The Nature of God

Bruce Terry

What is God like? Is Jesus God? How can Jesus and the Father both be God and yet there be only one God? Have you ever wondered about questions such as these? It is not easy to understand about the nature of God. But we can know what the Bible teaches about God, even if it is sometimes hard to understand. Basically, the Bible teaches three facts about the nature of God. They are as follows:

  1. There is only one God.
  2. The Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God.
  3. The Father is not the Son, the Father is not the Holy Spirit, and the Son is not the Holy Spirit.
Let us look briefly at some of the scriptures that show these three facts. First, how do we know there is only one God? Well, Deuteronomy 6:4 says, "Hear, 0 Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord." And Deuteronomy 4:39 says, "Know therefore this day, and lay it to your heart, that the LORD is God in heaven above and on earth beneath; there is no other." Again in Isaiah 43:10b-11 we read, "Before me no god was formed, nor shall there be any after me, I, I am the Lord, and besides me there is no savior." Again God says in Isaiah 44:6b, "I am the first and I am the last; besides me there is no god." And in Isaiah 45:21e he says, "And there is not other god besides me, a righteous God and a Savior; there is none besides me." Other scriptures which show the same thing are Isaiah 44:8; 45:5, 6, 22; Mark 12:29; I Corinthians 8:4-6; and James 2:19, among others.

Second, where are the scriptures where the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are all called God? The Father is called God in many places. For example, II Peter 1:17 says, ". . . he received honor and glory from God the Father and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, 'This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.'" Jesus is called God in John 1:1, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." He is also called God in Romans 9:5, Titus 2:13, and Hebrews 1:8. The Holy Spirit is called God in Acts 5:3-4. There Peter tells Ananias that when he lied to the Holy Spirit, he lied to God.

And finally, how do we know that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are not all the same? It is because of such passages as John 15:26, where Jesus says, "But when the Counselor comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness to me." Other passages that show the same thing are John 6:38; 7:16; 14:28 and I Corinthians 15:27-28.

But many people will say that all three of these facts cannot be true. One denomination teaches that only the first and last are true and therefore Jesus is not God. Another teaches that only the first two are true and that Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are just different names for the one God. Still another teaches that only the last two are true and thus while there is only one Godhead, there are many Gods. But the Bible teaches that all three are true! Yes, that is hard to understand, but it can be understood.

Take the example of the sun. We call the ball of fire that the earth circles "the sun." When light from it comes through the window, we say "the sun" is coming through the window. On a warm day, we may say that "the sun" is hot that day. 1) We call the ball of fire, the radiated light, and the radiated heat all the sun. 2) The light and heat come out from the ball of fire. 3) The light and heat and ball of fire are not the same. 4) And yet there is only one sun. 5) Further, you would not have sun if any of these were missing. We understand this well enough. Now go back and put in those five sentences the word "God" instead of "sun," "Father, instead of "ball of fire," "Son" instead of "light," and "Holy Spirit" instead of "heat." Then you will have what the Bible teaches about God. 1) We call the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit all God. 2) The Son and the Holy Spirit come out from the Father. 3) The Son and the Holy Spirit and the Father are not the same. 4) And yet there is only one God. 5) Further, you would not have God if any of these were missing. It is possible to understand something of the nature of God. We do not have to say that part of what the Bible teaches is not true. The Bible is all true, if we are willing to take God's word for what he is like.

Of all of God's creation, people are very special. For it is they alone who are created in the image of God. In Genesis 1:26-27 we read, "Then God said, 'Let us make man in our image, after our likeness; and let the them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth.' So God created man in his own image, in the image of God be created him; male and female he created them."

But someone may object, "I thought you said that people are created in the image of God. That scripture says that man was created in the image of God. It doesn't say that woman was created in the image of God." Oh yes, it does. Notice first of all that it says, "male and female he created them." When it says "man," it does not mean "man" as opposed to "woman"; it means "man" as opposed to the "animals," that is, mankind. The English word "man" means both "a human being" and "a male human being." One word serves for both meanings. But the Greek and Hebrew languages have two words for these two meanings. The Greek word for "human being" is "anthropos" and the Hebrew word is "adam." The Greek word for "male human being" is "aner" and the Hebrew word is "ish." (Is it any surprise to you that the first person created, from who all other people came, was named "Adam," that is, "Man"?) Now the word used in Genesis 1:26-27 is "adam," not "ish." And so we read about man: "let them have dominion." But in verse 28 we find that the ones who are told to have dominion are both the man and the woman. All people, both men and women, are in the likeness and image of God. This is why James speaks against cursing "men, who are made in the likeness of God." Is James saying it is permissible to curse women? No, he uses the general word for "human beings," "anthropoi." It is wrong to curse either a man or a woman, for all human beings are in the image and likeness of God.

But someone may say, "How can both men and women be in the image of God? Men and women are different." The answer is that the image of God is not a physical thing at all. It is a spiritual thing, for God is a spirit (John 4:24). In Colossians 3:9, 10 we read, "Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old nature with its practices and have put on the new nature, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator." Our new man, or new nature, that we have as Christians, is being made new to be more like the image of God as we learn more. Does this mean that our physical image is being made more like God? No, a Christian's body just grows older like anybody else's. It is his spirit that is being changed to be more like God. It is the spirit of man that was made to be in the image of God. God made man's body from the dust of the earth, but man's spirit came from God himself (Gen. 2:7). God, being a spirit, does not have a body of flesh and bones (Luke 24:40).

But someone may object, "What about the places in the Old Testament where God appeared to men with a human body, such as Genesis 18:1-33; 32:24-30; Exodus 24:9, 10; 33:17-23; Judges 13:2-23?" Truly, he did appear to men in human form at these times. An all-powerful God can take on whatever shape he wishes. In Exodus 3 he appeared to Moses as a flame of fire in the middle of a bush. Such an appearance of God is often called the angel of the Lord, meaning a physical visible manifestation of the Lord, and not merely a special angel who serves God. God himself in his very nature is invisible (Col. 1:15; I Timothy 1:17; 6:16; Hebrews 11:27). This is why the scriptures say that no man has ever seen God (John 1:18; 1 John 4:12). Men have seen forms that God has taken, but they have never seen God in his very nature. As for such expressions as the hand and arm of God (Acts 2:33; 13:17), they are figures of speech, just as are also the wings and feathers of God (Psalms 17:8; 36:7; 57:1; 61:4; 63:7; 91:4).

Thus all people are in the image of God, men and women alike. That image is not a physical image, but a spiritual one. But it has been stained by sin, and must be renewed through the knowledge of Jesus Christ. Let us all decide to obey God and return to his true image.

P. 0. Box 220, Montezuma Creek, Utah 84534 [not current address]

This article orginally was published as:

Terry, Bruce. 1982. The Nature of God. Firm Foundation 99 (Feb. 16): 6 [102].

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