From “How to become a Christian”: Chapter 3 – God’s character – who He is and what He is like
Great is our LORD, and abundant in power;Psalm 147:5 (RSV)
his understanding is beyond measure.
3“For I proclaim the name of the LORD; Ascribe greatness to our God! 4“The Rock! His work is perfect, For all His ways are just; A God of faithfulness and without injustice, Righteous and upright is He.Deuteronomy 32:3-4 (NIV)
The LORD is faithful in all his words,Psalms 145:13b (RSV)
and gracious in all his deeds.
The aim of this chapter is to prevent some misunderstandings that might arise in the chapters that follow. In the first part of this book I will say a lot about the severity of God’s judgment. He is going to punish our sin and send the majority of the human race to Hell and then from there to the Lake of Fire for eternity. I have had to devote a large proportion of this book to explaining those awful things. We therefore need this chapter at the start of the book to provide some balance, so that people do not misunderstand God’s character. Let me say, right at the start, that God is infinitely loving. Love is so important a part of God’s nature that apostle John goes so far as to say that He is love:
7Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. 8Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. 9This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. 10This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.1 John 4:7-11 (NIV)
And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him.1 John 4:16 (NIV)
What’s more, God is good and is full of loving kindness and compassion which never end:
Give thanks to the LORD, for He is good,Psalm 136:1 (NASB)
For His loving kindness is everlasting.
22The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; 23they are new every morning; great is thy faithfulness.Lamentations 3:22-23(RSV)
The LORD is just in all his ways, and kind in all his doings.Psalm 145:17 (RSV)
He is also gracious, merciful, just, compassionate and slow to anger:
8The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. 9He will not always chide, nor will he keep his anger for ever. 10He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor requite us according to our iniquities. 11For as the heavens are high above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; 12as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us. 13As a father pities his children, so the LORD pities those who fear him.Psalm 103:8-13 (RSV)
Therefore the LORD longs to be gracious to you,Isaiah 30:18 (NASB)
And therefore He waits on high to have compassion on you
For the LORD is a God of justice;
How blessed are all those who long for Him.
8The LORD is gracious and merciful;Psalm 145:8-9 (NASB)
Slow to anger and great in lovingkindness.
9The LORD is good to all,
And His mercies are over all His works.
So, we have seen that God is loving, good, gracious, merciful, patient, compassionate and kind. However, I have no option but to talk as well about God’s perfect holiness and, therefore, the severity of His judgment on sin. Those things are also real. But, there is a danger that if the reader has to focus for several chapters on such things he may lose heart and stop reading. If so, he may be left with a false impression about God’s character. He might see Him only as a judge and not see any of the other aspects of what and who God is, such as a compassionate Father and a friend. Please try to look at God in a rounded and balanced way. Take note of all of His many characteristics, not only His holiness and severity, but His love and kindness as well.
Consider therefore the kindness and sternness of God: sternness to those who fell, but kindness to you, provided that you continue in his kindness. Otherwise, you also will be cut off.Romans 11:22 (NIV)
Despite the statement by apostle John about God’s love, which I have quoted earlier, the way the Bible introduces us to God is never to emphasise His love. Instead the Bible focuses, first of all, on His holiness and the fact that He will judge us. That is how Jesus and the apostles spoke to unbelievers. They spoke in that way even to the Jewish people, who believed in God, but had not realised that Jesus was their Messiah. We have to meet God first at the level of His holiness, and to realise how we have wronged Him. Only then can we go on to know Him as a Father and a friend.
So, I have tried to take that approach in this book and to look at things in that order. Remember that when apostle John was writing those words about God’s love, he was writing to Christians who had already repented, believed, been baptised, received the Holy Spirit, and come to know God for themselves. He was not writing to unbelievers or even to Jews who had not yet accepted Jesus as Messiah.
So, with such a mature, believing, Christian audience John felt able to say a good deal about God’s love. He knew that his audience already understood about God’s holiness. I cannot make that assumption in writing this book. Neither could Jesus when He spoke to the crowds during His earthly ministry. Those crowds contained at least some people who did not understand the truth or realise the seriousness of their situation. That is why Jesus always began by speaking of sin, judgment and Hell first. That has to be the starting point.