Hebrews – Week 2a: Imitate God

Imitate God

Introduction

This week, we are digressing slightly from the programme. Last week we came to the conclusion that as the Son (Jesus Christ) is the exact expression of God the Father. Since we are also children of God and call him “Abba, Father” we are also to imitate the character of God the Father

We were created in the image of God, and had perfect relationship with him. However, because of sin there came separation between God and man (Isaiah 59:2). In order for the relationship between God and man to be restored, there had to be atonement for our sins. This could only be done on a permanent basis by God-incarnate – Jesus Christ – as only He would have both the obligation (as man) and the ability (as God) to atone for our sins. This atonement can only be appropriated through faith in Jesus Christ – in essence, we believe that what Jesus Christ did on the cross as atonement for sin is sufficient to satisfy God’s wrath because of our sins and therefore reconciliation is possible. On salvation (through faith) we are adopted into God’s family and we become children in the household of God. As children, we want to imitate the Father – this is a natural phenomenon that children do what they see their parents do – this is where the saying “the apple does not fall far from the tree” comes from. There are many other similar expression in different languages: “like father, like son” or in Afrikaans “aartjie na sy vaartjie”.

It is one thing to say that we want to imitate our Father, but quite another to actually do it. One of the texts that actually commands us to imitate God, Ephesians 5:1ff does give us a basic guideline: “1 Imitate God, therefore, in everything you do, because you are his dear children. 2 Live a life filled with love, following the example of Christ. He loved us and offered himself as a sacrifice for us, a pleasing aroma to God.

Like Christ, we are to live a life filled with love. Instinctively this sits well, as we know that one of the chief attributes of God is in fact “love” (1 John 4:8). Love is probably one of the biggest themes in the Bible and also one of the most talked about attributes of God; so to study love as an attribute of God to imitate could keep us busy for a very long time.

However, to focus on only one attribute of God would lead us to exclude many other attributes that are worthy of study and imitation. It is exactly for this reason that the name of God is shrouded under so much mystery – the Hebrew word YHWH is untranslatable, but in its essence means something along the lines of “I am” – which is of course the name God introduced himself as to Moses. We also know that God is known by many names, especially in the Old Testament.

EL, ELOAH: God “mighty, strong, prominent” (Nehemiah 9:17; Psalm 139:19)

ELOHIM: God “Creator, Mighty and Strong” (Genesis 17:7; Jeremiah 31:33)

EL SHADDAI: “God Almighty” (Genesis 49:24; Psalm 132:2,5)

ADONAI: “Lord” (Genesis 15:2; Judges 6:15)

YHWH / YAHWEH / JEHOVAH: “LORD,” “I Am who I Am” (Deuteronomy 6:4; Daniel 9:14; Exodus 3:14)

YAHWEH-JIREH: “The Lord Will Provide” (Genesis 22:14)

YAHWEH-RAPHA: “The Lord Who Heals” (Exodus 15:26)

YAHWEH-NISSI: “The Lord Our Banner” (Exodus 17:15)

YAHWEH-M’KADDESH: “The Lord Who Sanctifies, Makes Holy” (Leviticus 20:8; Ezekiel 37:28)

YAHWEH-SHALOM: “The Lord Our Peace” (Judges 6:24)

YAHWEH-ELOHIM: “LORD God” (Genesis 2:4; Psalm 59:5)

YAHWEH-TSIDKENU: “The Lord Our Righteousness” (Jeremiah 33:16)

YAHWEH-ROHI: “The Lord Our Shepherd” (Psalm 23:1)

YAHWEH-SHAMMAH: “The Lord Is There” (Ezekiel 48:35)

YAHWEH-SABAOTH: “The Lord of Hosts” (Isaiah 1:24; Psalm 46:7)

EL ELYON: “Most High” (Deuteronomy 26:19)

EL ROI: “God of Seeing” (Genesis 16:13)

EL-OLAM: “Everlasting God” (Psalm 90:1-3)

EL-GIBHOR: “Mighty God” (Isaiah 9:6)

(http://www.gotquestions.org/names-of-God.html)

Each of these attributes are worthy of study and imitation to some degree or the other. There are of course many ways in which we can study the nature of God (with specific references to His attributes) in a systematic way. However, over many years, theologians have classified the attributes of God into two broad categories: Incommunicable attributes (Grudem: “those attributes that God does not share or “communicate” to others”) and Communicable attributes (Grudem: “those attributes that God shares or “communicates” with us).

While it is useful to study the attributes of God in this way, we must guard against taking too much of a dogmatic approach. Some of the attributes that we classify as incommunicable is partly communicable, and vice versa – i.e. we will also never fully share in the communicable attributes. As an example, God’s eternity is an incommunicable attribute that we share partly in the sense that we will spend eternity in His presence; and conversely God’s love is a communicable attribute that we can only hope to come close to at the best of times. We can therefore say that some attributes of God are “more shared” by us and others are “less shared” by us.

I have used definitions and descriptions of attributes of God as contained in Wayne Grudem’s “Systematic Theology – An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine”. This is an extremely well written book that anyone with an interest in theology will find useful – it is highly recommended.

Incommunicable attributes

Independence: God does not need us or the rest of creation for anything, yet we and the rest of creation can glorify him and bring him joy.

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Unchangeableness: God is unchanging in his being, perfections, purposes, and promises, yet God does act and feel emotions, and he acts differently in response to different situations (also called God’s immutability).

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Eternity: God has no beginning, end, or succession of moments in his own being, and he sees all time equally vividly, yet God sees events in time and acts in time.

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Omnipresence: God does not have size or spatial dimensions and is present at every point of space with his whole being, yet God acts differently in different places.

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Unity: God is not divided into parts, yet we see different attributes of God emphasized at different times.

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Communicable attributes

Attributes of God’s being

Spirituality: God’s spirituality means that God exists as a being that is not made of matter, has no parts or dimensions, is unable to be perceived by our bodily senses, and is more excellent than any other kind of existence.

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Invisibility: God’s invisibility means that God’s total essence, all of his spiritual being, will never be able to be seen by us, yet God still shows himself to us through visible, created things.

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Mental attributes

Knowledge (Omniscience): God fully knows himself and all things actual and possible in one simple and eternal act.

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Wisdom: God’s wisdom means that God always chooses the best goals and the best means to those goals.

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Truthfulness (faithfulness): God’s truthfulness means that he is the true God, and that all his knowledge and words are both true and the final standard of truth.

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Moral attributes

Goodness: The goodness of God means that God is the final standard of good, and that all that God is and does is worthy of approval.

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Love: God’s love means that God eternally gives of himself to others.

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Mercy, grace and patience: God’s mercy means God’s goodness towards those in misery and distress; God’s grace means God’s goodness toward those who deserve punishment; God’s patience means God’s goodness in withholding of punishment toward those who sin over a period of time.

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Holiness: God’s holiness means that he is separated from sin and devoted to seeking his own honour.

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Peace (or order): God’s peace means that in God’s being and in his actions he is separate from all confusion and disorder, yet he is continually active in innumerable well-ordered, fully controlled, simultaneous actions.

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Righteousness, justice: God’s righteousness means that God always acts in accordance with what is right and is himself the final standard of what is right.

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Jealousy: God’s jealousy means that God continually seeks to protect his own honour.

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Wrath: God’s wrath means that he intensely hates all sin.

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Attributes of purpose

Will: God’s will is that attribute of God whereby he approves and determines to bring about every action necessary for the existence and activity of himself and all creation.

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Freedom: God’s freedom is that attribute of God whereby he does whatever he pleases.

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Omnipotence (power, sovereignty): God’s omnipotence means that God is able to do his holy will.

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Summary attributes

Perfection: God’s perfection means that God completely possesses all excellent qualities and lacks no part of any qualities that would be desirable for him.

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Blessedness: God’s blessedness means that God delights fully in himself and in all that reflects his character.

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Beauty: God’s beauty is that attribute of God whereby he is the sum of all desirable qualities.

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Glory: God’s glory is the created brightness that surrounds God’s revelation of himself.

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