Thursday, October 10, 2013

The Nature of God and the Greatest Question of All

By Reverend Mark Hunnemann

"For our sake He made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God." (2 Cor. 5:21)

I have been accenting the paramount importance of the doctrine of God in our worldviews...how it effects everything. How we view Ultimate Reality has a domino effect on the other six worldview issues. There are several worldviews in our culture, but the one gaining ascendancy is New Age or Neo-gnostic/occult, which we will look at perhaps next time. Obviously, the concept of Ultimate Reality in this pagan goddess spirituality differs significantly from biblical Christianity.

Let me briefly show how the primacy of what God is like effects the other issues, and then I want too camp on what is the most important issue of all--how can I be saved?

1. Ultimate Reality in the bible is the infinite personal God who is really there, and who has spoken to us Person to person in the bible. God is good--meaning He is holy and loving.
2. Since God is both infinite and Personal He took great delight in creating the heavens and the earth, the visible and invisible. (Gen. 1:1; Col. 1:16)
3. Since God is personal, He loves us and desires to be our primary love...He does not leave it to guesswork as to what our purpose in life is--it is stated in His communication to us.
4. The text above speaks of Jesus' sinlessness. Since God is really THERE, and spoken truth to us, we have an adequate basis for ethics. "Be holy because I am holy". (1 Peter 1:16)
5. God is infinite and personal and He made us finite and personal--that is, IN HIS IMAGE. Again, no guesswork as to what humans ARE, because of who God IS! (Gen.1:26ff)
6. We spoke of the three Lordship attributes of God last time (control, authority, and presence) This assures us that the flow of history (and our own personal history) is moving in a meaningful, linear fashion to it's culmination in the Second Coming/restoration. History is the stage upon which God is driving the drama of redemption.
7. The afterlife is, yet again, not a matter of speculation because God/heaven is really THERE. "For we must all appear before the judgement seat of Christ...",   "...it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgement." The moment we die we appear before the Lord's throne, and are sent to heaven or hell for all eternity. (2 Cor. 5:!0; Heb. 9:27) The greatest argument against the notion of trapped spirits is the nature of God (and His perfect atonement). His nature will also reveal in technicolor how we MUST be saved and enter His perfectly holy heaven.

Do you see how the existence and nature of God effects EVERYTHING? If we had the time, I would like to show how Ultimate Reality as energy/matter would "answer" these worldview questions. We would see that it, and all non-biblical worldviews, are utterly bankrupt to provide adequate answers to our deepest questions.

But what of the greatest question of all: how can I know I am going to heaven after death? Though it is not listed as a worldview component, it underlies and is implied in all of seven components--especially the nature of God. Once again, when we ponder our eternal destiny, the nature of what Ultimate Reality is will guide our thinking. For example, in the history of humanity there are three basic answers to that question. Though details may vary in a multitude of ways, we can accurately summarize three basic views of salvation--which (not surprisingly!) flow from one's view of Ultimate Reality. Let's look at these now.

1. Auto-soterism or self-salvation...otherwise known as Pelagianism (named after the heresiarch, Pelagius). Whether New Age, humanism, atheism, deism or theological liberalism (and scores of others), we either save ourselves by being good or we essentially "save ourselves" by denying that we even need salvation. The details vary from one belief to the next in auto-soterism (e.g. annihilation vs continued conscious existence), but the defining feature is that we don't need a Savior....we will earn or merit our way to our next incarnation or heaven. Perhaps the most common view of salvation is, "Justification by death alone." All we have to do is die, and we fly off to paradise.

The only way one can subscribe to Pelagianism is by having a seriously defective or deficient view of God's nature. Theological liberalism often states that the essence of Christianity is" living the Sermon on the Mount". Hmmm.....I wonder if they have ever carefully read this lofty sermon by Jesus? There is a spiritual logic to the beatitudes, which are the heart of the Sermon on the Mount, and the first is, "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." (Matt. 5:3) That is, blessed (well being in one's relationship with God) are those who recognize they are desperately in need of divine grace and mercy, for they are spiritually bankrupt in themselves. A deficient view of God's holiness will lead to a deficient view of our true spiritual condition. In other words, self-salvation is the noxious fruit of having a distorted view of Ultimate Reality in our worldviews.

2. Semi-pelagianism or Arminianism (named after Jacob Arminius) is a half-way house between self-salvation and salvation by grace alone. Stated another way--we are saved by faith in Christ plus.... (fill in the blank). My intent is not to offend anyone, but to state things accurately and urge us to think (Berean style). I was raised in a devout Christian home, but the gospel was, "We are saved by faith in Jesus, plus doing certain things...but if you do other certain sins, that will kill the grace of God in your soul. You will lose your state of salvation until you do x, y, and z." I am intentionally being vague. However, regarding the view itself--we are saved by faith in Christ AND good work/s-I will NOT be vague. As Paul said to the "Arminians" of his day, "As we have said before, so now I say again:If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed. For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ." (Gal. 1:9-10) The heresy Paul was eternally condemning to hell was the notion that we are saved by faith in Christ plus being circumcised. That was the Galatian heresy which so agitated Paul and the Lord.

There always has been, and always will be, differences amongst Christians this side of heaven. However, the essence of the gospel must be protected, regardless of what people say. The folks in Galatia were not pelagianists, or believers in self-salvation. However, they did add to the finished work of Christ on the cross by saying,"In order to be saved, you must believe in Christ and be circumcised." Today, that same sort of belief is alive and well in America, and globally. Only the Lord knows the true state of a person's soul and many folks raised in these traditions are truly born again, but it must be due to some happy inconsistency. Only the Lord knows when the line is crossed in practice--all I can do is state the biblical principle, for which I do not care what man thinks. What I plead for you to consider is that many professing Christians--either because they hold to a "easy-believism" or a version of faith plus works heresy--are not really saved and will spend eternit y in hell. That grieves me...and it certainly grieves the Lord.

The issue again is the nature of God. If we have depth view of God's holiness, then we will have a depth view of our sinfullness. With a deep awareness of our radical corruption comes a vision of the glorious beauty of grace. A deep appreciation of God's utter, burning holiness will reveal the utter futility and madness of adding anything to the finished work of Christ on the cross. A person on this faith and works treadmill can never enjoy (if they are consistent) an abiding joyful assurance of salvation. There will always be the insecurity of, "Did I do enough, or did I do TOO much sin today..did I get kicked out of God's family?" Listen, I lived this way  growing up and it was horrible, even as a child.

The third way of salvation is the biblical way...the true way of salvation. GRACE. We are saved by faith alone in the finished work of Christ on the cross. (Romans 3 & 4;Eph. 2:8-10...Gen--Rev) "For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it s the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them." I included v. 10 because it is often left out when these verses are quoted and it addresses a significant issue--what is the role of works, if we are saved by grace alone? Concern regarding "cheap grace" or easy believism is valid, but is no reason to throw the "grace baby" out with the dirty water. Luther re-discovered the pure gospel in 1517 after it had languished under severe legalism for 1, 000 years or more. He put it this way, "We are saved by faith alone, but not by a faith that is alone." The book of James is about the evidence of true faith. Good works have no meritorious value but they have immense evidential value. As the text in Ephesians states, we were saved in order to be pleasing to the Lord.

This is not a systematic theology, so I need to wrap up. We come finally, again, to Ultimate Reality--the nature of the biblical God--which reveals the sovereign grace of God Almighty. All this talk of worldviews is foolish and empty if we ourselves are not reconciled with our Creator. 2 Cor 5:21 is one of the most important verses in all of Scripture  for understanding the meaning of the atonement and justification. The sinless Son of God became a substitute for us...substitutionary atonement. We are justified by faith alone. To say that are saved by faith or grace alone is to say we are saved by Christ alone (and His finished work on the cross) Justification involves a double transfer. Christ became sin "for us"--and was punished "for us"--but His 33 years of righteous living (the righteousness of God) is imputed or counted to us as well. It pleased the Father to transfer our sins to Jesus, and to transfer Jesus' perfect life to us. We are declared eternally "Not Guilt y!" and the Father sees us "IN HIM".

The only way we can stand before the holy Father is due the robe of righteousness wrapped around us. Though it may not make sense to the world, we must be saved by grace alone because of how absolutely just, holy and righteous God is. Every sin is an act of cosmic treason against a thrice holy God and deserves eternal punishment. However, since we are in union with Jesus' life, death, resurrection, and ascension..God not only accepts us, He absolutely delights in us! (Isaiah 62:3-5) He delights and rejoices over us...may we relish this, and dance for joy because salvation is of the Lord....from beginning to end. For all eternity we will sing the praises of the King of Grace! Amen.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

We have forgiveness through Christ. Yet we, as born-again Christians, should have a transformation that makes us want to conform to God's will.
Romans 12:2(KJV, Bible Gateway)
"And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God." Although Christ died on the cross to forgive us our sins, the world itself isn't blind to the sins of born-again Christians. God's Grace does not exempt us born-again Christians from earthly consequences of sin.

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