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The Moral Character of God – Knowing God for Who He is
October 2011

Can a man understand, be devoted or obedient to God and His Word without understanding His divine nature?  When we thoroughly and thoughtfully examine this question it becomes clear that what we think about whom God is the most important basis upon which our knowing God and understanding His Gospel exists.  A.W. Tozer in his book on the attributes of God, “The Knowledge of the Holy,” makes an extremely profound assertion?  “Man’s spiritual history will positively demonstrate that no religion has ever been greater than its idea of God.  Worship is pure or base as the worshipper entertains high or low thoughts of God.”[1] 

            In our hearts we know the above statement is true. How can one follow “God” if one’s concept of God has been lost?  Today “God” has become anything an individual wishes.  “God can refer to anything from a concept of man, to a ritual based on personal needs and likes, or a psychological crutch used by weak, hurting, unintelligent people.  The word “god” can represent an all powerful creature that is indifferent to our individual personal problems, a powerless overseer, or a complete myth.  “God” has come to mean so many different things today that man can set his own idea’s, likes, and dislikes up as divine truth without worrying about any consequences whatsoever.  Simply put “God” has been remade into man’s image.

            Due to these fraudulent representations of who and what God is, comes a direct and proportional devaluing of God Himself, His Word, precepts and laws.  How much one believes in “God” directly determines his relationship, and obedience.  It extends much farther than just our relationship and obedience however; it reaches into the depth of our soul.  Our concept of God directly effects our desire to know Him, His ways, our relationship with Him and with the world, and all those around us, but most importantly for our need of salvation. There is no need for salvation if our concept of God is wrong.  Therefore, the importance of having the correct understanding of the whole character of God is vital; for the wrong conception is a catastrophic, lethal, and eternal error if not rectified. 

            The Puritans believed that the Law was God’s holy nature in written form.  They considered the moral law as a revelation of God’s divine nature; an unchanging expression of the holy majesty of God.  Since God’s moral Law originates from His character, His unchanging and divine management of cause and effect (moral Law) therefore, reveals God’s righteous character. Brethren be advised therefore, that the Gospel must always be presented in absolute truth against the backdrop of coming judgment which is administered according to the precepts (cause and effect) which only God has determined (ref. Acts 17:30, 31; 24:15, 16) or it can not accomplish that which it was sent forth to achieve, which is man’s freedom from the effect of sin.  It is important to note that early Puritans such as Robert Bolton (1606-1654) recognized the danger of “short-cutting” the Gospel by offering free grace, before the conscience was afflicted by the Law.[2] 

            The moral law of God was given to man at Mount Sinai beginning with the statement, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt (Exodus 20:2).  What followed was the standard man must use to decide what was right or wrong, good or evil.  This moral law was fixed in the unwavering and perfect holy character of God.  His nature attributes, character, and qualities provided the measuring stick for all ethical decisions.

          As a young nation, Israel would need guide lines on how they should live their lives in the presence of a Holy God and amongst themselves in the new land God had promised to give them.  Notice; “The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, (2) “Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them: ‘I am the Lord your God. (3) According to the doings of the land of Egypt, where you dwelt, you shall not do; and according to the doings of the land of Canaan, where I am bringing you, you shall not do; nor shall you walk in their ordinances. (4) You shall observe My judgments and keep My ordinances, to walk in them: I am the Lord your God. (5) You shall therefore keep My statutes and My judgments, which if a man does, he shall live by them: I am the Lord” (Leviticus 18.1-5).

            God is giving His chosen people a chance to live governed by God’s holy and righteous precepts, and be set apart from all other nations in this world, “and you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.  These are the words which you shall speak to the children of Israel(Exodus 19:6).

            Through Israel the nations of the world would see both the spiritual and physical benefits from God’s moral law.  Eventually however, the weaknesses of their human flesh and the corruption of sin won out and they would reject God and His precepts and ask Samuel for a king to rule over them just like the unholy nations around them. Man left to his own perceptions of right and wrong sent himself spiraling down into the filth and abominations of the pagan nations. By doing so, man could never achieve that which God had lovingly chosen for him.

            In the New Testament or what is referred to as the “New Covenant,” the function of the Law is summarized in Galatians 2 and 3.  We see in these chapters that God’s moral law clearly shows that man is incapable of receiving salvation by his own works, and ideas. Refer Galatians 2:16 and 3:6-11.  “Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified” (Galatians 2:16).

            That being the case the Law functions as a prosecutor, an executioner; it reveals the curse that we are all under. In other words, the Law prepares the sinner for the Gospel of Christ and reveals the blessings of mercy and grace. It is impossible therefore, to love God without submitting to and valuing His Laws.  “Just as Abraham “Believed God, and it was accounted to Him for righteousness.” Therefore know that only those who are of faith are sons of Abraham. And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel to Abraham beforehand, saying, “In you all the nations shall be blessed.” So then those who are of faith are blessed with believing Abraham. For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse; for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who does not continue in all things which are written in the book of the law, to do them.” But that no one is justified by the law in the sight of God is evident, for “the just shall live by faith” (Galatians 3:6-11).

“I call heaven and earth as witnesses today against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore choose life, that both you and your descendants may live; that you may love the LORD your God, that you may obey His voice, and that you may cling to Him, for He is your life and the length of your days; and that you may dwell in the land which the LORD swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to give them” (Deuteronomy 30:19, 20).

            Only the man who “imitates God” will enter the kingdom of heaven (ref. Ephesians 5:1-6).  God’s standard never evolves or changes because the Lawgiver never evolves or changes.  God’s moral law reflects the immutable character of His righteousness and holiness.  It is a standard that is eternally binding upon all peoples and civilizations throughout all time. 

          Once God’s moral Law, has been established and accepted, with full understanding that His unchanging and divine management of moral cause and effect will be administered (Deuteronomy 10, 11, 13, 27, 28), it becomes perfectly clear that in order for one to possess salvation one must live in absolute obedience to the precepts of that moral law.  Only by obedience to God’s commands can we make manifest that we are God’s possession, we understand who and what God is and that we are willingly subject to Him.  

         John Piper the Pastor at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota uses this analogy to explain the way we were created to enjoy God, not ourselves only.  It is like going to the Grand Canyon – who would think that the canyon contributes to ones own glory? No one!  We stand in awe of what is most definitely not ours, not us, but to something outside and greater than ourselves. So in this analogy we speak of treasuring the Grand Canyon not for what it says about me or us, but what it is in itself.
         Well, there is something more to be said about God. You see, to treasure the Grand Canyon does not bring with it any commitment to any sort of character – one can be the most wretched villain in all the world and still stand in awe of nature. But this is not so with treasuring Christ. Christ is a person – a person with real attributes, real moral character, and to treasure Him is to treasure not only His power and His infinitude, but also His moral person. It is to say that God is not only great, but good; He is not only a treasure because He is creator, but because He is holy.
         So, then, to sin does not necessarily mean one cannot be treasuring the Grand Canyon; but to sin does mean that one does not fully treasure Christ. Beyond the turning away from the satisfaction of His presence and hope of His glory to an instant gratification, one is implying that Jesus’ moral character is silly, foolish, superfluous, or unnecessary. To murder is to bring into question Jesus’ immeasurable mercy; to lie is to be at odds with His uninterrupted truth. Because Christ is a person, not a theory or idea or natural phenomenon, to treasure Him we must treasure His morality. Oh how David loved the law of God!  This is why we can say with David in Psalm 51:4, “Against You and You only have I sinned, and done what is evil in your sight.” We have done what is really and truly evil in His moral sight.  What He would never do!  This is a much more wretched state of affairs than merely transgressing some eternal code – we are offending the sensibilities of a person who is holy above all others. We are showing, by our actions that we do not delight in His person that we consider the morality we determine at the moment to be superior to the way our Savior lived.[3]

            If we are to understand the meaning of sin we must first understand the character of God.  God’s character is the divine standard in which we discover what sin really is. “Every civilization, from the beginning of time makes a distinction between good and evil, between what is hallowed and what is worldly.  For example what was holy to the Canaanite was an abomination to the God of Israel. In Canaan the temple prostitute was a holy woman and sacrificing your child by fire was a respected and righteous action which showed ones devotion to their God (cf. Deuteronomy 23:17-18; Leviticus 18:21).

            Therefore, we especially as believers must discover exactly what the character of God is.  Our understanding of God must start with a proper and correct definition of “character.” Only then will we be able to attempt a definition of God’s divine character.  What exactly is character?  Webster’s dictionary defines it as; “the total quality of a person’s behavior, as revealed in his habits of thought and expression, his attitudes and interests, his actions, and his personal philosophy of life.”[4]  The Biblical Greek word for character is “dokime.” It is translated “experience” in Romans 5:4 and “proof” in Philippians 2:22.  The word is also used to mean the effect of proving by trial.  It can be translated also as approved, tried, character, proof, or tried worth. Character presents itself as peculiar qualities, impressed upon a person by nature, intelligence, education, environment, or upbringing, which distinguishes him from others.  These qualities which constitute ones character can be said to be moral, or immoral, sinful or righteous depending on ones concept of God. 

            If man’s concept of God is one of an all loving, understanding entity whose love for man supersedes His holiness, then they will live and respond to God’s precepts with little or no regard. If one believes that a loving God is uncaring and oblivious, a myth, a crutch, or a deity that would not send someone to hell because He is too loving, than their life and actions will most likely be one that ignores God’s commands for there would be no reason to obey them. On the other hand, if one believes that God though totally loving and merciful, yet just in character who will do according to His law, than one would do all to obey and follow those precepts to the smallest jot or title; for God’s punishment for sin is as strong in God as His loving kindness and infinite mercy.

Many people do believe that God will surely judge their lives, but they believe that God will weigh their good and bad actions in a balance, and if the good outweighs the bad, they will go to heaven. This belief brings one to try and do more good than bad in the hopes of reaching heaven.  Unfortunately this is a false presumption.  “For it is by God's grace that you have been saved through faith. It is not the result of your own efforts, but God's gift, so that no one can boast about it” (Ephesians 2:8-9 GNB).  As stated earlier, our concept and understanding of God divine nature and character will determine the actions taken in this life. But when one considers the holy character of God and comes to the understanding of it they will live accordingly. That is why it is vital to understand that not one person can live beyond his or her concept of God!

            In this understanding or lack thereof, is the problem; we can not define God as being who we want Him to be.  He defines Himself! As stated earlier God’s character is the standard by which we judge what is holy and what is sin. The character of man must emulate the character of God, else there is no significance in the command of Peter “to be ye holy...for I am holy” (1st Peter 1:14-16). God is commanding us to be Holy; why? For He is Holy! In other words, God’s character is “Holy” so must ours be! This means that He is separated from all moral defilement and is hostile toward it.  God sees all evil and it angers Him; if it were not for His love, the rest of His attributes would keep us from Him.  This is not the case however; God’s desire is to know each of us intimately and for us to know Him intimately as well.  God’s love is what led Jesus to the Cross of Calvary to gain our salvation.  Our salvation brought us many wonderful gifts, two of which are “Adoption and Access.”  Adoption is an act by which a person takes a stranger into his family, acknowledges him as his child, and represents him as heir of his estate (ref. Romans 8:15, 23; Galatians 4:5; Ephesians 1:5.) Access means free, open, and unlimited admission into ones very presence without any fear of condemnation or retaliation so that intimate knowledge and love can be established.  This is what God freely gives anyone who wishes to obtain it (ref. Psalm 24:3-4; Isaiah 26:2; John 10:9; 14:6; Romans 5:2; Ephesians 2:18, 3:12; Hebrews 10:19; 1 Peter 3:12; Revelation 3:8).

            Brethren we can only be as holy as we are “God-like.”  Aligning our character to match as closely as possible the character of God determines how much we understand and accept the divine truth of God’s nature.  There can be no true worship of God without at least a solid understanding of the character and attributes of God.  God expects us to be in alignment with His divine character in as much as it is possible for mortal man to do so.  The truth of; “Why God’s children are instructed to study and understand His attributes” is plainly seen in the story found in Daniel 11.  With the backdrop of the King of the South (Egypt) warring against God’s people, destroying the temple, and establishing antitypes of true worship in its place, an Angel of God instructs Daniel on what will happen to the people of God, if they know God and what will happen to those who know not God.  “Those who do wickedly against the covenant (God’s Covenant) he (the king of the South) shall corrupt with flattery; but the people who know their God shall be strong, and carry out great exploits.  And those of the people who understand shall instruct many…” (Daniel 11:32-33a).

            Next month we will continue with this study on the Moral Character of God by looking at his attributes.  Until next month may God richly bless you and keep you safe and satisfied in all you do for Him.

[1] The Knowledge of the Holy, A. W. Tozer, Harpercollins publishing, May 1978

[2] Robert Bolton, Afflicted Consciences, Soli Deo Gloria Ministries Inc., February 1991, Pp 175

[3], September 2005

[4] Daniel Webster, The New Lexicon Webster’s Dictionary of the English Language, (Lexicon Publications, Inc. revised, 1989)


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