Sometimes we ask What is God’s will for my life? when we should really be asking Who should I be? The Bible has an answer: Be like the very image of God.
By exploring ten characteristics of who God is—holy, loving, just, good, merciful, gracious, faithful, patient, truthful, and wise—this book helps us understand who God intends for us to be. Through Christ, the perfect reflection of the image of God, we will discover how God’s own attributes impact how we live, leading to freedom and purpose as we follow his will and are conformed to his image.
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God Most Holy
Repetition is the mother of learning.
"Mom, my head is pounding and I have to go to class. I drank a glass of water."
"Mom, I'm feeling so anxious about my exam. Will you pray for me? I drank a glass of water."
Two texts, received from two different college-age Wilkins on two different days in the same week. To someone not familiar with our family, these messages from the now-flown baby birds to the mama bird back at the nest are probably part self-explanatory and part weird. But to my kids, they make perfect sense. For their whole lives, a report of any ailment has been answered with the suggestion, "Try drinking a glass of water."
I've been teased by my kids a fair amount for this home remedy advice. They joke that if they were to text me that they have lost a limb, I would advise them to hydrate.
So imagine my glee as I sat watching the evening news, my youngest child seated to my right, and heard a doctor report that the best first step for headaches and other common discomforts is ... you guessed it. The look on Calvin's face indicated that he had drawn the correct conclusion: there would be no living with me now. Luckily for him, he graduates this year. Perhaps by the time he leaves the nest, I will have received my honorary medical degree from the proper authorities.
"Try drinking a glass of water" is just one of many phrases etched into the psyches of my kids. Parents repeat things. Lots of things. Especially to small children. When we would leave the kids with a sitter, my last words were always, "Be ye kind one to another!" Before they could play at a friend's house, the standard question was, "Is your room clean?" And at bedtime, "Have you brushed your teeth?"
We repeat what we want others to remember. And we learn what we hear repeated.
As my children got older, they didn't wait for the reminder. A request to go to a friend's house would begin with, "Mom, my room is clean and I finished my homework." Because repetition had done its work.
It's no wonder that the repository of the greatest wisdom on earth utilizes this tool with regularity. By paying attention to what the Bible repeats, we gain an understanding of what it most wants us to learn and remember.
Who Is God?
My explicitly stated intention for this book is that we learn to identify God's will for our lives.
Our inclination is to discern God's will by asking, "What should I do?" But God's will concerns itself primarily with who we are, and only secondarily with what we do. By changing the question and asking, "Who should I be?" we see that God's will is not concealed from us in his Word, but is plainly revealed.
The Bible plainly answers the question "Who should I be?" with "Be like Jesus Christ, who perfectly images God in human form." God's will for our lives is that we conform to the image of Christ, whose incarnation shows us humanity perfectly conformed to the image of God. In this book, we will consider how we can demonstrate a resemblance to our Maker. But since the Bible's answer to "Who should I be?" is "Be like the very image of God," we must ask, "Who is God?"
Theologians have mined the Scriptures for centuries to answer this question. Stephen Charnock, Arthur Pink, A. W. Tozer, and R. C. Sproul have all explored the limitless character of God to my great benefit, and to lengths that I am not competent to go. Any systematic theology text lists and explores God's attributes. But I hope in these pages to take the lofty view of God presented elsewhere and ask a further question: "How should the knowledge that God is ______ change the way I live?"
I have elsewhere explored the implications of ten of God's incommunicable attributes that could fill that blank, those traits that are true of God alone. Only God is infinite, incomprehensible, self-existent, eternal, immutable, omnipresent, omniscient, omnipotent, and sovereign. When we strive to become like him in any of these traits, we set ourselves up as his rival. Human beings created to bear the image of God aspire instead to become like God. We reach for those attributes that are only true of God, those suited only to a limitless being. Rather than worship and trust in the omniscience of God, we desire omniscience for ourselves. Rather than celebrate and revere his omnipotence, we seek omnipotence in our own spheres of influence. Rather than rest in the immutability of God, we point to our own calcified sin patterns and declare ourselves unchanging and unchangeable. Like our father Adam and our mother Eve, we long for that which is only intended for God, rejecting our God-given limits and craving the limitlessness we foolishly believe we are capable of wielding and entitled to possess.
To crave an incommunicable attribute is to listen to the Serpent's lure, "You shall be like God." It is the natural inclination of the sinful heart, but as those who have been given a new heart with new desires, we must learn to crave different attributes, those appropriate to a limited being, those that describe the abundant life Jesus came to give to us.
We call these God's communicable attributes, those of his traits that can become true of us, as well. God is holy, loving, just, good, merciful, gracious, faithful, truthful, patient, and wise. When we talk about being "conformed to the image of Christ," this is the list we are describing. It is this list I intend to explore, ten attributes that show us how to reflect who God is as Christ did. The more gracious I become, for example, the more I reflect Christ, who perfectly images God.
But where should such a reflection begin? What should be the first thing that comes into my mind when I think about God? Is there even a right answer? I would argue that there is. We just have to lend an ear to the mother of learning — repetition.
First Things First
If it's true that we repeat what is most important, one attribute of God emerges clearly as belonging at the top of the list: holiness. Holiness can be defined as the sum of all moral excellency, "the antithesis of all moral blemish or defilement." It carries the ideas of being set apart, sacred, separate, of possessing utter purity of character.
Following the rule of repetition, the Bible wants our first thought about God to be that he is holy. The word holy appears almost seven hundred times in the Bible. Its verb form, sanctify, appears an additional two hundred times. Those mentions of holy in all its forms are related to things and people and places, but its ties to God himself are striking. No other attribute is joined to the name of God with greater frequency than holiness. Twenty-nine times the Bible mentions his "holy name." He is called the "Holy One of Israel" twenty-five times in the book of Isaiah alone.
God's holiness, his utter purity of character, is what distinguishes him from all other rivals:
Who is like you, O Lord, among the gods?
Who is like you, majestic in holiness,
awesome in glorious deeds, doing wonders. (Ex. 15:11)
There is none holy like the Lord:
for there is none besides you;
there is no rock like our God. (1 Sam. 2:2)
The gods of Egypt and Canaan, of Greece and Rome, among their other limitations, made no claims of possessing utter purity of character. The chronicles of their exploits read more like a reality TV show than a sacred text, compelling the devout to gaze voyeuristically on their lurid antics. But the God of Israel possesses a holiness so blinding that no one can look on him and live, a moral purity so devastating that not even the sinless angelic beings who inhabit his immediate presence can bear to look upon him, instead shielding their gaze with their wings:
and day and night they never cease to say,
"Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty,
who was and is and is to come!" (Rev 4:8; cf. Isa. 6:3)
I am no expert on angelic beings, but it seems likely that the first thing that comes to mind when they think about God is revealed in the one thing they repeat without ceasing: holy, holy, holy.
Here is a repetition particularly worthy of our attention. The rabbis commonly employed twofold repetition to emphasize a point, and we see Jesus employ the same technique in his own teaching with phrases like "Truly, Truly I say to you" and "Many will say to me 'Lord, Lord.'" R. C. Sproul writes,
Only once in sacred Scripture is an attribute of God elevated to the third degree. Only once is a characteristic of God mentioned three times in succession. The Bible says that God is holy, holy, holy. Not that He is merely holy, or even holy, holy. He is holy, holy, holy. The Bible never says that God is love, love, love; or mercy, mercy, mercy; or wrath, wrath, wrath; or justice, justice, justice. It does say that he is holy, holy, holy, that the whole earth is full of His glory.
We repeat what we most want remembered, what is most important, and what is most easily forgotten. The people of God can grow forgetful of what the Bible extols as God's highest attribute, choosing instead to emphasize another in its place. Some churches focus on repeating almost exclusively that he is loving. Some repeat almost exclusively that he is just. The first thing that comes to our minds when we think about God can sometimes be more heavily influenced by our background than by the Bible itself. Even though the Bible repeats God's holiness, our churches may avoid doing so. If the utter purity of God makes the angels avert their gaze, preaching holiness may not be a crowd pleaser. Better to go with an emphasis on love so everyone feels welcome, or better to go with an emphasis on justice so everyone behaves.
God deserves our worship for both his love and his justice. But his love and his justice are imbued with and defined by his holiness — he does not merely love; he loves out of utter purity of character. He does not merely act justly; he acts justly out of utter purity of character. If we emphasize any of his attributes above or apart from his holiness, we fashion him after our own imagining or for our own ends. His love becomes love on human terms, rather than a holy love. His justice becomes justice on human terms, rather than a holy justice.
When we apprehend his holiness, we are changed by the revelation. The knowledge of God and the knowledge of self always go hand in hand. We see ourselves differently because we have seen God as he is. And we understand our calling, to reflect God as Christ did, in a new way.
Holy as He Is Holy
I would expect the first thing we should think about God to be incommunicable — something characteristic of only the Almighty — but it's not. Holiness is an attribute of God that we can reflect. Take a minute to marvel at that thought.
Holiness permeates the entire Christian calling. It lies at the very center of the gospel. We are not merely saved from depravity; we are saved to holiness. Conversion entails consecration.
The Bible presents holiness as both given to us and asked of us. It says, "In Christ, you are made holy. Now be holy."
Hebrews 10:10 assures us that "we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all" (NIV). What a blessed truth! Christ's sacrifice grants us positional holiness before God. We are set apart as his children. Nothing can remove our positional holiness. Yet, the Bible describes not just positional holiness but also practical holiness.
Here again, repetition serves as our teacher. The Old Testament speaks of holiness as an imperative, and it does so repeatedly:
For I am the Lord your God. Consecrate yourselves therefore, and be holy, for I am holy. ... For I am the Lord who brought you up out of the land of Egypt to be your God. You shall therefore be holy, for I am holy. (Lev. 11:44–45)
Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them, You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy. (Lev. 19:2)
Consecrate yourselves, therefore, and be holy, for I am the Lord your God. (Lev. 20:7)
You shall be holy to me, for I the Lord am holy and have separated you from the peoples, that you should be mine. (Lev. 20:26)
We might be tempted to dismiss these instructions as just one more weird part of a weird Old Testament book, no longer applying to those under the new covenant. But the New Testament finds these words echoed on the lips of Jesus himself in the Sermon on the Mount. He deconstructs the Old Testament laws on murder, adultery, divorce, oaths, retaliation, and treatment of enemies, pointing to a deeper obedience of not merely outward actions but also inward motives. Herein lies the righteousness that exceeds that of the scribes and the Pharisees. What summary statement does he choose to conclude his point? "You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect" (Matt. 5:48).
It is a statement so jarring that we may be tempted to think he uses it for its shock value. Surely this is just Jesus using hyperbole. But it doesn't sound like a certain listener seated at his feet on that mountainside took it as such. Some thirty years later, Peter writes to a group of fledgling believers: "As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, 'You shall be holy, for I am holy'" (1 Pet. 1:14–16).
Peter repeats what had been repeated to him. Do not be conformed to who you were. Be re-formed to who you should be. Be holy as God is holy.
If you are still wondering what God's will is for your life, allow the apostle Paul to remove any lingering confusion: "For this is the will of God, your sanctification. ... For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness" (1 Thess. 4:3, 7).
Simply put, God's will for your life is that you be holy. That you live a life of set-apartness. That, by the power of the Holy Spirit, you strive for utter purity of character (Heb. 12:14). Every admonition contained in all of Scripture can be reduced to this. Every warning, every law, every encouragement bows to this overarching purpose. Every story of every figure in every corner of every book of the Bible is chanting this call. Be holy, for he is holy.
Because our conversion affects our consecration, those who receive positional holiness will be compelled to pursue practical holiness. As theologian Jerry Bridges notes, "True salvation brings with it a desire to be made holy."
Growing in holiness means growing in our hatred of sin. But reflecting the character of God involves more than just casting off the garment of our old ways. It entails putting on the garment of our new inheritance. Growing in holiness means growing into being loving, just, good, merciful, gracious, faithful, truthful, patient, and wise. It means learning to think, speak, and act like Christ every hour of every day that God grants us to walk this earth as the redeemed.
A few years ago, I visited Detroit in early January to see my brother. I thought I had packed warm clothes, but when the plane touched down to a temperature of -2°F, I quickly learned that no matter what I had packed, I would have been unprepared. This Texan didn't own clothes for subzero temperatures. My brother enjoyed gently teasing me about my accent, my thin jacket, my absent scarf and hat, and my inadequate footwear. Unaccustomed to living with snow, I constantly forgot to remove my shoes upon entering the house.
When my brother moved to Detroit from Texas thirty years ago, no doubt he showed up as ill-prepared and odd-fitting as I had. But over time he learned to put off his old Texas clothes and accent and habits and to put on those that matched his new status as a Michigander. He acclimated to his new environment.
Holiness is like that. It is a process of acclimation, by which we learn to behave like the children of God and not like the children of wrath. The more we clothe ourselves in newness of life, the more incongruous we will feel in our old environments and the more at home we will feel with the redeemed. Our separateness will become increasingly evident to those among whom we once walked. Our conversion will affect consecration, a holiness that we need, certainly, but also a holiness that we want above all else.
For this is the will of God, our sanctification.
Note: At the end of each chapter you will find verses, questions, and a prayer prompt to help you remember and apply what you have read. Consider keeping a journal in which you copy or paraphrase each of the verses for meditation, noting what each adds to your understanding of the attribute covered in the chapter. Then journal your answers to the questions, as well as a prayer of response.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "In His Image"
Copyright © 2018 Jennifer Wilkin.
Excerpted by permission of Good News Publishers.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Introduction: Asking the Better Question 11
1 God Most Holy 19
2 God Most Loving 31
3 God Most Good 45
4 God Most Just 57
5 God Most Merciful 71
6 God Most Gracious 85
7 God Most Faithful 97
8 God Most Patient 109
9 God Most Truthful 121
10 God Most Wise 135
Conclusion: Engraved with His Image 147
General Index 159
Scripture Index 163
What People are Saying About This
“In His Image is an invitation to become like the God we worship, to see his characteristics become true of us, the people he has created and redeemed. Jen Wilkin’s work provides a solid and accessible overview of a crucial part of Christian theology. Any believer who reads this book will benefit from its truth.”
Trevin Wax, author, This Is Our Time
“I have one big problem with this book: people will assume it’s only for women. This couldn’t be further from the truth! God has given Jen Wilkin the gift of making big truths easily understandable, which is great news for a person of average intelligence like myself. All who desire to increase their knowledge of and passion for God should read this book. All who desire to grow in holiness and be conformed to the image of God need to add this to their library. I highly recommend it.”
Stephen Altrogge, author, Untamable God; Creator, The Blazing Center
“A. W. Tozer famously said that what we think about God is the most important and most formative thing about us. Jen Wilkin shows us how the best answers to what we should do are found in what we become, and what we become is determined by our view of God. There is no more important subject matter, and few authors are as capable at communicating such deep truth in simple, engaging ways as Jen Wilkin is.”
J. D. Greear, President, Southern Baptist Convention; author, Not God Enough; Pastor, The Summit Church, Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina
“In His Image is packed full of theological insight, pastoral wisdom, real-life application, and plenty of self-deprecation. Along with its predecessor, None Like Him, it is essential reading for understanding what God is like and what it looks like for us to live in light of that.”
Sam Allberry, Speaker, Ravi Zacharias International Ministries; Associate Pastor, Immanuel Church, Nashville, Tennessee; author, 7 Myths about Singleness
“This book is for everyone who stresses over her decisions, constantly wondering whether or not she’s in God’s will. Jen Wilkin graciously turns these questions upside down by encouraging us to know and behold the character of God, allowing that to inform and transform our actions as image bearers. In His Image presents a biblical and practical explanation of God’s communicable attributes that anyone can grasp, enjoy, and apply!”
Emily Jensen, coauthor, Risen Motherhood: Gospel Hope for Everyday Moments; Cofounder and Content Director, Risen Motherhood
“Who should I be? This is a question many of us don’t explore, at least not that explicitly, and yet the answer to this question is essential to everything about us as Christians. Jen Wilkin helps answer this question in her outstanding book In His Image. Wilkin takes us through God’s communicable attributes, teaching us how we can reflect our Creator God. Her careful study of God’s Word and theology makes In His Image a must-read.”
Trillia Newbell, author, If God Is For Us: The Everlasting Truth of Our Great Salvation