Easter 2021 sermon on 1 Peter 1:3-5 preached by Pastor Jordan Atkinson
After confessing God’s eternal power and divine nature, the Baptist Faith and Message affirms God’s infinite perfections. By virtue of his deity, God is perfect in every way: ” God is infinite in holiness and all other perfections. God is all powerful and all knowing; and His perfect knowledge extends to all things, past, present, and future, including the future decisions of His free creatures. To Him we owe the highest love, reverence, and obedience.” The Baptist Faith and Message not only lists God’s perfections but also teaches how people should respond to God’s perfections.
The Baptist Faith and Message first lists holiness as the perfection of God. The New Testament affirms, “God is love” (1 John 4:8), and that is wonderfully true, but the Bible even more loudly proclaims God’s holiness. The late R. C. Sproul’s comments are most apt:
Only once in sacred Scripture is an attribute of God elevated to the third degree. Only once is a characteristic of God mentioned three times in succession. The Bible says that God is holy, holy, holy. Not that He is merely holy, or even holy, holy. He is holy, holy, holy. The Bible never says that God is love, love, love; or mercy, mercy, mercy; or wrath, wrath, wrath; or justice, justice, justice. It does say that He is holy, holy, holy, that the whole earth is full of His glory.R. C. Sproul, The Holiness of God (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House, 1998), p. 26
Sproul is referring to Isa 6:1-3, Isaiah’s vision of God’s glory in the temple. But what exactly does God’s holiness mean? When we say that God is infinite in holiness, what do we mean? Peter Gentry helpfully defines God’s holiness:
God is absolutely holy. Holy means that He is completely devoted and in this particular context, devoted to his justice and righteousness which characterizes his instruction of people of Israel in the Covenant, showing them not only what it means to be devoted to him but also what it means to treat each other in a genuinely human wayPeter J. Gentry, “No One Holy Like the Lord,” Midwestern Journal of Theology 12, no. 1 (2013): 33
The Psalms especially demonstrate the soundness of Gentry’s definition of God’s holiness. The great messianic psalm of lament, Psalm 22, begins with an affirmation of God’s holiness in terms of salvation even in the midst of suffering: “Yet you are holy,” David says to God, which God had demonstrated by delivering and rescuing previous generations of Israel (Ps 22:3-5). Similarly, Psalm 99 says of God, “Holy is he!” (Ps 99:3). The Psalmist then describes God’s holiness as his love for justice and as his faithfulness to answer his people with forgiveness (Ps 99:4-8). God is holy, and he is devoted to work salvation for his people and to judge their wicked enemies.
The next perfection of God in The Baptist Faith and Message is his omnipotence. Certainly God is all-powerful, and his exercise of that power was a major point in the previous blog post.
God’s perfect knowledge is the perfection that gets most attention in this part of Article II, and rightly so. Our faith in the perfection of God’s knowledge distinguishes us as Southern Baptists. God is “all knowing; and His perfect knowledge extends to all things, past, present, and future, including the future decisions of His free creatures.” Every piece of that affirmation is vital to our faith as Southern Baptist Christians.
God’s perfect knowledge extends to all things, past, present, and future. We believe God’s knowledge is temporally exhaustive because the Bible says so. God commanded Israel through Isaiah,
Remember this, and stand firm,Isaiah 46:8-10
recall it to mind, you transgressors,
remember the former things of old;
for I am God, and there is no other;
I am God, and there is none like me,
declaring the end from the beginning
and from ancient times things not yet done,
saying, “My counsel shall stand,
and I will accomplish all my purpose,”
According to these verses, one of the ways we know that the God of the Bible is the true and living God is because unlike every other so-called God, this God actually knows “the end from the beginning.” His counsel stands, and he accomplishes all his purpose. This lesson is what Job learned at the end of his great suffering: “I know you can do all things,” he admitted to God, “and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted” (Job 42:2). These verses show, “God’s knowledge depends only on himself. God knows all things by (1) knowing himself, and (2) knowing his own plan for the universe” (John Frame, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Christian Belief [Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2013], 306).
If God knows the end from the beginning, that would necessarily include his knowledge of the future decisions of his free creatures. Things not yet done would be contingent upon the future decisions of free creatures, who may make any number of choices. For God to declare those things from ancient times, he would have to know the decisions his creatures would make before they made them. This affirmation is a point of controversy, even among evangelicals, and even among some Baptists. But we Southern Baptists affirm this truth because (again) the Bible teaches it.
Consider Isaiah 45. God names Cyrus as the one who would decree the rebuilding of Jerusalem and the release of the Jews from exile. God foretold this through Isaiah hundreds of years before Cyrus’s birth! During Isaiah’s ministry, Assyria and Babylon were the two great empires; the Persians were not on anyone’s radar for being the next empire to come afterward! Consider all the decisions of free creatures God had to know to predict this: most broadly, he had to know that Cyrus would decide to wage war against Babylon and succeed, and he had to know that Cyrus’s parents would name him Cyrus. But these events are contingent upon countless other events before them. God’s knowledge truly is exhaustive and meticulous and includes the future decisions of his free creatures.
The death and resurrection of Jesus is the clearest proof that God knows the future actions of his free creatures. In the first Christian sermon, Peter proclaimed, “Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know—this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it” (Acts 2:22-24). Jesus’ death was the definite plan and foreknowledge of God. God had planned Jesus’ death for the salvation of people from every tribe, tongue, and nation from before the foundation of the world, and Jesus’ death necessitated the free choice of the Jewish leaders and lawless pagans to execute him. God knew the decisions they would freely make, and they were accountable for those sinful choices.
Our Response to God’s Perfections
God’s infinite perfections demand our love, reverence, and obedience. We should love God for his infinite perfections (Matt 22:37-40), especially for the way that he expresses his holiness in acting to save us, and in the way that he uses his perfect knowledge to effect our salvation through the death and resurrection of his Son, Jesus Christ. We should revere or honor God for his infinite perfections. The Bible most often refers to our reverence for God as “fear” of God (e.g., Deut 6:13; Ps 25:11-15; 1 Pet 1:17). Finally, God’s infinite perfections should inspire our obedience. Such is the thrust of 1 Peter 1:14-16, ” As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy.'” The holiness of God calls us his people to be holy likewise.
We at Friendship Baptist Church are not perfectly holy. But we serve a perfectly holy God. And we are striving to grow in increasing conformity to his holiness, day in and day out, week in and week out. We love him, and seek to show him our love by our reverence for him and obedience to his commands. We would invite you to join us in this lifelong journey!