Pastor David B. Curtis


Media #997 MP3 Audio File Video File

God is God

(1 John 4:8)

Delivered 02/02/20

We are continuing our study in 1 John this morning. We began looking at chapter 4 last week and we talked about “testing the spirits.” Beginning in verse 7, John leaves the warning of false doctrine and goes back to the subject of love. Since both 1 John 4:7 and 4:11 begin with John addressing the readers as “beloved,” it appears that 4:7-10 is a unit with 4:11 marking the beginning of another unit. We are going to look at this unit next week. What I want to do this morning is to focus on what John says at the end of verse 8.

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. 1 John 4:7-8 ESV

Here in verse 8 and in verse 16 John says, “God is love.” If you ask the average Christian to tell you about God, what is the first thing they will tell you? God is love! Most Christians and even some non-Christians know this verse, though they probably do not know where it is in the Bible.  They know that God is love.

In asserting that “God is love,” John does not mean that He is love and nothing more; this attribute does not make up the sum of the Infinite God.  C. H. Dodd explained “God is love” by saying:

“To say ‘God is love’ implies that all His activity is loving activity. If He creates, He creates in love; if He rules, He rules in love; if He judges, He judges in love. All that He does is the expression of His nature, which is—to love. The theological consequences of this principle are far-reaching. (C. H. Dodd, The Johannine Epistles, 110)

Love is one attribute of God, but He has many others (e.g. holiness, mercy, grace, justice, omniscience, immutability, sovereignty, etc.). God's attributes are His characteristics, excellencies, or qualities exercised visibly in His work of creation, providence, and redemption. We call them attributes, not because we add them to the essence of God, but rather because they inhere in Him. They were and ever will be His. They tell us something about Yahweh’s substance, His invisible essence.

Apart from an objective standard, we can make God to be anything we want. What is our objective standard? The Bible! The Bible is the self-revelation of God. If we are going to know God, we must learn of Him from the Scriptures. The problem is that most everyone believes in a "god" of their own invention. They have made up a "god" that they are comfortable with because he is a "god" who is only love. He loves everybody and puts up with everything. He is just a nice gentle old man! This is not the God of the Bible!

A.W.Tozer wrote:

“Perverted notions about God soon rot the religion in which they appear. The long career of Israel demonstrates this clearly enough, and the history of the Church confirms it. So necessary to the Church is a lofty concept of God that when that concept in any measure declines, the Church with her worship and her moral standards declines along with it. The first step down for any church is taken when it surrenders its high opinion of God.”

So let me ask you, Is it right for us to pick out one attribute that we like about God and reduce Him to that attribute only? No.  When we do this, we create a God of our own liking. This is idolatry! Believing the wrong thing about God is idolatry. When we think of idolatry, we think of somebody in a mud hut with a little god on his table that he bows down to. Or we think of a pagan temple, very elaborate and ornate with a lot of people burning incense. But idolatry is much broader than that. Idolatry is simply thinking something about God that is untrue of Him. It is postulating anything about God that is not right. In its fullest stage, it is creating a god. In its secondary stage, it is making the God who is into something that He is not. And maybe in its third level, which even Christians are guilty of, is thinking thoughts about God that are untrue of Him.

These things you have done, and I have been silent; you thought that I was one like yourself. But now I rebuke you and lay the charge before you. “Mark this, then, you who forget God, lest I tear you apart, and there be none to deliver! Psalms 50:21-22 ESV

Are you like Israel in this passage, thinking that God is like you? Do you think of God as an errand boy or a cosmic, doting old Grandpa? Is He a gentleman who would not hurt a flea? Does your God dismiss sin? Is your God at the mercy of man or nature? Is your God too small? People, God is not like us. He is holy:

In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!” Isaiah 6:1-3 ESV

To be holy is to be distinct, separate, and in a class by oneself. This means that the One who is holy is uniquely holy. He has no rivals or competition. When the Bible calls God "holy," it means primarily that God is transcendentally separate. He is so far above and beyond us that He seems almost totally foreign to us. To be holy is to be "other."  It is to be different in a special way.

The God of the Bible does as He pleases. He accomplishes what He sets out to do, and no plan of His is thwarted by the whims and decisions of mankind. And this may be shocking to twenty-first century Americans, but He is wrathful against our rebellion yet loving beyond our imagination. In one of the most concise and profound statements ever written on the subject of God, A W. Pink said:

The "god" of this twentieth century no more resembles the Supreme Sovereign of Holy Writ than does the dim flickering of a candle the glory of the midday sun. The "god" who is now talked about in the average pulpit, spoken of in the ordinary Sunday School, mentioned in much of the religious literature of the day, and preached in most of the so-called Bible conferences, is the figment of human imagination, an invention of maudlin sentimentality. The heathen outside of the pale of Christendom form "gods" out of wood and stone, while the millions of heathen inside Christendom manufacture a "god" out of their own carnal mind. In reality, they are but atheists, for there is no other possible alternative between an absolutely supreme God, and no God at all. A "god" whose will is resisted, whose designs are frustrated, whose purpose is checkmated, possesses no title to Deity, and so far from being a fit object of worship, merits naught but contempt." (Attributes of God)

God's holiness is linked to His righteousness and justice. The righteousness and justice of God is that aspect of God's holiness manifested in His treatment of His creatures.

Clouds and thick darkness are all around him; righteousness and justice are the foundation of his throne. Psalms 97:2 ESV

God is holy and just, and He must punish sin. His love does not override his other attributes; it doesn’t eliminate his wrath. Even the slightest sin defies the authority of God, insults His majesty, and challenges His justice. Because of our sin, we all deserve God's WRATH. As a matter of fact, the only thing we deserve is wrath. In fact,  the only thing God owes us is wrath. If we really understood the depth of our sin and the holiness of God, we would thank God every day that He has not killed us.

Churchianity” is so lopsided on the issue of love that we have decided that God must love everybody! And if He does not love everybody, then He cannot be our God. I think that most practitioners of churchianity believe that they are worthy of God's love and goodness. People actually think that God owes them. In this twisted view, God is the debtor, and man is the creditor.

Most people do not want to think of God's wrath at all, preferring to think and speak only of God's love. Those who do believe God is a God of wrath as well as a God of love prefer to think of His wrath in the past tense. Many seem to believe God's wrath is an Old Covenant truth and that with the coming of Christ, we are now safe to think only in terms of God's love. This is wrong thinking about God. A. W. Pink observes:

It is sad to find so many professing Christians who appear to regard the wrath of God as something for which they need to make an apology, or at least they wish there were no such thing. While some would not go so far as to openly admit that they consider it a blemish on the Divine character, yet they are far from regarding it with delight; they like not to think about it, and they rarely hear it mentioned without a secret resentment rising up in their hearts against it. Even with those who are more sober in their judgment, not a few seem to imagine that there is a severity about the Divine wrath which is too terrifying to form a theme for profitable contemplation. Others harbor the delusion that God's wrath is not consistent with His goodness, and so seek to banish it from their thoughts.

Yes, many there are who turn away from a vision of God's wrath as though they were called to look upon some blotch in the Divine character, or some blot upon the Divine government. But what saith the Scriptures? As we turn to them we find that God has made no attempt to conceal the fact of His wrath. He is not ashamed to make it known that vengeance and fury belong unto Him. A. W. Pink, The Attributes of God (Swengel Pa.: Reiner Publications, 1968 [Reprint]), p. 75).

The wrath of God is a prominent truth in the Scriptures. A study of the concordance will show that there are more references in Scripture to the anger, fury, and wrath of God than there are to His love and tenderness.

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. Romans 1:18 ESV

If we are going to discuss the wrath of God, we must first define it. What is God's wrath? First, we must understand that God's wrath is not like ours. Wrath to us may suggest a loss of self-control, an outburst that is partly, if not wholly, irrational. God's wrath in the Bible is never capricious, self-indulgent, or irritable. God's wrath in the Bible is always judicial. It is the wrath of a judge administering justice. Each person gets exactly what he deserves.

Wrath denotes God's resolute action in punishing sin. It is the active manifestation of His hatred of irreligion and moral evil. God is Holy, and His holiness demands that He not tolerate unholiness.

The Wrath of God in the Tanakh.

Dr. Leon Morris (The Apostolic Preaching of the Cross) says the following about the wrath of God as found in the Tanakh: "There are more than 20 words used to express the wrath conception as it applies to Jehovah" and "these are used so frequently that there are over 580 occurrences to be taken into consideration" [p 131]. He adds that this conception "cannot be eradicated from the Old Testament without irreparable loss" [p 156]. So, the Tanakh is full of the concept of the wrath of God.         

Before proceeding, let me say a few words about the use of the name Jehovah. In Hebrew Scripture the personal name of God is written with four Hebrew letters—yod, heh, vav, heh (YHWH). It is, therefore called the tetragrammaton. This name appears 6,829 times in the Hebrew Scriptures.

In the First Temple period, at least until the Babylonian Exile in 586 B.C., the divine name was regularly pronounced in daily life. By the third century B.C., although the tetragrammaton was pronounced by priests in certain Temple liturgies, Jews avoided its use, employing instead many other substitutes. When reading or reciting Scripture, the custom was to substitute adonai (LORD).

Until the early Middle-Ages, Hebrew was written without vowels. By the sixth century A.D. a system of vowel signs was developed by the Masoretes, the Jewish scholars of the period, to aid the reader in pronunciation. They superimposed the vowel signs of the word adonai upon the four consonants of God's name.

In 1518 A.D., in his a monumental work of Christian mysticism, the Italian theologian and Franciscan friar Galatinus, not realizing that the Masoretes had placed the vowel signs of another word with the consonants YHWH, fused the vowels of adonai with the consonants of the divine name and thus gave the Church "Jehovah." It is a word that has no meaning in Hebrew. So, strike the word Jehovah from your Christian vocabulary.  It is not biblical at all.

Returning to the subject of God’s wrath, we note that The Tanakh not only speaks of God's wrath as one of His attributes, but it speaks of God’s wrath as a part of  His glory. God's glory is intrinsic—we don't give it to Him. It is His by virtue of who He is. If neither men nor angels had ever been created, God would still be a God of glory. God's intrinsic glory is the manifestation of His attributes. When we see His attributes, it causes us to give Him glory—praise and adoration.

God's wrath brings Him glory. It is not an embarrassment to Him. It is not something He needs to be ashamed of.  As we have already seen, He is not like men; He does not lose His temper. God's wrath is inseparably linked with His glory. God brings glory to Himself when He exercises His wrath.

God's wrath is provoked when men rebel against His Word. After God brought the Israelites out of Egypt, He gave them His laws to guide and govern their conduct so they might be a holy people in whose midst He would dwell. In Deuteronomy 28:1-14, God described the blessings that would result from obedience to the covenant He made with them at Mount Sinai.

“And if you faithfully obey the voice of the LORD your God, being careful to do all his commandments that I command you today, the LORD your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth. And all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, if you obey the voice of the LORD your God. Deuteronomy 28:1-2 ESV

After this we have twelve verses that list the blessings that come from obedience. They are followed by verses 15-68 which provide a much more extensive and graphic description of His judgment as a consequence of breaking this covenant.

“But if you will not obey the voice of the LORD your God or be careful to do all his commandments and his statutes that I command you today, then all these curses shall come upon you and overtake you. Deuteronomy 28:15 ESV

Then from verse 16 thru 68 we have 53 verses on the curses that they will incur for their disobedience. In the context of Deuteronomy 28, it is clear that Israel will not keep His covenant with them, and that they will be judged. God will not tolerate sin among His people any more than He will tolerate it in others. The Israelites were destined to drink deeply from the cup of God's wrath.

Numerous instances can be seen in the Tanakh where God's wrath is demonstrated. I do not know how anyone can read the Hebrew Scriptures and not see the wrath of God. Reading Ezekiel at times will take your breath away as you see God's wrath. He speaks against Jerusalem in chapter 22:

Therefore I have poured out my indignation upon them. I have consumed them with the fire of my wrath. I have returned their way upon their heads, declares the Lord GOD.” Ezekiel 22:31 ESV

Then in chapter 23 we see this:

The word of the LORD came to me: “Son of man, there were two women, the daughters of one mother. They played the whore in Egypt; they played the whore in their youth; there their breasts were pressed and their virgin bosoms handled. Oholah was the name of the elder and Oholibah the name of her sister. They became mine, and they bore sons and daughters. As for their names, Oholah is Samaria, and Oholibah is Jerusalem. “Oholah played the whore while she was mine, and she lusted after her lovers the Assyrians, warriors Ezekiel 23:1-5 ESV

The Mother is the twelve-tribe nation of Israel. The two daughters are the southern kingdom (Oholibah) and the northern kingdom (Oholah). These two kingdoms came out of Israel as a result of the two wives and two marriages of Jacob. The capital city of Judah was Jerusalem, and the capital of Israel was Samaria. Notice what God says to Oholibah, which is Judah:

Therefore, O Oholibah, thus says the Lord GOD: “Behold, I will stir up against you your lovers from whom you turned in disgust, and I will bring them against you from every side: Ezekiel 23:22 ESV

Then God lists the different nations that He will bring against her and He says, “And they shall come against you from the north with chariots and wagons and a host of peoples.”

And I will direct my jealousy against you, that they may deal with you in fury. They shall cut off your nose and your ears, and your survivors shall fall by the sword. They shall seize your sons and your daughters, and your survivors shall be devoured by fire. Ezekiel 23:25 ESV

God goes on to say:

“For thus says the Lord GOD: Behold, I will deliver you into the hands of those whom you hate, into the hands of those from whom you turned in disgust, Ezekiel 23:28 ESV

Notice that it is God who uses the nations to punish Israel.

In the Old Covenant, God not only displayed His wrath toward rebellious Israelites, He also demonstrated His wrath against wicked pagans. He destroyed the inhabited earth by means of the flood (Genesis 6-9). He also destroyed the wicked cities of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19). And after the exodus, He employed the nation Israel to destroy the wicked Canaanites for their sin in fulfillment of His earlier promise to Abraham (Genesis 15:12-16):

therefore thus says the Lord GOD, I will stretch out my hand against Edom and cut off from it man and beast. And I will make it desolate; from Teman even to Dedan they shall fall by the sword. And I will lay my vengeance upon Edom by the hand of my people Israel, and they shall do in Edom according to my anger and according to my wrath, and they shall know my vengeance, declares the Lord GOD. Ezekiel 25:13-14 ESV

God says to Ammon:

And I will pour out my indignation upon you; I will blow upon you with the fire of my wrath, and I will deliver you into the hands of brutish men, skillful to destroy. Ezekiel 21:31 ESV

The Israelites were to be the instrument of God's wrath toward the wicked nations.
The Wrath of God in the New Testament

Those willing to accept that God is a God of wrath are sometimes eager for the wrath of God to be viewed as primarily an Old Covenant matter that is no longer a threat for those who live today. They like to think that with the coming of our Lord Yeshua, the subject of wrath is largely a matter of history. This is crazy because one of Yahweh's attributes is that He is immutable; He is the unchangeable.

“For I the LORD do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed. Malachi 3:6 ESV
Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. James 1:17 ESV

Yahweh cannot change because a change is either from better to worse or worse to better. So, we cannot have an eternal God and a God who changes. We must have immutability because all of the promises of God depend upon divine immutability.

Our whole saving experience depends upon the fact that He is immutable. He has never changed, and He will never change in the future. Therefore, the promises of eternal life are valid forever. If ever He loved me, He loved me forever!

Since John the Baptist was the last of the Old Covenant prophets, we almost expect him to speak of divine wrath. But when John spoke of the wrath to come, he did so in relationship to the coming of the Christ. According to John's teaching, divine wrath was related to the coming of Messiah in two ways. First, he spoke of Messiah coming to experience the wrath of God. Second, John spoke of Messiah as the One who would execute the wrath of God.

When John the Baptist first saw Yeshua and recognized Him as the Messiah, He spoke of Him as the Sin-bearer who was to experience God's wrath as the "Lamb of God.”

The next day he saw Yeshua coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! John 1:29 ESV

The expression, "the Lamb of God," has a rich Old Covenant background. There was the "Passover lamb" sacrificed at the time of Israel's exodus from Egypt (Exodus 12). It was a type of our Lord (see 1 Corinthians 5:7). The "Lamb of God" described by Isaiah in chapter 53 is clearly a reference to the Messiah, the Lord Yeshua. This prophecy speaks of the suffering of the Messiah as the Sin-bearer, the One on whom the sins of the world are laid and thus on whom the wrath of God is poured out.

Our Lord's greatest suffering came because He was the object of the Father's wrath. The great agony of our Lord is seen in these words recorded in the Messianic prophecy of Psalm 22 and then spoken by our Lord as He hung upon the cross:

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning? Psalms 22:1 ESV

The Good News of the Gospel is that those who have placed their trust in the Lord Yeshua as the "Lamb of God" are no longer under the sentence of divine wrath:

For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Yeshua the Christ, 1 Thessalonians 5:9 ESV

John the Baptist was the last Old Covenant prophet and the one privileged to introduce Yeshua as Israel's Messiah. When John spoke of the coming Messiah, he spoke of His coming as the One who would not only experience divine wrath but would also execute divine wrath:

Then Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan were going out to him, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. “I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” Matthew 3:5-12 ESV

At the end of verse 11, John refers to the Christ event—it begins with Pentecost and ends with the destruction of Jerusalem. "The chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire”—this speaks of wrath.

Does God have a right to display His wrath? Does He have a right to display His Justice? Yes! Wrath and justice are as much a part of His character as are mercy, grace, and love. Many people have difficulty imagining God finding any glory in His wrath, but He does. He is pleased with His wrath. It is just as much an attribute of God as is His love.

In his book, Almighty Over All, R.C. Sproul Jr. writes this excellent statement:

"We cannot imagine God looking at His wrath like unwanted pounds He wants to lose, if only He had the power. No, God is as delighted with His wrath as He is with all of His attributes. Suppose He says, 'What I'll do is create something worthy of my wrath, something on which I can exhibit the glory of my wrath. And on top of that I'll manifest my mercy by showering grace on some of these creatures deserving my wrath.'"

Moses put it this way:

For the LORD your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God. Deuteronomy 4:24 ESV

Divine wrath is not just a phenomenon of the Old Covenant; it is a certainty for all who reject the Lord Yeshua.

Believers, listen carefully, we all deserve God's wrath! But because of God's mercy, we will not get what we deserve because God's wrath toward us has been borne by the Lord Yeshua. Believers, we have this confidence:

Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. Romans 5:9 ESV

The wrath of God is a reminder of the holiness of God and a measure of God's hatred of sin. God's wrath is proportionate to the unrighteousness that provokes it. The immensity of God's wrath toward sin is an indication of His holy hatred of sin. We should hate it as well.

Excluding God’s wrath and all of His other attributes that we don’t like has led to the false doctrine of Universalism. Universalism is the teaching that God, through the atonement of Yeshua, will ultimately bring reconciliation between Himself and all people throughout history. This reconciliation will occur regardless of whether someone has trusted in or rejected Yeshua as Savior during his lifetime.

Former Mars Hill pastor, Rob Bell, ignited a theological controversy over Universalism with his book, Love Wins. The gist of Bell's book is this: Every sinner will turn to God and realize he has already been reconciled to God, in this life or in the next. In the end, love wins.

So, the basic presupposition of Universalism is that God's nature is love, and He loves everybody. I see Universalism as the logical outcome of Arminianism. If God loves everyone, then it only makes sense that He will save everyone. The Universalists go through the Scriptures and pull out all of the verses that mention "all" and "world" to attempt to prove their point that "all" will be saved.

Someone is bound to say: “Well, the Bible says that God loves everyone.”  But where does it say that? Many claim Jesus Himself stated it.

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. John 3:16 ESV

See, God loves the whole world. The text says that Yahweh "so loved the world.”  Here we see that the object of Yahweh's love is the world. But who is the world? It is the common view of our day that when the Bible says "For God so loved the world" that it means that He loved every individual in the world equally without exception and without distinction. In other words, everyone is the equal object of the love of God, that is, every individual past, present, and future. All are loved in precisely the same way. While this is a common view in our day, it is not taught in the Bible. Before you get mad at me, please answer this question: Where does it say in the Bible that God loves everybody? Where does it say that He loves every single individual equally, without exception, without distinction? Can you give me a text? While you're thinking, let me give you a text:

As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.” Romans 9:13 ESV

Now you may say, "I don't like that text." Or you might say, "I never have understood that text." But what you should never say once you have read this verse is that God loves every individual equally without exception and without distinction.

The love of God is the root of election. God chooses because He loves. God is sovereign in the exercise of His love. What I mean is that He loves whom He chooses to. God does not love everybody. Now I know that when I say that, people get upset, but it is clearly what the Word of God teaches. He didn't love Esau. That is very clear. Will you, then, say that He loves everyone but Esau?

One of the most popular beliefs of our day is that God loves everybody. This no doubt stems from John’s statement that “God is love.” But the idea that God loves everybody is a modern belief. The writings of the church fathers, the Reformers, or the Puritans will be searched in vain for any such a concept. The fact is that the love of God is a truth for the saints only. Not once in the four Gospels do we read of the Lord Yeshua telling sinners that God loved them. In the book of Acts, which records the evangelistic labors and messages of the apostles, God's love is never referred to at all. Does that seem odd to you? But when we come to the Epistles, which are addressed to the saints, we have a full presentation of the truth.

Believers, God is love, but He does not love everybody. Let me close with the C. H. Dodd quote that I used at the beginning of this message.  

“To say ‘God is love’ implies that all His activity is loving activity. If He creates, He creates in love; if He rules, He rules in love; if He judges, He judges in love. All that He does is the expression of His nature, which is—to love. The theological consequences of this principle are far-reaching. (C. H. Dodd, The Johannine Epistles, 110)

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