Chapter 8: The Living God
by Brian Currie, N. Ireland
There are thirty references to the "living God" in the A.V. of the Bible, and interestingly there are fifteen in each Testament. In the Old Testament there are three Divine titles used with the adjective "living". Nine times it is "the living Elohim" which is the plural of Eloah and implies the Trinity. It is notable that the first occurrence of Elohim is in Gen.1.1. Four times God is referred to as "the living El", which is the strong and mighty One, and twice as "the living Elah" or the intensified form "Elahah". This title is in the Chaldee language and corresponds to Eloah. It is found only in Dan.6.20,26 which is part of the section of Daniel written in the Chaldee language. The other 93 occurrences of Elah and Elahah mainly occur in the portions of Ezra, Daniel and the one verse in Jer.10.11 that are written in Chaldee, which emphasise the truth and reality of the captivity of Judah. Also the student may note that sometimes both the words "living" and "God" are plural; other times only "God" is plural and other times both are singular. Due to the constraints of space these matters must be left for individual study and appreciation.
In the fifteen references in the New Testament the word "God" on every occasion is a translation of the Greek word "theos".
The title "the living God" reveals Him as being totally distinct from idols. The Psalmist records of the heathen, "Their idols are silver and gold, the work of men's hands. They have mouths, but they speak not: eyes have they, but they see not: They have ears, but they hear not: noses have they, but they smell not: They have hands, but they handle not: feet have they, but they walk not: neither speak they through their throat" Ps.115.4-7. Deut.4.28 refers to idols as, "the work of men’s hands, wood and stone, which neither see, nor hear, nor eat, nor smell." Apart from the dreadful satanic power that is behind them, idols are dead with no inherent power of their own. Hezekiah said of the heathen gods, "they were no gods, but the work of men’s hands, wood and stone …" 2 Kgs.19.18. Habakkuk underlines the lifelessness of idols, "Woe unto him that saith to the wood, "Awake;" to the dumb stone, "Arise, it shall teach!" Behold, it is laid over with gold and silver, and there is no breath at all in the midst of it" Hab.2.19. To the enlightened mind it is amazing to see the most intelligent people visiting an idol’s temple or having a shrine in their own home where they bow in worship to the idol. They even seek to feed the idol by leaving fruit in the morning and lest it goes bad, they remove it in the evening, but it is their god! Such folly is emphasised in Isa.44.14-17, "He heweth him down cedars, and taketh the cypress and the oak, which he strengtheneth for himself among the trees of the forest: he planteth an ash, and the rain doth nourish it. Then shall it be for a man to burn: for he will take thereof, and warm himself; yea, he kindleth it, and baketh bread; yea, he maketh a god, and worshippeth it; he maketh it a graven image, and falleth down thereto. He burneth part thereof in the fire … And the residue thereof he maketh a god, even his graven image: he falleth down unto it, and worshippeth it, and prayeth unto it, and saith, "Deliver me; for thou art my god"." Such idolatry is contradicted by Paul at Lystra, "… Sirs, why do ye these things? We also are men of like passions with you, and preach unto you that ye should turn from these vanities unto the living God, which made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all things that are therein …" Acts 14.15, and again at Mars’ hill, "Forasmuch then as we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Godhead is like unto gold, or silver, or stone, graven by art and man’s device" Act.17.29.
While the title "the living God" does not appear, yet it was the fact that God was living in distinction to the deadness of Baal that gave Elijah the courage to go before the wicked king Ahab and make the declaration, "As the Lord God of Israel liveth, before whom I stand, there shall not be dew nor rain these years, but according to my word" 1 Kgs.17.1.
Our God is the living God and proves Himself to be so as the following pages of this chapter will show. This title of God will be noted in its context and then practical lessons will be drawn to comfort and challenge the reader.
The first mention of the living God is found in Deuteronomy chapter 5 and it is in relation to the giving of the Law. "For who is there of all flesh, that hath heard the voice of the living God speaking out of the midst of the fire, as we have, and lived?" Deut.5.26. This is again noted in v.24, "Behold, the Lord our God hath shewed us His glory and His greatness, and we have heard His voice out of the midst of the fire: we have seen this day that God doth talk with man, andhe liveth." In this chapter of Deuteronomy some features of the living God are presented to us.
This is highlighted for example, in v.22, "These words the Lord spake unto all your assembly ... with a great voice" and v.24 "... we have heard His voice out of the midst of the fire: we have seen this day that God doth talk with man, and he liveth."
It is a mark of the matchless grace of God that He deigns to speak to mankind. In the Old Testament He spoke "out of the midst of the fire, of the cloud, and of the thick darkness" v.22, and men were left at a distance. However, in the New Testament we learn, "God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, hath in these last days spoken unto us by His Son …" Heb.1.1,2. Formerly He spoke in various times and in various ways but now has given to us a full revelation in His Son. This allows all believers to "… draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith …" Heb.10.22. We are enjoined to "come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need" Heb.4.16. All is through the Son, "For through Him we both have access by one Spirit unto the Father" Eph.2.18.
When He speaks we ought to listen and detect the "still small voice" that spoke to Elijah, or as in J.N.D., "a soft gentle voice" 1 Kgs.19.12. For this we require sensitivity to hear Him and spirituality to obey Him. Of course, we will not audibly hear any noises or verbal articulations since His voice is always heard through His Word and so it is important to note the next paragraph.
As Moses rehearses to the people the giving of the Law, he states, "And He wrote them in two tables of stone, and delivered them unto me" Deut.5.22. The nation of Israel was expected to "learn them, and keep, and do them" v.1. If this was to be the responsibility of those who received "the ministration of death" how much more ought it to characterise us who have received "the ministration of righteousness" 2 Cor.3.7,9? The learning, keeping and doing the Word is not optional for all who desire to please Him.
Since Christians believe that God reveals His will in His Word then it is incumbent on all such to spend time reading and studying the Bible. Since the Bible was inspired by the Holy Spirit, and Christians are indwelt by that same Holy Spirit from the moment of salvation, it is inconceivable that He would ever guide us to disobey the Scriptures. Thus the Bible is the rule of life for all Christians and each Spirit-filled and Spirit-led saint will obey what is written therein, regardless of every personal and natural inconvenience that may ensue.
This solemn fact is conveyed in v.28, "And the Lord heard the voice of your words, when ye spake unto me; and the Lord said unto me, ‘I have heard the voice of the words of this people, which they have spoken unto thee: they have well said all that they have spoken...’." If this truth gripped us would it not make a tremendous difference to our conversations? He listens to all we say, for example:
Complaining – Num.11.1, "And when the people complained, it displeased the Lord: and the Lord heard it; and His anger was kindled; and the fire of the Lord burnt among them, and consumed them that were in the uttermost parts of the camp." The word "complainers" only occurs once in the New Testament namely, "These are murmurers, complainers, walking after their lusts" Jude v.16, and it means those who are continually discontented. It is used to describe the "ungodly" and is obviously not good company for a Christian.
Criticism – Num.12.2, "they said, "Hath the Lord indeed spoken only by Moses? hath He not spoken also by us?" And the Lord heard it." Critics seem to abound and they often hypocritically fasten onto some petty thing of which they themselves have been guilty. It was the Lord Jesus Himself Who said, "And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, ‘Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye;’ and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye? Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye" Matt.7.3-5. A large dose of self-examination and less self-exaltation would be very helpful in these situations.
Companionship - Mal.3.16, "Then they that feared the Lord spake often one to another: and the Lord hearkened, and heard it, and a book of remembrance was written before Him for them that feared the Lord, and that thought upon His name." How beautiful this is when compared to the complaining critics. How the experiences of saints would be enriched if we spoke more about Him and His interests when we gather, even in a social capacity.
As He has heard the people state their promise to keep His Law, He expresses His desire, Deut.5.29, "O that there were such an heart in them, that they would fear me, and keep all my commandments always, that it might be well with them, and with their children for ever!" In His omniscience He knows the rebellious path they would take, but still desires that it would be otherwise. The living God only wants what is best for us and has no desire to withhold blessing from us. Any other thought stems from the one who, in the guise of the serpent, misrepresented God in Eden’s garden and said, "unto the woman, "Ye shall not surely die: for God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil"" Gen.3.4,5. He still insinuates that God withholds good things from us and that sin will somehow elevate us; a thought that is the very antithesis of the truth.
As the Israelites came to Jordan and were about to cross into the promised land they may have been nervous and apprehensive as to the enemies they would face on the other side. This would have been exacerbated by the fact that Moses had died and they had lost their wise and illustrious leader. To give them assurance and to calm their spirits they were given a tremendous promise, "And Joshua said, Hereby ye shall know that the living God is among you, and that he will without fail drive out from before you the Canaanites, and the Hittites, and the Hivites, and the Perizzites, and the Girgashites, and the Amorites, and the Jebusites" Josh.3.10. Moses was dead but God lives! The living God would subjugate every enemy and drive out all seven nations, something that would have been impossible for them to accomplish in their own strength.
As we believers in this present day consider the wonderful inheritance that is ours as detailed, for example, in the Ephesian letter, it may seem a daunting task to overcome our enemies and then appreciate and enjoy the truth, but the living God will give all the enablement that is required if we are prepared to go forward and acquire our possessions. Similarly in gospel activity, even in these very difficult days when so little seems to be accomplished, through faith in the power of the living God blessing can be enjoyed.
To every onlooker, David was about to commit suicide. He was going to go into the valley of Elah to fight with the massive Goliath of Gath and to the natural mind he would be slain. However, David’s confidence was not so much in his own ability but in the living God. "And David spake to the men that stood by him, saying, "What shall be done to the man that killeth this Philistine, and taketh away the reproach from Israel? for who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he should defy the armies of the living God?" … Thy servant slew both the lion and the bear: and this uncircumcised Philistine shall be as one of them, seeing he hath defied the armies of the living God" 1 Sam.17.26,36.
There were two things that stirred David’s heart. It is obvious from the repeated expression "this uncircumcised Philistine", vv.26,36, that David was appalled that such an ungodly, profane and idolatrous man could terrify those who belonged to the living God. Then he thought of this giant defying "the armies of the living God" and he was concerned that God’s honour was being called into question.
These are two great motivating influences as we seek to serve Him. When we act for His glory rather than our own, we can count on His unfailing assistance. King Saul looked at everything from a natural point of view, "And Saul said to David, thou art not able to go against this Philistine to fight with him: for thou art but a youth, and he a man of war from his youth" v.33. Saul was not depending on the living God. He saw only the giant and had no real apprehension of the mighty power that could have been at his disposal if he had but trusted in the living God and sought to defend His honour. Thus God makes what seems to be impossible possible; He makes the ridiculous sensible; He makes the apparently illogical logical. The advice of the wise man was, "Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct thy paths" Prov.3.5,6. It was faith in the living God that impelled men to do things that naturally were most illogical. For example, it was not logical for Noah to build an ark when he had never even seen rain, never mind a flood; it was totally unnatural for Abraham to take his son to the place of sacrifice as a victim; we could also think of Joshua circumcising the army before taking Jericho and then being told to march around Jericho and eventually shout; Gideon going against the Midianites with 300 men; Naaman going to dip in the river Jordan to be clean from leprosy. These matters could only be explained by men moving by faith in the living God and acting alone for His glory.
Even to this present day many dear saints have paid a great price so that they can be pleasurable to God. Some have had to leave home because they desired to obey Him and go through the waters of baptism. Others have been ostracised because they left the denomination of their forefathers in order to be Scripturally gathered unto Him outside the camp. Some dear sisters have paid a price to maintain the standard of dress and deportment that the Lord expects from women professing godliness.
God’s protection for those who are concerned for His glory is also seen in the experience of king Hezekiah as recorded in 2 Kings chapter 19 and Isaiah chapter 37. Assyria had been rampant in their wars and had taken captive the northern kingdom of Israel and some eight years later came against Judah that was ruled by King Hezekiah. At that time King Hezekiah was very faint-hearted and through lack of faith in God, gave many precious commodities to the Assyrians which kept them satisfied for some three years and then they returned "with a great host against Jerusalem" 2 Kgs.18.17. As Rabshakeh, an ambassador and spokesman for Sennacherib the King of Assyria, boasted as to what he would do to Jerusalem, he expected Hezekiah to surrender without a fight. He continued to blaspheme God and said, "Neither let Hezekiah make you trust in the Lord, saying, The Lord will surely deliver us, and this city shall not be delivered into the hand of the king of Assyria" v.30. He then likened Jehovah to the impotent idols of the heathen, "Hath any of the gods of the nations delivered at all his land out of the hand of the king of Assyria? Where are the gods of Hamath, and of Arpad? where are the gods of Sepharvaim, Hena, and Ivah? have they delivered Samaria out of mine hand? Who are they among all the gods of the countries, that have delivered their country out of mine hand, that the Lord should deliver Jerusalem out of mine hand?" vv.33-35.
It was at this juncture that Hezekiah realised his only hope was to trust in God, and particularly Him Who was the living God. Thus Hezekiah sent a delegation to Isaiah, "And they said unto him, "Thus saith Hezekiah, This day is a day of trouble, and of rebuke, and blasphemy: for the children are come to the birth, and there is not strength to bring forth. It may be the Lord thy God will hear all the words of Rabshakeh, whom the king of Assyria his master hath sent to reproach the living God; and will reprove the words which the Lord thy God hath heard: wherefore lift up thy prayer for the remnant that are left"" 2 Kgs.19.3,4. Note that Hezekiah reached the point where he took into account the glory of the living God and he was concerned that He was being reproached. God controlled the situation and the Assyrians were diverted from their plan, 2 Kgs.19.8,9 and sent Hezekiah a letter again indicating that God could not save them because He was just like "the gods of the nations" 2 Kgs.19.12.
Hezekiah immediately spread the letter before the Lord, "And Hezekiah prayed before the Lord, and said, O Lord God of Israel, which dwellest between the cherubims, Thou art the God, even Thou alone, of all the kingdoms of the earth; Thou hast made heaven and earth. Lord, bow down Thine ear, and hear: open, Lord, Thine eyes, and see: and hear the words of Sennacherib, which hath sent him to reproach the living God. Of a truth, Lord, the kings of Assyria have destroyed the nations and their lands, and have cast their gods into the fire: for they were no gods, but the work of men’s hands, wood and stone: therefore they have destroyed them. Now therefore, O Lord our God, I beseech Thee, save Thou us out of his hand, that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that Thou art the Lord God, even Thou only" 2 Kgs.19.15-19. It is of great importance to note that he relied on "the living God" and made a vast difference between Him and the idols of the nations. As we would expect, such a humble plea and total reliance on God brought great results. "And it came to pass that night, that the angel of the Lord went out, and smote in the camp of the Assyrians a hundred fourscore and five thousand: and when they arose early in the morning, behold, they were all dead corpses. So Sennacherib king of Assyria departed, and went and returned, and dwelt at Nineveh. And it came to pass, as he was worshipping in the house of Nisroch his god, that Adrammelech and Sharezer his sons smote him with the sword: and they escaped into the land of Armenia. And Esarhaddon his son reigned in his stead" vv.35-37.
How encouraging for us to know that "this God is our God for ever and ever" Ps.48.14.
At Psalm 42 we come to the Exodus section of the Psalter and it commences with the Psalmist expressing his desire, "As the hart panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul after Thee, O God. My soul thirsteth for God, for the living God: when shall I come and appear before God?" Ps.42.1,2. Just as the book of Exodus begins with a people in distress and seeking God, "the children of Israel sighed by reason of the bondage, and they cried, and their cry came up unto God by reason of the bondage. And God heard their groaning …" Ex.2.23,24, so does this Psalm. The lesson is that in the midst of sorrow and affliction, God alone is our refuge and we need One Who will undertake our cause and so He is called "the living God". It is only when we appreciate Him in that character that in the midst of trial we can ask ourselves, "Why art thou cast down, O my soul? and why art thou disquieted in me?" Ps.42.5,11; 43.5.
The Psalmist’s depression is deep seated and so in the Psalm he refers seven times to "my soul". Perhaps the reason why the author’s name is withheld is to indicate that this can be the experience of anyone. The Psalmist is tired and weary and as he is hunted by fears and foes, life seems to be too much for him and he needs refreshment. This, he could only get from God and that the living God.
A similar sentiment is expressed in Psalm 84.2, "My soul longeth, yea, even fainteth for the courts of the Lord: my heart and my flesh crieth out for the living God." As the Psalmist passes through the valley of Baca, which means weeping, he longs for God and for the One Who is the "living God". No one but a God Who can feel with and act for him would be of any value.
It ought to be a great comfort for every believer to know and appreciate that God has the power and ability to come near and uphold us in the midst of every trial.
There are two references to "the living God" in the prophecy of Jeremiah. These are, "But the Lord is the true God, He is the living God, and an everlasting king: at His wrath the earth shall tremble, and the nations shall not be able to abide His indignation" 10.10; and "And the burden of the Lord shall ye mention no more: for every man’s word shall be his burden; for ye have perverted the words of the living God, of the Lord of hosts our God" 23.36.
In chapter 10 the setting is the contrast between the living God and "the way of the heathen" v.2. The heathen relies on "the work of the hands of the workmen" v.3 and the house of Israel is told, "be not afraid of them; for they cannot do evil, neither also is it in them to do good" v.5. However, Israel’s God is different and Jeremiah asks the question, "Who would not fear thee, O King of nations?" v.7. The idols, "are all the work of cunning men" and then comes a glorious but, "But the Lord is the true God, He is the living God, and an everlasting king" or "the King of eternity" J.N.D., vv.9,10.
We need never fear "the gods that have not made the heavens and the earth" when we have "the living God".
In chapter 23 the living God and His words are in clear distinction to the words of the false prophets. Of these God states, "I have not sent these prophets, yet they ran: I have not spoken to them, yet they prophesied" v.21. The language is strong and unambiguous. God says that they, "prophesy lies in My name … they are prophets of the deceit of their own heart …" vv.25,26 and He states, "I am against them" v.32. It seems the climax of accusations against them is, "ye have perverted the words of the living God, of the Lord of hosts our God" v.36. This misrepresentation of God makes the people "vain" v.16, gives false security, v.17, causes them to forget God’s name, v.27, and "cause my people to err by their lies, and by their lightness" and the people shall not be profited, v.32.
True prophets are so different. What the Lord expected of them is underlined by asking questions, "For who hath stood in the counsel of the Lord, and hath perceived and heard His word? who hath marked His word, and heard it?" v.18. True ministry from God would have a marked effect on the hearers, "if they had stood in My counsel, and had caused My people to hear My words, then they should have turned them from their evil way, and from the evil of their doings" v.22. The faithful prophet is enjoined, "he that hath My word, let him speak My word faithfully" v.28, and the message is no light thing since it is characterised as "the burden of the Lord" v.34.
The lesson for all who profess to speak for God in this age is to ensure that God and His truth are represented accurately. For this to happen time needs to be spent in God’s presence obtaining His mind for the particular occasion and then the message should be delivered with absolute faithfulness. When Paul wrote to the Corinthians that he "was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling" 1 Cor.2.3, it would be hard to think that he feared men. Was it not rather that in this city he feared lest he should misrepresent God?
The next two references are in Daniel chapter 6 where Daniel was cast into the den of lions because he prayed to God and not King Darius. The king had been tricked by his presidents and princes who were motivated by their jealousy of Daniel. The king "was sore displeased with himself and set his heart on Daniel to deliver him" v.14. The king’s labours were to no avail and Daniel’s enemies reminded the king, "Know, O king, that the law of the Medes and Persians is, That no decree nor statute which the king establisheth may be changed" v.15. The king had no alternative but carry out his decree but he declared his faith in Daniel’s God, "Then the king commanded, and they brought Daniel, and cast him into the den of lions. Now the king spake and said unto Daniel, "Thy God whom thou servest continually, He will deliver thee"" v.16. The next morning, after a sleepless night spent in fasting "the king arose very early in the morning, and went in haste unto the den of lions. And when he came to the den, he cried with a lamentable voice unto Daniel: and the king spake and said to Daniel, "O Daniel, servant of the living God, is thy God, whom thou servest continually, able to deliver thee from the lions?" vv.19,20. When he knew that Daniel was safe and the living God had delivered him he "wrote unto all people, nations, and languages, that dwell in all the earth; Peace be multiplied unto you. I make a decree, That in every dominion of my kingdom men tremble and fear before the God of Daniel: for He isthe living God, and stedfast for ever, and His kingdom that which shall not be destroyed, and His dominion shall be even unto the end. He delivereth and rescueth, and He worketh signs and wonders in heaven and in earth, who hath delivered Daniel from the power of the lions" vv.25-27.
What encouragement for us to know that our God, the living God, is "able to deliver" us from every foe. Even if that foe should take on the features of "a roaring lion", our God is able. "Greater is He that is in you, than he that is in the world" 1 Jn.4.4.
The verdict pronounced upon the nation was, "the land hath committed great whoredom, departing from the Lord" Hos.1.2. God had said, "Loammi: for ye are not My people, and I will not be your God" v.9. This was due to the nation apostatising and following the idols of the surrounding nations. However, in His grace He declared that He would recover, restore and re-gather the nation and this He will do. "Yet the number of the children of Israel shall be as the sand of the sea, which cannot be measured nor numbered; and it shall come to pass, that in the place where it was said unto them, ‘Ye are not My people,’ there it shall be said unto them, ‘Ye are the sons of the living God’" v.10. This is quoted in Rom.9.26 to show that God’s purpose in salvation will extend to the Gentiles. It is only the living God Who can have sons. Dead idols cannot reproduce or give life.
It is comforting to us to appreciate that our God is a God of recovery and when we are restored it is in the dignity of sonship. The prodigal in Luke chapter 15 was not permitted to conclude his prearranged speech. When he confessed he was unworthy to be a son, that was sufficient for the father and he interrupted so that the son was not permitted to say, "make me as one of thy hired servants". The father granted him the place of a son by giving to him the ring, the shoes and the best garment.
As we come to the New Testament the first use of this title is by Peter. "When Jesus came into the coasts of Caesarea Philippi, He asked His disciples, saying, Whom do men say that I the Son of man am? And they said, Some say that Thou art John the Baptist: some, Elias; and others, Jeremias, or one of the prophets. He saith unto them, But whom say ye that I am? And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God" Matt.16.13-16. This confession is very full as it indicates:
- That Jesus is the Christ, the true Messiah of Israel; "Thou art the Christ"
- That He was not a mere man, but a Divine Person; "the Son of the living God"
- There is but one God; "the living God"
- He has life in Himself and is the source of life to others; "the living God".
All true Christians accept this confession and it is upon these great truths that the church is built. This is an impregnable and indestructible foundation.
A similar confession had been made by Peter when the Lord Jesus gave His discourse on the living bread at Capernaum, "… we believe and are sure that Thou art that Christ, the Son of the living God" Jn.6.69.
Another aspect of confession is found in Matt.26.63 when the high priest was questioning the Saviour he said, "I adjure Thee by the living God, that Thou tell us whether Thou be the Christ, the Son of God". The Lord Jesus had been silent during His interrogation, refusing to give any credence to the false trial, and in exasperation the high priest put Him on oath in order to extract some confession from Him. The Lord Jesus answered, "Thou hast said" v.64. Really He gave an affirmation and admitted that the high priest had made a factual statement. Their response was, "He is guilty of death" v.66.
In each of these instances we learn that a Christian should always be truthful. "Wherefore putting away lying, speak every man truth with his neighbour" Eph.4.25.
Some of the Corinthians had turned away from Paul and a section was questioning the reality of his apostleship while professing themselves to be much superior to him, see 2 Corinthians chapters 10-13. In defending his apostleship in chapter 3 he brings them to the time of their conversion. He asks, "Do we begin again to commend ourselves? or need we, as some others, epistles of commendation to you, or letters of commendation from you?" v.1. It was a practice in the early church, as it should be still, that Christians when moving from one area to another, or travelling on business, carried a letter of introduction, commending them to the fellowship of the assembly where they were unknown. This is one of the incidental proofs that there is no such a thing in the New Testament as an ‘open table’ or an ‘open reception’. However, because he was their spiritual father he had no need to be commended by a written letter. They were his letter, "Ye are our epistle written in our hearts, known and read of all men" v.2. They were permanently written on his heart and the tremendous change in their lives was "read of all men". None could deny the mighty work that had been done. Yet, this was not due to the power of the apostle Paul, it was due to the operation of "the Spirit of the living God" v.3. Something written by ink on parchment could be erased, but when it was "written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God; not in tables of stone, but in fleshy tables of the heart" it could not be obliterated. This was indelible and undeniable proof of his apostleship towards them.
In 2 Corinthians chapter 6 Paul again uses the title "the living God" and it is to show the incongruous nature of being linked with the false religion of idolatry while professing to be linked with the living God. To highlight the essentiality of spiritual separation Paul asks five questions.
- Participation - "What fellowship [partnership] hath righteousness with unrighteousness [lawlessness]?"
- Principle - "What communion [fellowship] hath light with darkness?"
- Patronage - "What concord [harmony] hath Christ with Belial?"
- People - "What part [portion] hath he that believeth with an infidel?"
- Place - "What agreement [common sentiment] hath the temple of God with idols?"
Some may ask why this separation is so important? The answer is that it involves "the living God". He cannot have His glory compromised by dead idols and false religion. Thus Paul adds, "for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you, And will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be My sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty" 2 Cor.6.16-18.
Separation from all organised religion is what God desires for His people of every dispensation and so we read of God’s command to His people even after the church is raptured, "Come out of her, My people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues" Rev.18.4. Paul reminded Timothy, "Let every one that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity" 2 Tim.2.19.
Paul instructs Timothy that the living God has a dwelling place on earth: "These things write I unto thee, hoping to come unto thee shortly: but if I tarry long, that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth" 1 Tim.3.14,15. In the New Testament the expression "the house of God" occurs three times only. These are:
- Compassion - Heb.10.21 "having an high priest over the house of God."
- Condemnation - 1 Pet.4.17 "judgment must begin at the house of God."
- Conduct - 1 Tim.3.15 "but if I tarry long, that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth."
These Scriptures present the two major aspects of this truth in the New Testament and this is detected by noticing the inclusion and the omission of the definite article. In Heb.10.21 and 1 Pet.4.17 the definite article is included and so the translation correctly reads, "the house of God". However, in 1 Tim.3.15 it is omitted and is better translated "house of God". These first two are embracive of every believer in the Lord Jesus and refer to "… the church, which is His body, the fulness of Him that filleth all in all" Eph.1.22,23. The third reference in 1 Tim.3.15 is characteristic and refers to the local assembly. It is here, in the collective sense that God dwells among His people and because He is there a code of conduct is required. In 1 Timothy chapter 3 the next verse defines the standard of conduct as "godliness". This subject is repeated throughout the epistle and unambiguously shows the standard expected from those who are gathered unto His name alone, Matt.18.20.
We are told to pray "for kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty" 2.2. This is godliness and its Tranquillity.
As Paul dealt with the dress code of the sisters he wrote, "In like manner also, that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety; not with broided hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array; but (which becometh women professing godliness) with good works" 2.9,10. This is godliness and its Modesty.
The great example of godliness is seen in the Lord Jesus, a Man Who displayed this feature constantly. Thus Paul wrote, "And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory" 3.16. This is godliness and its Mystery.
In contrast to the frivolous nonsense of ‘fairy’ stories Paul speaks of godliness. "If thou put the brethren in remembrance of these things, thou shalt be a good minister of Jesus Christ, nourished up in the words of faith and of good doctrine, whereunto thou hast attained. But refuse profane and old wives' fables, and exercise thyself [rather] unto godliness. For bodily exercise profiteth little: but godliness is profitable unto all things, having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come" 1 Tim.4.6-8. This is godliness and its Profitability. It is in this context of understanding the profitability of godliness which has the "promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come" that Paul states, "For therefore we both labour and suffer reproach, because we trust in the living God, who is the Saviour of all men, specially of those that believe" 1Tim.4.10. Instead of receiving the applause of men because of prowess in the realm of "bodily exercise", the Christian stands separate from this and so suffers reproach. What impels one to accept this pathway? The answer is, "we trust in the living God" or as it may be translated, "because we hope in a living God," J.N.D. or "we have our hope set on the living God", R.V. The spiritual saint has a higher sight than acceptance in this world, he looks to the future and has his hope set in the God Who lives.
The final references to godliness are in chapter 6. "If any man teach otherwise, and consent not to wholesome words, [even] the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which is according to godliness; He is proud, knowing nothing, but doting about questions and strifes of words, whereof cometh envy, strife, railings, evil surmisings, perverse disputings of men of corrupt minds, and destitute of the truth, supposing that gain is godliness: from such withdraw thyself. But godliness with contentment is great gain … But thou, O man of God, flee these things; and follow after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, meekness" 6.3-6,11. This is godliness and its Serenity.
It seems that the pursuit of riches leads to all manner of evils, v.10, and can lead rich folks to trust in their riches, which are very uncertain as noted by the wise man, "Wilt thou set thine eyes upon that which is not? for riches certainly make themselves wings; they fly away as an eagle toward heaven" Prov.23.5. Paul tells us where our trust ought to be, "Charge them that are rich in this world, that they be not highminded, nor trust in uncertain riches, but in the living God, who giveth us richly all things to enjoy" 1 Tim.6.17. He is not weak and transient, He is the living God, although it ought to be noted that here in many translations, including J.N.D. and the R.V. the word "living" is omitted.
There are four references to "the living God" in the epistle to the Hebrews, which is more than in any other New Testament book. This is of particular interest since many of the references in the Old Testament are designed to bring the Hebrew nation away from dead idolatry and to be dedicated to the service of the living God. However, the nation generally did not obey and were carried away captive to Assyria and Babylon. When the Lord Jesus came, He was rejected by the Jews and was crucified. At His trial and crucifixion two things were torn. These were: "… the high priest rent his clothes" Matt.26.65, and "behold, the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom" Matt.27.51. These publicly demonstrated that God was finished with that priesthood and that place. A new priesthood had been established that embraced every believer and a new way of approach, through our great High Priest, the Lord Jesus Christ, allowed these priests to enter the immediate presence of God without restraint of time or place. Thus in the Hebrews epistle they are called from the deadness of now obsolete Judaism to the worship of "the living God".
There was the temptation for some who professed to have become Christians to go back to Judaism and so they are warned, "Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God" Heb.3.12. They are called "brethren" since they are addressed on the basis of their profession, but if they turned back it would show that they had "an evil heart of unbelief" and were going back to what was now dead rather than going on with "the living God". This was a warning to retrogression and a call to progression.
The second reference is to underline the enormous distinction between what was accomplished by Old Testament sacrifices and what was accomplished by the work of Christ on the cross. Heb.9.14, "How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?" Judaism and all its ritual is now seen as "dead works", or as termed by Peter, "your vain conversation received by tradition from your fathers" 1 Pet.1.18. In this age God is taking out of the nations "a people for His name" Acts 15.14, and all features of Judaism such as ornate buildings, visible and fragrant incense, a visible altar, a priesthood distinct from the laity, men with special clothing, choirs, musical instruments etc. are now obsolete in true Christian worship. We are to serve in a worshipful way "the living God". In 1 Thess.1.9 the expression "to serve the living and true God" is in the context of the Thessalonians being idolaters and they left this deadness to be associated with the One Who is living. Thus neither Judaism nor heathen idolatry has any role to play in New Testament Christianity. This highlights the transformation brought about by the death of Christ.
Hebrews 10.26 commences another of the sections in the Hebrews epistle that raise a warning of apostatising and returning to what God has rejected. In the midst of this section there is a most solemn note of caution, "It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God" Heb.10.31.
The final reference in the Hebrews is in 12.22, "But ye are come unto mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels." Here the contrasts are between the Old and New covenants, and the variations are remarkable. The interested reader ought to list the eight things that mark the old covenant in vv.18-20 and the eight things that mark the new covenant in vv.22-24 (note in each the repetition of "and"). The former is marked by darkness and death whereas features of "the living God" mark the latter. It truly is a paragraph of very distinct deviation.
The last reference in the Bible to "the living God" is in Rev.7.2: "And I saw another angel ascending from the east, having the seal of the living God: and he cried with a loud voice to the four angels, to whom it was given to hurt the earth and the sea." This angel is coming from the east, the place of the sun rising, indicating warmth and blessing. He has the "seal of the living God". The seal is the mark of ownership and security. In Rom.4.11 it is said of "circumcision" that it is an authentication of the righteousness of Abraham's faith, and an external attestation of the covenant. In 1 Cor.9.2, converts are as a "seal" or authentication of Paul's apostleship. The seal of present day believers is inward and unseen by our fellows but is still most powerful since it is that of the Holy Spirit, 2 Cor.1.22, "Who hath also sealed us"; Eph.1.13 "were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise".
Here in Revelation chapter 7 it is to mark the 144,000 of the nation of Israel who will "endure to the end" and will not bow to the beast and the false prophet. It may be asked if anyone can stand against these two satanically inspired personages and naturally the answer would be a resounding, "No". However, all is different when the seal is that "of the living God" – He can enable all His own to stand and will preserve them as long as is necessary for His purpose to be fulfilled. So all judgment upon earth is restrained until God’s servants are sealed, and even in the midst of the utter rebellion that shall pervade society after the rapture, the living God is still in absolute, sovereign control.
As the above matters are reviewed, we learn that there is not a circumstance of life or a trial through which we pass that is out of His control. We have every reason to continually and implicitly trust the living God.