Index by Subject

The Relationship Between God and Man

mountain man2

“For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works” (Titus 2:11-14).

God created man for a specific purpose.  That purpose is stated clearly in the book of Ecclesiastes.  “Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is man’s all” (Ecclesiastes 12:13). Though God is self-sufficient (we do not supply Him with any necessary thing, Acts 17:25), He nevertheless determined to crown His physical creation by making man and woman.  Unlike the rest of creation, He declared us made in His own image (Genesis 1:26-27). 

That declaration can’t be clearly quantified physically.  We are biologically animals.  Man is more intelligent than other animals, but I have seen some really smart animals, and some really dumb people.  Man is more artistic, but I have seen an elephant paint, and I have a son who is challenged when asked to draw anything more than a stick figure.  Man can use tools, but I have seen chimpanzees use tools, and horses use their tongues to open a gate.  Some seek to scientifically quantify the differences between men and other animals, and have established a standard, sentience, as a line of demarcation.  However, the term sentience, defined as “the ability to feel, perceive, or be conscious, or to experience subjectivity” does not jibe with the scriptural distinction between man and the animals.  It can be demonstrated that animals have sentience to one degree or another.  This is why PETA, vegans and other animal rights activists object to animals as a food source or as pets.

The scripturally quantifiable difference between mankind and the animals is clear. Man has a soul. Scripture affirms that soul is eternal (cf. Romans 2:7). This is a characteristic of man that can not be measured or perceived naturally.  It is beyond the realm of scientific observation. It is, nevertheless, true.  Consider the book of Ecclesiastes which discusses the vanity of life lived without God in the picture.  This is the point of view of the scientist.  All that is there is that which is found “under the sun.”  If this is so, consider the following passage: “For what happens to the sons of men also happens to animals; one thing befalls them: as one dies, so dies the other. Surely, they all have one breath; man has no advantage over animals, for all is vanity. All go to one place: all are from the dust, and all return to dust. Who knows the spirit of the sons of men, which goes upward, and the spirit of the animal, which goes down to the earth?” (Ecclesiastes 3:19-21).  It is only when we acknowledge God’s existence that we can understand the difference between men and animals.  When an animal dies, there is no spiritual component that remains alive.  When man dies?  Jesus said, “…the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice and come forth—those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation” (John 5:28-29).

To summarize:

  • God created man.
  • He created man to be fearfully obedient.
  • Man is unique, different from the animals in that a portion of man continues to exist after death.
  • That eternal existence will be either glorious, or horrible, depending upon whether we do good, or do evil.

It makes sense then, to determine what is required, that we might be judged as doers of good rather than evil.

First, we must acknowledge God’s sovereignty.  The word sovereign means “having supreme power or authority.”  The Bible is replete with affirmations of His preeminence and authority.  The Psalmist, for example, “?The earth is the Lord’s, and all its fullness, the world and those who dwell therein.  For He has founded it upon the seas, and established it upon the waters” (Psalm 24:1-2).  Any question of what must be done, how good and evil are defined, who is deserving of reward and punishment is settled by God.

An obvious question arises.  What sort of being is this sovereign Creator?  Many pagan religions depict their gods as flawed, and even evil beings.  This is understandable, as such idols have their origin in men’s imaginations.  Since creation, men have mistreated, abused and even killed each other.  They have lied, envied and hated.  It is not surprising that they would invent gods with the same characteristics.  By contrast, the God of Abraham revealed in the holy scriptures is very different.

God is Holy.  Again, a definition is in order.  The Greek term that is translated in our New Testaments is hagios.  It is defined in the following way: “sacred (physically pure, morally blameless or religious, ceremonially consecrated): – (most) holy (one, thing), saint” (Strong’s).  The Hebrew term is synonymous.  As the term relates to God, it indicates His moral excellence.  That moral excellence is absolute.  “Let no one say when he is tempted,I am tempted by God’; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone” (James 1:13).  This is important.  The world redefines right and wrong in novel and destructive ways.  Activities that are an abomination to the Almighty are viewed as normal and virtuous.  Those who have the temerity to speak against evil are themselves castigated as hateful and intolerant.  Black is white and white is black.  “Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; who put darkness for light, and light for darkness; who put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter! Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes, and prudent in their own sight!” (Isaiah 5:20-21).  The tendency to look upon sin as wholesome and acceptable, either in its practice or in its defense, is evidence of a debased mind.  It indicates a culture that does not like to “retain God in [its] knowledge” (Romans 1:28).

God’s Holiness Requires us to be Holy as well.  God’s interaction with the people of Israel, as recorded in the Old Testament, demonstrates this is so.  Israel’s standing with God was conditioned upon her righteousness as a nation.  For example, the Lord used Isaiah to pronounce judgment upon Israel, “How the faithful city has become a harlot!  It was full of justice; righteousness lodged in it, but now murderers. Your silver has become dross, your wine mixed with water.  Your princes are rebellious, and companions of thieves; everyone loves bribes, and follows after rewards.  They do not defend the fatherless, nor does the cause of the widow come before them” (Isaiah 1:21-24).  Because of this, Jehovah declared, “I will turn My hand against you, and thoroughly purge away your dross, and take away all your alloy.  I will restore your judges as at the first, and your counselors as at the beginning. Afterward you shall be called the city of righteousness, the faithful city” (1:25-26).

This requirement of holiness is proclaimed in both the Old Testament, and the New Testament.  As it was required of Israel, it is required of men today.  “But as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, because it is written, “Be holy, for I am holy” (1 Peter 1:15-16).

Men sometimes choose evil rather than good.  Some believe that God’s sovereignty requires Him to be a puppet master. That all that is done by man is foreordained by Him.  That we have no say regarding our standing before Him. But, that is not so.  God created man to worship and obey.  But, man decided of his own free will to do evil.  The first time this happened was in the garden of Eden when Adam and Eve ate fruit that God had commanded them not to eat.  They did not have to do it.  God did not want them to do it.  But, they allowed the seduction of the serpent to influence them, and they disobeyed Him.  Each of us have done the same.  “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).

It is wonderful to realize that God is willing to forgive us of our sins.  But, let no one convince you that our final standing with God is not dependent upon our obedience while on this earth.  Again, this is amply demonstrated in both the Old and the New Testaments.  God stated this clearly through the pen of Ezekiel.  “But if a wicked man turns from all his sins which he has committed, keeps all My statutes, and does what is lawful and right, he shall surely live; he shall not die.  None of the transgressions which he has committed shall be remembered against him; because of the righteousness which he has done, he shall live.  Do I have any pleasure at all that the wicked should die?” says the Lord God, “and not that he should turn from his ways and live?  “But when a righteous man turns away from his righteousness and commits iniquity, and does according to all the abominations that the wicked man does, shall he live? All the righteousness which he has done shall not be remembered; because of the unfaithfulness of which he is guilty and the sin which he has committed, because of them he shall die” (Ezekiel 18:21-24).

The apostle Paul wrote the same truth in his second letter to the Thessalonians.  Sin is an affront to God.  His righteous nature requires it to be punished.  But, the righteous will be judged worthy of an eternal home in His presence.  This became evident when the Thessalonians suffered for their faith at the hands of those who do evil.  Paul wrote, “since it is a righteous thing with God to repay with tribulation those who trouble you, and to give you who are troubled rest with us when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God, and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.  These shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power, when He comes, in that Day, to be glorified in His saints and to be admired among all those who believe, because our testimony among you was believed” (1:6-10).

The nature of man’s sin requires this response from God.  Paul’s words above begin with the statement, “it is a righteous thing with God…”  Because of who God is, He can’t be capricious in His dealing with men.  Those who stand before Him righteously will receive His divine favor.  Those who persist in disobedience will be judged.  “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad” (2 Corinthians 5:10).

Because men have an amazing capacity to explain away and rationalize their behavior, sin is seldom recognized for what it truly is, a heinous and completely unacceptable affront to the Almighty.  Sin is so black that its commission has a just penalty of death.  “For the wages of sin is death…” (Romans 6:23a). While physical death is a result of sin, (when Adam and Eve disobeyed God their access to the tree of life was cut off, cf. Genesis 3:22-24), the ultimate death that sin brings is spiritual.  If any man dies with the guilt of sin upon his soul, his separation from God is eternal, and his punishment is everlasting. “Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, ‘depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels’” (Matthew 25:41).

God desires for men to be saved, not lost.  God had the prescience to plan for man’s decisions to disobey.  Before He created the world, he devised a plan to redeem man from the consequences of sin (cf. Ephesians 1:3-14). It was necessary that God do this, because it is not within man’s ability to do it for himself.  The heinous nature of sin requires the penalty of death.  God, by His nature, could not be satisfied with anything less.  So, for man to be reconciled to God, there had to be a death.

The animal sacrifices of the Old Testament were a type of what would ultimately be required.  Under Moses’ law sin sacrifices were offered again and again.  “And he shall bring his trespass offering to the Lord for his sin which he has committed, a female from the flock, a lamb or a kid of the goats as a sin offering. So the priest shall make atonement for him concerning his sin” (Leviticus 5:6).  These animal sacrifices were only a type or shadow of what God would ultimately supply for man’s redemption.  The blood of animals was hardly sufficient to atone for the guilt of human sin.  The Hebrew writer notes this truth in Hebrews 10:4, “For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and goats could take away sins.”  The antitype, or actual sin sacrifice was the death of Jesus Christ on a cross 2,000 years ago.  “But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons” (Galatians 4:4-5).  God, in establishing His new covenant with mankind, ratified it with the blood of His son.  In this act, those who respond in faith are separated from the world as holy before God.  “By that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (Hebrews 10:10).  The fact that the animal sacrifices were offered continually showed that they were not sufficient.  “For then would they not have ceased to be offered? For the worshipers, once purified, would have had no more consciousness of sins.  But in those sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year” (Hebrews 10:2-3). The efficacy of Jesus’ sin sacrifice is seen in that Jesus was offered “once for all.”

So, who will be reconciled to God? (Saved?)

There are two possible answers to this question, though only one is viable.  One possibility is that God has determined that Jesus’ blood sacrifice will reconcile all men to him.  We might refer to this as universal salvation.  There are two major problems with this.  First, is God’s nature.  We have already determined that God’s righteousness requires that he punish those who practice sin.  It is one thing to recognize that Jesus’ sacrifice allows God to forgive us of the guilt of sins committed.  It is another thing entirely to claim that Jesus’ sacrifice allows us to continue in that sin, sans repentance!  Second, the scriptures clearly reveal that there are many (even most) who will be lost.  Consider Jesus’ words on the matter, “Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it” (Matthew 7:13-14).

The only other possibility is that God has set conditions.  There are things that must be done by men, and when done will accomplish a separation from the rest.  The sovereign God certainly has the right to determine who will obtain the benefit of our Lord’s sin sacrifice.  Acknowledging that Jesus died for all men, “and He died for all, that those who live should live no longer for themselves, but for Him who died for them and rose again” (2 Corinthians 5:15), the fact that all men will not be saved shows that God expects something from us.

Acknowledging that there is something we must do in no way indicates that we can earn our salvation by works of righteousness.  Because we all sin, we all are dependent upon God’s grace to be saved.  “For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men” (Titus 2:11).  However, it is inaccurate to claim that acknowledging God requires obedience for our salvation equates to the concept of salvation by merited works.  The two are not the same, and should not be conflated.

If there are conditions that God places to bring about our reconciliation, we should accept them, and do them.  He has, and they are easily identifiable.

The first condition is faith in Christ.  Jesus Christ is the sole savior of mankind.  He is the uniquely qualified and efficacious sin sacrifice.  A man who rejects Jesus rejects salvation.  When the gospel (the good new of Jesus Christ) is proclaimed, “it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek” (Romans 1:16).  Jesus gave instructions to His disciples to go proclaim that gospel, and clearly stated, “he who does not believe will be condemned” (Mark 16:16).  You can’t be saved unless you believe Jesus to be both Lord and Christ.

The second condition is repentance.  Peter made this clear in the very first gospel sermon recorded.  After convicting the Jews who heard Him of the guilt of their sin, He called upon them to repent “for the remission of sins” (Acts 2:38).  Repentance is a change of mind.  A penitent man is sorry for past sins, and determined to sin no more.  Peter, in another sermon called upon his hearers, “Repent therefore and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out” (Acts 3:19). You can’t be saved unless you repent of your sins.

The third condition is confession.  Jesus said, “Therefore whoever confesses Me before men, him I will also confess before My Father who is in heaven. But whoever denies Me before men, him I will also deny before My Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 10:32-33). Paul affirmed the importance, “that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9).  The Eunuch made such a confession, “And he answered and said, ‘I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.’” (Acts 8:37).  You can’t be saved unless you are willing to confess your Lord before men!

The fourth condition is baptism.  Peter’s words in Acts 2:38 are true for baptism as they are for repentance.  It is “for the remission of sins.” Baptism is not a meritorious work any more than faith, repentance or confession.  It is a condition that God placed upon receiving reconciliation.  Paul wrote, “Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:3-4). Note that when one arises from the waters of baptism, his life is new.  It is new because he rises to a new state of reconciliation.  His sins are washed away (cf. Acts 22:16).  He is saved.  You can’t be in that state of reconciliation unless and until you pass through the waters of baptism.

One final point to repeat.  Early in this article we indicated that those who do evil will be lost eternally.  It is possible for a man who is saved and reconciled to God to forfeit that position of standing with Him.  Warnings are found throughout the epistles of this danger.  One example is found in the Hebrew epistle. “For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, if they fall away, to renew them again to repentance, since they crucify again for themselves the Son of God, and put Him to an open shame” (Hebrews 6:4-6).  We are blessed that God loved us, and extended His gift of grace in the sending of His Son.   There are lessons to be learned by that offered favor.  “For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works” (Titus 2:1-14).

Conclusion

Any correct concept of God’s interaction with mankind will keep in view both His justice and His compassion.  God is not capricious.  He has treated man fairly.  He is just.  His desire to save men, not condemn them, impelled him to send His only begotten Son. He is compassionate. This grand scheme of redemption has brought salvation to many souls.  However, most have rejected His overture.

That offer of salvation to man continues to this day.  But, it will not continue forever.  “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. But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up” (2 Peter 3:9-10).

We know what we must do.  Accept the grace of God.  Fulfill the conditions He has imposed, that we might be reconciled to Him.  Live lives of faithfulness, “looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ.”  Rejoice in hope of our salvation!