Ans: The Scriptures teach that God is consistent in his love, grace and mercy.
Jn. 3:16. For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
1 Jn. 4:8, 16. 8He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love....16And we have known and believed the love that God hath to us. God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him.
See also: Ex. 34:6–7; Psa. 23:6; 103: 8–14; 136:1–26; Rom. 8:35, 38–39; Gal. 2:20; Eph. 1:6; 2:4–5.
God has a general benevolence toward his entire creation. This causes him to providentially care for this creation, including the land (Lev. 26:34– 35; 2 Chron. 36:21), the plants (Matt. 6:28–30), the animals (Deut. 25:4; Psa. 147:9; Matt. 10:29; 12:11–12) and mankind (Matt. 10:28–31; Rom. 8:28– 39). This general benevolence, however, must not be confused with his redemptive love. This love must possess a definite moral character or quality. Redemptive love is in perfect harmony with other attributes of God. It is a holy, righteous, infinite, intelligent, gracious and perfect love. Such a love must have definite objects; by necessity such love could not be indefinite or nebulous in nature. The objects of this Divine, redemptive love are the elect of God among the Jews and the Gentiles (Jn. 3:16; Eph. 1:3–7). Christians are to reflect this love in their own lives and relationships (Matt. 22:36–40; Jn. 13:34–35; Rom. 13:8–10; 1 Jn. 3:10–18).
Grace is unmerited [undeserved] favor in the place or stead of merited [deserved] wrath. Divine grace views sinners as wholly or totally undeserving of love and kindness, yet moves toward them for blessing rather than the wrath and judgment they so rightly deserve. There are two aspects of Divine grace toward sinful men: common grace, or the kindness of God toward men in general, and saving grace, or the redemptive purpose of God exercised personally and effectually toward the objects of salvation in both eternity and time. See Question 78.
As grace views sinners as undeserving, mercy views them as suffering under the ravages and limitations of sin, and takes pity upon them (Psa. 103:13–17). The Scriptures emphasize that God’s “mercy endures forever” (Psa. 136), i.e., that he is long–suffering and shows his loving kindness and pity to those who do not deserve it. Have you found this grace and mercy?
Ans: The Scriptures teach that God is absolutely holy, just and righteous, or morally self–consistent.
1 Pet. 1:15–16. 15But as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation; 16Because it is written, Be ye holy; for I am holy.
Psa. 145:17. The LORD is righteous in all his ways, and holy in all his works.
See also: Isa. 6:1–3; 57:15; Rom. 3:21–26.
God is morally self–consistent, i.e., he is absolutely holy and righteous, and therefore cannot be inconsistent in his moral character. He is both right and righteous, never wrong or unrighteous. Because God is absolutely righteous, whatever he does or commands is right (Gen. 18:25). Because God is absolute and transcendent, there is no higher moral law or principle than the moral character of God. Man is fully accountable to God, but God is in no way accountable to man—or anyone else. Although God is not accountable to man, yet believers are challenged to argue his promises and persevere in earnest prayer (Lk. 11:1–13; 18:1–8; Jas. 5:16–18).
God is absolute, never arbitrary, as he himself is both the source, support and end of all things and is morally self–consistent [absolutely righteous]. Because God is morally self–consistent or absolutely righteous, he cannot arbitrarily set aside sin—he must be propitiated. His moral self–consistency demands that either the sinner be punished, or an innocent, suitable substitute take the sinner’s place [vicarious or substitutionary atonement]. The eternal, redemptive purpose of God is to redeem a covenant people, make them conformable to his moral self–consistency and conform them to the image of his Son (Rom. 8:29; 2 Cor. 3:17–18; Eph. 1:3–7; 1 Pet. 1:15–16; 2:9). This redemptive purpose necessarily delivers from the guilt, penalty [justification], pollution, power [sanctification] and presence [glorification] of sin (Rom. 8:29–30). Have you been reconciled to this God through the Lord Jesus Christ?
Ans: The Holy Spirit is the eternal Spirit of God, co–equal and co– eternal with the Father and the Son.
2 Cor. 3:17. Now the Lord is that Spirit: and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.
Matt. 28:19. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
Eph. 4:30. And grieve not the holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption.
See also: Gen. 1:2; Mk. 3:28–30; Acts 5:3–4, 9; 13:2–4; 16:6; 20:28; 1 Tim. 4:1.
God the Holy Spirit is a distinct Person within the Godhead. As the issue with the Lord Jesus Christ has been his Deity, so the great issue concerning the Holy Spirit has been his distinct personality. He is not a mere influence, impersonal force or an emanation from God (Acts 13:2, 4). He possesses the peculiarities, power and prerogatives of a distinct personality: he speaks (Acts 13:2; 1 Tim. 4:1), creates (Gen. 1:2), commands (Acts 13:2–4), possesses intelligent judgment and prerogative (Acts 15:28; 20:28), prohibits (Acts 16:6), can be tempted and lied to (Acts 5:3–4, 9), grieved (Eph. 4:30) and sinned against (Mk. 3:28–30). [Our Lord at times used the masculine form rather than the neuter in the Greek to refer to the Holy Spirit, when the word “spirit” itself is neuter, thus emphasizing his personality (Jn. 14:16, 26; 15:26; 16:8, 13–14) ]. He was involved with the other Persons of the triune Godhead in creation (Gen. 1:1–3) and in the eternal Covenant of Redemption and Grace [the eternal redemptive purpose]. See Questions 67, 77 and 84.
The early Church Fathers, seeking to safeguard the eternal distinctions within the Godhead from error and heresy, and using scriptural terminology, referred to the eternal distinction between the Holy Spirit and Father and the Son as the “eternal procession” of the Holy Spirit, as Scripture declares that he proceeds from the Father and the Son (Jn. 14:16–17, 26; 16:7; Acts 2:32– 33). This language was used to preserve the distinctions within the Godhead and was not meant to imply any inherent subordination, succession or emanation. To deny the eternal personality of the Holy Spirit is to implicitly deny both the Ontological Trinity and the immutability of the Godhead. See Questions 23 and 25.
It is the peculiar office of the Holy Spirit to apply the work of our Lord’s completed redemption or satisfaction [the finished work of Christ] to the life and experience of the Christian individually—in particular: regeneration, repentance, faith, adoption and sanctification—and to the church corporately (Gal. 5:22–23; Eph. 1:15–20; 13–14; 4:11–16, 30; 2 Thess. 2:13; 1 Pet. 1:2).
See Question 84. He thus makes our Christian experience possible and practical.
The work of the Holy Spirit within the believer’s personality is one of enabling, transforming and sanctifying grace. Believers are commanded to walk in the Spirit and thus not fulfill the lusts of the flesh. The Spirit of God restrains them from living as they once did (Gal. 5:16–18). The “fruit of the Spirit,” i.e., those graces which the Holy Spirit manifests in the life, are among the essential marks of grace (Gal. 5:22–23). See Question 112. Do we bear the marks of God’s grace and Spirit in our lives and experience?
Quest. 20: What may we know about God from his Word?
Ans: We may know everything we need to know about God to be reconciled to him, properly worship him and live in obedience to his revealed will.
Deut. 6:4–5. 4Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD: 5And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.
Matt. 22:37–39. 37Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. 38This is the first and great commandment. 39And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.
Jn. 4:23–24. 23But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him. 24God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.
See also: Gen. 1:1; Ex. 20:1–17; 1 Sam. 15:22–23; Isa. 57:15; 64:6; Acts 4:12; 16:30–32; Rom. 3:19–26; 5:1–3; 8:7–8; Eph. 2:4–5, 8–10; 1 Tim. 6:15–16; Rev. 4:11.
God is unknowable, except as he has been pleased to reveal himself, and he has revealed himself in both creation [natural revelation] and in his Word [special revelation]. He is our Creator; we are his creatures. He is infinite; we are finite. He is eternal or supra–temporal; we are temporal. He is spirit; we are corporeal. He is omnipresent; we are physically localized. He is immutable; we are mutable. He is omnipotent and omniscient; we are relatively impotent and ignorant. He is infallible; we are fallible. He is absolutely sovereign in every sphere; we are utterly dependent upon him for life and breath and all things (Acts 17:24–25, 28). When we leave the objective, metaphysical realm and enter the moral realm, the contrast remains: God is absolutely holy; we are unholy. He is absolutely righteous; we are unrighteous. He is sinless or impeccable; we are sinful and depraved.
The moral attributes, however, coincide with our fallen, sinful state in the context of his eternal redemptive purpose: God is gracious and demonstrates his grace in redeeming the utterly undeserving. He is merciful and extends his mercy to those who suffer under the ravages of sin. He is righteous and imputes righteousness to us through faith in Jesus Christ. He is love, and believers are the objects of this love. He reveals himself redemptively as our “Heavenly Father,” and we by grace and faith become his “sons” or “children.” (Matt. 6:9; Rom. 8:14–18; Gal. 4:5–7; 1 Jn. 3:1–3). In the reality of redeeming grace, believers, though imperfectly, reflect God’s moral attributes to a given degree (Matt. 5:7; Lk. 6:36; Jn. 13:34–35; 15:12; Rom. 5:21; 8:4; 13:8; Gal. 5:22–23; Col. 3:12–14; 1 Pet. 1:15–16; 1 Jn. 2:29; 3:7, 10). See Question 94.
Natural revelation points us to the greatness, power and majesty of God, but special revelation also points us to his moral attributes in the context of either redemption or judgment. Natural revelation is so great and inclusive that its witness leaves man inexcusable as to the power and Divine nature of God (Rom. 1:18–20). Special revelation satisfies the mind and heart as it reveals the fullness of God in his redemptive purpose and saving work.
God is absolutely holy [absolutely pure and separate from all his creation], and cannot be approached by anyone unholy or sinful. He is also morally self–consistent or absolutely righteous [right and incapable of wrong or inconsistency]. He demands, as is his sovereign right, that human beings, made in his image and likeness, also be holy and righteous (1 Pet. 1:15–16). In the scheme of redemption, God’s love, grace and mercy rise to answer the demands of his moral self–consistency without any contradiction or inconsistency, providing deliverance and reconciliation through the Person and work of the Lord Jesus (Jn. 3:16; Rom. 3:21–26).
Man, created originally righteous, apostatized from God in an empirical attempt to become autonomous from God and his Law–Word (Gen. 3:1–19). In Adam, who was Representative Man [federal head of the human race] man became a sinner by imputation, nature and tendency and by personal transgression (Gen. 5:3; Rom. 3:23; 5:12–19). By this, he became wholly alienated from God and brought himself under Divine condemnation.
The reality and need of redemption ultimately rest in the holy, righteous, moral self–consistency of God. A righteous, just and holy God cannot arbitrarily set aside sin without becoming morally inconsistent or self–contradictory (Rom. 3:21–31). This is why the eternal Son of God entered the human race through the incarnation (Matt. 1:21; Rom. 8:2–3; Phil. 2:5–9; 1 Tim. 3:16). The Lord Jesus Christ was and is God in the flesh, the God–man, the “Second Man,” the “Last Adam,” the Redeemer to save sinners, the Mediator to reconcile God and men (1 Tim. 2:5). In his infinite, eternal, redemptive love, God sent his Son to be the great propitiation [one through whom the absolute righteous demands of God can be satisfied. Through his active obedience he met the demands of the Divine Law and through his passive obedience, he paid its awful penalty], so believing sinners can be reconciled to him (Jn. 3:16; Rom. 3:24–26). Only in this way—through faith in the Lord Jesus––could God be “both just and the Justifier of him that believeth in Jesus” (Rom. 3:26).
Because we are sinners by imputation, as well as by nature and personal transgressions, whatever we think, say or do is inherently tainted with sin. We cannot escape this. What righteousness we inherently have is a self–righteousness (Isa. 64:6). This is why salvation cannot be by works or self–effort. This is why God cannot accept our efforts to please him. If we are to be saved from sin, it must be by grace [unmerited favor—wholly and utterly undeserved—in the place or stead of merited wrath] alone. There can be no mixture of grace and works. Any addition of works [human ability] would destroy the very principle and reality of Divine grace (Rom. 11:5–6). Free grace and free will are utterly opposed to one another.
How are we to be saved from our sin? How are we to be reconciled to God? How can we receive the grace of God? By faith. Faith is belief, trust, commitment, reliance on someone or thing [“faith” is the noun; “believe” is the verb]. Saving faith trusts, believes in and relies on God, his Word, and specifically his Son as both Lord and Savior. Saving faith lays hold of the perfect righteousness of the Lord Jesus Christ in total commitment and appropriates it. This is what it means to “believe on the Lord Jesus Christ” and be saved (Acts 16:31). See Question 89. Have you savingly come to terms with God’s truth?
By Dr. W.R. Downing