Sin, the Attributes of God and the Gospel
Satan’s agents are innumerable, his methodologies chimerical, and rapidly so, and his instruments are as varied as the material, intellectual, emotional and spiritual distractions I have created and permitted in my life. His assault will not be on the same front twice, or if it is, not with the same forces, or if they are, not with the same weapons, banners and bugle calls. But even if it were, even if he comes against me with the exact same force in the exact same array with the exact same battle plan, he simply sends his messengers to remind me of my previous defeats and in my fear, self-doubt and guilt, I recommit my forces in an unprofitable order of march when I have failed first and foremost in not seeking my wise counselor, armorer and sword smith, the Lord Jesus Christ, at the first hint of dust on the horizon.
This is where scientific rationality – recognizing results, evaluating processes, determining predispositions and motivations, establishing general characteristics – will, in and of itself, fail to combat the sinful nature. Scientific rationality is, by its very nature, natural and man centered, and so can be and is useful – for understanding man is vital for understanding sin since he is the ubiquitous agent of it – but cannot bring victory, for the battle against sin is ultimately spiritual and spiritual rationality is thus required.
Spiritual rationality seeks first the nature and character of God (Proverbs 3.5) “The most portentous fact about any man is not what he at any given time may say or do, but what he in his deep heart conceives God to be like.” (Tozer) As God is the standard and source of all that is holy – that is, transcendent, perfect and pure – and as Christ is the founder and perfector of our faith, so there must I fix my gaze and set my standards and my hopes. From there must I proceed in my assessment of any situation and evaluation of any assault of the enemies of my soul for they will be in opposition to God’s attributes.
What this necessitates, then, is a detailed study of and constant reflection on the attributes of God. If this sounds like a weighty and insurmountable task, I would suggest it is; we will never for all eternity, finish our study of God. The Spirit Himself continually searches the depths of the mind of God, and He is God! How much more will be exploring the inifinitude that is God and all His attributes. In this, I would highly suggest A.W. Tozer’s The Knowledge of the Holy. It is thin but very rich and dense and is an excellent treatise of the attributes of God and a brief but powerful treatment of the definition of Holy.
Three things (my things, not Tozer’s) to consider when we study the attributes of God:
1. He is the complete and perfect example of that attribute. Of God’s communicable attributes – those which we reflect some characteristic or trait of, such as mercy or justice – we will only ever reach a shadow of His perfection, and even then but for a moment, whereas He is that attribute always. His mercy is perfect mercy. All mercy we see and display and experience from each other must be held against our Heavenly Father’s mercy as the ultimate standard. Likewise, His justice is perfect Justice, not fair or legal by our human standards, but just in the ultimate and eternal standards of complete holiness coupled with supreme hatred for sin and His aforementioned mercy, all of which flow perfectly and in perfect harmony with His pure, passionate, perfect love.
2. Ultimately, infinitely, God is perfect in His perfection. This may be a redundant statement, but it is essential. Our standards are inherently fallible and vulgar, and so we make gradations of superlatives. We use "great," "greater," and "greatest," and even have lists and rankings of greatest things (yet Christ was completely correct and satisfied to simply call God His Father "good" knowing that no one else could be good like God is good, which is to say perfectly good). God, however is not to be troubled with titrations of quality. He is a thing or a way in its pure and undiluted form: in its essence. Considering this, His perfection must be declared as perfect perfection because we would seek to establish a hallmark of perfection based on something we have seen or done which we found laudable but which is genuinely tried when viewed against the perfect perfection of the Sovereign Creator of the universe. It was this vision of the holy perfection of God that caused Isaiah to cry out, “Woe is me! I am undone.”
3. Anything other or less than God's standard is sin. This may seem an outlandish statement considering the previous two, for certainly if God is perfect in all his attributes, and His perfection is perfectly perfect, such that we can't even glimpse the true and complete perfection that He is, then everything we think, say and do must necessarily be less than His perfection, and therefore sin. I would suggest that is correct. I would submit to you, and reading Tozer may help to convince you of this, that scripture’s continued testimony to God's holiness reinforces the fact that we are wretched sinners and can do nothing of eternal value, nothing that is genuinely pleasing to God, without His grace and sovereign intervention in our lives. This gets at the root of the Puritan concept of total depravity; not that we are completely depraved in all that we do, that is to say completely wicked for God certainly restrains us and no one is as wicked as they could be, but rather that everything we do is stained with sin. If we were not born again in the Spirit, covered in the blood of the Lamb, and clothed in pure holy righteousness of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, our finest most noble moments would be but filthy rags.
There are times when I would rather be silent, and let the rocks cry out for me, because I am acutely aware that I don't have a single moment or a single thought that is not tainted by my sin. My most precious and beautiful and adoring prayers are always marred with the blackness of my sin and would be completely unacceptable - no, that is too forgiving a term; rather they are completely despicable - to a God whose standard is holiness. I think this is an appropriate attitude. Consider Tozer again: “Unless the weight of the burden [of obligation to love and worship God acceptably] is felt the gospel can mean nothing to the man; and until he sees a vision of God high and lifted up, there will be no woe and no burden. Low views of God destroy the gospel for all who hold them.”
We must fix our eyes on God, knowing that we will never behold all there is to behold, knowing that our creature-language to describe our creature-thoughts about Him are at their core potentially idolatrous for, “When we try to imagine what God is like we must of necessity use that-which-is-not-God as the raw material for our minds to work on; hence whatever we visualize God to be, He is not…If we insist upon trying to imagine Him, we end with an idol, made not with hands but with thoughts; and an idol of the mind is as offensive to God as an idol of the hand.” (Tozer)
I would be moved to complete despair upon consideration of these facts were it not for my total trust in Jesus Christ as my substitutionary sacrifice on the cross and now as my constant intercessor at the right hand of God. All of this confirms that we cannot enter in to the presence of God on our own, but only through the perfection of Jesus Christ. The gospel is sweeter and Christ that much more beautiful and grace so much more amazing when we see how desperate and wretched our natural condition is. Thank you God for Your perfection and Your holiness.