Part 2 of 11
In this and the following posts I plan to give definition to the title: Made in God’s Image: Building a Biblical Framework for Human Activity.
In the introductory post I highlighted the necessity of consistent and active care for those in need, I also highlighted that this expression of charity is at the root of our profession to know Christ. Let us keep the words of James fresh in your minds. Let us take a moment to consider verses from chapters one and two.
“…prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his natural face in a mirror; for once he has looked at himself and gone away, he has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was. But one who looks intently at the perfect law, the law of liberty, and abides by it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an effectual doer, this man will be blessed in what he does. If anyone thinks himself to be religious, and yet does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this man’s religion is worthless. Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world…What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,’ and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that? Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself” (James 1:22-27, 2:14-17).
In the introductory post I also asked the question several times: What is God’s disposition towards the needy? It is a valid question and I hope that you have thought about it. I hope that in the following weeks we can sift through the ideas, assumptions, and presuppositions that we hold as true, and reform those which do not reflect what is taught in Scripture.
Many factors bring us to the point of forming a belief on any matter. It is my job, as I function as a prophet to you, to bring God’s word to bear on the beliefs you hold as true. And in the context of this series, your beliefs concerning the place for, and impact of, human activity in this world which is under God’s sovereign rule.
When a person is saved by God, tremendous changes take place: the perfect obedience of Christ is credited to their account, the penalty for sin is paid in full, and their heart of stone is replaced with a heart of flesh. This conversion also begins the process of growth and purification. At the root of this sanctification process is the renewal of our mind. Remember the words of Paul in Romans 12, verses one and two. “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 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.” So the framework of our thinking must be built according to the plan of God, not according to the forms of this world.
In the last post I identified a problem: most of us, indeed much of the church, do not understand, or take seriously, or know how to consistently express Christian charity to those in need. Early on in preparation for this series I identified a goal: To motivate Christians to take an active role as parts of the body of Christ, and specifically, to motivate Christians to consistently and proactively reach out to those in need. Not only must we feed on God’s word and so renew our thinking, we must request the gift of grace bestowed that we will show mercy to the poor as God has shown mercy to the poor in spirit – as God has shown mercy to us.
In the previous post I listed some of the subjects we are going to cover in this class: the necessity and power of persistent prayer, God’s sovereign rule over all things, the will of man, the necessary connection between sound theology and charity, precept-breaking human agency, and freedom found in agreement with God’s perfect will. These are some of the pieces in the framework of our understanding concerning human activity and these must be built in accord with the revelation of Scripture in order for the actions which flow from them to be biblical as well.
So let us begin the process of evaluating the framework of our thinking and, where necessary, the remodeling of it, by looking at the sovereignty-of-God, responsibility-of-man paradox. I’ll begin by defining that term. A paradox is an apparent absurdity, which is in fact true. The sovereignty-of-God, responsibility-of-man paradox can be illustrated by considering two verses. First, please turn to Joshua chapter 24 and verse fifteen. “And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the LORD, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.”
The second verse to consider is in the fifteenth chapter of the gospel of John, verse 16. Please turn to John 15:16: “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you.”
So in Joshua we receive a call to choose whom we are going to serve. In John we are told that whom we will serve is determined for us. So which one is it? Could both be true?
How is it that God is sovereign over all things and yet holds us responsible for our choices and actions? The answer: I don’t know. Actually, no one knows. It has not been revealed to us by God; and isn’t He the one from whom all knowledge comes? Think about this statement: Not only is the circular boundary of human knowledge set by God, but the revealed things – those things inside the circle – are reveled by Him. Further, the revealed things are perceived by creatures bearing His image; and they are apprehended in accord with His will.
Remember the words of Deuteronomy 29:29: “The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.”
So we cannot answer the question concerning how God attaches culpability to us while we live under His sovereign control. However, we do know that He does, for His word tells us so. The fact that there is truly human responsibility gives meaning to the call for repentance. The fact that God is sovereign allows us to rely upon Him as we proclaim the gospel. Indeed, we can learn many truths from Scripture that allow us to paint a picture of true reality. It is like on of Monet’s impressionist works to us, which when viewed from the proper vantage point pictures a God of perfect justice and great love bending to extend mercy to the works of His hand.
The chief thought which I want you to learn is that we must submit our minds to what God has been pleased to reveal to us. Let us not become arrogant and succumb to the temptation of reinterpreting what Scripture has to say just because it does not make sense to us. Humble yourself before the Lord; receive the Word with humility. There are probably no better words to remind us of place concerning our proper posture before the Lord than those of Paul in Romans chapter nine. Please hear what the Spirit has to say to you in this portion of Scripture; this is Romans nine, verses 13 through 24. “As it is written, ‘Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.’ What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! For he says to Moses, ‘I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.’ So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, ‘For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.’ So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills. You will say to me then, ‘Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?’ But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, ‘Why have you made me like this?’ Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honored use and another for dishonorable use? What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory – even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles?”
Indeed, let us act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God. (Micah 6:8)
In conclusion please consider Psalm 119:33-40: “Teach me, O LORD, the way of your statutes; and I will keep it to the end. Give me understanding, that I may keep your law and observe it with my whole heart. Lead me in the path of your commandments, for I delight in it. Incline my heart to your testimonies, and not to selfish gain! Turn my eyes from looking at worthless things; and give me life in your ways. Confirm to your servant your promise, that you may be feared. Turn away the reproach that I dread, for your rules are good. Behold, I long for your precepts; in your righteousness give me life!”