Nature of God – How to Pass God’s Tests (Genesis 22) – Bible Scriptures – Existence of God – Trinity

Nature of God - How to Pass God’s Tests (Genesis 22) - Bible Scriptures - Existence of God - TrinityGod is Love God is Wrathful God is Immutable God is Omniscient God is Omnipotent God is Holy God is Sovereign1

Some time later God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!” “Here I am,” he replied. Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about.” Early the next morning Abraham got up and saddled his donkey. He took with him two of his servants and his son Isaac. When he had cut enough wood for the burnt offering, he set out for the place God had told him about. On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance. He said to his servants, “Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you.” Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering and placed it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife. As the two of them went on together, Isaac spoke up and said to his father Abraham, “Father?” “Yes, my son?” Abraham replied. “The fire and wood are here,” Isaac said, “but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” Abraham answered, “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” And the two of them went on together. When they reached the place God had told him about, Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on it. He bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. Then he reached out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. But the angel of the LORD called out to him from heaven, “Abraham! Abraham!” “Here I am,” he replied. “Do not lay a hand on the boy,” he said. “Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.” Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram caught by its horns. He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son. So Abraham called that place The LORD Will Provide… (Genesis 22)

Interpretation Question: What is the difference between a test (or a trial) and a temptation?

What are characteristics of God’s tests and how can we faithfully pass them?

As we study Abraham’s life, it is clear God brought him through many tests. In Genesis 12, he was called to leave his home and family to go to a land that God would show him. He was challenged with the family test. For many of us, leaving our family to do what God has called us to do, or doing what God has called us to do in spite of family is a difficult test.

Abraham arrived at the promised land only to find a famine. He lacked resources and had to decide whether to trust God or not. He had the famine test. In Genesis 13, Abraham’s herdsmen and Lot’s herdsmen had a conflict in the promised land. There he encountered the conflict test. In Genesis 14, he went to fight against the four armies of the east with his 300 men and a few alliances. Abraham had the warfare test.

While Abraham followed God, he faced many tests, and we will as well. James 1:2–3 says, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.”

God takes us through tests to try our faith and discern its composition. Is it genuine or false? Is it weak or strong? Furthermore, since God has great plans for each of his children, tests are preparation for greater works, just as tests in school. Believers go through tests to build and strengthen their faith. Without believing in God, nothing is possible. Therefore, tests are the lot of God’s children because they must be prepared for the things God desires them to accomplish.

In this narrative, Abraham encountered a very difficult test primarily because of the great call on his life. Abraham was called to be a great nation and through his seed all nations would be blessed. Essentially, the gospel was to come through Abraham and his family. In order to fulfill this, Abraham needed to be tested and built up, and so do we.

How do we pass God’s tests? In considering this, let’s clarify that God never tempts believers to sin. James 1:13–14 says,

When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed.

God does not tempt anyone because he is holy and perfect; however, he does test believers. God tests his children to make their faith strong, and Satan tempts them to make it weak. In fact, I would add that whenever God tests believers, Satan always comes behind to tempt them. God tested Adam and Eve in the garden. He said, “Do not eat from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, and if you do, you will surely die.” Then Satan came and tempted them to fail the test.

In every trial God brings, we can be sure that Satan comes behind to tempt us with our own natural desires (cf. James 1:14). Maybe, he tempts us with our desire for safety, for pleasure, or to be known and esteemed. But, he tempts us to fail God’s tests by using our natural desires within us.

How can we pass God’s tests? In Genesis 22, we learn a great deal from Abraham about passing God’s tests.

Big Question: What can we learn about passing God’s tests from the Genesis 22 narrative?

To Pass God’s Tests, We Must Expect Them

Some time later God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!” “Here I am,” he replied. Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about.” When he had cut enough wood for the burnt offering, he set out for the place God had told him about. (Genesis 22:1–3)

After God told Abraham to sacrifice his only son, Abraham did not question God or respond with shock or anger, he just went to bed and the next day obeyed. In contrast with previous narratives, Abraham often dialogued with God.

In Genesis 15:1, God showed up to Abraham and said, “I am your shield, your very great reward.” Abraham replied, “‘O Sovereign LORD, what can you give me since I remain childless and the one who will inherit my estate is Eliezer of Damascus?’ … ‘You have given me no children; so a servant in my household will be my heir’” (v. 2–3). This is not a man who is afraid to converse with God, especially when he doesn’t understand or agree.

In Genesis 17:18, when God told Abraham that he was going to have a son in his old age with Sarah, he responded by requesting a blessing over Ishmael. He said, “If only Ishmael might live under your blessing!” Abraham essentially said, “What about Ishmael?”

In Genesis 18, when God told Abraham he was about to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah, where Lot lived, Abraham immediately responded by questioning and petitioning God. Genesis 18:23–25 says,

Then Abraham approached him and said: “Will you sweep away the righteous with the wicked? What if there are fifty righteous people in the city? Will you really sweep it away and not spare the place for the sake of the fifty righteous people in it? Far be it from you to do such a thing—to kill the righteous with the wicked, treating the righteous and the wicked alike. Far be it from you! Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?”

The word “approached” in Genesis 18:23 was used of a lawyer about to plead his case. Abraham went before God and pleaded Sodom and Gomorrah’s case. He, in humility, challenged the Lord’s righteousness. He essentially said, “Lord, you are righteous, you will not do such a thing.” However, when God called Abraham to sacrifice his own son, he said nothing.

I think he had learned to expect tests from God and also to trust him. Since Abraham began following God, he experienced many tests and for each one God showed himself faithful, even when Abraham wasn’t faithful. When Abraham lied to Pharaoh and Abimelech about his wife, each time God protected him and his wife. Abraham knew God was faithful, and he had learned to trust him.

With that said, one of things that we must learn if we are going to pass God’s tests is to expect them. As a general rule, if we take a test without knowing about it, we typically fail.

And, to be honest, many believers fail God’s tests, in part, by not expecting them. They get mad at God. They are shocked by the difficulty they encountered. Some even fall away from God when tests come.

In Matthew 13:20–21, the Parable of the Sower, Jesus describes people who receive the Word of God on stony ground. They receive it with joy, but when trouble or persecution comes they quickly fall away. The implication is that these people weren’t expecting it and, therefore, weren’t prepared.

Peter said this to Christians suffering for their faith in the Roman Empire: “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you” (1 Pet 4:12). He said don’t be surprised and don’t think it’s strange. Essentially, he says, “Expect it.”

James 1:2 says, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds.” James doesn’t say “if” you face trials of many kinds but “whenever” you face trials of many kinds. We should expect them.

The Christian life is a series of trials and tests because these reveal and strengthen our faith. If we are going to pass God’s tests, we must expect them. They are part of life.

Application Question: What is your typical response to a trial? How can you respond better?

To Pass God’s Tests, We Must Understand God Already Prepared Us

Some time later God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!” “Here I am,” he replied. Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about.” (Genesis 22:1–2)

The next thing we must understand about passing God’s test is that God has already prepared us. Now, as we read this narrative on Abraham, we cannot but notice the similarity to what happened in the previous chapter. In Genesis 21, Isaac was a toddler, and the family celebrated his weaning. During this celebration, Abraham’s other son, Ishmael, stood at a distance and mocked Isaac. In Galatians 4:29, Paul actually says he “persecuted” him.

When Sarah saw this, she became angry and told Abraham to throw Hagar and Ishmael out, for the son of the slave woman would not share the inheritance of her son, Isaac. The text said this greatly distressed Abraham (Gen 21:11). He loved his son. However, God spoke to Abraham and comforted him. He told Abraham to let him go, that God’s presence would be with Ishmael, and that Ishmael would become a nation (v. 12–13). Therefore, Abraham let his son go.

Now only a chapter later, God asks for Abraham’s other son. With Ishmael, Abraham could send him away because he knew that God was faithful and that he would provide for him. And now, in this narrative, probably well over ten years later, Abraham had watched God’s faithfulness with his son Ishmael. He married and God was prospering him, which only further confirmed Abraham’s faith. Abraham had been trained, not only because of that test, but because of many previous tests.

This is true for us, as well. God never takes us through a test that he has not prepared us for. That wouldn’t be fair. Why give his children tests they couldn’t pass? He only gives what we can handle by his grace. Consider 1 Corinthians 10:13,

No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.

God is faithful; he will not allow us to be tempted beyond what we can bear and with the temptation he always provides away to “stand up” or bear it. I cannot but think of the disciples right before Christ went to the cross. John 18:7–9 describes the events:

Again he asked them, “Who is it you want?” And they said, “Jesus of Nazareth.” “I told you that I am he,” Jesus answered. “If you are looking for me, then let these men go.” This happened so that the words he had spoken would be fulfilled: “I have not lost one of those you gave me.” (John 18:7–9)

Why did Christ ask the soldiers who they wanted? It was because he was protecting his disciples. They were not yet ready to be martyrs, and he was making sure none of them would ultimately turn away from him. He was keeping their faith.

God does the same with us. He only puts us into trials he has prepared us for. Now, we still have to make use of that preparation. We must use the resources God gave us in the church—godly counsel and mentors. We must continually discipline ourselves unto godliness by studying Scripture, prayer, and serving (cf. 1 Tim 4:7). We must also flee from all appearance of evil as he has taught us (1 Thess 5:22). In doing this, we put on the armor of God to stand against spiritual attacks (Eph 6:10–13). If we fail the test, it is not for lack of preparation or resources. God has given us everything needed for life and godliness (cf. 2 Pet 1:3).

The trial may seem like too much, but if we look back over previous tests encountered and teachings received, he has prepared us to faithfully stand. We must take comfort in this, as we go through tests. He is a loving father who never allows us to encounter something we are unprepared for.

Application Question: As you consider the various tests you’ve encountered, how can you see God’s faithful preparation for these tests?

To Pass God’s Tests, We Must Understand They Will Often Seem Illogical

Some time later God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!” “Here I am,” he replied. Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about.” (Genesis 22:1–2)

As we consider the Lord’s command, it must have seemed illogical to Abraham, as it may to us. God promised Abraham that Isaac would become a great nation and all nations would be blessed through him (cf. Gen 12:1–3, 21:12). How could this happen if Abraham sacrificed Isaac?

Interestingly, “to an ancient Middle Easterner, ‘burnt offering’ suggested a process: first cutting the offering’s throat, then dismemberment, and then a sacrifice by fire in which the body parts were completely consumed on the altar.”1 How could Abraham even bare this image? And, how could this fit with the Lord’s previous promises? It must have clearly sounded illogical to Abraham.

No doubt, many times in our lives, the tests God allowed us to go through, at least at first, didn’t make any sense. We asked ourselves these types of questions, “Why would God allow me to go through this?” “Why did this happen to my friend or my family member?” God’s tests often are confusing.

For Abraham, sacrificing one’s son to a deity was not foreign to his worldview. This was common to the Canaanite religions. The people sacrificed children to appease their gods (cf. Lev 18:21, 24). Maybe, Abraham reasoned to himself, “If the pagan gods are worthy of such affection, then most certainly it must be true of my God.” We can only speculate.

Abraham did not have the benefit of the progressive revelation that God has given us in Scripture. In the Mosaic law, human sacrifice was clearly forbidden. Again, this must have been very confusing and difficult for Abraham, as it is for us to understand. I’m not sure one can give a fully satisfying answer to the morality of God’s command. However, with that said, we can say that God is all wise and all just. Therefore, his will is always perfect. Secondly, we can also, unequivocally, say that this is nothing God would ever require today. It is clearly forbidden throughout Scripture.

But the point remains the same; many times God’s tests will be a logical struggle for us. We must take comfort in the fact that God is infinite and that we are finite. He knows all things and our insight is limited at best. Consider what God said in Isaiah 55:8–10:

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the LORD. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.

God’s ways are not our ways and his thoughts are not our thoughts. His thoughts and ways are higher than ours, and we must take great comfort in this. And for that reason, we must, “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding” (Proverbs 3:5).

We must trust him with all our heart because our understanding is flawed and there is no better guide or leader than him. Unless we do that, God’s tests and trials will lead us to bitterness, anger, frustration, and confusion, instead of a deeper trust in his faithfulness. Lord, we trust you.

Application Question: Have you ever experienced or witnessed a test that seemed illogical, at least at first? How can we trust God at those times?

To Pass God’s Tests, We Must Understand They Often Involve Our Greatest Treasures

Some time later God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!” “Here I am,” he replied. Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about.” (Genesis 22:1–2)

Next, we must notice that God’s test potentially involved Abraham’s greatest treasure—his only son. As a father, I can say that the most sensitive and vulnerable area in my life is my daughter. I remember when she was a toddler, I would often go to bed at night praying over her feet, toes, and head. I wanted God to protect every part of her body. I got scared when seeing doors. Just the reality that her finger could get caught in a door frightened me. It is very common for children to take this special place in a parent’s heart.

In fact, I cannot but wonder if Abraham’s affection for his son took a dangerous place in his heart. He wanted a child with Sarah, probably, ever since he was married. His previous name, Abram, meant “exalted father.” As he started to age, the snickers around him probably increased. His name meant exalted father, but he had no children. And for a time, after God named him “Abraham,” meaning “father of a nation,” at ninety-nine years old, maybe the snickers turned into roars. People probably said, “You’re changing your name to what? Why? Sarah, your wife is barren!”

Therefore, when God gave him a miracle child at the age of 100, maybe his affection grew too deep, bordering on idolatry. And the depth of his affection, no doubt, grew as he dealt with the pain of Ishmael’s leaving. Quite possibly, he dealt with his hurt by loving Isaac even more.

This is the reason that when we start following Christ, he calls us to hate our father, mother, wife, children, brother, sister, and even our own life to be his disciple (Luke 14:26). Our love for anything else, including family, must look like hate in comparison to our love for God. The greatest command is to love God with all our heart, mind, and soul. God will not have any rivals for our love.

Perhaps, this is why God asked for his son. Maybe, his love progressed to the brink of idolatry. But, we must hear and understand that this is common for God’s test. God often tests us where our affections are strongest.

Do you find your identity in work, studies, hobbies, friends, family, or a significant other? Then have no doubt that is where God will test you. Where ever our heart is, God will test us.

When God tests our most vulnerable areas, the tests are meant to help loosen our grip on these things and make our hearts cling more to God.

Application Question: How should we respond to this reality of God testing us in the areas of our greatest treasures?

  1. It should deliver us from surprise when encountering such tests.
  2. It should warn us against idolizing anything.
  3. It should challenge us to make God our focus.

Are you guarding and protecting your heart (Prov 4:23)? God must always be first.

Application Question: What areas of your life are you most prone to idolize? How have you experienced God’s tests in your most sensitive areas, your treasures? How can we protect our hearts from loving gifts over the Giver?

To Pass God’s Tests, We Must Practice Immediate Obedience

Early the next morning Abraham got up and saddled his donkey. He took with him two of his servants and his son Isaac. When he had cut enough wood for the burnt offering, he set out for the place God had told him about. (Genesis 22:3)

Interpretation Question: What can we discern from the fact that in the morning Abraham got up, saddled the donkey, took two servants and Isaac, cut the wood, and then set out for the place God called him to?

After God spoke to Abraham, presumably at night, the narrator tells us that the next morning Abraham saddled the donkey, gathered two servants and Isaac, cut the wood, and set out for the place God called him to go. He immediately obeyed.

Now certainly this wasn’t easy. In fact, some commentators have noted the fact that Abraham saddled his donkey before he cut the wood, which doesn’t make any sense.2 Normally, one would cut the wood and then saddle the donkey. Maybe, he was a little disoriented after a night without sleep. However, he still immediately obeyed God. This must be true of us as well. We must practice immediate obedience when we encounter God’s tests.

Application Question: What happens if we practice delayed obedience or rebellion in response to God’s test?

When we do not practice immediate obedience, it opens the door for the enemy to tempt us. He will try to draw us into questioning God. He will lead us to depression, discouragement, and ultimately sin. To sin in God’s test only leads to repeating the test. Like Israel, we end up spending years going around the same mountain in the wilderness. To practice disobedience, only brings God’s discipline and a repetition of the test. In addition, the repeated test only gets harder because our hearts become even more attached to whatever sin we struggle with.

Application Question: What happens when we practice immediate obedience?

When practicing immediate obedience to God’s tests, instead of receiving his discipline, we experience God’s blessing. James 1:25 says, “But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it—he will be blessed in what he does.”

The doer of God’s Word receives his blessings. God’s blessing may manifest as joy in the trial. While being disobedient in God’s tests, we often experience discouragement and depression (cf. Ps 32), but while being faithful, God enables us to find joy even in hard times. God’s blessing also gives us strength to persevere and be faithful. No doubt, Abraham experienced many of these blessings as he immediately obeyed God. If he had stayed at home and delayed obedience, the enemy of our souls and his would have tempted and tormented him.

Are you practicing immediate obedience in your trial? Or are you practicing procrastination and disobedience?

Application Question: Why is immediate obedience in trials so important? What are some of the consequences of delayed obedience or disobedience to God in trials?

To Pass God’s Tests, We Must Have the Right Attitude

On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance. He said to his servants, “Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you.” (Genesis 22:4–5)

The trip took about three days to get to the region of Moriah (v. 4), which is where Jerusalem is today.3 Many believe Abraham, his servants, and his son ascended Golgotha, the same mountain Christ was crucified on, outside the gate of Jerusalem.

When they saw the place in the distance, Abraham told his servants to stay while he and the boy went up the mountain to “worship.” What stands out about this is Abraham’s view of this test. He called the sacrifice of his son worship to God.

I don’t think Abraham was lying or being deceptive. It was indeed worship to God. He was on his way to sacrifice to the Lord, and he saw it as worship.

This must be true of us as well when going through God’s tests. We must see them as our reasonable worship. Romans 12:1 says: “Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship.”

Paul said that we should offer our bodies as living sacrifices to God, as an act of worship. Sacrifice is never easy. Sacrifice has the connotation of pain, and pain is not enjoyable. However, sacrifice can be worship to God if offered and given with the right attitude. And that is how Abraham saw his life and sacrifice, as worship to God.

The very reason many of us get angry at God, when going through trials, is because we see our life as worship to us. If a trial brings pain or discomfort, we get upset, because our lives are often more about ourselves than God. Our lives are about our success and happiness and anything that hinders those goals creates anger or animosity in us.

However, when we see our lives as sacrificial worship to God, it will change our response to tests and trials. Romans 5:3–4 says, “Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.”

We rejoice in trials because they ultimately lead us to hope in God. Trials take our hopes off our jobs, hobbies, family, friends, and dreams, and help us place our hopes, where they belong—with God. That is why going through tests and trials can cause rejoicing. It can only cause rejoicing when the purpose of our life is really God. We rejoice because trials help us ultimately know and trust God more.

Our attitude is very important in trials. If we have the wrong attitude, if we are complainers and whiners, then we will fail the test and bring God’s discipline on our lives. Philippians 2:14 says, “Do all things without complaining and arguing.” First Thessalonians 5:18 says, “give thanks in all circumstances because this is God’s will for our lives.”

When Israel complained while being tested in the wilderness, God disciplined them (1 Cor 10:10). The wilderness was not worship to them, because it took away their comfort. But if their true desire was to know and trust God more, the wilderness could have become their greatest joy.

Paul said this in 2 Corinthians 12:9–10:

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

Paul’s trials became the subject of his boast because it was when he was weak that Christ’s power rested on him. For Paul the tests were worship, as it was with Abraham. Tests drew them both closer to God which was their ultimate desire. This should be true for us as well.

What is your attitude while going through tests?

Application Question: What is your typical attitude when God’s tests you? How can we learn to be thankful instead of bitter in our tests?

To Pass God’s Tests, We Must Have Faith

On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance. He said to his servants, “Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you.” Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering and placed it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife. As the two of them went on together, Isaac spoke up and said to his father Abraham, “Father?” “Yes, my son?” Abraham replied. “The fire and wood are here,” Isaac said, “but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” Abraham answered, “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” And the two of them went on together. (Genesis 22:4–8)

Interpretation Question: Why did Abraham tell his servants that he and Isaac would go up the mountain and then come back? What was his reasoning?

We also must notice how Abraham not only shares that he and his son were going to worship but also that he said, “we will come back to you.” Now, was Abraham lying? We know Abraham had a tendency to stretch the truth. However, it seems Abraham was responding in faith. Hebrews 11:17–19 says:

By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice. He who had received the promises was about to sacrifice his one and only son, even though God had said to him, “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.” Abraham reasoned that God could raise the dead, and figuratively speaking, he did receive Isaac back from death.

The author of Hebrews says the reason Abraham offered his son was because he reasoned that God could raise the dead. When Abraham said, “we will come back to you,” it was because he believed that if he sacrificed his son, God would raise him from the dead. This was great faith, especially since up to this point in biblical history there were no previous resurrections.

Abraham throughout his journey learned that God was trustworthy and that he could not tell a lie. If God said it was through Isaac that his offspring would be reckoned, then it made sense that God would indeed raise him from the dead.

We also see his faith in how he responded to Isaac when asked about the lamb. Abraham responded, “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son” (v. 8). Abraham didn’t exactly know how, but he knew that God would provide.

This must be true of us as well, when going through God’s test. We must have faith. Hebrews 11:6 says, “And 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.” In order to please God in a test, we must believe in him. We must believe in his goodness and his faithfulness to his people. We may not fully understand why or how, but we must trust him. The writer of Hebrews says that God rewards those who come to him with faith.

Are you trusting God in your trial? Faith is necessary to please God and to pass the test.

Application Question: Why should we trust God when going through trials? How can we increase our faith as we go through them?

To Pass God’s Tests, We Must Depend on Others

When they reached the place God had told him about, Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on it. He bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. Then he reached out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. (Genesis 22:9–10)

When they reached the place God told Abraham to go, Abraham built an altar, arranged the wood on it, and then bound Isaac and placed him on the altar. The narrator mentions nothing about a struggle. Abraham was probably at least 116 years old at this time. We can guess this by the fact that the same Hebrew word for “boy” used of Isaac in this text was used of Ishmael in Genesis 21, who was sixteen at the time.4 Abraham was an old man. Isaac was stronger and faster at sixteen years old, and therefore, it would have been very difficult for Abraham to bind and place him on the altar without his cooperation.

The implication is that Isaac cooperated with Abraham. Maybe, while on top of the mountain, Abraham shared God’s command to sacrifice him and, at the same time, assured him of God’s faithfulness. No doubt, Abraham taught Isaac many times that a great nation would come through him, and that all the nations of the earth would be blessed through him. It is clear that not only did Abraham have great faith, but so did his son.

With that said, one of the principles we can learn from this about passing God’s tests is that we will also commonly need the cooperation and support of other believers to pass God’s tests. The Christian life was never meant to be walked alone. We need brothers and sisters supporting us and helping us get through.

In fact, if God calls us to any great work or to go through any great test, one of the right answers to the test will be, “Phone a friend”—get help. Scripture teaches that as Christians we are part of the body of Christ. One person is the hand, another is an eye, another is the liver, and another is a leg. In order for me to accomplish anything with my body, I need the cooperation of other parts. My leg cannot function without my hip, knees, and muscles doing their part.

Is it any surprise that this reality also applies to us when going through tests? We need the wisdom, the insight, the prayers, and support of others to be faithful in tests. Consider what Paul said about him being a prisoner in Rome and his eventual deliverance in Philippians 1:19: “for I know that through your prayers and the help given by the Spirit of Jesus Christ, what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance.”

Paul was convinced that the prayers of a tiny congregation in Philippi were enough to thwart the plans of the Roman Empire. That is how confident he was in their prayers. It also showed his dependence upon them to receive deliverance.

What are you seeking deliverance from? Is it unforgiveness, anger, discord, depression, or some other sin? You can be confident that much of the grace of God needed to pass that test will come through the body of Christ. If you neglect the body of Christ, if you are not integrated into the life of a church, you will find yourself spiritually impoverished and failing most tests you go through.

We need one another. In order for Abraham to offer his son in obedience to God, he needed his son’s cooperation and faith as well.

Application Question: In what ways have you received grace through God’s body to pass tests or trials? How has God revealed your need to depend on brothers and sisters in Christ?

To Pass God’s Tests, We Must Understand His Purpose of Revealing What Is in Our Hearts

Then he reached out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. But the angel of the LORD called out to him from heaven, “Abraham! Abraham!” “Here I am,” he replied. “Do not lay a hand on the boy,” he said. “Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.” (Genesis 22:11–12)

As Abraham was about to slay his son, the angel of the Lord commanded him to not lay a hand on the boy. The angel of the Lord was a theophany—a temporary appearance of God in order to reveal himself to his people. Many believe this was a pre-incarnate appearance of Christ. The angel of the Lord said, “Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son” (v. 12).

We can discern from the angel’s words one of God’s purposes in Abraham’s trial. It revealed what was in Abraham’s heart. He said, “Now I know that you fear God.” The test revealed that Abraham feared God even more than losing his son. He truly did hate his mother, father, wife, children, brother, sister and even his own life for the Lord’s sake (cf. Luke 14:26–27), as we each are called to do.

In the same way, one of God’s purposes in trials is to reveal what is in our hearts. Consider what Peter said to the Christians suffering in the Roman Empire in 1 Peter 1:6–7:

In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.

Peter said the trials these Christians were encountering were to prove their faith genuine. The Greek word for “proved” was used of a metallurgist purifying or testing a metal to see if it was genuine.

Now the reality is that God doesn’t need to know what is in our hearts; we need to know what is in our hearts. God already knows everything.

For some professing Christians, trials essentially prove if God is their Lord at all. Remember in Matthew 13:21, the stony ground received the seed of the Word of God, but when trials came, the plant withered because it lacked deep roots. For many going through various trials with church, work, or family instead of drawing them to God, the trials push them away—never to return. They fall away proving that their faith was shallow and not genuine, as Christ taught. Maybe, it was more centered on the church rather than God, and therefore when the church failed them, they fell away. Or, following Christ was more focused on their prosperity, and therefore, when they experienced sickness or difficulty, they left God.

Trials come to reveal what is in our hearts. God said this to the Israelites while they were in the wilderness in Deuteronomy 8:2: “Remember how the LORD your God led you all the way in the desert these forty years, to humble you and to test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands.”

God took them through the desert (or the wilderness) to test them and see what was in their hearts. As you know, while the Israelites were in the wilderness, trials revealed complaining, idol worship, sexual immorality, and rebellion. It revealed that “Egypt” was still in their hearts.

This is how many Christians are. When God brings them into a trial, it reveals that the world really rules their hearts. They complain, get drunk, commit sexual immorality, and rebel against authority, just like the Israelites did.

Sometimes people blame their actions on a certain situation or relationship; however, the blame is misdirected. They may say, “I only act this way when I’m around this person.” They say this to relieve blame from themselves. However, the situation or difficult person is really like a fire that brings all the impurities to the surface. It brings anger, lust, bitterness, and lack of faith; it shows what is already in the heart. The person or situation is not the cause—our heart is. The person or situation only revealed the sin already in our heart, which needed to be removed.

I remember stepping down from my pastoral ministry in Chicago and moving back to Texas with my parents, as I applied for new ministry positions. While waiting, I started struggling with my identity. I stepped down from my job in December and wasn’t hired to a new position until June. During that time, I realized that at some point while in ministry, I stopped seeing myself as, “God’s child.” I had become, “Pastor Greg, God’s child.” My identity started to come from my ministry position and not simply my identity in Christ. The trial of waiting revealed what was in my heart.

During that season of waiting, I really drew near God by being in his Word and prayer—to restore my identity as his child. Trials reveal what is in our hearts. That is part of the reason God allows them.

Again, for Abraham, the trial revealed that he feared God, even more than the loss of his son. What do your trials and tests reveal about your heart? Does it reveal anger, pride, lack of faith, or worldliness? Does “Egypt” come out of your heart, as it did with the Israelites while in the wilderness?

One of the reasons God allows tests and trials is to help us know our hearts, so we can repent and be transformed. In the midst of a test, it is good to pray, “Lord, what are you trying to show me about my heart, and how can I change?”

Application Question: What has God revealed about your heart through tests and trials? How has God called you to work on those issues?

To Pass God’s Tests, We Must Depend on God

Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram caught by its horns. He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son. So Abraham called that place The LORD Will Provide. And to this day it is said, “On the mountain of the LORD it will be provided.” (Genesis 22:13–14)

After the Lord stopped Abraham from sacrificing his son, God provided a ram to sacrifice instead. In response to this, Abraham named the place, “The LORD Will Provide,” Jehovah Jireh. Literally, it can be translated, “The Lord Will See to It.”5

To pass God’s tests not only do we need others’ cooperation and support, but we need God’s. God is the one who provides us with grace to make it through trials or to escape them. Remember 1 Corinthians 10:13 says,

No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.

With every trial or temptation, God always provides a way out or the ability to persevere through the trial.

It is for this reason that we must draw near God in trials (James 4:8). God provides wisdom, strength, and endurance for us to be faithful in it. James said that in every trial we should ask God for wisdom since he provides liberally (James 1:5). Again, Paul said this in Philippians 1:19, “for I know that through your prayers and the help given by the Spirit of Jesus Christ, what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance.”

Not only was Paul confident of deliverance because of the saint’s prayers but the help given by the Spirit of Jesus Christ. Paul knew Christ was faithful. He would carry him through. And, Christ will do the same for us during trials. In fact, it is during trials that we will find his grace abundant. Paul said in his weakness, God’s power was made perfect (cf. 2 Cor 12:9).

One of the ways we depend on God and experience his grace in the trials is by abiding in him. Jesus said: “‘I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). Whatever fruit needed to pass God’s test grows as we make our home in him. We abide in him through worship, prayer, time in the Word, and fellowship with saints. It was in the midst of Abraham’s worship that God provided a ram, and he will often do the same for us as well.

Are you bearing God’s fruit through abiding in him during trials? God is Jehovah Jireh—our Provider.

He will see to it. He will make sure we have everything needed.

Application Question: In what ways have you seen God miraculously meet your needs or provide grace for you in a trial? What do we have to do in order to receive his grace and provisions?

To Pass God’s Tests, We Must Understand His Purpose of Revealing More of Himself to Us

So Abraham called that place The LORD Will Provide. And to this day it is said, “On the mountain of the LORD it will be provided.” (Genesis 22:14)

Not only must we notice that God met Abraham’s needs, but also that Abraham came to know God in a new and deeper way. This is the first time Abraham called God, Jehovah Jireh. As we walked through Abraham’s story, we saw God reveal himself in special ways through each test or trial. When God called Abraham to leave his family and home, he was YAHWEH the covenant God, in Genesis 12:1. When God empowered Abraham to defeat the four armies from the east, God revealed himself as his shield—his very great reward—in Genesis 15:1. In Genesis 17:1, when God told Abraham he was going to have a child in his old age through Sarah, he revealed himself as God Almighty, El Shaddai.

In each trial, we get to know God’s character and person more deeply. In many ways, it is like any close relationship. Our deepest and most intimate relationships typically are formed by going through hard times together. It is in those hard times, we learn to trust them more, and we learn more about their character. That is just what God desires to do with us through trials. He wants to reveal himself in a deeper and more intimate way.

How has God revealed himself to you in the past? Has he shown himself as YAHWEH—the God you are in covenant with? Has he revealed himself as El Shaddai—the God who does miracles? Has he revealed himself as Jehovah Jireh—the one who provides all your needs?

God has many names/character traits he wants to reveal to you. He wants to reveal that he is Jehovah Sabaoth, “The LORD of Hosts.” He is the Lord of the armies of heaven who fights your battles. He wants to reveal that he is Jehovah Rapha, the God who heals you. He wants to reveal that he is Jehovah Roi, the Shepherd who leads you. He wants to reveal that he is Jehovah Shalom, the Lord who gives you peace, even in the midst of storms.

That is one of the greatest things that God does in our lives through tests. He reveals more of who he is to us. Lord, make yourself known. We want to see your glory.

Application Question: What characteristic of God is he revealing to you at this stage of your life?

To Pass God’s Tests, We Must Focus on God’s Reward

The angel of the LORD called to Abraham from heaven a second time and said, “I swear by myself, declares the LORD, that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies, and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me.” (Genesis 22:15–18)

Observation Question: What blessings did God give Abraham after he passed the test?

After God provided the ram for Abraham to sacrifice, he pronounced a blessing on Abraham. He reassured Abraham of his promise to make his descendants like the stars in the sky and the sand of the seashore. But he also gave a further promise of the messiah coming through Abraham’s lineage. He said, “through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me” (v. 18). In Galatians 3:16, Paul teaches that the word “offspring” is singular—referring to Christ.

The reward for being faithful in the test was reassurance and the privilege of the messiah coming through his lineage. It is no different for us. Faithfully navigating the trials of life opens the door for greater rewards from God. Understanding this, helps encourage us to be faithful.

After Job faithfully persevered through his trials, God rewarded him with a double blessing. Paul said this in 2 Corinthians 1:3–4 about the trials God allowed him and his associates to go through:

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.

God comforted them in their trials so that they could comfort those in “any trouble” with the comfort they received. When God comforts a believer in a trial, he enables them to comfort others going through various trials, not just the same one. Through trials God equips believers for ministry and expands their outreach.

Have you experienced this before? Sometimes God equips and expands our ministry through trials by giving us not only comfort but compassion. This happened to me. Before going through a battle with depression in college, I had problems crying. I had been hardened by life. But when God took me through a season of struggle, I began to weep—not only for myself, but for others. I began to develop empathy—I could feel the pain of others. He prepared me for ministry through struggle. He enabled me not just to feel but to comfort others with the comfort he gave me.

One of the greatest encouragements to pass God’s test is looking at his reward. James 1:12 says, “Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.” There is reward on earth, as God matures us and opens doors for further ministry, but there is also great reward in heaven (cf. 2 Cor 4:17–18).

Application Question: In what ways have you experienced God’s reward by faithfully going through his tests? In what ways has he expanded your ministry and your ability to minister?

To Pass God’s Tests, We Must Seek to Magnify Christ

Observation Question: How does Isaac resemble Christ in this text?

As we consider this text, it is almost impossible to miss Isaac’s resemblance to Christ. We see this in many ways:

  1. Like Isaac, Jesus was the only begotten of the Father, whom the Father loved.
  2. Like Isaac, Jesus carried his cross up the hill to the place he would be sacrificed.
  3. Like Isaac, Jesus offered himself willingly. He said, “Father, take this cup from me, nevertheless your will be done.”
  4. Like Isaac, Jesus was crucified on a hill in Jerusalem.
  5. Like Isaac, Jesus was delivered from death on the third day.

The parallels are impossible to miss.

But the reality is this is God’s purpose in every trial and circumstance we encounter in life. Romans 8:28–29 says,

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.

God works everything for the purpose of conforming us to Christ’s image and that includes both blessings and trials. They all are for the purpose of making us like Jesus. Therefore, our primary purpose in trials must be becoming like Christ. If we had this mindset in the midst of difficulty, instead of primarily seeking to lessen pain or embarrassment, then we would pass our tests.

It’s a lot easier to pass an exam or a paper if we know what the professor is looking for. God’s purpose in trials is to make us look just like himself. In this text, Abraham looks just like God the Father, and Isaac looks like Jesus the Son. Paul said this about his imprisonment and possible death sentence in Rome:

I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. (Philippians 1:20–21)

What was his expectation, his hope in his trial? It wasn’t to be delivered from death. That was not Paul’s focus. His focus was Christ being exalted in his body whether by life or death. If he lived, he wanted Christ exalted, and if he died, he wanted Christ exalted. That was all that mattered.

The word “exalted” can also be translated “magnified.” He wanted to display the magnificence of Christ in his trial. In the midst of his test, he wanted his body to be a theater where all could clearly see Christ.

Is that your desire when going through a trial or test? Is it that Christ be magnified, both so you could see him more clearly and others as well? Or is it simply to escape the trial? Resembling and glorifying Christ must be our goal in every aspect of life, including our trials.

And for that reason, while going through tests, we must ask ourselves and God, “How can I glorify Christ best?” This is something we must ask because that question leads us to the right answers to pass God’s test.

Application Question: How can we develop a mindset of seeking to glorify Christ in every test or trial? Why is this mindset so difficult to maintain?


How can we pass God’s tests?

  1. To Pass God’s Tests, We Must Expect Them
  2. To Pass God’s Tests, We Must Understand God Already Prepared Us
  3. To Pass God’s Tests, We Must Understand They Often Seem Illogical
  4. To Pass God’s Tests, We Must Understand They Often Involve Our Greatest Treasures
  5. To Pass God’s Tests, We Must Practice Immediate Obedience
  6. To Pass God’s Tests, We Must Have the Right Attitude
  7. To Pass God’s Tests, We Must Have Faith
  8. To Pass God’s Tests, We Must Depend on Others
  9. To Pass God’s Tests, We Must Understand His Purpose of Revealing What Is in Our Hearts
  10. To Pass God’s Tests, We Must Depend on God
  11. To Pass God’s Tests, We Must Understand His Purpose of Revealing More of Himself to Us
  12. To Pass God’s Tests, We Must Focus on God’s Reward
  13. To Pass God’s Tests, We Must Seek to Magnify Christ

Copyright © 2017 Gregory Brown

The primary Scriptures used are New International Version (1984) unless otherwise noted. Other versions include English Standard Version, New Living Translation, New American Standard Bible, and King James Version.

Holy Bible, New International Version ®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Scripture quotations marked (ESV) are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®) Copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. All rights reserved.

Scripture quotations marked (NLT) are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, Copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Scripture quotations marked (NASB) are taken from the New American Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, and 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.

Scripture quotations marked (KJV) are from the King James Version of the Bible.

All emphases in Scripture quotations have been added.

1 Hughes, R. K. (2004). Genesis: Beginning and Blessing (p. 301). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

2 Hughes, R. K. (2004). Genesis: Beginning and Blessing (p. 302). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

3 Guzik, David (2012-12-08). Genesis (Kindle Locations 3563–3564). Enduring Word Media. Kindle Edition.

4 Hughes, R. K. (2004). Genesis: Beginning and Blessing (p. 301). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

5 Wiersbe, W. W. (1991). Be Obedient (p. 110). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.


The Surprising Origins of the Trinity Doctrine

“And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:32).

Most people assume that everything that bears the label “Christian” must have originated with Jesus Christ and His early followers. But this is definitely not the case. All we have to do is look at the words of Jesus Christ and His apostles to see that this is clearly not true.

The historical record shows that, just as Jesus and the New Testament writers foretold, various heretical ideas and teachers rose up from within the early Church and infiltrated it from without. Christ Himself warned His followers: “Take heed that no one deceives you. For many will come in My name . . . and will deceive many” (Matthew 24:4-5).

You can read many similar warnings in other passages (such as Matthew 24:11; Acts 20:29-30; 2 Corinthians 11:13-15; 2 Timothy 4:2-4; 2 Peter 2:1-2; 1 John 2:18-26; 1 John 4:1-3).

Barely two decades after Christ’s death and resurrection, the apostle Paul wrote that many believers were already “turning away . . . to a different gospel” (Galatians 1:6). He wrote that he was forced to contend with “false apostles, deceitful workers” who were fraudulently “transforming themselves into apostles of Christ” (2 Corinthians 11:13). One of the major problems he had to deal with was “false brethren” (2 Corinthians 11:26).

By late in the first century, as we see from 3 John 9-10, conditions had grown so dire that false ministers openly refused to receive representatives of the apostle John and were excommunicating true Christians from the Church!

Of this troubling period Edward Gibbon, the famed historian, wrote in his classic work The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire of a “dark cloud that hangs over the first age of the church” (1821, Vol. 2, p. 111).

It wasn’t long before true servants of God became a marginalized and scattered minority among those calling themselves Christian. A very different religion, now compromised with many concepts and practices rooted in ancient paganism (such mixing of religious beliefs being known as syncretism, common in the Roman Empire at the time), took hold and transformed the faith founded by Jesus Christ.

Historian Jesse Hurlbut says of this time of transformation: “We name the last generation of the first century, from 68 to 100 A.D., ‘The Age of Shadows,’ partly because the gloom of persecution was over the church, but more especially because of all the periods in the [church’s] history, it is the one about which we know the least. We have no longer the clear light of the Book of Acts to guide us; and no author of that age has filled the blank in the history . . .

“For fifty years after St. Paul’s life a curtain hangs over the church, through which we strive vainly to look; and when at last it rises, about 120 A.D. with the writings of the earliest church fathers, we find a church in many aspects very different from that in the days of St. Peter and St. Paul” ( The Story of the Christian Church, 1970, p. 33).

This “very different” church would grow in power and influence, and within a few short centuries would come to dominate even the mighty Roman Empire!

By the second century, faithful members of the Church, Christ’s “little flock” (Luke 12:32), had largely been scattered by waves of deadly persecution. They held firmly to the biblical truth about Jesus Christ and God the Father, though they were persecuted by the Roman authorities as well as those who professed Christianity but were in reality teaching “another Jesus” and a “different gospel” (2 Corinthians 11:4; Galatians 1:6-9).

Different ideas about Christ’s divinity lead to conflict

This was the setting in which the doctrine of the Trinity emerged. In those early decades after Jesus Christ’s ministry, death and resurrection, and spanning the next few centuries, various ideas sprang up as to His exact nature. Was He man? Was He God? Was He God appearing as a man? Was He an illusion? Was He a mere man who became God? Was He created by God the Father, or did He exist eternally with the Father?

All of these ideas had their proponents. The unity of belief of the original Church was lost as new beliefs, many borrowed or adapted from pagan religions, replaced the teachings of Jesus and the apostles.

Let us be clear that when it comes to the intellectual and theological debates in those early centuries that led to the formulation of the Trinity, the true Church was largely absent from the scene, having been driven underground.

For this reason, in that stormy period we often see debates not between truth and error, but between one error and a different error— a fact seldom recognized by many modern scholars yet critical for our understanding.

A classic example of this was the dispute over the nature of Christ that led the Roman emperor Constantine the Great to convene the Council of Nicaea (in modern-day western Turkey) in A.D. 325.

Constantine, although held by many to be the first “Christian” Roman Emperor, was actually a sun-worshiper who was only baptized on his deathbed. During his reign he had his eldest son and his wife murdered. He was also vehemently anti-Semitic, referring in one of his edicts to “the detestable Jewish crowd” and “the customs of these most wicked men”—customs that were in fact rooted in the Bible and practiced by Jesus and the apostles.

As emperor in a period of great tumult within the Roman Empire, Constantine was challenged with keeping the empire unified. He recognized the value of religion in uniting his empire. This was, in fact, one of his primary motivations in accepting and sanctioning the “Christian” religion (which, by this time, had drifted far from the teachings of Jesus Christ and the apostles and was Christian in name only).

But now Constantine faced a new challenge. Religion researcher Karen Armstrong explains in A History of God that “one of the first problems that had to be solved was the doctrine of God . . . a new danger arose from within which split Christians into bitterly warring camps” (1993, p. 106).

Debate over the nature of God at the Council of Nicaea

Constantine convened the Council of Nicaea in the year 325 as much for political reasons—for unity in the empire—as religious ones. The primary issue at that time came to be known as the Arian controversy.

“In the hope of securing for his throne the support of the growing body of Christians he had shown them considerable favor and it was to his interest to have the church vigorous and united. The Arian controversy was threatening its unity and menacing its strength. He therefore undertook to put an end to the trouble. It was suggested to him, perhaps by the Spanish bishop Hosius, who was influential at court, that if a synod were to meet representing the whole church both east and west, it might be possible to restore harmony.

“Constantine himself of course neither knew nor cared anything about the matter in dispute but he was eager to bring the controversy to a close, and Hosius’ advice appealed to him as sound” (Arthur Cushman McGiffert, A History of Christian Thought, 1954, Vol. 1, p. 258).

Arius, a priest from Alexandria, Egypt, taught that Christ, because He was the Son of God, must have had a beginning and therefore was a special creation of God. Further, if Jesus was the Son, the Father of necessity must be older.

Opposing the teachings of Arius was Athanasius, a deacon also from Alexandria. His view was an early form of Trinitarianism wherein the Father, Son and Holy Spirit were one but at the same time distinct from each other.

The decision as to which view the church council would accept was to a large extent arbitrary. Karen Armstrong explains in A History of God: “When the bishops gathered at Nicaea on May 20, 325, to resolve the crisis, very few would have shared Athanasius’s view of Christ. Most held a position midway between Athanasius and Arius” (p. 110).

As emperor, Constantine was in the unusual position of deciding church doctrine even though he was not really a Christian. (The following year is when he had both his wife and son murdered, as previously mentioned).

Historian Henry Chadwick attests, “Constantine, like his father, worshipped the Unconquered Sun” ( The Early Church, 1993, p. 122). As to the emperor’s embrace of Christianity, Chadwick admits, “His conversion should not be interpreted as an inward experience of grace . . . It was a military matter. His comprehension of Christian doctrine was never very clear” (p. 125).

Chadwick does say that Constantine’s deathbed baptism itself “implies no doubt about his Christian belief,” it being common for rulers to put off baptism to avoid accountability for things like torture and executing criminals (p. 127). But this justification doesn’t really help the case for the emperor’s conversion being genuine.

Norbert Brox, a professor of church history, confirms that Constantine was never actually a converted Christian: “Constantine did not experience any conversion; there are no signs of a change of faith in him. He never said of himself that he had turned to another god . . . At the time when he turned to Christianity, for him this was Sol Invictus (the victorious sun god)” ( A Concise History of the Early Church, 1996, p. 48).

When it came to the Nicene Council, The Encyclopaedia Britannica states: “Constantine himself presided, actively guiding the discussions, and personally proposed . . . the crucial formula expressing the relation of Christ to God in the creed issued by the council . . . Overawed by the emperor, the bishops, with two exceptions only, signed the creed, many of them much against their inclination” (1971 edition, Vol. 6, “Constantine,” p. 386).

With the emperor’s approval, the Council rejected the minority view of Arius and, having nothing definitive with which to replace it, approved the view of Athanasius—also a minority view. The church was left in the odd position of officially supporting, from that point forward, the decision made at Nicaea to endorse a belief held by only a minority of those attending.

The groundwork for official acceptance of the Trinity was now laid—but it took more than three centuries after Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection for this unbiblical teaching to emerge!

Nicene decision didn’t end the debate

The Council of Nicaea did not end the controversy. Karen Armstrong explains: “Athanasius managed to impose his theology on the delegates . . . with the emperor breathing down their necks . . .

“The show of agreement pleased Constantine, who had no understanding of the theological issues, but in fact there was no unanimity at Nicaea. After the council, the bishops went on teaching as they had before, and the Arian crisis continued for another sixty years. Arius and his followers fought back and managed to regain imperial favor. Athanasius was exiled no fewer than five times. It was very difficult to make his creed stick” (pp. 110-111).

The ongoing disagreements were at times violent and bloody. Of the aftermath of the Council of Nicaea, noted historian Will Durant writes, “Probably more Christians were slaughtered by Christians in these two years (342-3) than by all the persecutions of Christians by pagans in the history of Rome” ( The Story of Civilization, Vol. 4: The Age of Faith, 1950, p. 8). Atrociously, while claiming to be Christian many believers fought and slaughtered one another over their differing views of God!

Of the following decades, Professor Harold Brown, cited earlier, writes: “During the middle decades of this century, from 340 to 380, the history of doctrine looks more like the history of court and church intrigues and social unrest . . . The central doctrines hammered out in this period often appear to have been put through by intrigue or mob violence rather than by the common consent of Christendom led by the Holy Spirit” (p. 119).

Debate shifts to the nature of the Holy Spirit

Disagreements soon centered around another issue, the nature of the Holy Spirit. In that regard, the statement issued at the Council of Nicaea said simply, “We believe in the Holy Spirit.” This “seemed to have been added to Athanasius’s creed almost as an afterthought,” writes Karen Armstrong. “People were confused about the Holy Spirit. Was it simply a synonym for God or was it something more?” (p. 115).

Professor Ryrie, also cited earlier,writes, “In the second half of the fourth century, three theologians from the province of Cappadocia in eastern Asia Minor [today central Turkey] gave definitive shape to the doctrine of the Trinity” (p. 65). They proposed an idea that was a step beyond Athanasius’ view—that God the Father, Jesus the Son and the Holy Spirit were coequal and together in one being, yet also distinct from one another.

These men—Basil, bishop of Caesarea, his brother Gregory, bishop of Nyssa, and Gregory of Nazianzus—were all “trained in Greek philosophy” (Armstrong, p. 113), which no doubt affected their outlook and beliefs (see “Greek Philosophy’s Influence on the Trinity Doctrine,” beginning on page 14).

In their view, as Karen Armstrong explains, “the Trinity only made sense as a mystical or spiritual experience . . . It was not a logical or intellectual formulation but an imaginative paradigm that confounded reason. Gregory of Nazianzus made this clear when he explained that contemplation of the Three in One induced a profound and overwhelming emotion that confounded thought and intellectual clarity.

“ ‘No sooner do I conceive of the One than I am illumined by the splendor of the Three; no sooner do I distinguish Three than I am carried back into the One. When I think of any of the Three, I think of him as the whole, and my eyes are filled, and the greater part of what I am thinking escapes me’ ” (p. 117). Little wonder that, as Armstrong concludes, “For many Western Christians . . . the Trinity is simply baffling” (ibid.).

Ongoing disputes lead to the Council of Constantinople

In the year 381, 44 years after Constantine’s death, Emperor Theodosius the Great convened the Council of Constantinople (today Istanbul, Turkey) to resolve these disputes. Gregory of Nazianzus, recently appointed as archbishop of Constantinople, presided over the council and urged the adoption of his view of the Holy Spirit.

Historian Charles Freeman states: “Virtually nothing is known of the theological debates of the council of 381, but Gregory was certainly hoping to get some acceptance of his belief that the Spirit was consubstantial with the Father [meaning that the persons are of the same being, as substance in this context denotes individual quality].

“Whether he dealt with the matter clumsily or whether there was simply no chance of consensus, the ‘Macedonians,’ bishops who refused to accept the full divinity of the Holy Spirit, left the council . . . Typically, Gregory berated the bishops for preferring to have a majority rather than simply accepting ‘the Divine Word’ of the Trinity on his authority” ( A.D. 381: Heretics, Pagans and the Dawn of the Monotheistic State, 2008, p. 96).

Gregory soon became ill and had to withdraw from the council. Who would preside now? “So it was that one Nectarius, an elderly city senator who had been a popular prefect in the city as a result of his patronage of the games, but who was still not a baptized Christian, was selected . . . Nectarius appeared to know no theology, and he had to be initiated into the required faith before being baptized and consecrated” (Freeman, pp. 97-98).

Bizarrely, a man who up to this point wasn’t a Christian was appointed to preside over a major church council tasked with determining what it would teach regarding the nature of God!

The Trinity becomes official doctrine

The teaching of the three Cappadocian theologians “made it possible for the Council of Constantinople (381) to affirm the divinity of the Holy Spirit, which up to that point had nowhere been clearly stated, not even in Scripture” ( The HarperCollins Encyclopedia of Catholicism, “God,” p. 568).

The council adopted a statement that translates into English as, in part: “We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible; and in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all ages . . . And we believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of life, who proceeds from the Father, who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified, who spoke by the prophets . . .” The statement also affirmed belief “in one holy, catholic [meaning in this context universal, whole or complete] and apostolic Church . . .”

With this declaration in 381, which would become known as the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed, the Trinity as generally understood today became the official belief and teaching concerning the nature of God.

Theology professor Richard Hanson observes that a result of the council’s decision “was to reduce the meanings of the word ‘God’ from a very large selection of alternatives to one only,” such that “when Western man today says ‘God’ he means the one, sole exclusive [Trinitarian] God and nothing else” ( Studies in Christian Antiquity, 1985,pp. 243-244).

Thus, Emperor Theodosius—who himself had been baptized only a year before convening the council—was, like Constantine nearly six decades earlier, instrumental in establishing major church doctrine. As historian Charles Freeman notes: “It is important to remember that Theodosius had no theological background of his own and that he put in place as dogma a formula containing intractable philosophical problems of which he would have been unaware. In effect, the emperor’s laws had silenced the debate when it was still unresolved” (p. 103).

Other beliefs about the nature of God banned

Now that a decision had been reached, Theodosius would tolerate no dissenting views. He issued his own edict that read: “We now order that all churches are to be handed over to the bishops who profess Father, Son and Holy Spirit of a single majesty, of the same glory, of one splendor, who establish no difference by sacrilegious separation, but (who affirm) the order of the Trinity by recognizing the Persons and uniting the Godhead” (quoted by Richard Rubenstein, When Jesus Became God, 1999, p. 223).

Another edict from Theodosius went further in demanding adherence to the new teaching: “Let us believe the one deity of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, in equal majesty and in a holy Trinity. We authorize the followers of this law to assume the title of Catholic Christians; but as for the others, since, in our judgement, they are foolish madmen, we decree that they shall be branded with the ignominious name of heretics, and shall not presume to give their conventicles [assemblies] the name of churches.

“They will suffer in the first place the chastisement of the divine condemnation, and the second the punishment which our authority, in accordance with the will of Heaven, shall decide to inflict” (reproduced in Documents of the Christian Church, Henry Bettenson, editor, 1967, p. 22).

Thus we see that a teaching that was foreign to Jesus Christ, never taught by the apostles and unknown to the other biblical writers, was locked into place and the true biblical revelation about the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit was locked out. Any who disagreed were, in accordance with the edicts of the emperor and church authorities, branded heretics and dealt with accordingly.

Trinity doctrine decided by trial and error

This unusual chain of events is why theology professors Anthony and Richard Hanson would summarize the story in their book Reasonable Belief: A Survey of the Christian Faith by noting that the adoption of the Trinity doctrine came as a result of “a process of theological exploration which lasted at least three hundred years . . . In fact it was a process of trial and error (almost of hit and miss), in which the error was by no means all confined to the unorthodox . . . It would be foolish to represent the doctrine of the Holy Trinity as having been achieved by any other way” (1980, p. 172).

They then conclude: “This was a long, confused, process whereby different schools of thought in the Church worked out for themselves, and then tried to impose on others, their answer to the question, ‘How divine is Jesus Christ?’ . . . If ever there was a controversy decided by the method of trial and error, it was this one” (p. 175).

Anglican churchman and Oxford University lecturer K.E. Kirk revealingly writes of the adoption of the doctrine of the Trinity: “The theological and philosophical vindication of the divinity of the Spirit begins in the fourth century; we naturally turn to the writers of that period to discover what grounds they have for their belief. To our surprise, we are forced to admit that they have none . . .

“This failure of Christian theology .   .   . to produce logical justification of the cardinal point in its trinitarian doctrine is of the greatest possible significance. We are forced, even before turning to the question of the vindication of the doctrine by experience, to ask ourselves whether theology or philosophy has ever produced any reasons why its belief should be Trinitarian” (“The Evolution of the Doctrine of the Trinity,” published in Essays on the Trinity and the Incarnation, A.E.J. Rawlinson, editor, 1928, pp. 221-222).

Why believe a teaching that isn’t biblical?

This, in brief, is the amazing story of how the doctrine of the Trinity came to be introduced—and how those who refused to accept it came to be branded as heretics or unbelievers.

But should we really base our view of God on a doctrine that isn’t spelled out in the Bible, that wasn’t formalized until three centuries after the time of Jesus Christ and the apostles, that was debated and argued for decades (not to mention for centuries since), that was imposed by religious councils presided over by novices or nonbelievers and that was “decided by the method of trial and error”?

Of course not. We should instead look to the Word of God—not to ideas of men—to see how our Creator reveals Himself!


Is There a God? Does God exist?

Does God exist? Here are six straightforward reasons to believe that God is really there.

Just once wouldn’t you love for someone to simply show you the evidence for God’s existence? No arm-twisting. No statements of, “You just have to believe.” Well, here is an attempt to candidly offer some of the reasons which suggest that God exists.

But first consider this. When it comes to the possibility of God’s existence, the Bible says that there are people who have seen sufficient evidence, but they have suppressed the truth about God.1 On the other hand, for those who want to know God if he is there, he says, “You will seek me and find me; when you seek me with all your heart, I will be found by you.”2 Before you look at the facts surrounding God’s existence, ask yourself, If God does exist, would I want to know him? Here then, are some reasons to consider…

1. Does God exist? The complexity of our planet points to a deliberate Designer who not only created our universe, but sustains it today.

Many examples showing God’s design could be given, possibly with no end. But here are a few:

The Earth…its size is perfect. The Earth’s size and corresponding gravity holds a thin layer of mostly nitrogen and oxygen gases, only extending about 50 miles above the Earth’s surface. If Earth were smaller, an atmosphere would be impossible, like the planet Mercury. If Earth were larger, its atmosphere would contain free hydrogen, like Jupiter.3 Earth is the only known planet equipped with an atmosphere of the right mixture of gases to sustain plant, animal and human life.

The Earth is located the right distance from the sun. Consider the temperature swings we encounter, roughly -30 degrees to +120 degrees. If the Earth were any further away from the sun, we would all freeze. Any closer and we would burn up. Even a fractional variance in the Earth’s position to the sun would make life on Earth impossible. The Earth remains this perfect distance from the sun while it rotates around the sun at a speed of nearly 67,000 mph. It is also rotating on its axis, allowing the entire surface of the Earth to be properly warmed and cooled every day.

And our moon is the perfect size and distance from the Earth for its gravitational pull. The moon creates important ocean tides and movement so ocean waters do not stagnate, and yet our massive oceans are restrained from spilling over across the continents.4

Water…colorless, odorless and without taste, and yet no living thing can survive without it. Plants, animals and human beings consist mostly of water (about two-thirds of the human body is water). You’ll see why the characteristics of water are uniquely suited to life:

It has wide margin between its boiling point and freezing point. Water allows us to live in an environment of fluctuating temperature changes, while keeping our bodies a steady 98.6 degrees.

Water is a universal solvent. This property of water means that various chemicals, minerals and nutrients can be carried throughout our bodies and into the smallest blood vessels.5

Water is also chemically neutral. Without affecting the makeup of the substances it carries, water enables food, medicines and minerals to be absorbed and used by the body.

Water has a unique surface tension. Water in plants can therefore flow upward against gravity, bringing life-giving water and nutrients to the top of even the tallest trees.

Water freezes from the top down and floats, so fish can live in the winter.

Ninety-seven percent of the Earth’s water is in the oceans. But on our Earth, there is a system designed which removes salt from the water and then distributes that water throughout the globe. Evaporation takes the ocean waters, leaving the salt, and forms clouds which are easily moved by the wind to disperse water over the land, for vegetation, animals and people. It is a system of purification and supply that sustains life on this planet, a system of recycled and reused water.6

The human brain…simultaneously processes an amazing amount of information. Your brain takes in all the colors and objects you see, the temperature around you, the pressure of your feet against the floor, the sounds around you, the dryness of your mouth, even the texture of your keyboard. Your brain holds and processes all your emotions, thoughts and memories. At the same time your brain keeps track of the ongoing functions of your body like your breathing pattern, eyelid movement, hunger and movement of the muscles in your hands.

The human brain processes more than a million messages a second.7 Your brain weighs the importance of all this data, filtering out the relatively unimportant. This screening function is what allows you to focus and operate effectively in your world. The brain functions differently than other organs. There is an intelligence to it, the ability to reason, to produce feelings, to dream and plan, to take action, and relate to other people.

The eye…can distinguish among seven million colors. It has automatic focusing and handles an astounding 1.5 million messages — simultaneously.8 Evolution focuses on mutations and changes from and within existing organisms. Yet evolution alone does not fully explain the initial source of the eye or the brain — the start of living organisms from nonliving matter.

2. Does God exist? The universe had a start – what caused it?

Scientists are convinced that our universe began with one enormous explosion of energy and light, which we now call the Big Bang. This was the singular start to everything that exists: the beginning of the universe, the start of space, and even the initial start of time itself.

Astrophysicist Robert Jastrow, a self-described agnostic, stated, “The seed of everything that has happened in the Universe was planted in that first instant; every star, every planet and every living creature in the Universe came into being as a result of events that were set in motion in the moment of the cosmic explosion…The Universe flashed into being, and we cannot find out what caused that to happen.”9

Steven Weinberg, a Nobel laureate in Physics, said at the moment of this explosion, “the universe was about a hundred thousands million degrees Centigrade…and the universe was filled with light.”10

The universe has not always existed. It had a start…what caused that? Scientists have no explanation for the sudden explosion of light and matter.

3. Does God exist? The universe operates by uniform laws of nature. Why does it?

Much of life may seem uncertain, but look at what we can count on day after day: gravity remains consistent, a hot cup of coffee left on a counter will get cold, the earth rotates in the same 24 hours, and the speed of light doesn’t change — on earth or in galaxies far from us.

How is it that we can identify laws of nature that never change? Why is the universe so orderly, so reliable?

“The greatest scientists have been struck by how strange this is. There is no logical necessity for a universe that obeys rules, let alone one that abides by the rules of mathematics. This astonishment springs from the recognition that the universe doesn’t have to behave this way. It is easy to imagine a universe in which conditions change unpredictably from instant to instant, or even a universe in which things pop in and out of existence.”11

Richard Feynman, a Nobel Prize winner for quantum electrodynamics, said, “Why nature is mathematical is a mystery…The fact that there are rules at all is a kind of miracle.”12

4. Does God exist? The DNA code informs, programs a cell’s behavior.

All instruction, all teaching, all training comes with intent. Someone who writes an instruction manual does so with purpose. Did you know that in every cell of our bodies there exists a very detailed instruction code, much like a miniature computer program? As you may know, a computer program is made up of ones and zeros, like this: 110010101011000. The way they are arranged tell the computer program what to do. The DNA code in each of our cells is very similar. It’s made up of four chemicals that scientists abbreviate as A, T, G, and C. These are arranged in the human cell like this: CGTGTGACTCGCTCCTGAT and so on. There are three billion of these letters in every human cell!!

Well, just like you can program your phone to beep for specific reasons, DNA instructs the cell. DNA is a three-billion-lettered program telling the cell to act in a certain way. It is a full instruction manual.13

Why is this so amazing? One has to ask….how did this information program wind up in each human cell? These are not just chemicals. These are chemicals that instruct, that code in a very detailed way exactly how the person’s body should develop.

Natural, biological causes are completely lacking as an explanation when programmed information is involved. You cannot find instruction, precise information like this, without someone intentionally constructing it.

5. Does God exist? We know God exists because he pursues us. He is constantly initiating and seeking for us to come to him.

I was an atheist at one time. And like many atheists, the issue of people believing in God bothered me greatly. What is it about atheists that we would spend so much time, attention, and energy refuting something that we don’t believe even exists?! What causes us to do that? When I was an atheist, I attributed my intentions as caring for those poor, delusional people…to help them realize their hope was completely ill-founded. To be honest, I also had another motive. As I challenged those who believed in God, I was deeply curious to see if they could convince me otherwise. Part of my quest was to become free from the question of God. If I could conclusively prove to believers that they were wrong, then the issue is off the table, and I would be free to go about my life.

I didn’t realize that the reason the topic of God weighed so heavily on my mind, was because God was pressing the issue. I have come to find out that God wants to be known. He created us with the intention that we would know him. He has surrounded us with evidence of himself and he keeps the question of his existence squarely before us. It was as if I couldn’t escape thinking about the possibility of God. In fact, the day I chose to acknowledge God’s existence, my prayer began with, “Ok, you win…” It might be that the underlying reason atheists are bothered by people believing in God is because God is actively pursuing them.

I am not the only one who has experienced this. Malcolm Muggeridge, socialist and philosophical author, wrote, “I had a notion that somehow, besides questing, I was being pursued.” C.S. Lewis said he remembered, “…night after night, feeling whenever my mind lifted even for a second from my work, the steady, unrelenting approach of Him whom I so earnestly desired not to meet. I gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed: perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all of England.”

Lewis went on to write a book titled, “Surprised by Joy” as a result of knowing God. I too had no expectations other than rightfully admitting God’s existence. Yet over the following several months, I became amazed by his love for me.

6. Does God exist? Unlike any other revelation of God, Jesus Christ is the clearest, most specific picture of God revealing himself to us.

Why Jesus? Look throughout the major world religions and you’ll find that Buddha, Muhammad, Confucius and Moses all identified themselves as teachers or prophets. None of them ever claimed to be equal to God. Surprisingly, Jesus did. That is what sets Jesus apart from all the others. He said God exists and you’re looking at him. Though he talked about his Father in heaven, it was not from the position of separation, but of very close union, unique to all humankind. Jesus said that anyone who had seen Him had seen the Father, anyone who believed in him, believed in the Father.

He said, “I am the light of the world, he who follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”14 He claimed attributes belonging only to God: to be able to forgive people of their sin, free them from habits of sin, give people a more abundant life and give them eternal life in heaven. Unlike other teachers who focused people on their words, Jesus pointed people to himself. He did not say, “follow my words and you will find truth.” He said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life, no one comes to the Father but through me.”15

What proof did Jesus give for claiming to be divine? He did what people can’t do. Jesus performed miracles. He healed people…blind, crippled, deaf, even raised a couple of people from the dead. He had power over objects…created food out of thin air, enough to feed crowds of several thousand people. He performed miracles over nature…walked on top of a lake, commanding a raging storm to stop for some friends. People everywhere followed Jesus, because he constantly met their needs, doing the miraculous. He said if you do not want to believe what I’m telling you, you should at least believe in me based on the miracles you’re seeing.16

Jesus Christ showed God to be gentle, loving, aware of our self-centeredness and shortcomings, yet deeply wanting a relationship with us. Jesus revealed that although God views us as sinners, worthy of his punishment, his love for us ruled and God came up with a different plan. God himself took on the form of man and accepted the punishment for our sin on our behalf. Sounds ludicrous? Perhaps, but many loving fathers would gladly trade places with their child in a cancer ward if they could. The Bible says that the reason we would love God is because he first loved us.

Jesus died in our place so we could be forgiven. Of all the religions known to humanity, only through Jesus will you see God reaching toward humanity, providing a way for us to have a relationship with him. Jesus proves a divine heart of love, meeting our needs, drawing us to himself. Because of Jesus’ death and resurrection, he offers us a new life today. We can be forgiven, fully accepted by God and genuinely loved by God. He says, “I have loved you with an everlasting love, therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you.”17 This is God, in action.

Does God exist? If you want to know, investigate Jesus Christ. We’re told that “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”18

God does not force us to believe in him, though he could. Instead, he has provided sufficient proof of his existence for us to willingly respond to him. The earth’s perfect distance from the sun, the unique chemical properties of water, the human brain, DNA, the number of people who attest to knowing God, the gnawing in our hearts and minds to determine if God is there, the willingness for God to be known through Jesus Christ. If you need to know more about Jesus and reasons to believe in him, please see: Beyond Blind Faith.

If you want to begin a relationship with God now, you can.

This is your decision, no coercion here. But if you want to be forgiven by God and come into a relationship with him, you can do so right now by asking him to forgive you and come into your life. Jesus said, “Behold, I stand at the door [of your heart] and knock. He who hears my voice and opens the door, I will come into him [or her].”19 If you want to do this, but aren’t sure how to put it into words, this may help: “Jesus, thank you for dying for my sins. You know my life and that I need to be forgiven. I ask you to forgive me right now and come into my life. I want to know you in a real way. Come into my life now. Thank you that you wanted a relationship with me. Amen.”

God views your relationship with him as permanent. Referring to all those who believe in him, Jesus Christ said of us, “I know them, and they follow me; and I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish, and no one shall snatch them out of my hand.”20

Looking at all these facts, one can conclude that a loving God does exist and can be known in an intimate, personal way.


God’s Patience

by  Caleb Colley, Ph.D.

Some people picture God as akin to a miserly dictator Who is eager to find a cause to crush the vile human race He created. Is that the way the Bible portrays God? Romans 2:4 reads: “Or do you despise the riches of His goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance?” Romans 15:5 emphasizes God’s patience: “Now may the God of patience and comfort grant you to be likeminded toward one another, according to Christ Jesus.” Peter wrote: “the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation” (2 Peter 3:15).

God is patient because He does not want anyone to be eternally lost. “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). One meaning of “patience,” according to the Illustrated Oxford Dictionary, is “the capacity for calm, self-possessed waiting.” God has promised that there will be a day when sinners will receive their final condemnation (2 Peter 2:9; 3:7), but God is waiting in order that more sinners might accept and obey the Gospel. Wayne Jackson noted biblical examples of this patience:

The Lord’s wrath is not inflicted impulsively. Rather, history repeatedly has demonstrated that God exercises “much long-suffering” toward those deserving of punishment (Romans 9:22). His patience was demonstrated to the generation of Noah’s day (Genesis 6:3). He longed to spare corrupt Sodom (Genesis 18:26ff). Jehovah revealed himself to Moses as a God who is “slow to anger” (Exodus 34:6; cf. Psalms 103:8). The Lord was even long-suffering with a wretch as vile as Ahab (1 Kings 21:29). For centuries He was tolerant with the arrogant and stiff-necked nation of Israel (Nehemiah 9:17) [2000].

We desperately need God’s patience, just as the apostle Paul did. Paul was given the opportunity to be saved, despite the fact that he was “the chief ” of sinners (1 Timothy 1:15-16; see Nicks, 1981, p. 190). Potential for salvation rests in God’s patience. Rather than instantly destroying people when they sin, He providentially gives people opportunities and encouragement that should lead to repentance (Titus 2:11). God expects us to request His continued patience as we make mistakes (1 John 1:9; Luke 11:4), and He shows His patience by continually forgiving us of our sins when we do (based on the sacrifice of Christ’s blood and our sincere obedience to His will; see 1 John 1:7).

We should emulate the patience of God. Romans 2:6-7 emphasizes the necessity of patience in the lives of Christians: “[God] will render to each one according to his deeds: eternal life to those who by patient continuance in doing good seek for glory, honor, and immortality” (emp. added). Paul instructed Christians to be patient: “Now we exhort you, brethren, warn those who are unruly, comfort the fainthearted, uphold the weak, be patient with all” (1 Thessalonians 5:14, emp. added; cf. Christ’s parable of the impatient servant in Matthew 18:23-35). People cannot be saved unless they have patience, because without patience, the Christian’s work is impossible (see Ecclesiastes 7:8; Ephesians 4:2; 2 Timothy 2:24; James 1:4). Patience also is necessary because other essential Christian virtues, including faith, hope, and joy, are dependent on it (James 1:2-4; Romans 5:3; 15:4; Colossians 1:11; see Nicks, 1981, pp. 191-192). William Barclay observed:

If God had been a man, He would have taken His hand and wiped out this world long ago; but God has that patience which bears with all our sinning and which will not cast us off. In our lives, in our attitude to and dealings with our fellow men, we must reproduce this loving, forbearing, forgiving, patient attitude of God toward ourselves (1958, p. 56).

God’s patience is balanced by His perfect justice. Unforgiven sin will be punished, but God’s patience allows time for repentance (Matthew 25:41; 2 Peter 2:9; see Colley, 2004). Isaiah 30:18 makes it clear: “Therefore the Lord will wait, that He may be gracious to you; and therefore He will be exalted that He may have mercy on you. For the Lord is God of justice; blessed are those who wait for Him.” God’s generous patience should motivate us to obey Him.


Barclay, William (1958), The Daily Study Bible: Letters to Galatians and Ephesians (Philadelphia, PA: Westminster).

Colley, Caleb (2004), “God’s Mercy and Justice,” [On-line], URL:

Illustrated Oxford Dictionary (2003), (New York: Oxford), revised edition.

Jackson, Wayne (2000), “The Righteousness of God Revealed,” [On-line], URL:

Nicks, Bill (1981), “Patience,” Continuing in the Doctrine, ed. Bill Nicks, M.H. Tucker, John Waddey (Knoxville, TN: East Tennessee School of Preaching and Missions).


Does the Holy Spirit Know When Jesus Will Return?

by  Eric Lyons, M.Min.

One question that various individuals have submitted to Apologetics Press in recent years involves the Second Coming of Christ and the omniscience of the Holy Spirit. If the Holy Spirit is God (Acts 5:3-4) and thus omniscient (Psalm 139), why did Jesus say about His return, “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father” (Mark 13:32, emp. added)? Why would the “Father alone” (Matthew 24:36, NASB) be aware of the time of Jesus’ Second Coming? Does this awareness exclude the Holy Spirit?

When Jesus came to Earth in the flesh, He willingly “made Himself of no reputation” (Philippians 2:7; He “emptied Himself”—NASB). He moved from the spiritual realm to put on flesh (John 1:14) and voluntarily became subject to such burdens as hunger, thirst, weariness, and pain. Our omnipotent, omniscient, holy God chose to come into this world as a helpless babe Who, for the first time in His eternal existence, “increased in wisdom” (Luke 2:52). While on Earth in the flesh, Jesus was voluntarily in a subordinate position to the Father (cf. Jackson, 1995).

It has been suggested that, similar to how Jesus chose not to know certain information while on Earth, including the date of His return, perhaps the Holy Spirit also willingly restricted Himself to some degree during the first century (see Holding, 2012). Perhaps the special role of the Holy Spirit in the first century in regards to spiritual and miraculous gifts (Acts 2:38; 1 Corinthians 12:7), special revelation (John 14:26; 16:13), divine inspiration (2 Timothy 3:16), intercession (Romans 8:26), etc., is somewhat similar to the role that Christ played. That is, could it be that both God the Son and God the Spirit voluntarily restricted their knowledge on Earth in the first century? And thus, could that be why Jesus said, “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father” (Mark 13:32, emp. added)? Considering that a number of Christians and scholars believe that even God the Father may freely choose to limit His own knowledge of certain things (cf. Brents, 1874, pp. 74-87; Camp, n.d.), many would likely explain Mark 13:32 and Matthew 24:36 by contending that the Holy Spirit freely limited His knowledge for a time regarding Christ’s return.

Given especially the indisputable fact that the Son of God voluntarily chose not to know certain things for a time, it may be possible that the Holy Spirit could choose the same. However, the Holy Spirit Himself revealed through the apostle Paul that He, the Spirit, “searches all things, yes, the deep things of God. For what man knows the things of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so no one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God” (1 Corinthians 2:10-11). Furthermore, there are no explicit statements in Scripture about the Holy Spirit’s willful unawareness of certain things as there are about Jesus (Mark 13:32; cf. Luke 2:52). All one can cite is Jesus’ statement about “only the Father” knowing the date of the Son’s return and conclude that this declaration implies the Spirit of God was unaware of that day. What’s more, in context, Jesus placed much more emphasis on the words “no one knows” than the qualifying statements “not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son.” Jesus wanted His hearers to understand that just as those in Noah’s day “did not know” the day of the Flood (Matthew 24:39, emp. added) and just as the servants in the parable of the servants “do not know when the master of the house is coming” (Mark 13:35, emp. added; Matthew 24:50), so “you do not know what hour the Lord is coming” (Matthew 24:42, emp. added; Mark 13:33). Thus, Jesus taught the all-important central message in these chapters of “watching” and being “ready” for the unknown time of Christ’s return (Matthew 24:36-25:46; Mark 13:32-37). Even though we may learn something of the Messiah’s voluntary, self-imposed emptying of some of His omniscience (Mark 13:32), Jesus’ “purpose was not to define the limits of his theological knowledge, but to indicate that vigilance, not calculation, is required” (Lane, 1974, p. 482)—a lesson that all “end-of-time” false prophets need to learn.

Rather than quickly dismiss the omniscience of the Holy Spirit during a particular period of time in human history, a better explanation exists: expressions such as “no one,” “only,” “except,” “all,” etc. are oftentimes used in a limited sense. Consider what Paul revealed in Romans 3: “Jews and Greeks…are all under sin. As it is written: ‘There is none righteous, no, not one…. They have all turned aside… there is none who does good, no, not one” (vss. 9,10,12, emp. added). In this passage, Paul was stressing the fact that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23), but he was using these inclusive and exclusive terms (e.g., “all,” “none”) in a somewhat limited sense. Paul was obviously not including Jesus in this passage, as elsewhere he wrote that Jesus “knew no sin” (2 Corinthians 5:21; cf. Hebrews 4:15; 1 Peter 1:19). Neither was he including infants (see Butt, 2003), the mentally challenged, or angels. Who then has sinned? All humans of an accountable mind and age (see Miller, 2003), with the obvious exception being the sinless Son of God.

In John 17:3, Jesus prayed to the Father, saying, “And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent” (John 17:3, emp. added). Are we to believe, as some do (cf. “Is There Only…?” 2009), that Jesus was implying neither He nor the Holy Spirit is divine? Not at all. Rather, when the Bible reveals that there is only one God, one Savior, one Lord, one Creator (Isaiah 44:24; John 1:3), etc., reason and revelation demand that we understand the inspired writers to be excluding everyone and everything—other than the members of the Godhead (see Lyons, 2008). Throughout the Gospel of John, the writer repeatedly referred to Jesus’ deity (1:1,3,23; 4:25; 9:38; 10:30-33; 20:28)—Jesus most certainly was not denying it in John 17:3. Unless the biblical text specifically mentions what a member of the Godhead does not know or do, we should be careful alleging ignorance, limited power, etc.

In Matthew 11:27, Jesus stated: “All things have been delivered to Me by My Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father. Nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and the one to whom the Son wills to reveal Him” (emp. added). Are we to believe that the Spirit of God does not fully comprehend the Son of God or God the Father? After all, Jesus said, “[N]o one knows the Son except the Father. Nor does anyone know the Father except the Son.” Once again, the terms “no one,” “anyone,” and “except” must be understood in a limited sense. Jesus was in no way suggesting that the Spirit of God, Who “searches all things, yes, the deep things of God” (1 Corinthians 2:10), does not fully understand the Father as Jesus does. The Son of God was revealing that aside from the “one to whom the Son wills to reveal Him” (Matthew 11:27), “no man or angel clearly and fully comprehends the character of the infinite God…. None but God fully knows Him” (Barnes, 1997, emp. in orig.). Once again, Jesus was alluding to His deity. Mere humans cannot truthfully speak in this manner. “The full comprehension and acknowledgment of the Godhead, and the mystery of the Trinity, belong to God alone” (Clarke, 1996). Jesus was and is God. We should no more exclude the Holy Spirit from Jesus’ statement about Himself and God the Father in Matthew 11:27 than we should exclude the Father or the Son from Paul’s statement about the Spirit in 1 Corinthians 2:10-11.


It is unnecessary to conclude that the Holy Spirit must at one time have given up some of His omniscience because Jesus stated of His return. “[N]o one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” In light of the way in which God and the Bible writers oftentimes used exclusive terms in limited senses, especially as those terms relate to the Godhead, it cannot be proven that Jesus was excluding the Spirit of God in this statement. If we should not exclude Jesus and the Holy Spirit from the God that Jesus praised in John 17:3, and we should not exclude the Holy Spirit from the Divine that Jesus spoke of in Matthew 11:27, it seems entirely unnecessary to infer that in Mark 13:32 and Matthew 24:36 Christ was implying that the Holy Spirit was unaware of the day of His return.


Barnes, Albert (1997), Barnes’ Notes (Electronic Database: Biblesoft).

Brents, T.W. (1874), The Gospel Plan of Salvation (Bowling Green, KY: Guardian of Truth Foundation, 1987 reprint).

Butt, Kyle (2003), “Do Babies Go to Hell When They Die?” Apologetics Press,

Camp, Franklin (no date) “1 Peter 1:1-2,” Redemption Through the Bible (Adamsville, AL: Brother’s).

Clarke, Adam (1996), Adam Clarke’s Commentary (Electronic Database: Biblesoft).

Holding, James (2012), “Mark 13:32 and the Holy Spirit,” Tekton,

“Is There Only One True God?” (2009), Jehovah’s Witnesses Official Web Site,

Jackson, Wayne (1995), “Did Jesus Exist in the Form of God While on Earth?” Reason & Revelation, 15[3]:21-22, March,

Lane, William (1974), The Gospel of Mark (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans).

Lyons, Eric (2008), “The Only True God,” Apologetics Press,

Miller, Dave (2003), “The Age of Accountability,” Apologetics Press,


God’s Love – Love of God

by  Caleb Colley, Ph.D.

French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte once said, “Alexander, Caesar, Charlemagne, and myself have founded empires, but upon what do these creations of our genius depend? Upon force. Jesus alone founded His empire upon love: and to this very day millions would die for Him” (as quoted in Ankerberg and Weldon, 1997, p. 29). If every one of God’s characteristics was to be summarized in a single English word, only one word could suffice: love. Of course, the idea of love does not encompass all of God’s characteristics, but it is a fitting summation of God’s personality. In fact, John wrote simply that “God is love” (1 John 4:8-9,16)—perhaps the most powerful statement ever made about God’s love (we do not, as some do, charge that God’s justice is inconsistent with his love and mercy [see Colley, 2004a]).

When Paul listed the fruits of the Spirit—characteristics that appear in the lives of Christ’s followers (Galatians 5:22-23)—the first fruit he mentioned was love. Jesus said that all the law and the prophets hang upon love (Matthew 22:40; Mark 12:28). God is not merely a loving God, but God is love, and love defines His very essence. Every action of God has been carried out, ultimately, because of His magnificent love.

God loves His Son. The relationship between God the Father and Jesus Christ is one of great love. God’s eternal love has an eternal object, and that eternal object is Christ. Consider a sampling of the passages that bear the special relationship the Father and Son share:

  • Isaiah 42:1: “Behold! My Servant whom I uphold, my Elect One in whom My soul delights! I have put My Spirit upon Him; He will bring forth justice to the Gentiles. He will not cry out, nor raise His voice.”
  • Matthew 3:17: “And suddenly a voice came from heaven, saying, ‘This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased’ ” (cf. Matthew 17:5).
  • John 1:18: “No one has seen God at any time. The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him.”
  • John 5:20: “For the Father loves the Son, and shows Him all things that He Himself does” (cf. John 3:30).
  • John 17:24: “Father, I desire that they also whom You gave Me may be with Me where I am, that they may behold My glory which You have given Me; for You loved Me before the foundation of the world. O righteous Father! The world has not known You, but I have known You; and these have known that You sent Me.”

God loves His Son’s followers. Paul wrote to the Christians at Rome: “Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us” (Romans 5:5). The Greek verb translated “poured out” in Romans 5:5, ekcheo, is the same verb used to describe the outpouring of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:17ff.). This suggests that, through Christ, God has blessed His spiritual children with an abundant amount of love. The tense of the verb is perfect, indicating a settled state or a completed action. The idea, then, is that the love of God has filled our hearts, and, like a valley remains full of flood water, our hearts remain full of Christ’s love (see Packer, 1975, pp. 129-130). Those who are in Christ (Romans 6:3-4; Galatians 3:27) are in a covenant relationship with God, a relationship in which both God and the Christian are pledged to each other.

Again, Paul wrote: “For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39). Although Christians can (and, sadly, sometimes do) cease to love Christ (Acts 8:12-13; Galatians 5:4; James 5:19-20; see Jackson, 2003), Christ will never cease to love them, for God is unchanging (James 1:17; see Colley, 2004b). Packer wrote concerning the unchanging quality of God’s love:

…[T]his does not mean that He is unfeeling (impassive), or that there is nothing in Him that corresponds to emotions and affections in us, but that whereas human passions—specifically the painful ones, fear, grief, regret, despair—are in a sense passive and involuntary, being called forth and constrained by circumstances not under our control, the corresponding attitudes in God have the nature of deliberate voluntary choices, and therefore are not of the same order as human passions at all. So the love of the God who is spirit is no fitful, fluctuating thing, as the love of man is, nor is it a mere impotent longing for things that may never be…. There are no inconstancies or vicissitudes in the love of the almighty God who is spirit (1975, pp. 133-134, parenthetical item in orig.).

God loves the world. That is, God cares even for people who disregard Him. Paul wrote: “But God demonstrates His own love toward use, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8, emp. added). The Greek word translated love in Romans 5:8 is agape, which appears abundantly (82 times) in the Greek New Testament. Agape is a selfless love that motivates one to sacrifice on the behalf of others, so it has come to be known by many as “Christian” love. This purest form of love is the agape under consideration when Paul wrote: “And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love” (1 Corinthians 13:13). It was that love that made Christ willing to “taste death for everyone” (Hebrews 2:9).

God despises sin, but loves sinners. He does not approve or overlook sin; rather, He wants each sinner to repent of his wrongdoing and change his life (Acts 17:30). Peter wrote: “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9, emp. added). God delays the Second Coming of Christ, not because He is undependable or incapable of fulfilling the promise of judgment (1 Peter 4:17; 2 Peter 3:7-9; 1 John 4:17; Jude 6,15; Revelation 14:7), but because His love motivates Him to give sinners more opportunities to repent. Instead of admiring or imitating the wrong actions of sinners, we should abhor sin (Romans 12:9), and share God’s concern for lost souls—a concern that should motivate us to share the Gospel (Mark 16:15-16; John 14:6).

Jesus said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another” (John 13:34, emp. added). In stating that the commandment was new, Jesus obviously intended to draw a distinction between His commandment and everything else that would have been familiar to His disciples concerning the topic they were discussing. Though the command to love one’s neighbor was not new (Leviticus 19:18), Christ’s command was new in that it demanded that we love, not as we love ourselves, but as God loves us. This would be the sign to non-Christians that the first-century disciples really were followers of Christ (John 13:35; see Pack, 1977, 5:54-55), and it serves the same purpose today.

William Evans wrote: “As love is the highest expression of God and His relation to mankind, so it must be the highest expression of man’s relation to his Maker and to his fellow-man” (1994, 3:1932). God’s love should motivate us to express our love for Him by obeying His commands. Jesus could not have put it any clearer than He did when He said, “If you love Me, keep My commandments” (John 14:15). Let us pray that as we obey Christ, we will be able to “comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height” of His love, which “passes knowledge” (Ephesians 3:18-19).


Ankerberg, John, and John Weldon (1997), Ready With an Answer (Eugene, OR: Harvest House).

Colley, Caleb (2004a), “God’s Mercy and Justice,” [On-line], URL:

Colley, Caleb (2004b), “The Immutability of God,” [On-line], URL:

Evans, William (1994), The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, ed. James Orr (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson).

Jackson, Wayne (2003), “Galatians 5:4—Fallen from Grace,” [On-line], URL:

Pack, Frank (1977), The Living Word Commentary, ed. Everett Ferguson (Austin, TX: Sweet).

Packer, J.I. (1975), Knowing God (London: Hodder and Stoughton), second edition.


God with us in our pain

A very thoughtful sermon this morning from David Whillis who began a summer series on the Old Testament Book of Job which raises fundamental questions about why bad things happen to good people, and how faith responds to tragedy.

David began with a wee bit of background. He reminded us that Job is one of the books of ‘Wisdom literature’ in the Bible, books which probe the meaning of human existence. Unlike literature of other cultures of their time, the thinking of the Wisdom books is centred on God.

The book of Job was probably written down about 500BC, but it is set much earlier – possibly around 2,000 BC, the time of Abraham. We deduce this from Job’s circumstances, and from the fact that he offers sacrifices which was forbidden in the law given to Moses. We assume the story was passed down orally from generation to generation until it was finally written down.

The book begins with 2 chapters in prose, describing Job’s situation and the problems he faced. The bulk of the book is in poetry, with many chapters is which Job dialogues with friends, and ultimately meets God. The final section, describing Job’s ‘after story’ reverts to prose.

The question for us, David said is

‘What is God saying to us through this ancient book?’

David talked us through today’s passage.

A good man enjoying the good life

Job is described as ‘blameless and upright’, a mean who ‘feared God and shunned evil.’ (v1) No one else in the Old Testament, said David, is described in such positive terms.

We’re told that Job’s life was complete and fulfilled, as v2 demonstrates what David called Job’s ‘family shalom.’ The numbers – 7 sons and 3 daughters; 7000 sheep and 3000 camels – are numbers which, in Jewish tradition, signified ‘completeness’.

Job’s life, said David, was ‘the good life.’

And so the stage is set to demonstrate that, as David put it, ‘the man who has everything has everything to lose.’ And the book raises the fundamental question: Does Job believe only because of what belief brings him? If all he has is taken away, will his faith remain?

Job’s motives (and ours) questioned

The scene changes in v6 – as this fundamental question is raised by ‘The Accuser’ (which is what ‘Satan’ means here), the one who questions human motives. This accuser puts the book’s fundamental question in these words:

‘Does Job fear God for nothing?’ (v9)

The book of Job asks what is the basis of our relationship with God. Is God inherently worthy of our worship, or does God as it were buy our allegiance by the stuff God gives us?

So the book of Job is not about one man – it’s about all of us.

And it challenges each of us. Is my faith focused on God for God’s sake, or is it conditional on what I receive from God?

And when calamities strike – how does our faith respond?

A tsunami of catastrophe

Job’s life is disrupted by dreadful tragedy (vv13-19) But his response to it in this chapter is one of worship (v20-21)  As the book goes on, and Job’s troubles increase he will react differently, but for the moment all we see is this astonishing profession of faith (v21):

The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.

How true to life this book is! The innocent suffer.

It begs the question ‘Why do bad things happen to good people?’

But the book of Job doesn’t answer this questions.

Instead it focuses on what our faith means to us when bad stuff happens. How do we react when our faith is tested?

The suffering of Job – and the suffering of Jesus

David shared his conviction that the book of Job makes no sense apart from the cross of Christ, which it anticipates in a couple of ways.

Firstly, Job never doubts throughout the book that he will have a personal encounter with God as he does in its closing chapters. Old Testament believers considered this wasn’t possible – to catch a glimpse of God was to die. Christians, blessed with God’s further revelation, believe that God came among us in Jesus; that in Jesus we meet God face to face – and live.

Secondly, David pointed out that Job had a glimpse of the reality of life after death. Most Old Testament believers thought only of Sheol, the shadowy place of the dead. In contrast Job saw in moments of clarity that his relationship with God will survive death – and this is precisely our conviction as Christians, that beyond death, we will live.

And there’s more, David said.

Job suffered – but so did Jesus.  And because of, and through the suffering of Jesus we, in our times of suffering, can find hope for the future. Jesus who died for us, who suffered on our behalf brings us comfort strength and healing.

God – present in our pain

Job is a sad story of suffering. And yet God remains present with Job throughout his long days of pain.

Being Christian does not protect us from bad stuff. But God is with us, and we can therefore be strong and courageous, for God holds us safe, wrapped in God’s everlasting love.