Gospel Principles and the Bible
Gospel Principles, chapter 1
Knowing Heavenly Father: Scripture as Our Guide
A. There Is One God
The first sentence in the Bible states: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1). These famous words draw a line between God, the Creator, and everything else, which is his creation. The expression “the heavens and the earth” is a Hebrew way of saying “everything from top (the heavens) to bottom (the earth).” The apostle Paul divided all of existence into two categories: “the Creator,” to whom alone we should give worship, and “the creation,” which must never be confused with the Creator (Romans 1:25).
Perhaps the most basic, fundamental truth of the Bible is that there is only one God and that he alone made us. God demonstrated this truth to the people of Israel when he brought them out of Egypt by stupendous miracles unlike anything seen before or since: “You were shown these things, so that you would know that the LORD is God; there is no other besides him” (Deuteronomy 4:35). Although some people have claimed that the Old Testament speaks of at least two different Gods—Jehovah (Yahweh) and Elohim—this verse and many others like it flatly contradict this idea. In most English Bibles, “LORD” (in all capitals) stands for the Hebrew name Jehovah, while “God” in the Old Testament usually translates the Hebrew elohim. Thus, what Moses literally says here in Deuteronomy 4:35 is that “Jehovah is Elohim; there is no other besides him.” Just in case anyone missed it, Moses says it again, even more emphatically: “Know therefore today, and take it to your heart, that the LORD [Jehovah], He is the God [elohim] in heaven above and on the earth below; there is no other” (Deuteronomy 4:39).
The first of the Ten Commandments states, “I am the LORD [Jehovah] your God [elohim], who brought you out of the land of Egypt; you shall have no other gods [elohim] besides me” (Deuteronomy 5:6-7). The reason Israel is to have no other gods is that there are no other gods! The Jewish creed even to this day is a confession taken directly from the words of Moses: “Hear, O Israel, the LORD [Jehovah] is our God [Elohim], the LORD [Jehovah] is one” (Deuteronomy 6:4). This one God, called Jehovah, alone created the universe: “I am the LORD [Jehovah], who made all things, who alone stretched out the heavens, who by myself spread out the earth” (Isaiah 44:24). Even the LORD himself does not know about any other gods: “Is there any God besides Me, or is there any other Rock? I know of none” (Isaiah 44:8).
Included among God’s created works are all spiritual, heavenly beings, as well as all human beings. “You are the LORD, you alone; you have made heaven, the heaven of heavens, with all their host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them. To all of them you give life and the host of heaven worships you” (Nehemiah 9:6). “All his angels” and “all his hosts” are to “praise the LORD,” because “he commanded, and they were created” (Psalm 148:2-5).
B. The Unique Nature of God
The Bible states that God created human beings in his image (Genesis 1:26-27). This statement means that God intended human beings to be like him in some way. At the same time, we know that it does not mean that God intended for us to become gods. The Lord told the Jews, “Before me no god was formed, nor shall there be any after me” (Isaiah 43:10). Think about the coin that Jesus said bore the “image” of Caesar and therefore belonged to him: that coin had some resemblance to Caesar, but it was not the same kind of being, the same sort of thing, as Caesar (who was a man, not a coin!). Likewise, we bear the image of God and therefore resemble him in some way, and we belong to him—but we are not the same kind of being as God (Matthew 22:18-21). Indeed, a major theme of the Bible is that God is unlike anything in his creation (Exodus 8:10; 1 Kings 8:23; Isaiah 40:18, 25; Jeremiah 10:6-7).
Nowhere does the Bible say that God is by nature a man, or that God the Father has a body of any kind, let alone a body of flesh and bones. When Moses said, “God is not a man, that he should lie” (Numbers 23:19), he was not saying merely that God was incapable of lying, but that he was incapable of lying because he was not a human being. “For I am God and not man, the Holy One in your midst” (Hosea 11:9). God is by nature an infinite, transcendent being: “God is spirit” (John 4:24). When Solomon dedicated the first Jerusalem temple, he understood that God was not a physical being that was literally going to take up residence in the temple. “Even heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you, much less this house that I have built!” (1 Kings 8:27). This is not to say that God cannot assume bodily nature if he wants to do so. The New Testament reveals that God took on bodily form when in the person of the Son he became flesh (John 1:14; Col. 2:9). The Bible does not teach that a man became God, but that God became a man (see also Philippians 2:5-7).
C. What Does It Mean to Know God?
There is nothing more important than knowing God. Eternal life consists in knowing the Father, who is the only true God, and knowing the Son, Jesus Christ, whom the Father sent (John 17:3). Knowing Jesus is on a par with knowing God because Jesus is himself God (John 1:1; 20:28; Titus 2:13; 2 Peter 1:1).
In fact, it is only in knowing Jesus as our crucified and risen LORD and Savior that we can know God and have a loving relationship with him. As Paul explains, since the world could not attain a true knowledge of God through their best philosophy or wisdom, God made it possible for us to know him through the simple gospel message of the death of Christ on the cross (1 Corinthians 1:21).
If we are to know God in Jesus Christ, we must accept this good news, and put our trust and hope for eternity in him, not in ourselves (2 Corinthians 1:9). “He saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy” (Titus 3:5). “For by grace are you saved through faith; and that is not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not of works, lest anyone should boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). If our hope is in our own good works, our own loving behavior, or our own faithfulness, we do not really know God. Good works are the fruit of a genuine relationship with Jesus Christ, not the basis for such a relationship (Ephesians 2:10).
How can we tell if we know God in truth? The Bible gives us several indicators by which we can test ourselves to see if we really know God. Four indicators stand out.
First, as we have just seen, a key sign that we know God is that our trust and hope is in God and not in ourselves (2 Corinthians 1:9; Ephesians 2:8-9; Titus 3:5-7). In a very real and crucial sense, the Christian life is not about what we do for God, but about what God does for us. As Paul put it, “May I never boast of anything except the cross of our LORD Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (Galatians 6:14).
Second, a person who knows God finds that knowledge centered on the person of Jesus Christ and his death on the cross (1 Corinthians 2:2). Jesus came and died so that we would know the Father—so that we might be reconciled to him (Matthew 11:27; Romans 5:1-11; 1 Corinthians 1:21). Before Jesus came, even the Jewish people, to whom God had revealed himself, had at best a limited knowledge of God. Jesus came so that we might know and worship the Father “in spirit and truth” (John 4:23-24).
Third, a person who knows God shows it by the way they act toward other people (Titus 1:16), and particularly by their love (1 John 4:7-8). God certainly expects us to obey his commandments, especially the commandments to love God and to love our neighbor (Leviticus 19:18; Deuteronomy 6:4-5; Matthew 22:34-39). We can never, however, be obedient enough, loving enough, or good enough to have a relationship with God on that basis. If we know God, our focus will be on how good he is, not on how good we are.
Finally, a person who knows God listens to and accepts the teachings of Jesus’ apostles in the Bible. John, speaking of himself as an apostle, wrote this: “We are from God. Whoever knows God listens to us; whoever is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error” (1 John 4:6). It is vital that we put all religious claims to this test. Anyone who claims to know God and speak for him must show that his teachings agree with those of the original apostles of the Lord Jesus Christ. This includes men such as the leaders of the LDS Church who claim to be modern-day apostles of Christ. If these men are indeed apostles, we should listen to them and heed them. On the other hand, if their teaching does not agree with the Bible, we must conclude that their teaching is not from God.
For Further Reflection
- How many Gods are there?
- In light of what the Bible does say, is there any possibility that other gods exist that the Bible for some reason just does not mention?
- How is God unlike anyone or anything else?
- Why is it important to understand the ways in which God is unique?
- Does the fact that God created us “in the image of God” mean that God has a body of flesh and bones?
- How can you tell if you really know God?