GOD IS LOVE

We know that God has many attributes, some of which are singly those of God and we cannot begin to compare ourselves with Him.  Others, however, are called “communicable attributes” and these are characteristics that God has granted to us.  Attributes of omniscience, omnipotence, omnipresence, for example, are attributes that belong to God alone.  Even the most arrogant of people cannot assert that they can be in all places at once!

Other attributes, though, have been given to human beings, albeit in a watered down version of the pure attributes of God.  For example, love is an attribute of God and it is an attribute that He has communicated to us. 

God’s love, called agape love, is self-sacrificing.  it is love which thinks only of the object being loved, without any strings attached, without any consideration of love being returned in kind, without any anticipation of that love being returned.  it is pure love for the one who is loved. 

Because we live in a fallen world and we are sinful creatures, the love that we give to others is much more selfish and self-centered.  We love others but there is always at least a little bit of “what’s in it for me” associated with our loving actions.  At a minimum, we expect to be thanked for the kindness that we are exhibiting.

Recently, a friend sent me this video showing the mutual bliss that God’s created beings show when love is extended to them.   I expect that there are those who would argue that animals don’t feel love, they are just humoring the humans who feed them.  Or, I expect there are those who would argue that God did not give animals emotions at all.  I respectfully disagree!

I am not a veterinarian, and I am not an animal psychologist.  I am merely a woman who has had dogs in her life for almost its entirety.  The joy, comfort and pleasure that my dogs have given, and continue to give, to me is wonderful.  And, we love the pets in our home, taking joy in seeing them playing and interacting with each other and with us.

Oh, that we would exhibit God’s love to each other.  Scripture says: 

… but God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.  Since, therefore, we have now been justified by His blood, much more shall we be saved by Him from the wrath of God.  For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by His life.

Romans 5:8-10

God loved us when we were His enemies, because we are sinners who disobey His commands continually.  Sinners who take His blessings for granted, without gratitude or recognition.  Sinners who flaunt our achievements as if we did them on our own, rather than realizing that God is the One who enables us to do everything! 

Yet, despite our sinful nature, God loves us and sent His Son to be our Savior, Redeemer.  That is the love we should exhibit to others.  Because He loved us, we should so love others.

Father, forgive me when I have been self-centered and have not loved others as You have loved me.  Open my eyes, my mind and my heart so that I can love as You love, through the power of the Holy Spirit, I pray. 

RECOLLECTIONS AND REJOICING

We have seen many old buildings, most of which were in horrible disrepair due to their age, harsh weather and lack of maintenance, on our travels through the U.S.   Some are not falling down [yet], just boarded up, no longer relevant to the modern era. 

DSC_1802
House with a history known to some but not to the passers-by on the highway.

When I see an old barn, house, store, whatever, I think about the people who lived there many years ago.

Old barn along interstate (C)
Barn along interstate with the roof missing at one end of the building.

In South Dakota we stopped at Fort Hays, outside Rapid City, and visited some buildings that were used in the movie Dances with Wolves.

Fort Hayes, South Dakota
Fort Hays near Rapid City, South Dakota, the Tin Shop
Fort Hayes stockade
Fort Hays – Stockade

Although this was a movie set, not the “real” old buildings, it still is a reminder of that way people lived in years past.  No matter the actual age of the structure, structures from the past are fascinating to me.  The stories that they could tell about what happened there and how people lived and acted within the structure. The past holds good and bad memories, recollections of good times that are often countered by remembrances of times that were not so good, possibly even horrible!

There are times that Satan throws our sin back in our face and we can get mired in the muck of self-pity, self-doubt, loathing, etc.  In short, if we get stuck in the past by recollecting the depravity of our ways,  we cannot live the abundant life God wants us to have in the present.

God is all knowing and all powerful, eternal and loving, holy and good.  Reformed theology teaches that even before creation existed, God knew us, He saw all our actions and knew the words we would speak, both those that were intended and careless. The plan of salvation existed before creation, because God knew we would sin and need a Savior.  Because of His love, He sent His Son to be that Savior for His children. 

Paul told this truth to the Ephesians so long ago:

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ, (by grace you have been saved;)”

Ephesians 2:4-5 

This certainly is not something that I can explain, it is a matter of faith.  I can, however, thank Him for the grace and mercy extended to me in the forgiveness of my sins.  The Psalmist says:

For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us.”

Psalm 103:11-12 

Matthew Henry comments on these verses, in part, as follows:

As the heaven is high above the earth (so high that the earth is but a point to the vast expanse), so God’s mercy is above the merits of those that fear him most, so much above and beyond them that there is no proportion at all between them; the greatest performances of man’s duty cannot demand the least tokens of God’s favour as a debt, …  Observe, God’s mercy is thus great towards those that fear him, not towards those that trifle with him.  We must fear the Lord and his goodness.

As far as the east is from the west … so far has he removed our transgressions from us, so that they shall never be laid to our charge, nor rise up in judgment against us.  The sins of believers shall be remembered no more, shall not be mentioned unto them; they shall be sought for, and not found.  If we thoroughly forsake them, God will thoroughly forgive them. [Emphasis mine]

The difference between God and man is referenced by the prophet Isaiah where God is speaking and says:

For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

Isaiah 55:9

God’s ways and His thoughts are fundamentally different from ours.  When He forgives, He wipe the slate clean.  There is no remnant of the sin to remind Him that we deserve punishment.  Rather, He has cleaned our sin ledger with the blood of His Son and there is no longer any record of our sin before God. 

So, when you begin to focus on the sins of the past, surprise Satan and tell him to take a hike.  Turn your eyes to Jesus, the lover of your soul and the One who bought you with a price, His sinless blood.  Don’t let your past eliminate the present.  Look to Jesus and worship Him, then rejoice!

I will greatly rejoice in the LORD; my soul shall exult in my God, for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation; he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself like a priest with a beautiful headdress, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.”

Isaiah 61:10 

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.

Philippians 4:4

For the Christian, the antidote to living in the miserable part of your past is to rejoice for the glorious love of your Redeemer in the present and to think about the joy we will have when we see our Redeemer in the future and for all eternity to come.  For the one who does not believe in Jesus Christ as his/her personal Savior, there is no escape from your past until you call upon Him and claim Him as your Savior.  Do so today!

Father, Thank You for the truth of your Word and for the Holy Spirit who enables us to live a victorious life as a testimony of your marvelous, steadfast love and mercy.  Forgive us when we focus on the past, when You have already erased it from our account, when You have already credited us with Jesus righteousness because of His death and resurrection, as we have come to the cross in faith and believed on Him as our Savior.

Panguitch what?

We were driving along the road from Richfield, Utah to Bryce Canyon when we saw Panguitch.  What is Panguitch, you might ask?  It is a lovely, small town just 24 miles from Bryce Canyon, and we felt like we were driving through the old west a century ago (as long as you didn’t notice the traffic lights, paved road and modern cars!).

DSC_0190
The Panguitch Mercantile

The town is small, but it has a rich history.  According to the town’s website, “Panguitch” is a Native American Paiute word meaning “Big Fish”, a reference to the many lakes in teh area which are teeming with award-sized rainbow trout.

DSC_0189
Every town needs a Thrift Store

The site further describes the town by saying: “This historically rich town is unassuming, quaint, and full of its own charm. Sprinkled with wild-west history, the city boasts small museums, original architecture, stunning wilderness, and plenty of pioneer spirit.” (Emphasis mine.)

DSC_0188
Cowboy’s Smoke House Cafe on Main Street.

Have you ever stepped back in time?  I know we can’t do it for real, but have you ever thought about a time different than our own?  Perhaps it was a time in your life when things were wonderful, even though you didn’t realize it then.  Or, perhaps you were reading an historical novel and found yourself lost in the time period of the characters in the book.  Or, perhaps you were watching a television series like Downton Abby, and you found yourself thinking how you would have reacted if you had been living at that time.

No matter, the point of that I want us to think about is that God created time, and God is outside of time.  What was yesterday, today and tomorrow for us are all the eternal present for God. 

I certainly cannot explain it, because my mind is limited to time references of a temporal human being.  But, the eternal Creator of time is certainly able to be outside of time.  He has existed forever and He will continue to exist forever. 

In Deuteronomy we read:

There is none like God, O Jeshurun, who rides through the heavens to your help, through the skies in his majesty. The eternal God is your dwelling place, and underneath are the everlasting arms. And he thrust out the enemy before you and said, ‘Destroy.’”

Deuteronomy 33:26-27 ESV  (see the endnote for more information about Jeshurun)

This verse tells us that none of the gods of the nations around Israel were capable of doing for their worshippers that which Jehovah did for His people.   Matthew Henry says this about this passage:

Riding on the heavens denotes his greatness and glory, in which he manifests himself to the upper world, and the use he makes of the influences of heaven, and the productions of the clouds, in bringing to pass his own counsels in this lower world: he manages and directs them as a man does the horse he rides on. When he has any thing to do for his people he rides upon the heavens to do it; for he does it swiftly and strongly: no enemy can either anticipate or obstruct the progress of him that rides on the heavens.

His boundless eternity; he is the eternal God, and his arms are everlasting.  The gods of the heathen were but lately invented, and would shortly perish; but the God of Jeshurun is eternal: he was before all worlds, and will be when time and days shall be no more.

God’s eternality is one of His attributes that is fundamental to our understanding of His nature.  He existed before the Creation of all things and He will continue to exist long after this world has gone.  He doesn’t need to “step back in time” because all of time is in Him at the same time. 

But for us, we time-bound people, while we can think back and recall other times,  we have no ability to think forward to the future.  That belongs to God.

For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.”

Jeremiah 29:11 ESV

Jesus put it this way:

Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”

Matthew 6:34 ESV

Beloved, no matter what faces you today, be aware that God knows of your situation and He has it in His control.  There is simply nothing that comes your way that either surprises God or that is too difficult for Him to deal with – He is omniscient, omnipotent and omnipresent.  In other words, God knows all things, God is all powerful, and God is present everywhere. 

All the idols that mankind has created share at least one fundamental characcteristic – they are all manmade.  God, however, is not manmade: rather, He created man.  Trust Him.  Believe in Him.  Look to His Son who paid the price for mankind’s sin and believe in Him for your salvation and eternal life. 

Moses was right – “There is none like God”.

Father, I thank You for your word and I thank You for loving your people with an everlasting love.  You are God.  Forgive me when I have looked to other gods for help when only You can give me life abundant now and eternal hereafter.  You are God, and there is none other.

[By the way, Jeshurun is a poetical name for the people of Israel that is used as a token of affection.  Its meaning is “the dear upright people” and it is used in only four places: Deuteronomy 32:15, Deuteronomy 22:5, Deuteronomy 33:26, and Isaiah 44:2.]

“YOU SURE LOOK LIKE YOUR FATHER!”

Many years ago, before my biological children were born, we were foster parents for several children who were placed, for a variety of reasons, in a nearby children’s home. 

As an “adventure” one weekend, we took our foster children to a Civil War battlefield, complete with canons and stacks of cannonballs.  It also had a museum and much for the children to interact with as they learned about what happened at the Chickamauga Battlefield so many years earlier. 

When we went to the cashier to pay for our souvenirs, the Park Ranger standing there looked at our family and said to our son, “Boy, you sure look like your Father!” and to our daughter he said “And, you really look like your Mom!”  We smiled at him and paid for our goodies, and then left. 

In the car, we chuckled about the Ranger’s well-meaning comments.  They were especially humorous since both children were in foster care and of no blood relation to us.  Furthermore, they were not brother and sister but were from two separate families. 

Ultimately, I did have two children, a son and daughter, and when they were in preschool, my husband left us and divorce ensued.

Then the Lord brought Bill into our lives and, 31 years later, we are still married and the “children” (now in their 40s) are very much in love with him.   

When Bill had taken our son to the store for some clothing, the cashier looked at the two of them and said “Boy, your sure look like your Father!”   Without correcting the clerk, without discussing step-relationships, and without missing a beat, our son said “Yes, I do.”

Father and son marathon cropped
Father and son running in a marathon.

We were thinking about these comments recently and I wondered if I looked like my Father.  Do you?

We have just concluded consideration of just a few of the attributes of God, the Father, and I thought we should bring those discussion down to earth.  Do we look like our Heavenly Father?

I know that we cannot be like God, we are merely creatures who are sinful and who live in a fallen world.  But some of the attributes that are of God can be found in us if we let Him live in our hearts through the Holy Spirit. 

For example, Eternality is totally outside of our experience, we are time-bound, temporal, finite.   But Mercy is something that we can extend to those who wrong us in some way.

Omnipotence, Omniscience and Omnipresence are attributes that no one would ever credit me with having, that’s for sure.  They reside within God and are not communicable to either you or me. 

Holiness is surely one of the attributes that sets God apart from the sinful creation ever since the fall of man in the Garden of Eden.   But, Scripture says that we are to be holy. 

“For I am the LORD who brought you up out of the land of Egypt to be your God. You shall therefore be holy, for I am holy.””

Leviticus 11:45

“but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.””

1 Peter 1:15-16

I cannot be holy on my own nor can I become holy through any effort or action that I take.  I am sinful and will be sinful all my life.  But through the righteousness of Jesus Christ, in the eyes of God, I can be holy.

Justice is another attribute of God that is tied to His Holiness.  God is repeatedly called Just in Scripture and we are told that His actions are always just. 

“For the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who is not partial and takes no bribe.  He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing.”

Deuteronomy 10:17-18

While Justice is an attribute of God’s intrinsic nature, it is also something that we are commanded to be.

“He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”

Micah 6:8

Love, the attribute of God’s nature which Jonathan Edwards called “the sum of all Christianity”.  God loved us even when we were sinners and unable to approach Him even in prayer. Through the Holy Spirit, we were made part of God’s family because of His love.

In Romans 11, the Apostle Paul uses the imagery of an olive tree into which branches have been grafted, the tree, rooted in Jesus Christ, is referencing the Jews while the branches that were grafted onto the tree reference the Gentiles. 

Adoption is another image presented in Scripture with respect to God’s love.  The Amplified Holy Bible renders Ephesians 1:4-6 as follows:

Just as [in His love] He chose us in Christ [actually selected us for Himself] [as His own] before the foundation of the world, so that we would be holy [that is, consecrated, set apart for Him, purpose-driven] and blameless in His sight.  In love He predestined and lovingly planned for us to be adopted to Himself as [His own] children through Jesus Christ, in accordance with the kind intention and good pleasure of His will to the praise of His glorious grace and favor, which He so freely bestowed on us in the Beloved [His Son, Jesus Christ].

We have been loved by God, through Christ Jesus, and have been adopted into His family.  What does that mean for us here on earth, surrounded by so many who do not know Him?  We are to love each other and are to live as disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ so that men can see Him when looking at us.

By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.  As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love.”

John 15:8-9

This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.”

John 15:12

“You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you.  These things I command you, so that you will love one another.”

John 15:16-17

So, the question hangs in the air – do you look like your Heavenly Father?

          At church on Sunday morning?

          At the supermarket on Tuesday?

          At the work meeting where your project is being criticized?

          When someone cuts you off on the highway?

          When you can’t think because the neighbors’ dogs are barking?

Do you look like your Heavenly Father?  Do I?

 

Father, we so easily call You Father even though we had nothing to do with Your adoption of us.  Your grace in giving us eternal life came at the incredible cost of Your Beloved Son’s atoning death.  Your mercy was extended to us even while we were still wallowing in our sin. Oh, Father.  Your love and compassion is too wonderful for us to comprehend.  All we can do is thank You and pray that we would be transformed through Your Spirit into the image of Your Beloved Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ.  May we look more and more like Jesus and, thus, more and more like You each day.

ATTRIBUTES OF GOD – Concluding thoughts

For the past number of weeks, we have considered a number of God’s attributes, looking at scripture and asking the Holy Spirit to help us understand and appreciate our God more and more each day.  I must confess that, while we have thought about 13 attributes, this is clearly not an all encompassing listing.  I would encourage you to do your own study of God’s attributes; I am confident that it will enrich your relationship with your heavenly Father. 

During the time of our study, we have considered:

  • Eternality – the attribute that attests to God’s existence from all eternity past as well as future. In short, God has always existed.  He is outside of time; indeed, He created time for His creation. 
  • Mercy – the attribute which we rely on daily as we come to God in repentance and seek forgiveness for the sins which we so readily commit against Him. As believers in the Lord Jesus Christ, God extends mercy to us because we are covered by His Son’s precious, atoning blood.
  • Goodness – the attribute which underlies God’s character. God IS good.  We have no way of knowing that which is good apart from what God has revealed to us.  Indeed, scripture teaches that there is no one who is good, “no not one”.  Goodness belongs to God.
  • Omnipotence – the attribute which highlights God’s power. There is nothing that He cannot do.  He has “all – power” – He is omnipotent.  While it seems that He is powerless at times when horrific evil raises its head, God is watching and waiting to take action in His time and for His purposes.  Rest assured, Beloved, God is not powerless – have faith and see what He will do.
  • Holiness – this attribute focuses on the “set apartness” of God. He is holy.  He is set apart from all that is sinful; from all that is unclean.  His holiness is shown in His glory and magnificence.  We are called to be holy as well, but our holiness can only come through Him; it is not intrinsic to our nature or our actions.
  • Omnipresence – the attribute of God which describes his presence in all places. He is all present.  Psalm 139 highlights this attribute beautifully.  There is no place where we can go that we will not be with God.  He cannot lose us because He is omnipresent.  When ask God to be present with us during prayer, we are acknowledging that we desire His presence and it is also a conscious reminder that He is, indeed, with us. 
  • Immanence – the attribute of God which is akin to omnipresence but wonderfully different. Immanence highlights the fact that He not only is present everywhere, He is working even through the minutiae of our lives to produce a love for and enjoyment of His Word and, in fact, of Himself.  God takes an active part in what is going on in His world.
  • Immutability – the attribute of immutability means that God will not change His mind when it comes to His ultimate will for His children’s care and protection.  God does not change – a characteristic that is totally foreign to us.  He is immutable.  He is the same today as He was before creation even existed. Therefore, since God does not change, we have confidence that His character will remain the same and that which He has willed, will, in fact, occur.   
  • Righteousness – this attribute means that God’s character or nature always leads Him to do that which is right.  We know that God is holy — righteousness is His holiness in action. We, too, are called to be righteous, but we cannot do so on our own merit.  Rather, we rely on the righteousness of Jesus Christ. 
  • Omniscience – this attribute is the third of the “all” or “omni” attributes and it refers to God’s all-knowledge. He is all-knowing.  There is nothing that takes God by surprise.  He knows each person, and even to the extent of knowing the number of hairs on your head. 
  • Justice – this attribute is tied to God’s holiness.  Disobedience, sin, demands punishment because God is holy.  In His mercy, however, God provided a ransom for us through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.  R. C. Sproul said:

The most violent expression of God’s wrath and justice is seen in the Cross.  If ever a person had room to complain of injustice, it was Jesus, he was the only innocent man ever to be punished by God.  If we stagger at the wrath of God, let us stagger at the Cross.  Here is where our astonishment should be focused.

R. C. Sproul, The Holiness of God, Tyndale House Publishers, © 1998, p. 121

  • Sovereignty – God is sovereign over all mankind or anything that mankind worships, nothing compares to our God and Lord. God’s sovereignty is a tremendous comfort to the believer because it enables him to have confidence that he does not need to fear, God is still on His throne and He is still sovereign – in charge – in control, no matter what might be going on in this temporal world.
  • Love – this attribute was called “the sum of all Christianity” by the Puritan Theologian and Pastor, Jonathan Edwards. God’s love, agape love, is total, unconditional and everlasting.  We don’t have to do anything before God will love us. The Holy Spirit said it through Paul’s writing: “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”  This is the example of divine love for a being that can offer nothing … it is supreme love that is contingent not on the person being loved but on the nature of the One doing the loving.

One final thought.  We have rather dissected God’s attributes, separating them one from another so that we could consider each of them in their fullness.  But, God is not made up of separate parts – these attributes exist in Him and they are all active at the same time, eternally.  Dr. Sproul says it like this:

God’s perfection applies to all of His attributes.  His power is perfect; it has no weaknesses or any possibility of weakness.  His knowledge is not only omniscient but reflects perfect omniscience.  There is nothing that God does not know or that He could possibly learn. … God’s love, His wrath, His mercy – all that He is — is perfect. Not only is He perfect, but He is eternally and immutably so.  There never was a time when God was less than perfect and there is no possibility that in the future He may slip into any kind of imperfection. What has been with God will be so forever.  His perfection is immutable.  It cannot change. 

R. C. Sproul, The Holiness of God, Tyndale House Publishers, © 1998, p. 198

Beloved, honor this incredible, majestic, holy God and be in reverent awe of Him and of His power, justice, mercy and love.  Come to Him and remember His attributes and give glory to Him, now and forever more.

Father, we cannot conceive of Your attributes in their fullness and beauty.  We have insufficient words or understanding to comprehend Your nature.  But, we bow in humble submission to You and declare Your greatness.  Forgive us for our unbelief, for our disobedience, for our refusal to help our neighbor.  May we reflect on Your attributes and may we praise Your holy name.

 

ATTRIBUTES OF GOD – LOVE

Scripture says that God is love. 

“Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.”

1 John 4:8

We know that there are three primary words for love in the New Testament that enrich its meaning in Scripture beyond what our English translation can provide.

First is Eros from which we derive erotic, or romantic love, sexual and physical; it is a love that desires to possess for personal benefit.

Second is Phileo from which we get Philadelphia and philanthropy, words that mean companionship and friendship.

Third is Agape love.  This is the New Testament Greek word that describes God’s love for us.   Agape love is the result of a decision that commits itself to the well-being of the beloved regardless of the condition or reaction of the one who is loved, and it is the type of love that comes from God.

God loves His creation, and more than the creation generally, God loves His people.  Moses expressed it like this:

“It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the LORD set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the LORD loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the LORD has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt.”

Deuteronomy 7:7-8

In other words, God’s love is not dependent on anything that we have or any action that we have taken.  It is not dependent on our position in society or the status of our bank account.  Indeed, we have nothing that God has not given us, and we can give Him nothing that he needs … He loves us because He is love.

The amazing aspect of this attribute is that it is complete, unconditional and everlasting love.  A. W. Tozer (1897 – 1963) said this about God’s love:

God’s love is measureless.  It is more.  It is boundless.  It has no bounds because it is not a thing but a facet of the essential nature of GodHis love is something He is, and because He is infinite, that love can enfold the whole created world in itself and have room for ten thousand times ten thousand worlds beside.

The Apostle John elaborates on this incredible attribute of our marvelous God when he says:

In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. … We love because he first loved us.”

1 John 4:9-11, 19

And now we come to the crux of the matter.  John said it well – “God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him.”  This week, known by many as Passion Week, we have prepared for Easter Sunday, the day we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.  It is truly a day of joyous celebration for the Christian. 

But, before we can properly arrive at Sunday’s celebration we need to ruminate upon the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross of Calvary, the Friday night when sin thought it had triumphed over mankind.  This is the supreme example of God’s Agape love.

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person–though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die, but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinnersChrist died for us.  Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God.  For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.

Romans 5:6-10.

We, who were wallowing in our sin and were deserving of nothing but death and judgment from a holy God, were granted righteousness and full pardon from the judgment that our sin surely deserved when Christ died for us.  His sinless life, His death on the cross, and His powerful resurrection from the dead provides us with His righteousness because He took our sin and paid for it with His precious blood on the cross.

That, Beloved, is Agape love.  We don’t have to get clean before God will love us.  We don’t have to do anything before God will love us. The Holy Spirit said it through Paul’s writing: “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”  This is the example of divine, Agape, love for a being that can offer nothing … it is supreme love that is contingent not on the person being loved but on the nature of the One doing the loving.

This is the love that our Lord exhibited when He took our place on that cross.  It is the love that is evident when Jesus, suffering mightily on the cross, prayed for the soldiers who, even as He spoke, were dividing His clothing among themselves:

“”Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And they cast lots to divide his garments.”

Luke 23:34

Love is a principle of action rather than of emotion.  It is a purpose of honoring and benefiting the other party.  It is a matter of doing things for people out of compassion for their need, whether or not we feel personal affection for them.

J. I. Packer, Concise Theology, p. 182.

This love that has been extended to us deserves our response in love extended back to God and then to others.

Jonathan Edwards (1703 – 1758) was a Puritan theologian, pastor, and devout Calvinist, whose conversion centered on his coming to the realization that God is sovereign over all things.  In the book Charity and Its Fruits, Edwards calls love the “sum of all Christianity”.  And he renders the following exhortation:

A Christian should at all times keep a strong guard against everything that tends to overthrow or corrupt or undermine a spirit of love. That which hinders love to men, will hinder the exercise of love to God… If love is the sum of Christianity, surely those things which overthrow love are exceedingly unbecoming [to] Christians.  An envious Christian, a malicious Christian, a cold and hard-hearted Christian, is the greatest absurdity and contradiction. It is as if one should speak of dark brightness, or a false truth!

May we relish in this glorious attribute of our holy God – Love.  And may we honor and glorify the embodiment of that love in Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who endured unimaginable horror on the cross as He absorbed all our sin in Himself so that we could be called the children of God, all on the day we call Good Friday.  And may we live in the power of the Holy Spirit so that we glorify God through compassion and loving kindness as we share the good news of Jesus Christ and the glorious message of hope through His resurrection which we celebrate on Easter Sunday.

Sovereign God, I praise You and glorify You as only You are worthy of adoration.  Thank You for the love that has been expressed through the sacrifice of Your Son so that my sin has been paid for and my debt extinguished through His righteousness.  I bow in humble obedience to You, my Lord and Master.

ATTRIBUTES OF GOD – RIGHTEOUSNESS

“Gracious is the LORD, and righteous; our God is merciful.”

Psalm 116:5

Your righteousness, O God, reaches the high heavens. You who have done great things, O God, who is like you?”

Psalm 71:19

To you, O Lord, belongs righteousness, but to us open shame, as at this day, to the men of Judah, to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and to all Israel, those who are near and those who are far away, in all the lands to which you have driven them, because of the treachery that they have committed against you. … Therefore the LORD has kept ready the calamity and has brought it upon us, for the LORD our God is righteous in all the works that he has done, and we have not obeyed his voice.

Daniel 9: 7, 14

The righteousness of God is one of the most frequently referenced attributes found in Scripture.  It is tied closely to God’s justice, and the word “just” is sometimes used where other translations will say “righteous” in reference to God’s character.  When the Bible speaks of God’s righteousness, it means that God’s character or nature always leads Him to do that which is right.  We know that God is holy, and righteousness is His holiness in action.

צְדָקָה

The transliteration of this Hebrew word is tsedaqah and its pronunciation is tsed·ä·kä’. This Hebrew word is translated as justice or righteousness.  Strong’s concordance says this in its definition:

  1. righteousness (in government), such as a judge, ruler or king, of the law, and of the Davidic king Messiah
  2. righteousness (of God’s attribute)
  3. righteousness (in a case or cause)
  4. righteousness, truthfulness
  5. righteousness (as ethically right)
  6. righteousness (as vindicated), justification, salvation
  7. righteous acts

δικαιοσύνη

This is the Greek word for righteousness.  The transliteration of this Greek word is dikaiosynē and its pronunciation is dē-kī-o-sü’-nā.  Strong’s concordance defines this term in the following manner:  

in a broad sense: state of him who is as he ought to be, righteousness, the condition acceptable to God.  A) the doctrine concerning the way in which man may attain a state approved of God; B) integrity, virtue, purity of life, rightness, correctness of thinking feeling, and acting

Now, let’s consider some of the examples and scripture passages dealing with God’s righteousness.

Consider, for example, that God deals righteously with humanity.  Abraham expressed God’s righteousness in Genesis when he was speaking with God about Sodom and Gomorrah.

“Far be it from you to do such a thing, to put the righteous to death with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked! Far be that from you! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?”

Genesis 18:25

God expresses His righteousness when He loves the things that are good and hates the things that are evil.  This attribute leads God to do only those things that are right.  Thus, because He is righteous, He must judge evil and sin cannot come into His presence. 

Righteousness is like goodness and holiness, but this attribute differs from others because it requires works to establish it.  God is good and God is holy, but He refers to Himself as righteous because He works the good as well.

This connection between works and righteousness is seen in the very first book of the Bible.  God was speaking to Abram and promising to make him a great nation, notwithstanding the fact that his wife was barren.  After delivering this promise, scripture says:

“And he [Abram] believed the LORD, and he [God] counted it to him as righteousness.” 

Genesis 15:6

A multitude of other scriptures reference the connection between our works and righteousness.  Consider these as examples:

“And it will be righteousness for us, if we are careful to do all this commandment before the LORD our God, as he has commanded us.”

Deuteronomy 6:25

He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to what is false and does not swear deceitfully. He will receive blessing from the LORD and righteousness from the God of his salvation.”

Psalm 24:4-5

The Old Testament is not the only place where righteousness is discussed and commanded from God’s people. 

Jesus said:

“But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”

Matthew 6:33 

Then Paul wrote to the Romans and said:

“For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.”

Romans 14:17

The connection between righteousness and action was expressed by James like this:

 “Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar?  You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works;  and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness“–and he was called a friend of God. …  For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.”

James 2:21-23, 26

While Christians are called righteous, we do not receive that commendation because of any ability to accomplish good works in ourselves.  Rather, we are considered righteous by our holy God because we reside in the righteousness of Christ.  In other words, Christ’s obedience is imputed to us and when we stand before God, God sees not us but the righteousness of His Son.

Paul expressed it like this:

“Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith–“

Philippians 3:8-9

Righteousness.  It is an attribute of God and we are commanded to follow God’s lead in doing works of righteousness.  Not to earn our own salvation, but to praise Him for the gift of grace and mercy in the atoning work of our Savior and Lord.

Father, I praise You for Your righteousness.  Through Your Son’s sacrifice, You have imputed His righteousness to us, and have covered our sins with His atoning blood.  Thank You for Your righteousness and mercy. 

ATTRIBUTES OF GOD – MERCY

Last week we considered Justice, one of the attributes of God which is difficult to discuss because, inevitably, we know that we have sinned and that when God metes out His justice, we will be found wanting, fully deserving His punishment.

This week we are considering the attribute of Mercy.  Mercy is the flip side of Justice.

Dr. R. C. Sproul contrasts God’s justice and mercy by reference to the land of Canaan when the children of Israel were going to overrun the people and claim the land as their Promised Land from God.

Of the multitudes of women and children living in Canaan, none was innocent.  The conquest of Canaan was an explicit expression of God’s righteous judgment on a wicked nation.  He made that point clear to Israel.  He also made it clear to the people of Israel that they also were not innocent.  It was not as if God destroyed a wicked people for the sake of a righteous people.  To the Canaanites God poured out justice.  To the Jews God poured out mercy.  He was quick to remind the Jews of that in Deuteronomy 9:4. 

R. C. Sproul, The Holiness of God, Tyndale House Publishers, © 1998, p. 119.

The verses referenced by Dr. Sproul are instructive here:

Do not say in your heart, after the LORD your God has thrust them out before you, ‘It is because of my righteousness that the LORD has brought me in to possess this land,’ whereas it is because of the wickedness of these nations that the LORD is driving them out before you.  Not because of your righteousness or the uprightness of your heart are you going in to possess their land, but because of the wickedness of these nations the LORD your God is driving them out from before you, and that he may confirm the word that the LORD swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. Know, therefore, that the LORD your God is not giving you this good land to possess because of your righteousness, for you are a stubborn people.”

Deuteronomy 9:4-6

To the Canaanites God poured out justice.  To the children of Israel God poured out mercy.

This is consistent with God’s character as He revealed Himself throughout scripture.  There is no deviation.

“And [God] said, “I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘The LORD.’ And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy.”

Exodus 33:19

“Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy.”

Proverbs 28:13

Salvation cannot be earned, we cannot work to avoid the consequences of our sin.      

“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.

Ephesians 2:8-9

Paul puts the very granting of the faith to come to Jesus seeking salvation from our sin in the hands of the grace of God.  Our works cannot obtain this salvation, so no one can boast that anything that we did accomplished it.  The grace of God gave us this gift, and that my friend is mercy. 

Mercy results in the withholding of that which is deserved so that the object of mercy is unharmed.

As we saw last week, sin, which is disobedience to God’s law, must result in punishment because God’s justice mandates such a result.  However, when God grants mercy to an individual, that judgment is withdrawn, and His mercy eradicates the infraction which otherwise deserved judgment.

“But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit,”

Titus 3:4-5

The result of God’s mercy is that we can come to God as our Heavenly Father, through Jesus Christ, His Son and our Savior.  The writer of Hebrews says this about the result of God’s mercy:

“Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”

Hebrews 4:16

We can come to God, with confidence, because He has showered us with His mercy.  Indeed, we can rejoice with Peter:

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,”

1 Peter 1:3

God’s mercy is amazing.  Each person on this planet enjoys God’s mercy when He allows us to live, when He grants rain and sunshine, even though we sin and worship other gods, such as money, family, fame, fortune!  God does not destroy us instantly when we have such idols in front of our eyes, rather than focusing our attention on Him.  Instead, He has chosen to bless all people with His mercy now.  For those in His Son, Christ Jesus, we will receive His mercy both now and forever more.

Father, we are humbled and once again left without words to express our thankfulness and wonder at the gift of mercy that You have given to us.  May we walk in Your mercy and may we express Your love to others so that, by our words and actions, we may point people to Your Son, the giver of life and the sacrifice that atoned for our sin.  We are blessed beyond compare, and we praise Your holy name.

ATTRIBUTES OF GOD – JUSTICE

Aristotle said:

“At his best, man is the noblest of all animals; separated from law and justice he is the worst.”

Unfortunately, in our world today, it seems that “the worst” has come to the forefront.  It seems that there is injustice everywhere you turn.  We hear of corrupt politicians, of immoral preachers, of lawless officials, of abuse of innocent children, of hordes of homeless and refuges leaving their homes and all that they have to save their lives.  Injustice has always been with us, but now we have instant access to television and media that can vividly show us the extent of injustice that exists.  No longer is it a line in the newspaper or magazine.  Now it is an image on the television screen, a digital reminder on the cell phone that horror is happening, all over the world.  And it never ends.

We look at the statistics and weep because there seems to be no hope; injustice reigns, and it seems that there is nothing we can do to stop it or avoid it.  Where is justice?  Does it exist anywhere?

Beloved – the Holy God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob is the Source of justice.  The God who loved us so much that He gave His only Son to be our Savior, is the God of Justice.

God’s justice is never divorced from His righteousness.  He never condemns the innocent.  He never clears the guilty.  He never punishes with undue severity.  He never fails to reward righteousness.  His justice is perfect justice.  (Emphasis added)

R. C. Sproul, The Holiness of God, Tyndale House Publishers, © 1998, p. 110

Scripture says much about justice, as it is one of the immutable attributes of our Holy God.  For example, when Abraham was arguing with God about the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, he focused on God’s justice. 

“Far be it from you to do such a thing, to put the righteous to death with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked! Far be that from you! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?”

Genesis 18:25

The Psalmist writes:

The King in his might loves justice. You have established equity; you have executed justice and righteousness in Jacob.”

Psalm 99:4

While there is an abundance of injustice in our world, we must remember that true justice will not be rendered in this world.  Those who seem to lie, cheat, steal, and kill with no seeming repercussions will be subject to justice in the true realm, the eternal heavenly realm.  At that time, each man/woman will receive justice at the hands of an immutable God who cannot be persuaded or bribed.

“For the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who is not partial and takes no bribe.  He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing.”

Deuteronomy 10:17-18

Elihu, the fourth speaker in the book of Job, gave this comment about God and His justice:

“The Almighty–we cannot find him; he is great in power; justice and abundant righteousness he will not violate.  Therefore men fear him; he does not regard any who are wise in their own conceit.”

Job 37:23-24

Christ will look at each person’s heart, and if it is not covered by His righteousness, that person, not being pure, will receive justice, but it will not be heaven.   Indeed, Saint Augustine said:

“Punishment is justice for the unjust.”

All mankind would receive punishment because all of us fail the test of righteousness because we are all corrupted by sin. 

But, for the believer in Jesus Christ, we do not need to fear God’s justice, rather we are covered by Jesus’ righteousness and we will be received into the presence of God as His child.  Then we will find comfort for all the wrongs done against us and against mankind.

“For the word of the LORD is upright, and all his work is done in faithfulness.  He loves righteousness and justice; the earth is full of the steadfast love of the LORD.”

Psalm 33:4-5

After hearing of the judgment that King Solomon rendered when two women both claimed to be the mother of a newborn baby, we read:

“And all Israel heard of the judgment that the king had rendered, and they stood in awe of the king, because they perceived that the wisdom of God was in him to do justice.”

1 Kings 3:28

In speaking to the Pharisees about their misuse of the Old Testament law, Jesus said the following:

“”But woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and every herb, and neglect justice and the love of God. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others.”

Luke 11:42

The most violent expression of God’s wrath and justice is seen in the Cross.  If ever a person had room to complain of injustice, it was Jesus, he was the only innocent man ever to be punished by God.  If we stagger at the wrath of God, let us stagger at the Cross.  Here is where our astonishment should be focused.  …

The Cross was at once the most horrible and the most beautiful example of God’s wrath. … With the concentrated load of sin [Jesus] carried, He became utterly repugnant to the Father.  God poured out His wrath on this obscene thing.  God’s holy justice perfectly manifest.  Yet it was done for us.  He took what justice demanded from us.  This “for us” aspect of the Cross is what displays the majesty of its grace.  At the same time justice and grace, wrath and mercy.  It is too astonishing to fathom.

R. C. Sproul, The Holiness of God, Tyndale House Publishers, © 1998, p. 121-122

All will be judged and all will receive justice. This is a scary thought for one who truly knows his heart’s deceitfulness and is not a believer in Jesus Christ.  However, “for us”, those who rest in their faith in Christ, our judgment will be sheltered in Christ, and that we will be accepted by God through Jesus Christ’s atoning sacrifice. 

Look to the Lord, the Almighty Holy God.  He will bring justice to all mankind, in His time.  But we can be confident, whether we see justice now or not, that true and correct judgment will ultimately be rendered by our God.  Praise Him for this comfort and for this promise.  Rest in His love, Christian, and don’t be anxious about the injustice you see in the world.  It will pass away because God is victorious!

Next week we will consider the mercy of God, which is also present at the cross of Christ.

Father, I thank You that You execute justice according to Your providence and plan.  Enable me, through Your spirit, to do justice, and to love kindness, and help me to walk humbly before You, I pray, in Jesus name, Amen.