By over-generalizing God’s nature or character, we can form false impressions. As an example I cite the oft stated summation, “The God of the Old Testament was a God of judgment and condemnation.” Is this an accurate statement? How would we reconcile such a statement with Hosea 11:1-4?
When Israel was a child, I loved him, And out of Egypt I called My son. (2) As they called them, So they went from them; They sacrificed to the Baals, And burned incense to carved images. (3) I taught Ephraim to walk, Taking them by their arms; But they did not know that I healed them. (4) I drew them with gentle cords, With bands of love, And I was to them as those who take the yoke from their neck. I stooped and fed them.
In this interpretation we see one characteristic – judgment or condemnation – identified as representative of God to the exclusion or minimization of others, thus leaving both interpreter and student with a false impression of God.
This occurs in a variety of contexts apart from the aforementioned example. The counterpart summation is, “The God of the New Testament is one of love,” which fails to account for NT passages such as the Hebrews 12:29, “For our God is a consuming fire.” Others emphasize God’s sovereignty in the realm of Christian election and salvation, that once chosen by God to be saved, a Christian cannot neglect or abandon that salvation to the loss of their soul, even if they stubbornly and consciously refuse to repent (“once saved, always saved”). Such thinking is irreconcilable with passages such as 1 Peter 1:14-17 which demand repentance due to God’s impartiality.
as obedient children, not conforming yourselves to the former lusts, as in your ignorance; 15 but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, 16 because it is written, “BE HOLY, FOR I AM HOLY.” 17 And if you call on the Father, who without partiality judges according to each one’s work, conduct yourselves throughout the time of your stay here in fear;
Or, in extolling God’s grace, some will underestimate how He values obedience, that God has clearly placed conditions on the reception of His grace which must be met, and that He considers obedience a complementary partner to our faith. We come to know and understand God by embracing the totality of the Bible’s revelation: His love must be understood in light of His judgment, His sovereignty reconciled with His impartiality, or His grace interpreted with His love of obedience in mind.
What, however, is the effect should any of these characteristics be deliberately excluded from or minimized in our understanding of God? None of us can “change” God, nor can we alter how His word portrays His character and nature; but we can – through faulty interpretation – tamper with our mental conception of God quite easily. By preferring some characteristics over others – perhaps through their appeal to us personally – we can create a false conception of God that is incongruent with God’s revelation of Himself. This is dangerous territory indeed, for how we envisage God profoundly affects how we live our lives – from our moral standards, to the choices we make, to how we worship Him. Since in many respects our faith descends from how we apprehend God, we must ask ourselves a sobering question: are we serving God as He comprehensively reveals Himself in the word or are we serving an impression of Him created by a faulty understanding of that same word? Obviously, the safe ground lies with the first, and so we endeavor to understand how God reveals Himself as thoroughly as is humanly possible. But what is the ultimate implication if we find ourselves in the second camp? Are we truly serving God? And if not, whom or what are we serving?
When our minds form a disproportionate conception of God by embracing some of His characteristics while deliberately overlooking, excluding, or minimizing others, we are – in a sense – serving a false God. We are not serving Him as He is revealed, but rather our impression or interpretation of Him. Not with our hands have we fashioned this idol, but we have fabricated an image in our mind. Thus, to worship God in spirit and truth, we must come to understand Him through His entire revelation.