The God Who Cannot Be Selfish

By Phillip G. Kayser · Acts 17:22-34 · 5/25/2008

    The Aseity of God

    I'm curious. How many here have heard of God's aseity before last week? I didn't think there would be too many hands. Now if I was really brave I might ask the question, "How many here would love to hear about God's aseity?" And we might get the same number of hands. For some reason, it's a doctrine that makes people's eyes glaze over, and I suspect that the main reason for that is that books rarely if ever point out the practical implications of the doctrine. All of my books spend very little time on the subject, and when they do, it tends to be in complicated philosophical terms.

    I promise you, this morning you will see that this doctrine is no exception to my rule that all doctrine is exceedingly practical and useful. And it's got more use than impressing your friends that you know what aseity means. Let's define the doctrine and let's see first of all that it is Biblical before we begin to apply it.

    What Is Meant By God's Aseity?

    From the latin words "a se" meaning "on Himself."[1] It means that God depends on Himself and no other. He is independant, self-sufficient, self-existent and in need of nothing. This is summarized by His name "I AM."

    Roman Numeral I, point A gives a definition. The word aseity is taken from the latin a se meaning on Himself or literally from oneself. It means God did not come from anywhere or receive anything from outside of Himself. He depends on Himself and no other. He is independant, self-sufficient, self-existent and in need of absolutely nothing. God doesn't even need your love, service, money, wisdom or good works. Isn't that a surprise? We tend to think a little more highly of ourselves than that. But before creation and time, God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit existed alone, yet in perfect love, fellowship and without any sense of need.

    Why do I say this such good news? Someone might feel, if God doesn't need me, than I am insignificant. I am unimportant. I don't like this doctrine. It doesn't give me self-esteem." And I have to admit, this is a humbling doctrine. But once we are humbled, it is also an incredibly encouraging doctrine. Can you imagine how awful it would be to discover that the only reason God said He loved you was because He needed you; was because He wanted to get things out of you, to use you and manipulate you. You've probably all felt what its like to be used by other people in relationships. You thought the person loved you, but it turns out that all they had in mind was filling their own needs. But if it was not for this doctrine of aseity, God could be misunderstood as the biggest user of all. And I have read books that claim that God created us because He was lonely and needed our love and fellowship. And Scripture says, "No. God was never lonely. He had perfect fellowship, Father, Son and Holy Spirit." Need is not a good basis for love in human relations, and it certainly would not be good if God had such emotional needs.

    Another example: Can you imagine how frightening it would be to discover that God couldn't do certain things in your life becaue He had needs just like any other person. Last week I quoted from Rabbi Harold Kushner's book,When Bad Things Happen to Good People. He saw God as having needs and insufficiencies. He said, "Bad things do happen to good people in this world, but it is not God who wills it. God would like people to get what they deserve in life, but He cannot always arrange it. Even God has a hard time keeping chaos in check and limiting the damage evil can do." (p. 45 of Horton) Perhaps your financial deal fell through because God needed more time and He wasn't able to work all things together for good. God could have done it if He had just a little more time, or perhaps a few more people who would have worked for Him, etc. No. Romans 8:28 is true because God has no needs.

    The aseity of God is a critically important doctrine, and yet it is a doctrine that many Evangelicals deny continually. I will be giving you a few examples today, but let me start with a quote on prayer.

    This comes from an incredibly popular book. And I have to admit, I have enjoyed and benefited from the book myself. But in there the author makes this mistake. He says, "The fact remains that, when we pray for others, somehow or other it opens the way for God to influence those we pray for. God needs our prayers, or He would not beg us to pray."[2] And quotes like this could be multiplied.

    God needs nothing

    He doesn't need your service and worship (Acts 17:25; Luke 17:10)

    People sometimes say that God needs our worship or our service, but turn with me to Acts 17:25 to see what Paul said. Let's begin at verse 24: God, who made the world and everything in it [Now just think of that for a sec. If God made everything, then logically God is not dependant upon it. Creation is dependant upon Him. That's a part of aseity.] since He is Lord of heaven and earth [as Lord he is not dependant], and does not dwell in temples made with hands He is not limited by space. He doesn't need to be in the right place at the right time since He is everywhere.] But notice verse 25: Nor is He worshipped with men's hands, as though He needed anything, since He gives to all life, breath and all things. Paul says that God doesn't need our worship. After all, we wouldn't be able to sing praises if God didn't give us breath, and life and all things. There is nothing we can give to God that God hasn't first given to us. Scripture says, We love because He first loved us.

    In Luke 17:10 Christ said, So likewise you, when you have done all those things which you are commanded, say, "We are unprofitable servants. We have done what was our duty to do." If Christ commands us to say that we are unprofitable servants, it means that our service doesn't profit God. It doesn't fill up some lack that He has.

    He doesn't need your sacrifices (Psalm 50:8-13)

    Turn with me to Psalm 50:8-13. This is another passage which puts us in our place when we start thinking a little too highly of ourselves. God commanded the Israelites to give sacrifices and so it was a duty. No question there. But rather than engaging in this duty out of love and gratitude, the Israelites began doing it in order to manipulate God. "We are doing this for you Lord, what are you going to do for us?" Since God doesn't have a need, He can't be manipulated, so God responds by saying (beginning in verse 8): I will not reprove you for your sacrifices or your burnt offerings, which are continually before Me. I will not take a bull from your house, nor goats out of your folds. For every beast of the forest is Mine, and the cattle on a thousand hills. I know all the birds of the mountains, and the wild beasts of the field are Mine. If I were hungry, I would not tell you; for the world is Mine, and all its fullness. Will I eat the flesh of bulls, or drink the blood of goats? Offer to God thanksgiving, and pay your vows to the Most High. Call upon Me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify Me. We are the only ones who benefit by glorifying the Lord. He needs nothing.

    He doesn't need your gifts (Rom. 11:35)

    Perhaps you have heard name-it and claim it types commanding God to multiply their money because they have given sacrificially. But Romans 11:35 says, Or who has first given to Him and it shall be repaid to him? God is never indebted to us because He doesn't need our gifts in the first place. And further more, everything we give to Him in the offering plate has been first given to us. We aren't owners. We are merely stewards. So if you think you have earned God's favor by putting in the offering plate, you are mistaken. It is a love relationship, not a merit relationship.

    He doesn't need your wisdom (Job 22:2)

    Job 22:2 says, Can a man be profitable to God, though he who is wise may be profitable to himself? Is it any pleasure to the Almighty that you are righteous? Or is it gain to Him that you make your ways blameless. God doesn't gain from our wisdom or righteousness. It says that He doesn't profit from our wisdom. You see, this doctrine makes us feel small in a certain sense.

    He doesn't need your righteousness (Job 35:7; 22:3)

    He doesn't need man's testimony (John 2:25)

    John 2:25 says, and had no need that anyone should testify of man, for He knew what was in man. Why is it that we are commanded to engage in evangelism and testify to His name? Is it because God needs our testimony. No. It is for an entirely different reason. And don't get me wrong. Our testimony has significance, and is important, but it is only because God gives it significance. But God doesn't need it.

    He doesn't need man to glorify Him since He is already "glorious...above all blessing and praise" (Neh. 9:5)

    It should be remembered that even in glorifying God, God's creatures benefit (Eph. 3:9c-10)

    Father, Son and Holy Spirit all glorify each other (John 8:54; 17:1) in showing forth His attributes

    He doesn't need to examine men (Job 34:23)

    He isn't diminished by man's disobedience (Job 35:6,7)

    He created all things for the benefit of others (Eph. 3:9c-10).

    And you can study some of the other passages in your outline for yourself. I give passages which show how the idols of man all need men in some way, but God is self-sufficient. That's why we like idols by the way. They are beholden to us in some way. They are dependant upon us in some way. They can be manipulated. They need us. We like to be needed. But God says that He doesn't need us. And that is humbling.

    The oultine points out that an aspect of aseity is that God owns everything in this universe and does not owe us anything. Now that may raise the hackles of your flesh because the flesh makes us think that everyone owes us. And it's easy for any of us to fall into that mind set. Job began to think that God owed him an explanation. But God addressed Job on this issue and said, No. I owe no one anything. Everything under heaven is Mine. (Job 41:11 Living) Now if God owes us nothing, this means that when he binds Himself with a promise, it it is God's Word alone, God alone who makes the obligation true. Now there are promises that God has to come through on (I'm not questioning that), and we can count them. But it is because He obligated Himself. It's not because there was anything good in us. It was totally self-giving.

    I want you to turn with me to Exodus 3 and we will finish off our description of God's aseity with this passage. I think is one of the most beautiful summaries of God's aseity. It is the use of the name "I AM." Moses was a man who sensed a great deal of need in himself. You might say that he was insecure. And God's solution was not to build up Moses's self-esteem. Look at verse 4: So when the LORD saw that he turned aside to look, God called to him from the midst of the bush and said, "Moses, Moses!" And he said, "Here I am."

    Then He said, "Do not draw near this place. Take your sandals off your feet, for the place where you stand is holy ground. God's solution to Moses inadequacy is not to say what a swell guy Moses is. Moses knows he is not even worthy to be standing on the ground where God is. In verse 6 Moses covers his face because he is afraid to look at God. There was no way you could convince Moses to say, "I'm OK you're OK. But God focuses Moses attention off of himself, and off of his inadequacies and onto God's all sufficiency. You see, if God needs nothing and has everything, then He is the one that can meet our needs, isn't He? And so God speaks of all the blessings He has given to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in verses 6-9. Then in verse 10 he says, Come now, therefore [on the basis of My sufficiency, Come now therefore], and I will send you to Pharoah that you may bring My people, the children of Israel, out of Egypt. Now Moses is overwhelmed with his sense of need and he says, "No way. I can't do this." The first excuse is given in vesre 11. But Moses said to God, "Who am I that I should go to Pharoah, and that I should bring the children of Israel out of Egypt?" Moses says, "I'm needy. I can't do this. I've got all kinds of lacks and inadequacies. And here comes God's solution. So He said, "I will certainly be with you..." You may not be adequate Moses, but I will be with you. And for each excuse that Moses brings up, God points Moses to Himself and the fact that God can handle any situation. He had a hard time trusting God's sufficiency. God needed someone who could speak better, and God responded, "Who made the mouth? I did. You don't think I can come through for you?" And God answers all seven of Moses excuses by pointing to God's sufficiency. But I think God's response in verses 14-15 sums up the aseity of God so well. And God said to Moses, "I AM WHO I AM." And He said, "Thus you shall say to the children of Israel, "I AM has sent me to you.'" Moreover God said to Moses, "Thus you shall say to the children of Israel: "The LORD [that's the word Jehovah which is a variation on the root word for I Am: "The LORD] God of your Fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you. This is My name forever, and this is My memorial to all generations.

    Central to God's character and being is that He is eternally present and self-existing. He didn't come from others. He just is. He exists eternally and independantly of all others. And by the way, when Christ used this title "I AM," the Jews knew exactly what He was saying. When Christ said, before Abraham was, I am, He was making claims to aseity - to being very God of very God and they picked up stones to stone Him.

    But wrapped up in the name "I am" and its sister word "Jehovah" is God's Lordship over all. Nothing else is an eternally self-concscious I AM./ We came from God and are therefore dependant upon and accountable to Him.

    But that term I AM also speaks of God's all sufficiency. Not "I will become," but "I am." And because God has no needs, He can convince Moses that He can supply any needs that we may have. Are you weak? God said, "I am the Almighty." Are you in bondage? God says, "I am the Redeemer of Israel." Are you filled with sorrow and grief? God says, "I am your comfort," "I am the joy of your salvation." "I am the Bread of life. I am the Living Water, I am the light of the world, I am the first and the last, I am the deliverer, I am the True and Faithful One. And you can fill in the multitude of other I AM's that Christ is. He has no needs, which means that He can supply all our needs.

    Unlike other gods, He is self-sufficient (Is. 40:12-31; 41:1-29; 44:9-28; 46:1-10; Jer. 10:1-16)

    God owns all things (Ps. 24:1; 50:10f.; Gen. 14:19,22; Ex. 19:5; Deut. 10:14)

    God owes nothing (Job. 41:11; Rom. 11:35ff) and thus all His promises are free, voluntary acts to obligate Himself.

    God is independant

    of all things (Psalm 94:8f; Is. 40:18ff.; Acts 7:25)

    in His thought (Rom. 11:33,34)

    in His will (Dan. 4:35; Rom. 9:19; Eph. 1:5; Rev. 4:11)

    in His power (Ps. 115:3)

    in His counsel (Ps. 33:11)

    etc.

    All creation is dependant upon God (Acts 17:25-28)

    Thus there is a Creator-creature distinction that will never be crossed.

    What Differences Does His Aseity Make?

    It means we can never accuse God of being selfish or seeking His own needs (He has none).

    Now how do we apply this doctrine of aseity? We can't imitate aseity itself or we would be God. In your systematic theologies, this will be listed as one of God's incommunicable attributes. That means that it is unique to God, He can't communicate it to us, and therefore we will never have any aseity. It is the nature of Godhood to have aseity and it is the nature of creaturehood to not have aseity - to be dependant. So we can't imitate the aseity itself. But we can imitate the self-giving concerns that aseity gives to God.

    Let's think about that for a moment. Because God doesn't have needs, it is impossible for Him to be selfish; to serve His own needs. If He doesn't have any needs He can't logically be said to serve His own needs, right? And yet it would be a mistake to say that because God doesn't need us He doesn't love us. There could be no greater love than God has demonstrated toward us. God values us and delights in us not because we are good or because we contribute anything to Him, but because it is of His nature to be self-giving. So it would be a mistake to say that because God doesn't need us, He doesn't love us as much. It is precisely because He doesn't have any needs that He has the most selfless, highest degree of agape love.

    In the same way, it would be a mistake for us to say that we can only love a husband or wife who still meets our needs, or we can only love a person in the church who is loveable. And this is actually taught on the radio and in books, that you can only love and accept others after you have first loved and accepted yourself. Scripture says the exact opposite. Christ said that you can't be His disciple unless you hate your own life also. We tend to love people who are easy to get along with; who are fun, or who in some way meet our needs. But Christ commanded us to love our enemies as well. Paul commanded us, Let no one seek his own, but each one the other's well-being. (1 Cor. 10:24)

    God can do it because He doesn't have any needs. But we can do it because our needs are met in Christ Jesus. In the Sermon on the Mount Christ told us not to be seeking our needs which the Gentiles seek after but to seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and (the needs aren't ignored) all these things will be added to us. Having needs is part of creaturehood. We can't avoid that. But God wants us to not be selfish. Our needs are to be served by serving others. We cannot do this apart from a relationship with the Great I AM. And as long as we selfishly pursue our own needs first, we will never know the delight of experiencing the Great I AM coming through in our lives as He did in Moses's life. Because selfishness is so hateful to God, He has guaranteed that those who put themselves first will find themselves last; those who seek their own welfare only, will never be satisfied. The irony in marriage for example, - even taking the issue of sexuality - is that when husband and wife seeks the other's welfare more than their own, they find their own enjoyment ironically to be far greater than if they had selfishly used the other person. So we can imitate the logical results of God's aseity because God has promised to meet all of our needs in Christ Jesus.

    It means that God doesn't love us for what He can get out of us. He is not self-serving or manipulative. His love is the purest form of agape.

    It means that God cannot be manipulated by us

    Point C. God's aseity means that God cannot be manipulated by us. The way some of us pray, you would think that God was dependant upon us. Listen to this quote from a popular book on the Gospel. The author over and over paints God as dependant upon us, and as having needs. He says, "When God finds us, he comes not as one who confers a favor out of his superfluity; He comes asking a favor of us. He stands as a beggar at our door; He makes no effort to break in upon our independance; He merely pleads that we will be so good as not to refuse the gift which He has traveled so far to bring."[3] I hope you don't pray with that attitude. That strips God of His godhood. Our prayers need to be more full of praise for who He is, more full of His Scriptural promises we are laying claim to, and more full of thanksgiving for what He has done. In otherwords they need to be more God centered. I think it was Michael Horton who said that the God of evangelicals has become too small. If we see God for who He really is, and we see how feeble we really are, our prayer life will be affected.

    It means we don't have to impress God. We can focus on loving Him instead.

    But point D: God's aseity frees us from having to impress God. That was the point of Psalm 50. Rather than bringing worship out of hearts of love and gratitude, they were seeking to impress God with pomp and ceremony and the amount of skill and sacrifice involved. God sees the heart and He knows whether it is outward show or whether there is genuine love. God would far rather receive singing that was off key with pure hearts that were out and out for Him, then the most spectacular singing with self-seeking, careless hearts. Realizing that God isn't impressed; doesn't have needs, helps us to focus on what is important: relationship with Him.

    It means that God's actions are all sacrificial and self-giving.

    There is a lot that could be said about each of these points, but I will leave some of the discussion for your care groups tonight. But point E says that if God needs nothing, this means that all of His actions towards others are self-giving rather than self-serving. And we need to interpret God's providences in this way. When a tragedy strikes, do we have the faith to believe with Joseph, God meant this for good. Or do we feel like God doesn't care? is being stingy; is being selfish with His abundance that He could have given, but withheld? We saw in previous sermons that God's wisdom assures us that this thing that came into our lives has meaning, is rational and part of a wise plan. We saw that God's power assured us that God is in complete control. We saw from God's personality that this was not done in a cold, calculated way. But this doctrine of aseity assures us that there was not a speck of selfishness involved.

    It means that there is no lack in God. He is the Great I Am for all our needs. He gives out of His superfluity.

    We saw last week that God's grace is a generous grace. It is this doctrine of aseity that enables that to be true. And we can encourage our hearts in that.

    Though God has made our work significant, the burden of success does not rest on our shoulders. He has made us significant, even though we are not needed.

    It means that your relationship to God is more important than trying to impress God (Amos 5:20-23), and God has ordained that it is better for us (Jer. 7:21-23)

    It is one part of the answer to the puzzle of the "problem of evil" and how even the wicked can glorify God.

    It gives us due humility

    It is one of several proofs for a creation ex nihilo.

    It is the basis for an unconditional election

    Etc.

    How To Grow In Your Appreciation For God's Aseity

    Imitate God by living selflessly.

    But I want to skip over the rest of the applications and let you discuss those tonight, and end by admonishing you to grow in your appreciation for God's aseity. He is the selfless God and He delights in those who imitate Him and cast away pride and seek the welfare of others first. You may not need more fellowship, but God calls you to seek fellowship with others in the congregation for their welfare. And as you do so, as you step out of your comfort zone, you find that God enables you to enjoy what you didn't need. You may not get anything out of cleaning up at church, but as you think of God giving when He gets nothing out of it, you can experience the God given joy of serving even when you don't get anything out of it; in fact, even when you are unappreciated. Love others becuase God first loved you. Imitate God's selflessness.

    Depend upon God for everything

    give Him the glory

    And then secondly, depend upon God for everything. The doctrine of aseity means He is independant but we are totally dependant. As long as you in your pride maintain your pretended self-sufficiency and independance, you will not get to know God intimately. Remember, God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble. And we must model to other believers what it means to be totally dependant upon God moment by moment for life, breath and all things. The church in America needs to not just hear a doctrine, they need to see in tangible concrete ways that you believe the doctrine. And God loves it when we depend upon Him fully. Two ways you can show your dependance is to 1) give Him the glory for the things you have achieved (whether it is when you are talking with others or you are praying to God - give God the glory. Don't be taking the credit for the things God has done in your life), and 2) trust His continual provisions. Those two are tied together. The more you give God the glory for all things as a habit of life the more your faith to depend upon Him will increase. The more we realize how self-sufficient God is, the more we will learn to go to Him for our needs. Where do you go for spiritual resources?

    I read once a book on the Amazon river. And it is a river of incredible dimensions and force. It accounts for 1/5th of all the fresh water that pours into the oceans of the world. The estuary at the mouth is 150 miles across and its main stream is 50 miles wide. Its waters are so strong that it pushes fresh water out into the ocean for 200 miles. So you can be out in fresh water and not even see the land. There are stories of sailings ships in the olden days that would be becalmed in the ocean far off the coast of south America and would run out of water and sometimes despair of their lives because you can't drink ocean water. On one occasion a vessel that had been becalmed for a long time called out to a nearby vessel and asked if they could spare just a little bit of water. The answer that came back was to lower the buckets. They were in the mouth of the mighty Amazon river! So much fresh water available and yet thirsting to death! The doctrine of God's aseity assures us that there is no need for you to thirst. Lower your buckets and drink from the living rivers of water that Christ offers in His grace. There is more than enough for your every need. Don't make up excuses to offer to God like Moses did. Believe Him, trust Him and go forth in obedience to His word. Amen.

    trust His provision


    1. or more literally, "from oneself"; that God came from and owes no one except Himself.

    2. The Unknown Christian, The Kneeling Christian, pp. 110-111.

    3. Culbert G. Rutenber, The Reconciling Gospel (Philadelphia: The Judson Press, 1960), p. 35.