inexpressible and filled with glory

All About Us
7 October 2009, 5:23 pm
Filed under: Books, General | Tags: , ,

I went out for dinner with Katherine a few weeks ago. For any of you who know us well, you would understand that unfortunately time like this together comes around all too infrequently. Our lives are way too busy, we are over-committed and we have struggled to find balance and get our priorities right. Anyway, that is another discussion in itself, but praise God that the issues are being dealt with and that by his grace our habits and patterns are being changed.

The night was particularly memorable for me because of what we talked about. We delved deeply into the mystery of God’s love and his wrath. One of the books that I’ve been reading lately is John Stott’s The Cross of Christ. Through this, God has planted his truth deep within me and I have been so encouraged to understand that the cross is where mercy and justice meet – that the cross is the ultimate revelation of both of these aspects of God’s character.

Katherine and I were discussing the challenge of holding these two truths in tension in life and ministry, as well as thinking about the consequences of stressing one of these over the other. Katherine insisted on the importance of people knowing of God’s deep and unshakable love for sinners. As a social worker, this is particularly close to her heart. She knows that there are many broken people who have never tasted love, but only the bitterness of rejection and abuse. We all need to be bathed in the saving love of God, knowing that he loves us even though we are sinners.

One lingering question left in my mind, however, was ‘Why does God love us?’ If we are sinners, totally depraved, worthy of nothing but the coming wrath of God, totally unloveable, why does he love us?

After our meal, I didn’t really pursue an answer to my question. But I was greatly encouraged this morning as I was reading an abridged version of Jonathan Edwards’ A treatise concerning religious affections. Basically he proclaims the God-centredness of the gospel. Whereas we are prone to think about God loving us, forgiving and accepting us, taking us to heaven, Edwards teaches that God loves because it is in his nature to love. He says that:

people whose love for God is based on God’s usefulness for them, are beginning at the wrong end. They are regarding God only from the viewpoint of their own self-interest. They are failing to appreciate the infinite glory of God’s nature, which is the source of all goodness and loveliness.

Rather than first seeing that God loves us, then, Edwards insists that we ‘first see that God is lovely, that Christ is excellent and glorious’. I like this because it starts at God rather than us. This God-centred gospel gives us a big picture of God’s nature and the glory of redemption, and humbles us at the foot of the cross to acknowledge that we are saved because he loved us when we had no love for him. It reveals that salvation is God’s initiative and his glory. We are not worthy to be saved, and yet God loves us and invites us to enjoy him not because of what we can gain, but because of who he is.

Ahhh, refreshment…

What do you think about all this? Do we have a God-centred theology or do we still talk about salvation as if it’s all about us?


7 Comments so far
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Wow, you and Katherine look really different in that photo!

I think this is a really important point, and has great ramifications for how we share the gospel. Ultimately it’s not about how we feel about God, how we think he should be, or what our thoughts about God are, it is about his supreme, immutable nature.

Liberalism seems to get this all the wrong way as if God somehow owes us something.

Through Christ God does promise – and in that sense owes us – eternal life, but it’s nothing to do with who we are and everything to do with who he is.

Maybe this is also why God’s wrath has always been, continues to be, and always will be so unpallatable to autonomous humans. We always want to start with ourselves rather than God.

To name names, do you think Two Ways To Live gets this right?

Comment by Josh Maule

Hi Brad,
Not sure I have a great deal to contribute, but thought I’d leave you a comment 😉
As we went through studies in Christology at LiVE, and as I prepped for them, I was struck by similar things. It’s a real danger than we all fall into to varying degrees to neglect the very centrality and nature of God.

What are some helpful ways to combat this – to keep putting the centrality on God not us?

Re: Josh, I agree on God’s wrath. Been reading Ezekiel and God is so righteous and strong in his anger against idolatry. I wonder, how might the wrath of God be helpfully communicated?

Comment by Sam Atwood

Hey guys,

Sorry it’s taken a while to respond.

Josh – re: Two Ways to Live, it starts a God but then puts the emphasis on our response. And I think the Scriptures necessitate personal repentance and faith, but this needs to be held in tension wiht God’s sovereignty and his initiative in salvation. As we proclaim the gospel, we need to maintain this tension recognising that the gospel calls us to respond and live rightly under God by the transforming power of the Spirit.

Sam – I love your question: How can we day-in-day-out live out a God-centred gospel? I think the pursuit of humility is key. If we are living humble lives recognising that the gospel is all about God and that we don’t deserve salvation, but we’ve been invited to enjoy God and his glory, this proclaims the God-centredness of the gospel.

So in our lives and ministry I think humility should be a chief characteristic.


Comment by bradkonemann

“I wonder, how might the wrath of God be helpfully communicated?”

I think with tears and great anguish of heart.

Comment by Josh Maule

Josh –

Tears and anguish at sin, or at God’s wrath?

How does this help with communicating God’s wrath? Because it shows that it is a truth that has hit your own heart hard, or…?

Comment by bradkonemann

I think that emotion will come at our sin and at God’s wrath. But particularly as we dwell on God’s wrath.

Anything less would not convey the truth properly. It would be cold hearted and merely intellectual.

If we truly believe God will punish sinners for all eternity – that those in hell will have no future to look forward to, no hope at all – how can we not be moved when telling them about God’s judgement.

BTW: I’m not saying I’m good at this.

JI Packer says in Knowing God that we ought to reflect long and hard on God’s wrath because we are ever prone to take sin lightly. And also a motivation to evangelise.

Comment by Josh Maule

Brad: without repeating too much, I think I would agree with your thoughts on humility as key. We need a big view of God which will bring us in awe to him, not try to plop him in a box.

…nothing else to say at the moment 😉

Comment by Sam Atwood

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