The Value of Creeds

When someone thinks of God, that is, to use the word “God,” any number of ideas may come into their minds that may or may not reflect who God really is. If you asked Oprah who God is, you’ll likely get a very different answer from orthodox Christianity the longer she speaks.

Unfortunately, people like Oprah exert a great deal of influence on what people think about God. The God of modern America is a Santa Clause who doesn’t want me to experience much pain but does want me to be happy. Thus, the right thing to do in most situations is to follow the path that seems, on the surface at least, to make me most happy. This sort of God values equality the most, accepts people along similar lines of an Equal Opportunity Employer who doesn’t discriminate based on sex, race, gender identity, and so on.

This is nothing new. From the very inception of the Christian faith after Jesus ascended the opponents have had their knives drawn to carve up Christianity however they could. How did the church respond? How did they try to express who the true Jesus was apart from the deceptions? We needed a brief and concise statement of beliefs that unify us and demonstrate specifically what it is we believe. These statements, or creeds, are centered upon the person of God and his redemptive work through Jesus Christ.

Creeds function like a spiritual address. If you want to know where to find someone, you need their address. Although God is omnipresent, that doesn’t mean that all religions lead to God. God lives at his address. God’s address is the apostle’s creed, which goes to great lengths to separate the correct beliefs about God from the incorrect ones. It is a systematic theology in 60 seconds or less. For believers who don’t go to seminary, or perhaps can’t even read, God’s address can be memorized and recited in a minute. That’s why we value them, memorize them, and recite them. They are the rallying cry of God’s people, a fitting summary of the core beliefs of Christianity.

The Apostle’s Creed

I believe in God, the Father Almighty,

the Creator of heaven and earth,

and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord:

Who was conceived of the Holy Spirit,

born of the Virgin Mary,

suffered under Pontius Pilate,

was crucified, died, and was buried.

He descended into hell.

The third day He arose again from the dead.

He ascended into heaven

and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty,

whence He shall come to judge the living and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy *catholic church,

the communion of saints,

the forgiveness of sins,

the resurrection of the body,

and life everlasting.


More on God’s Justice…

A.W. Tozer’s chapter in Knowledge of the Holy on the justice of God is so potent and powerful, yet so painfully brief! Yet here are a few observations.

First, he says that justice is not a standard that exists above God and which God is required to obey. This would be to imply that God is not the highest standard of justice but is subject to a higher standard of justice. No, God is Himself the standard of justice and he executes his justice perfectly. Yet, Tozer says that “there is nothing in His justice which forbids the exercise of His mercy.” God’s justice is free and perfect, and there is never a time when he is unjust. As the Psalmist Asaph ponders the prosperity of the wicked, he is reassured with this knowledge:

“ 18Truly you set them [the wicked] in slippery places;
you make them fall to ruin.
19How they are destroyed in a moment,
swept away utterly by terrors!
20Like a dream when one awakes,
O Lord, when you rouse yourself, you despise them as phantoms.” (Psalm 73)

When he considers the justice of God with the mercy of God, he concludes first that “no attribute of God is in conflict with another.” Secondly, he says that “mercy does not become effective toward a man until justice has done its work.” That’s the rub; that’s the cross. He’s referring to a theology of redemption that teaches the severity of God’s wrath, the depth of God’s love, mercy, and compassion, the absurdity of the cross, and how God is completely consistent with Himself in the whole matter. At no point is His justice compromised in His exercise of mercy. On the contrary, the very manner of his demonstration of mercy vindicates His justice, because mercy is accomplished via the cross.

It breaks down like this. God is always just. If one wonders if God is just towards the wicked, he need look to only two places: the cross, or to hell. Does God punish sin? Yes. The punishment for every sin will be meted out in either hell or on the cross. There is not one solitary sin in all existence that his escaped the scrutiny of God’s just eyes and His vengeful wrath poured out upon the sinner. For me, and all my sin, God’s vengeful wrath was poured out on Jesus Christ. And all the riches of the glory of Christ, his glorified body, his righteousness and favor with God, are all mine (not that they were taken away from Christ to be given to me, the resurrection proves that he can suffer punishment for sin and yet be raised again to live because God is himself the source of all life).

For those who do not know or love Christ, who do not repent of their sins and obey him, they will meet the justice of God in hell. When someone dies apart from Christ, they will get nothing more or less than they deserve. God will not punish them more than their sins require, nor less. His punishment for sin is just, and that justice is hell.

So then, God’s justice for sin is seen in two places: on the cross (for believers) and in hell (for non-believers).

That was the hope of Asaph in the Psalm, as well as the hope of Job, Jeremiah and others who wonder, “why do the wicked prosper? (Jeremiah 12:1).” The wicked prosper for only a season. God has his own purposes in not handing down judgment immediately, otherwise he would have destroyed Adam and Eve and this whole human experiment put to an end right then. No, God desired to redeem humanity, which required a temporary suspension in his justice. This suspension would have been unjust were it not for the fact that God knew he would redeem in the future. If God had no plans to redeem in the future, then why suspend judgment? Why not just send Adam and Eve to hell right then? Why allow them to procreate when there was never any hope of anyone ever living a righteous life who was their descendant? This is why it is appropriate to say that anyone who lived before the time of Christ “borrowed” from the cross the mercy that they may someday hope for. Old Testament believers, such as David, Samuel, Enoch, and so on, lived in a time of suspended judgment under a system that could not permanently redeem them from their sin. “For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins (Hebrews 10:4).” God’s mercy was extended during a time when mercy had not yet been purchased by the cross. They borrowed mercy from Christ not knowing from whom or by what means mercy would come.

This is the hope of the Christian. God’s justice for my sin was met in Christ on the cross. But death could not hold Christ down. Because he is God and is the source of all life, the resurrection secures for all who are “in Him” all the things that are his. We will be like him, glorified in body, purified in heart and conscience, righteous before God in deed. Perfected. God’s justice also insists that those who are righteous before Him and are in Christ receive those things promised to Christ and belonging to Him, an eternal inheritance. Amen!

Comments on Revelation 19-22

What a wonderful picture of the worship of God. The voice of the great multitude in 19:6 sounded like the roar of many waters and peals of thunder, and their refrain was simple: “Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready; it was granted her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure”. The Bride has clothed herself with “righteous deeds” as the verse indicates.

This picture is quite inspiring. God has chosen his Bride, and has redeemed her, but has not yet taken her to the wedding ceremony. Our role as Christians are to make ourselves ready for that day and to clothe and adorn ourselves with the beauty of godly character.

John, the apostle, would certainly have had the proper theology to know that one worships God alone. And yet here, we find him bowing down to a glorious creature in worship. Although I have not yet read The Weight of Glory by C. S. Lewis (I intend to today), I understand he uses an analogy of our glorified bodies in the new creation are to be so wonderful and glorious that were we to see them now we would be tempted to bow down and worship ourselves.

This is a wonderful thing to long for and anticipate that someday we will be made like Christ’s glorious body. Romans 8 says that the creation “waits with eager longing” for that day when our bodies are resurrected in glory. The pain we experience now and the heartaches that we experience – these “sufferings” – Paul says that these sufferings “of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” To think about these thinks is exciting and I can’t wait for it. I want to have a deeper longing for eternity and the appearing of Christ where my earthly dwelling is made to resemble his glorious body.

The ugly underbelly of the prosperity that western Christians now experience is that we have so many comforts and so many of our pains have been taken away that we cannot very well relate to texts like these. Romans 8 and Revelation were written at a time when Christians were a heavily persecuted minority and the vision of the glorified and resurrected Christ coming in power at the end of all things was an awesome and hopeful sight. Now, we tend to see this world as really not all the bad, and the new creation will be a nice long vacation. But a theology of pain is a reminder that this world is not our home.

We have lost our ability to connect with the idea of real pain and suffering in a very real sense and thus our longing for the new creation is lessened. Our outward nature is wasting away but our inner nature is being renewed day by day. So now, in our current state, the “whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.” Lord, I long for that day! Help me to think of that day and to be making myself ready now as a bride adorns herself to make herself ready for her wedding day. Amen.

God’s Justice and Darth Vader

A. W. Tozer remarks in the chapter on justice that there is no conflict between God’s justice and God’s mercy. God does not send people to hell necessarily with neither delight nor with regret. In Ezekiel 18:23, God says, “‘Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked?’ declares the Sovereign LORD. ‘Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live?'” God is pleased to show mercy to those who are willing to receive it. And yet in Isaiah 13:11, he says, “I will punish the world for its evil, the wicked for their sins. I will put an end to the arrogance of the haughty and will humble the pride of the ruthless.” This is remarkably unflinching. God does not express the slightest hesitation in handing out his justice in the right time.

In 2 Peter 3:9, he writes that “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” He is encouraging his hearers to not doubt that God will return for us, but that we must be patient, along with him, to wait for more people to come to Christ. How thankful I am for this! What if Christ had returned the day before I repented and believed? I would face a just wrath.

The Lord’s justice is furious and strong, yet, because he is still a God of love and mercy, He has demonstrated great patience towards us to allow time for more to come to Christ. I think of Romans 9:22: “What if God, choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath prepared for destruction? What if he did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy, whom he prepared in advance for glory 24even us, whom he also called, not only from the Jews but also from the Gentiles?” Here we see an even further purpose of his patience: it demonstrates some beautiful quality of his character to those who have eyes to behold it. For example, this is a beautiful and comforting truth to me, because he has been gracious to me and has given me the eyes to recognize it, and so, while I weep for those who perish, I rejoice in the Lord who was patient to endure them as long as he did.

Just like me: he was patient to endure me far longer than I would have been. I like to hand down justice quickly. When I am right and I know it I have little patience for anyone who disagrees. God, however, has no emotional needs to satisfy and no one he is inclined to impress. He is who he is, unconflicted. And so, while men on earth, like fools say “there is no God” while breathing in the very air he has provided for them to breathe, reject him continually and his anger burns against them for their obstinance, he at the same time will bear with them for quite a long time in order to demonstrate something higher about himself.

In our day, we are quite uncomfortable with the notion of God’s justice because we are unacquainted with pain and suffering. Those who are daily in the throes of a life of suffering do not question God, because they have not been spoiled enough to think that they deserve any different. It is amazing to me that African slaves of America’s history largely adopted the religion of the white man, their oppressor. How ironic that they are now rulers in the kingdom of God while many of their bigoted “Christian” masters have perished.

They were well acquainted with suffering, and so it was easier for them to detach themselves from this life because there was little hope for them in earthly life. Christians who suffer and whose hope is in Christ alone are comforted by the idea of God’s justice because they look forward to the day when God will vindicate Himself and mete out punishment to those who oppress them. Only in recent times has the notion of God’s justice been under such heavy scrutiny and attack.

When Luke Skywalker confronted his father on the moon of Endor, he became a great spokesperson for this point of view:

Luke: Search your feelings, Father, you can’t do this. I feel the conflict within you. Let go of your hate.

Darth Vader: It is too late for me, son. The Emperor will show you the true nature of the Force. He is your master now.

Luke: Then my father is truly dead.

Luke Skywalker is the modern man, exalting himself over God and pleading with him to come back to the good side. Yet God, in all his unrighteous anger and temper tantrums, wearing a black helmet and causing evil tsunamis and earthquakes, can’t seem to let go of his violent tendencies. “It is too late for me, son.” So Luke, like any virtuous humanist responds, “then my father is truly dead.” This exchange illustrates well what happens when a person becomes grows uncomfortable with the idea of a God who still hands out justice.

We are the smarter, “good” son, trying to rescue our vindictive father from his antiquated ways, and we neuter him in our books and in our pulpits. But this is not God. God is the source of all that is good and he would be in conflict if he didn’t enact justice. Yet his justice is always good, patient, unconflicted, and righteous.

Prayer of Meditation on Psalm 139


Psalm 139. I thank you, Lord, for the truth revealed in Scripture of your omnipresence. You are everywhere and in everything. I suppose there is some truth to the eastern religions that say “god is in the tree” or something like this: you are there in the fact that you are everywhere. Nothing is hidden from you, you know all things and are aware of every hurt. You know every wicked thing we do and you bear it up and you endure it with great patience. All at once you are here with me as I write these words and you are at the bottom of the sea watching the tiny fish swim under rocks. All at this time you are watching the landscape and enjoying the beauty of your own splendid creation from the tops of mountain peaks and you have counted every snowflake that falls on them. You watch with joy when a new child is born in Singapore and you understand every word the exuberant family says. You are there when the rows upon rows of cribs in the North Korean orphanage are filled with children who won’t have enough to eat. How long, O Lord? You see and understand everything all at once and none of it takes you by surprise. Your glory is hidden and difficult for us to see in the blasphemous rants of Muslim clerics and their disciples that you tolerate just before they attack. And yet it is on full display when someone loves another enough to sacrifice their own desires to hel another in need. It is on full display when the wicked repent and the punishment they deserve (like me!) is rather poured out on your son. You this all of this. You watch all these things with your loving eyes and nothing escapes your attention. And while you listen to the cries of the children in Darfur, you are also watching the expanse of the universe in all its intricate details with the greatest care. You see every star that implodes that are beyond the reaches of our telescopes. You sustain the trillions of asteroids and planets and suns and galaxies as they fly through space and yet move and operate with stunning precision as simply as though they were a child’s blocks, stacking them one on top of the other.

I exclaim, with the Psalms, “What is man tat you are mindful of him?” We have made a mess of your wondrous creation and we long and groan for the day when you will vindicate your name on the earth. The day will come when you will set things aright and no one will again dare to question your goodness or ever again ask, “how can a good and loving God allow X?” You alone can vindicate your name and you will display your glory fully then. For now, we see you most fully and beautifully at the cross; the one place on earth that was most painful and beautiful to see. Amen.

Thoughts on family worship

As expected, the lecture on family worship was one of the very best of the semester and I set my mind immediately to implement what was taught. Several aspects of the lecture I found particularly helpful. The first was the simplicity of the task. I have known of families who have practiced this but the idea had always been somewhat intimidating. It seemed something relegated to the super-spiritual club and I had resisted it, in part, due to my own shame and failure, and also because I did not want to do it simply because all the Christians-who-are-really-good-Christians do it. So it was with great anticipation that I looked forward to this lecture because I knew, in my heart, that it was the right thing to do and I wanted some guidance now, especially since I have two small children that I want to train for godliness. And so, back to simplicity: Read, Pray, Sing. Man, that’s easy. Could I have come up with this on my own? Certainly, but I had built it up in my mind to be this big deal and intricate plan that I’m sure I wouldn’t have the time to implement. So, to have Dr. Whitney spell out this very simple plan steals the mystique from it and makes it seem very doable and applicable.

Another aspect of the lecture that I thought was so penetrating and powerful was to acknowledge how many men simply feel ashamed. I feel ashamed that I haven’t been doing it and to mention to my wife that I want to do it is, in effect, an admission of failure. It takes a swallowing of pride to come to this point but my family is worth it. Any godly man, especially one who is in training for ministry, would have a hard time admitting such a neglect, but I appreciate so much Dr. Whitney’s acknowledgement of the shame aspect but then giving comfort in the fact that so few of us ever grew up in an environment where we see this modeled. Kudos.

What I have found after practicing it for these last few days is how easy it is to do and how, now that we’ve begun the practice, to add some of our own twists and additions. For example, after simply reading and praying for a couple of days, I thought of some modifications that would help. I have made a prayer list that covers a seven day span so that each day we pray for something different but repeat important concerns on that same day every week. Perhaps we can expand this and make it a month with the most important concerns coming up weekly and more ‘back-burner’ issues coming up monthly. Then I thought that we could take these requests and, after finalizing them, print them off and have the sheet laminated. Perhaps I can make it small enough to use as a bookmark in my Bible and use it to mark where we are in the scriptures.

I was amazed to see something yesterday: my daughter is only about 18 months old and she knows a few words but isn’t speaking full sentences yet. But we have taught her what a Bible looks like as opposed to other books and she sits and listens to the Bible being read during family worship. Since we started just this past Tuesday (after the lecture that afternoon) we have done it for four days so far. Yesterday, when I got up from the dinner table to retrieve my Bible, before I entered the room with it she had already started saying “Bible, Bible!” knowing that this is what comes next. Four days into this she recognized the routine and knew that her Father was going to read from the Bible. My heart melted because I began to feel more like a man; more like the leader of my home. I hope and pray that this will be something that she will always cherish and remember fondly times of family worship around the dinner table every evening. My wife and I have already determined, long ago, that the evening dinner with the family is to be guarded at all costs.

I am so glad for the lecture on family worship and hope that, over time, we can see our children learn to pray and seek the Lord because of this practice.

The Transcendence of God

Tozer laments how God is not treated with transcendence and awe but rather a familiarity that one uses when speaking with their best friend. The notion of a transcendent God is what leads to the fear of God. Even the idea of the “fear” of God is neutered now and taken to mean simply “reverence” rather than “fear.” But I was reading just this morning in Hebrews 10:31 that “It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” Consider that! The writer of Hebrews recognizes the transcendence of God to the degree that, even though Christians have been purified, it is still a dreadful proposition to cross him. Or as C.S. Lewis would write, “He is not a tame lion.”

Perhaps this is why the Psalms repeatedly appeal to the created order, the observation of the universe to grapple with the majesty of God. Psalm 19:1 says, “the heavens declare the glory of God, the sky above proclaims his handiwork.” And in Revelation the poetry and language is even more grandiose in describing God’s throne and his attendants. Of course, as Tozer himself says, we need to acknowledge that the Holy Spirit is allowing descriptions of God that are anthropomorphic, meaning that God is lowering himself to be spoken of in such terms as having a “throne” and being attended to by angels.

The Bible also describes God in this way in Acts 17:25: “The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, in the hope that they might feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, for ‘In him we live and move and have our being’.” This is anthropomorphic language that God allows to be employed to describe Him while the reality of His nature is even far above such mean descriptors.

Or again in Psalm 8, “

When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars, which you have set in place,
what is man that you are mindful of him,
and the son of man that you care for him?”

We treat God like a gumball machine and have little regard for who he truly is: frightful, awesome, transcendent, majestic, severe, and yet humble, kind, patient, merciful. The English language cannot contain him and our trifling words can never approach him. Tozer is right in his description of most Christian preaching: “how strange to him and how empty would sound the flat, stale, and profitless words heard in the average pulpit from week to week.”

He is right to conclude that transcendent is the proper light in which to present God, and the proper response is self-evident: fall prostrate before him in worship. However, there is a great deal of clamoring in modern churches for preaching that is more “practical.” Were the transcendence of God put on display, no such desire for application would be needed; the application would follow as a natural consequence of the vision of almighty God.