In His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus uttered these words: “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). This comes at the end of the section of the sermon where Jesus corrects His listeners’ misunderstanding of the law. In Matthew 5:20, Jesus says that if His hearers want to enter into the Kingdom of Heaven, their righteousness must exceed that of the Pharisees who were the experts in the law.
Then in Matthew 5:21–48, He proceeds to radically redefine the law from mere outward conformity which characterized the ‘righteousness’ of the Pharisees, to an obedience of both outward and inward conformity. He uses the phrase, “You have heard it said, but I say unto you …” to differentiate between the way people heard the law taught from how Jesus is reinterpreting it. Obeying the law is more than simply abstaining from killing, committing adultery and breaking oaths. It’s also not getting angry with your brother, not lusting in your heart, and not making insincere oaths. At the end of all this, we learn that we must exceed the righteousness of the Pharisees, and that comes from being perfect.
At this point, the natural response is: “But I can’t be perfect” which is absolutely true. In another place in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus summarizes the law of God down to two commandments: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength and love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:37–40). This is certainly an admirable goal, but has anyone ever loved the Lord with all their heart, soul, mind and strength and their neighbor as themselves? Everything we do, say and think has to be done, said and thought from love for God and love for neighbor. If we are completely honest with ourselves, we have to admit that we have never achieved this level of spirituality.
The truth of the matter is that on our own and by our own efforts, we can’t possibly be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect. We don’t love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. We don’t love our neighbors as ourselves. We have a problem, and it’s called sin. We are born with it and we cannot overcome the effects of it on our own. Sin radically affects us to our core. Sin affects what we do, say and think. In other words, it taints everything about us. Therefore, no matter how good we try to be, we will never meet God’s standard of perfection. The Bible says that all of our righteous deeds are like a “polluted garment” (Isaiah 64:6). Our own righteousness is simply not good enough and never will be, no matter how hard we try.
That’s why Jesus lived a perfect life in full obedience to the law of God in thought, word and deed. Jesus’ mission wasn’t simply to die on the cross for our sins, but also to live a life of perfect righteousness. Theologians refer to this as the “active and passive obedience of Christ.” Active obedience refers to Christ’s life of sinless perfection. Everything He did was perfect. Passive obedience refers to Christ’s submission to the crucifixion. He went willingly to the cross and allowed Himself to be crucified without resisting (Isaiah 53:7). His passive obedience pays our sin debt before God, but it is the active obedience that really saves us and gives us the perfection God requires.
The Apostle Paul writes in Romans, “But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe” (Romans 3:21–22). Through our faith in Christ, the righteousness of God is given to us. This is called “imputed” righteousness. To impute something is to ascribe or attribute something to someone. When we place our faith in Christ, God ascribes the perfect righteousness of Christ to our account so that we become perfect in His sight. “For our sake he made him [Jesus] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21).
Not only is Christ’s righteousness imputed to us through faith, but our sin is imputed to Christ. That is how Christ paid our sin debt to God. He had no sin in Himself, but our sin is imputed to him, so as He suffers on the cross, He is suffering the just penalty that our sin deserves. That is why Paul can say, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20).
By having the righteousness of Christ imputed to us, we can be perfect, as God is perfect. It is not, therefore, our perfection, but His. When God looks at the Christian, He sees the holiness, perfection, and righteousness of Christ. Therefore, we can say with confidence “I am perfect, as God is perfect.”
A. W. Tozer wrote, “’What is God like?’ If by that question we mean ‘What is God like in Himself?’ there is no answer. If we mean ‘What has God disclosed about Himself that the reverent reason can comprehend?’ there is, I believe, an answer both full and satisfying.”
Tozer is right in that we cannot know what God is with respect to Himself. The book of Job declares, “Can you discover the depths of God? Can you discover the limits of the Almighty? They are high as the heavens, what can you do? Deeper than Sheol, what can you know?” (Job 11:7–8).
However, we can ask what God has revealed about Himself in His Word and in creation that “the reverent reason” can grasp.
When Moses was directed by God to go to the Egyptian Pharaoh and demand the release of the Israelites, Moses asked God, “Behold, I am going to the sons of Israel, and I will say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you.’ Now they may say to me, ‘What is His name?’ What shall I say to them?” (Exodus 3:13).
The answer God gave Moses was simple, yet very revealing: “God said to Moses, ‘I AM WHO I AM’; and He said, ‘Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel, “I AM has sent me to you” ’ ” (Exodus 3:14). The Hebrew text in verse 14 literally says, “I be that I be.”
This name speaks to the fact that God is pure existence, or what some call pure actuality. Pure actuality is that which IS with no possibility to not exist. Put another way, many things can have existence (e.g., human beings, animals, plants), but only one thing can be existence. Other things have “being” but only God is Being.
The fact that God alone is Being leads to at least five truths about what God is—what type of being God is.
First, God alone is a self-existent being and the first cause of everything else that exists. John 5:26 simply says, “The Father has life in Himself.” Paul preached, “He is not served by human hands, as if He needed anything, because He Himself gives all men life and breath and everything else” (Acts 17:25).
Second, God is a necessary being. A necessary being is one whose nonexistence is impossible. Only God is a necessary being; all other things are contingent beings, meaning they could not exist. However, if God did not exist, then neither would anything else. He alone is the necessary being by which everything else currently exists—a fact that Job states: “If He should determine to do so, If He should gather to Himself His spirit and His breath, All flesh would perish together, And man would return to dust” (Job 34:14–15).
Third, God is a personal being. The word personal in this context does not describe personality (e.g., funny, outgoing, etc.); rather, it means “having intent.” God is a purposeful being who has a will, creates, and directs events to suit Him. The prophet Isaiah wrote, “I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is no one like Me, declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times things which have not been done, saying, ‘My purpose will be established, And I will accomplish all My good pleasure’ ” (Isaiah 46:9–10).
Fourth, God is a triune being. To be sure, this truth is a mystery, yet the whole of Scripture and life in general speaks to this fact. The Bible clearly articulates that there is but one God: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one” (Deut. 6:4). But the Bible also declares that there is a plurality to God. Before Jesus ascended to heaven, He commanded His disciples: “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19). Notice the singular “name” in the verse; it does not say “names,” which would convey three gods. There is one name belonging to the three Persons who make up the Godhead.
Scripture in various places clearly calls the Father God, Jesus God, and the Holy Spirit God. For example, the fact that Jesus possesses self-existence and is the first cause of everything is stated in the first verses of John: “All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. In Him was life” (John 1:3–4). The Bible also says that Jesus is a necessary being: “He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together” (Colossians 1:17).
In addition to what the Bible says, creation speaks to the fact that God is a plural/triune being. The quintessential pursuit of philosophy has always been to understand the unity and diversity that exist in life. Students go to a “university” to find unity in diversity; the coins of the United States carry the motto “E Pluribus Unum” (“out of the many, one”).
Only in Christianity is a satisfactory answer given for the unity and diversity found in life. The existence of unity and diversity presupposes unity in diversity in the First Cause, and that combination is only found in the triune God of the Bible.
Fifth, God is a loving being. In the same way that many things can exist but only one thing can be existence, people and other living things can possess and experience love, but only one thing can be love. First John 4:8 makes the simple ontological statement, “God is love.”
What is God? God is the only one who can say, “I be that I be.” God is pure existence, self-existent, and the source of everything else that possesses existence. He is the only necessary being, is purposeful/personal, and possesses both unity and diversity.
God is also love. He invites you to seek Him and discover the love He has for you in His Word and in the life of His Son Jesus Christ, the one who died for your sins and made a way for you to live with Him for eternity.
The “Simple Church” movement is basically a move to make the modern day church experience as close to the early churches of the New Testament as possible. Adherents to the Simple Church movement would say that early believers met in people’s homes and their worship had very little structure, and they therefore believe in doing the same. The Simple Church movement advocates believe that we are to be led by the Spirit in all that we do and that a ‘return to basics’ is needed because so many structures and traditions have polluted the church experience.
A “simple church” may meet anywhere with or without trained leaders, formal liturgy, programs, or structures. Like many “house churches,” a simple church is usually a small group of no more than 20–25 persons. The term “simple church” is often used interchangeably with other terms like organic church, essential church, primitive church, relational church, and micro-church. All have in common a rejection of larger churches organized along denominational lines, formal leadership, church buildings, and formal worship services. Emphasis in simple churches is on building relationships within the small group and missionary outreach.
Perhaps the primary problem with the Simple Church movement, and the house church movement in general, is that they see the book of Acts as a model for the church, which it was never intended to be. The book of Acts is the history of the early church, not a mandate for church structure throughout the ages. Acts is “descriptive” in that it describes the early church, but is not always “prescriptive” in that it is not always stating how things are supposed to be. The books of 1 Timothy and Titus give specific outlines for church government. The Lord was very clear in His Word about how He wishes His church on earth to be organized and managed, with Christ as the head of the church and its supreme authority (Ephesians 1:22; 4:15; Colossians 1:18), and governed by spiritual leadership consisting of two main offices—elders and deacons. When simple churches decry the establishment of leadership within the church, they reject God’s plan for the local church, rather than affirming it, as they claim.
A few other things seem to be overlooked within this movement as a whole. Limiting the churches to a few families or a small number of people is not mandated in the Bible. We know from Acts 2:47 that the church grew daily. We also know from studying the Corinthian letters that people began to organize as larger bodies to come together to worship together. We also know from Corinthians that this larger congregation of believers had some very significant problems that had to be dealt with, which would seem to reiterate the need for godly leadership within the body. There is nothing unscriptural about a large church and nothing to indicate that small groups meeting in a home are any more in tune with a biblical model than a church of 10,000.
In addition, some critics are concerned about doctrinal purity and accountability in the Simple Church movement. The Holy Spirit is ultimately the one responsible for ensuring purity within the worldwide church body, but God has given us the model for local churches structured under the leadership of godly elders and deacons. Yet God can certainly work both within a formal religious structure and in the midst of believers gathering in someone’s home. As with all things, Christian love and acceptance is the rule to follow. Those who “are not against us are for us” (Mark 9:40), and whether we worship in large cathedrals or small home gatherings, the important thing is the proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ to a lost world, the upholding of the Word of God as the sufficient model for faith and practice, and the love we have for one another.
Did you know that the U.S. state that produces the most vegetables is going through the worst drought it has ever experienced and that the size of the total U.S. cattle herd is now the smallest that it has been since 1951? Just the other day, a CBS News article boldly declared that “food prices soar as incomes stand still”, but the truth is that this is only just the beginning. If the drought that has been devastating farmers and ranchers out west continues, we are going to see prices for meat, fruits and vegetables soar into the stratosphere. Already, the federal government has declared portions of 11 states to be “disaster areas”, and California farmers are going to leave half a million acres sitting idle this year because of the extremely dry conditions. Sadly, experts are telling us that things are probably going to get worse before they get better (if they ever do). As you will read about below, one expert recently told National Geographic that throughout history it has been quite common for that region of North America to experience severe droughts that last for decades. In fact, one drought actually lasted for about 200 years. So there is the possibility that the drought that has begun in the state of California may not end during your entire lifetime. (Read More….)