The Names of God

If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. “For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. (Rom 10:9-17)

When I started to pursue my now-wife, then-acquaintance Judy in a romantic relationship, I told those close to me, in my youthfulness, that I knew she was THE ONE. Looking back, I cringe at some of the foolish statements I’ve made in the past, but I somehow thought I knew that the two of us were meant to become husband and wife. I obviously didn’t really know about any of the hardships that would come with marriage, the strength and perseverance required for marriage, and the true meaning of marriage then. I just had a gut feeling that told me that I liked this girl a lot. And for me, that was sufficient knowledge to convince myself that she was the one. There wasn’t too much objective about how I knew Judy was the one, considering I hardly knew her as a person and vice versa. Marrying Judy was one of the most important decisions in my life. Yet, even in marrying her, there was a whole of subjectivism that overpowered the pursuit to be objective in making a life-altering decision. Now, I’m not saying that there was no objective validity in marrying Judy, because others have confirmed with me that I lucked out in marrying her. However, my gut feeling often overpowers my reason and logic. Truth be told, this happens all too often for me. It’s not necessarily wrong, because I’m human and am attached to my feelings and my “gut instincts.” 

Yet, even as someone who depends on his instincts all too much, this is something that needs to be done in moderation and carefulness when it comes to spiritual matters. In ministry, some of the questions I always get in some form is: How am I saved? And how do I know I’m saved? I am often tempted to tell people that I just know, because I know my Father in heaven, and he knows me. Jesus is a personal Savior, and he sends the Holy Spirit for our bodies to be the temple he dwells in. The New Covenant informs us that the law is now written on our hearts (Jer 31:33). Peter informs us that all believers are a royal priesthood (1 Pet 2:9), as the Holy Spirit allows us to understand the truths of Scripture in a personal way. These are all very adequate references to turn to when considering salvation to be a very personal thing. Yet, this is where we need to put on the brakes. When we assume that subjectivity trumps objectivity in regards to the method and certainty of salvation, we trust in our own innate ability to interpret Spiritual truths that live within us to justify why we belong to a holy (set apart) God. This past clause is a contradiction, because the Holy Spirit comes as God who is set apart from us. So the way of subjective thinking goes against everything that the gospel represents. After all, the Bible does say that all of us are sinful and fall short of God’s glory (Rom 3:23). Also, God’s holiness informs us of an ontological distinction between the creator and his creation along with an ethical distinction between a perfect God and sinful people. By way of understanding holiness, then, we as sinners are distant from God and incapable of knowing the things of God … Unless he bridges that gap himself.

Think of our separation from God as an eternal time out. I have a little toddler at home who is learning to test her boundaries to see what she can get away with. When she crosses the line, I inform her that she’s done something wrong by putting her in separation from me. It’s by my initiation as a father that I bridge this separation when I take her back out from time out. Of course, what I ask for is an “I’m sorry” through a hug and kiss, but that’s a response to my initiative of bridging the separation between the two of us when entering back into the room. Though it is a very inadequate illustration and faulty on many levels, this kind of example can give us an idea that salvation must come from outside and not from within. We can convince ourselves all we want that God is within us and inside of us, but it just might not be true. Unless we understand him as holy and set apart and as his gospel to be a message that comes from outside in, Jesus never intrudes our lives. We’ve merely tricked ourselves into thinking that we believe in Jesus when something else has taken his place. Reformed theologians have historically attributed our relationship with God to an alien righteousness. This is a credit given to us by something outside of us so that this ethical divide might be bridged. Salvation has to come from outside of us, because if it were to come from inside of us, there would be no need for trusting in another for our salvation. Looking within is just another self-salvation project. 

I believe the Apostle Paul addresses this issue in Romans 10:9-17. This entire portion mentions many things through and through. There is a link formula that happens from verses 13-15 to show that each step is indispensable for salvation. In addition, it leads to the initial cause of salvation–what we have come to know as the effectual call. This is re-iterated in verse 17, and this topic alone deserves much more consideration. However, I want to hone in on verse 13 for our consideration here. 

For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.

This verse comes by way of referencing Joel 2:32, and Peter uses it in his sermon at Pentecost in Acts 2:21. For this blog entry, I’ll merely be focusing upon its placement in the aforementioned section in Romans 10, because it is just right on point. 

But what does it mean to call on the name of the Lord? 

I don’t think this means that those who cry out “Jesus! Jesus!” at the top of their lungs are saved. There is heavy biblical reflection that is required to understand this statement. The phrase “name of the Lord” needs to be seen in relation to the way God’s names are used throughout Scripture. One famous location in relating to God’s name is in the Ten Commandments. There, it is written, “You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain” (Exod 20:7). And though I don’t find it proper to state God’s name by saying things like, “Jesus Christ!” or “Oh my (fill in the blank) God!” I think minimizing the third commandment to be merely be a prohibition of such statements is losing out on a huge part of what the third ommandment informs us of. The phrase in vain can be understood as “empty” or “worthless.” This is a lack of care for what the name of the LORD is.

Michael Horton states that revelation of the names of God signify his transcendence (separation between God and humanity) along with his immanence (belonging of God with humanity).[1] This is certainly true when looking at how God is shown behind a veil throughout the Old Testament and at how through Jesus that veil is torn in the New Testament (Matt 27:51; Mark 15:38; Luke 23:45). 

When considering the veiled nature of God’s name in the Old Testament, we start with his name Yahweh. Though we openly sing songs where we phonetically utter “Yahweh” with our lips in the New Testament era, this would be considered an abomination to the Jews. In Jewish custom, “Yahweh” was replaced with “Adonai” in speech. Along with the word Yahweh being a conjunction of consonantal misfits (YHWH), the Jews viewed the Lord’s name to be too holy, as he is set apart.[2] This is parallel to how God reveals himself in the Old Testament. His appearance comes by way of a glory cloud, through fire, and other means of separation and distinction. His presence is hidden inside a Tabernacle, which is veiled within a Temple, which is in separation from the people of God. When Moses asks to see God’s glory, he needs to veil it by telling Moses that he can’t see his face (figuratively speaking) but can only get a back glimpse of his glory. This is for Moses’ protection, since God is a just God and needs to execute justice upon sinners who are exposed to his glory. Thus, God’s name informs us of his transcendence as one who set apart from us as our creator and as one who is perfect.

However, the immanence of God through his names is where Romans 10:13 starts to really make sense. Jesus is the Word who became flesh to dwell with his people (John 1:14).[3] He is called “Immanuel” which means “God with us” (Matt 1:23). Isaiah tells of the coming of this Messiah by calling him “Wonderful Counselor” and “Prince of Peace” (Isa 9:6). He is the  Prince of Peace as one who reconciles us to God through his own death and who saves us by his life (Rom 5:10). We are given this peace with God, though we once waged war with him by rebelling against him, as those who are justified by faith in Jesus (Rom 5:1). You see, Jesus is the Prince of Peace as one who went to war in our place. He is the Wonderful Counselor, who stands in the middle of the conflicts between us and his own Father in heaven. Jesus’ names inform us of these truths, that we have a way to salvation through him, because he’s paid the price to make it effective.

Perhaps, the most obvious of Jesus’ names would be Jesus. Yet, this might give us the greatest insight into how we might understand Romans 10:13 and how believers are saved. “Jesus” linguistically conveys the idea of God saving his people. Thus, when we call upon the name of Jesus, we are calling upon a God who is mighty to save! Yet, we are not only calling upon one who is able to save his people but one who has. Jesus has come in the flesh. Jesus has died on the cross for our sins. Jesus has risen for our justification. We need not only to believe in these things, but we need to believe that we need these things. God is not only mighty to save, he is the only way to salvation. These things have objectively happened. Without this objective truth, any subjective understanding of God is fabricated from lies and distortion. The good news is news that happened outside of us, for us, so that we might have God within us. What a savior He is!

——————–

[1] Michael S. Horton, The Christian Faith: A Systematic Theology for Pilgrims on the Way (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011), 224.

[2] Whenever you see LORD in the Old Testament in our English texts, it’s a reference to YHWH.

[3] In the Greek, “to dwell” can be literally read as “to tabernacle.” This holds theological significance, as God is one who is now choosing to unveil himself to be with his people by coming in fleshly form.

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The Names of God

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