Thesis 3: “Toward a Rediscovery of God’s Character”

Facelift

For 17 years, Cindy Jackson held the world record for having the most plastic surgeries. She has undergone a total of 52 cosmetic procedures. Her record was recently surpassed by Rodrigo Alves, who has had 51 surgeries and over 100 cosmetic procedures.

“Plastic surgery” has always been practiced in some form. Historically, it was for repairing those damaged by war or an accident. But over the last century, it has become an expression of vanity. Now people mostly use it to improve their appearance.

We are spending more money on plastic surgery than ever before. In 2016, Americans spent 16 billion dollars on cosmetic procedures. More popular procedures include breast/buttock augmentation, liposuction, nose reshaping, and tummy tucks. It seems every part of our bodies has gone “under the knife.”

Something similar has happened in American theology. Since the Christian Church movement began, we have been softening God’s character. We focus on the parts of His personality that we like while “improving” those we don’t. In effect, we put Him under the knife.

The church has always struggled to maintain God’s character against cultural pressures. But He is not subject to our preferences. Nor must He submit to modern standards of theological beauty. It is not our job to alter His appearance.

Martin Luther made the same argument 500 years ago. He led a rediscovery of God’s character, which had been altered by centuries of complicated theology and religious superstition. He led Christians to see God’s true appearance.

In Luther’s day, God was primarily seen as angry. People lived under constant fear of His wrath and judgment. Luther struggled intensely with his own inadequacy and unworthiness before God. He hated God, and saw His righteousness as a condemning force.

This changed as he meditated on Romans 1:17: “For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed – a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: ‘The righteous will live by faith.’” He realized that rather than condemning him, God’s righteousness justified him by the free gift of faith.

This realization set Luther free from fear and angst. God is not just a wrathful judge; He is also a merciful savior. And He saves not through the rites and rituals of the church, but by granting faith and repentance through the gospel.

Luther also rediscovered another aspect of God’s character – His sovereignty over salvation. In 1524, Erasmus of Rotterdam published The Freedom of the Will. He argued against Luther by saying our free will was not lost in the fall. We are still able to choose to believe and be saved.

Luther countered by publishing On the Bondage of the Will a year later. He argued our free will was not just damaged but destroyed by the fall. In our natural state, we are no longer able to choose God. We can only choose Him if He inclines and enables us to. As a result, our salvation depends entirely on Him.

Similar problems exist in our day. First, we emphasize one side of God’s character to the neglect of the other. But instead of concentrating on His anger, we focus on His love. Essentially, we have given Him a facelift to make Him smiling and happy toward everyone. But He is so much more than love!

It is vital that we rediscover God’s wrath. His anger motivates us toward holiness (Ephesians 5:6, Colossians 3:6) and evangelism (Romans 1:18, 2:5). We do not need to fear it (1 Thessalonians 5:9), but it should galvanize us to live out our faith more effectively.

Second, we are guilty of Erasmus’ error. The Christian Churches promote what has been called “decisional regeneration.” In other words, they teach we must decide to be saved. God offers salvation to all people, but grants it only to those who choose to receive it. This means our salvation depends on us.

But we are not saved because we choose God; rather, we are saved because He chose us (Ephesians 1:4-5). The Bible says sinful man is “dead in sin” (Ephesians 2:1). The sinful mind “does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so” (Romans 8:7). It is impossible to choose God unless He first puts it in our hearts to do so.

Again, we have given God a facelift. We try to make Him seem merciful toward everyone. Instead of “improving” His appearance, we ought to thank Jesus who truly makes His face shine on us (Numbers 6:25).

How have you seen Christians try to improve God’s appearance? Share your thoughts with a comment below!

(This post is part of a series. To receive Theses 4 & 5, subscribe by e-mail!)

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