Sunday, February 28, 2010

Obeying the "Authorities." What does the Bible REALLY say!

One of the areas of real confusion for me for years was what does the bible say about obeying the authorities, particularly in Romans chapter 13. Does it really teach obedience to government is unconditional as many churches suggest?

I found for the most part, much of the "organized" church hasn't given a great deal of critical thought to this very important question (which is becoming increasingly important due to the breakdown of morality in American culture as well as in government). Therefore I wrote this a few years back and expanded it right after teaching through the book of Romans in 2009. If you like what I have written, I highly recommend you also read "The Establishment and Limits of Civil Government" by James M. Wilson.

The Bible and Obeying Authorities
Rom 13:1 Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. 2 Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. 3 For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, 4 for he is God's servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God's wrath on the wrongdoer. 5 Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God's wrath but also for the sake of conscience. 6 For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. 7 Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed. (ESV)
The bible clearly teaches in the above passage as well as I Pet 2:13 we are to obey the authorities. Few Christians would dispute this. However, it is often assumed by many Christians that a government’s validity and the requirement to obey it come simply by virtue of its existence and we are therefore required to obey them unconditionally.  Those who take this view site Romans 13:1b, “…For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.” Some assert this passage teaches that government has unconditional authority without restrictions; that Christians must obey government no matter what it does or demands of its citizens. Part of the reason for this is many consider obeying the authorities only from the vantage point of the Christians responsibility to government. As a result, rarely do they stop to ask whether Government has a responsibility to God or the citizen, Christian or otherwise and what that might be.

Do these passages really teach that obeying the authorities is absolute and stands alone in a vacuum? That anything told to us or asked of us by government is a mandate from God Himself with whom we must comply, simply because government mandates it. Are there any other passages that indicate otherwise? Are there any conditions within the context of Romans 13 that put restrictions on Romans 13:1b and I Peter 
2:13? The fact is those who are quick to advocate unconditional obedience and cite only Romans 13:1-2 as an absolute standard must ignore not only other clear teaching of scripture but the immediate context.

Within the rest of chapter 13 certain qualifications or restrictions are clearly indicated that are seldom considered by “unconditional obedience” advocates much less discussed. As an example, in Rom 13:7 we are told, “Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.” Many may not consider that this clearly implies something may not be owed, otherwise why use the word “owed?” Why not simply say, “pay all taxes. Show anyone in authority respect etc.” instead of according to whom or what is owed. It should be clear that we are not to pay taxes that are not owed or to give respect or honor to those who don’t deserve it. As the saying goes, authority may be given but respect is earned. Though this saying isn't scripture I think it is supported by scriptural principle and hope to demonstrate that in this paper. 

On the tax question, a simple example would be whether we should honor a tax bill sent to us from the government of China. The answer obviously is of course not. This might seem like an silly illustration but I use an extreme example to show there must be a binding legal arrangement between the “taxer” and the “taxee” before an obligation exists and we should not assume we have an obligation simple because someone claims there is one or asserts they have the authority to make a claim or demand. Obviously, the only taxes that apply to us here in America are those our law requires of us, hence the instruction to pay taxes to whom they are due and not just to anyone for any reason.

The overall point is the commands in this passage are not absolute or without conditions and we must stop and consider what we are being told and what those conditions are and not assume a meaning outside the immediate context of the passage as well as the rest of scripture.

For example one condition mentioned, though not apparent at first, is in Rom 13:1 “Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers." (KJV) The word “power” (or “authorities” in some translations) is exousia in the original which carries the idea of “privileged” or “delegated” authority. A “higher power” in this passage is not referring to independent powers (as would be the case with dunamus, the other common Greek word for power) where power is inherent within the power holder. Exousia is a power that is assigned or delegated making the holder of it accountable to the assigner.  It is a power given that must be exercised within the sphere of it’s delegation.

Also because all legitimate power comes from God, “for there is no (delegated) power but of God…” whatever power that exists legitimately is only because it is granted by God or “of God.” Indeed the next phrase “and those (delegated authorities) that exist have been instituted by God…” clarifies this even further.

We see another condition when Paul goes on to explain why obedience must only be to higher delegated powers. Higher is “excellent” in the original which is another qualification set upon government. So the powers of government are not only delegated but must be excellent.

What is meant by excellent or **higher powers in verse one (translated "governing" in other translations)? Since the powers here are delegated, we must ask who or where do these authorities look to for instruction on how to conduct themselves excellently? Are they merely to look to themselves?

It stands to reason these subordinate or delegated powers/authorities (exousia) must be subject to the source of their delegation i.e. God Himself, since it is God who has ordained or instituted them. Simply stated, they must exercise authority only in the manner prescribed by the one who gives them their delegation. This is what is meant to rule excellently for they rule according to the excellent standard of God’s law, not by their own standards.  

We get a further clue of the nature of their authority in Rom 13:3 which says, “For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad…”

In Rom 13:4 we are told, "...Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, 

So what happens when you do good and receive governments disapproval. This verse along with its context clearly indicates civil authorities are operating as a Gods appointees when punishing wrongdoers. And if so what does this say if they are punishing those who do good? Have they not abandoned their assignment? What is our obligation to them when they do so? The context would suggest there would be no obligation to such authorities. We hope to prove this more clearly from additional points in the context of Rom 13 and other passages as we go on. 

Legitimate government is that government which punishes evil and rewards good. If it rewards evil and punishes good, then it is no longer carrying out the roll God has assigned.

This same condition is mentioned in the Peter passage as well

1Pe 2:13  Be subject for the Lord's sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme,  1Pe 2:14  or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good.

Who ultimately decides what is good or bad conduct if not God Himself. Certainly this is not determined by fallen men placed in authority regardless of how high their station. Since God is the ultimate Judge and the only one who determines what is “good” or “bad conduct” and these authorities are instituted by Him, it stands to reason they are required to administer justice only as God defines it, not as they define it. This may not necessarily address every specific law implemented but all laws must be in harmony with God’s overall moral law and not contrary to it. It would go contrary to everything taught in scripture for the authorities to be authorized to punish folks for good conduct and reward them for bad conduct. How could a “minister of God” carry out actions contrary to God’s commands and remain God’s true minister? Would a righteous, legitimate God-fearing authority approve wickedness or condemn righteousness? Would God have wrath toward someone practicing righteousness instead of wickedness or approve of judgment or punishment toward someone practicing righteousness instead of wickedness? The answer should be obvious.

Also note Paul happens to define righteous behavior from verse 8 through the rest of the chapter 13. In fact in verses 13:9-10 he refers specifically to some of the 10 commandments of the OT and the 2nd greatest commandment to love others as yourself. Given this is the immediate context addressing the role of government leaves no doubt as to what God means by “good” or “bad” behavior for anyone, particularly any government official who might happen to read this passage and looking to it to justify their conduct and authorize their authority.

Paul repeats what Christ had already asserted when he states in both 13:8 and 10 that loving one another is the fulfilling of the law. Is there any doubt this should also be the standard by which governments are to operate. Would not the overriding guiding principle of good government be to insure doing onto others as you would have them do unto you i.e. punish evil doers and reward those who do good?

Not only are instructions given on how to treat our fellow man in 13 but at the end of chapter 12 as well.

Rom 12:9  Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good.
Rom 12:10  Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.
Rom 12:11  Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord.
Rom 12:12  Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.
Rom 12:13  Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.
Rom 12:14  Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.
Rom 12:15  Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.
Rom 12:16  Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight.
Rom 12:17  Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all.
Rom 12:18  If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.
Rom 12:19  Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, "Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord."
Rom 12:20  To the contrary, "if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head."
Rom 12:21  Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Unfortunately, since many chapter divisions made by men separate what God intends to be connected we can miss the connection. The end of chapter 12 is clearly connected with chapter 13. This is obvious now that we consider it but it is rarely acknowledged as significant among those who advocate unconditional obedience to all authorities. However, it is very significant that the first part of Romans 13 dealing with obeying the authorities is sandwiched between clear instructions at the end of chapter 12, as well as instructions through the remainder of chapter 13 on what constitutes “good conduct.” Romans 13:1-2 is surrounded before and behind on how to treat our fellow man. You get the sense that Paul, under the inspiration of God’s Spirit, was deliberately making sure there was no doubt as to the standard by which governing authorities must rule. 

It is clear from the immediate context that good or bad conduct is determined by God alone, not government. God doesn't give government Cart Blanche to do whatever they wish and act contrary to His word. He is the ultimate authority and they are His ministers accountable to Him to rule as He calls/delegates them to. How could it be any other way and how could the authorities be true “ministers of God” otherwise?

Continuing on this same point, verse 3 begins with "For..." This is the word gar in the original and means, “assigning a reason” and can be translated “because” or “therefore.” i.e. the grounds or reason for the validity of the authorities mentioned in the proceeding verses is because or “for” they are a terror to bad conduct, not good. This clearly suggests if they are not such an authority, all previous commands to obey them do not apply. Remember, “…respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.”  Again our obligation is to obey the authorities that are a terror to bad conduct and a rewarder of good as defined by God, the Giver and Standard of all law and the ground for all morality.

A different point worth mentioning is who does “every” apply to when it says, “let every soul be subject…” in verse 1. Every means every, right? You might be thinking about now "well duh!" My point is wouldn't that include those in authorities as well as any other citizen? If “every” didn't apply to the authorities themselves then what or who would in fact be the authority they are answerable to, themselves? What law would the authorities themselves be subject to if they are the law? Would they not need to be subject to someone outside themselves? Given mans propensity away from God and towards being self serving, the answer should be obvious.

It makes no sense they would answer only to themselves, particularly since they are delegated authorities and ministers of God. Than would they answer to their fellow authorities? For one, man is fallible at best. It would also make it too easy for one authority to “look the other way” for the sake of a “brother.” In fact isn't this what already goes on today and why we see so much corruption in high places. In either case, no man, whether in a ruling position or not, is above the law; not man’s law and certainly not God’s.

In light of the above points we could legitimately arrange verses 1-4 as follows:

Rom 13:3 because (gar) rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad and... 4 because (gar) he is God's servant for your good... 1 Let every person be subject to the(se) governing authorities. For (gar) there is no (delegated) authority except from God, and those (such authorities) that exist have been instituted by God. 2 Therefore whoever resists (such) authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist (such authorities) will incur judgment. ...Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, 4 ...But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For (gar) he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God's wrath on the wrongdoer.

Obviously God inspired Paul to write it as is in it's original form. However a straight word for word rendering of Greek to English does not always clearly convey the intent of the original. Which is why the Greek can be helpful. The order can flow differently in the Greek which is why you will see a different rendering of a passage between different translations (the various translations of Rom 8:28 would be a good example of this). The above order is merely offered to help bring some clarity to what God intended via his agent Paul while remaining true to the original meaning within it's context. I recommend you to study this passage and make sure my arrangement does so. 

We do not need the Greek however to clearly see that the solution to not having a fear of government but rather being approved by it, is simply by doing good. Is this not a clear indication that government is to rule according to God’s law? If so, what does this say about our obligation to government that rules contrary to God’s law?

Christ addressing "ruling authorities" 

In considering Christ, how did Jesus handle the Jewish authorities of His day? Did he always agree with them and blindly submit to them? Did he ever speak out against misuse or abuse of authority? Did he simply ignore the misapplication of Jewish law when he saw it taking place? No! He challenged these leaders on several occasions. In fact His most scathing words were for the religious leaders of the Jews, the Scribes and Pharisees. See Matthew chapters 6:1-5,16 chapter 15, and 23Joh 8:43,44. Though they were not the ultimate civil authority in their given circumstance (Rome was), these leaders within Israel carried out limited civil oversight as well as a spiritual authority. They certainly had enough influence to persuade Pilot to have Christ crucified. 

He called these leaders snakes, fools, self righteous, murderers and hypocrites; the blind leading the blind. And these are only some of the descriptions He gave them. Pretty scathing words considering these were authorities/leaders of his day within 
Israel. (Might Christ’s scathing rebukes suggest that due to their unique role and influence, leaders are actually to be held to a higher standard?) So were Christ’s actions in conflict with Romans 13? Obviously they could never be as Christ was completely righteous in all he said and did. If they were not, why not?

The simple explanation of this apparent contradiction is we are to obey the authorities unless 

1.      They ask us to directly violate God's clear law taught elsewhere or 
2.     They are acting in clear violation of God’s law and truth themselves.  

The point is Romans 13 must be interpreted in the context of ALL of scripture. How Christ handled the authorities is something most who take the position of unconditional obedience rarely if ever even bring up. It doesn't even occur to them that Christ do not always and blindly obey these authorities but in fact rebuked and chastised them on many occasions when they were in violation of God’s word.

The bottom line is God's word not only within but also outside of Romans 13 gives examples that qualify and even supersede the view of unconditional obedience taught by some within the church today. That is because God is the ultimate authority of all men and to whom all must ultimately give an account, especially those in authority. Because of their unique role and calling as God’s special servants/ministers of justice, they have an even greater accountability to God. Rom 13:4 “…he is God's servant” and Rom 13:4 “…the authorities are ministers of God…” We must ask ourselves when those in authority are disobeying God or asking us to do the same, are they still serving God or have they abdicated their delegation and God’s calling? When we stop to consider it, it would make no sense for God to have qualifications or guidelines for spiritual ministers, yet have none for civil ministers of justice?

In summary of Romans 13, it should be apparent that obeying the authorities does not stand alone in a vacuum. The simple but oft overlooked fact is their authority is delegated and not absolute. The basis for their authority does not reside within them, it comes only from God and therefore they are particularly responsible to act according to God’s law as His representatives, just as those God has delegated as his spiritual representatives, such as pastors and teachers. 

If a spiritual minister can be disqualified from his sphere of ministry should not a civil minister be also? If they do not act according to God's law they are acting outside the sphere of their God given authority; hence the admonition of Paul to give honor to whom honor is due. By their violation of God's requirements as we have laid out, they disqualify themselves by not doing what is needed to illicit due honor. 

Now we will look at other passages to see if the above understanding is just isolated within Romans and Christ's handling of leaders or is it also supported elsewhere.

Do we find any concrete examples that we are to obey the authorities if we are commanded by them to violate God’s higher authority? Yes. Are we to obey them? No, we are not. As Peter said, I must obey God rather then menAct 4:18-21Act 5:27-29. These passages are clear indication if someone in a position of authority asks us to disobey God they are acting as mere men and no longer as God’s representatives and delegates. Their role of authority is not absolute but conditional. No man is above God's rule/law, especially those who are called to administer it.

So where does this notion of unconditional obedience come from if it’s not supported in scripture and why is it so prevalent among many in the church. I suggest it is lingering remnant rooted in a fallacious notion that comes from the Roman Church and was picked up by the Anglican Church and not from scripture. The Anglican Church taught “the divine right of Kings” which in essence held that when the King spoke He was speaking “ex cathedra” or the very words of God Himself, not unlike the view the Roman Church held of the Pope. Before England merged church and state into one authority figure, this was believed only to be true of the Pope. The Anglican Church took it a step further and vested this notion of “ex cathedra” in the King as well, since he was both head of the church and state. I would suggest that absolute and unconditional rule and authority by the King (or anyone in authority) is not rooted in scripture but from this notion of the Roman Church which saw men as mediators between God and men. (It's worth noting that the King James translation was written under such conditions. If you read it against some newer translations you can see some subtle differences). 

However, absolute and unconditional authority can only lie within God Himself, not fallible man. All men must be measured by the same infallible standard of God’s word. They are not themselves that standard. This whole notion of man needing an earthly mediator between himself and God, either spiritually or civilly, is another idea that is a direct contradiction of scripture. Yes men are used in both cases, but they are not God, only the messengers/ administrators sent by God to do God's bidding, not their own. 

Delegated authorities are not nor ever were intended to be mediators but rather administrators; God’s servants to administer justice and punish those who violate His law, not spokesmen on behalf of God.  

Context is always key

Using Romans 13 to support unconditional obedience, like all other misapplications of scripture is a classic example of taking a passage out of its immediate and extended context and making it an absolute and isolated standard. To do so you must violate the rest of scripture.

On a separate but related question, when you have an apparent contradiction within the bible, what do you do? How do you determine which is the correct interpretation? Doesn't it make sense to simply determine what is clearly taught within the context of the all of scripture and interpret the passages that are unclear or appear to contradict accordingly.

For example if the government ordered you to commit murder, should you? No one would dispute the Bible clearly teaches we are not to murder. The Hebrew midwives certainly understood this when the king of Egypt instructed them to kill the first born males of the Hebrew women. Not only did they disobey this command given by of the civil authority, God blessed and honored their “disobedience.”  

Exo 1:15 Then the king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, one of whom was named Shiphrah and the other Puah, Exo 1:16  "When you serve as midwife to the Hebrew women and see them on the birthstool, if it is a son, you shall kill him, but if it is a daughter, she shall live." Exo 1:17  But the midwives feared God and did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them, but let the male children live. Exo 1:18  So the king of Egypt called the midwives and said to them, "Why have you done this, and let the male children live?"

The bible even goes on to tell us in Heb 11:23 that, “By faith Moses, when he was born, was hidden for three months by his parents..." Why did his parents hide him? To avoid the godless decree given by Pharaoh to have the all first born male children killed. The hiding of Moses was in direct disobedience to the instructions of Pharaoh, the leading authority of Egypt, whose authority Israel was under, yet God called it an act of faith and not an act of disobedience to Him, though it certainly was to Pharaoh.

We have another example in the case of Daniel.

Dan 6:7  All the presidents of the kingdom, the prefects and the satraps, the counselors and the governors are agreed that the king should establish an ordinance and enforce an injunction, that whoever makes petition to any god or man for thirty days, except to you, O king, shall be cast into the den of lions. 8  Now, O king, establish the injunction and sign the document, so that it cannot be changed, according to the law of the Medes and the Persians, which cannot be revoked." 9  Therefore King Darius signed the document and injunction. 10  When Daniel knew that the document had been signed, he went to his house where he had windows in his upper chamber open toward Jerusalem. He got down on his knees three times a day and prayed and gave thanks before his God, as he had done previously. 11  Then these men came by agreement and found Daniel making petition and plea before his God. 12  Then they came near and said before the king, concerning the injunction, "O king! Did you not sign an injunction, that anyone who makes petition to any god or man within thirty days except to you, O king, shall be cast into the den of lions?" The king answered and said, "The thing stands fast, according to the law of the Medes and Persians, which cannot be revoked." 13  Then they answered and said before the king, "Daniel, who is one of the exiles from Judah, pays no attention to you, O king, or the injunction you have signed, but makes his petition three times a day."

Not only did Daniel not comply with the Kings ordinance, he took a very open, almost “in your face” posture in his disobedience. Of course, we know the rest of the story. Daniel was thrown in the lion’s den for his disobedience. Yet God delivered him only indicating his “disobedience” honored God.

Dan 6:22  My God sent his angel and shut the lions' mouths, and they have not harmed me, because I was found blameless before him; and also before you, O king, I have done no harm."

It is interesting that Daniel did not say he was blameless before Darius as he did regarding God but that he had not harmed Darius suggesting he clearly understand he acted in disobedience to Darius. 

We see a similar act of resistance to the governing authorities in Daniel when Daniel’s three friends refuse to bow down to image the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar had set up.

Dan 3:15  Now if you are ready when you hear the sound of the horn, pipe, lyre, trigon, harp, bagpipe, and every kind of music, to fall down and worship the image that I have made, well and good. But if you do not worship, you shall immediately be cast into a burning fiery furnace. And who is the god who will deliver you out of my hands?" 16  Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered and said to the king, "O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter17  If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. 18  But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up."

Again we know the outcome. God not only delivered them from this ordeal but was actually present with them in the fire.

Another example is in Esther. Mordecai, the father of Esther refused to bow and pay homage to Haman, the King’s right hand man. Haman, finding out that Mordecai was a Jew and filled with fury, went to the king to request all Jews to be destroyed.

Est 3:8  Then Haman said to King Ahasuerus, "There is a certain people scattered abroad and dispersed among the peoples in all the provinces of your kingdom. Their laws are different from those of every other people, and they do not keep the king's laws, so that it is not to the king's profit to tolerate them. 9  If it please the king, let it be decreed that they be destroyed, and I will pay 10,000 talents of silver into the hands of those who have charge of the king's business, that they may put it into the king's treasuries." 10  So the king took his signet ring from his hand and gave it to Haman the Agagite, the son of Hammedatha, the enemy of the Jews. 11  And the king said to Haman, "The money is given to you, the people also, to do with them as it seems good to you."

Mordecai being the father of Esther who was also the wife of King Ahasuerus, approached Esther and commanded her to illegally approach the king to address this.

Est 4:8  Mordecai also gave him a copy of the written decree issued in Susa for their destruction, that he might show it to Esther and explain it to her and command her to go to the king to beg his favor and plead with him on behalf of her people.

Est 4:10  Then Esther spoke to Hathach and commanded him to go to Mordecai and say, 4:11  "All the king's servants and the people of the king's provinces know that if any man or woman goes to the king inside the inner court without being called, there is but one law--to be put to deathexcept the one to whom the king holds out the golden scepter so that he may live. But as for me, I have not been called to come in to the king these thirty days."12  And they told Mordecai what Esther had said. 13  Then Mordecai told them to reply to Esther, "Do not think to yourself that in the king's palace you will escape any more than all the other Jews. 14  For if you keep silent at this time, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father's house will perish. And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?" 15  Then Esther told them to reply to Mordecai, 16  "Go, gather all the Jews to be found in Susa, and hold a fast on my behalf, and do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my young women will also fast as you do. Then I will go to the king, though it is against the law, and if I perish, I perish."

Esther was willing to suffer the consequences of her “illegal” action. But again, God delivered her and her fellow Jews and had Haman executed. To help understand this we must distinguish between what is lawful and what is “legal.” Laws passed by men may be “legal” but that does not automatically make them lawful i.e. according to God’s true moral law.

What is particularly interesting about all of these passages is they all take place in a political or civil setting. 

Now let’s look at a more current historical example. It is apparent God has blessed the founding of America. So how do we handle the American Revolution? In declaring their independence the founders disobeyed the King of England. Benjamin Franklin clearly understood the implications of their “rebellion” when he said "We must all hang together, gentlemen...else, we shall most assuredly hang separately." So was the manner of America's founding a violation of Romans 13? You might consider reading the "Declaration of Independence" again as a lesson in understanding how to address tyranny of unrighteous ruling.

Addressing tyrannical government was not just a problem for the founders of this great country but is also increasingly becoming a problem in today’s political/legal climate. More then ever we must search and study the scriptures and think long and hard about these things as we find ourselves more and more unable to avoid these very same challenges faced by the Egyptian midwives, Moses's parents, Daniel, his friends, Esther and Peter.

As a practical example now facing the church, due to the “hate crimes” bill passed by Congress in 2008, a pastor can be “legally” locked up for preaching against homosexuality. Most missed this entirely (in part I would suggest, due to a misunderstanding of what it means to "obey the authorities"). Nothing is being done on a large scale yet, but the law is on the books and unless God revisits our nation, the enforcement of this law is now a real possibility over time.

  • Now let’s take a look at the related and specific issue of taxes.
Why discuss taxes in this paper? Because we are told to pay taxes to whom they are due and it is governments roll to collect them. 

17:24 and following says,

24 "After Jesus and his disciples arrived in Capernaum, the collectors of the two-drachma tax came to Peter and asked, "Doesn't your teacher pay the temple tax?" 25 "Yes, he does," he replied. When Peter came into the house Jesus was the first to speak. (The idea of “first to speak” in the original suggests Christ spoke in anticipation of Peter raising the matter. Other translations and particularly "The Message" give a good sense of the original and render it,” But as soon as they were in the house, Jesus confronted him...") "What do you think, Simon?" he asked. "From whom do the kings of the earth collect duty and taxes--from their own sons or from others?" 26 "From others," Peter answered. "Then the sons are exempt," Jesus said to him. 27 "But so that we may not offend them, go to the lake and throw out your line. Take the first fish you catch; open its mouth and you will find a four-drachma coin. Take it and give it to them for my tax and yours." (NIV)

There are several things to note in this passage.

1.   Christ's quick querying of Peter was a mild rebuke to Peter for speaking before thinking. (A common characteristic of Peter). 

2.    Christ used this as an opportunity to instruct Peter.

3.    Kings do not collect taxes from their own but others and therefore the sons are exempt. Most Christians simply read right over this focusing on a text and ignoring the context. What Christ is saying is both Christ and Peter, who were "sons" of Israel, are not obligated to pay but are exempt from this tax. But if they were exempt this raises the question, why did Christ instruct Peter to pay it. We will address that shortly.(It just so happens the son's being exempt is also the case in our system when you study what our tax law REALLY says. You may not be aware of this if you have not taken the time to study what the law actually says. It is the foreigner, the non-resident alien, the "other" who are required to file and not the sons (sons being the offspring of the country if you will, i.e. its citizens. It makes one wonder how aware the founders were of this passage when writing the Constitution. You could make the argument that they patterned our tax system after it)

4.    Christ did not use his or Peters own money or even money from the disciples "treasury" to pay this tax but Peter got it out of the mouth of a fish. (As a humorous aside could we say that it takes nothing short of a miracle to pay taxes? Just a thought.) Why didn’t Christ simply instruct Peter to pay with their own money? In addition why didn't Christ have Peter pay for the rest of the disciples and not just for Himself and Peter?

How Christ handled this whole event, as well as his querying Peter and then accepting his reply, all indicate that paying the tax in this instance was not a requirement. Christ's reason for instructing Peter to pay the tax appears to be for other reasons.

First, Christ used Peter's presumption and error in judgment as an opportunity to teach Peter an important lesson. As he often did, Peter spoke without thinking, creating a problem. Since Peter created this problem Peter needed to resolve it as well, therefore Christ's unusual instructions for Peter to find a fish and get the money out of its mouth and pay it.

Secondly, since Peter had already committed the Lord to paying this tax by saying, "yes he pays it…" obligating both himself and Peter, Christ had Peter pay it to avoid offending someone for the sack of the gospel. (Have you ever had someone volunteer you for something without getting your permission?) This makes even more sense when you consider Jesus said earlier in Matt 5:37 "… let your "yes" be "yes" and your "no" be "no". 

I think it's fair to say, if Peter had said, "you will have to ask my Lord", rather then speaking for Christ, Christ would have responded to the inquirers the same way he did Peter by asking them, "From who do the kings of the earth collect...?" If their response was correct, as was Peter's, their own reply would have acknowledged the tax wasn't required (the sons are exempt) and therefore neither Christ nor Peter would have needed to pay the tax.  But for the reasons mentioned Christ did instruct Peter to pay it, but not because it was required to be paid.

On a separate but related matter it is worth noting in Luke 19:2-10 that Zacchaeus the tax collector was hated by all and referred to as a sinner. Christ's response was that he had come to save those who were lost, i.e. sinners. This suggests that Zacchaeus was a better then average example. Instead of refuting the crowds view of Zacchaeus as a sinner he confirmed it by his reply.

There is not anything necessarily or inherently wrong with taxes or those who collect them, but it is interesting that even in Christ's day the tax system seemed to be a receptacle for the despised and unethical. Do we see any indication this may also be the case today? Zacchaeus was said to be a wealthy man yet his sole source of earnings was the collecting of taxes. He later acknowledged, by his willingness to pay back to those he had collected from, that he had illegally stolen from others, using tax collection as a guise. Is there a pattern we can learn from here?

  • Render unto Caesar what is Caesar's… 
Those who advocate that any and all taxes should be paid without question, appear to consistently rely upon the superficial translation of the following passage rather than the context in which this story is set. The key to properly interpreting this statement "render unto Caesar what is Caesar's" is to understand the context which clearly shows that Jesus was responding to a trap being set for him. How he avoided this trap is actually the focus of this passage, not taxes.  

Mark 12: 13-16

13Later they sent some of the Pharisees and Herodians to Jesus to catch him in his words14They came to him and said, "Teacher, we know you are a man of integrity. You aren't swayed by men, because you pay no attention to who they are; but you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not? 15Should we pay or shouldn't we?" 16But Jesus knew their hypocrisy. (i.e. their question wasn't sincere and the real reason thy were raising it) "Why are you trying to trap me?" he asked. "Bring me a denarius and let me look at it." They brought the coin, and he asked them, "Whose portrait is this? And whose inscription?" "Caesar's," they replied. 17Then Jesus said to them, "Give to Caesar what is Caesar's and to God what is God's." And they were amazed at him.

To be a trap, the intent was that any answer would result in a desired outcome by the trappers. If Christ’s answer was to not pay Caesar the tax (As probably anticipated by the questioners. It is very possible that Jesus was suspected of leading a group of tax rebels who would have disapproved of their leader paying taxes to Rome), Jesus would have convicted himself of a capital crime under Roman law and the questioners would now have reason to bring him before Pilot for sentencing. To protest the tax in that day was punishable by crucifixion. The fact that Caiaphas raised this issue later before Pilot to persuade him to crucify Christ supports this. (Lk 23:2 "We have found this man subverting our nation. He opposes payment of taxes to Caesar and claims to be Christ, a king.”) 

If on the other hand, Christ had said it was right to pay Caesar, they would likely have tried to accuse him of being unfaithful to God and therefore not truly the Son of God as he claimed but an impostor, worthy of death.

The Pharisees thought that had set a clever trap for Christ. No matter how he answered they "had" him, or so they thought. 

However the response by Jesus amazed them. Christ saw through their guise i.e. 16… Jesus knew their hypocrisy… and did not give them either response but completely eluded their question and therefore their trap. Christ instead turned the table and simply put the problem back on them. "Whose portrait is this...?" He asked. In essence, he was saying to them, you figure out what belongs to whom and if a tax is due, then pay it.

His answer was not at all an admission of a requirement much less a command (as some often suggest when quoting this this particular phrase) to pay taxes to the government of his day. To just take the isolated statement, "Give to Caesar what is Caesar's and to God what is God's" without looking at the context is to completely miss why he made that statement to begin with. He wasn’t giving a command, He was giving them an answer to their question in a way that avoided the trap they were trying to set.

All of us come to passages with preset ideas and have to always be on guard not to read into the passages what we have predetermined but instead prayerfully seek to see what any given passage is actually saying.  Our goal should be extracting from the context as well as the text the meaning, not reading a predetermined interpretation into it. As my Hermeneutics professor was fond of telling us, "a text without a context is a pretext."

Tied to this is that we are all prone to interpret the bible according to our fears and emotions. By that I mean if we are afraid of the responsibility certain passages place on us (such as taking responsibility for our choices) we will interpret a passage in such a way as to avoid facing those responsibilities and the subsequent fears. Instead of changing our thinking we “change scripture.” Interpretation of certain passages often has far more to do with our emotions then our correct understanding of a passage i.e. our fears and emotions often color our view/understanding of things.

In addition, there is still the matter of WHO is Caesar and WHAT belongs to "him?"  As Christians we are not opposed to Government or the necessity of raising revenue under the specific conditions clearly spelled out in the Constitution. Local authorities do maintain "law and order" by preventing evil doers from reeking havoc on their fellow citizens (though things have often gone upside down of late when addressing the police). However we are opposed to those in Government violating the law and raising revenues outside of what the law allows. When they do, this is theft, not unlike what Zacchaeus committed. When this occurs we are not obligated to participate in such thievery but in fact as stewards, entrusted to manage the resources God gives us, we are responsible to resist it. As Jefferson once said, resistance to tyrants is obedience to God. Though Jefferson was just a man, and possibly not even a Christian, I trust you agree his wisdom was sound and scripturally based.  

When those in government overstep the law, whether the law of the very government they are appointed to uphold or more importantly the law of God, are we to comply? Peter did not think so when asked to disobey God's law in favor of civil law. He was instructed not to preach in the name of Jesus and his reply was "I must obey God rather then man".

In closing it should be pointed out that if we are civilly disobedient out of obedience to God, we are not necessarily protected from persecution. Peter was flogged for his civil disobedience, Act 5:40. But we should also remember at another time (Act 12:1-19) when Peter was imprisoned for his stand an angel sent from God delivered Peter from prison i.e. God honored Peters stand to honor Christ and His good news. On the other hand God may very well protect us and even bless us for obeying him rather then men, as he did the Hebrew midwives in Egypt.

Exo 1:17 But the midwives feared God and did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them… 20 So God dealt well with the midwives… 21 And because the midwives feared God, (as opposed to fearing Pharaoh) he gave them families.

Not to mention Daniel and his friends as well as Esther.

Because of a wide spread misunderstanding of government’s responsibility to God first and then its proper role to us, many Christians have become passive in their attitude and conduct towards government. We have bought into the lie of “separation of church and state” thinking this means the church is not to speak into the affairs of the state when in fact as the church who is the bearer to God’s standard and word we must point out the basis for righteous government. Separation of church and state meant the state was forbidden to speak into the affairs of the church, not the other way around. The church is ruled only by Christ the King, not the state no matter what form it takes. To the extent the state is obedient to the laws of God we must obey it. But what is often not considered is equally true; the extent to which government is in violation of God’s law we must resist it and not only hold it accountable to God’s law but speak out when it's in violation of it. If the church had continued on this course (which it abandoned by submitting to a 501(c)3 non profit corporate status for tax benefits. Might this be similar to giving up our birth right for a bowl of lentil soup?) we may not be in the current condition we now find ourselves in as a nation. This does not mean we can dictate directly to government how it should conduct itself but it does mean we should faithfully preach God's word to the people of God when government act's in violation of it. 

In truth isn’t it the responsibility of all Christians to speak out about unrighteousness wherever it exists, whether within or without government. Not in an obnoxious way, but with wisdom and grace. To do so is not in violation of God’s command to submit to righteous government i.e. to obey the authorities. In fact, isn't this just the opposite by upholding God’s commands and advancing God’s kingdom on earth?

Because of a misunderstanding of what is taught in Romans 13 we often submit to unjust laws or illegitimate government believing we are commanded to when in fact we should not only resist unrighteous government but seek to hold it accountable. Again as Jefferson rightfully pointed out, “resistance to tyranny is obedience to God.” In great part, the reason government goes unchecked today is because Christians have misapplied “obeying the authorities” and misunderstood their proper relationship to it and their responsibility to not obey governments when they do not operate as God intends; according to His commands.

** "higher" or "governing"- huperechō. Thayer Definition: 2b) to excel, to be superior, better than, to surpass.
Used a total of five times in the New Testament and translated "governing" in many translations and "authority" in 1 Peter 2:13 but also translated "surpassing" in Philippians 3:8 and "surpasses" in Philippians 4:7

May God grant us the grace and strength to fear and obey Him instead of man as the world around us becomes more lawless.

If you have any questions or wish to discuss this further feel free to message me at  Ask for Jim.

How Well Do I Know God?

Below are the opening pages to my book. I wrote this after teaching through the book of Job in 2003. None of my works on this blog are edited, but this one is in the process and will eventually be published.

The entire book comes to 350 pages as a paperback, so needless to say we will only post a portion of it here. This is not a casual read so be warned. I trust it will be as much of a blessing to you as it was for me to write it and get my thoughts on paper.

God speed

How Well Do I Really Know God? (Subtitle: Knowing God, the only foundation and fountain of lasting fulfillment).

The following an excerpt from part 1 of a 5 part series from the complete work, “HOW WELL DO I KNOW GOD? Knowing God: The only Foundation and Fountain of Lasting Fulfillment.” In the complete book the below sections have a slightly different title, but I have renamed them for the purpose of publishing them as separate e-books as follows:

Part 5 - “DEAD TO SIN. WHAT IT IS AND ISN’T; A commentary on Romans 6-8.”

I am offering these separately for several reasons. Some may have interest only in one of the 5 topics and not the others. Also to read a 350 page paperback of this kind can be a daunting task and too time consuming for some. Lastly, purchasing an e-book for $1.99 as opposed to $5.99 for the complete work may be a little easier for some to handle.

If you read the entire work you will see how each part is connected, however the topics covered are distinct enough to be offered separately.

If after acquiring one or more of these separate e-books, you decide to acquire the entire book, simply provide proof of purchase of the part or parts you have already acquired and we will credit those purchases towards the $5.99 purchase price for the entire book. For example, if you acquire two parts separately for a total of $3.98 you can acquire the rest of the book for $2.00.  If you purchase any 3 parts separately, provide proof of purchase and the last two parts will be offered at no additional cost.

The below preface is for the complete book “HOW WELL DO I KNOW GOD?” which is given in each part. I did not rewrite a separate preface to this or the others parts because there is a unifying theme throughout all 5 parts.


In writing this, I do not come to you as someone who has all the answers but as someone who has always had a lot of questions. What I have written in the following pages are simply some conclusions I have made based on my own struggles to understand the truth about God and man that have benefited me over the forty-one years of my Christian life. Some things in particular regarding our everyday experience of God, I have experienced only enough to know they are true. In no way have I come close to placing them consistently into practice. It is my hope and prayer that if you too have struggled with any of these same questions; you may find in what I discuss answers to some of your doubts and struggles as well. In the mean time let us pray for each other that God will bring us more and more to that place where we know the fullness of joy that comes from Him alone.

Some of what I discuss on these pages is more commonly addressed in technical theological works in the first section of this book. I have attempted to put these matters into the most practical and understandable of terms. Theology often scares people and is viewed as being esoteric and not at all practical. This is not God’s intent or desire. His truth is for all of us, not just the theologians of the church. The word theology actually comes from two separate words. Broken down, “ology” comes from the root word “logos” meaning word or knowledge and “theo” comes from the root word “Theos”, which means God. So we could say theology is nothing more than a word about God, which we all need.

Last of all I wish to mention I have learned that no amount of explanation or discussion of God’s truth is helpful in and of itself, no matter how well or poorly expressed unless it is illumined by God’s Spirit. As Christ admonished us, “Those who have ears to hear, let them hear…” Therefore it is my prayer, and I hope yours, that God will enlighten your heart and mind as you read this. Without His Spirit working to reveal the Father and Jesus His Son to us, we can neither see nor hear anything from Him. I also pray that only that which is of Him in the following pages will be implanted in your heart and bear fruit and that which is not true to His word will fall by the wayside. May God richly bless you in your reading. God speed.


Most people today believe that in order to understand humanity we must study mankind exclusively. But do we have it backwards? To fully learn about and understand ourselves, perhaps we need to understand God more fully, in whose image we are made. Could this be even more important than the study of human behavior? With all the understanding modern psychology offers about humanity there still remains extensive confusion, questions, restlessness and disillusionment about who we are, why we are here and why we are the way we are. This is certainly true of the "unbelieving" in this world that view God as insignificant. But this is also surprisingly true among many within the "faith community” who say God is significant. The world's confusion is understandable but why the confusion within the Christian community? Isn’t the Christian community supposed to have answers to these questions? Could it be that the Christian community as a whole is also confused and spiritually impotent due to a shallow and weak understanding of God? Or, is it possible that some within the faith community don't even know Him at all but have a distorted characterization of Him and only think they know Him?

I have found that in a large part of today's Christian community there is very little discussion or wrestling with who God is as a person and how that impacts our lives on an everyday level. Because of these things one of the main focuses of my life has been: How can I know God to the fullest extent possible? What exactly does knowing God entail?

Related to knowing God is the question, “What makes you and I tick?" Why do we human beings have an incredible capacity for great good as well as great destruction? Knowing who God is and who we are and in what ways each impacts the other is a central theme I attempt to address in the following pages.

I believe the Bible teaches we were made by God for God. Everything else flows from this foundational truth. But what does this mean exactly? If God created all things for Himself, which the Bible clearly seems to teach, where do you and I fit in? If our understanding of God (as well as ourselves) falls short of who He actually is (and therefore indirectly who we are as well) what affect does that have on our daily lives? Does this insufficient understanding have an affect on our being as happy and productive as possible and whether life is truly fulfilling or not?  If it does, how does it?

I would suggest and hope to prove that understanding certain aspects of God's person are vital to our knowing and experiencing Him to the fullest extent possible and therefore our being fulfilled and experiencing life to the fullest extent possible. Without knowing God truly and clearly, I don't believe we can experience life in the way He has designed and intends for us. It is good to be reminded that Christ said, "I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full" (John 10:10). We must ask ourselves what this means and whether this characterizes our lives now. If not, why not?

Aren't we all interested in living life to the fullest? Don't we want the best life possible? Of course! But there are several related issues. How is that achieved? What does this mean? What does a truly fulfilled life look and feel like? Compared to others we may feel we are in pretty good shape but how do we know there isn’t more to life than what we are experiencing, possibly, far more? The non-believing world certainly offers many possible options and solutions to this question of happiness and fulfillment. Just watch virtually any commercial and listen for the offer of a better life. It is the subtle if not blatant appeal of almost every advertisement. But do any of these options really satisfy our true longings and match up with who we are? More importantly, do they agree with what the Bible says about us and why we are here?

Now if these alternate solutions offered by the world do not fit who we really are or what the Bible says about us, how does that impact us, as well as those we come in contact with? Could it be that all poor choices in life are a direct result of not knowing who God is truly and clearly? (By knowing I mean in the personal sense, not merely cognitively.)  If that is true wouldn't this in turn result in our operating in a manner contrary to God's design and even be the primary reason for much of our personal pain and suffering. Leading to much of the pain and suffering in the world as well? However God usually "gets the rap" for all the pain and suffering in the world, doesn't He? We have heard of the book, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” But maybe we are looking in the wrong place for why there is so much pain in the world or our lives. Maybe there are answers that really do make a difference that we are either not aware of or simply not hearing, causing us to fall far short of what we were designed to experience. I have learned when we do listen and hear, having a clear understanding of God presented in the Bible makes the difference between despair and hope, disillusionment and strength, giving up and moving forward, merely surviving or thriving and flourishing.

The world, more than ever, questions whether God is relevant, especially in light of the seemingly randomness and hardships of life. Many, maybe most, (at least in the Western world) have stopped asking all together and have simply concluded God is not relevant. They have either concluded He doesn’t get involved in their lives because He isn’t there or He doesn’t care, so neither do we care about Him. If the unbelieving world can not see by the lives of His followers the reality of how God cares and makes a significant difference in their life, it isn't hard to see why they would think He is not relevant to them either. As believers who claim to know God, we must ask ourselves if we really know Him or just a characterization of Him. If our knowing God does not impact our day to day lives in such a way that others notice, maybe we don't know Him as well as we think we do or at least as well as we could.

What about those of us who do know God? Even if what we do know about God is sound, is there more we can and need to know about Him? I believe there are certain aspects of God's person that are not very well understood by many of us within the faith community, much less by those in the world. These are aspects that are vital to our experiencing all He desires to be for us and thereby resulting in our being all we were designed to be for Him and for each other; both of which have a direct bearing on our fulfillment and happiness. I will attempt to address in this book these certain characteristics of God. There is no doubt I will only scratch the surface since the finite cannot fully communicate or plumb the depths of the infinite. For that same reason I think we will come short of what God intends if we do not continually wrestle with who this infinite God is and search diligently into His revelation of Himself within the Bible as well as in creation to see what He is seeking to tell us about Himself. I am not saying we should necessarily be uncertain about what we already understand about God but we need to at least not be complacent or satisfied with what we already know or think we know. To think that we can know a few things about the infinite God and that there is no need to ever be learning more may result in our missing out on more than we could ever imagine. Not just in this present life but maybe even more importantly in our eternal existence to come. In his book God’s Passion for His Glory John Piper says it this way “…we have scarcely begun to see all of God that the Scriptures give us to see, and what we have not yet seen is exceedingly glorious.”

We could compare knowing some things about God to briefly glancing at an intricately woven tapestry and than walking away saying, "yes I saw the tapestry" believing we know all we need to know and being satisfied with that.  We may feel we know all there is to know about the tapestry without ever studying it, exploring all the details and learning what it took to make it etc. Our understanding of God could also be like entering a sprawling mansion with hundreds of rooms only to look at a display of a layout of the house in the entrance hall, then leave feeling we have seen the mansion. We may think, “Why bother going to the extra trouble.” But wouldn’t knowing these things first hand give us a truer picture and appreciation for the value of the tapestry or the mansion? Without doing so how can we fully appreciate these in all their richness?

Of course knowing God is infinitely more vast and important than exploring mansions or studying tapestries. The mere fact that God is infinite suggests our understanding of Him can never be exhausted in this life or the next. If He is in fact infinite in every way, our knowing Him can have no end, because He has no end; which is all the more reason we should never stop pressing to know Him more fully.

Certainly whatever our understanding of God is, it must be within the boundaries of scripture as well as through observing his creation/creatures within those same boundaries, (through which we can also learn of Him. [Romans 1:20]). But can we ever exhaust what lies within those boundaries? As already suggested, I don’t think we can. We should pursue this however with all the strength we have because knowing God, I would suggest, is the most important endeavor we can ever undertake. If our understanding or view of God (and ourselves, since they are tied together) is lacking or skewed, than I suggest every aspect of how we look at and conduct our life will also be lacking and skewed. This is not just a great dishonor to God but a great loss for us as well.

It has been said the key to great faith is more about the object of our faith than faith itself. Believing this to be true, we will initially focus on God, the object of our faith, who He is, what He is like, then what knowing Him means for us individually and collectively, how this directly effects who we are, i.e. why we were created and exist, etc. If our understanding of God (which I hope to show has direct bearing on our understanding of ourselves) is not accurate or clear our faith will be misplaced and therefore weak at best, i.e. based on something that does not match reality. Misplaced faith is living in a dream world at best, a myth, not reality.  But, even worse resulting in our not seeing and displaying God to the fullest extent possible. This results in present and eternal loss for us as well as others, not to mention the loss of God by being inadequately displayed to a world created for and by Him.

The initial groundwork covered will be a bit more theological but as we progress I hope to show the significance and importance of how a sound understanding of God is essential to laying a strong foundation for living life itself.

Even though there is a progression of thought through the book, those of you with a more practical and less technical orientation may wish to skip down to the middle three sections on pain, faith and obedience first, and then return to the first section. I encourage you to come back if you do, as the first section is foundational to the rest.

I should add that I will not be discussing in depth every aspect of God’s character but primarily those relevant to the points I seek to address in this book. This book is not an attempt to be an extensive discussion of all the attributes of God. I only hope in reading this you will discover a little more about God and, therefore, a lot more about yourself, your purpose and fulfillment and, in turn, your joy and contentment in this life.

I would also encourage you to skim through the table of contents listed before each section and if you find something that grabs you, read it. If that section doesn’t help, jump around. Even though everything is tied together, each section may be helpful on its own depending on where you are and what questions you have struggled with. Eventually I encourage you to read the book in its entirety to the get the full sense. But I suggest this as a possible approach because when I first read J.I. Packers book Knowing God from the start to end, I found it somewhat boring and hard to complete. Years later as a result of the encouragement of others I picked it up again and skimmed through it by jumping around and reading different sections. This brought the book to life for me. I have since read it several times over and now consider it among the top ten most important books I have read.

This brings me to another point. You may not find this book helpful at all at this point in our life. If not, just put it aside. Some day down the road when you are in a different place there may be things here that will be helpful. Many of the books I have found most helpful didn’t help me at all after my first reading as was the case with Packers book. It was only years later when I came back that God used them to minister to me in a powerful way. That has been true of many of the most influential books I have read.

One final comment before jumping in: I have noticed many of the truths of scripture are found in tension. By that I mean the truth usually lies somewhere between two extremes we are naturally inclined to gravitate toward. Not unlike balancing on a tight rope where we are inclined to fall to one side or the other but must stay in the middle in order to keep from falling to our destruction. I believe this is so because logic though a useful tool is often given precedence over faith and scripture. As a result certain elements within differing schools of theological thought take logic to such an end that they ignore clear teaching of scripture opposite of where that logic takes them. Logic and reason are like anything else however. They too must come under the rule of Christ for they like any other gift of God can be used or misused due to our propensity to be independent of God. Logic though a gift is still being used by our fallen and finite minds, no matter how gifted the one using it. And if unchecked can be used as a substitute for faith i.e. we can ultimately depend on it instead of God to “understand” the world we are in. We must be aware that in our fallen condition we are prone to want to control instead of trust. We reason that if we can figure out every aspect of God and His dealings then there can be no surprises; we can’t be “blindsided” by God; or so we think. It is this fear and desire to understand and control that can drive us to use logic in a way God never intended.

Should abandon logic and only live “by faith?” No, no more than we should stop working to buy food but instead trust God to fly a roasted chicken into our mouths. God gives us gifts to be used for His ends, including our ability to reason, so we should and must use them. We will address this very point more fully later on.

While a student at Columbia Bible College, Roberston McQuilken the former President once said, “the closest I get to the truth is swinging past it as I pass from one extreme to the other.” C.S. Lewis described this same principle by saying truth is like being on top of a plateau and we tend to fall off one side of the cliff while reacting and backing away from the other. What exactly did Rev. McQuilken and C.S. Lewis mean? A classic example would be the tension between God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility. Scripture clearly teaches both, but because of our finite understanding and desire to fit everything into nice neat logical packages we gravitate to one side to the detriment of the other. It is more comfortable to be settled than to be in tension, but tension is where we grow and most importantly where we have to depend on God. Certainly we must use reason and logic but ultimately in tension is where I believe God wants us to live and in part why He doesn’t always reconcile things the way we desire and are inclined to want them.

Therefore instead of seeking to reconcile what God has not, some of what I write leaves seemly competing truths in tension and does not bring them to complete closure. You may want to make a mental note of this as you read so you don’t react to what I have written and fall off one side of the cliff backing away from the other. I encourage you to eventually read the book in its entirety to see what is said about the other side before drawing any final conclusions.

Often our demand for “understanding” all the mysteries of scripture is nothing more than arrogance and ultimately comes out of a lack of trust in God. Even if some things are not clear in our own minds, it is important and helpful to know they are clear in Gods mind and that should be enough and sometimes must be enough and all we are given.


What you presently have in your possession is only the first part or section one of the complete work “How Well Do I Know God.” The introduction you have just read is to the entire book however, hence the reference to all five sections or parts immediately above. If after reading this first part, you wish to acquire the book in its entirety simple provide proof of purchase for this and other parts you may have acquired and we will credit those toward the $5.99 purchase price of the complete book. 

Thank you.

Section I

Do we have a clear view of God?
(And therefore ourselves)

Points covered in this section are:
  • We seek life
  • We are creatures
  • Creatures unlike any other
  • God is Triune. The ground for many other attributes of God.
  • God is independent. An incommunicable attribute
  • God is also dependent
  • God is love, the ground of his being personal and relational. A communicable attribute
  • God loves himself; the basis and moral ground for this.
  • God is free
  • God’s motive behind creation.
  • How we are like God. A closer look.
  • God is relational
  • The basis of our value. Like God but different
  • The finite and the infinite
  • Was God’s original plan thwarted by man’s rebellion?
  • Has God changed?
  • God needs us?
  •  Which is God's end, His greatest glory or our highest good?

Nothing can satisfy us at our deepest level but Jesus. Not recreation, sex, drugs, entertainment, vacations, houses, cars, boats, money, accomplishments, prestige, promotions, power, academic achievement, food, TV, loved ones, family, friends, anything or anyone else you wish to fill in the blank with, nothing! 1 So why are we so drawn, no, irresistibly pulled to these allurements and find ourselves seeking from them, often desperately, only what God tells us He alone can give us? To know the answer we must understand who we are 2, why we are this way and what it is we are really seeking.

Over the next several pages I will attempt to give an overview addressing what I believe is taught in Holy Scripture regarding these things. Then, I will take each point in this overview and elaborate on the implications more fully in subsequent chapters. I won't be spending a lot of time initially "proving" my points so much as simply stating them, how they are connected and what the implications are. I will be moving quickly through some foundational thoughts in this initial part, so hold on.

1.     We seek life.

What is man seeking? In short, to say it simply and straight out, we seek life. The bible confirms this directly and indirectly in several places by setting forth life as the greatest goal and reward.

John 3:16 “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.

 John 10:10 “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.

2 Corinthians 5:4b-5a “…so that what is mortal will be swallowed up by life. 5a Now He who prepared us for this very purpose is God…”

Not just life offered to us for those fleeting moments through the things or activities listed above but never ending life or to use the biblical phrase above, "eternal life".  Eternal life may not be a conscious pursuit for most but since we were designed for eternity, nothing less will do.

But what is it about life that is so important to us and how exactly do we define this life we are so driven to obtain? At its core I would suggest for us life is knowing and experiencing that I am valuable. You could also describe this as knowing I am important, significant, of great worth and so on. This core aspect of our being is tied directly to our being in God's image, which we will address later on. But this longing for life translates into seeking whatever gives me the greatest sense of value or to use a modern psychological description, a sense of worth. Usually this longing is expressed either passivelyI am loved and therefore important, valuable etc., or activelyI love and have brought value to another and therefore I am valuable. (It feels good to be wanted, appreciated and needed.) In fact this is so central to whom we are that if we ever come to the place we feel completely worthless or life is completely pointless (Nobody loves me. I am unimportant. Life is meaningless…etc) and we no longer have any hope of “life” the pain becomes so great we will seek to end “life” or rather the lack of it. The very experience of this kind of pain in itself says something very significant about who we are doesn’t it? It also raises the question of why are we this way.  In the second part of this book titled the "Anatomy of Pain" we will look at this question of pain in greater depth.

For the moment we need to dig deeper and look at why we are this way. Why do we crave for, indeed must have, a sense of value? Why do I need to know I am loved or I can love? We must go back to who we are and even more distant, back to what makes us this way.

2.     We are creatures

First of all the bible says we are creatures. The significance of this will be discussed in more detail later but for now the primary point is as creatures we are not self sufficient i.e. we did not come into existence by our own effort or power (to use an analogy, batteries are not included), nor do we continue to exist independently, but our existence is dependent at several levels on several things. For example in the physical realm we need food, air, water and shelter to name some of our basic needs. These resources, which are vital to our physical existence, come from outside of us. Though on a very significant level most of us ignore this and take our existence for granted. We are reminded of how fragile life truly is when these things are no longer available. When our life or the life of another is in jeopardy or on the edge of being extinguished we are jarred back to the reality of how fragile and dependent we are on resources outside of ourselves. This also helps explain why funerals are so unpopular even though well attended.

In the same train of thought, where do these resources such as food, air, water etc come from? As Christians we know God not only created all things but sustains them as well. We may have fooled ourselves into believing we keep our life going, but these very resources we depend on were not created by us but are simply used by us. We may gather them, rearrange them, combine them, grow them etc. but in fact we do not bring them into being or ultimately sustain their ongoing existence. But in our foolishness we take pride in our ability to obtain or manipulate anything we believe gives us life forgetting these are all truly gifts.3 Because of our aversion to dependence on God (which often feels more like a desire to be independent and not consciously an avoidance of God) we worship (ascribe worth to) the gifts apart from or instead of the Giver/Creator.4 Rom 1:25:

Romans 1:25 For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.

However God reminds us in Deuteronomy 8:17-19:

You may say to yourself, ‘My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.’ But remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth … 19 If you ever forget the LORD your God and follow other gods (anything you value and look to for life other than the true God) and worship and bow down to them, I testify against you today that you will surely be destroyed.” (parentheses mine)

We are not only dependent on things outside ourselves physically but spiritually and emotionally as well. To address this let us take a closer look at our “creature hood”.

3.     Creatures unlike any other.

We are not just creatures but we are creatures of a unique kind. Unlike the rest of creation we are in the image of God, our Creator.

Genesis 1:25-27 God made the beasts of the earth after their kind, and the cattle after their kind, and everything that creeps on the ground after its kind; and God saw that it was good. 26 Then God said, "Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth." 27 God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.

But what is the significance of being in God's image? To understand this we must understand some things about God first. What is He like and in what ways we are like Him i.e. how we are in His image. For now, regarding our significance, we will simply say that we have the greatest capacity to reflect, display and honor God and His person above all the rest of creation and we are the only creatures who willfully and consciously do so. Only you and I can willfully and consciously recognize or refuse to recognize the great glory and consequential value of God. So now let's take a closer look at God and how knowing and understanding what He is like first, is vital to knowing and understanding ourselves.

4.     God is Triune. The ground for many other attributes of God.
       a. God is independent. An incommunicable attribute

To help us understand how we are like God we need to look at some ways we are not like God. The first and most fundamental characteristic about God we must understand is unlike His creatures, God is independent. There is nothing that God needs outside Himself in order for Him to be or remain God. Unlike us, His creatures, He lacks nothing and therefore needs nothing. In the book of Acts we are told,

Acts 17:24-25 "The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands. 25And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything, because he himself gives all men life and breath and everything else.

The significance of this is that we, as creatures add nothing to God to make Him anymore than who He is already. From this we understand a key aspect about the person of God. He did not create us in order to fill something missing within Himself. This has huge significance on many levels. For one, it addresses how much and with what kind of love God loves us, because it raises the question of why He created. Why is this important? Because it gets at the heart of the issue of whether God truly loves us or is He simply using us for another end i.e. does He have a hidden agenda? We will address this more later. In contrast to us, His totally dependent creatures, God is the totally independent Creator. In fact God is the only truly independent and self-sufficient being in the universe. Everything else is sustained by Him and therefore dependent on Him. No one, or no thing sustains him.

Now let us take a closer look at why He is independent. One reason I would suggest is because He is inter-dependent. To say it another way, He derives from Himself everything He needs to be God and He is dependent on nothing other than Himself to be the all sufficient, all supreme being. He is self-sustained. You could say He is self-contained. So there is a sense in which God does not need anything or anyone outside of Himself because, unlike us, everything necessary for His existence, He also provides within His own person or being. 6

Now this is where the often minimized and misunderstood “doctrine” of the Trinity comes to play. While the Christian church as a whole agrees that God consists of three persons, for most believers this is simply a dry piece of theological information that is not often thought through, nor understood, but must be simply accepted by faith. Consequently, many leave it at that and never dig into the riches of which God is as it relates to this foundational and fundamental characteristic of His being. The truth of God being three distinct persons and yet one God has significant and far-reaching implications for us at a practical everyday level. What we understand about God and more specifically about His make up as three persons and yet one God is vital to us experiencing Him and knowing Him to the fullest extent possible. And knowing Him, not just intellectually but personally, is foundational to our experiencing the purpose for which we were created and therefore our own fulfillment as well. I will try to demonstrate this more as I go on. In short God being three persons and yet one God, is far more than just an obscure, incomprehensible, theological fact. It is a vital aspect of His very being and therefore also vital to our knowing/ and experiencing God to the fullest extent possible. (When I say, "Knowing God," I am not just speaking of a mere intellectual comprehension of God, but an intimate and personal knowledge such as a husband knowing his wife rather than a father knowing his son's coach or the teller at the bank.)

b. God is also dependent

But what about His dependence; how exactly can or is the Almighty, all sustaining God of the universe dependent? Or is He? We don’t usually think in terms of God being dependent, do we? In fact this may even sound a bit heretical at first. After all He is the all knowing, all powerful, everywhere present, all loving God. How can God be dependent on anything? Well in fact He isn't just dependent on anything. God is certainly not dependent on anything in creation. Logic alone tells us this must be true. Since He created and sustains everything, the creation is dependent on Him and not the other way around.

What about God being dependent on Himself? Is this even possible? If so, what exactly does this mean or look like? As already suggested the grounds for God’s independence is His inter-dependence. This is a mystery but in a very real sense God is just as dependent on Himself as you or I are dependent on Him. So yes, God is absolutely dependent but only within His own being.

However, is this real dependence as you and I understand the word? If so, how? He is a being of three distinct entities within one God. Each entity, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit relates to each other as truly distinct beings while at the same time making up only one God. Therefore, dependence or inter-dependence is deeply rooted in God’s very make up. Just because it is dependence within Him, does not make it any less a dependence or less of a reality. We may not be able to make sense of this logically, but we certainly see the evidence of it in how God first relates to Himself than to us, and how we in turn relate to Him. As we progress, this will become more evident.

What is the practical significance of His being dependent? There are several things. Because God is inter-dependent, He is also an inter-relational and an inter-communicating being. Therefore, He truly understands what it means to need and can identify with the feeling of need. How is this so? With the incarnation of Christ, several unique things occurred. Did not the Son (God) experience the pain of the crucifixion and subsequent separation from His Father? And did not Christ also experience the consequences of sin during His crucifixion with the emotional, spiritual and physical impact of it as well as throughout his ministry? Even though these were not due to His own sin, the painful consequences he experienced were the same. We are told we have a high priest, who is touched with the feeling of our infirmities, do we not? Remember His agony in the Garden of Gethsemane as He faced the prospect of bearing your sin and mine, with its consequential judgment and separation from His Father? Did not God the Father also experience the loss and pain of separation from His only begotten Son, the Son of His eternal love? On account of the inter-relationship of the Father with His Son, it was not just the Son who experienced the suffering of the cross, but the Father, also. Not unlike any loving father would feel pain when his own son suffered loss or injustice of some kind. Moreover, on account of the varying degrees of separation the Father and Son experienced during Christ’s time on earth, God and His Son fully entered into all aspects of pain and suffering caused by separation as well as experiencing the sins committed against Christ while he was a man on earth.

Have you ever been estranged from someone you loved; one of your kids, a parent or a spouse due to some barrier between you? Of course you have. How did (or does) it feel? Whatever it is you felt, God the Father and the Son felt this very thing as well. Granted the separation the Son experienced was due to our sins and not His own, it was still separation nonetheless, with all its ramifications. God understands truly not only what relationship is but also what losing it feels like, possibly in a way even greater than we do. If the level of relationship, unity and dependence between the Father and Son is perfect and on an infinitely higher level than our own, wouldn’t the pain of its loss for Him also be infinitely greater?

God not only understands the joy of loving and being loved, of honoring and being honored but also the pain of losing that honor and the feeling of its loss. The fact that Christ’s heinous and reprehensible death was not due to anything He had done wrong made the pain even greater. To suffer for your own wrongdoing, though hard, is justified but to suffer for someone else’s is the worst kind of suffering and feels most unfair. We can relate on some level to someone being wrongfully accused, convicted and then sentenced for a crime they did not commit. Then years later having that decision reversed due to new evidence revealing they were not the perpetrator. The one who is incarcerated during those lost years spends his time, which can never be recovered, wondering if justice will ever be served. Much of our suffering is due to our own sin. His was due only as a result of someone else’s (our) sin.

1.      A felt as well as real dependence

Christ emptying himself of His Divinity and becoming a man was a test of his trust of the Father in ways He never experienced before. He no longer had the advantage of full omniscience for His understanding. While on earth He couldn’t see the complete outcome of everything in the same manner as before.

Mat 24:36 “But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only.

Joh 8:28  So Jesus said to them, "When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am he, and that I do nothing on my own authority, but speak just as the Father taught me.

Joh 5:19  So Jesus said to them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise.

Joh 5:30 “I can do nothing on my own. As I hear, I judge, and my judgment is just, because I seek not my own will but the will of him who sent me.

Instead of being able to rely on His omniscient deity to know things He now had to depend solely on His father’s direction and what He revealed to Him and told Him to do. Whatever manifestations of supernatural power Christ displayed was solely from His dependence on and enabling by His Father. This in itself was a kind of suffering for it was a loss of benefits He formally possessed i.e. omnipotence, omnipresence, omniscience. He loved and trusted His Father from eternity past; the loss of these characteristics required Him to trust the Father in a way He never had experienced before. This helps us understand the statement in Hebrews that Christ learned obedience i.e. He learned how to faithfully follow His Father’s will and direction, through the struggles and suffering He endured. His lacking what was formally and fully His, omniscience, omnipresence and omnipotence, required him to depend on His Father in a new and different way.  He no longer knew things through His own first hand experience but knew them by faith, i.e. He had to trust what the Father revealing to Him as true and right because He could no longer confirm them from first hand knowledge.

Even though the Father and Son had a relationship of dependence prior to the incarnation, there was now a felt dependence between the Father and Son during the incarnation that did not exist prior to that event. 

In light of these things God did and can experience all aspects of being in a relationship, just like you and I, the bad as well as the good. If so, what does this mean for us? As far as this discussion goes, God and His Son truly and really feel our pain and weakness as well as our joys and pleasures, for they experienced them as well.

Heb 4:15  For we have not a high priest that cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but one that hath been in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin..

The word “tempted” here is not the idea of being enticed to wrong but to endure the experience of a difficult event or its consequent struggle i.e. to be tested or disciplined by it.
Tempted: Πειράζω, peirazō, pi-rad'-zo; to test (objectively), that is, endeavor, scrutinize, entice, discipline: - assay, examine, go about, prove, tempt (-er), try.

God truly and really enjoys our love and appreciates our gratitude and honor in the same way He does the honor and glory exchanged between the members of the Trinity. This is in part due to His being in relationship throughout eternity and our being able to enter into relationship with Him because we are in His image, i.e. we are relational like God. Since God is a relational being and we are like Him we can really and truly bring joy to His heart not unlike the joy His only begotten Son also brings to His heart. We can bring sadness to His heart when we are alienated from Him just as when His Son was alienated from Him at the cross for the same reason, i.e. our sin.

It is also worth mentioning that Christ is our elder brother and we too are considered sons of God. Though we are not the only begotten eternal Son we are adopted sons and daughters in Christ nevertheless, who will live with God our Father throughout eternity just as our elder brother Christ. As a result of all these things God really and truly feels the give-and-take of relationship with us in a manner similar to what He feels with his Son and similar to how you and I feel it with each other. If we stop to consider it, where does our ability to relate to other humans come from if not first from God?

The interaction of God as a triune being is key to what makes God a relational being instead of some stoic, unmoved, impersonal force. He not only understands and designs relationship, He is relationship. This is just another way of saying God is love. Relationship is at the very core of His Being and has been from eternity past. And not just any relationship but one of perfect giving and receiving of love, honor and glory throughout eternity past. All other relationships are a reflection of the primary relationship of God as a triune, inter-relational Being. Nothing He does is outside of relationship, whether that be within Himself or with you and I. Relationship, and therefore love, is rooted in the very essence of His being. God could not be a God of love if He were not a God of relationship first.

Where do you think we get the capacity to feel the various aspects, both good and bad, of being in a relationship? Does it come out of a vacuum or simply because we are fallen due to our rebellion? We were relational before the fall, were we not? Would it make sense that we as His creatures could feel and experience something more or completely different regarding relationship than God Himself could feel and experience? No, these qualities are in us because they were in God first and are all a part of God’s being and therefore ours who are created in His image.

This also explains how we can truly enter into a real relationship with God and Him with us. Relationship is not something new, strange or awkward to God but has been a part of His make up from eternity past, long before you and I even entered the picture. Dependence within a relationship is a deeply rooted quality within God’s very make up. Just because it is dependence within Himself does not make it any less of a dependence, a relationship, or a reality. So dependence is not just a reality of our existence but is also a reality of God’s as well. For us, it is dependence outside of our being. For God, it is dependence within Him, but still dependence nevertheless.

Therefore our independence from God, is in direct conflict with these realities of God’s dependence in a far more significant way than we may have realized. Our attempt at independence is contrary not just to who we are as dependent beings, but also to who God is as an inter-dependent being. It is a violation of every aspect of our being created in the image of God. God designed us for a relationship of dependence on Him so that we could participate in and experience this inter-dependence He has within Him. So for us to attempt to be independent of God violates not just our nature but God’s as well.

To pick up on where I first commented on this point of God being ONE God, let us take a closer look at the makeup of God's person. We will summarize by saying there is no one or nothing outside of God that He needs to be God. God is dependent on nothing and therefore requires nothing outside of Him. He is self-sufficient, self sustained and, in short, He is independent...

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