Spiritual Math: Old Testament

In the process of maturing spiritually, Christians face four primary growth challenges. Those four primary growth challenges are growing in our understanding of God, growing in our understanding of Jesus Christ, growing in the understanding of the Holy Spirit, growing in our understanding of the meaning of scripture.

Each one of those challenges is difficult. At each level of understanding, our tendency is to stop growing and be content. It is convenient to feel that "we know enough" or "we know all that it is important to know." When we think that, we feel certain that we know all that we need to know about God, about Christ, about the Holy Spirit, and about scripture.

It is comforting to believe that we understand everything that we need to understand. It is easier to believe that we need to defend what we know than to recognize that we need to increase what we understand.

The temptation to defend what we believe instead of growing in our understanding is the most powerful when we decide that we have God figured out. When we are certain that we know what God would say and do, when we are certain that we know what God would not do, we stop growing in understanding.

We do not stop studying, but the purpose of our study is to defend what we believe. When the purpose of our study is to defend what we believe, we do not advance our faith through advancing our understanding of God's teachings.

When we study, the primary decision we must make is this: do I adjust scripture to fit my beliefs, or do I adjust my beliefs as I increase my understanding of scripture. What is the difference? If I adjust scripture, I say, "This is what I believe; therefore all scripture must agree with what I believe. I must explained every scripture in a way that fits what I already believe." When I adjust my beliefs, each time that I learn something from scripture that I did not know, each time my understanding of scripture grows, I adjust my beliefs to fit scripture. I do not make scripture fit my beliefs; I allow scripture to determine and shape my beliefs.

Regardless of what I do, I am performing what might be called spiritual math. Each way I use my knowledge of scripture to reach a conclusion.

  1. Let me illustrate how that we use spiritual math.
    1. It is easy for a Christian to conclude that God is predictable.
      1. We conclude that God is predictable when we are confident that we have God figured out.
      2. We are confident that we can predict how God reacts to any given situation or set of circumstances.
      3. Commonly the spiritual math is very simple.
        1. Examine a situation and decide if evil exists in it.
        2. Define the evil that exists in the situation.
        3. Acknowledge that there is no evil in God, that God hates evil.
        4. Since God hates evil, God would not be involved with anything that is evil.
        5. Add all that up and this is our conclusion: God would condemn that situation: wants us to condemn the situation; would not be associated with it.
    2. The first scriptural challenge to that approach is a challenge to the beginning assumption: God is predictable.
      1. Many statements and many situations in scripture plainly state or reveal that God is not predicable.
      2. In Isaiah 55:8 & 9, Isaiah writes to the people of Judah and Jerusalem,
        "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways," declares the Lord. "For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts."
        1. No human can think God's thoughts or calculate God's actions.
        2. Only to the extent that we comprehend God's revelation of Himself can we think his thoughts.
        3. If God's thoughts and ways are so far beyond us, it is impossible for us to predict God's actions.
      3. In the gospels, one basic reason for the Jewish leaders rejecting Jesus was their conviction that God was predictable.
        1. They knew God's laws.
        2. They knew scripture.
        3. They knew God.
        4. So they knew what God said, what God wanted, how God would act, and what God would do.
        5. The predictable God would not do what Jesus did.
        6. Since God was predictable, and since Jesus did not conform to the predictable God, it was obvious that Jesus did not come from God.
        7. But Jesus did come from God; he was God in the flesh.
      4. The Jewish people Paul addressed in the book of Romans struggled because the concept of salvation in Jesus did not agree with their understanding of the predictable God.
        1. Paul's explanation of salvation in Christ through faith and grace was confusing and unacceptable--that is not the way God would save.
        2. In Romans 9:6-13 Paul responded to the criticism that it was unjust for God to extend salvation to the Gentiles through faith and grace.
        3. Paul declared in 9:14 that there is no injustice in God.
        4. In 9:15 Paul wrote that even in the time of Moses God said, "I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion."
        5. God is not predictable; neither are his mercy and his compassion predictable.
        6. Romans 9:19-33 states that we can no more tell God how He must save or to whom He can extend forgiveness than a piece of clay can tell the potter what he must do.
        7. God is sovereign; because He is sovereign, He makes His own decisions.

  2. The truth that God is not predictable is not a new thought about God; it is a very old truth easily illustrated in the Old Testament.
    1. Let me illustrate that Bible truth in a way that is easily seen.
      1. Let me give you an accurate, factual profile of a man, and you decide if God would use this man.
      2. This man:
        1. Was a man of violence; he likely was responsible for several thousand deaths of people who were enemies.
        2. He once killed a chief enemy in hand-to-hand combat, cut his head off, and carried the head with him as a trophy.
        3. He paid his dowry to his father-in-law by killing two hundred men who were enemies.
        4. He knowingly and intentionally deceived a priest in order to obtain some food that the law specially stated only the priests were to eat.
        5. Because this priest gave food to the man, he and 84 more priests were murdered, and the men, women, children, babies, and livestock in the priest's city were slaughtered.
        6. Once he publicly praised and honored God by dancing with all his might in a religious ceremony wearing almost no clothing.
        7. Once he saw a beautiful married woman that he lusted to have and seduced her.
          1. As a result, she was pregnant.
          2. In an attempt to cover the pregnancy, he had her husband killed and married her quickly.
          3. When he was confronted with his evil almost a year later, he confessed and repented, but he kept the woman as his wife.
      3. Would God use this man?
        1. If we view God as predictable, we would say, "No."
        2. If we understand that God is not predictable, perhaps we would say, "It's possible."
    2. Many of you quickly picked up on the fact that the man is King David of Israel, the man both the Old and New Testaments state was the man after God's own heart--or the man who was devoted to God's heart (1 Samuel 13:14; Acts 13:22).
      1. I doubt that we could calculate how many thousand people died as a result of David's military success against the Philistines.
        1. Twenty thousand Israelite men died when Absalom lost his rebellion against his father's rule (2 Samuel 18:7).
        2. He personally instructed the commander of his forces to arrange for Uriah's death (2 Samuel 11:14-21).
        3. Seventy thousand Israelites died as a result of a sin of arrogance that David committed (2 Samuel 24:15).
      2. When David cut Goliath's head off, he took the head with him when he was taken to King Saul, and he took the head with him when he returned to Jerusalem (1 Samuel 17:51,54,57).
      3. He found 200 Philistine men, killed them, cut off body parts, and gave the body parts to King Saul as a dowry to marry his daughter (1 Samuel 18:27).
      4. When he was fleeing from Saul, he told the priest Ahimelech that he was on King Saul's urgent secret business and had to leave so quickly that he did not have time to get food or a weapon (1 Samuel 21:1-9).
        1. The priest gave him the ceremonial bread of presence to eat.
        2. The law states that only the priests were to eat that bread (Leviticus 24:5-9).
        3. King Saul ordered Doeg, an Edomite, to kill Ahimelech, and he killed 85 priests plus most of the residents of the village of the priests (1 Samuel 22:18,19).
      5. When David brought the sacred ark of the covenant into the city of Jerusalem, every six steps an animal was sacrificed to God, and David danced with all his might with very little clothing on (2 Samuel 6:13-15).
        1. When his first wife ridiculed him for disgracing himself by dancing in public naked, David replied that he had done it before the Lord who made him King; he celebrated before the Lord (2 Samuel 6:21).
      6. He saw Bathsheba and wanted to commit adultery with her (2 Samuel 11).
        1. He had her brought to the palace where he seduced her.
        2. When pregnancy resulted, he had her husband, Uriah, killed and quickly married her in an attempt to cover the adultery.
        3. When he was confronted with the sin, he repented, deeply, earnestly (2 Samuel 12; Psalms 51).
        4. He suffered great consequences as a result of his evil act.
        5. Bathsheba remained his wife, and a later son, Solomon, became king with God's blessings.
    3. Did God use David?
      1. David belonged to God in the way that God wanted all people to belong to Him.
      2. Israel considered David their greatest and most godly king.
      3. The place of God in Israel under the rule of David was second only to the time of Joshua when Israel began to conquer the land of Canaan.
      4. God inspired him--I do regard the Psalms as scripture that was inspired by God, and David authored the majority of the psalms.
      5. The Christ came from the lineage of David; an accepted Messianic title was "the Son of David."
      6. Even Jesus used David to illustrate the importance of understanding the full message and complete meaning of scripture (Matthew 12:3).
    4. Now, let me ask again:
      1. Do we adjust the scriptures to fit the belief that God is predictable?
      2. Or do we adjust our belief by understanding the message, the lessons of these scriptures?

  3. The challenge of understanding the complete message of scripture creates a dilemma for us.
    1. Our dilemma can be stated in these three concerns.
      1. We absolutely do not want to create the impression the sin does not matter, that a person can knowingly choose to do evil, and God does not care.
        1. There is zero desire to create the impression that God's grace and forgiveness gives us a license to do evil.
        2. There is zero desire to create the impression that it is acceptable for a Christian to be spiritually indifferent and irresponsible.
      2. We absolutely do not want to create the impression that any penitent person is beyond God's forgiveness.
        1. We want every sinner to know that he or she can repent, and that he or she is promised forgiveness when he or she repents and enters Christ.
        2. We want every Christian to know that he or she can be forgiven of any evil, any mistake, any failure if he or she will repent.
        3. We want no person to see himself or herself as being hopeless.
      3. We absolutely do not want to encourage self-righteousness in those who are obedient, who have no visible failures or visible struggles.
        1. No one must be encouraged to believe that he or she is righteous because of his or her deeds or accomplishments.
        2. No one is to be encouraged to believe that he or she has saved himself or herself because of what he or she has done.
    2. So how do we:
      1. Help people who want to exploit God's grace and mercy understand that is not possible?
      2. AND, help people who are struggling in guilt understand that no one is beyond God's forgiveness.
      3. AND, help people understand that they insult God if they believe that they are good and righteous because of their own deeds and accomplishments?
      4. We do that by teaching all that scripture reveals, by constantly growing in our understanding, by teaching all of us how to adjust our beliefs when we learn more and understand better.

God is not predictable, but God is certain. We cannot tell God to whom He will and will not show mercy, to whom He will and will not show compassion. Oh, I can try to decide for God, but it would be as foolish and meaningless as it would be for a lump of clay to tell the potter what to do.

But God's promises are certain. God never fails to keep a promise. He may not use the means to keep the promise that we expect; but He will keep it.

David Chadwell

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Evening Sermon, 17 August 1997

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