“Putting God in a box”, I’m not sure if you have ever been accused of this. I have been reflecting on the accusation, since I don’t want to be guilty of it. Normally it’s used as a theological defence for continuationists (those who believe the sign gifts that the Holy Spirit granted during the apostolic era have continued). The idea is that since I understand the sign gifts to have ceased with the end of the apostolic ministry, destruction of Jerusalem and finalising of divine revelation in the form of the New Testament, I am somehow ‘putting God in a box’. The implication being that I have Him under control in a safe compartment in my life; He is no longer dynamic and active.
Now my purpose today is not to refute continuationism, but rather to address this ad hominem argument. If we want to deal with the relationship of the gifts to today, then lets do exegesis and theology, but avoid these kinds of statements. Here is why:
Can God sin? No? Well aren’t you putting God in a box? Is Jesus the only Way to the Father? Yes? Is not that also putting God in a box? Surly if He wanted to, He should be allowed to save any way he wants? We get these facts from Scripture, from God’s own self-revelation; so we conclude that God has put Himself in a box, and that’s ok. God has determined that Jesus is the only name given under heaven whereby men might be saved. God has revealed that due to His very nature He cannot sin. It the same way, when I argue that God no longer gifts individuals with sign gifts in the same way He did in the Apostolic Age, I am not limiting God, but rather based on my understanding of what God has revealed, He is limiting Himself. Now if we want to argue about those lines of self-limitation we can, and that will be done through exegesis and theology. But don’t accuse someone who believes in the sufficiency of God’s Word as a limiter of God.
In Deuteronomy 13 there is this helpful warning in the first 5 verses that illustrates my point:
If a prophet or a dreamer of dreams arises among you and gives you a sign or a wonder, and the sign or wonder that he tells you comes to pass, and if he says, ‘Let us go after other gods,’ which you have not known, ‘and let us serve them,’ you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams. For the Lord your God is testing you, to know whether you love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul. You shall walk after the Lord your God and fear him and keep his commandments and obey his voice, and you shall serve him and hold fast to him. But that prophet or that dreamer of dreams shall be put to death, because he has taught rebellion against the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt and redeemed you out of the house of slavery, to make you leave the way in which the Lord your God commanded you to walk. So you shall purge the evil from your midst.
Did you notice that God was testing his Covenant people to see if they would ‘walk after the LORD God and fear Him’ and if they would ‘keep His commandments and obey His voice’. He tested them by providing seemingly real signs and wonders in their midst. God excepted His people to ‘put Him in the box’ of His commandments and self-revelation.
I do believe there is a danger of putting God in a box, and that danger occurs when we move beyond Scripture and start applying our own wisdom and preferences onto God. Statements like:
This world is just getting worse.
There is no hope for South Africa.
That person will never get saved, they are too far gone
There is no way that marriage will work
How can I be saved after doing that!?
How could God possibly work this awful situation for my good and His glory!?
God could never communicate His will on every situation with just the Bible
These are statements which limit God, but they are not biblical. There are statements based on human emotion, or preference. When we can’t grasp how God can do something in light of prevailing circumstances we limit Him. God is matchless is power an authority, He rules from a throne of grace and mercy, therein lies our hope.
God is matchless in His power and authority, He rules from a throne of grace and mercy, therein lies our hope.
Our place is to seek to worship Him as His Word intends, and anticipate His blessing and work in our midst in a way perhaps we have not yet seen.
Are you limiting God? Do you have ideas or attitudes about Him that you don’t derive from Him, but from your own thoughts? If so, then repent of that, enjoy the fullness of serving and worshipping the God that flung the stars into space, and breathed life into the first humans. The same God Whose love is so great, we need His help to merely grasp it. On the cross see His love. How are you limiting the all powerful and oh so loving One?