Lots of peoplel have lots of ideas about God. Are all the ideas true? Simply saying “I believe in God” isn’t enough. In order to have faith in the God of the Bible, we have to believe in the right God. To explain this, I need to talk about God’s essence That may sound weird, but I bet you’re familiar with the concept.
Coffee could be weak, cold, decaf, sugar, cream… Espresso? Folgers? But what about Pepsi? Does that count as coffee? There is a difference between the characteristics or attributes of coffee vs the essence of coffee. What is the essential essence? At what point is coffee not coffee? Reducing something to that which is necessary, or essential, leaves us with essence.Essence is the defining characteristic of a thing. Coffee must come from coffee beans. This is not picky or mean – it’s just the truth!
We think about attributes and essence all the time without knowing it. Think about all the conversations you have had with organic eaters. They are all about purity – nothing unnatural – nothing unknown. They’re looking for purity through the entire food chain as well as the production. They feel it is vitally important to get this right. How do they do it? It’s not something they just know. It requires reading labels, studying blogs, talking to others… It’s a full-time commitment that never ends.
Do we take our theology this seriously? Can we elaborate what we believe about God and why? Can we do it as well as health care, coffee, diets, superheroes, computer, phone, sports… We should be able to, because what you think about God touches everything. When it comes to theology, we should be reading at least as many labels, talking to at least as many people, studying at least as many books, etc. I’m talking about pursuit, not perfection. It’s impossible to have 100% pure water, but imperative to aim for it. It’s impossible to have 100% perfect theology, but imperative to aim for it. We should always be seeking to find our false beliefs, and correct them.
I’ve heard the claim, “Relationship more important than proper theology.” Let’s try a parallel to see if that’s true. Can I relate to my wife, Aubrey, properly if I do not know who she is? You might ask her after the service. She’s the tall, redhead, loves summer, hates going north, can’t stand farms or ships… That’s not true, of course. And if I thought it was, you would rightly say, “You don’t know your wife.” In the same way, can I relate to God properly if I do not know who he is? Theology is important!
Some questions we’ll be looking at: What are the characteristics of God? What is essential about God? Figuring out these answers will help us tell the difference between true and false gods. Knowing who God is helps me spot the impostors. There are some very popular teachings that have God all wrong:
- A “god” who is “in everything” is not the God of the bible
- A “god” who created the world then walked away is not the God of the bible
- A “god” who will do whatever you say is not…
- A “god” who approves of whatever you do is not…
So, how do we know about God? Well, only God gets to declare who he is. Our speculations and opinions don’t matter. God uses General revelation (nature) & special revelation (the Bible and Jesus) to show who He is. We don’t get to define God. What we think doesn’t matter if it doesn’t square with scripture. We learn about God, from God. His revelation in the Bible is not complete, but it is sufficient. It doesn’t tell us everything there is to know about God, but it tells us everything we need to know about God. He is knowable, yet incomprehensible. We can know him truly, but we cannot know him fully. Much about God is unfathomable, but the mystery begins after we’ve looked at all we can know, not before.
There is a God (evident from nature and scripture) Hebrews 11:6 says, “Whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists.” If you don’t believe that, you can’t be a Christian. A Godless Christianity cannot save. Believing God exists is the beginning of our theology.
God is simple. There is a doctrine called Divine Simplicity. (It simply means not uncomplicated, or without parts). We describe people by attributes that exist outside of them, but God’s attributes are things that do not exist apart from him. When we talk about things like love, mercy, justice, holiness, wisdom, and wrath – we are observing things that do not exist apart from God.
God has characteristics, and they cannot be taken away. In fact, nothing about God needs to be, or even can be, stripped away. Everything about him is essential. One way of putting it is, “God is pure essence”
God is one. “The Lord is God and there is none other besides him” (Deuteronomy 4:35). Christians are monotheists, which just means we believe there is one God. This belief is essential to Christianity, but it is not complete. Muslims believe in One God, but are going to hell. Mormons believe in many gods, but going to hell. “Believing in God” is not enough, because only the God of the bible can save. So it is imperative that you get the right one.
God is a trinity. Here’s a topic that has confused many people. The Bible sometimes refers to God in plural (“Let us make man in our image” Genesis 1:26; “In the beginning, God…” Genesis 1:1 – Elohim is plural). Many other times, the Bible refers to God in singular (“Tell them I AM sent you” is a notable example). How do we reconcile this? As we saw above, the bible is adamant that there is only one God. So where does the plural come from?
Let’s go back to essence. God has only one of those, yet the Bible speaks of the Father/Son/Holy Spirit as all having this essence. The plurality spoken of is personhood. So, God is one in essence, three in person (1 ‘what’ and 3 ‘who’). Rejecting the trinity is heresy because of where it takes you. Historically, the church has been very creative in ways to reject trinity:
- modalism (shape shifter) Problem: Who was Jesus praying to?
- docetism (illusion/hologram) Problem: An illusion can’t suffer, bleed, and atone for our sins.
- tritheism (three Gods)Problem: Destroys monotheism
- partialism (three parts) Problem: Destroys simplicity. Not fully God, each is only ⅓ God.
Why do I think this is important? Because I don’t want to see your faith shipwrecked. Timothy was a pastor that the apostle Paul was mentoring. Paul’s letters to Timothy were the last things he wrote. In these letters, Paul gave Timothy instructions and warnings. He told him that people would leave the faith because they would follow teachers who opposed God and his commandments. He repeatedly encouraged him to teach sound doctrine and avoid false. He told him that his own people would want him to teach the things they wanted to hear rather than the truth. What does that mean for us? Are there things we want to hear that are not true?
- “I know God says not to do this, but he’ll forgive me so it’s ok.”
- “If I do this for God, he’ll do this for me.”
- “I may not be perfect, but I’m better than most people. Plus I go to church and give money to homeless people sometimes. God will count that toward my account.”
- “If I find a promise anywhere in the bible, I can claim it for myself and God has to honor that promise for me. “
- “God is love, so he wouldn’t send people to hell or tell people who they can’t marry”
Are these things that the Bible says are true about God, or are they things that we want to be true about God? The Bible describes God. These are the attributes I referred to earlier. If we say anything about God that contradicts the Bible, we are using God’s name in vain. And doing that is making a God to our own liking. A God of your own making cannot save you.
Paul gave Timothy a pretty good rundown in the opening of the first letter he sent him. The law is good. It is good because it condemns sinners and shows them their faults. But God doesn’t leave them there. He sent Christ to save sinners. Those who pervert or twist that are wrong, so fight the good fight! Those who turned to another gospel have shipwrecked their faith.
Much more must be said that I don’t have time to say. Knowing God is a terrifying privilege. He is love but he is also just. He is mercy but he is also wrath. He is all of these things simultaneously. He will not be mocked. So while the one who himself is love will win, that doesn’t mean it will be sunshine and happiness for everyone. The judgment that comes when God wins will be a bitter and fearsome day for many, many people. That’s why learning proper doctrine is so important. Unless you truly know God, you have shipwrecked your faith and you are dead in your sins.
Scripture is clear. God does not save the whole world. He does save, but he does so on his terms. We must understand that in every sin, he is the one chiefly offended. Our hearts are wicked and depraved, and we deserve nothing. However, in his mercy, he has provided a means of salvation. He has given his son – Jesus, who was God himself – to die in our place and spare our souls. He is preparing a place for those who accept his offer of forgiveness. He has also described the plans he has for those who reject it. Only this God can save you. A God of your own making cannot save you. Knowing this God will change your life. If you know this God, you cannot help but worship him. Proper knowledge of this God will drive you to repentance, to worship, and quite likely to an emotional response. It is a certainty. But it doesn’t work the other way. None of these things will lead you to God.
If you weren’t aware of him before, now you are. And that puts you in a tough spot. Repent. Place your faith in Christ. Get to know God as he really is instead of the popular myths you have made up or heard from someone else. God is good, but he is just. And that is both good and terrible news.