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  • Writer's pictureTim Hemingway

Living and Moving in Him

My mum and dad had certain bible verses that they thought were foundational for our lives and so they got repeated a lot when I was young. This morning I want to talk about one of those verses. It goes like this: ‘In God, we live and move and have our being’.

The reason, I think, they thought this was a foundational verse was because it is a reminder to us that we are creatures and not the creator. It’s a reminder that we are made and not the makers. That we are dependant and not independent. That are reliant and not reliable.

I think my mum and dad wanted us to know from the beginning, that we could never be masters of our own destinies. That what awaited us in our lives was planned already, and would be orchestrated and effected by God – whether we believed in him or not.

One of the other foundational verses that they quoted often was, ‘All the days ordained for me were written in His book before one of them came to be’. The two texts go hand in hand. They are telling us that, when we woke up this morning with breath in our lungs, it was because God kept our hearts pumping in the night. We weren’t conscious, but he was, and he cared for our welfare. They are telling us that our lives, whether we like it or not, are totally wrapped up with God’s good pleasure.

Every detail of our lives relies on his design. But that is not what living in this world tells us is true.

The view we see in the media, hear in the songs we listen to, observe in the politics of our day is much more mechanised than that. The world view is fatalism. It’s the view that says that we all have free will and can choose to please ourselves however we wish. It says you can be whatever you want to be. That ultimately, we are masters of our own destinies. It encourages us all to play the odds with healthy living, sound investments and hard work. In vain it tries to comfort the bereaved with empty platitudes that have no meaning, because beyond this life there is no hope.

It says peace, peace, when there is no peace.

In Acts 17, the Apostle Paul had arrived in Athens and was waiting for his friends. And whilst he was there, he took a tour of the city and saw that it was full of idols. Every conceivable deity seemed to have an altar, and just to play the odds, there was even an altar to the ‘unknown God’.

Back then the ‘unknown God’ was the real God. The God who really was the maker of heaven and earth. And now, the ‘unknown God’ is the real God too. All the others were and are false.

So, what is the ‘unknown God’ like? Well, Paul describes him as the God who made the world and everything in it. He’s the Lord of both heaven and earth. All the universe is under his rule (Isa 42:5). He’s not a needy God who relies on people to do his bidding. He is completely self-sufficient. He’s totally satisfied in himself. He doesn’t need temples built by human hands because the earth is his and everything in it (Psa 24:1). He’s not deficient, in any way (Psa 50:10).

He’s totally fulfilled. Completely happy (Psa 16:11). He lacks nothing. He depends on no-one.

All the creatures of the earth get their food from him (Psa 104:27). When he removes their breath, they lie in the dust and are remembered no more (Psa 104:29). He made all the nations from one man, Adam. They fill the earth at his command – though they don’t know it. He knows the end from the beginning (Isa 46:10). He appoints the times of all people in history and sets the extent of all their lives. Kingdoms rise and fall, according to his decree (Psa 46:6). He is altogether not like us (Psa 50:21). Paul was telling the Athenians, this is the ‘unknown God’. And, he’s telling us that if we don’t know who God is, then this is what he is like.

Knowing what God is like; knowing his difference from us and separateness isn’t the whole story, but it is the most important starting point of the story.

A bit like my parents, when we were children, Paul wants us to know where we stand in the grand scheme of things. He wants us to know how dependant we are on the living God. How, if we live, we live in him. If we move, we move in him. If we are living beings, it’s because of him.

The conclusion of these truths is obvious. He owes us nothing. We are in no position of equality to be able to say to him ‘you should do this for me or that for me’. We’re in no position to say ‘we deserve better than what we got’. Who has ever given to God that God should repay them (Rom 11:35)?

If it’s his pleasure, we will or we won’t take our next breath. So, if we have it, we owe to him. That means, all the most normal, mundane things of life are transformed from mere mechanical operations to the sovereign decrees of a personal God.

Therefore, he deserves acknowledgement and thanks for every single morsel we have to eat, the air we breathe, the beats our hearts make, every bird song, every flourishing leaf, every cloud that floats across the brilliant blue sky and ten million other things that happen every single hour of our lives. All of life is a gift to us from him.

In fact, this notion of God’s Godness is so important that, if we fail to get God in his rightful place, we’ll absolutely fail to see how undeserving we truly are, of anything good from him. And the implication of that is, that the rest of what Paul says to the Athenians, will have no significance to us at all. Here’s why.

The Apostle doesn’t only emphasise God’s sovereignty and his majesty and his omnipotence, but he expertly weaves into his discourse the personal closeness of the God in whom we live and move and have our being.

If we are able to align our thoughts of God with the God that Paul endorses in Acts 17 then we’ll be simply awed by the way in which he is willing to become personal to us. What Paul reveals to us, is that whilst you might think of God as an all-powerful king sitting on his throne, far removed from his subjects; whilst you might think of him as unapproachable and surrounded by important people, but not by common folk; the God who made the nations and marked out their boundaries has actually condescended to presence himself in the midst of his subjects! Verse 27 says, ‘he is not far from any one of us’.

That doesn’t mean he’s not far from believers, but far from unbelievers. That means he’s not far from any of his ‘offspring’ – those he has made and put the breath of life into. He’s not is a palace, self-isolated from the people he made. Even the people he made who have rejected him and don’t believe he exists. Even the people who care nothing for his worth and his glory. Even the people who have rebelled against him. He’s actually near to everyone. There’s nobody who he’s not close to. Why? Verse 27 tells us. He wants people to seek him. To search for him. He wants to be found. He wants people to reach out to him – to have contact with him.

Peter in 2 Peter 3 puts it like this: ‘He is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but everyone to come to repentance’. People are always worshipping the things they have made. In the past, God overlooked that kind of ignorance Paul says in verse 30, but now he commands everyone everywhere to repent.

So, the real God is like a great king whose subjects live out of his hand. Without the king, they have nothing. In him, they live and move and have their being. But there’s no relationship between the king and his subjects. And the reason for that is that even though they eat out of his hand; even though they enjoy his daily goodness to them, they hate him. They reject him. When they speak about him, they curse him. They refuse to lay down their weapons of rebellion. But the king is patient. He’s slow to anger. He doesn’t want to have to condemn his enemies who are his subjects.

He holds out an olive branch to them all the day long. He asks them to swear their allegiance to him and to honour him and to enjoy his kingly courts for the rest of their days.

And so, to accomplish this, he leaves his palace and comes and positions himself right next to them. All they have to do is reach out and touch the sceptre of the king and all will be forgiven.

All they have to do is repent of their rebellion and come into his favour. But the subjects of the king love the illusion that they are the masters of their own destinies. And, somehow, they also love to complain when their lives are hard, or when things don’t seem fair.

Verse 31 essentially says the day is coming when the king will judge those unrighteous subjects according to their rebellion. And then they will say this, ‘have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water to cool my tongue because I am in agony in this fire (Luke 16:24)’. And he will say, ‘remember that in your life time you received good things from me (Luke 16:25), but you never acknowledged me; instead you said all these things I have done by my own might (Dan 4:30)’.

Thankfully for all of us, that day has not come yet.

God is slow to anger and abounding in love and mercy. And so, today is the day of salvation (2 Cor 6:2). Today is the day to reach out and find him. Today is the day to touch his royal sceptre and receive his pardon (Psa 2:12). Today is the day to believe in the one he has sent to provide justice for the pardon (Micah 7:18); to believe in Jesus who by his own death alone has the power to pardon sins (Isa 61:1).

Often when people are confronted with the message that Paul brought to the Athenians they come to one of two conclusions, and neither are good.

The first response stems from the self-view that I’m worthy of good things. This view advocates the idea that I generally deserve better than I get. The other response stems from the self-view that I’m not worthy enough to receive anything good. It generally advocates the idea that I get better than I deserve and maybe feels guilt for it. It often says I’m worthless. And, sadly, this view can lead to terrible depression.

The Apostle Paul’s words contend with both these false views of who we are in relation to God.

To the first he says,

No, you are not worthy of anything.

You don’t deserve your next breath.

You’re not God.

You’re reliant, not reliable.

To the second he says,

You’re right you’re not worthy to receive anything good, but no, you’re not worthless.

God made you – you are his offspring.

He wants a personal relationship with you!

What Paul’s words are, is a third view. A view that advocates the notion that we are totally undeserving of anything good and totally dependent on God’s good pleasure. And, that God has come near to us and desires that we should find him and enjoy him and honour him with our lives.

This is the true way and it leads to satisfaction and peace and it leads to joy and hope. This is the ‘unknown God’ that Paul advocates for, to us.

It’s amazing, but even after we’ve tasted and seen that the Lord is good like this; even when we’ve entered into his heavenly courts, we can find ourselves falling into the trap of thinking that we deserve better things from God. But the Lord repeatedly tells us in his word that everything that we get here on earth is good for us (Rom 8:28), even though by the world's standards it might look like disaster. The question is, will we believe that the king is all-wise and all-knowing and, to his children who ask him for bread, he will not give them a snake?

One contemporary christian writer puts it like this: Sometimes our soul screams at us “‘You deserve better’ and whispers ‘God is not giving you what you deserve’. The former screams are blatantly false, but the latter whispers are profoundly true.” That’s very good. God is not giving us the rewards that are due to our rebellion. He is giving us profoundly better things than that, even when they might not be the things we want!

The truth is this Christian life will be attended with many difficulties. It may have little that looks desirable from the outside; it may have lots to be fearful of on the inside, but the Lord is always working every single detail of his Children’s lives for their eternal good. Do we believe it?

Therefore, the call is for us to endure (Heb 12:3) and, to show that our hope is not vested in this life, but in the life to come (1 Pet 1:13). By that endurance, he has ordained praise and glory and majesty for himself and for his kingdom. And if we love him, then that will do for us.

May the Lord bless us and reveal himself to the eyes of our hearts (Eph 1:18) with ever increasing glory.


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