Spirit of Grace Ministries
Spirit of Grace Ministries
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God's Self-Definition

By Dennis Pollock


If we were asked to describe ourselves in a few words, we might have a hard time knowing what to say. But if we were concise and truthful, we could probably share several important attitudes and values that we hold which would give our questioner a pretty good idea about the kind of person we are. Many people don't realize it, but God did this very thing about Himself, and if we read and meditate on what He declared about Himself, we will have a rudimentary knowledge of the One who created us and holds the universe in His hands.


It all started when Moses presented an unusual request to God. He asked Him to show him His glory. Exactly what Moses had in mind, I don't know, but God replied thus: "I will make all My goodness pass before you, and I will proclaim the name of the LORD before you." (Exodus 33:19). And God gave Moses a revelation of Himself that no man, apart from Jesus, has ever had. He instructed His servant to climb to the top of Mount Sinai, and once he was positioned there, the Bible tells us:


The LORD passed before him and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abounding in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, by no means clearing the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children and the children’s children to the third and the fourth generation" (Exodus 34:6-7).


God declared Himself to Moses; He told him, this is who I am, and this is My nature – this is what I am like. In a few words that would take about half a minute to recite, God reveals His nature and His attributes to Moses. And because Moses wrote this down and placed it in the Book of Exodus, the entire world can get a concise and perfect summary of the nature of God, coming from the mouth of God Himself. This is God's self-definition. We do not have to wonder, guess, or speculate about the nature of God; we have it in His own words. 




So, let's unpack what God had to say about Himself. He starts by proclaiming His name, the name by which the Jews knew Him. Most Bibles translate this "The Lord" as though it were a title, but God is not giving His title; He is announcing His name. For some reason or some reasons, most Bible versions refuse to call God by His name and instead refer to Him as "the LORD." But when you see the word "LORD" spelled with all capital letters, we know that the actual Hebrew word was YHWH. God was not saying: "The LORD, the LORD God…" He was saying "YHWH, YHWH God." God was declaring His name and announcing that He is the King of the universe. He is the ultimate Ruler of all things, all peoples, and all nations. He is YHWH! 


God goes on to describe His nature and the attributes that define Him. The first two on the list are good news to humanity. He tells us that He is "merciful and gracious." To be merciful is to be kind to people who do not deserve kindness. God's mercy and grace reach their ultimate expression with the sending of Jesus Christ into the world to die for our sins. Paul writes:


“But when the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior” (Titus 2:3-6).


Thousands of years before Jesus arrived, God was tipping His hand to Moses that He had good intentions for His creation. God is surely YHWH, YHWH God, merciful and gracious. And then God tells Moses, and all the rest of us, that He is longsuffering. He puts up with a lot from His errant, dull, easily straying children. When we look at our dysfunctional world, and all the crime, sensuality, rebellion, and irreverence that is continually on display, it's a wonder God can stand us at all. And yet God is longsuffering, patiently bearing with our terrible attitudes and wicked behavior. Even when men and women spend decades defying God's commands and flaunting His laws, He still moves on their hearts, working patiently to draw them to Jesus. 


Lots and Lots of Goodness!


God tells Moses that He is "abounding in goodness and truth." So far, God's "self-description" is wonderfully positive. Everything He is saying about Himself is good news to the human race. Our Creator is merciful, gracious, and longsuffering, and He abounds in goodness and truth. Who would not want a relationship with a God like this? We sing "God is good all the time," and it turns out, from His own mouth, that God is not merely good; He abounds with goodness, which means He has a whole bunch of goodness. His abundant goodness moves Him to provide well for His children, and even to bless those who are not His children. Jesus tells us that God "makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good and sends rain on the just and on the unjust" (Matthew 5:45). 


The major reason people do not come running to Jesus as soon as they hear about Him, is that they doubt the goodness and kindness of God. They fear that Jesus would cramp their style. They couldn't enjoy all the pleasures they currently enjoy if they were to become genuine Christians. They are doubting the goodness of God. What they are saying, at least inwardly, is, "I could have more fun, have a better life, have a happier life, have a more fulfilling life away from God than I could ever have as a disciple of Jesus Christ." This is, of course, nonsense. The people most satisfied with their lives and most content with their circumstances are those who are fully committed, born-again, praying, Bible-reading, evangelical Christians. They typically have better marriages, fewer conflicts, more contentment, and a far deeper sense of purpose than their secular, non-believing neighbors. 


In the latter part of God's self-description, He finally speaks of His severity toward those who reject Him or turn from His ways. After declaring all these overwhelmingly positive attributes, God says of Himself: "by no means clearing the guilty." At least that is how my Bible reads. But if you look carefully, you find that the words "the guilty" are written in italics, which means they were added by translators and were not part of the writings of Moses. What God actually said was, "by no means clearing…" leaving it to Moses and us to figure out who He by no means clears. Of course, if we want to know who it is that God refuses to accept and determines to punish, we can just read the rest of the Bible. It is spelled out plainly. God does not clear wicked, unbelieving people who live for themselves and refuse to bow to the Lordship of Christ.


Goodness Following


After giving us a list of God's loving attributes, He feels it necessary to remind Moses, and all of us who read the Bible, that He is nobody to trifle with. We must not take God's goodness for granted and assume that because He is merciful, and because He abounds with goodness, we can live as we like, we can freely break His commands, we can fornicate to our heart's content, and God will have no problem with us. And God essentially declares, "I by no means clear those who reject me, flaunt my laws, and refuse to submit to My Son, Jesus Christ.


The apostle Paul put it this way: "Therefore consider the goodness and severity of God: on those who fell, severity; but toward you, goodness, if you continue in His goodness…" (Romans 11:22). How do we continue in God's goodness? By putting our faith in Jesus, and then living a life pleasing to God. And through the grace of Jesus, we will enjoy an eternity of the goodness of the Lord. As David wrote, "Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever" (Psalm 23:6).



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