Who is God?

Years ago, J.B. Phillips (1906-1982), an English Bible scholar, translator, author and clergyman who is most noted for his version of The New Testament in Modern English, wrote a small book titled, Your God Is Too Small: A Guide for Believers and Skeptics Alike (first published in 1952). A PDF of the book is available at this link.

Amazon.com gives the following brief description of the book:

Your God is Too Small is a groundbreaking work of faith, which challenges the constraints of traditional religion. In his discussion of God, author J.B. Phillips encourages Christians to redefine their understanding of a creator without labels or earthly constraints and instead search for a meaningful concept of God. Phillips explains that the trouble facing many of us today is that we have not found a God big enough for our modern needs. In a world where our experience of life has grown in myriad directions and our mental horizons have been expanded to the point of bewilderment by world events and scientific discoveries, our ideas of God have remained largely static. This inspirational work tackles tough topics and inspires readers to reevaluate and connect more deeply with a God that is relevant to current experience and big enough to command respect and admiration. (Quote source here.)

This goes along with the topic of my last blog post titled Worldviews.” In that post I quoted from an article titled 8 Questions Every Worldview Must Answer,” by James W. Sire, PhD, “who has been an officer in the Army, a college professor of English literature, philosophy and theology, the chief editor of InterVarsity Press, a lecturer at over two hundred universities in the U.S., Canada, Eastern and Western Europe and Asia, and the author of twenty books on literature, philosophy and the Christian faith. (Quote source here.)

I was intrigued enough by that article that I went looking for a copy of Sire’s book that was mentioned, The Universe Next Door (5th ed., 2009), and I found it at a used bookstore. This 5th edition of the book “has been translated into over a dozen languages and has been used as a text in over one hundred colleges and universities in courses ranging from apologetics and world religions to history and English literature.” It also gives “easily understood introductions to theism, deism, naturalism, Marxism, nihilism, existentialism, Eastern monism, New Age philosophy and postmodernism, and includes a new chapter on Islam.” (Quote source: back cover of the 5th edition.) The book has sold over 400,000 copies.

In a section titled “Modern Deism” in a chapter titled, “The Clockwork Universe,” of particular interest was the following statement regarding “Popular Deism.” See if this doesn’t ring a bell with much of the general beliefs about God in our culture today:

Popular deism is popular in two senses. It is both a simple, easy-going belief in the existence of an omnipotent, impersonal, transcendent being, a force or an intelligence, and it is a vague belief held by millions of Americans, and I suspect, millions more in the Western world.

In its “cold” versions, God is simply the abstract force that brought the world into existence and has largely left it to operate on its own. My guess, and it is only a guess, is that many well-educated people, especially academics and professionals, would acknowledge the probably existence of such a being but would largely ignore his existence in their daily lives. Their moral sensitivity would be grounded in the public memory of common Christian virtues, the mores of society, the occasional use of their own mind when dealing with specific issues, such as honesty in business, attitudes to sexual orientation and practices. They live secular lives without much thought of what God might think. Surely a good life will prepare one for the life after death, if, indeed, there is such a thing.

In its “warmest” versions, God clearly is personal and even friendly. University of North Carolina sociologists Christian Smith and Melinda Lundquist Denton recently conducted a massive study of the religious beliefs of teenagers [“Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers,” New York: Oxford Press, 2005, pp. 162-163]. Their conclusion was that most of these teenagers adhered to what they calledmoralistic therapeutic deism.” They summed up this worldview as follows:

    1. A God exists who created and orders the world and watches over human life on earth.
    2. God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most religions.
    3. The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself.
    4. God does not need to be particularity involved in one’s life except when God is needed to resolve a problem.
    5. Good people go to heaven when they die.

God, ultimate reality, in this view makes no demand on his creation to be holy, righteous, or even very good. “As one 17-year-old conservative Protestant girl from Florida told us [the researchers], ‘God’s all around you, all the time. He believes in forgiving people and whatnot and he’s there to guide us, for somebody to talk to and help us through our problems. Of course, he doesn’t talk back.'” When asked what God is like, a Bryn Mawr College student drew a big smiley face and wrote, “He’s one big smiley face. Big hands . . . big hands.” This form of deism is certainly not limited to youth; it is, I suspect, very much like that of their parents and adult neighbors. (Quote source: “The Universe Next Door,” 5th ed., 2009, pp. 63-64.)

In answer to this rather dicey “feel good” way of viewing God known as “moralistic therapeutic deism” found in popular culture, GotQuestions.org give us a very clear answer from a biblical perspective of who God is. Their answer starts off with the definition of moralistic therapeutic deism (which is stated in the 5 points listed in the above article so I’m not repeating them again here) and continues with the following:

The beliefs of Moralistic Therapeutic Deism are “moralistic” in that they place a high value on “being good” as found in #2 and #5, above. “Good” is really defined by popular culture rather than the moral imperatives of the Bible. So tolerating behaviors the Bible calls sin might be seen as “good” while calling those behaviors “sin” might be seen as intolerant or hateful, which is bad.

The beliefs of Moralistic Therapeutic Deism are “therapeutic” in that the primary value is feeling good about oneself as articulated in beliefs #3 and #4, above. God’s “job” is to take care of us.

The authors used the word “deism” because, in Moralistic Therapeutic Deism, God exists as the Creator, but He is relatively uninvolved (beliefs #1 and #4, above). Deists have objected to this use of the term because, in true deism, God never intervenes in human affairs. He created us, but He leaves us alone. For this reason, some have suggested that theism would be a better term. Theists believe that God exists and that He can and does intervene from time to time when needed, in answer to prayer, etc.

The most important point concerning Moralistic Therapeutic Deism, however, is not the difference between theism and deism, but how far removed from biblical truth some young people are. The beliefs of MTD are not isolated to Millennials, either. It seems that many people simply view God as a “cosmic genie,” a “divine bellhop,” or a roadside assistance mechanic—you don’t know Him or need to, but you can call Him when you are broken down and He will come and get you going again. The most important thing, according to MTD, is to be good, nice, and tolerant, and God will ultimately receive you into heaven. This view is probably held by a lot of Americans and seems to be becoming the dominant “civic religion,” which emphasizes the horizontal relationships with other people but minimizes a relationship with God. In short, MTD puts humanity at the center and, ultimately, each individual at the center of his or her own belief system.

Biblical Christians will have problems with all 5 key points of Moralistic Therapeutic Deism:

1. Not just “a god” exists, but the God of the Bible, who has revealed himself as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Whoever does not honor Jesus Christ as God does not honor God (see John 5:23).

2. God does not just want people to be “nice” but commands that they obey Him. He is the One who defines “good” and “nice.” He calls sin “sin” and promises to judge it (see Romans 1:18–32).

3. The central goal of life is to give glory to God. A by-product may be that we feel good about ourselves, but that is not the goal (see Romans 11:36).

4. Our primary goal as believers is to be constantly in tune with God, following His leading and in daily fellowship with Him. We are to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17).

5. No one is good enough to go to heaven. All have sinned and fall short of God’s glory (Romans 3:23); no one is good enough, and that is why we need Jesus. He lived the perfect life that we could not, and He died to pay for our sin so that we might be made acceptable to God. “‘He himself bore our sins’ in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; ‘by his wounds you have been healed’” (1 Peter 2:24).

Moralistic Therapeutic Deism is not an official religion. Probably no one would ever identify himself as a “Moralistic Therapeutic Deist.” The real problem is that moralism is not Christianity, and most people who hold these beliefs are likely to identify themselves as Christians when in fact they are living to glorify themselves! (Quote source here.)

So who is God? The following answer comes from GotQuestions.org:

Who is God? – The Fact
The fact of God’s existence is so conspicuous, both through creation and through man’s conscience, that the Bible calls the atheist a “fool” (Psalm 14:1). Accordingly, the Bible never attempts to prove the existence of God; rather, it assumes His existence from the very beginning (Genesis 1:1). What the Bible does is reveal the nature, character, and work of God.

Who is God? – The Definition
Thinking correctly about God is of utmost importance because a false idea about God is idolatry. In Psalm 50:21, God reproves the wicked man with this accusation: “You thought I was altogether like you.” To start with, a good summary definition of God is “the Supreme Being; the Creator and Ruler of all that is; the Self-existent One who is perfect in power, goodness, and wisdom.”

Who is God? – His Nature
We know certain things to be true of God for one reason: in His mercy He has condescended to reveal some of His qualities to us. God is spirit, by nature intangible (John 4:24). God is One, but He exists as three Persons—God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit (Matthew 3:16-17). God is infinite (1 Timothy 1:17), incomparable (2 Samuel 7:22), and unchanging (Malachi 3:6). God exists everywhere (Psalm 139:7-12), knows everything (Psalm 147:5Isaiah 40:28), and has all power and authority (Ephesians 1Revelation 19:6).

Who is God? – His Character
Here are some of God’s characteristics as revealed in the Bible: God is just (Acts 17:31), loving (Ephesians 2:4-5), truthful (John 14:6), and holy (1 John 1:5). God shows compassion (2 Corinthians 1:3), mercy (Romans 9:15), and grace (Romans 5:17). God judges sin (Psalm 5:5) but also offers forgiveness (Psalm 130:4).

Who is God? – His Work
We cannot understand God apart from His works, because what God does flows from who He is. Here is an abbreviated list of God’s works, past, present, and future: God created the world (Genesis 1:1Isaiah 42:5); He actively sustains the world (Colossians 1:17); He is executing His eternal plan (Ephesians 1:11) which involves the redemption of man from the curse of sin and death (Galatians 3:13-14); He draws people to Christ (John 6:44); He disciplines His children (Hebrews 12:6); and He will judge the world (Revelation 20:11-15).

Who is God? – A Relationship with Him
In the Person of the Son, God became incarnate (John 1:14). The Son of God became the Son of Man and is therefore the “bridge” between God and man (John 14:61 Timothy 2:5). It is only through the Son that we can have forgiveness of sins (Ephesians 1:7), reconciliation with God (John 15:15Romans 5:10), and eternal salvation (2 Timothy 2:10). In Jesus Christ “all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form” (Colossians 2:9). So, to really know who God is, all we have to do is look at Jesus. (Quote source here.)

So who is Jesus Christ? Again, GotQuestion.org answers:

Unlike the questionDoes God exist?” [click on that link if you want to know the answer] very few people question whether Jesus Christ existed. It is generally accepted that Jesus was truly a man who walked on the earth in Israel 2000 years ago. The debate begins when the subject of Jesus’ full identity is discussed. Almost every major religion teaches that Jesus was a prophet or a good teacher or a godly man. The problem is that the Bible tells us that Jesus was infinitely more than a prophet, a good teacher, or a godly man.

C.S. Lewis in his bookMere Christianity” writes the following: “I am trying here to prevent anyone from saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him [Jesus Christ]: ‘I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God.’ That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic—on a level with a man who says he is a poached egg—or else he would be the Devil of hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon; or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God. But let us not come up with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that option open to us. He did not intend to.”

So, who did Jesus claim to be? Who does the Bible say He is? First, let’s look at Jesus’ words in John 10:30, “I and the Father are one.” At first glance, this might not seem to be a claim to be God. However, look at the Jews’ reaction to His statement, “‘We are not stoning you for any of these,’ replied the Jews, ‘but for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God’” (John 10:33). The Jews understood Jesus’ statement as a claim to be God. In the following verses, Jesus never corrects the Jews by saying, “I did not claim to be God.” That indicates Jesus was truly saying He was God by declaring, “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30). John 8:58 is another example: “‘I tell you the truth,’ Jesus answered, ‘before Abraham was born, I am!’” Again, in response, the Jews took up stones in an attempt to stone Jesus (John 8:59). Jesus’ announcing His identity as “I am” is a direct application of the Old Testament name for God (Exodus 3:14). Why would the Jews again want to stone Jesus if He had not said something they believed to be blasphemous, namely, a claim to be God?

John 1:1 says “the Word was God.” John 1:14 says “the Word became flesh.” This clearly indicates that Jesus is God in the flesh. Thomas the disciple declared to Jesus, “My Lord and my God” (John 20:28). Jesus does not correct him. The apostle Paul describes Him as, “…our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:13). The apostle Peter says the same, “…our God and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 1:1). God the Father is witness of Jesus’ full identity as well, “But about the Son he says, ‘Your throne, O God, will last forever and ever, and righteousness will be the scepter of your kingdom’” (Hebrews 1:8).Old Testament prophecies of Christ announce His deity, “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6).

So, as C.S. Lewis argued, believing Jesus to be only a good teacher is not an option. Jesus clearly and undeniably claimed to be God. If He is not God, then He is a liar, and therefore not a prophet, good teacher, or godly man. In attempts to explain away the words of Jesus, modern “scholars” claim the “true historical Jesus” did not say many of the things the Bible attributes to Him. Who are we to argue with God’s Word concerning what Jesus did or did not say? How can a “scholar” two thousand years removed from Jesus have better insight into what Jesus did or did not say than those who lived with, served with, and were taught by Jesus Himself (John 14:26)?

Why is the question over Jesus’ true identity so important? Why does it matter whether or not Jesus is God? The most important reason that Jesus has to be God is that if He is not God, His death would not have been sufficient to pay the penalty for the sins of the whole world (1 John 2:2). Only God could pay such an infinite penalty (Romans 5:82 Corinthians 5:21). Jesus had to be God so that He could pay our debt. Jesus had to be man so He could die. Salvation is available only through faith in Jesus Christ. Jesus’ deity is why He is the only way of salvation. Jesus’ deity is why He proclaimed, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). (Quote source here.)

And there you have it–who God is, who Jesus Christ is, and whether we choose to believe it to be true or not true. As Revelation 1:8 states: I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God . . .

Who is, and Who was . . .

And Who is to come . . .

The Almighty . . . .

YouTube Video: “He Reigns” by Newsboys:

Photo #1 credit here
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