Archive for September, 2011

We Believe in One God

September 21st, 2011

Chapter 1

We Believe in One God

(The following is chapter One of a writing on the doctrinal statement of the International Baptist Convention. Other chapters will follow in the near future.)

We believe in one God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – co-eternal, co-existent, co-equal, and co-operative as affirmed in Scripture and as summarized in the ancient Christian confessions of faith.

The International Baptist Convention’s Summary of Basic Beliefs, 2008

As a young Samuel lay down to sleep one evening he heard someone call his name and ran to the old priest Eli, thinking the voice came from him. Eli sent him back to bed, probably assuming the lad had had a bad dream. But then twice more it happened and the old priest began to suspect that God was speaking to Samuel. He told Samuel how to answer, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening,” and God revealed to Samuel what He was about to do, and also called Samuel that evening in a personal, intimate way to believe in Him. God found Samuel and revealed Himself to him. Samuel’s response was worship, for he acknowledged who God was and responded in faith and obedience.

Two words are essential to understand in order to grasp the purpose of God in His redemptive plan: revelation and worship. Revelation means the unveiling of God to human life and worship is the proper response of our hearts to God’s revelation of Himself. As God reveals Himself to us our response must always be to worship Him, acknowledging who God is, accepting His truth, and choosing to obey His will. This is God’s way of calling people to know and to follow Him and it is the first biblical doctrine that we will consider in this study.

God finds us before we can find Him. God called Noah, Abraham, Jacob, Moses, David, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Jonah, to only name a few, in the Old Testament. In the New Testament Christ called His disciples to follow Him, sought and found Zacchaeus, revealed Himself to Paul on the Road to Damascus, and through the preaching of the gospel and the voice of His Spirit called thousands to believe in Him. Millard Erickson wrote,

Revelation refers to God’s action of making Himself known to humans. This action is necessary because humans, being limited, are unable to know God by their own ability of discovery. Just as dogs or cats cannot investigate their master, and if they could, would not really understand him, so humans do not have the capability of finding God by their own effort. Because God loves His human creatures and wants to have fellowship with them, he has therefore made Himself known.[1]

Because God loves us He shows Himself to us through the Bible and convicts us by His Spirit to believe in Him and to follow Him. Christ said the Spirit “will convict the world” (John 16:8-11), and the Spirit affirms within our hearts that God’s word is true, urging us to turn from sin and self and turn to Him in faith. God reveals Himself in two primary ways: general and personal or specific. General refers to the witness of creation to God’s existence which speaks to all people. Romans 1:20 states, “God’s invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.” But God also reveals Himself in a personal or specific way to individuals through His word and by the inner witness of His Spirit. God said through Jeremiah, “I will give them a heart to know me” (Jer. 24:7). Jesus said, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him” (John 6:44), and God draw us to Himself as individuals through a variety of methods, but His specific witness to our hearts is essential for us to turn to Him in faith.

Isaiah’s response to God’s unveiling of Himself to him provides one of the clearest examples of what true worship is.[2] In each stage or phase God takes the initiative and Isaiah serves as an example of how to respond in faith. In a vision Isaiah “saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted” with seraphs crying out “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty.” Isaiah was immediately convicted of his own sin and cried in repentance and confession, “I am a man of unclean lips and live among a people of unclean lips and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty.” This is always the first correct response of a vision of God – confession of sin.

The Lord then initiated the second phase of worship in the vision by sending one of the seraphs to take a live coal from off the altar and to touch his mouth with it, saying, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin is atoned for.” When we worship God today, as we confess our sins that His Spirit convicts us of, He points us to the altar of Calvary where Christ died for us and assures us that our sin was dealt with there, and that we have the forgiveness our hearts desire. This is our second response of true worship, to accept by faith the forgiveness offered for our sins through Christ. We may also say that the heart of a worship service is the proclamation of the nature and the redemption of God as His word describes it, and our response is to know and to believe His truth. In this phase is heartfelt joy and gladness in our salvation, rejoicing in our God, and also receiving the proclamation and teaching of the truth of God.

The third phase of worship is God sharing the mission on His heart and inviting us to join Him on mission. He said to Isaiah: “Who shall I send? And who will go for us?” Isaiah’s response to this was, “Here am I. Send me!” “Go!” then said the Lord, commissioning Isaiah for service in His Name. God invites those who confess and believe to join Him on His mission, and we are to respond to God’s invitation in faith and obedience. This is also true worship, to obey and to go. In this sense all that we do in faith as believers is worship.

John Stott called worship “the church’s preeminent duty” and described it in these words.

Perhaps the best scriptural definition of it is to be found in Psalm 105:3. To worship is to “glory in God’s holy name.” God’s name is his revealed character. It is “holy” because it is unique, set apart from and above all other names. And once we glimpse the holiness of God’s great name, we see the fitness of “glorying” or reveling in it. Indeed, we are to join with all creature sin pronouncing him worship of our praise, because he is both our Creator and our Redeemer (Revelation 5:9-14). Because of who God is, it is appropriate that we should “worship at his footstool” (Psalm 99:5).[3]

In this chapter we will explore both how God uses the Scripture to reveal Himself to us and will examine in more detail the specific revelation of God in Scripture.

One God

The Bible declares that there is only One God: “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is One” (Deuteronomy 6:4). Throughout the remainder of the Old Testament and within the New Testament this truth is proclaimed: “We know that an idol is nothing at all in the world and that there is no God but one” (1 Corinthians 8:4).

God is a Person, not a mere force or idea. The traits of God’s character include: holiness, goodness, love, and patience. God is the only One who is truly all-knowing, all-powerful, and all-present; these attributes are also known as omniscience, omnipotence, and omnipresence. God is called the Creator of all that exists. There are many different lists by theologians and Bible scholars cataloguing the “Attributes of God” – too many to find agreement on every category to be included, except to say that all that the Bible says God is, He is. Consider these inspired words from Scripture about God’s greatness:

The Holiness of God: “Who among the gods is like you, O LORD? Who is like you – majestic in holiness, awesome in glory, working wonders?” (Exodus 15:11)

The Greatness of God: “To whom will you compare me? Or who is my equal?” says the Holy One. Lift your eyes and look to the heavens: Who created all these? He who brings out the starry host one by one, and calls them each by name. Because of his great power and mighty strength, not one of them is missing” (Isaiah 40:25-26).

The Sovereignty of God: “Remember this, fix it in mind … I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me. I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come. I say: My purpose will stand and I will do all that I please … What I have said, that will I bring about; what I have planned, that will I do” (Isaiah 46:8-11).

The Immutability or Unchanging Nature of God: “In the beginning you laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands. They will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment. Like clothing you will change them and they will be discarded. But you remain the same, and your years will never end” (Psalm 102:25-26). “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows” (James 1:17). “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8).

The Compassion of God: “The LORD is compassionate and gracious,
slow to anger, abounding in love. He will not always accuse, nor will he harbor his anger forever; he does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities” (Psalm 103:8-10).

The Love of God: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

The Wisdom and Knowledge of God: “Acknowledge the God of your father, and serve him with wholehearted devotion and with a willing mind, for the LORD searches every heart and understands every motive behind the thoughts…” (1 Chron. 28:9). “Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out! Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor? Who has ever given to God that God should repay him? For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen” (Romans 11:33-36).

The Infinity of God: “From everlasting to everlasting, you are God … for a thousand years in your sight are like a day that has just gone by, or like a watch in the night” (Psalm 90:2,4).

The Power of God: “For with God all things are possible” (Luke 1:37).

As the Scriptures reveal God to us we are left in awe of His magnificence and grandeur. He is immeasurable by us, beyond our capacity to gauge or to estimate – His power, His holiness, His infinitude, His love and compassion are all greater than we are able to imagine. Surely mere human words are inadequate to capture all that God is, and we are left to wonder and marvel in His greatness, holiness, and compassion. He is the eternal God, who knows no beginning and no end, who is “from everlasting to everlasting” (Nehemiah 9:5 and Psalm 90:2).

There are several different names for God in the Bible, each giving insight into His character. To Moses God revealed His personal name, “I am who I am,” and this is the root meaning of what came to be considered His covenant name: YHWH in Hebrew, sometimes translated Jehovah. Out of reference for His name, the devout Hebrew would not pronounce it when reading the Hebrew Old Testament, but would instead say the simple Hebrew word, “Adonay” or “Lord.” So in English translations, whenever we see the word LORD in all capital letters, it is the translation for this covenant name. The name emphasizes the existence of God, He Is! He exists unlike anyone else for His existence is not created existence but He is in His essence Being. This basic “Is-ness” of God presents Him to us as the Great I Am.

The Trinity: God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit

Though God is One, He reveals Himself also as three Persons. Baptists are Trinitarian in our understanding of God, and the doctrine of the Trinity is both one of the most beautiful and also one of the most challenging biblical doctrines to understand. In the end of Matthew’s Gospel is the account of Christ commissioning His followers to make disciples. There we find the words, “baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19). Notice that Christ used the singular word “name.” He did not say “in the names of…” but rather “in the name of.” In the Old Testament the Name of God was considered holy, as the commandment said, “You shall not misuse the name of the LORD your God, for the LORD will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name (Exodus 20:7)[4], and in Matthew we read that Three Persons share the same Name. This proclaims the understanding of the Trinity: One God who exists in three persons.

The word “Trinity” does not exist in Scripture, rather it is used by theologians to describe what Christians have understood the Bible to teach. A Trinity, three-in-one, does not mean three separate things bound together. The Trinity emphasizes the unity and oneness of the God-head. Jesus said to His disciples, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father…Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me?” (John 14:9-10) Later in the same chapter of John we read where Jesus described the coming of the Spirit into the lives of the believers in these words, “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him” (John 14:23).

The London Confession written in 1644 addressed the doctrine of the Trinity in these words: “In this God-head, there is the Father, the Son, and the Spirit; being every one of them one and the same God.”[5] The 1963 Baptist Faith and Message of the Southern Baptist Convention states:

There is one and only one living and true God. He is an intelligent, spiritual, and personal Being, the Creator, Redeemer, Preserver, and Ruler of the universe. God is infinite in holiness and all other perfections. To Him we owe the highest love, reverence, and obedience. The eternal God reveals Himself to us as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, with distinct personal attributes, but without division of nature, essence, or being.[6]

Whatever words or phrases we use, we find that they are limited in their ability to fully describe God. Though there is one and only one God, He reveals Himself to us as the Father, as the Son, and as the Spirit. This is more than just three expressions of the same Person; there are “distinct personal attributes” of each Person. The Three-in-One have had an identity from eternity past and God did not “become” a Trinity at some point along the way, but from everlasting to everlasting He is Father, Son, and Spirit, “without division of nature, essence, or being.”

False Teachings about the Trinity

Several false interpretations of the Trinity have been introduced through the centuries, two of these are Modalism and Tri-theism.

Modalism is the belief that God has existed in three different ways, that the Father became the Son at Bethlehem, and the Son became the Spirit at Pentecost. The Modalistic concept is basically Unitarian that rejects the biblical presentation of God as eternally three persons, and ultimately leads to the rejection of Christ as fully God. In this system of thought, the Father, the Son, and the Spirit are not equally and eternally co-existent, but are merely three successive manifestations of God, or three temporary modes of His activity.

Modalism is contradicted by many scriptures, specifically as the John 1:1-14, that states “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God,” teaching an eternal existence of the Word of God or Christ the Son. And John 17:5 in which Christ prayed, “And now, father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began.” Since the Son and the Father shared glory with one another before the world was created, they, along with the Spirit, are eternal and not merely temporary modes of God’s activity.

Tri-theism is the belief that the Bible teaches that there are three Gods, which is clearly refuted in Scripture. Though there is Father, Son, and Spirit, they are presented as still being the One and Only God. W. H. Griffith Thomas, one of the founders of Dallas Theological Seminary, addressed the danger of taking Trinity in a direction it was not intended to go, when he wrote,

Like all human language, [Trinity] is liable to be accused of inadequacy and even positive error. It certainly must not be pressed too far, or it will lead to Tritheism. While we use the term to denote distinctions in the Godhead, we do not imply distinctions which amount to separateness, but distinctions which are associated with essential mutual co-inherence or inclusiveness.[7]

One of the dangers of Tri-theism is the tendency to attribute to the different Persons only certain attributes of God, where the Bible insists that all Three possess all of the attributes. To say such things as, for examples, the Father is holy, but the Son is loving, or that the Father punishes but the Son redeems, is contrary to what the Bible teaches. Christ explained His own ministry in these terms: “I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does” (John 5:19).

A popular belief among Christians divides the work of God between the three Persons, giving a specific part to each, as, for instance, creation to the Father, redemption to the Son, and regeneration to the Holy Spirit. This is partly true but not wholly so, for God cannot so divide Himself that one Person works while another is inactive. In the Scriptures the three Persons are shown to act in harmonious unity in all the mighty works that are wrought throughout the universe.[8]

Both the Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene Creed[9], the two most ancient creeds of Western Christianity, have also upheld this biblical view of God. The Apostles’ Creed, for example, declares,

I believe in God, the Father Almighty,
the Maker of heaven and earth,
and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord:

…I believe in the Holy Ghost;

The Nicene Creed is specifically Trinitarian in its concept and reveals a simple belief in God as Father, and as Son, and as Spirit – the great Three-in-One. So, for centuries, from the earliest days of the Christian movement, the believing community understood the Bible teaching the doctrine of the Trinity.

In the creation account of Genesis we find the Creator saying, “Let Us make man in Our image” (Genesis 1:26), revealing that the Triune God created human life. We are created in the image of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Spirit. But before the creation of the universe, the Eternal God remained in fellowship with Himself, as already mentioned above. Christ described that existence as not eternal aloneness but as eternal love shared between the Persons in the God-head, as He said to the Father, “You loved me before the creation of the world” (John 17:24). And from this love relationship among the Godhead, God created the universe.

What this means for us today

Because God is so great, powerful, holy, and loving, He relates to us in love and redemption. Our worship of Him is the acknowledgement in our hearts and with our lives of who He is. Though the Persons of the Godhead each share all of the attributes of God, it is also proper that they each give us insight into the heart, mind, and actions of God. As the Eternal Father, He loves us and cares for us. As the Son, He saves us and befriends us. As the Spirit He indwells and empowers us. We walk with Christ in intimate fellowship, as He called us His “friends” (John 15:15), yet we are to lose none of our reverential awe for Him. We call God “Abba, Father” but we still recognize Him as the Great I Am.

The God of glory sometimes revealed Himself like a sun to warm and bless, indeed, but often to astonish, overwhelm, and blind before He healed and bestowed permanent sight. This God of our fathers wills to be the God of their succeeding race. We have only to prepare Him a habitation in love and faith and humility. We have but to want Him badly enough, and He will come and manifest Himself to us.[10]

The Bible uses the phrase “fear of God” meaning the utmost reverential awe toward Him. To fear God does not mean to be in doubt about His good intentions toward us, or to question His reliability or His faithfulness toward His promises. Rather it means the heart-felt recognition of just who the Sovereign God truly is and to realize that it is Him to whom we must give account of our lives. One person said, “To fear God means to be afraid not to believe Him when He says He loves us.” The fear of God is the fear that removes every other fear from our hearts. God lifts us up in our confession, as James wrote, “Humble yourselves before the Lord and he will lift you up” (James 4:10).

The Apostle Paul responded to the vision of God with a heart filled with hope, and this is also part of worship.

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus through all generations, forever and ever! Amen.

Ephesians 2:20-21

The greatness of God calls us to worship and also to hope. The Great I Am is active within us and just as He is beyond our capacity to measure and predict, so His work within us is also greater than we can ever imagine.

Discussion Questions:

When did the word “God” become more than just a word to you?

What is the difference between general revelation and personal revelation?

Of the three phases of worship, which one do you have the most challenges in applying to your life personally?

Which attributes of God are more focused on in today’s world? Which are more likely to be less emphasized in today’s world?

How does God as the Great I Am impact your life today?

What is the most challenging aspect of the doctrine of the Trinity for you to understand?

What does the phrase “with distinct personal attributes, but without division of nature, essence, or being,” when applied to the Persons of the Godhead mean? How is the Father different from the Son or the Son from the Spirit? How are they identical?

How would you explain what it means to “fear God” to a child? How is the fear of God different from the fear of anything else?

How does the greatness of God give you hope in your life today?

[1] Millard J. Erickson, Foundations for Biblical Interpretation, Edited by Dockery, Mathews, Sloan (Broadman and Holman Publishers: Nashville, Tennessee, USA, 1994), “Revelation,” page 3.

[2] Isaiah 6:1-13

[3] John Stott, ­­The Living Church (Intervarsity Press, Downers Grove, Illinois, 2007), pp. 34-35.

[4] Leviticus 22:2; Deuteronomy 28:58; Isaiah 29:23; 57:15; Ezekiel 36:23; Daniel 2:20

[5] John A. Broadus, Baptist Confessions, Covenants, and Cathecisms, Edited by Timothy and Denise George, (Broadman and Holman Publishers, Nashville: 1996), p. 37.

[6] See Appendix

[7] William Henry Griffith Thomas, The Principles of Theology (New York: Longmans, Green, & Co., 1930), p. 31.

[8] A.W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy (San Francisco, Harper and Row, 1961) p. 23.

[9] See Appendix

[10] A.W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy, p. 43.

Doctrinal Studies

Rest Before Work

September 16th, 2011

“I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this was your good pleasure.”

Matthew 11:25-26

God blesses us in grace before we are to serve Him. Doesn’t this scripture above make that point abundantly clear? God revealed to children what the wise and learned were unable to discover. A child is the epitome of weakness, inexperience, need, and dependence

God has consistently chosen the weak, the helpless, the forgotten, the downcast, the disenfranchised of society, and has through His grace based upon the work of Christ on the cross blessed them and built them up. To those who are strong and mature Christ said, “I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it” (Mark 10:15), explaining that we can only come to Christ pleading our need and our weakness. But this is the very attitude that God looks for in us in order to pour out into our souls the riches of His strength and wisdom.

Consider these Scriptures:

James 4:6: God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.

1 Corinthians 1:17-19: For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel—not with words of human wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written: ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.’

1 Corinthians 1:26-29: Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him.

This is the consistent biblical witness, that recognition of need and belief in the power of God and the willingness of God to bless us are essentials in spiritual maturity. This is the basic teachings of grace, that God has purchased for us our salvation independent of our personal effort, and the clear teachings of these truths are presented in Romans 1-5: “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand” (Romans 5:1).

J. C. Metcalfe made this observation about our need to be grounded in the principle of grace before we are truly able to continue in spiritual growth.

Dr. James of Albany, who was used to bring hundreds into the deeper truths, declared that he usually found that ‘failure in the higher stages of the Christian life was due to imperfect understanding and acceptance of the gospel of salvation in its fundamental principles.’ It is a rare thing to be able to sit down and teach, because in most settings today one is limited to dealing with ‘the first principles of the oracles of God’; and can go little further than the basic facts of the new birth. You cannot deepen spiritual life that is not there! You will only build askew if the foundations are not properly laid! A lack of appreciation of the wonder of a full salvation in Christ, opens the door to every kind of overbalance, and spells continual frustration and failure. (Quoted from The Green Letters, “Rest”, by Miles Stanford)

It is essential to get this point down into our minds if we are to progress spiritually, that grace can only be bestowed to us on the basis of grace, not because of our effort or our trying or our pleading or learning, but simply on the basis of God’s choice and His provision in Christ. We are saved through faith but not on the basis of our faith. The Bible is abundantly clear on this issue and avoids using the phrase that would teach that our faith forms the foundation of our salvation. Christ is the foundation, and what He did on the cross and who He is as the Resurrection and the Life is the basis by which God deals with us. Faith is but a door we walk through and into a new life but that new life rests upon the work of Christ. But His grace is given in full measure to the one who comes with this spirit of humility and trust.

There is something good to be found in learning, making something out of yourself, achieving your goals in life, and making wise decisions, certainly, but this is not how we present ourselves to God. Isaiah said that our righteousness is as filthy rags compared to God’s (Isaiah 64:6). It is our need and admitting our need and believing in His provision in Christ Jesus that brings us into a saving relationship with God. This same understanding provides the key principle that must be grasped in our life if we are to continue in spiritual growth. If we fail to get this point down, we will stumble through our Christian life seeking to serve in our strength, rather than rest and stand in His.

So, how do we rest in His grace? By faith. By saying to God through Christ, “I know I am not acceptable to You on any other terms other than Your grace. I come before You as needy as I can be, as unworthy as I can be, pleading my need and taking You at Your word, that You give grace to the humble. I do not consider even my humility as an achievement, but bow before You.”

The one who comes to God like this will experience the fulfillment of the words in James 4:10, “Humble yourselves before the Lord and He will lift you up.” And the Heavenly Father picks up the repentant child, but now the child finds new strength in his legs, not his old strength, but the strength of God. He experiences the power and presence Isaiah spoke of, “He shall mount up with wings as eagles. He shall run and not grow weary. He shall walk and not faint” (Isaiah 40:31).

Lord, we come before You this day knowing we must rest in You before we can stand for You. Open our minds to understand this principle of grace, that it is not merely an idea to get us saved, but it is the principle by which we are to live and serve in Your power. Amen.


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