People have been acknowledging or worshipping something they call God for a very long time.
- Ancient Peoples - worshipped nature gods that represented the cycle of harvest and rain, birth and death. There were countless local gods for every purpose in every culture and geographic area. For example The Baal gods of the Canaanites, the Egyptians worshipped the Sun or the Babylonians added magic to religion with the idea that you could manipulate the unseen powers. Although the names and rituals changed from place to place, the gods of the ancients were made from the universe in which the people lived.
- The Greeks - worshipped gods that had human as well as super human qualities. Their pantheon of gods were like a soap opera with gods marrying, being at war and grieving over lost love. With time the Greek philosophers developed a concept that merged all of these semi-gods into a "Universal One". They removed personality from their idea of God and saw deity as the "ground force" for everything that is. The idea of "the force be with you" in the Star War movies was nothing new - simply a version of Neo-Platonistic philosophy.
- The Jews - although a small nation, had a profound effect on the world at large because of their religion. They held that there was only one God and that He had consciousness, will and personality. They also believed that their God was the only God that existed and that He had a personal relationship with them as a nation in blessing them, protecting them and promising them a future salvation that would benefit them forever. The Jewish religion had the most sophisticated and advanced theological ideas, religious ceremonies and recorded moral teachings of its day.
These are the three of the four main sources for religious thought and practice even until today.
There are still variations of the Primitive forms of religion being practiced (especially in developing nations) today. Many native peoples (even here in Canada) are trying to re-establish these ancient religions in the modern age. The New Age movement and the environmental extremists have at their base the idea that earth or nature is somehow sacred and the source of life. To be at one with nature is to have reached the highest spiritual level.
The Greek model has also endured in many forms as well. Eastern religions like Hinduism and Buddhism mix the writings of ancient teachers with the idea of the Universal Oneness, Nirvana. There are endless mutations of these where the goal is to merge with that ground force or Oneness that the Greeks talked about. (Although the Greeks did not believe you could do this.) All the "self actualization" philosophies rest on this idea and are the most popular form of semi-religious thought in America today (topping into the power in order to succeed through principles or lifestyle changes etc.)
Judaism survives in an extremely politicized movement today (Modern Israel Zionist Movement). And Islam (Moslems) owes their beginnings and historical roots to the Jewish religion, even if they are mortal enemies today.
Now I've said that these, in a general way, represent three of the four main ideas about God that mankind has pursued throughout history and even until this day. There is a fourth way, a fourth idea of God which many have had and worshipped and that is the God of the Bible, the divine being revealed in the pages of Holy Scripture. In this lesson I'd like to focus on this God, the God we read about in our Bibles.
God is the God of the Bible
One of our greatest problems in knowing the character of God is that we allow many of the false notions from these other sources/religions to creep into our thinking. For example:
- That, like the ancient Greek idea that God is a force from which we see and think but we are not answerable to that force.
- That like the primitive gods, God is part of the natural world and not separate from it. i.e. - the tree or river is part of God, thus sacred.
- Or like the modern idea of God that He can be manipulated somehow for our success and happiness by the following food and lifestyle rules.
We borrow ideas from these sources and mix them in with our own beliefs on God and come out with a blurry vision of who God really is. The only source for information on God is the Bible, His revealed Word. Now if I were speaking to an audience of unbelievers, I would have to supply some proof to back up the statement I'd just made. For example:
- That the Bible has hundreds of prophecies made in the O.T. fulfilled in the New.
- That in a collection of 66 books written over a period of 1500 years there are no contradictions or errors - all points to a Divine Author.
But you know and believe the many reasons why we accept the Bible as God's word so I won't spend time proving something we all agree on and accept. What I'm saying then is that if we want a true picture of who God is, we must go to the Bible and only the Bible for this information.
The God of the Bible
There are very many ways that the Bible refers to God so I will choose only a few that give us an overall picture:
A. God is the all God - From the first verse of the Bible where it says that God created the heavens and the earth - to the last few lines in Revelation where God presides over the tree of life - He is the all God. In Genesis 14:20 during the earliest years of man's existence, Melchizedek, king of Salem and priest blessed Abraham in the name of the "Most High God". The world was rife with pagan deities at that time and so Melchizedek referred to God who was above all the so called gods and deities of the pagans. By His creation we can know that He is:
- All powerful because He has the power to create something from things not seen (Hebrews 11:3)
- All knowing because the creator of the whole must exceed the parts in knowledge.
- All seeing, hearing, all discerning because to create sight, hearing and conscience one must observe all, understand all, perceive all.
To be able to create time (because the Bible says "in the beginning") God must be beyond time, without time as a constraint. When Moses asked God who he should say sent him to the Israelites to lead them out of Egyptian bondage, God replied, "Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel, "I AM has sent me to you.'" Exodus 3:14. The name "I AM" refers to His eternal nature. He is the God of time because He is not bound by time. In French, when we refer to God, one of the most used terms in the French translation of the Bible is L'ETERNEL. The eternal one. Only God can be eternal without time, this is an identifying mark of the true God.
So when the Bible talks about God it is referring to a being without limits, without flaws, without equals - He is the all God and the God of all. The Bible establishes this as first and foremost, so that it is clear that there is a God, there is only one God and He is the God of all. Another thing the Bible says about God is:
B. God is a Holy God - That God is God of all is a primary teaching of the Bible in the Old Testament. That God is a "holy" God is the fundamental teaching concerning His character. The prophets Isaiah 40:25; Habakkuk 3:3; Hosea 11:9 among others referred to God as the Holy One.
Holy in the sense that He is the opposite of evil, darkness or imperfection. He is holy and His holiness (purity) is often described in physical terms as light or brightness of fire.
- The burning bush - Moses
- Fire on mountain top - Exodus 24:17
- Moses' face shone brightly after speaking with God - so great was the brightness. Exodus 34:29
The 10 Commandments, the rituals, the priesthood, the tabernacle, the temple were all instituted to convey to man in human terms that God, unlike man, was holy, pure, without any blemish or imperfection of any kind. His holiness is so great that man, being the sinner that he is, would immediately die if he came into the presence of God - so powerful was the glory of God's holiness. Only the high priest could enter the Holy of Holies once per year to offer sacrifice for the people, with God's permission.
God has the authority to establish the basis or law for what is right and wrong; He is worthy to receive worship and adoration because He is the holy One. There is nothing or no one in all of existence that can be holy except God and the only way to become holy is to be associated or separated by Him for His use. Can't produce holiness by association only.
C. The God of Love - If the Old Testament's main characteristic of God was that He was holy, the New Testament's main concept of Him is that He is the God of Love. The story of the entire Old Testament is how God created a special nation and protected and nurtured them for almost 2000 years so that He could take on a human form as part of that particular culture and people. The story of the New Testament is how, God in the human form of Jesus offered Himself in death as a payment for the moral debt of all mankind.
How He gave proof of His divinity and offer of salvation by resurrecting from the dead and established the church to spread the good news of salvation for all the world. He is the God of love because without being asked, He sacrificed an aspect of His divine nature so that His creation could have the opportunity to share the joys of divine existence forever. There is no equal or similar expression of kindness or grace that human beings have done or are even capable of doing even if they thought or tried. He is the God of love because no one else can or has loved as He has loved and yet we are witnesses and participants in this love.
What does this mean?
There is no end of talking about or praising God's character or His virtues. This is the experience of heaven where there is no time; here we only have 30 minutes. So I will leave my description of the God of the Bible at these three aspects about Him and finish by trying to connect what these things we know about who God is have to do with our own experience. In other words - so what if God is the God of all, the God of Holiness, the God of Love? So what?
1. If God is the God of all, then He is the God of our prayers
We are the most blessed people because the Bible has led us to the only One who truly hears and can answer our prayers. When you pray remember that the God of all is the God who cares about all of the things in your life and can work in all areas of your life. It's a comforting fact to know that there is only one God and He is the one we specifically pray to as Christians.
2. If He is the God of Holiness, then as His people we also must strive to be holy.
Peter the Apostle said it this way,
"..but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior, because it is written, 'You shall be holy, for I am holy.'"
- I Peter 1:15-16
We forget that God's holiness has not changed just because the world has changed since the days of Moses. There's no such thing as an O.T. God and a newer, more hip, cooler, more lenient New Testament version of God.
God is always the same.
He hates lying and stealing and sexual impurity and drunkedness and every other sin that men have ever committed. For us this means that we should strive as diligently as ever to live holy and pure lives because we have in 2007 the same holy God whose Glory is blinding and who hates sin. It also means that we need to be reverential in our worship when we gather.
- Worship is holy because it's offered to the Holy One.
- Disrespect, inattention, disobedience of how it should be carried out are all insults to His holy presence among us when we worship.
- We are not an example of holiness when at times of worship we are continually late or spend our time chit chatting in the halls or check our phone messages…does this seem HOLY to you?
Let us approach the Holy One with the same awe and piety as our brethren did in both O.T./N.T. times because He is still and always will be the Holy One.
3. If He is the God of Love, then there is hope for us as sinners.
If God were only the God of all and the God of Holiness we could know of Him and understand who He is, but we could never come to Him for forgiveness and encouragement and renewal - His holiness and our sins would be incompatible and would prevent this. But because He condescended to reach out to us in love; because He bridged the gap between us with the blood of Christ, we can now enter into His presence through the door marked love.
It's not that one of His qualities is better or more important than another. It's that because one of His qualities is perfect love we can be reconciled to His other qualities of holiness and perfection. I am in awe of His all encompassing power; I am in reverence of His Holiness; but I am eternally grateful that He is also the God who can love a sinner like me.
When it comes to God, let's be as James says in James 1:19, "Quick to hear and slow to speak." Knowing that we are dealing with the Holy God who is above all. When it comes time to respond to the invitation at the end of the lesson, let's remember that it's the God of love who invited us to come to Him.
- To cast down our burden of sins in repentance and baptism.
- To lay our cares and troubles at His feet in prayer.
- To offer our hands and hearts in service to the church.
The true God of the Bible, the God of perfect love and holiness and power calls you to Him now as we stand and sing - don't refuse to come to Him if He is calling you now.