What Is God Really Like?

Comment on this article

There are seemingly countless ideas about God. How can you know which is true? Is God a mysterious "trinity" or an unseen essence? Is God even knowable? Is He real to you? Your Bible says that you can know the real God!


What is God really like? Even asking such a question strikes many people as presumptuous. How could we possibly be sure of such answers, they ask. Is God, by His very nature, unknowable and unfathomable by mankind? Many who do believe in God view Him as a remote figure, or as little more than a "first cause" of the universe. To many, God is not someone who is actively involved in our lives or in our modern world.

Every human culture has had ideas about the supernatural. Jews and Muslims emphasize that God is one. Buddhists and Hindus hold beliefs ranging from impersonal monism to pantheistic polytheism, with many variations in between. Many in the Western world either have vague ideas about God as "the Man upstairs" or else have adopted "New Age" beliefs (most of which really originated in Hinduism and Buddhism). Some cling to traditional Catholic and Protestant teaching about a triune God—traditionally explained as "one God in three persons." Clearly, these differing ideas and opinions cannot all be right.

What do you think God is like? What is the source of your ideas? Did they come from God, or from human reasoning? Stop and consider: would it make sense for an all-wise Creator, who created human life able to think about the eternal and the divine, not to leave a record by which He reveals Himself?

From the physical world, we can deduce much about God's great power and intelligence. But such deductions still tell us nothing of His ultimate plan and purpose for His creation. But our Creator has not left us in the dark. In addition to revealing Himself through His creation, He has also given us the Bible. In His word, God tells us about His nature, His will, His character, and His plan and purpose for the universe and for mankind. God is knowable because He has chosen to make Himself knowable! When the philosophers of Athens invited the Apostle Paul to address an audience on Mars Hill, he took as his subject "the Unknown God" (Acts 17:23). Paul explained to his listeners that the God whom they labeled as unknown was really the sovereign creator, then proceeded to tell them about God's great plan.

That is why it is so important to understand—from the Bible—what God reveals about Himself. In doing so, we will gain insight into God's plan for the human race. The real truth will amaze you, and is clearly provable from your own Bible.

A Look at God's Attributes and Nature

The Bible reveals much about God. Paul explained that God is eternal, immortal and invisible (1 Timothy 1:17). Psalm 147:4–5 emphasizes His great power and His infinite understanding. God can do all things, and no purpose of his can be withheld from Him (Job 42:2). He even knows the very thoughts of man (Psalm 94:11; 1 Corinthians 3:20). The Apostle John describes God dwelling in splendor, light and glory, surrounded by a court of heavenly creatures and millions of angels (Revelation 4:1–6; 5:11).

God is not remote and disinterested, nor is He a "hanging judge" who delights in sending people to an ever-burning hell. Rather, love is the most fundamental characteristic of His nature (1 John 4:8). The supreme way in which He demonstrated that love was in offering His Son Jesus Christ, to make possible the reconciliation of sinful mankind to Himself (John 3:16). He is also a God of justice, mercy (Psalm 103:8), and faithfulness (Psalm 119:89–90). He is actively involved with His creation, and has declared the future in advance (Isaiah 46:9–11).

The supreme way in which God chose to reveal Himself was through Jesus Christ of Nazareth. Make no mistake about it; Jesus was no ordinary man. He was not simply a "good man" or even a prophet. He was nothing less than Immanuel—God with us!

John 1:1–3 gives us the most fundamental explanation of Jesus' identity. "In the beginning," John wrote, "was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made." John explains that "the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth" (v. 14). Though Christ had shared incredible power and glory with the Father from eternity, He voluntarily emptied Himself of that to become our Savior (Hebrews 2:7).

Several years ago, Newsweek magazine ran an article that explored various religions' views of Jesus Christ. The rabbi who was interviewed considered Jesus just another rabbi—a good Jew. Muslims pointed out that the Koran labels Jesus a prophet, though not as great as Mohammed. Many Buddhists believe Jesus to have been "an enlightened one," while some Hindus consider Him an avatar or guru.

The Newsweek article makes a very important observation: "Clearly, the cross is what separates the Christ of Christianity from every other Jesus. In Judaism there is no precedent for a Messiah who dies, much less as a criminal as Jesus did. In Islam, the story of Jesus' death is rejected as an affront to Allah himself… There is, in short, no room in other religions for a Christ who experiences the full burden of mortal existence—and hence there is no reason to believe in him as the divine Son whom the Father resurrects from the dead" ("The Other Jesus," March 27, 2000, p. 60). Little has changed in 2,000 years. Paul called the message of Christ crucified "a stumbling block" and "foolishness" to the world of his day. Yet from Genesis through Revelation, God reveals that mankind is cut off from Him as a result of sin, and needs redemption and reconciliation.

The Role of the Holy Spirit

In John 14:16–20, Jesus emphasized that after His departure to be with the Father, the disciples would not simply be abandoned (the Greek term used in verse 18 is orphanous, meaning "orphans"). Rather, through the power of the Holy Spirit (1 John 3:24), Jesus and the Father would dwell inside true Christians (John 14:20, 23). The Holy Spirit imparts both understanding and strength. It flows out from God (15:26), and connects our minds to His. God is Spirit (4:24); the Holy Spirit is not some separate and distinct personality of the Godhead. Rather, the Holy Spirit is the means by which Christ and the Father make their presence felt in the hearts and minds of believers.

The Holy Spirit is God's outflowing power (Luke 1:35). It imparts God's love as it is "poured out" in the hearts of believers (Romans 5:5). It is the means by which He created and brought into existence the very universe (Psalm 104:30). It is the power by which He works in the minds of human beings made in His image (Genesis 6:3). It is also the power by which the lame miraculously walked, the blind saw, the deaf heard and the dead were raised from their graves during Jesus Christ's earthly ministry (Luke 5:15–17).

The Bible describes the Holy Spirit in various ways. Primarily, the Spirit is compared to wind. After all, pneuma—the Greek word for "spirit"—means "wind" or "breath." In the Old Testament, the Hebrew word translated "spirit" is ruach, and has the same meaning as the Greek pneuma.

Another common analogy is of flowing water (cf. John 7:38–39). Just as air and water are necessary life-giving forces, so the Holy Spirit is the source of eternal life for Christians (Romans 8:11). Just as air and water both flow, and have power to affect and change what they touch, so also does the Holy Spirit.

God offers us His Spirit for a purpose! Through it, we come to share in God's power, His attitude, His love and His thoughts. God's Spirit is intended to transform our lives by renewing our minds (Titus 3:5; Romans 12:2). We become a new creation because God is changing us, writing His laws in our hearts and minds (Hebrews 8:10).

In the opening chapter of 1 John, the "beloved Apostle" described the importance of our fellowship with God and with one another. Notice what John wrote—that "truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ" (v. 3). The Bible nowhere speaks of our having fellowship with the Holy Spirit in the same way that we have with the Father and with Christ. Rather, the Holy Spirit flows out from the Father and Christ (John 15:26), and is the basis of our connection to God and to one another. It is the means by which Christ lives His life in us (Galatians 2:20).

Did you know that the word "trinity" is nowhere mentioned in the Bible? There are, however, a couple of passages of Scripture that are sometimes quoted to lend credence to Trinitarian teaching.

Evidence from Paul's Epistles

Nearly all of Paul's epistles contain an opening verse similar to Romans 1:7: "Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ." The books of 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 and 2 Thessalonians and Philemon all open with an identical phrase. A slightly modified version opens 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus. Similar phrases open 2 Peter, 2 John, and Jude. Yet none of the books of the New Testament open with anything even approaching a Trinitarian greeting, linking the Holy Spirit with the Father and Christ as a separate and distinct personality. Paul would never dishonor or neglect the Person of God; we see from his epistles that he did not address the Holy Spirit vital to Christian life, as a person like Jesus Christ or the Father.

First, note 1 John 5:7: "For there are three that bear witness in heaven, the Father, the Word and the Holy Spirit: and these three are one." On the surface, this verse seems to teach the Trinity quite clearly. However, there is one problem: this verse was never in any of the inspired Greek manuscripts. Bible scholars, almost without exception, admit that that this verse originated as a monkish insertion into the Latin text! The Interpreter's One Volume Commentary on the Bible explains that, during fourth century controversies about the doctrine of the Trinity, the text was expanded—first in Spain around 380ad, and then taken up in the Vulgate—the official Roman Catholic version written in Latin (p. 939). Bullinger's Companion Bible explains, in its footnote on the text of 1 John 5:7: "The words are not found in any Gr. MS. [Greek manuscripts] before the sixteenth century. They were first seen in the margin of some Latin copies. Thence they have crept into the text." Clearly the early Trinitarian teachers of the Roman Catholic Church were at such a loss to find biblical substantiation for their teaching that they resorted to adding words to the text!

Advocates of the Trinity often turn to chapters 14 and 15 of John to support their idea that the Holy Spirit is a person just like the Father and Jesus Christ. On the night of His final Passover, Jesus told His disciples that He was going to return to the Father, but would send them another Helper. The Greek word translated as "Helper" is paracletos, which usually refers to someone who gives help or support. In the context of John 14 it clearly refers to the Holy Spirit, which Jesus promised to send to His disciples after His ascension back to the Father (Acts 1:4–5; cf. John 15:26).

Because these verses use the English pronoun "he," many have assumed that the Holy Spirit should be considered as a "person" of the Godhead. But this is a misunderstanding, brought about by translation from the original Greek. In Greek, nouns are routinely assigned fixed "gender," which has nothing to do with either physical gender or personhood. For example, the Greek noun for "little girl" is neuter, while the word for "hand" is feminine—whether or not it refers to part of a woman's body. Greek requires that the pronoun used—he, she or it—always agree with the noun to which it refers (see The Language of the New Testament, by Eugene Van Ness Goetchius, 1965 ed., pp. 33–34). In Greek, the noun pneuma—translated as "spirit"—is neuter, and always takes a neuter pronoun such as "it," while paracletos is masculine and demands a masculine pronoun. The pronoun used has nothing whatsoever to do with proving personhood!

The Origin of the Trinity Doctrine

Weighing in against the secular humanists and New Agers who increasingly dominate Western culture, Trinitarians often view themselves as "defenders of the faith." They believe they are defending the Bible against those who undermine its revelation as the source of our knowledge of God. But are they, really? Where did this so-called "Christian orthodoxy" about God's nature originate?

Jude, writing three decades after the founding of the New Testament Church, exhorted the brethren to earnestly contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 3). In other words, the true Christian faith had already been delivered, intact, prior to Jude's writing. Jude—Jesus' half-brother as a son of Joseph and Mary—explained that ungodly men had secretly crept into the Church, and were already beginning to distort the true doctrines that Jesus Christ had delivered to His disciples.

Even Roman Catholic scholars admit that Tertullian (ca. 150–225) was the first writer to use the term "trinity" in an attempt to describe the Christian Godhead. Why, then, if this "trinity" teaching were true, was it not "revealed" until more than 150 years after Jesus Christ's crucifixion and resurrection? Why did Christ's original disciples, and Paul, not explain this doctrine? In fact, they taught a very different explanation of the nature of the true God!

Greek philosophical writings, rather than the biblical text, form the background of third century discussions of the "trinity." The Roman Catholic New Theological Dictionary makes a number of frank admissions in this regard. Concerning the Scriptural teaching on the nature of the Holy Spirit, in its article, "Trinity," it acknowledges: "As such, the Spirit is never the explicit object of NT worship, nor is the Spirit ever represented in NT discourse as interacting in an interpersonal way with the Father and the Son."

As we look at the development of "Christian" theology in the late second and early third centuries, the names of Tertullian and Origen keep coming up. Catholic sources admit that they "adapted much of the Hellenic worldview… [Tertullian made] the first known use of the term 'trinity'" (New Theological Dictionary, p. 1,054).

Think about it! Tertullian and Origen were Catholic theologians who flourished in the last part of the second century and the beginning part of the third. Neither of them was even born until well over a century after the founding of the New Testament Church. They were the ones who laid the foundation of Catholic (and later Protestant) teaching regarding the "trinity" and the nature of God—not New Testament Apostles such as Peter, Paul or John.

God Is a Family

Perhaps the most profound truth about the nature of God, though understood by very few, is that God is a Family! This truth is utterly obscured by the "trinity" teaching. The ultimate destiny of human beings, originally made in God's image from the dust of the ground, is that they might be converted or changed by an inward spiritual renewal and ultimately born again into the very Family of God at the resurrection. God is bringing many sons to glory (Hebrews 2:10)! Jesus Christ is described as the firstborn among many brethren (Romans 8:29).

Notice Scripture's plain revelation about the Godhead. In Genesis 1:1, we read that in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The Hebrew word used for God is Elohim—a word that is plural in form though often singular in usage. A little later, in Genesis 1:26, we learn that God said: "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness." God's supreme purpose is to reproduce Himself!

Notice what Paul explained in Romans 8:14: "For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God." What is the implication of this? If we are God's children, we are His heirs; "heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ" (v. 17). Ultimately, God's children will be "filled with all the fullness of God" (Ephesians 3:19). God is building a family, and that family takes its name from the Father—it is the Family of God (3:14–15).

The real truth of what God is like, and what He is doing, goes far beyond anything that most have ever imagined. God is knowable because He has chosen to reveal Himself. He wants you to come to know Him, and to build a relationship with Him that will lead to you being part of His very family forever!

OTHER ARTICLES IN THIS ISSUE

View All