Today we wrap up our three week mini-series looking at the attributes of God. And in case you missed one or both of those previous weeks, let me give you a brief summary of what we’ve talked about so far.
In our first week, we looked at God as Creator. We saw that He made the entire universe and everything in it out of nothing. And in doing so, we found that God is all-powerful – He can do anything. He is also all-knowing – He knows everything. He is ever-present – He is everywhere all the time. And He is sovereign – He can do whatever He wants without restriction or interference.
On week two, we looked at God as Judge and we saw that every single person must answer to God because God is the judge of the world. And He’s perfectly qualified to do so because #1. He is Holy – He is above and beyond us in ever conceivable way. #2. He is truth – He never lies and you can trust in His promises. #3. He is righteous – That means He always acts like Himself. His character sets the standard for what is right. #4. He is just – He always treats everyone equally and fairly.
But as we were discovering all these attributes of God, we discovered a problem. When we were talking about God as our judge, we found out that God is going to judge everyone according to the standard of his righteousness. And as we all know – there are none of us that could ever be as righteous as God. We all fall short. That’s the first part of the problem. The second part came when we found out that God’s justice requires that everyone who has sinned (that is, anyone who has acted contrary to God’s character) faces the penalty of death – complete separation from God forever.
So that’s significant problem for us – things were not looking very good for the human race last week, but we ended on a note of hope, because we promised that today we are going to look at God as our Saviour.
Of all of God’s attributes, what is the one way that most Christians would describe God? Finish the sentence with me… God is …. [LOVE]. Why is that? Why is that the first attribute we think of? Is God any more ‘love’ then He is ‘just’? Is God any more ‘love’ then He is ‘sovereign’? No, but we sure seem to focus on his love more than any of his other attributes. So what is it about God’s love that is so captivating for us?
Well, perhaps its because God’s love is so very different from our love. You know, we use the word ‘love’ in many different ways – and most of them are wrong.
We might say “I really love spaghetti.” Or “I love hockey.” But we don’t love them. What we really mean is “I really enjoy eating spaghetti.” or “I really enjoy playing hockey.” That’s very different from love.
So what does it mean to love something or someone – or more importantly to our discussion this morning, what does it mean that God is love?
Well, to help us figure out what the Bible means by “God is love”, I think we have to go back to the original language. Remember, the Bible wasn’t written in English. It was translated into English from Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic. And so throughout the NT, you find two different greek words when it’s talking about about love. The first word is the word “phileo”. Phileo love is a brotherly love. When you love your friends and family – you have this ‘phileo’ love for them. This is a love that grows over time. The first time you meet someone, you can’t say you really love them, because you don’t really know them. But the more you get to know them, the more you spend time with them, the more you share, the more you show kindness to each other, the more you love them. That’s phileo love – a growing love. But that’s not God’s love.
The greek word for God’s love is agape love. And it’s different from ‘phileo’ love because it’s an unconditional love. Agape love doesn’t grow, because it’s already at the maximum amount of love. God can never love you more than He does right now. And His love doesn’t change, regardless of what you do. He doesn’t love you less when you sin. He doesn’t love you more when you do good. He always loves you – He is always doing good to you no matter what.
And that a very good thing, too, because we have done nothing for God to grow to love us. In fact, with all of our sin, it should have been the opposite – God should have grown to hate us. But He doesn’t. He continues to love us and do good to all of us – regardless of whether or not love Him back. Jesus talks about that in Matthew 5:43…
“You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy. 44 But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! 45 In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike.” Matthew 5:43-5
God’s agape love means that He is continually doing good to every single one of us – no matter what.
And you know, probably the best example of God’s agape love is found in Romans 5:8.
“But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8
That’s agape love. A love that is willing to die for us when we were still his enemies.
And that takes us into our next attribute – God’s mercy. Because you’ll remember that last Sunday we talked about how God is righteous and just. And because we don’t measure up to his righteousness – His justice requires that we be eternally separated from Him, for the wages of sin is death (according to Romans 6:23).
Well, because of God’s agape love – He couldn’t just stand by and have us condemned without hope. He had to do something. And so God showed us His mercy. While God’s justice demanded that we get what we deserve – God’s mercy allowed us a way out.
By sending His Son, Jesus, to live on earth as a man, and then to die on the cross in our place, and rise from the dead three days later – God was able to be merciful and just at the same time. He was just because our sin was punished – our death sentence was served. But not by us – it was by Jesus. Even though we had done nothing to deserve it, God showed us mercy and offered us forgiveness – instead of punishment.
“He saved us, not because of the righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He washed away our sins, giving us a new birth and new life through the Holy Spirit.” Titus 3:5
That’s pretty amazing, isn’t it? And even though it blows our minds that God would do that for us, that He would die in our place because of his mercy towards us, it really shouldn’t surprise us, because God has said all along that He is a God of mercy.
Way back when Moses asked God to show Himself to Him, God revealed Himself as a God of mercy.
“The Lord passed in front of Moses, calling out, “Yahweh! The Lord! The God of compassion and mercy! I am slow to anger and filled with unfailing love and faithfulness. I lavish unfailing love to a thousand generations. I forgive iniquity, rebellion, and sin.”
And you can see all the way through the Bible that God is a God of mercy. Right from Adam’s & Eve’s first sin through the rebellion of the Israelites all the way to Jesus’ death on the cross – time and time again we see God pouring out His mercy.
And that leads us to the third attribute of God as our Saviour – His faithfulness.
“For the Lord is good. His unfailing love continues forever, and his faithfulness continues to each generation.” Psalm 100:5
Now, what exactly is the faithfulness of God? What does it mean that God is faithful? According to the dictionary, faithfulness is being steadfast, loyal, constant.
But that actually sounds quite a bit like our fourth attribute of God – that He is unchanging. Is God’s faithfulness the same as his unchangingness? Perhaps somewhat, but I think there is still a difference there. God’s unchanging-ness simply means that, unlike us, His characteristics never change. You see, we change all the time. Over the course of our life we grow more loving (or less loving). We become more joyful (or more bitter). We grow more forgiving (or more resentful). We never stay exactly the same. We change as we experience life. But no so with God.
In a million years from now, God will still be all-powerful. He’ll still be absolutely just. He’ll still be 100% agape love and all the other attributes we’ve talked about. Hebrews 13:8 says…
“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.” Hebrews 13:8
So that’s His unchangingness, but is that His faithfulness? It’s part of it, but there’s more to it than just that.
You see, while I was preparing to talk about the faithfulness of God, I made an interesting observation. Almost every time you find a verse that talks about God’s faithfulness, that same verse also talks about God’s unfailing love. (Or if you read the King James Version, instead of unfailing love, it says his “mercy”). Interesting. Why is that? Is there a connection between God’s faithfulness and His love or His mercy? There may be – look at these verses.
“Great is his faithfulness; his mercies begin afresh each morning.” Lamentations 3:23
“Lord, don’t hold back your tender mercies from me. Let your unfailing love and faithfulness always protect me.” Psalm 40:11
“So the Word became human and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness.” John 1:14
It seems that God’s faithfulness isn’t just the fact that He is stedfast and constant. But rather, that He is constantly showing us his mercy & love. His faithfulness means He never stops loving us. He never gives up on us. He never gets tired of forgiving us. He never stops trying to reach us, though we may reject Him time and time again.
If I were God, I probably would have given up on humankind a long time ago – But thankfully, I’m not God. God will never give up on you. Some of you might think that He has – or that He should. But He hasn’t and He won’t. God will never give up on you. Great is His faithfulness!
We’re going to celebrate communion together this morning, and I think that’s the perfect way to end this three week journey that we’ve been on – discovering who God is and what He’s like. For me, studying all these attributes of God and seeing how they all fit together has really changed my perspective of God.
I’m just so amazed at this all-powerful being, who is so far above and beyond anything that I could even understand, loves me enough that He was willing to become human and die in my place so that He could be with me. That’s incredible. To think that God, who sets the standard for righteousness and thus cannot sin, who hates sin, who must punish sin with death – would willingly take our place and be Himself punished for every sin that any person has ever committed – all because He won’t stop loving us. Great is His faithfulness!