Thus says the LORD: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the LORD.” (Jeremiah 9:23–24 ESV)
There was a time when most people were taught by their parents and grandparents about who God is. When we spoke about teaching the basics, we often were teaching the various doctrines and subjects found in the New Testament. However, we live in a time now when many do not know who God is. It is an important starting point for any discussion about the scriptures. Who is God? What do the scriptures teach us about God?
God In Genesis
The way God reveals himself in the book of Genesis teaches us some things about the nature of God.
Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. (Genesis 1:26 ESV) Notice that God does not say, “I will make man in my image, after my likeness.” God said, “Let US make man in OUR image, after OUR likeness.” This occurs many times in the scriptures. Here are a couple more texts that show us this plurality within God.
Then the LORD God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil. (Genesis 3:22 ESV) God does not say that man has become like me. Rather, he has become like one of us. When the tower of Babel was being built, we read God saying, “Come, let us go down and there confuse their language, so that they may not understand one another’s speech.” (Genesis 11:7 ESV) This is important because Jews will suggest that the idea of a plurality within God is a New Testament concept and foreign to the Hebrew scriptures. However, the first thing that we learn about God’s nature in Genesis is his plurality.
At the same time, the scriptures are clear that there is only one God (1 Corinthians 8:6; Ephesians 4:6; 1 Timothy 2:5). “Declare and present your case; let them take counsel together! Who told this long ago? Who declared it of old? Was it not I, the LORD? And there is no other god besides me, a righteous God and a Savior; there is none besides me.” (Isaiah 45:21 ESV)
God In Three Persons
This is why it is common to say that there is one God who exists in three persons. By persons, we do not mean that three human beings. What we mean is that each one thinks, feels, acts, and speaks. We read about these three as God in a number of places in the scriptures.
And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18–20 ESV) Notice that God is the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. We see these three as God at the baptism of Jesus.
And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:16–17 ESV)
The Father is called God in many places in scriptures, including John 6:27. Jesus is called God (John 1:1,14; 8:58; 20:28; Titus 2:13). The Holy Spirit is also called God.
But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back for yourself part of the proceeds of the land? 4 While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not at your disposal? Why is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God.” (Acts 5:3–4 ESV) In verse 3 Peter says that Ananias lied to the Holy Spirit. In verse 4 Peter says that Ananias lied to God. The Holy Spirit, therefore, is God. Second Corinthians 3:17-18 teaches that the Lord is the Holy Spirit.
This is important. The Holy Spirit is not an “it.” The Holy Spirit is not a force. The Holy Spirit is a person. In Ephesians 4:30 Paul says that we can grieve the Holy Spirit. A force cannot be grieved. You cannot grieve gravity. But you can grieve a person. The Holy Spirit can be resisted (Acts 7:51). Hebrews 10:29 says that the Holy Spirit can be insulted. Gravity cannot be insulted. Only a person with feelings can be insulted.
The complexity concerning the nature of God is trying to understand how God is one, yet he shows himself as three persons. It is our efforts to explain the nature of God that gets us in trouble rather than simply accepting this difficult truth by faith. The nature of God should be complex. God should not be like anything else in this world. He should be difficult to comprehend and his nature be full of complexities. Expecting that we can explain God through illustrations or charts reveals that we are not grasping the vast complexity of God. “Remember this and stand firm, recall it to mind, you transgressors, remember the former things of old; for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me.” (Isaiah 46:8–9 ESV) God is not like us and we should expect some difficulty in comprehending God.
Most in the religious world describe God in three persons as the trinity. I am personally not a fan of the word “trinity.” It is not the fact that the word “trinity” is never used in the scriptures. There are many words that we use to try to describe biblical concepts that are not in the scriptures. The word “Bible” is not in the “Bible.” But we use the word because everyone understands what we mean. However, not everyone understands what we mean by the word “trinity” and that is why I do not use the word. I know what I mean if I use the word, but I don’t know if you understand the word the same way I do. I am going to spend the rest of our study talking about false teachings about the nature of God.
False Teachings About the Nature of God
Unfortunately, I think when people speak of the trinity, they think of three gods. This is a very really problem, even among our brethren. Too often God is thought of as three separate gods. This overemphasizes the distinction between the persons of the Godhead and ends up with three gods. Mormonism teaches that there are multiple gods and that humans can become God. They teach that Jesus was a man who became God, but was not in the beginning with God. Jesus is God who became man. This is totally different than teaching that Jesus was a man who became God.
I see this problem in some of the debates and discussions that often happen concerning God. When I was in college I heard arguments about how a Christian should not pray to Jesus, but should only pray to the Father. This argument also comes out in teaching that Christians should only sing to the Father and not to Jesus. What we are doing is suggesting that these three are entirely separate entities. I am going to make a simple syllogism and please tell me if you think this syllogism is invalid.
We are commanded to pray to God (2 Corinthians 13:7). Jesus is God (John 1:1,14). Therefore, we can pray to Jesus because Jesus is God. We can use the syllogism about singing. We are commanded to sing to God. Jesus is God. The Holy Spirit is God. Therefore, we are authorized to singing to Jesus and to the Holy Spirit because they are God. We must be so careful that we are separating Jesus and Holy Spirit in such a way that we are suggesting or implying that Jesus or the Holy Spirit is not God. The argument about who we pray or sing to forgets that there is one God. When we are praying to God, we are praying to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit because these three make up God. When we sing to God, we are singing to the whole Godhead because God cannot be separated. They are not three gods. There is one God.
The contrast to polytheism when describing the nature of God is modalism. Modalism teaches there is one God and there is only one person, not three. God changes roles for the various functions that he is doing. Sometimes he is creator God. Sometimes he is the Holy Spirit. Sometimes he is Jesus, the Son. Some modalism proponents teach that in the Old Testament God is the Father, in the days of Jesus he is the Son, and from Acts onward he is the Holy Spirit. However, there are many scriptural problems with this view. At the baptism of Jesus we see the Holy Spirit descend, Jesus is in the water being baptized by John, and the voice of the Father from heaven declares, “This is my beloved Son.” The problem arises in John 17 when we see Jesus praying to the Father. Matthew 18:19-20 teaches to baptize in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. If God consists of only one person then this command does not make sense. Further, in Genesis it does not make sense for God to say, “Let us make man in our image according to our likeness.” There are a number of religions that hold to this false teaching concerning the nature of God, including the United Pentecostal Church.
A third error is to teach that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are not equally God. Jesus is considered a created being and a lesser God than God the Father. The Holy Spirit is not taught to be a person who is God, but as a force that is not God. This is the main doctrine of the Jehovah’s Witnesses.
We might hear of these false teachings and not care. However, these false teachings are very much alive and growing. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is one of the fastest growing religions in this country. The Jehovah’s Witnesses also continue to have very strong growth. Further, books have been written claiming to be Christian literature teaching these false views of God. Have you heard of or read the book called The Shack by William P. Young? Christians have been so excited about this book and it has been endorsed by many who claim to be Christians. It was the number one bestseller on the New York Times list from 2008 to 2010 and has been over 10 million books printed. The book is about the nature of God. People are reading this book thinking that now they understand the nature of God. The story of the book is about a person named Mack who is invited by God to meet him at the shack. God the Father is portrayed as an African-American woman named Papa. The Son is portrayed as a Middle Eastern carpenter. The Holy Spirit is portrayed as a small Asian woman named Sarayu.
I am so tired of the continual attempted portrayals of God as a woman in books and movies. God speaks of himself as a he. God calls himself, “Father.” Jesus addressed God as Father. Jesus said, “Our Father in heaven,” not “Our Mother in the shack.” He did not call himself Mother. If God wanted us to understand him that way I am sure he would have used feminine language for himself. But he didn’t. If you do not like it, you will have to take it up with him. The same is true of the Holy Spirit. The scriptures say, “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.” (John 16:13–14 ESV)
The book clearly teaches modalism. At one point in the book Papa says that he is truly human in Jesus. The Father was not born of a virgin and the Father did not die on a cross. Modalism teaches that God the Father became God the Son and died on the cross and then became God the Holy Spirit and then turn back into God the Father again.
The book also teaches that there is no hierarchy within God. “We have no concept of final authority among us; only unity. We are in a circle of relationship, not a chain of command…. What you’re seeing here is relationship without any overlay of power…. Hierarchy would make no sense among us.'” (The Shack, 121). This is not what the scriptures teach. The scriptures teach equality, but deference within the nature of God. Jesus said that he only does the will of the Father and keeps his Father’s commandments (John 8:29; 15:10). Paul clearly states, “The head of Christ is God” (1 Corinthians 11:3).
We must be warned about trying to explain God beyond what God has revealed about himself. I do not think we need to try to come up with explanations or answers to this question. God cannot be and should not be like anyone or anything that we see in this world. You may ask me how God is one with three persons. I will tell you that I cannot explain it. I see what others have done to try to explain God and these explanations at best fall short and at worst teach something contrary to the scriptures.
Why Proper Understanding of God Is Important
- No one has ever seen God. God told Moses that no human can see God and live (Exodus 33:20). But we have seen God through the person and life of Jesus. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known. (John 1:17–18 ESV) In Jesus, you are not learning about just another good person. You are learning about God. You are hearing the teachings of God. You are seeing God on the earth.
- Our understanding of God determines how we understand atonement. Now we can see the value of the blood of Jesus as a sacrifice for our sins. A mere human did not die. God in the flesh died. For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God. (Hebrews 9:13–14 ESV)
- The nature of God teaches us how we are to have relationships with one another. This is important because we learn that children are to obey their parents and live in deference to their parents, not because children are lesser humans but submit to their parents. Wives are not lesser than husbands, but are to submit to their husbands. Christians are not lesser than the government, but we are to submit to the government. Christians are not lesser than the shepherds, but they are to submit to them. Jesus sets the great example of submission so that we will submit to one another.
This is the problem that too many people have in understanding the scriptures when it comes to submission. Submitting does not mean you are not equal. Submitting does not mean you are lesser in any way. Jesus was not a second-class deity because he came to serve and give his life as a ransom for many. His submission is to be admired, not denigrated. This is how we should also consider our Lord’s command: “…giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.” (Ephesians 5:20–21 ESV)