Christianity 201

September 28, 2019

Motivation Matters

Can you do the right things for the wrong reasons?

I may have written about this verse before, but I wanted to circle back to it again today.

Proverbs 16:2

All a person’s ways seem pure to them,
    but motives are weighed by the Lord. (NIV)

People may be pure in their own eyes, but the Lord examines their motives. (NLT)

I like how Eugene Peterson takes this even one step further:

Humans are satisfied with whatever looks good; God probes for what is good. (MSG)

Each of us may easily rationalize or justify our thoughts and actions, but God is looking at underlying attitudes. I Samuel 6:17b reminds us that, “For man sees the outward appearance, but the LORD sees the heart.” Proverbs reiterates the truth of 16:2 in a lesser known, but I believe more powerful verse in 30:12, “There is a generation who are pure in their own eyes and yet are not washed from their filthiness.

We can fool some of the people some of the time, but we can’t fool God any of the time!


Older translations incorporate the idea of our actions being “weighed” or “measured.” Think back for a moment to the the story in Daniel 5 from which we get the phrase, “the handwriting is on the wall.” What’s written on the wall is interpreted as “You are weighed in the balances and found wanting.” Verse 27 says, “TEKEL means that you have been weighed on the scales and found deficient.”  I Samuel 2:3 states, “Do not boast so proudly, or let arrogance come from your mouth, for the LORD is a God who knows, and by Him actions are weighed.


Wrong motives can have a bearing not only on how God views what we do, but how he views our asks for the things we wish we could experience or the things we wish we could have. James 4:3 states,

When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures. – NIV

And even when you ask, you don’t get it because your motives are all wrong—you want only what will give you pleasure. – NLT

Our various asks need to line up with his will. Those are the petitions he’s interested in granting. “And this is the confidence that we have before Him: If we ask anything according to His will, He hears us.” – James 4:3.

In 1 King 3, Solomon asks God for wisdom, and gets everything else thrown in. “The Lord was pleased that Solomon had asked for this. So God said to him, “Since you have asked for this and not for long life or wealth for yourself, nor have asked for the death of your enemies but for discernment in administering justice, I will do what you have asked. I will give you a wise and discerning heart, so that there will never have been anyone like you, nor will there ever be. Moreover, I will give you what you have not asked for–both wealth and honor–so that in your lifetime you will have no equal among kings.”

If ever a passage in the Hebrew scriptures was crying out for a cross-reference from the New Testament, it’s this obvious choice: Matthew 6:33, But put God’s kingdom first. Do what he wants you to do. Then all those things will also be given to you. (NIrV)

So above all, constantly chase after the realm of God’s kingdom and the righteousness that proceeds from him. Then all these less important things will be given to you abundantly. (Passion Translation)


All of this brings me to a verse that David Jeremiah mentioned in a broadcast this week, I Cor. 11:31:

But if we had judged ourselves, we wouldn’t be judged. (CEB)

If we would examine ourselves first, we would not come under God’s judgment. (GNT/TEV)

Let me modify the verb tense on that slightly to the reflect the position we often find ourselves in: If we had examined ourselves first, we would not have come under God’s judgment.

The verse is quite sobering when read in full context:

The Voice.30 Because of this violation, many in your community are now sick and weak; some have even died. 31 But if we took care to judge ourselves, then we wouldn’t have to worry about being judged by another. 32 In fact, the Lord’s hand of judgment is correcting us so that we don’t suffer the same fate as the rest of the rebellious world: condemnation.


II Chronicles 16:9 is translated in the KJV as The eyes of the LORD search the whole earth in order to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him. and in The Message as God is always on the alert, constantly on the lookout for people who are totally committed to him.

God is watching.

Motives matter.

Hidden heart attitudes matter.

You can do the right things for the wrong reasons.





March 27, 2014

What Does God Know, And When Does He Know It?

Ezekiel 33:13 If I tell a righteous person that they will surely live, but then they trust in their righteousness and do evil, none of the righteous things that person has done will be remembered; they will die for the evil they have done. 14 And if I say to a wicked person, ‘You will surely die,’ but they then turn away from their sin and do what is just and right— 15 if they give back what they took in pledge for a loan, return what they have stolen, follow the decrees that give life, and do no evil—that person will surely live; they will not die.

I don’t have a particular agenda here at Christianity 201, and we frequently include articles from people who have very opposite viewpoints on certain doctrinal issues. Currently there is a lot of talk about open theism and I include this article here only because I find this sort of thing stretches me and gets me thinking. We’ve covered this topic before here in 2010, and here in 2011. The author here is Ryan Robinson and the article is titled The Biblical Arguments for Open Theism.

There are a few categories of texts that support open theism. Many will also be surprised to find that there are a lot. I won’t nearly cover them all here, but I will take a sampling primarily from Greg Boyd’s God of the Possible: A Biblical Introduction to the Open View of God. Boyd’s argument which I agree with is that classical (Calvinist and Arminian) theologians essentially ignore these texts and when explicitly asked about them dismiss them as metaphorical while still holding that texts otherwise identical are obviously literally true of all knowledge. The Open Theist view is simple: take all the texts seriously instead of picking and choosing based on a Greek philosophy presupposition. If you do, you’ll inevitably end up at a view of a partially settled and partially open future.

A God Who Regrets

Before the flood, “The LORD was sorry that he had made humankind on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart.” (Genesis 6:6) How can God be sorry for how humanity turned out if he knew all along that it was going to turn out this way?

God intends to bless Saul and his household for many generations (1 Sam 13:13). However, Saul goes against God and so God’s plan for him changed – the blessing was revoked. God says that “I regret that I made Saul king, for he has turned back from following me.” (1 Sam 15:10) and it later says again that “the LORD was sorry that he had made Saul king over Israel.” (1 Sam 15:35) Again, how can God regret his decision and even revoke his intended blessing if he knew Saul was going to turn away the whole time?

A God Who Asks About the Future

God sometimes expresses the uncertainty of the future outright. He asks Moses, “how long will this people despise me? And how long will they refuse to believe in me, in spite of all the signs that I have done among them?” (Num. 14:11) God asks Hosea “how long will they [Israel] be incapable of innocence?” (Hosea 8:5; cf 1 Kings 22:20). Are these just rhetorical questions? Maybe, and I wouldn’t dismiss that interpretation as much as I would dismiss interpretations of some of the other texts here. However, there isn’t any reason to suggest that they are just rhetorical, especially when you consider that God continued to try futilely for centuries to bring the Israelites to him.

A God Who Must Face the Unexpected

God says sometimes things didn’t work out as he expected. For example, in Isaiah, the Lord is describing Israel as his vineyard and himself as the owner and says that he “expected it to yield grapes, but it yielded wild grapes” (5:2) and then “what more was there to do for my vineyard that I have not done in it? When I expected it to yield grapes, why did it yield wild grapes?” (5:4) If God knows every detail of the future in advance, how could he expect one thing and then experience something different?

Jeremiah provides some more good examples: “I thought, ‘After she had done all this she will return to me’; but she did not return” (Jer. 3:6-7) and “I thought how I would set you among my children… and I thought you would call me My Father and would not turn from following me. Instead, as a faithless wife… you have been faithless to me.” (Jer. 3:19-20) So did God actually think these things and turned out to expect incorrectly because of our free will, or is he lying and he actually knew all along what would happen? Those are our only two options – either he did think it as he said or he didn’t think it. God also expresses shock at Israel’s behaviour by saying they were doing things “which I did not command or decree, nor did it enter my mind” (Jer. 19:5; also 7:31; 32:35).

A God Who Gets Frustrated

This is a huge theme throughout the Hebrew Bible. But how can God be frustrated that things happened which he knew was going to happen? Or in the Calvinist perspective, how can God be frustrated if things happened exactly as he ordained them to happen? God gets frustrated at Moses in Exodus 4:10-15 and eventually relents to enlist Aaron to speak instead of Moses.

God repeatedly expresses frustration in the prophets as well, such as in Ezekiel when he says “I sought for anyone among them who would repair the wall and stand in the breach before me on behalf of the land, so that I would not destroy it: but I found no one. Therefore I have poured out my indignation upon them.” That one is also really interesting because it provides a very practical meaning to prayer – not just changing us which is very important but also changing God’s mind. To the main point, though, can you really get frustrated when you look for somebody and don’t find them, if you really knew they weren’t there the whole time? It would be like me scrounging around the house all day looking for a $100 bill even though I know there wasn’t one, then yelling at my housemate when I can’t find it.

A God Who Tests Our Character

This is arguably the strongest theme of all. God repeatedly tests the character of people. But if God already knew all the results, then the testing would just be toying with people. God tests Abraham with the binding of Isaac, and then God says “Now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son” (Gen 22:12) which is very different from “I already knew you feared me and that you would not withhold your son, but I felt like doing this anyway.” We could again say that this is rhetorical, but that isn’t what the text says – it says that he knows since Abraham didn’t withhold. God also tests Hezekiah “to know all that was in his heart” (2 Chron. 32:31) which implies that God didn’t know before that. Otherwise he wasn’t really testing to know him and God is again a liar.

There are lots of examples of corporate testing as well. Moses tells the Israelites that the 40 years in the desert were “in order to humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether or not you could keep his commandments” (Deut. 8:2) and then that with the false prophets God “is testing you, to know whether you indeed love the LORD your God with all your heart and soul” (Deut. 13:1-3). God withholds assistance in battle “in order to test Israel, whether or not they would take care to walk in the way of the LORD as their ancestors did” (Judg. 2:22) and left Israel’s opponents alone “for the testing of Israel, to know whether Israel would obey the commandments of the LORD” (Judg. 3:4). When God provides bread in the desert, he commands them only to take what they need to “test them whether they will follow my instruction or not” (Exod 16:4).

This motif in particular I’ve barely touched on as I know it is a big one throughout Scripture. But how can God test to know our character if he already knows our character? Maybe God can test so that we know our character, but that’s not what the text says. Is the text wrong? Was God lying?

A Bunch More to Look Up for Yourself

These texts are barely scratching the surface as I said at the beginning. Here’s some more listed in brief with no room for extra discussion, but they’re mostly the same ideas:

Numbers 11:1-2. Numbers 14:12-20. Numbers 16:20-35. Numbers 16:41-48. Judges 10:13-16. 1 Samuel 23: 10-13. 2 Samuel 24:12-16 (1 Chronicles 21:7-13). 2 Samuel 24:17-25. 1 Kings 21:21-29. 2 Kings 13:3-5. 2 Chronicles 7:12-14. Jeremiah 7:5-7. Jeremiah 38:17-18, 21. Ezekiel 20:5-22. Ezekiel 33:13-15. Hosea 11:8-9. Matthew 25:41. Acts 15:7. Acts 21:10-12.

I’m willing to bet there are a lot more, but I just did a relatively quick skim through the book and had already come up with enough to make a 1300 word blog post, and I think the point has been made. Not like so many of the opponents of open theism say, it is a position that is deeply grounded in Scripture.

March 8, 2012

Considering Christ’s Omniscience

He sees you when you’re sleeping
He knows when you’re awake
He knows if you’ve been bad or good
So be good for goodness sake

Jim is employed by a very large company that combines manufacturing, packaging and warehousing in a facility that spreads out over thousands of square feet in three different buildings.  His job is to oversee the “shop” where three technicians deal with the maintenance of the robotic and human-operated assembly of machinery that is used in other plants to build a variety of things we use every day.

Jim’s work station is monitored by four different security cameras. There’s no escaping them; no blind spot from which the the area is not visible. Still, Jim says he often goofs off.

“I figure that with over 140 cameras, they can only follow the action on three or four of them at a time;” Jim says, adding, “Besides, I’ve walked past that section and often nobody is on duty. The images are grainy and out of focus. Furthermore, I do my best work when I’m more relaxed.I have to live as if the cameras are not there and I’m not being watched.”

What Jim is saying is that he knows there is the potential that management or security is watching, but he feels the likelihood they’re watching is rather remote.

That’s often the way we respond to God’s omniscience. We know that he can see everything; that his cameras are in place and functional, but we must assume that he isn’t bothering to track us every minute of the day, or else we wouldn’t do (or not do) the things we sometimes do (or not do).

We deplore the theology in the song that says God is watching us “from a distance,” but then we live as if he isn’t watching us at all.

I’ve heard it said that people who have a hard time cracking an online addiction to internet pornography often find success only after coming into a greater awareness that God is with them, in the room, sitting next to them, watching their keyboard keystrokes, seeing what’s on the monitor. Their ability to break the habit increases when they imagine Him sitting next to them; perhaps even adding a second chair as a reminder.

II Chronicles 16:9 is translated in the KJV as “The eyes of the LORD search the whole earth in order to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him.” and in The Message as “God is always on the alert, constantly on the lookout for people who are totally committed to him.”

Both versions indicate that God is not looking for people who are asleep at their work station, but instead He longs for a people who whose hearts are fully committed to Him. He doesn’t want to catch you goofing off; rather, he’s hoping you’re being diligent enough to be named employee of the week. In other words, just as I Cor 13 tells us that “Love believes the best…” so also God wants to believe the best about you.

But He is omniscient, and we can’t assume that we can escape His gaze somehow. I Cor 4:4-5; the Apostle Paul states:

4 My conscience is clear, but that doesn’t prove I’m right. It is the Lord himself who will examine me and decide. 5 So don’t make judgments about anyone ahead of time—before the Lord returns. For he will bring our darkest secrets to light and will reveal our private motives. Then God will give to each one whatever praise is due. NLT

This is an echo of Proverbs 16:2

All the ways of a man are clean in his own sight,
But the LORD weighs the motives .  NASB

Someone once said that each one of us is three people

  1. The “me” that I think I am
  2. The “me” that I appear to be to others
  3. The “me” that I truly am

I’d like to end this with a strong summary statement, but instead, I’ll end today with a confession: While I am 100% convinced of God’s omniscience, I often live like he’s tied up monitoring someone else. He is watching however, and His greatest longing is to see me productive and fully engaged at whatever work station in life I find myself.


April 29, 2011

What Does God Know and When Does He Know It?

In the wake of the Zondervan release, Four Views on Divine Providence, since I didn’t get to read the book but consider the topic somewhat vital, here’s what reviewers are saying…

  • There are plenty of hardcore theological and philosophical issues which arise when speaking of God’s providence; issues such as divine sovereignty and human responsibility, the relationship between God and time, divine foreknowledge, suffering and evil, etc. Here four different theological perspectives, including open theism, Molinism, and classic Reformed thought, weigh into the debate in a thrust and counterthrust format.   Bill Muehlenberg
  • Volume contributors are Paul Helseth (God causes every creaturely event that occurs); William Lane Craig (through his “middle knowledge,” God controls the course of worldly affairs without predetermining any creatures’ free decisions); Ron Highfield (God controls creatures by liberating their decision-making); and Gregory Boyd (human decisions can be free only if God neither determines nor knows what they will be). Introductory and closing essays by Dennis Jowers give relevant background and guide readers toward their own informed beliefs about divine providence.   Publisher Blurb
  • I mentioned this “Counterpoints” series as a commendable way to study and learn about different views and that they have them on more than a dozen topics.  This is a brand new one and raises this huge question about God’s rule over the world, one of the key questions as we reflect on the heartache of theodicy.  Four evangelical authors are included and they each respond to the main chapter of the other three.  Included are views that they describe as “God Causes All Things” “God Directs All Things” “God Controls by Liberating” and “God Limits His Control”  This not only is an example of meaty theological and Bible discourse but, of course, it is immensely significant for our prayers and praise, our confidence and doubts and how we talk about grief with others.  Highly recommended, even if it may be that no one is fully right.   Hearts and Minds Bookstore

I was some astounded at how little advance material and/or reviews were available online for what I would think is a rather serious topic. (The middle “reviewer” it turned out, was just quoting the publisher.) One retail site noted that the debate gets quite heated or “intense” at times and Greg Boyd, one of the contributors noted in his own blog:

…[T]his “four views” collection is a bit idiosyncratic in that, as Craig notes in his opening essay, there are actually two versions of the Calvinist view included in this book. Not only this, but while the editor, Dennis Jowers, clearly tries to remain neutral in the Introduction and Conclusion of this book, his passionate Calvinistic convictions shine through rather unambiguously, in my opinion.

Let’s review the four options the book presents:

  • God causes every creaturely event that occurs
  • Through his “middle knowledge,” God controls the course of  worldly affairs without predetermining any creatures’ free decisions
  • God controls creatures by liberating their decision-making
  • Human decisions can be free only if God neither determines nor knows what they will be

What’s your opinion?  Does it matter?  I believe it does for several reasons of which this is one:  Our purpose, our delight and our desire should be to begin to form an understanding of how we see the ways of God.  This will eventually map on to a larger personal systematic theology which should eventually “work” inasmuch as all the doctrinal pieces of the puzzle fit to form an appropriate picture.

My personal take on this and yours may differ.  We see through a glass darkly.  (We see through glasses that are covered in Vaseline.)  And we should be open to friendly discussion with people who resolve this differently.  But our desire should be to look into the face of God and seek Him with all our hearts.   When we do that, a God-picture will slowly form that may, over time, need adjustment or modification, but as long as our go-to source is scripture and not our own reasoning, we will be moving toward, and not away from, an accurate understanding of God’s character, God’s nature and God’s dealings with His people.

For those of you for whom Molinism is a new term, here’s some highlights from Theopedia to get you thinking further:

“The most famous distinctive in Molinism is its affirmation that God has middle knowledge (scienta media). Molinism holds that God’s knowledge consists of three logical moments. These “moments” of knowledge are not to be thought of as chronological; rather they are to be understood as “logical.” In other words, one moment does not come before another moment in time, rather one moment is logically prior to the other moments. The Molinist differentiates between three different moments of knowledge which are respectively called natural knowledge, middle knowledge and free knowledge.

  • Natural Knowledge – This is God’s knowledge of all necessary and all possible truths. In this “moment” God knows every possible combination of causes and effects. He also knows all the truths of logic and all moral truths.
  • Middle Knowledge – This is God’s knowledge of what any free creature would do in any given circumstance, also known as counterfactual knowledge. It is also sometimes stated as God’s knowledge of the truth of subjunctive conditionals.
  • Free Knowledge – This is God’s knowledge of what He freely decided to create. God’s free knowledge is His knowledge of the actual world as it is.

And yes, I know some of you are now saying, “I’m glad we cleared that up.”