Contending for the faith | Making Disciples | Equipping the Saints for Ministry

    Because it is February, perhaps some of you expect me to talk about the most popular attribute of God: His love. Granted, I will be talking about God’s love but in light of another aspect of God. Clearly, His love was manifested on a cross over 2,000 years ago (John 3:16). Through Jesus, God’s love physically touched people with healing, graced their life with hope, revealed mercy through forgiveness, and was made available to all who would receive by faith His eternal life. In other words, you cannot know His love without possessing His very life because His love does not stand apart from who He is and His very life, for God is love (1 John 4:8).

      The problem today is that many people hide behind their so-called “concept” of God’s love, while justifying defeating aspects of their personal life. Sadly, the presentation of God’s love is often riddled with fleshly nonsense and tainted by worldly presentations. For the most part, people’s definition of God’s love is not anywhere near to the real attribute that constitutes God’s agape love, which is clearly described in 1 Corinthians 13. God’s love is opposite of the pride and jealousies of the self-life, the lusts and euphoric feelings of the flesh, and the sentimental worldly philosophy of tolerance towards sin.

      As we try to come to terms with the fact that God is love in order to properly understand what it means for love to cover a multitude of offenses (1 Peter 4:8), we must do so in light of all of His attributes. This means that God alone is a face of true love, and as we really consider His love we must above all else acknowledge that it is honorable because it is moral, sacrificial because it is selfless, always preferring that which it loves over itself, and excellent because it is righteous in its dealings. In essence, it is committed to have right standing before God and do right where others are concerned.

      These very manifestations of God’s love are clearly displayed on the cross that Jesus died on. It is clear that we do not deserve such love. It is offered and has been made available by way of His grace, and we can only receive it and appropriate it in our lives by faith. God’s love is holy (pure) towards us; therefore, He desires what is best for each of us, and will not remain indifferent to any moral deviation that would cause our soul harm. In other words, godly love will not rejoice in the presence and practices of iniquity in our lives (1 Corinthians 13:6). As I have said in the past, “You address sin in love, but you never overlook sin in the name of love.”

      This brings us to the real matter of God’s love. It must be the motive and inspiration behind everything we do. The more His love abounds in us, the more we can effectively walk in His love and the more we will learn what it means for God to be love. It was because of His love that God could do nothing else but provide salvation for His creation. He could not let sin claim people as its slaves, or death claim souls as its victims. His love not only could not stand silently by, but it went beyond reasonable service and offered a sacrifice that would silence the death sentence pronounced upon all sin and disobedience by His righteous law.

      This brings me to a very important point. God’s love is nothing to hide behind to justify moral deviances or failures; rather, it is to serve as a point of trust when our world is caving in. When things are going wrong, will we trust that God loves us in the purest and most honorable sense? Will we choose to believe His intentions towards us are good regardless of the overwhelming present challenges of life? Will we choose to believe His Word about all matters pertaining to life and godliness and respond accordingly? The truth is when life throws the unexpected at us the first thing we usually question is whether God loves us or not. The key to trusting God is not trusting an unrealistic concept of His love, but choosing to trust Him in His sovereignty.

      Last month I talked about breaking out of our theological boxes in order to discover greater heights in God. Clearly, the problem with maintaining a controlled understanding of the Lord is that we are susceptible in missing what is important and vital to His heart. In other words, at best we try to maintain a status of a servant; and in so doing we fail to become a friend of God like Abraham, who could be entrusted with the deep concerns of the Lord (Genesis 18:17; James 2:23; John 15:12-17).

      The Lord may want us to come higher especially when fear (of losing control or of the unknown) raises up in us to resist such a notion. He may want us to understand what is important to Him so we can be effective in our Christian walk and pursuits. The problem is that many have boxed the Lord in, and such individuals often find themselves stuck in a quagmire of frustration, unable to rise above the ceiling of their personal conclusions or estimation of spiritual realities to receive a greater revelation of the Lord.

      I understand such a spiritual quagmire because I have been stuck in one. I wanted to control my understanding of God so that I would know how to act and respond to matters. I did not realize it but I wanted to keep one step ahead of Him to avoid becoming completely dependent on Him. I wanted to determine His pace so that I was privy to anything coming down the road to keep my faith and character from being tested, tempted, tried, and found wanting.

      In essence, I wanted to be an exception to the rule when it came to God’s dealings, preparation, and work in my life. Although Job is a real example of patience in a time of great testing, I wanted patience without going through the deep valley of loss, misunderstandings, and despair. What I wanted to avoid was facing the sovereign move of God in my life and trusting Him during daunting circumstances. I wanted to be able to understand everything so I knew how to act and respond, while maintaining a semblance of victorious Christianity.

      The truth is there is never any victory unless there has been a series of failures along the way. There can be no character unless it has been tested as being inept, then forged in the fires as a means to refine it. Regardless of how sincere one may be as to becoming a person of great faith, without first going into the ovens and learning what it means to trust God when all seems lost and hopeless, faith will never be brought to the level of endurance and maturity.

      It was also in my heart to soar in the heights of God but I did not want to experience Him going into the depths of my soul, exposing darkness, weakness, moral deviance, and foolishness. I wanted to jump the Grand Canyon of obstacles without first leaning to be faithful to take small steps of obedience by obeying the Word and following after the Spirit, ever strengthening my Christian walk as a means to begin to run the race of the Christian life.

     The reality of my Christian life is that without realizing it I was afraid of facing the sovereignty of God. The question is what does the word “sovereign” mean? Recently, I read a couple of definitions. One is, “having supreme rank, power, or authority.” The second is “greatest in degree, utmost, or extreme.” Both definitions clearly show that God is not only above all as our Creator, but He is first in all happenings and has preeminence in all matters. He is supreme in all He does, possessing the final say in all that happens. There is nothing that gets past Him without His permission, nothing that happens unless He allows it, and nothing that occurs that surprises Him or throws Him off of His plan.

      The sovereignty of God reminds every believer that we will, more often than not, find a curtain enveloping our carnal understanding when it comes to the matters of God. The reason for such darkness is because there are mysteries about God that mere man in his fleshly state will never be able to unravel and there are veiled secrets that God is not obligated to share with any of us. And, when we find ourselves encountering such times, it becomes intense darkness to us, testing our faith, challenging our inner resolve, and stripping our character of any facade.

      At such times we want to look to our theology for understanding, but we often find it shaking and in some areas crumbling. We want to run to our logic, but we are met with an onslaught of confusion. We look under every rock to see if we are missing some hidden deviance or secret clue, but heaven remains silent. There is no light penetrating the darkness and no conviction of the Holy Spirit to bring light, all there is, is just consuming darkness.

      When we consider the concept of sovereignty, we must acknowledge that there is not one person or being who can claim that they possess such supremacy. It is the one aspect of God that can throw a person’s faith into crisis. It is the one characteristic that many have tried to understand by boxing it in with various theologies and religious debates and formulas. In spite of the confusion, this is the one aspect of God that reminds each of us as Christians that regardless of the confusing reality around us, the wickedness that seems to reign unabated in the world today, and the foolishness which rules from the heights of arrogance, that God is still God, reigning from His throne.

      At such times the last thing we usually consider is God’s sovereignty. We become desperate to find any means or method to cause God to take away the darkness. It is then that the questions flow in like a rushing river to test our resolve. Questions envelop our inner being, and if the matter is not resolved soon, questions will also come from others who are being left astonished by the events that may be intruding into their reality.

      The questions are inevitable as people struggle with injustices, foolishness, and death that plagues the world around them: “Where is God in all of this war and destruction?” “How can a loving God allow such evil to reign?” “If God is holy and just, why does He allow innocence and purity to be offered up on the various altars of the world without bringing great recompense upon the offender?” Each question serves as a platform for limited logic and immense confusion that will lead a skeptic into unbelief where he or she “simmers in the juices of anger and despair.” The result is a blanket of hopelessness settling upon his or her soul. Every believer struggles with not succumbing to unbelief and hopelessness as he or she wrestles with the “whys” of life, while understanding remains far from them. In such times, circumstances can make a mockery out of God’s different attributes, thus bringing the credibility of all of His attributes into question.

      As it becomes clearer that the world we live in is plunging into global insanity, as believers we must come to rest by faith on one aspect of God—and that is He still reigns because of, and according to, His sovereignty. Nothing happens that He does not allow. No leader is in a position that He Himself has not placed there. No wretched event has caught Him off guard, and when it comes to His saints, Herbert Lockyer Sr. said it best, “The mightiest ruler must wait his permission before he can place a finger on a child of God.”

      In agreement with the above statement, an unknown source also made this affirmation, “The Lord may not have planned that this (circumstance) overtake me, but He has most certainly permitted it. Therefore though it were an attack of an enemy, by the time it reaches me, it has the Lord’s permission and therefore all is well. He will make it work together with all life’s experiences for good” (Genesis 50:20; Romans 8:28).

     Once again we must wrestle with the “whys” of life. It is hard to accept that all the wrong that is taking place in the world and in our small existences is permitted by God. We look at injustice and ask how the just God could allow it to happen while seemingly remaining quiet as it wreaks havoc in the lives of the innocent. We look at immorality’s absurdity being touted as normal and right, and wonder how long a holy God is going to allow its insipid boasting to continue before He brings it down into the throes of hell. We watch evil, cultist, anti-Christ beliefs try to take the world by force and wonder how long God will allow His truth to be stomped on or degraded, His principles mocked, His righteous ways marked as being wicked, and His saints persecuted for their genuine faith. We wonder….

     The world is clearly upside down. It started with the entrance of sin in the Garden of Eden and continues today because Satan is the god of this world’s systems (2 Corinthians 4:2-4). As the father of lies, Satan has wrapped this world in his lies with anti-God, self-centered, New Age philosophies, worldly propaganda, and irrational indoctrination. As a murderer from the beginning, his goal is to destroy purity, innocence, and souls (John 8:44). As a religious being, Satan rides high on the waves of false beliefs, idolatrous, superstitious practices, and pagan ways to exalt himself above the God of heaven (2 Corinthians 11:2-14).

     It is natural for people, including Christians to struggle with God’s sovereignty. It is the one aspect of God that is beyond mere man’s comprehension. He cannot even begin to attempt to try to understand its ways and when he tries to figure it out or explain it, he sounds indifferent, judgmental, and/or foolish. He often ends up contradicting his own creeds and ends up looking like a hypocrite.

     How important is God’s sovereignty? Well, let me put it this way, if God was not sovereign, His will would never be carried out to completion. As stated in the past, there are three aspects to God’s will in operation in the world. There is His permissive will, His providential will, and His perfect will.

     For example, God permits wickedness to reign for a season to test His people’s faith and to bring wickedness to fruition in order to righteously judge it. For Christians, the Lord has been known to let go of the reins or permit His people to do their own thing because of their freewill, but eventually they begin to pay the consequences as leanness takes hold of their souls. At this point, believers often come back to the Lord in brokenness and repentance.

     God’s providential will occurs when we give Him permission to have His way in a matter. Sometimes this occurs after He has permitted us to go our own way and do our own thing. When we see that our ways are becoming sour and bitter to our very souls, we turn back to Him in repentance, humble ourselves and give Him permission to have His way regardless of the cost. His providence is then set in motion as He sets up circumstances, opening and closing doors to bring the person to a place of consecration. It is in this place that we can begin to discern and know what is the good, acceptable, and perfect will of God, and be prepared to obediently walk in it (Romans 12:1-2).

     Job tasted God’s providential will without understanding it. He did not know that God allowed Satan to bring grave financial, emotional, and physical losses to him to prove that the Lord had a man in the world that would not curse Him after practically losing everything. God knew that Job’s struggles would be great, but He also knew that in the end Job would always land on the great runway of faith and come to rest on what he knew was true about his God.

     We cannot imagine how unbearable Job’s losses were: his wealth, his family, and his health. Like Job’s companions it is easy at such times to sit in our chairs and pews, and play God as our theology kicks into high gear and we become the ultimate authority as to why such things happen. As you read the arguments in Job, Job’s companions incorrectly accredited Job’s losses to God. Their logic was that Job had some unknown sin that was being judged even though they had known the righteous character of Job in the past. The truth is God permitted Satan to attack Job; therefore, Satan was the source behind Job’s losses, not God. God set the boundaries in which Satan could operate, showing His supremacy and authority over all matters. Was it God’s perfect will that Job experience this affront? No, but it became part of God’s providential will because He knew the outcome. The Lord set the boundaries, knowing that ultimately Job would tenaciously choose the way of faith, while maintaining the integrity of his testimony regardless of what came at him, and that in the end God’s perfect will would be realized in Job’s life.

     As we study Job’s companions’ arguments, they were right about God, but wrong about the situation. They correctly acknowledged who God was and His ways, but they were accrediting God with works He was not behind. In each argument you can see a greater desperation growing in them as their attacks became more aggressive. The question is why did they need to get Job to see it their way? The answer is found in the argument of the last man who confronted Job. His name was Elihu. He was an upstart who had quietly sat and listened to the debate. He did not know Job, but it is obvious that he agreed with the logic of Job’s companions. It says that Elihu’s wrath was kindled against Job, “because he justified himself rather than God” (Job 32:5). It also goes on to say that Elihu’s wrath was also kindled against Job’s companions because, “they had found no answer, and had condemned Job.”

     Most Christians might find themselves agreeing with Elihu. No matter what, God must be justified, cleared of any wrongdoing, injustice, etc. However, there was one problem, God was not behind Job’s losses—Satan was. God did not need to be justified. Granted, He allowed the events, but it was in complete knowledge of the outcome. He knew Job’s character, the endurance and maturity of His faith, and He sovereignly allowed it to happen. He knew in the end that what Job needed to see (know) would not only humble Job, but bring resolution and healing, “I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear: but now mine my eye seeth thee. Wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42:5-6). There is no indication that Job was ever informed about Satan’s part in his plight, but it did not matter, because Job had seen God and his faith towards Him stood justified.

     The question is if God did not need to be justified by Job’s companions then what was the big to-do about? It was about each man maintaining his own theology. They were trying to defend God on the basis of an assumption that found its premise in their theology about God and life. In their mind God would not allow bad things to happen to a righteous man; therefore, there had to be something wrong with Job. They wanted Job to agree with them, even though Job would have lied to do so because he knew differently. But, Job was not about to sacrifice his integrity so his companions could keep their particular creed of God intact, regardless of their clever presentations.

     Clearly, Job’s companions did not have all the facts. However, they would have avoided the whole matter if they had landed on the one aspect of God that would have covered everything: God’s sovereignty. These men could not accept that God was still being God when it went contrary to their creeds. They could not fathom that God was still God when nothing made sense and seemed senseless. They simply could not abide by the fact that God’s sovereign moves are often clouded in darkness, hidden from man’s understanding, and kept a mystery, because faith, not understanding is required to walk through the darkness surrounding such times.

     Job clearly teaches us that at the end of all great darkness, is not understanding of a matter, but a greater revelation of God. All man needs to know is that he can trust God in His sovereignty because He is holy, loving, kind, merciful, longsuffering, and faithful. The circumstances and darkness at times may seemed to fly in the face of God’s endearing attributes, but choosing the way of faith allows a person to land on the largest, eternal runway that keeps every truth intact: that of God’s sovereignty. God’s sovereignty enables a person to coast into the hanger of complete rest, trusting that that the Lord is in control and His intention towards each of us is honorable and will ultimately prove to be the wise and excellent way of God bringing His servant into His perfect will.

     Is there something you are wrestling with? What are you trying to hide behind? We can stand on the attributes of God, but the only thing we can hide behind regardless of the events is His sovereignty. God will never cease to be who He is. He is supreme and has the final say when it comes to the matters of the Universe, His people, and His creation. In the end, He will remain God and nothing will be able to prevent Him from bringing forth His will.