Putting Aside The God Of Our Own Creation

Selected Scriptures

by Rev. Bryn MacPhail

In many sermons previous to this one, I have had you ponder the question: "What is God like?". I consistently raise this question because how we answer this is of paramount importance. A.W. Tozer once said that "What comes to our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us".

When it comes to the issue of understanding God, any sort of overemphasis or underemphasis can radically change the theology and practice of a church and an individual.

What we believe about God also matters because we are guilty of idolatry when we assume God is other than He is. It is a mistake to reduce idolatry to the practice of kneeling before objects of adoration--idolatry, at its essence, is the entertainment of thoughts about God that are unworthy of Him(repeat).

Idolatry is not merely some ancient sin from a primitive culture, idolatry is something that every person, every Christian, in every age, struggles with. Our temptation is to think of God in human terms. We think that God is much like us--only bigger. We use phrases like "The God I believe in wouldn't do that". God had to correct the psalmist of this when He says, "You thought I was altogether just like you"(Ps.50:21). What is implied, of course, is that we are not just like God, and that we are guilty of idolatry when we envision God to be just like us.

It has become popular these days to say that "God is whatever you believe him to be". This is downright foolish. I can assure you that GOD IS HIMSELF regardless of what we believe about him. Our beliefs do not change God.

That is why the Bible is so necessary as our foundation for believing in God--it reproves false notions that we hold about God. Our challenge then, is to worship the God of the Bible rather than the God of our own creation.

With the Bible as our foundation for knowing God we must begin by saying that God can't be fully known. As finite creatures with finite minds, we must confess our inability to know God exhaustively. The apostle Paul confesses this in his letter to the Romans: "How unsearchable are His judgements and unfathomable His ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who became His counselor?"(Rom.11:33-36). There comes a time when a question is asked about the nature of God, or why a tragic event was allowed to occur, and we must humbly confess that God's ways are sometimes "unfathomable".

It must be said, however, that while God cannot be known fully by human beings, God can be known SUFFICIENTLY by human beings. The Bible gives us sufficient information about God--about His basic nature and how we can enter into a relationship with Him.

Now while I say that the Bible will give you sufficient knowledge of God, this sermon will not--time will only permit me to touch on the basics.

I should start by explaining what I mean by the term "God". Whenever I use the phrase "God", I am not referring to some obscure "higher power"--I am referring to the Triune God. And the Triune God is just a fancy way of saying God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. How, exactly, God is 3 in 1, our human minds may struggle to get around, but Scripture clearly testifies to the fact that the Father, Son, and Spirit are equally God.

The Gospel of John, chapter 1, clearly describes the deity of Jesus--a fact denied by Jehovah Witnesses and distorted by the Mormons. Jesus, of course, is the human name of the One known eternally as "the Word"(Jn.1:1) and "the Son of God"(1:34). John, chapter 14, is one of many passages that reinforces this fact, when Jesus says that "he who has seen Me has seen the Father"(14:9).

Now, while there are no explicit references to the Holy Spirit being equal with the Father and Son, it is a safe inference to make. We can safely infer that the Holy Spirit is also a part of the Godhead because, not only Paul, but also Jesus, uses a Trinitarian formula. Jesus uses this formula when He commissions the disciples to go make disciples, "baptizing them in the name of the FATHER and the SON and the HOLY SPIRIT"(Mt.28:19). And Paul uses this same equation when he concludes his second letter to the Corinthians by saying, "The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with you all"(2Cor.13:14).

The Trinity may not be easy to explain, but the sufficient Scripture should make it easy to believe in.

Besides emphasizing the Oneness of God--the Oneness of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit--there is one more attribute of God which must be emphasized. This attribute is the Holiness of God.

It has become popular in the 20th Century to question, not only belief in God, but the very actions of God. This generation, perhaps more than any other, has put God on trial. We put God on trial with the question: "How could God allow this to happen?"(repeat). Of course this question necessarily implies that if we were God we would do things differently. Can you see the depth of foolishness to this question? How can a finite person, with our puny brains, possibly know better than the All-knowing, All-powerful, All-wise, loving God of the universe?!

The apostle Paul's response to those who would question God's righteousness is on the mark: "Who are you, O man, who answers back to God?"(Rom.9:20).

Somehow, churches and Christians in the 90's have lost their reverence towards God. Instead of bowing humbly to His holiness, we question God's every move. There are many explanations for this attitude, but here is one example. As a society, we have adopted an understanding of "good" similar to the one put forth by Plato many many years ago. What we have done is we have compartmentalized this thing called "goodness" and now we expect our Holy God to conform to this standard. Thinking like Plato, WE discern and decide what is "good" and we expect our righteous God to conform to this "good". But this is not how God works.

God sets the standard of "good"--not us. He is infinite, we are finite. He is Holy, we are sinful. Therefore, everything God does is good(repeat). The order of those words are important. It isn't that God does "what is good"--good is defined by what God does.

All of this may sound very philosophical, but it is imperative that we properly understand the nature of God. It is imperative that the Church recapture the meaning of God's holiness. If we could only get a glimpse of God's holiness it could transform our lives.

Think of Isaiah--he sees a vision of "the train" of the Lord's robe "filling the temple" and he hears the angels say "Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord of hosts"(Isa.6:1-3). What is Isaiah's reaction? "Woe is me, for I am ruined! Because I am a man of unclean lips and I live among a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts"(6:5). Isaiah got a glimpse of God's holiness and he was overwhelmed. A short time later the Lord requested a prophet for Israel--Isaiah's response: "Send me"(6:8). Isaiah saw the holiness of God and it changed him forever.

Think of the apostle Peter--fishing all day long without catching a thing. Jesus comes along and tells Peter to put his nets back in the water(Lk.5:4). Peter reluctantly agrees. The nets go down and the fish pile in--so many, in fact, that the nets begin to break. Peter scrambles to get the fish in his boat. He signals for another boat. Both boats are so filled with fish at this point that they begin to sink. Peter then falls at Jesus' feet saying, "Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord"(Lk.5:5-8). Peter, like Isaiah, was overwhelmed by the holiness of God. And Peter, like Isaiah was transformed by it. As soon as those fish-filled boats reached the land, Peter, James, and John left everything and followed Jesus(Lk.5:11).

And then there is us. We may not see a vision of the train of the Lord's robe, and we likely won't have Jesus come to our workplace to spin a financial miracle, but we can still get a glimpse of God's holiness.

We can get a glimpse of God's holiness when we read these accounts from God's Word. Hopefully, we can get a glimpse in a sermon about God's holiness. We can even get a glimpse of God's holiness when we enter a majestic church building. But most often, we get a glimpse of God's holiness, working through the Holy Spirit, in the lives of ordinary people. That is why we are the Body of Christ. That is why a community of believers is so important. Because sometimes we rub shoulders with people whom a Holy God is working through.

I find nothing more convicting, and nothing more motivating than being around people who are being powerfully used by our Holy God.

I read a good example of this recently. A number of years ago one of the leading golfers on the professional tour was invited to play in a foursome with President Gerald Ford, Jack Nicklaus, and Billy Graham. The golfer was especially in awe of playing with President Ford and Billy Graham.

After the round of golf was finished, one of the other pros came up to the golfer and asked, "Hey, what was it like playing with the President and Billy Graham?".

The golfer unleashed a torrent of cursing, and in a disgusted manner said, "I don't need Billy Graham stuffing religion down my throat!". With that he stormed off to the practice tee.

His friend followed the angry pro to the practice tee. The pro took out his driver and started to beat balls out in a fury. His friend said nothing. He sat on a bench and watched. After a few minutes the anger of the pro was spent. He settled down. His friend said quietly, "Was Billy a little rough on you out there?".

The pro heaved an embarrassed sigh and said, "No. He didn't even mention religion. I just had a bad round".

Astonishing. Billy Graham had not said a word about Jesus, church, or religion, yet the pro had stormed off accusing Billy of trying to ram religion down his throat. How can we explain this? It's really not difficult. Billy Graham didn't have to say a word. Billy Graham is so identified with Christianity, so associated with the things of God, that his very presence was enough to make a sinner feel smothered. The golf pro felt crowded by holiness, even if it was made present by an imperfect human vessel.

Being uncomfortable in church doesn't always mean something isn't right. Feeling uncomfortable around certain Christians isn't always a bad thing. When we are confronted by the holiness of God--through an event, through a church service, through a Scripture passage, or through a person--we should feel uncomfortable. Isaiah was uncomfortable. Peter wanted Christ to go away.

It's time that we all stopped molding the nature God into a god that we are comfortable with. Worshiping the God we read about in the Bible can be downright scary. The good news is that the God who should scare us says "Do not fear"(Lk.5:10). This God--God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit--this God wants to transform our lives. Won't you let His holiness transform you today? Amen.