relationship

Immanence is the “counterpart” to the transcendence of God. In last week’s post, we explored how God transcends his creation and transcends us. He is other.

The immanence of God means that God is connected to his creation. He is near us and relates to us.

Immanence: The idea that God is present in, close to and involved with creation. Unlike pantheism, which teaches that God and the world are one or that God is the “soul” (animating principle) of the world, Christian theology teaches that God is constantly involved with creation without actually becoming exhausted by creation or ceasing to be divine in any way.

Pocket Dictionary of Theological Terms

Immanence is applied incorrectly in worldviews like pantheism, where God and nature are one. If you want a pop culture definition of pantheism, think of the force in Star Wars. In Star Wars mythology the force is a part of every living thing, binding and connecting nature and beings. This is a false view of immanence where God and nature are one because God is neither personal nor all-powerful.

Immanence from a biblical worldview does not mean that God is in creation as if it is an extension of himself. Immanence means that God can “come down” to his creation. While we will explore God as Creator in a future post, we should keep in mind here what we noted last week: God is other. He created all things. He transcends his creation. So we cannot say that God and nature (creation) are one. Rather, a biblical view of immanence says that God comes down to creation and interacts with his creatures.

Here are some biblical references to God’s immanence:

And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden.

Genesis 3:8

And the Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of man had built.

Genesis 11:5

In the New Testament, Paul addressed the Corinthian believers regarding idolatry. He quoted two Old Testament verses (Leviticus 26:12 and Isaiah 52:11) to reflect on God’s immanence with his people and the privilege of his people to worship him alone.

“I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them,
    and I will be their God,
    and they shall be my people.
Therefore go out from their midst,
    and be separate from them, says the Lord,
and touch no unclean thing;
    then I will welcome you,
and I will be a father to you,
    and you shall be sons and daughters to me,
says the Lord Almighty.”

2 Corinthians 6:16-18

In a stunning sermon to the Athenian philosophers, Paul affirmed the transcendence and immanence of God as Creator and Redeemer.

24 The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man,25 nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. 26 And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, 27 that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, 28 for

“‘In him we live and move and have our being’;

as even some of your own poets have said,

“‘For we are indeed his offspring.’

29 Being then God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man. 30 The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, 31 because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.”

Acts 17:24-31

In this sermon Paul quoted secular writers Epimenedes of Crete and Aratus’ poem Phainomena (vs. 28). Paul’s use of secular sources indicates his understanding of the transcendence/immanence worldview tensions plaguing Greek religion and Greek philosophy. Greek religion offered immanent deities who could relate to humans. See for example Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey where the Greek gods played with and plagued human actors in the world. These deities were immanent, but not supreme or in any real sense transcendent. Greek philosophy had taken root in Athens by the time Paul arrived and had rejected the Greek religious system in part because of its failure to enmesh Greek deities with the real world.

What is powerful about Paul’s sermon in Athens is how he used the gospel to display the solution to the dilemma facing Greek philosophy and religion. Furthermore, Paul’s gospel here is a clear depiction of the transcendence/immanence beauty found in the gospel.

God does not only reveal himself as an out there, other, above us Deity. The God of the Bible does transcend us. He transcends us more than we might imagine. But he is also immanent with his creation. He came down to walk with Adam and Eve, to see the Tower of Babel, to call and befriend Abraham, to give the Law to Moses, and to speak to his prophets, among other examples. Ultimately, God came down in the person of his Son Jesus Christ to take on human flesh and “dwell among us” (John 1:14). This is God immanent in Jesus Christ.

At the final point in Paul’s sermon in Athens, Paul introduced Jesus Christ as the resurrected man appointed by God to judge the world. Jesus is God enfleshed. Jesus is God immanent. He is both the transcendent God of Creation (John 1:1-5; Colossians 1:15-20) and the immanent God who can know us and be known by us (1 John 1:1-3).

The God of the Bible is Trinity (God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit). God’s immanence through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit is anther glorious aspect of God’s relationship with his creatures (Mt. 28:20; Ephesians 1:13-14).

There are an abundance of truths that flow out of the immanence of God. Here are just a few that should encourage our relationship with God today.

  • God’s immanence means that God is knowable. It does not stretch our minds to think that God knows us. We affirm consistently that God knows everything. But when we think that God knows us in all our flaws, concerns, worries, and dreams, then God’s knowing us becomes a testimony of love and compassion toward us. Even more amazing, God made us to know him. We can know the God who transcends through Jesus Christ who is immanent in his creation by the indwelling Holy Spirit who is with us always. That very thought should humble us and drive us to adoration and appreciation.
  • God’s immanence means that God is personal. God is not some impersonal force that connects and binds all things. God is Trinity. God exists in three persons: Father, Son, and Spirit who have existed in a perfect loving relationship from eternity past and through eternity future. The personal nature of their relationship means that we can enter into a personal relationship with the God of the universe. God made us in his image (the imago Dei) as persons that we may relate to the God who is personal.
  • The biblical affirmation of God’s transcendence and immanence make Christianity unique. One would be hard pressed to find another religious system or worldview where the ultimate reality is altogether supreme and powerful, yet knowable and relational. Christianity uniquely details the God who is ultimate, yet who enfleshed himself to know and be known by his creation. If you do not yet know this God, then have a read in the Gospel of John. John describes Jesus as both God and man, transcendent and immanent. If you know God through Jesus, then take time today to thank him for the privilege of the personal relationship you have. And don’t stop praying for those who have yet to meet Jesus. Believe me, Jesus wants to save them more than you want them saved.

Glory to God for the privilege of knowing him through Jesus Christ!

In today’s post, we are going to reflect on our need for the church community. This is post number three on the topic of being anchored. We have addressed being Anchored in the Word and Anchored in the Gospel the previous two weeks.

This post is informed by the observation that when God saved sinners, he also ordained the church into existence. God’s program of salvation and relationship with mankind does occur individually, but it is is not isolated. The means for spreading the gospel, worshiping God, and serving others is the church. The church is the people of God living in community.

The Greek word, ecclesia, is the word translated church in our English Bibles. It specifically means “called out” or “the called out ones.” The universal church is made up of every believer on planet earth and represents God’s people throughout history. But while the Bible speaks of the universal church, the most common reference to church in the Bible relates to the local church, or to a specific body of believers gathered around God’s mission for worship and fellowship.

To be sure the experience of church has looked different during this Covid-19 pandemic. Attendance, interactions, programs, classes, services, and relationships have all been affected. But the mission and necessity of the church has not been changed.

Our mission at Wilkesboro Baptist Church is to lead our neighbors and the nations to follow Jesus by worshiping, learning, serving and replicating.

Since the church’s founding after the resurrection of Christ, the church has survived persecution, marginalization, heresy, and countless debates and divisions. It is safe to say that the universal church is thriving as are many local congregations.

In his first general epistle, Peter described the church using metaphors and illustrations:

As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For it stands in Scripture: “Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious, and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.” So the honor is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone, and “A stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense.” They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do. But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

1 Peter 2:4-10, emphasis mine.

As the church, our identity is what God says about us. We are his, and God is building us up into his dwelling place. God has made us royal priests to serve his people and purposes. God has called us from among the nations to reflect his glory and goodness to others.

As Daniel Doriani observed in his commentary on 1 Peter, “In the old covenant, God set his people apart from the nations. In the new covenant, he sets us apart as we live among the nations.” God wants his church to reflect his mercy and goodness to each other and to the peoples around us.

The bottom line. We need each other. We need the church.

This past week I entered our Wednesday evening worship service preparing to preach. This is the service we record and stream on Sunday mornings. But I was not really in a good place, mentally or spiritually, as I walked into the service. We had recently had a repair done at my house that took up a great portion of my week. I was unable to get some things done that I needed to finish. And before the service I heard some distressing news. But something changed when I gathered with the believers to worship. The songs we sang emphasized God’s glory and intervention among his people. Our corporate worship and the leadership of our worship team moved me. I teared up. Sang. Wept. Praised. Prayed. Confessed. In that moment, I needed the ministry of our worship team and the ministry of congregational worship.

The other week, I wrote about just trying to get through. This past week I had this experience again.

I don’t know about you, but there have been times in my life that I’ve prayed for daylight. There have been times that I’ve prayed just to make it through the storm. There have been times that I’ve prayed to get by to the next day.

Anchored in the Word

Sometimes, God answers our prayers to get through with each other. Sometimes, God anchors us in relationship with one another. Sometimes, God holds onto us through the ministry of the church.

More times than I can count, God has strengthened, encouraged, supported, helped, and motivated me through the ministry of believers in his church. We need to be anchored in the church.

  • To be anchored in the church, we need to be part of the church. I’m not specifically talking about church membership. To be a part of the church, we need to repent of our sins and trust Jesus for salvation. Becoming a follower Jesus is our introduction into the life of the church. If you are a follower of Jesus, then you are a part of God’s church.
  • To be anchored in the church, we need to be connected to the church. Relationships matter. If you don’t believe me, consider the fallout from the isolation and separation during this pandemic. We need the benefit that comes with counting on one another in dependence and relationship.
  • To be anchored in the church, we need to serve one another. Just in the last week, I recognized my need for the ministry of someone else. Not only do we need relationship with fellow believers, but we need the gifts and service of others. Your church needs you. And you need the ministry of others in your church.
  • To be anchored in the church, we need to defend the unity of the church. In 1 Peter 2:1, Peter wrote: “So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander.” Peter identified these community-destroying vices, and told his readers to rid themselves of behaviors and attitudes that damage the church. We have an obligation to defend the church’s unity.

Being in the church offers encouragement, accountability, service, and support. In this era of isolation and uncertainty, we need the church more than ever. Here are some application points for anchoring yourself in the life of your local church.

Attend, watch, participate. I realize not everyone can attend church right now. Masks, social distancing, pandemic spread, vulnurable health conditions are all reasons for staying home. But if you stay home, watch your church’s service online. Participate in the worship of your church. Sing. Pray. Praise. Take notes. Be a part of your church even if you are apart from your gatherings.

Call, encourage, communicate. While we may not all be able to be as present as we’d like to be, we can still remain in contact with one another. Don’t wait on someone to call you. Pick up your phone and think of someone who may be more lonely than you are. Give them a call. Send them a text. Minister to them. Serving someone else by caring for them is part of our church’s mission.

Pray, support, give. Distance does not affect one’s ability to pray for the needs and situations in the church. One way to remain connected is to pray for your pastoral staff, church leaders, and those sick in the church. Our prayers, support, and giving are ways to invest in the life of the church. Investment in the church leads to being anchored in the church.

Photo by Jackson David on Unsplash