Even for the redeemed, God is still God – and we are not:
That people all the time get things wrong about God is not surprising. Most folks want to make God in their own image, so they will distort and misrepresent him. That is to be expected of non-believers. But sadly it can often be the case with believers as well. They can get even Christian basics wrong, and twist and mar the fullness of biblical revelation.
Having an interactive website with over 1300 theological articles – among others – I find this happening on a regular basis. People come here all the time. Some will send in comments looking to pick a fight and argue with me about something. Sometimes they are just way off – pushing theological error, heresy and the like.
Sometimes they will get part of the biblical worldview right while getting other parts wrong. As I have said countless times on this site, we must get the biblical balance right on so many key issues. Theological error easily creeps in when we try to undo the biblical balance that is found there.
I also have the recurring problem of someone coming along and missing the point of an article, and/or going off on a tangent. Often this will greatly detract from the point I was seeking to make in a piece. They may just be insistent on pushing their pet theological peeves, or have taken upon themselves the role of a theological enforcer, ‘correcting’ anyone who dares to have a slightly different view on things.
Yet another incident of this took place recently. I had written a piece on atheists, and how they reject the one true God, often setting themselves or something else up as god. In that piece I said this:
They want to be king, not subject.
They want to rule, not be ruled.
They want to give orders, not take orders.
They want to call the shots, not be told what to do.
They want to determine what is true and false, not God.
They want to determine what is right and wrong, not God.
They want to be independent, not dependent.
They want to do their own will, not God’s will.
They want to live like the devil, not God.
They want to rule in hell, not serve in heaven. billmuehlenberg.com/2022/06/23/romans-1-and-atheism/
Now all that happens to be perfectly true. Yet I got a comment – not from an angry atheist – but some Christian who thought I was quite wrong. He managed to do two things in his comment that I just mentioned above: he missed the whole point of my article and managed to derail the whole thing, and he managed to present some aspects of biblical truth while rejecting other key aspects. He said this:
The gospel is not that upon regeneration we become a subject people, ruled, ordered and told what to do. This is as far from the great relationship Yahweh promises in Christ as could be conceived. Upon regeneration we are re-born and are filled with Christ’s Spirit caught up at last into his family, adopted sons of the great Yahweh, our goals perfectly aligned with his, our life now in line with his will and in joy unimaginable as Paul teaches us.
If your preaching of the gospel is to ‘repent and become a subject, ruled, ordered and told what to do’ you are inviting people to become prisoners, not members of the family of God and feeding into the atheist’s vain distortion of who our Creator is and his call to live in step with him.
Oh dear. As I say, this was all rather off topic. My piece was on atheism and how Paul in Romans 1 views such things. But also, as I said, he presents some biblical truth with one hand while taking away some biblical truth with the other. Losing the biblical balance just gets us into more difficulty and error. Let me deal with each of these two matters.
As to the atheism issue, sadly this fellow missed the point of my article. Does the atheist and non-Christian want to be boss, to call the shots, and not have anyone rule over them? Of course they do. The only way they will get right with God is to lay down their arms and surrender. As C. S. Lewis famously put it in Mere Christianity:
Now what was the sort of “hole” man had got himself into? He had tried to set up on his own, to behave as if he belonged to himself. In other words, fallen man is not simply an imperfect creature who needs improvement: he is a rebel who must lay down his arms. Laying down your arms, surrendering, saying you are sorry, realising that you have been on the wrong track and getting ready to start life over again from the ground floor– that is the only way out of a “hole.” This process of surrender–this movement full speed astern–is what Christians call repentance.
The God that we serve
This fellow seems to have quite misunderstood not only what I wrote, but what the Bible itself clearly teaches. Is the Christian ‘reborn and given the Spirit, and does he experience joy, etc’? Sure. No one is denying that, and if this guy was at all aware of my numerous other articles on this, he would know that I certainly rejoice in the personal relationship believers can have with the living God.
But that of course does NOT mean that God ceases to be God and that we cease to be human. That does NOT mean that the basic and inherent Creator-creature distinctions no longer apply. That does NOT mean we are now buddy buddies with God and on equal footing with him.
The Christian does indeed enjoy a love relationship with God, but that does not mean we have become some ontological and spiritual equivalents. Guess what: he is still God and we are not. He is still Lord and we are not. That recognition of what this proper sort of relationship is all about is essential.
Simply consider what the author of Hebrews said as he describes Jesus (Hebrews 10:7): “Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come to do your will, O God, as it is written of me in the scroll of the book’.” This of course comes from Psalm 40:8: “I delight to do Your will, O my God.” Even the eternal Son of God delights to do God’s will. How much more should this be true of Christians?
The Christian will ALWAYS be one that submits to God and obeys him – again, not slavishly, but out of sheer delight in honouring God as God. We delight to do His will, not our own. And that of course means delighting to obey his commandments. The New Testament everywhere makes this case. See here for example: billmuehlenberg.com/2011/06/18/loving-god-and-keeping-the-commandments/
If we love him, we keep his commandments – we obey him. We do NOT do this to earn our salvation, but we delight in obedience because he has already saved us by grace through faith. The New Testament nowhere teaches some cheap grace and some cavalier antinomianism where we are all just good mates with God and we can just have a nice time thinking we are all equals. The fear of God is everywhere promoted in the New Testament – as in the Old.
Even if we now enjoy a personal relationship with God through Christ, there still is the essential need for a proper fear and reverence of God. Again, this is another basic Bible theme. Consider just a few passages on this:
Psalm 2:11 Serve the LORD with fear and celebrate his rule with trembling.
Psalm 25:12-14 Who is the man who fears the Lord?
Him will he instruct in the way that he should choose.
His soul shall abide in well-being,
and his offspring shall inherit the land.
The friendship of the Lord is for those who fear him,
and he makes known to them his covenant.
Psalm 147:11 the Lord takes pleasure in those who fear him,
in those who hope in his steadfast love.
Proverbs 1:7 The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline.
Yes, I can hear the criticism: ‘Ah, but that is the OT’. Sorry, but it is exactly the same in the NT. Consider a few more verses:
2 Corinthians 7:1 Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.
Philippians 2:12 Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence – continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling.
Hebrews 10:31 It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.
Revelation 15:4 Who will not fear you, Lord, and bring glory to your name? For you alone are holy.
Equals do not need to fear, obey, and serve each other. But we are NOT equals. We will never be God, and we will forever know our place and know who we are as we worship him and revere him. Again, we rejoice in having a relationship with God, but we still treat God as God. Yes we do it gladly and with a grateful heart, but we still recognise who he is and our proper place before him.
And just what does the word “Lord” mean? What is the Lordship of Christ all about? Simply put, a lord is a boss – he calls the shots. The Lordship of Christ means that he is in charge, and we are not. What does Philippians 2:9-11 tell us? “Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
Bowing the knee is all about the right relationship between creature and Creator. Christians and pagans will all bow the knee. The only difference is, the Christian does it willingly and joyfully now, while the non-Christian will do it unwillingly and angrily later on.
Again, unlike in other religions, the Christian can have a love relationship with God. We can even call him Father. But he is still God and we are not. He is still the Father and we are still the children. That too clearly means submission and subservience, just as in any earthly family. Yes we do it gladly and in gratitude, but we still submit. We still serve. We still let him rule.
In sum, I believe what I said in my piece was both accurate and biblical. Sadly not everyone felt that way. Oh well, you can’t please everyone.