Basic Christian Theology 2
In this second part of the series on Basic Christian Theology, we look to that from which all knowledge and life springs, that is God. As such, God must be defined for the Christian context.
The word “god” is defined by Webster’s dictionary as,
a being or object believed to have more than natural attributes and powers and to require human worship
It seems like a rather straightforward definition, but as Christians, we operate not merely upon “belief” but upon revelation, something that we will discuss in the next post in greater depth, since it is the Christian assertion that God has made himself known. But just how has God revealed himself to be?
God has revealed himself to be, first of all, triune. We often use the singular pronoun when speaking of what is considered to be the Godhead, or express Being of God, to express the unity of the Persons that inhabit, or share, that essence. To that end, there are seven characteristics that can be derived from what has been made known to us.
1. God is One.
God is revealed in three, distinct personalities: God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit. As Father, which is in itself off-putting for some, is the name which Jesus instructed us to call the First Person of the Trinity, but the word Father, is sort of lost in its propriety; in Greek the word is Abba, which is equal to our endearing word daddy; but it is not to be used flippantly. When we speak of Jesus as God’s Son, we do not mean that he was created. The Second Person of the Trinity is of the same substance as the First, that is what the word begat means, and apart from God there is no Jesus, and vice versa; Jesus is the eternal God, and we will deal more with Him later. The Holy Spirit is eternal and coexistent with the other two; he is the agent of prophetic power in the Old Testament and the renewing force of the New.
2. God is Spirit.
God is revealed in Scripture as Spirit, and in John 4:24, Jesus told the woman at the well not only that fact, but that He “must [be worshipped] in spirit and truth.” In Exodus 20:4, the second commandment, displays this by instructing, “You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below.” Christians generally believe that any aid to worship such as saints, statues or relics limit our concept of God because we see God as too great to be depicted. The only depiction that we have is that of Jesus, God incarnate. Even in Christian circles imagery depicting God and Jesus are limited to finite terms: God with an angry eye and Jesus with effete features. Such have their place in art, but not in worship. While God is described in Scripture with human, or anthropomorphic, terms, these are poetic or picturesque ways of describing God.
3. God is Person.
He has a distinct personality with distinct characteristic and behaviors. He is conscious, exercises thoughts and feelings, makes decisions, and relates to us in a personal way. We are created in His image, so if we are persons, the He must be a person. God has several names: Elohim, which is simply translated God (Gen. 1:1); names also describe characteristics, such as El Shaddai meaning God Almighty, El Elyon meaning Most High God, El Olam meaning Everlasting God among others, but as I have previously said, God names Himself distinctively by calling Himself Yahweh, meaning I AM.
4. God is Infinite.
This is described in five words: eternal, immutable, omnipresent, omniscient, and omnipotent. We see God as eternal, always existing; that there has never been a time when there was not a time that He did not exist. He is immutable, He does not change. Several instances in the Old Testament seem to prove that he does because it mentions that He repented; simply it means that he change the operational plan, not the destinational plan. Being omnipresent simply means that God is everywhere, all the time (Psalm 139:7-10). Being omniscient means that he knows everything, not only about the operations of nature, but about you and me. His omnipotence simply means that He is all-powerful; He has all the power, all the time and only allows Satan and evil rulers to have power as He allows it. As the disciples watched Jesus ascend to heaven, and later dealt with persecution, Jesus’ word recorded in Matt. 28:18 began to ring in their ears, “All authority in heaven and on earth is given to Me.”
5. God is perfect.
When considering this we tend to stray into what theologians call moral attributes: holiness, righteousness, truth and love. When we speak of holiness, we put a sort of sterile meaning to it, but biblically, it deals with the whole nature. In Lev. 19:1, we are told, “Be holy because I, the LORD your God, am holy”, and it comes after a variety of commands dealing not only with issues of worship, but social issues and personal sins. Our lives reflect what we believe, who we truly are. Righteousness means that God affirms what is right and opposes what is wrong. In His righteousness God must punish unrepentant evil and injustice; but that righteousness also has an edge of redemption to it so that a righteous God could provide a way for an unrighteous people to be made righteous, which is only through the blood of Christ. He is not only the source of all truth, but also ultimate Truth which is unchanging and absolute, something which evades fallen man. Through God’s leadership, truths which seem conflicting can and will be resolved. He is love, but not love for himself exclusively, but for the benefit of those He loves. The Bible presents picture after picture (Hosea and his harlot wife Gomer, the prodigal son, etc). God rejoices in salvation of His beloved, this is seen in the crucifixion of Jesus, whom he loved and raised from the dead.
6. God is creator.
God spoke, and there was, thus creating all there is and will ever be, out of nothing. Doing so made Him separate from creation, which enables him to act upon it. He had a reason for creation which is tied to two of his attributes: love and glory. God created because he wanted to share his love and his glory, he didn’t need it to complete Himself, but that we could enjoy him. The Westminster Confession asks begins its question with, “What is the chief end of man?” Its answer is simple and stunning, “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and enjoy him forever.” It is only done when people willing glorify their Creator, and in doing so the new heaven and earth will be culminated and ultimate fulfillment found. To that end God sustains his creation there is a broad element confined in this thought, but to make it brief, God acts upon creation, and creation responds in kind: when natural laws are suspended, a miracle occurs; otherwise creation moves in its predetermined course. Over this issue of God’s providence, or planned destiny, the issues of predestination and freewill emerge; but in that Christians find two truths: God will overcome all opposition and bring this world to its planned conclusion and that the believer has a place in working with God to that end.
7. God is sovereign.
Simply it means that God is in control, His hand is always on the wheel. Again, this stirs the debate of predestination. The priesthood of believers is a natural outgrowth of God’s sovereignty in that he does not delegate it to a particular person or organization; He relates to every person that he saves. So, if God is absolutely sovereign, why doesn’t he just make the world like he wants, and just be done with it? Quite simply, if He did it would short-circuit his creation and the reason for creating people. He is Sovereign over the universe and orders every function of every created being; every power that exists does so because He allows; and He is sovereign over every lovingly obedient believer.
In our next post, we will look more into the Persons that are God.