During this abnormal time of life, we have examined three important aspects of God—His unchangeableness, His independence, and His immensity. We’re doing all this because I believe, during periods of uncertainty, who God is and what He does anchors your soul. As people of God, our response matters. It matters for our own relationship with God, it matters for our families, for our kids, and for a world that is watching.
God’s immutability, independence, and immensity are part of what theologians’ term “incommunicable attributes.” That’s a five-dollar way of saying these attributes rest in God alone. In other words, God is the very definition of immutability, independence, and immensity. In the strictest sense, God does not share these attributes with humans.
God also has another category of attributes, “communicable attributes,” which are those He shares with creation. These attributes are probably what come to mind most when you think about God. Attributes like holiness, righteousness, love, kindness, beauty, joy, forbearance, etc. Each of these attributes are vast but they all fall under one banner—God’s goodness. When we speak of “God being good” it can mean any number of things depending upon your circumstances. It can mean that He was patient with you during a period of wandering. It can mean that He gave you a deep sense of joy in the middle of a difficult medical diagnosis. Last week, we looked at special and common grace, both of which are part of God’s goodness. Let’s consider two major points about God’s goodness.
First: God is goodness. He is never forced to be good; he is good. Have you ever considered how you even know what love is? How can you even identify real beauty? Where did the moral classification of mercy come from? It is because these things are found perfectly in the Triune God. God’s goodness is linked very closely to His perfection. He never forfeits one aspect of His goodness over another. He is able to issue the perfect balance of timely justice and mercy without inequality. He’s never imbalanced in truth and grace.
Second: God transfers His goodness. In part, this is precisely what you probably most often think about God in terms of His communicable attributes, i.e. God distributing kindness or grace. But what’s more important here is the fact that God could have chosen to remain distant and aloof. He did not have to transfer anything that is inherent within Himself. Nevertheless, He decided to transfer/distribute His goodness. Sit around and think about this today. It is almost an inconceivable truth.
God is goodness and God transfers His goodness, but why does this matter? What are you and I supposed to do with these to doctrinal truths?
God’s Goodness & Love
Because God is good, and God transfers goodness, it should primarily lead us to a deeper love for Him. One of my best friends is a guy named Isaac Watts (1674–1748). Although he departed for his eternal reward almost 275 years ago, we spend an inordinate amount of time together because I write about him. Watts is most famously known for his hymn writing—do you know the song Joy to the World? That’s a Watts’ hymn. He also wrote all sorts of other things. For example, he wrote a book on logic that was the primary textbook used at Cambridge and Oxford for almost two centuries. One of the other things he wrote on was love for God. He said a lot about love for God, two of which are important to us right now.
First, Watts argues that love for God reigns supreme over everything. In other words, joy, sorrow, shame, fear, hope, anger (all these things that come through your heart) are secondary to love. Love for God will command the direction of all the other parts of your nature. Love for God is the driving force in the life of a Christian and it effects all the other aspects of your soul and your relationship with others (1 John 5:1-7). Your heart can experience all sorts of passions like anger, fear, and hope, but love is top of the ladder. As love goes, so goes your soul. Everything rises and falls based upon the level to which you love God. It’s really that straightforward.
Second, Watts notes, “the heart…in scripture, in almost all nations and languages, is used to express or imply sincerity.” What he’s saying is that the heart is the window to your true self. The inward part (the heart) is the true picture of a person. Watts later tells us that “The Lord sees and judges the heart; he has no regard to outward forms of worship, if there be no inward adoration, if no devout affection be employed therein.” Watts is making these assertions based upon Scripture as he leans heavily upon Mark 12:30. I agree with Watts because I think the Bible clearly supports this notion. God is concerned about the heart. He’s concerned about your motives. I’d argue that God has a laser-like obsession with your heart and your motives. And at times, he’ll put you through things to mine out the junk in there. It can be very difficult.
Let’s keep it real for a moment and get personal. If love for God (or lack thereof) reigns over all the other passions/emotions of the heart and the heart is the true picture of a person…what happens when you don’t really feel like loving God? When things get really thick, it is very difficult to love God, right? Some days during all this stuff we are dealing with, you may not want to really love someone that seems distant and indifferent. That’s just the reality of it all. You’ve spent a lifetime trusting God, He’s been good to you in other ways, but right now it is hard to really have an “enflamed love” for God’s goodness. So, what is the remedy? God doesn’t intend for it to be this way, He commands us to love Him, so there has to be a remedy. He’s not in the business of dangling you over a ledge for fun and games.
The answer is simple: The Gospel. You have to keep the gospel close or you’ll buckle. You have to keep the gospel close or love for God will fade. You have to keep the gospel right in front of you or your motives will err. You have to keep the gospel front and center, or your heart will loaf. Jesus is the exemplar of God’s love. He’s the proof of what God has done. He is the ground of hope. The gospel is not only the remedy for your sin, it is the remedy for the Christian’s fading love for God. You have to go back to it over and over again.
I love the gospel and I’ve given my life to stand untiring and resolute for its movement. But, most of all, I love the gospel because it draws the love of God forth, in immaculate beauty, and fixates my stumbling and malfunctioning heart upon in grace of God Almighty. Christ and His work of the gospel are the means by which His goodness is known and transferred, and it gives life to your love for God in the midst of the realities of this broken world…It gives life to your love for God in the midst of the realities of this broken world.
Watts fought perpetual illness for most of his life. He was unable to pastor with any consistency beyond the early years of his life. He was effectively home-bound off and on for years until his death. Watts was a brilliant and gifted man, but he had a difficult road often marked by the potential for discouragement. I use very particular wording there because of the hundreds of thousands of words he wrote, he never buckled. He was transparent and intimate with his struggle, but he never gave up. After all the time I’ve spent with Watts, I’m convinced it was the love for God that kept him steadfast. AND, he had to circle back to the gospel over and over again in order to keep his love for God alive. Watts’ heart always came through in his hymns. They are rich with the gospel in spite of his austere and broken circumstances. Take for example his lovely hymn based upon John 3:16-17 and Christ’s commission:
So strange, so boundless was the love
That pity’d dying men,
The Father sent his equal Son
To give them life again.
See, dearest Lord, our willing souls
Accepts thine, offer’d grace;
We bless the great Redeemer’s love,
And give the Father praise.
Maybe you’re not interested in an unknown hymn by Isaac Watts, but I bet the hymn below (not written by Watts) is one that will hit closer to home. Like many of you, I grew up having my love for God fueled in and through the words of this beautiful hymn:
Because He lives, I can face tomorrow
Because He lives, all fear is gone
Because I know He holds the future
My life is worth the living just because He lives
Hold the goodness of God (through the gospel) close, stand firm, and be the people of God.