The Second Law: God Doesn’t Need Us But We Desperately Need Him
February 17, 2002
Last Sunday we started a new sermon series called The Seven Laws of the Spiritual Life. In this series we are discovering the basic principles of the Christian life that meet us where we are and take us all the way to heaven. The First Law teaches us a fundamental truth: He’s God and We’re Not. All spiritual reality must begin at this point. Until we have settled the issue of who’s God and who’s not, we’re still in spiritual kindergarten. And as long as we fight against God’s right to be God, our lives will be miserable and we will be angry and deeply frustrated. But when we finally come to the place where we can rip the Big G off our sweatshirt, then we’re ready to move on.
That brings us to the Second Law, which builds directly on the First Law.
Law 1: He’s God and We’re Not
Law 2: God Doesn’t Need Us But We Desperately Need Him
As it is stated, this law tells us something about God and something about us. To say that God doesn’t need us means that he is totally and truly sovereign over the universe. He’s the boss, the ruler, and the Lord of all things. That means he alone has true freedom. Go to any Bible college or seminary and you will hear learned (and sometimes heated) debates about “free will.” But when we use that term, we almost always refer to human free will. Years ago I used to expend a lot of energy in those debates. And I was always on the side of those arguing for human free will. As I look back, that seems odd to me now since the term “free will” appears nowhere in the Bible. Here’s the truth of the matter. Only one person in the universe has free will. Find that person and you’ve found God. Our “free will” is drastically limited, his is not. He can do whatever he wants to do whenever he wants to do it, which is the proper definition of free will. It’s true that we humans have important moral choices to make and it is also true that God will hold us 100% accountable for those choices. But any “free will” we have is strictly derivative. The “freedom” we have to obey (or to rebel) is freedom that God has given to us.
The Second Law also tells us something about God’s transcendence, which the Bible indicates to us when it tells us that God is high and lifted up. Transcendence means that God created the universe and is separate from it. The universe is not an extension of God or a necessary part of God. He existed in and of himself long before the universe was created. This law also points us to God’s holiness. This is a hard attribute to define because it is basic to who God is. As one writer put it, holiness is what makes God God. It’s the “goodness” of God that separates him from his creation. It involves purity and separation from sin but goes beyond that. We might say it this way: If God were not holy, he would not be God at all. Finally, this law impresses upon us the truth of God’s immensity. All power and all wisdom and all majesty reside in him alone. He inhabits all things and his presence fills every part of the universe. There is nowhere you can go where he is not already there.
No One … Not Even One
Not only does this law tell us something about God, it also tells us something about who we are. To say that we desperately need God reveals our inherent weakness. We are sinners by birth, by nature and by choice. The true condition of the human race is revealed in these penetrating words of Romans 3:10-12, “There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.” Even a casual reader is struck with the universal emphasis of these words: “no one … not even one … no one … no one … all … no one … not even one.” It’s hard to miss the point. The whole human race has rebelled against God. As a result, when God looks down from heaven he can’t find a single righteous person. Not even one. He can’t even find anyone who truly seeks him. Sin has so warped the human heart that no one does anything truly good in his sight. We are all “worthless” in his sight. That last part is a pretty tough bottom line. How can you square the word “worthless” with the fact that “God so loved the world?” Why would anyone love a “worthless” person? The answer goes to the very heart of the Second Law. God loves us in spite of our sin and not because of some supposed worth he found in us. To put it in crass terms, he found nothing worth saving in us but he saved us anyway because that’s the kind of God he is. That thought is both humbling and thrilling. None of us deserved God’s grace. If we deserved it, it wouldn’t be grace at all. Any “worth” we have to God is worth that he gives to us. We have value because he values us, not because of anything in us.
The Second Law exposes our phony independence, our casual arrogance, our sinful pride, and our obsessive need to be in control. It tells us that we aren’t in control and we weren’t ever in control, not even when we thought we were.
We can find this concept in numerous places in the Bible:
“I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).
“What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:24).
“The man who thinks he knows something does not yet know as he ought to know” (I Corinthians 8:2).
“Such confidence as this is ours through Christ before God. Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God” (II Corinthians 3:4-5).
A God Greater Than My Dreams
Before going on, let me pause to make a purely personal comment. It occurs to me that 30 years ago I would not have enjoyed a sermon like this very much. Too much emphasis on God and on our human weakness. In my younger days, I wanted to hear about my potential, my possibilities, and what God could do through me. As I look back, I think a lot of that comes from being young and feeling invincible. And that’s not an entirely bad thing. In fact, I think it’s good that our young men and women should dream great dreams, have high hopes, and set out to do something big with their lives. Why not? Sometimes young folks do things that the rest of us thought couldn’t be done. But no one bothered to tell them they couldn’t do it (or they ignored the advice) so they went out and did it anyway. Thank God for the valiant faith of those who are in high school or college or post-college and have not yet turned 30.
But as I slowly approach my 50th birthday (just seven months from now), I have come to have a deeper appreciation for the hard realities of life. Soon enough today’s excitement will wash up against the hard rocks of reality. Not every dream will come true. If you live long enough, you’ll have to face some hard times and some deep disappointment. That, too, is from the Lord and is part of the inevitable process of growing to spiritual maturity. At this point in my life, I am more aware than ever of my own limitations. I can think of more things I can’t do than I can do. I am not as impressed with my talents and abilities as I used to be. So it goes for all of us. And in place of those things, I find myself increasingly glad that we worship a God whose power is unlimited, who never grows weary, whose plans will not be defeated, and whose ways are far beyond my own. What a comfort to serve a God like that.
I need that God and I need him more than I know. I desperately need God. Sometimes I feel my need, often I don’t. But feelings don’t matter in any case. I desperately need the Lord. And so do you. So do we all.
From Theology to Praise and Worship
Let me summarize the Second Law in several succinct statements:
1. God is free to do whatever he wants to do whenever he wants to do it.
2. God was not obligated to create us and he is not obligated to save us.
3. Everything God does for us is an act of sheer, sovereign, amazing grace.
4. Therefore, we are continually in his debt at all times.
5. That thought should lead us to praise and worship as a way of life.
The Second Law is not simply a statement of theology. It’s meant to be a crucial stepping stone in the spiritual life. First, you admit that God is God and you are not. Then you confess your utter and complete need for God’s help. Until you can say that from your heart, you are not yet to first base on your spiritual journey.
There are many places in the Bible that teach this truth. As I prepared this sermon, my mind was drawn to Psalm 100. Many years ago this psalm was sung to a tune called “the Old Hundredth.” Today we know the tune better as the “Doxology.” You can find a musical version of Psalm 100 in most hymnals, usually under the title “All Creatures That on Earth Do Dwell.” The Hebrew text calls it, “A psalm for giving thanks.” Even though there are many thanksgiving psalms, this is the only one specifically titled that way. It is sometimes called the “Jubilate,” which means “O be joyful.” In Old Testament times, the Jews used it as part of the Temple worship. These simple words have blessed the hearts of God’s people for nearly 3,000 years.
He is God and He is Good
Psalm 100 has two stanzas and each is centered around God. We are to give thanks and praise the Lord because:
He is God (verses 1-3), and
He is good (verses 4-5).
Verse 3 says, “Know that the Lord is God.” Older versions say, “Know that the Lord, he is God,” which makes it even more pointed. This acknowledgement of God’s sovereignty leads to three corporate responses:
We shout for joy (verse 1),
We serve the Lord with gladness (verse 2a),
We sing with joy (verse 2b).
Then there is a statement of ownership and assurance: “It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, the sheep of his pasture” (verse 3b). Some versions say, “It is he who made us, and not we ourselves.” I actually prefer that translation because it emphasizes that there are no self-made men or women. All that we have was given to us by God. (After I preached this sermon, someone asked me if that statement applies to a man like Hugh Hefner, the multimillionaire founder of the Playboy empire. The answer is yes; he was given certain gifts, talents and opportunities by God. The fact that he has badly misused them does not change the fact that they came from God in the first place.
Wanted: More Public Praise!
This leads us on to visible, public thanksgiving and praise: “Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name” (Psalm 100:4). The design of the tabernacle and the temple allowed for large courtyards where great crowds of people would gather. The psalmist here exhorts the people to come into that courtyard singing and openly praising God’s name. It’s almost as if God is saying, “You want to meet me? You can. Start singing a hymn or a chorus and I’ll meet you on the second verse.” Part of the emphasis is surely meant to be that Israel would publicly praise the Lord. As the pagan nations watched from a distance, the public, loud, joyful worship of the Israelites would send a message to the watching world: “These people know and love their God.” I do not think it is out-of-place to suggest that we should be bolder and more public in our praise. All week long we’ve watched as Olympic athletes in Salt Lake City have won medals for their respective countries. Sometimes it’s Germany, sometimes Norway, sometimes Australia or China or the United States. There is great rejoicing in the countries of those who win the medals. But if the people of the world celebrate a medal that will one day melt away, how much more should we openly celebrate our great God? We should praise the Lord on the street, in the parks, in the classrooms, on the job, in our offices, in our neighborhood, and with our friends and loved ones. And while we don’t need to be pushy or offensive, we shouldn’t be silent either.
As I look at our congregation, I think we do reasonably well in this area. That is, we do pretty well for a Midwestern, middle-class, suburban congregation. We don’t worship like they do in Haiti or Africa or many countries of the world where the congregation walks to church singing and chanting and laughing and lifting up the name of the Lord. We’re too reserved for that. As much as I enjoy our worship services, I think there is room to improve in terms of joyfully praising the Lord.
His Mercy Endures Forever
The psalm ends with these reassuring words: “For the LORD is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations” (Psalm 100:5). Because God’s mercy endures forever, it has no beginning and no end. Before time began, he was the eternal Father of Mercies. And since God is eternal, his mercy extends as far into the future as the mind can conceive. And then infinitely farther. When eternity is finally done—if such a thing can be contemplated—God’s mercy will still endure. It never runs out, is never exhausted, and when you feel you have used up your allotment of mercy, you discover that there is an infinite river flowing from God’s throne.
God’s mercy is not like the weather. It does not change with the seasons. And it does not depend on you or on anything you may do. There is nothing you can do to make God love you more and there is nothing you can do to make him love you less. His mercy is so great and his love so free that it is truly infinite and everlasting.
We see God’s love and mercy most clearly at the cross. While walking by a bookstore one day, I saw a plaque that read, “I asked Jesus, ‘How much do you love me?’ ‘This much,’ he answered. And he stretched out his arms and died.” Fix your eyes upon the bloody cross of Calvary. Gaze upon the dying form of the Son of God. There you will find grace unmeasured, mercy undeserved, and love beyond degree.
No changes, however great, can produce any changes in him. All things are moving according to his divine plan. There are no mistakes with the Lord. You may think it otherwise, but it is not true. You may say, “All things are against me,” but it is not so. All things are for you but you do not yet see it. God is ordering all for the best.
God and My Great-Grandchildren
Consider the final phrase: “through all generations.” It literally means “from generation to generation.” Exodus 20:6 tells us that God shows his love to “a thousand generations” of those who love him. Since a biblical generation is 40 years, this means God’s love lasts at least 40,000 years. And since this promise was given to Moses at Mt. Sinai approximately 3,500 years ago, we may safely conclude that God’s faithful love will continue at least another 36,500 years. That is to say, in 3,500 years we are not yet even 10% of the way through the length of God’s love. But surely that is not literal, you say. Indeed, it is not. But it is not purely figurative either. It’s a way of showing us that God’s love and faithfulness go far beyond any human understanding. Suppose we line up a grandfather, a father, a son, a grandson, and a great-grandson on the platform. This text tells us that what God is to the grandfather, he will be to the father. What he is to the father, he will be to the son. What he is to the son, he will be to the grandson. What he is to the grandson, he will be to the great-grandson. And so it goes across the centuries. Generations come and go, one after the other. Only God remains forever.
I am so glad that God’s faithfulness transcends the generations. I am 49 years old heading for … what? 50? 55? 60? 75? Maybe 80 or even 90 years old if God blesses me with long life. But I won’t live forever. As the years roll by, I find myself realizing how much of my life is wrapped up in my three boys. Yesterday they were in grade school, today they are almost grown up, and tomorrow they will be grandfathers. Will God still take care of them? What about their children? And their grandchildren? Will God still be there for them? The answer is yes because God’s faithfulness doesn’t depend on me but on the character of God that spans the generations. That means I don’t have to stay alive to ensure that my boys will be okay. God will see to that. After I am gone from this earth, and even if all my prayers have not been answered, I can trust God to take care of my boys. What a comfort this is. I can do my best to help my boys while I’m here, and after I’m gone God’s faithfulness will continue for them and for their grandchildren, and even for their great-grandchildren.
The Real “Happy Hour”
This is our hope at the edge of death. This is why we rejoice as we bury our dead. More than once I have told you that nothing of God dies when a man or woman of God dies. We need not fear death because a Christian is immortal until his work on earth is done. You cannot die and you will not die until God’s appointed time. Until then, you are immortal. I do not know how far we have to go until we reach the end of our earthly road. But this I know—that road is paved with God’s love and faithfulness. And we need not be afraid.
This week I ran across a quote from Lloyd Ogilvie, Chaplain of the United States Senate. He said that Psalm 100 “makes a strong case for gladness as the sure sign that we are living by grace and not our efforts.” What a striking thought that is. Happy Christians honor God. There are places where you go to have “Happy Hour.” But why should Christians need alcohol to be happy or joyful or filled with praise? Spurgeon commented that “our happy God deserves to be worshiped by a happy people.” He’s right. If our hearts are not filled with joy as we contemplate the Lord, if we are so uptight that no one would ever associate the word “gladness” with us, perhaps we need to discover the grace of God all over again.
A Prayer to Keep You Out of Trouble
A few days ago I was doing a TV interview with Jerry Rose on the Total Living Network. Our subject that day was the Lord’s Prayer. As we neared the end of our time, Jerry mentioned that many years ago, an older man who had built a large and successful ministry offered him an important piece of advice. He told Jerry there was a prayer he should pray every day because it would keep him out of trouble. Jerry went on to say that he had tried to pray that prayer every day since then, and he had found that it was true. What was the prayer? The older man advised Jerry to pray the last sentence of the Lord’s Prayer every day: “Yours is the kingdom, yours is the power, yours is the glory, forever. Amen” (Matthew 6:13). That’s a part of the Lord’s Prayer that most of us don’t even think about, but it is absolutely crucial. We pray “yours is the kingdom” because we know that the kingdoms of the earth will give way to the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ. We pray “yours is the power” because we do not give up in the face of difficult trials but instead live in faith that the Lord has a purpose and will give us whatever we need to face the challenges of each day. We pray “yours is the glory” because we have chosen to live for God instead of for the praise of men. And we need to pray that way because we are all kingdom builders who love to operate in our own power and for our own glory. So it is good to say to the Lord, “Not my kingdom but yours, Lord. Not my power but yours, Lord. Not my glory but yours, Lord. And not just today or tomorrow but forever. Amen.” If we pray like that, and if we live like that, we’ll stay out of the kind of trouble that could destroy us.
Three Simple Statements
As we wrap up this message, let me boil the application down to three simple statements:
1) God owns everything; we own nothing.
Our problem is that too often we don’t feel our need until things aren’t going well. But we need God just as much when we have a million dollars as when we are flat broke. And we need him just as much when our health is good as when we have cancer.
We need the Lord. We need him desperately. We need him more than we know.
2) Our lives are broken because of sin.
Sin has messed everything up. The whole world groans and travails because of sin. Nothing works right, things break, little children are shot by the side of the road, marriages disintegrate, promises are broken, laws violated, and terrorists fly airplanes into buildings. The world is broken and we are broken. Like Humpty Dumpty, nothing we do can put us back together again.
3) If God doesn’t help us, we’re sunk.
That should be pretty obvious by now. I love how David puts it in Psalm 34:6, “This poor man called, and the LORD heard him; he saved him out of all his troubles.” Take that verse backwards and you come to a wonderful truth. If you want to be saved, the Lord must hear you. But to be heard, you must call on the Lord. But only a “poor man” calls on the Lord. Those who think themselves self-sufficient have no need for God so they never call on him. Only the “poor man” calls and only he is heard and only he is saved and delivered. Is not this what Jesus meant when he said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3)? Blessed are the poor in spirit, and those who mourn, and the meek who confess their weakness. They will enter the kingdom of heaven, they will be comforted, and they will one day inherit the earth.
Blessed are the needy …
Blessed are the desperate …
Blessed are the broken …
Blessed are the weak …
They will find the Lord! Everyone else will be turned away. But to the needy God says, “Come on in. I have a place reserved for you.”
Get Off Your High Horse
If you ever travel to the Holy Land, you will visit the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. The church is built over the reputed spot where Mary gave birth to Jesus. To get to the church, you first walk across a broad plaza and then come to a very small entrance. In fact, it’s so small that you have to duck down low to get inside. The entrance is deliberately made low because several centuries ago the local rulers liked to ride their horses into the sanctuary. The priests felt that was inappropriate so they lowered the entrance to force the great men to dismount before entering the church.
The same is true of salvation. If you want to go to heaven, you’ve got to get off your high horse. Until you do, you’ll never be saved. Since you don’t deserve heaven, the only proper response to God’s offer of salvation is to say, “Thank you, Lord God, for what Jesus did for me.” Gratitude, not arrogance, is the language of heaven.
Jesus is All You Need
If the First Law drives us to our knees; the Second Law keeps us there until we cry out for mercy. It is a great advance in the spiritual life to bow before the Lord and say, “Oh God, I need you. I can’t do this myself. Please help me.” No one who has cried out to the Lord like that has ever been turned away.
And when we finally get off our high horse and cry out to God, then (and only then) are our prayers finally heard and answered. But you’ll never know until you see for yourself. I can preach all day long, but it will have no effect until you admit how much you need the Lord.
Some of us have to hit rock bottom before we will finally look up and cry out to God in desperation. Years ago I heard it said this way: You’ll never know if Jesus is all you need until Jesus is all you have. When Jesus is all you have, then you will know that Jesus is all you need. If you are weary, if you are tired, if you are discouraged, if you need a fresh start, if you know your life is going nowhere, if you want your sins forgiven, if you want to know God, then drop what you are doing and run to the cross. Run to the cross! Don’t delay, don’t put it off, and don’t make any excuses. Drop everything and run to the cross of Christ. Lay hold of the Son of God who loves you and who died for you. Lay all your sins on Jesus. Trust him and him alone as your Savior. That is all I have to say, but it is enough. May God give you faith to believe and wings to fly to the cross. Let’s all lay hold of Jesus and hold on tight. He is a wonderful Savior to those who trust in him.
God doesn’t need us but we desperately need him. This is the Second Law of the Spiritual Life. Amen.