The Character Of God
“In the Beginning God…”
The etymology of character is quite telling. The word comes from the Greek kharakter for “engraved mark, “symbol of imprint on the soul,” and “instrument for marking,” and can be traced further back to the words for “to engrave,” “pointed stake,” and “to scrape and scratch.”
In the 17th century, the word came to be associated with “the sum of qualities that defines a person.” These qualities included a man’s intellect, thoughts, ideas, motives, intentions, temperament, judgment, behavior, imagination, perception, emotions, loves, and hates. All of these components, William Straton Bruce writes in 1908’s The Formation of Christian Character, “go to the shaping and coloring of a man’s character. They have all some part in producing that final type of self, that ultimate habit of will, into which the man’s whole activities at last shape themselves.” The balance of these components within the soul of each man, and the way one or another predominates over others, is what makes a character unique and sets apart one individual from another.
It should not be thought, however, that character is synonymous merely with personal tastes, temperaments, and preferences. Things like how you dress, your favorite music, or whether you are introverted or extroverted have little to nothing to do with character. Rather, character is defined in how your habits, motives, thoughts, and so on related to morality, particularly as it concerns integrity. Character was defined as “your moral self,” the “crown of a moral life,” and referred to as a “moral structure,” something you built through virtuous behavior.*
When we talk about the Character of God, we cannot talk about morality, because God created right and He allows wrong. When we talk about the Character of God we must look at Him through human terms. We must see God’s character as not limited to, but understood through those human terms. So when we say God has the character of love, we must understand that through what God calls love and what we understand as love.
In broad terms God can be characterized as Holy and Loving. In more specific terms God can be seen as many reflections of these two broad characteristics. What we will try to do over the next several months is to express the idea of God’s being Holy and Loving and how we see God express these characteristics.
To begin with we will look at the broad strokes of Holiness and Love. We will take a few minutes to search each of these words in connection with God. Remember when we are speaking of God we must remember the importance of one of the characters of God that no human can fully understand. That character is the triune nature of God. He is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. So as we look into the scriptures we can find holiness and love attached to each or all of these expressions of God. As we speak in human terms let us never forget that God is so much greater than any of our thoughts or ideas can convey. Here is what Paul told the church at Ephesus, “…one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” (Ephesians 4:6.) He is of greater character and essence than we could ever explain on a sheet of paper.
1. The Holiness of God.
The holiness of God is throughout the entire scripture. The word holy literally means to be separated. Truly we all understand that God is separate from all other created things and beings. The creator is always over and above the created. So God begins early on to show His uniqueness. Adam hides from God because of his sin. Adam realized that God was holy and he did not want God to see him at his worse.
God shows His holiness to Abram when God calls to Abram to follow His advice and leave his family and his land. God called Abram to follow and allow God to make of him a great nation.
God really speaks to His holiness when He addresses Moses at the burning bush. “Do not come any closer,” God said. “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” It was separate, different, not like the other ground Moses had walked upon. God is revealing Himself to the people He has created so that they might become Holy like Him.
Maybe I should pause here for just a moment so that we could ask ourselves, Are we too busy trying to find excuses why we are not becoming Holy instead of focusing on becoming more Holy? In Leviticus, God is very straightforward when He talks to Moses, “I am the Lord, who brought you up out of Egypt to be your God; therefore be holy, because I am holy.” (Leviticus 11:45). Are we trying too hard to conform to the world instead of being separate from it? God’s holiness should call us to a new way of living. We should be seeking to become holy like God. We need to stop making excuses like “The devil made me do it.” We need to start seeking the holiness of God through His Spirit which resides in every disciple.
In Exodus and Leviticus alone, in the KJV of the Bible, the word holy is used 122 times. Do you think God was trying to tell His covenant people something about His character? Do you think that it might be important for us today to remember this when it comes to living today?
King David continues to echo the character of God as being holy. In the early Psalms, David speaks over and over about God’s dwelling place being on “His Holy Mountian” or “Holy Hill.” David calls God the “Holy one” in Psalm 24. He talks about “God’s Holy place.” And when King David repents of his sin with Bathsheba in Psalm 51 he begs God not to take the “Holy Spirit” from him. I think if you were to read the Psalms you would see how much David understood God as Holy.
The prophets also speak of God’s holiness. Isaiah speaks of God’s holiness more than any of the others. In Isaiah 48:17 it says, “This is what the Lord says— your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel: “I am the Lord your God, who teaches you what is best for you, who directs you in the way you should go.” The holiness of God is still after all these years trying to get His people to understand that He knows what is the best way to live and the best life to have.
We are slow learners. After centuries we are still trying to get it right. We are failing to see the holiness of God and now we live in a world that is defying God and basically living without Him. We have not succumbed to the holiness of God we have gone the way of self. Self is destroying our lives and our world. We no longer believe in a “Holy” God. We believe in a “God” who can rescue us when we fall, but otherwise should stay out of the way.
And yet holiness doesn’t end with the Old Testament. Jesus came to show us holiness in the flesh. In the beginning of Jesus’ ministry He kept the whole idea of holiness undercover. He was teaching and leading His followers to discover for themselves who He was. Yet He couldn’t hide from the truth. In Mark 1 Jesus was in the synagogue and a man with an impure spirit cries out, “What do you want with us Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are – the Holy One of God!” (Mark 1:24.) The people following Jesus may not have recognized Him, but the evil spirit knew who He was.
As Jesus continued to teach the disciples they were realizing more and more who they were associating with although they never fully understood until after Pentecost. In John 6 when Jesus is teaching about discipleship many of the follows stop following Jesus and leave Him. He asked the disciples if they will leave also and John records these words, “Simon Peter answered him, ‘Lord, to who shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.’” (John 6:68-69) There was no way to spend time with Jesus and not understand that He was separate from everyone else you have ever met.
It is the same for us today. If you have had an encounter with Jesus, there is no way that you can continue to feed the flesh that desires the world. Jesus calls us each to separate and live a righteous life. He calls us to grow in the fruit of the spirit.
Paul who wrote most of the New Testament continues the idea of the holiness of God. He speaks of a “holy” people in Romans. In Corinthians he speaks of the “Holy Spirit.” And in Ephesians he talks about being holy by our actions and attitudes, “For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight.” (Ephesians 1:4)
Peter also reminds us of our need to be separate like Jesus. He uses the same Old Testament scripture from Leviticus to drive his point home. “As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: ‘Be holy, because I am holy.’” (1 Peter 1:14-16)
God’s characteristic of holiness leads to many properties of holiness that we will begin to look at in the next several weeks. The most important aspect of holiness we need to glean from what we have seen so far is that God expects His people to be different. He expects us to act like, talk like, and think like Jesus. That is holiness. That is being separate. That is an engraving mark on our souls of who we belong too. May our lives seek holiness!
2. The Love of God.
If holiness is the starting point, the love is the high point in the Biblical unfolding of the nature of God.** The whole story of creation, the sin in the garden, the saving of Noah and his family, the calling of Abram, and the endeavor by Jacob and his sons into Egypt is full of the love of God. His protection and guidance of this clan is steeped in God’s love for them.
We finally get the love attributed to God spoken of in the song of Moses and Miriam after crossing of the Red Sea. In Exodus 15:13 the words say, “In your unfailing love you will lead the people you have redeemed. In your strength you will guide them to your holy dwelling.” We read how much God loves His people again in the first list of the Ten Commandments. In Exodus 20:4, where God says to make no graven image, He ends the verse by saying, “…but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.” This idea of God’s unfailing love finally gets to a crescendo in Exodus 34. Moses is back up on the mountain to receive the second copy of the Ten Commandments after destroying the first copy in his anger. It says after Moses carried the stone tablets up to the mountain, “Then the Lord came down in the cloud and stood there with him and proclaimed his name, the Lord. And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, ‘The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness rebellion and sin.’” (Exodus 34:5-6a) Verse 5 is an old Celtic Confession of the Lord. The God of creation is “…abounding in love and faithfulness…”
God continues to show this love and faithfulness throughout the whole history of Egypt. His love is paramount in everything He does. Even we will see in His discipline of the Israelite nation. The Psalmist and the preacher of Proverbs speaks of God’s love. We even read of God’s love throughout the prophets who call Israel to repent.
One of the greatest love stories of all is found in the short book of Hosea. God has Hosea marry a prostitute and have children. She leaves him and he goes and buys her back. This gives us a picture of God loving and caring for us even in our sin. The book of Hosea speaks the word love 26 times in these 12 chapters. God gives the picture of His love in Chapter 11, verse 1, “When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I call my son.” God continues that love for each and every person today.
In the New Testament God really begins to show forth His love. We all know the New Testament is the revealing of God’s love to the world in His son Jesus. The most well-known verse in all of the world is so well known we sometimes miss the most important word. Most people will quote John 3:16 and focus on the last words, “everlasting life.” Yet the most important part of this verse is found in the beginning, “For God so loved the world…” Had it not been for the love of God there would have been no gift of Jesus given to the world.
This love is echoed by Paul when he says in Romans, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8) This love is the greatest love of all.
And lest we forget the love that is found in the gospel of John. John calls on the word love more than any other book in the New Testament. It is not only about God loving us, but that Jesus teaches us to love one another. Yet Jesus emphasizes the power of love by stating, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friend.” And the one who makes the statement lays down His life for the friends of the world.
Paul states what kind of love God has when he gives us the whirlwind tour of love in 1 Corinthians 13. The look into God’s agape love is unflinching and stronger than any other emotion we can have. God loves us like this and therefore it never ends. Paul reminds us in Romans 8 that nothing can separate us from the Love of God. Not even death. The love of God is powerful and persuasive.
John puts a bow on the love of God in his short epistle, 1 John. In chapter four he almost gives us the full commentary on John 3:16. He tells us why God loves us and how He loves us. He even reminds us that “We love Him because He first loved us.” (1 John 4:19) He puts an explanation on love by stating what should be the obvious, “Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” 1 John 4:8.
Our lives should reflect this love of God. If we truly reflect God’s love then we have to take inventory of our attitudes when we are judgmental. We must look in the mirror when we put others down or treat them differently because they are a different color or nationality. We must check our love meters when we hold off on loving because we have been hurt or done wrong.
God calls us to exhibit the same love for others that He in Jesus has for us. It is a love that alone I am unable to possess, but with the Holy Spirit in me I can learn to master. If God is love and God resides in us through the Holy Spirit then our banner must also be love.
Holiness and Love are the two standards by which we should experience God. Yet these two standards say way more about God that we could ever understand. The question we should ask ourselves as we study the Character of God is do we intend to learn more about Him so that we may be more like Him? For every disciple that should be our goal. God has called us to be the “light of the world.” We cannot do that by ourselves. We must tap into the unsearchable resources of God.
Get ready and hold on because we are about to delve into the properties of these two standards of holiness and love. I am looking forward to it. I hope you are.
*This opening paragraphs were gleaned from an article by:
Brett & Kate McKay • June 25, 2013 Last updated: April 15, 2020
What Is Character? Its 3 True Qualities and How to Develop It
**This sentence is from Dale Moody’s Word of Truth.