Our Self-Revealed God

BeFunky_IMG_2863.jpgFor this week’s Theology Thursday post, we’re going to tackle the issue of revelation – how God has revealed Himself to us.

Importance of Revelation

It is important to realize that God didn’t have to let us know anything about Himself. Everything that we know about God that is true has been given to us by Him. Our knowledge about God has come to us through two different means, but all of it comes from God Himself. It is within His ability to hide Himself completely, but our generous God has chosen to make Himself known to us.

The fact that God has made Himself known and knowable is itself an important bit of theology because without any ability to know God we would have no hope of salvation. The Bible is clear that Christians are those who know God (Jn 17:3; Phil 3:10; 2 Pet 3:18; 1 Jn 4:7) and that those who do not know God are not His (Gal 4:8).

General Revelation

There are two ways that God reveals Himself – through general and special revelation. General revelation is given to all people around the world. It comes to us through the created world and tells us basic things about God and His moral requirements. General revelation is the reason that most people in most times and places have held to many of the same moral ideas – for instance, that murder and theft are wrong.

The clearest passages on general revelation are both found in the book of Romans.

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made.

This passage (Rom 1:18-20a) teaches that all men know about God through creation. God has revealed Himself in creation from the beginning of the world clearly enough that He holds men accountable for their refusal to understand what He has shown them about Himself.

For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them.

This passage (Rom 2:14-15) teaches that God has given men a basic morality. We may not be able to derive all the nuances of the Mosaic law from nature, but God has given each of us a conscience that knows right from wrong.

Special Revelation

Special revelation is how God has revealed Himself to us through supernatural means. Miracles, healings, dreams, visions, prophets – all of these are special revelation. Special revelation is given to specific people or people groups at certain times.

The most important forms of special revelation are the person of Jesus Christ and God’s revelation of Himself through the Bible. Hebrews 1:1-2 reads:

Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.

These verses teach that the ultimate form of special revelation comes through Jesus. Jesus is the One who shows us God as He is most clearly, to the point that if we know Jesus we also know the Father and have been given the gift of the Spirit (Jn 14:7; 15:26).

The Bible is the record of God’s dealings with man, His special revelation through part of history, and especially of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. It is inspired by God and was given to Christians for our good (1 Tim 3:16).

The Difference Between the Two

General and special revelation are similar in many ways. Both teach us about God. Both come from God. Both are infallible when correctly understood (source).

However, there is a major difference between the two. While both can inform us about God, only special revelation can give us enough information for salvation. General revelation teaches us general things about God – that He exists, that He is good, that there is a basic morality. Special revelation is what teaches us about everything needed for salvation – original sin and the fall, the person and work of Jesus, the need for faith in Him. That is why Jesus gave His followers the command to go and preach the gospel throughout the world. General revelation can ignite a person’s search for God, but only the Spirit working through the proclamation of the gospel can save (Rom 10:14).

Giving in Light of Christ

Last week my Twitter friend Calvinist Batman wrote an article about tithing as a command on Christians. If you didn’t read it, I recommend you take a minute to go do that. This is a response to that post, so the full title of this post should be “Giving in Light of Christ: A Response to Calvinist Batman.”

I will start with the things I believe he got right. He is right that American Christians have a hard time yielding ourselves to the commands of Scripture. We often throw out the word “legalism” rather than wrestle with the text itself. He is also right in pointing out that tithing is often a contentious topic, and it is my aim to be as kind here as he was there.

With that, let’s dive into his arguments and take a look at them one at a time.

Did Abel Tithe?

“…Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions.” Gen. 4:4cain_and_abel2

Abel brought some of his animals as a offering to God. He either brought whole animals who were either the
first or the best of his flock (firstborn can mean either in the Bible), or he brought parts of those animals. The Bible clearly calls this an offering (Gen. 4:3), not a tithe, and there is no evidence that he brought 10% of his flock, simply that he brought some of the animals.

Did Abram Tithe?

“And Abram gave him a tenth of everything.” Gen. 14:20b

While Abram did pay a tithe, I don’t believe this applies as a lesson for us. Abram was tithing on the spoils of war, not his annual income. We have no reason to believe that God commanded him to do this (it has been suggested by scholars that this was a tradition of the time), and there is no evidence that Abram ever tithed again. Much of the story of Abram and Melchizedek is a foreshadow of Christ, whose priesthood is superior to that of Abram’s descendant Levi (Heb. 7). That is the lesson to take from the story of Abram and Melchizedek, not tithing.

Did Jesus Support Tithing?

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others.” Matt. 23:23

Jesus’ main point here was that the teachers of the law were being overly scrupulous in certain points of the law while neglecting others. Tithing is a part of the Mosaic law,
to be sure, but so are the others. For the Pharisees to be so concerned with tithing from their spice cabinet (while the law only talks about tithing from the fields and flocks specifically, Deut. 14:22-23) and yet be unconcerned with justice, mercy, and faithfulness showed their hypocrisy. Also, we must remember that Jesus was speaking to people under the law who were trying to be justified through their keeping of the law, while Christians are not justified through keeping the law but through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ (Gal. 2:16).

Purpose of the Tithe

“For the tithe of the people of Israel, which they present as a contribution to the LORD, I have given to the Levites for an inheritance. Therefore I have said of them that they shall have no inheritance among the people of Israel.” Num. 18:24

The Levites were set apart by God to serve in the temple. They were not given a portion of land when the land was divided among the tribes of Israel. Therefore, God gave them the tithe so the Levites could care for their families and support themselves. Today’s pastors and missionaries need to be supported financially, but they are not prohibited by God to own land or have another job, which is illustrated by Paul’s career as a tentmaker while he was preaching the gospel.

How Then Shall We Give?

To say that tithing is commanded by God is to say that those who aren’t giving 10% of their income are in sin. I do not believe that to be a conclusion the Bible allows us to draw. Christians should give financially to the church (1 Tim. 5:18). That is not a question. The question is simply this – how do we know how much to give?

The clearest New Testament passage on financial giving is 2 Corinthians 9:7.

“Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”

images (2)The NT pattern for giving is to give freely and cheerfully, not out of necessity. Christians must understand that giving is a way we show the love we feel for our Christian brothers and sisters (Rom. 12:9-13). We should honestly assess our income and give what we decide to give with a smile, remembering that God has given generously and lavishly to us.

Is it acceptable for the Christian to give 10% of their income to the church? Absolutely. I would argue that it is a good idea, either as a starting point or a goal to work up to (depending on your income). However, it is just as acceptable to give 5%, or 50%, as long as you give generously and from the right heart.

The Start of Something Thoughtful

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Today I start a new series called Theology Thursday. Every Thursday I’ll take a look at a different theological topic and write about it from the perspective of a conservative Calvinist. You can throw out your thoughts in the comments section and we’ll think through the topic together.

To kick off the series I’ll answer this question – What is theology?

Simply put, theology is the study of what a religion (in this case, Christianity) believes to be true, and/or the body of beliefs held by a religion. The word technically means the study of God (theos – God; logos – knowledge, study), but Christian theology has been broken down into many categories depending on what specific topic you are studying and therefore I think a broader definition is the easier one with which to work.

The second part of that definition is very important. If theology is the body of beliefs about God, everyone is a theologian. It is not something we can leave to the scholars and pastors. When someone makes a statement about God, they are making a theological statement.

Jesus is God – theology.

There is no god – theology.

We are all part of god – theology.

Whether their statement is right or wrong, orthodox or heretical, well-thought-out or simply shot from the hip, the things someone says about God are their theology. Even statements like “I don’t do theology” or “Theology is divisive” are theology because they are reflecting what someone believes about the importance of knowing the truth about God and our relation to Him.

What you believe about God is of incredible importance and carries huge consequences. It is worth taking the time to figure out what you believe, studying to find out if what you believe is right or wrong, and then learning more. It won’t be easy, but it will be infinitely rewarding.

For a post on the objections raised against learning theology, go here.