Each of us who is reconciled to God through Jesus Christ is a unique child of God. Each of us is conformed to the glorious image of God the Son, the very image of the invisible God, in unique ways (Romans 8:29; Hebrews 1:3).
But all of us are meant to bear the glorious family resemblance.
How God Reveals His Glory
“Please show me your glory,” Moses pled with God (Exodus 33:18). God granted Moses this request saying, “I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘The Lord’”(Exodus 33:19). Then God called Moses to ascend Mount Sinai and he hid Moses in a cleft of a rock, shielding him from a lethal dose of his holy glory and proclaiming,
“The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.” (Exodus 34:6–7)
When humans ask God to behold his glory, to see the beauty of his nature, this is what he shows them. When humans want to know what God is really like, this is what he tells them.
This is the most famous self-disclosure of God in the Old Testament (Numbers 14:18; Nehemiah 9:17; Psalm 86:15; 103:8; 145:8; Joel 2:13; Jonah 4:2). And when the Son finally appeared in the last days — the very imprint of the Father’s nature (Hebrews 1:2–3) — this is the holy glory, the holy name he most clearly manifested in the world (John 17:6).
And this is the glorious and holy family resemblance that God’s children — individually and collectively in the church — are meant to bear.
Merciful and Gracious
The first thing God says about himself is not that he wishes to bring judgment upon the guilty, but that he is “merciful and gracious . . . forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin.” This is astounding in light of his holiness — a holiness that when apprehended by the most God-fearing sinners fills them with utter dread (Isaiah 6:5) or makes them fall as if dead (Revelation 1:17). The first words of our holy God’s self-disclosure are gospel!
And this is why God’s children are also to be full of mercy and grace. This resemblance is evidence that we have really encountered and been transformed by God — that we have been forgiven much because God his children loves much, and so we extend his grace to others (Luke 7:47).
Slow to Anger
The second thing God says about himself is that he is “slow to anger.” More gospel! The most holy person in existence, the one whose dignity is most marred, who is most offended and righteously outraged by our sin, is also the person most willing to bear great indignity and offense because he really cares for us. He restrains his great wrath, which requires more power than we can yet imagine, and “is patient toward [us], not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).
And God’s children, the recipients and beneficiaries of his great holy patience, are also to share his great, holy patience with sinners. For one of the ways he means to show his patience toward sinners is through our patience toward sinners.
Abounding in Steadfast Love and Faithfulness
The third thing God reveals about himself is that he is “abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.” Gospel upon gospel upon gospel! He is gracious, he is patient, and he is full of love. His love abounds, which means he has lots of it! His love is steadfast, which means it outlasts our failings and frailties. And his love is faithful, which means once covenanted, he will never withdraw it.
And God’s children bear this loving resemblance: we love one another just as he loved us (John 15:12). In fact, the world will know we are the children of God by the abounding, steadfast, faithful way we love one another (John 13:35).
By No Means Clearing the Guilty
The forth glorious thing God discloses about himself is that he “will by no means clear the guilty.” Wait, this sounds very different from the other three disclosures. This doesn’t sound like gospel! Oh, but it is. It is the very thing that makes the gospel so good. It is the clear manifestation of God’s holiness, which is the ground of all our happiness.
If God lets the guilty go unpunished, he is not holy, he is not just, and he is not good. And if he is not good, eternity with him would not be heaven, but hell. We could never be happy with an unholy, unjust God.
And this is the whole point of the cross of Jesus Christ, the crux of human history. In the cross, God is able to be both “just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (Romans 3:26). In the cross, the guilt of sin is fully paid for and the repentant guilty sinner is justly pronounced not guilty. In the cross, far more than at Sinai or in any other historical act of his mercy or judgment, God reveals himself to be merciful and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness — and by no means clearing the guilty.
And therefore, God’s holy children, who take after him, do not minimize the seriousness of sin. They are never to call evil good (Isaiah 5:20). They are never to obscure the truth that God’s righteous judgment will come upon sinners who do not repent and trust Christ — a warning God clearly and repeatedly issues in Scripture. And they continually point others to the cross, the true cleft in the rock foreshadowed in Moses’s experience on Sinai.
Behold and Be Transformed
If we want to see the glory of God, he has manifested himself to us clearly in his holy word: he is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, and he will by no means clear the guilty — meaning he never allows the guilt to go unpunished. And he has most clearly manifested this fourfold glory in the cross of Jesus Christ. It is there for us to behold.
So let us look! For the more we look, the more “we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, [will be] transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another” by the power of the Holy Spirit (2 Corinthians 3:18). We too will increasingly bear the glorious, holy family resemblance.