At Hill City you will often hear us say, "The most important thing about you is what you believe about God." But what does this actually mean? What is a right view of God? What does this have to do with me? At Hill City we are committed to pursuing a right view of God and we believe this is comes from our theology.
Theology? What is it? Is it just some dusty old hobby for pastors to talk about? Isn't it just something that divides people? Is it just some way to uphold an oppressive religious system?
“Theology is unavoidable for all of humanity; Christian or non-Christian.”
I’m sure you’ve heard some of these remarks when talking about religion or theology. But as it turns out, there’s a big difference between what human beings think about organized religion and what studying the true nature and character of God actually is. The former is purely natural (made by men) but the second is supernatural (given by God) and a form of worship through the scriptures.[i] To put it simply, your theology is any thought you have about God, whether true or false.
Theology is unavoidable for all of humanity; Christian or non-Christian and rightfully so: Pastor and Theologian, R.C. Sproul spent most of his life passionately teaching that “it is not a question of whether we are going to engage in theology; it is a question of whether our theology is sound or unsound. It is important to study and learn because God has taken great pains to reveal Himself to His people” (Sproul, pg. 12). A Biblical theology, then, is essential to understanding who God is, which is truly the only way we can know who we are. It is my hope and prayer that this article would encourage you to think deeply about the Living, Triune God of the Bible and trust the revelation He has given us, that we might be transformed more into His image.
Who is God?
In our Bibles, the book of Deuteronomy records Moses’s final speeches to the Israelites before they enter the Promised Land. The people stand on the threshold of a new future in the land of Canaan, and Moses exhorts them to love and obey the Lord; which is, to experience life in all its fullness. With good reason, Moses underlines the need for exclusive loyalty to God, warning of the danger imposed by the idolatrous practices of the nations already living in Canaan. Moses restates the obligations of the Sinai Covenant recorded in Exodus 19-24, reminding the people of how obedience will bring blessing and disobedience will bring disaster. Deuteronomy is important to us as Christians today for many reasons, but it holds specific significance in developing a Biblical theology through a proper perspective.
“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates” (Deuteronomy 6:4-9).
In Jewish history, this passage has been referred to as the Shema, from the original Hebrew word meaning “hear” and is still recited morning, noon and night by Jews in their worship.[ii] Why? What’s the significance of this anyway and how can this ONE God be THREE persons? As was said earlier, the God of the Bible is triune; three in one. Triune refers to God as both three (tri) but one (une) and in the Shema, we get a peek into the heart of old testament believers and how they thought about God; they thought of God as One, not in persons but in substance[iii], One Creator of One Creation.[iv] The Shema shows God’s control of all other beings and all other created things. He alone is the God of all things in heaven, earth, and the sea[v] because He created them all.[vi] The Jews recite the Shema in worship to remind themselves where their loyalty lies and Who exactly it is that they serve.
“The being of each Person is equal to the whole being of God.”
This summer at Hill City, we took a similar adventure as the Jews in reciting the Shema when we taught through a mini-series on the attributes of God and you’ll remember we looked at His Sovereignty, Holiness, Self-Sufficiency and Power. These are just a few of His attributes, but there are many others such as His Providence, His Goodness, His Righteousness, His All-Knowingness, His Self-Containing nature, and the list goes on. The Shema is not denying any of these attributes to any of the members of the trinity but rather, it affirms these attributes in all of the trinity[vii]; this is why the Shema is important to us.
We cannot divide the triune God of the Bible, or we will have no understanding of who He actually is. For example, Colossians 2:9 says of Christ, “For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily.” This passage from Colossians only affirms the deity of Christ and the importance of the one substance that Christ shares with the Father and the Spirit. Pastor and Theologian John Piper helps explain this: “we should not think of God as a pie cut into three pieces, each piece representing a Person. This would make each Person less than fully God and thus not God at all” (Piper, DG – What is the Doctrine of the Trinity). Wayne Grudem agrees in saying, “the being of each Person is equal to the whole being of God” (Grudem, Systematic Theology, pg. 255). The divine substance[viii] is not something that is divided between the three persons but is fully in all three persons without being divided into parts.
“God’s Providence is in the Person and Work of Jesus Christ.”
Now I know what you’re probably thinking… all this sounds cool but it’s all just spiritual and kind of like a "pie in the sky," right? What I want to propose to you is that this is actually vital to our understanding of who God is. God is an eternal, all-knowing, all-powerful, all-sufficient being existing as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. He rules over and interacts with His creation; theologians have called this the Providence of God. Through His Providence, God works His Will even through our intentional decisions and “that is the great comfort of the doctrine of providence – that God stands over all things and works them together for the good of His people (Rom. 8:28), and he is the ultimate source of our comfort in the person of Jesus Christ and the assurance of the Holy Spirit’s ministry (Rom. 8:16)” (Sproul, pg. 83). Finally, the ultimate hope and display of God’s Providence is in the Person and Work of Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh[ix] for our justification, sanctification and assurance.[x]
To recap, we’ve talked about how God is triune and how every quality of the trinity is present within every member of it. All three members are all-knowing, all three members are all-powerful, all three members are all-sufficient. Now we may begin to look at the question of who are we?
Who are We?
After we take the time to look at Who God is, understanding that we only scratch the surface of His nature,[xi] we see that He is in control,[xii] that He cares for His creation,[xiii] that He is with us and able to fully sympathize,[xiv] that He has paid the price for our redemption in His perfect sacrifice[xv] and that He continually testifies to the Father on our behalf.[xvi]
“The beauty and perfection of the garden only lasted to page three of our Bibles.”
At the most meaningful level and something that is basic to our nature, we are made in the image of God and given dominion (rule) over His creation.[xvii] We were made to be like God, Holy and Perfect.[xviii] However, the beauty and perfection of the garden only lasted to page three of our Bibles. Genesis 3 tells us of the idolatry of the human heart in which we’ve chosen our own way instead of the way of our all-knowing, all-powerful, all-sufficient Father.[xix] In light of the fall, the Bible tells us of the inertial drift away from God in the human heart and the relentless pursuit of God toward those same people. In the most basic form, we are a people made in the image of God, pursued by God despite our choice to reject Him!
Many books have been written on the Doctrine of man[xx] and many others have been written on who we are as broken people full of sin in a broken and corrupt world yet pursued by God.[xxi] But we are to take heart; the fall and our sin are not the end of our story, this is merely the beginning of a beautiful epic narrative with one Hero made to redeem it all; JESUS CHRIST!
In light of what we’ve learned, may the beauty of God so captivate your heart that you would “present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. [That you may] not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:1-2 parentheses mine).
[i] Deuteronomy 11:18-23; Joshua 1:8; Psalm 119:15-16, 105; Proverbs 3:1-2; 4:6-7; Romans 15:4; 1 Corinthians 10:12-13; Hebrews 4:12
[ii] Mark 12:29-30
[iii] In the unity of the Godhead there be three persons, of one substance, power, and eternity: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost: the Father is of none, neither begotten, nor proceeding; the Son is eternally begotten of the Father; the Holy Ghost eternally proceeding from the Father and the Son. (Westminster Confession of Faith article 2.3).
[iv] For more on the Doctrine of the Trinity; specifically explaining Three persons in One essence see Frame, Systematic Theology pg. 481-89; Grudem, Systematic Theology, pg. 255-57; Sproul, Everyone’s a Theologian, pg. 52-60
[v] Deuteronomy 4:39; 2 Kings 19:15
[vi] Nehemiah 9:6; Malachi 2:10
[vii] 25. SINCE THERE IS BUT ONE DIVINE BEING,  WHY DO YOU SPEAK OF THREE PERSONS: FATHER, SON, AND HOLY SPIRIT? Because God has so revealed Himself in His Word, that these three distinct persons are the one, true, eternal God. Deut 6:4; Isa 44:6, 45:5; 1 Cor 8:4-6;  Gen 1:2-3; Ps 110:1; Isa 61:1, 63:8-10; Mt 3:16-17, 28:18-19; Lk 4:18; Jn 14:26, 15:26; 2 Cor 13:14; Gal 4:6; Tit 3:5-6. (Heidelberg Catechism Q&A 25).
[viii] There are three persons in the Godhead; the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost; and these three are one God, the same in substance, equal in power and glory. (Westminster Shorter Catechism Q&A 5)
[ix] John 1:1-4
[x] Hebrews 1:1-4
[xi] Romans 11:33-36
[xii] Matt. 11:26; Acts 2:23; 4:27-28; Rom. 8:29; 9:11; Eph. 1:5, 9, 11; 3:11
[xiii] Matt. 5:4; Jn 14:27; 16:7; Rom. 15:13; 2 Cor. 1:3-4; Heb. 13:6
[xiv] Heb. 2:18; 4:15
[xv] 1 Pet. 1:19; Heb. 10:1-18
[xvi] Gal. 3:19-20; 1 Tim. 2:5; Heb. 8:6; 9:15; 12:24
[xvii] Gen. 1:26-31
[xviii] Lev. 19:1; Matt. 5:48; 1 Pet. 1:15-16
[xix] Gen. 3:22-24
[xx] G.C. Berkouwer — Man: The Image of God (1962); J. Gresham Machen — The Christian View of Man (1984); John W. Cooper — Body, Soul & Life Everlasting (2000); John Piper and Wayne Grudem, eds. — Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (2006); G.C. Berkouwer — Sin.
[xxi] The Biblical Counseling Movement: History and Context (Powlison); Seeing with New Eyes: Counseling and the Human Condition Through the Lens of Scripture (Powlison); Anxiety (Kellemen); Leading with a Limp (Allender); Healing the Wounded Heart (Allender); Biblical Counseling (Kellemen).