6. Goodness. The goodness of God means that God is the final standard of good, and that all that God is and does is worthy of approval.
In this definition we find a situation similar to the one we faced in defining God as the true God. Here, "good" can be understood to mean "worthy of approval," but we have not answered the question, approval by whom? In one sense, we can say that anything that is truly good should be worthy of approval by us. But in a more ultimate sense, we are not free to decide by ourselves what is worthy of approval and what is not. Ultimately, therefore, God's being and actions are perfectly worthy of his own approval. He is therefore the final standard of good. Jesus implies this when he says, "No one is good but God alone" (Luke 18:19). The Psalms frequently affirm that "the Lord is good" (Ps. 100:5) or exclaim, "O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good" (Pss. 106:1; 107:1; et al.). David encourages us, "O taste and see that the Lord is good!" (Ps. 34:8).
But if God is himself good and therefore the ultimate standard of good, then we have a definition of the meaning of "good" that will greatly help us in the study of ethics and aesthetics. What is "good"? "Good" is what God approves. We may ask then, why is what God approves good? We must answer, "Because he approves it." That is to say, there is no higher standard of goodness than God's own character and his approval of whatever is consistent with that character. Nonetheless, God has given us some reflection of his own sense of goodness, so that when we evaluate things in the way God created us to evaluate them, we will also approve what God approves and delight in things in which he delights.
Our definition also states that all that God does is worthy of approval. We see evidence of this in the creation narrative: "And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good" (Gen. 1:31). The psalmist connects the goodness of God with the goodness of his actions: "You are good and you do good; teach me your statutes" (Ps. 119:68). Psalm 104 is an excellent example of praise to God for his goodness in creation, while many Psalms, such as Psalms 106 and 107, give thanks to God for his goodness in all his actions toward his people. And Paul encourages us to discover in practice how God's will for our lives is "good and acceptable and perfect" (Rom. 12:2).
Scripture also tells us that God is the source of all good in the world. "Every good endowment and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change" (James 1:17; cf. Ps. 145:9; Acts 14:17). Moreover, God does only good things for his children. We read, "No good thing does the Lord withhold from those who walk uprightly" (Ps. 84:11). And in the same context in which Paul assures us that "in everything God works for good with those who love him" (Rom. 8:28), he also says, "He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, will he not also give us all things with him?" (Rom. 8:32). Much more than an earthly father, our heavenly Father will "give good things to those who ask him" (Matt. 7:11), and even his discipline is a manifestation of his love and is for our good (Heb. 12:10). This knowledge of God's great goodness should encourage us to "give thanks in all circumstances" (1 Thess. 5:18).
In imitation of this communicable attribute, we should ourselves do good (that is, we should do what God approves) and thereby imitate the goodness of our heavenly Father. Paul writes, "So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all men, and especially to those who are of the household of faith" (Gal. 6:10; cf. Luke 6:27, 3335; 2 Tim. 3:17). Moreover, when we realize that God is the definition and source of all good, we will realize that God himself is the ultimate good that we seek. We will say with the psalmist, "Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing upon earth that I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion for ever" (Ps. 73:25-26; cf. 16:11; 42:1-2).
God's goodness is closely related to several other characteristics of his nature, among them love, mercy, patience, and grace. Sometimes these are considered separate attributes and are treated individually. At other times these are considered part of God's goodness and are treated as various aspects of God's goodness. In this chapter we will treat love as a separate attribute since it is so prominent in Scripture. The other three characteristics (mercy, patience, and grace), while also prominent in Scripture, will be treated together as aspects of God's goodness to individuals in specific situations. Thus, God's mercy is his goodness toward those in distress his grace is his goodness toward those who deserve only punishment and his patience is his goodness toward those who continue to sin over a period of time (see below, section C.8, on mercy, patience, and grace).
7. Love. God's love means that God eternally gives of himself to others.
This definition understands love as self-giving for the benefit of others. This attribute of God shows that it is part of his nature to give of himself in order to bring about blessing or good for others.
John tells us that "God is love" (1 John 4:8). We see evidence that this attribute of God was active even before creation among the members of the Trinity. Jesus speaks to his Father of "my glory which you have given me in your love for me before the foundation of the world" (John 17:24), thus indicating that there was love and a giving of honor from the Father to the Son from all eternity. It continues at the present time, for we read, "The Father loves the Son, and has given all things into his hand" (John 3:35).
This love is also reciprocal, for Jesus says, "I do as the Father has commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father" (John 14:31). The love between the Father and the Son also presumably characterizes their relationship with the Holy Spirit, even though it is not explicitly mentioned. This eternal love of the Father for the Son, the Son for the Father, and of both for the Holy Spirit makes heaven a world of love and joy because each person of the Trinity seeks to bring joy and happiness to the other two.
The self-giving that characterizes the Trinity finds clear expression in God's relationship to mankind, and especially to sinful men. "In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins" (1 John 4:10, author's translation). Paul writes, "God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us" (Rom. 5:8). John also writes, "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life" (John 3:16). Paul also speaks of "the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me" (Gal. 2:20), thus showing an awareness of the directly personal application of Christ's love to individual sinners. It should cause us great joy to know that it is the purpose of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit to give of themselves to us to bring us true joy and happiness. It is God's nature to act that way toward those upon whom he has set his love, and he will continue to act that way toward us for all eternity.
We imitate this communicable attribute of God, first by loving God in return, and second by loving others in imitation of the way God loves them. All our obligations to God can be summarized in this: "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind You shall love your neighbor as yourself " (Matt. 22:37-38). If we love God, we will obey his commandments (1 John 5:3) and thus do what is pleasing to him. We will love God, not the world (1 John 2:15), and we will do all this because he first loved us (1 John 4:19).
It is one of the most amazing facts in all Scripture that just as God's love involves his giving of himself to make us happy, so we can in return give of ourselves and actually bring joy to God's heart. Isaiah promises God's people, "As the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you" (Isa. 62:5), and Zephaniah tells God's people, "The Lord, your God, is in your midst...he will rejoice over you with gladness, he will renew you in his love; he will exult over you with loud singing as on a day of festival" (Zeph. 3:17-18).
Our imitation of God's love is also seen in our love for others. John makes this explicit: "Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another" (1 John 4:11). In fact, our love for others within the fellowship of believers is so evidently an imitation of Christ that by it the world recognizes us as his: "By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another" (John 13:35; cf. 15:13; Rom. 13:10; 1 Cor. 13:4-7; Heb. 10:24). God himself gives us his love to enable us to love each other (John 17:26; Rom. 5:5). Moreover, our love for our enemies especially reflects God's love (Matt. 5:43-48).
8. Mercy, Grace, Patience. God's mercy, patience, and grace may be seen as three separate attributes, or as specific aspects of God's goodness. The definitions given here show these attributes as special examples of God's goodness when it is used for the benefit of specific classes of people.
God's mercy means God's goodness toward those in misery and distress.
God's grace means God's goodness toward those who deserve only punishment.
God's patience means God's goodness in withholding of punishment toward those who sin over a period of time.
These three characteristics of God's nature are often mentioned together, especially in the Old Testament. When God declared his name to Moses, he proclaimed, "The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness" (Ex. 34:6). David says in Psalm 103:8, "The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love."
Because these characteristics of God are often mentioned together, it may seem difficult to distinguish among them. Yet the characteristic of mercy is often emphasized where people are in misery or distress. David says, for example, "I am in great distress; let us fall into the hand of the Lord for his mercy is great..." (2 Sam.
24:14). The two blind men who wish Jesus to see their plight and heal them cry, "Have mercy on us, Son of David" (Matt. 9:27). When Paul speaks of the fact that God comforts us in affliction, he calls God the "Father of mercies and God of all comfort" (2 Cor. 1:3).8 In time of need, we are to draw near to God's throne so that we might receive both mercy and grace (Heb. 4:16; cf. 2:17; James 5:11). We are to imitate God's mercy in our conduct toward others: "Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy" (Matt. 5:7; cf. 2 Cor. 1:3-4).
With respect to the attribute of grace we find that Scripture emphasizes that God's grace, or his favor toward those who deserve no favor but only punishment, is never obligated but is always freely given on God's part. God says, "I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy" (Ex. 33:19; quoted in Rom. 9:15). Yet God is regularly gracious toward his people: "Turn to me and be gracious to me, After Thy manner with those who love Thy name" (Ps. 119:132 NASB). In fact, Peter can call God "the God of all grace" (1 Peter 5:10).
Grace as God's goodness especially shown to those who do not deserve it is seen frequently in Paul's writings. He emphasizes that salvation by grace is the opposite of salvation by human effort, for grace is a freely given gift. "Since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, they are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus" (Rom. 3:23-24). The distinction between grace and a salvation earned by works that merit a reward is also seen in Romans 11:6: "But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace." Grace, then, is God's favor freely given to those who do not deserve this favor.
Paul also sees that if grace is unmerited, then there is only one human attitude appropriate as an instrument for receiving such grace, namely, faith: "That is why it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace..." (Rom. 4:16). Faith is the one human attitude that is the opposite of depending on oneself, for it involves trust in or dependence upon another. Thus, it is devoid of self-reliance or attempts to gain righteousness by human effort. If God's favor is to come to us apart from our own merit, then it must come when we depend not on our own merit but on the merits of another, and that is precisely when we have faith.
In the New Testament, and especially in Paul, not only the forgiveness of sins, but also the entire living of the Christian life can be seen to result from God's continuous bestowal of grace. Paul can say, "by the grace of God I am what I am" (1 Cor. 15:10). Luke speaks of Antioch as the place where Paul and Barnabas "had been commended to the grace of God for the work which they had fulfilled" (Acts 14:26), indicating that the church there, in sending out Paul and Barnabas, saw the success of their ministry as dependent upon God's continuing grace. Furthermore, the blessing of "grace" upon Paul's readers is the most frequent apostolic blessing in his letters (see, e.g., Rom. 1:7; 16:20; 1 Cor. 1:3; 16:23; 2 Cor. 1:2; 13:14; Gal. 1:3; 6:18).
God's patience similarly, was mentioned in some of the verses cited above in connection with God's mercy. The Old Testament frequently speaks of God as "slow to anger" (Ex. 34:6; Num. 14:18; Pss. 86:15; 103:8; 145:8; Jonah 4:2; Nah. 1:3; et al.). In the New Testament, Paul speaks about God's "kindness and forbearance and patience" (Rom. 2:4), and says that Jesus Christ displayed his "perfect patience"
8 8. This verse uses oiKTip^oq (G3880) "compassion, mercy," rather than eXeo^ (G1799) "mercy," but the terms are closely related in meaning and both refer to compassion or goodness toward those in distress.
toward Paul himself as an example for others (1 Tim. 1:16; cf. Rom. 9:22; 1 Peter 3:20).
We are also to imitate God's patience and be "slow to anger" (James 1:19), and be patient in suffering as Christ was (1 Peter 2:20). We are to lead a life "with patience" (Eph. 4:2), and "patience" is listed among the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22 (see also Rom. 8:25; 1 Cor. 13:4; Col. 1:11; 3:12; 2 Tim. 3:10; 4:2; James 5:7-8; Rev. 2:2-3; et al.). As with most of the attributes of God that we are to imitate in our lives, patience requires a moment-by-moment trust in God to fulfill his promises and purposes in our lives at his chosen time. Our confidence that the Lord will soon fulfill his purposes for our good and his glory will enable us to be patient. James makes this connection when he says, "You also be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand" (James 5:8).
9. Holiness. God's holiness means that he is separated from sin and devoted to seeking his own honor. This definition contains both a relational quality (separation from) and a moral quality (the separation is from sin or evil, and the devotion is to the good of God's own honor or glory). The idea of holiness as including both separation from evil and devotion to God's own glory is found in a number of Old Testament passages. The word holy is used to describe both parts of the tabernacle, for example. The tabernacle itself was a place separate from the evil and sin of the world, and the first room in it was called the "holy place." It was dedicated to God's service. But then God commanded that there be a veil, "and the veil shall separate for you the holy place from the most holy" (Ex. 26:33). The most holy place, where the ark of the covenant was kept, was the place most separated from evil and sin and most fully devoted to God's service.
The place where God himself dwelt was itself holy: "Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord? And who shall stand in his holy place?" (Ps. 24:3). The element of dedication to God's service is seen in the holiness of the sabbath day: "the Lord blessed the sabbath day and made it holy" (or "hallowed it"; the verb is a Piel form of
, H7727, and means "to make holy") (Ex. 20:11; cf. Gen. 2:3). The sabbath day was made holy because it was set apart from the ordinary activities of the world and dedicated to God's service. In the same way the tabernacle and the altar, as well as Aaron and his sons, were to be "made holy" (Ex. 29:44), that is, set apart from ordinary tasks and from the evil and sin of the world and dedicated to God's service (cf. Ex. 30:25-33).
God himself is the Most Holy One. He is called the "Holy One of Israel" (Pss. 71:22; 78:41; 89:18; Isa. 1:4; 5:19, 24; et al.). The seraphim around God's throne cry, "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory" (Isa. 6:3). "The Lord our God is holy!" exclaims the psalmist (Ps. 99:9; cf. 99:3, 5; 22:3).
God's holiness provides the pattern for his people to imitate. He commands them, "You shall be holy; for I the Lord your God am holy" (Lev. 19:2; cf. 11:44-45; 20:26; 1 Peter 1:16). When God called his people out of Egypt and brought them to himself and commanded them to obey his voice, then he said, "You shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation" (Ex. 19:4-6). In this case the idea of separation from evil and sin (which here included in a very striking way separation from life in Egypt) and the idea of devotion to God (in serving him and in obeying his statutes) are both seen in the example of a "holy nation."
New covenant believers are also to "strive...for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord" (Heb. 12:14) and to know that God's discipline is given to us "that we may share his holiness" (Heb. 12:10). Paul encourages Christians to be separate from the dominating influence that comes from close association with unbelievers (2
Cor. 6:14-18) and then encourages them, "Let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, and make holiness perfect in the fear of God" (2 Cor. 7:1; cf. Rom. 12:1). The church itself is intended by God to grow "into a holy temple in the Lord" (Eph. 2:21), and Christ's present work for the church is "that he might sanctify her...that he might present the church to himself in splendor...that she might be holy and without blemish" (Eph. 5:26-27). Not only individuals but also the church itself must grow in holiness!
Zechariah prophesies a day when everything on earth will be "holy to the Lord." He says:
And on that day there shall be inscribed on the bells of the horses, "Holy to the Lord." And the pots in the house of the Lord shall be as the bowls before the altar; and every pot in Jerusalem and Judah shall be sacred to the Lord of hosts. (Zech. 14:20-21) At that time, everything on earth will be separated from evil, purified from sin, and devoted to the service of God in true moral purity.
10. Peace (or Order). In 1 Corinthians 14:33 Paul says, "God is not a God of confusion but of peace." Although "peace" and "order" have not traditionally been classified as attributes of God, Paul here indicates another quality that we could think of as a distinct attribute of God. Paul says that God's actions are characterized by "peace" and not by "disorder" (Gk. aKaxaaxaaia (G189) a word meaning "disorder, confusion, unrest"). God himself is "the God of peace" (Rom. 15:33; 16:20; Phil. 4:9; 1 Thess. 5:23; Heb. 13:20; cf. Eph. 2:14; 2 Thess. 3:16). But those who walk in wickedness do not have peace: "'There is no peace,' says the Lord, 'for the wicked'" (Isa. 48:22; 57:21; cf. 59:8).
However, when God looks with compassion upon the people whom he loves, he sees them as "afflicted...storm-tossed (LXX, aKaxaaxaxoq (G190) "in disorder, in confusion"), and not comforted" (Isa. 54:11), and promises to establish their foundations with precious stones (Isa. 54:11-12) and lead them forth in "peace" (Isa. 55:12). The proclamation of God's plan of redemption contains the promise of peace to God's people (Pss. 29:11; 85:8; 119:165; Prov. 3:17; Isa. 9:6-7; 26:3; 57:19; John 14:27; Rom. 8:6; 2 Thess. 3:16; et al.). In fact, the third element that Paul lists as part of the fruit of the Spirit is "peace" (Gal. 5:22).
This peace certainly does not imply inactivity, for it was at a time of intense growth and activity that Luke could say that "the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace and was built up" (Acts 9:31). Furthermore, although God is a God of peace, he is also the one who "will neither slumber nor sleep" (Ps. 121:4). He is the God who is continually working (John 5:17). And even though heaven is a place of peace, it is a place also of continual praise to God and service for him.
Thus, God's peace can be defined as follows: God's peace means that in God's being and in his actions he is separate from all confusion and disorder, yet he is continually active in innumerable well-ordered, fully controlled, simultaneous actions.
This definition indicates that God's peace does not have to do with inactivity, but with ordered and controlled activity. To engage in infinite activity of this sort, of course, requires God's infinite wisdom, knowledge, and power.
When we understand God's peace in this way we can see an imitation of this attribute of God not only in "peace" as part of the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:2223, but also in the last-mentioned element in the fruit of the Spirit, namely, "self-
LXX lxx—Septuagint control" (Gal. 5:23). When we as God's people walk in his ways, we come to know more and more fully by experience that the kingdom of God is indeed "righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit" (Rom. 14:17), and we can say of the path of God's wisdom, "Her ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace" (Prov. 3:17).
11. Righteousness, Justice. In English the terms righteousness and justice are different words, but in both the Hebrew Old Testament and the Greek New Testament there is only one word group behind these two English terms. (In the Old Testament the terms primarily translate forms of the , H7406, word group, and the New Testament members of the SiKaiwq (G1469) word group.) Therefore, these two terms will be considered together as speaking of one attribute of God.
God's righteousness means that God always acts in accordance with what is right and is himself the final standard of what is right.
Speaking of God, Moses says, "All his ways are justice. A God of faithfulness and without iniquity, just and right is he" (Deut. 32:4). Abraham successfully appeals to God's own character of righteousness when he says, "Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?" (Gen. 18:25). God also speaks and commands what is right: "The precepts of the Lord are right rejoicing the heart" (Ps. 19:8). And God says of himself, "I the Lord speak the truth, I declare what is right' (Isa. 45:19). As a result of God's righteousness, it is necessary that he treat people according to what they deserve. Thus, it is necessary that God punish sin, for it does not deserve reward; it is wrong and deserves punishment.
When God does not punish sin, it seems to indicate that he is unrighteous, unless some other means of punishing sin can be seen. This is why Paul says that when God sent Christ as a sacrifice to bear the punishment for sin, it "was to show God's righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins; it was to prove at the present time that he himself is righteous and that he justifies him who has faith in Jesus" (Rom. 3:25-26). When Christ died to pay the penalty for our sins it showed that God was truly righteous, because he did give appropriate punishment to sin, even though he did forgive his people their sins.
With respect to the definition of righteousness given above, we may ask, what is "right"? In other words, what ought to happen and what ought to be? Here we must respond that whatever conforms to God's moral character is right. But why is whatever conforms to God's moral character right? It is right because it conforms to his moral character! If indeed God is the final standard of righteousness, then there can be no standard outside of God by which we measure righteousness or justice. He himself is the final standard. (This is similar to the situation we encountered with respect to truth and God being the ultimate standard of truth.) Whenever Scripture confronts the question of whether God himself is righteous or not, the ultimate answer is always that we as God's creatures have no right to say that God is unrighteous or unjust. The creature cannot say that of the Creator. Paul responds to a very difficult question about God's righteousness by saying, "But who are you, a man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, "Why have you made me thus?' Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for beauty and another for menial use?" (Rom. 9:20-21).
In answer to Job's questioning about whether God has been righteous in his dealings with him, God answers Job, "Shall a faultfinder contend with the Almighty?...Will you even put me in the wrong? Will you condemn me that you may be justified?" (Job 40:2, 8). Then God answers not in terms of an explanation that would allow Job to understand why God's actions were right, but rather in terms of a statement of God's own majesty and power! God does not need to explain the rightness of his actions to Job, for God is the Creator and Job is the creature. "Have you an arm like God, and can you thunder with a voice like his?" (Job 40:9). "Have you commanded the morning since your days began, and caused the dawn to know its place...?" (Job 38:12). "Can you lift up your voice to the clouds, that a flood of waters may cover you? Can you send forth lightnings, that they may go and say to you, "Here we are'?" (Job 38:34-35). "Do you give the horse his might?" (Job 39:19). "Is it by your wisdom that the hawk soars, and spreads his wings toward the south?" (Job 39:26). Job answers, "Behold, I am of small account; what shall I answer you? I lay my hand on my mouth" (Job 40:4).
Nevertheless, it should be a cause for thanksgiving and gratitude when we realize that righteousness and omnipotence are both possessed by God. If he were a God of perfect righteousness without power to carry out that righteousness, he would not be worthy of worship and we would have no guarantee that justice will ultimately prevail in the universe. But if he were a God of unlimited power, yet without righteousness in his character, how unthinkably horrible the universe would be! There would be unrighteousness at the center of all existence and there would be nothing anyone could do to change it. Existence would become meaningless, and we would be driven to the most utter despair. We ought therefore continually to thank and praise God for who he is, "for all his ways are justice. A God of faithfulness and without iniquity, just and right is he" (Deut. 32:4).
12. Jealousy. Although the word jealous is frequently used in a negative sense in English, it also takes a positive sense at times. For example, Paul says to the Corinthians, "I feel a divine jealousy for you" (2 Cor. 11:2). Here the sense is "earnestly protective or watchful." It has the meaning of being deeply committed to seeking the honor or welfare of someone, whether oneself or someone else.
Scripture represents God as being jealous in this way. He continually and earnestly seeks to protect his own honor. He commands his people not to bow down to idols or serve them, saying, "for I the Lord your God am a jealous God" (Ex. 20:5). He desires that worship be given to himself and not to false gods. Therefore, he commands the people of Israel to tear down the altars of pagan gods in the land of Canaan, giving the following reason: "For you shall worship no other god, for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God" (Ex. 34:14; cf. Deut. 4:24; 5:9).
Thus, God's jealousy may be defined as follows: God's jealousy means that God continually seeks to protect his own honor.
People sometimes have trouble thinking that jealousy is a desirable attribute in God. This is because jealousy for our own honor as human beings is almost always wrong. We are not to be proud, but humble. Yet we must realize that the reason pride is wrong is a theological reason: it is that we do not deserve the honor that belongs to God alone (cf. 1 Cor. 4:7; Rev. 4:11).
It is not wrong for God to seek his own honor, however, for he deserves it fully. God freely admits that his actions in creation and redemption are done for his own honor. Speaking of his decision to withhold judgment from his people, God says, "For my own sake, for my own sake, I do 'it... My glory I will not give to anothef (Isa. 48:11). It is healthy for us spiritually when we settle in our hearts the fact that God deserves all honor and glory from his creation, and that it is right for him to seek this cf cf.—compare honor. He alone is infinitely worthy of being praised. To realize this fact and to delight in it is to find the secret of true worship.
13. Wrath. It may surprise us to find how frequently the Bible talks about the wrath of God. Yet if God loves all that is right and good, and all that conforms to his moral character, then it should not be surprising that he would hate everything that is opposed to his moral character. God's wrath directed against sin is therefore closely related to God's holiness and justice. God's wrath may be defined as follows: God's wrath means that he intensely hates all sin.
Descriptions of God's wrath are found frequently in the narrative passages of Scripture, especially when God's people sin greatly against him. God sees the idolatry of the people of Israel and says to Moses, "I have seen this people...; now therefore let me alone, that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them" (Ex. 32:9-10). Later Moses tells the people, "Remember and do not forget how you provoked the Lord your God to wrath in the wilderness Even at Horeb you provoked the Lord to wrath and the Lord was so angry with you that he was ready to destroy you" (Deut. 9:7-8; cf. 29:23; 2 Kings 22:13).
The doctrine of the wrath of God in Scripture is not limited to the Old Testament, however, as some have falsely imagined. We read in John 3:36, "He who believes in the Son has eternal life; he who does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God rests upon him." Paul says, "For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and wickedness of men" (Rom. 1:18; cf. 2:5, 8; 5:9; 9:22; Col. 3:6; 1 Thess. 1:10; 2:16; 5:9; Heb. 3:11; Rev. 6:16-17; 19:15). Many more New Testament verses also indicate God's wrath against sin.
As with the other attributes of God, this is an attribute for which we should thank and praise God. It may not immediately appear to us how this can be done, since wrath seems to be such a negative concept. Viewed alone, it would arouse only fear and dread. Yet it is helpful for us to ask what God would be like if he were a God that did not hate sin. He would then be a God who either delighted in sin or at least was not troubled by it. Such a God would not be worthy of our worship, for sin is hateful and it is worthy of being hated. Sin ought not to be. It is in fact a virtue to hate evil and sin (cf. Heb. 1:9; Zech. 8:17; et al.), and we rightly imitate this attribute of God when we feel hatred against great evil, injustice, and sin.9
Furthermore, we should feel no fear of God's wrath as Christians, for although "we were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind" (Eph. 2:3), we now have trusted in Jesus, "who delivers us from the wrath to come" (1 Thess. 1:10; cf. Rom. 5:10). When we meditate on the wrath of God, we will be amazed to think that our Lord Jesus Christ bore the wrath of God that was due to our sin, in order that we might be saved (Rom. 3:25-26).10
Moreover, in thinking about God's wrath we must also bear in mind his patience. Both patience and wrath are mentioned together in Psalm 103: "The Lord is...slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. He will not always chide, nor will he keep his anger for ever" (Ps. 103:8-9). In fact, the delay of the execution of God's wrath upon evil is for the purpose of leading people to repentance (see Rom. 2:4).
Thus, when we think of God's wrath to come, we should simultaneously be thankful for his patience in waiting to execute that wrath in order that yet more people
9 9. It is appropriate for us in this regard to "hate the sin but love the sinner," as a popular slogan puts it.
10 10. See the discussion of Christ's bearing of the wrath of God in chapter 27, pp. 574-77.
may be saved: "The Lord is not slow about his promise as some count slowness, but is forbearing toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a loud noise..." (2 Peter 3:9-10). God's wrath should motivate us to evangelism and should also cause us to be thankful that God finally will punish all wrongdoing and will reign over new heavens and a new earth in which there will be no unrighteousness.
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