Glory in the church

Before the beginning, there was God and since there was God in all his many perfections, there was the outshining of those many perfections, that unapproachable light,  that we now call his glory.

glory

Unapproachable light of God’s glory ( Bigstock Photos)

The very idea of God’s glory, a reality that exists only as the product of God’s absolute perfection, is hard for us to fathom. Actually, that is the reason God created everything (including us), to magnify his glory, to give us object lessons in creation that reveal something of  his glory.

Elsewhere I have written of how the rainbow is an object lesson in God’s condescension to reveal his glory to us in smaller pieces since we cannot approach the light of his glory directly. When the light of the sun, which is relatively unapproachable, shines through the prism of water drops in the sky, the light is broken into its component colors allowing us to see some of the dimensions of the glory of the light of the sun.

To the praise of his glory

It is a humbling reality that we who have been redeemed by his grace should be the cause of praise to God’s glory. Twice Paul uses this phrase in Ephesians 1: 12 & 14.

In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will,  so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. – Ephesians 1:11-12

Then again in verses 13-14,

In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory. – Ephesians 1:13-14

God’s purpose (v. 11) is to magnify his own glory. Paul states that he and the others who were the first to trust Christ and gain an inheritance in Christ, were to the praise of his glory. Then he goes on to say that to the Ephesians who also heard the word of truth and trusted christ are to the praise of his glory. Our salvation is not God’s greatest concern, his glory is. The beauty for us is that by his grace we are in Christ and his salvation working out in us produces praise of God’s glory, the outshining of his many perfections of which his glorious grace is one.

Glory in the church forever

Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen. – Ephesians 3:20-21

If we are indeed honest about ourselves, we know we are sinful beings and undeserving of the goodness of God. There is nothing in us that would bring praise to God’s glory. Even on my best days, I have to admit that I have had a heart that has departed from unadulterated passion for God. I have idols that get in the way, much to my chagrin. I put forth my half-hearted efforts to tear them down but they seem to be erected once again shortly afterwards.

The beauty of the grace of God, and why Paul calls it the glorious grace, is that it is grace, not works; it is God’s working in us that produces God’s glory. It is not of our own doing and it may not be seen clearly yet, but it is there and the Apostle writes that it will be “throughout all generations, forever and forever. Amen.”

We are being transformed “from one degree of glory to another…” – 2 Corinthians 3:18

What’s the big deal about marriage?

We used to just talk about “marriage,” now we talk about “traditional marriage” and “same-sex marriage” and even occasionally “open marriage,” although the last one has become passé. But why must we speak of marriage with a modifier? Marriage is marriage, one man one woman for life is the ideal. Why does this matter?

Marriage covenant

God’s glory is magnified in marriage

In our post-Christian America, it seems to not matter to the popular culture except that it is an assault on Christianity, an attempt to further eliminate from our collective conscience any remnants of Biblical values. And, ultimately, any reference to a God with whom we have to do.

The Great Exchange

We have made the great exchange of Romans 1:23, 25. We have exchanged the “glory of the immortal God…” and “exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever!”

Worship God or worship creation

As I have written elsewhere, all that is is intended to magnify the glory of God. To adequately appreciate all things, they must be viewed in the light of how they magnify God’s glory. Marriage, then, exists to magnify the glory of God. No wonder we who have suppressed the truth of God and exchanged the glory of God for a lie despise marriage.
It is a unique institution intended to magnify the glory of God specifically by demonstrating, like an illustrated sermon, the relationship between Christ and the church. Same-sex marriage cannot do that. Why not? One simple and obvious answer is that in God’s covenant faithfulness to us, the intention is to bring forth new spiritual life as we share the gospel, the seed of God’s word. In marriage new life is to be brought forth through natural procreation that requires the union of male and female.

Let me reiterate a statement by John Piper that the glory of God is the outshining of his many excellencies or perfections (not an actual quote, but this is what he has said and written many times). When we magnify God’s glory, we are focusing like a laser beam on some small dimension of one of God’s many perfections.

God is full of covenant-faithfulness. The word in Hebrew is Hesed and is translated variously as loving-kindness, steadfast love, faithfulness, mercy, loyalty, and unchanging love. It conveys the idea of covenant faithfulness. God is absolutely faithful to his covenants. In the eternal covenant from before the foundation of the world, that is, before the beginning, the Father promised to give a people to the Son and the Son promised to gather those people and redeem them from their sin. The Holy Spirit agreed in this eternal covenant to bring to pass in the lives of redeemed sinful people the reality for which Christ died. That gathered bunch of sinners, of which I am one, is known as the church. Christ is fully faithful to his covenant to bring the church into eternal fellowship with the three-in-one God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Marriage: a demonstration of God’s covenant-faithfulness

Marriage is intended to illustrate this faithfulness of Christ to his church. Little is more important. Little is despised more by the world. Let us not be surprised then that our post-Christian culture despises marriage and covenant faithfulness and may we hold even more dear this institution that God ordained to picture God’s covenant faithfulness to himself and to us.

Magnify the Lord with me

Irish Rainbow Magnify the Lord

Irish Rainbow

The Scriptures often speak of magnifying the Lord or magnifying his glory. I used to think of magnifying something as making it look bigger. I have a different understanding now. Magnifying something is actually focusing greater attention on a smaller part than the whole.

Imagine you are on vacation and hiking in the mountains. You come upon a large meadow and across the meadow you see what appears to be a deer. You want to get a better look so you take out your binoculars and look more closely. Notice that when you look through your binoculars you cannot see the entire meadow, but you can see the deer in much greater detail. So, when you magnify something you cannot see its whole, but you see some part in greater detail.

Now, back to magnifying the Lord.

When we magnify the Lord, we are, by definition, not seeing God in his whole, but we are focussing in on some dimension of God, or in another way of describing it, we are magnifying some aspect of God’s glory.

The outshining of his many perfections

God’s glory is the outshining of his many perfections. His glory is often referred to as light. In the Old Testament, God appeared over the mercy seat in the tabernacle as a shining light. When God made covenant with Abraham, he traversed between the parts of the covenant sacrifice as a burning light. When the children of Israel were wandering the Sinai, God led them with a pillar of fire at night and a pillar of smoke during the daytime. In the New Testament the Apostle Paul says God dwells in unapproachable light. These are all, I believe, manifestations of his glory.

The rainbow is white light broken

When the sun shines through water droplets in the sky, the droplets act as a prism and break down the white light into its component colors. When we are fortunate to view this, we see a rainbow. Its a beautiful thing. God made this part of creation to tell the gospel story.

The light of God’s glory can only be beheld when it is broken. Jesus is the light that lights everyman but we have a hard time seeing the light. The light was broken for us through the incarnation of Christ and his death and resurrection. This is the most extreme demonstration of God’s glory. Here, we see in  bold relief both God’s covenant faithfulness in judgment and in mercy in one picture. It was with joy that Christ went to the cross because he was looking forward to the fulfilling of the covenant of redemption. From the cross would come justice by Christ taking the punishment for the sins of everyone who would believe God and demonstrating the justice of God on sin for all who will not believe God.

The cross event magnifies the glory of God by focusing us on both his infinite mercy and his infinite justice in one act.

Before the beginning…there was God

GodBefore the beginning there was God is cultural heresy in the 21st century. This is really the dividing point in our culture.

There are the Oneists who believe there is no God outside the universe but that all is really just one. Historically, the major religions holding this view are Buddhism and Hinduism. They take their modern form as New Age and Human Potential Movement thought.

Then there are the Twoists, those who believe the universe was brought into being by the eternally existing God to whom we are all accountable.

These are two radically different world views with radically different presuppositions that will inevitably take one to radically different conclusions about life’s dilemmas. Thus the cultural divide in America and the world.

Before the beginning…there was Trinity

So some say God is a Trinity. So what?

Lots of Christians don’t like to consider truths that require real intellectual exercise and so claim there is some irreconcilable difference between those who have “an experience” with God and those who live in intellectual debate about things theological.

That is a false dichotomy.

I proffer that one cannot gain the full value of an experience without understanding it through sound Biblical doctrine. And likewise, sound doctrine is worthless if one does not have an accompanying experience with the living God who is the subject of the doctrines.

So, for all who claim a personal relationship with God, let’s do a little thinking. I don’t want to lay out the Scriptural argument for the existence of God as Trinity. For this article, I am assuming it to be true. I do want to look at some of the essential implications of the fact of God as Trinity.

What does Trinity mean? For any readers who may not be familiar with the definition of the Trinity, here is the concise statement from the Westminster Confession of Faith, one of the most well accepted statements of Christian orthodoxy.

“In the unity of the Godhead there be three persons, of one substance, power, and eternity: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost: the Father is of none, neither begotten, not proceeding; the Son is eternally begotten of the Father; the Holy Ghost eternally proceeding from the Father and the Son.” Westminster Confession Chap. 2.3

This is more popularly stated as three-in-one; One God or essence (monotheism) and three persons or personalities (not three Gods). Yes, this is a mystery and while we can’t fully grasp it since God is not only  “bigger” than we are, he is of a totally different class of being from us, even though we are created in his image and likeness.

PRACTICAL IMPLICATIONS OF TRINITY

Because God is triune, he has eternally been personal and relational in his own being, even before the beginning. This is necessarily true since God is perfect love. Love requires both one to give love and one to receive love. How could God be love eternally if he were only one? So, the Trinity allows for love. It also allows for relationship modeling.

The  triune God is and always has been totally self-sufficient and in need of nothing. Creation was, therefore, not done to fill some need in God, “nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything.” (Acts 17:25)

The Trinity is the ultimate model for marriage and relationships within the church, the body of Christ. The Son has eternally submitted himself to the Father and the Father’s pleasure. The Holy Spirit proceeds forth from both the Father and the Son. This did not make the Son any less God and it did not degrade him as God. It is the model of submission that we are called to image in our lives, wives to husbands, everyone to civil authorities, employees to employers, believers to one another, etc.

Without the Trinity, we would not have the definitive revelation of God in Christ. “No one has ever seen God; the only God, [the Son of God] who is at the Father‘s side, he has made him known.” (John 1:18) “But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live.” (Exodus 33:20) But the Son became flesh and gave us a perfect reflection of God. “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.”(John 1: 14)

The Trinity makes the atonement possible. Our salvation is accomplished by the distinct and unified activity of each person of the Godhead: “how much more will the blood of Christ [the Son], who through the eternal Spirit [the Holy Spirit] offered himself without blemish to God [the Father], purifying our conscience from dead works to serve the living God [the Three-in-one]?” (Heb. 9:14)

The doctrine of the Trinity is one of the aspects of God that we cannot know fully, but we can know truly in so far as he has revealed it to us in the Scriptures. It is central to our understanding of the nature of God and the events of salvation history in which God is seen acting as a tripersonal team. Biblical Christianity stands or falls with the doctrine of the Trinity.

Before the beginning…there was covenant

I used to think that before God created, he was inactive. He just sat there and did nothing.Before the beginning...Covenant After all, there was no creation to care for. What was he doing? I know better now.

I certainly don’t know all that God did, but he has made some things known.

“The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law. Deuteronomy 29:29

One thing God did, and I submit the most important thing as far as we humans are concerned, was to make an eternal covenant.

“Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant,  equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.” Heb 13:20-21

By definition, a covenant that is eternal came into being outside of time, space and matter. All other covenants are initiated in time. The covenant with Adam, the covenant with Noah, the covenant with Abraham, the covenant with Moses, the covenant with David. Even the New Covenant was instituted in time and space with the death of Christ. So, what is this eternal covenant?

There is no chapter in the Bible titled, “Now concerning the eternal covenant…” We have to come to understand this covenant by inferential theology, in other words, the Scriptures infer a reality that is referred to in Heb 13:20 as “the eternal covenant.”

This is also how we come to grips with the Trinity. The word “trinity” never appears in Scripture but is inferred constantly. For example, “Let us make man…”, conversations in prayer between the Son (Jesus) and the Father, the baptism of Jesus: Jesus the Son of God is baptized, the Holy Spirit descends on him, and the Father speaks and says, “This is my beloved Son, hear him.” The word Trinity is never used but the reality is referred to constantly. The word Trinity is a theological term that refers to this reality.

We must understand the eternal covenant in the same manner, by inference, other than the one specific reference in Hebrews where the term is used.

Why is this important?

The whole of all that is came into being in order to fulfill the eternal covenant. This eternal covenant was the foundation of everything outside of God. Creation itself was made as a stage for the carrying out of the eternal covenant.

In the most simplistic terms, this is a covenant in which the Father gives a people to the Son, the Son offers himself to redeem them from their fallen state, and the Holy Spirit is sent forth from the Son and the Father to implement this eternal plan of salvation.

The parties to the covenant are not humans, but the three persons of the Godhead, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Theologians refer to this as an “intra-trinitarian” covenant, one this is strictly confined to the Trinity. This is different from all the other covenants referred to above. The recognition that this eternal covenant is among the Father, Son and Holy Spirit gives total assurance that every provision of this covenant will be fulfilled.

Where is this covenant spoken of?

The gospel of John makes several references to it, probably more than any one book.

“Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work.” John 4:34

Jesus, the Son, was sent by the Father with specific work to do. This was the covenant obligation of the Son.

“All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out.  For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me.  And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day.  For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” John 6:37-40

This passage gives more detail to the mission of the Son and the promise of the Father to the Son to give him a people, all who will believe the gospel.

“I am the LORD; I have called you in righteousness; I will take you by the hand and keep you; I will give you as a covenant for the people, a light for the nations,  to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness.” Isaiah 42: 6-7

The Father is giving the Son as a covenant for the people promised by the Father.

“He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for your sake,  who through him are believers in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.” 1 Peter 1:20-21

The Messiah was foreknown before the foundation of the world, that is, he was known from eternity, before the beginning and was manifest in time.

“All inhabitants of the earth will worship the beast—all whose names have not been written in the Lamb’s book of life, the Lamb who was slain from the creation of the world.” Revelation 3:8 (NIV)

The Lamb, Jesus, the Son of God, was slain from the creation of the world, in other words, it was determined in the eternal covenant and from the perspective of God was an accomplished fact from before the time of the creation of the world.

There are many other passages that speak of “before the foundation of the world,” and give further insight into the eternal covenant.

Let me summarize the impact on my heart. While I have been a stable believer not plagued by doubt for many many years, when I saw that, as a part of the people of God, I was included as a gift from the Father to the Son in eternity before anything had been created, I discovered a deeper profound security in Christ and a profound deepening of joy. Indeed, my name, and the names of all who believe the gospel, are written down in the Lambs book of life from all eternity.

What difference does that make for you? I would love to hear from you.

Before the beginning…steadfast love and faithfulness

Considering God “before the beginning” is, I find, a fruitful exercise. It helps me to clarify the character and nature of God which in turn increases my confidence in him and his promises.

I have the general impression, and maybe it is just my weakness, that when God is said to have steadfast love and faithfulness, such as in Psalm 118 that repeats the refrain, “his steadfast love endures forever,” that most of us have a warm and fuzzy feeling and interpret this to mean something like “God is a nice God.”

In Exodus 34:6 God reveals himself to Moses as “abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.” Steadfast love is the Hebrew word Hesed and is sometimes translated “covenant-faithfulness” and the word faithfulness refers to stability, something you can count on.

I love the idea of covenant-faithfulness.
A covenant is, in simple terms, an agreement or contract between different parties. Salvation is a product of the Covenant of Grace that began with Genesis 3:15 just before Adam and Eve were ushered out of the garden. It was further developed with Abraham and is consummated in Christ. It is a covenant of promise made by God and fulfilled by God and makes those of us who believe the gospel the recipients of the promise. The strength of the covenant-promise is the one who made the promise, the one who is “abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.”

By considering God from before the beginning, I realize that he was then abounding with steadfast love and faithfulness as well. Those aren’t Johnny-come-lately characteristics. This is the character of God as he stands in congruity with himself as a Trinitarian reality. There is steadfast love and faithfulness among the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

We normally think of these characteristics as how God relates to us, but what about before there was an “us?” This was still God’s character and he expressed his “steadfast love and faithfulness” in eternity as he made the covenant of redemption and stood as one in the anticipated performance of all the provisions of the covenant.

The Father is faithful to the Son in his promise to give him a people.

The Son is faithful to the Father as he committed and then performed his part of the covenant to be the redeemer of the people given to him by the Father.

The Spirit is faithful to both as he fulfills his duty to regenerate those whom the Father has promised to the Son and then works to conform them to the image of the Son who is a faithful representation of the Father.

As a recipient of the gospel of grace, I stand assured through the steadfast love and faithfulness of the promise giver who is also the promise performer.

Before the beginning…there was glory.

Go with me again to that time before time and to that place before places and contemplate God. If we could see there, what would we see?

I know some will think this just so much speculation and naval gazing, but stick with me, there really is something solid and powerful down the page a ways.

Before the beginning, no angels, no demons, no stars, no earth and no people, just God.

We know God is spirit,1 so there would be no bodies there. A spirit doesn’t have hands and feet or other parts. I know, sometimes the Scripture speaks of things like “the hand of God,” but that is what is known as an anthropomorphism, a two-dollar word that means “the attribution of human characteristics or behavior to a god, animal, or object.” That kind of language is used because we don’t have language that adequately describes something so different from us as God.

So what could we see in that place before places?

The light of God’s glory

We would see the outshining of all of God’s perfection. We use the word glory to describe it. It is really pure light. Paul referred to it as “unapproachable light.”2

It appeared in muted form after creation in the pillar of fire that led the Israelites from captivity, and it appeared in the tabernacle as the Shekinah Glory above the mercy seat. And again it appeared at the dedication of Solomon’s temple so that the Priests could not stand to minister in its presence.

Short of the glory

Paul later wrote how we have all sinned and fallen short of the “glory of God.” When we recognize that the glory of God is the pure light that flows from his many perfections it is easy to see how we fall short of that. Even being mostly good is far short of the perfection that shines forth in pure light…the glory of God, the unapproachable light.

When Jesus was in his final preparation for his crucifixion he prayed to be with the Father in the glory they shared before the incarnation.3 Jesus was looking forward to returning to the light of the glory of God from this darkened world.

Because of his infinity and his infinite perfections, we will never be able to view the Father directly. We will ever be viewing God through our everlasting mediator, Jesus the Son of God.

Shared glory

Jesus has arranged to share this glory with us. As we come to know him better, to fellowship with him more fully, we are changed from glory to glory by the Spirit of the Lord.4

Our chief end is to glorify God by enjoying him forever. What an awesome privilege to share in his glory and to magnify his glory in the earth.

Oh, magnify the LORD with me,
and let us exalt his name together! Ps 34:3

O LORD, I love the habitation of your house
and the place where your glory dwells. Ps 26:8

Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name;
worship the LORD in the splendor of holiness. Ps 29:2

Let the godly exult in glory;
let them sing for joy on their beds.Ps 149:5

 

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1. John 4:24

2 “…he who is the blessed and only Sovereign,the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see. To him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen.” 1 Timothy 6:15-16

3 “And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.” John 17:5

4 2 Corinthians 3:18

Before the beginning…he knew my name

Once upon a time, before there was time, in a place far, far away, before there were places, God knew my name and wrote it down in a book.

There was no creation yet. There were no birds, no stars, no angels or demons, and certainly no humans. There was only God.

God, the three-in-one God, was going about the business of creating the first covenant, a covenant among the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. One little, but vitally important provision of the covenant to folks like you and me, was a promise from the Father to the Son to give him a people. The tough part for the Son was that he would volunteer to die for those people given to him by the Father. But that was part of the agreement. This covenant was made among the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit in eternity and is held together by God’s covenant-faithfulness.

One covenant I am not worried about being broken is the covenant that God made with himself. If the Father provided for a people for the Son, then I can stake my soul on the keeping of that promise from the Father to the Son…and I have.

Jesus made reference to this promise of a people in John 17 in his high priestly prayer.

“I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world. Yours they were, and you gave them to me…”1

Clearly believers are a gift from the Father to the Son. But how do we know this was done before the beginning?

In that most difficult of all books of the Bible, the Revelation of Jesus Christ to John, there is a section that speaks of the Beast having power over all the people of the earth…with one exception, those whose name has been written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who was slain.Notice that this writing down of the names of people was done “before the foundation of the world.” Personally, I find this to be extremely encouraging.

Before God made anything, he named me.

Before God made anything, he made arrangements for my redemption.

Before he made anything, I was the object of his love in Christ.

Before he made anything, he called me, justified me, and glorified me.3

From God’s perspective this is all a done deal. I don’t know what can be more encouraging to a beleaguered human being than that. That is what is referred to as to “the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.”4
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1. John 17:6
2. Revelation 13:8
3. Romans 8:30
4. Ephesians 1:6 

Our God is a happy God

There are obviously some people who get their vision of God from somewhere other than my source. I’m not saying there is no such thing as the wrath of God, there certainly is, but his wrath is not at his core. At his core, God is happy.

God is sovereign.

“Our God is in the heavens;
he does all that he pleases.”
Psalm 115:3

Nothing can thwart God’s plans. What he does is “for his good pleasure.”1 That is, it is what makes him happy.

When thinking about God “before the beginning,” this thought is particularly important. Before the beginning, there was nothing  but God, no heavens, no angels, no demons, no people, nothing…just God. Under those circumstances, upon what would God unleash his wrath? When all that exists is a perfect God, there is no use for wrath, there is nothing to judge and find wanting.

What that must have been like. As the Psalmist says, “Selah”, think about that.

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1Philippans 2:13