Series of Sermons for the Reformation Season - Part 2
delivered at Grace Presbyterian Church, October 18, 1998

The Reformed Believer's God
by Pastor Bob Burridge 1998

John 5:39

When Paul came to Athens he saw all around him the evidences of a pagan culture.
Acts 17:16 "Now while Paul was waiting for them at Athens, his spirit was being provoked within him as he was beholding the city full of idols."

He was taken to the Areopagus where the philosophers met. There he said,
Acts 17:22-23 ... "Men of Athens, I observe that you are very religious in all respects. For while I was passing through and examining the objects of your worship, I also found an altar with this inscription, 'TO AN UNKNOWN GOD.' What therefore you worship in ignorance, this I proclaim to you."

Athens was filled with ideas about God.
But their most treasured idea was that "final truth about God was unknowable." The inscription Paul referred to, is only 2 words in the original Greek; "Agnosto Theo." The "o" ending means "to" or "for". The words are best translated, "to god unknowable." The word for "unknowable" is the root word "agnost." When the English ending "ic" is added it takes the adjective form which is our word "agnostic." We still use this word today to describe those who say that God can not be known. So when Paul said he was about to tell the truth about what they pridefully worship in ignorance, the philosophers would not have responded well to that statement.

As the world was superstitious then, and filled with religious ideas and humanistic pride, so is our world today. We are surrounded with all sorts of views about God and all kinds of religions.

Some see God as just the forces of nature that have caused us to evolve into what we are, and which drive the circumstances that control our future.

Some think of God as a super powerful being who can do amazing wonders, but who has lost complete control of things due to sin.

Some see God as oppressive, demanding that we follow rigid and unfair rules. One Protestant minister foolishly called God a bully.

Some think that God is so "loving" that he lets evil go unpunished.

One group of so called Christian churches has held imaginings, conventions where the people come to imagine a god to their own liking. They imagined God as being perhaps a female deity.

Others preach that God learned some lessons in the Old Testament and chose to be more kind and lessen up on sin in the New Testament, as if God had made mistakes earlier and improved!

Some take pride in not knowing what God is at all. They smugly judge others as fools who believe they can know him.

As long as we use our own experience and creativity to make up what god must be, then our god will always be imperfect and limited to our own experiences and imaginations. There could be no confidence that our idea is any better than anyone else's. No one could know what is true and right about anything in God's created universe.

But the Reformed Believer will have a very different view of God.
He does not try to shape his idea of God around what's most agreeable to his fallen condition.

The reformed view is to shape its idea of God
around what is made known in the Bible.

That's where the word "re-formed" comes from (as we saw in our last study). Its our desire to re-mold what we believe around the standard given in God's word alone. Therefore God has not left us to guess about what he is. He told us in his word.

Jesus said to the confused Jewish leaders in his time ...
Jn 5:39 "You search the Scriptures, because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is these that bear witness of Me;

Their error was not that they studied the words of the Bible to find out about eternal life. Their mistake was that they obscured its message by adding their own assumptions, and by picking so closely at the words that their plain meanings became obscured.

We are all familiar with how President Clinton, in his Grand Jury testimony, tried to turn an admitted falsehood into the truth by arguing about the meaning of the word "is."

That's similar to the way the Pharisees interpreted God's Law. To justify their greed and specific sins, they perverted the teachings of the Bible, by using obscure meanings of words and unusual grammar. The people loved it because it obscured their own guilt and gave them a god that was more to their liking.

In the next verse Jesus explained their real problem ...
Jn 5:40 "and you are unwilling to come to Me, that you may have life."

They wanted to find a way they could get eternal life by their own efforts, without admitting how lost and depraved they were, without having to accept that God had to come as a suffering Savior to redeem them. So they had to twist all of Scripture in a way that didn't point to Christ. But that was impossible. Jesus is the main focus of all of Scripture. They testify of him.

The whole Old Testament shows our lostness, and need for a Savior.
It shows how infinitely high God's holy standards are, and how we can never live up to them. It shows that justice can't be just set aside, it must be satisfied.

The sacrifices illustrated that the penalty of sin is death, and that the penalty must be paid, either by the sinner himself, or by a substitute God himself provides.

It shows how the promise slowly unfolded and was fully made known in Jesus. He's called "the Lamb of God', because he died to justly pay for the sins of his people. He was that "substitute" God had promised from the beginning.

After his resurrection, When Jesus appeared to the two disciples on their way to Emmaus, Luke's gospel explained,
"And beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures." (24:27)

This is great news! We don't need a life time of experiences, or a degree in philosophy or theology, to know about God. With nothing more than a Bible, we have all the facts man can know about God in this age.
Psa 119:98-100 "Thy commandments make me wiser than my enemies, For they are ever mine. I have more insight than all my teachers, For Thy testimonies are my meditation. I understand more than the aged, Because I have observed Thy precepts."

The Bible is where God makes himself known to us.

So the Reformed Believer will remold or "re-form" his view of God,
to take the form of what God has said in his word,
and he will allow no other idea to enter in
to corrupt his understanding.

This means that our understanding about God will be different from those who let other ideas creep into their thinking. The Reformed Believer is constantly digging out the prejudices not based on the Bible and building upon only what is made known by God himself, in his word.

God shows himself in the Bible as Sovereign Redeemer of his people.
This is a unique view, not like the view of the religions that deify man in some way.

In the first place God is truly Sovereign over all he has made.
God is infinite, eternal and unchangeable; according to the Scriptures. Therefore, his power to control all things has no limit or boundary. There is nothing outside of God that determines how things will happen. He never has to change his mind or plan. It has always been perfect and comprehensive. Simply put,

The God of the Bible is in complete control
of all things, all the time!

The Bible leaves no doubt about this fact. There are so many passages that teach this. A few will do to illustrate:
Psa 135:6 Whatever the LORD pleases, He does, In heaven and in earth, in the seas and in all deeps.
Prov 21:1 The king's heart is like channels of water in the hand of the LORD; He turns it wherever He wishes.
Jer 10:23 I know, O LORD, that a man's way is not in himself; Nor is it in a man who walks to direct his steps.
Eph 1:11-12 speaks of us "... having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will ..."

He has even decreed, and uses, the wicked intentions, and sinful acts, of man to accomplish what he has planed:
Joseph explained to his wicked brothers who sold him into slavery,
Gen 50:20 "And as for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive.

Peter explained the wicked crucifying of Jesus by saying ...
Acts 2:23 this man, delivered up by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put him to death.

Therefore while God has decreed everything that happens, we are each fully responsible for our evil and sin. We sin most freely and willingly.

This is not an easy thing to understand.
The intricate way in which all things promote God's glory and bless his people is very complex. Its beyond our full comprehension how the sinner is held justly responsible for his sins, yet nothing can happen that God has not eternally known and decreed. And its hard to know how God eternally decrees all things yet is not the actual cause of our sins, we are.

These are clear facts based on direct statements of Scripture. But how does all this fit together? There are some interesting hints in God's word about this! But God has chosen not to tell us all things completely.

Yet he has told us how to handle such things ...
Dt 29:29 "The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our sons forever, that we may observe all the words of this law.

We have enough to do with the duty God gives us: of obeying the "revealed things." But there are "secret things." Things we aren't told on purpose.

When Habakkuk asked for an explanation, God told him that "the just shall live faithfully." It was the same principle that had been revealed long before through Moses.

Our duty it to accept what God tells us, and obey what he commands. We don't need to know how to explain the workings of the universe.

But God is not only revealed as Sovereign.
He is also a loving Redeemer of his people.
We have far more for which to be grateful than merely God's providence.

When all mankind fell into sin and guilt through Adam, God did not leave things that way. There was a far greater plan at work. From before the foundations of the earth all things had been determined, even our salvation:

If we have become aware of our sin and come to Jesus as our Savior from that guilt, it is the work of God's grace alone, not any decision we have made, or good we have done.

The Bible makes this clear. One good summary of this is in Ephesians 1
4 just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him. In love
5 He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will,
6 to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.

11 also we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will

In his final letter to Timothy Paul wrote,
"who has saved us, and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was granted us in Christ Jesus from all eternity" (2 Timothy 1:9)

Even the work of Christ was ordained for his people before creation itself. Revelation 13 speaks of Jesus as "the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world." (KJV)

The Apostle Peter, in his first Epistle, wrote about the death of Jesus and the shedding of his blood "before the foundation of the world" (1 Peter 1:20)

This "choosing" or "election" was not based on anything we did, or that God foresaw we would do. It is based only upon his grace and good pleasure which made him "to know" us eternally as his children, based upon the redeeming work of Jesus Christ.

Our only work is to respond AFTER he regenerates our hearts. The one truly changed by grace learns: true repentance, faith in Christ, and begins to love doing what is right.

The Reformation gives us two summary statements that help us remember this biblical fact:
Sola Fide means "Only Faith"

This means that believers must trust and practice only that which God himself has made known. When God implants that faith in a person, it brings a confidence in God's promise. The redeemed sinner begins to trust only in the work of the Savior revealed to him by grace. He will not look to decisions he made, or prayers he prayed, as the cause of his salvation.

The other statement summarizes the only biblical cause of his faith:
Sola Gratia which means "Only Grace"

God's good pleasure alone is the cause of blessing and salvation. Our good deeds, repentance and faith are evidence of God's gracious work of regeneration. They are not the cause of it.

Any other view arrogantly makes the sinner the cause of his salvation instead of God's grace. But the Bible teaches in Ephesians 2:8-9 that "by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, that no one should boast."

We must be satisfied with these facts the Bible gives us. Our fallen hearts quickly add ideas to fill in what God has not made known.

Some imagine, without any biblical evidence, that God gave up some of his sovereignty to man.

Some redefine "foreknowledge" to mean that God looked ahead to see what would happen if he didn't do anything. Based on what the creatures decides, that's what God then planned.

Some speculate that if we aren't able to do right then we can't be held accountable for our failures and sins.

And some dare to say, "its not fair for God to let some people remain in sin while he saves others"

These speculations are absurd, blasphemous and totally contradict themselves.

Such ideas are popular for only one reason:
They produces a god more to fallen man's liking. Those who deny God's Sovereign Lordship, or modify it in some way to enthrone the creature, construct a god who is not there, a god contrary to what the Bible reveals. Its an idea that comes from the twisted desire of our fallen hearts to want to be in charge.

Fallen man doesn't like this more simple, biblical idea of God.
He wants to stay in control of things. He wants to be the "captain of his own soul." So he must some how think of god as less Sovereign, and of himself as god-like. It was this same desire to be like God that drove Eve, then Adam, to the first sin.

This is even a struggle for professing Christians. Our continuing struggle with sin and imperfection in this life tempts us to a re-defined God. Man wants to make his own choice, decision or action to be the controlling factor of his future.

In relief from all this confusion ... The Reformed Believer has a wonderful foundation on which to stand and live! What a wonderful God we have, when we rest in Scripture alone!

The truth of God's providence; his infinite, eternal and unchangeable Sovereign Lordship, brings a wonderful peace and confidence to our daily living.

To understand and rest in the Sovereign election of sinners by grace alone, brings confident assurance of salvation, and produces a humble and faithful Christian life.

This it the certainty which God offers in his word. It strengthens us every day! We have our duties clearly revealed in the Bible. There are no secret expectations we might stumble upon. There is no mysterious will of God we have to figure out as we make decisions. We need no special visions to learn what God is or what he expects of us individually. There is no danger that we might make a wrong choice and mess up God's will, or his plans for the world.

When we fail to obey what God has commanded that is tragic.
But it will not turn the course of history away from what God had decreed. Instead our sins drive us to humble repentance, confident in the work of the cross.

Our obedience then comes from gratitude toward him. Its not a heavy burden. Obeying becomes a gift of joy, not an exercise in stress. So believers strive to do what's right; not to keep God's plan from being ruined, but because they love God and know they won't be happy if they neglect so great a duty.

We live for and love a Sovereign Lord because its right to do so!

NOTE: All quotations of Scripture are from the New American Standard Bible unless otherwise noted.

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