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At first blush, this question may not seem theological at all. After all when it comes to prioritizing and ranking people or things. We have our favorite sports teams and our favorite flavors of ice cream. We prefer to spend time with some people more than others. People cannot go through life without developing preferences for some things over other things.

Yet the most pressing issue that we all have to deal with is what is the most important thing or person in life. What is it that should take precedence over everything else? For some people, this is a person; maybe a family member or a close friend. For others, it is a job or an activity to which they devote all their time and energy. And still for others it is a material object; something that they could not live without.

However, the reality is that most people are busing make gods after their own desires, but unwilling to acknowledge that there is one true God who should have the supreme place in their lives. According to the Scriptures, there really is no question about who is first and best of all. “Thus says the LORD, the King of Israel and his Redeemer, the LORD of hosts; ‘I am the first and I am the last; besides me there is no god” (Isaiah 44:6). Regardless of what we try to replace God with, there is nothing that can compete with God.

Consider the words of the Psalmists: “For You are the LORD Most High over all the earth; You are exalted far above all gods.” (97:9, emphasis added). And again, “For great is the LORD and greatly to be praised, He is to be feared above all gods.” (96:4, emphasis added). Clearly, God expects us to prioritize Him above all else.

For me there is no more profound statement regarding the superiority of God than Psalm 73: 25-26: “Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” Here the Psalmist reaches the conclusion that there is nothing on earth or in heaven which compares in value to God. The reality we have a tendency to look for strength and fulfillment in created things rather than in God. We settle for lesser things, instead of that which matters most.


Have you ever stopped to consider that success might be dangerous? Who doesn’t like to be successful? I mean think about it. Who shows up the DMV and hopes to fail their drivers test? When was the last time a guy asked out a girl and hoped she would say no? Nobody applies for a job hoping not to get it. We all desire success. We want to past the test or get the job. We want the girl to say yes.

However, most of us have experienced failure (some more serious than others). While it seems like most people are quick to think about their failures and find some glimmer of good in the midst of the disappointment, most of us don’t give our successes much thought. We stop to ask all sorts of questions when we fail. Where did I go wrong? What could I have done differently? Why didn’t I get the past up for the promotion? Just to name a few. But it seems like we just take our successes for granted.

So here is why I think that success can be dangerous: It causes us to think too highly of ourselves and forget the grace of God. We achieve some accomplishment and forget that if it was not for God’s being for us, we would have failed. Most of us probably don’t think much of Psalm 127

Unless the Lord builds the house,
    those who build it labor in vain.
Unless the Lord watches over the city,
    the watchman stays awake in vain.
It is in vain that you rise up early
    and go late to rest,
eating the bread of anxious toil;
    for he gives to his beloved sleep. (Psalm 127:1-2)

Or think about the story of David and Goliath? Can you image how different the story would be if David attributed his success to his amazing skill with a sling and a stone? Yet David finds courage to face the giant not in his own skill, but in the provision of God. God had delivered him from the lion and the bear, so surely he could deliver him from Goliath. The battle would not be dependent on ultimately on his skill, but on God’s fighting for him.

So the next time your face with a challenge, remember to entrust your success (or failure) to the One who controls all things. And if he blesses your endeavor and you find success take some time to reflect on His grace and His provision. Ask your self some questions: Who am I that he has blessed me with this success? What has God done to prepare me to be successful in this moment? Does success mean a new stewardship to be responsible for?  Bottom line: We usually have no problems running to God in our failures, may He show us how to run to Him in our successes as well.

And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all around and within, and day and night they never cease to say, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!” And whenever the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to him who is seated on the throne, who lives forever and ever, twenty-four elders fall down before him who is seated on the throne and worship him who lives forever and ever. They cast their crowns before the throne, saying, “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 4:8-11)

In this passage, we see the four living creatures gathered around the throne of “the Lord God Almighty”. As they behold the one seated upon the throne, they are compelled to draw attention to His self-existence. He is the One, “who was and is and is to come!” He has no beginning or end. He is the same now as he was and as he will be. The Lord Almighty does not change! He is the same yesterday, today, and forever!!!

But this vision of the throne of God also includes the praise of the twenty-four elders, who praise the worthiness of the One who sits upon the throne. But of all the works of God they could consider in their praise, they focus their attention upon God as the sovereign creator of all things – “for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.”. God was not compelled to create anything! You and I were not created by our will, but because of the will of God!

Questions to Ponder:
What are the implications of the reality that God is self-existent? How often do you remember that you exist by God’s will? You and I exist because God!! Do we exist as instruments to fulfill the will of God? Or does God exist as an instrument to fulfill our wills? If God is the Creator and we are part of His creation, who has the right to tell whom what to do?

In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!” (Isaiah 6:1-3)

“The LORD of hosts” is the one to whom these seraphim ascribe the title “Holy, holy, holy.” LORD in all capital letters indicates to us that they were declaring Yahweh, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as Holy. This is not some unknown deity that is declared to be holy, but the very God who revealed Himself to Moses in a burning bush (Ex. 3) and then delivered Israel from bondage in Egypt. (Ex. 14) and led Moses to declare: “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).  This same God had revealed Himself through the law and the former prophets, and now was making Himself known through the prophet Isaiah.

Twenty-five times in the book of Isaiah God is referred to as “the Holy One of Israel”. Therefore, it seems that this revelation of the holiness of God to Isaiah left a lasting mark on his prophetic ministry. In his vision, Isaiah, beholds seraphim ministering in the presences of the enthrone Lord of Israel and worshipping Him for His unrivaled holiness. Notice the immensity of this God – “his robe filled the temple” and “the whole earth is full of his glory”. His presence is pervasive. His glory is immense! He is so massive and majestic that “the whole earth is full of his glory!” There is no square of inch of all creation that does not in some way and in some measure display the glory of God. As we look around, we should see the glory of God, the glory of the LORD! As the Psalmist says, “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork” (Psalm 19:1).

Now here is something to think about: Do you see the glory of God displayed in the creation around you? Do you see the weightiness of God displayed in the thunderstorm or the calmest day? Do you see how the wonder of God is set forth in the solo sun that shines by day and millions stars that shine at night?

Before leaving Isaiah 6, we should take note of Isaiah’s response in verse 5: “And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!”” Isaiah’s concern is over this “unclean lips” and that he “dwells in the midst of a people of unclean lips”. This is no little concern. He declares, “Woe is me! For I am lost…” He not just convicted but terrified. He is undone. He is uncomfortable (to say the least). What has brought on this fear? It has been brought about by His beholding “the King, the LORD of hosts!”

I preparing for my School lesson this last week (click here for audio) I began to realize why it is so many people find Jesus so offensive, especially those who thing they are righteous enough for heaven. I taught on the parable of the Two Sons in Matthew 21 and the Lost (Prodigal) Son in Luke 15. As I studied the first parable regarding Christ’s authority I began to realize that everything Christ did on earth (teaching, preaching, healing, casting out demons) was meant to point to the fact that He had authority to forgive sins. Then as I continued to study Luke 15, I realize that was exactly the problem that the Pharisees had. They were angered at the fact that Jesus determined when a person was to be forgiven and not them. Just as the older son in the story of the prodigal son was angered at the father forgiving the younger son. In short, they were angry, because Jesus had mercy on whom He had mercy and compassion on whom he had compassion. They were mad, because as God, Jesus was the sovereign dispenser of mercy, grace, and compassion.

Yesterday I was having a conversation with a co-worker who is Muslim. We were talking about matters of religion and the fact that we both recognize that we are bad people, or at least that we do bad things. She as well as I both recognize that we are in need of forgiveness. The problem is that her belief system does not provide a basis for a holy, righteous, and just God to forgive without compromising his character.

As I was thinking more about the nature of forgiveness and Christ as the exclusive basis for our forgiveness before God, I was reminding of Ephesians 4:32,

“Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.”

“Just as” – those words are strong and yet seem so vague. We are to forgive others “just as” God has forgiven us in Christ, but “just” how has God forgiven us in Christ? It is a question we every Christian must endeavor to answer, if they are to be able to forgive others in like manner. So if you will join me in considering the following ways in which God has forgiven us in Christ:

  1. He forgave those who had offended Him. This may go without saying, but the very fact that forgiveness is need points to an offense. That we have in some way offended and wronged God, that we have sinned against Him.
  2. He forgave in kindness not retribution. His forgiveness was done is such a way that we need not bear the retribution for the wrong that we have done to whom, rather He Himself has choose to bear the retribution do for the very offenses that were committed against Him. Even more He has done us good in giving us forgiveness. “For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God” (2Pet. 3:18)
  3. He forgave in a way of tenderheartedness and sympathy. The securing of our forgiveness before God was secured in a way of compassion and piety. For Christ knowing from times past the depravity of man’s hearts and the desperate state of His peoples condition, set to deliver them from their helpless condition. Yet Christ compassion and sympathy for His people is not merely cognitive, but experiential as well, in that He partook of the same nature and was made in the likeness of sinful flesh. As a man he endured those temptations and trials of heart which are common to all men. Yet as the Son of God, he endured them all to their fullest extent and yet was without sin. Thus their is no degree of temptation or trial with which the Lord Christ is not acquainted and has not overcome. Thus the author of Hebrews tells us, “Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (4:14-16, emphasis added)
  4. He forgave them completely and finally. In saying that He forgave them completely, I mean that He forgave their sins once for all. He has already satisfied all the demands of justice regarding both that obedience or righteousness required by the law and that wrath or penalty that our disobedience to the law requires. In saying that He forgave them finally, I mean that the death He died and the life He lived shall always and ever more be the believers also by means of their union with Him. All whom God in Christ forgave, he forgave forever more and He shall remember their sins no more.

Yet there is no other person who has provided the grounds for forgiveness and at the same time upheld the requirements of divine justice. And who so so in such a way of love and grace, that He would bear their iniquities so that He might forgive them. That He would become under wrath of God, so that God might turn His wrath from them and grant them forgiveness.

So might find it odd that I would right so much about Christ’s life and death at time of year when many will remember His birth. But is that not another testimony to His kindness and tenderheartedness in forgiving us, that He who gives to each of us breath and life and being would stoop down and become a man. Furthermore, that he he would enter into His creation in a way of humility being born in stable to a poor Jewish peasant. That He would be a king who came not to be served but to serve and to give His life – to die – as a ransom for many. So that God might in Him forgive us.

“By nature, since the entrance of sin, no man has any communion with God. He is light, we darkness; and what communion has light with darkness [2 Cor. 6:14]? He is life, we are dead – he is love, and we are enmity; and what agreement can there be between us? Men in such a condition have neither Christ, nor hope, nor God in the world (Eph. 2:12), “being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them” (Eph. 4:18). Now two cannot walk together unless they be agreed (Amos 3:3). While there is this distance between God and man, there is no walking together for them in any fellowship or communion. Our first interest in God was so lost by sin, as that there was left unto us (in ourselves) no possibility of recovery. As we had deprived ourselves of all power for a return, so God had not revealed any way of access unto himself, or that he could, under any consideration, be approached unto by sinners in peace. Not any work that God had made, not any attribute that he had revealed, could give the least light into such a dispensation.” (Communion with the Triune God, 90)

Here Owen reflects on the condition of man apart from the person and work of Jesus Christ. He reminds us that there was nothing good in man, and that it was on account of nothing that man did that the fellowship between God and man could be restored. Even more, Owen hints at the reality that the God’s work in creation and revelation of His attributes through it did not suffice to shed any light on the means of God’s restoring man to fellowship with Himself, but light of the gospel is shed through the gospel: God’s work of redemption in the person of Jesus Christ.

Over the last several months there has been one particular verse that I have often found my attention drawn to, especially when it comes to the issue of dealing with sin in my own life. And that is 1 Corithians 3:18. 

But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.

Later in 2 Corithians 4:4-6, Paul tells us that the glory of God is beheld in the gospel of Jesus Christ, who is the image of God. It has been a tremendous reminder to me to pursue right behavior not through my doing, but rather through my beholding. The power to life the life that honors God does not come through human invention or adherence to a set of does and don’ts (even if the list is the ten commandments). The life that honors God is empowered by beholding the glory of the Lord in the person of Jesus Christ. It comes through dependence upon “His precious and magnificent promises” which He has given to us by “His own glory and excellence.” (2 Pet 1:2-4)

This morning I was reminded again of one of the most fundamental displays of “His own glory and excellence” in the uniting of two natures (God and Man) in the person of Christ. Why should that seem so amazing? I think it is amazing to think first of the nature of God, who is the infinite, eternal, self-existant, self-sustaining, God who has no need of us and who would be perfectly glorify first without every having created the world, but also in the eternal condemnation of that creation once it had fallen. And then, to think that He would condescend to take on human flesh – not only to further glorify Himself – but in so doing to redeem a part of His creation from their fallen state. And furthuremore, to think that He – The Sovereign Creator – would allow His creation to nail Him to a tree so that He might be able to extend mercy to them and yet uphold His righteousness and His justice. What a great encouragement that is to me that if the One who would undertake such on loving act on my behalf is also the One who governs the course of history and the events of each day of my life.

For the last year or so I have been slowly working my way through the book of Romans. It has been at times one of the most humbling studies, while at others the most encouraging and up lifting. Let me share some of the hightlights of my last year of study.

  1. Foolishness. For a long time I attributed the foolishness of sin to the harmful effects that it has, such as hurting ourselves or others, but ultimately offending God. After considering Romans 1:22-23, I would suggest that the foolishness of sin does not stem from the consequences of sin, but rather from the surpassing value that we forsake in the act of sinning. “Professing to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man …” Notice that folly is connected with the exchange of the glory of God for something else. A series contemplation of sin should lead us to realize the vanity, not to mention the offense, of it. We exchange the worship of insurpassible worth of God for the worship of worthless things – or rather things that must derive their worth from the God. We exchange the eternal enjoyment of God for the fleeting pleasure of sin. We exchange Him who is of infinitely good for the partaking of that which is infinitely destructive. No matter how you cut the cake we are fools for having abandonded the God who created us for the creation.
  2. Fear of God. While this shouldn’t have really seemed to be such a profound topic, I am some what slow to catch on sometimes. When on considers what the fundamental root of all sin is most people would say pride, the exultation of self, which seems like a fair assessment. But let me suggest we look at it from a different perspective – that the root of sin is ultimately the lack of fear (or reverence) for God. “There is no fear of God before their eyes.” (3:18) Now if we see God rightly, I think it would total change our perspective on everything. If we saw how holy and righteous and just God is would we not come to hate our sinfulness and rebellion against Him. If we saw how patient and kind and tolerate and gracious and merciful He is toward us would it not lead us to repentance (2:4) and to strive more diligently after personal holiness and devotion to God. If we saw how powerful and wise and good He was would we question His providential workings in our lifes or would we praise Him even in the days of trials and suffering. The way then to deal with sin is to behold more clearly the character of God.
  3. Soveriegnty of God and Justice. By far one of the most humbling passages to study was Romans 9 as Paul lays out the sovereignty of God is salvation. “So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy.” (9:16) It is an extraordanary thing to consider that ones eternal destiny is not in ones own hands. Or rather that if left to my own will or running that results would be eternal condemnation and God would be right and just and fair in carrying out my sentence. But yet what great encouragement it is to think that my eternal well fair is the hands of an ever faithful and loving God.
  4. Great Mercy and Great Love. Let me end with this last consideration, over the last year as I have contemplated the love of God particularly in light of Romans 5:1-11 and 8:28-39, I have been utterly amazed that God’s would show such love and compassion, such mercy and grace, toward one such as I. As I have contemplated this amazing reality even today, I am yet aware that I have only begun to scratch the surface of the “depths of both the wisdom and the knowledge of God.” It is my hope and prayer even for the years ahead that I would be more amazed at who Jesus Christ IS that would cause Him to do what He DID, so I may tell others about this great God and Savior.
  5. Christ and the Cross. Ok, I lied, I am compeled to add one more. I have come to realize that the glory of God is not simply found in the Cross (i.e. what Jesus did), but also in the Character of the One who hung upon it (i.e who Jesus is). Without Christ, the God-Man, the Cross is simply and instrument of dead. For it was the very nature of the One who hung on Calvary that gave the cross its meaning. It is Christ who turns a simply blood stained piece of wood into a vibrant demonstration of the glory of God. And without the Cross, we would never have seen the vibrancy and beauty of the glorious God in the person of Christ. For it was by means of the Cross that Christ manifest the glory of the Father in such a way to us that we might come again to fear and adore the one who we had foolishly forsaken. So Christians let us seek to stir one another up not only to love and good deeds, but to the beholding of the glory of God in the Person of Christ and in the Cross of Christ.

I finished reading the chapter on John Owen in Piper’s book Contending for Our All this last week and it has been tremendous food for thought. Particularly thougts like this: “Our happiness consisteth not in the knowing the things of the gospel, but in the doing of them.” Being of a rather intellectual persuasion it is rather easy for me to get rapped up “in the knowing” rather that “the doing” of the thing of the gospel. Now I don’t intent to imply that what we need is to put more effort into “the doing,” but rather to contend that we need the be more persuaded of the things that we claim to believe.

The last few weeks as I have been doing evangelism downtown, I have found myself using this illustration to demonstrate a proper knowing. Suppose I came into your house and exclaimed, “Your house is on fire!” Now I would suppose that unless you were deaf, you would know what I meant by the statement “Your house is on fire!” You would that it was “house”, a building in which be live. You would know it was “your” house and not anothers that was being considered. And you would know what was meant by it being “on fire”, particularly that it was a danger to your home and your being. Now what good would it do you to know all that if it did not beget in you a proper response. What good did the knowledge serve it it did not move you to flee the fire or call for the fire department? So to our knowledge of God and the gospel is very dangerous indeed if it does not beget a proper response in the us.

Owen understood what so much of fail to sometimes. That it is only when the knowing the Ways of God, produce in us a following of the Ways of God, that we find communion with God. Owen writes,

“When the heart is cast indeed into the mould of the doctine that the mind embraceth – when the evidence and necsessity of the truth abides in us – when not the sense of the words only is in our heads, but the sense of the things abides in our hearts – when we have communion with God in the doctrine we contend for – then we shall be garrisoned by the grace of God against all the assaults of men.”

What a challenge this has been to me, to seek God’s grace to impress upon my own heart the reality of the truths that I believe. So that my life would be more than contending for doctrine, but also communining with God. But it should also be noted that this communion with God is derived, not from personal experience, but rather from doctrine. For it is the doctrines of God, who He is and what He has done, that are set for in Scripture that are the grounds upon which we have communion with God.

In order to commune with the Father we must know the Son for it is the Son who makes known the Father (Jn. 8:19). But to know the Son you must have the Spirit, for it is the Spirit of God that testifies to the Son of God. (Jn. 15:26, cf. 1 Cor. 2:11-16). Yet it must be recongnized that the Spirit of God has chosen to record that which is to be known about the Father and the Son in a written form, the scriptures (Jn. 5:39, cf. 2 Pet. 1:21, 1 Pet. 1:10-12). To put it simply: In order to commune with God we must seek to know the Incarnate Word, Jesus Christ, through the Written Word, the Bible.