Tag Archives: Dr. Ron Frost

God’s Humility

[Note: my apologies for the many copies of the last post many of you received—it felt like a reprise of Disney’s “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” in Fantasia! We think we’ve solved the problem … but only this post will reassure us!]

Don’t look for this topic—God’s humility—in any systematic theology. You won’t find it! Certainly not as a major heading—as one of God’s major attributes. At best it might be a subcategory of Christology dealing with Christ’s self-emptying in his becoming a man. But it’s not central.

The same is true of God’s love. In the Bible God’s love is a dominant theme. It celebrates and explains God’s motive for engaging us: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son…” And, in 1 John 4, we read “God is love” not once but twice. Love forms the ancient refrain, “for the loving-kindness of the LORD endures forever.” And the great “shema” calls us to love God with our whole being.

But you won’t find love as a defining theme in academic Christian theologies. Even though Paul reminded the Corinthians, “So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” Instead we may treat love as an awkward, even dangerous, emotion.

One benefit of repeated Bible read-throughs is that in reading we gather the courage to see these omissions and eccentricities as problems. We see how some major ideas are muted or missing in the academic tradition while other themes are obviously inflated.

The widespread language of the emotive and responsive “heart,” for instance, tends to disappear in high theology. And the Bible theme of God’s tender care is too often replaced with a focus on God’s sovereign power. That’s not to say that God lacks power—he created and sustains everything—but in the Bible that power is rarely in the foreground.

So, too, his self-giving can be missed by those who portray God as obsessed with selfish glory. The mutual glory within the Trinity, birthed in love (as in John 17:24), is God’s actual concern—and it’s a glory he invites believers to join and enjoy.

Our image of God, then, needs to be nourished by his own self-disclosures in the Scriptures. Most of us will struggle to come to grips with the triune God. So our quest for knowing him ‘as he really is’ calls for bold Bible reading and appropriate critical reflection.

Let me say the same thing in more positive terms. Everyone who aspires to grow in faith needs help. In a fallen world most of us feel young and uninformed; yet we also have spiritual roadblocks to overcome. So formal theology is a gift to us because we get to draw on the lessons of prior generations as growth aids and fast tracks for learning. Yet we also find some dangerous and distracting ‘traditions of men’ blended in the mix if we aren’t careful.

And the sole antidote to misshapen academic or tradition-based theology is Bible truth. So we need to become Bible-enriched Christians who can spot counterfeits sooner rather than later. Bible reading, with the Spirit’s presumed involvement, is what made Augustine the marking figure he became. So, too, Martin Luther, Richard Sibbes, Jonathan Edwards, and many others who became conspicuously Bible-sensitive leaders.

Now back to the theme of God’s humility. In the upside-down realities of God’s kingdom we find the meek honored and the proud debased. Because it reflects God’s own character.

If we take up the lesson Jesus offered Philip in John 14:9—“Whoever has seen me has seen the Father”—we have a basis for God’s humility demonstrated in the incarnation of the divine Logos as the human Jesus.

And Jesus was humble—as we read in Paul’s summary, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philip. 2:3-8).

There’s also humility in the Father who, in love for the world, gave his Son over to the terrible shame and suffering of his life on earth that ended in his crucifixion.

Yet there’s more. God’s relative quietness certainly reflects divine humility. He chooses to woo us to respond to his love rather than to impose himself on us. As we see in Elijah’s experience, God’s voice comes in whispers from his Scriptures and not in wind, earthquake, or fire. He’s gentle and caring: never crushing a bruised reed or snuffing out a smoldering candle.

We also need to be careful in how we understand God’s “irresistible grace.” No one and nothing in creation is more attractive than the God who conceived and formed all that is. And in that sense, ‘to know him is to love him.’ Nothing can compete with God’s grace and beauty! But we still succeed in rejecting his love.

How do so many still spurn him, even in light of Christ’s commanding attractiveness?

It’s possible because sin uses skepticism to blind spiritual eyes. People don’t see him as he is. Not when their personal success seems at stake. So that Christ’s call to “good works, which he prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” feels like an obstacle rather than a release.

The case of the wealthy and morally pristine young man in Luke 10:17-22 is an example. Jesus “loved him” and invited him to “come, follow me.” But the man turned away; and Jesus let him go.

So why did Jesus persist with Paul—even after the latter had been “kicking” at Christ’s prodding efforts to capture his heart? We don’t know! But Christ was humbly persistent and his love eventually worked the transformation.

Call it the “amazing grace” that comes to us through God’s tender heart.


Reflecting on the Spirit

I’m returning to the ministry of the Spirit in this post—a favored topic of recent months. The immediate stir this time was a recent invitation to speak on the Trinity. The preparation took me back into Jonathan Edwards’ “Treatise on Grace” which is really a discussion of the Spirit.

But let me start with the Spirit and the Bible before commenting on Edwards’ project. In the Christian faith the Bible is viewed as the Spirit’s resource to us. The Spirit is the constant and consummate communicator of God’s heart. His main work has been in producing and then in applying the Scriptures. He’s the creative presence who first moved the original writers to write; and he’s also the companion who lives in believers, inviting us to respond to what we read.

Paul certainly had this in mind when he prayed for the readers of his epistle to Asia Minor—“that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened” (Ephesians 1:17-18).

Paul’s imagery of vision-improvement is helpful. I wear eyeglasses, but I don’t pay much attention to them. Especially if I’m reading a good book; or watching a movie that rivets my attention. The glasses support what I’m doing but they don’t draw attention in the process.

The Spirit, then, is God’s focal presence in our hearts: our spiritual lens. So as I read the Bible I don’t think of the pages before me as the Spirit’s handiwork—but they are. He moved the hearts of the Bible writers to compose their narratives, oracles, letters, and poems as an expression of God’s heart. And then, as these Bible compositions form our thoughts and responses, we’re not aware of the Spirit’s ministry in stirring our responses to the words we read.

His subjective work in believers is crucial. He both elicits faith and sustains it. And this faith is the basis of our union and communion with God. Jesus offered this lesson to Nicodemus in John 3:8 as the basis for a living faith. The Spirit is like a breeze that stirs a forest. He awakens dormant souls.

In the next chapter, John 4, Jesus made the same offer to the Samaritan woman but he switched to the analogy of living water. His punch line came in verse 24: “God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” Jesus reiterated the Spirit’s primary work in John 6:63—“It is the Spirit who gives life”—and again in John 7:37-39, “Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’ ” Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive…”

But the Spirit does all this quietly as an unobtrusive presence. We don’t “feel” his work in us. Nor does he “take over” a soul in the normal course of life. So while there may be moments when he displays this ability—as with the disobedient King Saul being transformed into a bare-naked prophesying fool (1 Samuel 19:24)—the Spirit’s main work is to whisper to us through the Scriptures. He takes the word of God to shape us more and more into children of God.

I’m not drawing attention to the more dramatic gifts the Spirit may offer to some—the so-called “sign gifts” of healing, tongues, and the like. These gifts have been given lots of attention through the years while the Spirit’s primary ministry goes unnoticed. His main role is to draw us to Jesus who, in turn, draws us to the Father: “He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you” (John 16:14).

That means that every true experience of faith will begin with the Spirit calling a soul to consider Jesus. Even when the person wasn’t ready to consider the prospect. I’ve seen it among refugees from Iran who arrived in Europe—in a church where a number of believers testify of coming to faith when dreams or words called them to seek Jesus.

The Spirit employs any number of pathways to draw individuals to faith but they all share one focus in common: a growing interest in Jesus. In what he represents.

Now back to Jonathan Edwards. He explained this attraction as the Spirit bringing God’s love to others. He invites people to respond to the love that God—the Triune God—pours out from within his own communion: “He is the Deity wholly breathed forth in infinite, substantial, intelligent love: from the Father and Son first towards each other, and secondarily freely flowing out to the creature, and so standing forth a distinct personal subsistence” [Works, “Treatise on Grace,” 186 (Yale)].

My own analogy for the Spirit is that his ministry is God’s magnetic presence in the world. Some respond to him—just as ferrous metals fly to a magnet—while anything else is impervious. So my personal ambition is simply to point people to consider Jesus: to offer the Bible portrayals of his life. I expect most people to yawn and look annoyed. But some are captivated.

In the same way there’s a clear difference between those who profess to be Christians and those who are captivated by Christ. The former may even teach theology, preach great sermons, and lead churches but if they don’t actually delight in Christ we’re left to wonder if they have the Spirit’s presence in them. His qualities—the list in Galatians 5 of “Love, joy, peace, patience” and more—are the sure signals of a true bond to Christ.

A final reflection, then, is “so what?” Is there a takeaway here? Just this. Pick up a Bible, pray—“Okay, Lord, help me understand what I’m reading”—and read. Then see what happens.