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Grace, Faith and the Invisible God
In my last paper (Grace, Faith and Salvation) I said that faith describes our relationship with an invisible God. Just to put things into context before we start our discussion of the invisible God, letís define grace and faith again. I want to know that you havenít forgotten what they mean, because, if you have, it will distort some of what Iím getting ready to say.
Grace is the favor of God. We donít deserve it and thereís nothing we could ever do to earn it. Itís simply the product of Godís mercy and lovingkindness. Thereís no way we could ever save ourselves, so God came up with a plan. He not only had to have a plan; He had to carry out that plan (weíll discuss this later in Grace, Faith and the Plan of God). But Scripture does not teach us that weíre saved by Godís grace (remember, "it is by free grace that you are saved through your faith" in Ephesians 2:8). Instead, it is His grace that gives us the opportunity to be saved. We access or appropriate His grace through our faith.
And faith doesnít represent basic facts that we agree with. Itís not what we supposedly believe. And itís not a set of doctrinal teachings. You donít learn faith by going to class. It requires revelation, understanding and obedience. The concept of faith in Scripture is undeniably tied to the ability to hear Godís still, small voice and the desire to recognize what Heís doing in the circumstances and situations of your everyday life. Then you have to cooperate with what God is doing in your life through your obedience. Faith is recognizing Godís will and direction. And, it demands submission and obedience to that will and direction. Faith literally describes or defines your experiences with God. Itís faith that makes the invisible God a reality. You know that Heís real because of what Heís doing in your life to accomplish His purpose Ė to change you.
An understanding of the invisible is essential to a walk of faith. We must get to the place where God is just as real to us as anything weíve ever seen with our eyes or recognized through any of our other physical senses. Our spiritual perception must be as strong as our natural, physical senses. And thatís difficult at best.
In Genesis 22:1-14 we see the account of Abraham demonstrating his faith. He hears God (not an audible voice, but Godís still, small voice), submits to Him and sets out to obey His command. And just when heís ready to offer his only son Isaac as a sacrifice, the Lord stops him and provides a ram instead. Verse 14 is the part thatís pertinent to this discussion.
"Then Abraham called the name of that place Jehovah-jireh. And even to this day it is said that on the mount of the Lord it will be seen."
Now I know that most translations take a religious viewpoint and translate Jehovah-jireh "The Lord Will Provide". Of course they do. Remember what I said before. Religion has to have a hook, something to grab you, something that appeals to your flesh. This is just another hook. The message is, "Come to God. One of His names is The Lord Will Provide. All He wants to do is bless you. All you have to do is let Him." Baloney! Any reputable Hebrew Dictionary will tell you that Jehovah-jireh means, "The Lord will see". Even the KJV almost got it right!
In fact, when you look at the symbolism in Genesis 22 and consider the context, thereís a great message here. Abraham has just experienced a fantastic exchange with God. He obeyed God in something that most of us would flat out refute and blame on the devil. (Surely God wouldnít ask me to sacrifice my own son. This canít be God.) But Abraham knew God. He knew the voice of God. And He obeyed. The significance of the "mount of God" is simply this Ė it is the presence of God. And in the presence of God Abrahamís obedience was seen and God responded to it by providing. Here, Abraham is literally describing "the unseen God Who sees".
In Matthew 6:6 Jesus tells us to pray to that same unseen God. The word translated "secret" in this verse is kruptos, meaning hidden or unseen. (For an explanation of the invisible or unseen God, read the article titled "The Shape of God" in the last section on the Read page.) Jesus is talking about the same invisible God that Abraham knew and obeyed. And Jesus is telling us that this invisible God sees and responds to those who do things His way (see Matthew 6: 3,4 and 17,18 as well).
The obvious verse that connects faith and the invisible God is Hebrews 11:6.
"But without faith it is impossible to be well-pleasing to God. For anyone who wants to come near to God must, as a necessity, know that He exists and that He will respond with kindness and generosity to those who diligently seek Him."
Whatís Paul saying here? Heís simply saying that itís impossible to please God unless weíre submitted to Him. Itís impossible to please God unless weíre seeking His will and purpose (and, as always, this will and purpose is to conform us to the image of His Son, Jesus). Itís impossible to please God unless weíre determined to be obedient to Him as His will and purpose unfolds in our life. And all of those things are impossible unless weíre convinced that this God Who weíve never seen really exists!
Now, this verse is a great example of a pervasive principle that is the very foundation of anyoneís relationship with God. This principle is found over and over again in both the Old and New Testaments and literally defines the process of coming to know God in an experiential reality as opposed to the false, deceitful, supposed relationship based on head knowledge that is presented by the worldís religious systems. Iíve mentioned this principle before and will most certainly mention it again, since it has many obvious applications in our understanding of the ways and purposes of God.
Basically, the principle is this: Godís promises are real and valid, but are always conditional. Therefore, God will not fulfill His promises until His conditions are met. The principle is expressed simply in this phrase, God says, "if you will, then I will". In other words, He makes the promise, sets the conditions, waits for us to meet the conditions and only then will He fulfill the promise. Actually, Hebrews 11:6 illustrates this principle twice. Go back and read the verse and see if you can find them.
Now might be a good time for a short refresher course to help us all get our heads on straight. God is Sovereign. God is Holy and Righteous. He is the Creator. We are His creation. He decides whatís right and whatís wrong, not us. He tells us what to do. We donít tell Him what to do. He has a will and purpose for our lives. We donít determine a will or purpose for ourselves, or for Him. Everything in existence, get ready for this, including man is under His authority! Read the following passages to reinforce this perspective: Isaiah 55:6-9, 40:12-28; Acts 17:16-31; Romans 1:17-22.
God requires that our relationship with Him should be built on the element of trust. He tells us what to do and what Heíll do when weíre obedient. Then He waits to see if weíll trust Him. The above verse in Hebrews 11:6 tells us that He is ready to respond when weíre diligent in seeking Him. The ball is in our court, so to speak. We have to initiate the action. When we seek, He responds. It doesnít say Heíll respond whether we seek Him or not. We have to make the first move. God is still saying, "If you will, then I will." He didnít give Abraham the ram before he even left home, or even somewhere along the way. He waited until Abraham had been obedient.
Letís get back to the discussion at hand. Weíre talking about the invisible God and the fact that an understanding of the invisible is essential in our walk of faith. This is exactly what Paul is talking about in Hebrews 11:6. "For anyone who wants to come near to God must, as a necessity, know that He exists". Anyone who wants to know God must accept the reality of something heís never seen. And he must be diligent to seek after something he never will see in this life. He must be determined to understand and follow a God who does not manifest Himself in obvious ways to our natural senses. When you read a little further in Hebrews 11 you'll find Moses is used as an example of one who was willing to forsake the things of the world that he could see to pursue the invisible God that he couldn't see (Hebrews 11:24-27).
This is what Paul had to say about understanding things that canít be known through the natural, physical senses. Itís found in I Corinthians 2:9-16.
"But just as Isaiah has said, the eye hasnít seen, nor the ear heard, neither has man in his wildest imagination ever dreamed of all that God has prepared for those who reverence Him and are quick to obey Him (see John 14:21). But God reveals them to us through His Holy Spirit. For it is only the Spirit Who understands the things that lie hidden well beyond the perceptive abilities of our natural senses. Men tend to understand only what theyíve reasoned out of their own minds. But the Holy Spirit understands only the things of God (Heís not burdened down with a rational mind controlled by physical senses and appetites). Now, we donít follow the natural senses that reveal only the things of the world. Instead, we follow the Spirit of God, Who has been given to us so we can comprehend the things that God has given to us out of His grace. So that the things weíve been telling you about have not come out of our own understanding (they didnít originate in our own thoughts, and we didnít learn them from other men). But it is the Holy Spirit Who has taught us these things by adding one spiritual concept upon another. Therefore, those who insist on relying on their own natural senses will never understand what the Spirit teaches. They will think these things are absurd and will never understand what comes only through the Spirit. The man who follows the Spirit will understand spiritual things. Yet, those who follow only after their natural senses will never understand Him. And who has ever understood all that is in the mind of the Lord that he could ever tell Him anything? Yet we have the mind of Christ available to us (revealing the thoughts and purposes of His heart to those who are submitted to Him)."
God has chosen to reveal Himself and His purpose to us through His Holy Spirit. But the Holy Spirit doesnít knock on the door, come into the kitchen and sit down to have a cup of coffee with us while He explains to us what we need to know. We canít see Him with our eyes. We canít hear Him with our ears. We canít smell Him, taste Him or touch Him. The Holy Spirit cannot be detected through our natural senses. Neither can the Father. For that matter, neither can the Son. For even though He has taken on the form of a man (Philippians 2:7,8) and continues to exist as the visible representation of the invisible God (Colossians 1:15), He currently resides at the right hand of the Father (Acts 2:32-34), a place slightly beyond the capacity of our natural sight.
Now, earlier I said that God does not reveal Himself to us in ways that are obvious to our natural senses. So how does He reveal Himself to us? Paul says in the passage above that the Holy Spirit teaches us. Jesus says the same thing in John 14:26. By the way, Jesus also confirms what Paul says about not being able to understand the things of the Spirit through the natural senses. In John 14:17 Jesus says that the unbelievers of this age will not understand the things taught by the Spirit because they cannot see Him. Check it out for yourself. In fact, Jude says the same thing about those who crept into the early fellowships in an attempt to corrupt them from the truth. He says of them, "But these men scoff at whatever they donít understand, and what they do understand comes to them only through their natural, physical senses. Like animals with no spiritual perception, they corrupt themselves and others with these things." (Jude 10)
There are several ways that the Holy Spirit reveals Godís will, purpose and direction to us. The first is His still, small voice. Of course, this is a reference to Elijahís experience in I Kings 19:12. The words "still" (the Hebrew demamah) and "small" (daq) literally means silent and indistinguishable. How can a voice be silent? What does indistinguishable mean? The voice of the Holy Spirit cannot be heard with your ears and you cannot recognize His voice by tone, accent, vocabulary or any other characteristic you might use to recognize a personís voice. The Holy Spiritís voice has no distinguishable characteristics.
Let me use a most unlikely source to illustrate what I mean Ė Hollywood. In the movie "The Ten Commandments", Charlton Heston (Moses) didnít understand why the bush on the side of the mountain could burn for so long and not be consumed. So he decided to go check it out. We all know the story. When he came back to tell his wife what had happened, he gave a great description of Godís still, small voice. He explained to her that God had spoken to him. But it wasnít with a voice he could hear. He pointed to his head and said that the words were just there. Thatís how Godís silent, indistinguishable voice comes to us. We canít hear it. We donít recognize it because it sounds like God (it doesn't come to us in King James English). Itís just there all of a sudden and we know this is God speaking to us because it has some affinity with what we know is His will and purpose for our lives. In this particular instance, this was certainly not the first time Moses had recognized the voice of God. He had just spent the better part of 40 years in the desert learning how and God was preparing to send him back to Egypt to do what He wanted Moses to do.
Now, before I talk about the other way that God reveals His will, purpose and direction to us, allow me to chase a rabbit or two. When I was in the traditional church someone was always saying "God told meÖ" or "God saidÖ" and then would come out with some of the most ridiculous things imaginable. In the Scriptures you can find the phrase "and the word of the Lord came to him, and He said". This was not an audible voice that they could hear with their ears. This was the silent, indistinguishable voice of Godís Spirit coming to the prophet or some other mature believer who had developed the ability to recognize it.
This ability is not gained quickly or easily. Neither is it acquired apart from a general understanding of Godís purpose. Here we go again. Godís purpose is not to make you wealthy. Itís not to keep you healthy. Itís not to help you accomplish all the goals youíve set for yourself so you can be a success. Godís purpose is not to make Himself available to respond to your every whim or desire. He wants you to submit your life to Him so He can transform you into the image of Christ. He wants to deliver you from the bondage of what you are by changing you into who He is. That is your salvation. Godís voice comes to those who are submitted to Him so they can know more about His purpose or so they can help someone else understand more about His purpose.
And you will never learn to recognize His voice until you understand, at least in general terms, what He wants to talk to you about. Everyone hears voices inside their head. But since most people donít have a clue what God wants to say to them, the voices they hear are either their own or the voices of the enemies of God. People tend to hear what they want to hear. The problem is that they donít recognize the fact that these voices represent a very real spiritual battle that rages around every one of us.
The second way the Holy Spirit reveals Godís purpose is through the circumstances and situations we face in our everyday lives. And just like His voice, our ability to recognize what Heís doing is directly related to our understanding of just what His purpose is and what He wants to do. When we know that He wants to change us, weíre more apt to recognize the opportunities Heís giving us to change. If you submit yourself to God and to His purpose, He will confront you with your faults and give you the opportunities you need to correct them.
If you have a problem with anger, Heíll send people into your life that will frustrate and anger you. Now you have a chance to prove to yourself and to God that you want to change. Now you have a decision to make. Will you respond to this situation like you always have in the past? Or will you respond in the way that God wants you to? If you respond correctly, you have just cooperated with the purpose of God and you and He together have just affected a change in you. You have just experienced God in a positive way and your obedience has made you a partaker of His nature.
And by the way, I canít resist pointing out the fact that the word translated "salvation" in the New Testament means "deliverance". And we could all understand Godís purpose a little more clearly if we used the word deliverance instead of salvation. God wants to deliver us and I have just explained to you the only way He does it. God will not magically transform us in the absence of our willing participation in the process. Neither will He accept our attempts to reform ourselves in the absence of His active participation (this is religious morality, the self-righteousness that He hates).
And while weíre talking about how God reveals Himself, I have to mention the Scriptures. Most people believe that God only reveals Himself to us through His written word and that it is the written word that gives us the blueprint for His will and purpose. Allow me to give you this truth. If you understand it, then good for you! If you donít, well then Iím sorry for you. The Scriptures reveal the general, over-all will and purpose of God for mankind, which is that He wants to deliver us by changing us from who we are to who He is. But the Scriptures do not reveal Godís specific will and purpose for each one of us individually, because that is different for each one of us and can only be known through our real, personal relationship with Him. It is only through our personal experiences with Him that God is able to reveal His specific will and purpose for us. And it is only through our willingness to seek Him, submit to Him and be obedient to Him that He is able to accomplish that will and purpose.
Those who believe that He only reveals Himself to us through the written word will never understand deliverance and therefore will never experience it. Theyíre dead in the water. Itís impossible for them to have a relationship with God thatís real and that will allow Him to reveal Himself to them. And why is that pertinent to our subject of the invisible God? Because those who believe only in the written word are like the Pharisees Jesus was talking to in John 5:39. They thought salvation could be found in what was written. They were trusting only in what their eyes could see!
The Scriptures contain accounts of men and women who had a real relationship with an invisible God. Men and women, who understood His purpose, submitted to it and saw it accomplished. Listen to me! Please understand this! God never intended for us to use the Scriptures as a blueprint to follow. His intent was that we would use the Scriptures as a confirmation of our real experiences with Him.
God is the same, yesterday, today and forever. He doesnít change and the way in which he relates to mankind doesnít change either. And when I submit to the invisible God and He does something in my life that I know is related to His will and purpose, itís not weird or strange to me (though it probably is to those who donít understand Him). And I can go to the Scriptures and see that He did the same things with Paul or Moses or David. The Scriptures confirm the reality of my experiences with God and give me the confidence and determination to go on with Him!
Now, I think we can just about wrap this up with a discussion of Hebrews 11:1-3. This passage tells us pretty much all we need to know about the connection between faith and the invisible God. And in case youíve forgotten, that is our subject. If you remember at the beginning of this paper I said faith is what defines our relationship with God, that faith actually describes our experiences with God and that when you look at faith in this way, faith is what makes the invisible God a reality to us. So, hereís the passage.
"Now faith is Godís pledge to us that He will do all that He has promised, both now and in the future. Our experiences with Him are irrefutable proof of the reality of those things that cannot be seen (the actions of a real, yet invisible, God). It was through these same experiences that Old Testament believers gained this same confidence in Him. And further, it is our submission to His on-going involvement in our lives that convinces us that the times in which we live have been arranged by His command in order to fulfill His purpose in us. And these experiences are not the result of natural, physical causes, but are the actions of an unseen God."
When you look at Hebrews 11 (the whole chapter), it is nothing more than a condensed record of Old Testament believerís experiences with an invisible God and their convictions of His reality based on those experiences. It is literally a testament of their ability to recognize the will and purpose of an invisible God through the things that He spoke and the situations and circumstances of their lives that He arranged and their willingness to submit to and obey those things. And if we ever arrive at those same convictions, it will be through the same process. As Iíve said before, neither the Scriptures nor my own personal experience with God indicate that He has changed how he relates to man in any way.
Heís still the same and my experiences and the Scriptures agree on that. A few paragraphs back I said we were just about finished, which means, if you know me, weíre not finished at all. I have to take a couple of pokes at all the religious folks out there who insist on going through the motions of having a relationship with a god of their own making. You see, Iíve just given you as clear an explanation as youíre likely to ever run across of Who God is, what He does and how He does it. And if you disagree with that itís because youíve been convinced by religion that God has changed, and that He doesnít do now what He did in the past.
So, letís look at what men have said in the Scriptures. And at the outset let me remind you that these men were mature believers who understood the reality of an invisible God because of their experiences with Him. They were men that said what they said because they were constrained to do so by God Himself and by His Holy Spirit (II Timothy 3:16, II Peter 1:20,21). And they were men who had not allowed themselves to be corrupted by human philosophy, vain deceit and the traditions of men (Colossians 2:8), the very things that have separated traditional, institutional religion and the Truth of God throughout the history of mankind.
"For I am the Lord, I do not changeÖ." (Malachi 3:6a)
"Jesus Christ is always the same, yesterday, today and forever." (Hebrews 13:8)
There are many references in both the Old and New Testaments that speak of the fact that God is not like a man who can lie or make a mistake. All of the things that make up His nature and character are absolutes. He always tells the truth. He always makes the right decision. Therefore there can never be an instance when He has to change what He says or what He decides. The conclusion of this is inescapable: since God cannot change, His ways will not change. Read the following to see what I mean, Numbers 23:19, I Samuel 15:29, Ezekiel 24:14, Romans 11:29 and Titus 1:2.
Then, finally, let me quote you a couple of my favorite verses that illustrate the unchangeableness of God. The first is II Timothy 2:13.
"If we are faithless and disregard Who God is and what He does, He will continue to be reliable and unchanging, for He does not have the ability to change."
Now I know that youíre going to struggle a bit with this if youíre comparing it to your KJV or even your NIV. But bear with me on this. The word translated "faithful" in the KJV is pistos and means "reliable" in this context. And if you know anything about the meaning of words, then you know that when someone is reliable, they can be trusted not to change. And in the next phrase, the word translated "deny" is arneomai, which comes from a root word that means, "to contradict". Here it is used in a negative sense to illustrate the fact that God cannot do anything that would contradict His unchanging nature or character. To apply this to our discussion, God will always do what He has always done, because it was always the right thing to do, and there will never be any reason for it to change, or will there ever be anything that could cause it to change.
One more verse and weíll be finished. I promise. This is James 1:17.
"Every gracious gift and every blessing comes from God in Heaven. They come down from the Father Who is as unchanging as the sun, the One Who is incapable of change, the One Who will never cast shadows of doubt on our understanding of Him."
This is such a great verse! In the KJV you find the phrase "Father of lights". The word translated "lights" is phos, a reference to the lights in the heavens, the sun, moon and stars. Itís a metaphor used to illustrate the fact that God is just as constant as the sun. It rises every morning and sets every evening. His character and nature is as constant and predictable as the moon and stars. The moon is always visible and the stars are always shining. They never change their orbits or their relative positions in the heavens. Theyíre always the same, and so is God!
Then the words "no variableness" comes from parallage, a word used to illustrate a change from one condition to another. Here, itís used with a negative prefix to indicate that God cannot change. Then we see the phrase "neither shadow of turning". This is aposkiasma used with trope and is another word picture used to illustrate the fact that God will never cast a shadow of doubt on our understanding of Who He is or what He does by changing them. Understanding an invisible God is difficult at best. Understanding an invisible God who is apt to change is unthinkable!
Did you ever know someone who was moody or temperamental? One time you see them and theyíre friendly and congenial, then the next time you see them theyíre hateful, maybe even combative. Then when you see them again, youíre wondering, which one is going to show up, the friendly one or the hateful one? Itís confusing and uncomfortable. You find yourself trying to avoid them. By now you have to know what Iím getting at. God isnít like that. Heís not going to confuse us by changing from one day to the next. Nor is He going to do anything that would make us want to avoid Him (and if you do find yourself wanting to avoid Him, just understand that itís not because of anything Heís done, itís because of your own flesh). The God, Who shows up, if itís really Him, is always going to be the same invisible God with the same will and purpose that He carries out in the same way. He wonít change because He canít change. He wonít change because thereís no reason why He should change. He wonít change because thereís nothing in existence that can make Him change.
And so it is our task to know and understand and submit to this unchanging, invisible God. Itís not an option. Itís not something that we can avoid. In the end, He will determine our fate. Like it or not, thatís the way itís always been, thatís the way it is and thatís the way it will always be.
"And not a creature exists that is concealed from the sight of the invisible God, but all things are exposed and known. And so we stand defenseless before the One with Whom we have to do." (Hebrews 4:13)
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