May 27, 2014 Broadcast

Introduction

A Message by Steven Lawson

Worthwhile relationships are based on knowledge. When we meet someone for the first time, we do not consider that we really know that person until we have the opportunity to learn more about that person, such as his or her history, personality, likes, dislikes, and desires. As we come to know more about a new acquaintance, we better understand how to carry on a relationship with that person. In the same way, a vibrant relationship with the triune God must be rooted in a firm understanding of who He reveals Himself to be in His Word. In this message, Dr. Steven J. Lawson presents an overview of God’s defining attributes and invites us to pursue a more intimate and worshipful relationship with Him.

From the series: The Attributes of God

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Further Study On This Topic

  1. devotional

    God's Impartiality

  2. article

    Delighting in the Trinity

  3. devotional

    Knowing the Lord

God's Impartiality

Among other things, the Protestant Reformation was sparked by the desire to get the order of salvation correct. Reformers such as Martin Luther and John Calvin were reacting against the confusion of justification and sanctification that was being promoted by the medieval Western church. As crystallized at the Council of Trent, the Roman church was teaching—and still teaches today—that God will not finally justify us until we have some good works of our own to merit the kingdom. Our grace-enabled obedience is part of the ground of our justification. This is a deadly error, for before the bar of the Lord's perfect justice, nothing we can do is good enough. The best of our works are always tainted by sin, and if we depend in any way on what we do for our heavenly citizenship, we will find ourselves severed from Christ, who is the only way to the Father (Gal. 5:4; see John 14:6).

To commingle the good we do in our sanctification with the righteousness of Christ in our justification is to deny the gospel. Yet we must never separate sanctification from justification. We can—and must—distinguish them. But as sanctification is part of the order of salvation, there cannot be a justified person who is not also being sanctified. Thus, Paul can speak of our obedience as a step in the sequence that leads to our final and complete glorification, but he never says our good works are the reason for God's choosing, justifying, and perfecting His elect. All must travel the road of sanctification on their way to heaven, but grace alone puts us on that road and keeps us from veering off of it. John Calvin comments in book 3 of his Institutes: "There will be no impropriety in considering holiness of life as the way, not indeed the way which gives access to the glory of the heavenly kingdom; but a way by which God conducts his elect to the manifestation of that kingdom, since his good pleasure is to glorify those whom he has sanctified."

Romans 2:9–11 reinforces this point by telling us that all people are equal before the judgment of the Lord. Jews have no particular advantage because they are Jewish. If they are right before God through trusting His promises and demonstrating that trust by seeking to honor the Lord, they will enjoy everlasting glory, honor, and peace. If their life shows no evidence at all that they trust in God, the Lord will not give them a pass because Abraham is their father according to the flesh. When it comes to citizenship in heaven, our Creator is impartial. Everyone must meet the same standard.

Delighting in the Trinity

Michael Reeves

"It is not to be expected that we should love God supremely if we have not known him to be more desirable than all other things." So wrote the great hymn writer Isaac Watts. And of course, he was quite right, for we always love what seems most attractive to us. Whether it be God, money, sex, or fame, we live for and love what captures our hearts.

But what kind of God could outstrip the attractions of all other things? Could any unitary, single-person god do so? Hardly, or at least not for long. Single-person gods must, by definition, have spent eternity in absolute solitude. Before creation, having no other persons with whom they could commune, they must have been entirely alone.

Love for others, then, cannot go very deep in them if they can go for eternity without it. And so, not being essentially loving, such gods are inevitably less than lovely. They may demand our worship, but they cannot win our hearts. They must be served with gritted teeth.

How wonderfully different it is with the triune God. In John 17:24, Jesus speaks of how the Father loved Him even before the creation of the world. That is the triune, living God: a Father, whose very being has eternally been about loving His Son, pouring out the Spirit of love and life on Him. Here is a God who is love, who is so full of life and blessing that for eternity He has been overflowing with it. As the Puritan preacher Richard Sibbes put it: "Such a goodness is in God as is in a fountain, or in the breast that loves to ease itself of milk." Here in the triune God, in other words, is an infinitely satisfying God, one who is the very fountainhead of all goodness, truth, and beauty.

That means that with the triune God there is great good news. For here is no mean and grasping God, but a Lord of grace and mercy—one, in fact, who offers a salvation sweeter than any non-triune God could ever imagine.

Just imagine for a moment a single-person god. Having been alone for eternity, would it want fellowship with us? It seems most unlikely. Would it even know what fellowship was? Almost certainly not. Such a god might allow us to live under its rule and protection, but little more. Think of the uncertain hope of the Muslim or the Jehovah's Witness: they may finally attain paradise, but even there they will have no real fellowship with their god. Their god would not want it.

But if God is a Father, whose very life has been about loving and delighting in His precious Son, then you begin to see a God who would have far more intimate and marvelous aims, aims to draw us into His life and joy, to embrace us with the very love He has for His dear Son.

Indeed, this God does not offer some kind of "he loves me, he loves me not" relationship whereby I have to try to keep myself in His favor by behaving impeccably. No, "to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God" (John 1:12)—and so with the security to enjoy His love forever.

The eternally beloved Son comes to us to share with us the very love that the Father has always lavished on Him. He comes to share with us and bring us into the life that is His, that we might be brought before the Most High, not just as forgiven sinners, but as dearly beloved children who share by the Spirit the Son's own "Abba!" cry.

In other words, the God who is infinitely more beautiful than all the gods of human religion offers an infinitely more beautiful salvation. Here is a God who can win back wandering hearts by the mere opening of eyes to who He is, who can give the deepest hope and comfort to the stumbling saint.

The Trinity, then, is not some awkward add-on to God, the optional extra nobody should want. No, God is beautiful, desirable, and life-giving precisely because He is the Father, the Son, and the Spirit. Only here can be found the God who is love and who shares with us His very own life and joy. Only here can be found the God whom it is eternal life to know.

John Calvin once wrote that if we try to think about God without thinking about the Father, Son, and Spirit, then "only the bare and empty name of God flits about in our brains, to the exclusion of the true God." Quite so, and that means that if we content ourselves with speaking of God vaguely or abstractly, without the Father, Son, and Spirit, we will never know the life, beauty, and comfort of knowing the true God.

Here and here alone is the God for whom our hearts were made, the God who can win our hearts away from the desires that enslave us, the God who is endlessly, unsurpassably satisfying.

Knowing the Lord

Since the Lord's Prayer is the model prayer that our Lord and Savior has given us, we should pray for the kinds of things mentioned in the prayer. Furthermore, the order of the petitions is also significant, so the first petition is the most important thing we should be concerned about in our prayers and in all of life. Therefore, because the very first thing we should ask is for God's name to be "hallowed" (Luke 11:2), we understand that our prayers—indeed, our entire lives—should be God-centered.

In praying for the Lord's name to be hallowed, we do not ask first and foremost for our own needs, though setting apart our Creator as holy is essential to meeting our need for a relationship of peace with God. Instead, we pray for all creation to recognize and worship the Almighty. To hallow the Lord is to regard Him as holy—to set Him apart from this world's finitude and fallenness, and exalt Him for His transcendent majesty.

Scripture has revealed that God is holy and that the only proper response from creatures is to revere His holiness. One of God's names is the "Holy One of Israel" (Ps. 71:22; Isa. 43:3; Hos. 11:12). He cannot tolerate unholiness in His presence (Deut. 23:14). His Spirit is the "Holy Spirit" (1 Thess. 4:8; Heb. 2:4). We do not know the Lord rightly if we do not know His purity and worship Him "in the splendor of holiness" (Ps. 96:9).

Today's passage, which is one of the proof texts for question and answer 122 of the Heidelberg Catechism, emphasizes the importance of knowing God and His holiness. As Jeremiah states, the only thing we can rightly boast in is that we know the Lord—that He has sovereignly awakened our hearts and minds to the reality of His love, justice, and righteousness. This is another way of saying that the highest goal of life is to know our Creator in His holiness, as John Calvin comments: "By saying that [God] doeth justice, [Jeremiah] intimates that these things ought to dispose our hearts to fear and reverence. At the same time, when God declares that he doeth justice, he supplies us with a reason for confidence; for he thus promises to be the guardian of our salvation." There is a right reverence and fear that the Lord's holiness inspires—God should never be approached flippantly. At the same time, however, knowing the Lord's holiness helps us know His love and faithfulness. For since He is holy, He cannot break His promise to redeem His people. A broken promise would make Him a liar and, thus, unholy.

Since the beginning,

our aim has been to help Christians know what they believe, why they believe it, how to share it, and how to live it…

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