June 5, 2014 Broadcast

The Omnipotence of God

A Message by Steven Lawson

Like all of His attributes, God’s omnipotence is co-extensive with His being. There is no area of the universe where He is not exerting His power. From a blade of grass to the stars of the sky, everything and everyone is dependent upon His immeasurable power for its existence. In this lesson, Dr. Lawson explores the nature and extent of this incomprehensible power.

From the series: The Attributes of God

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Further Study On This Topic

  1. devotional

    God's Almighty Power

  2. devotional

    His Divine Power

  3. article

    God Omnipotent Reigns

God's Almighty Power

In teaching us to pray, Jesus does not instruct us to begin only with "our Father"; rather, He adds the qualifier "in heaven" (Matt. 6:9). This is not a phrase our Savior introduces merely to locate God in a spatial sense (as if that could be done, for He is omnipresent, Ps. 139:7–12). Instead, as the Heidelberg Catechism indicates, the words "in heaven" call attention to God's "heavenly majesty" and remind us that His "almighty power" can give us anything and everything we need for body and soul (Q&A 121).

The catechism is right to make this connection because Scripture often speaks of God being "in heaven" or "in the heavens" to emphasize His transcendent power. Because the Lord "is in the heavens," He "does all that he pleases" (Ps. 115:3). We must not speak rashly but say few words because "God is in heaven" and we "are on earth" (Eccl. 5:2). In other words, He has the right to say what He will, and we, out of reverence, must recognize our need to choose our words carefully. Heaven "is the throne of God," the seat from which He exercises His authority (Matt. 5:34). John Calvin comments on Matthew 6:9 that to speak of God being in heaven "separates him from the rank of creatures, and reminds us that, when we think of him, we ought not to form any low or earthly conceptions: for he is higher than the whole world."

Christians need not be terrified to come before God, for He is our Father (Matt. 6:9; Luke 11:2). Yet we must approach Him with reverent awe, for He is in heaven and has all power and authority. This is a comforting truth indeed, for it reminds us that the One whom we approach in prayer never lacks the ability or right to do all His holy will. It means that when He answers "no" to our prayer, the issue is not that He is unable to do what we ask but that what we ask is not in line with His sovereign will.

Paul, in today's passage, makes this point with a rhetorical question: "If God is for us, who can be against us?" (Rom. 8:31b). The answer, obviously, is no one. Moreover, we can be confident that the Lord will do only what furthers our ultimate good. To do this, after all, is a logical consequence of the great sacrifice He made when He gave up His Son for us on the cross (v. 32). If He could do that, then surely He would never do anything that would make that sacrifice worthless. He would never deny us any of the blessings that are promised to us on account of Christ's atoning work.

His Divine Power

Like many other portions of the New Testament, 2 Peter is very much concerned with telling us how to recognize false teachers. As we will see in later studies, much of Peter’s emphasis is on the conduct of these teachers who seem to have been encouraging moral licentiousness (see 2 Peter 2:18). However, Peter does not begin his letter by listing the vices of these teachers; rather, he emphasizes the godliness that will be evident in the lives of all true believers, however imperfect this godliness might be.

In today’s passage we read that “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness” (1:3). Jesus not only saves us from the consequences of sin, He also gives us everything we need for holiness. All Christians through the Spirit have the ability to resist sin; thus, we have no excuse when we succumb to temptation. Though we will struggle with sin until we die, all true believers will become more able to resist temptation and live godly lives.

All of the things that pertain to life and godliness come through the knowledge of “him who called us to his own glory and excellence” (v. 3). The person of whom we have knowledge is Jesus, who is God Himself (v. 1). Knowledge here refers primarily to an intimate relationship with another, and thus only those in a saving relationship to Christ have all things pertaining to life and godliness. This relationship includes definite and necessary cognitive content about Jesus, but it is not merely an intellectual exercise.

Verse 4 tells us that we have also become “partakers of the divine nature.” The exact meaning of this statement is a bit unclear. We can say that, being in the image of God (Gen. 1:27), we are able to share, however imperfectly, some of God’s attributes — like love and holiness. This image was marred, not lost, in the fall and is being restored in the course of our sanctification. As believers, we are not absorbed into God’s being, but are empowered by His very nature to manifest the attributes that can be shared or “communicated” to us. John Calvin writes, in Christ “the image of God in holiness and righteousness is restored to us.”

God Omnipotent Reigns

George Grant

Though his story is hardly the stock and trade of most church historians, James A. Garfield (1831–1881) affords us innumerable lessons about character, faith, and public service. Such lessons are especially relevant for us during these final days leading up to the presidential election when moral and ethical issues have been thrust to the forefront of the national debate and have polarized the opposing factions.

He was the last of America’s presidents to rise from humble beginnings in a log cabin to the White House. Left fatherless when he was still just an infant, Garfield was forced to work from his earliest years on his family’s small truck farm in Ohio. Besides helping to support his widowed mother, he also succeeded in earning enough — as a canal boat driver, carpenter, and teacher — to put himself through college.

His love of learning and his sharp intellect led him into a teaching career — ultimately serving as a professor of Latin, Greek, and Hebrew, as a renowned expert in classical and biblical literature, and finally as a college president. The diligence and initiative that catapulted Garfield into the respected ranks of academia ultimately carried him into public life as well. He became known as a powerful moralist and anti-slavery speaker, and he grew increasingly active in local Ohio politics. Though not a fire-breathing abolitionist — he preferred a path toward emancipation more along the lines of William Wilberforce’s reforms in Britain — his early and courageous commitment earned for him the respect of many of even the most radical ideologues and reformers in the North.

When Abraham Lincoln was assassinated in 1865, Garfield happened to be visiting in New York. Known as one of the president’s closest friends and most trusted political and military advisors, he was implored by city officials to address the agitated throngs that had gathered in the streets. He climbed aloft a scaffold and somehow won the crowd’s attention. He simply said, “My fellow citizens, the president is dead, but the republic lives — and God Omnipotent reigns.” To the astonishment of all, the mob quietly and quickly dispersed.

Garfield, who would himself one day attain the highest office in the land only to be struck down by an assassin’s bullet, had been a fire-breathing Yankee enthusiast during the War Between the States. But the uncivil horrors of the battlefields in Virginia and the inhuman manipulations of the politicians in Washington had tempered his passions considerably. He no longer believed that men and governments, ideologies and policies, or parties and factions were ends unto themselves. He had embraced instead a perspective of politics rooted in a far deeper and more profound reality. From the pinnacle of that scaffold in New York he reminded the crowd of that reality: “Fellow citizens, clouds and darkness are round about Him. His pavilion is dark waters and thick clouds of the skies. Justice and judgment are the establishment of His throne. Mercy and truth shall go before His face. Fellow citizens, God reigns, e’en o’er the government in Washington — despite all appearances.”

For Garfield, faith, character, and public service were necessarily subject to the sovereign purposes of God’s own good providence. He attempted to live his life and forge his convictions in accordance with that essential understanding.

He served for eighteen years in congress, emerging in 1880 as the popular leader of his party. Nevertheless, when the Republicans met in Chicago in 1880, Garfield was not considered a presidential contender. By all accounts, the real struggle would be between former president Ulysses Grant, who had returned to public life in an effort to seek an unprecedented third term, and Senator James Blaine from Maine. But as had happened so many times before in the contentious world of post-war politics, the convention was so divided that neither could win. It was not until the thirty-sixth ballot that Garfield was nominated.

He was hardly a typical politician. He was far too forthright for that. Indeed, excerpts from his speeches continue to rankle the proprieties of political expediency: “Never trust the value or authenticity of a politician’s convictions — until he denies them.” “Election results rarely tell the mood of a people. They merely express a tiresome resignation — that such things probably don’t matter much anyway — so why not try something new?” “Things just don’t turn up in this world until someone turns them up.”

Despite his unwillingness to temper his sharp wit and even sharper rhetoric, Garfield won the general election that year. But the surprise gift of the highest office in the land was not one that Garfield could enjoy for very long. In the White House, he showed signs of being a strong executive, independent of party, as was Hayes. But he was in office less than four months when he was fatally shot by an assassin as he was about to catch a train in the Washington depot in 1881. Like that earlier log-cabin president, Garfield left the White House a martyr, having spent less time in office than any President except William Harrison.

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