There is only one God.
“Now an intermediary implies more than one, but God is one.” Galatians 3:20.
This is meant to be a short book, so I’m not going to list and describe every attribute of God, but I want to summarize some of the key points the Bible makes about God that are different from what you might naturally assume. Most of the Bible, and thousands of years of Jewish history, sought hard to make this point clear: there is only one God. This is part of the first commandment from the famous Ten Commandments! “The Lord our God is one” (Deuteronomy 6:4). This stands in complete opposition to paganism, which teaches that there are many gods. Let’s discuss why this is important.
For our good
One big reason why it is important to understand that there is only one God is for our benefit. There is only one source of life, and that is through the living God: the God of the Bible. We need to be told this, because the tendency for every man and woman is to make up many little gods and to serve them. The Bible calls these “idols” which can be translated “vanities” or “nothings.” Historically some cultures have made idols made of wood or stone, in the shape of a person or an animal, and prayed to it as if it could help them. Actual physical idols are not very common in America, where some people may think they’re too smart for such a thing. However, Americans also have their idols. Some wear them around their necks as good luck charms, thinking there is power in a metal cross necklace. But the Bible teaches there is only one God and one source of power in the universe: Himself, and He doesn’t live in a necklace. “But who is able to build Him a house, since heaven, even highest heaven, cannot contain him?” (2 Chronicles 2:6)
Some people pray to people and saints and angels, but the Bible teaches that while there are angels and spirits, there is only one mediator between us and God: Jesus. “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for all.” (1 Timothy 2:5).
Jesus taught us to pray directly to God, “Our Father…” because God is our only true source of spiritual help.
There is only one miracle worker: God. Yes, the Bible describes miracles that seem to have been “done” by the disciples, but in reality God did those miracles, and not because the disciples had prayed to a dead saint, or clutched a cross around their neck, but because they asked God directly, modeling this for us.
It makes sense that people don’t want to pray directly to God, either out of reverence to Him or that they don’t see themselves as worthy to pray directly to God. We’re not worthy! But this is why Jesus came, to link arms with both humanity and God. Without this connection with the one true God, and only source of eternal life, we’re doomed. Only Jesus is able to bridge that gap, which I will explain more in the chapter dedicated to him. But if there is only one God, and only one way to him, it is for our good to know this one God.
Idols cannot sustain us
Some people have an idol (false god), and it’s their job, because it brings them the most joy in life. Some people have an idol and it’s their family, because they serve their family over everything else, including God. Some people have an idol and it’s food, because it is their primary source of comfort, rather than God. These are all good things that God has given us, but they are considered idols whenever they become the primary source of life and joy in our lives over God.
We are to search after God’s kingdom with all of our heart and mind, and not all the other shiny things in the world that catch our attention, if we want to know God. God himself says, “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” (Matthew 6:33) We may fear seeking God first and foremost because we think we will have nothing. It’s the other way around. When we seek God first, He gives us everything else we could ever want, in His timing and His way.
If God is the only source of life and eternal joy, we ought to get serious about worshiping the one true God and nothing else. It’s not just another personal preference; it’s a matter of life and death.
There are three persons in God
What makes the God of Christianity particularly Christian is that we believe that God is “Triune.” That is, we believe in the Father, the Son, and the Spirit. This is one of the biggest “stumbling blocks” or obstacles to Jews or Muslims becoming Christians because they believe it violates the command to believe in one God. That phrase “stumbling block” is mentioned in 1 Corinthians 1:23, and although it’s addressing how hard it is to believe that Jesus is the Lord, it expresses the same sentiment about the difficulty of believing in what Jesus and his disciples taught: “we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to non-jews.” At the time the Apostle Paul was writing to the Corinthians, much as it is today, Jews believed in one God, and non-jews believed in all kinds of gods; and neither of them could accept Jesus. Then, just as it is today, religious people can’t accept Jesus because it goes against everything they think they know about God, and non-religious intelligent people also can’t accept Jesus because He doesn’t make any sense to them.
No one who knows Scripture well would say that the concept of God existing as one God in three persons is easy to understand. In fact, it’s more than difficult: it’s impossible to understand. I’m not exaggerating. Believing in this triune God takes a miracle of spiritual rebirth and God-given faith. The Trinity is perhaps the hardest teaching in Christianity. If you’re new to this idea, my goal is not necessarily to convince you about the Trinity here, but to encourage you to study the whole Bible, because I believe you also will become confident that the doctrine of the Trinity is absolutely what the Bible teaches us. In fact, I think you’ll find that the “stumbling block” and “folly” of Jesus and the Trinity is the very foundation of faith in God.
Speaking of stumbling blocks, or a stone you might trip over, when builders build with stone, they might throw out misshapen stones. Not only might you trip over such a stone, but the Bible says that Jesus was rejected like one of those kinds of stones. As it says in Psalm 118:22, written hundreds of years before Jesus, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.” Jesus explains that this and many other scriptures are all about himself. (Matthew 21:42, Luke 24:27)
The word “trinity” is a word we created to explain what God’s Word teaches. The actual word does not exist anywhere in the Bible, and some argue against a teaching of the trinity based on that. However, many concepts don’t exist as words in the Bible and are clearly taught in the Bible, like “divinity,” “incarnation,” or “atheism” which no one would deny are concepts taught in the Bible. (“Divinity” refers to God’s god-ness often in reference to God the Son, “incarnation” refers to God the Son taking on his human form in Christ, “atheism” denying there is a God. For more on this topic of Biblical concepts that don’t contain the words we use to describe them, see https://carm.org/christianity/christian-doctrine/word-trinity-not-bible)
The Bible is full of verses that teach us about our triune God. The most convincing verse out of all of them for me personally was from John 15:26 where Jesus says, “But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, He will bear witness about me.” Jesus is telling his disciples that someone will “bear witness” about himself, and He calls this person “the Helper” and “the Spirit of truth.” This sets this “Helper” (the Spirit), apart from Jesus. Jesus also says he himself will send this Helper, and that he will send Him “from the Father” which separates the Holy Spirit from the Father! If this is God’s Word, which it is, God has revealed Himself in three persons!
Three hypostases (persons)
The word hypostasis is a way for us to say “person” without actually saying person. This is to avoid confusion and be careful to avoid ever saying there are three Gods. Saying three persons is sometimes confusing because for every human being there is one person (one hypostasis) and in God there are three hypostases. We can expect this to be a rare and unique occurrence because God is completely unique. If what it means to be unique is to be rare, then God is the most unique being in the universe because there is only one of Him. Men and women are one person each. God is the Father, Son, and Spirit.
Since we want to avoid ever teaching that there are three Gods, we sometimes use the word “essence” to describe his being. Bible scholar R.C. Sproul explains this well:
We do not have a logical contradiction here, because God is both one and three at the same time, but He is not one and three in the same sense. The three divine persons are distinct in terms of their personal relationships to one another, but not in their essence. All of them are the being of God. They do not have an independent existence—you could not take away any of the three persons and still have God. Rather, the three persons subsist within the one divine nature, coequal in terms of their shared essence. (https://www.ligonier.org/learn/devotionals/one-essence-three-person/)
An example of where Scripture teaches this is John 5:19-20 where Jesus says, “Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; He can do only what He sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.” Jesus also said, “I and the Father Are One.”(John 10:22) Another example is Hebrews 1:3 where we are told that Jesus “is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and He upholds the universe by the word of his power.” Jesus is the exact imprint of God! Jesus currently upholds the universe by his power!
God was never, and is never, lonely
Sometimes people wrongly think God must have been lonely, and that is why He created. We are never given even a hint in Scripture that that is the case, but in addition to that, the Trinity shows us that God is a community within Himself. God has always been perfectly happy and self-sufficient. He has all power and is in need of nothing, and therefore has never been bored or lonely.
We shouldn’t be surprised if God is hard to understand
If you still find the Trinity difficult to understand, here are three helpful thoughts:
- Focus on Jesus
God isn’t desperate for us to understand Him, as if He is sending out a survey, just hoping people will believe the Trinity. God gives faith (Romans 12:3) and understanding (Proverbs 2:6) and mercy (Psalm 103:8) to whomever He wills. (Romans 9:18, Exodus 33:19) Second, if you just focus on Jesus, and what He taught, Jesus will point you in the right direction. Jesus will instruct you to read Scripture, and to see Scripture not as words of men but words of God. And in that way, God’s Word will teach you about the Trinity. The Apostle Paul, who Jesus personally appointed, wrote about things that are hard to understand, but that God would reveal when he said, “I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” Notice those words! “God in Christ.” He continues, “Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you..” (Philippians 3:14-15)
- Contemplate the authenticity of a strange god
For the first few thousand years of Earth’s history God taught us through the Israelites, in our Old Testament, that there is only one God. The world was being filled with many made up gods and religions. When Jesus came, He revealed to his people in deeper ways God’s own “three-ness.” God should be strange and weird to us because God is not like anything else in the universe; of course He is strange!
God’s strangeness magnifies the authenticity (trueness) of Scripture, because this strange God is not someone any of us would willingly make up. The God I read about in the Bible has often been quite disturbing to me. The tales of the greek god’s are far less threatening, and far more entertaining. Humans make up gods to make more sense of the world, not less sense, and often the God in Scripture does not make sense to us. Zeus and Athena, explain the universe, just as humans have done throughout the ages. The God of the Bible says He isn’t required to explain anything He does.
Consider these verses for example:
- You will say to me then, “Why does He still find fault? For who can resist his will?” But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” (Romans 9:20)
- “Our God is in the heavens; He does all that He pleases.” (Psalm 115:3)
- “Who will say to him, ‘What are you doing?’” Job 9:12
- “None can stay his hand or say to him, “What have you done?” Job 42:2
- “all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and He does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, “What have you done?” (Daniel 4:35)
These verses help to confirm that the God of the Bible was not a design of man created to explain the universe. In anything the Bible raises more questions for which we don’t receive an answer.
- Discover strangeness as holiness
The Trinity helps us to have a healthy perspective on who God is, because He is very unlike me and you in a strange and even scary way. Many people try to explain away and defend God in Scripture by pretending we misunderstand the Old Testament. I think we understand just fine. Those who love God sometimes think that helping people begin to have faith in God requires we hide who God is, but the opposite is true. That God is strange is part of what makes Him God. We shouldn’t be ashamed of God’s strangeness. As strange as God is, he is not a monster either. I think that theologians have tried to help us avoid monstrous pictures of God in our minds when they say that the Father, Son, and Spirit are “members of the “Godhead.” But “Godhead” is also one of the weirdest words I’ve ever heard. If the word Godhead helps you to understand or speak about the Trinity by using that word, good, but ultimately, I believe it’s okay to humbly accept that the creator of the world is impossible to fully understand. The definition of the word “inscrutable” is “impossible to understand or interpret.” (Oxford University Press, accessed on July 31 2020) God’s Word says about Himself, “How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!” (Romans 11:33) This doesn’t let us off the hook for using our brains. God created our brains to read and understand his Word. But that verse should give us a sense of humility about difficult Biblical topics. God himself says that the fullness of His ways are impossible to understand.
I think it’s healthy for us to see God, not as a “monster” but as “alien.” By alien I mean that He is totally something other than us, and not from this world.
God is Holy, which means among other things that He is separate from his creation. Holy means “other” or “set apart.” And this sense there are two categories of things in the universe: 1) God and 2) everything else.
Think about it; since there is only one God, He is the most rare and unusual thing in the universe. God is weird, because He is not like anything else.
C.S. Lewis once implied through one of the characters in his novels that like a lion, God is good, but not necessarily “safe.” (C.S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe) I agree. There are many people in the world that picture God as some jolly fairy in the sky with a long white beard. On the contrary, the Bible says “The Lord is a man of war; the Lord is his name. (Exodus 15:3) God is like a mighty warrior. No one has ever seen God. (John 1:18) Scripture says the Father dwells in unapproachable light and that no one has seen Him or is able to see him. (1 Timothy 6:16) So while God’s people will one day “see” God “face to face” (1 Corinthians 13:12) the face we will be looking at physically will be the glorified human body of Jesus. Jesus is how God has a body. I will explain this more in chapter 5.
Omnipotence, omniscience, omnipresence
The rest of the things that Scripture teaches about God, while they are amazing, are actually easier for us to understand. The first is that God is omnipotent or all-powerful, meaning He can do whatever He pleases. (Psalm 115:3)
And all of God’s other attributes and characteristics flow logically out of his omnipotence. We’re also told about them in Scripture. Since God is all powerful, it makes logical sense that God can be everywhere (omnipresence). If He truly has all power, it makes sense that He can be everywhere and see everything. More important than simple logic, though, this is what God’s Word says: (This was written by King David, who is speaking to God)
Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there! If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me. (Psalm 139:7-10)
God is all powerful and everywhere, and if He can see everything and understand everything, it follows that He knows everything (omniscience). More important than simply logic though, God says about his knowledge of the future in Isaiah 46:9-10: “I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning.”
- He knows the future perfectly
God stood at the beginning and could declare everything from that point to the end, as if it had already happened. Don’t miss this. I think we start out believing this as kids, and it slowly gets muddied by all sorts of philosophy. The Bible clearly says God knows the end from the beginning. God is not bound by time. The future as certain as if it were already in the past. This is why David can say, “in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.” (Psalm 139:16). And this is why the names of those who God knew would trust in Him could be written “before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who was slain.” (Revelation 17:8, See also Revelation 13:8) I can remember thinking about this as a young boy of about seven years old, playing in my front yard. I remember jumping from one spot in the grass to another spot thinking to myself, God knows everything, but does He know that I’m about to do this? And I would jump to another spot very quickly, pretending to try and outsmart God.
What I was dealing with in my mind, of course, was my own freedom in my choices and how they related to God already knowing what I would do. At first, the idea that God knows the future can feel as though we don’t have any freedom, but I’ve come to see that while we have far less freedom than we think we do, the freedom we do have is as real as it can be.
We do what we want. But if you think about that, even what we want is very much given to us. My own dad’s taste buds, for example, refuse to let Him enjoy cilantro. What He wants is for Cilantro everywhere to die. And so He chooses tacos without cilantro, and He is free in a sense to choose that, but the deeper reality is that He received a certain set of taste buds that tell his brain, “You do not enjoy cilantro.”
We do not get to choose where we were born, our eye color, our shoe size, and so many of the things we “like” and “want” to do are based on those parameters. I like running long distances, and I run, but I’ve also always been tall and lanky which gives me an advantage. I enjoy reading and writing and so I read and write – but I can’t deny: I’m probably wired that way. Sometimes we want certain things because we’re male or female. We convince ourselves that we are freely choosing what we do in life but so much of it (I argue 100% of it) is completely based on things that were given to us that were out of our control.
After we’re forced into this life by being born, and discover the limited resources we’re given, we’re still really only free to do 1) what we are able to do and 2) what we want to do, and never one without the other. People talk about “free will” as though we can do whatever we please, but actually, only God can do whatever He pleases. I want to fly using only my body, but my free will does not allow for what I am unable to do. If I am physically capable (able) of walking across the USA, but do not want to, though I could say I am “free” I’m truly bound to what I want. So I won’t walk across the USA because I am unable to, based on my desire. That we have desires for something, or not, gives us the illusion that we created those desires, without ever considering the source. Yet I think anyone who has difficulty losing weight for example, and who knows they are physically “able” wishes they could also simply just create the want in themselves whenever they wish.
Only wants + abilities = freedom, and I’d like to propose (as many scholars have before me) that we’re actually given both of those things by God.
Our abilities are based on the resources we have (working legs, or a working brain, a caring family, or other opportunities), which none of us choose, though we endeavor to change our situations and are often successful at that, but our starting points in life as humans are extremely varied and unfair. What we want to do, our desires, are based on several things, one of which is how God made us. We’re only free to do what we want to do, and we can’t change what we want at a basic level. We just want what we want! Scripture says that God, when He rescues us from sin, changes our wants, so that we want Him more than anything else. “And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.” (Ezekiel 36:26-27) Desiring God is a miracle only God can perform.
Out of all the ways God could have made and started the world, by creating the world in exactly the way He created it, He pre-determined the future. He knew beforehand all that has unfolded and will unfold, including all of the evil that has and will occur. God has accounted for and allowed it all, or else He is not an all powerful and all knowing God.
Unlike a meteorologist who can very accurately guess what the weather will be today, the mind of our perfect God knows the future flawlessly. God is not guessing what will happen next. He is not “hoping” for the best. He has a plan and He is carrying it out without error and without struggle. We have a hard time believing this because we don’t want to believe God could have created the world knowing all of the evil He would be allowing. But if we are to believe the Bible, we ought to see that it clearly says He is ordering the events in the world by what He allows or doesn’t allow. It’s not as though God only controls the big things and doesn’t pay attention to other details. Not one molecule slips past him.
Coming to the world, knowing He would be “murdered” therefore was not an accident, but was the laying down of his life. The believers in Acts acknowledged that God did “whatever [His] hand and [His] plan had predestined to take place.” (Acts 4:28). Many books have been written on this topic alone. (Check out Martin Luther’s Bondage of the Will, or Jonathan Edwards Freedom of the Will.) Please do look them up as they are much more comprehensive than this chapter allows.
I believe our natural tendency is to explain away the clear teaching of the Bible because we don’t understand it (the mystery being: if there is a God, how is there evil?). Instead of answering it with philosophy, we should believe the clear teaching of Scripture, and whatever Scripture doesn’t address we could call a mystery.
Regarding the evil done to Joseph in the Bible, God says He meant it (evil) for good. “you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good.” Genesis 50:20. God meant it, the evil, but He meant it for good.
Amos 3:6 says, “Is a trumpet blown in a city, and the people are not afraid? Does disaster come to a city, unless the Lord has done it?” These are rhetorical questions. When a trumpet is blown in the city, the people are afraid. When disaster comes, the Lord has done it.
Job 2:10 says, “Shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil?” Another rhetorical question. In other words, if we are believers in Christ, then if we receive evil at the hands of others, it is evil being received from God for our good. If God didn’t want us to receive the evil, He wouldn’t allow it. These are hard sayings, and I hope you will stay with me.
The pagan Babylonians took over Israel, and God’s Word says this was because God “gave” Judah over to them (Daniel 1).
The point of these Scriptures is to show us God’s power and present rule over everything, even evil. This should actually bring us great comfort. The only evil that occurs is evil that God has allowed, and nothing more. Evil is like a dog on a leash. God is always accomplishing all that He plans and nothing less (Isaiah 46:9-11).
Sometimes we hear these things and wonder how it is that God can be good. We say things like, “Why, God? What have you done, God?” Daniel 4:34-35 says “His dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom endures from generation to generation; all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and He does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, “What have you done?”” We do of course have the ability to ask, “What have you done?” but the point is that it doesn’t really matter if we ask that, because God will do what He is going to do.
We sometimes ask questions like we see in Romans 9, where the Apostle Paul anticipates an objection to the statements he makes. He says that salvation is not from the will of man but the will of God and by grace alone, and the natural object he raises is, “How then can God find fault with us, for who can resist God’s will?” In other words, if it’s all up to God, then how are we responsible? And we receive an answer to that question. The answer we receive there in Scripture is not an answer we might expect. The answer we receive is simply, “Who are you, oh man, to talk back to God?” That’s not an answer we love. But it’s an answer that reminds us that, while salvation is only by God’s grace, and while we truly are responsible to believe, how those two things are resolved logically is not something we are given this side of heaven. We simply must accept some things without being able to understand everything. It’s a good thing to ask questions with the right attitude, and God will give understanding in his timing.
God is not like us, and we are not his judge. If we think we know a god well enough to criticize him, we think too highly of ourselves. Scripture says we are like grass: here today and gone tomorrow. “As for man, his days are like grass; He flourishes like a flower of the field; for the wind passes over it, and it is gone, and its place knows it no more.” Psalm 103:15-16.
All of this might make you think God is too harsh, or mean, but we only think that because we are fallen creatures who lack understanding. Our perception of God is warped and broken. The contrast of God’s power and our weakness is for our good, and should be a great encouragement. Psalm 8:4 says, “what is man that you are mindful of him?” Here David asks God what we are, as creatures, that God is mindful of us at all. This verse captures what I’m trying to get at here. What is man? Man is nothing compared to God! Yet God is mindful of us! He has spoken to us in His Word! He has taken on human form in Christ Jesus. Why does He pay any attention to us at all? This is all because God is good.
- His Godly power necessitates his goodness
Not only does God’s holiness mean He is different from all creation, but it also means He is good. In fact, the Word says only God is good. (Mark 10:18) While I could list many Scriptures in support of this, I was personally amazed when I learned that it does also logically flow out of the idea of God’s omnipotence: Since God is all-powerful, knows all things, and owns everything, He has no reason to do wrong. He has no motivation to lie, because there is nothing that He can gain by lying, since He needs nothing. He cannot steal, because He cannot take what isn’t already his, because everything is his.
He has a personality
God is more than words and doctrines and inferences of good logic. He is a person, and being a person, He has a personality. God wants us to know Him, and we can’t know Him by simply thinking about God. The Bible teaches us who God is, and it shows us He isn’t like what we would naturally think. For example, the Bible reveals God is like a dad that loves his kids. (Matthew 7:11) God is like a son, who honors his dad and does what is right. (John 14:31) God is like a mother who gives birth to life and humbly supports her family. (Matthew 23:27) Instead of assuming God is like a robot that only does as programmed, or assume that we understand who He is, we should instead seek to understand what He like, based on how He himself has revealed to us in his Word, by reading it and studying it.
The Ax: God is strange, good, kind, and in charge.
The Ox: God’s abundance in His omnipotence logically results in his goodness.
- There is one God
- He is all-powerful, He is all-knowing, He is everywhere
- He exists in one essence of three persons or hypostases
- Being triune is unusual of a human but this is not unusual for God
- He is Holy and strange
- He is good and in need of nothing
- He does all that He pleases
- He has a personality. He is a Father, He is a Son, He is a Holy Spirit.
GOSPEL MEMORIZATION GRAPHIC
In the beginning was the Word. (John 1:1)
In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. And God saw that the light was good. (Genesis 1:1)
EXAMPLE OF HOW TO SHARE THE GOSPEL
After every couple chapters I will write example of how you can share what you’ve read with others and we will build upon these sentences until the end of the book:
“Let me tell you about the Gospel, which is the good news that we read about in God’s Word, the Bible: God exists and He is good…”