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Pastor Scott L. Harris
Grace Bible Church, NY
May 20, 2007
In the Beginning: God
In the last two messages in this series I sought to lay a foundation for our overview of the Bible by explaining why we believe the Bible and seek to follow what God has told us in it. This morning’s message is taken from Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning God created the Heavens and the earth,” however, this we also be a foundational message for we will only get to the fourth word in that verse – God.
We live in a time when not only is the Bible discounted by many, but most people also have a wrong concept of God formed within their own imaginations and speculations instead of what God has revealed about Himself. There is also a relatively small, but vocal group that denies God all together. For that reason I want to talk to you this morning about the basic nature and attributes of the God that has revealed Himself in the Holy Scriptures.
A few weeks ago I gave some of the basic reasons why we believe in the Bible and the God revealed within its pages. Our faith is not an intellectual leap, but a very reasonable conclusion of the evidence that is all around us.
The first and foremost testimony to God is the Bible. There are those that will not accept the testimony of God through His prophets, but the testimony is true regardless of what they believe, so we continue to proclaim it. However, God knew this would happen, so we find in His Word that He has also declared Himself to a more limited degree through what He has created – Psalm 19:1,2 (The heavens are telling of the glory of God; And their expanse is declaring the work of His hands. 2 Day to day pours forth speech, And night to night reveals knowledge“) and Romans 1:18-20 (“that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. 20 For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse”).
We live in a time and in a society in which there are those that even reject even this basic witness to God’s existence and power. There are those that claim there is no God, but such a claim would require omniscience, and since no atheist or anyone except God knows all things either individually or collectively, the honest atheist must reject his own arrogant claim and become an agnostic, someone who does not know.
While God is gracious to the humble agnostic that will search for Him, and we believe will draw such a one to Himself (Jeremiah 29:13; Hebrews 11:6), we also find that God is resistant to the arrogant whether they claim to be atheists or agnostic (James 4:6; 1 Peter 5:5). The reason that the proud do not recognize the testimonies God has given of Himself is that they suppress the truth in their unrighteousness (Romans 1:18). They do not search for or find God for the same reasons that a thief does not search for and find a policeman.
The simple truth is that an effect demands a cause, and design demands a designer. If I claimed a can of soda came about through time & chance encounters of the right molecules all of you would think I was a nut. Yet there many that claim that complex objects such as a banana or an apple are the products of time & chance. Both the atheist and agnostic recognize that the can of Pepsi is the obvious work of an intelligent being that designed and manufactured it, yet they foolishly deny that same truth applies to the much more complex banana and apple. The truth is obvious to anyone who will be honest, but those who are proud willingly suppress the truth in their endeavor to also deny that they are responsible to their Creator.
This morning I want to concentrate on the nature of God and some of His basic attributes. This will be a brief overview of what God is like and His characteristics. Our ability to live according to God’s will is dependent upon our belief and understanding of God, His nature, and His will. For example, without a belief and understanding that God is truthful and has the ability to carry out His promises, then there is no valid reason to trust Him to provide for us even if we do seek first His kingdom and righteousness. We would not be able to trust His offer of forgiveness of sin and eternal life through faith in Jesus Christ.
Many of the characteristics of God can be deduced from philosophical arguments. For example, the anthropological argument (based in the qualities of mankind) concludes that God is intellectual, and the moral argument (based in the fact that all men acknowledge that there is right and wrong, good and evil) concludes that God is a moral law-giver who will judge. We could spend a lot of time with such philosophical musings, but because God has revealed Himself in the Scriptures we can go directly to them to know and understand the truth.
Let’s start by making sure we are all working with the same definition for God. “God is a spirit who is infinite and eternal in His being, perfect and unchangeable in His attributes, and in Whom all things have their source, support and end.”
There are four main qualities that make up God’s essence or substance. We describe God’s basic nature as being Spirit, self-existent, immense, and eternal.
Spirit: Jesus said in John 4:24 that “God is Spirit, and those that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and truth.” That God is Spirit means that God is immaterial and incorporeal. He is not made of matter nor does He have a physical body. This is a reason that no graven images are to be made of God. He has no form which could be copied (Deuteronomy. 4:15f). When the Bible speaks of God having bodily parts, such as in 1 Peter 3:12 in which God is described as having eyes and ears or Psalm 98:1 in which He is described as having a right hand and an arm, it is using anthropomorphic statements. These are statements communicating spiritual truth in terms that are analogous to the human body so that we might comprehend.
Spirit describes several other essential aspects of God’s nature. The first is that God is invisible. God dwells in unapproachable light which no man has seen or can see (1 Timothy 1:17; 6:16), so no man can see God in His uncovered essence. God told Moses that no man could see Him and live, so God answered Moses request to see God by only letting Moses see the afterglow of His glory (Exodus 33:23).
The miracle of the incarnation of Jesus Christ is that God became a man and dwelt among us. Jesus is God, but His glory and divine essence is veiled in human flesh so that we might behold Him. Jesus is the “image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15), and is “the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature” (Hebrews 1:3). Jesus told Philip that in seeing Him, Philip has also seen the Father (John 14:9). Man sees God in bodily form in Jesus Christ, but man does not see the Father directly.
That God is Spirit also means that God is alive. 1 Thessalonians 1:9 recounts that they had turned from idols to “serve the living and true God.” Psalm 36:9 adds that not only is God alive, but “with Him is the fountain of life.” John 1:3,4 tells us that in Jesus, the Word that was with God and was God, “was life, and the life was the light of men.”
That God is a Spirit also means that God is a person for He possesses the three attributes of personhood. He has reason meaning that He has intellect or cognition which is the ability to think. In Isaiah 1:18 God calls on man to use this same attribute to “reason together” with Him. God also has volition, meaning that He has the ability to choose according to His will. This ability is seen throughout the Bible whenever His will is expressed in word or action. For example, God considered making man in His own image, and then chose to do so (Genesis 1:26,27). Man sinned, and God responded by choosing to curse man, but also choosing to provide a plan of redemption (Genesis 3:15). Jesus came to do the Father’s will (John 5:30). God also has emotion meaning that He has sensibility or the ability to feel psychically. Psalm 103:8,13 describes the Lord as compassionate which is the same emotion that Jesus had on so many occasions and which moved Him to tears (John 11:35), motivated Him to feed the multitude (Matthew 15:32f), heal the sick (Matthew 4:14), raise the dead (Luke 7:13f), and teach people the ways of God (Mark 6:34). Let me quickly add that the Holy Spirit also has emotion. Ephesians 4:30 tells us that He can be “grieved.” Cults, such as Jehovah Witnesses, are heretical in their view of God because they claim the Holy Spirit is a force instead of a person, but a force cannot have emotions. God is a spirit existing in three persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Self-Existent: A second essential aspect of God is that He is self-existent. The name God gave Himself in response to Moses question about who he should say was sending Him to Israel was Yahweh, (a form of the Hebrew verb, “to be”). God is the great “I Am,” the self-existent One. God is not a created being. His existence is in Himself (John 5:26), and He is absolutely independent of Creation having no need for anything (Acts 17:24, 25). What a contrast is man and everything else whose existence and dependence is totally on God (Romans 11:35,36). The Jews so revered God’s name that they would not even say it lest they take it in vain. Be careful yourself of how you use God’s name lest you violate that commandment. You are dependent on God, so any reference to Him should be with the greatest of respect. Too often people say “God,” or “Oh, my God” as an exclamation, which is using the Lord’s name it in vain. (Would you use your mother’s name in the same way?)
Immense. The third essential aspect of God’s nature is that He is immense. By this we mean that God fills all. Jeremiah 23:34 says, “Can a man hide himself in hiding places, So I do not see him?” declares the Lord. “Do I not fill the heavens and the earth?” declares the Lord. God is infinite with reference to space, for heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain Him (2 Chronicles 6:18 – cf. Ps. 139:7-12).
Eternal is the fourth essential nature of God. He is infinite with reference to time. God has no beginning, for He was already present at the beginning (Genesis 1:1). God has no end for He lives forever (Isaiah 57:15), and His kingdom has no end (Luke 1:33). He is from everlasting to everlasting (Psalm 90:2).
There are additional characteristics which distinguish God as a unique being which we call His attributes. Each of them are essential in setting Him apart as God, for without any one of them, He would not be God. There are two classes of attributes. Those that are unique to God alone, and those that are reflective of Him in His creation. His unique or incommunicable attributes include being the Creator, Omnipresent, Omniscient, Omnipotent, and immutable. His shared, or communicable attributes include, but are not limited to, being holy, righteous, loving, good, longsuffering, merciful, gracious, and truth.
Unique / Incommunicable Attributes.
God is the only Creator. He is the only one that brings forth matter from nothing. Psalm 33:6,9 states that “By the word of the Lord the heavens were made, And by the breath of His mouth all their host” and “God spoke, and it was done; He commanded, and it stood fast.” What is now seen was not made out of anything visible (Hebrews 11:3). God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit were all involved in the creation. John 1:3 tells us that “All things came into being by Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being.” While it does not surprise me that non-Christians deny God’s work in Creation, I am still surprised how many Christians reject it or reduce it to a deistic view. They agree that God got it started, but then, to one degree or another, they say that evolution took it from there. However, there are some major problems for including evolution as a part of Creation.
Some argue that God could use evolution if He wanted to. A true statement that God can do what He wants, but He only does what is consistent with His character. Since God can do what He wants, then that includes Him doing it the way He said that He did it in Genesis 1. That would be in keeping with His character of truth. Evolution would not. If evolution is true, then Genesis 1 is not true, for it would even be a bad story since the sequence of events as well as the length of time would be wrong. (God makes the plants before the sun and moon, and He makes birds before land creatures).
The only reason people advocate evolution as part of the Creation is presupposing that evolutionary scientist are more honest and truthful than God’s revelation. Having been trained as a scientist, I reject that idea completely. Evolution is actually weak in true science and bloated in “just so” stories, speculation and humanistic philosophy. True science seeks to understand the real world and so welcomes criticism so that its hypotheses and theories can be confirmed, modified, or rejected. Evolution does not do this. Evolutionist often claim it to be fact, but by science definition, it is not even a theory because it is not testable. It is only a hypothesis, and more accurately, it is a science philosophy and not scientific itself.
God is our creator and as such He is also the one that sustains our lives in the present and is the One to whom we will answer in eternity.
Omnipresent is the next attribute of God. This is a function of His immensity. This means that God’s divine essence is everywhere present at the same time. Psalm 139:7-12 describes this attribute saying, “Where can I go from Thy Spirit? Or where can I flee from Thy presence? If I ascend to heaven, Thou art there; If I make my bed in Sheol, behold, Thou art there. If I take the wings of the dawn, If I dwell in the remotest part of the sea, Even there Thy hand will lead me, And Thy right hand will lay hold of me. If I say, “Surely the darkness will overwhelm me, And the light around me will be night,” Even the darkness is not dark to Thee, And the night is as bright as the day. Darkness and light are alike [to Thee.]
God’s omnipresence is a comfort to the believer, for He will never leave us or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5). But it is a warning to the unbeliever, for there is no place to hide from God. What is your response to God’s omnipresence?
God is also Omniscient, meaning that He knows all things perfectly. He knows the breadth and depth of everything, past, present and future. Psalm 147:5 tells us that “His understanding is infinite.”
God’s omniscience is a comfort to the believer because it means He knows us perfectly, yet loves us (Romans 5:8). It also means that He knows our needs even before we ask, and He will provide (Matt. 6:8). This is a warning to the unbeliever because it means that you cannot hide something from God’s knowledge for even what you think is known to Him. He is the One that searches the minds and the hearts (Rev. 2:23). What is your response to God’s omniscience?
God is Omnipotent, meaning that He is all powerful. Jesus told His disciples that “with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26). He can do anything that is in harmony with His other attributes. Some do not understand this and propose the silly question, “Can God make a rock so big that He cannot lift it?” The answer is no for two reasons. First, your dealing with an infinite being and the question presupposes a limit of some sort. Second, such an endeavor would not be in keeping with all His other attributes, so He would not do it.
God’s omnipotence is also a comfort to the believer because it means that there is nothing too difficult for the Lord to do on our behalf (Gen. 18:14; Jeremiah 32:17f). We can trust Him to be able to carry out all His promises to us, such as providing for our needs as we seek first His kingdom and righteousness (Mt. 6:33), even when such would seem impossible to us. We can trust God to work out our impossible problems. This is a warning to the unbeliever, because it means nothing can thwart God from carrying out His judgement on those who do not know and obey Him (2 Thessalonians 1:8,9). What is your response to God’s omnipotence? Are you willing to follow Him and entrust your impossible problems to Him today?
The last of God’s incommunicable attributes I will mention today is that He is Immutable, which means that He is unchanging in His essence and attributes. He states this directly in Malachi 3:6 saying, “I, the Lord, do not change.” Hebrews 13:8 states it that “He is the same yesterday, today, and forever.” James 1:17 adds that in Him there is “no variation or shifting shadow”.
To say that God is immutable does not mean that His response to us will not change as we change in our response to Him. God does not change in His being and nature, but He does respond in keeping with His other attributes to changes in man. That is what occurs in such passages as Genesis 6:6 when God becomes sorry that He made man, or Exodus 32:14 when God “changed His mind about the harm He said He would do to His people” in response to Moses’ prayer. The same thing occurred in Jonah 3:10 as a response to the repentance of the people of Ninevah.
God’s immutability means that we can trust His promises as Numbers 23:19,20 states, “God is not a man, that He should lie, Nor a son of man, that He should repent; Has He said, and will He not do it? Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good.” That is a comfort to believers, and a warning to unbelievers.
Those are the attributes that are unique to God, but there are also attributes that belong to Him that He wants reflected in His creation. These are His communicable attributes.
The first and foremost of these attributes is that God is Holy. The words translated as “holy” means to be separate. This word is used of God in two ways. First, it refers to His absolute separation from all moral evil. 1 John 1:5 describes this as “God is light, and in Him there is no darkness at all.” God is also holy in the sense that He is distinct as the infinite Creator from His finite creation. He is the One that is high and lifted up whose name is holy (Isaiah. 57:15). These two aspects of holiness are often combined together, for God is the thrice holy God (Isaiah 6:3; Revelation 4:8).
Holiness is also an aspect of all the rest of God’s attributes as well as His characteristics and actions. He is holy in His righteousness, love, goodness, longsuffering, mercy, grace and truth. He is also holy in His compassion, jealousy, anger and wrath as well as His judgement, forgiveness and condemnation.
God commands His people to be holy, for He is holy (Leviticus 11:44; 1 Peter 1:16). That command means that we are to be separated from the world unto Him, and we are to be like Him in reflecting His separation from evil. How does God’s holiness personally impact you? Is your life marked by a love for the world or for God? As time goes on are you changing and becoming more separated from evil? The quip is true that only the truly holy are truly happy because our fellowship with Christ is based in holiness (1 John 1:5-7).
God is also Righteous. By this we mean that God is absolutely fair and equitable. Deuteronomy 32:4 states it this way, “The Rock! His work is perfect, For all His ways are just; A God of faithfulness and without injustice, Righteous and upright is He.” Romans 2:11 simply states it that “there is no partiality with God.” God’s righteousness is revealed through both His moral law and through Jesus Christ. In righteousness God condemns the sinner. In righteousness God forgives and saves the individual from sin. No one can truthfully say, “God did me wrong.”
Whenever you are tempted to blame God for something or accuse Him of being unfair, remember this attribute, then humble yourself before Him and seek to be righteous yourself.
Truth is another of God’s attributes. It is not just that God is true, which He is, but also that He is truth. He is the final reality, and He is absolutely consistent with all that He Himself is. Jesus said of Himself that He was the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6). Jesus said of God’s word that it is truth (John 17:17). As previously pointed out, God is not a man that He should lie (Numbers 23:19). Titus 1:2 tells us that God cannot lie, and because God is immutable, unchanging (Malachi 3:6), we can trust His promises for He will carry out all that He says (Luke 21:33).
This brings hope to the believer because of His promises of care and salvation, and fear to the unbeliever because of His promises of retribution and punishment. What effect does the fact that God is truth have on you? Do you recognize that God is true though every man be found a liar (Romans 3:4). Do you live in trust of Him? Do you reflect Him in being truthful yourself and keeping your word?
Love is the next attribute. This refers both to an essence of God for He is defined as love in 1 John 4:8, 16, and it refers to God’s action in seeking the greatest good for His people. His greatest act of love was Jesus Christ dying for our sins (John 3:16; Romans 5:8). Because of Jesus Christ I can be sure of God’s love though I may be confused about everything else. God’s attributes of goodness, forbearance, mercy and grace are all aspects of His love. God’s love also extends to His rebukes and chastisement of believers, for He is their loving heavenly Father (Hebrews 12:6).
1 Corinthians 13:13 tells us that love is the greatest virtue. The believer is to reflect God’s love in their own life by not only loving God but also one another and be the extension of God’s love to the unbeliever. Do you recognize God’s love in your life? Are you resting in it? Are you extending it to others?
God is also characterized by being Good. This attribute is God’s love and righteousness expressed in His care and provision for His creation and especially for His people. God defines goodness, for as Jesus said in Mark 10:18, “No one is good, except God alone.” Paul cited God’s goodness in giving rain, fruitful seasons, and food as witnesses to the living God (Acts 14:17).
God’s goodness is experienced the most by His people, for “no good thing does He withhold from those who walk uprightly” (Psalm 84:11), and He desires that His people reflect Him in doing good. Paul tells the believer in Galatians 6:10, “So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all men, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith,” and in 1 Thessalonians. 5:15 he said, “See that no one repays another with evil for evil, but always seek after that which is good for one another and for all men.” Do you recognize and praise God for His goodness to you? Are you glorifying Him by doing good to others? (Matthew. 5:16).
Man is not good and God shows that He is Longsuffering in His response to man. Longsuffering means that God is patient and forbearing with man in not brining immediate judgement but rather awaiting a proper response from His rebellious creatures. Romans 2:4 tells us that God’s kindness and forbearance should lead the sinner to repentance. 2 Peter 3:9 tells us that “the Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.”
Do you recognize God’s longsuffering with you both prior to salvation and even after salvation as He patiently puts up with your failures while you are being conformed into the image of His son? Are you patient with others? It is a characteristic of love (1 Cor. 13:4), and believers are to be patient with all men (1 Thessalonians. 5:14) even when wronged (2 Tim. 2:24).
God is more than just longsuffering. He is also Merciful. Mercy is God’s loving care and provision for those who are in misery and distress. God’s greatest mercy is in our salvation from sin through the forgiveness we receive through faith in Jesus Christ. Our salvation comes because of God’s mercy and not because of any deed of righteousness we have done (Titus 3:5). God does not punish us as we deserve because He provided through Jesus the price that needed to be paid for our sins. We also find mercy in daily living as we draw near with confidence to God’s throne of grace (Hebrews 4:16).
Only those that are humble and recognize their need also recognize mercy when they receive it. The proud and self-centered think they deserve the compassion and kindness of others. Do you recognize God’s mercy to you? Do you follow His example in extending mercy to others both in forgiveness and in acts born out of compassion?
The final attribute of God we will examine today is that God is Gracious. Grace is God’s disposition and action of love for people in spite of their sinful and undeserving condition. God’s grace is most fully expressed in salvation. The sacrifice of Christ is an act of His love in which not only are we forgiven, an act of mercy, but through Him we come to know God (John 1:14-18), and are changed into new creations (2 Corinthians 5:17; Eph. 2:10), and are adopted into God’s family (Galatians 4:5; Eph. 1:5). Mercy is His withholding the punishment we do deserve, and grace is His gifts of blessings we do not deserve.
God’s grace is experienced not only in our salvation from sin and its manifold blessings, but also in the spiritual gifts He gives us by which we serve Him (2 Corinthians 9:8; Ephesians 2:10). Another area in which we receive grace is in our suffering. That may seem strange to those that do not have a close walk with Jesus, but it was understood clearly by Paul and he rejoiced in it. In 2 Corinthians 12 we find that Paul entreats the Lord three times to cause a “thorn in the flesh” to depart from him, but in verse 9 we find that the Lord’s answer is “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Paul’s response is, “Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may dwell in me.”
Do you know God’s grace in your own life? Do you thank Him for the manifold blessings He gives to you, none of which you deserve? Do you rejoice in being able to serve Christ and perhaps even suffer for His name’s sake?
This has been just a brief overview God’s nature and some of His attributes. God is infinitely different from you and me and that alone should cause us to fall down and worship Him. The humble recognize this and will do so while the proud deny the truth about God and themselves in order to pursue their own will. Is your life characterized by this humility or by being proud? God also has many attributes in which He wants us to be like Him. We bring glory to His name when those qualities are reflected in our own lives. We accomplish that better the more we understand God and walk with Him, so that becomes the goal of our lives – to know the Lord God who created us and walk with Him.
Parents, you are responsible to apply God’s Word to your children’s lives. Here is some help.
Young Children – draw a picture about something you hear during the sermon. Explain your picture(s) to your parents at lunch. Older Children – Do one or more of the following: 1) Write down all the verses mentioned in the sermon and look them up later. 2) Count how many times “God” “is mentioned in the sermon. Talk with your parents about what God is like.
THINK ABOUT IT!
Questions to consider in discussing the sermon with others.
Define God is your own words? Why do some people reject the witnesses to God’s existence, nature? What are some philosophical reasons to demonstrate the existence, nature of God? God’s essence is described in the qualities of being Spirit, Self-existent, Immense and Eternal. Explain each of these – expand on the other qualities that arise from being a Spirit. Describe God’s attributes of being Creator, Omnipresent, Omniscient, Omnipotent and Immutable. How do these make Him unique in the Universe? Describe God’s attributes of being Holy, Righteous, Truth, Love, Good, Longsuffering , Merciful, Gracious. Who do you reflect these in your own life?
Sermon Notes – May 20, 2007
In the Beginning: GOD – The Nature & Attributes of God – Selected Scriptures
Definition: “God is a _______ who is ____________ and ___________ in His being, perfect and unchangeable in His attributes, and in Whom all things have their source, support and end.”
Immaterial / Incorporeal – God is ______ _______ _____ matter
Reason – The ability to ____________
Volition – The ability to ___________
Emotion – The ability to ___________
Self-Existent – God is not a ________________________
Immense – God is infinite in reference to ____________
Eternal – God is infinite in reference to _____________
Unique / Incommunicable Attributes
God is the source of all ____________
Evolution is ___________________________________
Omnipresent – God’s _____________________ is everywhere present
Omniscient – God knows all things ___________
Omnipotent – God is infinite in reference to _________________
Immutable – God is unchanging in reference to His _______________ & ____________
1 – Holy in reference to ________________________________
2 – Holy in reference to ________________________________
Righteous – God is absolutely ___________ & ______________
Truth – God is the final _________________
1 – An essence of God for He _______________ love
2 – God’s action in seeking ______________________________________
Good – God’s love and righteousness expressed in His ____________________________
Longsuffering – God’s ___________________________
1 – God’s loving care & provision
2 – God’s withholding of __________________ deserved
Gracious – God’s disposition and actions of love for people for _____________ people
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