A central Moral Government doctrine that comes under much criticism is the idea God is voluntarily good. This means holiness in God is not a natural attribute that God possesses outside of his choice. Holiness is a moral attribute, a choice that God makes. Character in God is what it is in man, the result of acting a certain way. The difference between God and man in this area is that men have sinned. Scripture teaches God is perfectly holy, without sin. The Bible also declares that God does not change, and will be the same forever. Thus God is not only holy, but also faithful. God’s character is constant and can be relied on. For Moral Government advocates these passages teach a dynamic faithfulness, a holiness that is constant, but a matter of choice in God.
This view is in contrast to the commonly held belief that God’s holiness is involuntary, something he does not choose. On this view it is simply the case God is holy. He could not be otherwise because God’s choices flow from his nature, which is holy. His choices do not determine his moral character, but express it. Obviously, on this view God also would be faithful. He could never cease being holy since holiness is a natural attribute, which controls his choices.
The concern with the Moral Government view is obviously not its claim that God is holy or that God is faithful. The concern is the nature of this faithfulness. In the Moral Government position God is only holy because he chooses to be. The obvious implication of this is that God could choose not to be holy. He could choose to sin. This possibility seems an inevitable consequence of the Moral Government view. Since the faithfulness of God is presented in scripture as an assurance to us we can trust God, it appears the Moral Government view undermines this very assurance, and installs doubt in the theological landscape. “It might be argued that, based on his track record, God is not likely to change into an ogre. Yet there is no assurance of this…” 
Who Does Not Rationalise Sometimes?
Moral Government’s view is accused of being a rationalist explanation of God’s holiness, not based on scripture, but on making God in man’s image.  It is not that scripture teaches holiness is voluntary in God, or that God could sin (Does not the Bible actually teach God cannot lie, cannot be tempted?), but that Moral Government advocates are too concerned with rationality to submit to the clear teachings of scripture. They rationalise that since holiness is voluntary in man, it must also be in God. Critics retort if God could sin, he could choose not to be faithful as the Bible teaches. Nor could the passages that teach sin is impossible for God be true. The Moral Government view must be in error.
My response to these accusations would be that I believe the central concern, to secure the assurance of the believer in the trustworthiness of God, is a good one. Our critics are concerned that if people take our view of God’s holiness seriously, they will begin to doubt God. It is not my desire to teach doubt of God. I share our critic’s desire that people trust God. With reference to the accusation of allowing rationalisation to take the place of submission to scripture, I would suggest that our opponents carry out their own form of rationalisation. It appears the only way they can assure themselves of the faithfulness of God is if they depersonalise him and make him into a holy machine that is guaranteed to be reliable because he (it?) has been programmed to act that way.
One can hear an echo here of the age-old question, why did God make men free? He could have assured our obedience if he had made us machines and would not have subjected his creation to all the sin present in it. The classic answer to this, and many of our critics have used it themselves, is if God had made us machines we would have been incapable of obedience, incapable of love. We could only have been holy by being given free will and our using it rightly.
This answer only says about man from God’s standpoint in creating him, what Moral Government Theology is saying about God from the standpoint of what we understand holiness to be. If God were programmed to be good, he could not be good, because goodness is not a natural attribute. Goodness is voluntary, as is sin.
Aside from this recognition of what holiness is we are also concerned with what our opponent’s approach to this question does to the whole biblical picture of God, and of man’s responsibility. Concerning the passages teaching God does not change and that he is faithful, these alone do not require the Moral Government or our opponent’s view. They can be read either way. They may be speaking of a metaphysical inability to change, as our opponents believe, or they could be declaring the dynamic constancy of God’s character, his choice to be holy and faithful. All they declare is the fact of God’s faithfulness, not the cause.
We are concerned with how people read the call of God to be holy themselves. If holiness can only come from a constitutional nature that does not allow sin as an option, then why try now to be holy as God has called us to? Many people approach walking in the Spirit from the belief that if they are not presently holy, it is because God has not made them holy yet. It is God’s fault, not theirs. Again the confusion arises because if God did make them holy by causing holiness in them, outside of their own choice, it would not be them being holy. It would be God. They would be tools.
Another concern is with people’s ultimate destiny. Hebrews tells us to be holy because without this no one will see the Lord. Many people believe that at death God will be able simply to cause a new character in them. This is very dangerous thinking if holiness (at least in man) is voluntary. Death will not change the character we have developed in this life. If we are to be transformed morally, now is the time this must take place.
Besides these concerns about man’s responsibility, Moral Government advocates are concerned our opponent’s views rob God of other glories attributed to him in the scriptures. God is said to be worthy of worship and praise for his character. No one praises someone for his eye color, or for how many hands and fingers he has. People are not responsible for natural attributes (they can develop them of course). We praise people for the good things they do which they did not have to do them. Because they could have done otherwise, we are grateful they did what was good. Believers in God’s holiness as a natural attribute usually ignore or do not notice the implications of this for worshipping God. As Finney said, their reason takes them beyond their reasonings. If God is a holy machine, what worship or praise does he deserve for that? God is praiseworthy because he really is holy, in the sense we understand that term.
There is something even our opponents would have to admit, given the history and commonness of human sin (which I expect is what has them so disturbed God could be freely good). Between a God who simply could not choose to sin, and one who could sin but has always been faithful, it is the second God who is awesomely praiseworthy. Of the first God I am tempted to say, “Who could not be holy that way?” On our critic’s view, we ought to stand more in awe of holiness when it occurs in men, than when it occurs in God. When we manage to be holy it is voluntary! We could do otherwise! Does this not make our holiness more praiseworthy than God’s? Of course I speak facetiously. God is awesome in his holiness. He has always chosen and will always choose our good. Our critics rob God of his due veneration.
Incarnation And Encouragement
Then there is the matter of the temptation of Jesus and how Hebrews uses the fact Jesus was tempted on all counts like we are, but did not sin, to reassure us we can resist temptation. On our opponent’s view I ask, what reassurance of my obedience in the face of temptation should this give me? Jesus could not have sinned if he had wanted to or tried to. God cannot sin; cannot even be tempted to sin. I however have to face temptation and seek to obey, when all the while I could sin. Jesus’ charade pretending to be tempted and then obtaining “victory” does not encourage me one bit. If I did not believe Jesus could have sinned when he was tempted, what comfort could I find in this passage? Our benefiting from this passage requires the belief Jesus faced temptation on the exact same ground as us with the same possibilities for sinning. Our critics rob believers of this assurance.
Does The Common View Grant Assurance?
The most important thing to note about our opponent’s rationalisation of God’s holiness as, an involuntary rather than a voluntary attribute, is it fails to give the extra assurance they seek from it. How do our opponents know God’s holiness is involuntary? Not from what the Bible says. The Bible only tells us God is faithful. Our opponent’s belief this faithfulness is involuntary is a rational theory which would explain how God could be faithful as the Bible claims. Admittedly their view would insure this faithfulness if it were true, but the fact the Bible says God is faithful, and the fact God has shown himself faithful, does not make this theory of his faithfulness true.
Moral Government advocates also know God is holy because of what God has said and done. The Bible does not say God is voluntarily good. This is a rational theory that Moral Government advocates feel makes the best sense of understanding holiness in God. It cannot be proven from the fact scripture shows God as faithful. We simply believe it makes better sense of everything else we know about our own moral categories in being called to holiness, and does justice to the biblical claims of God’s praiseworthiness, and Jesus’ victory over temptation as our encouragement. We feel justified in reasoning from what we know about holiness and sin in ourselves, not because we are trying to make God in our image, but because God has also told us we have been made in his image. This gives us biblical reason to expect God to be like us, only more awesome.
But does not the Moral Government view undermine the assurance of God’s faithfulness, in a way the more common view does not? Does not the common view assure us of God’s faithfulness, while the Moral Government view must leave it forever in doubt, since God could any time cease to be holy? The answer to this is, if we could know the common view was right, it would leave God’s faithfulness beyond possible doubt. But we could not know this view was right unless we already were convinced of God’s faithfulness. The only way we could know this was the right view of God’s holiness, is if he told us. Even then this could only convince us it was true if we were convinced prior that God was faithful, and hence was not lying to us in telling us. Anyone can tell you something, but unless he can be trusted his testimony is worthless. This is why scripture not only tells us about God, but shows us God’s actions. From this we can develop faith in God’s trustworthiness, the same way we develop faith in anyone’s trustworthiness.
In the end it is the evidence of God’s trustworthiness in his dealings with us, which develops our faith in this fact. This we obtain by what God does, in addition to what he has told us. The Bible records God’s doings as well as making statements about God. We have a history of God’s dealings. Without an assurance of God’s doings as demonstrating his holiness, no one could accept a statement to that effect. Whether God’s holiness is involuntary or voluntary, we can only know he is holy from evidence of his faithfulness. A theory on the nature of this faithfulness cannot satisfy this need, for assurance in the truth of the theory would require we already could trust the testimony of God, since he alone could confirm its truth.
While it may be true God is involuntarily holy – and this fact would guarantee he never would (or could) sin – the only evidence he was faithful in this way would be his continued constancy. But this constancy would not prove his holiness was involuntary, for such constancy could also be explained by his continued voluntary holiness. Since we have evidence of God’s faithfulness by what we know of his doings, we could obtain assurance of the common theory’s truth, were God to tell us this. But this still would not become the foundation of our assurance of God’s faithfulness, since its very truth depends upon such faithfulness if we are to accept the testimony. In any case, God has not given such testimony. He has told us only that he is faithful, and shown it in his deeds.
The True Source Of Assurance
Assurance of God’s faithfulness does not arise in our hearts through a theory of the nature of God’s holiness. It arises through evidence God is reliable. This is why we trust God. Suddenly hearing a person question the more common idea that the reason God is faithful is because he could not help but be makes us do a double take on whether we have a right to our confidence. When we look more closely, we realise our confidence is not in a theory on the nature of divine holiness, but in the person of God as he has made himself known, both by saying and doing. If he had not done so, we would have no assurance he was faithful, whatever our theory on the nature of his holiness. This being the case, the fact Moral Government’s view allows that God could sin, could cease to be holy, in no way undermines confidence in God’s faithfulness. We have the same assurance of this our opponents do. God has shown himself faithful and has given us his promise. Therefore, we have confidence in God, who does not lie.
What of the Bible’s claims God cannot lie, cannot be tempted? God’s character is established in holiness. This impossibility is a moral one, not a metaphysical one. Again we have an example of this, even on a human scale. We know of people whose character is so constant that we can say of them, they simply could not do certain things. It would be impossible to tempt them to do so. We do not mean by this language they could not feel any temptation to do so, or that they have no ability to perform the actions, but recognise their voluntary character is established to such an extent that they would not do these things, even though they could. 
1. Gomes, Alan, Lead Us Not Into Deception (Alan Gomes, La Marida, 1986), pg. 11.
2. Possibly footnote Gome’s article. I know it was in Christian Research Journal but I cannot find my copy for the date.??
3. I am indebted to my friend, Al McBryan for this illustration.
Copyright 2019 Kel Good. This publication may be copied freely as long as no alteration is made to the text. For more information write: Kel Good via What I Believe This Week (www.whatibelievethisweek.com)