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In speaking of God, Job said, “He looks to the ends of the earth and sees everything under the heavens” (Job 28:24). The writer to the Hebrews wrote that “no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account” (Hebrews 4:13). It is an awesome thought to consider that God sees everything, and that nothing is hidden from his sight.

We have already spoken of the fact that God is everywhere, and that he is all-powerful. We now consider his omniscience – his knowing of everything. Interestingly, God’s omniscience is closely tied to his omnipotence and his omnipresence.

The psalmist writes, “O Lord, how manifold are your works! In wisdom have you made them all; the earth is full of your creatures (Psalm 104:24). And, in Psalm 139 he speaks of the fact that God knows him, because God made him (vv. 2, 15, & 16). God knows all things, because he has made all things. His creation, by his great power, has given him both authority and knowledge over all things.

Jeremiah says, “Can a man hide himself in secret places so that I cannot see him? declares the Lord. Do I not fill heaven and earth? declares the Lord” o(Jeremiah 23:24). Again, in Psalm 139 we read, “Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there! If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me. If I say, ‘Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light about me be night,’ even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is bright as the day, for darkness is as light with you” (Psalm 139:7-12). God’s omniscience is tied to his omnipresence, because God is everywhere and sees all things. Nothing is hidden from him.

Everything we do is known by God. Everything about us is known by God. Everything we encounter is known by God. Is this a great comfort to us, or is it a great frustration? That depends upon our relationship with God. If we are believers, his knowledge of our very being, and of everything we face in any given day should comfort us. How could he possibly work all things together for our good (Romans 8:28), if there were some things about us he did not know? For those who have not come in repentance and admitted the Lordship of God over all their lives, the thought of an all-knowing God is a great frustration, for there is nothing they can do that is not seen by their Judge.

God’s knowledge is eternal, just as he is. In other words, God has known all things forever. He never had to learn anything about himself, his creation, or man. There is a school of thought today, known as Open Theism, which teaches that God does not know all things. In an effort to save God from any possibility of being the Creator of evil, the open theists would say that man’s free will is strong enough that he makes his own decisions, and God waits upon those decisions before proceeding with his plan. While seeking to protect God, open theism actually weakens God and makes man’s thoughts, decisions, and deeds greater than those of God.

The fact that God has known all things for all times directs our thoughts to the foreknowledge of God. This is also an area where the open theists and others have problems with the statements of Scripture. If, according to some, God knows all things beforehand, then he determines all things beforehand, and man’s responsibility is removed. While this might seem the case to our finite minds, we must remember that God is not limited by time and space, as we are. For God there is no past or future. He lives in what can be called the eternal present. And, within that eternal present, he knows all things.

God’s foreknowledge is proactive. It is tied to his foreordination, or predestination. God knows things beforehand, because he, in his eternal plan, has determined those things to be. To use a phrase of many who deny God’s true foreknowledge, God does not “look down the corridors of time and see what is going to happen.” He does not choose those to be the elect who are going to believe in him. Rather, he chooses those whom he desires to choose, and they, in turn believe in him at some time in their lives.

But, God’s foreknowledge is also personal. In the order of salvation presented by Paul in Romans 8, we see that, “those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified” (Romans 8:29-30). God’s foreknowledge is more than a mere acknowledgment of who someone is. To know in this sense is to be lovingly aware of someone. To know us, God loves us. And, it is that love, before we turn to him, that causes him to choose us as his own.

The most amazing thing, though, about God’s knowledge and foreknowledge of us is that it is compassionate. As we said earlier, God knows everything about us. He knows us better than we know ourselves. And, in spite of the fact that he knows we are fallen, rebellious creatures, he still loves us. In fact, “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).

Perry Coghlan’s note of Facebook this morning reminded me of this piece I wrote a few years back.

Memory is very important in realizing who we are. As we grow older, loss of memory becomes one of our major concerns. Our bodies may deteriorate to the point of difficulty in performing even the most menial tasks, but sharpness of mind and memory remain essential to us. The reason for this is simple. Who and what we are is closely connected to our past, and it is our memory that makes that connection. The way in which that past is remembered determines who we are. As our memories falter, parts of our past are lost. Remembering past achievements and gains, and building upon them, is what allows us to continue in a forward progression, instead of constantly re-inventing the wheel. Forget your history, and you quite easily forget just who you are. Forget where you’ve been, and you can’t remember where you are going.

Scripture also speaks of the importance of remembering. In passages too numerous to list here, God’s people are constantly admonished to remember the Lord, remember His works, remember His commandments, and remember His covenant. One of the major themes of Scripture is the fact that God’s people are to be a people of great memory, as they think on the wonders of their sovereign God and contemplate His goodness to them.

It is the covenantal relationship between God and His people which defines the people of God. As the covenant is re-established and revealed throughout Scripture, we see what is required of God’s people. It is through the covenant that God tells His people what it is to be holy as He is holy. The requirements of the covenant, codified at Sinai, show us what is required to be a friend of God. Regarding a chosen people, it is the covenant which should remind us who we are. It is the covenant and the works of God in establishing it that we are to remember. As we look at our memory of the covenant, we are told to remember three things – the works of God, the commandments of God, and the person of God.

After the ten plagues, Pharaoh agreed to let the children of Israel leave Egypt. God had heard their groaning as they suffered in Egyptian bondage, and He remembered His covenant promise to Abraham. As God prepared to deliver them, He made Passover, the act of deliverance from the final plague, an annual ceremony of remembrance. It was in connection with this ceremony that Moses said to the people, “Remember this day in which you went out of Egypt, out of the house of bondage; for by strength of hand the Lord brought you out of this place. No leavened bread shall be eaten” (Exodus 13:3). The observance of Passover and the following week-long Feast of Unleavened Bread were to remind the people of their deliverance by the hand of God. At least once a year they would be reminded of the mighty works of God as the story of their deliverance was retold.

How do we remember the commandments of God? In the old administration of the covenant, before Christ’s birth, God gave the people a unique way of doing just that. In Numbers 15:37-40 we read, “Again the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Speak to the children of Israel: Tell them to make tassels on the corners of their garments throughout their generations, and to put a blue thread in the tassels of the corners. And you shall have the tassel, that you may look upon it and remember all the commandments of the Lord and do them, and that you may not follow the harlotry to which your own heart and your own eyes are inclined, and that you may remember and do all My commandments, and be holy for your God.’” God, knowing how easy it is to forget, gave the people a visible reminder. Just as the visible sign of circumcision reminded them of the seal of God’s covenant, so the addition of tassels would constantly remind the people of God’s commandments.

The commandments of God were given to instruct His people in the ways of the Lord. As a mirror, they reflect the image we, as God’s people, must show forth. They reveal to us what is required of the friends of God. The commandments are to be an integral part of our lives, as we meditate on them daily. Just as the tassels were always to be on the garments and in the sight of the people, so the commandments of God are to ever be before the eyes, and in the hearts, of God’s people. This aspect of remembering the covenant is so important, that God spoke of it just before the close of His direct revelation known as the Old Testament. In Malachi 4:4 we read, “Remember the Law of Moses, My servant, which I commanded him in Horeb for all Israel, with the statutes and judgments.” Even during (or especially during?) the period of Greek occupation, when direct revelation in Scripture ceased, the people were to remember the covenant and the commandments associated with it. The Messiah was coming, as God had promised, but the people had to wait, and to remember.

Lastly, God’s people are to remember God Himself. Deuteronomy 8:11-20 records the words given to Moses to speak in preparation for entering the promised land. Here Moses warned the people not to “forget the Lord your God by not keeping His commandments, His judgments, and His statutes” lest they think their own power had gained the wealth which they were ready to enter the land and possess. They were also to remember that it was God who gave them the power to prosper. God knew that prosperity often brings forgetfulness, as men see the many things they have accumulated. It is easy to turn our sights away from the One who provides all our needs.

James wrote in his letter that all good gifts come down to us from the Lord. These words of Moses warn against forgetting this important fact. Just as forgetting the works of God and forgetting the commandments of God are to be avoided, so is forgetting God Himself. It is only by His creative act that we exist, and it is only through the works of His providence that we remain in existence. Without God nothing that is would exist. That is a thought which many today have not wrestled with sufficiently. It is because God is who He is that we are His people, and we are who we are. As God’s people, we are commanded to daily remember Him and His total provision and care for us.

So, how are we to make sure that we remember these things? By what means do we pass on the important things of God? In His providence, God has given us a way of doing this, and it can best be explained with these words – teach, teach, and teach. We pass on the important things of God as we teach them to others. Let’s look at two aspects of this teaching, as found in Scripture.

In His plan of salvation, God incorporated the office of priest into the old administration of the covenant. In this office, a man was chosen by God for a special set of duties. He represented God to the people as he spoke the words of the Lord and as he blessed the people. At the same time, he represented the people before God as he offered sacrifices and prayed. Also, on the day of atonement, the high priest was the only person who could enter the Holy of Holies and approach the presence of God. As the representative of the people, he would go before the Lord annually, to atone for their sins.

Teaching was another requirement of the office of priest. In Leviticus 10:9-11, God spoke to Aaron and said, “Do not drink wine or intoxicating drink, you or your sons with you, when you go into the tabernacle of meeting, lest you die. It shall be a statute forever throughout your generations, that you may distinguish between holy and unholy, and between clean and unclean, and that you may teach the children of Israel all the statutes which the Lord has spoken to them by the hand of Moses.” God required that His priests be teachers. They would be the ones within the community and the nation who would best know the things of God because of their constant working in the tabernacle. They were required to pass on those things which they had learned. They were the authorities. This aspect of the priestly office can also be seen in Ezekiel 44:23, where God says, “And they shall teach My people the difference between the holy and the unholy, and cause them to discern between the unclean and the clean.” In God’s words to the people of Israel through the prophets, and in Christ’s words to the scribes and Pharisees, this aspect of their office came to the fore many times. God was angry, because the priests refused to teach the people. They were too involved with their own traditions to teach the people the ways of the Lord.

Another aspect of teaching presented in Scripture involves parents, and especially fathers. As the covenant head of the family, it is the responsibility of the father to, in some ways, perform the duties of a priest. As a representative of God, he is to speak the word of the Lord to his family, and instruct them in the ways of the Lord. Also, just like a priest, he is to represent his family before the Lord, as he carries them before the Lord in his prayers. The importance of teaching one’s children can be seen in the case of Abraham.

Genesis 18 records the visit of God to Abraham just prior to the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. In reference to this coming destruction we read, in verses 17-19, “And the Lord said, ‘Shall I hide from Abraham what I am doing, since Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him? For I have known him, in order that he may command his children and his household after him, that they keep the way of the Lord, to do righteousness and justice, that the Lord may bring to Abraham what He has spoken to him.’” God chose Abraham as the father of His people, so that he would teach his children. As the father and leader of this newly called people of God, Abraham would faithfully train his children and his household in the ways of the Lord as God gave him knowledge and ability.

The importance of this instruction is also seen in the sixth chapter of Deuteronomy. In a passage which has become a favorite of many parents in the covenant today, we read in Deuteronomy 6:6-9, “And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” Here parents are told how to instruct their children. It is to be a continuous thing, as they sit, walk, lie down, and rise up. There is actually no time which is not right for teaching children the things of God. During their time in our care, we are to take every opportunity to relate our daily lives to God, and to show that relationship to our children. It is only as we do so that we truly teach them the things of God. This command to teach the next generation is repeated in Psalm 78:5-8: “For He established a testimony in Jacob, and appointed a law in Israel, which He commanded our fathers, that they should make them known to their children; that the generation to come might know them, the children who would be born, that they may arise and declare them to their children, that they may set their hope in God, and not forget the works of God, but keep His commandments; and may not be like their fathers, a stubborn and rebellious generation, a generation that did not set its heart aright, and whose spirit was not faithful to God.” Teaching the next generation – passing on the promises and requirements of the covenant – is one of the most important duties of faithful parents. It is through this process that God has chosen to teach His people.

Having shown parents and others how to pass on the things of God, Scripture shows one glaring example of what happens when we don’t teach. In Judges 2:10 we read, “When all that generation had been gathered to their fathers, another generation arose after them who did not know the Lord nor the work which He had done for Israel.” This passage comes after two other very important passages. As stated in Deuteronomy 6, it is the duty of parents to teach their children the things of God. In Joshua 24, the covenant is renewed at Shechem, just prior to the death of Joshua. In verses 1-13, Joshua retells the story of the covenant, from the calling of Abraham to the deliverance from Egypt and the conquest of the promised land. A reading of the covenant story here takes only about two minutes. This is the story the parents are to pass on to their children. This is what they are to teach. However, Judges 2:10 tells us that they did not teach as they were instructed.

The Book of Judges has been called the saddest book in the Bible, and for good reason. It is a never-ending cycle. The people forget who they are, and they sin against God. God brings chastisement and punishment upon them, and they repent. God sends a deliverer, and the people are saved. They thankfully praise God for His care, but they soon forget who they are and sin again. As we read these stories we can’t help but ask why the cycle is not broken. Because they were not properly taught, the people do not remember the works of God, the commandments of God, and the person of God. They had no foundation upon which to build as they advanced in the kingdom of the Lord. Forget your history, and you quite easily forget just who you are. Forget where you’ve been, and you can’t remember where you are going. Remember to teach to remember.

Omnipresence and omnipotence are impressive sounding words. But, what do they mean? What attributes of God are we talking about when we use these words? Of course, presence has to do with someone being in a place, and potent or potency has to do with power. The important part of each of these words is the prefix omni. This is a Latin prefix meaning all. So, omnipresent and omnipotent mean that God is in all places, and he is all powerful.

Although the word omnipresent does not occur in Scripture, the idea is one that is presented throughout the pages of the Bible. One important theme is the idea that God cannot be contained in one place, even the heavens or the entire earth. When Solomon prayed at the dedication of the temple in Jerusalem, he said, “But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you; how much less this house that I have built!” (1 Kings 8:27).

When Moses had finished setting up the tabernacle in the wilderness, he also dedicated it to the Lord as his house on earth. After that we read, “Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. And Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting because the cloud settled on it, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. Throughout all their journeys, whenever the cloud was taken up from over the tabernacle, the people of Israel would set out. But if the cloud was not taken up, then they did not set out till the day that it was taken up. For the cloud of the Lord was on the tabernacle by day, and fire was in it by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel throughout all their journeys:” (Exodus 40:34-38).

Solomon was right to say that no house on earth could contain God. Even the highest heavens could not contain him. And, when he dwelt among his people on earth, they could not enter the place of his presence, for his glory filled the building.

But, not only is God greater than to be held by any one place, he is also said to be in all places. The psalmist writes, “Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there! If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me” (Psalm 139:7-10). There is no place we can go to escape from the presence of God.

For the believer, this is a most reassuring thing to know. No matter where we go, God knows where we are, and he watches over us. For the unbeliever, however, this is one of the most frustrating and angering ideas possible. Nothing they do is hidden from the Lord. God is always with us; either in a loving, caring way, or in a judging, wrathful way. God is everywhere!

When we speak of God being in all places, we must guard against an ancient, false idea known as pantheism. The idea of pantheism is that there is no significant difference between God the Creator and his creation. Not only is God everywhere, he is everything. As we have already seen, however, God is holy, and he is not a part of the creation. He is above it, because he made it. God is not a part of all things, but he is in all things, sovereignly ruling over his universe, and working all things together for the good of his people, and for his own glory.

Not only is God everywhere, but he is all-powerful. Therefore, he can work all things together for our good and his glory.

Where as omnipresent is not found in Scripture, omnipotent is found in such places as Revelation 19:6, 4:8, 11:17, 15:3, and 16:7. It is usually translated as almighty. Even God’s name, El Shaddai means God Almighty. The might, power, and strength of God are shown on practically every page of Scripture.

Scripture opens with a display of God’s power, as we read, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1). And, what is so amazing about the power of God shown in the creation of all things is that he merely spoke the universe into being. God said, “Let there be …,” and there was. That is power!

Such power causes fear. The psalmist writes, “Let all the earth fear the Lord; let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of him! For he spoke, and it came to be; he commanded, and it stood firm” (Psalm 33:8-9). For the people of God, his power instills in us the fear of awe. For those who are in rebellion against him, it instills the kind of fear we see in Adam and Eve after their sin in the Garden (Genesis 3:8).

Again, the psalmist writes, “Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases” (Psalm 115:3). God has a plan, and he works all things together to accomplish that plan. The writer to the Hebrews, in speaking of God the Son, says, “He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power” (Hebrews 1:3). All things are held together by the power of God’s word. God can do all that he pleases, for, as Jesus said to his disciples, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26).

Solomon wrote, “The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord” (Proverbs 26:33). God even brings calamity upon his people as he punishes them. Through Jeremiah God said, “Behold, I will send for all the tribes of the north, declares the Lord, and for Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon, my servant, and I will bring them against this land and its inhabitants, and against all these surrounding nations. I will devote them to destruction, and make them a horror, a hissing, and an everlasting desolation” (Jeremiah 25:9). The song of Moses, after the drowning of the Egyptian army in the Red Sea says, “Who is like you, O Lord, among the gods? Who is like you, majestic in holiness, awesome in glorious deeds, doing wonders? You stretched out your right hand; the earth swallowed them” (Exodus 15:11-12).

God can do all things, and no one can stay his hand. Again, Nebuchadnezzar, after his God-induced madness realized this, and he said, “all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and he does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, ‘What have you done?’” (Daniel 4:35).

What does the word sovereignty mean? What is a sovereign? We don’t use the word very often in the United States today, because a sovereign is a king – one who rules over his subjects. So, when we speak of God’s sovereignty, what are we talking about? When we speak of God as a Sovereign, we speak of his rule over everything in the universe.

Abraham Kuyper, a Dutch theologian and prime minister once said, “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry: ‘Mine!’” R.C. Sproul put it this way:

If there is one molecule in this universe running around loose outside the scope or the sphere of God’s divine control and authority and power, then that single maverick molecule may be the grain of sand that changes the entire course of human history, that blocks God from keeping the promises he has made to his people.

As we know, God created everything that exists. Scripture opens with those famous words, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1), and the writer to the Hebrews tells us, “By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible” (Hebrews 11:3). God created all things, so he is the Author of all things. And, as the Author of all things, he has authority over them. The idea of God’s sovereignty presupposes God’s creation. Without God’s creation of all things, he would not be the Sovereign Ruler of all things.

But, when we speak of God’s sovereign rule over creation, to what extent does he rule? Just how much is he involved in this universe which he has created? In speaking to his disciples to comfort them, Jesus once said, “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows: (Matthew 10:29-31). God’s sovereign, watchful care extends even to the sparrows. He has even determined the number of hairs upon our very heads. Without getting overwhelmed with the minute details, God is all-knowing, and his rule extends to all things.

God’s sovereignty means that God does whatever he pleases. Actually, he is the only Person who has free will. In the Psalms we read, “Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases” (Psalm 115:3), and “Whatever the Lord pleases, he does, in heaven and on earth, in the seas and all deeps” (Psalm 135:6). Paul writes, “For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?” (Romans11:34). Of course, the answer is “No one.” God does not have to answer to anyone for his actions, because there is no one greater than he.

After his God-induced bout of madness, Nebuchadnezzar declared:

At the end of the days I, Nebuchadnezzar, lifted my eyes to heaven, and my reason returned to me, and I blessed the Most High, and praised and honored him who lives forever, for his dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom endures from generation to generation; all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and he does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, “What have you done?” (Daniel 4:34-35)

God does what he pleases, and he wants to do the best for his people. Therefore, Paul writes that, “for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). Proverbs 16:4 tells us that “The Lord has made everything for its purpose, even the wicked for the day of trouble.” Even the actions of the wicked are used by God to accomplish his plan for his people. When Joseph’s brothers came to him fearing his retribution for their evil deeds toward him, he said, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today” (Genesis 50:19-20).

At times he may chastise his people, in order to draw them back to himself. Thus we read in Scripture, “I form light and create darkness, I make well-being and create calamity, I am the Lord, who does all these things” (Isaiah 45:7). And, Amos asked, “Is a trumpet blown in a city, and the people are not afraid? Does disaster come to a city, unless the Lord has done it?” What appears to us as both good and bad come from the Lord, in order to make us what he would have us to be.

Lastly, many complain that the idea of the sovereignty of God removes man’s responsibility and free agency. If God works all things toward the accomplishment of his will, then man is merely a robot or a puppet in the hands of a much stronger God. This, however, is not the case. Scripture itself speaks many times of man’s responsibility for his own actions. God simply allows those actions to take place and then uses them as they occur. The strongest example of this is presented in Peter’s sermon at Pentecost. In speaking of Jesus Christ, Peter said, “Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know – this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men” (Acts 2:22-23).

As Peter said, Jesus was delivered up to be crucified in God’s plan. God sent his Son into the world to die (John 3:16). But he was crucified by evil and lawless men. God did not make those men kill his Son. It was their own wicked action. Yet, God knew their hearts, and he knew that they hated his Son. Therefore, he used their wicked actions to kill his Son as the innocent sacrifice for the sins of his people. Thus, his plan was accomplished, and wicked men were responsible for their sin.

In our study of the attributes of God, it is good to go back to the Westminster Larger Catechism for their definition of God.

God is a Spirit, in and of himself infinite in being, glory, blessedness, and perfection; all‑sufficient, eternal, unchangeable, incomprehensible, everywhere present, almighty, knowing all things, most wise, most holy, most just, most merciful and gracious, long‑suffering, and abundant in goodness and truth. (Question 7)

So, as we study those things which make God God, where do we begin? Some would say that we should begin with God’s infinity, because he is from everlasting to everlasting. Others would opt for his sovereignty as being the starting point, because he is the sovereign Ruler of the universe. Still others would call for an emphasis on his love, because “God is love” (1 John 4:8).

But one attribute of God which covers all the others is his holiness. In fact, Scripture describes God and his name as holy over 900 times. Actually, God can be said to be sovereign, just, merciful, gracious, loving, wrathful, etc. in his holiness. It is God’s holiness that defines him as God, and it is the first thing we think of when we consider his existence.

The Puritan writer, Thomas Watson, said of God’s holiness:

God is intrinsically holy. All he does is holy; he cannot act but like himself; he can no more do an unrighteous action than the sun can turn dark. He is the original and pattern of holiness. It began with him who is the Ancient of Days. God is perfectly, unalterably, and unchangeably holy.

In the Hebrew literature of the Old Testament, repetition was used to emphasize words and ideas. As we would capitalize a word or use bold print, the writers of the Old Testament repeated words and phrases. We often do something similar when we speak of good, better, and best. In Hebrew, repeating a word or phrase three times elevates it to the third degree, or the superlative. Interestingly, God’s holiness is the only attribute which is emphasized in this way in Scripture. The seraphim in Isaiah 6 declare that God is “Holy, Holy, Holy.” However, as important as they are, no other attributes are spoken of in this way. We never read that God is “Sovereign, Sovereign, Sovereign,” “Gracious, Gracious, Gracious,” or even “Love, Love, Love.” Only his holiness is thus highlighted and declared.

We start our study with a problem, though. What does it mean to be holy? Actually, the word, as used in Scripture, has two meanings; and both of them can be applied to God. The Hebrew word qadosh means “to cut or separate.” It has the impression of something cut apart from the rest and set aside or above. The second meaning of holy is “morally pure.”

Before the seventh plague of hail, God sent Moses to Pharaoh, telling him to let the Israelites go. God said, “For this time I will send all my plagues on you yourself, and on your servants and your people, so that you may know that there is none like me in all the earth” (Exodus 9:14). That same thought is expressed in the Song of Moses after the army of Pharaoh was drowned in the Red Sea. In that song, a question is asked concerning God. “Who is like you, O Lord, among the gods? Who is like you, majestic in holiness, awesome in glorious deeds, doing wonders?” (Exodus 15:11). Of course, the answer to the question is, “No one.” There is no other god like Jehovah. Speaking through the prophet, Isaiah, God said, “I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me” (Isaiah 46:9). Among all the false gods which people throughout history have worshipped, none is like our God. He alone is the true God.

 God created everything that is. He is the Author of all things, and as the Author he is above all things. He created man in his own image, to have communion with him, but he is above man in all his ways. Again, through the prophet Isaiah God says, “Do you not know? Do you not hear? Has it not been told you from the beginning? Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth? It is he who sits above the circle of the earth, and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers” (Isaiah 40:21-22), and “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9).

This characteristic is referred to as God’s transcendence. It speaks of his separateness from man and all that he has created. God made the creation; but he is not the creation. There is a distinction between the Creator and the creature which we must never forget. This separateness above and beyond all creation is God’s holiness.

As mentioned earlier, holiness also speaks of God’s moral purity. Habakkuk refers to the fact that God has “purer eyes than to see evil and cannot look at wrong” (Habakkuk 1:13). God is the standard to which all his people must aspire. He is separate from us in his holiness. In the words of John Calvin:

Until God reveals himself to us, we do not think that we are men, or rather, we think that we are gods; but when we have seen God, we then begin to feel and know what we are. Hence springs true humility, which consists in this, that a man makes no claims for himself, and depends wholly on God.

God’s holiness also relates to us. Just as God is set apart, so are things set apart for his service. All the articles of furniture in the tabernacle in the wilderness were set apart for service to God. The area where the priests served was known as the Holy Place – that place set apart for God’s servants. And, deep within the tabernacle was the Holy of Holies (Qadosh Qadoshim), that place on earth where God dwelt among his people. People were also set apart for God’s service. The high priest wore a special turban with a gold plate which bore the inscription, “Holy to the Lord” (Exodus 28:36), for he was set apart from all other men, for God’s service.

And so, Peter writes, “but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy’” (1 Peter 1:15-16). God has called us unto himself, and we are to be set apart for him. Thus, Paul often refers to the readers of his letters as saints. The Greek word hagios has the same meaning as qadosh – set apart. As believers, adopted by God and brought into his kingdom as children, we are to be separate from the world around us, and we are to live by the high moral standard set for us by our God and father. Thus, God’s holiness calls for and enables our holiness.

Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth!
Serve the Lord with gladness!
Come into his presence with singing!

Know that the Lord, he is God!
It is he who made us, and we are his;
we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.

Enter his gates with thanksgiving,
and his courts with praise!
Give thanks to him; bless his name!

For the Lord is good;
his steadfast love endures forever,
and his faithfulness to all generations. (Psalm 100:1-5)

“Worthy are you, our Lord and God,
to receive glory and honor and power,
for you created all things,
and by your will they existed and were created.” (Revelation 4:11)

We have just recently finished a six-week study on worship in our church. In it we learned that true worship is work, and it is the work of a lifetime. But, what do we do when we worship?

The word worship comes from an old English word weorthscipe which meant to shape the worth of something. It has to do with declaring the worth or worthiness of something, or paying respect and reverence. So, when we worship God, we declare God’s worthiness, and we pay him respect for who he is.

But, who is God, and what is he like? What are his attributes, his characteristics? The Westminster Larger Catechism states, “God is a Spirit, in and of himself infinite in being, glory, blessedness, and perfection; all‑sufficient, eternal, unchangeable, incomprehensible, everywhere present, almighty, knowing all things, most wise, most holy, most just, most merciful and gracious, long‑suffering, and abundant in goodness and truth” (WLC #7).

This answer lists some of the attributes and characteristics of God – what makes God God. As we look to these aspects of God’s character and what they tell us about him, we must remember that all we can know about God is what he has revealed to us. It is impossible for our finite minds to fully understand our infinite God. This is what is known as the incomprehensibility of God. It does not mean that we cannot know or understand anything about God. It just means that we cannot know and understand everything about him. The reason for this is what is known as the Creator/creature distinction.

Several theologians and teachers have written books and essays on the attributes and characteristics of God. The list of attributes is rather long, but some can be grouped together. For instance, we can speak of the fact that God is self-existent, self-sufficient, infinite and eternal. God has always existed, and he will always exist, with no need for anyone or anything to make him who he is. He is solitary and triune. As the Creator and sustainer of the universe, he is sovereign and supreme. He is righteous and holy in all that he does. He is separate from us and transcendent, but also immanent and with us at all times. He is immutable (unchanging) and faithful in all things. He is patient and long-suffering. He is both loving and wrathful. God is good, gracious,  and merciful toward his people. He is present in all places, all-powerful, all-knowing, and wise.

This is the God who made us. This is the God we worship.

When Peter made the declaration that Jesus is “the Christ, the Son of the living God,” Jesus said, “on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18).Jesus has, indeed, built his church upon this confession of his being the Christ. But, what is the church? In Scripture Jesus speaks of those “that the Father gives me” (John 6:37). Those who belong to Christ are the church. They are sometimes called the elect, the bride of Christ, the company of the redeemed, the communion of saints, and the new Israel.

Saint Augustine referred to the church on earth as “a mixed body.” Jesus himself said there would be weeds or tares among the wheat (Matthew 13:24-30 and 36-43). Not everyone that we see in the church on earth is a believer. For that reason, people often speak of the visible and invisible church.

The invisible church, according to the Westminster Confession “consists of all the elect who have been, are, or shall be gathered into one, under Christ its head” (WCF 25.1). This is everyone who belongs to Christ, from the beginning of time, until the present, and into the future. To us, this is invisible, because we cannot see those who have gone before us, nor those who will come after us. The visible church, on the other hand, is the church on earth at any given moment. It consists of both believers and unbelievers who are either curious or deceptive. Because of this distinction, we can only speak of the invisible church as being holy. Certain manifestations of the visible church may be more or less pure and holy, depending upon the number of unbelievers mixed in.

In Scripture, the church is often compared to a building. To the Ephesians Paul writes that they are being built into a dwelling place for God (Ephesians 2:19-22). Peter uses the same metaphor in his first letter (1 Peter 2:4-5). But the most used comparison is the comparison to the human body (1 Corinthians 12:12-31; Ephesians 3:6; 4:4; Colossians 1:18), for the church is a living organism. And, the head of this body is Jesus Christ (Ephesians 5:23; Colossians 1:18; 2:19). Many would have us believe that a man living on earth can be the head of the church, but Scripture tells us that that honor and office belong only to Christ.

We have already admitted that the manifestations of the visible church on earth may be more or less pure and true at any given time. So, how does one determine if a part of the body is a true church? How does one determine where to worship God? Historically the marks of a true church have been defined as: (1) the true preaching of God’s Word, (2) the use of the sacraments in accordance with their institution, and (3) the practice of church discipline.

If one of the signs of a true church is the proper use of the sacraments, what are the sacraments? The Latin word sacramentum means “mystery.” The Confession states: “Sacraments are holy signs and seals of the covenant of grace. They were directly instituted by God to represent Christ and his benefits and to confirm our relationship to him” (WCF 27.1). The sacraments are visible signs of Christ, means of grace which convey the promises of God to the church.

According to the Roman Catholic church, there are seven sacraments, including baptism, confirmation, holy communion, penance, matrimony, holy orders, and extreme unction. After the Reformation, the protestant church recognizes only two sacraments – baptism and the Lord’s Supper. The sacraments are nonverbal and must never stand alone, without reference to the word of God. The sacraments do not bring about salvation, but they are an important part of worship and the communion between God and his people.

In the old administration of the covenant between God and his people, the sign and seal of the covenant was circumcision (Genesis 17:1-14). It sealed the covenant with a blood seal, and it was a sign of the unseen cutting away of the dead flesh of the sinful heart of natural man (Deuteronomy 10:16; 30:6; Jeremiah 4:4; Romans 2:25-29). In the new administration of the covenant, that sign and seal have changed, to be more inclusive (Colossians 2:11-12). Baptism is now the sign and seal of the covenant.

There are a number of things which are signified by baptism. It speaks of our cleansing (1 John 1:7), regeneration by the Holy Spirit (Titus 3:5), being buried and raised with Christ (Romans 6:4), and being indwelt by the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:1-4; Romans 8:9; 1 Corinthians 3:16). Jesus sent his followers into the world to baptize (Matthew 28:18-20), and that baptism, to be valid, must be in the triune name of God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

A constant debate has raged within the church concerning who should be baptized and how baptism should be administered. Basically, the debate stems from what the two parties see as the meaning of baptism. For some, baptism is an obedient response to the saving power of Jesus Christ. Known as credobaptists, they believe that baptism is a response by those who believe. For most of them, immersion is the preferred mode of baptism, because it signifies death, burial, and resurrection in Christ. Favorite Scripture passages for this group include Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38; and Romans 6:4.

For others, baptism is the New Testament sign and seal of the covenant between God and his people. It signifies the pouring out of the Holy Spirit upon those whom God has called to himself. For that reason, they feel that sprinkling and pouring are the appropriate modes, and they believe that baptism is legitimately administered to the infant children of believers. They are known as paedobaptists. Favorite Scripture passages for this group include Acts 2:39 and the stories of the Philippian jailer and Lydia, whose households were baptized with them upon their profession of faith.

In the old administration of the covenant, Passover was the covenant meal. In the new administration, that meal was changed, when, on the night before he was crucified, Jesus instituted the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. In recounting that last Passover of Jesus, Paul write, “For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, ‘This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.’ For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (1 Corinthians 11:23-26).

A major controversy has raged within the church concerning the elements of the Lord’s Supper and how they are the body and blood of Christ. The Roman Catholic church accepts the doctrine of transubstantiation, which teaches that, as the priest prays over the elements, they actually change in substance and become the body and blood of Jesus Christ. The Lutherans accept the doctrine of consubstantiation which teaches that Christ is present in the elements, but that their substance does not actually change. A third group, followers of Zwingli and Calvin, including Presbyterians, see the elements as representing the body and blood of Christ. For them, Christ is in the elements in a spiritual sense, and believers feed upon him in spiritually.

 

Essential #6:

God has called a people out of the world and unto himself. The people of God are the church. The church which we see on earth contains both believers and unbelievers. Christ is building his church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it. The signs of a true church are the faithful preaching of the word, the right administration of he sacraments, and the practice of church discipline. The sacraments (baptism and the Lord’s Supper) are signs and seals of the covenant which represent Christ and his benefits to us as believers.

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