, care, and love. In the midst of either frustratingly confusing circumstances or unbearable pain I might not have answers as to the why but I know the Who. During seasons of life where things seem trivial, or where “darkness hides his lovely face,” or even when our hearts are bursting with gratitude, I can know that God has not changed and he is not being anything other than the fullness of God. As James tells us, there is no variation or shifting shadows in God (James 1:17). In you and I, yes; but not in God. That type of theology not only evokes adoration in the moment but it sustains us for a lifetime.

For Christians who tend to shrink because of weak hearts, doubting minds, troubling fears, or soft consciences, we would do well to commit ourselves to studying God’s attributes—especially his love, grace, compassion, and care. As we start to grow in our theology of what God is really like it becomes an immense encouragement to know he is all those attributes all of the time to their fullest extent. God is always all of his perfect perfections.

Footnotes
[1]. This of course isn’t to suggest God’s self-revelation doesn’t involve philosophy or science, and it certainly doesn’t suggest God is not accurate in his revelation. It simply conveys that God’s revelation comes in the context of relationship. He reveals Himself as Maker, Sovereign, and Redeemer.
[2]. Joel R. Beeke and Mark Jones, A Puritan Theology: Doctrine for Life (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2012).
[3]. Stephen Charnock, Discourses upon the Existence and Attributes of God (London: Thomas Tegg, 1840), 242. Found in A Puritan Theology, 65.
[4]. Charnock, Existence and Attributes, 175-76. Found in A Puritan Theology, 63.
[5]. Charnock, Existence and Attributes, 178. Found in A Puritan Theology, 63
[6]. A Puritan Theology, 64. Emphasis mine.

Three Creeds Every Christian Should Know

creed
This morning our church recited the Apostles Creed. There are at least two reasons why I’m glad we do this. First, the Apostles creed is accepted by the Roman Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant churches so it has been affirmed by Christians for over 1600 years (at least). Second, it’s the most simple of all creeds and formed the base of later creeds, such as the Nicene creed. It’s simplicity is both its weakness and its strength. Later creeds would expand upon the Apostolic creed, but they would not deny anything it contained. The church fathers named heresies because they believed a heresy was  a departure of the Christian gospel, and where the gospel was distorted or lost the Christian faith was distorted or lost. We would be well served by regularly reading and reciting these three creeds, both for our doctrinal orthodoxy and for right worship of our Triune God.

The Apostles Creed
I believe in God the Father Almighty
[Maker of heaven and earth;
And in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord; Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary; Suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead and buried;
[He descended into hell (Hades)]
The third day he rose from the dead; He ascended into heaven; and sits on the right hand of God the Father Almighty; From thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Ghost; the holy catholic Church; [the communion of saints]; the forgiveness of sins; the resurrection of the body; [and the life everlasting]. Amen

The clauses in italics are those not included in the “Old Roman Creed” from around 340, but was included in the final accepted version. Compare this to the Nicene Creed (381 version), which simply amplifies the Apostles Creed.

The Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed
We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible;
And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Only-begotten, Begotten of the Father before all ages, Light of Light, Very God of Very God, Begotten, not made; of one essence with the Father, by whom all things were made:
Who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven, and was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary, and was made man;
And was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate, and suffered and was buried;
And the third day He rose again, according to the Scriptures;
And ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of the Father;
And He shall come again with glory to judge the living and the dead, Whose kingdom shall have no end.
And we believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, and Giver of Life, Who proceeds from the Father, Who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified, Who spoke by the Prophets;
And we believe in one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.
We acknowledge one Baptism for the remission of sins.
We look for the Resurrection of the dead,
And the Life of the age to come. Amen.

Whereas the Apostles creed summarized the most basic beliefs of the early Christian faith, the Nicene creed took a stance on upholding the deity of Christ and the Triune God. The Chalcedonian Creed (451) outlines the orthodox view of the two natures of Jesus Christ.

The Chalcedonian Creed

We, then, following the holy Fathers, all with one consent, teach men to confess one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, the same perfect in Godhead and also perfect in manhood; truly God and truly man, of a reasonable [rational] soul and body; consubstantial [co-essential] with the Father according to the Godhead, and consubstantial with us according to the Manhood; in all things like unto us, without sin; begotten before all ages of the Father according to the Godhead, and in these latter days, for us and for our salvation, born of the Virgin Mary, the Mother of God, according to the Manhood; one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, only begotten, to be acknowledged in two natures, inconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably; the distinction of natures being by no means taken away by the union, but rather the property of each nature being preserved, and concurring in one Person and one Subsistence, not parted or divided into two persons, but one and the same Son, and only begotten, God the Word, the Lord Jesus Christ; as the prophets from the beginning [have declared] concerning Him, and the Lord Jesus Christ Himself has taught us, and the Creed of the holy Fathers has handed down to us.

I’ve not read any of the articles but I feel comfortable recommending The Resurgence’s series on The Concise History of Creeds & Confessions to learn more.