June 2, 2024
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What is God Manuscript

SERMON TITLE: What is God? (Westminster Shorter Catechism Q. 4)
TEXT:
Various Texts (ESV)
SPEAKER:
Robert Tansill
DATE:
6-02-24 

Watch the sermon here
Take notes
here

WELCOME

Good morning, Gateway Church! I am Robert Tansill, the Pastor of Care and Counseling.  And, as always, it is a pleasure and joy to worship with you both here at County Road 9 Campus and with those joining us at our North Main Campus and online. This morning, we are continuing our series on the Westminster Shorter Catechism, which we will do periodically throughout the year. In this series, we are looking at questions and answers from the Westminster Confession of Faith’s Shorter Catechism that help us understand better the Christian faith as a whole in small, bite-sized chunks that are easy to remember. And this morning, we will look at the fourth question, which is this, “Question: What is God? Answer: God is a Spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable, in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth.” There you have it. God in a nutshell!

From a biblical perspective, that is the God we say we serve. That is the God we came to church this morning to worship and who we say, as Christians, that our life revolves around. However, if we are honest with ourselves, have we become too comfortable with God? Like Adam and Eve in the Garden, and like most, if not all, of humanity, have we brought God down to our level where we feel we can use and control him? Or can we see him for who he really is, with all of our unanswered questions and doubts, and still worship him as the one true and living God? This is what the fourth question in the Westminster Shorter Catechism is pushing us to answer. 

INTRODUCTION

In his book, “Knowledge of the Holy,” A.W. Tozer writes, “The man who comes to a right belief about God is relieved of ten thousand temporal problems, for he sees at once that these have to do with matters which at the most cannot concern him for very long; but even if the multiple burdens of time may be lifted from him, the one mighty single burden of eternity begins to press down upon him with a weight more crushing than all the woes of the world piled one upon another. That mighty burden is his obligation to God. It includes an instant and lifelong duty to love God with every power of mind and soul, to obey Him perfectly, and to worship Him acceptably.” (A.W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy)

Folks, to fulfill our lifelong duty of loving God, obeying him, and worshipping him with all that we are, which is why we were created, we must understand who he really is. And the reason why the fourth question is so important to us is because it helps us understand that. And the first thing we learn about God can be summed up this way…

Point 1: God is…beyond our human comprehension.

Again, according to the Shorter Catechism, “God is a Spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable, in his being.”  With that description, how do we even begin comprehending what God is like on our own? We can’t! The only way for us to know what God is like is for him to tell us. And he does in his Word. What does he say about himself?

One thing that he says is that he is a Spirit. In John 4:24, Jesus, who is God in the flesh, said, “God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” (ESV) What does that mean? It means that God does not have a physical body, nor does he have any of the limitations you and I have. Let me put that into perspective for you. If you were to look at the universe, you would find that it consists of at least 100 to 200 billion galaxies. Some estimate it as much as two trillion galaxies. (Conselice, C. J., Wilkinson, A., Duncan, K., & Mortlock, A. "The Evolution of Galaxy Number Density and Its Implications.” 2016) And God is bigger than that.

Again, can you even begin to wrap your mind around that? God, as Spirit, is bigger than the universe, which is why the Shorter Catechism uses three words to describe what that means. First, it says God is infinite. That is helpful, right? Just for fun and to gain clarity on what this means, I looked it up in the dictionary, and here is what I found, “Infinite: having no limit or end: boundless.” (Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, 10th ed.,1999) Why is that important? 

If God is infinite and limitless and we are finite or limited, we can never fully understand him this side of heaven. We cannot say that God cannot be understood because we have his Word, which helps us know who he is. However, we can say God cannot be understood fully or exhaustively (Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2008, p. 150). And that is where a lot of our tension with God exists. One verse that I have personally found helpful that you might want to commit to memory is Deuteronomy 29:29, which says, “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.” (ESV) Because God is infinite, we cannot possibly know everything about him. We can only know what he reveals about himself. Everything else is beyond our comprehension.

Second, God is eternal. That means “lasting forever.” (Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, 10th ed.,1999) God is not limited by time but instead stands outside of time. Listen to how one theologian explains this, “Eternality goes in both directions, backward in time and forward. Everything that God has revealed to us has been revealed in temporal terms. Even though He communicates to us in temporal language, He Himself is higher than time. At no point did God not exist. There never was a time when He was not. God’s being is derived from nothing outside of Himself, nor is He dependent on anything outside of Himself. Nothing differentiates God from the creature more dramatically than this, because the creature, by definition, is dependent, contingent, and derived and lacks the power of being in and of himself. God requires nothing; He exists from all eternity.” (R.C. Sproul, “Truths We Confess.” Ligonier Ministries, October 3, 2019) Again, how do we wrap our minds around that? 

But there also is a third thing we need to see that explains God as Spirit, which is that he is unchangeable. By that, I mean God does not have to guess what will happen fifteen minutes from now. He does not do things based on probability and does not need to hedge his bets. He knows with absolute certainty what will happen because he has sovereignly ordained it, and His counsel remains unchanging and unchangeable. As God says about himself in Malachi 3:6, “I am the LORD, and I do not change.” (NLT) And in James 1:17 it says, “Whatever is good and perfect is a gift coming down to us from God our Father, who created all the lights in the heavens. He never changes or casts a shifting shadow.” (NLT) As hard as it is to comprehend fully, this is who God is as a spirit being. He is not an impersonal “force,” but he is a Being.

As I was working through this, I had to ask myself a question, which I will pose to you: "Have we become so comfortable with God that we have lost sight of how truly amazing and awesome he is?” Consciously or unconsciously, have we put God in a box that we seek to control and understand? Or, are we so moved by his Being that, like the Psalmist in Psalm 139:6, we say, “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too great for me to understand!” (NLT) Or as the Message puts this verse, “This is too much, too wonderful—I can’t take it all in!” (The Message). Depending on how we answer those questions will reveal whether we truly understand who God is. But there is more.

As we contemplate what God is, not only do we see in the Shorter Catechism that God is spirit, but we also see that…

Point 2: God is…divine.

What do I mean by that? When something or someone is “divine,” it means it is transcendent, supernatural, or ultimate and usually refers to a deity. Not only that, but it stands out above the rest. There is nothing else like it. In the words of that great theologian, Sinead O’Connor, “Nothing compares to you!” These words perfectly describe God, especially as it applies to his wisdom, power, and holiness. In fact, the Westminster Larger Catechism expounds on this by saying that God is completely wise, completely powerful, and completely holy. (Westminster Assembly. “The Westminster Larger Catechism, Modern Version, Question 7”). 

In saying that, it means that God is not lacking in any way. He is comprehensive and thorough in all he does and without any deficiencies. In a word, he is perfect! So, in relation to being completely wise, God always chooses the best outcome and the best possible way to get to that outcome. There is no second-guessing and no other options. Theologian and scholar Wayne Grudem put it this way, “God’s decisions about what he will do are always wise decisions: that is, they always will bring about the best results (from God’s ultimate perspective), and they will bring about those results through the best possible means.” (Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2008, p. 193) 

And Scripture echoes this truth in numerous ways. For example, in Job 12:13 it says, “With God are wisdom and might; he has counsel and understanding.” (ESV)  In Psalm 104:24, the Psalmist says, “What a wildly wonderful world, GOD! You made it all, with Wisdom at your side, made earth overflow with your wonderful creations.” (Message)  And in Romans 16:27, the Apostle Paul says, “to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, be glory forever! Amen.”(ESV)

And along with that wisdom comes “power.” If you are talking to people about God’s power and you want to impress them, use the word “omnipotence” to describe it. Omnipotence is defined as “one who has unlimited power or authority.” This means that God does anything he wants and answers to no one. However, in spite of what some might suggest, God is not abusive in his power. Instead, God “uses his power in a way that flows out of his will and nature, and determines what is logically possible and morally right according to his wisdom.” (Stephen J. Wellum, Systematic Theology: from Canon to Concept, Vol. 1. B&H Academic. February 15, 2024, p.628) Again, perfect wisdom.

This is why God can say of himself in Genesis 18:14, “Is anything too hard for the LORD?” (NLT) It is also why Job, at the end of incredible suffering and personal torment, can say to God, “I know that you can do anything, and no one can stop you. 3  You asked, ‘Who is this that questions my wisdom with such ignorance?’ It is I—and I was talking about things I knew nothing about, things far too wonderful for me.” (Job 42:2-3, NLT) And it is why the prophet Jeremiah can confidently say, “O Sovereign LORD! You made the heavens and earth by your strong hand and powerful arm. Nothing is too hard for you!” (Jer. 32:17, NLT)

All these qualities and more separate God from every other being. And this characteristic of being separated is also what makes God holy, which the Shorter Catechism also mentions. What does it mean to be “holy?” The Hebrew word in the Old Testament for “holy” means “set apart, sacred, pure, and perfect.” It is something that is distinct from the common or profane and refers not only to “the mystery of God’s power, but also to his character as totally good and entirely without evil.” (Thomas E. McComiskey, Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, Moody Publishers; January 1, 1980) The Greek New Testament word for “holy” is defined in the same way. And here is where it gets interesting.

Listen to how theologian Joel Beeke explains God’s holiness, “That God is holy has massive moral implications, beginning with the righteous character of God himself and reaching to the moral character and conduct of all angels and men. The holiness of God is somewhat like the sun. Its massive presence exerts pervasive force so that all things within the solar system must revolve around its brilliant glory. However, God's presence is infinitely more pervasive. Nothing in creation lies beyond or outside of the influence of his holiness. The Lord's holiness entails his purpose to glorify himself in all that he does, for he alone is the glorious God. If he is supremely sacred, then he must honor himself as such and require others to do the same, or he would deny himself.” (Joel Beeke and Paul Smalley, “Reformed Systematic Theology, Vol. 1. Crossway Publishers, Wheaton, IL, 2019, p. 574).

This is why, in the Bible, the holiness of God is the predominant theme from beginning to end. Used at least 595 times throughout the Bible, God declares himself or is declared by others, as holy. In Leviticus 19:2, God says to Moses, “Give the following instructions to the entire community of Israel. You must be holy because I, the LORD your God, am holy.” (NLT) As the Psalmist is celebrating God’s kingship over all of creation, he says in Psalm 99:9, “Exalt the LORD our God, and worship at his holy mountain in Jerusalem, for the LORD our God is holy!” (ESV) As Isaiah has a vision of God sitting on a throne in Isaiah 6:3, he hears one angelic being cry out, “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of Heaven’s Armies! The whole earth is filled with his glory!” (NLT)  And again, as the Apostle John envisions God sitting on his throne in Revelation 4:8 surrounded by four living creatures, he writes, “Day after day and night after night they keep on saying, ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God, the Almighty—the one who always was, who is, and who is still to come.’” (Revelation 4:8, NLT)

Folks, this is God. He is beyond our ability to fully understand, which we can only do because of his Word. He is also divine in his being, otherworldly, and transcendent. But we need to see one more thing we learn about God from this fourth question in the Westminster Shorter Catechism, which is this…

Point 3: God is…relational.

This, to me, is the most incredible truth about God. The Creator of at least 200 billion galaxies also created us to be in a relationship with him and bring him glory in all we do. Rather than being a God who is silent, unknown, or distant, our God makes himself known to us and reveals his love for us. How? 

First, we see that God is relational in his justice. Throughout Scripture, God’s justice, which is synonymous with his righteousness, is the standard. As one person has said, “In all of God’s external works, he acts justly and righteously, consistent with his own will and nature.” (Stephen J. Wellum, “Systematic Theology. B & H Academic, Brentwood, Tennessee, 2024. p. 652) And, as you would expect, Scripture again echoes this truth. In Deuteronomy 32:4, Moses said of God, “He is the Rock; his deeds are perfect. Everything he does is just and fair. He is a faithful God who does no wrong; how just and upright he is!” (NLT) Again, in Isaiah 30:18, the prophet says, “Therefore the LORD waits to be gracious to you, and therefore he exalts himself to show mercy to you. For the LORD is a God of justice; blessed are all those who wait for him.” (ESV) And in Revelation 16:5-7, as God instructs his angels to pour out the seven bowls of his wrath upon the earth, John hears an “angel who had authority over all water saying, ‘You are just, O Holy One, who is and who always was, because you have sent these judgments. 6  Since they shed the blood of your holy people and your prophets, you have given them blood to drink. It is their just reward.’ 7 And I heard a voice from the altar, saying, ‘Yes, O Lord God, the Almighty, your judgments are true and just.’” (NLT) 

The good news for those who have placed their trust in him is that, because God is just and righteous, we can have confidence that as unjust as our times are and as much injustice as many of us have experienced in our lives, a day is coming when God is going to make all things right for our good and his glory because he loves us. This is what a relational God does for those he loves.  However, he does so in his timeframe rather than ours. 

Second, in the Westminster Shorter Catechism in Question 4, God also reveals that he is relational through his goodness. Now, how is “goodness” defined? One scholar defines it this way, “The goodness of God means that God is the final standard of good, and that all that God is and does is worthy of approval.” (Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology). Let me put this another way. You and I do not have the luxury of defining what is ultimately good for ourselves because that right belongs to God alone. For instance, if you ask a person if they are going to heaven, and their only response is that they think so because they are a “good” person, no one should take comfort in that response. Why? Because Scripture says in Romans 3:10-12, “No one is righteous — not even one. 11 No one is truly wise; no one is seeking God. 12 All have turned away; all have become useless. No one does good, not a single one.” (Romans 3:10-12, NLT)

Yet, Scripture, time and time again, attests to God’s goodness. In Psalm 100:5, Scripture says, “For the LORD is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations.” (ESV)  Psalm 145:9 says, “The LORD is good to all, and his mercy is over all that he has made.” (ESV) And one of the most challenging verses in Scripture to reconcile with a good God when we are going through suffering, but which is no less true, is Romans 8:28, which says, “And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.” (NLT) 

Folks, the biggest reason we struggle with Romans 8:28 so much is because we want the right to ultimately define what is “good” rather than trusting the One who we will never fully understand this side of heaven, who is transcendent and can see the beginning and the end, and yet wants to relate to us as a good and loving God. As one person said, “To have God is to have the supreme good, even if every other good is taken away. God’s goodness can fill the believer's soul with sweet joy when he has an assurance that this God is his God.” (Joel Beeke and Paul Smalley, Reformed Systematic Theology, Vol. 1. Crossway Publishers, Wheaton, IL, 2019, p. 784)

And, as we seek to understand from the Westminster Shorter Catechism how God, who is so far beyond our human comprehension, wants to relate to us, the final way we see it is that, like everything else, he is the one who ultimately defines truth because he is the truth. This means that God’s truth is absolute, solid, and unchanging, again reflecting his very nature. Practically, this exposes the lie that your truth is your truth, and my truth is my truth, and it forces all of us to either accept God as the standard for defining what is true or rely on ourselves to do so. There is no middle ground. And for the one who is a follower of Jesus, there is only one option, which the Scriptures affirm. How?

Listen to the words of David from 2 Samuel 22:31 after God had delivered him from the murderous hand of Saul. He says, “This God— his way is perfect; the word of the LORD proves true; he is a shield for all those who take refuge in him.” (ESV) In Proverbs 30:5, we read, “Every word of God proves true; he is a shield to those who take refuge in him. (ESV) And, as we ponder what really is true and how that belief will ultimately lead us to our final destiny, Jesus says to us in John 17:3, “And this is the way to have eternal life—to know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, the one you sent to earth.” (NLT)

All of this points us to who God really is, as proclaimed by Question 4 of the Westminster Shorter and confirmed by the Bible. “Question: What is God? Answer: God is a Spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable, in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth.”

And this leaves us with the biggest question of all: “How do we respond to this God?” As I see it, we have options. We can deny God and everything about him. We can run from God even though everything we know about him is true. Or we have a final option that one of my favorite Christian authors, Larry Crabb, proposed, which he called “Trembling Trust.” According to Larry Crabb in his book, “When God’s Ways Make No Sense,” "trembling trust" refers to faith or reliance on God that acknowledges our human frailty, vulnerability, fear, and uncertainty. It is what trusting God looks like, even when our faith feels shaky or when we are experiencing doubt and insecurity. What I love the most about this is that it highlights how real and imperfect human faith can be by acknowledging that real trust in God does not mean we have to have unwavering confidence but rather true dependence on him despite our fears and anxieties. So, as we wrap up, I want to leave you with these words from Larry Crabb as an option for how we can respond to a God who is beyond our human comprehension, who is divine, and yet relational.

“At some point, every one of us will have reason to tremble in the presence of a God whose way of loving us is foreign to our natural understanding of love, and whose way of looking out for our well-being violates our sense of goodness. We may quiet our trembling soul beneath a veneer of smiling trust, a confidence that every trial will be transformed into blessing. Or we may simply distract ourselves from our agitated inner world by keeping busy in work, hobbies, or Christian activities. But then we waste a valuable opportunity. Trembling as we serve an unpredictable and untamable God opens the door to resisting and running, distorting and denying - or trusting, even enjoying, our sovereign God.

Trembling is good. It escorts us to a crossroad. Either we trust His goodness or we resist His plan that involves our suffering. Either we trust His plan or we distort it into one we prefer, a more pleasant plan that never introduces us to a holy God. Centuries ago, Joshua told Israel what God's Spirit is telling us today: ‘Choose today whom you will serve’ (Josh. 24:15). Only when we hear God's Spirit will we realize what it means to choose for the sovereign God who sometimes makes no sense or to choose against Him, to believe in a different god who offers a different gospel.

Productive trembling, trembling that leads neither to resisting nor to distorting the unsettling story God is telling, will prove to be productive of trust when our understanding of sovereignty frees us to enjoy our sovereign God. It will not do to force our understanding of sovereignty to better allow us to enjoy God. We must accept whatever view of sovereignty is revealed in Scripture, confident that the sovereign God we meet in the Bible and therefore can meet in life is a God we can enjoy.” (Larry Crabb, When God’s Ways Make No Sense.” Baker Books; Grand Rapids, 2018)

Let's pray together.

CLOSING PRAYER

Father, as difficult as it is sometimes to make sense of what you are doing in our lives, we humbly acknowledge that you are beyond our human comprehension. We will only fully understand your ways once we stand before you face-to-face. There is so much we do not understand, yet you call us to trust you. Even in our questions, you continue to amaze us by sending your Son, who is without sin, to be sin for us so that we may have eternal life in you. Why you would break into space and time to become like us so that you can save us from our sins and give us eternal life is also beyond comprehension. That makes no sense. But you did it. And you continue to sustain us by your Spirit so that no matter what trials or tribulations we experience in this life, we will continue to trust in our God that we do not fully comprehend. As we prepare to take the bread and the cup together, may we not take it for granted, but see it for what it really is. A sign and seal of the promise made by the one true God to his people that our sins are forgiven, our relationship with you is restored, and our inheritance in heaven is guaranteed because of what your Son has accomplished for us on the cross. Thank you that, in your righteousness and holiness, you have chosen to love us. Though we do not deserve it, we give you glory, honor, and praise. For to you alone belongs all the glory. Amen. 

Benediction

“Now all glory to God, who is able to keep you from falling away and will bring you with great joy into his glorious presence without a single fault.  25 All glory to him who alone is God, our Savior through Jesus Christ our Lord. All glory, majesty, power, and authority are his before all time, and in the present, and beyond all time! Amen.” (Jude 24-25)

Brothers and sisters, you are sent!

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