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Sun, Aug 14, 2005

4 - Who is God? - Part 2

by Robert Dean
Series:Basics 1: Foundation for Life (2005)
Duration:54 mins 40 secs

Foundation for Life Lesson 4   August 14, 2005

 

NKJ Ephesians 2:8 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, 9 not of works, lest anyone should boast.

 

We are in our fourth installment of a series on the basics of Christianity that I am entitling "The Foundation for Life".  "The Foundation for Life" is a sort of play on words because the basis for life in the Scripture is truth.  The Hebrew word for truth is based on an interesting word group. It is based on a word group part of which is the word emet that means firmness, faithfulness, or stability.  It is frequently translated truth because truth is that which has the idea of stability, certainty, and that which provides a foundation.  . 

 

The idea of foundation as I pointed out last time is seen the way a form of this word is used in II Kings 18:16. 

 

NKJ 2 Kings 18:16 At that time Hezekiah stripped the gold from the doors of the temple of the LORD, and from the pillars which Hezekiah king of Judah had overlaid, and gave it to the king of Assyria.

 

It is translated doorposts.  It is the form of the noun  It has the same basic root as emet.  It has to do with describing that foundation, pillar or post on which those enormous doors of the Solomonic temple were hung.  Just as these pillars supported the doors, so truth is a support for life. 

 

I got an interesting question the other day that may occur to some of you.  Someone picked up on the fact that there is a distinction in the NIV that in a number of the verses I used last time related to the truth of God.  They translated the word emet with the word faithfulness.  What is interesting in Hebrew is that in the mind of the Jews there is a close intimate connection in the ideas of truth (that means which is a foundation, that which gives stability to life, that which provides dependability) and faithfulness.  So it was easy transition to develop from the idea of truth and that which is dependable and certain the idea of dependability or faithfulness.  So faithfulness is often reflected in the Hebrew form of this word amona.  It is also related to a verb in the Hebrew aman that is the word for belief.  It is the basis for our word amen.  When we pray and close, we end with amen.  It comes from the Hebrew word meaning I believe it.  Belief is seen to be intimately connected with truth and dependability.  In the mind of the Jews, these concepts were so deeply related and so integrally related to one another that they were all represented by this basic word group.

 

When you get into doing exegesis and translation from the Hebrew Old Testament, you have to make a number of decisions about how you are going to translate these things.  The question was raised why is it that the NAS and the NKJ versions seem to consistently translate this word with truth but the NIV translates it faithfulness in about half of the verses that I used last time.  The answer to that is because the translators of the NIV used a theory that I totally reject as do most firm conservatives evangelicals reject.  It is true that many of the translators on the NIV were professors at Dallas Theological Seminary.  Some of them were professors that I had in seminary.  One of the reasons the NIV is so popular is that they have a masterful PR campaign. They devised the NIV back in the mid 70's to be a complete package.  When they came out with the NIV they produced a concordance that went with the NIV.  At the time if you were around the NAS was gaining momentum.  There was no concordance published for the NAS until after the NIV had published a concordance.  Or, they came out about the same time.  So the NIV editorial staff worked out this deal where commentaries, concordances, and the NIV itself came out at the same time. So it was a mass-market campaign.  That is why so many people like the NIV.  Most people don't get exposed to translation theory or why there are differences so they don't know why there are these differences. 

 

I had an Old Testament professor who had his doctorate in Hebrew from Dallas and also from Cambridge.  Dr. Ross served on one of the translation committees.  The way they translated the NIV was to divide up the verses among various groups of scholars.  These scholars would sit down and would make their case for their translation.  They would come back and their committee would look at it and debate among themselves what the best translation would be.  Then they voted on it.  After they voted on the best translation, it would go to the next higher committee and they would vote on it.  Dr. Ross used to say that there were many times in the book of Genesis that he wanted to put a footnote in the margin that this is the Word of God by a vote of 5 to 4.

 

The other aspect was that they operated on a translation theory known as dynamic equivalence.  Dynamic equivalence is a much more fluid translation, almost a paraphrase.  It is not a direct word for word translation.  Whenever you move from one language to another, you know that there is a certain dynamic that goes into any translation.  You don't translate literally word for word because it comes out too stilted and wooden so you have to bring it into the language.  The view of translation that believers you have a more rigorous and literal translation is called formal equivalence.  The more you move away form that you get into dynamic equivalence.  Then if you push passed dynamic equivalence you get into the realm of paraphrase. Paraphrase is not based on the original Greek.  It is like the Living Bible that was done by a Dallas Seminary grad by the name of Ken Taylor.  He wrote that for his children.  He said that back in the 50's he couldn't read the King James Version to his children so that they could understand it so he paraphrased it. He put it into modern language.  He paraphrased the KJV that is a poor translation.  That is why there were certain weaknesses with the Living Bible. Paraphrases should never be used for study.  I discourage people from using the NIV because there are numerous places in the NIV where they are so interpretive in their translation of the Greek that they lose sight of the Greek text altogether. 

 

I Cor 3 is a classic illustration.  There are many examples like that.  You have the word sarkinos that is translated fleshly from the root word sarxz meaning flesh.  It is translated worldly in the NIV.  But worldly, the concept on that which is from the world is based on the Greek word kosmos.  So how they got worldly out of sarkinos is their theology.  So they are interpreting the text. 

 

My friend Wayne House who was a general editor for the Thomas Nelson Study Bible and has been the academic dean at several major theological seminaries and was a professor at Dallas Theological Seminary for a while and founded of the Oregon Theological Seminary likes to call the NIV a commentary.  So those are the ideas that we have to be aware of when we come to translations.  They often reflect a translator's theology.  As Dr. Bob Thomas at the Master's Seminary says, "When there is a level of ambiguity in the Greek or in the Hebrew that ambiguity needs to be preserved in a literal translation so that you can leave it up to the pastor to interpret the text.  It is not the translators job to interpret the text when he translates but to translate from the original language." 

 

The NIV is a good study Bible.  The notes are great.  It is well put together. Whoever the general editors were they were great mechanics. The problem that you get in seminary is that you get some of these men who are great grammarians and they are great mechanics but they are lousy theologians.  It is not their area of specialty. They do a great job with grammar but they don't put the whole text together.  They are great mechanics but you don't want to put them behind the wheel.  That is a problem with some of these guys.  So  the NIV has definite weaknesses as has been pointed out by a number of people over the years.  Because of those problems and the fluidity there you will run into this.  That is why the question was raised about the word being translated faithfulness in the NIV and translated truth in the NAS.  The NAS and the NKJ have a more precise translation theory behind lying behind their methodology.  That is why I recommend both of those translations.

 

We saw last time from the vantage point of truth, Jesus had an encounter with Pontius Pilate just before He went to the cross.  It was His final trial. 

 

NKJ John 18:37 Pilate therefore said to Him, "Are You a king then?" Jesus answered, "You say rightly that I am a king. For this cause I was born, and for this cause I have come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice."

 

 

Pilate replied skeptically.

 

NKJ John 18:38 Pilate said to Him, "What is truth?" And when he had said this, he went out again to the Jews, and said to them, "I find no fault in Him at all.

 

This is a well-known interchange between Jesus and Pilate.  But it raises an issue that is so contemporary.  People today question whether or not there is truth.  It is different from a generation ago when the influence of modernism led people to question if this was the truth.  But today we live in a time when many people question whether there is such a thing as universal truth.  This is what causes the Bible to be such a point of friction in our culture today because the Bible takes a stand that there is one and only one truth.  God is the source of all revelation and God is the source of all creation.  He is the one who defines truth.  So we are looking at the essence of God from this vantage point of truth.

 

NKJ Psalm 86:15 But You, O Lord, are a God full of compassion, and gracious, Longsuffering and abundant in mercy and truth.

 

 That relates to His attribute of love that we studied last time. 

 

Anger is related to His justice.

 

So truth is one of the core attributes in the essence of God. 

 

We divide the essence of God into two types of attributes. 

 

 

Personal Attributes  Infinite Attributes

Sovereignty  Eternal Life

Righteous  Omnipotent

Justice  Omniscience

Truth  Omnipresent

Life  Immutable

 

 

The God of the Bible is a personal God.  He is not some force.  He is not something mechanistic out there in the universe.  He is a person.  As a person we can have a relationship with Him. God created man in His image and likeness so that man can have a relationship with God.  We can know God.  We can communicate with Him.  God can communicate with man.  He designed man in His image so that man can receive and understand divine communication.  The only reason man thinks it is fuzzy or that it is not understandable is because man clouds it either because of sin or because in negative volition he suppresses the truth in unrighteousness. 

 

God is a personal God.  We looked at the personal attributes of God as the sovereign creator.  He is the one who created the universe.  As the creator He is the one who defines the nature of reality.  We may not like it and we may want question why it is a certain way.  This is why you have the illustrations in the Scripture that talk about the pot saying to the one shaping the pot, "Why do you make me this way."  God has made reality the way it is.  He is the one who sets the rules and establishes the spiritual laws and the physical laws. 

 

I want to look at some of the verses we looked at last time.

 

NKJ Psalm 146:6 Who made heaven and earth, The sea, and all that is in them; Who keeps truth forever,

 

That means that He preserves His word.  He is not going be changing things.  What we see is that all of these attributes of God are interconnected.  They are all related to each other.  If we were to diagram it in a visual way we would have a bunch of interlocking three-dimensional circles that all relate to one another and are consistent with one another.  In His sovereignty He is righteous.  His sovereignty relates to His omniscience, omnipotence and His immutability.  All of these are all interconnected.  But we break them apart for the purpose of instruction, coming to understand whom He is, and focusing on different aspects of His character.  This is true of any person.  Many of us have different qualities and characteristics and talents. God has made us to be complex.  God is infinitely more complex than we are. Nevertheless we can understand many things about Him. We can know true things about Him but we can never know Him exhaustibly.  That seems to be a contradiction to some people.  What it means is that we can't know everything about God.  But we can know with certainty some things about God that He has revealed to us about Himself. He is righteous. This is the standard of His character.  He sets the standard.  He is absolutely righteous and perfect.  This is from the Hebrew word tsedaqah that is also related to His justice. Righteousness has to do with the standard of His character.  Justice has to do with the application of that standard to His creatures. 

 

NKJ Psalm 119:142 Your righteousness is an everlasting righteousness, And Your law is truth.

 

What two attributes are there?  His righteousness is connected to eternality.

 

His standard that comes out from his righteousness is perfectly true. 

 

Just

 

He is just.  This applies to the way He treats His creatures.  It is always in accordance with His perfect righteousness.  We look around the world and we see things that are very difficult to fully comprehend.  We see evil and we see people who are seemingly innocent suffer in tremendous ways.  We look at things such as the Jewish holocaust during World War II and we look at babies who are abused by their parents.  We wonder how a loving God could allow this to happen? We raise questions but ultimately we have to go back to the fact that God is just.  Because He is omniscient and knows all the facts and because He is sovereign He is in control, that there is an ultimate higher good toward which everything is moving. 

 

NKJ Genesis 18:25 "Far be it from You to do such a thing as this, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous should be as the wicked; far be it from You! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?"

 

How can we as creatures question His justice?  We know less that a tenth of 1% of all the knowable information. He knows all the knowable.  He is making decisions in His rule and administration of history that are consistent with His righteousness and His justice.  Who are we to question Him? That is really what the book of Job is all about.  Job is asking why he is suffering.

 

God says, "Did you make everything?  Who are you to question Me?  Just trust Me."

 

 That is the real issue for the believer. 

 

NKJ Psalm 89:14 Righteousness and justice are the foundation of Your throne; Mercy and truth go before Your face.

We see the connection of righteousness and justice.  We see how righteousness, justice, love and truth are interconnected in several verses in the Psalms.

 

Love

 

The love of God must not be defined in human terms. It is very difficult to define the love of God.  The best I have been able to develop is that the love of God means that in accordance with His righteousness and His justice God seeks the absolute best for His creatures.  Because He is omniscient He knows what the absolute best is.  Because He is perfectly righteous He can't seek anything less than their best.  Because of His love He desires to have a relationship with man and to provide the best for His creatures.

 

NKJ Psalm 117:2 For His merciful kindness is great toward us, And the truth of the LORD endures forever. Praise the LORD!

NKJ Psalm 57:10 For Your mercy reaches unto the heavens, And Your truth unto the clouds.

 

NKJ 1 John 4:8 He who does not love does not know God, for God is love.

 

This characterizes everything in God.

 

Truth

 

He is absolute truth.  That truth is the foundation of all the attributes of His character. 

 

NKJ Psalm 117:2 For His merciful kindness is great toward us, And the truth of the LORD endures forever. Praise the LORD!

NKJ John 3:33 "He who has received His testimony has certified that God is true.

 

NKJ John 8:26 "I have many things to say and to judge concerning you, but He who sent Me is true; and I speak to the world those things which I heard from Him."

 

Before we move on I want to say a couple of other things about the fact that God is truth.  The very nature of His creation God determines reality.  He defines the nature reality and communicates that to us. God has not left us here in some sort of cosmic guessing game. Because He is truth, the revelation of Himself is truth.  God's word of truth therefore is the foundation on which stability and faithfulness are established.  Truth itself is a word that means that there is a foundation of certainty that we can depend on.  Everything in life may change but there is a foundation that is always true and doesn't shift from generation to generation or from culture to culture.  It is a universal overarching truth that gives meaning and definition to everything else in life. This idea of truth being that upon which we can depend is at the core of the idea of truth.  For the Jews truth is inseparable from the idea that God is dependable and faithful.  And because God is dependable and faithful, He has communicated the basis for that dependability and faithfulness to us in His Word. 

 

This idea of truth is then applied to the concept of love.  How does truth relate to love?  Love is always dependent upon virtue - that which righteous, that which is true, and that which is accurate.  Love is devoid of error.  Therefore we have to recognize that divine love is based on something in His character that is His righteous standard that gives it perfection. It is based on something stable.  It means that love is not going to shift.  It is not going to turn.  It is not fluid.  It's not going to vacillate. It is going to be consistent. Even though we fail, we know that God never fails.  His love is always going to be consistent.  So true love must be based on truth and not falsehood. Because God is truth His love is dependable and reliable.  Because He is truth His love is always true.  It contains no deception and no falsity. 

 

Now we move to the right side where we talk about the infinite attributes of God.  Infinite means without bound, without limitation.  God is not only a personal God that can relate too us and in a sense almost reduce himself to be able to talk to an individual.  We see that the infinite God comes and presents Himself to Adam and the woman in the garden.  He walks with them and talks with them.  Not only does He have this infinite capacity, but He is also personal. This is in contrast to many of the false gods are just an impersonal force out there.  They are not personal. Then in the other systems of mythology, the gods are intensely personal but they are not infinite.  They are just big individuals, like Mr. Man, men who are blown up into a superman kind of thing but they are not infinite and cannot control the universe.  They are not absolute in an ultimate sense.  They are just as much a part of nature as anything else.  The old nature religions, the fertility religions of the ancient world, have been taken over by modern science and baptized under the guise of evolution.  It is easy to see the transition through what has been named the chain of being that has been promoted from Aristotle down to the present. It makes God part of the scale of nature.  Man is down here and God is just a little higher up.  But what we see in the Scripture is that God is the creator.  He is set apart.  He is completely distinct from the creation.  That is based on the attributes of infinity.

 

Eternality

 

The first is eternity.  This is infinity with respect to time.  God is not limited with respect to time.  Time does not apply to God.  He knows all of human history.  He knows all the events of human history intuitively.  He perceives everything all at one time.  So He is eternal.  There is no succession of events in God. There is no past, present or future.  Everything is eternally present to Him. 

 

NKJ Psalm 90:2 Before the mountains were brought forth, Or ever You had formed the earth and the world, Even from everlasting to everlasting, You are God.

 

When we think about eternality, we relate it to God's sovereignty and recognize that He is eternally sovereign.  All of the attributes of God are eternal.  They are equally true of Him throughout all of His eternal existence.  As a righteous and just we see He is eternally righteousness and eternally just.  There was never a time that God was not righteous.  There was never a time that God was not just.  So eternality relates to every dimension of His character.

 

Omniscience

 

This is infinity applied to God's knowledge.  The omniscience of God is one of the most comforting dimensions of His character.  In His omniscience we know that He not only knows everything that will happen in history but He also knows everything that could happen in history.  He knows everything that has happened or will happen.  He knows all the possibilities and all of the permutations.  There is no limitation to God's knowledge. 

 

Furthermore we know that He knows the actual events as well as the possible events.  As a result from God's omniscience He is able to provide the perfect solution for human sin and any problem that comes up in human history.  Because God is omniscient we know that He is also truth.  Because without omniscience (the knowledge of everything) He could not provide a universal truth.  But because He knows everything and every permutation and every possibility God is able to provide that universal umbrella that covers every potential and every possibility.  Therefore His knowledge is absolute and His knowledge is exhaustive.  Because as we will see God doesn't change we know that He does not gain in knowledge.  God never learns anything. There is nothing that is going to happen in history that is a surprise or shock to God. That means in your life when you sin and fail you do not surprise God.  You may surprise yourself.  You may shock your friends.  It may be pretty astounding, but it didn't surprise God.  In eternity past God knew that you were going to do that. Not only that but God because He knew all those sins was able to devise a plan for salvation that completely and totally paid the price for all of those sins.  So omniscience is also an answer to the question of the security of our salvation.  If anyone says that they can lose their salvation what they are saying is that they committed a sin that God didn't know about in eternity past.  Therefore He did not provide salvation for it. But the Bible says that in omniscience He can know all of the sins we would commit so that Christ was able to pay for all of the sins of human history. 

 

As I pointed out a minute ago the Scripture teaches that God not only knows the actual but he also knows the possible.  That can really get your mind all twisted around if you start thinking about all of the conceivable permutations.  What would have happened if I slept 15 minutes later this morning?  What if I had taken this route to church instead of another?  If I had taken gone to the grocery store and there was a robbery there?  We can drive ourselves nuts thinking about all of the what-ifs.  The fact is that God knows the answer to all of the what-ifs. 

 

Jesus speaks in Matthew 11:21.

 

NKJ Matthew 11:21 "Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works which were done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes.

 

He speaks of Capernaum.  He recognizes that Tyre and Sidon were judged because of their idolatry in the past.  But He also recognizes that under certain conditions a different response would have been brought about.  That raises a lot of interesting questions.  It demonstrates that God knows all the various contingencies and possibilities.  As the sovereign creator He knows all the stars.  He calls them all by name according to Ps 147:4.  He knows the number of hairs on your head according to Matt 10:30.  He knows all the works of His creation according to Acts 15:18.  When we connect that with His immutability we know that His knowledge never changes.  He never learns anything and He never forgets anything.  He never acquires any knowledge.  He knows everything throughout all of eternity.  A practical application for that is that it gives a foundation of certainty in our spiritual lives.  We know that we are saved.  We know that we will not do anything that will surprise God or that wasn't paid for on the cross.  We know that when we are living life and face various crisis in life - death or loss or disappointment or whatever the situation may be - we know that God knew all about it in eternity past.  Therefore He was able to provide the perfect solution to that problem in eternity past.  He designed everything to be the way that it is so that all the systems would work in perfect harmony with one another.  And He built into the system enough flexibility to be able to handle the chaos that was introduced by sin.  This is a God that goes far beyond anything we can ever fully understand or comprehend. God is omniscient.  He knows everything. 

 

NKJ Psalm 139:1 For the Chief Musician. A Psalm of David. O LORD, You have searched me and known me. 2 You know my sitting down and my rising up; You understand my thought afar off. 3 You comprehend my path and my lying down, And are acquainted with all my ways. 4 For there is not a word on my tongue, But behold, O LORD, You know it altogether. 5 You have hedged me behind and before, And laid Your hand upon me. 6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; It is high, I cannot attain it.

 

This is the basis scripturally of understanding His omniscience.

 

He knows all of them, not some of them. 

 

Omnipotent

 

That means that He is all-powerful.  It is infinity with respect to His power or ability.

 

NKJ Psalm 33:6 By the word of the LORD the heavens were made, And all the host of them by the breath of His mouth. 7 He gathers the waters of the sea together as a heap; He lays up the deep in storehouses. 8 Let all the earth fear the LORD; Let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of Him. 9 For He spoke, and it was done; He commanded, and it stood fast.

 

He was able to create everything in the universe so there is nothing that is impossible for God.  We must fear Him in the sense of respect and admiration and obedience. 

 

When we connect His omnipotence with His omniscience and immutability we recognize that God has the power to provide a perfect solution for us.  He has the power to provide a perfect salvation that takes in to account every dimension of human sin and human failure in our lives so that He can provide that perfect salvation. 

 

Omnipresence 

 

God is present everywhere.  It is infinity with respect to space.  It means that God is present to every point of His creation at every moment in time.  You have to get that right.  Omnipresence means that God is equally present at every moment in time. He is just as fully present to Jim Myers over in the Kiev, Ukraine as He is to you in Houston, Texas. There isn't a little bit here and a little bit there. He is equally fully present to every point in the universe at the same instant.  Omnipresence must be distinguished from pantheism that teaches that everything is god.  But omnipresence teaches that God is everywhere.  He is not in everything.  He is infinitely present to His universe.  Nothing can escape His full presence.

 

Psalm 139 is one of the great meditations in the Scripture on the attributes of God.

 

NKJ Psalm 139:7 Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence?

 

NKJ Psalm 139:8 If I ascend into heaven, You are there; If I make my bed in hell, behold, You are there.

NKJ Psalm 139:9 If I take the wings of the morning, And dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,

 

NKJ Psalm 139:10 Even there Your hand shall lead me, And Your right hand shall hold me.

 

So we have the three omni's – omniscience (God is all knowledge), omnipotent (He has the power to do whatever He wills to do), and omnipresent (He is fully present to every point in space at every point of time).

 

 

 

Immutability

 

That brings us to His last attribute.  Immutability means that God never changes.  Jesus Christ we are told in Hebrews is the same yesterday, today and forever.  He never changes. Let's make sure that we understand what immutability means.  It doesn't mean that He does not adapt His plan to human decisions.  It means that God in His character never changes.  His character and His word are perfectly stable.  He can always be counted on.  His word never changes. 

 

NKJ James 1:17 Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning.

 

God is always stable. We can always rely upon Him.  This is why He can always be truth.  Truth, immutability, love, righteousness, and justice give us a view of an eternally stable God.  So that whenever we go through crisis in life and everything seems in chaos and out of order and in disarray we have one place to go.  He is our rock.  He is our refuge.  He is our stability. 

 

NKJ Hebrews 6:17 Thus God, determining to show more abundantly to the heirs of promise the immutability of His counsel, confirmed it by an oath,

 

His purpose in human history is unchangeable.  From the Garden of Eden to the future New Heavens and New earth He does not change.  God's purpose never changes. 

 

NKJ Malachi 3:6 "For I am the LORD, I do not change; Therefore you are not consumed, O sons of Jacob.

 

Even when we fail, God never fails.  Even when we are false, He is always true. Even when things change God's word never changes.  So it is always true no matter how the centuries change not matter how the civilizations move, more matter how the cultures change; God never changes.  His truth is the same for Africans, Asians, Russians, ancient Babylonians, or modern Christians.  Therefore we can always go to His word to find solutions to every situation in life. When we look at truth as it is related to the character of God, it gives us a source of stability and certainty that relates to everything in life. An application of this goes to His sufficiency.  This is why God's grace is sufficient for everything. This is why the cross of  Christ is sufficient to deal with every sin.  This is why we do not need to look out side the Scripture for solutions to our problems. God's word is absolute and eternal truth.