Making Sense of the World

Making Sense of the World – Complete Study Notes

Making Sense of the World

Making Sense of the World – Introduction

Part 1 – The Authority of Scripture

Part 2 – The Person and Attributes of God

Part 3 – The Sovereignty of God

Part 4 – Holy Angels and how they Influence Mankind

Part 5 – Demons and how they Influence Mankind

Part 6 – Satan as the Ruler of this World

Part 7 – Satan’s World-System

Part 8 – The Historic Fall of Mankind

Part 9 – The Effects of Sin

Part 10 – Positive and Negative Volition

Part 11 – Advancing Toward Spiritual Maturity

Part 12 – Divine Institutions

Part 13 – Where the Enemy is Attacking

Part 14 – Improving Culture – An Old Testament Example

Part 15 – Improving Culture – A New Testament Example

Part 16 – The Gospel We Share

Part 17 – The Life of Faith

Part 18 – A Christian View of Death

Part 19 – The Rapture of the Church

Part 20 – Future Christian Rewards

Part 21 – The Coming Antichrist

Part 22 – The Seven Year Tribulation

Part 23 – The Second Coming of Jesus

Part 24 – The Earthly Kingdom of Christ

The Sovereignty and Providence of God

As humans, we instinctively develop a mental model of the world that helps us make sense of how and why it operates the way it does (socially, culturally, politically, economically, etc.). This starts in the earliest years of childhood and, for most people, continues well into adulthood. As we grow, we’re confronted with new and complex experiences that challenge us to modify our mental framework to accommodate life’s many nuances. This constant adaptation is necessary in order to adjust and move forward. Though there is much in our understanding that needs to be developed, we also need certain unchanging absolutes to provide an anchor; otherwise, we’re constantly adrift in a sea of opinion. God and His Word provide those unchanging absolutes. Furthermore, as we study God’s Word and live by faith, we develop godly character, live productive lives, and develop a personal sense of destiny derived from our relationship with the One who has called us into Christian service. For the Christian, there is no greater honor, no higher calling, no greater purpose one can attain, than that lived by God’s children who walk daily with their Father, the King. Being part of His royal family instills in us a noble mind which demands we live by the biblical virtues expected of those who are brothers and sisters to the King of kings and Lord of lords. Much of this starts when we understand that our God is the sovereign Ruler of His universe, and that we are blessed to know and walk with Him, trusting the affairs of this life are under His control. In this article, I’ll focus specifically on what the Bible says about God’s sovereignty and how He governs providentially. My hope is that this knowledge will provide mental stability in a world that can, at times, seem chaotic.

Sovereignty of God     The Bible teaches God is sovereign over His creation. He made it and He’s managing it; even though it’s not operating according to His original design. Obviously, God permits sin; and here one must distinguish between His directive-will, permissive-will, and overruling-will.[1] Though God grants His creatures a modicum of freedom to resist His will, it should always be kept in mind that the sinfulness of fallen angels or people never threatens His sovereignty. Furthermore, God is never surprised, baffled, or frustrated by sin. According to God’s directive-will, He calls and empowers His people to live holy lives, separate from sin. In this way we are to partner with Him and help promote His solutions to this fallen world. Concerning God’s sovereignty, Louis Berkhof writes, “He is clothed with absolute authority over the hosts of heaven and the inhabitants of the earth. He upholds all things with His almighty power, and determines the ends which they are destined to serve. He rules as King in the most absolute sense of the word, and all things are dependent on Him and subservient to Him.”[2]

Though God is sovereign, He does not rule arbitrarily, but in accordance with His other attributes such as righteousness, holiness, love, mercy, and grace. As believers, we are encouraged that God is in sovereign control, for even though we experience sin, chaos, and evil (sometimes our own), we know He is directing history toward the return of Christ and His millennial kingdom, which is followed by the glorious eternal state.

The Bible reveals “The LORD is King forever and ever” (Psa 10:16a). The “LORD has established His throne in the heavens, and His sovereignty rules over all” (Psa 103:19), and He “works all things after the counsel of His will” (Eph 1:11b). God is supreme over all His creation, for “Whatever the LORD pleases, He does, in heaven and in earth, in the seas and in all deeps” (Psa 135:6), and “He does according to His will in the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of earth; and no one can ward off His hand or say to Him, ‘What have You done?’” (Dan 4:35). But God is no tyrant, rather, He is “compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth; who keeps lovingkindness for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin” (Ex 34:6-7a). He is also holy and righteous, and “will by no means leave the guilty unpunished, visiting the iniquity of fathers on the children and on the grandchildren to the third and fourth generations” (Exo 34:7b).[3] For “those who turn aside to their crooked ways, the LORD will lead them away with the doers of iniquity” (Psa 125:5).

God is under no external restraint whatsoever. He is the Supreme Dispenser of all events. All forms of existence are within the scope of His dominion. And yet this is not to be viewed in any such way as to abridge the reality of the moral freedom of God’s responsible creatures or to make men anything else than the arbiters of their own eternal destinies. God has seen fit to create beings with the power of choice between good and evil. He rules over them in justice and wisdom and grace.[4]

From Genesis to Revelation, God governs the lives of people and nations. Human rulers exist because of His plan, for “It is He who changes the times and the seasons; He removes kings and establishes kings; He gives wisdom to wise men and knowledge to men of understanding” (Dan 2:21). And people live and die as God decides, for “The LORD kills and makes alive; He brings down to Sheol and raises up” (1 Sam 2:6; cf. Acts 17:28). God has power over wealth and poverty, for “The LORD makes poor and rich; He brings low, He also exalts” (1 Sam 2:7). And He controls when and where people live in history, for “He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation” (Acts 17:26). In addition to this, Scripture reveals God controls nature (Jon 1:4; Mark 4:39-41), plagues (Ex 11:1; Rev 16:10-11), famines (Gen 41:25-32), the roll of dice (Pro 16:33), blessing and adversity (Job 2:10; Isa 45:7), suffering (Job 1:1-21), divine calling (Jer 1:4-5; Gal 1:15) and the development of Christian character (Rom 5:2-5; 2 Cor 12:7-10; Jam 1:2-4).

Lastly, God allows fallen angels and humans to produce sin and evil, but they never act beyond or against His sovereign will (Job 1:1-21; Psa 105:12-15; 1 Ki 22:19-23; 2 Cor 12:7-10). God gives freedom to his creatures, both angelic and human, and this to varying degrees. We are free to act, but only within the spheres of opportunity He creates and controls. For example, when Jesus was on trial, Pilate told Him, “I have authority to release You, and I have authority to crucify You” (John 19:10). But Jesus replied, “You would have no authority over Me, unless it had been given you from above” (John 19:11). Pilate had opportunity and authority to crucify Jesus, but only because heaven granted it to him. Ultimately, Pilate’s actions served the Father’s greater purpose of bringing His Son to the cross.

God’s Providential Control

God’s providence refers to His continual care over the creation He brought into existence. God continues to create and control circumstances in order to direct history according to His predetermined plan, all for His glory and the benefit of His people. People live in the flow of history, and are moved by the circumstances God controls. J. I. Packer offers this understanding of God’s providence:

Providence is normally defined in Christian theology as the unceasing activity of the Creator whereby, in overflowing bounty and goodwill (Psa 145:9 cf. Mt 5:45–48), he upholds his creatures in ordered existence (Acts 17:28; Col 1:17; Heb 1:3), guides and governs all events, circumstances and free acts of angels and men (cf. Psa 107; Job 1:12; 2:6; Gen 45:5–8), and directs everything to its appointed goal, for his own glory (cf. Eph 1:9–12). This view of God’s relation to the world must be distinguished from: (a) pantheism, which absorbs the world into God; (b) deism, which cuts it off from him; (c) dualism, which divides control of it between God and another power; (d)indeterminism, which holds that it is under no control at all; (e) determinism, which posits a control of a kind that destroys man’s moral responsibility; (f) the doctrine of chance, which denies the controlling power to be rational; and (g) the doctrine of fate, which denies it to be benevolent.[5]

God is holy and He never creates evil, however, He can and does control those who do. Satan, and those who follow him (both fallen angels and people), are ultimately under God’s sovereign control, and even their evil plans and actions are used for His good purposes. For example, Joseph was mistreated by his brothers and sold into slavery and taken to Egypt where he suffered greatly. Yet, later in his life, Joseph interpreted their behavior from the divine perspective, telling his brothers, “Now do not be grieved or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life” (Gen 45:5). And Joseph repeated himself a second time, saying, “God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant in the earth, and to keep you alive by a great deliverance. Now, therefore, it was not you who sent me here, but God” (Gen 45:7-8a). And later, he told them a third time, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive” (Gen 50:20). It was God’s providence that drove Saul to chase after his father’s donkeys, and then be led to the prophet Samuel and anointed king of Israel (1 Sam 9-10). It was God’s providence that directed Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem, so the baby Jesus would be born at the appointed time and place (Mic 5:2; Luke 2:4-6; Gal 4:4). Later, Joseph and Mary were compelled to go to Egypt, in order to preserve the baby Savior (Matt 2:13-15). It was God’s providence that forced Aquila and Priscilla out of Rome by the emperor Claudius’ decree, only to meet the apostle Paul in Corinth and join him in Christian ministry (Acts 18:1-3; Rom 16:3; 1 Cor 16:19). It was God’s providence that put the Lord Jesus on the cross to be crucified by the hands of godless men. Peter, charging Israelites in Jerusalem concerning Jesus’s death, said, “This Man, delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death” (Acts 2:23). And after being persecuted by the leaders in Jerusalem, Peter and John, along with others, said to God, “For truly in this city there were gathered together against Your holy servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose predestined to occur” (Acts 4:27-28). In these verses we see people behaving sinfully, whether Joseph’s brothers, or human rulers who abuse their power; yet God used their sinful choices to bring about a greater good. Because God is righteous, all His actions are just. Because He is loving and good, He directs all things for the benefit of His people. The wicked are also under God’s sovereign control, and He uses them for His own ends (Pro 16:4). Evil has entered God’s universe, but it never threatens His holy purposes.

In summary, Scripture reveals God’s sovereignty and how He governs His universe, creating and controlling circumstances, and directing the lives of His people, allowing them to partner with Him to accomplish His good in the world. By learning about God’s sovereignty and studying His past providential acts, believers can create a rational filter through which circumstances can be interpreted and classified within a mental framework. The growing believer takes great delight in knowing God is good, loving, wise, and in control of His creation and is directing all things according to His sovereign plan. Those who are positive to God and operate from the divine perspective know that He “causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” (Rom 8:28).

Dr. Steven R. Cook

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[1] God’s directive-will refers to His actively directing us to do what He expects. For the Christian, God’s directive-will is found in Scripture. His permissive-will refers to what He permits us to do, either for or against His directive-will. All sin falls under this category, for He permits us to resist His directive-will in some instances. This is also true for fallen angels who are granted a measure of freedom to sin. God’s overruling-will refers to those occasions when He hinders us from sinning, or from sinning further, because His greater purposes take priority. The fall of Adam and Eve provide a good example of these categories, for God directed them not to eat from the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Gen 2:16-19), permitted them to disobey (Gen 3:1-7), and then drove them from the Garden of Eden, overruling their ability to go back in and eat from the tree of life (Gen 3:22-24).

[2] Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans publishing co., 1938), 76.

[3] The judgment that God brings upon “the children and on the grandchildren to the third and fourth generations” refers to those generations who follow in the path of their parents, who hate God and continue the pattern of sin handed down to them.

[4] E. McChesney, “Sovereignty of God,” ed. Merrill F. Unger and R.K. Harrison, The New Unger’s Bible Dictionary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1988).

[5] J. I. Packer, “Providence” in New Bible Dictionary, ed. D. R. W. Wood, I. H. Marshall, A. R. Millard and D. J. Wiseman, 3rd ed. (Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1996), 979-80.

The Righteousness of God

Righteousness     The Bible reveals God is righteous.  He is righteous in essence and action.  He loves righteousness and approves of those who walk in conformity to His character and commands.  Scripture declares, “For the LORD is righteous, He loves righteousness; the upright will behold His face” (Ps. 11:7), and “Righteous are You, O LORD, and upright are Your judgments” (Ps. 119:137).  God’s attribute of righteousness may be defined as that intrinsic, immutable, moral perfection of God, from which He commands all things, in heaven and earth, and declares as good that which conforms to His righteousness and as evil that which deviates.  There is no law or code of ethics outside of God to which He must give account; but rather, His righteous character is the basis for all His laws and from which all good human laws derive. 

     The attributes of God are manifold and work in perfect harmony with each other, being governed by the all-wise mind of God.  When focusing on God’s attribute of righteousness, it is helpful to keep all His other attributes in mind, as this will provide balance to the Christian’s thinking concerning the character of God.  For example, because God is righteous, all His actions and commands are just.  Because God is immutable, His moral perfections never change.  Because God is eternal, He is righteous forever.  Because God is omniscient, His righteous acts are always predicated on perfect knowledge.  Because God is omnipotent, He is always able to execute His righteous will.  Because God is love, His judgments can be merciful toward the undeserving and humble.  The cross of Christ perfectly displays God’s righteousness in connection with His attributes of love and mercy toward those who deserve only condemnation. 

THE PERSON OF GOD

The Trinity

     This article is a focused study on God’s attribute of righteousness.  However, one cannot talk about the righteousness of God as an attribute without recognizing the Personhood of God.  Righteousness is a moral attribute of personhood.  Personhood requires existence, intellect, and volition.  More so, to say that God is righteous means that one knows something about God.  Knowledge—from infancy onward—is obtained by experience, observation, and revelation.  Knowledge is a resource of the mind.  It is a mental bank of information.  To obtain and build a bank of knowledge, the human mind borrows and invents language as a means of categorizing objects and concepts in order to form a mental framework that allows one to reason and make sense of what is.  One person can communicate with another when they share a similar bank of information—basic words and concepts—and use language as a reliable vehicle for the expression of ideas.  Information about God comes as a revelation.  God has revealed Himself through His creation, through Jesus,[1] and through Scripture.[2] 

     In creation, God has revealed Himself through people who are made in His “image” (Gen. 1:26-27), through nature (Ps. 19:1-2; Rom. 1:20), and through His goodness (Matt. 5:45; Acts 14:17).  He has revealed Himself through His decrees (Gen. 1:3, 11, 26-27; Ps. 33:6), by direct speech (Gen. 2:16-17; Ex. 3:1-10; Matt. 3:17; Mark 9:7; John 12:28), through the mouth of His prophets (Ex. 4:12; Jer. 1:9), and through Jesus (Matt. 11:27; John 1:18; Heb. 1:1-2).  Lastly, God has revealed Himself through Scripture (Ps. 12:6-7; John 17:17; Rom. 15:4; 1 Thess. 2:13; 2 Tim. 3:16-17; 2 Pet. 1:21).  The Bible is written in propositional terms and understood and accepted by those whom the Holy Spirit illumines (1 Cor. 2:14-16; 2 Cor. 3:14-16; 4:3-4).  Among the various ways God reveals Himself, the Bible provides the most specific information concerning His Personhood, character and actions. 

     Scripture reveals that God exists as a Trinity.  “It declares that there is only one true God; that this God is three persons, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, each of whom is distinct from, yet interrelated with, the others; and that all three persons are fully, equally and eternally divine.”[3]  The Trinity is implied in the Old Testament (Gen. 1:2; 1:26; 3:22; 11:7; Isa. 6:8; 9:6; Prov. 30:4), and is more clearly revealed in the New Testament (Matt. 3:16-17; 28:19; John 1:1, 18; 10:30; 16:13-15; Acts 5:3-4; 2 Cor. 13:14; 1 Pet. 1:1-2).  One could never know about the Trinity apart from divine revelation.  God had to reveal this about Himself.  Unfortunately, throughout history there have been attacks on the doctrine of the Trinity, and this is contrary to Biblical revelation.[4] 

     The three persons of the Trinity are: God the Father (John 6:27; Rom. 1:7; Gal. 1:1; Eph. 6:23; Phil. 2:11), God the Son (John 1:1, 14, 18; 5:18; 8:58; 20:28; Col. 2:9; Heb. 1:8), and God the Holy Spirit (Acts 5:3-4; 1 Cor. 2:11-12; 3:16; 2 Cor. 13:14).  Each Person of the Trinity is co-equal, co-infinite, and co-eternal.  To say that each Person in the Trinity is co-equal means that each Person shares the same attributes.

The essential oneness of God is linked to Deuteronomy 6:4, “Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord is one (Heb. echad, “compound unity; united one”). This statement stresses not only the uniqueness of God but also the unity of God (cf. also James 2:19). It means all three Persons possess the summation of the divine attributes but yet the essence of God is undivided. Oneness in essence also emphasizes that the three Persons of the Trinity do not act independently of one another.[5]

Overview of God’s Attributes

     Having briefly addressed the doctrine of the Trinity, a presentation of God’s attributes shall follow.  “An attribute is a property which is intrinsic to its subject. It is that by which it is distinguished or identified…God Himself cannot be conceived apart from the qualities attributed to them.”[6]  To know God is to learn about His personhood as well as those characteristics, attributes, or qualities that explain who He is and why He thinks or acts in a certain manner.  More so, it is important to understand that God’s attributes work together in perfect harmony and should not been seen as independent of each other.

The various perfections of God are not component parts of God. Each describes His total being. Love, for example, is not a part of God’s nature; God in His total being is love. Although God may display one quality or another at a given time, no quality is independent of or preeminent over any of the others. Whenever God displays His wrath, He is still love. When He shows His love, He does not abandon His holiness. God is more than the sum total of His perfections. When we have listed all the attributes we can glean from revelation, we have not fully described God. This stems from His incomprehensibility. Even if we could say we had a complete list of all God’s perfections, we could not fathom their meaning, for finite man cannot comprehend the infinite God. God’s perfections are known to us through revelation. Man does not attribute them to God; God reveals them to man. To be sure, man can suggest attributes of God, but these cannot be assumed to be true unless they are revealed by God. The perfections of God describe equally the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. They describe the nature of the Triune God and therefore each person of the Trinity.[7]

     The infinite personal God can be known, but only in a limited way as a finite creature might grasp.  “The Bible presents a revelation which, though limited by the restrictions that language must ever impose, is of a Person, and this revelation attributes to him those exalted qualities which are His. These qualities thus attributed are properly styled attributes.”[8]  The attributes of God should be seen in harmony with each other.

     Light provides a good analogy of the harmony of God’s attributes.  Light consists of the primary colors of red, blue and green.  These colors are constant in the light wave.  When the primary colors are evenly mixed, they produce the secondary colors of yellow, cyan and magenta.  Objects take on various colors depending on which wavelengths are reflected or absorbed.  When light falls upon an object, such as a tomato, it appears red to the human eye because the tomato reflects certain wavelengths of light while absorbing the rest.  Objects that absorb all wavelengths of light appear as black, and objects that reflect all wavelengths of light appear as white.  Similar to light, God has multiple attributes, and those attributes are constant.  However, when reading through a passage of Scripture, we see only one or more of God’s attributes at a time, depending on what God chooses to reflect about Himself.  In one passage David writes, “Your lovingkindness, O LORD, extends to the heavens, Your faithfulness reaches to the skies. Your righteousness is like the mountains of God; Your judgments are like a great deep. O LORD, You preserve man and beast” (Ps. 36:5-6).  These two verses of Scripture reveal God’s lovingkindness, faithfulness, righteousness and judgments.  But this is not the total sum of God’s attributes.  Other passages of Scripture reveal His graciousness (Ex. 34:6), mercy (Eph. 2:4), truthfulness (John 14:6), and so forth. 

     When studying the attributes of God, the student should never seek to understand them separately from God, as though an attribute of God may exist apart from Him.  More so, the attributes of God are as infinite as God Himself, and to try to understand them fully would be like pouring the ocean into a thimble.  “The attributes of God present a theme so vast and complex and so beyond the range of finite faculties that any attempt to classify them must be only approximate as to accuracy or completeness. So, also, the attributes are so interrelated and interdependent that the exact placing of some of them is difficult if not wholly impossible.”[9] 

     A detailed understanding of God’s attributes guards the believer from developing a faulty view of God as well as taking on only certain attributes to the exclusion of others.  A solitary view of God as righteous can lead a Christian to legalistic behavior, whereas a singular understanding of God as loving or gracious can lead to licentiousness.  A thorough Biblical understanding of God will prove healthy for the Christian who seeks to emulate God.  The Biblical revelation of God has practical application for the growing Christian, for as the believer advances in spiritual maturity, he/she will take on the characteristics of God, though only a few of those characteristics may be visible to others at any given moment, depending on the situation. 

     When surveying systematic theologies, theologians will often cite many of God’s attributes as they observe in Scripture.  Below is a sampling of God’s attributes as understood and presented by various evangelical theologians.

Lewis S. Chafer:

omniscience (Ps. 33:13; Matt. 11:21-23; Rom. 4:17), sensibility (Jer. 31:3; Rom. 9:13), holiness (Isa. 6:3; Rev. 4:8), justice (Ps. 89:14; Rom. 3:26), love (John 3:16; 1 John 4:8), goodness (2 Cor. 1:3; Heb. 4:16), truth (Num. 23:19; Rom. 3:4), will (John 1:13; Rom. 8:27), freedom (Ps. 36:6; Rom. 11:33-34), omnipotence (no Scripture cited), simplicity (no Scripture cited), unity (Deut. 6:4; Isa. 44:6), infinity (no Scripture cited), eternity (no Scripture cited[10]), immutability (Ps. 102:24-27; Mal. 3:6), omnipresence or immensity (1 Kings 8:27; Ps. 139:7-12), and sovereignty (1 Sam. 2:6-8; 1 Chron. 29:11-12; Ps. 50:12).[11]

Millard J. Erickson:

spirituality (John 4:24; cf. Luke 24:39), personality (Ex. 3:14), life (John 5:26; 1 Thess. 1:9), infinity (Ps. 139:7-12; Acts 17:24-25), constancy (Ps. 102:26-27; Mal. 3:6), holiness (Ex. 15:11; Isa. 6:1-4; 2 Cor. 6:14-7:1), righteousness (Gen. 18:25; Jer. 9:24), justice (Deut. 32:4; Ps. 33:5), genuineness (Jer. 17:10; John 17:3), veracity (1 Sam. 15:29; Tit. 1:2), faithfulness (Num. 23:19; 1 Thess. 5:24), benevolence (Deut. 7:7-8; 1 John 4:10), grace (Ex. 34:6; Eph. 1:5-8), mercy (Ps. 103:13; Mark 1:41), and persistence (Ex. 34:6; 1 Pet. 3:20).[12]

Henry C. Thiessen and Vernon D. Doerksen:

spirituality (Luke 24:39; John 4:24; Col. 1:15; 6:16), self-existence (Ex. 3:14; Isa. 41:4; John 8:58), immensity (1 Kings 8:27; Ps. 113:4-6; Acts 17:24-28), eternity (Gen. 21:33; Ps. 90:2; 1 Tim. 6:16), omnipresence (Ps. 139:7-10; Isa. 66:1; Acts 17:24), omniscience (Ps. 139:1-10; Prov. 15:3; Matt. 10:30; Heb. 4:13), omnipotence (Job 42:2; Matt. 19:26), immutability (Ps. 102:26-27; Mal. 3:6; Jam. 1:17), holiness (Lev. 11:44-45; Ps. 22:3; John 17:11; 1 Pet. 1:15-16), righteousness and justice (Ps. 89:14; Isa. 45:21; John 17:25; 2 Tim. 4:8), goodness (Deut. 7:6-8; Ps. 145:9, 15; Matt. 5:45; John 3:16; 1 John 4:8), truth (John 3:33; Rom. 3:4; 1 John 5:20), unity (Deut. 6:4; Jam. 2:19), and trinity (Gen. 1:26; Isa. 48:16; Matt. 28:19; John 1:1; 6:27; Acts 5:3-4).[13]

Norman Geisler:

pure actuality (Gen. 1:1; Ex. 3:14; Ps. 90:2; Col. 1:17), simplicity or indivisibility (Deut. 6:4; Isa. 45:18; Eph. 4:6), aseity (Ex. 3:14; Ps. 90:2; Acts 17:25-28; Col. 1:17), necessity (Gen. 1:1; Ps. 90:2; Acts 17:25; Col. 1:17), immutability (Num. 23:19; Ps. 102:26-27; Mal. 3:6; Rom. 1:23; Heb. 13:8; Jam. 1:17), eternality (Ex. 3:14; Ps. 90:2; Isa. 57:15), impassibility (Deut. 10:14; 1 Chron. 29:14; Ps. 24:1; Rom. 11:35-36), infinity (1 Kings 18:27; Isa. 66:1-2; Rom. 11:33), immateriality (Luke 24:39; John 4:24; Col. 1:15), immensity (Job 11:7-8; Isa. 66:1-2), omnipotence (Job 37:23; 40:2; Jer. 32:17; Eph. 1:19; 2 Cor. 6:18), omnipresence (1 Kings 8:27; Ps. 139:7-10; Jer. 23:23-24), omniscience (Ps. 139:2-4, 17-18; Rom. 11:33; Heb. 4:13), wisdom (Prov. 2:6; 3:19; Dan. 2:20; Rom. 16:27; 1 Cor. 2:7), light (Ps. 4:6; 21:7; Isa. 10:17; John 8:12; 1 John 1:5), majesty (1 Chron. 29:11; Isa. 33:21; Heb. 8:1; 2 Pet. 1:16), beauty (Ps. 27:4; 96:9; Isa. 33:17), ineffability (Deut. 29:29; Ps. 139:6; Isa. 55:8; Rom. 11:33), life (Josh. 3:10; Ps. 42:2; Jer. 10:10; Matt. 16:16; Acts 14:15), immortality (1 Tim. 1:17; 6:16; Rom. 1:2), unity (Deut. 6:4; Isa. 44:6; Eph. 4:6), triunity (Matt. 28:18-19; John 1:1; 6:27; 20:28; Acts 5:3-4), holiness (Ex. 15:11; Ps. 99:9; Rev. 4:8), righteousness-justice (Ps. 19:9; 89:14; 2 Cor. 9:9), jealousy (Ps. 78:58; Joel 2:18; Zech. 8:2), perfection (Deut. 32:4; 2 Sam. 22:31; Matt. 5:48), truthfulness (Deut. 32:4; Num. 23:19; John 14:6), goodness or love (Deut. 10:15; Jer. 31:3; John 3:16; 1 John 4:16), mercy (Ex. 15:13; Neh. 13:22; Eph. 2:4), wrath (Deut. 9:7-8; John 3:36; Rev. 6:17), transcendence (1 Kings 8:27; Ps. 97:9; Eph. 4:6), immanence (Jer. 23:23-24; Heb. 4:13), sovereignty (Ps. 115:3; Job 42:2; Col. 1:16), providence (Ps. 103:19; 135:6-7; Matt. 5:45; Eph. 1:11).[14]

Wayne Grudem:

independence (Job 41:11; Acts 17:24-25), unchangeableness (Ps. 102:25-27; Jam. 1:17), eternity (Ps. 90:2), omnipresence (Ps. 139:7-10; Jer. 23:23-24), unity (Deut. 6:4), spirituality (John 4:24), invisibility (John 1:18; 1 Tim. 1:17; 6:16), omniscience (Ps. 139:1-6; Heb. 4:13; 1 John 3:20), wisdom (Ps. 104:24; Rom. 16:27), truthfulness (Jer. 17:10; John 17:3), goodness (Ps. 100:5; Luke 18:19), love (John 3:16; 1 John 4:8), mercy, grace, patience (Ex. 34:6; Ps. 103:8), holiness (Ps. 71:22; Isa. 6:3), peace or order (Rom. 15:33; 1 Cor. 14:33), righteousness or justice (Deut. 32:4), jealousy (Ex. 20:5; 34:14), wrath (Ex. 32:9-10; John 3:36; Rom. 1:18), will (Dan. 4:32; Eph. 1:11; Rev. 4:11), freedom (Ps. 115:3; Prov. 21:1), omnipotence or power or sovereignty (Ps. 24:8; Eph. 3:20), perfection (Ps. 18:30; Matt. 5:48), blessedness (1 Tim. 1:11; 6:15), beauty (Ps. 27:4), and glory (Isa. 43:7; Rom. 3:23)[15]

Charles Ryrie:

eternity (Gen. 21:33; Ps. 90:2), freedom (Isa. 40:13-14), holiness (Lev. 11:44; 1 Pet. 1:15), immutability (Mal. 3:6; Jam. 1:17), infinity (1 Ki. 8:27; Acts 17:24-28), love (1 John 4:8), omnipotence (Gen. 17:1; 2 Cor. 6:18), omnipresence (Ps. 139:7-11), omniscience (Ps. 139:1-6), righteousness (Ps. 11:7; Dan. 9:7), simplicity (John 4:24), sovereignty (Ps. 135:6), truth (John 17:3; Tit. 1:2), unity (Deut. 6:4).[16]

     However one understands the nature and number of God’s attributes, it is always important to keep in mind that His attributes be taken as a collection that work together in perfect harmony.  “The attributes of God form an interwoven and interdependent communion of facts and forces which harmonize in the Person of God.  An omission or slighting of any of these, or any disproportionate emphasis upon any one of them cannot but lead to fundamental error of immeasurable magnitude.”[17]

The Righteousness of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit

     The singular attribute of righteousness is the focus of this article, and that attribute is observed in all three Persons of the Trinity.  God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit all possess the same attributes, and the particular attribute of righteousness is observed by direct statement as well as action.  The Father is said to be righteous (John 17:25), the Son is called the “Righteous One” (Acts 3:14; cf. Acts 7:52, 22:14), and the Holy Spirit has a ministry that promotes “righteousness” (John 16:8).  All three shall be observed.

God the Father is Righteous

     On the night before His crucifixion, Jesus spent time teaching His disciples and preparing them for the transition of the coming church age (John 13-16).  At the end of His teaching session, Jesus offered a prayer to God the Father (John 17), a prayer that speaks of His return to the Father, but only after He faced the judgment of the cross.  Jesus did not pray to avoid the pain and shame of the cross, but that the Father would be glorified in it.  In His prayer Jesus referred to His Father as “Holy Father” (John 17:11) and “righteous Father” (John 17:25), and he made these statements knowing that the Father was sending Him to the cross to die as a substitute for sinners (Mark 10:45; Rom. 5:8).  God the Father was right to send His Son into the world to reveal His love (John 3:16), and He was right to send His Son to the cross to die in our place (Rom. 5:8).  If anyone had grounds to argue with the Father concerning the events of the cross, it was certainly Jesus.  However, God the Son addressed God the Father as righteous, knowing and accepting His plan of salvation through penal substitutionary atonement.  Not only was the Father righteous concerning His plan for the Son, but He is also righteous as “the Judge of all” (Heb. 12:23).

God the Son is Righteous

     The righteousness of God the Son became obvious when He took upon Himself a human nature, was born under the law (Gal. 4:4), obeyed the law (Matt. 5:17-19), and directed others to do the same (Matt. 8:4; 23:1-3).  “Christ’s righteousness is completely perfect. He lived a perfect life (2 Cor. 5:21; Heb. 4:15; 1 Peter 3:18; 1 John 3:3), and He fulfilled the demands of the law.”[18]  Jesus is called “that righteous man” (Matt. 27:19), and the “Righteous One” (Acts 3:14; cf. Acts 7:52, 22:14).  “The title ‘the Righteous One,’ was used by the early church as an appellation for Jesus (Acts 3:14; 7:52; 22:14).  John declared that believers have an Advocate with the Father, ‘Jesus Christ, the Righteous One’ (1 John 2:1).”[19]  The apostle Peter writes about “the righteousness of our God and Savior, Jesus Christ” (2 Pet. 1:1).  John writes about those during the Tribulation who will sing “the song of Moses, the bond-servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying, ‘Great and marvelous are Your works, O Lord God, the Almighty; Righteous and true are Your ways, King of the nations!’” (Rev. 15:3).  As the Righteous One, Jesus judged, and will judge, with perfect righteousness.  He says, “As I hear, I judge; and My judgment is just [or righteous – δίκαιος dikaios], because I do not seek My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me” (John 5:30). 

     It is a sad commentary when we read in Scripture that Jesus was falsely accused of sin.  It is a blemish on sinful mankind that they saw the Son of God, heard His perfect words, and personally witnessed His miracles; yet, they rejected Him and sought to destroy His reputation among the people, saying, “Behold, a gluttonous man and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!” (Matt. 11:19).  And later said, “This man casts out demons only by Beelzebul the ruler of the demons” (Matt. 12:24).  Many false charges were brought against Christ by the Jewish leadership in order to have Him killed.  Scripture reveals, “Now the chief priests and the whole Council kept trying to obtain false testimony against Jesus, so that they might put Him to death. 60 They did not find any, even though many false witnesses came forward” (Matt. 26:59-60).  Both Pilate and Herod found the charges against Jesus to be flimsy and not worthy of putting Him to death.  Luke records:

Pilate summoned the chief priests and the rulers and the people, 14 and said to them, “You brought this man to me as one who incites the people to rebellion, and behold, having examined Him before you, I have found no guilt in this man regarding the charges which you make against Him. 15 No, nor has Herod, for he sent Him back to us; and behold, nothing deserving death has been done by Him.” (Luke 23:13-15)

     The Jewish leadership and the crowds did not care to hear Pilate’s words.  They did not care about what was right before God or men.  They only sought to have Jesus crucified, so they began to shout, “Away with this man, and release for us Barabbas!” (Luke 23:18).  Pilate tried to have Jesus released, but the crowds kept shouting, “Crucify, crucify Him!” (Luke 23:21).  Eventually, “their voices began to prevail. 24 And Pilate pronounced sentence that their demand be granted” (Luke 23:23a-24).  Pilate, in a moment of weakness, caved to the demands of the Jewish mob, so Jesus was sentenced to death and crucified as a criminal, even though He was innocent.  As the Lord hung upon the cross, God the Father judged Him in our place.  The sky grew dark for three hours, between 12 and 3 PM, and during that time God the Father poured out His wrath upon Jesus.  Immediately after Jesus’ crucifixion, the Roman centurion who saw what had happened “began praising God, saying, ‘Certainly this man was innocent [or righteous – δίκαιος dikaios]’” (Luke 23:47).  God never creates evil, however, He can and does control those who do (John 6:70-71; 19:10-11; Acts 2:22-23; 4:27-28).  Though sinful men wrongly crucified the Lord, it was necessary that He die as our substitute and bear the punishment for our sins.  Scripture reveals that Jesus “died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit” (1 Pet. 3:18).  The shed blood of Christ atoned for our sins, and “having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him” (Rom. 5:9).  Jesus’ obedience makes us righteous before God, “For as through the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous” (Rom. 5:19). 

God the Holy Spirit is Righteous

     God the Holy Spirit has a ministry of righteousness.  The righteousness of the Holy Spirit was revealed by Jesus in the upper room discourse.  Jesus revealed the ministry of the Holy Spirit in which He convicts “the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment” (John 16:8).  The word “sin” is singular and refers only to the sin of unbelief in which men reject Christ as Savior (John 16:9).  “The Spirit also convicts the sinner of righteousness, not unrighteousness. Whose righteousness? The righteousness of Jesus Christ, the perfect Lamb of God.”[20]  The Holy Spirit also convicts the world of the fact that Jesus has left the world and has been received in heaven by the Father.  This acceptance in heaven is a testimony concerning the righteousness of Christ, because only perfect righteousness can be accepted by the Father.  More so, the Holy Spirit also convinces people that the prince of this world, Satan, has been rightly judged and will face eternal punishment (Matt. 25:41; Rev. 20:1-3, 10). 

     Another example of the Spirit’s righteousness is found in the book of Hebrews where the Holy Spirit sustained Jesus on the cross so He could accomplish the Father’s will by atoning for the sins of the world (Heb. 9:11-14).  The writer to the Hebrews presents Jesus as superior to the Old Testament sacrificial system in numerous ways, and especially His death on the cross which cleanses sinners from sin in ways the Levitical sacrificial system could never do (Heb. 10:4; 10-14).  “The Old Testament sacrifices were limited to outward cleansing; they only cleansed the flesh. But, the work of Jesus avails in the spiritual sphere and results in inward cleansing.”[21]  Jesus was sent by God the Father into the world (John 17:3, 8, 18), and the primary mission of Jesus was to go to the cross and die for sinners (John 3:16; Mark 10:45; Rom. 5:8).  His atoning death was an act of righteousness that satisfied the Father’s righteous demands for our sin, and Scripture reveals the Holy Spirit was involved in this most important work of Christ, “who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God” (Heb. 9:14).  “With this lovely assertion, the writer of Hebrews involved all three Persons of the Godhead in the sacrifice of Christ, which magnifies the greatness of His redemptive offering.”[22]  The Holy Spirit was right to sustain Jesus on the cross as he offered His blood as an atoning sacrifice to the Father. 

Steven R. Cook, D.Min

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[1] God has also revealed Himself through the Person, words and works of Jesus; however, that direct revelation is not available to us now, for all that we know about Jesus comes only through Scripture.

[2] The Bible is a library of sixty six books written by nearly forty human authors spanning a period of roughly sixteen hundred years.  Scriptural authority resides in the autographs as they were written in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek.  God the Holy Spirit superintended the writing(s) of each author so that what they produced is historically and theologically accurate in all it affirms (the Bible accurately records lies and sinful acts, but it does not affirm those lies or sinful acts).  That which the Bible affirms about the Person and character of God is both accurate and instructive.

[3] Martin H. Manser, Dictionary of Bible Themes: The Accessible and Comprehensive Tool for Topical Studies (London: Martin Manser, 2009).

[4] Throughout history there have been heresies such as: Tritheism, which teaches there are three absolutely separate gods; Modalism, which argues that there is only one god who manifests himself in three forms as Father, Son, and Spirit; and Arianism, which argues that the Son is not equal to the Father and reduces the Son to the status of a creature.

[5] Paul P. Enns, The Moody Handbook of Theology (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1989), 199–200.

[6] Lewis S. Chafer, Systematic Theology, Vol. 1 (Grand Rapids, MI., Kregel Publications, 1993), 190.

[7] Charles Caldwell Ryrie, Basic Theology: A Popular Systematic Guide to Understanding Biblical Truth (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1999), 39–40.

[8] Ibid., 187.

[9] Ibid., 189.

[10] It is peculiar that Dr. Chafer would so clearly explain several of God’s attributes without providing a single Scripture reference to support his assertions.

[11] This list is a condensation of the attributes of God as presented by Lewis S. Chafer, Systematic Theology, Vol. 1 (Grand Rapids, MI., Kregel Publications, 1993), 192-223.

[12] This list is a condensation of the attributes of God as presented by Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology (Grand Rapids, Mich., Baker Books, 2000), 293-323.

[13] This list is a condensation of the attributes of God as presented by Henry Clarence Thiessen and Vernon D. Doerksen, Lectures in Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1979), 75-98.

[14] This list is a condensation of the attributes of God as presented by Norman L. Geisler, Systematic Theology, Volume Two: God, Creation (Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 2003), 31-572.

[15] This list is a condensation of the attributes of God as presented by Wayne A. Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Leicester, England; Grand Rapids, MI: Inter-Varsity Press; Zondervan Pub. House, 2004), 156-221.

[16] This list is a condensation of the attributes of God as presented by Charles C. Ryrie, Basic Theology: A Popular Systematic Guide to Understanding Biblical Truth (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1999), 41-50.

[17] Lewis S. Chafer, Systematic Theology, Vol. 1, 223.

[18] Norman L. Geisler, Systematic Theology, Volume Two, 333.

[19] Charles R. Swindoll and Roy B. Zuck, Understanding Christian Theology (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2003), 188–189.

[20] Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, vol. 1 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1996), 362.

[21] Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum, The Messianic Jewish Epistles: Hebrews, James, First Peter, Second Peter, Jude, 1st ed. (Tustin, CA: Ariel Ministries, 2005), 120.

[22] Zane C. Hodges, “Hebrews,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, ed. J. F. Walvoord and R. B. Zuck, vol. 2 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985), 801.