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Getting to Know God, Part Four

When we show love to those who don't know Christ, they will get a picture of what God is like. That's our goal is this series: Getting to Know God—translating the attributes of God to everyday life. For example, in being loving and just, the two attributes of today's study, we give people a glimpse of God's character. Let me give you an example. It is the story of Anne Meskey.

In an article entitled "What's the Big Deal About Love?" she recalls the day she accepted Christ into her life. She writes,

"Growing up unchurched, maintaining many prejudices against Christians and 'organized' religion, I walked into a large congregation of people observably expressing love toward one another and toward God. The walls could barely contain it. I stood overwhelmed.

The room was filled with a myriad of people: black, white, Asian, and Hispanic; rich and poor. Those with prestigious jobs worshiped next to the unemployed. Many nations were represented, and people worshiped in many tongues. Ushers warmly welcomed the homeless who had walked in off the streets. Even former enemies shared pews.

Yet the greatest presence in the room was love. And God—for God is love—1 John 4:8,16.

No one could adequately put into words the truth of what I saw that day; but what I saw put truth into the words of the many who had tried to tell me about Jesus. As I experienced the love that broke through racial, economic, and social barriers, I began to believe God was real. It wasn't what any one person said, but what I witnessed. Love.

I saw love. Then I saw God. Then I believed and cried out, 'The Lord—He is God!'"

As you can see from this example, an understanding and application of the attributes of God can have not only a dramatic effect on us, but on all we might influence. That's why we have taken the time over the last 4 weeks to study the attributes of God.

 

It’s a little difficult to fully grasp, but we began by sharing several important truths that spring from them. These will help us to formulate a definition and application of these words.

.Justice is a view of God which shows God’s application of equity to moral situations.

In other words, He is fair in all His dealings. His justice has certain demands, and He will in every case satisfy those demands. He will in the process, however, give no breaks or unfair treatment to anyone. He will be totally fair and impartial with all mankind. He will be straight and always do what is right. He will not even show partiality or be less demanding with believers—Ps. 19:8; 89:14; Ps. 119:137.

Because God is just and righteous, then, we must be righteous. God’s justice demands punishment for all sinners, but the good news is that God will accept the sacrifice of another—a specific other—Jesus Christ (Rom. 5:8; 1 Peter 2:24; Is. 53:61; Mark 10:45). That’s what the doctrine of redemption is all about. This is how God can be just and still save the unjust.

That leads to an obvious truth: Justice is a fact that all men must understand, because the only relief for the wrath of God—His justice—is through Jesus Christ. Justice, therefore, pronounces a sinner just only when he or she is repentant and comes to Christ for salvation.

What about the heathen or the person who has never heard of Christ? The general answer is focused on His character: He will judge the person who has never heard of Christ with equity. His nature dictates that He will be totally fair. He knows what is fair because He alone knows the heart of each individual in the world. This question is a perfect illustration of the need to understand and apply God’s justice.

The definition of justice, therefore, can be capsulized into three phrases:

  1. He took my place.

  2. He will be just.

  3. We must act justly.

Several passages speak to this attribute.

Psalm 103:6—"The Lord works righteousness and justice for all the oppressed."

Prov. 16:11—"Honest scales and balances are from the Lord; all the weights in the bag are of his making."

Isaiah 45:21—"Declare what is to be, present it—let them take counsel together. Who foretold this long ago, who declared it from the distant past? Was it not I, the Lord? And there is no God apart from me, a righteous God and a Savior; there is none but me."

Zeph. 3:5—"The Lord within her is righteous; he does no wrong. Morning by morning he dispenses his justice, and every new day he does not fail, yet the unrighteous know no shame."

Rom. 2:2—"Now we know that God’s judgment against those who do such things is based on truth."

Ps. 147:17—"He hurls down his hail like pebbles. Who can withstand his icy blast?"

1 John 1:9—"If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness."

The Application

It gives me a peace. Since I have repented of my sins, I know my sins will be judged not according to my merits, but according to the righteousness of Christ. First Corinthians 1:30 says, "It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption." Second Corinthians 5:21 says, "God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God."

What a privilege. How blessed we are to be at peace with God. Can you think of anything better than that? God’s justice was satisfied on the cross. God took my place. God’s wrath was placed on Christ as He bore my sins. I stand before God in His righteousness. "He is all my righteousness, I stand complete in Him."

Knowing God is just means my works will be judged even as a believer. I must recognize that within God’s justice there is a place for rewards for Christians. The judgment seat of Christ will be for believers. Second Corinthians 5:10 says, "For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad." First Corinthians 3:10-15 gives us what might take place—10] "By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as an expert builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should be careful how he builds. 11] For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12] If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, 13] his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work. 14] If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. 15] It is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames."

Justice has a positive side if we have walked rightly before God. What we do in faith before God will not go unnoticed—it will be rewarded. Therefore, Matt. 6:19-21 urges us: 19] "Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20] But store up for your selves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21] For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." On the other hand, those things we have not done in faith will have no impact on eternity. They will be burnt up. I must, therefore, give my attention to those things that can stand the test of God’s scrutiny.

Knowing God is just gives me a healthy fear of God’s judgment for others who don’t know Him.

I must try, therefore, to persuade people to turn from their sin and follow the Lord. Second Corinthians 5:11 says, "Since, then, we know what it is to fear the Lord, we try to persuade men. What we are is plain to God, and I hope it is also plain to your conscience." We are compelled to share Christ and enable the testimony of Christ to go throughout the world, because the Great White Throne judgment awaits those who will not receive Christ.

The Great White Throne judgment is for sinners (read Rev. 20:11-15). We should be drawn by a healthy fear to tell how God became a man.

Knowing God is just means that I must identify with justice regardless of the cost, because my God is just.

We will have to, by His Spirit, show equity in all our dealings with others. Second Corinthians 7:11 says, "See what this godly sorrow has produced in you: what earnestness, what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what alarm, what affection, what concern, what readiness to see justice done. At every point you have proved yourselves to be innocent in this matter."

Many Scriptures address this:

Lev. 19:15—"Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favoritism to the great, but judge your neighbor fairly."

Mal. 2:9—"So I have caused you to be despised and humiliated before all the people, because you have not followed my ways but have shown partiality in matters of the law."

1 Tim. 5:21—"I charge you, in the sight of God and Christ Jesus and the elect angels, to keep these instructions without partiality and to do nothing out of favoritism."

James 2:4—"Have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?"

That means we may have to stand up and do what is necessary to stand against the propagation of moral sins. (I’m referring to moral issues, not political ones.) Some examples of moral situations are abortion; child molestation/rape/physical and sexual abuse; homosexuality; euthanasia; the care of widows; the mistreatment and care of orphans. We may not always be able to make any major change in the overall situation, but we must respond redemptively by doing what we can (i.e. a pastor friend adopted a child from India in response to the need).

James 1:27 says: "Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world."

Psalm 82:3—"Defend the cause of the weak and fatherless; maintain the rights of the poor and oppressed."

Prov. 21:3—"To do what is right and just is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice."

Is. 56:1—"This is what the Lord says: ‘Maintain justice and do what is right, for my salvation is close at hand and my righteousness will soon be revealed."

Deut. 24:27—"Do not deprive the alien or the fatherless of justice, or take the cloak of the widow as a pledge."

Psalm 82:2—"How long will you defend the unjust and show partiality to the wicked?"

Prov. 31:4-5—4] "It is not for kings, O Lemuel—not for kings to drink wine, not for rulers to crave beer, 5] lest they drink and forget what the law decrees, and deprive all the oppressed of their rights."

Luke 16:10—"Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much."

Knowing God is just means I don’t have to repay or get revenge for the injustices done to me—God will repay in His time and in His way—Rom. 12:14-21. That takes the anger and bitterness out of my life. My best response to those who persecute me is to pray for them. (You can’t seek revenge on someone if you are praying for them—Matt. 5:43-48.) That also takes a lot of stress and worry from me, because I don’t have to worry about righting the wrongs done to me. God can take care of that for me—2 Tim. 4:14; Rom. 14:19.

Note: When laws of the land are broken, I cannot overlook that and say it’s okay. God has instituted rulers and laws for our protection—Rom. 13.

The truth of the matter is, when someone is trying to do me harm, God may intend to turn it to my good. This isn’t a blanket statement in all cases; however, if we cooperate with God, over time He can turn the evil into good. (Please don’t shove that thought down someone’s throat, though. Let God reveal it.) This happened with David (whose troubles God used to point out problems in his life—2 Sam. 16:5-12), with Joseph (whose troubles God used to make him into someone great—Gen. 50:19-21), and with countless others.

God calls us to love others without embracing or condoning sin.

The Prayer

"Lord, I praise you for your righteousness and justice. You are totally fair and impartial with me. This helps me also to know that I must totally identify with justice, regardless of the cost, because I know you are just. Thank you for that. It also helps me to know that because of your righteousness and justice, your Son died for my sin. Therefore, you are faithful and just to forgive me of all my sins and cleanse me from all unrighteousness—1 John 1:9. That also frees me up to not have the responsibility to take revenge on my enemy, but love him instead. I’ll leave the repaying to you—Rom. 12:19-20.

 

How do we define the word love? From God’s other attributes and characteristics, we can learn much about love.

 

Because God is self-existent, His love has no beginning. (At some point God didn’t decide to love.)

Because God is eternal, His love has no end.

Because God is holy, His love is pure, free from every kind of sin.

Because God is immense, His love is incomprehensibly vast and bottomless. It doesn’t run out.

Because God is immutable, He doesn’t change; therefore, His love doesn’t change. (You never have to worry about Him not loving you.)

Because God is omnipotent, all-powerful. It means nothing can stop His love.

Because God is just; it means He will never exercise His justice without exercising His love. Isn’t that great?

Because God is omniscient, He knows everything, therefore His love is a knowing love. He knows our shortcomings, the past, present and future, and yet He still loves us.

A view of God’s attributes tells us that He never suspends one of His attributes in order to exercise another. They all exist simultaneously.

A definition of God’s love can be very difficult. Some have tried to define God’s love, but have not done very well. I probably won’t do much better. Tozer, in attempting to define love stated:

"I can no more do justice to that awesome and wonder-filled theme [of love] than a child can grasp a star. Still, by reaching toward the star, the child may call attention to it. So as I stretch my heart toward the high shining love of God, someone who has not before known about it, may be encouraged to look up and have hope"—Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy, p. 105.

We too will attempt to reach toward love and hopefully, it will encourage each of us to look up and have hope in the God of love. From that background and understanding, a few preliminary attempts at a definition may be helpful. These are only attempts to reach for a star. What is love?

God’s love is the seeking of our highest good. That has many implications. First, only God is able to fully seek and reach that highest good in us. Second, only God can define what the highest good of a person is; our attempts to define it will be selfish. Our definition of highest good must come from His intention for us, not our desires or hopes for ourselves.

Love is unconditional. It is not an "I love you if..." It is not an "I love you because of..." It is love that loves us even before we loved Him, while we were yet sinners—Rom. 5:8. Remember how Jesus washed the disciples’ feet (see John 13:1-11)? Did Jesus wash Judas’ feet?

God’s love is giving—Jn. 3:16. It is active, motivated. Its giving has no limit. It is willing even to give of itself so that His love might be expressed.

All of these attempts fall short of capturing this attribute. Let’s attempt to get a clearer understanding of it by looking at a description of God’s love. We may not be able to get a satisfactory definition of this attribute of love, but we can know how it manifests itself. Here are a few of the manifestations of love. (Adapted from The Knowledge of the Holy, Tozer)

First, love wills the good of all and never wills harm nor does evil to any. God is not willing that any should perish, but all come to repentance. This should be a relief to us all. In fact, this is what the apostle John was saying in 1 John 4:18—"There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear." That’s one picture of love I’m very thankful for. We’ll apply it to our lives in a moment.

Second, God’s love tells us that He is friendly, and His Word assures us He is our friend. To be a friend of God is not something that anyone would think He deserves, but this is exactly what God’s love initiates. In the Old Testament, for example, Abraham was called a friend of God—James 2:23. In the New Testament, Christ said to the disciples, "Greater love has no one than this, than one lay down his life for his friends..."—John 15:13-15. Friendship with God, then, is available to all because of God’s love.

Third, God’s love also has an emotional identification. It considers nothing its own and gives freely to the object of its affection. That’s why acts of self-sacrifice are common to love. God has allowed His heart to be emotionally identified with man. This is amazing. Think of this: self-sufficient as God is, He wants our love. Free as He is, He has let His heart be bound to us forever. If we could only comprehend this! This is often what the mystics in previous centuries understood.

Fourth, God’s love takes pleasure in the object of its affection. God enjoys His creation. Rev. 4:11 (KJV)—"And for your pleasure, they were created." God takes particular pleasure in His saints. Eph. 1:5—"In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will..." Because God loves you, He takes pleasure in you.

How does that affect you? It makes me want to please Him.

Fifth, God’s love is not inactive; it is active and creative toward individuals. This love looks for ways to be constructive—1 Cor. 13:7. This love of God looks for ways to be personal and intimate with His people. God is actively pursuing you. Stop and look for Him. He is there!

Having seen how it is manifested in a general way, it may be helpful to take a more specific look at God’s love. Let’s call it

The distinctives of God’s love

God’s love is misunderstood. People have mistaken the words of 1 John 4:16—"God is love." What does this mean? Many people have taken John’s words to be a definitive statement concerning the essential nature of God, but this is a great error, because John was stating a fact about God, not offering a definition. Remember, the attributes are a glance at God. He is not even the sum total of His attributes. He is greater than His attributes, including love. This error of seeing love as the essential nature of God has been responsible for producing unsound religious philosophy and doctrine, and putting God’s attributes in conflict with each other.

What’s wrong with making love the essential nature of God? Listen closely: The problem is that if love is what God is, then we are forced to believe that God is what love is. If God literally is love, then love literally is God. Further, if God literally is love, then we are locked into worshipping love as the only god there is. Also, if love is equal to God, then God is only equal to love, and God and love are identical. "The result," Tozer writes, 'is that we destroy the concept of personality in God and deny outright all of His attributes—except one, and that one we substitute for God" (p. 104).

So what does "God is love" mean to us? Love is an essential attribute of God, but not an encompassing definition of God. Love is something true of God, but it is not God. The words "God is love" must be kept in the category of all His other attributes. He never suspends one of His attributes in order to exercise another. All of God’s attributes are consistent with all of His acts and therefore, are only glimpses of God that do not conflict with each other.

Hear this, people: We must be careful of choosing our favorite attribute and ignoring the rest. They are all true glimpses of God at all times.

God's love is focused.

  1. God’s love finds its primary objects in the three persons of the Trinity. The Father loves the Son (Matt. 3:17), and the Son loves the Father (John 14:31). The Spirit loves the Son and the Father.

  2. God loves the world—John 3:16; Eph. 2:4.

  3. God loves Israel—Deut. 7:6-8,13; Jer. 31:3.

  4. God loves His true children—John 14:23.

  5. God loves righteousness—Ps. 11:7.

  6. God loves justice—Is. 61:8.

God shows His love:

  1. When it rains and when the sun shines—Matt. 5:43-48

  2. When He disciplines us—Heb. 12:5-6

  3. Through the death of His Son—Rom. 5:8

  4. By helping us through the hard times—Is. 63:7-10

  5. By being patient with us—1 Cor. 13:4, e.g. love suffers long—2 Pet. 3:9

Let's look at three key verses about God's love.

First, a Scripture that tells what God’s love does—1 Cor. 13:4-8. This verse is the most definitive of all.

  • Love is patient

  • Love is kind

  • Love does not envy

  • Love does not boast

  • Love is not proud

  • Love is not rude

  • Love is not self-seeking

  • Love is not easily angered

  • Love keeps no record of wrongs

  • Love does not delight in evil

  • Love rejoices in the truth

  • Love always protects

  • Love always trusts

  • Love always hopes

  • Love always perseveres

  • Love never fails

That is how God’s love is toward you! Who is worthy of this love?

Second, a verse that tells us the tenacity and power of love—Rom. 8:37-39.

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height or depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

The third is a verse that I pray for you—Eph. 3:16-19.

I pray that out of His glorious riches He may strengthen you with power through His Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

Now, let’s put this all in a more practical light.

The Application

Because God is love, I need not fear—1 John 4:18.

As we saw in the beginning, we can trust in God’s love because love wills the good of all and never wills harm or evil to any. First John 4:18 tell us that perfect love drives out fear; that there is no fear in love; that fear has to do with punishment. Where does fear come from? As we all know, if we think about it, fear persists while we are subject to the will of someone who doesn’t care for us or desire our well-being. The moment we are protected by someone who loves us, fear is cast out (e.g., a child lost, then found).

The world is full of enemies, so fear is inevitable, but as we experience the love of God, we enter into the secret place of leaning upon someone who loves us. This and only this can cast out fear. As I am able, then, to be motivated and controlled by that love in my ministry, the fear of failure and of making a fool of myself is cast out.

Because God loves me, I know I have a friend—John 15:15. That gives me great security, because I know friends share their hearts, their secrets—John 15:15. That gives me courage to go to God in prayer and share my heart, my secrets. He’s my friend—Heb. 10:19-23. That gives me motivation to obey Him—John 15:14.

Because God loves me, I am moved to action—2 Cor. 5:12-17.

We are not trying to commend ourselves to you again, but are giving you an opportunity to take pride in us, so that you can answer those who take pride in what is seen rather than in what is in the heart. If we are out of our mind, it is for the sake of God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you.

For Christ's love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for Him who died for them and was raised again. So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!

It seems Paul was in a place where he was trying to answer those who questioned his actions and his motives. The reason for this was that Paul was so different from others. They expected him to boast about himself as the others were and it appears that, if we read between the lines, the people of Corinth thought he might have been out of his mind. These attacks came because if a person can destroy the messenger, his message is then clouded.

Paul responded that he acted for the sake of God and for the people’s sake, and that Christ’s love compelled him. He was saying, "What Christ has done for me and given to me in terms of enrichment, worth and power, has awakened in me a tremendous love for Him, and if He wants me to do something, I’ll do it, because I love Him."

The love of Christ gives me all the motivation I need to do even the unpleasant things—Rom. 5:3; 1 Thess. 2:8. The love of Christ shows me I don’t need to live for myself any longer, but for Christ—2 Cor. 5:14b. The love of God is perfectly expressed in Christ on the cross, and as I see that, I am no longer afraid. I know I have a friend, and I am now compelled to action.

The Prayer

"Lord, I thank you for your love. You loved me before I loved you. It is your nature to love. Thank you for the confidence, the security I have because of that love. It has won my heart...I love you, Lord. " Read 1 John 4:8,10.




 

  1. As you think of the attributes we have studied, which ones are currently impacting your life the most? Why?

  2. What thoughts come to your mind when you think that God's justice demands you be rewarded for good deeds?

  3. Using this point in the outline, discuss the various ways God shows His love to us. How does this impact you personally?

  4. Using this point in the outline, discuss how God's love will affect your life/actions.