Who is the true God?

Questions about God, the Bible and the Christian culture

(Click here to read Monday Musings ... the place where I discuss the thinking that went into this article.)

Question: Who is the true God?

Answer: This brief question requires a long answer. You see, we cannot answer which God is true unless we first clarify what we mean by “God” — but also, we cannot judge his veracity without knowing what we mean by “true.” People tend to use these terms loosely. So, because your question is profoundly important and open to all meanings, I’ll need to begin at the beginning and cover a lot of ground… so here we go.

Since Mainsail Ministries is obviously a Bible-believing ministry, I will assume that you are asking about the God of the Judeo-Christian belief system — which is also the God of the Scripture. But the Bible has a natural limit that is critical to answering your question: it begins by assuming God — not by explaining him.

Now, don’t get me wrong; the Bible is our primary source for information about God. But it does not begin by laying down a platform for theology proper… like explaining that a single God exists who manifests himself in three persons, that he is a holy God who is powerful enough to create the universe yet remains immanent in that creation, that he is omniscient, omnipresent, omnibenevolent, etc. The Bible just starts-in with the simple declarative sentence:

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” (Genesis 1:1, NIV)

... and we need to take this cue from the Bible on at least two fronts.

First, we too should assume that God exists — because defending his existence as a preamble to other Christian topics is an untoward burden. Why so? Assuming that God exists is a “properly basic assumption” in the search for truth. You see, we have a cumulative case for God’s existence; we can pull from philosophy, the Bible, the cosmos — and from humankind itself — to defend the fact that he really does exist. We also have a cumulative case for the veracity of his word, the historicity of Jesus Christ and the validity of history itself. But, in normal discourse, it is an unreasonable burden to insist that we unpack all that. Now, I can and will argue for the existence of God and the truth of the Bible… I mean, that’s what I do. But I should not have to address those particulars unless they’re the topic.

Second, since the Bible uses written human language to communicate its content, believing in contextually communicated truth is also a properly basic thing to do. We must assume that each biblical author had a particular thing on his mind when he wrote — and that we can understand that thing through the communicative handshake known as reading and writing. Scripture (as is true with most writing) gives no quarter to postmodern notions that truth and history cannot be known, nor to the notion that the author’s intentions are inconsequential. It just assumes what the common reader has assumed for millennia: that we do not have to visit the edges of epistemology or philosophy to understand what an author said. So, if an author wrote a thing and we read a thing we can own the thing… and understanding God’s word really is that direct.

You see, friend, when you ask an unqualified question about God and the truth (by “unqualified” I mean that it is a broad question, not narrowed down) I must cover some strange ground; it is the legitimate province of epistemology to explore if we can indeed know something truly and what the related processes might be. But it is not the job of philosophers and academics to foist that burden on the public… but some of it (and necessarily so) spills over in apologetics.

Academics pitch these ideas to first-time hearers who are often eager to dismiss God anyway… and that’s a shame. But that’s not our situation. In the normal course of life, we do not have to discuss whether or not it is possible to actually know anything before we engage the data. As such, we will observe, read and think as normal people understand these terms — and not as academics reigning over meaning from their thrones on the edges of possibilities. So… and as free and normal thinking people… let’s look at the data.

The apostle Paul taught two critical things about extra-biblical knowledge. First, that there is enough information in the physical world for a human to understand the Creator-God… enough, in fact, to convict a person if he misses it (Romans 1:18-20). Second, there is enough information within the human heart to understand God’s moral goodness (Romans 2:14-15). So, even without cracking the Bible, the truth can be known by looking around… and by looking within.

“The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.” (Romans 1:18–20, NIV)

“(Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts sometimes accusing them and at other times even defending them.)” (Romans 2:14–15, NIV)

In addition to the two notions mentioned above (that God can be seen in creation, which is known as the argument from cosmology), and that he can be seen in human nature (which is the argument from anthropology or morality), the fact that everything appears to be designed speaks to a Designer (which is the argument from teleology), and since the “idea” of God is ubiquitous in humankind, this speaks to his actual existence (which is the argument from ontology). These four ideas speak to the existence of a true God and of objective truth — and all without cracking open the Bible! But let’s crack it now… if it’s worth cracking, that is.

The Bible has been with us for many centuries now. As such it has been continually vetted by some of the best minds in history. This long and thorough look has the same effect as the “open source” concept has in computer code. There is nothing proprietary, and there are no secrets… everyone gets a look and everyone can comment. This is not to say that everyone agrees on every point. Indeed, varying scholars have different takes on translation, doctrine, commentary and documentary pieces of evidence; these debates show a valid process.

But there is a tremendous consensus that we have reconstructed the original biblical documents to over a 99% accuracy, that these documents reflect an accurate history — and that we can know from them what God wants humankind to know. So, we can rely on the Bible as either the source of truth or the touchstone for truth — and the Bible teaches that a personal God truly exists… and not just the metaphor. But it does this by giving us more information about him as its revelation progresses; this narrows the truth down to where the picture of God is very specific… and this ever-narrowing path will lead us to the truth.

At the broadest part of the path, it would seem that Islam’s concept of Allah is equivalent to the Jewish concept of God; after all, they are both monotheistic beliefs — and we assert that monotheism is true. But just because Christianity and Islam worship one God does not mean that they worship the same God — even though they present as similar to a surface understanding of those religions. But as we become more familiar with the Bible we see where Allah is not the same as the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and therefore, Allah is not the true God… but the Jews aren’t totally off the hook.

Remember, since God’s revelation is progressive, knowledge increases with time — and so does responsibility. What this means for the Jews is that before Jesus was born in Bethlehem, their centuries-old beliefs were appropriate to that moment in God’s revelation, that is, they were still under the Law of Moses. But then everything changed. God took on flesh and dwelt among us… and this was the pinch-point of history. Jesus fulfilled the Law, so the Law was finished as the agency of atonement (John 19:30) — and therefore, also as an age. But to say the Jews missed the transition would be an understatement. They killed Jesus… whose signs and wonders they ignored… and that’s what they thought of God’s new revelation! The author of Hebrews describes this important change.

“In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven. So he became as much superior to the angels as the name he has inherited is superior to theirs.” (Hebrews 1:1–4, NIV)

Many individual Jews did indeed embrace God’s freshest revelation — and they changed the world! But the ones who did not (and the Jews who still have not to this day) do not have the true God… because they have not narrowed him down as appropriate for our time: The true God is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob… and… Jesus, the Christ (Matthew 16:16)… the Messiah.

A person’s (or a people’s) history is just that — history — but the whole truth requires currency. Therefore, a Jew who believed in the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the year 10 BC (and did not change this all his life, dismissing Jesus as Messiah) would not have the true God in 35 AD… even though he would have had the “same” God … because, with full revelation comes full responsibility — and in this age, no one gets any “points” for being a Jew… not unless Paul misunderstood his own situation.

“Before the coming of this faith, we were held in custody under the law, locked up until the faith that was to come would be revealed. So the law was our guardian until Christ came that we might be justified by faith. Now that this faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian. So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.” (Galatians 3:23–29, NIV)

But God’s revelation of himself grew more specific still. The true God is also manifest as the Holy Spirit (Mat. 12:31; Acts 3:4-5)… and that makes three — a Trinity. And since the New Testament reveals the true God as a Trinity, Unitarians do not have the true God… let alone the Jehovah’s Witnesses, Muslims, etc. You see, even if a person believes in a God who is the apparent equivalent of God the Father as we know him, that God is incomplete in this age… and is therefore not the true God.

Let’s let Peter take us on our final lap because the picture of the true God grows narrower still: the true God is the only God… and his onliness represents the narrowest (that is, the most qualified) point of truth. The “tolerance police” often call us narrow-minded when we assert that salvation can come only through Christ. But that’s God’s mind, too… I mean… I’m sure he knows that there is only one true God. And if you think about it, onliness is what gives a point its point — and Peter illustrated this.

Peter had just healed a man who was lame from birth, and everybody (but especially the religious establishment) wanted to know what was going on. So what did Peter emphasize during one of the most anticipated utterances in the New Testament? The onliness of Jesus Christ. This is the sharpest point of the true God.

“Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them: “Rulers and elders of the people! If we are being called to account today for an act of kindness shown to a man who was lame and are being asked how he was healed, then know this, you and all the people of Israel: It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed. Jesus is “ ‘the stone you builders rejected, which has become the cornerstone.’ Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved. (Acts 4:8–12, NIV, emphasis mine)

In no uncertain terms, Peter attributed that healing to Jesus Christ — the one they rejected and killed… and make no mistake… that audience understood that only God can send healing. But by leveraging this healing to include salvation, resurrection and Messianic references, Peter attributed deity to Jesus Christ here… but not just deity… a singularity in deity… because salvation is found in no one else — and that’s the final qualifier. So now, we are ready to answer your question. 

The True God can be seen broadly in his creation, but he is more specifically revealed in Scripture: this occurs in a progressive manner where a picture of the true God becomes clearer as his revelation progresses; this culminates in the New Testament. The true God is the Self-Existent One — but is manifest in three eternal persons: the Father, the Son (Jesus) and the Holy Spirit. And finally, he is the only God.

Only a God who can meet all of those qualifications can be the true God.

(Mainsail Ministries articles often have a preamble where I discuss the thinking that went into them. These are called Monday Musings — and if you haven’t read the one associated with this article — consider doing so at the following link: 20160822 Who is the true God?).

(For comments, or to join the Monday Musings mailing list, contact us at mainsailep@gmail.com. To submit a question about God, the Bible or the Christian culture, click here.)