Part 8 of 11
Before introducing any new material, I think it will be helpful to review what we have covered so far and highlight some of the topics. In the following posts I will be narrowing down in subject and placing more emphasis upon our call to care for the needy and the afflicted.
I hope that the title, Made in God’s Image: Building a Biblical Framework for Human Activity, is taking on a greater meaning to you. Also I hope that I am approaching the goal of this class, which is 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.
In the first post we discussed three main topics: God’s disposition toward the needy, God’s disposition toward us concerning how we deal with – or don’t deal with – the needy, and what the exercise of pure religion includes. I asked: What is God’s disposition toward the needy? A collection of verses from the Psalms tells us that: God will place the needy and afflicted in the safety for which they long (Psalm 12:5). He will deliver them from the one too strong, and from the one who robs him (Psalm 35:10). He will hear them (Psalm 69:33). God will defend the cause of the poor, give deliverance to the children of the needy, and crush the oppressor (Psalm 72:4). “For he delivers the needy when he calls, the poor and him who has no helper. He has pity on the weak and the needy, and saves the lives of the needy. From oppression and violence he redeems their life, and precious is their blood in his sight” (Psalm 72:12-14).
I asked during the first post: What is God’s disposition toward us concerning how we deal with – or don’t deal with – the needy? Two verses from Proverbs sum up the answer well: Proverbs 19:17 says: “One who is gracious to a poor man lends to the Lord, and the Lord will repay him for his good deed.” And Proverbs 21:13 says: “He who shuts his ear to the cry of the poor will also cry himself and not be answered.” So for the man who is gracious to the needy: blessing. For the man who neglects the needy: the terrifying curse of being ignored by God Himself. And you can see the close association of these proverbs with the account of the judgment of the sheep and the goats in Matthew chapter 25, verses 31-46.
So God will hear, and defend, and deliver the needy; and He will do it through the activities of His people. We can see throughout Scripture the call to care for the needy and the afflicted. We read of God being pleased with those who reach out to the afflicted. Conversely, some of the most aggressive words and acts of judgment are related in part to the neglect of the needy. For example, we read in Ezekiel 16 that one of the root causes for the detestable actions of those living in the city of Sodom which eventually led to the destruction of the city was that they had “…excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy” (Ezekiel 16:49b).
Also during post one, we looked at some verses from the book of James. Among those verses we read was James 1:27 which says, “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” Pure religion is active religion: it is the putting off of the old man – the shunning of evil desires which bring corruption, and the putting on of the new, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness (Ephesians 4:22-24). From these words of James we are not given a list of all aspects of our Christian religion, but a product of true religion: the result of the multiple disciplines present in our pursuit of godliness. Can the type of faith that does not bring about works of righteousness save you? Surly not. The type of faith that saves is the same type of faith that brings about godliness – it must, for saving faith has God as its founder and perfecter (Hebrews 12:2). “Faithful is He who calls you, and He also will bring it to pass” (I Thessalonians 5:24).
Remember the words of John Murray: “To divorce faith and assurance of faith from faithfulness to our covenant responsibilities is to be guilty of an abstraction which does not exist in God’s arrangements. And faith exercised in such abstraction is not the faith of God’s elect but the presumption that will at the end receive the rebuke of disillusionment: ‘I tell you, I do not know where you are from; Depart from Me, all you evildoers’ (Luke 13:27).”
During the second post, I tackled the sovereignty of God, responsibility of man paradox. The paradox was illustrated by looking at two verses from Scripture. The first was from the book of Joshua and it includes a call to choose whom you will serve: God or idols. The second was from the Gospel of John where Christ states that we did not choose Him but that He chose us. I included this subject in the material of that post with a chief purpose in mind: that we always begin and end with Scripture, even when the subject at hand does not make complete sense to us. We are finite creatures with limited minds and limited abilities of observation. We begin and end with the positive inscripturated revelation of God. We do not begin with philosophy or speculations or theories or dreams or the mutterings of some supposed wise man. We do not begin with what we see or are predisposed to think. We do not accept man’s theories concerning God or the world or ourselves – and there are so many out there for the choosing – without evaluating them in the light of God’s Word. We begin with Holy Scripture and form our understanding of all things based upon what God has revealed to us. We begin with Scripture when we consider the heavens and the earth; where they came from and where they are going. We begin with Scripture when we consider ourselves and we certainly begin with Scripture when we consider God and his attributes. Remember this: Not only is the circular boundary of human knowledge set by God, but the revealed things – those things inside that circular boundary – are revealed by Him; they are perceived by creatures bearing His image, and they are apprehended in accord with His will. “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding” (Proverbs 9:10).
During post three I continued to speak about the Sovereignty of God and the responsibility of man. What we have been given in Scripture allows us to sketch, at best, the relationship of these two realities. There are points of clarity revealed to us that we can state with certainty, but we cannot paint the whole picture of reality. We know that God is sovereign; that He is free to act as He chooses and that all events come about in accord with His will. We also know that each individual person will be held accountable for his or her actions. In other words, we also have a freedom to act. However, our freedom is limited and can be likened to having just enough rope to hang ourselves. Man is free to act, but due to our depravity, we act in sin. It is only through submission to the will of God – and that only through the replacement of our heart of stone with one of flesh, and the renewal of our mind – that we are able to use the will God gave us for His glory. Remember the words of Paul in Romans chapter 12: “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” (Romans 12:1, 2).
So we affirm the sovereignty of God in opposition to the tenants of Arminianism, and in opposition to a large portion of modern thought, which posits a freedom for man which Scripture does not. We affirm the responsibility of man, in opposition to fatalism, which fails to affirm the image-bearing nature of mankind concerning the endowment of a will, and ultimately makes God to be the author of sin and evil. As I sated in post two concerning the proclamation of the gospel: 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: knowing that as we plant and cultivate and water, it is God who brings about the growth (I Corinthians 3:6-8).
In the fourth post I introduced and discussed an equation equating right belief with a godly life. We critiqued this equation, stating that to reduce the equation to this point is to make an error. And this error is at least partially based upon the idea that we are neutral and – much like a computer – will behave according to the program entered. We are not neutral. We require not only the right information: that which comes to us through the Scriptures, and the illumination of the Holy Spirit to understand it – but we are also destitute of mind and will, and in desperate need of God’s regenerating and sustaining power. Among the most right-believing beings in existence are the demons: They believe there is one God and shudder in fear (James 2:19). So, as we noted in posts four and five, to the left side of the equation must be added redemption – the redemption accomplished by God through the activity of His Son, and applied by the Holy Spirit to those whom God has called, admonishment, exhortation, prayer, reminder, and correction. Consider the words of the apostle Peter in I Peter chapter two, “May grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord. His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us tohis own glory and excellence,by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue,and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualitiesare yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins. Therefore, brothers,be all the more diligent to make your calling and election sure, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall. For in this way there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Therefore I intend always to remind you of these qualities, though you know them and are established in the truth that you have. I think it right, as long as I am in this body,to stir you up by way of reminder, since I know that the putting off of my body will be soon, as our Lord Jesus Christ made clear to me. And I will make every effort so that after my departure you may be able at any time to recall these things” (I Peter 2:2-15).
To be reminded continually of what God has done in His merciful acts of redemption, and to often be called to set apart Christ as Lord in our hearts, is critical to our growth as Christians. Equally critical is that our knowledge of God, the world, and ourselves be based upon His word: for it is not good to have zeal without knowledge (Proverbs 19:2a).
During posts five and six we examined the nature of God: the execution of His decrees through creation and providence, the decretive, preceptive and dispositional aspects of his will, and the preserving and governing aspects of his providence. As I wrote in post six: Concerning creation, we will often think primarily of the creation of the universe including this world in which we live. But God also continues to create. Remember the words from Psalm 104 verse 30: “When you send forth your Spirit,they are created…” God created the heavenly beings, He created the world and all that dwells upon it, and He continues to send forth His Spirit to bring about life.
As I also stated in post six, God continually preserves and sustains all that He has made. In Nehemiah chapter nine God’s acts are spoken of in this way, “You are the LORD, you alone. You have made heaven, the heaven of heavens, with all their host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them; and you preserve all of them; and the host of heaven worships you” (Nehemiah 9:6). We hear similar words in Paul’s letter to the Colossians speaking of Jesus Christ. “For byhim all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities–all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together” Colossians (1:15-17).
I also affirmed again the sovereign governance of God over all that He has created. God exercises His government or rule over nature – for Christ says that God, “…makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matthew 5:45), over the animal world – for the Psalmist says, “The young lions roar for their prey, seeking their food from God” (Psalm 104:21), over nations – for God “…rules in His might forever [and His] eyes keep watch on the nations” (Psalm 66:7), and over individuals – for God “…does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth” (Daniel 4:35).
Finally, in the seventh post, we began to consider the place for and impact of second causes as they work to bring about God’s will. We had previously learned that the Scriptures speak of God’s will in its different aspects. Firstly, there is God’s decretive will, which, like an umbrella, covers over all that has and will come to pass, from and through all eternity. Second, there is God’s preceptive will, which refers to what God has revealed to us in the form of precepts. He has shown us what is good and has told us what He requires of us: that we do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with Him (Micah 6:8). Thirdly, there is God’s dispositional will. As I stated in post five, God’s will of disposition is more descriptive of God’s character than His activity. Peter says in verse nine of second Peter chapter three: “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (II Peter 3:9). It is God’s disposition that none should perish; and He takes no delight in the destruction of the wicked (Ezekiel 33:11). Consider the words of Jeremiah 9:24, “Thus says the LORD: ‘Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the LORD.’”
So when the agents of God act as secondary causes – and I am speaking here specifically of God’s special image-bearing creation: His people – they always bring about God’s decretive will, they may or may not be in agreement with God’s precepts, and they may or may not be pleasing to Him. We affirm that secondary causes are real causes and not mere puppetry. God has chosen to use the activities of His people and the activities of all people to bring about His will. Based upon our understanding of God, we cannot think that He does so because of a need for help, any more than we could think that God created male and female in His image because He was lonely and in need of companionship. God, in His infinite wisdom and grace, has been pleased to involve us in the bringing about of His plans and purposes. He works through our hands as we reach out to those in need; he works through our mouths as we proclaim the Gospel of God, and speak words of comfort and healing to the brokenhearted; he works through our prayers as we cry out to Him for help, and mercy, and forgiveness. As we make our requests known to Him on behalf of others – that the unsaved would be made alive and that the children of God would grow in grace, and as we request that His perfect will be done here as it is in Heaven.