Friday, October 31, 2014
Text Size
Sunday, 05 February 2012
God's Aseity and the Implications for Doing Theology
This morning, I want to begin our semester in which we’ll look at the doctrines of Scripture and of God by talking about God’s aseity and the implications for doing theology. Now, I recognize that this sounds complex and quite difficult, and that is probably just because some of this language may be language that you’re unfamiliar with. This is why I want to explain it this morning and show you how key it is. And my hope is that by the end of the hour, you’ll walk out of here with a firmer commitment to recognizing God’s Word as it really is – the very words of God. But I want to start by talking about God’s aseity.

When we talk about God’s aseity we are using a word that comes from the Latin phrase a se meaning “from” or “by oneself.” Therefore, when we say that God is a se we mean that God has everything from or within himself that he needs. That is to say, God is self-existent, self-sufficient, self-contained, or independent. These all carry the same idea. God has within himself everything necessary to exist, do, and carry out anything he wants. There is nothing above him, greater than him, or outside of him on which he is dependent. He is never forced to act by anything outside of himself. He needs nothing.

Now, when you turn to the Bible, you don’t necessarily read this precisely. The Bible never uses the phrase a se or speak of the aseity of God. However, it does teach us a number of things about God, his nature, and his character that allow us to determine that it is proper to speak of God’s aseity, self-sufficiency, or independence.

Biblical Witness to God’s Aseity

God Created All Things

God is presented in the Bible as the one who created all things. Apart from the triune God, before this world or any other created thing existed, there was nothing. Before all created things there was simply the triune God – God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. And that God created everything. Therefore, he is rightly called the Creator. And we can see this in a number of texts throughout the Bible, but I’ll just note how the Scripture begins in Genesis 1-2, giving us the account of God creating the world.

Now, as a logical deduction of that, we can also affirm:

God Owns Everything

As I said, that’s a logical deduction of the truth that God created all things. If he created all things, he is the rightful owner of all things. However, the Scripture not only leaves us to deduce that truth. It also explicitly states it. For example:

Psalm 24: 1 – “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, the world and all those who dwell therein.”

Psalm 50:10-12 – “For every beats of the forest is mine, the cattle on a thousand hills. I know all the birds of the hills, and all that moves in the field is mine. If I were hungry, I would not tell you, for the world and its fullness are mine.”

And this last statement that God would not tell us if he were hungry points us to another truth affirmed in Scripture, namely, that God has no needs.

God Has No Needs

Acts 17:24-25 – “The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth [i.e., he created all things and owns all things], does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything.”

Furthermore, as one who created all things, owns all things, and has no needs, we can more specifically say that God is counsel by no one and owes no one.

God Is Counseled by No One and Owes No One

Romans 11:34-36 – “For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor? Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid? For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.”

But if God is counseled by no one, how does he arrive at determining what he should do? The Bible answers this question for us as well, telling us that God does everything that he does, directed by his own will.

God Does All that He Does, Directed by His Own Will

Psalm 115:3 – “Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases.”

Jeremiah 9:23-24 – “Thus says the Lord, ‘Let not the wise man boasts in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the Lord.’”

Ephesians 1:11 – “In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will.”

Finally, we can add that God, by his very nature of being God, is a se.

God, by his very nature of being God, is a se

Now, what do I mean by this? Well, consider, for example, how God mocks the idols in Isaiah 41. He notes repeatedly that they are dependent on man to make them. They need a creator simply to exist. Then, they are unable to do things out of their own ability. Thus, the Lord declares:

Isaiah 41:22-24 – “Let them bring them, and tell us what is to happen. Tell us the former things, what they are, that we may consider them, that we may know their outcome; or declare to us the things to come. Tell us what is to come hereafter, that we may know that you are gods; do good, or do harm, that we may be dismayed and terrified. Behold, you are nothing, and your work is less than nothing; an abomination is he who chooses you.”

So, you can see that God challenges them to do something to show they are gods. And he tests them in the realm of showing their ability. He asks them to declare what is to come, but the reality is they can’t. So, God is declaring that they are obviously not gods.

Similarly, Paul tells the Galatians:

Galatians 4:8 – “Formerly, when you did not know God, you were enslaved to those that by nature are not gods.”

Again, note that they were enslaved to obeying these created gods or figments of their imaginations. Thus, Paul declares that these “by nature are not gods.” Why? Because God by his very nature is greater than us, does not need us, does not need anything, and is dependent on nothing outside of himself to exist and reign. Thus, we can conclude that God, by his very nature, is a se.

Some Implications of God’s Aseity

Now, there are some implications to be drawn from the reality that God is a se. I’m going to list three that John Frame has laid out in his excellent work simply titled, The Doctrine of God. These three are:

God Is Self-Existent

If God has everything within himself that he needs, then he needs nothing outside of himself to exist. He is self-existent. This one is pretty obvious, so I’ll move on.

God Is the Standard of Right and Wrong

Again, if God needs nothing outside of himself, then he needs nothing outside of himself to serve as a standard for right and wrong. He himself is that very standard. Now, let’s flesh this out a bit. What makes something right or wrong? The answer is not that there is some universal law that God and we all take our cues from. The answer is that something is right or wrong because it either does or does not correspond to God’s nature.

Some might then say that something is right or wrong merely because God wills it (volunteerism). But that is not a full picture of truth. After all, it might suggest that God has arbitrarily willed something right or something wrong. That is, it might suggest that God could create another world where murder, rape, and child abuse is right while obeying your parents, loving your neighbor, and giving to one in need is wrong. But the reality is that he couldn’t do that, and the reason he couldn’t do that is because God doesn’t declare murder to be evil arbitrarily. He declares murder to be evil because it is not in accord with his nature. He declares loving one’s neighbor to be good because it is in accord with his nature. So, good in our world is simply a reflection of God’s good character and evil is a picture of which is not in accord with God’s good character.

You can see then that it is silly to ask if what God does is good. By definition, everything God does is good because his character is the standard for what is good. Goodness doesn’t exist as some reality outside of God. Thus, God needs nothing outside of himself to determine what is good. He always does what is good simply by acting in accord with his good and perfect nature.

God is Self-Attesting (or Self-Justifying)

Finally, we can affirm that God is self-attesting (or self-justifying). Often times in our own experience we rightly point to things above us in order to justify or attest to what we are saying. So, for example, if I were to make a claim that something odd happened in American history and you were to challenge me on the accuracy of my claim, I would no doubt appeal to a credible historian who knows much more than either of us. If I were to make a claim about a theological point, I might point to some well-known theologian in order to attest to what I’m saying. After all, for me to say that I think a text means something might carry a little (perhaps very little) weight, but to say that what I’m claiming this text means is attested to by Luther, Calvin, and Edwards and in more modern times by D. A. Carson, John Frame, and J. I. Packer carries more weight.

So, who is it that God points to in order to attest to what he claims or to justify the truthfulness of his claims? The answer, of course, is that there is no one above himself to whom he can point. There is no one with greater knowledge than him about anything. After all, everything outside of the triune God didn’t even exist until he created it. Therefore, God attests to himself; he is self-attesting.

We see this, for example, in the book of Hebrews. The author of Hebrews writes:

Hebrews 6:13 – “For when God made a promise to Abraham, since he had no one greater by whom to swear, he swore by himself.”

Do you see what is going on there? God could not point to anyone greater than himself to attest to the truthfulness of his promise, so he just swore by himself. He attested to his own truthfulness. Again, he is self-attesting. And, this has implications for our doctrine of Scripture.

God’s Self-Attesting Nature and Our Doctrine of Scripture

Let’s think for a second about the implications of God’s aseity on our doctrine of Scripture. What is the Bible? It is God’s Word. But how do we know it is God’s Word? We know it is God’s Word because God tells us it is his Word. And where does God tell us that the Scripture is his Word? He tells us in the Scriptures themselves.

Do you see? If God is a se, then he need not (and indeed cannot) point to anything outside of himself to justify or attest to himself or his claims. Therefore, if God’s Word is God’s Word, then Scripture need not (and indeed cannot) point to anything outside of itself to attest to itself. If the Bible is God’s Word, then by its very nature it must be self-attesting!

In fact, we could say that if the Bible pointed to something outside of itself to attest to its truthfulness, then we should not regard the Bible as our final authority but put it down and go seek out that thing to which the Bible points. Therefore, what some might perceive as a weakness (i.e., our resting our belief that the Bible is God’s Word in the Bible’s own claims for itself) is actually a strength.

But perhaps I’m getting ahead of myself, for we haven’t yet stated what exactly the Bible claims for itself.

The Bible Claims It Is Nothing Less than God’s Word

And the reality is that the Bible claims that it is nothing less than God’s Word. We could look to a few examples of this, but I’ll point you to two:

2 Timothy 3:16-17 – “All Scripture is breathed out by God and is profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.”

When Paul writes that the Scripture is God-breathed, he is saying that each word comes from God himself. That is (to borrow from B. B. Warfield), to say “the Bible says” is to say “God says.” And Peter claims the same thing:

2 Peter 1:20-21 – “Knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.”

So, the writings of the Bible were penned by men as they were equipped with the ability to know what to write and thus wrote the very words of God. Thus, the Bible attests to itself that it is God’s own Word.

Because of this, if we are to do theology in a way that is God-honoring, we must do theology by first accepting the Bible’s claims for itself. We must do our theology by rightly recognizing that our Creator has revealed to us what we need to know for life and godliness. The Scripture is sufficient for us. Therefore, this semester and in every class we teach, we will always seek to ground our claims in God’s Word, always seek to evaluate what we say against God’s Word, and always seek to study those issues which have been revealed to us in God’s Word. This is the only manner of doing theology that actually produces true doctrine. Therefore, this will be our task this semester to see what it is that the Bible teaches us about itself and about our God.

And next week we will press the implications of this reality of God’s aseity a bit more and ask, “What are the implications of God’s aseity for how we do evangelism and apologetics?” We’ll look at that more next week, Lord-willing. Amen.