Bible Study with Jairus- 2 Peter 1 (Part 2)

The Difference Between God’s Disposition and God’s Guidance

 

In part one of our study of 2 Peter 1, I emphasized that the church needs the gifts of the apostles and prophets. The gifts of the apostles help believers understand God’s disposition and laws, while the gifts of prophets help believers understand God’s guidance. God’s disposition and God’s guidance are two different things, though they sometimes overlap. I hope this message will help us understand the difference between the two.

Before we dive into the difference between God’s disposition and God’s guidance, let’s look at an example that shows the importance of the apostles and prophets. A few years ago, I planted a specific variety of tomato that grows indefinitely as long as the weather is suitable. It will continue producing tomatoes as long as the climate is conducive. When I first started growing this type of tomato, I thought I could just turn it loose to grow. I didn’t know it needed pruning, so I let it grow wild. It grew a lot of branches and very little fruit. A lot of nutrients were wasted in growing leaves.

Later, I realized the importance of staking the tomato plants so they did not fall over, as well as pruning them in order to ventilate the bushes and protect them from disease.

This illustration shows the role of the apostles and prophets. We as Christians possess God’s divine nature within us (2 Peter 1:3). God’s power is infinite, and it gives us an infinite possibility for growth if we allow God to change us. God’s power can bring us into the fullness of infinite life.

Yet few Christians have entered the fullness of God’s infinite life. Just like the tomato has infinite potential but still needs pruning, Christians need the help of the apostles and prophets in order to grow. We need the support of the apostles to know God’s disposition and laws. And we need the help of the prophets to know God’s guidance.

Both the apostles and the prophets were commissioned by Jesus Christ, and they reflect the unity of the Trinity. Let’s look at Genesis 1:26 and Revelation 22:1 to help us understand these concepts. Then we will return to 2 Peter 1:3-4 and explore how God’s disposition and God’s guidance work together in the roles of the apostles and prophets, leading the church toward God’s glory. Peter’s spiritual experience was deep and rich and his epistles deserve careful study.

What is the Difference Between God’s Disposition and God’s Guidance?

God’s biblical revelation is composed of two main types of revelation: revelation of God’s disposition and revelation of God’s guidance. God’s disposition refers to his unchanging nature. By nature, God is immutable and eternal (Malachi 3:6). He is always characterized by love, light, holiness, and righteousness.

God’s guidance refers to God’s changing guidance. God is also “new every morning” and expresses himself in new ways. God’s guidance can change depending on the situation, and the way he manifests himself can also change.

These two realities shed light on the entire Bible. Some parts of Scripture focus on revealing God’s unchanging laws and disposition, while others do not. It’s crucial to understand the difference. Some parts of the Bible reveal God’s unchanging disposition; for instance, God has always been holy and will always be holy. Other parts of the Bible reveal God’s situational guidance.

I believe that Paul’s injunction against women in leadership may have been one of these cases. When the Apostle Paul forbade women from preaching, I don’t believe he was revealing God’s unchanging prejudice against women. In other instances in the Bible, God gave special protection to women. In the Book of Numbers, God allowed the daughters of Zelophehad to inherit land alongside the men, even though women did not typically inherit land. God created a new law just for them that stipulated that land could be inherited by women if there were no male heirs. Because of this, I believe Paul’s prohibition against women preachers was God’s specific guidance to the Corinthian church. (To learn more, see the study of the Book of Numbers and the Book of Corinthians.)

However, many people do not understand the difference between God’s disposition and God’s guidance. They often treat God’s time-specific words of guidance as absolute for all times. This leads to many problems. Rigid Christians persecute and condemn their fellow believers who are simply following God’s new, time-specific guidance. How easy it is to label fellow Christians as heretics or even kill them—simply for following God’s new guidance. How often religious authorities have condemned others for their so-called violation of God’s unchanging disposition, rather than understanding God’s changing guidance!

How do we distinguish between God’s disposition and God’s guidance? If your actions compromise God’s glory, love, light, holiness, and righteousness, then this is a violation of God’s disposition. For example, whether you live in Tokyo or Washington DC, it is wrong to murder. Killing people violates the disposition of God. However, if your action simply offends the tradition of a local body of believers but doesn’t compromise God’s glory, then this is a matter of God’s guidance.

Often, believers must boldly choose to break through the limitations of tradition and religion in order to follow God’s guidance. Often, they will pay a heavy price for this. In so doing, they follow not only God’s guidance, but they also obey God’s disposition and laws.

The God we worship is the only true God. This statement expresses God’s unchanging disposition and principles. But the exact way we worship him varies from church to church, and this is an issue of God’s guidance. The Catholic Church has formal liturgy, the Protestant Church focuses on preaching, the Pentecostal Church emphasizes worship, and the Orthodox Church stands while worshiping. Some churches use pianos or organs, while others use guitars. Everyone has different forms. This is not a matter of principle, but a matter of how God leads each believer.

Genesis 1:26: Image and Likeness Respectively Refer to God’s Disposition and God’s Guidance

The difference in God’s disposition and likeness is very clearly shown in Genesis 1:26, which says, “Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” What do the words “image” and “likeness” mean? Does this mean that humans look like God? Does God have two legs and two arms? Possibly. When God appears to prophets, they often see a form “like the Son of Man.” God also appeared in human form when he talked to Abraham. Though it’s possible the image of God refers to the physical form of God, I believe it’s more likely that mankind reflects the inner characteristics of God’s glory. Jesus Christ “is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature” (Hebrews 1:3). The image of God revealed in Jesus was not that he looked like the Father in human appearance, but that he manifested the glory of God and the disposition of God: love, light, holiness, and righteousness. This is the meaning of the image of God.

Jesus said that whoever had seen Him had seen the Father (John 14:9). Many people today are confused by this statement, just like Philip was. We want to see God’s visual and external appearance. But Jesus is more interested in manifesting God’s inner qualities of love, light, holiness, and righteousness. These are the qualities that Jesus displayed. He exuded the radiance of the glory of God the Father, the imprint of the divine nature. He was and is the manifestation of the Father.

This is not to say that the Father does not have an external form. I believe He does. Isaiah and other prophets have described the external appearance of the Heavenly Father, and I have longed to see it. But the Father’s outward appearance is not the key characteristic of the image of God. The key attributes of God are his internal characteristics of love, light, holiness, and righteousness.

Even though God is unchanging in his key attributes (“God’s image”), his outward appearance can change (“God’s likeness”). His manifestation in the material world can vary. For example, God appeared to Abraham in the form of a man, and he also compared himself to a great eagle (Ezekiel 17:7). When Jesus appeared to his disciples after his resurrection, they often didn’t recognize him, indicating he looked different than usual. In the same way, when Jesus appears to me in visions, he does so in a variety of ways. I have heard that Jesus appears to the Japanese in one way, and to the American Indians in another way.

Why does Jesus change his appearance? I believe Jesus manifests himself in different ways because he is trying to communicate a different message to each person. For instance, when he lifted my spirit to Japan and showed me His nail marks, his purpose was to tell me about His love for the Japanese people. When he lifted my spirit to China and placed his hands on me, he wanted to give me a new mission to preach the gospel in China. He also appeared to me in a blinding light, which showed me that his great light would lead the idolatrous Chinese people out of Egypt. Another time, Jesus sat across the table like a friend. This was the most intimate meeting I had with the Lord. His only goal was to comfort and encourage me, as well as show me around heaven. Another time, Jesus showed me two rivers, indicating that several aspects were about to converge. He appeared in different ways in order to address unique situations and needs that required unique help and guidance from God.

God’s “image” (internal character qualities) does not change, but his “likeness” does (Genesis 1:26). In the same way, His guidance is different for every person and every situation, because our needs are different every time.

In order to better understand the difference between God’s image (God’s disposition) and God’s likeness (God’s guidance), let’s look at Revelation 22:1.

Revelation 22:1: The Street of Gold and The Water of The River of Life Speak of God’s Disposition and God’s Guidance Respectively

Revelation 22:1 says, “Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb.” Revelation 21:21 has revealed that “the streets of the city are pure gold.” This street of gold represents the unchanging disposition of God. “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God” (2 Corinthians 13:4) are eternal, but guidance and “fellowship of the Holy Spirit” (2 Corinthians 13:14) can and does change.

To show humankind God’s nature and disposition, Moses gave the Old Testament Law. This law taught the Israelites not to violate God’s disposition; that is, they were not allowed to murder, lie, commit adultery, covet, or dishonor their parents. These sins, including murder, dishonesty, adultery, greed, and disrespect to parents, are not in line with God’s disposition and violate God’s laws.

But God’s guidance is different. In the Old Testament, the Israelites were required to keep the Sabbath, but in the New Testament, it was not required. In the same way, Moses allowed the Israelite men to divorce their wives because of their hard hearts. But in the New Testament, Jesus forbade divorce because it was never God’s original design (Matthew 19:7-12). God’s unchanging disposition detested divorce because His original intention was “what God has joined let not man separate.” However, because of human weakness and real-life difficulties (adultery, domestic violence), God allowed divorce under certain circumstances. The latter is a matter of divine guidance.

The laws of the Old Testament reflect God’s bottom line. Crossing this line is not pleasing to God, and it is not good for humans, either. The law alerts us of our sin, just like the rumble strip alerts us that we have crossed the yellow line on an American highway. If you cross this boundary, you will be in danger. But there are certain situations in which it is reasonable to drive over the yellow line or even drive on the rumble strip—for example, if the lanes have been altered in a construction zone.

In addition, traffic laws tell cars to stop at a red light and go forward on a green light. But if another car runs a red light, you should not mechanically obey the green light and go forward. Otherwise, you will have a traffic accident. In the same way, the law is a boundary or a “guardian” that keeps us in line (Galatians 3:25). However, after the “faith” in Christ arrived (Galatians 3:25), we were united with Christ and “justified by faith” (Galatians 3:24). Israelites who refused to accept Christ because they were focused on obeying the law are like cars who drive through a green light, even though they will get hit. They are like sheep who refuse to leave the sheepfold and follow Christ into green pastures (John 10).

The purpose of the law was to keep Israelites from crossing God’s boundaries until Christ could arrive on the scene. When God’s time came, Jesus was born from the descendants of Israel as a descendant of Abraham who would bring blessings to the Gentiles, that they might receive the promised Holy Spirit (Galatians 3:14). At this point, the law of the Old Testament was fulfilled as the indwelling “law of the Spirit of life,” which set people free from the law of sin and death” (Romans 8:2). The Lord Jesus also said many times that He did not come to abolish the law, but to fulfill the law (Matthew 5:17-18). This is what it means.

Let’s return to Revelation 22:1. The verse states that the water of life was running down the middle of the road. Have you ever seen something like this on Earth? No. How can a river flow in the middle of a street? I believe this verse is a beautiful picture that speaks of God’s unchanging nature and changing guidance. The streets of gold remind us of the unchanging disposition, nature, principles, and boundaries of God. The water speaks of the guidance of the Holy Spirit, which will always stay within the boundaries of God’s essence. When an individual claims that the Holy Spirit led them to divorce their wife and marry another woman, this is often wrong. The Holy Spirit will not lead you to do things that are not in line with God’s unchanging character.

Just like our blood stays within the boundaries of the blood vessels. If you are bleeding, you need help. When we leave the boundaries of God’s character and law, we need help. The Holy Spirit may temporarily tolerate our weaknesses, but he will eventually guide us back to repentance.

The New Jerusalem descended on a mountain, and the throne of God and the Lamb was at the top of this mountain. If the New Jerusalem covers the entire surface of the mountain, the streets of this city may spiral around the mountain. Thus, the river may also spiral around the mountain. This represents the spiraling, ever-changing guidance of the Holy Spirit. God’s guidance and his likeness are ever-changing and always new. God’s eternal nature, grace, love, and disposition are eternal, stable, and unchanging, like the golden streets of the New Jerusalem. But the flow of the Holy Spirit is ever-changing, like the water on those streets.

We worship the unchanging uniqueness of God, but we express our worship in unique, diverse ways. Many people don’t understand this distinction. They rigidly assume that one particular way of worship is God’s only way. They perceive God’s guidance for a specific situation to be the only right way. Thus, any deviation from this rule is seen as heretical. They refuse to recognize God’s new work. They stick to the law, not knowing that God can change. This rigidity leads to the prevalence of legalism.

On the other hand, some people do not know about God’s unchanging disposition and the unchanging principles revealed by God’s words, so they are tossed about by the wind and confused by the waves of heresy (Ephesians 4:14).

There are many examples of this in the church today. For example, is it against God’s character for women to be pastors? If God’s principles were opposed to women in leadership, Deborah and Esther would not be prominently featured in the Old Testament, nor would God have distributed the land to Zelophehad’s daughters. I believe it’s a matter of God’s guidance. God can guide us differently in different situations. The leadership at Saddleback Church believes that women can be pastors because they believe a woman’s role in the body of Christ should be respected and encouraged. The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) opposes women in leadership because they want to resist the continued invasion of liberalism into the church. Each of them believes they are right; perhaps they have been led differently by God. As a result, they parted ways. Perhaps this was the best and easiest way to deal with this situation. It is not necessarily true that one party is absolutely right, and the other is absolutely wrong. God is bigger than the entire controversy, and he guides each church differently. Everyone must stick to God’s guidance for their church and bear their own unique testimony for God. If the people of the Southern Baptist Church think that denominations with female pastors are generally more inclined to liberalism and homosexuality, then they should not have female pastors. Yet those who like female pastors should be free to elect female pastors.

In general, I don’t think God disapproves of churches having female pastors. Many Pentecostal Churches have female pastors, and the sky has not fallen. This is a question of God’s leading, not his character. While China was being evangelized, the earliest revivals began in rural churches. Many women and elderly people were saved, but few believers were men. As a result, many women became missionaries, preaching the gospel in villages and alleyways. They brought revival to China. If they had believed God’s unchanging principles prohibited women from being pastors and leaders, as the SBC does, then China’s revival would have been greatly compromised. Because many Chinese men had gone to the cities to work, and the government did not surveil and control rural women and the elderly with the same level of diligence, the Holy Spirit used rural women to begin a great revival.

On one occasion, I attended a female-led gathering in my hometown in rural China. When the leading sister knelt down to pray the Lord’s Prayer, I was moved to tears. I was so moved by her innocence. These ladies rode bicycles through villages and alleyways to preach the gospel. Because there were not many men in the church, they naturally became the leaders of the church. I was touched by their absolute commitment to God.

I think we should gather 1,000 Chinese rural sisters who are church leaders and have them share their testimonies with the brothers in charge of the Southern Baptist Church in the United States. After they have heard 1,000 such stories, perhaps their hard hearts will finally open and they will no longer object to women being pastors.

Anything that compromises God’s glory is against God’s disposition and principles. But a woman becoming a pastor does not necessarily compromise God’s glory. If a woman becomes a pastor as an act of rebellion, this is against God’s disposition. Of course, we know that the SBC and the entire US conservative movement were raised by God when Western liberal theology was in vogue. Perhaps God guided them to forbid women from being pastors because of the current situation of the United States. Because American society was opposing God and liberalism and homosexuality were prevalent, they realized that churches that promoted female pastors also allowed homosexuals to serve as priests. Perhaps God guided the SBC to take that stance based on a unique cultural situation, but they should not assume this principle prohibits all women everywhere from serving as pastors. I’m guessing that this would not be pleasing to God.

2 Peter 1:3-4: God’s Disposition and God’s Guidance Work Together to Lead Us into Glory

 

As I said before, the river of the water of life remains within the boundaries of the streets of gold, just blood remains within the boundaries of the veins and arteries. A tree grows inside the boundaries of the bark, and it also grows incrementally from a sprout to a tree with roots, branches, a trunk, leaves, and fruit. In the same way, God’s nature (His glory), sets a growth goal for us, and God’s guidance (the Holy Spirit), will help us every step of the way (2 Peter 1:3-4). Only then can we reach the end goal: God’s glory. It is a process.

The Old and New Testament writings help us better understand God’s principles by revealing God’s disposition. At the same time, the guidance of the Holy Spirit helps us apply God’s principles to every situation so that we can constantly realize the purpose of God’s glory and escape from the temptation of sin. God wants to set us free from “the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire” (2 Peter 1:4), and he wants us to “become partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4). God’s disposition sets glorious goals for us through the “precious and very great promises have been given to us” (2 Peter 1:4). Then God guidance walks with us, helping us bear our weaknesses, so we can receive the full fulfillment of God’s promises to us. The prophetic office also walks with people, revealing God’s guidance for their individual circumstances.

Second Peter 1:3-4 paints the same picture as Revelation 22:1. We are perpetually climbing higher and higher on Mount Zion, toward the throne of God and the Lamb. We climb higher on the spiraling road of gold that leads upward to the throne of God. Down the road runs the river of life of the Holy Spirit. Peter shared his experience of Jesus’ transfiguration, because he saw how radiant the glorified Christ was, and he also understood that the way to God’s glory was the way of the cross. He shared his spiritual experiences so that believers could gradually mature and become like him. In the next lesson, we will continue to examine how 2 Peter 1:3-4 describes Peter’s thoughts about Jesus’ transfiguration.