WHAT GOD IS LIKE
Dr. W. A. Criswell
2-23-64 8:15 a.m.
The sermon this morning is entitled What God is Like. Out of the writings of the apostle John, I have chosen three comprehensive, all descriptive designations of God. The first is John 4:24: “God is spirit.” The second is 1 John 1:5: “God is light.” And the third one is 1 John 4:8: “God is love.” Not God is a spirit, or God is a light, or God is a love, but in all three instances John has written in the same grammatical construction: “God is spirit”; “God is light.” “God is love.”
We shall address ourselves to the first comprehensive description. “God is Spirit” [John 4:24]. Then God is not matter. Matter is not spirit. And spirit is not matter. The ancient Greek philosophers such as the Epicureans believed that everything was made out of atoms and that coarser atoms collocated, made matter, and refined atoms assembled made spirit and soul. God has no relationship in His being to corporeality, or to substance, or to physical matter.
Spirit is immaterial, indivisible, uncompounded, and indestructible. And God is spirit [John 4:24]. And the being of God has no relationship to organism or to matter. Laplace, the famous French mathematician and astronomer, swept the heavens with his telescope and announced that he could find in no place a God. He might as well have swept his kitchen with a broom. God is not found in matter or corporeality.
Recently, the Russian astronaut, who sailed around this earth in a capsule just a few miles above us, came back and landed and said, “I have been around the heavens, and I never saw any God.” A quack replied, “All he needed to do was step out of his capsule, and he would have met Him in a few minutes.”
The idea of seeing God in physical matter and form is inconceivable. God is spirit [John 4:24]. The Lord said to Moses, “No man shall see My face, and live” [Exodus 33:20]. “For no man shall see God at any time” [Exodus 33:23]. And that was repeated by John in the eighteenth verse of his first chapter. “No man hath seen God at any time” [John 1:18].
The theophanies that we read in the Old Testament, such as in the sixth chapter of Isaiah, when Isaiah says, “I saw the Lord high and lifted up” [Isaiah 6:1], those theophanies are pre-incarnate visitations and revelations of the Word of God, Jesus Christ. God cannot be seen by physical eyes. No man hath seen God at any time [John 1:18]. A man cannot see God, and live [Exodus 33:20].
God is these three things and then these three other things. God is spirit; in the spirit, God is omnipotent. As the Lord said in the nineteenth chapter of Matthew, “With God all things are possible” [Matthew 19:26]. There is no limit to the mightiness of His power. He is called the Lord God pantokrator, the Lord God Almighty [Revelation 21:22].
He cannot contradict Himself. That is why God cannot lie. God cannot sin. For that would not be power but impotence. And the Lord God is omnipotent, all powerful [Revelation 19:6]. God is omniscient, all knowing [Psalm 147:5]. As the sixteenth chapter of 2 Chronicles describes Him, “The eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the earth” [2 Chronicles 16:9]. Or as Hebrews 4:13 says, “For all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of Him with whom we have to do.” Or as Isaiah writes quoting God, “I am the Lord God, and there is none else . . . Declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times things that are not done as yet” [Isaiah 46:9-10].
If God is not omniscient, then this world is like an express train without headlights and without engineer and may at any moment plunge into the abyss. But God knows, and God sees, and God wills, and God rules and God directs.
A God that is not like that is inconceivable, and certainly not the Lord revealed in the Bible. For example, the Lord Christ is described as, “The Lamb slain before the foundation of the world” [Revelation 13:8]. Do you see what that would mean if God is not all-knowing, and all omniscient, and all-sovereign, and almighty? It would mean this. He is the Lamb slain from before the foundation of the earth, providing Adam falls [Genesis 3:1-6]; providing Judas betrays Christ [Matthew 26:14-16, 47-50]; providing Pontius Pilate delivers Him to crucifixion [Matthew 27:24-26], providing the Roman soldiers nail Him to a tree [Matthew 26:32-35]. God not knowing whether Adam would fall or not, whether Judas would betray Him or not, whether the Jews would deliver Him or not, whether Pontius Pilate would crucify Him or not, whether the Roman soldiers would nail Him to a tree or not; these conceptions when related to God are inconceivable! God is all knowing, and all powerful, and all sovereign! [Isaiah 46:9-10].
God is omnipresent. God is spirit, and the presence of God, the whole presence of God is everywhere at the same time. When Solomon dedicated his temple, he said, “The heaven and the heaven of the heavens cannot contain Thee” [1 Kings 8:27]. And in one of the most beautiful and meaningful of all David’s psalms, the sweet singer of Israel said:
Whither shall I go from Thy Spirit? And whither shall I flee from Thy presence?
If I ascend up into heaven, Thou art there: if I make my bed in hell, behold, Thou art there.
If I ride on the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea;
Even there shall Thy hand lead me, and Thy right hand shall hold me.
If I say, Surely the darkness shall cover me; even the night is light about me.
Yea, the darkness hideth not from Thee; but the night shineth as the day: for the darkness and the light are both alike to Thee.
The omnipresence of God, the whole presence of God everywhere, anywhere at the same time, that is why Jesus could say, “For wherever two or three of you are gathered together, there am I in the midst of you” [Matthew 18:20], of them. Anywhere we have the whole Christ here, we have the whole Christ yonder. There is the whole Christ wherever in this earth God’s people meet. This is the omnipresence of the Lord.
Spurgeon one time said, “To go from nature up to nature’s God is to go uphill, and that is hard.” He said, “Let us go from God down to nature, for to those that love Him and adore Him He can be seen everywhere; in the music of the waves of the sea, in the songs of the whispering of the wind, and the goodness and presence of God in everything.” This is God in the spirit.
God is spirit [John 4:24]. He is eternal. There is no beginning. There is no ending. As the psalm, the only one written by Moses, said, “O Lord, Thou hast been our dwelling place in all generations. Before the mountains were brought forth, wherever Thou hast formed the earth and the world, even from everlasting unto everlasting, Thou art God” [Psalm 90:1-2].
The great Lord God is self-existent, self-caused. His being had no beginning and no ending. He is forever to the forevers, from the eternity to the eternities, from everlasting to everlasting. Everything else has been created by His omnipotent hands [Isaiah 40:28]. He Himself alone is uncreated and uncaused [Colossians 1:16]. The Lord God is one. The most famous I suppose of all the repeated sayings in Hebrew is Deuteronomy 6:4, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one God,” eternal, indivisible, eternally and numerically one. Polytheism, tritheism, three gods, dualism, two gods, are inconceivable because it is inconceivable that you could have more than one omnipotent, almighty, eternal Lord God. The most significant of all of the underlying facts of Scripture is this; that God is one and that He subsists in three Persons [Matthew 28:19].
I had to divide this sermon. I wanted to put it all together and speak of the Trinity in this message. I couldn’t do it. So I have divided the message. “God is one” [Deuteronomy 6:4], and that is the message today. God is spirit [John 4:24], light [1 John 1:5], love [1 John 4:8], one, but He subsists. We know Him in experience as three persons. And that shall be the sermon next Lord’s day. The Mystery of the Trinity.
God is eternal [Revelation 21:6, 22:13]. God is one. God is personal. God is not eternity. God is not infinitude, but God is the eternal and infinite being. When He appeared, when He spoke to Moses out of the burning bush, He did not say, “My name is IT IS” or “My name is I WAS,” but He said, “My name is I AM” [Exodus 3:14], the great infinite, eternal being, presence, “I AM.”
In the twenty-sixth verse of the first chapter of Genesis, it is written, “And God said, Let Us make man in Our image, after Our likeness” [Genesis 1:26]. So God created man in the image of God, in the image of God, in the likeness of God created He him [Genesis 1:27].
Then God is like man, and man is like God. They differ in degree but not in kind. A man differs from God not in the sense that mind differs from matter, or darkness differs from light, but man differs from God only in the sense that a little piece of space differs from all space, or a little piece of time differs from all time; for the man is created in the image of God, and he reflects God, and he is like God. That is, a man has moral sensitivity. God distinguishes between right and wrong, and a man can distinguish between right and wrong. God can think. God is an intellectual being. God is mind, and thought, and will, and purpose, and choice, and volition, and emotion, and feeling. All of these things are in a man. A man can think God’s thoughts after Him. A man can understand somewhat of the marvelous mysteries of God. A man can love. A man can be grieved. A man can will. A man can choose.
In all things wherein God is, a man is, only they differ in degree. Sometimes as you read you will find men who violently object to the anthropomorphisms of the Bible, that is they will speak of God’s hands, of God’s eyes, of God’s heart, of God’s walking— anthropomorphisms, making God like a man.
I have never understood why the objection to those descriptions. For God to reveal Himself at all, He had to descend to our capacities. He had to reach down in language we could understand. And is it not the truth that the highest conceptions of which we are capable are always personal? They belong to soul, and heart, and mind, and thought, and will, and understanding. These are the highest conceptions of which man is capable. Therefore in these highest conceptions, we seek to understand God, and God is thus revealed to us.
Isn’t it far better to have it anthropomorphic than to have it zoomorphic, or to have it cosmomorphic? God is like a man, and a man is like God; and a man is a personality, and God is a person. If this is not true, then we are forced to pantheism or atheism. It doesn’t matter which. And the whole earth is a result of a blind force, and existence has no reason or meaning whatsoever. God is Spirit [John 4:24]. God is a person.
Now may I review it, what I have said? God is spirit [John 4:24]. He is invisible, immaterial, un-corporeal; He is not related to matter. The being of God is not matter. It is spirit. God is spirit. In those first three characterizations, God as spirit is omnipotent, all powerful [Revelation 19:6]. He is omniscient; all knowing [Hebrews 4:13]. He is omnipresent; we have all of God everywhere [Jeremiah 23:24]. Then the other triads: He is eternal, uncaused; He is one, indivisible, eternally, numerically one; He is personal, God is spirit.
Now the second characterization of the Lord God: “God is light” [1 John 1:5]. And to me when God is described as being light, that means to me two things. One: God is truth, like a man will “see the light”; God is truth, wisdom, understanding. And then second, light: God is pure, and holy, and undefiled, and separate from sin, from darkness and aberration [Isaiah 6:3]. First, God as light: God is truth. All truth, all truth has its basis in the character of Almighty God. All truth, whether it is mathematical truth, astronomical truth, religious truth, moral truth, ecclesiastical truth, Christological truth, anthropological truth, geological truth, all truth, all truth, is grounded in the character of Almighty God. And one piece of truth is just a piece of the marvelous, all inclusiveness of the vast truth that God is light, and wisdom, and understanding.
Two plus two equals four: vice is condemnable, virtue is commendable. These have their ground and support in the character of Almighty God. And as such they are eternal and unchangeable.
One of the most hurtful of all of the aberrations of modern philosophy has been that of relativism. Relativism, that is, a thing maybe true yesterday but it doesn’t necessarily be true today. A thing may be actual, and substantive, and foundational, and primary yesterday, but today it may be something else altogether. And they take the whole framework of morality and life, and they adjust it according to the spirit of the times and the necessities and exigencies of the hour. That is a lie from its beginning to its ending!
Truth is immortal and eternal, and what was right yesterday is right today and shall be right forever. And what is foundational and primary yesterday, shall be today and forever, for God does not change! [Malachi 3:6; Hebrews 13:8].
God is light, truth, understanding, and forever wisdom. Second part of that; God is holiness, God is purity, God is removed from sin, high and elevated above iniquity and evil [Revelation 4:8]. God is holy. In my reading the incomparable Baptist systematic theologian, Augustus H. Strong, says, “The primary and fundamental attribute of Almighty God is His holiness.” From that primary and fundamental attribute all of the others take their places as we describe God.
Now whether that is true or not, certainly this: in the Scriptures God is always presented as being holy, holy, holy. Jesus in the high priestly prayer in the seventeenth chapter of John, Jesus says, “Holy Father” [John 17:11]. When the angel Gabriel made the announcement to Mary, he said, “The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: wherefore also that Holy thing that shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God” [Luke 1:35]; holy Father, holy Son, holy Child, holy Jesus.
And, of course, the Spirit of God is called the Holy Spirit. It is not without inspiration, and I tell you I think a man anywhere, any time could argue for the inspiration, of the King James Version of the Bible. The men of God who translated this Book wrote on the outside of the Bible, “Holy Bible.”
In the first chapter of 1 Peter, the apostle quotes that famous injunction of the Lord Jehovah in the Old Testament. “Ye shall be holy; for I am holy” [1 Peter 1:16]. And in the Book of the Hebrews, the author says, “Follow after holiness, without which no man shall see God” [Hebrews 12:14].
God is light [1 John 1:5]: holiness, purity, separate from sin [Psalm 92:15], of purer eyes than to look upon evil [Habakkuk 1:13]. Now we have time this morning to consider that for a moment. What kind of holiness is God? Is He like a faultless, marble statue? Is that the holiness of God? Is His holiness a dead, white purity? No! No! “For our God,” said the author of Hebrews, “Is a consuming fire” [Hebrews 12:29]. The holiness of God incorporates the entire energies of God for righteousness.
For example, when the Lord Jehovah came down in the Old Testament and delivered to the hands of Moses the moral law [Exodus 20:1-17], the Scriptures say that the mountain quaked, and shook, and flamed, and burned in the presence of Almighty God [Exodus 19:17-18]. On the road to Damascus, when Saul was breathing out threatening and slaughter against the disciples of Jesus, that light that appeared to him from heaven was so bright above the fury of a midday Syrian sun that it struck him to the ground and blinded his eyes [Acts 9:1, 3-4; Acts 22:6-7, 11]. This is the purity and the holiness of God. It is implemented. It moves with the momentum of all of God’s being. The entire strength of God’s arm is in this world to uphold and to implement and to enforce His moral and sovereign government.
That’s why in the Book of the Revelation, for example, in the fifteenth chapter when John sees the saints of God standing before the throne, he says, “And they stood on a glassy sea.” But more, “They stood on a glassy sea,” not dead, immovable, “They stood on a glassy sea that burned with fire” [Revelation 15:2].
That’s why in the fourteenth chapter, the previous chapter, when John describes the one hundred forty-four thousand who stand faultless on Mt. Zion with the Lamb of God, it says, “These are they that follow the Lamb whithersoever He goeth” [Revelation 14:4]. The holiness of God is a fire, a flame, it moves with the energy of the Almighty, upholding God’s sovereign government in the world.
“God is light” [1 John 1:5]. Now to review that with you for a second: God is light, which, to me, means truth, light, understanding, wisdom—God is truth, light. And God is holy, pure, separate from sinners [Psalm 5:4; Isaiah 6:3], with a motivating righteousness, a moving impetus for government.
Now the third: “God is love” [1 John 4:8]. Oh, how grateful! How infinitely glad! God is love. God is love, and law is the way He loves us. Or turn it around. God is law, and love is the way that He rules us. God is love. The holiness of God, the purity of God, the sanctity of God is grieved, is grieved as He sees men in the earth.
In the sixth chapter of the Book of Genesis, when the Genesis account describes the sin and iniquity of men, it adds this significant word. “And it grieved God at His heart [Genesis 6:6].” God is love [1 John 4:8], and God grieves over the ineptitudes, and the derelictions, and the faults, and the failures of men.
If God were just holiness, if God were just righteousness, the consuming fire that is the Lord God would burn to the uttermost parts of the earth, and sinners would be consumed and destroyed [Hebrews 12:29]. But God is something else besides Judge, besides sovereign righteousness. God is mercy, and grace, and kindness, and understanding. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so great is Thy mercy toward them that fear Him” [Psalm 103:11]. “For He remembereth our frame; He knoweth that we are dust” [Psalm 103:14]. “And like as a father pitieth his children, so the Lord looks down and pities them that fear Him” [Psalm 103:13].
Did you ever have a child sick? You’d rather be sick yourself. Ever hear a child cry for illness? It will tear your heart out. Ever see a child crippled and hurt? Die? “As a father pitieth his children, so the Lord pitieth them, for He knoweth our frame. He remembereth that we are dust” [Psalm 103:13-14].
At the heart of God is atonement. His moral government must be upheld. Did I not say truth never changes? God is immutable. Every sin must be paid for, and “the wages of sin is death” [Romans 6:23].
God provided the sacrifice. God took in His own heart our judgment and the penalty for our sins. As Isaiah says, “In all our affliction He was afflicted” [Isaiah 63:9]. He has been hungry wherever men have hungered. God has suffered wherever men have suffered, and God has been immolated wherever men have offered their lives in death. He is a suffering God [Isaiah 53:4]. He is a God of love [1 John 4:8], who can be grieved [Genesis 6:6; Ephesians 4:30], and hurt, who can sympathize [Hebrews 4:15], who can understand, and whose own arms brought salvation when men were helpless and unable to save themselves [Romans 5:6-8].
I heard somebody pray, it’s been this week but I can’t recreate the situation. It was a mother, and she was praying before her little boy; must have been in my study. A mother brought her little boy to me. And she was praying, “O God, O God, may this little boy’s father be such a man, such a man that when the preacher describes God as being our Father the little boy will love God, because God is like his father.” God is love, like a good father loves his child [Psalm 103:13].
The love of God is greater far
Than tongue or pen could ever tell.
It goes beyond the highest star
And reachest to the lowest hell.
The guilty pair bowed down with care
God gave His Son to win.
His erring child He reconciled
And pardoned from his sin.
Could we with ink the ocean fill
And were the skies of parchment made
Were every stalk on earth a quill
And every man a scribe by trade
To write the love of God above
Would drain the ocean dry
Nor could the scroll contain the whole
Though stretched from sky to sky.
Oh, love of God, how rich and pure,
How measureless and strong.
It shall forever more endure
The saints’ and angels’ song.
[“The Love of God,” F.M.Lehman]
How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me
I once was lost but now I’m found
Was blind but now I see.
[“Amazing Grace,” John Newton]
God is love [1 John 4:8], atoning mercy [Titus 3:5], Himself took our sins and bare our iniquities [Isaiah 53:5; 1 Peter 2:24].
I conclude. The love of God is unchanging. I guess I ought to make another sermon out of this. Whatever God does, He never changes in His purpose for good for us. However the sovereign will of the Lord shall direct in our lives, always, always it is that unchanging purpose for good. Ah, Lord, to bow in Thy presence, to call upon Thy name, to seek Thy face, to ask strength and help from Thy gracious hands, this is the highest prerogative and privilege of a man made of the dust of the ground [Genesis 2:7], yet in the image of the Lord [Genesis 1:27].
While we sing our song of appeal, somebody you, give his heart to Jesus [Romans 10:9-10], somebody you, put his life in the fellowship of the church. While we sing the song of appeal, on the first note of the first stanza, would you come? Would you come, while we stand and while we sing?