Paul's Exalted View of God
Boasting in the Cross & Christ's Resurrection
Revelation of the Spirit's Role in the Body of Christ
"What comes to our minds when we think of God is the most important thing about us."
1. Paul's Exalted View of God
To Paul, God was the great Reality, Sovereign in power, but involved and seeking human welfare. One way to see Paul's view of God is to study his way of nurturing young disciples like Timothy and Titus.
This view of God is nutruring in our own roles as leaders. Paul's various titles for god reveal fresh facets of His greatness and glory, filling us with awe, especially as we meditate on our priviledge of serving Him. In writing to Timothy, Paul surveys God's amazing grace to the "worst" of sinners - himself - demonstrating Christ's perfect patience and love.
Then, in I Tim.1:17, Paul spontaneously bursts into a doxology where he describes God: "Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever." Let's take a close look one by one at these concepts used by Paul to describe his beloved God.
- "The King of all ages" (J.B. Phillips) We are bound by clocks and calendars, but God is Ruler of all worlds and absolute Ruler of time. He moves with infinite ease through the ages toward the fulfillment of His eternal purpose. What a safe, comforting truth to live by! Especially when we know He will not allow Satan to destroy His church, and, in fact, sovereignly overrules evil in world history to bring His plan to its appointed goal.
- "Immortal" Only God is incorruptible, imperishable, not subject to the aging process of time and change, decay and death. And He has given immortality and perfection to us as a gift - how wonderful!
- "Invisible" God has chosen to remain unseen except in Christ. But even so the finite can never fully comprehend the infinite -- afterall Moses only saw God's afterglow (Ex. 33:22-23).
- "The only God" Our God is indeed the only God. There is no other real god. "To whom will you compare me? Or who is my equal?" He asks in Is.40:25. Yet He is not aloof or isolated, He is involved with us individually and personally -- that's incredible.
To Titus Paul writes that in every way slaves should "make the teaching about God our Savior attractive" (Titus 2:10) because God is truly our Savior from sin, death and hell. We have a "God who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment" (I Tim. 6:17). Ours is the beneficent and lavish God who gives us abundantly more than we can ask or think for time and eternity.
Paul is in effect saying to his young disciples, "This is the kind of God you can fully trust. He is adequate for every emergency and sufficient for every need that will arise in the ministry that lies ahead for you." Paul admonishes us the same way today.
2. Boasting in the Cross & Christ's Resurrection
In his letter to Timothy, Paul reminds him, "To remember always as the center of everything . . . Jesus Christ . . . raised from the dead" (II Tim.2:8). Christianity is Christ. From his conversion on, everything in Paul's life revolved around Christ. Being "In Christ" makes every spiritual blessing ours, and we are joined to Him by an invisible, yet inseparable bond (Eph.1:3).
At his conversion, the real significance of the cross dawned on Paul. The speaker who introduced himself as "Jesus whom you are persecuting" was recognized by Paul as the exalted Son of God, identical with the historical Jesus of Nazareth who had been crucified. Paul wrote to the Corinthians much later describing the dawn of his faith as "seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God . . . it is the God who said, 'Let light shine out of darkness', who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ" (II Cor.4:4,6). In that light the risen Christ appeared to Paul.
Paul had no doubt about the personal identity of the earthly Jesus and the heavenly Christ. He equally had no doubt that the heavenly Christ's mode of existence was different from that of the earthly Jesus. Christ's death was the means to procure his exaltation. "Christ died and returned to life so that he might be the Lord of both the dead and the Living" (Rom.14:9), and the indisputable fact that "Jesus Christ is Lord of all" (Acts 10:36). Paul envisioned a day when recognition of Christ's sovereignty will be universal -- for "at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth" (Phil.2:10).
Among the many facets of the death of our Lord are the following indispensable well-known truths:
- Propitiation -- a quenching of God's wrath by Christ's bearing away and obliterating our sins so they no longer stand as a barrier between us and God.
- Sanctification -- although Christ's death secured for us a full justification from all sin it would have failed in its purpose if it had left us as victims of sin's tyranny. According to Paul this deliverance from the power of sin in our lives starts when we become conscious of our inability to free ourselves. Then follows the process of sanctification, as long as we recognize Christ's Lordship and depend on the Holy Spirit's power to remove and put to death our besetting sins which are hindering us from being transformed into the image of Christ. "You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness" (Rom.6:18).
- Liberty -- the amazing grace and love that was shown on the cross shifts our life's center from self to Christ. To live for self after our salvation robs us of the liberty Christ bought for us at such a great price on His cross. A complete surrender to Him as Lord brings freedom in life with our time, talents, possessions, and recreation (Rom.8:2). A freedom and liberty that can be experienced in no other way.
- Protection from Satan's world system -- Christ rescued us from the power and corrupting influence of our world. "The Lord Jesus Christ . . . gave Himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age" (Gal.1:3-4). This is not physical detachment and isolation, but spiritual. "The world has been crucified to me, and I to the world" (Gal.6:14). Christ prayed, "My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one" (Jn.17:15). Compromise with the spirit of this age short circuits our effectiveness for Christ.
Paul claimed a direct and profound personal acquaintance with the exalted Christ, whose mode of existence was different from that of the earthly Jesus. "The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven" (I Cor.15:47). It was the "man of heaven" that appeared to Paul on the Damascus road, but when he attempts to describe what he saw, the only vocabulary he can use is that of 'light'.
Paul looked forward to the parousia of Christ, his manifestation in glory. This revelation will also be our transformation in the "twinkling of an eye". This is the climax of our salvation, the consummation of God's eternal purpose of grace, our liberation from bondage to decay and futility, our adoption as sons and the redemption of our bodies (Rom.8:20-23).
Man, according to the O.T., was made in God's image (Gen.1:26), and for his glory (Is.43:7); and Paul says we are today in "the image and glory of God" (I Cor.11:7). The risen exalted Christ is the second man, the last Adam, as the image of God and the revealer of his glory. What the first man was, imperfectly, in the old creation, Christ is perfectly in the new creation -- the resurrection order. However, even while we are living on earth in our mortal bodies, we are, by faith, united to the risen Christ. "He who is united to the Lord becomes one spirit with him" (I Cor.6:17).
Paul sees Christ not only as the exalted reigning Messiah at the right hand of God, but he continues with the revelation "who indeed intercedes for us". He is actively engaged on our behalf (Rom.8:34). John also sees "Jesus Christ the righteous" as our "advocate with the Father" (I Jn.2:1), and Heb.7:25 tells us that He always lives to make intercession for believers. In other words, Christ's work for us was not just His death on our behalf; in His new exalted existence at the right hand of God, he is still our friend and helper, meeting all our needs. What an awesome privilege we have as Christ's redeemed people.
3. Revelation of the Spirit's Role
In the upper room discourse our Lord had more to say to his disciples about the character and ministry of the Holy Spirit than in all his previous teaching. But when speaking on that very theme, Christ made this rather mysterious statement, "I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when He, the Spirit of truth comes, He will guide you into all truth" (Jn.16:12-13). It was principally through Paul that this further revelation was communicated. It is not surprising, therefore, to find his writings filled with references to the Holy Spirit, for Paul was clearly the foremost theologian of the early church.
Paul tied the O.T. economy to the present age in II Cor.3 & 4 as he recounts the narrative in Ex. 29-35. Moses, his countenance shining from his confrontation with the divine glory, wore a veil to conceal the radiance from his fellow Israelites, but removed it when he "went in before the Lord." Paul takes this to mean that each time Moses went into the presence of God he was re-charged with the divine glory, and veiled his face when he went out so that the Israelites should not see that this glory was a fading one which required repeated renewal. The fading glory on Moses' face is contrasted with the unfading "glory of god in the face of Christ" (II Cor.4:6). This is by way of pointing the contrast between the inferior glory of the law, introduced for a limited period and destined to pass away, and the surpassing glory of the age of grace -- "the dispensation of the Spirit" (II Cor.3:8).
Paul goes on to explain that as Moses removed the veil from his face when "he went in before the Lord" (Ex.34:34), so "when a man turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. Now (Paul adds) the Lord is the Spirit and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom." (II Cor.3:16). That is to say, "the Lord" in the Exodus narrative corresponds to the Spirit in this new order, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom of access to the divine presence "with unveiled face". Access to God in the dispensation of law, he implies, was difficult and hedged about with restrictions and inhibitions; access to God in the dispensation of the Spirit is free and unreserved.
What the Lord was to Moses, the Spirit is to the believer. In vs.17 the "Lord the Spirit" Paul is teaching the close association between the ascended Christ and the Holy Spirit in the believer's life. Christ is never to be conceived of apart form the Spirit, nor the Spirit conceived of apart from Him.
In Paul's own experience the Spirit played a very important part. Immediately after his conversion he was filled with the Holy Spirit (Acts 9:17); his call to service and commissioning were through the Spirit. Paul was guided through the Spirit; he depended on the Spirit's power in preaching (I Cor.2:4), and the Spirit's warning when he faced impending dangers (Acts 21:4, 11-14). It was the Spirit's ministry that gave Paul victory over the flesh, putting "to death the misdeeds of the body" (Rom.8:13), and it is the Spirit who works in our progressive sanctification. He produces spiritual fruit (Gal.5:22-23), and distributes various gifts which are essential in the building up of the church. Paul taught that every kind of ministry must be inspired and made effective by the Holy Spirit, and since we fight a supernatural foe, only a more powerful Holy Spirit will be able to overcome Satan.
The Role of the Spirit in the Body of Christ
The Body of Christ, together with its members one by one, is vitalized by the life of the risen Christ and energized by the Holy Spirit. Incorporation into this body is by personal faith in Christ and regeneration by the Spirit and being put into the Body of Christ by Him.
The bestowal of the Spirit of God, or the Holy Spirit, is presented as the fulfillment of O.T. promises associated with His coming, with the age of renewal as Ezekiel and Jeremiah prophesied. Joel, a post-exilic prophet foretold that God will pour out His Spirit on "all flesh" (Joel 2:28ff), and Peter quoted him in his sermon at Pentecost to explain the miraculous events occurring among the disciples (i.e. tongues of fire and speaking in tongues, the languages of all those visiting Jerusalem). The Spirit that formerly spoke through the prophets, God's "anointed ones" by whom He taught His people, is now available to dwell not only within the Body of Christ as a whole, but also within individual members.
Paul explained in detail the presence, power and role of the Holy Spirit in the Body of Christ corporately and in each of the members individually. Individually it is the Holy Spirit's role to conform us into the "image of Christ from one degree of glory to another degree of glory" as we gaze into (i.e. study) the Word. What this "image" amounts to in practical experience is spelt out in the ninefold "fruit of the Spirit" -- "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control." These are the qualities which marked the life and ministry of Jesus and Paul desired to see them reproduced in members of the Body of Christ, as well as in his own life.
He found the secret of victory in the liberating "law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus" (Rom.8:20). The central principle of this law of the Spirit is the love of God in Christ -- first descending vertically and implanted in the heart by the Spirit (Rom.5:5), and then flowing out into the lives of others. The beautiful description of love Paul spells out in I Cor.13 is an eloquent celebration of the truth and reality of the Holy Spirit's transforming work in the life of Paul -- Anyone can change by the power of the Holy Spirit.
November, '97 Assignment
- In reading the book of Daniel you will quickly note the central truth which he believed about God. What is it?
- Then study Daniel’s prayers in chapters 2 and 9.
- Observe how many more of God’s attributes Daniel recognizes as he prays.
- This attitude and reverence for God is Paul’s, and his writings consistently reflect this.
- Choose one of Paul’s epistles and, in your own words, write a summary of Paul’s exalted view and description of God.
- Give some reasons why you want to KNOW GOD and how you will come to this intimate knowledge of God, i.e. the steps you are taking to deepen your relationship with Him. This will involve turning knowledge about God into knowledge of God.
- Anyone can change by the power of the Spirit—This is the essence of Paul’s prayer in Eph 1:18-19, “I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened so that you may know…his incomparably great power for us who believe”.
- Power for us, power in us—this is God’s will for you and me.
- Using Paul’s prayer in Eph 3:14-21 trace the steps he lists leading to being strengthened with power through His Spirit.
- Make these steps practical as you implement them into your own life.