Knowing God by J.I. Packer
Knowing God by J.I. Packer was read together as a church during the summer of 2020. This reading guide was written by Ben Telfair. Ben says that he chose Knowing God because it is a modern-day classic that has had a personal impact for him. The publisher beautifully describes it as: “Written in an engaging and practical tone, this thought-provoking work seeks to transform and enrich the Christian understanding of God. Explaining both who God is and how we can relate to him, Packer divides his book into three sections: The first directs our attention to how and why we know God, the second to the attributes of God and the third to the benefits enjoyed by those who know him intimately. This guide leads readers into a greater understanding of God while providing advice to gaining a closer relationship with him as a result.”
To access the reading guide, scroll down to the bottom and click the orange plus sign (+) next to the chapter you wish to read.
“THE STUDY OF GOD”
“Blessed are those whose way is blameless, who walk in the law of the LORD!
Blessed are those who keep his testimonies, who seek him with their whole heart,” (Psalm 119:1-2)
Knowing God is knowing how to truly live.
What is theology and why do we need it? In this opening chapter, Packer answers this honest question with a thoughtful answer. In doing so, he wants us to see that the study of God is not an academic exercise but “the most practical project anyone can engage in” (19).
- Imagining a world without theology. Why do we need theology? Packer does not disregard this question but helps us ask a better question – what happens if we neglect theology? Without theology “the world becomes a strange, mad, painful place, and life in it a disappointing and unpleasant business, for those who do not know about God. Disregard the study of God, and you sentence yourself to stumble and blunder through life blindfolded, as it were, with no sense of direction, and no understanding of what surrounds you” (19).
- Learning the map of theology. If we are going to study theology, we need to become familiar with the foundations of theology. Like a map guiding our way, there are five foundational truths we will need for the journey ahead: 1) God has spoken in His Word, 2) God is Creator 3) God is Redeemer 4) God is Triune, and 5) godliness is how we respond to God “in trust and obedience, faith and worship, prayer and praise, submission and service” (20).
- Reading the theological warning label. Before we start our theological journey, we need to ask ourselves an honest question. Like a warning sign at the beginning of a trail “the question concerns our own motives and intentions as students. We need to ask ourselves: What is my ultimate aim and object in occupying my mind with these things? What do I intend to do with my knowledge of God, once I have it? For the fact that we have to face is this: If we pursue theological knowledge for its own sake, it is bound to go bad on us” (21). Simply put: are we seeking a theoretical knowledge for ourselves (1 Cor 8:1-2), which leads to pride, or are we seeking a relational knowledge of God (Ps 119:1-2), which leads to life?
“Our aim in studying the Godhead must be to know God himself better. Our concern must be to enlarge our acquaintance, not simply with the doctrine of God’s attributes, but with the living God whose attributes they are. As he is the subject of our study, and our helper in it, so he must himself be the end of it. We must seek, in studying God, to be led to God.” (22-23)
- What keeps people from seeing the study of God as practical and relevant for life?
- Of the five foundational truths, which one are you most prone to neglect? Why?
- Personally, what are your motivations and goal in studying theology?
“THE PEOPLE WHO KNOW THEIR GOD”
“Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ” (Philippians 3:8)
A little knowledge of God is worth more than a great deal of knowledge about God.
How do we know that we know God? In this chapter, Packer helps us discern the dangerous difference between knowing God and knowing about God. In doing so, he wants to keep us from distraction and deception so we might have the deep joy of knowing God.
- Discerning the difference between knowing God and knowing about God. Knowing about God is being able to say correct statements of God while knowing God is being able to confidently say, “I have a relationship with God.” What happens if we fail to discern this difference? We are in danger of becoming “secondhand” Christians who can say the right things about God without having a right relationship with God (p. 27; James 2:19). Therefore, the issue “is not whether we are good at theology” but whether we have a growing relationship with the God to whom our theology points (27).
- Diagnosing our own hearts and lives. What does it look like to know God? There are at least four evidences that serve as a diagnostic on our own hearts and lives. First, those who know God have “great energy” for God that is first rooted and evidenced in prayer (27-28). Second, those who know God have “great thoughts” of God that is evidenced in humility (29-30). Third, those who know God have “great boldness” for God that is evidenced in obedience, regardless of the cost (30). Fourth, those who know God have “great contentment” in God that is evidenced in assuring peace (30-31). Can we say that we know God? To answer this, we should ask, if prayer, humility, obedience, and peace are rooted in our hearts and evidenced in our lives?
- Learning to walk with God (again). Do we desire to know God? Do we desire to grow in our relationship with God? Then, there are two steps we need to take. The first step is to “recognize how much we lack knowledge of God” (32). As David prayed, we need God to examine our hearts so that He would lead us away from ourselves and lead us to Himself (Ps 139:23-24). The second step is to “seek the Savior” (32). What are we seeking? Whatever it may be, it cannot compare to the beauty and soul satisfaction of knowing God in Christ (Phil 3:8).
“We must learn to measure ourselves, not by our knowledge about God, not by our gifts and responsibilities in the church, but by how we pray and what goes on in our hearts. Many of us, I suspect, have no idea how impoverished we are at this level. Let us ask the Lord to show us.” (32)
- What’s the difference between knowing God and knowing about God?
- What thoughts and concerns keep you most distracted from knowing God?
- Of the four evidences of knowing God, which do you desire to grow in the most?
“KNOWING AND BEING KNOWN”
“And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” (John 17:3)
What matters most is knowing God, what matters more is being known by God.
What can satisfy the longing of every human heart? In this chapter, Packer shows that the human heart can only be satisfied in knowing God and being known by God. In doing so, he helps us to see the beauty, joy, and adventure that can be found in nothing and no one else.
- Knowing our purpose. If we want to live a life well lived, there is one question we need to honestly ask and thoughtfully answer. What was I made for? Thankfully, the Scriptures answer this question for us. We were made to know God (Jn 17:3). Only the gospel can give us the joy of living a life worthwhile because only the gospel can sweep us into a larger Story, God’s Story. A worldview that causes us to stand in awe and action, as Packer beautifully states, “this the Christian has in a way that no other person has” (34).
- Knowing God matters most. What does it mean to know God? To know God is to be saved by Jesus and in three stunning ways, “is a relationship calculated to thrill a person’s heart” (36). First, as we saw in the last chapter, to know God is to have a personal relationship with God because “you can have all the right notions in your head without ever tasting in your heart the realities to which they refer” (39). Second, to know God is to deeply love God with our head, hearts, and hands. We need all three because we cannot overlook the fact that knowing God encompasses us emotionally, intellectually, and vocationally “and could not indeed be a deep relation between persons were it not so” (40). Third, to know God is a matter of grace because “we do not make friend with God; God makes friends with us, bringing us to know him by making his love known to us” (41). An unmerited grace.
- Being known by God matters more. What does it mean to be known by God? To be known by God is “momentous knowledge” and an “unspeakable comfort” for “I know him because he first knew me, and continues to know me. He knows me as a friend, one who loves me; and there is no moment when his eye is off me, or his attention distracted from me, and no moment, therefore, when his care falters” (41-42). Therefore, what matters most is knowing God but what matters more is to be known by God, for we only know God because he first knew us.
“What matters supremely, therefore, is not in the last analysis, the fact that I know God, but the larger fact which underlies it – the fact that he knows me. I am graven on the palms of his hands. I am never out of his mind. All my knowledge of him depends on his sustained initiative in knowing me. I know him because he first knew me, and continues to know me.” (41)
- How does it move you to know that you were made to know God?
- In knowing God with your head, heart, and hands, which do you need to grow in most?
- In being known by God, where do you doubt God’s love for you?
“THE ONLY TRUE GOD”
“You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God” (Exodus 20:4-5)
To know God is to worship God on God’s own terms.
Are we worshiping God on God’s terms or ours? In this chapter, Packer helps us to understand that to know God is to worship God according to His commands and not our own preferences. In doing so, he wants us to behold the beauty of God in Christ.
- Remembering the second commandment. Out of the Ten Commandments, why devote a whole chapter to the second commandment (Exod 20:4-5)? Usually when we think of the second commandment, we think of the idolatry of false gods, but Packer also warns of the danger of attempting to make images of the true God. Therefore, the second commandment is not just about “the object of our worship, but with the manner of it” (44).
- Understanding the danger of images. If we are to know God, there are two dangers about images we need to understand. The first problem when it comes to images is that “we should not look to pictures of God to show us his glory and move us to worship; for his glory is precisely what such pictures can never show us” (46). The second problem when it comes to images is that “we were made in his image, but we must not think of him as existing in ours. To think of God in such terms is to be ignorant of him, not to know him” (47). To embrace and reflect on the glory of God is to look outside of ourselves and to the only true God.
- Looking to the true God. Only after understanding the dangers of not keeping the second commandment can we fully appreciate the beauty of it. How is this? The second commandment “compels us to take our thoughts of God from his own holy Word, and from no other source whatsoever” (48). When we do this, we see that God has spoken to us in Christ and when we behold the Lamb of God we see the beauty of the true God (John 1:29, 17:3).
“The God of the Bible has spoken in his Son. The light of the knowledge of his glory is given to us in the face of Jesus Christ. Do I look habitually to the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ as showing me the final truth about the nature and the grace of God? Do I see all the purposes of God as centering upon him?” (50)
- What images come to mind when after reading the second commandment (Exod 20:4-5)?
- How do images of God mislead us in the pursuit of knowing God (John 17:3)?
- How has beholding God in Christ produced unspeakable joy in your heart and home (John 1:29)?
“For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.” (2 Corinthians 8:9)
The Incarnation is not merely a marvel of nature, it is the wonder of grace
What would we lose if we lost the doctrine of the Incarnation? In this chapter, Packer helps us see that though the Incarnation can be hard to fathom, it is necessary for our faith. In doing so, Packer wants us to see both the beauty and the necessity of God becoming man.
- Understanding the Incarnation. Biblically, what is the Incarnation? It is the stunning truth “that Jesus of Nazareth was God made man” (53). Personally, when is the last time you meditated on the Incarnation? When meditating on “the Word made flesh” (Jn 1:14), Packer warns and excites, “The more you think about it, the more staggering it gets. Nothing in fiction is so fantastic as is this truth of the Incarnation” (53).
- (Mis)understanding the Incarnation. Why is the Incarnation so easily misunderstood? Jesus is not partly God and partly man but truly God and truly man. Throughout church history, there has been confusion in how to best and biblically explain this. For example, in explaining how Christ “emptied himself” in Philippians 2:7, the kenosis theory teaches that Jesus gave up some of his divinity when he took on humanity. However, in taking a closer look at Philippians 2:7, the kenosis theory must be rejected because when Christ “emptied himself” he did not lay aside his “divine powers and attributes” but “divine glory and dignity” (60). Therefore, Jesus “was not now God minus some elements of his deity, but God plus all that he had made his own by taking manhood to himself” (57).
- Cherishing the Incarnate One. Why was it necessary for God to become man? According to 2 Corinthians 8:9, Jesus humbled himself to become like us so that he could go to the cross to die for us. Therefore, the Incarnation is not merely a doctrine to understand but it is a stunning reality that ought to lead us “to worship God for the love that was shown in it” (58).
The Christmas spirit is the spirit of those who, like their Master, live their whole lives on the principle of making themselves poor – spending and being spent – to enrich their fellows humans, giving time, trouble, care and concern, to do good to others – and not just their own friends – in whatever way there seems need. (63)
- As a disciple, what is most stunning to you about the Incarnation?
- Why is it vital to understand that in the Incarnation Jesus did not lay aside divinity but dignity?
- If Christ humbled himself for you, where is the Incarnation calling you to humble yourself for others?
“HE SHALL TESTIFY”
“But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” (John 14:26)
To know Christ is to know the Spirit of Christ.
We may understand the doctrine of the Holy Spirit but are we ignoring the Holy Spirit? In this chapter, Packer is concerned that we not only understand the Holy Spirit but that we also see our need for the Holy Spirit. In doing so, he wants us to see and savor the divine comforts we have been given in the Helper (Jn 14:26).
- Understanding the Holy Spirit. Who is the Holy Spirit? The Holy Spirit is the Third Person of the Trinity who is sent by God the Father and God the Son to build up the church (Jn 14:26; 16:7). Therefore, if “the ministry of Christ the Comforter was important, the ministry of the Holy Spirit the Comforter can scarcely be less important” (68).
- Understanding the work of the Holy Spirit. What does the Holy Spirit do? Tragically, as Packer points out, “The average Christian, deep down, is in a complete fog as to what work the Holy Spirit does” (68). Even if you just study the Gospel of John, the Holy Spirit causes us to be born again (Jn 3:3-8), the Comforter who helps us (Jn 14:16), the Spirit of Truth who teaches us (Jn 15:26), and convicts the world of sin and judgment. Therefore, without the work of the Holy Spirit we would not be able to know the Word of God or be saved as children of God.
- Understanding our need for the Holy Spirit. What difference does the Holy Spirit make in your life? Tragically, as Packer points out, “It is an extraordinary thing that those who profess to care so much about Christ should know and care so little about the Holy Spirit” (69). When we see our need for the Holy Spirit, we will be a people who cherish the Word of God as given by the Spirit, we will honor the Spirit by applying the Word to our hearts and lives, and we will be emboldened by the Spirit of Christ to be a faithful witness for Christ.
Do we honor the Holy Spirit by recognizing and relying on his work? Or do we slight him by ignoring it, and thereby dishonor not merely the Spirit but the Lord who sent him? (71)
- Why is it necessary to understand and see the work of the Holy Spirit in your life?
- How do you struggle to understand the doctrine of the Holy Spirit personally?
- This week, how can you be more aware of the work and presence of the Holy Spirit?
“The counsel of the LORD stands forever, the plans of his heart to all generations.” (Psalm 33:11)
Our comfort in an uncertain world is our unchanging God.
In uncertain times, where do you turn for certainty? In this chapter, Packer wants to show us the riches of God’s unchanging character amid our uncertain world. In doing so, he wants us to see that our ultimate comfort in an everchanging world is our unchanging God.
- Our changing world. When reading the Bible, have you ever asked yourself, how does God’s “dealings with Abraham and Moses and David and the rest, help us, who have to live in the space age” (76)? It’s a fair question. Although many things can be said, the most important thing must be said. The only way to pass this “unbridgeable gulf between the position of men and women in Bible times and in our own, is the truth of God’s immutability” (77).
- Our unchanging God. What does it mean that God is immutable? It means that even though we live in a changing world our God and His ways are constant. This simple truth comes with massive implications for God’s people. Because God’s character does not change, His love for us is never inconsistent (Exod 34:6-7). Because God’s truth does not change, His promises toward us cannot fail (Isa 40:6-8). Because God’s purposes do not change, one day all wrongs will be made right (Psalm 33:11). Unlike us, our unchanging God is the most consistent and steadfast Person we could ever know.
- Our great comfort and challenge. How does God’s immutability relate to our everyday lives? The immutability of God is a great comfort for our troubled souls and yet a great challenge for our wayward hearts. Our great comfort is that our unchanging God is always with us, and for us, in a constantly changing world (Heb 13:8). Our great challenge is that in our fickle hearts, we must admit and pray, as the great hymn teaches, “Bind my wandering heart to Thee, prone to wander, Lord, I feel it, prone to leave the God I love.”
He never changes. This fact is the strong consolation of all God’s people. (80)
- What are your greatest fears for yourself and your loved ones in uncertain times?
- Where does the immutability of God most comfort your heart and soul?
- Where does the immutability of God most challenge your heart and soul?
“THE MAJESTY OF GOD”
“Great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised, and his greatness is unsearchable.” (Psalm 145:3)
Our thoughts of God can never be too great.
Our problem is that we think too much of ourselves and too little about the greatness of God. In this chapter, Packer leads us in the path of joy by meditating on the majesty of God. In doing so, he wants us to see the goodness and greatness of our majestic God.
- Understanding the majesty of God. What is the majesty of God? The majesty of God “is always a declaration of his greatness and an invitation to worship” (82-83). When understanding the greatness of God there are two things we need settled. First, God’s greatness is not to be confused with distance because it “is not that God is far distant from us in space, but that he is far above us in greatness, and therefore is to be adored” (83). Second, God’s greatness above us does not diminish his nearness to us because throughout Scripture “the God to whom we are being introduced is both personal and majestic” (84).
- Meditating on the majesty of God. When meditating on the greatness of God there are two steps to take. First, we need “to remove from our thoughts of God limits that would make him small” (85). For example, looking at Psalm 139, we must recognize and remind ourselves that our God is everywhere (omnipresent), knows everything (omniscient), and can do anything (omnipotent). Second, we need “to compare him with powers and forces which we regard as great” (85). For example, looking at Isaiah 40, our God is the Incomparable One who whose might and majesty are unfathomable (Isa 40:26).
- Responding to the majesty of God. How are we to respond to the majesty of God? First, we must recognize that our thoughts of God can never be too great because His majesty is immeasurable. Second, we must worship our Majestic Creator and Redeemer for who He is and all that He has done for us in Christ (Jn 1:29). Third, we must confess that we have been slow to meditate on God’s greatness, causing us to doubt God’s goodness toward us (Isa 40:28). Therefore, as we are commanded in Isaiah 40:9: we must behold our God!
Living becomes and awesome business when you realize that you spend every moment of your life in the sight and company of an omniscient Creator. (86)
- Why is it necessary to understand that God is both majestic and personal?
- Where have your thoughts of God been too small? Why is this? Take time to repent.
- Take time to meditate on the majesty of God from Psalm 139 or Isaiah 40 this week.
“GOD ONLY WISE”
“Blessed be the name of God forever and ever, to whom belong wisdom and might.” (Daniel 2:20)
God’s wisdom is all-powerful and always patient.
What’s the difference between God’s wisdom and ours? In this chapter, Packer shows, that unlike us, the wisdom of God is all-powerful and always patient. In doing so, he wants to remind and reassure us that because God’s wisdom never fails God can be fully trusted.
- Understanding the wisdom of God. Biblically, what does it mean to call God wise? Wisdom is “the practical side of moral goodness” and therefore is wrapped up in the very character of God (90). Unlike us, God’s wisdom can never be frustrated because God’s wisdom is “allied to omnipotence” and therefore is “always active, and never fails” (91). God’s wisdom is not meant to make our lives easy; it is meant to enable us to know God and to enjoy Him in this world and the next.
- Tracing the wisdom of God in Scripture. How does God wisely deal with His people? In tracing the wisdom of God in Genesis, we see three truths. In the life of Abraham, God’s wisdom guides us to see that what matters most is “to learn the practice of living in God’s presence, seeing all life in relation to him, and looking to him, and him alone, as Commander, Defender, and Rewarder” (p. 93; Gen. 15:1). In the life of Abraham’s grandson, Jacob, God’s wisdom is patient with us so that we can see that our sufficiency is not in ourselves but in His strength (Gen. 32:22-32). In the life of Abraham’s great-grandson, Joseph, God’s wisdom sanctifies and saves us to see that God orders every event for our good (Gen. 50:20).
- Trusting the wisdom of God in our story. What are we to do when we face trials and hardships in our life? We may never understand the reason for our difficulties, but we can always trust that the same God who wisely cared for Abraham, Jacob, and Joseph, is the very same God who wisely cares for us today (2 Cor. 12:9-10). Therefore, as we trace the wisdom of God in Scripture we don’t “hesitate to trust his wisdom” in our stories (98).
Wisdom without power would be pathetic, a broken reed; power without wisdom would be merely frightening; but in God boundless wisdom and endless power are united, and this makes him utterly worthy of our fullest trust. (91)
- How is God’s wisdom different from our wisdom?
- How does it move you to know that God’s wisdom for you and never fails you?
- Where are you struggling to trust God’s wisdom in this season? Why?
“GOD’S WISDOM AND OURS”
“The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom, and whatever you get, get insight.” (Proverbs 4:7)
God’s wisdom is a gift we gratefully grow in.
What is the goal of God’s wisdom working in our lives? In this chapter, Packer wants us to see both the gracious gift of God’s wisdom and our need to gratefully grow in it. In doing this, he wants us to see that the goal God’s wisdom in our lives is to grow Christlikeness.
- The gift of God’s wisdom. If God has graciously given us His wisdom, let us not be slow to gratefully grow in it. We must learn to revere God, which protects us from pride. Tragically, it seems “many Christians spend all their lives in too unhumbled and conceited a frame of mind ever to gain wisdom from God at all” (101). We also must learn to receive God’s Word, which produces godliness. Tragically, it also seems “many today who profess to be Christ’s never learn wisdom, through failure to attend sufficiently to God’s written Word” (101).
- The purpose of God’s wisdom. What is the purpose of God’s wisdom in our lives? To understand the purpose of God’s wisdom, we need to first understand what it’s not. The wisdom of God is not a special knowledge that enables us to “discern the real purpose of everything” in our lives (p. 102; Deut. 29:29). The purpose of God’s wisdom is to create in us a humble disposition enabling us to live skillfully and joyfully in a broken world (Ecc. 12:13-14).
- The fruit of God’s wisdom. How do we know if we are growing in the wisdom of God? The best measure of God’s wisdom in our lives is not primarily what we are accomplishing but what we are becoming. We know this because in “the New Testament the fruit of wisdom is Christlikeness – peace, and humility, and love (Jas. 3:17) – and the root of it is faith in Christ (1 Cor. 3:18; 2 Tim. 3:15) as the manifested wisdom of God (1 Cor. 1:24, 30)” (108). Therefore, if we want to know if we are growing in wisdom, we need to ask ourselves if we becoming more like Christ, the wisdom of God? Better yet, let those who know us best answer it for us.
For what is this wisdom that he gives? As we have seen, it is not a sharing in all his knowledge, but a disposition to confess that he is wise, and to cleave to him and live for him in the light of his Word through thick and thin. (108)
- What’s the difference between cultivating the wisdom of God and gaining knowledge?
- What distractions keep you from spending more time in the wisdom of God’s Word?
- In what areas do you need to prayerfully grow in the wisdom of God this week?
“THY WORD IS TRUTH”
“But this is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word” (Isaiah 66:2)
The truth of God’s Word is all-powerful and deeply personal.
If God rules all things by His Word, how should His Word order our everyday lives? In this chapter, Packer wants us to see that the truth of God’s Word is both all-powerful and deeply personal. In doing so, he wants to help us become fully human by living fully under God’s all-powerful and deeply personal Word.
- Understanding God’s all-powerful Word. The truth of God’s Word helps us understand God. In the Bible, truth “is a quality of persons primarily, and of propositions only secondarily” (113). Therefore, the truth of God’s Word first reveals God’s character in order to explain to us God’s world. The truth of God’s Word also helps us understand ourselves. Studying God’s Word shows us “what we were made to be” and obeying God’s Word shapes us “to be truly human” (113-114). Therefore, disobedience to God’s Word is not only dishonoring to God but also deforming to what it means to be human.
- Knowing God’s deeply personal Word. God’s Word doesn’t just inform us about God, it also invites us to know God. As Packer writes, “For though God is a great king, it is not his wish to live at a distance from his subjects. Rather the reverse: He made us with the intention that he and we might walk together forever in a love relationship” (110). It is stunning, the God who rules over his creation as Maker desires to have a relationship with us as Redeemer.
- Living under God’s all-powerful and deeply personal Word. If Christians are creatures of the Word, then they are most joyful as they “live under the Word of God” (115). What does it look like daily living under God’s Word? It is not merely the ability to dispense biblical information, but it is being able to truly say, “The Word of God has both convinced them of sin and assured them of forgiveness… The promises are before them as they pray, and the precepts are before them as they go about their daily tasks” (116).
God send his Word to us in the character of both information and invitation. It comes to woo us as well as to instruct us; it not merely puts us in the picture of what God has done and is doing, but also calls us into personal communion with the loving Lord himself. (110)
- How does neglecting God’s Word not only dishonor God but also deform us as humans?
- How does it move you to know that the God who rules over us desires a relationship with us?
- Where is God calling you to live more under His Word this week (Ps 139:23-24)?
“THE LOVE OF GOD”
“In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” (1 John 4:10-11)
The love of God is a holy love.
What does it mean to say, “God is love” (1 Jn 4:8, 16)? In this chapter, Packer wants us to understand the beauty of this tremendous yet misunderstood biblical statement. In doing so, he wants to help us know the very heart of God for us.
- Understanding the love of God. To say, “God is love,” is not a statement that stands alone “but a summing up, from the believer’s standpoint, of what the whole revelation set forth in Scripture tells us about its Author” (119-120). Therefore, to say that God is love is to necessarily ask, what is the love of God? Having Scripture in conversation with Scripture, we see that as the God who is both love (1 Jn 4:16) and light (1 Jn 1:5), “God’s love is a holy love” (122). Therefore, the holy love of God “will not take into his company any person, however orthodox in mind, who will not follow after holiness of life” (122).
- Receiving the love of God. The love of God is the act of God’s goodness in saving sinners “not only for his glory, but also for his gladness” (125). How can we know God truly loves us? It is not the measure of our works or feelings but the measure of “the cross of Christ as the crowning proof of the reality and boundlessness of God’s love” (125). Have you received the love of God in Christ? Then, let us treasure the love of God in our daily lives (Rm 5:5).
- Reflecting the love of God. What does it look like for the love of God to animate our daily lives? Personally, it is the joy of knowing belong to God (Jn 10:27-28), that God takes joy in us (Lk 15:10), that Christ is in us (Gal 2:20), that God is for us (Rm 8:32), and that He will never leave us (Mt 28:18-20). Relationally, the love of God moves us toward others because “John wrote that ‘God is love’ in order to make an ethical point, ‘Since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another’ (1 Jn 4:11)” (127). Therefore, if nothing kept God from loving us, may there be nothing that keeps us from loving one another.
Could an observer learn from the quality and degree of love that I show to others – my wife? my husband? my family? my neighbors? people at church? people at work? – anything at all about the greatness of God’s love to me? (127)
- Why is it biblically necessary to say that God’s love is a holy love (1 Jn 1:5; 4:8, 16)?
- Where are you tempted to doubt God’s love for you? Why?
- Where is God leading you to reflect His love toward others week?
“THE GRACE OF GOD”
“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9)
The grace of God is the story of how our Judge has become our Savior.
Are you amazed by the grace of God? In this chapter, Packer diagnoses what keeps people from being amazed by God’s grace and offers a prescription for this problem. In doing so, he wants us not only to understand the grace of God but to also be gripped by how amazing it is.
- Why the grace of God does not amaze us. It is one thing to define grace (charis, unmerited favor), it is another thing to be amazed by it. There are at least two reasons keeping us from being amazed by God’s grace. First, we do not think that we need God’s grace because we do not see ourselves as we truly are – “rebel against God’s rule” (130). Second, we think that for God to be good he owes must be gracious to us but “God does not owe it to anyone to stop justice taking its course” (132). Therefore, at the root of the problem, we have an improper view of God and ourselves that Scripture must correct if we are to be amazed by God’s grace.
- Why the grace of God should amaze us. Why should the grace of God amaze us? Because it is the story of “how our Judge has become our Savior” (132). With grace as “the source of the pardon of sin,” it should amaze us because grace transforms us from criminals of God to children of the King (p. 133, Rm 8:12-17). With grace as “the motive of the plan of salvation,” it should amaze us because our redemption is not an accident but has been planned since eternity past (p. 134, Eph 1:3-14). With grace as “the guarantee of the preservation of the saints,” it should amaze us because our future is never in question but is forever secured (p. 136; 1 Pt 1:3-9).
- Being gripped by God’s amazing grace. What does it look like to be gripped by God’s amazing grace? It is to grapple with what we were in order to be gripped at who God is and what he has done for us through His Son, Jesus Christ (Eph 2:1-9). Therefore, those are gripped by the grace of God are those who live gratefully for God (Eph 2:10).
Justification is the truly dramatic transition from the status of a condemned criminal awaiting a terrible sentence to that of an heir awaiting a fabulous inheritance. (133)
- In the words of the great hymn, where are you prone to forget how amazing God’s grace is?
- How does it amaze you that through the grace of God “our Judge has become our Savior”?
- What opportunities do you have to gratefully reflect God’s amazing grace this week?
“GOD THE JUDGE”
“There is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.” (2 Timothy 4:8)
Jesus is the Judge who desires to be your Savior.
Why is difficult for many to think or talk about God as Judge? In this chapter, Packer does not want us to be fearful of God as Judge nor ashamed of talking about the judgment of God. In doing so, he wants to help us not run from but toward the Judge who desires to be our Savior.
- Understanding the judgment of God. How are we to understand the judgment of God? To talk about the judgment of God is to talk about the character of God and “part of God’s moral perfection is his perfection in judgment” (143). When Scripture talks about God as Judge “it emphasizes his omniscience and wisdom as the searcher of hearts and the finder of facts” (141). Even though God is a patient Judge, He is not indifferent nor is He ever delayed (Rm 2:1-11; 2 Pt 3:1-13). Therefore, for believers, especially in the persecuted church, the judgment of God means that “all wrongs will be righted someday” (143).
- Realizing Jesus as God the Judge. It is a critical mistake to think that we when move from the Old to the New Testament that we move on from divine judgment (140). Why is this? Because “the main New Testament authority on final judgment, just as on heaven and hell, is the Lord Jesus Christ himself” (p. 144; Jn 5:19-29). Therefore, Jesus is both Savior and Judge and those who will not receive Him as Savior must be prepared to face Him as Judge (Phil 2:5-11).
- Calling on the Judge to be our Savior. For God to be the Judge means that He knows us as we really are, and He knows all that we have ever done (Ecc 12:13-14). What does this mean for the believer? On the Last Day, the believer is shielded from condemnation, but the believer is not shielded from assessment (p. 145-146; 1 Cor 3:12-15). What does this mean for the unbeliever? If they do not see God’s patience as kindness turn from their sin by calling on the Judge to be their Savior, His return will not be a joy but a terror (p. 146-147; 2 Pt 3:1-13).
If we know ourselves at all, we know we are not fit to face him. What then are we to do? The New Testament answer is: Call on the coming Judge to be your present Savior.
As Judge, he is the law, but as Savior he is the gospel. (146)
- Why is it difficult for people to think or talk about God as Judge?
- How is the judgment of God good news for the believer, especially in the persecuted church?
- Where does knowing God as Judge need to order your life this week (Ecc 12:13-14)?
“THE WRATH OF GOD”
“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.” (Romans 1:18)
Scripture is not embarrassed by the wrath of God, neither should we.
Why is it difficult for many to think, or talk, about the wrath of God? In this chapter, Packer does not want us to be embarrassed or ashamed when talking about God’s wrath. In doing so, he wants to help us to understand our great salvation that rescues us from the wrath of God.
- Reflecting on the wrath of God. When is the last time you meditated on the wrath of God? If we are being honest, most of us never have because “the modern habit throughout the Christian church is to play this subject down” (148). Therein lies the problem, if Scripture does not downplay the wrath of God, why do we? At the root, it is because we have a misunderstanding of God’s wrath. To correct this, we need to first understand that “God’s wrath in the Bible is never the capricious, self-indulgent, irritable, morally ignoble thing that human anger so often is. It is instead, a right and necessary reaction to object moral evil” (151).
- Reading about the wrath of God. Before we think the wrath of God is relegated only to the Old Testament, Romans is “the classical New Testament treatment of the wrath of God” (154). In Romans, the meaning of God’s wrath is His “resolute action in punishing sin” because it “is an expression of his justice” (p. 154; Rm 2:5; 3:5; 5:9). Next, the revelation of God’s wrath from heaven is a “constant disclosure, going on all the time” because “no one is entirely without inklings of the judgment to come” (p. 154-155; Rm 1:18). Finally, the deliverance from God’s wrath is found only in Jesus because “if we are Christ’s, through faith, then we are justified through his cross, and the wrath will never touch us” (p. 156; Rm 3:24-25).
- Responding to the wrath of God. As believers, what happens if we overlook the wrath of God? If we downplay God’s wrath, we are choosing to “not understand the gospel of salvation, nor the propitiatory achievement of the cross, nor the wonder of the redeeming love of God” (156). For unbelievers, what happens if they reject the gospel of God? To reject God’s grace is to choose God’s wrath because “the essence of God’s action in wrath is to give men what they choose, in all its implications: nothing more, and equally nothing less” (152-153).
Between us sinners and the thunderclouds of divine wrath stands the cross of the Lord Jesus. If we are Christ’s, through faith, then we are justified through his cross, and the wrath will never touch us, neither here nor hereafter. (156)
- Where are you tempted to shy away from thinking or talking about the wrath of God?
- How does meditating on the wrath of God help us to treasure the grace of God more?
- How does meditating on the wrath of God compel us to witness to our neighbor more?
“GOODNESS AND SEVERITY”
“Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God’s kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness. Otherwise you too will be cut off.” (Rom 11:22)
To rightly know God is to know the relationship between God’s goodness and severity.
What is the relationship between God’s goodness and God’s severity? In this chapter, Packer wants us to rightly know God by understanding the relationship between His goodness and severity. In doing so, he wants to appreciate God’s goodness, patience, and discipline in our lives (Heb 12:3-11; 2 Pet 3:8-9).
- Separating the goodness and severity of God. What is the danger in divorcing God’s goodness from God’s severity? Ultimately, it leads to a Santa Claus theology where “sins create no problem, and atonement becomes needless” (160). The problem with this dangerous thinking is that “it cannot cope with the fact of evil” because “a God who is all goodness and no severity tends to confirm men in a fatalistic and pessimistic attitude to life” (160). Therefore, when people divorce God’s goodness from His severity, they “say they believe in God, but they have no idea who it is that they believe in, or what difference believing in him may make” (159).
- Understanding the goodness and severity of God. What can rescue us from a life of despair when facing the problem of evil? It is only by understanding how the goodness and severity of God relate to one another according to Scripture. When Scripture talks about the goodness of God, it’s what prompts His “people to call him perfect, and in particular of the generosity which moves them to call him merciful and gracious and to speak of his love” (p. 161; Ps 107). When Scripture talks about the severity (“cutting off”) of God, it does so by pointing to how patient His severity is because “those who decline to respond to God’s goodness by repentance, and faith, and trust, and submission to his will, cannot wonder or complain if sooner or later the tokens of his goodness are withdrawn” (p. 164; Rm 2:1-5).
- Appreciating the goodness and discipline of God. How are we to appreciate the goodness and discipline of God in our lives as a believer? We appreciate the goodness of God by meditating that “Calvary is the measure of the goodness of God” (165). We appreciate the patience of God by learning “to marvel at his patience, and seek grace to imitate it in your dealings with others” (165). We appreciate the discipline of God by remembering that “it is a discipline of love, and it must be received accordingly” (p. 166; Ps 119:71; Heb 12:3-11).
The patience of God in giving a chance to repent (Rev 2:5) before judgment finally falls is one of the marvels of the bible story. It is no wonder that the New Testament stresses that longsuffering is a Christian virtue and duty; it is in truth a part of the image of God (Gal 5:22). (165)
- What happens in our lives when we separate the goodness of God from His severity?
- How does understanding the goodness and severity of God keep us from despair?
- Where is God leading you to appreciate His goodness, patience, and discipline this week?
“THE JEALOUS GOD”
“for you shall worship no other god, for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God,” (Exodus 34:14)
The jealousy of God causes us to be zealous for God.
How can a jealous God be a good and perfect God? In this chapter, Packer wants us to see how our jealous God is a perfect God and how the jealousy of God is a good for our souls. In doing so, he wants us to see how the jealousy of God causes us to be zealous for God.
- Questioning the jealousy of God. As many have questioned, “How can jealousy be a virtue in God when it is a vice in humans? God’s perfections are matter for praise – but how can we praise God for being jealous” (169)? It is an honest question that Scripture honestly answers. In fact, the more you look at the jealousy of God in the Bible you come to find that it is all over the Bible. Therefore, like the wrath of God, the jealousy of God in Scripture is not downplayed but is critically important in biblically understanding who God is and who we are meant to be.
- Understanding the jealousy of God. Exodus 34 is a key text in understanding the jealousy of God. In this passage, we see that “God’s jealousy is not a compound of frustration, envy and spite, as human jealousy so often is, but appears to be instead as a (literally) praiseworthy zeal to preserve something precious” (169-170). How can this be? God’s jealousy is not vicious, it is virtuous. After redeeming Israel from Egypt and forming a covenant with them at Mount Sinai (cf. Exod 19-20), God’s jealousy is pictured “as an aspect of his covenant love for his own people. The Old Testament regards God’s covenant as his marriage with Israel, carrying with it a demand for unqualified love and loyalty” (p. 170; Ezek 16; Hosea 1-4).
- Responding to the jealousy of God. As the people of God how are we to respond to the jealousy of God? First and foremost, the jealousy of God requires us to be zealous for God. What does this look like? We can prayerfully ask, “Does zeal for the house of God, and the cause of God, eat us up? – possess us? – consume us? Can we say with the Master, ‘My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work’” (p. 174; Jn 4:34)? As a warning, the jealousy of God threatens churches which are not zealous for God. If we abandon our first love like Ephesus (Rev 2:1-7), we will become like Laodicea who is neither hot, nor cold, but uselessly lukewarm (Rev 3:14-22).
The jealousy of God requires us to be zealous for God. As our right response to God’s love for us is love for him, so our right response to his jealousy over us is zeal for him. His concern for us is great; ours for him must be great too. (172)
- Where are you tempted to shy away from thinking or talking about the jealousy of God?
- How does the jealousy of God reveal the love of God for his people (Exod 34; Hosea 1-4)?
- How is the jealousy of God leading you to become zealous for God (Titus 2:11-14)?
“THE HEART OF THE GOSPEL”
“In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” (1 John 4:10)
The heart of the gospel is where God’s redeeming love and retributive justice meet.
What is the heart of the gospel? In this chapter, Packer wants us to not only know the gospel but to treasure the very heart of the gospel (Rm 3:23-26). In doing so, he helps us see the very heart of God toward us, undeserving sinners who need divine grace (Mt 11:28-30).
- Defining the heart of the gospel. After examining the four key passages of Romans 3:23-26, Hebrews 2:14-18, 1 John 2:1-6, and 1 John 4:7-12 it becomes clear that propitiation is at the heart of the gospel. But what exactly is propitiation? Propitiation is not just covering up our sin, which is expiation, but it “denotes all that expiation means, and the pacifying of the wrath of God thereby” (182). Therefore, propitiation means that just as “the blood-shedding of the Lord Jesus was the direct manifesting of his Father’s love toward us, so it was the direct averting of his Father’s wrath against us” (184).
- Describing the heart of the gospel. After defining propitiation, Scripture describes it in three critical ways. First, propitiation is the work of God himself, because “God loved the objects of His wrath so much that He gave His own Son to the end that He by His blood make provision for the removal of His wrath” (185). Second, propitiation was made by the death of Christ because we needed a “representative substitute – the innocent taking the place of the guilty, in the name and for the sake of the guilty, under the axe of God’s judicial retribution” (p. 186; 2 Cor 5:14-21). Finally, propitiation manifests God’s righteousness because “the public spectacle of propitiation, at the cross, was a public manifestation, not merely of justifying mercy on God’s part, but of righteousness and justice as the basis of justifying mercy” (p. 187; Rom 3:25-26).
- Meditating on the heart of the gospel. Once you see propitiation as the heart of the gospel, you powerfully see all of Scripture in vivid perspective. As you look at the life of Christ in the Gospels, you see that the cross was the driving force of His life (Phil 2:8). For unbelievers, those who reject Jesus as Savior choose to meet Him as Judge. For believers, only propitiation provides peace with God knowing that “instead of being against us, [He] is for us” (196). Finally, only through propitiation are we able to see the depths of God’s love (Eph 3:14-21) and the heights of His glory (Rev 5:12; 7:9-12) for all eternity.
Redeeming love and retributive justice joined hands, so to speak, at Calvary, for there God showed himself to be “just, and the justifier of him that hath faith in Jesus.” Do you understand this? If you do, you are now seeing to the very heart of the Christian gospel. (189)
- After reading this chapter, how would you explain the heart of the gospel to an unbeliever?
- In describing the heart of the gospel, which of the three humbles you the most? Why?
- The heart of the gospel was the driving force of Jesus’ life, where does it need to be yours?
“SONS OF GOD”
“For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’” (Romans 8:15)
Adoption is the highest privilege of the gospel.
What is a Christian? In this chapter, Packer shows us, that although there are several ways to answer this question, the doctrine of adoption is the greatest way to answer it. In doing so, he wants us to know the riches we have in knowing God as Father (Rm 8:15).
- Adoption is the highest privilege of the gospel. What is the doctrine of adoption? It is knowing God as Father through the finished work of God the Son. If justification is the “primary blessing” of the gospel because it makes us right with God, then adoption is the “highest privilege” of the gospel because it brings us into the family of God (206). Therefore, we can say, “To be right with God the Judge is a great thing, but to be loved and cared for by God the Father is a greater thing” (207).
- Adoption is the basis of our Christian lives. Adoption is not merely a concept to be understood but a “controlling thought” to guide the entirety of our lives (209). Looking to the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), adoption guides our lives in three ways. First, our adoption is the basis of our Christian conduct because it teaches us how to live in the family of God and for God the Father (p. 210; Mt 5:48). Second, our adoption is the basis of Christian prayer because “the Father is always accessible to his children and is never too preoccupied to listen to what they have to say” (p. 211-212; Mt 6:9). Third, our adoption is the basis of the life of faith because we trust that our Father loves to meet our needs (p. 212; Mt 6:25-34).
- Adoption is the source of our greatest blessings. Adoption brings us into the family of God and with it brings us five of the richest blessings. First, our adoption shows us the greatness of God’s love because He not only lovingly receives us into His divine family but loves to pour out His affections onto the divine family (216). Second, our adoption shows us the glory of the Christian hope because we have “a faith that looks forward” to a promised inheritance (216). Third, our adoption shows us the key to understand the ministry of the Holy Spirit because He indwells us to be in communion with God the Father and the Son (220). Fourth, our adoption shows us the meaning and motives of “gospel holiness” because we now live to please the Father (221). Fifth, our adoption gives the clue we need to see our way through the problem of assurance because our perfect Father will always love us and forever secure us (223).
If you want to judge how well a person understands Christianity, find out how much he makes of the thought of being God’s child, and having God as his Father. (201)
- After reading this chapter, how would you explain what it means to be a Christian?
- In which of the three ways of Christian living does adoption most move you to faithfulness?
- In which of the five blessings of adoption are you most comforted by this week?
“In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.” (Proverbs 3:6)
To honor the Holy Spirit as our Guide is to honor the Holy Scriptures through which He guides.
Where do we turn for guidance? In this chapter, Packer shows us where to the Christian is to turn to for guidance and how best to receive it. In doing so, he wants us to know God’s great concern and great resources for our daily lives.
- Receiving divine guidance. God not only greatly cares for every moment but lovingly resources us to live wisely for every moment through the guidance of the Holy Spirit. How does the Holy Spirit guide us? Tragically, many make the mistake that the Spirit guides us through prompts “apart from the Word” (234). However, as Christians, “the true way to honor the Holy Spirit as our guide is to honor the holy Scriptures which he guides us” (236). Therefore, our loving Father does not necessarily guide us in every little decision – such as where to live, where to go to school, and what job to take – but He guides us by the Spirit through the wisdom of His Word for every decision we face (Ps 34:14).
- Mistakes with divine guidance. When it comes to divine guidance, there are seven common mistakes people make. First, unwillingness to think because they neglect gift of the consideration (p. 237; Dt 32:29). Second, unwillingness to think ahead because they neglect the gift of wisdom (p. 237; Prov 6:6-15). Third, unwillingness to take advice because they neglect the gift of friendship (p. 267; Prov 12:15). Fourth, unwillingness to suspect oneself because they neglect the gift of prayer (p. 237; Ps 139:23-24). Fifth, unwillingness to discount personal magnetism because they neglect the gift of discernment (p. 238; Rm 12:2). Sixth, unwillingness to wait because they neglect the gift of patience (p. 238; Ps 27:14). Seventh, unwillingness to see hardship as a part of divine guidance because they neglect the gift of God’s wisdom (p. 239; 2 Cor 12:8-10).
- Missing out on divine guidance. What happens when we finally stop running away from God’s guidance? What are we to do when we missed God’s guidance early in our lives, is it too late? Praise be to the Lord that our “God is a God who not merely restores, but takes up our mistakes and follies into his plan for us and brings good out of them. This is part of the wonder of his gracious sovereignty” (241). Therefore, no matter where we are or what we have done, true repentance can never keep us from missing out on divine guidance.
It is impossible to doubt that guidance is a reality intended for, and promised to, every child of God. Christians who miss it thereby show only that they did not seek it as they should. (241)
- How does the Holy Spirit guide us through the Holy Scriptures in our everyday lives?
- Of the common mistakes with divine guidance, where are you most prone to fall into?
- How does it move you to know that God uses our mistakes for the glory of His gospel?
“THESE INWARD TRIALS”
“Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer.” (Psalm 19:14)
Following Jesus is not easy, but it is more than worth it.
As disciples, how can we avoid the cruelty of gospel malpractice? In this chapter, Packer shows us the danger of misapplying gospel truths that ultimately leads people to have false hope and false fears. In doing so, he wants us to a hopeful realism in the reality that following Jesus is not easy but is it more than worth it.
- The cruelty of irresponsible kindness. When talking to others about the gospel, we need to be careful not to communicate that “problems no longer exist – or, if they come, they have only to be taken to the throne of grace, and they will melt away at once” (245). The cruelty of this gospel malpractice is that it “buys results with false hopes” not out of malice but “irresponsible kindness” (245). How do we avoid this ministry mistake? We speak the truth in love that God does not get rid of our difficulty but uses it to form us in the image of Christ.
- The cruelty of misguided consecration. When talking to others about the gospel, we also need to be careful not to communicate “all experiences of frustration and perplexity as signs of substandard Christianity” (246). The cruelty of this gospel malpractice is that it confuses them to think if there is not an experience of a great emotional joy then they need to reconsecrate themselves through confession. However, God does not want us to pursue great emotions but great maturity in Christ. How do we avoid this ministry mistake? We speak the truth in love that God “wants us to grow in Christ, not to stay babes in Christ” (248).
- The kindness of God’s grace. The biggest problem with these two ministry mistakes is that “it loses sight of the method and purpose of grace” (249). The purpose of God’s grace is to draw “us sinners closer and closer to himself” (249). The method of God’s grace is not to keep us from trouble (first mistake) or to always keep us happy (second mistake). In fact, it is just the opposite, because “this is the ultimate reason, from our standpoint, why God fills our lives with troubles and perplexities of one sort and another: it is to ensure that we shall learn to hold him fast” (250). Therefore, to avoid any and all forms of gospel malpractice, let us look to Great Physician who heals us and leads us by His grace.
Earthly parents enjoy their babies, but are, to say the least, sorry if their growing children want to be babies again, and they hesitate to let them return to babyish ways. It is exactly so with our heavenly Father. He wants us to grow in Christ, not to stay babes in Christ. (248)
- Why is it so harmful to communicate to others that the Christian life is trouble free?
- Why is it so harmful to communicate to others that the Christian life always a happy life?
- How has God used “troubles and perplexities” in your life to draw you to Himself?
“THE ADEQUACY OF GOD”
“You have said, ‘Seek my face.’ My heart says to you, ‘Your face, LORD, do I seek.’” (Psalm 27:8)
Christ is the path and prize of the Christian life.
If Romans is a book of riches, then Romans 8 is the richest of riches. In this chapter, Packer shows us the abundance and adequacy of God’s grace for us in Romans 8:31-39. In doing so, he wants us to “possess our possessions” according to the promises of God’s Word (259).
- As our sovereign protector, God is for us. This truth speaks to our fear of opposition from others. “If God is for us, who can be against us (v. 31)?” The gospel truth behind this question is that “no opposition can finally crush us” because God has made a “covenant commitment to us” (260). God has proven that He is for us because He redeems us from sin, protects us in this life, and will restore all things when He comes. Therefore, to say, God is for us is “one of the richest and weightiest utterances that the Bible contains” (262).
- As our sovereign benefactor, God provides for us. This truth speaks to our fear of privation from others. “He who did not spare his own Son but him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things (v. 32)?” The gospel truth behind this question is that “no good thing will be finally withheld from us” because of God’s “redeeming work for us” (264). Because of the costliness of our redemption, our souls are strengthened knowing “there was never such love as God showed sinners at Calvary, nor will any subsequent love-gift to us cost God so much” (264).
- As our sovereign champion, God fights for us. This truth speaks to our fear of rejection by God. “Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn (vv. 33-34)?” The gospel truth behind this question is that “no accusation can ever disinherit us” because of God’s “justifying verdict upon us” (271). Once God receives us in Christ, He will never reject us. Remember that “He knew the worst about you at the time when he accepted you for Jesus’ sake; and the verdict which he passed then was, and is, final” (272).
- As our sovereign keeper, God is always with us. This truth speaks to our fear of separation from God. “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ (vv. 35-39)?” The gospel truth behind this question is that “no separation from Christ’s love can ever befall us” because of God’s “divine love” for us (274). Like a skilled physician, Paul counters our fear of separation from God with gospel comfort with that God is always with us in all seasons (Mt 28:18-20).
The purpose of our relationship with God in Christ is the perfecting of the relationship itself. How could it be otherwise, when it is a love relationship? So God is adequate in this further sense, that in knowing him fully we shall find ourselves fully satisfied, needing and desiring nothing more. (275)
- Read Romans 8:31-39 aloud slowly to meditate on the power of Paul’s four questions.
- Which of these four gospel truths comforts your soul most in this season? Why?
- Which of these four gospel truths are you most prone to forget in this season? Why?