The Attributes of God

Lecture 1, Introduction to the Attributes of God:

Worthwhile relationships are based on knowledge. When we meet someone for the first time, we do not consider that we really know that person until we have the opportunity to learn more about that person, such as his or her history, personality, likes, dislikes, and desires. As we come to know more about a new acquaintance, we better understand how to carry on a relationship with that person. In the same way, a vibrant relationship with the triune God must be rooted in a firm understanding of who He reveals Himself to be in His Word. In this message, Dr. Steven J. Lawson presents an overview of God’s defining attributes and invites us to pursue a more intimate and worshipful relationship with Him.

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Delighting in Our Duty

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When we think of the law of God, the first thing that should come to mind is love—God’s love for us as fallen sinners, directing us to love Him, enjoy Him, and glorify Him. God’s law is a gracious gift to us, and it has three primary uses. First, the law functions as a teacher by showing us God’s perfect righteousness and our unrighteousness and sin, and it shows our danger of God’s judgment, leading us, by God’s grace, in repentance and faith to Jesus Christ who fulfilled all the righteous demands of God’s law (Rom. 3:204:15Gal. 3:19–24). Second, the law functions to restrain evil in all realms of society, preserving humanity and, thus, serving God’s overall plan of redemption for His covenant people (Deut. 19:16–211 Tim. 1:8–11). Third, the law functions as a guide to righteous living for all men, and it directs us as God’s beloved children by teaching us what pleases our heavenly Father and fulfills the law of Christ (1 Cor. 9:211 Thess. 4:1–8).

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them” (Matt. 5:17). Jesus Christ fulfilled the law, and in fulfilling it, He set us free to love the law, to delight in keeping the law, and to repent for our lawbreaking as we live by faith in Christ for the Glory of God in all that we do (Rom. 3:31Titus 2:11–141 John 2:3–4). Even in the Great Commission, Christ commanded that we make disciples of all nations, baptizing them and teaching them to observe (“to keep” or “to obey”) all that He commanded. And to His disciples Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15), promising to send the Holy Spirit to indwell us, help us, comfort us, and sustain us.

Moreover, when a scribe asked Jesus, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:28–31). In giving the first great commandment, Jesus was quoting the Shema from Deuteronomy 6:4–5, which is the preeminent Old Testament monotheistic self-proclamation of the God of Israel and the confession of all who are united by faith alone to the true Israel of God, Jesus Christ the righteous. The Shema is God’s call to “hear, O Israel,” and in hearing God, loving God, and obeying God, we keep our eyes fixed on Jesus who is the author and finisher of our faith, trusting Him and following Him every hour of every day in all that we do with our whole being—all the while, teaching and showing our covenant children what it means to live each day coram Deo, before God’s face, as we strive to love Him with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength.

One Flesh

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Liberals have a way of renaming things in order to make them acceptable. When former-President Clinton committed adultery he called it a “mistake.” Of course, it was sin. Everyone knows that the words “choice” and “fetus” have been used to justify murder. Recently, politically correct wordsmiths have coined the phrase “same-sex marriage.” From a biblical perspective, however, a proper name for this activity, is “legalized homosexuality.”

Regardless of the attempt of two same-sex partners to justify “marrying” by declaring in a ceremony that they will be faithful to one another, God will neither condone nor accept their acts — even if the state eventually does. Indeed, taking vows to remain in such a sinful relationship only aggravates the situation. Moreover, the church of the Lord Jesus Christ must never participate in nor promote the legalization of homosexuality. “Ministers” who do so either willingly or by coercion (should it ever come to that) thereby disqualify themselves as servants of Jesus Christ. In contrast, it is our duty and joy to affirm the biblical view of marriage — the union of one woman and one man. In the Bible, several facts are clear: It was God Himself who united a man and a woman in marriage (Gen. 2:22). Marriage, therefore, is a divine institution, not a human one (Matt. 19:6). Consequently, God, not man, has the right to define the terms of the institution.

And, as other articles in this edition of Tabletalk will make clear, homosexuality and lesbianism are not “natural” (Rom. 1:627). When Paul uses the word phusis, to denote that which is against “nature,” he speaks of an act that is contrary to creation — contrary to the way in which God designed human beings to function sexually.

It is not as though Christians demean or oppose sexual activity. Quite to the contrary. When, within the bonds of godly marriage, people properly engage in sexual activities, the marriage bed is “unpolluted.” Indeed, in order to dispel false, ascetic notions, the writer of those words urges all Christians to “honor marriage” (Heb.13:4The Christian Counselor’s New Testament [CCNThereafter]). The distorted view that some people have of Christian teaching about sexuality would lead you to believe that we think the devil, not God, was the source of it. Quite to the contrary, God requires the fullest expression of loving sexual activity within marriage, an expression that may be properly initiated by either the husband or the wife (1 Cor. 7:4–5). And it is in that very passage Paul warns that failure to satisfy the sexual desires of one’s marriage partner may lead to temptation by Satan. Plainly, then, godly marriage must be encouraged in every way.

Marriage has many purposes, only one of which is procreation. That is a subject in itself. But, in this study, of greatest importance is the fact that marriage is to be a “completion” of one’s self — something that isn’t possible in a homosexual relationship. In providing a marriage partner for Adam, God said “I will make him a helper comparable to him” (Gen. 2:18). The Hebrew word translated “comparable” in the New King James Version means, literally, “that which approximates something else.” If you cut a grapefruit cleanly in two, the halves will fit exactly when placed in proper juxtaposition to one another. But if you halve another with a jagged cut neither of the two resulting pieces will fit with either of the halves of the previously sectioned fruit. It is only those halves that exactly approximate one another that make a suitable whole. It is this concept of shared wholeness that is inherent in the Genesis passage.

Men and women were designed to become “one flesh” (Gen. 2: 24). But there can be no oneness apart from a male and a female partner who approximate one another at every point. This “oneness” is not to be thought of merely as sexual union (though it certainly includes that). Rather, in Hebrew thought, the term “flesh” referred not only to the physical body, but also to the whole person. When Moses described the destruction of the entire human race (Noah and his family excepted), he described this catastrophe as “the end of all flesh” (Gen. 6: 13). Surely, he had reference to more than bodies when using this phrase. Rather, in a manner similar to our use of the word “everybody” (by which we refer to more than flesh and bones), he used the Hebrew word “flesh” to mean “person.” To become “one flesh,” then, is to become “one person.” Male and female marriage partners not only make an exact “fit” sexually, but their maleness and femaleness “fill out” or “complete” one another in every respect. The two constitute a “whole.” In a proper marriage, men have the opportunity to see the world through their wives’ feminine eyes, and women through their husband’s masculine eyes. My wife has brought lace curtains into my life; I have brought muddy boots into hers (sometimes messing up her curtains!). Same sex relationships lack entirely such expanded views of the world.

What of the single person? Must he or she forever lack the benefits of this married outlook? Perhaps, but God does compensate for it. When Jesus spoke of the indissolubility of marriage, except for adultery and desertion, the disciples (who, doubtless, knew Rabbi Hillel’s teaching that almost anything disagreeable might constitute grounds for divorce) said, “If that is the way it must be between a man and his wife, it would be better not to marry!” (Matt. 19:10). Now, of course, they all did anyway (1 Cor. 9:5). But, in answer to their hasty response, Jesus explained that not everyone has the capacity to live the single life, which He declared is only for “those to whom it has been given” (Matt. 19:11). Clearly, to compensate for the fact that “it is not good for man to be alone” (Gen. 3:18), God gifts such persons with a “capacity” for a special, fulfilling service, which He expects them to discharge (see Gen. 3:12b1 Cor. 7:7ff.).

Marriage, carried out in a Scriptural manner, affords great benefits. It is only necessary to read Ephesians 5:21–33 to understand how, in reflecting the relationship of Christ to His church, marriage can afford one of the deepest joys possible. In it is love, care, intimate fellowship, unfettered sex and so on. When God wants to explain the fullness of the future glory that we shall have in union with Christ, He writes: “Let us be happy and delighted, and we shall give Him the glory; the marriage of the Lamb has come and His bride has made herself ready. She was allowed to dress in fine linen that is bright and clean (for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints). Then he said to me. Write this: ‘Happy are they who are called to the Lamb’s marriage supper” (Rev. 19:9 ccnt).

To describe that perfect, glorious event, notice that God uses the metaphor of a wedding. From this we should learn not only that marriage is good and holy, but that God intended it to be a wonderful blessing to mankind. How tragic to spoil and sully its character by using the word marriage to describe legalized homosexuality! In mercy, even though homosexuality is a sinful way of life, and not a genetic problem, Paul makes it clear that it is possible for a homosexual to be “washed” from his defilement through the saving grace of Jesus Christ. However, it is not only non-believers who are caught up in this sin that God will reprimand, but also those Christians who fail to exhibit and enjoy all that marriage can be. It is one thing to condemn homosexuality; it is another to live a married life that in itself condemns it by contrast. It is, therefore, our privilege not only to enter into the delights of this marvelous God-ordained institution, but by the way in which we honor it to exhibit the glory of God.

Principally, those who will read these words are believers in Christ. If, perchance, some who are not a part of His people are doing so, let me urge you to enter into the greatest relationship possible both for now and for eternity by becoming part of the bride of Christ. This bride is His church, which some day will be “glorious arrayed, not having spot or wrinkle, but rather … holy and without blemish” (Eph. 5:27 CCNT). That even transcends sex (Matt. 22:30).