What God is Like
November 8th, 1970 @ 7:30 PM
WHAT GOD IS LIKE
Dr. W. A. Criswell
11-8-70 7:30 p.m.
On the radio you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, and this is the pastor bringing the message entitled What God is Like. And the Scriptures reveal Him, and we can read them and know what the Lord is like. And that is our dedicated message tonight.
Now for the background, turn to the Gospel of John chapter 4, and we shall read verses 19 through 26; John chapter 4, verses 19 through 26. And if on the radio you share with us this evening hour, and can, some of you will be driving along in automobiles; but if you can, get your Bible and read it out loud with us. John chapter 4, beginning at verse 19, reading through verse 26; and share your Bible with the neighbor who might not have brought his, and let us read it out loud together, 19 through 26, now begin:
The woman saith unto Him, Sir, I perceive that Thou art a prophet.
Our fathers worshipped in this mountain; and Ye say, that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship.
Jesus saith unto her, Woman, believe Me, the hour cometh, when ye shall neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem, worship the Father.
Ye worship ye know not what: we know what we worship: for salvation is of the Jews.
But 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.
God is a Spirit: and they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth.
The woman saith unto Him, I know that Messiah cometh, which is called Christ: when He is come, He will tell us all things.
Jesus saith unto her, I that speak unto thee am He.
Now my text—and there are three of them from the writings of John, and the first one is this: “God is Spirit” [John 4:24]. What God is like: God is Spirit. That is, God is not matter; God is invisible, uncompounded, ethereal, indestructible. God is not dependent upon matter or organism. God is separate from matter: He is not physical. The ancient Greek philosophers had a system in which they believed that less refined atoms were physical matter, your body, and that the more refined atoms were your spirit. That spirit was physical, though infinitely refined. There is no approach to such a thing as that in God’s revelation. God is spirit; He is separate from matter.
Laplace, the great French mathematician and astronomer, swept the heavens with his telescope and said, “I cannot find God.” He might as well have swept his kitchen with a broom; for God is not identified with physical reality. Titov and Gagarin, Russian astronauts, flew around the earth a few hundred miles up there in the sky. And they came back and said, “There is no God.” But this is in nowise identified with the Being of deity Himself. The creation is one thing, the Creator is another thing; and those two are not alike. God is spirit, and separate from matter.
In the Old Testament you have theophanies; that is, pre-incarnate visitations of Christ. But God says in the thirty-third chapter of Exodus, that, “No man can see My face, and live” [Exodus 33:20]. And in the first chapter of this Gospel of John, the apostle said, “No man hath seen God at any time” [John 1:18]. God is invisible. God is indestructible. God is uncompounded. God is separate and apart [Isaiah 55:8-9]. God is spirit. As such, He is all-powerful and omnipotent; as Matthew writes, “All things are possible with God” [Matthew 19:26]. There cannot be self-contradiction in God; therefore He cannot sin, He cannot die, for these are not evidences of power but of impotence and of weakness. He is all-knowing. As the fourth chapter of Hebrews says, verse 13: “For all things are naked and opened before the eyes of Him with whom we have to do” [Hebrews 4:13]. God is omniscient. If that is not true, this universe is like a great, mighty express train dashing, hurtling through space without an engineer, without a headlight; and nothing awaits but the abyss. God is also everywhere; He is omnipresent. As [Solomon] says, “The heaven of heavens cannot contain Thee” [1 Kings 8:27]. Our Lord said, “Wherever two or three are gathered together in My name, there am I in the midst of them” [Matthew 18:20]. This is a miracle presence: for if I’m a thousand miles away, all of God is there. If I am here tonight, all of God is here. If there are souls and saints that meet on the other side of the hemisphere or on the other side of the sphere, God is there, all of Him. God is everywhere at the same time: all of Him, not a piece of Him. He is here. He is there. He is everywhere; one of the miracles, the ubiquity of God.
Our Lord is eternal. He is without beginning or ending; He is uncreated and self-existent. He always was, He always will be, He is now; and He looks upon time and eternity as in the present. He sees the end from the beginning, and the whole story is writ large before Him. As the psalmist said, “Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever Thou hadst formed the earth and the sea, even from everlasting to everlasting, Thou art God” [Psalm 90:2]. Here, in the beginning, uncreated; there in the end, and forever, all the way through is the eternity of God. The Lord God is one [Deuteronomy 6:4]. The true God is not polytheistic, He is not dualistic, He is not tritheistic; the true God is monotheistic. There is one God! The great verse of the Hebrews is a great verse of the Christian: “Hear, O Israel: the Lord thy God is one God: And thou shalt love Him with heart, mind, soul, strength and body” [Deuteronomy 6:4-5]. The Lord God is one. There are not three Gods, there are not two Gods, there is one God, and He subsists in our knowledge and revelation as God our Father. We know Him as the Father to whom we pray [Matthew 6:9]; as God our Savior, who died for us on the cross [Matthew 27:32-50]; and as God the Holy Spirit, who lives, the Spirit of Jesus, who lives within our hearts [Ephesians 3:17]. But there is one God. We are not tritheists, we are not dualists, we are not polytheists; we are monotheists. We worship one God! [Deuteronomy 6:4-5].
And that one God is personal: He is eternally and infinitely a personal Being. He is not eternity, He is not infinitude; but He is the eternal, infinite Being. God is a Person; He is Somebody. In the third chapter of the Book of Exodus, when He spoke to Moses He did not say, “I was, I used to be”; God said, “I AM THAT I AM” [Exodus 3:14], a living presence. And the Book of Genesis says that we are created in the image of that living Lord [Genesis 1:26-27]. That is, we have intellectual capacities to think God’s thoughts after Him, and we have moral sensitivity; we are made in the image of God, like God, made like God. We differ from God in degree, but not in kind. As a piece of space will differ from all space, or as a little bit of time will differ from all time, so we differ from God: not in kind, but in degree; for we are made like God, and the image of God is in us. As God is a Person, we are persons; we are made like God.
Sometimes a critic will say—and it is often said—that the Bible is filled with anthropomorphisms; that is, making God like a man: the arm of the Lord, the eyes of the Lord, the mouth of the Lord, the feet of the Lord, the heart of the Lord. They say these anthropomorphisms are derogatory and unbecoming the great majesty of the Lord God. There’s not a syllable of truth in that! If the Lord God is to reveal Himself to us, He must come down to our understanding; He must use our language. And for God to use our language and to do it in a manner like unto us, is what God says of His creation of us: we are like God, and God is like us. It’s far better for God to be revealed as anthropomorphic than to be zoomorphic or cosmorphic. We know God and are able to know God because we are made like Him. He is a Person, and as such we can talk to Him and He can talk to us.
Sometimes people will come to me and say, “I don’t know what to do. Can you help me?” And they will ask me, and I say many times, “I do not know. And I’m not capable of answering. I do not have that depth of wisdom. But God does.” And they will say to me, “But how can I find the answer in God?” And the reply is very simple: God can talk to you just as plainly as I can talk to you. He can speak to your heart just as plainly as I can speak in the hearing of your ear. And if you have a wonderful, yielded, surrendered willingness to listen to the voice of God, God can talk to you as plainly, as audibly, as impressively, as definitely as I can. All I need is just a willing heart to listen and to obey, and God will speak. There is no such thing as God hiding Himself and His will for you from your heart and life. He doesn’t do that. God loves to disclose Himself to us. And if I have an open heart and a willing spirit, God will speak: for He is a Person just as you are, just as I am. And as you and I can talk together, so God can talk to us and we can talk to Him; for God is a living personal Being. God is spirit: eternal, one, personal.
Now the second thing: what is God like? He is not only spirit, personal, eternal, one, but God is light: 1 John 1:5, “God is light.” That is, God is truth and wisdom and understanding, and God is holiness and purity and sinlessness. God is light. God is truth. And all truth is grounded in the character of Almighty God. And any statement of truth is just a piece of the great truth that is founded in the Being of God. Mathematical truth, chemical truth, physical truth, truth of thermodynamics, of electromagnetism, truth of the skies, astronomy, truth of the minute microcosmic truth; wherever there is truth it is a reflection of the Being of God. God is light. Two plus two is four; that is a part of the truth of God. Vice is reprehensible; that is a part of the truth of God. Virtue is commendable; that is a part of the truth of God. All truth is grounded in the character of Almighty God. And when we know the truth, we know God, that much of God; and the more of the truth we know, the more of God we know.
There is no such a thing as relative truth. And there is no such a thing as situation ethics; that is, something might be right today, permissively, that was wrong yesterday. There is no such thing as that in the Word of God. What is right yesterday is right today, and is right forever: for righteousness and morality are grounded in the Person of Almighty God. It is never what a man says it is. It is never what a legislature says it is. It is never what a judge will define it to be. But righteousness and morality are reflections of the Being of God, and God never changes [Malachi 3:6; Hebrews 13:8]. Right is forever right and wrong is forever wrong, because that is God!
Not only is God light, that He is truth and wisdom, but God is light in the sense that He is holiness and purity and sinlessness; He is perfection. God is light, holy, hallowed. The first petition in the Lord’s prayer is not, “Thy kingdom come”; but the first petition in the Lord’s prayer is, “Hallowed, holy, sacred be Thy name” [Matthew 6:9]. And we write on the outside of this Bible, “The Holy Bible.” And we sometimes pray to the holy Lord Jesus. And the Spirit of Jesus is called the Holy Spirit—separate, holy, hallowed, sinless [Romans 1:4, 8:9].
Now the perfection of God and the sinlessness of God is not like that in a white marble statue, nor even like a hunk of white precipitant of chalk. But the holiness of God is a consuming, moving, energizing holiness that burns, such as the twelfth chapter and the last verse of Hebrews will say, “Our God is a consuming fire” [Hebrews 12:29]. You have a picture of that when Moses was on top of Mt. Sinai. And up there with the Lord, when the Lord gave him the Ten Commandments [Exodus 20:1-17], the Scriptures say that that Mt. Sinai burned with fire [Exodus 19:18]; that is, the whole energy of God is back of His moral universe. And back of righteousness, and back of the law, and back of holiness there is the entire character of Almighty God!
In the fifteenth chapter of the Book of the Revelation, they stand on a glassy sea, but the glassy sea is mingled with fire [Revelation 15:2]. That is God. The great moving energy of the Lord is back of His moral law. He runs this universe; and He judges mankind and all of human action and life by that infinitely perfect moral code. That is God!
Last, not only does John say God is Spirit [John 4:24], not only does he say God is light [1 John 1:5]—and were we to stop there we would be of all creatures most miserable and most condemned and most lost—but John says one other thing: “God is love” [1 John 4:8]. What is God like? God is spirit, God is light, moral energy, and God is forgiving love. God is love. God is love; and law is the way that He loves us. God is law; and love is the way that He forgives us, and rules us, and keeps us, and saves us. Were God alone perfection and we’re so imperfect, and were God alone law, and we are sinners condemned, no hope for us but to face eternal darkness and separation and damnation. For if I were to stand here tonight and to say, “By God’s help and in His strength, from this moment on I shall live apart from sin, and I shall be perfect in all of my thoughts and manner and deeds in life,” I couldn’t do it. But if I were to resolve to do it, what would I do for the sins of the past? For I have sinned. We have sinned. And all of us reaching that age of accountability will find ourselves not so much as involved in heinous crime, but we have the sense of lack and shortcoming and guilt. A child will sense that when he comes to the age of accountability. And all of us sense it all the days of our lives. Even our language is not always perfect, and our thoughts are not always perfect, and our walk and our deeds are not always perfect. There is in us always a falling short, a lack; we never quite measure up. We always lack something. And that feeling of lack is always with us.
Sometimes I hear a man say, “I don’t need God, and I don’t need Christ, and I don’t need religion. It’s a psychological crutch! And some people have to have a crutch, and you are one of them. But I don’t have to have the crutch. I am self-sufficient.” The man is not honest with himself or with God: for all of us are made alike, and we have that sense and that knowledge of falling short, of guilt, of transgression, of breaking the law and commandments of God [Romans 3:23].
Now if the Lord were alone justice, and purity, and righteousness, and a consuming fire, if He were alone law and judgment, we would all be lost. But God is also something else: “God is love” [1 John 4:8]. And from the foundation of the earth, in the omnipotence of God and in the omniscience of God, in the foreknowledge of God, the Lord saw us as condemned sinners; and in the love of His heart God provided for our forgiveness and our justification [Romans 5:8], that God might make us, might declare us righteous even though we’re not righteous, justified, that is God receives us as righteous [2 Corinthians 5:21]. God does that, how? Out of the great love gift from heaven [1 John 4:8]: that’s the story and the evangel, the gospel of Jesus, the Son of God. That’s the good news [Romans 1:16]. We all are lost. We all are a dying people. We all are condemned [Romans 3:23, 6:23]. And there is hope, and there is life, and there is salvation in Jesus [1 Corinthians 15:22]: for God is a Person, and He feels as we feel; and when God looks upon us, God is moved in His heart.
In the sixth chapter of the Book of Genesis, for example, the book will say, “And it grieved God in His heart as He looked down upon the race of men. It grieved God in His heart” [Genesis 6:6]. Oh, how many times do I see that in the lives of fathers and mothers: it grieves them, what the daughter is doing; it grieves them, what the son is doing. They are grieved in their hearts, sometimes, what each other is doing. That’s God. And God is that way. God is grieved [Genesis 6:6], when He looks down and He sees the man that He made in His own image [Genesis 1:27], and in His own likeness: he’s a sinner and he falls short [Romans 3:23], and he breaks the commandments of God [Romans 3:20]. But the Lord in His great love, God does some things that I see you do. I see many times a father or a mother in infinite patience and pleading and prayer, and sometimes dedication of life, do everything humanly possible to reach out and to help and to save and to lift up a son or a daughter. God’s like that. The Lord is like that. He is moved in His heart by us and our failures and transgressions; and God reaches down, and He lifts us up. He Himself bears our sins and carries our iniquities. He Himself took our chastisement; and by His stripes we are healed [Isaiah 53:5]. He died huper, in our stead [1 Corinthians 15:3]; He suffered in our place; God took unto Himself all of the judgment of our iniquities [2 Corinthians 5:21]. God loves us and God died for us [1 Corinthians 15:3; Galatians 2:20]. And this is the preaching of the gospel of the Son of God.
The love of God is greater far
Than tongue or pen could ever tell;
It goes beyond the highest star,
And reaches down to the lowest hell;
The guilty pair, bowed down with care,
God gave His Son to save;
The erring child He reconciled…
[“The Love of God is Greater Far,” Frederick Martin Lehman]
Were the whole world, and the whole ocean, and the whole sky, pen and ink and parchment, there would not be space enough in the sky, ink enough in the ocean, quill enough in the earth to describe, to delineate the love of God. It is infinite, and it reaches down to us.
That’s why when a man lives and he’s out of the will of God, God seems to be against him. God seems to appear as a judge, and God seems to be full of threatening, and God seems to, seemingly to prophesy and to set a day of awesome judgment and separation. And the preacher sometimes will speak of the great white throne judgment, and of these that are cast into the lake of fire [Revelation 20:11-15], and of others who are sent away from the presence of the Lord [Matthew 25:41]. And God seems harsh, and God seems to judge, and God seems to condemn. When in reality, like a man riding a bicycle against the wind, if he’ll just turn around he’ll find the wind to his back; so it is with a man in his life—when he goes against God and violates the laws of God and transgresses before God, God seems to be against him. But if he’ll turn around, if he’ll turn around, he’ll find the infinitude of heaven working for him. The very stars in their courses pull for him, work for him, bless him when he’s in the will of God, when he gives his heart and life to the Lord [Romans 10:9-10].
I think of Jacob at Peniel, wrestling with God all night long [Genesis 32:24-26]. But when Jacob bowed, when Jacob acquiesced, God blessed him. When Jacob changed, God changed. When Jacob turned, God turned [Genesis 32:29-30]. When Nineveh repented, God repented. When Nineveh changed, God changed. When Nineveh turned, God turned [Jonah 3:5-10]. And when we are against God, God seems to be so harsh, a judge full of condemnation, setting a time of judgment. But when we turn, and trust [Mark 1:15], and repent, and confess [Acts 2:38], and believe, and accept [Acts 16:31], God is for us, and God works with us, and God’s blessings are upon us. And that’s the appeal of the gospel. Don’t go in a stubborn and obstreperous and incorrigible way, saying no to the Lord, and no to the Holy Spirit, and no to the pastor and preacher, and no to the church. Turn around and say yes to God, and say yes to the Holy Spirit, and say yes to the invitation of the evangelist. And when you do, God is for you, and God opens the gates before you, and God blesses you [Hebrews 11:6].
Oh dear! How many things does a man escape who gives his life to the Lord? How many dark, deep, terrible things does a teenager escape who gives his life to the Lord? How many judgments does the human soul escape who opens his heart and his life to the blessed Jesus? [Romans 10:9-10]. Turn, look, come, accept, believe [Acts 16:30-31], trust, look, live! [John 3:14-16; Numbers 21:8-9]. That’s God. It’s God in your life. It’s God in this appeal tonight. It’s God in your soul, if you’ll come [2 Corinthians 6:2; Revelation 22:17].
In a moment we’re going to stand and sing our hymn of appeal. And while we sing it, a family you, a couple you, or just one somebody you, while we sing the song, come tonight. “Pastor, I have decided in my heart I’m giving my life to God, and here I am. I’m taking Jesus as my Savior. I’m trusting in Him [Ephesians 2:8], and I’m coming tonight.” Somebody you, “I’ve never been baptized like it says in the Book. I want to publicly give my life to the Lord, and I want to be baptized just like God says in that Book” [Matthew 28:19; Acts 8:35-38]. Some of you: “We want to put our lives here in this dear church, to work with you, to pray with you, and we’re coming tonight.” Some of you maybe, “God has spoken to me in a special and unusual way, and I’m coming tonight giving my life all to Him.” As the Spirit of Jesus shall press the appeal to your heart, come tonight. Make it tonight. In a moment when we stand to sing, stand up coming. Into that aisle and down to the front, down one of these stairwells at the front or the back and on either side, “Here I am, pastor, I’m coming now.” Do it. Do it. On the first note of that first stanza, stand up coming. And God precedes you in the way, while we stand and while we sing.