Friday, January 17, 2020

A Big View of God, Sin, and the Gospel: A Presentation to Christian Challenge

* Notes from a talk I gave to a group at Christian Challenge.

A Big View of God, Sin, and the Gospel

Christian Challenge Presentation
January 17, 2020

1.    Motivation for talk tonight: 

a.    Scottsdale Community College classrooms over the past year

b.    Questions about afterlife and judgment (hell)

c.     Doesn’t seem to make sense

                                               i.     Part of the problem: seems like God is overreacting to sin

                                              ii.     Judgment from God seems unbecoming to God

                                            iii.     Almost like God is irrational for his wrath

2.    Issues before us tonight

a.    How are we to understand the nature of God, the nature of sin, and the appropriateness of God’s wrath?

b.    How can we best communicate these ideas to others?

3.    Romans 1.18-24 as an entry point for tonight’s discussion

a.    Verse 18: “wrath of God” is revealed “against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness”

                                               i.     Wrath of God is a reality—it is a New Testament reality!

                                              ii.     Romans 2.5-6; Ephesians 5.5-6

b.    Verses 19-20: General Revelation[1]

c.     Verse 21: The nature of sin in this passage—people did not…

                                               i.     Honor him as God

                                              ii.     Give thanks

·     Conversation back in 1988/89 in a van traveling from GCC to California for a speech tournament: “How about I tell you what I think the primal sin is from which all others come?”

4.    Honor him as God: treat God as his “God-ness” deserves

a.    Proper recognition and proper response

                                               i.     “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.”  A. W. Tozer[2]

                                              ii.     “For we ought to think of God even more often than we draw our breath.”  Gregory Nazianzus in Theological Orations[3]

b.    Not just any “god” is good enough!

c.     Nature, Significance, and Value of God

5.    Nature of God—He is utterly unique!

·     This is where the thoughts I shared from Acts 17 back in November 2019 really come into focus.  See the notes from that talk online:

b.    Unique Creator and Sustainer of all that exists

                                               i.     Creator: defining point in God’s self-disclosure—Isaiah 44.24; Jeremiah 10.10-12

                                              ii.     Sustainer: Colossians 1.17; Hebrews 1.3

c.     Aseity: God’s complete self-sufficiency—Psalm 50.10-12; Isaiah 66.1-2; Job 41.11

1.    Acts 17.25—“… as though he needed anything…”

2.    a se= Aseity

“The term aseitycomes from the Latin phrase a se, meaning ‘from or by oneself.’  In the theological literature, the term designates a divine attribute by which God is ‘what he is by or through his own self.’  Since God is a se, he does not owe his existence to anything or anyone besides himself, nor does he need anything beyond himself to maintain his existence.  He is not like the idols that depend for their existence on select materials, skilled craftsman, and ritual offerings (Isa. 40:19-20; 44:15-17; Ps. 50:8-15).  Indeed, he has no needs at all (Acts 17:25).  So the terms self-contained, self-existent, self-sufficient, and independent are often used as synonyms for a se.”[4]

3.    Everything else depends for its existence on God but God depends on nothing for his existence.

6.    Significance—His existence affects everything else!

a.    Everything is else is created and dependent (contingent) upon the power and presence of God!

b.    Consider, in contrast, the Loch Ness monster or Big Foot

                                               i.     Little significance hangs on their existence

                                              ii.     Intriguing and some media coverage but no impact on our everyday lives

c.     “Not so with God.  If God exists, that affects everything, simply because of who God is.  If God exists, everything else depends for its existence and nature on God.  If God exists, the ultimate reality is personal and rational and moral in nature.”[5]

d.    “The question about the existence of God, likewise, is not just a question about whether one more thing exists in the inventory of reality.  It is a question about the ultimate context for everything else.  The theist and the atheist should see everything differently.”[6]

7.    Value—God is supremely valuable!

a.    Texts:

                                               i.     Deuteronomy 6.4-5  “Hear, O Israel, …”

                                              ii.     Psalm 73.25-26  “Whom have I in heaven but you…”

                                            iii.     Philippians 3.7-8  “… the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ.”

                                            iv.     Isaiah 42.8  “I am the Lord, that is my name; I will not give my glory to another, nor my praise to graven images.”

b.    Sin is a condition in which we persistently fail to recognize and respond rightly to the Nature, Significance, and Value of God!

c.     Example: Burning house with a 3-month old baby girl in it.  Mother rushes into the house and “saves” the last piece of leftover pizza, bypassing her daughter.

                                               i.     Irrational—Mother failed to place the correct value on her baby in relationship to pizza

                                              ii.     Immoral—She ought to have known better and acted in accordance with that knowledge

·     These ideas of irrationality and immorality are found in Romans 1

8.    Rejecting the Nature, Significance, and Value of God leads to Idolatry

a.    “Idolatry dethrones God and enthrones creation.  Idolatry is the attempt to limit, reduce and control God by refusing his authority, constraining or manipulating his power to act, having him available to serve our interests. At the same, paradoxically, idolatry exalts things within the created order (whether natural objects in the heavens or on earth, or created spirits, or the products of our own hands or imagination).  Creation is then credited with a potency that belongs only to God; it is sacralized, worshiped and treated as that from which ultimate meaning can be derived.  A great reversal happens: God, who should be worshiped, becomes an object to be used; creation, which is for our use and blessing, becomes the object of our worship.”[7]

9.    Give Thanks—a key proper response to the Nature, Significance, and Value of God

a.    Consider these truths…

                                               i.     God “gives to all people life and breath and all things” Acts 17.25

                                              ii.     “for in him we live and move and exist” Acts 17.28

                                            iii.     “he did good and gave you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness.” Acts 14.17

                                            iv.     Jesus speaking about the Father… “for he causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.”  Matthew 5.45

b.    We live in a pervasive atmosphere of God’s presence every moment of every day! 

                                               i.     (And God upholds us even in our rebellion against him!)

                                              ii.     And yet we do not say, “Thank you!”  We ignore the gift-Giver.

·     My conversation at Costco with plumber—looking at the sky and asking who it is he says “thank you” to for such beauty.

                                            iii.     We assume and presume on these good gifts like we deserve them.

                                            iv.     Application point: How often do you say “thank you” for your existence, breath, the sun shining, rain, food, the peace we have in our streets?

1.    Try beginning your prayers with “Thank you” before you ask for anything else!

c.     More than a failure to live thankful lives… we take the good gifts of God and use them to rebel against God—we go into idolatry

10.Ezekiel 16—a vivid picture of idolatry!

a.    Read verses 1-26 together (with my commentary)

b.    Picture of Israel as God’s special covenant people committing idolatry

c.     Same dynamic is seen in Romans 1.18-32.

11.Where does this leave us?

a.    We have small views of God and small views of sin

b.    People to whom we are sharing the gospel have small views of God and sin

c.     Small views of God and sin leads to a small view of the gospel—the good news of what God has done for us in Christ Jesus.

d.    Part of what the gospel message is that Jesus Christ delivers us from the wrath to come

                                               i.     1 Thessalonians 1.8-10

1.    “turned to God from idols to serve a living and true God”

2.    “and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, that is Jesus, who rescues us from the wrath to come”

                                              ii.     Romans 5.6-11

1.    Verse 9—“saved from the wrath of God through him”

2.    The love of God shines brighter against the backdrop of his utter majesty and the depth of sin

3.    Not simply saved from wrath… saved to reconciliation.

·     We are in relationship with the majestic, living God

·     Our sins are gone and there is only peace!

12.What do we do with all this?

a.    Christian

                                               i.     Worship with thankfulness!

1.    Worship

2.    Prayer

3.    Swim in the ocean of God’s glory safe from destruction

·     Don’t be content to play around in the kiddy pool—think and feel the depths of God

                                              ii.     Speak of the greatness of God and help others to see the reality of his greatness and the depth of their sinful response of unthankfulness

b.    Non-Christian—those who do not follow Jesus right now

                                               i.     Great and glorious God who holds your life in his hands

                                              ii.     Offers you terms of peace… you can know him and be forgiven of all the moments of ungratefulness and neglect.

                                            iii.     I invite you to that peace.

     [1]This is a huge topic.  For some brief thoughts on this see my blog post “Romans 1.18-20: Interacting with Bill Vallicella’s Thought”—online:
     [2]Quoted in Matthew Barrett, None Greater: The Undomesticated Attributes of God(Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker, 2019), 13.
     [3]Quoted in Matthew Barrett, None Greater: The Undomesticated Attributes of God(Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker, 2019), 231.
     [4]John M. Frame, “Divine Aseity and Apologetics” in Revelation and Reason: New Essays in Reformed Apologeticseditors: K. Scott Oliphant and Lane G. Tipton (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: Presbyterian and Reformed, 2007), 115.
     [5]James N. Anderson, Why Should I Believe Christianity?(Christian Focus, 2016), 97.
     [6]Thomas Morris Making Sense of It All  (Eerdmans, 1992), 25.
     [7]Christopher J. H. Wright The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bible’s Grand Narrative(Downers Grove, Ill.: Intervarsity Press, 2006), 165.