Tag Archive for: God

It is a rare thing in the epistles of the New Testament that the apostles speak of Christ outside of the context of an admonition, and the reading for the Third Sunday in Easter is no exception.  Having reminded his hearers that they are a “chosen race” and a “royal priesthood” in Christ (1 Peter 2:9), he exhorts them to seek after the will of God also in their worldly circumstances.

One such admonition is to “be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution.”  Obedience to government, therefore, is not an optional thing for a Christian.  However, it is worth noting Peter’s reasoning here.  Being a Christian only means being subject to one authority, that is, God.  Christians, after all, are a holy nation belonging to the Lord.  When a Christian is called to obey worldly authority, he does so because His Sovereign commands it.  As Peter says, “For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people.  Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God” (1 Peter 2:15-16).  A Christian who is a good citizen, because God commands him to be a good citizen, thereby becomes a witness to the world.

Yet it is not enough to obey those authorities who do not sin against their position, the sort of authority that is easy to follow.  Peter exhorts servants to also obey “unjust” masters, because to endure sorrow for the sake of God is a “gracious thing” in His sight (1 Peter 2:18-19).  Christ here forms an example of what Peter means.  It is no blessing to be beaten for sin, but it is when one is beaten for doing good, as Christ Himself was.

Even under unjust authority, to which Christ submitted out of obedience to His Father and not out of any worldly claims, He did not return abuse for abuse.  He entrusted Himself to the just Judge of all men, willingly going to the cross and bearing our sins.  Through His wounds, we have been healed.  Through His death, we have been forgiven.  Christ never wavered in His trust of and obedience towards His Father even in a far worse situation than our own, and therefore He is our supreme example of living in the world as servants of the living God.

While this abbreviated reading seems to be assigned to the Third Sunday in Easter only because of 1 Peter 2:25 and its references to sheep and the Shepherd, it still informs us about what it means to be His sheep.  “Straying like sheep” here seems to mean those servants who were not patient under unjust masters.  Patience is, after all, a Christian virtue, no less than obedience.  Yet sheep imitating the Shepherd follow after Him in complete patience, knowing that even death now will give way to a joy which knows no end.

Peter also said in Acts 5:29 that “we must obey God rather than men,” and this only strengthens his point.  Even obeying earthly authority means obeying God rather than men.  There will be occasions when earthly authority must be repudiated, but Acts 5:29 is not a recipe for flippant insubordination.  The crosses which the Father lays upon us, even unjust masters, conform us to the image of His suffering Son.

The fourfold state of man distinguishes between the four different ways men relate to God: prior to the fall in innocency, after the fall in sin, regenerated by faith, and perfected in glory. Rev. David Appold joins Rev. Grills and Rev. Heide to talk about this distinction, focusing on why it’s important to talk about anthropology, the will of man, and Adam before the fall.

Hosts: Rev. Willie Grills and Rev. Zelwyn Heide
Guest: Rev. David Appold
Episode: 6

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Paul speaks clearly about the subject of government in Romans 13. All should be subject to authorities, because “there is no authority except from God” (Romans 13:1). Pilate received the same answer from Christ: “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above” (John 19:11).

But what of the authorities themselves? What does Scripture have to say about them? And what implications does this have for a Christian understanding of government?

First, all authority stems from God, and no authority exists apart from God. The Lord may use various means to establish that authority, whether war or elections. The Church chooses Stephen, for example, and this choice is ratified by the disciples (Acts 6:1-6). However, the voice of the people can certainly be contrary to the will of God. Elections may in fact be sinful (Numbers 14:1-4; 1 Samuel 8:4-9). Therefore, it is not the will of the people which constitutes authority, but the will of God for His own purposes (Isaiah 45:1-7). This is especially important in our own day, since we have a tendency to regard authority illegitimate if consent is lacking. While the Lord willed it, Israel served the king of Babylon, and that authority was legitimate, even if limited (see, for example, Jeremiah 27).

A ruler is “God’s servant for your good” (Romans 13:4). This may be to reward what is good, but it is frequently also to punish what is evil. The Law of God is written on the heart of all men, even if indistinctly (Romans 2:14). It is indistinct among those who do not have the written Law, because its fulness has not been revealed to them. The giving of the Law at Sinai means that some “have the Law” while others only do what the Law requires while “not having the Law.” In either case, the ruler serves to bring the wrath of God upon malefactors. He is an instrument in the hand of God. He carries out the Law, but does not give the Law. Even in monarchies, where the king is regarded as a law-giver rather than merely an executor, such laws may not abrogate the Law of God. The ruler, too, is a man under authority.

Paul uses a rather interesting word to describe this relationship between God and the ruler. In Romans 13:6, Paul says that authorities are “ministers” of God. Minister, in the English language, is somewhat vague. Paul uses the term leitourgos, from leitourgia, from which we get our word “liturgy.” A leitourgia in Greek refers to a public service of some kind. It may be the work of a citizen done at his own expense or a description of any kind of public duty. It came to be used in a religious sense, because the Greeks regarded their gods as recipients of public transactions. So long as the gods were happy, they would return the favor on behalf of the state. Christians borrowed the word in a generic sense to describe their worship, but casting off the pagan baggage that came with it. They were so effective in doing so, liturgy is used almost exclusively in a religious sense today.

That being said, Paul argues that an authority is a leitourgos, one who performs a liturgy. His public duty consists in being the servant of God, the avenger of His wrath upon evil, the rewarder of what is good. What this means, then, is that the ruler sits in a subordinate position to God. He has a public burden to carry out, and therefore sits under authority. A Christian who obeys the earthly king is not dividing his loyalties, but rather serving God through such obedience. Peter stating that “we must obey God rather than men” in Acts 5:29 is a recognition that earthly rulers frequently sin. They must not be obeyed in themselves, for that would mean participating in their sin, but rather God commands us to obey earthly rulers. Christians obey God when they obey men. They do not obey men in spite of God’s command (1 Peter 2:13-17).

This means, though, that it is not an idle question whether a ruler believes in God. The king who sins is sinning against God. The Scriptures are full of warnings for rulers, calling them to fear the Lord. One notable example is Psalm 2:10-11: “Now therefore, O kings, be wise; be warned, O rulers of the earth. Serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling.” Nebuchadnezzar served as the instrument of God’s wrath upon His people (Jeremiah 25:8-9, for example), but Nebuchadnezzar also suffered the wrath of God for his sin and his boasting against the Lord (Jeremiah 25:12-14; Jeremiah 51:24; Isaiah 14:12-20; Daniel 4:28-33; etc). Thus, while the Lord will do as He pleases, the unbelieving king will suffer for his sin, and the nation may well suffer with him, just as Egypt suffered for Pharoah’s hardened heart (Exodus 7 ff.).

Part 2 of this series.

Biblical piety lives in the Word.

As noted in the previous section, piety begins and ends in knowledge. However, knowledge is not an empty concept, as if one could know something without content. Knowledge deals in particulars, even if knowledge is never complete.

The fountain and source of the knowledge of God is what He has said about Himself. Absolutely nothing else can say the same. We do not know God fully through His self-revelation in His creation. It is not because this revelation is imperfect; indeed, Paul says that it is perfect (Romans 1:19). Rather, sinful suppress the truth in unrighteousness (Romans 1:18). Creation declares clearly and perfectly that the Lord is the Creator, but men do not honor Him as their Creator. This self-revelation therefore leaves them without an excuse in the day of judgment. It is not imperfect, though it is incomplete, because it does not speak of Christ. The two ideas are not synonymous.

We do not know God through any kind of private revelation. We are called to test the spirits “to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1). A prophet whose word does not prove to be true is not from God, no matter how impressive it seems (Deuteronomy 18:22). Should a revelation pass the test, it is only repeating what has already been said in the Scriptures. If it does not pass, it is not from God. If it refuses to be tested, it shows itself by its fruits (Luke 6:46). These things have not been done in a corner (Acts 26:26). “Or was it from you that the word of God came? Or are you the only ones it has reached” (1 Corinthians 14:36)?

We also do not know God through any writing other than the Holy Scriptures. This is true of any writing which claims to say something about God. There is no other Gospel than the one delivered through the prophets and the apostles (Galatians 1:6-9). There is salvation in no one other than Jesus Christ (Acts 4:12; John 14:6). Such writings must be tested against the Scriptures, and anything which must be tested is no authority.

Something worth noting, however, is that even those writings which are rooted in the Bible are not a means by which we know God. I need to clarify that so that I am not misunderstood. All human writings, no matter how venerable or orthodox, are not the Bible. They all without exception speak about the Bible. If they accomplish their task well, they will lead back to the Bible. If they fail in this respect, they will wander off into myths or draw attention to themselves. Such works about the Bible are like a sign by the road, which help us to go the way that others have gone before. It would be a strange piety indeed that spent more time looking at the sign than travelling along the road. Metaphors are imperfect, but men should listen to human authorities when they agree with the Word of God. “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29).

Therefore, we know God through what He says about Himself in His holy Word. “Your Word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Psalm 119:105). “But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 3:14-15). “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:68). “Man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord” (Deuteronomy 8:3).

The Scriptures also form the basis for all of the other forms of piety. Preaching, for example, is a proclamation of the Word. The Sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper flow out of the Word which attaches the promises to them. Prayer, worship, and the other forms are grounded in the Word itself. Apart from the Word, there is no foundation for Biblical piety. “If you abide in My Word, you are truly my disciples” (John 8:31).

The Bible, of course, clearly identifies Jesus Christ as the Word (John 1:1-5). It is entirely possible to read the Bible and miss Jesus who is the whole point (John 5:39; 2 Corinthians 3:12-16). But one must not draw a sharp distinction between the Bible as the Word of God and Jesus as the Word of God for that reason. Such a division, however well-intentioned, tends to disparage the Bible. But how will we know about God in any other way? The Bible is the very Word of the living God to His people, the way through which we know Him. To use an metaphor, it would be strange to receive a letter from the king, only to protest that the letter is not the king himself. Would an earthly king be impressed with such an argument? But the Bible is more than a letter from a king. It is the very voice of God the Holy Spirit.

In the next article, we will focus on practical suggestions regarding the Scriptures. This will be the pattern for the other forms of piety as well.

Holiness means to be “set apart.” If something is chosen out of a group and set apart from the rest, it has become “holy” in a basic sense. It is no longer common, but rather unique to a certain degree. Whatever characteristics it may share with the original group, it now has a clear and distinguishing feature in being set apart.

In a pagan sense, holiness only applies to objects and places. A particular area is set apart for religious purposes. A particular object becomes the “property” of the “god.” It is taken out of common usage and set aside for a particular religious usage. But this sort of mentality focuses on the “boundaries,” so to speak. This exact area or this exact thing is now sacred. It is a locational holiness, a clear dividing line that makes it possible to know what is sacred property and what is common property, as if God had moved into and possessed an apartment.

It should be noted that this object-holiness and place-holiness also occurs in the Bible. Moses is commanded to remove his sandals “for the place on which you are standing is holy ground” (Exodus 3:5). But the place is not holy because it has been set apart for God for whenever He decides to show up, like a pagan temple, but rather it is holy because the holy God is there. Objects also may be holy in a Biblical sense, as seen throughout Exodus and Leviticus. But the object is not holy because it is “God’s property,” but because it has been set aside according to a command from the Lord. Though a full exploration would take this article too far afield at the moment (and it is worth returning to at another time), it is enough to say that it is God who makes holy and not man who makes things holy for God.

This is probably the easiest to see with a sort of holiness that applies only to the Bible: personal holiness. The Lord says: “You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy” (Leviticus 19:2). “You shall be holy to me, for I the Lord am holy and have separated you from the peoples, that you should be mine” (Leviticus 20:26). And to quote Paul, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:2). To be holy as Christians means to be set apart from the world, to be taken out of darkness and into His marvellous light. As Paul emphasizes in Romans, such personal holiness expresses itself in obedience, in the good works which flow forth from faith. We are not holy in the sense of “do not touch!” We are holy because we are conformed to Him who is holy.

This admittedly long preface sets up the main question: what does it mean for God to be holy? God’s holiness cannot mean that He is set apart for God. It is man who is set apart for God. Nor does God’s holiness mean that He conforms to the will of God, so to speak. The Lord gives the Law, and the Law-Giver is not the same as the one who is set under the Law (Christ, of course, placed Himself under the Law, but He had to condescend to do so).

Rather, God’s holiness consists in that He is the utterly set apart, unique, and almighty Lord of heaven and earth. His holiness has no equal and no parallel. “God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it?” (Numbers 23:19). “I will not execute my burning anger; I will not again destroy Ephraim; for I am God and not a man, the Holy One in your midst, and I will not come in wrath” (Hosea 11:9). “For I the Lord do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed” (Malachi 3:6).

These last quotations show a tendency about how we think of God’s holiness. God is holy; we are not. God is righteous; we are not. This is certainly true, but it is not exclusively how the Word presents the holiness of God. Isaiah 6 gives perhaps one of the most instructive passages here. The Lord appears to Isaiah in the temple attended by the seraphim (who only appear here in the Bible). Isaiah sees little more than the feet of the Lord, the very bottom hem of His garment, and yet this is enough to fill the whole temple with His glory. His reaction is quite natural: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” (Isaiah 6:5). Isaiah recognizes that his uncleanness, his sin, has made him unfit for being in the presence of God, and therefore he fears that he will be destroyed, as is only natural. The all-holy God cannot abide the presence of sin.

Yet it is the seraphim themselves who should be noted here. These fearful creatures, whose name means “the burning ones,” defy Isaiah’s exact description. At best they have a head and feet or legs and six wings and hands, though not much else is said about them. I personally think that it is their voice which causes the thresholds to shake (though one could also reasonably say it is the Lord’s voice). The seraphim alone are enough to inspire awe and holy terror. Yet with their wings they hide their faces and their feet, and with their awe-inspiring voices they cry “Holy, Holy, Holy, the Lord of Armies! The whole earth is full of His glory!” These angels, who are not spoiled with sin and can indeed stand in His presence, still must veil their eyes before the awesome holiness of the Lord.

To put it simply, God is not holy only because we are sinners who cannot stand before Him. God is holy because He is the One Who Is. He was holy before sin entered the world. He is holy even in the midst of sinners now. He will be holy even after sin comes to an end. The Lord is holy in a wholly unique way, and even in eternity, God will remain utterly set apart.