A friend of mine once called himself an epitome of love. Some argued against him, saying: “We know you, you are not fit to be called an epitome of love; you are not as loving as a typical epitome of love should be.”
While they were arguing against him I didn’t join them in the argument because, for me, there is no problem with someone calling himself an epitome of whatever good virtue there can be, so far he’s not claiming to be the personality of the said good virtue. Only God is the personality of all good virtues.
Anybody can stand to claim to be an epitome of certain good virtues and morals but no one can ever stand to claim to, in personality, be the essence–not only that, the person–of any given good virtue or moral deeds: Only God.
No one can say, “I am love”. But God, in His unsurpassable personality, is love. It is an error to say that God is an epitome of love or an essence of love. Love is a person, God is not its epitome or essence; God is that person. So when, in 1 John 4:8, we are being told that “whoever does not love does not know God”, we know what it means. It means when we love, we literally emanate God and thus reflect the glory of God, but when we do not love, we make ourselves useless in the venture of the glorification of God.
No one can say “I am righteousness” but God; for God is Himself righteousness–he is not just a perfect example of righteousness, He is it. So when Apostle Paul commands, in Romans 1:17, that we “present yourselves to God as those who have been brought to God as instruments for righteousness,” he is saying that we present ourselves as people who have been brought to God as instruments for God. When we become instruments of God, then he makes us righteous: that is, Righteousness (God Himself) makes us righteous.
Truth, perfection, holiness; all these are the very nature of God. He is truth, he is perfection, he is holiness, he is faithfulness, and he is all in all. Jeff Noblit hits the point when he said:
Being holy and being true means that God does not conform to some law or to some standard outside himself. In other words, God doesn’t say, “Well, here is right and wrong. Here is righteousness and don’t I fit that?” No, he’s God, he is the righteous standard. He’s God, he is the truth and law. There is nothing outside of him that proves he is good or moral or ethical or upright. His perfections are perfect… they’re eternal and they’re unchangeable and they are his very nature. (*)
This is why, if there is anything of good virtue we will ever do, we do it towards the target of being God-like, toward the goal of being truthful and righteous and loving, to fit our Father’s personality.
Let us therefore keep persevering in faith and good deeds that we may, one day, reach the mark set before us–of total conformation to the image of our Father in heaven–and that we may be fit to receive the incorruptible prize meant for us at the end of the race. (1 Corinthians 9:24-27)
(*) Quoted text copied from “God Helps those Who Cannot Help Themselves, a sermon by Jeff Noblit