Tuesday, February 24, 2015

True Spirituality Pt. 3

Q. 19 How is God’s spirituality our delight? 

A.  God’s spirituality is our delight because we are always in His presence; if we ascend to heaven He is there, if we make our bed in the grave, behold He is there. 

How amazing this one attribute can at the same time be a treasure for the saint and yet a horror for the sinner.  Because God is Spirit, there is no where we can flee from His presence.  Proverbs 15:3 “The eyes of the Lord are in every place, keeping watch on the evil and the good.” This answer finds it’s anchor in Psalm 139.  King David, a man after God’s own heart, comforted His own spirit with the thought of God’s Spirit.  Psalm 139:7-10 “Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there! If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me.”  Heaven, hell, sea, land, there is no place, no dimension, no amount of darkness that can cover us from the Spirit of God.   God is always present with us no matter where the waves of this world toss us.  Just as the sun visits every part of the planet with it’s light, so God’s presences is simply inescapable.  He is necessarily with us.  Yet, as glorious as the light of the sun is, it can be overcast, it will set in the evening, it will not penetrate the deepest waters nor can it be seen from the grave.  But God’s presence has no such limitations. “If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!”  His Spirit is present in more places than man has never seen.  Man has barely left the confines of this atmosphere, yet God is present on the edges of the universe. “The whole essence of God is here, is there, and everywhere.”  “God is a circle whose center is everywhere and whose circumference nowhere” As one saint has said “...He is in the world, yet not confined by it; He is out of the world, yet not debarred from it; He is above the world, yet not elevated by it; He is below the world, yet not depressed by it; He is above all, equalled by none; He is in all, not because He needs them, but they stand in need of Him...” For God’s spiritual presence to cease to be with us, He must cease to be God. 

It is true that God’s omnipresence is necessary in regard to the perfection of His nature, however that He is omnipresent for our good is voluntary and an expression of His love.   Because we are bound in covenant to Father by the blood of Christ, God is always with us, watching over us, sanctifying us in every cross and every blessing.  There is no where we could ever be where God’s Spirit is not there working for our highest happiness in Him.  He hems us in behind, and before, and He lays His hand upon us.   Even in the midst of the greatest dangers and tribulations that we will pass through in our pilgrimage to heaven, God promises to be near to us.  Isaiah 43:2 “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.”  Even in the flames of the hottest furnace, the three Hebrew boys were accompanied by the omnipresent God retarding the heat of the flames so that they would not be consumed.   There is nowhere that God is not.  Through depression, misery or abandonment, God the Spirit was there before we arrived.  Psalm 27:10 “...my father and my mother have forsaken me, but the Lord will take me in.”  God is not just present in our calamities, He is said to be very present “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling. “ Psalm 46:1-3
God being Spirit is His “most precious” attribute.  
Can there be a greater treasure than the omnipresence of God?  Can there be a more precious truth than God is Spirit?  Now this can and will be said about every one of God’s attributes.  All are a treasure unto themselves.  Yet this attribute brings all the others to us! Because God is omnipresent, we are in the presence of all of His other attributes.  His wisdom has been brought near to us. “But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him.” James 1:5 Because God is Spirit, His power has been brought near to us:“...greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world.” 1 John 4:4 Because God is Spirit, His holiness has been brought near to us. “But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.” 2 Cor. 3:18 Because God is Spirit, His justice and righteousness have been brought near us.  “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” 2 Cor. 5:21  Because God is Spirit, His goodness has been brought near to us.  “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction...” 2 Cor. 1:3-4  Because God is Spirit, His truth has been brought near to us. “But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth;” John 16:13
Because God is Spirit, all His attributes have been brought near to us, His wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness and truth.  Truly God’s Spirituality is the highest delight to our soul. 

Thursday, February 19, 2015

True Spirituality Pt. 2

Q. 18 What is our duty in light of God’s spirituality?
A.  Because God is a Spirit, we are obligated to worship Him in spirit and truth, and are forbidden to give worship to images.

The naked fact that God is, and that He necessarily is, obligates us to worship Him.  All peoples of all nations for all times are obligated to seek after God, and adore Him and order their lives in pursuit of His pleasure.  Because we exist, as contingencies, we are compelled by the very order of nature to offer Him worship. Psalm 100:3 “Know that the LORD Himself is God; It is He who has made us, and not we ourselves;” 1 Cor. 8:6 “...there is but one God, the Father, from whom are all things and we exist for Him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we exist through Him.”  We were created for worship.  It is the greatest treason to refuse Father the very end for which He made us.  
The first part of our catechism shows us what God requires.  Because God is a Spirit, we are obligated to worship Him in spirit and truth. These are the words of Jesus in His conversation with the Samaritan woman. [The Samaritans had forsaken Jerusalem back when Jeroboam took Israel from Solomon’s son (approx. 971 b.c). He established his own altars and recruited his own priests and made the people to worship on Mt. Gerizim as opposed to the mount in Jerusalem. cf. 1 Kings 12:25-33 ] When the Samaritan woman figured Jesus to be a prophet, she asked Him to settle the dispute between the two places of worship.  John 4:20-22 “Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.” Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews.”  Here Jesus made two important points. He said that the Samaritans had forsaken the true worship “You worship what you do not know.” They had long abandoned the true worship of Yahweh and so they worshiped falsely.  But he also said that “the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father.” The religious Jews had also long forsaken the spiritual worship of Yahweh supposing that the essence of worship was contained in ceremonies. Isaiah 29:13 “...this people draw near with their mouth and honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me” The Samaritans failed to worship in truth, and the Jews failed to worship in spirit.
 Jesus rejects both of these types of fractional “worship.” If our worship is fractional, it is not worship. He continues in v.23-24 “But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”  Let’s take those components one at a time. 
This is not a generic truth that Jesus speaks of, but the evangelical gospel truth. No one can be said to worship Father unless they have been created a new by the gospel.  Stephen Charnock has said “We must find healing in Christ’s wings, before God can find spirituality in our services.  All worship issuing from a dead nature is but a dead service.”
  Approaching God on any ground other than the blood and righteousness of Jesus Christ is to approach God in falsity.  Christians are very often guilty of this.  I have been guilty of this.  Of approaching God in prayer or song, or sermon listening, or going to work with an attitude of entitlement.  Entitlement springs from a heart that is convinced of it’s own merit.  This can be buried deep into our subconsciousness.  The flesh will want to call this confidence.  If we approach God with a confidence of how we performed this week, we are not approaching God in truth.  Our best performances have enough corruption in them to condemn the entire world.  When Jesus said   “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me,” He was not limiting truth to initial salvation.  As if, after we are saved, we can approach the Father through how well we measured up this week.  If we don’t approach Father through blood and righteousness every time, we don’t approach Him.  
“Those who worship him must worship in spirit...” No doubt this has a reference to the posture of our spirit, however the primary understanding must be the Holy Spirit.  Again Charnock says “God tastes sweetness in no service, but as it...hath the air of His own Spirit in it; they are but natural acts, without a supernatural assistance; without an...influence [of the Spirit], we cannot act from spiritual motives, nor for spiritual ends, nor in a spiritual manner...the choicest acts of worship are but infirmities without His...help.”
    We should be people who are constantly beseeching the Lord for a fresh outpouring of His Spirit. Recognizing that in every act, secular or religious, if the Spirit is not breathing into it, we are committing idolatry.  All of life is either worship or idolatry. That’s the meaning of 1 Cor. 10:31 “...whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”  If something is not done for the glory of God, it is idolatry.  Oh the desperate need for the Spirit to superintend every action that we put our hand to!
Trinitarian worship
Is it any wonder that what Jesus is really teaching us here is that worship must be a Trinitarian enterprise?  The truth being gospel truth rooted in the Son; the spirit being the Holy Spirit that animates our offerings making them acceptable to God. Nobody can approach God without a dependency on the sprinkled blood of Jesus, and the pure cleansing water of the Spirit.  
The engagement of our souls
Worshiping God in spirit in truth also demands that our whole soul be engaged in the task.  God is not honored when we hold back parts of ourselves in the offering.  Our whole soul: the understanding, the affections, and the will are required to give God the Spirit His proper due.  1) We must engage our understanding.  If we offer God our senses, but hold back our reasoning, we offer to God nothing better than what the animals offer God.  If our mind is not engaged with God the Spirit, “...we offer Him a dead sacrifice.”
 2) We must engage our affections.  If we offer God worship that is absent of adoration, or that is dead to delight, we do no better than the demons.  Without our heart being engaged, all our worship is but mere motions of our bodies.  Pure carnality.  3) We must engage our wills. “Faith without works is dead.” James 2:26 Without the fruit of good works springing forth from our soul, we show that there is no root. True spiritual worship combines all of the soul: the understanding, the affections and the will. 
What God forbids
The second part of the catechism shows us that because God is Spirit He forbids that we would give worship to images.  This is the second commandment (Exodus 20:4-6).  From everything that has been said under our doctrine question, it is should be obvious why giving worship to images is to reduce God to our level.  How could we possibly take that which is contingent and full of corruption—an image—and pay devotion to it?  I love what Thomas Watson says here “If an one should make images of snakes or spiders, saying he did it to represent his prince, would not the prince take it in disdain?  What greater disparagement to the infinite God than to represent him by that which is finite; the living God, by that which is without life; and the Maker of all by a thing which is made?”
 Oh how easy this commandment is for us ‘modern civilized people’ who aren’t given over to the superstitions of more ancient times.  Right? Wrong.  We live in the most affluent country in history, and materialism is the reigning worldview.  There is no greater idol factory than the soil we walk on and the air we breathe.  To the degree that our devotion or happiness resides in our material possessions is to the degree that we worship images.  Every created thing is an image.  That title is not reserved for statues and totem poles.  Our jobs are images.  Do we worship them?  Our family is an image.  Do we worship it?  How would we know?  Ask yourselves, if I lost any of these things would I be devastated?  That question uncovers our idols.  God forbids that we answer yes to anything other than Him.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

True Spirituality Pt. 1

Last time, we claimed that an undefined God is an undervalued God. When God is not sought after to know, He is not cherished.  Knowing who God is critical to enjoying Him.  So now we move onto the task of defining God.  We are going to start by unpacking each of those attributes of God that we saw from last time. Each attribute has three parts to it as far as it concerns us: doctrine, duty & delight.  There is a doctrine of each attribute—meaning a description of who God is.  There is a duty that each attribute demands from us—because God is like this therefore we are to be like this. Finally there is a delight that each attribute is to our soul—each attribute is an infinite treasure of pleasure and delight. "In Your presence there is fullness of joy; in Your right hand there are pleasures forever." (Psalm 16:11) Doctrine, duty, and delight.  Puritan Stephen Charnock puts it this way. “We should never think of the excellencies of the Divine Nature without considering the duties they demand and gathering the honey they present” [Stephen Charnock The Existence and Attributes of God Vol. 1 (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, Reprint 1979), pg. 500].  First we begin with the doctrine of God being a Spirit. 

Q. 17  What does it mean for God to be a Spirit?
 A.  Being a Spirit means God does not have a body;  He is a pure Being, invisible, everywhere present, filling both heaven and earth and yet unable to be contained by them. 

First our catechism says that God does not have a body.  As Jesus Christ testified to the woman at the well “God is Spirit.” John 4:24  God has no mixture of matter. God has no physicality. The Puritan Stephen Charnock has said “If we grant that God is, we must necessarily grant that he cannot be corporeal, because a body is an imperfect nature.” [ibid pg. 181] Physicality in all forms possesses an imperfect nature. Even at glorification, our bodies will be imperfect in the sense that we will be limited, or bound.  Our bodies will still command us “thus far shall you go, and no farther.”  But for such a limitation to be set on God would be to nullify His deity.  

Next, the catechism goes on to say that God is a pure Being, or we could say a necessary Being. 

A being is necessary if it's non-existence is a contradiction

In many of our contemporary systematic theologies, we have sadly lost the idea of God being a necessary being (e.g. Grudem's Systematic TheologyThis is tragic because God’s necessity is a great part of His glory.  It belongs to the perfection of His being. “I AM who I AM” as He told Moses (Exodus 3:14).  God is necessary.  To suppose Him not to be is the greatest of all contradictions, and the most ridiculous of all absurdities.  It is not as though this reality happens to include the existence of a God, but another reality could have existed in which there were no God. There is no possible world in which God could not exist. There are many possible worlds in which we don't exist, because we are not necessary beings.  We are contingent beings.

A being is contingent if it is dependent upon on another for it’s existence. 

All the universe is in a state of contingency, it is all dependent upon something else. We can very easily imagine the non-existence of all contingent beings. However we cannot suppose that all beings are contingent, including God, because that is a contradiction. There cannot be an infinite regress of contingent beings for the same reason there cannot be an infinite regress of time.  A dependent being argues the necessity of One whom it depends on, just as time argues the necessity of eternity.  There must be a necessary Being that depends upon no other, that brings all contingencies into existence. As Jonathan Edwards has said “God is a necessary being, because it’s a contradiction to suppose him not to be.” [Michael McClymond & Gerald McDermott The Theology of Jonathan Edwards (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2012) pg 111]  
God is necessary not simply because we see effects and reason back to the necessity of a cause. “God’s existence does not depend upon that of the universe.” [W.G.T. Shedd Dogmatic Theology 3rd Edition Ed. Alan W. Gomes (Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R Publishing 2003) pg.217] 
“If I were hungry, I would not tell you, for the world and its fullness are mine.”  Psalm 50:12  Even if there were no effects, God would be necessary because the existence of nothing is the greatest of all contradictions.  The moment we object and argue that "there may be nothing" we are contradicting ourselves because we are ascribing being to nothing. 
This fact of God's necessity necessitates that He is also infinite, eternal, omnipresent Spirit. Otherwise nothing exists in some other being or some other time or in some other place which is a contradiction.  If nothing is a contradiction here and now, it has always been a contradiction. If nothing is a contradiction in this place, it is a contradiction in all places.  If nothing is a contradiction in some being, it is a contradiction in all beings.   Which means that some Being must have eternally existed, infinitely existed, omnipresently existed, and spiritually existed.  That Being is God.  He is pure Being, as the catechism says, because He alone is necessary.  And let us not fail to see that this is part of His glory: His necessity.  He alone is necessary while all other beings are contingent and dependent and creaturely. He alone is essential while all others non-essential.  He alone is full of glory while all others merely reflect His greatness.  He alone is that Being that defines all of reality.   Isaiah 45:5 “I am the LORD, and there is no other, besides me there is no God;”

Next the catechism says that because God is Spirit He is invisible. John 1:18 “No one has ever seen God” 1 Timothy 6:15-16 “...he who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see. To him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen.” (cf. 1 Timothy 1:17)  Invisibility is an essential quality of being Spirit, and it is also a mark of God’s glory.  We have the absurd notion that physical things are the most real, but it is exactly the reverse. Physical things are the most needy, and the most impoverished things.  The things that we apprehend by our senses are transient, but the things that are invisible are eternal as Paul states in 2 Cor. 4:18.   Jonathan Edwards argues “from hence we may see the gross mistake of those who think material things the most substantial beings and spirits more like a shadow, whereas spirits only are properly substance.” [Jonathan Edwards The Philosophy of Jonathan Edwards From His Private Notebook Ed. by Harvey G. Townsend (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock 2009) pg. 8]

The catechism finishes by saying that God is everywhere present, filling both heaven and earth and yet unable to be contained by them.  As David asks rhetorically “Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence?” Psalm 139:7  Because God is Spirit, there is nowhere He is not.  All the world lies naked before Him because all the world is inescapably in His presence.  Jeremiah 23:24 “Can a man hide himself in secret places so that I cannot see him? declares the LORD. Do I not fill heaven and earth? declares the LORD.”  Yet this filling of heaven and earth is not to be thought of in some physical sense. He transcends physicality.  1 Kings 8:27 “Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you...”  W. Shedd comments “God is said to be beyond the universe, not in the sense that there are spaces beyond the universe which he fills by extension of substance, but in the sense that the universe does not exhaust his immensity or is equal to it.” [W.G.T. Shedd Dogmatic Theology 3rd Edition Ed. Alan W. Gomes (Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R Publishing 2003) pg.277]

This is true spirituality:  God.  As a Spirit, He dwells in unapproachable light, and as a Spirit, He dwells within our hearts. He is both transcendent and immanent.  Because God is spirit, He is King, friend, and full of infinite glory.

[NOTE: This post was the doctrine of God being a Spirit. Next we will see the duty that we have because God is a Spirit]

Friday, February 13, 2015

An Undefined God is an Undervalued God

If you had to define who God is, how would you begin?  In the post-christian West, the answer to this  question could not be of more importance.  An undefined God in an undervalued God.  As A.W. Tozer said over fifty years ago :

“The low view of God entertained almost universally among Christians is the cause of a hundred lesser evils everywhere among us...We tend by a secret law of the soul to move toward our mental image of God...The man who comes to a right belief about God is relieved of ten thousand temporal problems, for he sees at once that these have to do with matters which at the most cannot concern him for very long; but even if the multiple burdens of time may be lifted from him, the one mighty single burden of eternity begins to press down upon him with a weight more crushing than all the woes of the world piled one upon another.  That mighty burden is his obligation to God...unless the weight of that burden is felt, the gospel can mean nothing to man; and until he sees a vision of God high and lifted up, there will be no woe and no burden.  Low views of God destroy the gospel for all who hold them.” [A. W. Tozer The Knowledge of the Holy (New York, NY: HarperCollins, 1961) pgs. vii-3]
An undefined God is an undervalued God.  I remember when I was first asked to define God several years ago, I was surprised by my own inability to articulate an answer.  I had been a Christian my whole life and yet when pressed I couldn’t actually provide a definition. When the Westminster assembly was formulating the shorter catechism over 350 years ago, they had to answer this question.  This was their answer:

Q. 1 Who is God? 
A. God is a spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable, in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness and truth.

The catechism is not infallible, nor is this answer perfectly comprehensive—no definition of God would be. However this answer does provide us with a basic framework that is accurate and Biblical. This answer not only provides us with God’s essential attributes but it also teaches us the basic simplicity of God.  God is His attributes.  God’s attributes are not additions to His being, nor are they parts that can be taken or left.  If any one attribute is taken away, you lose God. (If God is all love but not righteous in exercising His wrath, how can He be said to be God.  A god who is not wrathful against evil, is not a god of love.) Who is God?  God is His attributes.  Choose one attribute, any attribute, and it will imply, demand, and prove all the rest.  As we peer into the mystery of God’s attributes, we are gazing into His glory.  “Thus says the LORD: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD who practices steadfast love, justice and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the LORD." Jeremiah 9:23-24
Notice what God is delighting in there?  His own attributes.  The knowledge of Himself.  His glory being displayed for all the world to enjoy and benefit from.  Who is God?  That is the most important question we can ever hope to answer.  A failure to answer this question just is an undervaluing of God.

[NOTE:  This is part one in a series. Next up: defining God as Spirit]