Notes on Knowing God by J. I. Packer
This is a book about transforming theology (studying about God) into everyday experience (true knowledge and experience of the nature and person of God in everyday life)
What is the difference between a “balconeer” and a “traveler”?
“Ignorance of God – ignorance both of His ways and of the practice of communion with him – lies at the root of much of the church’s weakness today” (p.12)
Can this be applied to personal weakness as well?
Two “unhappy trends” in the church:
Christian minds have been conformed to the modern spirit
It is okay to go through religious motions, but set God off at a distance
Christian minds have been confused by modern skepticism
God is not sovereign or holy; the historical accuracy of the Bible is to be questioned, etc.
There is great uncertainty about God
H. Spurgeon fought against what he called the “downgrade” of the weakened Christian view of his day on the matters of Scripture, the atonement of Christ and human destiny. What difference does it make if we believe in these things?
Section One: Know the Lord
Chapter One – The Study of God
The study of God both humbles and expands the mind – and it heals the soul. “He who often thinks of God, will have a larger mind than the man who simply plods around this narrow globe…” (Spurgeon)
But why study God? Because if you disregard the study of God, “you sentence yourself to stumble and blunder through life blindfolded, as it were, with no sense of direction and no understanding of what surrounds you”.
So where do we start our study of God? With five foundational principles:
God has spoken to man, and the Bible is his Word
God is Lord and King over His world
God is Savior – active to rescue believers from the guilt and power of sin
God is triune – there are within God three persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit
Godliness means responding to God’s revelation in trust and obedience, faith and worship, prayer and praise,submission and service
“A crucial question as we start is, “What is my ultimate aim and object in occupying my mind with these things? What so I intend to do with my knowledge about God, once I have it? For the fact that we have to face is this: If we pursue theological knowledge for its own sake, it is bound to go bad on us. It will make us proud and conceited. The very greatness of the subject matter will intoxicate us and we shall come to think of ourselves as a cut above other Christians because of our interest in it and grasp of it…
How can we turn our knowledge about God into knowledge of God? We have to turn each truth that we learn about God into matter for meditation before God, leading to prayer and praise to God.” (and lived out in everyday life with God)
Knowledge about God –> meditations before God –>
prayer and praise to God –> life with God
Meditation is the activity of calling to mind, and thinking over, and dwelling on, and applying to oneself, the various things one that knows about the works and ways and purposes and promises of God.
Chapter Two – The People Who Know Their God
People who really know God do not brood over might-have-beens, past hurts or things they have missed — they think on what they have gained. (see Paul’s declaration in Phil. 3:7-10). What normal person spends his time nostalgically dreaming of manure? In comparison, the presence and knowledge of Christ far surpasses these trivial hurts.
* One can know a great deal about God without much knowledge of Him
One can know a great deal about godliness without much knowledge of God
People who truly know God carry these characteristics (see the life of Daniel):
Those who know God have great energy for God, protect his honor, and express this this zeal first of all in their prayer life (which is a true barometer of a person’s knowledge of God)
Those who know God have great thoughts of God (the Most High is Sovereign over the kingdoms of men”).
“Does His holy majesty, His moral perfection and His gracious faithfulness keep
us humble and dependent, awed and obedient?
Those who know God show great boldness for God. They had calculated… they knew what they were doing, but they stuck their necks out in loyalty to God
Those who know God have great contentment in God. There is no peace like the peace of those whose minds are possessed with the full assurance that they have known God, and God has known them, and that this relationship guarantees God;s favor to them in life, through death and on forever.
If we desire such knowledge of God, then we must, 1) recognize how much we lack the knowledge of God, and 2) seek the Savior.
Chapter Three – Knowing and Being Known
What were we made for? To know God.
What makes life worthwhile is having a big enough objective, something that catches our imagination and lays hold of our allegiance; and this the Christian has in a way that no other person has — there is nothing higher than knowing God.
“Knowing” God is, of necessity, more complex than “knowing” another person, just as “knowing” my neighbor is a more complex business than “knowing” a house, or a book, or a language. The more complex the object, the more complex the knowing of it (people have histories, personalities, secrets, motives).
Our knowing a person, or our knowing God is more dependent on him than on us. He opens himself to us and allows us to know Him. He begins to talk to us through the words of Scripture. Invites us into friendship and labor together with Him in His purposes.
Knowing God involves:
Listening to God’s Word and receiving it as the Holy Spirit interprets it, in application to oneself
Noting God’s nature and character
Accepting His invitations and doing what He commands
recognizing and rejoicing in the love that He has shown for us
God uses four pictures to show us how we know Him:
as a son knowing his Father
as a wife knowing her husband
as a subject knowing his king
as a sheep knowing his shepherd
It is only through knowing Jesus Christ that we know God in these ways. (John 14: 9,6)
Knowing God is a personal matter
a matter of personal dealing (a simple Bible reader and sermon hearer who is full of the Holy Spirit will develop a far deeper acquaintance with his God and Savior than a mere learned scholar who is content with being theologically correct.
a matter of personal involvement (including our mind, will and feelings/emotions)
a matter of grace (It is a relationship in which the initiative throughout is with God – We do not make friends with God He makes friends with us, making himself known to us)
“There is tremendous relief in knowing that His love for me is utterly realistic, based at every point on prior knowledge of the worst about me, so that no discovery can now disillusion Him about me, in the way that I am so disillusioned about myself, and quench His determination to bless me.”
Chapter Four – The Only True God
What does the word idolatry suggest to your mind? Here Packer examines the second commandment and why it is essential for truly knowing God.
Ex. 20:4-6 — “You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth. “You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing lovingkindness to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.
Idolatry is not only the worship of false images, but the worship of the true God by images — it is also worshiping a man-originated idea or mental image of God rather than who God has revealed Himself to be in His Word.
The problem is this:
Images dishonor God, for they obscure His glory – symbols are unworthy objects because they fail to display they fulness of God (e.g., the crucifix shows the human frailty of Christ, but not his deity, his victory and his present kingdom).
Images mislead us, for they convey false images about God – (e.g., historically, brooding over the image of the crucifix has caused men through the ages to equate morbid physical suffering with devotion to God, thus keeping them from a true knowledge of their God and Savior).
Idolatry can come in the form of molten images or mental images. False mental images (“I don’t like to think of God as… I prefer to see him as…”) In reality, those who hold themselves free to think of God as they like are breaking the second commandment.
We are made in His image, but we must not think of Him existing in ours. To think of God in such terms in to be ignorant of Him, not to know Him. God is transcendent, mysterious and inscrutable — not image we can make (molten or mental) can adequately portray Him. Only his Word and His self-revelation ion His Son, Jesus Christ can reveal Him to us correctly.
Those who take molten or mental images of God into their worship will find their theology shaped by those images… ending in false worship and a false Christian lifestyle.
Chapter Five – God incarnate
The supreme mystery of the gospel is the incarnation – that Jesus of Nazareth was God made man. When we understand this, it is not difficult to reconcile all the other mysteries of the gospel (the virgin birth, the atonement, the resurrection, the miracles of Christ).
The baby born at Bethlehem was God (distinct, personal deity)
“In the beginning was the Word” – the Word’s eternity
“the Word was with God” – the Word’s personality
“and the Word was God” – the Word’s deity
“through Him all things were made” – the Word creating
“in Him was life” – the Word animating
“that life was the light of men” – the Word revealing
“the Word became flesh” – the Word incarnate
The baby born at Bethlehem was God made man
He had not ceased to be God; he was no less God then than before; but he had begun to be man.
He was not now God minus some elements of his deity, but God plus all that he had made his own by taking manhood to himself.
Packer spends much time disputing the so called “kenosis theory”
“If we desire spiritual quickening for ourselves individually, one step we should take is to seek to cultivate this spirit. “You know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.” (2 Cor. 8:9)
Chapter Six – He Shall Testify
A foundational doctrine of the Christian faith is the doctrine of the Trinity – One God existing in three persons. But the third person of the Trinity is often forgotten or dishonored. Jesus promised to give us another comforter (or in various translations, counselor, helper, advocate, one to befriend you), the Spirit of truth or the Holy Spirit.
The Son is subject to the Father, for the Son is sent by the Father in his (the Father’s)name
The The Spirit is subject to the Father, for the Spirit is sent by the Father in the Son’s name
The Spirit is subject to the Son as well, for the Spirit is sent by the Son as well as by the Father.
If the work that Christ did matters for the church, the work that the Spirit does must matter as well. Firstly, without the Holy Spirit there would be no gospel and no New Testament, for the Spirit testified to the apostles about Jesus and empowered the apostles to testify about Jesus to others. Secondly, without the Holy Spirit there would be no faith and no new birth – in short, no Christians. No on can prove the truth of Christianity by their own arguments; nobody can prove the truth of Christianity except the Holy Spirit, by his own almighty work of renewing the blinded heart.
The present barrenness of the church’s life is God’s judgment on us for the way in which we have dishonored the Holy Spirit.
Section Two: Behold Your God
Chapter Seven – God Unchanging
The Bible can seem distant sometimes as we study it because we live in a world that is very much changed from the world we read about there. But it is not truly distant, because God himself is forever unchanging.
God does not change:
God’s life goes not change – he is a perfect being, therefore he cannot change for the better or for the worse. Creatures are mutable, but the Creator cannot change.
God’s character does not change – God reveals himself as I AM THAT I AM – a declaration of his self-existence and his eternal changelessness. God’s moral character is always the same.
God’s truth does not change – The words of human beings are unstable things; we change our minds when we change perspective. But the words of God do not change. “Scripture cannot be broken” and nothing can annul God’s eternal truth.
God’s ways do not change – The way God deals with people in Scripture is the way he deals with people today.
God’s purposes do not change – God does not change his mind. No change in his eternal purpose is implied when he begins to deal with a person in a new way
God’s Son does not change – Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday, today and forever.
Chapter Eight – The Majesty of God
Majesty, when applied to God, is always a declaration of his greatness and an invitation to worship. Modern people tend to have exalted views of themselves and small thoughts of God.
Today, vast stress is laid on the thought that God is personal, but we can come to think that God is a person of the same sort as we are if we are not careful. Like us, God is personal; but unlike us, he is great. His own name for himself is El Shaddai, “God Almighty”.
In order to view God in his majesty we have to do two things:
remove from our thought of God limits that would make him small (Luther “your thoughts of God are too human”).
Psalm 138 – There are no bounds to his presence with me, his knowledge of me, his power over all things.
Compare him with powers and forces which we regard as great.
Isaiah 40 – look at the things I have done – could any man do this?
Look at the nations, the world, the world’s great ones, look at the stars
To whom will you compare me? Why will you say ‘my way is hid from the Lord’? Have you not heard that the everlasting God does not faint, and will not grow weary?
Our response to all of this is humble worship and submission to this God of majesty
Chapter Nine – God Only Wise
In scripture, wisdom is a moral as well as an intellectual quality; it is the power to see, and the inclination to choose, the best and highest goal, together with the surest means to achieve it.
God is all infinite power, governed by infinite wisdom.
God has not promised a trouble free life, but rather his first purpose is that a great host of humankind should come to love and honor him, learn the practice of living in His presence and seeing all life in relation to him.
We should not, then, be taken aback when unexpected and upsetting and discouraging things happen to us now. They simply mean that God in his wisdom means to make something of us which we have not attained yet, and he is dealing with us accordingly.
His purpose my be to simply draw us closer to him — for as all saints know, fellowship with the Father and the Son is most vivid and sweet, and Christian joy is greatest, when the cross is heaviest. Or perhaps God is preparing us for forms of service of which at present we have no inkling.
We may be frankly bewildered at the things that happen to us, but God knows exactly what he is doing, and what he is after, in his handling of our own affairs. God, in his wisdom orders the events of a human life for a double purpose: the individual’s own personal sanctification, and the fulfilling of his appointed ministry and service in the life of the people of God.
We must trust His wisdom – which he works out through our journey of trust and obedience with him… sometimes through painful experiences which are quite undeserved. “He knows the way he taketh”, even if for the moment we do not.
Take these difficult situations as from God, looking for God’s purposes to come forth; ask what reactions he requires of us; seek God’s face specifically about them; know that he is the only wise God.
Chapter Ten – God’s Wisdom and Ours
Incommunicable attributes are qualities of God’s nature that are transcendent from humans – we do not share these (immutability, omniscience, infinity, etc.)
Communicable attributes are those qualities of God’s character that he transferred to man when he made man in his own image (goodness, truth, strength, etc.)
Wisdom is among these communicable attributes. We get it by: 1) learning to reverence God (the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom – Prov. 1:7), and, 2) learning to receive God’s Word.
Wisdom is not knowing all of the whys and wherefores of events that happen. Wisdom is simply trying to see and do the right thing in actual situations of life as they present themselves. We have to live clear-sighted and realistically, as we are taught to in the book of Ecclesiastes.
Wisdom consists in choosing the best means to the best ends, by trusting in the grace and revelation of God. It is not possessing all of God’s knowledge, but realizing that he possesses all knowledge and trusting Him. It is living in faith and faithfulness.
Chapter Eleven – Thy Word is Truth
Two facts about God are evident throughout scripture:
He is King – he is the sovereign Lord
He speaks – he makes himself known to us
God speaks to determine our environment and to engage our hearts and minds. He speaks to move us to do what he wants and to enable us to know him, so that we may love him.
God’s Word has a threefold character:
Is it law – commands and prohibitions
It is promise – favorable or unfavorable, conditional or unconditional
It is testimony – revealing truths about God or his people
The first three chapters of Genesis shows us God’s living Word on two different levels.
God spoke and things happened (“Let there be…”) – God’s Word has creative power.
God spoke “to them” – direct fellowship with human beings
God’s commands are true – They are absolutely dependable, stable and permanent. They teach us unchanging truth about God and about us.
God’s promises are true, for he always keeps them – we can depend upon his promises; we should study and keep them in our hearts.
True Christians are people who acknowledge and live submitted to the Word of God. We judge all things according to what God has communicated to us in the scriptures.
Chapter Twelve – The Love of God
“God is love.. we know and rely on the love God has for us” (1 John 4:16)
This is the ordinary experience of the Christian, for the Holy Spirit sheds abroad in our hearts the love of God (the Spirit personally and continually floods our heart with the knowledge of the love of God – this is a key job of the Holy Spirit).
The love which God shows to humanity, and which Christians experience is a revelation of his own inner being. When we looked at God’s wisdom, we saw something of his mind; his power, something of his arm; his Word, something of his mouth – but now, in contemplating his love, we look into his heart.
”God is love” is not the complete truth about God as far as the Bible’s revelation of God is concerned – God is also Creator and judge, who acts in severity and justice as well as mercy. God is also spirit – he has no body and he is not limited to be in one place at a time and he is not moved by fickle emotions. So the love of God does not fluctuate as human love does. God is also light – holiness and purity as judged by the standard of God’s law. He loves righteousness and hates iniquity. His holiness, nor his love, are not compromised by is accepting sinners.
“God is love” is the complete truth about God as far as the Christian is concerned. God is love in everything that he says and does toward us.
Defining 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.
If we truly understand that this is God’s heart attitude toward us, we should never groan about our circumstance, never distrust and fear, never grow cold in our passion toward him.
And, “Since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” (1 John 4:11)
Chapter Thirteen – the Grace of God
Grace is much talked about in our churches, but there doesn’t seem to be many in our churches who actually believe in grace. The root of the problem seems to be misbelief about the basic relationship between a person and God. Grace presupposes four doctrinal truths:
The moral ill-desert of man – God is not a magnified image of man (as in pagan cultures. Rather, man is fallen from God’s image, rebels from God and is under the righteous wrath of God.
The retributive justice of God – God cannot and does not turn a blind eye away from wrongdoing. He is the holy judge of all the earth, and he will do what is right. God is not true to himself unless he punished sin. If I do not understand this, I can never understand grace.
The spiritual impotence of man – We cannot repair our position with God by adding up good works and them making God obligated to accept us. “No one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law” (Romans 3:20)
The sovereign freedom of God – God is not obliged to love and help us, though we little deserve it. We can only claim from him justice, and with that, condemnation
The grace of God is love freely shown toward guilty sinners, contrary to their merit and indeed in defiance of their merit. It is God showing goodness to persons who deserve only severity. Once a person is convinced that his state and need are as described, the New Testament gospel of grace cannot but sweep him off his feet with wonder and joy.
Grace is the source of pardon of sin – justification is God calling us not guilty of what we are clearly guilty, because of the gracious work of Christ
Grace is the motive of the plan of redemption – election –> redemption –> glorification –> the seal of the Spirit
Grace is the guarantee of the preservation of the saints – I do not need to torment myself with the fear that my faith may fail; grace led me to faith and grace will keep me believing to the end
The proper response to grace is righteous living out of thanksgiving and deep praise.
Chapter Fourteen – God the Judge
The Bible is clear that our God is not only our Father and our Savior, but also and equally our Judge. This is both an Old Testament and a New Testament reality. Bible history, the Law, the Prophets, Wisdom literature, the teachings of Jesus and the writings of the epistles all confer – God is Judge of all.
Characteristics of a judge:
A judge is a person with authority – The kingdom of God is not a democratic republic where legislative and judicial powers are separated. It is a Theocracy and God is both King (lawgiver) and judge (assessor of hearts).
A judge is a person identified with what is good and right – the Bible is clear that God loves righteousness and hates iniquity. He is wholly identified with what is good/right.
The judge is a person of wisdom, to discern truth – God is the omniscient searcher of hearts and finder of facts. He judges the secrets of men and we all will be made to appear (made manifest) before the judgment seat of Christ.
A judge is a person of power to execute sentence – god is his own executioner; as he legislates and sentences, so he punishes.
God, in his righteous judgment, deals out retribution, rendering to persons what they have deserved; to reward good with good and evil with evil is natural to God. God will see to it that each person sooner or later receives what he deserves – if not here, then hereafter. This is one of the basic facts of life. If he did not – if he was morally indifferent – this would be an imperfection in God. The final proof that God is a perfect moral being is the fact that he has committed himself to judge the world righteously.
The agent of Father in judging the world is Jesus Christ. “The Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgment to the Son…” (John 5:22). It is the judgment seat of Christ we are all to stand before.
Although we Christians are ultimately made righteous, justified and acquitted by the work of Christ on the cross, the significance of being judged by our works is that our works are an index of our heart. Reward and loss dealt out to Christians are based on our works that flow from hearts that are either rightly or wrongly related to God and to men. Judgment is fearful to the wicked, but to forgiven Christians, we know that we are free from condemnation.
Chapter Fifteen – The Wrath of God
Wrath (righteous anger, aroused by injustice) is a characteristic of God. Although it is not popular to think of God in this way in our day, there are more references to wrath, anger or fury in the Bible than to love and tenderness. God’s wrath is not like human wrath (capricious, self-indulgent and irritable) but, rather, a right and necessary response to moral evil.
Wrath in the Bible, is always judicial – God is dealing out to sinners exactly what they deserve. In fact, he is giving the unbeliever just what he has chosen: the unbeliever has chosen to be by himself, without God, defying God, and he shall have his preference.
Wrath in Romans
The meaning of God’s wrath – God’s resolute action in punishing sin.
The revelation of God’s wrath – It is revealed on every person’s conscience;
The deliverance from God’s wrath – comes only through the work of Christ on the cross. Jesus delivers us from the wrath to come (1 Thess.1:10) because his death was a propitiation (payment) for our sin.
Wrath is an uncomfortable subject, but if we are to truly know God, it is vital that we face the truth concerning his wrath.
Chapter Sixteen – Goodness and Severity
Goodness and severity are both attributes of God, and we are to dwell, not on one or the other, but on both if we are to understand the nature and person of God.
If we do not understand severity, Christianity dies off – for the substance of the Christian faith is faith in the forgiveness of sins through the redeeming work of the Christ on the cross.
God’s goodness can be understood as a summation of all of his moral qualities: trustworthiness, truthfulness, tenderness, forbearance, generosity, kindness, etc.
(see Exodus 33-34) It is manifested clearly when we take time to list out all that God has blessed us with.
God’s Severity (cutting off) is his decisive withdrawal of his goodness from those who have spurned it (e.g. Israel, as noted in Romans 9). “He does not leave the guilty unpunished” (Exodus 34:6-7). God is not impatient in his severity – just the opposite – he is “slow to anger” and “longsuffering”.
Our response to God’s goodness and severity should be:
Appreciate the goodness of God – count your blessings
Appreciate the patience of God – remember how he has born with you.
Appreciate the discipline of God – discipline is his kindness that leads you to repentance
Chapter Seventeen – The Jealous God
How can God be jealous, if jealousy is a bad thing? Yet scripture reveals God as a jealous God. How can jealousy be a virtue in God when it is a vice in humans?
The Bible’s description of God as jealous is an anthropomorphism – God’s way of revealing himself through human characteristics. We cannot project the fallen type of jealousy (the only kind that we as fallen humans have known) onto God. Just as God’s wrath is holy and righteous wrath, there is a form of non-tainted, admirable jealousy that God possesses.
There are two kinds of jealousy among humans, and only one of them is a vice One type of jealousy is an attitude of “I want what you have and I hate you for having it.” The other (righteous) type is an attitude of zeal to protect a love relationship or avenge it when it is broken. This is a positive virtue because at the heart of it is the desire to keep the relationship in tact. God’s jealousy is the latter kind (see passages in the OT relating to Israel’s spiritual “adultery”).
God demands from those whom he loves and has redeemed absolute loyalty and will punish them if they are unfaithful, because God’s covenant love for us and our relationship with Him is the supreme thing.
The Christian Response:
The jealousy of God requires that we be zealous for God – positively and passionately devoted to him and his honor
The jealousy of God threatens churches that are not zealous for God
Section Three: If God Be For Us
Chapter Eighteen – The Heart of the Gospel
The heart of the gospel is propitiation. Pagan religions, universally and throughout history, try to control and bribe their gods by sacrifices. Appeasing the bad tempers of the gods takes it place in everyday life. The Bible removes us from the world of paganism, condemning it as a distortion of truth. And yet, propitiation – the idea of averting God’s anger by an offering – runs right through the Bible.
Especially in the New Testament, the idea of propitiation teaches us: 1) why it is just for God to judge sinners, 2) why the Son of God had to come in the flesh, 3) the heavenly ministry of the Lord Jesus, and 4) John’s definition of the love of God. A gospel without propitiation at its heart is another gospel than the one Paul preached.
Expiation is the covering of sin so that it no longer constitutes a barrier to the friendly fellowship between man and God. Propitiation goes further by pacifying the righteous wrath of God. Now, instead of being against us, God shows himself in our life and experience to be for us, because of the propitiation made available by the work of Christ on the cross.
Propitiation is the work of God himself – unlike in paganism where man propitiates his gods by his own offerings, God propitiates his own wrath by his own action. God loved the objects of his own wrath so much that he gave his own Son to the end that he by his blood should make provision for the removal of His wrath. Propitiation is apart from the law, and only found in the work of Christ.
Propitiation was made by the death of Jesus Christ – One died for all… God was reconciling the world to Himself in Christ, not counting their sins against them. (2 Cor. 5:14, 18-21)
Propitiation manifests God’s righteousness – “…that He might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus”
Our present state of being in the wrong with ourselves and our fellows cannot be cured as long as we remain in the wrong with God. Propitiation solves the former problems by solving the latter.
Consider how these ideas relate to propitiation:
Think of the driving force in the life of Jesus – he was a man of action, who knew himself to be divine, whose messianic mission centered on being put to death, and for whom the experience of death was the most fearful ordeal.
Think of the destiny of those who reject God – “On the cross, God judged our sins in the person of His Son, and Jesus endured the retributive comeback of our wrongdoing. Look at the cross therefore, and you see what form God’s judicial reaction to human sin will finally take. What form is that? in a word, withdrawal and deprivation of good.”
Think of God’s gift of peace – the peace of God is first and foremost peace with God. It is the state of affairs in which God, instead of being against us, is for us.
Think of the dimensions of the love of God – Christ’s love was free, unreserved and sovereign.
Think of God’s glory – In heaven, where these things are better understood, angels and men unite to praise “the Lamb who was slain.”
Chapter Nineteen – Sons of God
A Christian is one who has God as Father. Sonship is not a universal status into which everyone enters by natural birth, but a supernatural gift which one receives through receiving Jesus.; “No one comes to the Father except through me”. Sonship is a gift of grace and is an adoptive relationship. While Jehovah was the Hebrew name for God, implying God’s separateness or holiness, “Father” is the the Christian name for God, implying that God is approachable and relational. If you belong to Christ, the holy God is your Father.
God has not left us to guess hat his fatherhood amounts to by drawing analogies from our imperfect earthly fathers. He has revealed his fatherhood in His incarnate Son, Jesus Christ. As Jesus related to the Father, so God wants us to relate to Him. This relationship implies:
Authority – God commands and we are to obey
Affection – The Father loves the Son
Fellowship – God is with me always
Honor – I do all that I do in order to bring Him honor
Adoption is the highest privilege that the gospel offers – even higher than justification. Justification meets our spiritual need while adoption involves a richer relationship with God. To be right with God the Judge is a great thing, but to be loved and cared for by God the Father is a greater.
This adoptive relationship is a blessing that abides.. We have absolute stability and security , because the parent is entirely wise and good. Our position as sons is permanently assured. And the knowledge of this adoptive sonship must control our lives, as seen in the Sermon on the Mount. Here we see four areas that are affected by our adoptive relationship.
Christian conduct – We live to imitate, glorify and please the Father
Christian Prayer – We pray, “Our Father…” – He always answers, but he often gives us what we should have prayed for rather than what we prayed for.
The Life of Faith – Trusting our Father for our material needs as we seek His kingdom and His righteousness
Our adoption shows us God’s great love for us. While we are not fit for a place in His family, still He has chosen us – not because he had to, but because he wanted to. Our adoption shows us the glory of Christian hope, in that we have a promised inheritance and a promise that we shall be like him. Our adoption gives us the key to understanding the ministry of the Spirit, as he causes us to cry out “Abba, Father” and presses us into the family likeness. Adoption shows us the meaning and motives of “gospel holiness”. Out of this revelation of being sons of God, we keep ourselves pure (1 John 3). Adoption gives us assurance. Having the perfect Father means that our family relationship is a permanent one and that He will go out of His way to make His children feel loved and know their privilege and security as members of the family.
Justification frees one forever from the need to keep the law, or try to, as the means of earning life. Adoption lays on us the abiding obligation to keep the law, as the means of pleasing one’s newfound Father.
Summary: I am a child of God. God is my Father; heaven is my home; everyday is one day nearer. My Savior is my brother; every Christian is my brother too.
Chapter Twenty – Thou Our Guide
To many Christians, guidance is a chronic problem. They believe that God leads, but they are not sure of their own ability to receive guidance.
We know that divine guidance is real, because:
God has a plan for us, and
He is able to communicate with us
Wisdom in scripture is always knowledge of the course of action that will please God and secure life.
we look to scripture
we learn to be sensitive to our guide, the Holy Spirit
we obey what we have heard
It is a mistake to look to an inner prompting apart from the written Word of God. Our rational Creator guides his rational creatures by a rational understanding and application of his written Word.
Common pitfalls for guidance
unwillingness to think
unwillingness to think ahead
unwillingness to take advice
unwillingness to suspect oneself
unwillingness to discount personal magnetism
unwillingness to wait
Trouble should always lead one to consider his ways, but trouble is not necessarily a sign of being off track. God is able to take even our own folly and mistakes, bring them into his plan and bring good out of them.
Chapter Twenty One – These Inward Trials
It is cruel, and not at all theologically correct, to promise people that if they come to Christ their life will be one of uninterrupted happiness. While being a gentle Father and shepherd to us, his children, yet God uses trials and difficult times to build character, strengthen our faith and prepare us to help others. God grows us up by using difficult times.
God’s grace is a key here. The New Testament teaches both a will of grace and a work of grace.
In the will of grace, God calls plans to save us, calls us to living fellowship with him, raises us from death to life seals us, transforms un into his image and will finally raise our bodies up in glory.
In the work of grace, God leads us into a life of trust, love, faith, delight and obedience. He fills our lives with troubles in order to ensure that we hold him fast.
Chapter Twenty Two – The Adequacy of God
All roads in the Bible lead to Romans, and all views afforded by the Bible are seen clearly from Romans.
In the Bible we find doctrine – truth about God, taught by God, but we also find practical examples about what it means to serve God and not to serve him. We find community, how the church/fellowship are to operate. The Bible is also God’s personal letter to each of his children. Romans is the high peak of the Bible, and Romans chapter eight is the high peak of Romans.
One will not penetrate the secret of Romans 8 by studying the chapter on its own. Only when you have come to know yourself as a lost and hopeless sinner (ch. 1-3), trust God’s promise by faith, along with Abraham (ch. 4-5), and understood what it is to be a new creature committed to total holiness and known the struggle of flesh and spirit, can Romans 8 yield up its full riches and make its great power known to you.
The law is not sin, but the law is a source of sin, for it actually foments what it forbids. the law speaks not of privilege and achievement, but only of failure and guilt. Paul communicates clearly to the Romans that what is decisive is not what the law says about them, but what the gospel says. It is “sovereign grace o’er sin abounding,” as an antidote to the wretchedness that comes from being measures by the law.
Romans 8 – the first thirty verses set forth the adequacy of the grace of God to deal with a whole series of predicaments – the guilt and power of sin (vv. 1-9); the fact of death (vv. 6-13); the terror of confronting God’s holiness (vv. 15); weakness and despair in the face of suffering (vv. 17-25); paralysis in prayer (vv. 26-27); the feeling that life is meaningless and hopeless (vv. 28-30).
Paul makes this point by dwelling on four gifts of God given to all who by faith are in Christ Jesus. The first is righteousness, “no condemnation”, (v. 1); the second is the Holy Spirit (vv. 4-27). The third is sonship – adoption (vv. 14-17) and the fourth is security, now and forever (vv. 28-30). Here we are endowed with a status, plus a dynamic, plus an identity, plus a safe conduct – more than enough to support a Christian whatever his trouble.
Then in verses 31-39 Paul calls on his readers to react to what he has written – “what shall we say then, in response to this?” He slightly shifts his theme from the adequacy of the grace of God, to the adequacy of the God of grace. Though my heart and flesh may fail, yet God is the strength of my life and my portion forever.
Paul calls us to respond to “these things” – what he has laid out in verses 1-30. He calls us to “possess our possessions”. Make yourself look up from your problems to the God of the gospel. Think of what you know of God through the gospel and apply it. Let evangelical thinking correct emotional thinking. He answers his own question (What shall we say to these things?) by four questions of his own: “If God be for us, who can be against us?”, Will he not also give us all things with him (Christ)”, “Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect?” and “What shall separate us from the love of Christ?”
God is for us – the thought here is that no opposition can finally crush us. God is the sovereign protector and keeps his covenant with us.
No good thing withheld – God’s redemption in Christ was costly and effective. He cannot, based on his heart toward us and the work of Christ, not give us all things.