You’ve Got Questions: Can I Know God?

You’ve Got Questions: Can I Know God?

The Bible teaches that God is knowable. While God can never be exhaustively understood, He can be known truly, personally, and sufficiently. God is personal, has definite characteristics, and has personally revealed Himself so that He can be truly known. The multiplication of grace and peace in our lives is dependent on knowing God (2 Peter 1:2-3), and this knowledge provides sufficient resources for life and for becoming the people God wants us to be.

Knowledge of God in Christ should be our greatest delight (Jeremiah 9:23-24; 1 Cor. 2:2; Gal. 6:14). It is the basis of attaining eternal life (John 17:3); it is at the heart of life in the new covenant (Heb. 8:11-12); it was Paul’s primary goal (Phil. 3:10); and it leads to godly love (1 John 4:7-8). God will never be known absolutely, but we can know things about Him that are absolutely true, so much that we can be willing to live and die for those beliefs. God has provided knowledge of Himself that is personal, relational, and sufficient for fruitful, faithful, godly living. No one will ever be able to say he lacked the necessary revelation to know God and to start living as God intends.

What are the implications of the knowability of God? Well, God’s personal and sufficient revelation of Himself should foster solid conviction among believers. We need not to live in ambiguity and uncertainty about who God is and what He demands of His creatures. This increasing influence of Eastern religions on the West, certain postmodern views of truth, and religious pluralism all emphasize God’s incomprehensibility so much that He is eventually made to seem unknowable. It then becomes impossible to say anything definitively true or false about Him, and people then think that the only heresy is claiming that there is heresy at all! On the contrary, because of His gracious revelation and illumination, God can indeed be known. God’s knowability should lead to eager, diligent, devoted study of God’s Word so we can understand Him as He has revealed Himself and avoid any false view of God that will dishonor Him. We should never grow apathetic in seeking to know God because we are in fact able and equipped to know Him and please Him with our lives.

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You’ve Got Questions: What is the Incomprehensibility of God?

You’ve Got Questions: What is the Incomprehensibility of God?

Scripture teaches that we can have a true and personal knowledge of God, but this does not mean we will ever understand Him exhaustively. The Bible is clear that God is ultimately incomprehensible to us; that is, we can never fully comprehend His whole being. The following passages show this:

“Great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised, and his greatness is unsearchable.” (Psalm 145:3 ESV)

“Behold, these are but the outskirts of his ways, and how small a whisper do we hear of him! But the thunder of his power who can understand?” (Job 26:14 ESV)

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are my ways your ways, declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9 ESV)

“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?” (Romans 11:33-34 ESV)

Others are Job 42:1-6; Psalm 139:6, 17-18; 147:5; Isaiah 57:15; 1 Corinthians 2:10-11; 1 Timothy 6:13-15). These verses teach that not only is God’s whole being incomprehensible but each of His attributes–His greatness, power, thoughts, ways, wisdom, and judgments–are well beyond human ability to fathom fully. Not only can we never know everything there is to know about God, we can never know everything there is to know about even one aspect of God’s character or work.

Why is God Incomprehensible? The main reasons for God’s incomprehensibility are: (1) God is infinite and His creatures are finite. By definition, creatures depend on their Creator for their very existence and are limited in all aspects. Yet God is without limitations in every quality He possesses. This Creator/creature, infinite/finite gap will always exist. (2) The perfect unity of God’s attributes is far beyond the realm of human experience. God’s love, wrath, grace, justice, holiness, patience, and jealousy are continually functioning in a perfectly integrated yet infinitely complex way. (3) The effects of sin on the minds of fallen humans also greatly inhibit the ability to know God. The tendency of fallen creatures is to distort, pervert, and confuse truth and to use, or rather abuse, it for selfish ends rather than for God’s glory (Rom. 1:18-26). (4) A final reason God can never be fully known is that in His sovereign wisdom God has chosen not to reveal some things: “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” (Deut. 29:29). Many would label it unloving for God to decide to withhold some information from His people. Yet, as with all good fathers, God’s wisdom leads Him to refrain from answering all the questions His children ask Him, and this contributes to His incomprehensibility.

In heaven, God’s incomprehensibility will no doubt be lessened when the effects of sin no longer ravage minds and when He will most likely share some of His secrets. However, God will always be infinite and humans will always be finite, so He will always be beyond human ability to know exhaustively.

What are the implications of God’s incomprehensibility? Well, because God can never be fully known, those who seek to know God should be deeply humbled in the process, realizing that they will always have more to learn. The appropriate response to God is a heart of wonder and awe in light of His incomprehensible greatness! God’s incomprehensibility also means that beliefs can be held with firm conviction even though they may be filled with inexplicable mystery. The Trinity and other core teachings of the Bible are profoundly mysterious; believing them requires that you have a robust affirmation of the incomprehensibility of God.

You’ve Got Questions: Is Justification by Faith or by Works?

You’ve Got Questions: Does James’ Teaching About Faith and Works Contradict Paul’s Teaching About Faith and Works?

When climbing from lowlands to mountaintops, one must often pass through clouds. While ascending to the peak, sight soon becomes fogged. When you enter a layer of clouds, it helps to have a guide to help you avoid loose rocks that you can’t see as you try to get the best views of the mountaintop. I hope that this article will serve as a guide to clarification regarding the compatibility of the teachings of Paul and James about faith and works. If you’ve studied the Scriptures for long, then you know exactly what I’m talking about. We often receive questions along the lines of “Explain how these verses do not contradict!” or “Look, here is an error in the Bible!” If you are troubled in answering your skeptics or just desiring clarity from theses passages of Scripture, I pray that you are helped by the information presented here. I want you to get the best view of the mountaintop of truth that is evident in these passages.

The Obstacle in Our Journey

The obstacle that we have approached in our journey of Bible study is this: Does James’ teaching on faith and works contradict Paul’s teaching on faith and works? To answer this question it is important to understand that there are difficult passages of Scripture. There are verses that appear to contradict each other. We must remember that the Bible was written by approximately 40 different authors over a period of around 1500 years. Each writer wrote with a different style, from a different perspective, to a different audience, for a different purpose. We should expect some minor differences. However, a difference is not a contradiction. It is only an error if there is absolutely no conceivable way the verses or passages can be reconciled.

James writes in his letter “You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone” (2:24; out of context), while Paul writes to the Romans “For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law” (3:28; also out of context). Some see an apparent contradiction by saying that Paul is teaching salvation by faith alone and James is teaching salvation by faith plus works. This apparent problem is solved just by examining the contexts of the passages.

The Clouds Dissipate

To begin, let’s look at an earlier verse where this concept began: “Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar?” (James 2:21 ESV). On the surface, James may seem to contradict Paul. Paul denies that Abraham was “justified by works” (Rom. 4:2), arguing from Genesis 15:6 that Abraham’s faith was “counted to him as righteousness” (Rom. 4:3). However, James’ assertion in this verse (that “Abraham [was]. . . justified by works”) is based not on Genesis 15:6 but on Genesis 22:9-10, where (many years later) Abraham began to offer Isaac as a sacrifice. Thus, James apparently has a different sense of the word “justify” in view here, as evidenced by the different Scripture passages, and the different events in Abraham’s life, to which James and Paul refer. The primary way in which Paul uses the word “justify” emphasizes the sense of being declared righteous by God through faith, on the basis of Jesus’ atoning sacrifice (Rom. 3:24–26), whereas the primary way that James uses the word “justify” here in James 2:21 seems to emphasize the way in which works demonstrate that someone has been justified, as evidenced by the good works that the person does (see Matt. 12:33–37).

With that biblical concept in mind, some clouds have hopefully dissipated as we now look at the verse in question. “You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone” (2:24). James again seems at first to contradict Paul’s teaching that one is justified by faith alone (Rom. 3:28), but the two are compatible. For James, “faith alone” means a bogus kind of faith, a mere intellectual agreement without a genuine personal trust in Christ that bears fruit in one’s life. Recall how the “demons believe—and shudder” (2:19). He is arguing that simple mental assent to the Christian faith does not save anyone. The faith that saves, as both Paul and James both affirm, embraces the truth of the gospel and acts accordingly. Therefore, the conclusion drawn is that James, in agreement with Paul, argues that true faith is never alone: it always produces works (Eph. 2:10).

I have heard it said well before that Paul is emphasizing the purpose of faith: to bring salvation. While James is emphasizing the results of faith: a changed life. Paul expects just as much of a changed life as James does: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17). James and Paul do not disagree in their teaching regarding salvation. They approach the same subject from different perspectives. Paul simply emphasized that justification is by faith alone while James put emphasis on the fact that genuine faith in Christ produces good works.

Keep Digging and Digging

The Bible is a book that is not merely for reading. It is a book for studying so that it can be applied. Through careful study in the contexts of our passages above, the answer is discovered. If vigorous study of the Word is neglected, then it is like swallowing food without chewing and then spitting it back out again—no nutritional value is gained by it. The Bible is God’s Word. As such, it is as binding as the laws of nature. We can ignore it, but we do so to our own detriment, just as we would if we ignored the law of gravity. It cannot be emphasized strongly enough just how important the Bible is to our lives! Studying the Bible can be compared to mining for gold. If we make little effort and merely “sift through the pebbles in a stream,” we will only find a little gold dust. But the more we make an effort to really dig into it, the more reward we will gain for our effort. “I will delight in your statutes; I will not forget your word” (Psalm 119:16).

Devotion: Get Over It and Move On

“And there arose a sharp disagreement, so that they separated from each other. Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus, but Paul chose Silas and departed, having been commended by the brothers to the grace of the Lord” (Acts 15:39-40 ESV)

Remember playing Tug of War as a child? The game consists of a rope, two teams, and a marker dividing the teams. The object of the game is to pull your opposing team over the marker. In this Scripture passage, Paul and Barnabas were in a kind of personal “tug of war” as they made plans for another missionary journey. Barnabas wanted to take Mark, but Paul was still upset at Mark for deserting them on their previous journey. As a result, Paul and Barnabas went their separate ways. Barnabas took Mark with him while Paul chose Silas to join him. Though they had their differences, the missionary work was not hindered.

As long as we are on this earth we will have conflicts with people, even within the church. The question comes, “Will we let conflict disrupt our mission?” We must not elevate personal offenses or preferences over the Great Commission. A point comes when we need to drop the “rope,” get over our differences, and move on to do the work.

Prayer: “Father, may I be faithful to your mission, get over personal offenses, and move on in my service to You.”

Taken from: Jenna Fleming, Open Windows: A Guide for Personal Devotions. Sept. 24

Devotion: Exhort One Another Daily

“But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin” (Hebrews 3:13 ESV).

Consider what you would need to climb a mountain. First, you need a partner who gives and responds to clear commands. You both must know and say the same commands and use the same terminology in voicing commands. When the climber yells, “Rope!” his partner needs to know that he is tossing down a rope and avoid getting hit by it.

Our Christian walk together is much like mountain climbing. We journey through rough terrain at times, and offer encouragement to one another to endure to the end. The writer of Hebrews reminds Christians that our faith cannot be lost. However, we are urged to exhort one another in Christ, so that our hearts will not become hardened by sin. When we see someone struggling, we need to help him or her so that he or she does not become ensnared by sin.

Who is your mountain climbing partner in your Christian walk? Accountability is essential to growing in personal holiness. You mutually exhort one another on the journey so that you may come to the end of it blessed and encouraged.

Suggested Prayer: “Father, help me find someone to journey with in the faith for mutual exhortation.”

Taken from: Jenna Fleming, Open Windows: A Guide for Personal Devotions. Sept. 21

Ephesians: Salvation By Grace Through Faith

The following message was delivered at Ohio Valley Baptist Church on the 8th day of September 2013:

What God is Like in Salvation

Let me just say this: the more you know God, the more you want to know God. The more you feast on His fellowship, the hungrier you are for deeper, richer communion.

And the truth is, that clear knowledge of God from the Word of God is the kindling that sustains fires of affection for God. This is a great reason our love for God sometimes grows cold, because we’re not immersing ourselves in the Scriptures. And probably the most crucial kind of knowledge you can have is the knowledge of what God is like in salvation. And that’s where Ephesians 2 comes in. Let’s look at it together.

Introduction

Paul wrote Ephesians to the churches around Ephesus. He had a very close relationship with the Ephesians (and you can read about that in Acts 19, 20). We read of Paul’s last encounter with them in Acts 20 where Paul says to the Ephesian elders that “the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me.” He then gives them careful exhortations to take care of the church and then we read that “when he had said these things, he knelt down and prayed with them all. And there was much weeping on the part of all. . . they embraced Paul. . . [and were] sorrowful most of all because. . . they would not see his face again” (vv. 23, 36-38). So he had a close relationship with them. He wrote this letter during his imprisonment in Rome, and what makes this letter different than many of his others (Galatians, 1 & 2 Corinthians) is that there is no specific problem that seemed to have inspired this letter. Unlike the “problem churches” of Galatia (O foolish Galatians!) or the sexually immoral church at Corinth.

The Text

“And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— 3 among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. 4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— 6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”

What Has Brought Us to This Place in Ephesians?

Paul has just prayed that his Christian readers might know the greatness of God’s power towards them, and then praised God for exercising that same mighty power in raising Christ from the dead and exalting Him to be head over all things for the church. Now we come to our text which can be divided into three sections.

Dead In Transgressions and Sins (2:1-3)

Following this prayer, he now concentrates on his readers in a special way. He is describing their pre-Christian past in terms of their being “dead in the transgressions and sins” (v. 1). Concerning “dead in trespasses and sins,” Paul was telling the Ephesians, “Hey, dead is dead.” He was telling them that they were dead in trespasses and sins, they were totally unresponsive to God. They were dead.That they had no natural tendency to desire or want God, and they as human beings, being sons and daughters of Adam, enter the world spiritually dead. Now what did God say of Adam if he were to eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil? God said, “but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” (Genesis 2:17 ESV). This is exactly what has taken place. Paul teaches elsewhere that “just as sin came into the world through one man [Adam], so death spread to all men because all sinned” (Romans 5:12) Paul teaches in Romans 5 that we have been set in the mold of Adam’s sin. And what we have inherited from Adam is guilt, shame, and yes death. The “trespasses and sins” refer to offenses against God in thought, word, or deed.

Dead is Dead

This passage is describing all of humanity and that includes us! Dead is dead and apart from the grace of God, we too are “dead in our trespasses and sins!” Every one of us have sinned (Rom. 3:23) and the Scripture says “For the wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23). Before Christ, before God transformed us through His Spirit, before He made us a new creature (2 Corinthians 5:17), before God justified us (in one moment), before God grafted us into the family of God (the universal church), before we were reconciled to God, before we were ever “born again” we were dead in our trespasses and sins We have been born of the seed of Adam, and we have absolutely nothing good in us! Nothing. We have no natural tendency to want God, “there is none that seeks God” (Romans 3:11).

Paul also says that the Ephesians followed the “course of this world” that they looked, thought, and acted like the world. In the same way, we too were following the course of this world right through the gate that is “wide and the way [that is] easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many” (Matthew 7:13). In addition, “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way” (Isaiah 53:6) The apostle also says that they followed the “prince of the power of air” which is a reference to Satan himself. And as has been well said before “Satan’s not concerned about the lost; he already has them in his grips. It’s Christians he is trying to tear down.” And how true is that. Those without Christ are in his grips.

Recalling The Past for Magnification of God’s Mighty Action in Christ

What I want you to notice is that Paul is recalling their pre-Christian past, not to humiliate or depress them, but to draw attention to God’s mighty action in Christ! That what happened on the cross was the blazing center of the glory of God and the greatest outpouring of His grace and compassion that the world has ever seen. The fact that the God who is “rich in mercy” has acted on their behalf when they were totally depraved, totally undeserving, totally unresponsive, totally separated and in fact dead is what makes the good news Good News indeed! Have you ever heard of what the most popular Bible verse is? “God helps those who help themselves.” You’re eyebrows are raised justly, because you know as well as I do that it’s not in Scripture. The Ancient Greeks came up with the phrase “God helps those who help themselves,” and Paul is saying the exact opposite: God helps the helpless. What’s more is God helps His enemies who have transgressed His holy law!

Bankrupt Without Jesus

How are we to see the cross as Good News if we don’t first understand the weight of our sin? How can we see Christ as the greatest treasure if we don’t realize that we are totally bankrupt without Him? How can we know we need eternal life if we don’t first realize that we are dead, hostile to God, and enemies of God? If you don’t realize you’re a sinner, you won’t recognize your need for a Savior. Certainly, one of the most humbling things for us as believers is realizing how undeserving we are of what God has done for us through the cross.

Because of His Great Love and Mercy God Made Us Alive With Christ (2:4-7)

Paul then tells the Ephesians what mighty acts God has done for them through Christ. This is the total opposite of what Paul has already said about the sinful state of man. Just when things seem hopeless, Paul utters the greatest phrase in the history of the universe: “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us. . .” (v. 4). It is essentially important to understand that Paul is saying here that God’s “great love” flows completely from God’s own heart, not from anything good foreseen in us and not anything we have done to deserve it.

In v. 5, Paul resumes his thought from earlier by saying “even when you were dead. . .” And he is saying that the Ephesians have experienced the same power of God that was effective at Christ’s resurrection! The Bible says that the same Spirit that rose Christ Jesus from the dead is the same Spirit that lives in us and has given us life (Rom. 8:11). Furthermore, he is talking about the amazing miracle of salvation. That all in one moment everything changes. God gives you spiritual life at conversion based on nothing that you had done. In v. 6 Paul says that because of Christ’s resurrection, those who believe in Him are given new life at conversion and will be given renewed physical bodies when Christ returns. Of course, “seated us with him in the heavenly places” is a reference to heaven.

Heaven: Everlasting Enjoyment of Jesus

There aren’t many things more comforting and overwhelming than to know that because of God’s immeasurable grace, that we will spend eternity with Him forever! Just to know that we will forever be in the presence of Almighty God in never-ceasing worship! Everlasting enjoyment of Jesus! Listen to what Revelation says, “The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne” (Revelation 3:21). Read that again. And again. What grace is this! Hallelujah! He isn’t saying that we will be receiving the worship, but He is describing an intimate, everlasting love that we will experience forever. I don’t know about you, but all I want to do is to be on that throne with Him.

No more disease or sickness is great. The greatest family reunion you’ve ever experienced will surely be pleasant. No more sorrow, pain, death or sin is eradicated. Mansions, streets of gold, a place prepared for us, and walls of jasper will be great. . . But what makes heaven good? We don’t ask ourselves this question often enough. The supreme good of heaven is the fact that God is there and we will finally see and savor God Himself! What makes heaven good is the everlasting presence of Almighty God and how we will never, ever be separated from Him! Glory to God. Thus, you have the beauty of God’s mercy and grace that Paul talks about: That the gospel is the story of how God did everything necessary, most painfully in the death of Jesus, His Son, to enthrall us with what is most deeply and durably satisfying: God Himself!

And before we move to the next section, Paul tells us God’s further purpose of why He lavished His grace upon us when we were undeserving: “so that in the coming ages. . .” (v. 7). That God saving us was a demonstration of His grace for all eternity. So that we will forever marvel at the great mystery of God’s love and grace for a humanity who are fully deserving of capital punishment.

God’s New Creation (2:8-10)

Now we come to one of the most favorite sections in the Bible. This salvation which met the dreadful needs of the human predicament involved delivery from death, wrath, and slavery, described in vv. 1-3. This entire passage implies that everything about salvation is a gift. Here’s why it must all be about grace: If there were one iota in this entire salvation process where credit could be given to you, then you would get the glory. But because salvation is something God directs, carries out, and sustains, He gets all the glory. God’s passion is for His glory and anything that wounds that glory is sin. Concerning v. 8, the point being made, then, is that the response of faith does not come from any human source but is God’s gift. Paul teaches here that salvation in every aspect is not your own doing.

God’s Workmanship

Now Paul talks about how we are “his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works. . .” (v. 10). Paul is saying that salvation is God’s workmanship from first to last! God initiates salvation. He directs our salvation (Romans 9:11; Ephesians 1:4-6), He carries out our salvation (by sending Christ to absorb our punishment; Acts 20:28; Romans 8:32), and sustains our salvation (those God saves are eternally secure; John 10:27-29; Romans 8:29-30). Let me say again: God loved us before time (before the foundation of the world He chose us as a people for His own possession, Ephesians 1:4; Romans 9), He carried out our salvation by sending Christ to atone for our sin and to die in our place (2 Cor. 5:21; 1 Peter 2:24), and He sent us His Spirit to indwell us with His life and give us the power we need to live the Christian life (Romans 8; Ephesians 6:18-20), and He sustains and keeps us to the end. Paul attests to the perseverance of the saved to the Philippians : “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:8).

Good Works Are the Consequence

Good works are the results of a changed life and this is in direct contrast to what Paul said we previously walked in. Now he says to “walk” in good works (v. 10) Of course we know, just by the facts stated in this text that salvation is “not a result of works” (v. 9); however, as we know the Scriptures teach that good works are the results of a life changed by the grace of God: “So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead” (James 2:17 ESV). Salvation is not based on works, but the good works Christians do are the result and consequence of God’s new creation work in us. Some argue here that there is a contradiction in Paul’s teaching on good works and James’ teaching on good works. However, Paul is emphasizing the purpose of faith: to bring salvation; and James is emphasizing the results of faith in Christ: a changed life. There is no contradiction. This truth can even be discovered without bringing James into the picture. We are “created in Christ Jesus for good works. . .” (v. 10)

Faith or a Delusion?

Faith is more than a feeling. As we see in Hebrews 11, faith should have a story attached to it. Recently I was reading an article about a psychiatrist and his wacky patients. In the article he addressed the beliefs of his patients that had no basis in reality. A patient may sincerely believe he could fly—but  that didn’t mean anything because there was nothing to back that up. The patient might be an abusive husband that sincerely believes abuse is wrong—but he doesn’t really believe that because his stated belief is contradicted by reality. The psychiatrist didn’t call these things “beliefs” that his patients had. He called them “delusions.” And folks, a belief, no matter how sincere, if it’s not reflected in reality, it is not a belief; it’s a delusion. What’s more, is if you think you’re on the right road because of what you have done, then you’re wrong! We are saved, as our text says, because of the “immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus”(v. 7).

For example, if someone asks you “Are you a Christian?”. . .and your mind immediately goes to the fact that you teach a Sun. School class, you go to church, you put some money in the plate, you volunteer from time to time. . . then we need to get our perspective in a different place!

Because do you really want to take credit for your salvation when you stand before God at judgment (Heb. 9:27)? No you don’t! You want to say “By grace I was brought to faith! By Your immeasurable love and grace!” It was that grace that triumphed over your resistance to God.

Conclusion

In conclusion, I ask you this morning, What will you say at the judgment?

The Bible says in the gospel of John, “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become the children of God” (1:12). Have you received Jesus Christ as your Savior and Lord?  He will not turn away anyone who wants to come to Him. I plea to you that you would run to the cross for the “immeasurable riches of His grace.”

Psalm 150: Where, Why, and How to Praise God

The following message was delivered at Ohio Valley Baptist Church on July 28, 2013:

Introduction

There is nothing boring about worship. There is nothing boring about God, the object of our worship. And we have a collection of prayers, poems, and hymns that focus on worship. This collection is the Book of Psalms. One of my reformer heroes, Charles Spurgeon, called the Psalms “the treasury of David” and similarly John Calvin said that the Psalms are a “treasure for the use of all the people of God.” The Book of Psalms served as a hymnbook for the early church and for centuries, the Book of Psalms has played a leading role in shaping the spiritual life of the church.

The Text

150 Praise the LORD!

Praise God in his sanctuary;

    praise him in his mighty heavens!

Praise him for his mighty deeds;

    praise him according to his excellent greatness!

Praise him with trumpet sound;

    praise him with lute and harp!

Praise him with tambourine and dance;

    praise him with strings and pipe!

Praise him with sounding cymbals;

    praise him with loud clashing cymbals!

Let everything that has breath praise the LORD!

Praise the LORD!

Where to Praise God (v. 1a)

The very first phrase “Praise the LORD” here in this passage, would serve as appropriate motto for the entire book of Psalms. Whether David is crying for mercy (Ps. 51), lamenting over his many enemies (Ps. 3), giving thanks (Ps. 92), or expressing the depths of the knowledge of God (Ps. 139), there is always some element of praise in every psalm. Though each psalm is an individual poem with its own theme, there is no psalm that does not contain an element of praise. Though the Psalms are broken into 5 Books, we have now reached a small section towards the end where each psalm begins and ends with the phrase “Praise the LORD.” This new sub-section starts at Psalm 146. Psalm 150 can be broken into three sections:

  1. Where to Praise God (150:1)

  2. Why to Praise God (150:2)

  3. How to Praise God (150:3-6)

How do we know this? Within the context you can easily identify a change of grammar. Look at your Bibles and notice the change from “Praise God in. . .” (v. 1) to “Praise Him for. . .” (v. 2) and to “Praise Him with. . .” (vv. 3-5).

According to this psalmist, God should be praised in his sanctuary (literally “holy place”), a reference to the earthly temple in Jerusalem. The list of musical instruments (vv. 3—5) argues for this earthly designation of the sanctuary. God’s house is to be filled with praise and worship. The Jews went up to Jerusalem to worship the Lord down through the generations as long as the temple stood. Matthew Henry writes in his commentary, “Let his priests, let his people, that attend there, attend him with their praises. Where should he be praised, but there where he does, in a special manner, both manifest his glory and communicate his grace?”

Praise God in His Sanctuary, But Don’t Build Walls Around the Church

This verse doesn’t imply that the only place we are to worship God is in the church ‘sanctuary,’ because at it has been well said before, never build walls around the church. When we praise God, we are to praise Him before our feet hit the floor in the morning, we are to praise Him in the home, we are to praise Him when driving to work, we are to praise Him in the workplace, we are to praise Him indoors and outdoors, and we are to praise Him everywhere! I know this psalmist would agree that we are not to ‘build walls around the church.’ Our giving isn’t limited to church walls, our studying of Scripture isn’t limited to church walls, our prayers aren’t limited to church walls, and our witnessing/evangelism isn’t limited to the church walls. Because if our giving, praying, witnessing, and especially our worship is limited to these walls, then no wonder we may be lukewarm and half-hearted in our worship! If you eat up to three meals daily, but then come to God’s sanctuary for one dose of the Word, the fellowship, and worship, you are setting yourself up to be spiritually malnourished! If you wonder why you are not becoming like Christ, then maybe you’re not getting enough of the Word of God in your life. Jesus said “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth” (John 17:17), and to be in this process of sanctification means being in the process of becoming more and more like Jesus through the power of the Holy Spirit. Who inspired the Bible and uses it not only for our information but for our transformation? You guessed it. The Holy Spirit.

The implication of this verse is not that we need to limit our worship to the sanctuary, but rather when God’s people assemble together, this is what we are to do. When we “meet together” (Heb. 10:25), and when we devote our selves “to. . . teaching and the fellowship” (Acts 2:42), we are to lift God’s name on high! Because if we don’t proclaim that we are redeemed, worship as a result of our changed life and faith, and shout that we are “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession” (1 Peter 2:9) and if we don’t worship, worship, worship, then what makes us different from any other gathering of people? That is the reality. If we do not praise God in His sanctuary, then we are no different from any other gathering of people.

Where to Praise God (v. 1b)

The psalmist also says that God is to be praised “in his mighty heavens.” This is a reference to His heavenly sanctuary in glory. Redeemed saints and elect everywhere, whether on earth below or heaven above. There is an ongoing, eternal worship that surrounds the throne of God. Isaiah describes this beautifully (Isaiah 6:1-5). Also, the cosmos are included so that the heavens and earth are to join together and become one in praising Him (see Ps. 148 “praise him sun and moon,” etc.). There is no place where praise is out of place.

Why to Praise God (v. 2a)

Having called for praise in every place, reason is now given for this worship. God is to be praised “for his mighty deeds” and “according to his excellent greatness.” The Israelites knew well of God’s “mighty deeds.” Take a look through Israel’s history. They knew of how God lead them by the “pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night” as Pharaoh let them go (Ex. 13:17-22). They could recall the parting of the Red Sea (Ex. 14), the manna from heaven (Ex. 16), the water from the rock (Ex. 17:1-7), and the freedom from slavery and oppression in Egypt (Ex. 12:33—15:27). They knew of when “Mount Sinai was wrapped in smoke because the LORD had descended on it in fire. . .[and] the whole mountain trembled greatly” (Ex. 19:18). They could recall to memory the countless victories they had been granted (see Joshua & Judges). Recall when David had slain Goliath “with a sling and with a stone” (1 Sam. 17:50)? The Israelites knew God was faithful.

Praise Him for His Mighty Deeds

We know of God’s acts of power through creation, providence, salvation, and judgment. Just as Israel experienced manna (the bread from heaven) so we too have experienced and tasted for ourselves the Bread of Life, the Lord Jesus (John 6:35) who alone satisfies us. As they experienced freedom from slavery in Egypt, so we too have experienced freedom from slavery to sin (John 6:63; Rom. 6:17-18)! God provides for us day by day. He enters our lives through His Spirit. He answers our prayers. He delivers us from our enemies. He heals our diseases. He unites us to each other in love. He matures us in His Word, and He remains faithful toward us. Indeed, we are to “Praise him for his mighty deeds”! Matthew Henry writes concerning this verse, “Praise him. . . for all the instances of his might, the power of his providence, the power of his grace, what he has done in the creation, government, and redemption. . .”

Why to Praise God (v. 2b)

In addition, praise is to be rendered to God “according to his excellent greatness.” The Israelites weren’t blind to this either. They knew God was holy, sovereign and righteous. The psalmist here says that everything about God is to be praised, both for His acts and His attributes.

Twofold Praise: What He Has Done and Who He Is 

God is infinite yet intimate. He exists outside our realm thus, we cannot categorize Him. We are to praise God for who He is, not only for what He has done. He is the mighty King. He is the eternal God. He is filed with holiness, justice, trustworthiness, and covenant-love. He is the Alpha and the Omega. He is the beginning and the end. Worship this great God! John Calvin writes concerning this part of the verse, “If we would have our minds kindled . . . let us meditate on his power and greatness, which will speedily dispel all such insensibility. Though our minds can never take in this immensity, the mere taste of it will deeply affect us. And God will not reject such praises we offer according to our capacity.” You see, our motives for praise are twofold: we are to praise God for what He has done and we are to praise Him for who He is!

How to Praise God (vv. 3-6)

Having said where God is to be praised and why He is to be praised, the psalmist now tells how He is to be praised. The author of this psalm gives instruction regarding the manner in which God is to be praised. Both musical instruments (vv. 3-5) and human voices (v. 6) are to be employed. The trumpet, a shofar, or ram’s horn is to be sounded. The lute and harp, were also to be used. Both wind and string instruments are listed here in praising God. Also, God is to be praised with tambourine and dance. These two often went together, the former used by women when they danced after God-given victories (Ex. 15:20). Moreover, God is to be worshiped with strings, a general term for all kinds of stringed instruments. Finally in v. 5, God is to be praised with sounding cymbals, instruments usually made of either brass or silver. These were the smaller and higher pitched kind. Loud clashing cymbals were also to be used in God’s sanctuary and they were larger and louder, making a more crashing sound.

Those who should praise the Lord encompasses “everything that has breath.” This includes all the redeemed who gather at God’s house. Everyone in God’s house is to sing praise to God, supported by the playing of instruments by the priests and people, men and women. Finally, this psalm concludes with the dramatic declaration Praise the LORD.

God Is to be Praised by a Symphony of Sound

Today we could legitimately add our own musical instruments to the list. Everything that evokes praise or expresses praise is a legitimate instrument of praise and therefore relevant for the culture and the people using it. The issue is not what instruments we use; the issue is why we use them and how we use them. Millions have been told of the “excellent greatness” of God through K-LOVE Radio just as they have been through the Gaither Vocal Band. God will continue to be praised through Bluegrass Gospel as He will through Lecrae (Christian Rap/Hip Hop).

Will You Answer the Psalmist’s Call to Worship?

Will you bring your wholehearted praise to God? This requires the total response of your entire life. Worship is a lifestyle, not an isolated act, never to be segmented from the whole of your life. Worship must be a passionate life pursuit of rendering praise to God, a deepening reality that should permeate your entire existence. If God is real in your life, then you should be praising Him with all of your being. This, of course, includes times involving the corporate gathering of God’s people when they come together to sing His praises. May you give to God the praise He so rightfully deserves in the midst of the great congregation.

Romans: Not Ashamed of the Gospel

Introduction

What are some things someone might be ashamed of? Maybe one might be ashamed of their past. Pondering on certain mistakes and failures of our past are sure to bring disgust that would leave us ashamed of what we have done. One also might be ashamed of their past because of a shameful act inflicted upon them by someone else. A person experiencing shame could be due also to a cantankerous family member who disgraces themselves in public. In addition to being ashamed, we can all relate to finding ourselves overwhelmed with guilt when we know we have been caught doing or saying something wrong. Various things may cause us to experience shame, but the gospel is not one of them. In the text we will look at, we are not drawing from it a solution to the tearing pain of shame, but a declaration to not be ashamed of the gospel.

The Text

16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith”” (Romans 1:16, 17 ESV).

Introduction to Romans

We are beginning a study that will take us through key concepts taught in the letter of Paul to the Romans. Romans is the longest and most systematically reasoned of Paul’s letters. Paul was writing to the Christians in Rome and Paul wrote Romans as an organized and carefully presented statement of his faith–it does not have the form of a typical letter. He does, however, spend considerable time greeting people in Rome at the end of the letter. He authored this letter about A.D. 57, from Corinth, as he was preparing for his visit to Jerusalem.

Not Ashamed of the Gospel

Crack open a history book, or just look at modern-day pictures of Rome and you will find that innumerable pagan gods received worship in Rome. Especially impressive temples were dedicated to such ancient gods/goddesses as Mars, Saturn, Castor and Pollux, Vesta, Venus and Roma, Apollo, and Jupiter. Indeed, devotion to all the great Roman gods was offered in the monumental domed Pantheon, which stands in Rome to this day. For the Romans, it was common to worship many gods. When you know that, the way you interpret this passage totally changes. We have to first discover what Paul meant to the Roman Christians before we can see what it means for us today.

But why would the Christians at Rome be “ashamed of the gospel?” Well on the surface, the gospel seems like a very strange message. It is about a Jewish carpenter and teacher who was put to death on a cross by Pontius Pilate, Roman governor of Judea. The message says that this man Jesus was raised from the dead and is now Lord. To the Romans, this would be offensive. You could say that Jesus was “god” for there were many gods in New Testament Rome. But to say that Jesus is Lord would imply declaring allegiance to Him. There was only one “lord” in Rome and that was Caesar. In addition to the gospel message being strange, Paul himself wrote that this message seemed foolish to Gentiles (1 Corinthians 1:23) and was a stumbling block to Jews. A crucified Messiah seemed to be a contradiction in terms to the Jews. A crucified Jew seemed like foolishness to the Romans, who despised Jews in general. Anyone who was crucified was considered among the lowest members of society; in fact, they were criminals!

In addition, because of their lack of size, fame, or honor in the Roman corridors of power and influence, the Christians might have been tempted to be ashamed of the gospel message. But Paul says it is nothing to be ashamed of, for it is in fact a message coming with the power of God that brings people to salvation. The Apostle experienced this truth first-hand. In fact, Romans 1:16 would serve as a great motto for Paul. He wasn’t ashamed of the gospel. He had experienced Jesus and soon after that, he was preaching everywhere. Just read Acts. Luke ends the book of Acts this way: “He [Paul] lived there [Rome] two whole years at his own expense, and welcomed all who came to him, proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance” (Acts 28:30, 31 ESV). What an honorable way to be remembered.

You may have heard that Paul persecuted and killed Christians and that is true. The book of Acts attests to that. One instance I remember is in Acts 8; “And Saul [Paul] approved of his execution. . .” (v. 1). This is referring to the execution of Stephen. Stephen was a bold and outspoken follower of Jesus who was “full of grace and power” (Acts 6:8). He is mainly remembered for his bold address before the Sanhedrin in Acts 7 and his vision of Jesus “standing at the right hand of God” (7:56). How did the Sanhedrin respond to Stephen’s defense and proclamation of the gospel? “. . .they were enraged, and they ground their teeth at him. . .they cried out with a loud voice and stopped their ears and rushed together at him. Then they cast him out of the city and stoned him” (v. 54, 57, 58). And the Bible goes on to say that Stephen died praying for them. Paul saw the whole thing and “approved of his execution” (8:1). In Acts 9 you find a beautiful story of a persecuting Pharisee who turns to Jesus; and that is Paul. He experienced the gospel’s power first-hand and it is no wonder he declared “I am not ashamed of the gospel.”

The Righteous Shall Live by Faith

This next verse likely means primarily “righteousness from God,” so that it denotes right standing before God (a legal reality) that is given to people by God. A similar expression in Greek clearly has this meaning in Phil. 3:9. However, it is important to note that this expression in Greek likely also carries an additional, fuller meaning, which refers directly to God’s right moral character, particularly manifested in His holiness and justice, and in the way that His method of saving sinners through Christ’s death meets the just demand of His holy nature. Although today’s world often regards using words that carry a double sense as confusing and ambiguous, in NT times such wording was commonly used to add weight and enrichment (See John 12:32 where “lifted up” refers to Christ being “exalted” by being crucified).

“From faith for faith” probably means  that right standing with God (justification) is by faith from start to finish. In the latter part of this verse Paul is quoting Habakkuk 2:4. The life of faith is all-encompassing: it is by faith that one initially receives the gift of salvation (eternal life), but it is also by faith that one lives each day (Galatians 3:11; Hebrews 10:38).

Are You Ashamed?

Christians today aren’t the most honored people or famous just as the Christians at Rome were not. Being a believer brings persecution (John 15:20; 2 Timothy 3:12), in addition, the world thinks we’re foolish (1 Cor. 1:18). You might be shamed for your faith, but do not be ashamed of the gospel! “You will be shamed, but you need not be ashamed. Because the message of God’s saving work in Christ is the only final triumphant message in the world. Short-term pain. Long-term gain” (John Piper). When you are tempted to be ashamed, remember what the Good News is all about. If you focus on God and on what God is doing rather than your own inadequacy, you won’t be ashamed or embarrassed. Be a bold witness both with your life and sharing the gospel. “You may be the only Bible people are reading” (Billy Graham).

The Truth About Sex

Introduction

Sex. I’m sure there is a lot that you already know about it, but do you know what God has said about it? You probably know its effects and can name a few people that are sexually active. In fact, I bet that it’s safe to say that all of you here have been sexually active before. Maybe with a partner or not with a partner. Either way, I do not come to you as a sex ed. teacher. I come to you as a concerned brother in Christ. I want to show you the beauty and value of sex so that you will wait until marriage and remain pure.

Let’s look at a few statistics. According to Facts on American Teens’ Sexual and Reproductive Health by the Guttmacher Institute, “. . .fewer than 2% of adolescents have had sex by the time they reach their 12th birthday. But adolescence is a time of rapid change. Only 6% of teens have had sex by age 15, compared with one-third of those aged 16, nearly half (48%) of those aged 17, 61% of 18-year-olds and 71% of 19-year-olds. There is little difference by gender in the timing of first sex.” These stats are not surprising but they are discouraging. Another that stood out to me read “. . .Among sexually experienced teens, 70% of females and 56% of males report that their first sexual experience was with a steady partner, while 16% of females and 28% of males report first having sex with someone they had just met or who was just a friend.”

Something is definitely wrong there. The problem that we run into when these numbers and percentages are laid on our desks is that this isn’t just the “world” we are talking about here. That “one-third of those aged 16” includes believers. If that is true, then 1 out of 3 teens (Christian and non-Christian) are sexually active.

What Does the Bible Say About Sex Before Marriage?

There is no Hebrew or Greek word used in the Bible that precisely refers to sex before marriage. The Bible undeniably condemns adultery and sexual immorality, but is sex before marriage considered sexually immoral? From a clear observation of 1 Corinthians 7:2, the answer is yes. “But because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband.” (ESV) Some Corinthian Christians appear to have adopted the view that sexual relations of any kind, even within marriage, should be avoided. Here’s what they said: “. . .It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman.” (v. 1b) Paul seeks to carefully refute this view throughout this chapter. In v. 2 Paul states that marriage is the “cure” for sexual immorality. It is essentially saying that, because people cannot control themselves and so many are having immoral sex outside of marriage, people should get married. Then they can fulfill their passions in a moral way. There are numerous Scriptures that declare sex before marriage to be a sin (Acts 15:20; 1 Corinthians 5:1; 6:13, 18; 10:8; 2 Corinthians 12:21; Galatians 5:19; Ephesians 5:3; Colossians 3:5; 1 Thessalonians 4:3; Jude 7) Sex between a husband and his wife is the only form of sexual relations of which God approves Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous” (Hebrews 13:4 ESV)

Sex Within Marriage is Pleasurable: God Designed it That Way

Far too often we focus on the “recreation” aspect of sex without recognizing that there is another aspect—procreation. Sex within marriage is pleasurable, and God designed it that way. God wants men and women to enjoy sexual activity within the confines of marriage. He did say to “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth” (Gen. 9:1b) but He also has said much about the pleasure of sex to be enjoyed within the boundaries of marriage. Some examples are the entire book of the Song of Solomon, Proverbs 5:19 a lovely deer, a graceful doe. Let her breasts fill you at all times with delight; be intoxicated always in her love,” and other Scriptures. However, the couple must understand that God’s intent for sex includes producing children. Thus, for a couple to engage in sex before marriage is doubly wrong—they are enjoying pleasures not intended for them, and they are taking a chance of creating a human life outside of the family structure God intended for every child.

Conclusion

If you’ve messed up sexually, there is hope in the gospel. You know what the gospel is. It is the good news of salvation found in Jesus Christ. If you will trust in Him, He will forgive your sin and make you a new person (Rom. 3:23; 6:23; 2 Cor. 5:17).

Remain sexually pure. Ask God for help. Avoid sexually tempting situations. Be accountable. Rely on God’s grace, not your own strength. He will empower you to do right.

The Holy Spirit at McDonald’s

The following message was delivered at Ohio Valley Baptist Church on the 26th day of May, 2013:

Great Horror

I was sitting in McDonald’s parking lot one afternoon right after I finished eating a crispy chicken BLT and I was in the car with my Bible. I had just finished reading a chapter in the Book of Acts and as I sat in my car, I had this thought cross my mind:

“In my judgment, Revelation is not the scariest or most startling book in the Bible. Though it is quite graphic in its description of judgment, I believe the Book of Acts is the most startling. Why? Well after reading it for so long, I have been truly astonished. Chapter after chapter, verse by verse, letter by letter, constantly I am left wondering, ‘Have we missed something in the church in America?’ Why isn’t the body of Christ living like this? After pondering this, I realized quickly that it isn’t something we have missed, but rather Someone: the Holy Spirit. And then great horror begins to build within me because I fear where our churches are going to be if we continue to neglect the Holy Spirit. What will be their condition if we continue to do so?”

I believe the Holy Spirit has been forgotten. I’m not joking. “From my perspective, the Holy Spirit is tragically neglected and, for all practical purposes, forgotten.” (Forgotten God, Francis Chan with Danae Yankoski. 2009 by Francis Chan) I know you wouldn’t dare deny His existence, but I’m willing to bet that there are millions of church-goers (and maybe even you) who cannot say confidently that they have experienced His presence or action in their lives over the past year. That is a tragedy.

One of the greatest problems in presenting our faith to people and especially in preaching is overemphasis and under-emphasis. In other words, placing too much importance on one issue and not enough importance on another. Balance is essential. I am not saying that the there should be more emphasis on the Holy Spirit and less on other important issues, but I am saying that He is clearly being tragically neglected. My focus through this message is to explain the person and work of the Holy Spirit and to show one of the most significant ways we are respond to Him. I hope that within however long we are here in this meeting together, that we will allow God to reverse our tragic neglect of the Spirit. Without Him, people work, think, plan and operate in their own strength and only accomplish human-size results. But when believers operate through the power of the Spirit, the evidence in their lives is supernatural. Only when we work through His strength will we accomplish God-sized results.

The Text

“16 But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. 19 Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, 21 envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. 24 And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.

25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.” (Galatians 5:16-26 ESV)

Vital Statistics

It is always important and necessary to look at a few facts about the entire letter before we dig into this specific text. Why is that? Because Galatians (like the rest of the Bible) was written in another language, in another culture, in another time, to another people. Before Galatians has meaning for us, it had meaning for someone specific. When we discover these facts, great insights are made available to us and we can then properly grasp the meaning of this text.

So who was the author? The Apostle Paul. He was originally writing to the churches in southern Galatia, founded on Paul’s first missionary journey. This church was a problem church. It isn’t like the church “in Ephesus” (Ephesians 1:1) or “at Philippi” (Philippians 1:1). When Paul was writing to those two churches (at different times) he doesn’t mention any heresy that he is trying to confront and doesn’t call out any problem within the churches. But as for the Galatians, a crisis has hit the church. The church came into being as a result of God’s Spirit at work in Paul’s proclamation of the gospel (3:1-5; 4:13-15). But within the short space of time since Paul left (1:6), the church has been visited by false teachers whom Paul calls those “who trouble you” (1:7) or “those who unsettle you” (5:12). And Paul was writing to refute these false teachers called “Judaizers.” The Judaizers basically taught that Gentile believers must obey the Jewish law in order to be saved. Paul also was writing to call Christians to faith and freedom in Christ.

Paul’s Declaration

This passage that we are looking at isn’t the first mentioning of the Holy Spirit in the letter to the Galatians (3:2, 14; 4:6), but it is Paul’s declaration to live by the Spirit’s power. However, I think it is important to get a firm grasp on who the Holy Spirit is, what He does, and what He is like before we see how we can respond to Him by keeping “in step with the Spirit” (5:25).

  1. The Trinity

Now before we begin to grasp the Holy Spirit, it is important to make sure you have a clear understanding of what the Bible teaches about the Trinity. I have heard all of the popular descriptions of the Trinity. The egg: the shell, the white stuff, and the yolk. I have heard about the three forms of H2O (water, ice, and steam). While these serve as simple metaphors for an unexplainable mystery, the fact is that God is not like an egg, or three forms of water. God is not like anything. He is incomprehensible, incomparable, and unlike any other being. “He is outside our realm of existence and, thus, outside our ability to categorize Him” (Forgotten God, Chan with Yankoski. p.66). Two concepts that will help you grasp the Trinity are the Incomprehensibility of God and the Knowability of God. You might think I am riding on a hobby horse right now and you may be right. But I hope to clear up any misconceptions you may have about the Holy Spirit and the only proper way to do that is to correctly define the Trinity, and to correctly define the Trinity (carefully and biblically) we must first examine certain concepts that will help in our understanding of this great doctrine. I am not attempting to completely explain the Trinity; the church in times past has been severely embarrassed due to oversimplifying something that cannot be oversimplified!

a. The Incomprehensibility of God

The more you know God, the more you want to know God. And in the quest to know God, it is vital to understand just what it means to really know Him. Methods, expectations, and attitudes in studying theology are determined by one’s definition of “knowing God.” Central to understanding this is the fact that God is both incomprehensible and knowable.

Scripture teaches that we can have a true and personal knowledge of God, but this does not mean we will ever understand Him exhaustively. The Bible is clear that God is ultimately incomprehensible to us; that is, we can never fully comprehend His whole being. The following passages show this:

“Great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised, and his greatness is unsearchable.” (Psalm 145:3 ESV)

“Behold, these are but the outskirts of his ways, and how small a whisper do we hear of him! But the thunder of his power who can understand?” (Job 26:14 ESV)

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are my ways your ways, declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9 ESV)

“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?” (Romans 11:33-34 ESV)

Others are Job 42:1-6; Psalm 139:6, 17-18; 147:5; Isaiah 57:15; 1 Corinthians 2:10-11; 1 Timothy 6:13-15). These verses teach that not only is God’s whole being incomprehensible but each of His attributes–His greatness, power, thoughts, ways, wisdom, and judgments–are well beyond human ability to fathom fully. Not only can we never know everything there is to know about God, we can never know everything there is to know about even one aspect of God’s character or work.

Why is God Incomprehensible? The main reasons for God’s incomprehensibility are: (1) God is infinite and His creatures are finite. By definition, creatures depend on their Creator for their very existence and are limited in all aspects. Yet God is without limitations in every quality He possesses. This Creator/creature, infinite/finite gap will always exist. (2) The perfect unity of God’s attributes is far beyond the realm of human experience. God’s love, wrath, grace, justice, holiness, patience, and jealousy are continually functioning in a perfectly integrated yet infinitely complex way. (3) The effects of sin on the minds of fallen humans also greatly inhibit the ability to know God. The tendency of fallen creatures is to distort, pervert, and confuse truth and to use, or rather abuse, it for selfish ends rather than for God’s glory (Rom. 1:18-26). (4) A final reason God can never be fully known is that in His sovereign wisdom God has chosen not to reveal some things: “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” (Deut. 29:29). Many would label it unloving for God to decide to withhold some information from His people. Yet, as with all good fathers, God’s wisdom leads Him to refrain from answering all the questions His children ask Him, and this contributes to His incomprehensibility.

In heaven, God’s incomprehensibility will no doubt be lessened when the effects of sin no longer ravage minds and when He will most likely share some of His secrets. However, God will always be infinite and humans will always be finite, so He will always be beyond human ability to know exhaustively.

What are the implications of God’s incomprehensibility? Well, because God can never be fully known, those who seek to know God should be deeply humbled in the process, realizing that they will always have more to learn. The appropriate response to God is a heart of wonder and awe in light of His incomprehensible greatness! God’s incomprehensibility also means that beliefs can be held with firm conviction even though they may be filled with inexplicable mystery. The Trinity and other core teachings of the Bible are profoundly mysterious; believing them requires that you have a robust affirmation of the incomprehensibility of God. Now rest a moment and take all of that in.

b. The Knowability of God

The incomprehensibility of God could lead to despair or apathy in the quest to know God, but the Bible also teaches that God is knowable. While God can never be exhaustively understood, He can be known truly, personally, and sufficiently. God is personal, has definite characteristics, and has personally revealed Himself so that He can be truly known. The multiplication of grace and peace in our lives is dependent on knowing God (2 Peter 1:2-3), and this knowledge provides sufficient resources for life and for becoming the people God wants us to be.

Knowledge of God in Christ should be our greatest delight (Jeremiah 9:23-24; 1 Cor. 2:2; Gal. 6:14). It is the basis of attaining eternal life (John 17:3); it is at the heart of life in the new covenant (Heb. 8:11-12); it was Paul’s primary goal (Phil. 3:10); and it leads to godly love (1 John 4:7-8). God will never be known absolutely, but we can know things about Him that are absolutely true, so much that we can be willing to live and die for those beliefs. God has provided knowledge of Himself that is personal, relational, and sufficient for fruitful, faithful, godly living. No one will ever be able to say He lacked the necessary revelation to know God and to start living as God intends.

What are the implications of the knowability of God? Well, God’s personal and sufficient revelation of Himself should foster solid conviction among believers. We need not to live in ambiguity and uncertainty about who God is and what He demands of His creatures. This increasing influence of Eastern religions on the West, certain postmodern views of truth, and religious pluralism all emphasize God’s incomprehensibility so much that He is eventually made to seem unknowable. It then becomes impossible to say anything definitively true or false about Him, and people then think that the only heresy is claiming that there is heresy at all! On the contrary, because of His gracious revelation and illumination, God can indeed be known. God’s knowability should lead to eager, diligent, devoted study of God’s Word so we can understand Him as He has revealed Himself and avoid any false view of God that will dishonor Him. We should never grow apathetic in seeking to know God because we are in fact able and equipped to know Him and please Him with our lives.

The Trinity (continued)

Now that those concepts are hopefully grasped, let’s proceed to the doctrine of the Trinity. The biblical teaching on the Trinity embodies four essential affirmations:

 There is one and only one true and living God.
  1. This one God eternally exists in three persons–God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.
  2. These three persons are completely equal in attributes, each with the same divine nature.
  3. While each person is fully and completely God, the persons are not identical

(At this point, if you are still angry with confusion, re-read the concepts on the Incomprehensibility and Knowability of God above)

The differences among the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are found in the way they relate to one another and their role each plays in accomplishing their unified purpose. The unity of nature and distinction of persons of the Trinity is helpfully illustrated by this diagram:

Scripture attests to the Trinity. Look at Matthew 3 where Jesus was baptized. You have the [God the] Son, Jesus, being baptized. You also have the Spirit “descending like a dove and coming to rest on him” (Matt. 3:16b) and the Father saying from heaven, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (v. 17). Look at the formula for baptism in Matthew 28 when Jesus gives the Great Commission. And there are many other Scriptures (Deut. 6:4; 2 Cor. 13:14; John 14-16). Here’s the bottom line: the doctrine of the Trinity is well beyond human ability to ever fully comprehend. However, it is central to understanding the nature of God and the central events in the history of salvation, in which God is seen acting as, in effect, a tripersonal team. Biblical Christianity stands or falls with this doctrine.

Holy Spirit 101

The Holy Spirit is a fully and completely divine person who possesses all of the divine attributes. God the Spirit applies the work of God the Son. The Spirit’s distinct role is to accomplish the unified will of the Father and the Son and to be in personal relationship with both of them.

The Spirit comforts (John 12:26; 14:16, 26; 15:26; 16:7). The Spirit teaches (John 14:26; 1 Cor. 2:13). The Spirit speaks (Acts 8:29; 13:2). The Spirit makes decisions (Acts 15:28). The Spirit grieves over sin (Eph. 4:30). The Spirit overrules human actions (Acts 16:6-7). The Spirit searches the deep things of God and knows the thoughts of God (1 Cor. 2:10-11). The Spirit determines the distribution of spiritual gifts (1 Cor. 12:11). The Spirit interprets and brings human prayer before the throne of the Father (Rom. 8:26-27). The Spirit assures believers of their adoption (Rom. 8:16). The Spirit bears witness to and glorifies Christ (John 15:26; 16:14). The Holy Spirit is eternal (Hebrews 9:14). He is omnipresent (Psalm 139:7-10). He is omniscient (1 Cor. 2:10-11). The Holy Spirit is omnipotent (Luke 1:35-37) and He is holy (Rom. 1:4).

Walk in the Spirit

Now that you hopefully have a grasp on the Holy Spirit, how are you to respond to Him? Our text in Galatians tells us of one significantly important way to do so. “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.” (5:16) The only way to conquer the flesh is to yield to the Spirit. Walk by the Spirit implies both direction and empowerment; that is, making decisions and choices according to the Holy Spirit’s guidance, and acting with the spiritual power that the Spirit supplies. To “walk” in Scripture regularly represents the pattern of conduct of all of one’s life.

“For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.” (v. 17) Paul acknowledges that the Christian life is a struggle–a war between the flesh and the Spirit. He describes two forces at work within us–the Holy Spirit and our evil inclinations (the flesh). Paul is not saying that these forces are equal. The Holy Spirit is infinitely stronger, but we are weak. If we rely on our own wisdom, we will make wrong choices. If we try to walk to in the Spirit by our own human effort, we will fail. Our only way to freedom from our natural evil desires is through the empowering of the Spirit.

Now let me give you a bold warning: This “walking in the Spirit” thing will cause you to make some serious changes in your life. You’re going to have to turn off that TV and open your Bibles. You’re going to have to walk away from that argument and get in your closet and pray. You’re going to have to shut off that computer, get off of Facebook, and study your Bibles. You’re going to have to get up an hour earlier to pray in the morning before you rush off to work. I’m not against any of the activities that we consider “normal” in our generation today, but if we want God to do something big in our lives, we’re going to have to submit to Him more than we do now. You won’t get anywhere with God without submission. The problem is that most of us are okay with Jesus doing some touch-ups in our lives, but He wants to completely transform us. Anything that is in your way of fully surrendering to the Spirit and walking in Him, you need to abandon it. Recklessly abandon anything that may hinder you from allowing God to do all that He has purposed to do through you.

Conclusion: Acts 4:13

Looking at Galatians 5:16-26 we can clearly assume this fact: what you feed will live and what you starve will die. Feed the life of submission and allow God working-room within you and Christ-like characteristics will flow through you (vv. 22, 23). Starve sin and “walk in the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.” (v. 16). Feed the life of rebellion and sin and your light will be hidden under a bushel (Matthew 5:15). Now a few books earlier in the New Testament, we have the book of Acts. It is all about what God can do through Spirit-filled believers. Read through it sometime and just drink in every word.

My prayer is that your changed life would produce this kind of astonishment: “Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus” (Acts 4:13 ESV, emphasis mine).