an expository sermon on Isaiah 2:22-4:6 preached by Pastor Jordan Atkinson on December 6, 2020
Living in the United States in the 21st century, we are blessed with a plethora of theological resources. The Bible, the gospel, and the things of God have never been so accessible as they are now in our society. Below are some of the books and articles that have been most helpful to me both to know God better and to love God better, the focus of Article II of Friendship’s statement of faith.
Resources on the Attributes of God
All That Is in God: Evangelical Theology and the Challenge of Classical Christian Theism by James E. Dolezal
God’s Greater Glory: The Exalted God of Scripture and the Christian Faith by Bruce Ware
Knowing God by J. I. Packer
The Holiness of God by R. C. Sproul
Resources on the Trinity
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit: Relationships, Roles, and Relevance by Bruce Ware
Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Christian Belief by John M. Frame
Resources on God the Son
God the Son Incarnate: The Doctrine of Christ by Stephen J. Wellum
The Person of Christ by Donald MacLeod
Resources on the Holy Spirit
God’s Indwelling Presence: The Holy Spirit in the Old and New Testaments by James M. Hamilton Jr.
Spiritual Gifts: What They Are and Why They Matter by Thomas R. Schreiner
The Holy Spirit by Sinclair Ferguson
“The Witness of the Spirit in Romans 8:16: Interpretation and Applications” by Daniel B. Wallace. Pp. 37-52 in Who’s Afraid of the Holy Spirit? An Investigation into the Ministry of the Spirit of God Today, edited by Daniel B. Wallace and M. James Sawyer. (He has published an online version of this essay at bible.org.)
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!
After describing our understanding of Scripture, Friendship’s statement of faith goes on to profess what we believe about God. Article II begins, “There is one and only one living and true God. He is an intelligent, spiritual, and personal Being, the Creator, Redeemer, Preserver, and Ruler of the universe.” These statements flesh out what Paul teaches in Rom 1:19-20. Those verses describe God’s “eternal power and divine nature” as “invisible attributes” that “can be known about God.” Following the order of Article II, this blog post will consider God’s eternal power and divine nature in reverse order.
God’s Divine Nature
The Baptist Faith and Message begins its discussion of God by affirming God’s divine nature. “There is one and only one living and true God.” Both the Old and New Testaments affirm this sort of monotheism. In Genesis, Adam’s descendants begin “calling on the name of the Lord” in the third generation from Eden (Gen 4:26). Abraham and Melchizedek both serve “God Most High” (Gen 14:18-23). The plagues on Egypt were meant to show how God is the one true God as opposed to the idols of Egypt (Exod 12:12). Moses especially emphasizes the oneness of God in Deuteronomy 4:32-39. The God of Israel is the Creator God (v. 32). The God of Israel alone appeared in fire to people and spoke audibly to them (vv. 33, 36). The God of Israel alone redeemed a nation of slaves from a mighty empire (vv. 34-35, vv. 37-39). Such are the truths behind the great monotheistic confession at the heart of Deuteronomy and of Old Testament faith: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one” (Deut 6:4). Jeremiah later explicitly says that man-made gods are not gods (Jer 16:20).
The New Testament upholds the monotheism of the Old Testament, though this monotheism is transformed by the revelation of God in Jesus Christ. (A future blog post will focus on the Trinity in detail.) Paul and Barnabas affirm the reality of a single Creator God when they preach at Lystra, “We also are men, of like nature with you, and we bring you good news, that you should turn from these vain things to a living God, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them” (Acts 14:15). Paul later writes to Christians in Corinth, “Therefore, as to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that ‘an idol has no real existence,’ and that ‘there is no God but one.’ For although there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth—as indeed there are many ‘gods’ and many ‘lords’—yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist” (1 Cor 8:4-6). This monotheism is transformed by the reality that Jesus Christ is Lord (and thus divine), but it is still monotheism. There is one God, not many. There is no God but one. And Paul reminds the Galatian Christians, “Formerly, when you did not know God, you were enslaved to those that by nature are not gods” (Gal 4:8). The God of the Bible alone is God; he alone possesses the divine nature.
The Baptist Faith and Message goes on to describe God’s divine nature in terms of his intelligence, spirithood, and personhood. Since Friendship’s statement of faith considers God’s perfect knowledge in greater detail later in Article II, this blog post will focus on God’s spirithood and personhood as aspects of his divine nature. Jesus clearly teaches, “God is spirit” (John 4:24). God exists beyond the world of space and time. He created the physical universe (Gen 1:1). He exists before and beyond it. He is a spirit, unbound by the limitations of space like we creatures are.
The personhood of God is also a vital aspect of his divine nature. God’s personhood speaks to his self-sufficiency. God does not need humanity for relationship. He has eternally existed as the one God in three Persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Jesus’ prayer the night before his crucifixion makes this point especially clear: “And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence iwth the glory that I had with you before the world existed. … Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world” (John 17:5, 24). The three Persons of the Trinity had perfect relationship from eternity past; God had perfect communion within himself before creating a single creature.
God’s Eternal Power
Nevertheless, it is God’s work in relation to the created universe that demonstrates to us his eternal power. As the Baptist Faith and Message summarizes, God exercises his eternal power as Creator, Redeemer, Preserver, and Ruler of the universe.
The Bible repeatedly extols God’s power as Creator of the universe. Such is how the Bible opens (Gen 1-2). God created all things by the word of his power. He spoke, and everything came into being out of nothing (Heb 11:3). The Psalmist reflects, “By the word of the Lord the heavens were made, and by the breath of his mouth all their host” (Ps 33:6). John refers to Jesus as the Word, who “was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made” (John 1:1-3).
The Bible begins with God’s good creation in Genesis 1-2, but it quickly addresses the intrusion of death into creation through Adam’s sin in Genesis 3. From Genesis 3:15 onward, God proves himself to be not only the Creator of creation but also the Redeemer of creation. The scope of God’s curse in Genesis 3:17-19 is global, so the redemption that he accomplishes will be global, as well. Paul explains, “the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God” (Rom 8:19-21). John envisions a new heavens and new earth in which God’s dwelling place is once more with man, where there will be no more death, mourning, crying, or pain, because the former things have passed away and Jesus has made all things new (Rev 21:1-5). God will redeem not only his people but also all creation in the end.
Until then, God preserves the universe. God “gives to all mankind life and breath and everything” (Acts 17:25). He causes the sun to rise every morning, and he sends rain both to the just and to the unjust (Matt 5:45). He constantly keeps his promise: “While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease” (Gen 8:22). In God the Son in particular “all things hold together” (Col 1:17), and “he upholds the universe by the word of his power” (Heb 1:3). God preserves every atom in the entire universe and sustains every natural process until the time comes for him to make all things new.
Finally, God shows his eternal power as the Ruler of the universe. Psalm 47 especially makes this point. God is the “great king over all the earth” (v. 2). He is not only King of Israel, but he is also “the King of all the earth” (vv. 6-7). “God reigns over the nations; God sits on his holy throne” (v. 8). Daniel later makes the same point. God is the eternal king who does his will in all the earth (Dan 4:34-35). And God would reveal his kingship especially through a coming king (Dan 2:44-45). The Lord Jesus is this long-awaited King, and he established God’s eternal kingdom by his life, death, and resurrection. He has all authority in heaven and on earth (Matt 28:18). He has been highly exalted and given the name above every name (Phil 2:9-11).
As Article II goes on to explain, the proper response to this eternally powerful God is to love, revere, and obey him. The next blog post in this series will consider that response in context of God’s infinite perfections, the next part of Article II.
an expository sermon on Hosea 10 preached by Pastor Jordan Atkinson on January 6, 2019
an expository sermon on Hosea 9 preached by Pastor Jordan Atkinson on December 9, 2018