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The Attributes of God: Studying unto Sanctification

‘We all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory.’

- 2 Corinthians 3:18 -

 

Pastor and theologian A.W. Tozer says: “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us. Always the most revealing thing about the Church is her idea of God, just as her most significant message is what she says about Him or leaves unsaid, for her silence is often more eloquent than her speech.” How and what we think about God shapes our entire life. High views of God lead to holy living and transcendent worship of our Creator. Low views of God cause the opposite! How we grasp and marvel at God’s very attributes effect everything around us. But just what do we mean by the attributes of God?


 

Well, attributes are qualities that define or describe a person. The Bible is the road we walk to understand God’s glorious attributes. Yet we must realize that no believer fully grasps God’s glory in this life. As such, after crossing the Red Sea, Moses declares: “Who is like You among the gods, O Yahweh? Who is like You, majestic in holiness, fearsome in praises, working wonders?” (Ex. 15:11). God’s immense miracle power teaches Moses that His ways are far above our ways. Paul echoes this by proclaiming: ‘How unsearchable are [God’s] judgments and unfathomable His ways!’ (Rom. 11:33). It’s a challenge to study God, make no mistake about it, but let us see what rewards it can bring to at least dip our toes in the water.


The Bible doesn’t appear to give any of God’s facets precedence over the others. Yet, as sinners, it’s easy to hear ‘God is love’ (1 John 4:16) and plug our ears to God’s other attributes, hoping our Father’s love will excuse our lawless living. The miracle is that, in spite of our wretched tendencies, ‘God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.’ John 3:16 is so familiar that we forget Christ’s presentation of God’s vast love astounded Nicodemus. The Pharisee was just only starting to grasp God’s love for the lost in these early days of Jesus’ ministry. Yet once Nicodemus was saved, whenever that happened, he will have realized Christ was right and agreed with John that ‘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’ (1 John 4:10). “Oh what a Savior!” the former Pharisee must have cried once he understood the boundless love of God.



God’s love is a bomb that sends shockwaves in all directions. The first wave is love, but next comes mercy. God creates us with a conscience, and as such we are accountable. We all innately know of God and His righteous standard due to our conscience. The consequence is our Maker could wipe us off the board at any second for abandoning Him and His holy standard. That He doesn’t should stagger us! Look to David. As a king who sins as much as he repents, David marvels that God has the right to judge but is merciful to relent and save sinners. Therefore, David says of God: ‘He has not dealt with us according to our sins, and He has not rewarded us according to our iniquities’ (Ps. 103:10). God’s enduring and unmerited mercy makes Him worthy of praise by all sinners, who, like David, grasp His righteousness yet still draw breath.

 

About 400 years later, when Jeremiah watches Jerusalem burn, the weeping prophet can rejoice in the face of horrors by clinging to the fact that ‘the lovingkindnesses of Yahweh indeed never cease, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness’ (Lam. 3:22-23). But how can Jeremiah speak of compassion when Zion was burning? Because God had warned His people to cast off their sin for centuries and also as it would be unloving if God let rampant wickedness go unchecked forever. Jeremiah also leans on Israel’s history, which teaches that ‘the Lord will not reject forever, for if He causes grief, then He will have compassion according to His abundant lovingkindness’ (Lam. 3:31-32). Therefore, after decades in exile, God’s lovingly sees that Jerusalem is rebuilt and David’s line preserved so that Jesus will come as Israel’s saving Messiah.



James, Jesus’ half-brother, says: ‘Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above’ (1:17). And no gift is more gracious than our salvation. We sinners deserve nothing, yet God graciously gives us everything: ‘For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not of works, so that no one may boast’ (Eph. 2:8). Unmerited election is often framed as if Luther or Calvin invented it. If that were true, David wouldn’t sing: ‘How blessed is the one whom You choose and bring near to You that he would dwell in Your courts’ (Ps. 65:4). The mystery of God’s grace is that He deigns to save any of us. Paul speaks to this enigma when he says: ‘God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us’ (Rom. 5:8). The apostle is floored by God’s redemption of such reprobates. So we are right to cry out: Oh, what a Savior we have!

 

While God is the gracious ‘Savior of all men, especially of believers’ (1 Tim. 4:10), our blessed hope rests on His faithfulness. Old Testament saints show that God keeps His word. They don’t always understand His ways, but they trust Him emphatically. When Isaiah foresees a startling day when God will swallow up death, he has faith in His Savior and proclaims: “This is Yahweh in whom we have hoped; let us rejoice and be glad in His salvation” (25:9). Isaiah didn’t live to see its fulfillment but he trusts that God will bring it to pass. Likewise, in David’s prophecy of Christ’s saving cross, the king reminds us that in God ‘our fathers trusted; they trusted and You rescued them. To You they cried out and were granted escape; in You they trusted and were not disappointed’ (Ps. 22:4-5). The faithfulness of God was never in question before the cross. God keeps His word in days past and days to come. From this we should all take comfort.



The Book of Numbers gets a bad rap for being boring due to its mathematic name. It begins with a census (hence Numbers), but quickly shifts to wild people on wilder adventures. Balaam wins the medal for most confounding. When we expect to hear evil from the prophet-for-hire’s lips, God places this wondrous truth on Balaam’s lips: “God is not a man, that He should lie, nor a son of man, that He should repent; has He not said, and will He not do it? Or has He spoken, and will He not establish it?” (23:19). Years later, after the conquest of Canaan, Joshua reiterates Balaam’s inspired description of God, reminding Israel that “not one word of all the good words which Yahweh your God spoke concerning you has failed” (Josh. 23:14). God requires obedience, death to self, worship, and that we love others. But above all He requires that we trust Him.


So what have we seen of God? He is loving, merciful, gracious, and faithful, and this is just the tip of the iceberg. This is all especially good news when we remember that God cannot change. His attributes are cast in stone that will never wear away. James says, ‘there is no variation or shifting shadow’ in our Father (1:17), and he is right! Psalm 102 sees God’s immutability this way: ‘Of old You founded the earth, and the heavens are the work of Your hands. Even they will perish, but You will remain; and all of them will wear out like a garment; like clothing You will change them and they will be changed. But You are the same, and Your years will not come to an end’ (25-27). We are blessed to have an unchanging God! May we cling to this truth and never relinquish it!



Many psalms are honest about bad health and worse enemies in this world. Yet their writers are stubborn to remember God’s everlasting nature and unmerited mercy. Paul is also able and willing to glory over God’s attributes in life’s darkest times. He knows that sanctification comes from beholding Christ, whereby we are ‘transformed into the same image from glory to glory’ (2 Cor. 3:18). We would all do well to gaze at God more, moving from one level of glory to the next, until, in the life to come, we behold Him face to face and finally inherit the full holiness of Christ. Then we will know Him in His entirety and enjoy that knowledge for all eternity.

 

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1 Comment


Your title intrigued me and I read a little each day. I was impressed by these statements, God keeps His word in days past and days to come.....We are blessed to have an unchanging God!....Many psalms are honest about bad health and worse enemies in this world. Yet their writers are stubborn to remember God’s everlasting nature and unmerited mercy. This was nicely written and I enjoyed reading about how others discovered facets of God through revelation and experience. Sandi/Draw Nigh To Hope

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