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Foundations (5): There is One God

W S Stevely, Ayr

Both the Old Testament and the New are unequivocal. There is only one God. The well known words of Deuteronomy 6.4, "Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord", resound through the nation’s history to the present day. There is no God but Jehovah. Idols are false and have no reality (though demon powers may make use of them). In concert with this Paul states to Timothy, "For there is one God" (1 Tim 2.5), and at Athens claimed that the one who to them was the "unknown God" is "God that made the world and all things therein" and has no rivals. James also makes clear that he has not deviated from this truth. "Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well" (Jas 2.19).

God in three persons

However the reality of the nature of God is more complex than the simple formula of Deuteronomy or the New Testament statements quoted above might lead one to suspect. The Christian God is one but in three persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This has readily led to the accusation by Jews (and Moslems) that we have three gods, not one, and that the notion of God having a Son, born into this world in the person of Christ is incredible. For us the answer must be, "What says the Scripture?".

In earlier articles we have looked at some aspects of God’s character. Now the focus will be on the triune nature of God. That something complex is to be expected should be obvious from the earliest pages of our Bible. "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness" (Gen 1.26) not only has a plural that is hard to dismiss as a "royal ‘We’", but rather suggests communication between persons. Therefore to make man in God’s image required male and female and so the possibility of communication in the creature who is "after our likeness".

The Son was sent

This clear signal from the beginning of God’s revelation of Himself to mankind is more easily understood when we come to the New Testament. In asking about the nature of the Lord Jesus we find that He is the Son who was sent. He did not begin when He was conceived in Mary’s womb. He is able to say, "Verily, verily, I say unto you, Before Abraham was, I am" (Jn 8.58). So, Romans 8.3 has the phrase, "…God sending his own Son", and from the lips of the Saviour Himself we hear, "Say ye of him, whom the father hath sanctified, and sent into the world, Thou blasphemist; because I said, I am the Son of God?" (Jn 10.36). Similarly John is firm that "we have seen and do testify that the Father sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world" (1 Jn 4.14). It is plain from these that the one sent is already the Son at the time of the sending! The idea of "Son" implies a relationship drawn from a common nature. Does that make the Son, God?

Taking Scripture at face value, a simple conclusion is that in thinking of the one God we must take into account both the Father and the Son. (More of the Holy Spirit later.) But does the Son of God have to be Himself truly God? He is, of course "begotten not created". Colossians 1 ensures that we grasp that He is the Creator and stands in dignity and glory as "the Firstborn" over it all. John 1.3 emphasises this by explaining that "without him was not anything made that was made". He is the One who is the "brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person" (Heb 1.3), and thus we come to understand that when God wishes to reveal Himself He does so in the person of His Son.

The Deity of the Son

That the Son has all the attributes of Deity and so is able fully to reveal God is surely in the mind of Paul as he writes, "in him dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead bodily" (Col 2.9). From the lips of the Lord Jesus Himself, in response to the request, "Shew us the Father", we hear His claim, "Have I been so long time with you, and yet hast thou not known me, Philip? He that hath seen me hath seen the Father" (Jn 14.8,9). This statement of the Saviour merits close study (or perhaps meditation would be a better word to use). He does not simply say that He reveals the Father or is like the Father. Rather He states a unity such that there is one God in at least two persons.

The accusation often made is that the Lord Jesus did not make these claims to Deity but that they were later added by His disciples. That view depends on the thesis that the Gospels are not good records of the life of Christ. Yet over and over again they command respect for the obvious knowledge shown by the writers of the times and places they deal with, and despite claims to the contrary, they give complementary and not contradictory accounts. The alleged discrepancies have so often been demolished by careful exegesis that it is tiresome to find them repeated by the likes of Dawkins in his latest book The God Delusion who thereby simply demonstrates a lack of knowledge of the Scriptures and seems to have no genuine interest in coming to an understanding of them.

It is worthy of note that all four Gospel writers, not just John, speak of the Saviour as God or as the Son of God; Mark writes, "the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God" (1.1), Matthew tells of the words of Isaiah - "they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us" (1.23), and Luke has the word from Gabriel that "that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God" (1.35). John has already been quoted, but a further reference is important. John refers to the experience of Isaiah as described in ch.6 of his prophecy and continues, "These things said Esaias when he saw his glory, and spake of him" (Jn 12.41). Here there is a clear claim that the Lord of Hosts seen by Isaiah, Jehovah, is none other than the one of whom John writes. The deliberate linking of Jehovah and Christ puts to the sword the false teaching of so-called Jehovah’s Witnesses. Isaiah (the true JW!) saw His (the Lord Jesus’) glory and spoke of Him!

John’s Gospel was written that we "might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name" (20.31). At the beginning of his Gospel he says not only that the Lord was "with God" but that He also "was God". In it the signs that point to this truth are recorded as are the words of the Saviour that affirm it.

John particularly is the writer who speaks of the love of God. Indeed he states that "God is love" (1 Jn 4.8). If this is an essential characteristic of God, then from our understanding of the nature of love and of the love of God this virtue does not exist in the abstract. Love must have an object. If the Godhead is three persons in one, then the fact that God is love fits with the concept that love is always present and enjoyed within the Trinity. That the Lord loves the Father is clear. He says to His disciples, "That the world may know that I love the Father; and as the Father gave me commandment, even so I do" (Jn 14.31). Just a little later He tells them, "As the Father hath loved me, so have I loved you" (Jn 15.9). With this in mind there is great encouragement from the truth that we are "accepted in the beloved" (Eph 1.6).

Among the proofs of the fact that the Lord Jesus is truly God there is one that stands out that we have not yet considered. For one who held to the truth that there is one God the corollary was that only He could be worshipped. This the Lord brought before the Devil during the Temptation in responding, "Get thee behind me, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve" (Lk 4.8). Yet Scripture records many occasions when the Lord Jesus is ascribed and accepts worship. To pick out a few: the wise men worship the child (Mt 2.11), a leper worships Him in manhood (Mt 8.2), as do the disciples (Mt 14.33). The unchallenged statement of Thomas to the risen Lord is, "My Lord and my God (Jn 20.28). Hebrews 1.6 uses of the Lord Jesus the prophetic word: "And let all the angels of God worship him".

The response, therefore, that ought to follow our understanding that the Lord Jesus is God the Son is first worship and then, if the worship be genuine, obedience.

To be continued.

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