The Post No One Will Want to Read…

If we are trying to “know God” as J.I. Packer’s book implies [after all, the title is Knowing God] it would be most appropriate to know as many aspects of God as we can.  John Ortberg wrote a book a few years ago that had a snappy title: “Everybody’s Normal Till You Get to Know Them”.   There is a nugget of truth in this title, and I think it may apply to knowing God.   To make it apply, we need to adapt it and come up with a J.I. Packer version: “Everybody’s Happy Till You Come to Realize that God is Your Judge”. 

To know God is to know that He is going to judge our humanly behavior.  That is serious because all of us fail to behave in a “righteous” manner all the time.  We all sin [we all have that burden left over from The Garden].

So here we are.  To know God is to accept the fact that He is our Judge.  Packer pulls no punches:  he writes “God has resolved to be everyone’s Judge, rewarding every person according to his works.  Retribution is the inescapable moral law of creation; God will see that each person sooner or later receives what he deserves—if not here, then hereafter” [143]. 

Let’s “drill down” with more Packer on God as Judge:  “the doctrine of divine judgement, and particularly of the final judgement, is not to be thought of primarily as a bogey with which to frighten men into an outward form of conventional ‘righteousness.’ It has its frightening implications for godless men, it is true; but its main thrust is as a revelation of the moral character of God and an imparting of moral significance to human life” [143-44].

Oh my; I guess what I do in this life matters…to God, my Judge.

For people who like to enjoy all aspects of life, this is not good news.  What Packer is saying is that some stuff that we do is not good for us [especially as regards our afterlife].

Everybody’s Happy Till You Come to Realize that God is Your Judge.

He is, but what is involved in God being our Judge?

First of all, an earthy judge is a person who has authority.  In Bible times, the king had supreme ruling authority, including the authority to judge subjects.  For that matter, God is the Creator of the world and if He owns it, He has the supreme authority to do with it what He wants.  He certainly has made laws for us and if you believe in them, you want to keep them [after all, aren’t they for our own good?].  If one takes the Bible world as the context to determine what a judge was (in the Bible world), a judge gives laws and judges how man obeys said laws. 

Secondly, a judge is a person who is identified with what is good and right.  The modern idea of a judge is that the judge dispenses justice according to a complex set of laws and interpretations of those laws.  The modern judge is supposed to be “dispassionate” in the dispensing of justice.  The Biblical judge is more involved.  God hates people who hurt others.  God loves justice and fair play [note the word “loves”].  “God loves righteousness and hates iniquity” [Packer, 141].  God is not dispassionate; He wants good and right to win out every time, no matter what.

Thirdly, God as judge personifies wisdom and truth.  God does not have to do the things that an earthly judge does; listening to questions, listening to cross examination, trying to determine if lying has occurred and making an effort to establish how “matters really stand.”  God does not have to do this; He is omniscient.  Our Father knows the heart of man; He does not have to search out facts.  He has all the facts.  When we sin, God knows.  We think we can hide our behaviors but that is absurd.  We think our outward behaviors mask the true intentions of the heart, but that is equally absurd.  God knows all; God judges the secrets of men, not just their public veneer.

Lastly, the judge has the power to execute the sentence on the one judged.  With God, the Judge executes the sentence.  A modern judge may declare the sentence but another department of the justice system carries out the sentence.  In Bible times, the king (acting as judge) declared the sentence and someone else carried it out.  God is His own executioner.  He sentences and He punishes.

There is a bothersome underlying idea in all this “God as Judge discussion”.

Here it is: retribution.

None of us want to think of a God passing final judgement on us, especially if God is going to dole out retribution.  Leviticus 24: 17-22 is pretty clear:  “Whoever takes a human life shall surely be put to death.  Whoever takes an animal’s life shall make it good, life for life.  If anyone injures his neighbor, as he has done it shall be done to him, fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth; whatever injury he has given a person shall be given to him.  Whoever kills an animal shall make it good, and whoever kills a person shall be put to death. You shall have the same rule for the sojourner and for the native, for I am the Lord your God.” 

Is God going to give people what they deserve?  If they are good, they will be rewarded with good.  If they are evil, they will be rewarded with evil.

Is this popular?

No…

We all want a break…don’t we?  Please God “cut us some slack”.

I am afraid we all worry about the negative nature of retribution and we worry so much that we don’t even want to face the fact that God may dole out eternal consequences for the life we are living here on earth. 

Much easier to ignore God as Judge. 

Everybody’s Happy Till You Come to Realize that God is Your Judge.

Maybe we need to close with another version of this opening adaptation, the “eternal” version:  “Everybody’s Eternally Unhappy if You Don’t Realize that God is Your Judge.”

There it is: the “bogey with which to frighten men.”

The perfect way to end the “Post That No One Will Want to Read.”

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Send in the Judges…

Some Christians do not relish the idea that God is our Divine Judge.

J.I. Packer says that “many, it seems, do not.  Speak to them as God as a Father, a friend, a helper, one who loves us despite all our weakness and folly and sin, and their faces light up; you are on their wavelength at once.  But speak to them as God as Judge and they frown and shake their heads.  Their minds recoil from such an idea.  They find it repellent and unworthy” [Knowing God, 138].

Maybe we have oversold the idea that God is our benevolent Father and Jesus is our loving friend.  It is a wonderful selling point for the unbeliever.  It makes the unbeliever feel so good about committing their life to Christ.  God the Father is not going to think harshly about what you do; He knows of our sins but He will forgive and forget [that’s the way grace works].  We think of Jesus as the one who came to earth and assumed the role of man, exhibiting love for all mankind.  It is very popular to think of Jesus as our friend.  That is actually the way He is portrayed by some Christians.  We all know that a true friend is loyal and faithful, watches out for you, confides in you, shares his life with you and gives things up for you.  Jesus does this and much more.  He is truly our friend.

Yet we should deal with reality and the reality of the Bible is that it is full of instances of God judging man.

From the beginning in the Garden of Eden, God judged Adam and Eve, expelling them from the garden and pronouncing curses on their lives.   Of course God judged the world in Noah’s day, flooding it and destroying almost all of mankind.  God judged those who worshipped the golden calf and had the Levites destroy those sacrilegious Israelites.  Let’s not forget the sinful city of Sodom and Gomorrah; He decided to engulf the sinners in that city with a volcanic catastrophe.  Repeatedly in the Old Testament, God judged Israel for unfaithfulness.  They would make amends and have an easier life only to experience judgement again after additional lapses in faith [i.e. chasing after idols]. 

Ok, that is the Old Testament. That judgement stuff surely does not apply to the New Testament.  Things are changed due to the life and death of Jesus aren’t they?   I am afraid that Divine judgement continues.  Judgement fell on the Jews for not believing Christ in Matthew 21 and Thessalonians 2.  Ananias and Sapphira lied to God and were immediately judged and struck down.  Christians at Corinth suffered illness due to their irreverence for the Lord’s Supper.  We could continue on but Packer rightly states “The entire New Testament is overshadowed by the certainty of a coming day of universal judgement, and by the problem thence arising:  How may we sinners get right with God while there is yet time?” [140].

We may not want to see God and His Son Jesus as judges but they are.  Jesus is referred to as the Judge who stands before the door in James 5:9.  He is the “righteous Judge” who will give Paul his crown in Second Timothy.  “He is the One who has been designated by God as Judge of the living and dead” in Acts 10: 42.  Paul writes to the Romans “God will judge men’s secrets through Jesus Christ, as my Gospel declares” [Romans 2:16].

Recently my retired elementary teacher spouse and I have had discussions of childhood discipline in the church.  The idea she expressed is that parents don’t take kindly to hearing their children judged for poor behavior in a church setting.  In fact, for some parents it may seem that church is a “free zone.”  Kids can do what they want with absolutely no direction.

Let’s direct this discipline discussion heavenward.  What type of God would we have if He did not care about right and wrong?  What if He just allowed any kind of behavior, never drawing a boundary for man and woman to follow?  Just as children need boundaries for their behavior, adults need them too.  Packer raises a wonderful point about God [because his whole book is about us Knowing God]. “Would a God who did not care about the difference between right and wrong be a good and admirable Being?” [143].

You know the answer. God would not be admirable.

Would He be more popular? You bet He would.

“Moral indifference would be an imperfection in God, not a perfection” [143].

I have had many discussions with unbelievers and the “judgement thing” is a major sticking point for them committing their lives to Christ.  They fear judgement and would rather live a life without God than deal with the need to change old sinful habits.   This attitude begs the question about Christians in church. “If I am a merciless sinner outside of church and I am not a believer; are the people who are believers in church perfect?  Many I have talked to act like they are; they are better than me and I know I would not fit in with them” [a common theme].

Christians in church sin…

God knows that and God judges them just like He judges an unbeliever.  “Well then, why go to all the effort to declare Christ as my Savior?  Why should I struggle with my behaviors?   Some of my bad habits are well-established and I will have a hard time eradicating them.”

Why commit?

Because God knows the Christian’s heart.  Packer admits that all will be judged by God in the end.  That is our belief, but God knows what resides in a person’s heart.  Packer calls it the “heart index.”  “The relevance of our doings is not that they ever merit an award from the court—they fall too far short of perfection to do that—but they provide an index of what is in the heart” [145].   This heart index is the real nature of the Christian.   Willfully committing the same sin over and over again and never feeling remorse is not a sign of the Christian.  Attempting to change [even though you may fail] is a sincere piece of evidence that your heart is right with God .  Whereas an unbeliever may not feel any qualms about sinning, the Christian does and even though they may “sin and fall short of the glory of God,” they are attempting to work in a positive direction.   They have doubts and fears about their standing with God and even though their guilt about their sin is a very real thing, they are not guilty of rejecting Jesus Christ.

Granted, being judged is not a pleasant thing, but it is a fact.  We live in a world that encourages moral laxity and we fall to those temptations from time to time.  Maybe it would be easier not to worry about God looking over our shoulder, keeping His record of our sins.  We could carry on life as we please.  I am reminded of a piece of Scripture from Judges…Judges 21: 25:  “In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit.” 

The context for this book is that Israel had lost its desire to be ruled by kings.  They asked God to be freed from the idea of a powerful God-appointed monarch.  They did as they saw fit, turning to idols, committing rape, murder, mass kidnappings and genocide.  Eventually they were conquered by oppressors and they grew to realize how much they really needed God.  They were ready to turn from their idols and they questioned the idea that everyone should do what they “saw fit.”

God was ready to help.  He always is when man has a contrite heart. 

What does He do?

He sends forth warriors and champions to save Israel. 

They tried to do the work of God and Christ on earth.

They are referred to in the Bible as, [you guessed it]

Judges…

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Living a Life of Grace…

“The grace of God is love freely shown toward guilty sinners, contrary to their merit and indeed in defiance of their demerit.  It is God showing goodness to persons who deserve only severity and had no reason to expect anything but severity” [Packer*, 132].

Packer’s statement about grace sounds pretty worrisome doesn’t it?

Why is it worrisome?  I am one of those persons who deserve severity and guess what, I don’t want it; who would? 

But I deserve severity…

I sin.

And I know that I don’t deserve God’s forgiving grace.

In the previous post [“If We Don’t Understand Grace…”] I comment on Packer’s notion that not all church people share the same beliefs about God and man’s relationship. With this “lack of sharing” as a basis, the doctrine of grace does not mean as much to the church-goer as it should.  Packer presents four very good reasons for his conclusion. We are very distracted by the lure of material wealth, the ease of minimizing wrongdoing, the temptation of trying to work our way into God’s favor and the idea that grace is no big deal [extending grace is merely God doing His work]. If we accept his ideas that we fall short in accepting the idea of grace in our spiritual lives, are there reasons why we should change and try to make the acceptance of grace much more important?

We should reject those four reasons for misunderstanding the relationship between God and man because they are just not as significant as the reasons we should try to understand grace and after we achieve some level of understanding, we should then try to accept grace.

Let’s start with the most obvious need for grace.  I have already referred to it above. 

Sin.

Packer is dramatic in his description of our lowly state.  We need to be “brought right” with God and we can’t be brought right by our own power.  Our sinning gets in the way.  We need to be justified.

Packer describes sinful man as having the status of a “condemned criminal awaiting a terrible sentence” [133].  We need to have a remission of our sins and the acceptance of our true nature in the sight of God.  To get that, all we have to do is put our trust in the Lord Jesus Christ as our Savior. 

It is free. 

It only takes a deep, honest expression of faith.

It was not free for God because His only Son had to die for us, for our sins.  Packer cites Romans 8: 32: “Why was it that God ‘did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all? ‘ ” 

He did it because of His grace.  God did not have to do this but He wanted to, to save you and me….merciless sinners.  The death on the cross redeemed us.  Jesus paid all and mankind benefitted.

I know as a long-time church-goer, that the words in the previous part of this post sound like the “ole-time” evangelist, driving home his reasons to come up during the “alter call.”

But let’s stop a moment and think about what it all means.  Whatever cliché you choose to use to describe accepting Jesus as your Savior, your decision signals a turning point in your life.  Whether you “let Jesus into your heart”, “decide to make Him your Lord and Savior” or you “confess your sins at the altar and accept His grace” you will never be the same after you make a sincere faith declaration.

You will never be the same because you have been “brought right” with God; you have been justified.

Don’t you need to be pardoned for your sins?

I do.

Secondly, grace is God’s motive in our plan of salvation. Getting pardoned is a necessity but it is not the only purpose for God’s extension of grace.  Packer relies heavily on the Apostle Paul’s thoughts expressed in Romans, Thessalonians and Ephesians.  With grace, God acts on a plan that has been in place for us for our lives.  “So we believers may rejoice to know that our conversion was no accident, but an act of God which had its place in the eternal plan to bless us with the free gift of salvation from sin” 135.  God promises to carry out His plan for us to completion.  Part of that plan is for us to live a life whereby we experience the riches of God’s grace here on earth and after our time is up on the earth, we will experience glorification in Christ after our time on this earth is over.  We are elected by God and predestined to be His children.  All our sins are redeemed as God claims us as His possession forever. 

This is what God has promised us if we will accept His grace.  “The stars, indeed, may fall, but God’s promises will stand and be fulfilled.  The plan of salvation will be brought to a triumphant completion; thus grace will be shown to be sovereign” [136].

But it all starts with our profession of faith and God’s extension of grace.

If God’s plan for our salvation is certain, then our future is assured.  First Peter 1: 5 says I am “kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation.”  Some may think that sinners come before God and confess their sins and then fall back into sin.  We all do, but God has that “covered”; the idea is that grace is extended to us to the end of our days.  As our faith grows, grace continues and grace will keep us believing in God until the end. 

Some misunderstand grace as an encouragement of moral laxity.   This is the idea that God’s grace is going to save me anyway so why am I worried about future sin.  My conduct does not matter.  Packer disagrees: “For love awakens love in return and love, once awakened, desires to give pleasure” [137].  When one receives grace, it is natural to give oneself to good works instead of falling back into horribly sinful habits.  Do we sin past justification?  Of course we do, but the sanctifying process of growing in our faith leads us to less struggle with our sin instead of more struggle.

As we began to consider the doctrine of grace, it seemed that the concern was that today we don’t seem to understand it, we don’t value it, we don’t appreciate its relevance for life today, but after looking at it, it is easy to see that it is a cornerstone of the Christian faith.  We need it in order to live a life in Christ.  We can’t be the people of God without it.  Without it, God is our Judge; with it, God becomes our Savior. 

Packer says that a clear understanding of grace “sweep[s] him [the Christian] off his feet with wonder and joy.  We have a chance to go from “a condemned criminal awaiting a terrible sentence to that of an heir awaiting a fabulous inheritance” [132-33].

The person who claims to be a Christian lives a life that is themed by grace, grace received and grace extended. Rather than being confused by the doctrine of grace, misunderstanding it and placing it on the lowest level of our priorities, professing our faith and accepting grace should be a foremost life event.  This event should be evident to anyone who is observing the grace-filled Christian. Grace is playing out in their life right before your eyes.  Packer closes the chapter on grace with the words, “Do you claim to know the love and grace of God in your own life? Prove your claim, then, by going and praying likewise.”

I would add, prove your claim, then, by living a life of grace.

*J.I. Packer Knowing God

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If We Don’t Understand Grace…

In the process of trying to know God, we have looked at His unchanging nature, His majesty, His wisdom, His Word as truth and in the previous post we have finished looking at His love for us, some would say His heart.

Now it is time to look at His grace.

Packer feels God’s grace is a commonplace word, tossed around a lot in the Christian church but maybe “grace” does not mean very much to some people.  We use “grace” in the name of our churches; it is staple diet in our Sunday school classes and preachers love to preach about it, but despite all this frequent use, Packer says this: “there do not seem to be many in our churches who actually believe in grace.”

I have been in settings [e.g. religious retreats] where I felt I had a firm understanding of grace and as I tried to comprehend the nature of “God’s riches at Christ’s, expense.” I found myself dumbfounded.  The whole idea of grace is overwhelming when you consider it.  I have seen grown men cry when they realize their sins are washed away because God truly loves them that much.

But a retreat is not “normal, everyday life.”  Packer is very negative as he states his feelings about grace in the church today.  “Many church people….their conception of grace is not so much debased as nonexistent.  The thought means nothing to them….speak to them about the realities to which the word grace points, and their attitude is one of deferential blankness…whatever you are talking about, it is beyond them, and the longer they have lived without it the surer they are that they are at their stage of life and they do not really need it” [Knowing God, 129].

How could this be?  How could we take this seminal idea for granted in the Church today? 

Packer writes that the root cause is a misbelief about the relationship between people and God.  It is a “heart thing” for humans.  We are distracted by everyday life and we have strong feelings about the world; we very easily take God’s gifts for granted.  We know in our minds that we should not be this way but we fall prey to our weak wills and our worldly ways.

First of all, modern men and women think highly of themselves.  Material wealth is the God we worship, rather than the true God.   Having lots of things and lots of money to buy things is much more important than a moral character.  Packer feels that today we very easily excuse ourselves for “drinking, gambling, reckless driving, sexual laxity, black and white lies, sharp practice in trading, dirty reading etc.”   If one indulges and has a bad conscience that is an aberration, a sign of “an unhealthy psychological freak” instead of a normal person.  Instead of thinking that we should make some effort to elevate behavior, too many people assume God is just like us.  He is pretty complacent about the ordinary sins we commit.  This effort to project ourselves onto God is foolish.  Maybe we think we are good folks at heart and that is good enough.  God sees it that way also.

I am not sure about that…

Secondly, today’s man and woman don’t worry much about God’s retribution.  Packer goes so far as to say that they “turn a blind eye to all wrongdoing as long as they safely can.”  Toleration of bad behavior is the norm.  Parents sometimes don’t bother to correct their children.  Teachers sometimes don’t worry about discipline in the classroom.  The general public puts up with vandalism and antisocial behavior, the idea being if we can ignore it, that is the best policy.  I am not sure the Bible reflects this attitude.  When I read it, it seems to point out that God’s retribution is a reality.  When we do bad things, we can expect to be punished.  God judges us and His verdict is real.  Packer says “God is not true to himself unless He punishes sin.  Grace is also real but it is only extended to those who repent with a contrite heart.  It is not automatic.  Habitual wrongdoers don’t deserve anything but retribution until they are ready to turn from their evil ways and lead a better life.  One can never experience grace if doing evil with impunity is the theme of their life.

Next is the idea of works.  There are many in the world today who approach God as they approach their earthly employers.  They work so hard to win the favor of the Lord, piling saintly activity on top of saintly activity until God has to throw up His hands and say “truly you are deserving of My grace.”  Packer has a way of describing this type of person as someone who works so hard at providing evidence of good works, putting God in a position where He cannot say no.  He calls this churchmanship.  Also he uses the term morality.  These words denote the individual who works tirelessly in the church running from job to job, committee to committee and doing everything except maybe pastoring.  Surely God takes note of the hard work, the gifts that are given, the spirit of the worker.  Morality is on public display as the “moral” person is quick to declare the “right way of life” in public places and they work hard to display the “right” behavior in as many places that they can.  Romans 3:20 states “No one will be declared righteous in His sight by observing the law.”  Workaholic behavior is no guarantee that anyone will receive grace. 

The problem: God sees into the heart of the workaholic and like the Pharisees of Jesus’ day, “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean [Matthew 23: 27].

Lastly, Packer explores the idea that strikes at the heart of grace, God’s gift to us.  Many feel that God is obligated to extend grace to us.  It is His job.  Packer quotes a Frenchman whose last words are “God will forgive—that’s His job” [131].  Stop for a moment and consider this attitude.  It is based on the idea that God needs us; we don’t need Him.  It clearly says in Acts 17: 25,  “And He is not served by human hands, as if He needed anything. Rather, He himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else.”  We cannot claim grace from God.  It truly is a free gift.  What can we expect?  If our behavior is sinful, we can expect justice.  Packer writes “God does not owe it to anyone to stop justice from taking its course.”  Grace does not depend of man’s will or man’s effort; it comes from God’s mercy. 

This is the hardest thing to understand about grace.  It is free.  God does not have to give it to man.  He has total freedom not to extend it.  He gives it because He comprehends the human dilemma.  We are not perfect people and we cannot be.   We can do works to make the world a better place but we can’t do enough work to gain His grace. 

We sin.   Every day, all day long… We sin.

If God gives His grace to us, He does not do it out of obligation; He does it out of mercy. 

I need His mercy, don’t you?  If Packer is right and today’s church is full of people who have “no grasp of grace” we need to change that.  This concept is the defining idea of how God relates to man, how we can approach our Lord and Savior in our weakened human condition and truly ask Him for forgiveness.  If we don’t get grace, we don’t have a chance for salvation.  We don’t have a relationship with our unchanging, majestic, wise, truthful, loving God.

If we don’t understand grace, we don’t understand who we are and more importantly,

We don’t even understand God…

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Continuing Our Journey into the Heart of God…

Some of us are self-aware while others are less so.

For years, I have hidden from the fact that I am a pusher.  Of course I am not referring to the informal definition that I “sell illegal drugs”.  I am referring to the idea that I am the kind of person who pushes myself and others to get things done.

That is not all bad.  “Pushers” do sometimes get stuff done, but it is hard to step aside from life and take the time to be aware of the cost.  Sometimes relationships suffer because not everyone around you wants to accomplish what you want to accomplish at the pace that you prefer.  Sometimes life gets too stressful as you push to get what you want.   Also I know that I have set standards that are probably too high, for myself and for others.  That certainly adds to the stress.

Oh well, the life of the pusher…

Recently I have had opportunities to step back from life and examine it a bit more.  Use whatever cliché you prefer: take a breath, smell the roses or just say I have learned to slow down and push less. 

I am beginning to learn to meditate.

Being a pusher, it even affects reading.  I have found myself “pushing” myself through books, just to say “I have read it!”  Along the way, I have not paid that much attention to the words; I have just raced through the pages, never pausing to think deeply about the ideas. 

Then it happened.  God put some books into my hands that slowed me down.  I can truthfully say that I have been changed by the words of three authors whose works have touched my soul.  These three books have touched my soul even though  I realize that they may not touch yours. *

Let me be even more personal.  I read these books a lot.  I can go to a chapter, a page or even a paragraph and read it again and the thoughts make me think, make me feel, make me feel inspired to do more to make my life better.

But not by pushing…

I am getting where I need to be by accepting what God gives me, working within His framework, listening to the Holy Spirit.  It requires quiet time to get nearer to the heart of God, to feel His presence. 

This brings me to the Scripture that J.I. Packer quotes in Chapter 12 of his book**.  First John 4:8 reads “Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.”  Twelve words.  Packer does not even center Chapter 12 on twelve words.  He concentrates or [if you will] meditates on just three words of First John 4:8: “God is love.”

He thinks that many false ideas have grown up around these three simple words: “False ideas have grown up around it like a hedge of thorns, hiding its real meaning from view.”

Three words: “God is love.”

In the last post, I referred to his definition of God’s love: “God’s love is an exercise of His goodness toward individual sinners whereby, having identified Himself with their welfare, He has given His Son to be their Savior, and now brings them to know and enjoy Him in a covenant relation” [123].  I spent one thousand two hundred and thirty words summarizing Packer’s analysis of the definition, but I did not get through the whole definition. 

Today I will continue the analysis– continue “Our Journey into the Heart of God…”

“Identifying Himself with their welfare” is a section that bears a close look.  If a person really cares for another (really loves another) they are concerned with their welfare.  At times in my life, my son has done things that disappointed me, but that does not mean that I cease caring for him.  When he has needed help, I am there to provide that help.   At times in my life, my spouse has done things that made me less than happy but that does not mean that I am ready to toss our relationship aside. 

Let’s expand this discussion to God’s relationship with men and women.  Truly we do horrible things from time to time so one would think that God would be very disappointed with us, truly “less than happy.”

Packer writes “God was happy without humans before they were made; He would have continued happy had He simply destroyed them after they had sinned; but as it is He has set His love upon particular sinners, and this means that, by His own free voluntary choice, He will know perfect and unmixed happiness again till He has brought every one of them the heaven” [125].

God saves man and woman not only for His glory but also for His gladness.  Luke 15:10 says “In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”  

Maybe as I love my son and my wife, God loves us: He is concerned with our welfare despite our shortcomings.

“He has given His Son to be their Savior” is the most powerful statement of God’s love for all of us.  Not only did God give His Son to man to help man understand how to live, but God gave His son knowing that he would be sacrificed for all our sins.  Jesus Christ became the mediator who can bring us to a relationship with God.  Jesus Christ became the atoner who died for us as we are yet sinners.   “He who did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all—how will He not also, along with Him graciously give us all things?” [Romans 8: 32]. 

Is this not the ultimate demonstration of love? 

How could we say it is not?

Finally as Packer closes his definition, we need to consider the “brings them to know and enjoy Him in a covenant relation” phrase.   A covenant relation is a pledged relationship where two parties are connected to each other in “mutual service and dependence.”  God made it clear to Abraham that He was “in it for the long haul” with the lines from Genesis: “to be your God and the God of your descendants after you” [17].  God is not going anywhere; He is omnipotent.  When Packer tacks the idea of a covenant relation on his definition, he is saying that God will be doing the best He can for man forever.  We may drop in and out of a strong relationship with God because we are not holding up our end of the covenant, but that is not God’s promise.  What He promises, He will deliver.

“God is love.”

Three little words from Scripture that mean so much…

Packer writes “Why do I ever grumble and show discontent and resentment at the circumstances in which God has placed me?  Why am I ever distrustful, fearful or depressed?  Why do I ever allow myself to grow cool, formal and halfhearted in the service of the God who loves me so?  Why do I ever allow my loyalties to be divided, so that God has not all my heart?” [127].

All those behaviors make no sense as we respond to a God who loves us so.  Jesus goes even further by saying as God has loved us, we ought to love one another.  As our love for God spills over into the relationships we have with our wives, our husbands, our sons, our daughters, our families, our neighbors, people at church and at work do you think that nonbelievers could see this and learn?

I think so.

Yes, God loves us and we should know it and act on it, but in the hustle and bustle of everyday life, we don’t act like we have His love in our minds and hearts.  Packer’s words at the end of Chapter 12 ring so true for a “pusher” like me.“Meditate upon these things.  Examine yourself” [127].Yes God loves us and we should know it and act on it, but in the hustle and bustle of everyday life, we don’t act like we have His love in our minds and hearts.  Packer’s words at the end of Chapter 12 ring so true for a “pusher” like me.

“Meditate upon these things.  Examine yourself” [127].

“God is love.”

*not the Bible…My special books are totally focused on me and my life.  They are all spiritual in nature.

**Knowing God

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Our Journey into the Heart of God…

I thought that “Looking into God’s Heart” was a good title for the previous post; that maybe it caught attention.  But after more consideration, maybe the title promised more than it delivered.  There is a possibility that my comments on Knowing God really did not look closely enough into the heart of God.

By the end of the discussion, I am afraid I raised more questions about the “mystery” of God’s love than I answered.  As a writer commenting on J.I. Packer’s book Knowing God, I always approach the book as a learner, just like you, but what did I learn several pages into his chapter entitled “The Love of God?” 

  1. “God is love” is not the complete truth about God so far as the Bible is concerned.”
  2.  “God is love” is the complete truth about God so far as the Christian is concerned.”

At first glance, the two ideas seem opposed but really, they are not; one refers to God’s love as expressed in the Bible and the other refers to God’s love as expressed in the everyday life of the Christian, but I still don’t know what God’s love is, specifically.

I don’t know about you, but I could use a little more explanation.  Packer obliges with a definition of God’s love [don’t we love those definitions!].  He writes “God’s love is an exercise of His goodness toward individual sinners whereby, having identified Himself with their welfare, He has given His Son to be their Savior, and now brings them to know and enjoy Him in a covenant relation” [123].

There we have it, but Packer does even more.  He spends several pages analyzing his definition.

“God’s love is an exercise of His goodness” refers to how God cares for man and woman.  God created us and even though we consistently disappoint Him, He still continues to care for us.  He is generous with His love; we don’t deserve such generosity but He extends it anyway.  “The Lord is good to all; He has compassion on all He has made” [Psalm 145:9].  “But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because He is kind to the ungrateful and wicked [Luke 6: 35].   Yet He has not left Himself without testimony: He has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons; He provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy” [Acts 14: 17].   I don’t know about you, but I feel God manifests Himself in my life repeatedly, I believe He shows up every day.  “Relationship” may have become a cliché as Christians describe their connection with God, but His interest in me is matched by my interest in Him.  Packer quotes James Orr* [He] “finds His joy in imparting Himself to the other [you and me], and in receiving back the outflow of that other’s affection unto Himself.”  It is a stretch to compare the times I have loved in my life to God’s love for us humans, but when I have loved another, I desired to know all I could about the other person and I was absolutely delighted to know anything and everything I could.  This is personal relationship in its purest form.  Desire to know, trust to believe and faith in the love that comes from knowing.

When I wrote above about consistently disappointing Him, and not deserving His generosity, I was alluding to the next part of the definition, that part about His goodness being directed toward “sinners.”   I know not to do certain things in my life but I do them anyway.  When we read the Apostle Paul, can’t we relate?  “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.  And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good.   As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature.  For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing.  Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it” [Romans 7: 15-20].  Rationality does not exist in man as we know we should not sin but we continue to sin.  Rationality does not seem to exist in God as He sees us sin and He continues to loves us, through His grace and mercy.  Why would God love us?  Why would He care for the “unlovely” and the “unloveable”?  It makes no sense.  He should condemn us and banish us from His presence.  Yet He chooses to love us despite our flaws.  Packer says this love is “free, spontaneous, unevoked, uncaused.”  I have to turn to Isaiah 55: 8-9 for an answer: “ ‘For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways’  declares the Lord.  As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts.”  Maybe we just have to chalk it up to not being able to understand our sovereign God.  We should be thankful that we don’t get what we deserve.

When it comes to sin, Packer does not just discuss sin in man and woman, sin in general.  Packer writes that God knows of our sins in particular.  Remember God is omniscient and He planned our existence in this world.  Certain sins I have committed, am committing and will commit are sins God always knows about. They are part of my make-up.  God knows me as a sinner but God also knows if He will bless me.  Second Thessalonians 2:13 says “But we are bound to give thanks to God always for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God chose you from the beginning to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth.”  My sin is no surprise to God and His forgiveness of my sins is part of His plan all along. 

At this point we are not even halfway through the analysis of Packer’s definition of God’s love, leaving his explanation of our welfare, giving His Son as Savior and the resulting covenant relationship for a future post. 

But we have determined that we have a loving God, and His love is not deterred by our human bent toward sin.  Yes we have also focused on individual sinners [you and me, dear reader].  He knows all about us, what make us “tick”.  He knows because He made you…

And He made me…

“The exercise of God’s love toward individual sinners in time is the execution of His purpose to bless those same individual sinners—a purpose He formed in eternity” [124].

We have covered some important ground on our journey toward really looking into the heart of God.

*From Hastings Dictionary of the Bible

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Looking into God’s Heart…

So far, we have discussed the wisdom of God, the power of God and the Word of God.

In our efforts to know God, it is time to look into God’s heart. 

J.I. Packer* begins his chapter on the love of God with a simple three word sentence from First John 4: 8 “God is love” from the complete scripture “Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.”

He feels it is one of the most “tremendous utterances” in the Bible but he also says it is one of the most misunderstood.  It seems simple, but it is not.

Ok, if there are false ideas about this it may take work to untangle all the meaning, but it is worth it.  Receiving God’s love is one of the most amazing things that any of us can receive while we are here on earth.  Packer states that “the New Testament sets forth this knowledge [God’s love], not as the privilege of a favored few, but as a normal part of ordinary Christian experience” [118].

Let’s take some Scripture and begin to unpeel the meaning.  Paul writes in Romans 5: 5 that “the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us.”   Here Paul is not talking about our love for God; he is talking about God’s love for us.

Let’s begin to dissect this Scripture.  First of all look at the verb and adverb “shed abroad”.  Packer relates that shed abroad means “poured or dumped out” like the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. 

Secondly, the tense of the verb is perfect tense, present perfect tense.  For those among us who are not grammarians, this means that an action has begun in the past and it is continuing in the present.  God has filled our hearts with love and He is filling them with love right now [like a valley once flooded remains full of water]. 

The last aspect of the verse is the phrase “which is given to us.”  This is not an indication of an extraordinary event.  This is a regular thing that God is doing for us.  Especially today, we are bombarded by the extraordinary, so in a spiritual context maybe we get excited by speaking in tongues.  That may be unusual enough but God giving us love is not; it is a normal, everyday activity.  We may want a revival in church, expecting tongues to break out in worship.  How many would pray for love to break out, filling everyone’s heart to the brimful?

Packer feels that the exploration of this gifting of God’s love for us will lead us “as deep into the mystery of God’s nature as the human mind can go, deeper than any of our previous studies have taken us.”

To begin to understand God’s love, Packer feels that two comments must proceed the study.

One, “God is love” is not the complete truth about God according to the Bible.  If you have read the whole Bible, God is not the grandfatherly figure we used to see on the walls of our child’s Sunday school classroom.  That God seems so warm and friendly, one would have a hard time imagining God judging the world and sending a flood, chastening His people and allowing them to be conquered, captured and exiled.   In the New Testament, this is the God who will judge the world during the end times and we know it will be a “righteous judgement.” 

Obviously if we are to buy into John 4: 8, we have to see God’s complete picture and the complete picture is not totally positive.  

How are we to understand this?  In our minds, the word love does not mean “to condemn” or “to punish.” 

Obviously, we have to get at this complete truth.

Secondly “God is love” is the complete truth about God so far as the Christian is concerned. 

Let’s stop.  Isn’t this the exact opposite of the previous comment?  It almost is, but the previous comment was “God is love” is not the complete truth according to the Bible.  Now Packer writes that “God is love” is the complete truth [as far as the Christian is concerned].

As we begin to explore God’s love, as we begin to look into His heart, maybe this confusion is just the beginning of our efforts to understand the mystery of God’s love for us. 

“I have loved you, my people, with an everlasting love. With unfailing love I have drawn you to Myself”  [Jeremiah 31: 3].

Psalms 136:  26 “Give thanks to the God of heaven; His love endures forever.”

1 Corinthians 13: 13  “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love.  But the greatest of these is love.”

“There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love” [1 John 4: 18].

With just this sampling of Scripture, we soon see that love is not the simple word we thought it was. 

Maybe Packer is right; to know God’s love is to reveal His inner being.  To know God’s love is “indeed heaven on earth.”

In subsequent posts, we will see…

*from his book Knowing God

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