A Theology of God for Ministers

What ministers believe affects our ministries more than we often realize. So important is our theology that the New Testament repeatedly insists that bad theology points to a false teacher. If we teach the wrong ideas, then it doesn’t really matter how many bodies we put in the pews, people we baptize, or budgets we grow. Without good theology underpinning our efforts, all of our work is for naught. We will teach false doctrine and minister incorrectly if we don’t have a solid theological foundation.

One of the most important areas of theology is Theology Proper or the Doctrine of God. The way that we understand God’s personality and his role in the local church will shade how we approach our ministry. Since theology is so important to ministry, we want to make sure that we’re understanding how God works in our churches correctly. To that end, here are two important convictions from the Doctrine of God for ministers:

1. God is all-powerful.

The official way to say this is that God is omnipotent. While there are certain things God can’t do—like be tempted to sin, commit suicide, or make 2+2=5—he can do anything in keeping with his personality. Christians know this; however, God is a lot stronger than we typically realize.

When we think of strength, we usually think of physical strength. If, for example, a man can bench-press the weight of a small car, we would rightly say that he is powerful or that he is strong. While God can certainly lift heavy things, God’s omnipotence isn’t most clearly displayed in his ability to move physical items. Instead, God’s strength is clearest elsewhere.

God’s greatest strength is his ability to change human hearts. Think about it: Moving heavy items, while impressive, isn’t really that special. With enough work and ingenuity, human beings can move a lot of things. We design engines that allow us to move vehicles with light pressure from our feet. We manufacture cranes that can lift tons of materials to dizzying heights. Even with all of our power and ingenuity, we can’t change human hearts. We can move concrete, launch heavy equipment into planetary orbit, and manipulate steel; however, we can’t change a person’s heart.[1]

God can and does change human hearts in ways that we can’t. In Luke 18, the rich young ruler infamously asks Jesus what he must do in order to earn heaven. Jesus tells the young man that he must sell everything he had, give it to the poor, and then follow him faithfully. The young man thought of his checking account, trust fund, and high-rise apartment, decided that Jesus required too much, and walked away disappointed. Seizing this invaluable teaching moment, Jesus remarks: “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!”[2]

At this, Jesus’s disciples were flabbergasted! In their mindset, the rich were favored of God. If the ones whom God had so richly blessed couldn’t make it into heaven, then nobody could! Thus, they stammer: “Who then can be saved?”[3] In a lightning strike of theological insight, Jesus casually responds: “What is impossible with man is possible with God.”[4]

The disciples don’t understand that Jesus just made a profound theological claim that would go on to reverberate through the catacombs of Church history. As was typically the case, Jesus’s teaching surpassed them by miles. They thought Jesus was just talking about rich people as if the rich had some additional requirement related their wealth. In their mindset, the rich would be first in line for heaven because they were favored of God, as all could see by their lavish lifestyles. They didn’t realize that Jesus had everyone in his sights, not just the rich. Jesus thus turned the tables when he repeatedly says that to enter heaven, his followers must forsake all their idols. For the rich, this often means forsaking their wealth, an onus requirement, as they had just witnessed. However, the rich aren’t in a special category. Instead, all of Jesus’s followers—including the modern Church—are called to forsake their idols and follow him.

The call to forsake all our idols is humanly impossible. Our depravity reaches such depths that we have no hope of excising every pernicious idol from the recesses of our souls. Thus, the disciples’ question points to greater issues than they could have realized. Since we cannot forsake our idols on our own, the answer to the disciples’ question must be that no one can be saved. No one can be saved because we all love some idol—whether riches, the American flag, or our own pride—too much. In order to be saved, we’d have to change every area of our idolatrous hearts, a task for which we are woefully inept. Fortunately, Jesus says that this herculean task is possible with God, whose power extends past feats of strength and into the realm of the heart.

As an interesting side note, in Luke 19, a rich man named Zacchaeus left behind the idol of money in order to know God and thus received salvation. We must infer that God did something in Zacchaeus’s heart. Where Zacchaeus and the rich young man were impotent to change their hearts, God had the required power.

This is important for ministers because we can’t change a person’s heart. We point to heart issues that need to be corrected, we pray for heart change among our congregation, and we labor earnestly to that end; ultimately, however, we can’t make our efforts effective. All of us, including ministers, need a heart change. We, however, do not have the power to create this change. Thus, as ministers, all we can do is be faithful in the tasks to which God has called us and leave the results up to him. After all, he’s the only one with the power to change human hearts. If we are to minister correctly, we must remember that God is the one who brings change and God alone is the one who ought to receive the credit.

2. God is wise.

This important belief falls under God’s omniscience. Saying that God is omniscient means that God knows everything. This, in itself, is important for several reasons. For one, I know that there is nothing I can reveal to God that would cause him to stop loving me. He’s already seen the depraved recesses of my heart, and he still desires to know and love me. I would thus argue that God’s omniscience is a cause for rejoicing among Christians. He has seen how wicked we are, yet we can still come to him through the cross.

God’s wisdom is a different shade of color than ordinary knowledge. God’s knowledge means that he has a command of all information. God’s wisdom means he knows what to do with his knowledge. In contrast, we fall into error based on our insufficient understandings. When given the choice between a nickel and a dime, a child may choose the nickel. The child has the knowledge that the nickel is larger than the dime and thus assumes that the nickel has a greater worth. In this case, the child has correct information: Nickels are indeed larger than dimes. However, the child doesn’t know what to do with this information. Consequently, the child incorrectly ascertains the value of the two coins. When I say God is wise, I’m saying that God doesn’t make mistakes of this sort. Not only does he have all the correct information, he knows exactly what to do with the information. No decision he makes is ill-timed, no choice is poorly considered, and no strategy is insufficiently planned.[5]

This is important for ministers because God’s timing rarely comports with ours. As the Bible so clearly proclaims, time is not a major area of concern for God. Thus, as we pray to see hearts change, we may not see visible results for quite some time if at all. Though this can be discouraging, we can take comfort in God’s wisdom. God knows the person’s heart, he knows how to change the person’s heart, yet he hasn’t chosen to do so yet for reasons that may surpass us. As ministers, we can trust the fact that God knows what he’s doing, he never errs. Thus, we can continue to pray that God will do what only he can do in the timing that only he understands. While praying for this, we can know that God knows what is best, even when we are unsatisfied.

Conclusion

What we believe about God is important: If we believe that God doesn’t understand a situation, we may feel it is our duty to act as his teacher. If we believe that God doesn’t know what to do, we may begin to pray as if we are his advisors rendering astute counsel and words of wisdom. If we believe that God has the power to change hearts and the wisdom to do it correctly, we will be content to trust his timing. He knows how to bring his will to pass, and he knows when to act. We need only be faithful to him.

Notes & Sources

[1] Millard Erickson, Christian Theology, 3rd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2013), 247-48

[2] Luke 18:24, all scripture quotations are NIV.

[3] Luke 18:26

[4] Luke 18:27

[5] Erickson, 246-47.

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