4. The God of the Bible
Article contributed by www.walvoord.com
The Existence of God
The Bible does not debate the question of whether or not God exists. Rather, the Scriptures present God in the very first verses of Genesis as the Creator, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen. 1:1). The first and primary evidence for the existence of God is the existence of the creation.
Belief in the existence of God has been a common feature of all races and cultures. The reason for this is explained in the Bible as coming from the creation of man in the image of God, meaning that man would have some capacity for fellowship and communication with God. The Bible also explains that, universally, there is a work of the Holy Spirit in every person testifying to the fact of God’s existence.
In the early history of man Scripture testifies that God spoke directly to him, and though there was no written Scripture, that which God revealed was passed down from generation to generation. And in due time man acquired a rather comprehensive view of God as illustrated in the book of Job.
Alongside true revelation of God, however, came the rise of false religions, which the Bible explains as having their source in Satan. Accordingly, the human race departed from its belief in one God and soon began to worship many gods and embodied them in various idols or physical representations. The result was that the whole human race, with few exceptions, departed from God and became the corrupt world that God had to blot out in the flood. It is not surprising, therefore, that today we have many religions that contradict each other, and it is necessary to appeal to the Scriptures to find out what is the true faith.
It is only natural that man, being a reasoning creature, should ask questions about the world in which he lived. Obviously, the world had not been created by man, and yet its design pointed to the fact that someone must have created the world. In our experience, everything shows that intelligent design points to an intelligent designer. For instance, a watch could not just happen; someone had to design and make the watch. Accordingly, there must be a God who is the Creator.
In some ancient religions people worshiped the sun and the moon and the stars, imagining that they were representations of God. The revelation of God in nature is sufficient for the apostle Paul to point out in Romans 1:20 that the world is being judged because of its rejection of the evidence of God in the natural world. Paul said, “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse” (Rom. 1:20). From nature man can learn that God is a person of infinite power and wisdom.
In modern times atheism has appeared with its denial of the existence of God. However, the Bible declares that an atheist is a fool, as stated in Psalm 14:1, “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’” The point is that our world could not have come into existence by accident because it has so many evidences of design and natural law, and all of our reasoning indicates that something cannot show purpose and design apart from a person who thinks and who decides and who has the power to carry out what he thinks. This is why the Bible claims that just from the light of nature people should recognize that God is a person of infinite wisdom and of infinite power because that is what the universe would require to be created.
The Attributes of God
Though much can be learned about God through the study of nature, the Bible goes far beyond this in speaking specifically of the qualities, or attributes, that constitute God. In Scripture God is revealed to be a Spirit, as stated in John 4:24, “God is Spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.” By this is meant that God is not a material being and is immaterial in His essential existence: That God is life is also a major aspect of scriptural revelation. As Christ stated, “For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son to have life in himself” (John 5:26). The fact that God is life makes it possible for Him to bestow life, that is, eternal life upon those who trust in Christ. The Bible also clearly teaches that God is self-existent. He was not created, but has always existed. In the revelation God gave to Moses, He said, “I AM WHO I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I Am has sent me to you’” (Ex. 3:14). The concept of self-existence and eternity is contrary to human experience. Any other explanation of God would picture a god who is less than God because it would make God subject to something outside of Himself. Though this cannot be understood, it can be believed because of the infinite nature of God existing from eternity past to eternity future. What is true of His existence is also true of God Himself, that is, God is an infinite Being. The psalmist David said, “Great is the Lord and most worthy of praise; his greatness no one can fathom” (Ps. 145:3).
God is also changeless, or immutable, as many Scriptures testify. In describing God, the psalmist stated, “You remain the same, and your years will never end” (Ps. 102:27). The concept is stated in Malachi 3:6, “I the Lord do not change.” It is affirmed of Jesus Christ in Hebrews 13:8, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.”
God is not only the author of truth, but He is truth. Jesus stated in His high priestly prayer the night before His crucifixion, “Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent” (John 17:3). Knowing God is knowing the truth. Christ said of Himself, “I am the way and the truth and the life” (John 14:6).
One of the preeminent attributes of God is that God is love, a truth stated many times in Scripture. As stated in I John 4:8, “Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.”
In the nature of being a God who exists from eternity past to eternity future, in His infinity God is also eternal, as stated in Psalm 90:2, “Before the mountains were born and you brought forth the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.” If we could imagine a line that extended to infinity in both directions, it would illustrate eternity—time without beginning and without ending.
Another important attribute of God found in many Scriptures is the fact that God is holy, as stated in 1 Peter 1:16, “For it is written: ‘Be holy, because I am holy.’” The fact that God is holy leads to the fact that He is righteous and in all His ways He is the ultimate in moral purity. The holiness of God is revealed in Scripture and in salvation, but is not revealed in nature.
Because He is infinite, He also is omnipresent, that is, God is everywhere present. In Psalm 139 the psalmist points out that it is impossible to go anywhere where God is not present. He states, “Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast” (Ps. 139:7-9). Not only is God everywhere present, but He also is personally present and indwells every believer. As stated in 1 Corinthians 6:19, “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?” A Christian is indwelt by all three Persons of the Trinity (John 14:15-17, 23). Just as God is infinite in other attributes, so He is also infinite in His knowledge and is thus omniscient. This is stated in Psalm 147:5, “Great is our Lord and mighty in power; his understanding has no limit.”
In keeping with His infinity, God is also omnipotent, or all-powerful. This means that He can do all He wills to do. As stated in Matthew 19:26, “With God all things are possible.” But God will not lie or be untrue to His nature. He always wills to do what is in keeping with His perfect nature. Other qualities can be added that are not considered formal attributes, such as the fact that God is good, merciful, sovereign, and that His works are perfect. Everything that is true of God is true of God to infinity. It sets Him apart from anything that God has created.
God the Father
In Scripture God is described as a Trinity—God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. In theology God the Father is called the First Person of the Trinity because in the nature of the relationship of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, the Father sends the Son and the Spirit, rather than the Son sending the Father. As Father, He is Father over all creation. He is Father in the sense that He is the originator of everything that has been made. In Malachi 2:10, for instance, the questions are asked, “Have we not all one Father? Did not one God create us?” In the sense that God the Father is our Creator, it is proper to speak of the universal fatherhood of God. This must not be understood, however, in the sense that all men are the spiritual children of God because this is true only of those who are born again, and the universal fatherhood of God does not bring with it any sense of salvation for all men as some have taught.
In the Old Testament God was also the father of Israel in that he established a relationship wherein He had a special place for Israel in His plan for humankind. In keeping with this, Moses told Pharaoh in Exodus 4:22, “This is what the LORD says: Israel is my firstborn son, and I told you, ‘Let my son go, so he may worship me.’ But you refused to let him go; so I will kill your firstborn son.” As in the universal fatherhood of God, the special Sonship that Israel enjoyed did not assure to them individual salvation but did assure to them the promises that God had made to the nation as such.
God is also revealed in Scripture as the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, as stated in Ephesians 1:3. Though the father and son relationship is not the same as human fathers and sons in that Jesus existed from eternity past as well as God the Father, it does indicate a relationship where the Son accomplishes a work on earth on behalf of the Father. This is embodied in the familiar text of John 3:16, where it says that God, that is, God the Father, gave His Son to provide a Savior for humanity. Accordingly, while the Scriptures are clear that God is the Father of Jesus Christ, the Son is not subsequent to, inferior to, or in any way less God than God the Father. As the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ, God has a peculiar relationship to Him that differs from His relationship to any other person. In John 3:16 the Son is referred to as “his one and only Son,” or, literally, “His only begotten Son.” Likewise, in other passages, such as Colossians 1:15, He is declared to be “the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.” Firstborn does not indicate that He was born in His deity but that He was firstborn in the sense that He was before anything that was created, being eternal like God the Father.
A final aspect of the fatherhood of God is that He is the Father of all who believe in Christ as Savior. This is based upon spiritual birth, not natural birth, but it pictures the believer as belonging to the family of God in which God is Christ’s Father. As believers in Christ, they are declared to be “children of God—children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God” (John 1:12-13). This is affirmed in Galatians 3:26, “You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus.” That God is the Heavenly Father of believers in Christ leads to the wonderful truth that as the sons of God, Christians are heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ (John 1:12-13; 3:3-6; Rom. 8:16-17; Titus 3:4-7; 1 Peter 1:4). The Fatherhood of God is, accordingly, an important aspect of Christian faith and is supported by many Scriptures (John 20:17; 1 Cor. 15:24; Eph. 1:3; 2:18; 4:6; Col. 1:12-13; 1 Peter 1:3; 1 John 1:3; 2:1, 22; 3:1). The fact that God is our Father, a God who is infinitely loving, gracious, powerful, and all-wise is a comfort to believers as they seek to find the Lord’s will for their life and understand the meaning of spiritual experience.
As a small boy I thought my father was the most wonderful person in the world. Whenever I brought him a problem, he seemed to solve it so easily. I could always be assured of his love and care.
On one occasion I asked my father why he was not President of the United States. To me, this was the best job, and my father ought to be President. I will never forget how my father, rather embarrassed, attempted to explain to me why he was not President. Our Heavenly Father, however, is worthy of all worship and praise and is everything a father could be, infinitely loving, infinitely wise, infinitely patient, infinitely resourceful, and able to do anything He wills to do.
God the Son
Jesus Christ is unquestionably the central object of Christian faith. Most Christians came to Christ because they heard the gospel message that Jesus Christ, God’s Son, had died on the cross for their sins and rose again. Accordingly, their introduction to biblical truth and their introduction to God is through knowledge and fellowship with Jesus Christ.
Because Jesus Christ is the center of our faith and Christianity gets its name from Christ, it is most important that we understand who He is and what our relationship to Him is.
Scriptures are clear that as the eternal Son of God He is God in all that this term means and that He has existed from eternity past and will continue to exist to eternity future. Though Christ is introduced to most observers in connection with His life on earth when He became man, it is also clear that He existed long before He was born.
Like other members of the Godhead, Jesus Christ existed from all eternity past. This is stated in John 1:1-2, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning.” Just as Jesus is eternal, it is obvious that He is also God, and Scriptures are abundant in their testimony to this. In fact, the whole gospel of John was written especially to bring men to faith in Christ. In John 20:30-31 the truth is revealed, “Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name.” The Bible not only states in many passages that Jesus Christ is God but also supports this fact by the many miracles that He performed in His life on earth. The fact that He was able to raise Himself from the dead is the ultimate proof that He is, indeed, all that He claimed to be—God’s eternal Son.
Many other direct statements relate to His eternity and deity. In Isaiah 7:14 His virgin birth was announced, and He was given the name “Immanuel,” meaning “God with us.” In Isaiah 9:6-7, referring to the birth of Christ, He is called “Mighty God.” Jesus’ own statement in John 8:58 that He was “before Abraham was born” was correctly understood by the Jews as claiming that He was the eternal God. Jesus Himself referred to the fact that He existed before the world was created. In John 17:5 Jesus said, “And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began.” Philippians 2:6-7 also refers to Christ as existing long before His incarnation; and Colossians 1:15-17 makes a very specific claim concerning Christ, “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” Christ is said to be the Creator and the “exact representation” of God. So many biblical references support the deity of the Son of God that anyone who accepts the accuracy of biblical revelation also accepts the deity of Christ.
In addition to the direct statements, there are many implications that support the concept that Christ is the Son of God. For instance, in the Old Testament He appeared as the angel of the Lord (Gen. 16:7; 18:1; 22:11-12 and many other references). He no longer appears as the angel of Jehovah once He becomes incarnate in the New Testament. Many titles are also ascribed to Christ, including the term “God with us,” “the Son of God,” “the first and the last,” “Lord of all,” “Mighty God,” and “God blessed forever.” Such titles and many others could not be ascribed to Him if He were not actually the eternal Son of God.
In the New Testament Jesus is constantly associated with the Father and the Holy Spirit as equals (Matt. 28:19; John 14:1; 17:3). Because Christ has all the attributes of God, he must necessarily be God Himself. In the worship of Christ as God and in the obedience to Him as Lord, there is constant recognition that He is God and all that this implies.
In the Incarnation when Jesus was born of Mary the new situation included that Jesus had in addition to His divine nature a complete human nature composed of soul, spirit, and body. The fact of the Incarnation is one of the well-attested events of the Bible and is supported throughout the Bible, but particularly through the four gospels, as well as in both Old Testament prophecy and New Testament fulfillment. In the Old Testament Christ is constantly represented as a man who would die for the sins of the world, as illustrated in Isaiah 53. All the typology of offering a lamb as a sacrifice for sin in the Old Testament looked forward to the Lamb of God who would take away the sin of the world (John 1:29). The life of Christ on earth demonstrated beyond any question that He was a man. His humanity is again revealed in the fact that He died and was resurrected. As the God-Man He is now in heaven at the right hand of God the Father. Though the addition of a complete human nature was a dramatic change in the person of Christ, it did not alter in any way the fact that He was also all that God was.
God the Holy Spirit
From Genesis 1:2 to Revelation 22:17, the Bible records constant references to the Holy Spirit—His person and His work. Like the Father and the Son, He has all the attributes of the Godhead and is especially active in the world scene. Pharaoh saw in Joseph the working of the Spirit (Gen. 41:38).
The Holy Spirit was not only the source of spiritual power but also was related to skills in various fields of work. For instance, Bezalel, according to Scripture, was filled with the Spirit of God, who gave him “skill, ability and knowledge in all kinds of crafts” (Ex. 31:2-3). He was able to work in gold, silver, bronze, cut stone, and wood and work with other types of craftsmanship. Other workers in the temple were also given supernatural skill to produce the tabernacle.
The Holy Spirit also gave men qualities of leadership, as in the case of Joshua. The Lord said to Moses, “Take Joshua son of Nun, a man in whom is the spirit, and lay your hand on him” (Num. 27:18). In the encouragement given to Zerubbabel in connection with building the temple, he was told, “This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel: ‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the Lord Almighty” (tech. 4:6).
In the New Testament the Holy Spirit takes on even more significance than in the Old Testament for He is seen in the miracles of Christ, He descends on the day of Pentecost to indwell every believer, and throughout the present age He works in and through believers to accomplish the work of God. In many respects, the relation of a believing Christian to God is a relationship of fellowship with the Holy Spirit in which the Holy Spirit empowers and enables the individual to lead a life that glorifies God. Though He is the “Sent One” by both Christ and the Father, He nevertheless is equal with them in power and glory and has all the same attributes that belong properly to deity.
The Unity of the Trinity
In contrast to the polytheism of the heathen world with its many gods and idols, the Christian faith centers in one God. This God, however, is revealed to be a Trinity, including the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. As such, we distinguish the Father from the Son and both of them from the Holy Spirit. Though described as three persons, they are not three persons in the sense of three individuals, but rather constitute one God. As stated in Deuteronomy 6:4, “The Lord our God, the Lord is one.” In the Hebrew the word “Lord” is Yahweh, or Jehovah, meaning “I AM,” the most sacred name of God in the Old Testament and used only with the God of Israel. The word “God,” however, “our Elohim,” is plural referring to the plurality of God and implying the Trinity. Thus Jehovah, the one God who is also Elohim, the three persons, is one Lord, preserving the unity of the Trinity.
All students of scriptural truth labor to understand the doctrine of the Trinity, but it eludes them because it is beyond anything that they experience in this life. There is really no illustration of the Trinity though a musical chord may combine several notes, and a beam of light may combine several colors. But this is not clearly parallel to the Trinity. Accordingly, the best procedure is to accept the Bible as true and accept the fact that there is one God who exists in three persons and leave the explanation of this to the life after this.
The fact that there are three persons in the Trinity is stressed throughout the Scriptures, particularly in the New Testament, and there can be little doubt that this is what the Bible teaches. For instance, in Matthew 3:16-17 the record is given of Jesus’ baptism, where there was a voice from heaven saying, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased” (Matt. 3:17). At the same time, while God the Father was in heaven, the Holy Spirit was descending like a dove and lighting on Christ (Matt. 3:16), and Christ Himself was being baptized. Accordingly, all three persons of the Trinity exist as three persons who are also one. The fact of the Trinity is supported by the baptismal formula mentioned by Christ where He instructed His disciples to “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matt. 28:19).
The doctrine of the Trinity affirms that there are three persons in the Godhead who are one. However, the members of the Trinity are distinguishable by having certain properties that differ even though they are equal in attributes. Therefore, the first Person is called the Father, the second Person is called the Son, and the third Person is called the Holy Spirit. There is obviously no parallel to this in human experience, and accordingly, the doctrine must be accepted by faith. On the one hand, we should avoid the idea that they are three separate persons, like Peter, James, and John. On the other hand, we must avoid the idea that they are just modes of existence of one person. The doctrine of the Trinity, therefore, presents God as a unique God who differs from all heathen gods as such and is the consistent presentation of the nature of God in the Bible.
The Sovereignty of God
The fact that God possesses all the infinite attributes that characterize God makes plain that humankind is the object of His creation, and as creatures, they should worship their infinitely divine Creator. Because God is who He is, He obviously has the right to control and command His creatures and to judge them if they disobey.
By believing in God we recognize that as God He has a right to direct our lives. One of the supreme tests of our faith is whether we are willing to submit to the will of God for our lives and do the things that please Him.
In spite of the sovereignty of God, it is clear that God has given to man certain freedoms, especially in the area of moral choice. Though there are no surprises to God and He is never uncertain about the outcome of any human event, it is, nevertheless, true that man is responsible for what he decides even if God anticipated his decision before it took place. Accordingly, it is necessary for man to put his trust in Christ to be saved (Acts 16:31). The fact that God knows in advance whether some will accept Christ and others will not does not change the validity of this choice. It is also true that God, to some extent, works in human hearts to accomplish His will (Phil. 2:13), but this never goes to the extent that God forces a person to accept Christ as Savior or forces him to surrender his life to the Lord. It is, rather, as is indicated in Romans 12:1-2, a matter of urging us to present our lives a living sacrifice in view of God’s mercies to us. In 2 Corinthians 5:14 the same thought is embodied in the statement, “For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died.” Even though God has permitted humankind to choose his way, whether good or evil, it is nevertheless true that His sovereignty maintains control, and in the end every righteous act will be rewarded and every wicked act will be punished.
1. How do the Scriptures present the existence of God?
2. How does the fact of creation introduce God?
3. How did people accumulate knowledge about God before the Bible was written?
4. How did false religions arise? How do we answer false religions today?
5. What does creation as a whole reveal about God?
6. How does a watch illustrate intelligent design?
7. To what extent does the Holy Spirit reveal the fact of God’s existence?
8. To what extent does the revelation of God in nature provide a sufficient basis for faith so that the world is judged because it rejects this evidence?
9. Why is an atheist a fool?
10. What is meant by the idea that God is a Spirit?
11. How does the Bible refer to God as self-existent?
12. How does the Bible refer to God as changeless or immutable?
13. How is God the author of truth and truth itself?
14. Why does the Bible reveal that God is love?
15. How does the revelation of God as love provide a fact not found in the natural world?
16. How does the Bible reveal that God is holy? And how does this contrast to revelation in the natural world?
17. What is meant by the idea that God is omnipresent?
18. What is the difference between God being omnipresent and being personally present, indwelling every believer?
19. What is meant by the attribute of omnipotence? How would you define the omnipotence of God in relation to His will?
20. Does the omnipotence of God permit Him to lie or to do anything that is contrary to His nature?
21. What are some other qualities of God that usually are not considered formal attributes?
22. What do we mean by the doctrine of the Trinity?
23. Why is the first person of the Trinity called the Father? In what sense is He Father in relation to creation?
24. Does God as the Father of creation justify the idea that everyone is a child of God?
25. How is God Father in relation to Israel?
26. How is God Father in relation to Jesus Christ?
27. In what sense is God the Father of believers in Christ?
28. To what extent is our Heavenly Father able to meet our needs?
29. To what extent is Jesus Christ as God’s Son the central object of our faith?
30. What leads to the conclusion that Jesus Christ as the Son of God existed as such long before He became a man?
31. What are some of the reasons for believing in the eternity of Christ?
32. What are some of the reasons for believing in the deity of Christ?
33. What do we learn about Christ as the Creator?
34. What was the new situation regarding Jesus Christ when He became a man?
35. Did the Incarnation, when Jesus became a man, change His deity?
36. What are evidences that Jesus Christ was a genuine human being even though He was God?
37. What are some of the early evidences of the power and ministry of the Holy Spirit in the Bible?
38. How is the Spirit of God related to ability in various areas?
39. How is the Spirit of God related to leadership?
40. How is the Spirit of God related to power?
41. What did the Spirit of God do on the Day of Pentecost?
42. How do we define God as a unity even though He is a trinity?
43. Why is the doctrine of the Trinity beyond our complete comprehension?
44. How is the doctrine of the Trinity supported by the baptism of Jesus?
45. How do we justify the term “first Person” in relation to the Father, “second Person” in relation to the Son, and “third Person” in relation to the Holy Spirit?
46. How does God as sovereign have the right to control and command His creatures?
47. How does the sovereignty of God relate to a Christian attempting to live in the will of God?
48. To what extent do people have choices in the moral realm?
49. To what extent does God influence a Christian to do the right thing?
50. What fundamental truth is stated in Romans 12:1-2?
51. How does the love of Christ compel us?