What is God?

What is God?
Covenant Words
What is God?

Jul 08 2024 | 00:36:02

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Episode July 08, 2024 00:36:02

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2 Samuel 7:22

Pastor Christopher Chelpka

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Episode Transcript

[00:00:00] Our heavenly Father, we thank you for shining your light into our lives. Thank you for shining your light. And so that we might see light and know light. For it is in you that we learn. It is in you that we know. It is in you that we love. It's in you that we are. We do not exist apart from you. We do not live apart from you. And so we come to you now humbly asking for the revelation of your spirit that we might cling more closely to you, be in awe of you, worship you rightly, and serve you all of our days. We pray this in Jesus name. Amen. [00:00:50] Well, this evening I'd like to think with you about the nature of God. [00:00:57] We might begin by thinking about the shorter catechism question that's in your bulletins. [00:01:02] What is God? [00:01:06] Let's read it together, and if you have memorized it or half memorized it, let's try and say it together. [00:01:13] God is a spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth. [00:01:27] There are many scriptures that testify to these things, words drawn from the scriptures, many ways in which we come to understand what is God. How ought we to understand him and his nature? [00:01:46] In your bulletins you have two Samuel 722 printed. I'll read this along with several other verses tonight as we consider God. Second Samuel 722 says, therefore, you are great, O Lord. [00:02:01] O Lord God. For there is none like you, and there is no God besides you, according to all that we have heard with our ears. [00:02:11] And there's so many things to remark or remark on about this verse. [00:02:18] Notice how this theology comes in the form of a confession, an acknowledgement of who God is, that he is great. It names him a Lord, Yahweh, Jehovah, God. It acknowledges that there is none like you. We'll think about that a little bit more in a moment. And that there is no equal to him. There is no God besides him. And that this is all known to us not because we have figured it all out because of our giant brains, but because we have been told it. We have heard it with our ears. This is a very humbling thing for creatures who are learners and live in an age of lot of information. [00:03:08] What we know, we are a dependent. We are dependent on for what we know as we think about who God is. I'd like to thank you this evening, particularly about the beginning part of this, the beginning part of this doctrine, that God is a spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable in his being. And we'll think about some of these other attributes. In a moment, we'll focus particularly on him as he is infinite, eternal, and unchangeable. That will be the emphasis for this evening. But I do want to say a few preliminary things to get our minds in the right place. [00:03:52] Let's begin with a quote, a long quote. I don't usually do long quotes, but today I think it's worth it. This comes from a really, really excellent book called no one is greater by Matthew Barrett. A really, really good book, I definitely recommend it to you, that talks about the attributes of God in a very accessible, very meaningful, very helpful, and orthodox way. [00:04:22] In the beginning of that book, another theologian, Fred Sanders, writes this helpful introduction, and he talks about some of our own mindset as we think about God. [00:04:33] And he says this focusing on a preselected subset of things we like to remember about God, his mercy, intimacy, concern for us, attention to us, love for us. We let our thoughts about God orbit around that which is familiar or that familiar center. So we have this handful of things that we know and we're familiar with, and we let our thoughts about God sort of stay around there, he continues, we grow comfortable with a certain set of reassuring, familiar, and cozy divine attributes. There are no sheer cliffs, dizzying heights, or fathomless abysses in the doctrine of God we let ourselves settle into. It's as if we have a doctrine of God that gets everything right, except that it accidentally leaves out the sheer godness of God. But that means it gets everything wrong. [00:05:29] Continuing on, skipping a little bit, he says this how do you solve this problem? [00:05:35] This is one thing, he says. The problem cannot be overcome simply by studying theology books and learning some new, more technical vocabulary. Most readers will in fact pick up a few new, helpful words from this book, since words like aseity are not exactly household words, and words like simplicity have a special meaning in theology. [00:05:56] But picking up those terms and using them to say more of the right things about God is not enough. [00:06:03] These words and concepts of the classical christian doctrine of God are just markers along the way to reversing some deep seated habits of thought. Those habits of thought mostly start out with a sentiment like if I were goddesse. [00:06:18] We are easily lulled into a style of theology that starts from ourselves and imagines some ways in which God must be like that, but bigger and better. [00:06:30] I feel sad when I'm rejected, so God must feel even more rejected, but without acting out because of it. I need to be loved, so God must need to be loved even more, but also somehow must be able to accept it when he isn't. [00:06:44] It's possible to take statements like these and nuance them enough, or hedge them with some biblical principles, or rule out gross errors so that we end up with a decent theology of a respectable God. But there's an underlying problem that will keep generating errors every time we let our guard down. The underlying problem is a theological style that, even in its reading of scripture, works up from us to God. [00:07:12] Isn't that helpful? [00:07:14] What Fred Sanders is pointing out is this a basic problem that's not solved by just grabbing a few extra theological terms or learning how to say things in a better way. Although both of those are helpful, he rightly says that the goal of those things isn't just to add on a little bit, but begin to undermine certain habits of thought. [00:07:36] And hopefully, when we come to the doctrine of God and think about how he is infinite, eternal and unchangeable, there will be a little bit of, or maybe even a lot, hopefully a sense of those dizzying heights and great abysses, a sense in which we feel in ourselves. This is really hard to talk about. This is really hard to explain, and that's true because God isn't like us. [00:08:05] Therefore you are great, O Lord God, for there is none like you, and there is no God besides you. If that's our starting point, we're on a much better footing than if we say, well, God is just like me, only bigger and better. [00:08:21] So that's the first thing to say, and to keep in mind, is to be prepared to be afraid. [00:08:27] Or as he uses Matthew Barrett uses in the subtitle of a book, prepare to meet an undomesticated goddess, someone who's not just like us, someone whom we can control and feel very comfortable with all of the time. [00:08:42] A second thing that we want to note is that when the catechism talks about God here, and when we talk about God, we must always mean God as trinity in the athanasian creed, which you can find in your hymnals. [00:08:58] Let's see if I can get there with you. [00:09:03] There are lots of good lines here, and let's go ahead and take the time to look at this. [00:09:12] So it's on page 853. [00:09:21] Now, we won't. I already read a long quote, so we won't read all of this now, although, you know, I'm tempted. [00:09:28] But we're going to start at verse, not verse number 27. So it's kind of towards the bottom of the page on page 853. [00:09:36] So just a helpful summary of something that we must keep in mind. So in everything, as we said earlier, the unity in Trinity, and the Trinity in unity is to be worshipped. Anyone who desires to be saved should think thus about the Trinity. Let me say that again. So in everything, as was said earlier, the unity or the one God in three persons, the unity in Trinity, and the Trinity in unity is to be worshipped. [00:10:11] This is really important for a number of reasons. [00:10:16] One is we want to make sure that everything that we say, and the Athanasian Creed talks about this as well. Everything that we say of the father in according to his divine nature, we say of the son and of the spirit. [00:10:31] These three are the same essence, equal in power and glory. They are of the same substance. They are not gods. Right? The scripture says, there is no God beside me, three equal gods, but there is one God. [00:10:49] Another helpful thing to remember is that the essence and perfections of God is not something that is outside of the three persons. In other words, there's not a fourth member of the Trinity called God. [00:11:06] Divinity does not stand as sort of something that the three persons feed into or are a part of or is a part of them. They are divinity, they are divine, they are God. One God in three persons. They share one divided substance, one divided essence. [00:11:29] This is very important because when we think about God, we never want to think about God abstracted from the father, son and spirit, as though we have this bucket in our mind for God and then another bucket for the father and another bucket for the Son and another bucket for the spirit. [00:11:48] That would be to add something into the Trinity. It would be to worship something that is not God. But instead, when we worship God, we worship our Trinity, we worship our triune God, our God, who is Triune. A unity in Trinity. Trinity in unity. [00:12:09] So that's important to say when we think about these different attributes, these are not something that the persons either collectively or individually, are sort of reaching into and taking for themselves, because theres nothing outside. [00:12:24] Theres nothing outside of God that he depends on. [00:12:28] He is all of and from himself. [00:12:34] Of course, thats very difficult to understand, but of course it is. Hes not like us. [00:12:39] If we try to think about gods nature in light of our nature, were going to struggle. [00:12:46] We'd struggle. [00:12:47] Similarly, if we tried to really understand a jellyfish in light of a human being, it would be very challenging. If you keep trying to sort of fit human being, nature things into jellyfish nature things, it's going to be impossible. And all the more so between us and the Lord, because at least between us and a jellyfish, you have two creatures, both that are totally dependent on God for their lives. God, however, is not like this. [00:13:24] The last thing I'll say before we get to these three attributes is that these doctrines ought to lead us to discipleship and to doxology when we come to know God. This is never an intellectual enterprise alone. It's not something we just think about and puzzle together, like something in a magazine or in a newspaper and say, ah, there, I did it. That was fun, right? If you are thinking about God in that way, you are not thinking about God. [00:13:58] When human beings come into contact, and when even spiritual beings, like the demons come into contact and the angels in heaven, when they come into contact with God, no one's just doing puzzles. [00:14:17] They are bowing. They are covering their faces. They are shaking with fear. They are asking and begging to be protected, to be kept safe, not just from God, but even from the glory of God or the backside of God. [00:14:39] No one can see God and live. [00:14:43] And so, as we think about these things, our hearts, Lord willing, begin to be set in a better direction than if we just seek to understand a few theological words and try to remember them so that we can impress someone. [00:14:59] Instead, we are learning some things about our Lord so that we might have follow him, depend on him, worship him, serve him. [00:15:09] The first of these attributes that I want to mention this morning or evening, just very quickly is it does say he is a spirit. [00:15:20] I won't spend a lot of time on this, but this simply means that he is an intelligent being and he doesn't have a body. [00:15:29] That's all I really want to say about that. [00:15:31] Short for once, he's an intelligent being. He doesn't have a body. [00:15:38] So now let's think about these three infinite, eternal, and unchangeable infinite. [00:15:46] A lot of the things that we say, when we say things about God, we say in the negative. Now, sometimes we say negative. When we say that, we mean in, like, being mean, right? [00:16:00] When I'm saying something negative about your brother or sister, usually you're saying something mean about your brother or sister. But sometimes we talk about negative as meaning like the word not just, not something. And that's what we're saying. When we say infinite, we're saying not finite or having no limits. [00:16:21] This is. There's a whole name for this, a way of theology. Theology and the negative, right. Because it's really impossible to say what God is. We just tend to do a lot more better and stay on better footing. When we talk about what God isn't, it gets us closer to good expressions about him. One thing we can say is that he's not finite. [00:16:48] He is infinite in his being. [00:16:51] This refers to many different things about him. And as we'll see with these attributes, this infinite, eternal and unchangeable is true of his being, it's true of his wisdom, it's true of his power, it's true of all of these attributes. [00:17:07] So, for example, his infiniteness can refer to his presence as it refers to the presence of God. We might say he is omnipresent. He is everywhere present. It's a relational term, omnipresence. [00:17:24] It's a term, a relational term, as God relates to his creatures and other created things. [00:17:32] Or we can think about his infiniteness in relation to creation in that he is immense, unmeasurable, kind of like a giant mountain or a really deep ocean. [00:17:44] Here's how we have it described in scripture. In one kings 827, Solomon says this in his prayer of dedication. When the temple is built, he says, will God indeed dwell on the earth? [00:18:00] Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you. [00:18:07] Imagine the biggest thing you can, right? [00:18:11] How much of the sky does it take up? [00:18:16] Now try to imagine it as big as the whole sky. Now imagine it. Well, who could say, right? Bigger than the sky? And not just the heavens. But he says, even the highest of the heavens, the spiritual realm in which God dwells with angels and those saints who have been, who have gone into glory, right. Even heaven, a place that God has made and prepared, a spiritual place, it cannot contain him. He is immense. He moves outside and beyond all creation. [00:18:51] So to continue Solomon's thought, we'll let him speak. Behold, heaven and the highest heavens cannot contain you. How much less this house that I've built. [00:19:01] What an amazing, amazing confession. There. [00:19:05] God's infiniteness also can be connected with his knowability, right? How much do can we know him? And one of the things that we say with regard to that is that he's incomprehensible. You can't get your mind around him, you can't contain him. There's no, if you, you know, the knowledge of God can fill up this many volumes, and then once you fill that up, you've come to the end, or maybe a little close, not even incomprehensible. [00:19:34] He is infinite with regard to his knowability. You can't get your mind around him. You never will be able to. Job eleven says this. [00:19:45] Can you find out the deep things of God? Can you find out the limit of the almighty, the limit of goddess? There is none, which is why we call him infinite, no limits. [00:20:01] One of the implications of this, as acts 1728 points out, is that in him we live, move, and have our being. [00:20:11] We subsist in him. We are limited by our nature and dependent on him. The same is not true for him. [00:20:21] He is not limited by his nature or dependent on anything. He goes beyond all limits in terms of space, in terms of time, in terms of presence, in terms of nobility. Anything that you can say about God, he is infinite. [00:20:42] One implication of that is he's not dependent on anything because he goes beyond all things. Nothing can contain him. As Solomon says. [00:20:51] Well, next up is eternal. [00:20:55] Eternal is used in the Bible in different ways and sometimes different ways in theology. When we talk about the truths of scripture, when we talk about us having eternal life, when the Bible talks about us having eternal life, that is very different from God's. And that's something you're going to want to always be saying when you talk about God. Whenever you say something that's true in some way that's somewhat true about us, you always want to say, and that's very different with God because it is. He's very different. [00:21:30] When the Bible talks about us having eternal life, for example, and having eternal life in his name, our eternal. [00:21:40] That eternal nature has a beginning, it's successive, and it is dependent. [00:21:48] It has a beginning, it's successive forever, but it goes one day after another, one time after another, and it's dependent. None of those things are true about the eternity of God or God's eternal nature. [00:22:04] He has no beginning, he has no end. [00:22:09] He has no even succession. [00:22:12] Now we can say that God works in time and that he is here, present in this moment, and then in the next moment, and then in the next moment after that. But that is him in relationship to creation in some ways, eternity. When we talk about it with the Lord, we want to say that there is no succession. [00:22:33] He is not in time. He is timeless. [00:22:39] There is no timeline with God. [00:22:43] There is no eternal line with God. He just is eternal. However, we might talk about time and its boundaries, about the things that happen one after another and the way it works. We want to say that God is outside of all of that because he continually exists. [00:23:03] Psalm 92 says, before the mountains were brought forth, or thou hadst formed the earth and world, even from everlasting to everlasting, thou art God. [00:23:17] From everlasting to everlasting. [00:23:21] Psalm 100 227 says, you are the same and your years have no end. [00:23:30] We who are in time are different a little bit later than we were before we're a little bit older, for example, we say, one more year, one more hour, one more minute, one more second, right? There's something that has happened to us. We have moved in time. There is no change in goddesse. There is no movement in God. There is no beginning or end in him. [00:24:02] One implication of this is that to the wicked second Thessalonians one nine says that God is their eternal enemy to the righteous. Psalm 73 26 says, he is the strength of our heart forever, and we can depend on that forever supply of God's strength, God's power, as we talked about this morning, because he is forever and even more forever and of a different class of forever than we are as we are, abound by time and its succession. [00:24:44] And you can see how there are overlapping themes here. [00:24:48] We can talk about that another time, but let's move on to unchangeable. [00:24:54] Unchangeable means he is infinitely free from change. [00:24:59] Malachi three six says, I am the Lord. I change not. [00:25:05] James 117, from one of the hymns we sang earlier, borrowed from this verse, says, he is the father of lights, with whom is no variable or shadow, of turning, no change. [00:25:23] Creatures change all of the time, constantly, because we are dependent on God, and we are constantly related to other things and to a creation itself. [00:25:37] That is not true of the Lord, though. [00:25:40] He is not dependent on anything. He's not moved by anything. He's not changed by anything. [00:25:47] Well, what about the incarnation, you might ask? Does that change God? [00:25:55] Well, it's true that Jesus takes on humanity, but he does so in a way that does not change his divinity. [00:26:04] There is not a mixture of these two natures, although they are bound together perfectly in one person. [00:26:11] If you want a fun term, the hypostatic union, we call it in theology, they're bound together in one person, fully God and fully man in the one Lord Jesus Christ, but not mixing the two in the sense that there's like a divine human y thing or a human divine thing or a demigod. Perhaps you've heard that term before. Nothing like that. [00:26:35] Fully divine, a divine nature that does not change. [00:26:41] Sometimes we'll talk about him having the scriptures will talk about the Lord repenting. Genesis six six or Job 20 313 on these phrases or emotions, as well as God being angered because of something or acting because of something or because of his great love or these kinds of things. They do not mark changes in God. [00:27:08] They mark differences as he relates to us. They tell us that he did something different. [00:27:16] We perceive him in another way. [00:27:19] One of the helpful things that Matthew Barrett points out in his book is that in some ways, we're very comfortable thinking about scripture when it comes to God having body parts. For example, we read by the arm of his power or by the strength of his hand, and we know what that means. We take it metaphorically. We say, well, it's not saying that God has a hand. It's talking about his power. It's talking about the nature of his work. [00:27:54] Well, similar thing we can say about the emotions that are within God or the actions that are within God. They are, in ways metaphors that help us to understand who he is infinitely and unchangeably. So Job 20 313 says he is unchangeable. What he desires, he does a lot to think about, a lot to wonder at, a lot to think more about. And to consider in light of the scriptures, how ought we to apply these things? [00:28:34] Well, one of the things that we ought to remember as we think again about the Trinity is hopefully you haven't stopped thinking hopefully you haven't stopped thinking about the Trinity, or hopefully you haven't started thinking about God as somehow separate from, from Trinity, which means that as we think about Jesus Christ, our Lord, we ought to remember that he is God. [00:28:58] All these things that we would say about God, we say about him. He is infinite, he is eternal, he is unchangeable, which means that as he takes on his humanity for us, nothing is harmed. As I was saying before, nothing is taken away from his divinity, which means we know that his plans are going to come to pass, that what he does is going to happen. [00:29:27] All that the father has in himself, he has given to the Son this eternally begotten one. [00:29:34] This should really strengthen our faith and should strengthen our worship in Christ when we remember what he's done and what he's done for us on the cross, in his resurrection, in his ascension, and in his coming again, you can know that your hero has come, that God has come. [00:29:56] As we reflect on the divine nature of Christ and we are steadied. I think we are a people, for example, who are known before time, chosen before the foundations of the world, rooted in our eternal God. We are a people who are embraced, and as we considered this morning from one Peter, who are being guarded by God's power for a salvation that is ready to be revealed. When we think about that power in light of its infiniteness, eternalness or eternity, or its unchangeableness, these things should strengthen our faith in the Lord. [00:30:41] We can totally depend on him because he's indestructible he's unwavering. He does not change his mind. And all of the other attributes also apply. He's absolutely, infinitely internally, unchangeably loving and just and wise. [00:31:02] And when we think about those things, when we think about the nature of our undomesticated God, about the God who besides whom there is no other God. And then we think about phrases like, if you would desire wisdom, ask who are we asking it for? From who has promised to give it to us? [00:31:24] If he says, I will provide a way out for you from temptation, think about who's providing it. Do you think he can create a window, an opportunity, a way to escape? Of course he can, and of course he does. [00:31:42] It means that we can draw close to the Lord through his word and spirit, because he has made himself knowable. [00:31:50] Even though he is infinite, eternal, and unchangeable, even though he's incomprehensible and inaccessible, in some ways, he has drawn close to us, and, as the scriptures say, dwelt among us so that we would find meaning and life and happiness and joy in him. [00:32:09] And so let me just ask you to ask yourselves, where am I wavering? [00:32:18] Where am I wavering? Where am I unsteady? [00:32:22] And look to the unmovable one, a solid rock, and ask him to hold you steady, aware are you feeling your age, whether that means you are old or young. [00:32:41] Ask him who is not bound by time to work in you and through you, to hold you up for the sake of his name. [00:32:52] Where are you lacking provision? Where are you finding need? [00:32:57] Look to him who not only owns the cattle on a thousand hills, but is immense beyond all creation itself, having infinite power over all things as the source of everything, on whom all things are dependent and who is dependent on nothing. [00:33:25] He can only be known through his own self revelation in Christ, which means we ought not to seek him according to our own imaginations. Pray to him in some foolish way, but find him where he has revealed himself. [00:33:43] So in these various areas of your life, where you find yourself shaking in need and struggling in some way, look to Christ who has saved you. Look to God who has given himself to you. Remember his attributes and be strong. [00:34:01] Let's pray. [00:34:03] Our heavenly Father, we pray to you in the name of the son and by the power of the spirit and ask that you would make us bowden before your great nature, you who are infinite, eternal, and unchangeable. [00:34:21] We ask that you would help us not to imagine you by working from an understanding of ourselves up to you. But instead, let us simply receive you in the light that you give us, that we may know more in this. Lord, we ask that you would help us to have a proper fear of God. [00:34:44] Help us to tremble before you in the majesty and splendor of your beauty. Help us to be humbled, that you would receive us into your kingdom and would bless us through the blood of the Son, shed for us for the forgiveness of our sins, that we might be made holy and come into your presence. [00:35:09] And now, this evening and forever. [00:35:12] We thank you, o most powerful and wonderful lord, infinitely holy and just and good. [00:35:20] We ask that you would uphold us by the word of your power, that in all of the details of our lives we would think of you constantly, lean on you always, and remember you that we might be steadied. Steadied against temptation, steadied against the evil one, steadied against the lies of this world. [00:35:40] Impress on us, Lord, the greatness of your nature. [00:35:44] Impress on us that there is none like you. There is no God beside you, and you are very great. [00:35:52] Thank you for being our God. Let us continue to be and to worship you as your people. We love you and we pray this in Jesus name. Amen.

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