“God help us.” This is about the only thought I could produce on Tuesday afternoon as I weaved my car through Louisville 5 o’clock traffic. My heart was heavy, as I was listening to my seminary president’s daily podcast. Thankfully it was not because how wrong he was on the particular topics but because just how right he was. There are times when we are struck by the manifest evil inherent in human beings. Sometimes we are reviled by what we find inside of our very selves. Still other times, sin in the world shocks us back into reality. This was the case on Tuesday.
The news of Bruce Jenner (his name is Bruce) and his supposed reintroduction to the world as a woman on Monday has made nearly every headline in the world. Jenner, a former Olympic gold-medalist, has recently decided that, to be true to himself (?), he must change into a woman. Jenner, now preferring Caitlyn, has undergone surgeries to make the transformation. The current redefinition of gender and sexuality occurring in modern culture is reaching its logical climax. If gender is of no consequence, then switching back and forward is of no consequence. Even worse, Jenner is being heralded as a hero. His descent into womanhood is being lauded as the year’s most courageous feat. ESPN is even planning on awarding him with the Arthur Ash award, previously won by men like Pat Tillman and Nelson Mandela. The world is applauded a direct assault on the authority of God.
This current trend is not as foreign to the world of wider Christianity as one might think. Dr. Mohler commented on reports that the Church of England is contemplating a ceremony in which those pursuing transgender lifestyles to be rebaptized as their “new sex.” Some have even used the phrasing of a person being “reintroduced to God,” as if God had not created them and is not currently sustaining them. Some, again, have pursued this worldview to its logical end. There are talks within the Church of England to change official liturgies to reflect what some would call “the feminine nature of God.” Father, help us.
This is the world in which we live. The individual is placed on a pedestal, with reality being defined by our own thoughts and feelings. Relativism is the new dogmatic. The only thing not permissible is saying what should or should not be permissible. But is this problem new or ancient? As early as the book of Judges we see man “doing what was right in his own eyes.” Relativism, in certain forms, is as old as the fall. Indeed it is as old as when Satan first tempted our first parents by asking, “Did God really say?” The moral atrocities found above have a common thread, a common misconception. These world-views, we must admit, make sense without a Creator. They even make sense if the Creator’s only agenda is to make us happy and then remain otherwise relatively unmeddlesome. Happily this could not be further from the truth.
It is the burden of this post that there is a God who is, to use Francis Shaeffer’s wording. This means that God exists and is without any reference to anything else. God is objective fact, reality and creator of reality. To summarize: God determines who He is and therefore what everything else is, wonderfully objective and ever outside of us. We live coram deo. The Bible is the only infallible source to shw us God, not as fallen man might want Him to be but as He is, always has been and will forever be.
The God Who Is
David Wells, in his book God in the Whirlwind, says that the fact that “God stands before us” is the “baseline truth of Scripture.” In other words, God is completely outside of us. He just exists and has existed forever without change or deficiency. Whereas the culture says we must find God inside of ourselves, Wells points us to where the Bible says God resides; namely, outside of us. We are accountable to Him and not He to us. Allow me to quote Dr. Wells at length: “Additionally, this is the Word that god himself uses to address us personally. In doing so, he makes us knowers of himself. He comes from outside our circumstances. He is not limited by our subjectivity. He is free to break in upon us, making us hi own, and incorporate us into his great redemptive plans which have been unfolding across the centuries. The Hoy Spirit re-speaks Scripture’s truth to us today and opens our minds and hearts to receive it. Thus we are given, not just a view of God and of ourselves, but the view. And not just the right and true view. We are given God himself, who comes to us through his Word by the work of theHoly Spirit. It is God who makes us knowers of himself.” God simply is. The Bible is the great constructer of reality.
Briefly, we must discuss the character of this God who is. We must be reminded of who He is and in the light of the knowledge who we are in fact. First we must see that God is holy and glorious. God’s glory is the going public of his holiness. His holiness is two-fold. First, God’s holiness refers to his utterly uniqueness. God is set apart, like no other. There is no being like the Trinitarian God. He is other. Separate. Second, God is perfect. God’s holiness means that all of His wonderful attributes shine forth uninterrupted at all times. Oh the glory! His love, justice, mercy and etc operating to the max at all times. He is perfect; the measure of all that would claim to have perfections, beauty, truth or goodness. It is the display of this holiness that is what the Bible means by God’s glory. The angels in Isaiah 6 proclaim in three-fold repetition “holy, holy, holy is the Lord of Hosts.” After they say that the whole earth is full, not of God’s holiness, but of His glory. God’s intrinsic worth is put on display for the world to see and savor, to delight in it and display as their highest good. This is the end for which God created the world, that His glory might be gloried in.
That very fact leads to another attribute of God that we must grasp if we are to know God rightly. He is self-sufficient. God did not created the world with you and I in mind, primarily. We may be penultimate in His plan but He Himself is ultimate. Do not balk at this fact Christian. This is the very thread that holds your life together. God is for God. And who else would He be for? He needs no other. He is not effected in His person by external things. As Paul wrote,“For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?” “Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?” For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen. (Romans 11:34-36 ESV). God cannot help but break into spontaneous praise when expounding the God who does nothing in spontaneity. God determines all things, without our help thank you very much. How free is our God! How merciful the God who is not helped by us or fulfilled by us would create and even save us!
This is the God who is. He is love. He is holy. He defines what those things are. He is the standard of both. He stands outside of us and calls us out of ourselves to know Him. Any failure to do so will result in the disastrous effects like the ones we opened with.
Martin Luther contrasted what he called the “theology of glory” with the “theology of the cross.” Medieval theologians postulated about who God was by looking inward and extrapolating. This is a theology of glory. Man is exalted, with God just being a better one of us. Erasmus’ theology was plagued by such blasphemy, which prompted Luther to write to him in his treatise The Bondage of the Will, that Erasmus’ God was just like him, calling his thoughts on God “too human.” Luther forged a more biblical path. This is the theology of the cross. In the theology of the cross, one looks to the Word of God to see what God is like. God is big and man is sinful in the theology of the cross. Christ’s atonement is taken with the upmost seriousness and reverence.
But we are by nature all theologians of glory. Take time to read Romans 1:18-32. Instead of worshipping God as He is, we all like sheep have gone astray, worshipping ourselves as gods or created things as gods that look strangely like us. We have “exchanged the truth about God for a lie,” attempting to rob God of His “godness.” We attempt to “gag God” as D.A. Carson puts it. We have all put ourselves in the middle of the universe. Everything finds its reference point in our own thoughts or feelings. God will not be mocked, however, and His just wrath stands over against all unrighteouss and lawlessness of men. See there is an objective reality, God and His glory, and we have spit in the face of this reality choosing to be deluded. God’s wrath is directly correlated His worth. It is not an overreaction but the only good reaction from a good God who created the world to revel in His worth. Sin is cosmic treason.
We see no less in the cases above. This rebellion takes different forms. The list at the end of Romans 1 includes all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice, envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness, gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Claiming to be wise they became fools. God is absent from their equation. Such calculation will only end in eternal ruin. God stands over against these people in wrath. God is love. God is also holy and will by no means clear the guilty. There is actual consequence.
Objective Problem, Objective Solution
Our problem is the wrath of God due our sin. Our subjective hatred of God must be overcome. However, God’s objective hate of our objective sin is the matter that is most threatening to us. Wether we feel like it or not, our greatest problem in the world is that God stands in judgement over against us. Felt needs are only good insofar as we feel rightly about what we need. The book of Romans happily does not stop here. It does get worse in chapter 3 verses 10-20. Paul wants us to know the extent of our sin and our accountability to God for it. Human autonomy is a myth that the Bible quickly dispels. How can we be saved? Moralism missteps here (and lots a places) and says that Jenner, you and I need to start living godly lives. That is true. And impossible. We hate God and God hates us. Something is going to have to be done about our sin. Romans 3:21-26 gives us God’s glorious solution. Motivated by His desire to both be just and the justifier of the ungodly, God has sent Christ to be our justification before God. That means that Christ’s obedience is imputed to our account by faith. In other words, our salvation is completely outside of us. Christ has ransomed us, paying our objective price by his objective blood. God wrath has been appeased on the cross. Christ died in our place. He was punished as we should have been. This is the center of the gospel. Christ was raised from the dead for our justification, proving His sacrifice was sufficient and efficient to all those who would come to faith and repentance.
This is our only hope. God changes our hearts to see Him as He is and we place our faith in this finished work of Christ, turning away from our sin to superior satisfaction in Christ. Our subjective life resting in the objective gospel.
Objective Driven Subjectivity.
Christianity is not stoicism. Affections, thoughts and feelings matter. When we are saved by the gospel of the glory of the blessed God something necessarily happens. We call that sanctification. We have all lied about who God is but since Christ has imaged God perfectly on our behalf, on that ground of acceptance we can begin in baby steps to image God correctly. The cross enables us to walk in blood-bought obedience. We begin to live as if God, not ourselves, are in the center of the universe. All this to say, our subjective lives are driven by objective, gospel truth. Who God is determines how we think, feel and act. The gospel saves from wrath and makes us pure. The same grace, Kevin DeYoung says, that saved a wretch like us also brings us home.
To the world, this means that God is outside of you. You are accountable to God. Bruce Jenner does not get to decide what gender he is. God has already decided. Rebellion from God’s created order will be judged. But there is forgiveness and justification in the gospel. Look to Christ! God justifies the ungodly, those who repent and trust in Christ to save, lead and satisfy their souls forever. There is joy in the way God created things. Turn towards Christ, towards superior joy and satisfaction.
To the believer, stop being like the world. The church has adopted the spirit of the age, the spirit of relativism that plagues those not in Christ. There is truth. Theology matters. It is no surprise that the world perverts gender and gender roles when those in the church do so much exegetical gymnastics to get out of the biblical teachings on manhood and womanhood. I am not saying that all egalitarians will become in favor of transgenderism. I am saying that the slope is slippery. Rejoice in truth and look to the Word of God for it. It doesn’t matter what you think God would and would not do. It doesn’t matter what I think either. It does matter what God thinks. In great mercy, He has not left us to grope around. It is no sign of humility to attempt to blindly describe an elephant that has spoken. God has told us about God. How He is and not how fallen man might want Him to be. We are created in God’s image. But, by the cross of Christ, we are saved by an objective redemption that flows into subjective obedience driven by true knowledge of God and ourselves.
To the only wise and self-sufficient God, be glory, majesty, honor and doxology be forever and ever. Amen.