by Noel Edwardes
Second in a 5 Article Series on ‘Things Worth Dying For’
Interact Magazine 1999
Volume 10 Number 2
Some years ago I was part of a group who climbed a mountain in Switzerland. It was one of those never-to-be forgotten experiences. After the long climb we sat together on a small plateau at the top of the mountain. The faint mingled sounds of cow bells all in different tones produced a unique Swiss atmosphere as they drifted up to where we sat.
As far as the eye could see, majestic snow-capped mountains rose out of the fluffy, white clouds that drifted beneath a vivid blue sky. Far below us were magnificent green hills with numerous animals and quaint farm buildings nestling in the valley, like tiny toys in the distance.
As we sat on the edge of the mountain drinking in the splendour of this scene someone said, ‘This is simply awesome!’
‘It’s kind of like knowing God,’ said another. ‘The more we see, the more we want to see, but it’s a bit scary when we get too close to the edge. The more we know of Him, the more we want to know, and yet God is so awesome, holy and majestic that we draw back from His presence out of sheer respect for all that He is.’
Our experience on the mountain reminded us of times in the Bible where people like the prophet in Isaiah 6 recorded his vision of God in His throne room. Isaiah’s response was one of absolute awe at God’s majestic holiness and he cried, ‘Woe is me…’ The psalmist, reflecting upon God, said ‘Holy and awesome is His name. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom’ (Ps.111:10).
Many Christians don’t have this sense of the awesome wonder of God. Their view of Him is often distorted and inadequate, and consequently they never really come to grips with what it means to know and love Him.
There are those who view God almost as a servant who can be manipulated or even commanded. He is seen as a kind of genie who can be called upon in an instant to grant our wishes and remove difficulties from a lives – a kind of fairy godmother.
On the other hand, I have spoken to many whose view of God is so distorted that they cannot think positively about Him at all. They see Him as an austere disciplinarian who is always ready to throw the book at them, a God who is never to be doubted or questioned. When things go wrong, those who see Him this way tend to interpret this as God ‘getting back’ at them.
Then there are those who come from relatively unemotional ‘detached’ families, whose views of God reflect their background. Their faith tends to be more of a cerebral thing than a heart-felt response, and any feelings of overwhelming love and awe in their thinking about God would be totally foreign in this context.
Distorted views such as these will always inhibit a Christian’s life, growth and service. It’s a tragedy when Christians are unable to enjoy their relationship with God because of the views they hold about Him, either consciously or unconsciously.
It is our role as pastors and church leaders to seek to understand why people think of God as they do. Contributing factors may be people’s experiences of life, a wrong emphasis in pulpit ministry, dysfunctional families and hypocritical behaviour by those who profess to know God but live in a way that belies this.
Sermons alone will not guarantee a change in people’s thinking about who God is. There also needs to be a demonstration of His reality in the lives of those of us who are leaders – His love, compassion and grace being evident in our relationships, attitudes and behaviour. It is a sad fact that the views of many remain distorted because, in their experience, there is a conflict between what has been preached or taught, and what is demonstrably evident, so that the impact of truth about God is undermined.
Every pastor and church leader ought to be committed to a teaching strategy that enables those they lead to have a healthy and biblical view of God. This is essential to having a good foundation upon which to build a proper understanding of His nature and character. But what we believe about God is also an organising principle of Scripture, a principle that ought to govern our thinking about all other Bible truth. For example, we cannot have a proper view of the gospel if we have a distorted view of God, because His nature, character and purpose are all reflected in the gospel. This in turn impacts every aspect of Christian truth and experience.
In summary, without a biblical understanding of God we cannot know Him as He intended. On the other hand, clear, consistent biblical input that expounds what God has revealed of Himself through His Word will enlarge our view of Him and reaffirm his love and commitment to us. A biblical view of God ought to also motivate us to thankfulness and obedience to Him. Knowing or responding to truth about God will always positively impact our lives, encouraging us to respond to Him in worship and service (Rom.12:1,2).
What, then, are the truths about God’s nature, character and purpose that we want people to know in such a way that their hearts are really gripped – those non-negotiable truths that enlarge our spirits and encourage our confidence in Him?
His Eternal Nature
The Bible never sets out to prove the existence of God. It simply declares ‘in the beginning God’! However what the Bible does do is to consistently affirm that He is the great eternal being. There never was a time when He didn’t exist. ‘He is the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only (unique) God’ (1Tim.1:17). Indeed all life flows from Him and is sustained by Him (Acts 17:24). The Psalmist simply declares, ‘Before the mountains were born or you brought forth the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.’
It ought to be a great source of comfort to believers to know that our God is changeless – an immutable God. When speaking to Malachi about His relationship with His people, God said, ‘I the Lord do not change.’ James applied this great truth by simply affirming that ‘Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father … who does not change.’ All that God has revealed Himself to be in terms of His nature, character purpose and ongoing commitment to us will never alter. This is cause for great confidence as we face life and eternity. The apostle Paul’s confidence in the absolute dependability of God enabled him to remain focused: ‘I know whom I have believed and am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to him for that day.’
Another great aspect of God is His unity. He is one God yet three persons! We can use all kinds of ‘trinity’ illustrations to explain the concept, eg water, steam and ice, but no illustration I’ve ever heard adequately explains the mystery of the Godhead. The Bible clearly explains the different roles of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, affirms the personhood and deity of each, and yet clearly teaches the absolute unity of the Godhead: ‘Hear 0 Israel, the Lord our God is one God.’ Endeavouring to comprehend the enormity of the eternal nature of God should create within us a sense of wonderment that He would want to be involved in our lives!
His Sovereign Power
The omnipotence of God is a consistent theme of Scripture. It is evident in all His works from creation to redemption and beyond. The Psalmist said, ‘By the word of the Lord were the heavens made (Ps.33:6). Isaiah 40 is a wonderful chapter about His awesomeness and majesty. Having explained the greatness of God through a series of rhetorical questions, Isaiah asked, ‘To whom, then, will you compare God? He sits enthroned above the circle of the earth, and its people are like grasshoppers. He stretches out the heavens like a canopy, and spreads them out like a tent to live in … ‘To whom will you compare me? Or who is my equal?’ says the Holy One. Lift your eyes and look to the heavens. Who created all these? He who brings out the starry host one by one, and calls them each by name. Because of his great power and mighty strength, not one of them is missing (Isa.40:25,26).
God’s omnipotence affirms His authority over His world. Psalm 29:l0 declares, ‘The Lord is enthroned as king forever’, and Revelation 19:6 says, ‘The Lord God omnipotent reigneth’ (AV). Omnipotence means that God has absolute power over His world. He brought it into being and it is utterly dependent on Him for its ongoing existence. Omnipotence does not mean that God transgresses His own laws or acts outside His divine nature. He cannot do that without transgressing the very essence of all that He is.
God’s authority is a natural consequence of all that He is – creator, sustainer and omnipotent God. This is very important to Christians because we know that the power and authority of God are inseparable from His provision of salvation through Jesus. Indeed He is ‘the author and perfector of our faith’ (Heb.12:2) as demonstrated by the miracles of His birth, life and death; His power over Satan, death and sin through His resurrection; and, of course, the application of God’s wonderful provision – the power of God for salvation. God draws us to Himself, recreates within us new life and then empowers us to live Christianly.
The danger in thinking through the awesomeness of God is that we will lose sight of the intimacy of our relationship with Him. Isaiah draws together the contrast of who He is in His sovereign rule and yet His commitment to His people: ‘For this is what the high and lofty One says – he who lives forever, whose name is holy: I live in a high and holy place, but also with Him who is contrite and lowly in spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite’ (Is.57:15).
He goes onto say, ‘He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young’ (Is.40:11). He is also the great omnipotent God, who said, ‘Surely I am with you always’ and promised, ‘I will never leave you or forsake you.’ This has always been God’s commitment to us. Isaiah 41:10 affirms this: ‘So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.’
The Psalmist spoke of the omniscience of God when said that God knew everything about him, even his thoughts (Ps.139:1-4). Jesus said that God knows the very thoughts and intents of our hearts! It’s incredible that there is nothing about us that He is unaware of and yet He still loves us and is committed to us. As Packer in his book Knowing God so aptly says:
“There is, certainly, great cause for humility in the thought that He sees all the twisted things about me that my fellow-men do not see (and I am glad!), and that He sees more corruption in me than that which I see in myself (which, in all conscience, is enough). There is, however, equally great incentive to worship and love God in the thought that, for some unfathomable reason, He wants me as His friend, and desires to be my friend, and has given His Son to die for me in order to realise this purpose.”
His Divine Character
The gospel wonderfully affirms the character of God. There are six primary characteristics that are consistently present as the gospel unfolds throughout the Scriptures.
- God is Holy
One of the most important statements about God in the Bible is that He is good: ‘How great is your goodness’ (Ps.31:5). There is nothing about Him that is not absolutely good and pure. In the Bible goodness and holiness are inseparable. All that God is and does reflects His holiness. John said, “God is light; in him there is no darkness at all’ (1 John 1:5). That is, there is nothing in Him that defiles.
The holiness of God is a major theme in the Old Testament. Isaiah spoke of Him as ‘the Holy One’ over thirty times. The focus of the New Testament is that, in the context of the gospel, we are to so walk with Him that what He is will be progressively reflected in us. Amazingly we will one day stand before Him, ‘holy and blameless in His sight’ (Eph.1:4). Imagine that!
- God is Love
It’s difficult from our human perspective to comprehend the love of God declared in the Bible. Human love is always conditional, limited and prone to failure. In fact this is one of the major factors contributing to the distorted views of God that we mentioned earlier. However, God’s love is inherent in His being. The statement that ‘God is love’ (1 John 4:8) affirms that perfect and complete love is at the very core of all that He is.Of course God demonstrated His love through the gift of His Son Jesus: ‘This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins’ (1 John 4:9,10).
God’s unconditional love doesn’t depend on our being ‘good’ or keeping His rules. If it did, we could never be quite sure of His acceptance of us. Indeed, ‘God demonstrated His own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.’ Why? Because it is His nature to love. This concept, perhaps more than any other, has the power to draw people into a relationship with God as it touches the core of the need in every individual to be loved and accepted.
- God is Righteous
The righteousness of God makes it impossible for Him to relate to sin and always leads Him to do what is absolutely right.One of the questions Paul is seeking to respond to in the book of Romans is, How can a person who is unrighteous be right in their relationship with God who is wholly righteous? The answer of course lies in the gospel (Rom.1:17). When God forgives, Paul argues, it’s not that He overlooks sin. Rather, the gospel that makes forgiveness possible actually demonstrates that God is righteous, having applied the full weight of the law to our sin through the death of Jesus.
- God is Just
Because God is a God of absolute justice, He must judge sin. The message of the gospel is that justice was satisfied in Christ. That’s the point being made by Paul in Romans 3:25,26: ‘God presented Him as sacrifice of atonement … He did it to demonstrate His justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.’ The gospel makes it possible for God to forgive sin, declare the sinner to be righteous (Rom.3:20-26), and bless us with every spiritual blessing in Christ Jesus (Eph.1:3) and all this is in perfect harmony with all that God is!
- God is Merciful
In Ephesians 2:1-3 there is a graphic description of how utterly and hopelessly lost we were before God intervened in our lives. In verse 4 we are told why God acted as He did: ‘But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions.’There is no longer any question of our guilt. If justice was applied, we would be without hope! But mercy flowing out of love has been given instead. We don’t receive what we justly deserve. Rather we receive grace, mercy and reconciliation that flow out of God’s character and provision.
- God is Gracious
Central to the gospel and fundamental to genuine Christian experience is the grace of God. Grace is an act or attitude of generosity towards one who doesn’t deserve it. Through God’s provision in the gospel we are brought into a favoured relationship with Him whereby all his blessings and resources are made available to us in an ongoing sense (2 Cor.9:8).
I wonder if you’ve noticed how complementary these six characteristics are. God is a holy God and hates sin but He is also a loving God and therefore loves the sinner and wants to relate. On the one hand God is righteous and cannot relate to sin, but on the other He is merciful and wants to forgive sin. His righteousness and justice come together in his provision through Jesus for love, mercy and grace to be applied and experienced. No wonder the apostle Paul stated that even though he believed he was the chief of sinners, the grace of our Lord was poured out on him abundantly (1Tim.l:14).
The Purpose of God
One cannot read the Scriptures and look at all God is and has done without knowing that He is a God of order and design. Nothing He does is without an objective. His majesty, greatness and glory are seen in His mighty works. His purpose for humanity, clearly declared in creation (Gen.1:26,27), is that through us His image and likeness will be expressed.
His wisdom and greatness are expressed in the gospel. Having just expounded the wonder of the gospel and its impact on both Jew and Gentile, Paul declares ‘His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose which he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord’ (Eph.3:l0).
I cannot read this passage without imagining the great host of heaven feeling compelled to stand in amazement at the wonder, grace and wisdom of God demonstrated in the gospel and now through His new creation, the Church, bringing into being a people of God with all of the potential that implies, to be ‘filled to the measure of all of the fullness of God’ (Eph.3:19).
As I move around churches I don’t sense in many people an evident awareness of the greatness of God. Our view of Him ought to be such that we are filled with a sense of awe and wonder at His majesty and are gripped with a deep sense of gratitude as we grow in our understanding of His provision and His commitment to us. Like the heavenly hosts, our response ought to be: ‘What a wonderfully wise God He is.’ These truths about God are very much fundamental to all that we as evangelicals believe. Those of us with the privilege and responsibility of preaching and teaching should be committed to consistently teaching them to our people, for the more they understand the wonder and grace of God, the more they will be encouraged, enriched and enlarged in their Christian experience.
© Kel Willis (1 July 1999)
Rev Kel Willis is the Director of Christian Growth Ministries Inc.