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The Importance of Understanding God's Character
For no man can live beyond his or her concept of God

Can a man understand, devoted or obedient to God and His Word without understanding God’s divine nature?  When we thoroughly and thoughtfully examine this question it becomes clear that what we think about who God is, is the most important foundational principle upon which our knowledge of God and our understanding of His Word 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.”i  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 Him to be.  “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 omnipotent 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 personal manufactured representations of who and what God is, comes a direct and proportional devaluing of God, His Word, His 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 for salvation. There would be no need for salvation if our concept of God and His Laws are wrong.  The importance of having the correct understanding of the whole character of God is vital; for the wrong conception of God is a catastrophic, lethal, and an 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) reveals God’s righteous character. Brethren be advised God’s word must always be presented as absolute truth against the backdrop of coming judgment.  This judgment will be administered according to God’s holy moral laws (cause and effect) which God has established (ref. Acts 17:30, 31; 24:15, 16), or it cannot 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.ii  

The moral law God give to man at Mount Sinai began with the statement, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.” (Exodus 20:2).  This declaration concerning Himself served as a practical reminder of God’ loving hand for the people that He personally called to be His, out of all the people of the world.  It furthermore demonstrated His power, His provision and the keeping of His promise toward them.  This declaration was designed as proof to the Israelites that He was their God, to which Israel owed its existence as an independent nation; and was a distinct and practical indicator of His unmerited divine love.  It was voiced to provoke them to keep His commandments.  In other words,  if freedom was to be yours it will not be found worshiping and obeying other gods.  It will only come through the worship and obedience of Jehovah, the God who has proved His love and care for you.  Therefore, His commandments must be the standard man must use to decide what is right or wrong, good or evil.  For this moral law was fixed in the unwavering and perfect holy character of God.  His natural attributes, character, and qualities provided the measuring stick for all ethical decisions.

As a young nation, Israel would need guidelines 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). The idea being, that through Israel all the nations of the world would see both the spiritual and physical benefits of 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 the high estate 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 2-3.  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 for who and what He truly is without submitting to and valuing His Laws.  “Just as Abraham “Believed God, and it was accounted to Him for righteousness.” (7) Therefore know that only those who are of faith are sons of Abraham. (8) 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.” (9) So then those who are of faith are blessed with believing Abraham. (10) 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.” (11) 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; (20) 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 5:16).  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 receive salvation one must accept the entire plan starting with the acceptance of Christ’s’ atoning work.  Once that initial step has been taken, one must live life in absolute obedience to the precepts of God’s moral law in order to receive God’s blessings (cause and effect).  Only by obedience to God’s commands can one reveal to a lost and dying world that we are God’s possession, we understand who and what God is and that we are willingly subject to Him. In this manner men will come to the knowledge of the truth and be brought back into fellowship once again with their divine creator (cr. 1st John 3 16-18, 21-23; 4:7-11).  

John Piper the Pastor at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota uses this analogy to explain the way we were created to enjoy God, but not ourselves only.  He said, “It is like going to the Grand Canyon – who would think that the canyon contributes to one’s 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.”

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.”iii  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. Simply put “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 one’s 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 this loving God is uncaring and oblivious, a myth, a crutch what would be the point of serving Him?  If they believe that God would not send someone to hell for He is too loving, than their life and actions will most likely be one that follows the intents of their own hearts for there would be no punishment for any actions that might be taken.  

On the other hand, if one believes that God though totally loving and merciful, yet just, who will, without wavering, act according to His law (cause and effect), than one would do all to obey and follow the precepts of that law to the smallest jot or title; for God’s punishment for sin is as strong as His loving kindness and infinite mercy (cr. Nadab and Abihu in Leviticus 10 and Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5).

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. (9) 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 our lives. But when one considers the holy character of God and comes to some 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!

The problem comes from man trying to define God as being who he wants Him to be.  This cannot be done for 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, not the other way around; or else there is no understanding of who God is and therefore no significance in the command of Peter “to be ye holy...for I (God) am holy” (1st Peter 1:1416).  God is commanding us to be Holy; why?  For He is Holy!  In other words, God’s character is “Holy” and as a result of this 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 especially those in regard to His outlook on sin would keep us separated from Him.  

This is not the case however; God’s desire is for us to know Him intimately and to dwell in harmony with Him.  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” (Christian).  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 a solid understanding of His character and attributes.  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. (33a) and those of the people who understand shall instruct many…” (Daniel 11:32-33a).

The question now becomes; “How do I get to really know God?”  As hard and complicated this question my appear the answer is quite simple.  

  1. Pray without ceasing

  2. Obey without question

  3. Study His word

  4. Meditate on it day and night

i The Knowledge of the Holy, A. W. Tozer, Harpercollins publishing, May 1978
ii Robert Bolton, Afflicted Consciences, Soli Deo Gloria Ministries Inc., February 1991, Pp 175
iii Daniel Webster, The New Lexicon Webster’s Dictionary of the English Language, (Lexicon Publications, Inc. revised, 1989)

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