Category: (01) Introducing God

For the unbeliever, the fear of God is the fear of the judgment of God and eternal death, which is eternal separation from God (Luke 12:5; Hebrews 10:31). For the believer, the fear of God is something much different. The believer’s fear is reverence of God. Hebrews 12:28-29 is a good description of this: “Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our ’God is a consuming fire.’” This reverence and awe is exactly what the fear of God means for Christians. This is the motivating factor for us to surrender to the Creator of the Universe.

Proverbs 1:7 declares, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge.” Until we understand who God is and develop a reverential fear of Him, we cannot have true wisdom. True wisdom comes only from understanding who God is and that He is holy, just, and righteous. Deuteronomy 10:12, 20-21 records, “And now, O Israel, what does the LORD your God ask of you but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul. Fear the LORD your God and serve him. Hold fast to him and take your oaths in his name. He is your praise; he is your God, who performed for you those great and awesome wonders you saw with your own eyes.” The fear of God is the basis for our walking in His ways, serving Him, and, yes, loving Him.

Some redefine the fear of God for believers to “respecting” Him. While respect is definitely included in the concept of fearing God, there is more to it than that. A biblical fear of God, for the believer, includes understanding how much God hates sin and fearing His judgment on sin—even in the life of a believer. Hebrews 12:5-11 describes God’s discipline of the believer. While it is done in love (Hebrews 12:6), it is still a fearful thing. As children, the fear of discipline from our parents no doubt prevented some evil actions. The same should be true in our relationship with God. We should fear His discipline, and therefore seek to live our lives in such a way that pleases Him.

Believers are not to be scared of God. We have no reason to be scared of Him. We have His promise that nothing can separate us from His love (Romans 8:38-39). We have His promise that He will never leave us or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5). Fearing God means having such a reverence for Him that it has a great impact on the way we live our lives. The fear of God is respecting Him, obeying Him, submitting to His discipline, and worshipping Him in awe.

The phrase “holy, holy, holy” appears twice in the Bible, once in the Old Testament (Isaiah 6:3) and once in the New (Revelation 4:8). Both times, the phrase is spoken or sung by heavenly creatures, and both times it occurs in the vision of a man who was transported to the throne of God: first by the prophet Isaiah and then by the apostle John. Before addressing the three-fold repetition of God’s holiness, it’s important to understand what exactly is meant by God’s holiness.

The holiness of God is the most difficult of all God’s attributes to explain, partly because it is one of His essential attributes that is not shared, inherently, by man. We are created in God’s image, and we can share many of His attributes, to a much lesser extent, of course—love, mercy, faithfulness, etc. But some of God’s attributes, such as omnipresence, omniscience, and omnipotence, will never be shared by created beings. Similarly, holiness is not something that we will possess as an inherent part of our nature; we only become holy in relationship to Christ. It is an imputed holiness. Only in Christ do we “become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21). God’s holiness is what separates Him from all other beings, what makes Him separate and distinct from everything else. God’s holiness is more than just His perfection or sinless purity; it is the essence of His “other-ness,” His transcendence. God’s holiness embodies the mystery of His awesomeness and causes us to gaze in wonder at Him as we begin to comprehend just a little of His majesty.

Isaiah was a firsthand witness of God’s holiness in his vision described in Isaiah 6. Even though Isaiah was a prophet of God and a righteous man, his reaction to the vision of God’s holiness was to be aware of his own sinfulness and to despair for his life (Isaiah 6:5). Even the angels in God’s presence, those who were crying, “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty,” covered their faces and feet with four of their six wings. Covering the face and feet no doubt denotes the reverence and awe inspired by the immediate presence of God (Exodus 3:4–5). The seraphim stood covered, as if concealing themselves as much as possible, in recognition of their unworthiness in the presence of the Holy One. And if the pure and holy seraphim exhibit such reverence in the presence of the Lord, with what profound awe should we, polluted and sinful creatures, presume to draw near to Him! The reverence shown to God by the angels should remind us of our own presumption when we rush thoughtlessly and irreverently into His presence, as we often do because we do not understand His holiness.

John’s vision of the throne of God in Revelation 4 was similar to that of Isaiah. Again, there were living creatures around the throne crying, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty” (Revelation 4:8) in reverence and awe of the Holy One. John goes on to describe these creatures giving glory and honor and reverence to God continually around His throne. Interestingly, John’s reaction to the vision of God in His throne is different from Isaiah’s. There is no record of John falling down in terror and awareness of his own sinful state, perhaps because John had already encountered the risen Christ at the beginning of his vision (Revelation 1:17). Christ had placed His hand upon John and told him not to be afraid. In the same way, we can approach the throne of grace if we have the hand of Christ upon us in the form of His righteousness, exchanged for our sin at the cross (2 Corinthians 5:21).

But why the three-fold repetition “holy, holy, holy” (called the trihagion)? The repetition of a name or an expression three times was quite common among the Jews. In Jeremiah 7:4, the Jews are represented by the prophet as saying, “The temple of the Lord” three times, expressing their intense confidence in their own worship, even though it was hypocritical and corrupt. Jeremiah 22:29, Ezekiel 21:27, and 2 Samuel 18:33 contain similar three-fold expressions of intensity. Therefore, when the angels around the throne call or cry to one another, “Holy, holy, holy,” they are expressing with force and passion the truth of the supreme holiness of God, that essential characteristic which expresses His awesome and majestic nature.

In addition, the trihagion expresses the triune nature of God, the three Persons of the Godhead, each equal in holiness and majesty. Jesus Christ is the Holy One who would not “see decay” in the grave, but would be resurrected to be exalted at the right hand of God (Acts 2:26; 13:33-35). Jesus is the “Holy and Righteous One” (Acts 3:14) whose death on the cross allows us to stand before the throne of our holy God unashamed. The third Person of the trinity—the Holy Spirit—by His very name denotes the importance of holiness in the essence of the Godhead.

Finally, the two visions of the angels around the throne crying, “Holy, holy, holy,” clearly indicates that God is the same in both testaments. Often we think of the God of the Old Testament as a God of wrath and the God of the New Testament as a God of love. But Isaiah and John present a unified picture of our holy, majestic, awesome God who does not change (Malachi 3:6), who is the same yesterday, today and forever (Hebrews 13:8), and “with whom is no variableness nor shadow of turning” (James 1:17). God’s holiness is eternal, just as He is eternal.

One of the most difficult parts of the Christian life is the fact that becoming a disciple of Christ does not make us immune to life’s trials and tribulations. Why would a good and loving God allow us to go through such things as the death of a child, disease and injury to ourselves and our loved ones, financial hardships, worry and fear? Surely, if He loved us, He would take all these things away from us. After all, doesn’t loving us mean He wants our lives to be easy and comfortable? Well, no, it doesn’t. The Bible clearly teaches that God loves those who are His children, and He “works all things together for good” for us (Romans 8:28). So that must mean that the trials and tribulations He allows in our lives are part of the working together of all things for good. Therefore, for the believer, all trials and tribulations must have a divine purpose.

As in all things, God’s ultimate purpose for us is to grow more and more into the image of His Son (Romans 8:29). This is the goal of the Christian, and everything in life, including the trials and tribulations, is designed to enable us to reach that goal. It is part of the process of sanctification, being set apart for God’s purposes and fitted to live for His glory. The way trials accomplish this is explained in 1 Peter 1:6-7: “In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which perishes, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” The true believer’s faith will be made sure by the trials we experience so that we can rest in the knowledge that it is real and will last forever.

Trials develop godly character, and that enables us to “rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us” (Romans 5:3-5). Jesus Christ set the perfect example. “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). These verses reveal aspects of His divine purpose for both Jesus Christ’s trials and tribulations and ours. Persevering proves our faith. “I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13).

However, we must be careful never to make excuses for our “trials and tribulations” if they are a result of our own wrongdoing. “By no means let any of you suffer as a murderer, or thief, or evildoer, or a troublesome meddler” (1 Peter 4:15). God will forgive our sins because the eternal punishment for them has been paid by Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. However, we still have to suffer the natural consequences in this life for our sins and bad choices. But God uses even those sufferings to mold and shape us for His purposes and our ultimate good.

Trials and tribulations come with both a purpose and a reward. “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. . . . Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life, which the Lord has promised to those who love Him” (James 1:2-4,12).

Through all of life’s trials and tribulations, we have the victory. “But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord, Jesus Christ.” Although we are in a spiritual battle, Satan has no authority over the believer in Christ. God has given us His Word to guide us, His Holy Spirit to enable us, and the privilege of coming to Him anywhere, at any time, to pray about anything. He has also assured us that no trial will test us beyond our ability to bear it, and “he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it” (1 Corinthians 10:13).

The kingdom of God is the rule of an eternal sovereign God over all creatures and things (Psalm 103:19; Daniel 4:3). The kingdom of God is also the designation for the sphere of salvation entered into at the new birth (John 3:5-7), and is synonymous with the “kingdom of heaven.”

The kingdom of God embraces all created intelligence, both in heaven and earth that are willingly subject to the Lord and are in fellowship with Him. The kingdom of God is, therefore, universal in that it includes created angels and men. It is eternal, as God is eternal, and it is spiritual—found within all born-again believers. We enter the kingdom of God when we are born again, and we are then part of that kingdom for eternity. It is a relationship “born of the spirit” (John 3:5), and we have confident assurance that it is so because the Spirit bears witness with our spirits (Romans 8:16).

God is sovereign, omnipotent, omniscient and the ruler over all of His creation. However, the designation “the kingdom of God” compasses that realm which is subject to God and will be for eternity. The rest of creation will be destroyed. Only that which is part of the “kingdom of God” will remain.

The Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:14-20) [Psalm 123:1-4]

If America is about anything, it is about freedom.  The state motto of New Hampshire sums up the national attitude quite well:  live free or die.  During the time of our Revolution, our cause was represented by a flag with a snake on it and the words “Don’t Tread On Me.”  The arc of freedom kept rising over time.  The abomination of slavery ended in 1865.  The right to vote, to obtain gainful employment, and other forms of freedom eventually became available to all adults regardless of race or gender.  The only arguments we have about freedom is how far and how fast to extend it.  I do not know of anyone who advocates abolishing freedom.

So what do we do with this passage from Matthew’s Gospel?  This is not a passage that glorifies freedom.  If anything, it seems to glorify … slavery.  Some translations of this passage use the word “servants” as a description, but in reality these servants were not free to leave their employ, and they certainly had no bargaining rights.  The master gave them orders, and they carried them out … or else. They owned nothing; the master owned everything.  They had no rights as we understand them, or at least the only rights or consideration they had came from their master as a gift.  Certainly, the word “slaves” is a more accurate description of their status.

This parable is certainly a familiar one.  The master is leaving his estate, and before he goes he entrusts each slave with an important task.  He has observed their abilities and decides to give them responsibility over a certain amount of money.  The first slave receives five talents to invest.  The second slave receives two talents.  And the third slave receives one talent.  Before going further, let me return to a point I’ve made before.  A talent was a very large amount of money.  It represented what an average laborer could hope to earn in half of a lifetime.  Try to imagine.  If you had even a minimum wage job for say, 25 years, that would add up to between 250 and 300 thousand dollars.  And an ordinary worker can hope for much more than that.  So we’re looking at the equivalent of several hundred thousand dollars for the least gifted slave to invest … and twice as much for the middle slave, and five times more for the most gifted slave … perhaps two million dollars for that one.

The master has confidence in all of his slaves, but in differing amounts.  He has observed them. He knows what they can accomplish.  They all can accomplish something.  But obviously there are different levels of potential accomplishment.  And that makes sense, doesn’t it?  We are more likely to expect Mozart to write a beautiful opera or symphony than a talented music student, for instance.  And so the master has different expectations of his slaves.  But he does expect each of them to respond with eagerness to what he has given them to do.

We see the results.  The most talented slave has doubled the amount of money the master gave him.   The second slave has done likewise.  Both of them had eagerly invested the master’s money. There was likely a risk involved … you do not receive 100% returns without risk.  But they plunged ahead and gained much for their master.  He in turn, being a generous master, rewarded them richly.  In the context of the parable, the good slaves are rewarded in this life.  But is that what Jesus meant, that you will be rewarded for your good use of God’s gifts in this life?  I do not think that is the best reading of the passage.  Rather, their faithful use of God’s gifts means that the slaves will, in the words of the parable, enter into the happiness of their master.  That is something that does exist in this life, although not necessarily in a material sense.  The feeling of closeness with God, and the comfort of a clear conscience, are tremendously valuable in themselves.

But the third slave has acted differently, out of what seems to be a mixture of fear and resentment.  He feared risking the money he had been given.  And he didn’t think much of his master, either, by his choice of words.  So he buries the money entrusted to him, and gives back the exact same sum.  It had appreciated not at all.

The master is angry.  He pointed out that the least the slave could have done was to invest the money with the bankers.  It would have gained some interest …  probably not 100%, but something (although at that time, banks as we know them barely existed.  Conceivably the slave would have run some risk even trying to get a small rate of return).    The slave made no effort at all to increase what had been entrusted to him.   He was so afraid of making a mistake that he did nothing with what he had been given.  And so he was banished to the outer darkness, sent away from his master’s presence.  And again, Jesus is pointing to eternity in his description.  Over and over again in his parables and other speeches, Jesus points to eternity.  And eternity includes heaven, of course, but we are never to forget that it also includes hell.

We learn a number of truths from this parable.  First, God is sovereign.  He has created us.  He has endowed us with certain gifts.  He watches us as we use them (or neglect them or even abuse them).  He dispenses judgment based on how we use these gifts.  If you look at it negatively, it means that nothing truly belongs to us, and we have no rights outside of God’s gifts.  God is our master, and to him we owe total obedience.  That is a hard teaching to accept.  I already talked about the freedom we believe is our birthright as Americans.  Among the freedoms we cherish is the freedom to make money for ourselves.  Once the government has taken its (big) cut, the rest of it belongs to us.  It is our property.  And that is true in our human economy, and it makes a fair amount of sense.  But in God’s economy, it is very different.  All good things come from God.  We are only stewards of whatever we have, whether it is wealth, or talent, or intelligence, or whatever it may be.  And God expects us to use whatever he has entrusted to us in the service of his kingdom.  We are accountable to God.  And the more God has entrusted us with, the more he expects from us.

Again, this is a hard teaching to accept in this day and age.  Some interpreters of this passage see the third slave as the hero, rebelling against the unfair and cruel master who arbitrarily grants favors and dispenses punishment.  Why should the master have so much while the slaves have nothing?  The problem is that Jesus did not tell the parable in that way.  Jesus told it to reinforce the sovereignty and authority of God, and our human responsibility to him.  Now, it is true that Jesus told this parable two thousand years ago, but the truth of the parable has not changed.  And that is really the second truth: that God’s Word does not change.  It is eternal and unchanging.  Even if our sentiments change, God does not.  And if we struggle with a passage from Scripture, it is not God’s responsibility to conform his Word to our feelings, but rather our responsibility to conform our feelings to his Word.  Consider the Word as a gift to us.  How will we use it?  Will we allow ourselves to be conformed to the Word and transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit?

Or will we put the Word in a compartment somewhere and treat it like a burden that makes unfair demands on us?  Isn’t it amazing how God has given us this gift, his will in an understandable way?  He has given us all we need to know for our salvation.  Are we not grateful for this incredible gift?  If so, how will we show our gratitude?

I ask that because God should have our gratitude.  In all of the emphasis on God’s power and authority, I would not want to neglect his character.  The words of the third slave are simply not accurate.  He is speaking from a proud and rebellious heart.  From my perspective, a proud and rebellious heart is the greatest barrier to a relationship with God.  It is not a matter of the intellect (plenty of smart and educated people believe in God), but simply a matter of pride.  But God is gracious to us.  He does not have to give us anything.  He does not have to entrust us with any resources or gifts.  But he does.  He gives us the opportunity to use our intelligence, energy, imagination and love in his service (I got those words from the Presbyterian Book of Order … that is one of the ordination questions).  And God will honor our sincere use of our gifts.  We are called upon to use our gifts, whatever they are, with confidence and hope, and not fear and resentment.  God looks for opportunities to bless us.  That is the third truth I would point out in this passage.

Let me close with some  most provocative questions.  Are you a good slave?  Do you trust God as your Master?  Do you accept the gifts he has given you with gratitude?  Will you use them to his service?  Do you believe that his judgments are righteous and gracious?  If you struggle with this passage, may I ask you to consider some great examples of faith who use their talents to God’s glory, never forgetting to thank him?  Will you consider the example of Billy Graham?  Will you look to Tim Tebow?  They have been given amazing gifts and have never forgotten God.  Our gifts may not be as prominent as theirs, but surely we can contribute to the kingdom of God in our own way.  Are you ready and willing to do so?

To God alone be the glory.  May we give up our pride before him, and bow down to him, and serve him to the best of our God-given abilities.  Amen.

No, God does not love Satan, and neither should we. God cannot love that which is evil and unholy, and Satan embodies all of that. He is the enemy (1 Peter 5:8); the evil one (Matthew 6:13); the father of lies and a murderer (John 8:44); the accuser of God’s people (Revelation 12:10); the tempter (1 Thessalonians 3:5); proud, wicked and violent (Isaiah 14:12-15); a deceiver (Acts 13:10); a schemer (Ephesians 6:11); a thief (Luke 8:12); and many more evil things. He is, in fact, everything that God hates. The heart of Satan is fixed and confirmed in his hatred of God, his judgment is final, and his destruction is sure. Revelation 20 describes God’s future plan for Satan, and love for Satan has no part in it.

Jesus’ command that we love our enemies (Matthew 5:44) is meant to govern interpersonal relationships in this world. We love God, and we love people (even our enemies), who are made in God’s image. Angels are not made in God’s image. We are never told to love the holy angels, and we are certainly never told to love the evil angels.

Since Satan is everything that is antithetical to the God we love, we cannot love Satan. If we loved Satan, we would be forced to hate God, because holiness is the opposite of sin.

God has already determined that there will be no forgiveness for Satan; we are the objects of God’s sacrificial love, shown on the cross. As God was lovingly redeeming mankind, He was putting Satan “to open shame” (Colossians 2:15). God’s judgment of Satan will be part of His great love for us.

  Perhaps the best indication that God does have a sense of humor is that He created man in His image (Genesis 1:27), and certainly people are able to perceive and express humor. The American Heritage Dictionary defines a “sense of humor” as “…The ability to perceive, enjoy, or express what is comical or funny.” According to this definition, then, God must show an ability to perceive, enjoy, or express what is comical. The difficulty is that people perceive what is comical differently, and what sinful man perceives as funny would not amuse a holy and perfect God. Much of what the world calls humor is not funny but is crass and crude and should have no part in a Christian’s life (Colossians 3:8). Other humor is expressed at the expense of others (tearing down rather than building up), again something contrary to God’s Word (Colossians 4:6; Ephesians 4:29).

An example of God’s humor is the instance in which the Israelites were using the Ark of the Covenant like a good-luck charm in taking it to battle, and the Philistines ended up capturing it and placing it in their temple before their idol of Dagon. They came into the temple the next day and found Dagon flat on his face before the ark. They set him back up. The next morning, there he was again, but this time he had his hands and head cut off as a symbol of his powerlessness before the God of the ark (1 Samuel 5:1-5). God’s putting Dagon in a position of submission to His ark is a comical picture.

This incident is an example of God laughing at the foolishness of those who would oppose Him. “See what they spew from their mouths— they spew out swords from their lips, and they say, ‘Who can hear us?’ But you, O LORD, laugh at them; you scoff at all those nations” (Psalm 59:7-9). Psalm 2 also reveals God laughing at those who would rebel against His kingship (verse 4). It is like the comical picture of a kindergarten-aged child being upset at his parents and running away from home…all the way to his neighbor’s house. But there is obviously a serious side to this as well, and although the picture of weak and silly man trying to match wits with an almighty and all-knowing God is comical, God takes no delight in their waywardness and its consequences but rather desires to see them turn around (Ezekiel 33:11; Matthew 23:37-38).

A person does not crack jokes in the presence of one who has just lost a close loved one; silly jokes are out of place on such occasions. In the same way, God is focused on the lost and is looking for those who will care for their souls as He does. That is why our lives (while having times of refreshing and humor) are to be characterized by “soberness” (seriousness about making our lives count for Christ) (1 Thessalonians 5:6,8; Titus 2:2,6).

Sometimes we may imagine God as a task master, a dictator opposed to fun or pleasure. We may envision Him as a grimacing judge with a gavel, readily pointing out faults and stifling any sense of joy we have. We might see God as a cosmic killjoy. What a sad—and unbiblical—picture of God! A cold, disagreeable sourpuss is not the God of the Bible. When we study Scripture and come to understand God’s character, we see that He is not in any sense a cosmic killjoy. In fact, He is the one who restores us and gives us true joy.

Jesus declares, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10). Life “to the full” does not sound like a gift from a killjoy. Throughout the Bible, we see depictions of what a life-to-the-full life might look like. One great example is the life of Jesus Himself. His first miracle was performed at a wedding feast (John 2). Children flocked to Him—and we know that children will shun a grump (Mark 10:13-16). In Luke 7:34 Jesus gives a glimpse of His joy: “The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and “sinners.”’” Jesus was not joyless; in fact, He exhibited too much joy, as far as His critics were concerned. He participated in life and was not abstemious.

God Himself takes pleasure in things. Zephaniah 3:17, for example, says that God delights in us and sings over us. God delights in His obedient children (Deuteronomy 30:9). He delights to show mercy (Micah 7:18).

God created the human body with the capacity to experience pleasure. God’s design includes taste buds—and enough flavorful foods to satisfy any palate. God designed the human eye and enough colors to dazzle the mind. God designed the sexual organs, with their myriad of nerve endings, so that a married couple can enjoy the pleasure of their love. In other words, pleasure was God’s idea; He is anything but a killjoy.

The Old Testament is filled with instructions for celebrations and festivals. While the feasts served as important reminders of God’s faithfulness and provided glimpses of who the Messiah would be, they were also times of outright celebration. A cosmic killjoy would not institute such feasts.

Sometimes, as Christians, we get the idea that being joyful means reading the Bible, meditating, or serving. So we end up thinking God isn’t a killjoy per se, but maybe He expects us to have “fun” with things that really aren’t all that fun. This is wrong on two levels. First, we certainly can and do experience joy in reading the Bible and serving others. Also, joy is not found in those activities exclusively. God created us to experience fellowship, recreation, and creativity. We were made to delight in being His children, in using the skills He has given us, and in welcoming the pleasures He offers. The Westminster Shorter Catechism has it right in its very first answer: “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever.”

However, we should be careful not to love pleasure for pleasure’s sake. We must realize that God is opposed to certain types of “pleasure.” The sad truth is that we live in a fallen world where God’s best for us is often perverted. Many activities that our society deems pleasurable are not pleasing to God (see Galatians 5:19-21; Colossians 3:5-10; and 1 Corinthians 6:12-17). God does not condone promiscuous sex or drunkenness, for example. As a result, some call God a killjoy. However, these “pleasures” of the world are not in fact healthy for us or conducive to long-term joy. They are the “pleasures of sin for a season” (Hebrews 11:25). They are false friends that quickly abandon us and leave us empty and longing. So, rather than killing our fun, God is protecting us and providing what is truly best for us. In this way He is much like an earthly parent who provides boundaries for his children. A parent may be called a killjoy for limiting the amount of candy his children consume, but that boundary will ultimately benefit them.

Also, it is important to keep in mind that the purpose of our lives is not to be a joyride. Our lives have deep meaning. We were created to delight in God (Psalm 37:4), and we appreciate the good things He provides. But our focus in on the Giver, not the gift.

God is not a killjoy; He is the creator of joy. His Spirit produces it in our lives (Galatians 5:22). Because He is the source of joy, any pursuit of pleasure apart from God is idolatry. For our own well-being, God opposes our grasping after the worldly, temporary joy that sin promises. Sometimes we must put aside instant gratification in order to invest in the greater joy of God’s kingdom. “You will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand” (Psalm 16:11).

Pleasing God is, or should be, the goal of all believers—all who call upon the name of Christ for salvation. The requirements for all who want to please God are that they must seek God by faith, walk in the Spirit and not in the flesh, and walk worthy of our calling in obedience and submission to the will of God. These things may seem impossible to do, but God wants us to please Him, and He makes it possible for us to please Him. We do these things by the power of His Spirit who lives in our hearts.

Paul reminds the believers in Rome that “they who are in the flesh cannot please God” (Romans 8:8). So the first step in pleasing God is to accept the sacrifice for sin that He provided in the death of Jesus Christ on the cross. Only then are we “in the Spirit” and not “in the flesh.” We do this by faith because “without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him” (Hebrews 11:6).

In Romans 8, Paul explains the difference between the sinful nature and the nature of those regenerated by the Spirit. Those who are still in their sin have their minds set on sinful desires, whereas the ones regenerated by Christ have a completely new mind that is controlled by the Spirit and desire to live in accordance with Him. “The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace; the sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so” (Romans 8:6-7). So the first step for believers in pleasing God is to be sure we are walking in the Spirit, not in the flesh.

Furthermore, we must live by faith (Hebrews 10:38). God cannot be pleased with those who “shrink back” from Him because they have no confidence in Him or they doubt the truth of His declarations and promises, or who do not believe that His ways are right and holy and perfect. The requirement of faith and confidence in God is not unreasonable; it is just what we require of our children and spouses, and it is an indispensable condition of our being pleased with them. So it is with God.

Therefore, pleasing God is a matter of living according to His precepts, commandments, and doing so in love. We always want to please those we love, and the New Testament is full of exhortations to righteous living and loving Christ by obeying His commandments. Jesus made this very plain: “If you love me, you will obey what I command” (John 14:15). The Epistles are God’s plan for believers and are filled with exhortations to display throughout our lives the behavior that is pleasing to God: “For the rest, then, my brothers, we beseech you and exhort you in the Lord Jesus, that, as you have received from us how you ought to walk and to please God, so you would abound more and more” (1Thessalonians 4:1).

At the very heart of this question lies a fundamental misunderstanding of what both the Old and New Testaments reveal about the nature of God. Another way of expressing this same basic thought is when people say, “The God of the Old Testament is a God of wrath while the God of the New Testament is a God of love.” The fact that the Bible is God’s progressive revelation of Himself to us through historical events and through His relationship with people throughout history might contribute to misconceptions about what God is like in the Old Testament as compared to the New Testament. However, when one reads both the Old and the New Testaments, it becomes evident that God is not different from one testament to another and that God’s wrath and His love are revealed in both testaments.

For example, throughout the Old Testament, God is declared to be a “compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness,” (Exodus 34:6; Numbers 14:18; Deuteronomy 4:31; Nehemiah 9:17; Psalm 86:5, 15; 108:4; 145:8; Joel 2:13). Yet in the New Testament, God’s loving-kindness and mercy are manifested even more fully through the fact that “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). Throughout the Old Testament, we also see God dealing with Israel the same way a loving father deals with a child. When they willfully sinned against Him and began to worship idols, God would punish them. Yet, each time He would deliver them once they had repented of their idolatry. This is much the same way God deals with Christians in the New Testament. For example, Hebrews 12:6 tells us that “the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son.”

In a similar way, throughout the Old Testament we see God’s judgment and wrath poured out on sin. Likewise, in the New Testament we see that the wrath of God is still “being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness” (Romans 1:18). So, clearly, God is no different in the Old Testament than He is in the New Testament. God by His very nature is immutable (unchanging). While we might see one aspect of His nature revealed in certain passages of Scripture more than other aspects, God Himself does not change.

As we read and study the Bible, it becomes clear that God is the same in the Old and New Testaments. Even though the Bible is 66 individual books written on two (or possibly three) continents, in three different languages, over a period of approximately 1500 years by more than 40 authors, it remains one unified book from beginning to end without contradiction. In it we see how a loving, merciful, and just God deals with sinful men in all kinds of situations. Truly, the Bible is God’s love letter to mankind. God’s love for His creation, especially for mankind, is evident all through Scripture. Throughout the Bible we see God lovingly and mercifully calling people into a special relationship with Himself, not because they deserve it, but because He is a gracious and merciful God, slow to anger and abundant in loving-kindness and truth. Yet we also see a holy and righteous God who is the Judge of all those who disobey His Word and refuse to worship Him, turning instead to worship gods of their own creation (Romans chapter 1).

Because of God’s righteous and holy character, all sin—past, present, and future—must be judged. Yet God in His infinite love has provided a payment for sin and a way of reconciliation so that sinful man can escape His wrath. We see this wonderful truth in verses like 1 John 4:10: “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” In the Old Testament, God provided a sacrificial system whereby atonement could be made for sin. However, this sacrificial system was only temporary and merely looked forward to the coming of Jesus Christ who would die on the cross to make a complete substitutionary atonement for sin. The Savior who was promised in the Old Testament is fully revealed in the New Testament. Only envisioned in the Old Testament, the ultimate expression of God’s love, the sending of His Son Jesus Christ, is revealed in all its glory in the New Testament. Both the Old and the New Testaments were given “to make us wise unto salvation” (2 Timothy 3:15). When we study the Testaments closely, it is evident that God “does not change like shifting shadows” (James 1:17).