The Nature of God
God is glorious (Exodus 15:11; Psalm 145:5). His glory consists in the overwhelming and overflowing beauty which stems from the sum total of all His attributes working together in perfect harmony. God is perfect in His holiness (Exodus 15:11; Isaiah 6:3; I Peter 1:16), justice (Psalm 99:4; Luke 19:7-8; Hebrews 6:10), wisdom (Romans 11:33; I Corinthians 2:7; Ephesians 3:10), power (Isaiah 44:24; Job 9:12; Jeremiah 32:17), grace and mercy (Ephesians 1:6-7;2:4, 7-9; Romans 3:24), and love (I John 4:7-8, 16; Romans 5:18; John 3:16).
The Motive of God
God not only is glorious, He loves His glory with infinite intensity (Isaiah 48:9-11) and therein lies His righteousness (Romans 9:14,15; Exodus 33:18,19). For God to be righteous, He must love what is best; therefore His ultimate loyalty must be to the maintenance and manifestation of His own glory. In other words, all that God does, He does for His own name’s sake (Ezekiel 36:20-23). God created humanity for His glory (Isaiah 43:7,21); God redeems sinners for the praise of His glory (Ephesians 1:5-6, 12, 14; Romans 3:26; 15:7); God empowers Christians to live for His glory, both individually (I Corinthians 10:31; I Peter 4:11) and corporately (Ephesians 3:10); and God’s ultimate goal for His people is that they might see and enjoy His glory forever (John 17:24). His ultimate will or plan for history is that “the earth will be filled with the knowledge and the glory of God as the waters cover the sea” (Habakkuk 2:14, cf. Numbers 14:21). But God’s unswerving zeal for His own glory does not mean that God is unconcerned about man’s welfare. No, God’s mercy and grace toward undeserving sinners is the apex of His glory (Romans (9:22-23). And the greatest possible good for man is to see God face to face, just as He is (I Corinthians 13:12; I John 3:2) and to behold the beauty of the Lord (Psalm 27:4). In fact, God’s absolute faithfulness to His own glory manifests itself in God’s absolute faithfulness to His covenant promises (His glory is at stake in whether He keeps His word or not) and thus it becomes the ultimate ground of our assurance (Psalm 143:1, 11; Daniel 9:14-19).
The Sovereignty of God
The God of the Bible is the creator of the whole visible and invisible universe and He is the sovereign ruler of it. From all eternity, He freely and unchangeably, in His most holy wisdom, ordained whatsoever comes to pass. To use the words of Paul, God does “all things according to the counsel of His will” (Ephesians 1:11), having sovereign control of all events from the events of rulers and nations (Daniel 4:25, 32, 34-35) to the flight of a sparrow (Matthew 10:29). In particular, God’s sovereignty is worked out in the area of salvation. To ensure that the salvation of sinners abounds to the praise of God’s glory, God saves His people by grace alone apart from works, lest anyone should boast (Ephesians 2:8-9). The sovereignty of God’s grace is seen in God’s unconditional election of His people out of the mass of sinful humanity for salvation (Romans 8:29, 9:6-23; Ephesians 1:4), the glorious atonement of Christ which actually accomplishes the salvation of God’s people (I Peter 3:18), the irresistible grace of God’s effectual call (Romans 8:30; I Peter 2:9) and the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit (Jeremiah 31:31-34; Ezekiel 36:26ff, John 3:4; Titus 3:5) which enable and move a person to respond to the gospel of Christ in saving faith, and God’s persevering in grace with his saints (I Peter 1:5; Jude 1; John 10:28-30; Philippians 1:6) so that His people will in fact persevere to the end and be saved.
The Priority of Worship
Although the three ministry priorities of Bethlehem Baptist Church (worship, nurture and outreach) are all crucial and are all intertwined, nevertheless, worship stands at the top of the pyramid. The ultimate end for which God created man is to see God’s glory and worship Him fully. Worship is the motive and the goal of all our deeds of love done to fellow believers (nurture) or to unbelievers (outreach). Seeing and being captivated by the glory of God makes us long to align ourselves with God’s purposes of love. And the goal of our loving others is to build believers and unbelievers alike into people with greater and greater capacities and desires to praise the glory of God’s grace.
The Combination of Head and Heart
In the Christian life, emotions are crucial and thinking is crucial. God is not honored by either an unfeeling, joyless, loveless intellectualism or by an unthinking, uncritical emotionalism. Both are needed-minds that are gripped by the truth of God acquired through the serious and rigorous study of Scripture, and hearts that are on fire with intense emotions of love for God and His glory, awe of His majestic holiness, gratitude for His mercy, and fear of His wrath. In the final analysis, what God wants most is our hearts. That was the problem with the Pharisees-they honored God with their lips but their hearts were far from Him (Matthew 15:8). One of Jesus’ most chilling threats was to professing believers who had no emotions toward God. They were neither hot nor cold-they were lukewarm. And Jesus promised to spit them out of His mouth (Revelation 3:15-16). But the way God longs to reach our hearts is through our minds. It is through the truth of Scripture that we become transformed people through the renewing of our minds (Romans 12:2). This truth comes through the discipline of careful reading of the text (Ephesians 3:4) seeking to find the author’s intended meaning. The role of the Holy Spirit is not to add anything to the text but to make the heart of the reader humble so that he or she will welcome and embrace the truth (I Corinthians 2:14). Thus our position could be summed up as follows: “The heart is crucial, through the head.”
The Obedience of Faith
Faith is essential in the human heart if we are to glorify God. God is shown to be glorious when we trust Him, especially in suffering. Faith is seeing and savoring the glory of God in Christ crucified, risen, and reigning for the good of His people (2 Corinthians 4:4-6). This “savoring” means receiving in Christ the superior satisfaction of His promises based on His finished work of atonement (Philippians 3:7-9). Faith is the soul’s embrace of all that God is and promises to be for us in Christ (Hebrews 11:1). It honors God by being confident that God will keep His promises to those who set their hope on Him (Romans 4:20-21). Thus faith is future-oriented while resting firmly on the past work of Christ on the Cross and in the resurrection. Faith glorifies God because it magnifies His power, wisdom, grace and faithfulness to work for us the good that we cannot do for ourselves.
Therefore, saving faith is of such a dynamic quality that it inevitably produces “the work of faith” (1 Thessalonians 1:3;2 Thessalonians 1:11), that is, works of love. Saving faith inevitably “works through love” (Galatians 5:6). Faith without works is not saving faith (James 2:14). But that obedience is never an act that merits or earns God’s favor. God’s favor is based on the imputed righteousness of Christ which is ours by virtue of faith alone, that is apart from any other basis or means (Romans 3:28; Romans 4:4-5). Nevertheless, the faith that justifies is never alone in him that believes (Westminster Confession, 11.2). Justifying faith, which is a gift from God (2 Timothy 2:25; Philippians 1:29; Ephesians 2:8-10), is so satisfied in all that God promises to be for us in Christ on the basis of His finished work on the cross that it breaks the power of sins inferior promises. Thus, justifying faith inevitably sanctifies, that is, sets us on a life of gradual transformation into the likeness of Christ (Acts 26:18; 2 Thessalonians 2:13).
This obedience to Christ is an “obedience of faith.” We trust him that His promises are true and superior to all that sin has to offer, and from this trust the power of sin is broken. This kind of obedience, while not perfect in this life, is necessary for final salvation. There is a holiness without which we will not see the Lord (Hebrews 2:14; Galatians 5:21). But this necessity is not the necessity of a basis or a means of justification. The basis of justification is the finished work of Christ and His imputed righteousness. The means is faith alone. But the obedience that flows from faith is the evidence of the genuineness of the faith and therefore is “necessary” in the sense that if it is not produced in the end, the faith is shown to be “dead” or “vain,” as James says, and not saving faith. So we must be careful here to guard three things vigilantly: 1) the complete sufficiency of the work of Christ as the sole ground or basis of our right standing with God; 2) faith alone as the sole means or instrument of the righteousness of Christ being imputed to our account; and 3) the subsequent and consequent obedience that is the necessary evidence that this faith in this work of Christ and all that it purchased for us (Romans 8:32) is real.
We recommend that if you are interested in understanding this indispensable role of the “obedience of faith,” you read John Piper’s book, The Purifying Power of Living by Faith in FUTURE GRACE. The aim of this book is to show how the faith that justifies also necessarily sanctifies, which is what the Westminster Confession says that it does: “Faith, thus receiving and resting on Christ and his righteousness, is the alone instrument of justification; yet is it not alone in the person justified, but is ever accompanied with all other saving graces, and is not dead faith, but worketh by love.”