“Yes, they turned back and tempted God, and limited the Holy One of Israel.” Psalm 78:41
Asaph described the actions of the Israelites in Psalm 78 as “limiting the Holy One of Israel”. What does it mean to “limit God”? Are there limits to what God can do?
God is limited to His character. He cannot sin. He cannot lie. And God has imposed certain limits on Himself, requiring certain actions from His creation before He will allow Himself to act.1 In this sense, we limit God through our actions, according to the limits He sets for Himself.
How then do we limit God? As we read the epistles, we find certain patterns and norms highlighting what God has made possible for a Christian in this life and in this world. To the extent that we are not living up to these standards, we are limiting God as to what He can do in our lives. And tragically, we limit the world’s perception of the God we profess by our shortcomings in these areas.
The first standard is the assurance of salvation, the confidence that our sins are forgiven. Do we know God and feel His presence in an intimate and real sense? Are we absolutely certain of His love for us, and that we are joint heirs with Christ? If there is uncertainty about the marks of this assurance of our salvation, then we are limiting God.
Second, we are meant to be a rejoicing people. Do we rejoice in tribulation, even in the very midst of trials? Can we proclaim these words, as did the prophet Habakkuk:
”Although the fig tree shall not blossom, neither shall fruit be in the vines; the labor of the olive shall fail, and the fields shall yield no meat; the flock shall be cut off from the fold, and there shall be no herd in the stalls: Yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation.” ? (Habakkuk 3:17-18)
If we are miserable Christians and are still turning back to the world for our happiness, then we are limiting God and all the glorious possibilities He holds out before us.
Third, we are to delight in God and His commandments. His commandments are not grievous (I John 5:4), because they are light and life to us, where the alternative is only darkness. Filled with grumbling and complaining, the Israelites in the wilderness envied other nations and murmured against God and His commands. But God meant for us to enjoy His Word and His laws. The psalmist declared his love for God’s law, and yet we as Christians are in a superior position than the psalmist because we share in the fullness of Christ. Do we find God’s commandments grievous? If we consider our Christianity as merely a matter of duty, then we are limiting God.
Fourth, we are to enjoy the peace of God. The Israelites were unhappy, restless and confused, not allowing God to give them His comfort and peace. If we are in a true, loving relationship with God, we can know this peace that cannot be disturbed. Not knowing this peace as a reality is to put a limit to what God has made available to us.
Finally, we are to rest in Him and in His all-sufficiency. The apostle Paul learned in whatsoever state he was, to be content. Is this our experience? Do we know Christ to be our all-sufficiency, that we can do all things through Him? Do we know something about days of heaven upon earth, how it feels to have God in our midst? If not, then we are limiting His power and His grace to have full reign in our lives.
All of these things are available and made possible for us through Christ. If we have come short of any of these ideals, we need to repent and run back to God the soonest we can: to open our hearts, believe His promises, to ask and expect great things from Him, for the enrichment of our souls, and for His glory.
*** 1 Martin G. Collins, Sermon: Limiting the Holy One of Israel Part 1: Examining Ourselves by God’s Standards
*** Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Sermon: Limiting God
*** Photograph: Stairs to the Sea by Queralt jqmj @Flickr cc