Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Merciful God - June

Shout for joy in the LORD, O you righteous!
     Praise befits the upright.
Give thanks to the LORD with the lyre;
     make melody to him with the harp of ten strings!
Sing to him a new song;
     play skillfully on the strings, with loud shouts.
For the word of the LORD is upright,
     and all his work is done in faithfulness.
He loves righteousness and justice;
     the earth is full of the steadfast love of the LORD.
By the word of the LORD the heavens were made,
     and by the breath of his mouth all their host.
He gathers the waters of the sea as a heap;
     he puts the deeps in storehouses.
Let all the earth fear the LORD;
     let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of him!
For he spoke, and it came to be;
     he commanded, and it stood firm.
The LORD brings the counsel of the nations to nothing;
     he frustrates the plans of the peoples.
The counsel of the LORD stands forever,
     the plans of his heart to all generations.
Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD,
     the people whom he has chosen as his heritage!
The LORD looks down from heaven;
     he sees all the children of man;
from where he sits enthroned he looks out
     on all the inhabitants of the earth,
he who fashions the hearts of them all
     and observes all their deeds.
The king is not saved by his great army;
     a warrior is not delivered by his great strength.
The war horse is a false hope for salvation,
     and by its great might it cannot rescue.
Behold, the eye of the LORD is on those who fear him,
     on those who hope in his steadfast love,
that he may deliver their soul from death
     and keep them alive in famine.
Our soul waits for the LORD;
     he is our help and our shield.
For our heart is glad in him,
     because we trust in his holy name.
Let your steadfast love, O LORD, be upon us,
     even as we hope in you.
- Psalm 33*

Saturday Outreach

June, 2016

New Series Introduction

A couple months ago some of us in a systematic theology class at CBC were tasked with writing a short “response paper” on our choice of one attribute of God, and I choose mercy.  As a way to kick off a new, infrequent, open-ended series for this blog on “Who God Is”, I have decided to reprint that paper here.

When I chose mercy for the project, I was unaware of the cliff I had just walked off, nor the depths I had just plunged myself into!  Unfortunately the constraints on the paper were too tight to contain all I read and learned, and so most of my notes hit the cutting floor.  While there is much more that can be written (and with far more eloquent words!) about the glorious, tender mercy of God, my intention of posting here is to begin a deliberate attempt to look at various aspects and attributes of God.

I do this so that we would all begin to consider our God and how, ultimately, it is rightly knowing Him that leads to repentance.  I also hope this series to be used to increase the quality and depth of our evangelism, with a focus on using the Bible as a prism to expose our neighbors to the multi-faceted, living God, and not just how or why they need to respond (that's not to minimize the “escape the wrath to come!” aspect of evangelism, but to encourage laying a foundation so they come to more fully know the God they are escaping from...and escaping to!).

Series Foundation

In a previous blog, when speaking about some pitfalls when using the law too heavily in evangelism, nearing the point where it becomes the “gospel” message, we mentioned a loose outline of a full gospel framework/outline.  At the top of that list was Who God Is (the others: Who Man Is, Who Jesus Is, Our Response).  We proposed (and repeat here) that before man can understand that he is a sinner (and, more importantly, understand the implications of being one), he must understand who God is.  Paul gives us a good example of this in Acts 17:16-34, which will loosely be our series’ “theme” passage.

At a point in the future we’ll dig further into the passage (if for nothing else than to see just how many attributes of God he stuffs into a 5 verse proclamation!!) but suffice it to say for now that, unlike when speaking to the Jews who had been given the law (Rom 3:2) which provided a starting place for Paul to speak about their sinfulness, with the men at the Areopagus he backed up to the beginning to define who the true, living God even is.

In that section you will notice a few things relevant to this series:  1) Paul starts off unashamedly proclaiming who God is, 2) Paul doesn’t attempt to convince the hearers about the existence of God or even that He is the true God, and 3) Paul never attempts to convince the men that they are sinners (whether by using the law or another "method").  If we were to summarize the passage, Paul effectively says, “God is [insert wealth of attributes] (Acts 17:24-28), and because He is like that and not how you imagined Him to be (Acts 17:29) - repent because He will judge all men in righteousness (Acts 17:30-31)”.  Truly we can say that the fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom (Psalm 110:10), and the tack upon which Paul hung his presentation in Athens!

We do not have the aim of doing away with the predominate method being used in our evangelism, but encouraging men to consider whether the America we live in today even has a fundamental knowledge of the true, living God.  We argue they don't, and therefore suggest considering whether we aren’t getting a little ahead of ourselves when we start off our presentations with trying to show people that they are sinners.

Personally, I would argue that there’s a desperate need for a solid, foundational proclamation of the God who is Creator and righteous Judge (and so much more) so that when we get to the point of talking about man, those with ears to hear are already starting to see the implications of a God who has full rights and privileges over His creation, and that he's not like the "thought of man" (Acts 17:29).

In many ways, the law helps “stop mouths” from self-justification (Romans 3:19), but the knowledge of God brings the deep-seated, worldview eroding fear because when someone knows who the true God is, they know instinctively they don’t match up with Him...even if they aren’t yet able to express that knowledge into specific examples of sins.

If nothing else, when the individual walks away after hearing something of who God is, they aren’t "merely" wrestling with justifying their “white lies” to squeeze past a good person test, but left with the arduous task of suppressing the knowledge of the wrath to come of a holy and righteous God who challenges every preconceived notion they had about the God they thought they knew.  The law is brilliantly helpful in that next step of clarifying that they fall short and how that is evidenced in their life - we are arguing to step back a moment, though, so they know the God they fall short of...and tremble (James 2:19).

And with that introduction, let’s take a quick look at some aspects of one of the most beautiful attributes of God, without which you and I would not even desire to know Him…

God is Merciful

Mercy is the act of extending kindness or forgiveness when one is in a position to inflict harm or punishment on another.  The mercy of God, then, is expressed as a holy, just, and righteous punishment being delayed, or even removed entirely, out of kindness and forgiveness [1].

As we look briefly at mercy, note that this attribute does not exist in a void, isolated from God’s other attributes [2].  Though we do not have the luxury of expanding on this here, suffice it to say that the mercy of God involves a genuine heart that is driven by true affection toward the recipient, made possible by an abundance of long-suffering and a desire to act in their favor, even though entirely undeserved.  Tozer defines God’s mercy as “an infinite and inexhaustible energy within the divine nature which disposes God to be actively compassionate.” [3]  Unlike the one who may respond with mercy to the pleading of another by tempering their action, Tozer argues that God is actively looking to extend mercy even when there is none to receive it.  It is always there - always ready to spring forth - because God is merciful.

But though God is merciful, and because mercy by definition requires someone to whom to show mercy, we only know about God’s mercy because He has the opportunity to extend it.  As Pink puts it, “mercy presupposes sin.” [4]  When we understand that mercy means God withholding deserved wrath against sinners, and when we read “...God has shut up all in disobedience so that He may show mercy to all.” (Rom 11:32), we should shudder and praise Him in response! [5]

Know also that though God is merciful, He does not offer mercy to the same extent to all.  To some, God’s mercy leads to salvation, and continues on throughout eternity; but “...the mercies which God bestows on the wicked”, as Pink points out, “are solely of a temporal nature; that is to say that they are confined strictly to this present life.” [6] [7]  So, then, we see not a blind, indiscriminate mercy, but a specific, intentional one.

Therefore, while we may rightly say that He is inclined towards extending mercy, God is not required to extend it - nor does He always do so [8].  God, Himself, says, "I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion." (Rom 9:15b)

So why does God choose to show mercy to any?  Since all have sinned (Rom 3:23), and all are enemies of God (Rom 5:10) and all deserve His just wrath (Rom 6:23, John 3:36), why does He have mercy on anyone?  If we continue in Romans at verse 9:23, we read, “And He did so to make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy [9], which He prepared beforehand for glory”.  Later, near the end of Romans when summarizing the Gentiles’ inclusion in salvation, Paul says that Christ came under the Law “...for the Gentiles to glorify God for His mercy...” (Rom 15:9a).  He does as He pleases, and it pleases Him to have His mercy known and to be glorified for being merciful.

And that is only the beginning!  Ah, what a glorious attribute is His mercy...both infinite and eternal, yet under His full sovereign control.  Known because it is needed, and offered because it pleases Him.  Extended tenderly, withheld judiciously, righteous and perfect, glorious to save, and flowing ready to burst out at a moment’s notice.  This paper could go on but, sadly, though we have only started looking at this magnificent attribute, we must already bring it to a close.

As I’ve had the pleasure of digging in Scripture to read many verses describing God’s mercy, I have been struck with how little I have appreciated it, and how light my love in response.  So much of both our temporal and eternal life hangs from this one attribute!

But also, as I have read about mercy, I have seen a glimpse of how intertwined His attributes are as I found myself struggling to separate compassion from love from kindness from patience from mercy.  He is merciful because He is patient, and patient because He has mercy [10].  He loves, so He is merciful towards His objects of love, and he shows His mercy by His love [11].  He offers grace because of His rich mercy [12], and because of His grace, we can go before His throne for more mercy [13].  And on...

My final response to this study has been realizing more so than ever that I am not merciful.  I am quick to ask God for mercy...and so slow to offer it to anyone who offends me.  While far off in all aspects on this one, if I was to say the one thing that struck me the most, it was God’s hatred for those who are not merciful.  An example of this is seen in the parable of the slave who was forgiven much, but forgave not [14].  The words of the king before giving the “wicked slave” into the hands of the torturers echo: Should you not also have had mercy on your fellow slave, in the same way that I had mercy on you?

Oh that that fearful thought alone would propel me on in holiness, and may it cause me to praise Him that His mercies are new every day [15]!

1 As we consider God as merciful, we must be careful to not imply that there is an internal struggle between His Just and His Merciful nature, as if they were opposites He was battling to balance.  Rather, He withholds His right and holy judgment for a time out of mercy but “will, by no means, leave the guilty unpunished.” (Ex 37:7b) - both mercy and judgment are aspects of His goodness (Ex 33:19)
2 Just a few examples of the others which “color” it: (Eph 2:4), grace (Eph 2:5), patience (1 Tim 1:16), and humility (Mercy can be said to be the greater, humbling himself to accommodate the weaker)
3 Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy, p 90
4 Pink, The Attributes of God, Kindle, ch 14
5 Paul, himself, as he ponders God’s gospel, ending with this note on His mercy, can only pause and praise God! (Rom 11:33-35)
6 Pink, The Attributes of God, Kindle, ch 14
7 As great as God’s mercy is in saving, its richness and depth permeates all of creation.  “He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” (Matt 5:45)  He doesn’t punish people immediately for their sins, having mercy for a time (2 Pet 3:9).  Truly, when He says that He takes “no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that the wicked turn from his way and live.” (Ez 33:11), we see His desire to extend mercy!
8 He may in fact do the opposite so as to harden hearts with the specific intention of judgment.  In Joshua 11:19-20, as an example, we see God hardening the hearts of all but the Hivites so that they would not receive mercy and be utterly destroyed.
9 Note that the opposite of God extending mercy is to harden some so that He does not will to extend mercy to them (Rom 9:18) but desires, instead, to demonstrate His wrath and power (Rom 9:22).  This is particularly interesting as the text does not say what we would expect the opposite to be (that God softens those He wishes to extend mercy), but it is implied that His mercy is seen in softening them so that He can extend mercy to them so that He can demonstrate His mercy so that He can be glorified for His mercy!
10 See Tim Challies for a good, Biblical example of God’s patient mercy towards the Israelites after their idolatry with the calf: The Patient Mercy of a Holy God
11 1 John 4:9
12 Eph 2:5
13 Heb 4:16
14 Matt 18:23-35
15 Lam 3:22

Abortion Clinic and North Hollywood

Continue to pray for Don as he is at the abortion clinic in Mission Hills two days a week, every week on Wednesdays and Saturdays from 8am - 10am.  Contact Steve if you would like to join them if you would like to confirm Don will be there, or just show up either day as he almost always is!

Also, Steve is back in town and looking to go out again Wednesday mornings.  Because the number of people who go out is few in number, ask Steve to add you to his text notification list if you think you might be interested in joining them.  It 1) helps for him to know if someone will be going with him, and 2) makes sure you get cancellation notices the evening before so you don’t show up only to find yourself alone!


In keeping with our theme...

Challies - Visual Theology - The Attributes of God

Challies - The Patient Mercy of a Holy God
God sees [worship of golden calf] and he tells Moses about it, and says to him, “This is the last straw. I am going to wipe them all out and I will then make a nation out of you!” In a fascinating exchange, Moses pleads with God. He brings a case to God and says, “I’ll give you two reasons that shouldn’t do this. First, the Egyptians will say, ‘Ha! Look at this God! He brought them out of our land and then destroyed them all in the wilderness.’ Think what that would do for your reputation.” And second, “Don’t forget the covenant promises you made to Abraham and Isaac and Jacob that their descendants would come into their inheritance. Don’t forget your promises! Don’t forget who you are.”
And in verse 14 we read, “And the Lord relented from the disaster that he had spoken of bringing on his people.” God decided not to bring justice against this nation right now. God could have put every one of them to death and he would have been perfectly just to do that. Instead, he shows mercy.

A.W. Pink - Attributes of God (PDF)

A.W. Tozer - Pursuit of God (Project Gutenberg - various eBook versions)

* All verses from the ESV, unless otherwise noted

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