"...I am God, and there is no other..."

Services

Sunday— 9:30 AM Sunday School, 10:15 AM fellowship, 10:30 AM Worship Service

Oct. 01

When I was just getting started in the ministry, I was an associate pastor on staff at a Presbyterian congregation west of Fort Worth in Weatherford, TX. One day I had this gentleman show up at the church who has not a member of the church. He asked to see the pastor. I told him it was the pastor’s day off but I was the associate pastor. He said to me, “Okay then – you’ll do.” I began to quake in my shoes as I led him down the hall to my office, wondering in my head, over and over again, “I’ll do for what?”

Turns out this gentleman had a spiritual dilemma, one that I have run into time and time again over the course of my ministry. This was the first time in my ministry I was faced with this spiritual dilemma. The gentleman was a Christian, he was an active member in another church, of another denomination in Weatherford. And he did not want to go to his pastor, he explained to me, because he was too embarrassed to have this very personal conversation with his own pastor.

I listened intensely as this gentleman began to explain to me that he just did not feel that he was good enough to be saved. He was certain that his lifestyle and his lifestyle choices and the mistakes he had made throughout his life disqualified him from salvation. He was baptized as an adolescent, but he admitted to me that he had been racked with spiritual guilt all his adult life because he just did not feel saved, he just did not feel he was good enough to be saved by God.

I was scared half out of my wits. At that point in my career, such deep spiritual dilemmas were way above my pay scale, expertise, and experience. But from somewhere deep inside me, someplace unfathomable to me at the time, I came up with this: “Your salvation is not dependent on how good you are; it is dependent on how good God is.”

That statement crystalized a lot of things for this gentleman, spiritually. It took the focus off him and his responsibility for his salvation, and whether or not he could be good enough to merit salvation, and it put this gentleman’s salvation in the hands of God; and more particularly, on God’s prior initiative, God’s prior action, God’s reaching out to this gentleman long, long before the gentleman could even respond to God.

It is this God-centered, God-focused initiative that is the hallmark of Reformed theology and the bedrock of the Reformed/Presbyterian faith. The Book of Order of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) states that “in its confessions, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) expresses the faith of the Reformed tradition. Central to this tradition is the affirmation of the majesty, holiness, and providence of God who in Christ and by the power of the Holy Spirit creates, sustains, rules, and redeems the world in the freedom of sovereign righteousness and love” (F-2.05).

Sovereignty of God. Someone once noted that the sovereignty of God is the sun around which the theology of John Calvin orbits. Our Affirmation of Faith today will give you a good scholastic, or intellectual feel of the Reformed faith’s high regard for God and the sovereignty of God. But in a nutshell, sovereignty of God means that God is it, God is the uncreated, prior being, that set all things in motion, and is the absolute, unparalleled, ruler of all things. As the prophet of the Babylonian Exile so beautifully phrases it today in our passage from Isaiah, “…for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is no one like me…” (46:9).

In our passage from the book of Acts today, The Apostle Paul is in Athens and he notices a shrine the Athenians have erected entitled: “To An Unknown God.” Paul responds to the Athenians who have gathered to hear him preach with a lesson on the sovereignty of God: “What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it, he who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mortals life and breath and all things” (Acts 17:23-25).

Paul proclaims to the Athenians the sovereign God who is creator, who is Lord of heaven and earth, the God who needs absolutely no enhancement of silver or gold to be God, the God who has no equal in the whole cosmos – Paul says this sovereign, majestic God gives to all mortals life and breath and all things.

The spiritual forebear of the Reformed faith, John Calvin, notes that God’s sovereignty, the majesty of God, is so far beyond our human capacity to know or give words to, that it is better to adore God’s sovereignty than investigate it, in Calvin’s exact words: “…so we do not remain overwhelmed by so great a splendor” (Instruction in Faith (1537), ed. Paul T. Fuhrman, WJKP, 1977, page 23).

What Calvin is sure we can know about this majestic, sovereign God, is plain enough in Scripture and experience for us to see. Calvin believes Scripture teaches us that God is immortal and the beginning and origin of all things; God created the world and sustains it; God has the sovereignty and power to order a great and complex variety of beings and things throughout the world and universe. Calvin believes Scripture teaches us, and experience confirms, that God is a sovereign Lord of goodness and justice and mercy. Calvin writes, God’s “goodness which has been the reason in itself why all these things (earth, space) have been created and now subsist; [God’s] justice which manifests itself in a marvelous way in the protection of good people and in the retribution of the bad; [God’s] mercy which endures our iniquities with such a great kindliness in order to call us to amendment. Certainly all this should abundantly teach us all of such a God as it is necessary to know” (Instruction in Faith (1537), page 23).

The gentleman that approached me early in my career was facing a spiritual dilemma because he was too human-focused when it came to his eternal salvation. He was certain that there was something he had to do or be or become by his own best efforts in order to be saved. The gentleman was in this spiritual dilemma because he thought, or was taught, that God was a God of wrath and retribution and retaliation against human sin, human decadence, human depravity. The gentleman could not imagine the sovereign God of Jesus Christ who reaches out to humanity, unconditionally, in grace and love and mercy, long, long before we can be good enough, or right enough, or pure enough to deserve God’s attention.

Through the years I have often had a conversation with this gentleman in my heart who approached me so many, many years ago. I would like to have had the ability to say to him then what I say to you now. That God is sovereign, there is no other. And though God is sovereign, this does not mean that God is powerfully wrathful or immeasurably mean. Jesus tells us God is good (Luke 18:18,19). And it is God’s sovereign, powerful, immeasurable goodness that we must lean into and trust in all matters – including our eternal salvation. We must trust God whom the prophets and Jesus tell us is faithful, tender, and merciful (see for ex. Isaiah 54:10, Isaiah 40:2, Jeremiah 9:23-24, Luke 6:36). We must trust that this sovereign God was at the beginning of all things and will be at the end, and that everything in between, including our lives and times, are in this faithful, tender, merciful God’s hands and ultimately will bend to God’s purposes.

Presbyterian theologian and author Donald McKim has noted this distinctive of Reformed theology; Mckim writes, “Reformed theology lives from stressing the prior initiative of God and our grateful response. This is the Reformed faith’s inclination, its bent, its proclivity…The Reformed affirmation is toward seeing in all theological declarations that God is prior, God acts; that humans respond, and respond as grateful persons” (Introducing the Reformed Faith, WJKP, 2001, page 179).