What is God Like?
APRIL 24, 2019
If we want to know about the real God, only one source will do.
Look to Jesus
Biblical Christians should find out about God from Jesus. Christ is the standard for everything a Christian should think about God.
If something we think about God violates what we know of Jesus, what he taught, and how he acted, then that thought lies. If someone gives us the impression that God’s nature differs from what Jesus said and demonstrated it to be, then don’t buy a used car from that person—and don’t listen to anything he or she says about anything else. If someone errs on this important issue, probably he or she will go badly wrong about a whole lot more.
What I’m about to say isn’t wish fulfillment, a hopeful doctrine, or anything of the sort. It’s a fact—a space/time fact—that God took on human flesh and lived for a while in our presence. Throughout history people like you and I have asked our questions about God. Is there really a God? Did he create all of this? Does he care? Does he love? Does he love me? Somebody always gave answers to such questions, but most of them amounted to little but conjecture—head answers to the heart’s questions. Then, in a breathtaking and explosive way, God moved into our hearts—not with propositions, but with himself.
Now, that’s good news! In fact, the incarnation of God in Christ was the best news the world has ever heard. It cut through the sham and pretense of spurious religious ideas. It presented the simple message that God was not what every religious person thought he was. And it offered people freedom…and with freedom, healing, meaning, immortality, and forgiveness.
“In the beginning was the Word,” the apostle John writes, “and the Word was with God and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him not any thing made that was made….And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:1-3,14).
Again John wrote: “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life—the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us…” (1 John 1:1-2).
The book of Hebrews opens with these words: “God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds; who being the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person, and upholding all things by the word of His power” (Hebrews 1:1-3 NKJV).
Do you want to know what God is like? Then look at Jesus. If you want to know how God reacts to people, look at how Jesus reacted to people. If you want to know what God thinks, how he acts and who he is, don’t get with a group of people and vote on it. One doesn’t discover divine truth with an election. If you want to know the truth about God, don’t get a book on theology or listen to a preacher. For God’s sake, go to Jesus.
So, what is God like? By looking at Jesus, we discover two crucial facts about God that significantly impact our views on freedom and grace.
He is Kind & He is God
If God is the vindictive, angry, abusive deity that many tell us he is, then we have a serious problem. Given who we are, we can never please him. Nobody is that good, and nobody is that pure. We can, of course, sacrifice our firstborn; but even that won’t be enough. We will live in constant fear, and with very good reason: “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Hebrews 10:31).
I have an acquaintance who writes me bunches of critical letters. In those letters, he always tells me that I disappoint God, “and after all he has done for you!” He reminds me that I’m too flippant, too joyful, too unorthodox, or too whatever. He always says to me, “How would you feel if Jesus came back today?” My friend has seen only one side of God. His God says, “Cry, will you? Cry, will you? OK, now I’ll give you something to really cry about!”
Our teachers have threatened us that God is watching and that while we may get away with fooling people, we will never fool God. In the end the books will be balanced, and we will find ourselves in serious trouble. And so we cry.
On the other hand, are we in any better shape if God is kind, but also safe and controllable? I don’t think so. In that case we have another problem. We have a god who isn’t God at all.
Little gods do little things. If you have never stood before God and felt afraid, then probably you have never stood before God. You have stood before an idol of your own making. Worse, your life will remain silly and superficial because you worship a silly and superficial god.
A user-friendly god we can control is not God. That kind of god exists only in our imagination. He certainly is not the God of the Bible or the God who Jesus revealed to us.
Listen to what God said to some ancient theologians who tried to make him a bit more manageable: “You thought I was altogether like you. But I will rebuke you and accuse you to your face. Consider this, you who forget God, or I will tear you to pieces, with none to rescue” (Psalm 50:21-22 NIV).
What we say about God has no bearing on who God really is. I can say that God is the Great Pumpkin, but my declaration doesn’t make it so. God remains who he is.
I think it was C.S. Lewis who pointed out, in answer to Freud and others who charged that Christians had created and worshiped a “father” god out of their own desire, that we certainly wouldn’t create the God revealed in the Bible. I know that if I created a god for myself, he would be far safer and far less terrifying than the one in the Bible.
God said through the prophet Isaiah, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9). Paul writes: “‘For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?’ ‘Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?’ For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen” (Romans 11:34-36).
I can worship a God like that, a sovereign Lord both fully God and unimaginably kind. Those who bask in a “nice” Jesus and a “nice” God simply haven’t read the Gospels. Even a cursory reading of the teaching and the actions of Jesus will reveal both the “kindness and sternness” of the real God (Romans 11:22).
Jesus talked about a “narrow way” that leads to life and a broad and easy one that leads to destruction. His anger at hypocrisy and religious manipulation knew no bounds. He taught clearly about God’s judgment, hell, and the wrath of God. “The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers, and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 13:41-42). That, dear friend, is not a safe God.
At the same time, Jesus showed an incredible understanding of human weakness and sin. He hung around with winebibbers, sinners, and prostitutes. He ministered with gentleness and kindness to the broken. He said, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30).
So is God confused? Quite the contrary! Only by understanding both the rule and the kindness of God do we find great personal balance and freedom.
A Bridge between Wrath & Love
You know the verse by heart; it is the bridge between God’s justified wrath and his amazing love: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him” (John 3:16-17).
The gospel is simple—simplicity on the other side of complexity. We are needy, sinful and helpless orphans birthed into a fallen world of darkness and death. God, out of his boundless compassion and love, has come himself and made us sons and daughters by the sacrifice of Christ. Aquinas rightly said that the cross did not secure the love of God, but the love of God secured the cross.
By trusting in Christ—and him alone—we become divine heirs. Orphans don’t receive anything. The news is so phenomenally good that we can hardly stand it: “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12). “For in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith” (Galatians 3:26).
And not only did we get reconciled to a holy and righteous God through the sacrifice of Christ, something else happened: We received the righteousness of Christ. (We call the formal doctrine “imputed righteousness.”) God transferred all the goodness of Christ to our account. “That is why his faith was ‘counted to him as righteousness.’ But the words ‘it was counted to him’ were not written for his sake alone, but for ours also. It [Christ’s righteousness] will be counted [“imputed,” KJV] to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification” (Romans 4:22-25).
What does this mean? If you are a Christian, it means that God will never be angry at you again. God has turned away his wrath from you because he imputed (credited to your account) Christ’s righteousness to you. And how can God be angry at perfection?
“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus…” (Romans 8:1). Paul expounds on the theme when he writes:
Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?…No in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:33-35,37-39).
God is God and God is not safe. In fact, he’s kind of scary.
God is also good, kind and compassionate. I’m glad about that too.
God isn’t angry. And that’s a downright relief.
Now, may I ask a question? If you really, really believed that God was good (not safe, but good), that he was in charge of this mess, and that he never grew angry with you—how would you act? What would you do? How would you order your life? What kinds of things would you change?
Jesus said, “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36).
The real God would have us laugh, sing and dance.
Excerpted from A Scandalous Freedom © 2004 by Steve Brown. Used by permission of Howard Publishing Co. All rights reserved