Introduction – Faith
There comes a place where as the Christian Believer, you have to take certain things at face value – on faith. Now, this is not blind faith. Biblical faith is not blind faith, and those that confuse the two, show their either their ignorance or their prejudice. Biblical faith is based upon an examination of God’s Word wherein the conclusion is that God is the only One that could have inspired this book – the Holy Bible, because of its internal and external evidences; and therefore what it says is the basis of gaining faith. There is an old expression that “seeing is believing,” yet within Christianity “believing leads to seeing.” Blind faith on the other hand, is placing faith in someone that has not earned it by a track record of fidelity – God has built a track record of fidelity within His Word. If a person is a true believer, this is validated according to how they perceive the Bible. And if they believe it is the inspired Word of God, then they are bound by what it says – and concerning faith, what the Bible says is easily seen in Romans 10:17, which states:
“So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.”
To get back to what was said earlier, there are certain things that the Christian Believer must take on face value – on faith. Not because they lack the availability to know certain things, but because they lack the ability to understand certain things. From our limited perspective many things seem to be opposite to each other, when in reality they are not – this is the definition of the paradox. As the Christian, we must have faith, without fully understanding, that Jesus is all God, and all man. As we mature, setting aside the prejudices that way down the naïve, we come to a place of understanding that God is God because He is in total control – He is sovereign, and that He chooses us; yet at the same time we have free will and are held accountable for how we respond to the gospel. We don’t and cannot perceive the Holy Spirit, who is in all places at the same time, indwells all the believers; and yet is an individual as opposed to any neutered force. We know this because of the masculine personal pronouns used of Him (and when the neutered form is used it is because it validates the subject matter at hand), yet how do we conceive of such of person. We don’t, we take it at face value – on faith. There are many more examples of things that we cannot comprehend because of our finite and limited brainpower, and therefore must humble ourselves by trusting God in what He’s said in His Word.
There is no way that we could ever start to comprehend God. Yet, from our limited position God has presented Himself to where we can observe certain behaviors, things He has said; which present us with an ability to perceive God in a limited manner. The following is a discussion which should not be taken to attempt to explain God. However, with our limited scope as humans we do have the ability to perceive the difference between behaviors, which are outward manifestations; and the essence of something, which is the unseen internal part of a being, which is at their core. These observations, especially concerning the essence; our limited when it comes to addressing God according to what He says concerning His essence, and has referred to in some manner in His Word. Therefore, the following is meant to be an elementary introduction wherein we better grasp those things that we can comprehend.
A common problem that I see in the church today is confusing attributes and essence. The essence of something is what it is in its makeup, where as the attributes are behaviors (which can be seen and therefore identified, which is not true of essence), which are simply displays that radiate from, and are distinct from the essence that created them. It is very common for people to mistake attributes for essence, and falling short in their understanding many times they misinterpret the essence of something because the attributes or behaviors may vary in diverse situations.
This may seem like a rationality for hypocrisy, however different situations mandate different responses, this is more readily seen because different roles maintain different responsibilities and therefore mandate different responses. An example of this can be seen in human relationships. A man may be the King of his castle at home, yet a servant while at work. He may be a father to his son and therefore hold that prominent place of respect, yet when he is in the presence of his own father, he is to be the one displaying respect. He is the same person, yet functions differently in different roles. He may be a kind and loving father to his daughter, yet a stringent judge in the courtroom. He may be the loving husband to his wife, yet the aggressive defender in his home taking the life of an intruder. The person is the same, the essence of him has not changed, yet his roles and responsibilities are diverse in different situations, and therefore he displays different attributes.
Distinction between Attributes and Roles
In examining anyone we must always be aware of the role that the individual is playing at the time in order to evaluate the correctness of those attributes. It is in examining those attributes, or behaviors that discretion must be seen according to the mandates of the situation. It is rightly said that we should not judge one another as referred to in Matthew 7:1 (for the sake of this argument let us temporarily set aside the different Greek words for “judgment,” which can vary from unrighteous condemnation to righteous condemnation to evaluation for edification sake. Whereas certain judgment is demanded in certain situations, such as: I Corinthians 5:12, 13; 6:2-5; 11:31;14:29; I Thessalonians 5:21 as compared to that which is condemned in other situations, such as: Matthew 7:1; Colossians 2:16; James 2:4;4:11,12), yet only of few verses later, Christ commanded that we judge concerning false prophets in Matthew 7:15-20. What is the main difference in these two situations, it is the role of the one being evaluated, because they are a leader and therefore affect people in a different way than normal members of a group. Wherein a false student may lead one or two astray, a good teacher will ferret them out; however, a false prophet (remember that the word “Prophet” means one who speaks for another, and may not have anything to do with telling the future, such as the case of John the Baptist), especially in the role as a teacher, can do an immense amount of damage to many individuals; therefore because of their roles, and the responsibility that it entails, we are to evaluate or judge teachers because of this. The role makes the difference, and as such, there should be different attributes that also follow. Roles many times define attributes, or behaviors.
The Roles of God
The reason this discussion is necessary is to distinguish those attributes that God displays during certain roles He performs at certain times in history, as compared to other roles at diverse times. This is why individuals have made the mistake of stating that the God of the Old Testament is a warring God that kills and judges; and the God of the New Testament is a loving and forgiving God, as seen in Jesus. God the Father is the same, and so is Jesus in both Testaments, yet it is in the roles that they play at certain times wherein the confusion lies. It is when men do not take the whole counsel of God1 into consideration; by using the justification of the local context only, isolating it from the rest of Scripture in an attempt to make their own point. Scriptural context is more than its local application; it is in its application to the Bible as a whole that it must be utilized.
When God the Father instructed the Israelites to kill every man, woman, and child of certain tribes and nations in the promised land, He did so as a father that is protecting His own child from those that would later seek out to destroy that child by either destruction or genetic contamination. God the Father’s role was that of a protecting father. Yet, how could one question the love of God the Father in that He would nail His own Son to the cross for His enemies, which He would then adopt.
It is in misunderstanding the roles of Jesus Christ that many liberals rationalize pacifism. They concentrate on Jesus in His First Coming and interpret Jesus’ essence according to those attributes of that particular role that He displays on this occasion. This is why it is so helpful to understand that the four Gospels display four views of Jesus in His First Coming: that of the Matthew as the Messiah, the lion of the tribe of Judah; that of Mark as the suffering servant; that of Luke as the perfect man; and that of John as the Son of God.
Without the benefit of this perspective many concentrate only on Jesus as the suffering servant, and therefore only see him as demanding that everyone always turn the cheek. While Jesus instructed the 70 disciples not take a sword with them on their first Ministry training outreach, they forget that Jesus later speaking concerning His upcoming departure instructed them to carry a sword. When they speak about His kindness, they do so by isolating Him from the contempt He showed to the Pharisees, or the intolerance he displayed to the opportunist when He turned over their money tables in the Temple courtyard.
And most importantly they separate Him from the role He will play at His Second Coming, that of a warring conqueror claiming His prize. They allegorize fire coming from His mouth, and the fact that He will kill millions of people. His role at this time is defending Israel, and vanquishing the earth dwellers.
They also seem to have a hard time with the Christophanies of the Old Testament, the fact that Joshua was confronted by Him at night wearing a soldier’s uniform, a sword drawn in his hand, and announcing that he is the captain of the Lord’s Host, meaning that he is the very highest ranking warrior leader of God’s armies.
The world either wants to keep Jesus as a baby at Christmas who has no power; or as a pacifist unwilling to display power; either way, they can avoid his sovereignty to their own demise.
Understanding that God displays different attributes according to the role He is fulfilling at that time, we must still understand the deficiency in defining God according to those, or any attributes; because attributes are not a definition of essence. And whenever we attempt to define God according to His attributes we in essence attempt to minimize and compartmentalize Him. We attempt to bring Him down to our capacity to understand. How can the finite define the infinite? It can’t, and any attempt to do so is condescending.
Yet at the same time, we are intellectual creatures, created with logic and rationality’s, and have a need to understand anything and everything. And by necessity, we must attempt to understand or define God, while at the same time; regarding the task with great reverence. We can never rap our arms or minds around God, and to think we can to any large extent is blasphemous. Yet, how do we know which God is really God. God is a title and not a personal name or descriptor. So which deity is truly deity? This can only be accomplished by the mere act of attempting to understand, and therefore define that deity, but to do so in reverence and awe.
Elwell’s Evangelical Dictionary of Theology says, concerning the attributes of God:
God is an invisible, personal, and living Spirit, distinguished from all other spirits by several kinds of attributes: metaphysically God is self-existent, eternal, and unchanging; intellectually God is omniscient, faithful, and wise; ethically God is just, merciful, and loving; emotionally God detests evil, is long-suffering, and is compassionate; existentially God is free, authentic, and omnipotent; relationally God is transcendent in being immanent universally in providential activity, and immanent with his people in redemptive activity.2
Answer to the Question
Of those attributes which are observable concerning God, if I had to name one that was most appealing to me, it would be that attribute for which my whole existence hinges that of God’s mercy. We know that mercy is not receiving that negative reward we deserve, and that grace is receiving that benefit we do not deserve. Therefore, it is difficult at best to separate grace from mercy.
What is most amazing is that God in His infinite wisdom could display both attributes of justice as well as mercy, because they are mutually exclusive. To display mercy mandates the restraint of justice; to display justice mandates lacking the ability to display mercy. Yet God, as only God could; devised a means to maintain both of these attributes; while also maintaining an attribute just as necessary, that of integrity.
In comparison, how unfortunate for those deceived by the false religion of Islam. The non-existent god of Islam, lacks mercy as well as integrity. This imaginary god is as inconsistent, as he is cruel.
By contrast, we as Christians have a heavenly Father, who in His role as Father, is invincible; we have a Savior, who in His role as Savior is the perfect perpetuation for sin. Their mercy and grace unwavering, and their integrity unceasing.
1. Acts 20:27 – “For I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God.”
2. ELWELL’S EVANGELICAL DICTIONARY OF THEOLOGY, Walter A. Elwell, Baker Book House Company,Grand Rapids,MI49546,USA, 1984, electronic media.
The following post is an example (taken from an earlier post) concerning the difference between the internal essences (sometimes called the make-up) and external attributes (as also seen in the roles we play); and should help in understanding this subject a bit more.
Unfortunately, due to the fact that many of us do not understand koiné Greek we are unaware of many grammatical principles which alter the understanding of some verses when translated into the English vernacular.
In Koiné Greek, verbs ending in “oo” indicate that what is already on the inside is then displayed on the outside (which is not the same as asserting that what is seen on the outside creates what is on the inside, in fact it is antithetical to this). Due to not being aware of this Greek grammatical principle divisions have been created within the English speaking church, to the extent that denominations have been severed concerning such teaching as “works as a part of faith,” as opposed to “faith alone” regarding salvation, as well as the Christian walk.
One of the main texts that have been used to assert that works are necessarily a part of faith is taken from James 2:21, which would appear to indicate that Abraham was saved not by faith alone, but when works were added, as seen in:
James 2:21 ~ “Was not Abraham our father justified [Greek: dikaioo] by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar” James is not saying that Abraham’s works made him justified before God, but that Abraham’s works were the outside manifestation of what had already taken place on the inside, Abraham was already justified by God prior to this event.
In this passage, James is referring to Abraham’s offering of Isaac as proof of his faith which is referred to in Genesis chapter 22, when Abraham was over 125 years old, perhaps even 130 years old (making Isaac at least thirty years old, and as far as some topologists are concerned, Isaac would’ve had to been thirty-three years old to fit the typology of Christ’s crucifixion). Yet, we understand that Abraham’s saving faith in which God counted it “for righteousness” occurred over at least forty years prior to this as recorded in:
Genesis 15:6 ~ “And he believed in the LORD; and he counted it to him for righteousness.”
Therefore, it is impossible for James to be stating that Abraham was saved by faith when he offered up Isaac more than forty years after Genesis 15:6, which is when he displayed saving faith (in which God counted it as righteousness) by believing God’s promise concerning becoming a mighty nation, by first having a physical son of his own. What is easily understood especially in light of the Greek grammatical principle concerning Greek verbs ending in “oo”, is that James is stating that what was already on the inside of Abraham, saving faith in God, was fully displayed in the act of him being prepared to take the life of his son according to God’s direction.
This also clears up the misunderstanding that somehow presupposes that James teaching on faith is opposed to Paul’s teaching on faith. By example, Paul states in:
Romans 4:3-5 ~ “For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness. Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt. But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth [Greek: dikaioo] the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.”
Here, Paul is quoting from Genesis 15:6, when Abraham was around 85 years old, and is being justified according to his faith by God. Paul uses the same Greek verb for justifieth, indicating that he then was exercising that faith that had already dwelt on the inside concern in God and his promises. We must remember that it was God that ten years before had instructed Abram to leave his home and relatives to go to a new land that God would later show him. Abram delayed his departure until his father had died (according to Stephen ~ Acts 7:4), then disobeyed God by taking his nephew Lot with him. So though Abraham had faith in God, it had not matured to the place of confidence that would mandate obedience. Yet, the scripture is quick to tell us that it was his belief in God’s promise, not Abrams works wherein God saw his heart and imputed righteousness to him.
We understand that justification is God’s declaration that a person be treated as if he is innocent of the charges made against them. It is a declaration of immunity, being acquitted, not a pronouncement based upon evidence, but in spite of it. In reference to justification, Paul declares in:
Romans 4:1-8 ~ “What shall we say then that Abraham our father, as pertaining to the flesh, hath found? For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not before God. For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness. Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt. But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness. Even as David also describeth the blessedness of the man, unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works, Saying, Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin.”
Therefore, what James says in James 2:21 & James 2:21; agrees with Paul says in Ephesians 2:8-9; whereas James states that Abraham displayed (what was on the inside was exhibited on the outside) his saving faith by his work (Deed), of trusting God when he was preparing to present his son as a sacrifice, this was 40-50 years after he was already saved by his faith in God as recorded in Genesis 15:6 (Paul states in Romans 4:3; 4:9; Galatians 3:6, that Abraham received his salvation when he first exercised faith back at Genesis 15:6).
If you use a Greek Parallel Interlinear New Testament, you will notice that the spelling for the verbs referenced above (justification, transfigured, dwelt, and strengthened) in the Greek language do not display two “oo,” just one. This is because in a Greek Parallel Interlinear New Testament, the Greek words are combined into cognates and not distinguished individually. However, if you utilize a Bible Dictionary on Greek (Such as: Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words; Expository Dictionary of Bible Words, Larry Richards; Jamieson, Fausset, Brown; Word Studies in the Greek New Testament, Kenneth S. Wuest; Word Meanings in the New Testament, Ralph Earl; Hebrew-Greek Key Study Bible & Word Studies, Spiros Zodhiates), as well as any of the current computer dictionary programs; the spelling of the individual words will be with the double “0o” ending. Thayer’s Greek Dictionary is used concerning the above translation.