The Nature of God: Known by Christ

Introduction

Psalm 150:1–2, 6 (CSB) — 1 Hallelujah! Praise God in his sanctuary. Praise him in his mighty expanse. 2 Praise him for his powerful acts; praise him for his abundant greatness. 6 Let everything that breathes praise the Lord. Hallelujah!

Galatians 4:8–9 (CSB) — 8 But in the past, since you didn’t know God, you were enslaved to things that by nature are not gods. 9 But now, since you know God, or rather have become known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elements? Do you want to be enslaved to them all over again?

My Main Points in this Lesson

  1. Worship for God is according to his great works and nature

  2. Being estranged from God leads to spiritual bondage to corrupt powers

  3. Knowing God requires being known by God (this only makes sense if you understand God’s nature)

My Main Goals of This Series

  1. Show how the nature of God sets the course for all true Christian faith

  2. Provide the framework by which you can contemplate God on your own

  3. To inspire you to seek to intimately know God for yourselves

Personal Statements

This subject may very well be considered the chief aim of all my preaching; revealing God’s glory as it is revealed in Christ is the chief aim for which I strive (and certainly fail to fully take hold of) in all my preaching.

However, I have never tried a topical lesson of this magnitude before, so I am quite nervous for this undertaking.  Even in my study, I tremble at the immensity and infinitude of the One we so often casually discuss.  I fear failure to adequately honor and glorify God almost as much as I fear not trying at all.  Therefore, I suppose I will put my hand to the plow and not look back.  And I can say with a clear conscience that I have not spared any effort or diligence in personal preparation before undertaking this lesson. So, I offer this series first and foremost to God, as a humble offering of worship from the depths of my heart and the whole of my life.

Nonetheless, I think it is good for preachers to preach on something so “high” and so “glorious” that they are virtually guaranteed to fail because it keeps us from thinking more highly of ourselves than we ought, and it stretches us to grow by what only God himself can provide.

I will endeavor not to bore you with an overly academic treatment of this topic, though some technical observations are necessary to this kind of study.

The Nature of God

God’s nature is such that he is entirely devoid of any “cause”, “need”, or “deficiency”; he is wholly self-sustaining; he is eternal, infinite, immortal, and immense; he is existence; he is being; he is the only “I AM”.

The “nature of God” is the heart of all true Christian worship because the revelation of his nature through his mighty works and by his living word is where we see him for who he is so that we may esteem him worthy of our worship and extol all glory, honor, and praise upon him, being wholly enraptured by his goodness, power, and righteousness.

Here I must note that it is for this reason that we must guard how we conceive of God:

  • Too much Christian theology is centered on what we must “do”

  • Too much Christian theology has “us” at its center

These errors rob us of the glory by which we may ascribe true worship to God.

A.W. Tozer wrote the following (Whatever Happened to Worship, p.12):

I am of the opinion that we should not be concerned about working for God until we have learned the meaning and the delight of worshipping him.

Too many Christians set out to work for God before they have learned to delight in worshiping him, resulting in “a form of godliness, which denies its power” that we must certainly keep ourselves far away from, lest we also be leavened by this counterfeit form of religion.

~~~~~

We will benefit at the outset of this study by defining what we mean when we refer to “the nature of God”. 

The “nature of God” refers to the simple-truth of his divine essence as a spiritual Being.

The true essence of God is the most difficult reality for physical beings to comprehend because we are limited to the physical realm, and the spiritual realm remains veiled and ever elusive to our physical minds. Yet, all Christian theology properly discloses some aspect of God’s divine essence.

For example, “lying” is wrong because God is Truth; “prayer” is important because God is a personal being who created us in his likeness for holy communion.

According to God’s word, created beings may know his nature in two modes: by “veiled” and “unveiled” revelation.

Unveiled Revelation

Unveiled revelation belongs exclusively to spiritual beings in the spiritual realm:

1 Corinthians 13:8–13 (CSB) — 8 Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. 9 For we know in part, and we prophesy in part, 10 but when the perfect comes, the partial will come to an end. 11 When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put aside childish things. 12 For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I will know fully, as I am fully known. 13 Now these three remain: faith, hope, and love—but the greatest of these is love.

1 John 3:2–3 (CSB) — 2 Dear friends, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet been revealed. We know that when he appears, we will be like him because we will see him as he is. 3 And everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself just as he is pure.

The divine essence, which some have referred to as “the simple-truth of God’s existence”, can only be known by spiritual means.  This mystery is difficult for us to comprehend, but Scripture refers to things that appear “intangible” to us material beings as the “fruit of the Spirit”: things like “love”, “joy”, “peace”, “patience”, “kindness”, “goodness”, “faithfulness”, “gentleness”, “self-control” (etc…) appear to be more concrete to the spiritual world than concrete itself.  Therefore, we note that “love never ends”, yet all things in this world are temporal and passing away.

In the above pericope, Paul observes that we as material beings can only see the spiritual realm “in part”, as a dimly lit reflection.  We can only see the spiritual realm “in full” when we are transfigured as spiritual beings.

And it is this transfiguration of our material bodies to spiritual bodies, as “from glory to glory”, that forms the bedrock of Christian hope and soteriology!  For Christians, the hope that we will one day be “conformed to the image of our Creator” (Rom. 8:29; Col. 3:10).

Therefore, even though we do not yet “know” or “understand” what the substance of our glorious bodies will be like, we know we will be made like Christ, and so we “cleanse ourselves from every impurity of the flesh and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God” (2nd Corinthians 7:1).

At the end of this lesson we will examine some of the examples where spiritual beings encounter the unveiled revelation of God, and how even they are struck by his glory and unapproachable light.

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One of the marks of false-religion is the claim for material beings to have encountered the unveiled spiritual realm:

Colossians 2:18 (CSB) — 18 Let no one condemn you by delighting in ascetic practices and the worship of angels, claiming access to a visionary realm. Such people are inflated by empty notions of their unspiritual mind.

Material beings who claim to have access to special knowledge of the spiritual realm through some kind of “vision” or “spiritual transcendence” are bringing many people into condemnation by perverting the holy worship of God with inflated notions of their unspiritual minds.

Even the great prophets like Isaiah and John the Revelator, when they were given holy visions of heaven, were given such visions in veiled terms!  They saw the glory of God veiled in terms that they could understand and access, which would facilitate their worship of God in the holy rapture of his glory.  But they never beheld his divine essence, upon which “no man may look, lest he die!” (Exodus 33:20)

We must never allow anyone to deceive us into forgetting that we are material beings, and the spiritual realm remains veiled to us while we remain in these “temporal tents”, which is why our souls groan and long to put off the temporal and become clothed with eternity!

Veiled Revelation

Veiled revelation belongs to physical beings in the material world and is given in order to display the glory of God through analogical images and signs produced by his mighty works and his living word.

There are two primary modes through which his “works” and “words” reveal him:

  1. Affirmation: the simple perfections of God’s creation serve as simple reflections of God’s nature (Read Ps. 94:9, 10; Mt. 7:11; Isa. 49:15)

  2. Negation: the natural nature and imperfections of creation are removed from our perception of God (Read Isa 55:8, 9; 1 Cor. 1:25)

These modes of revelation are important because, by neglecting them, we arrive at very serious errors regarding the divine nature of God. For example, by failing to affirm the infinitude of God that is given to us in his word, we make God like us in both our “needs” and “limitations”.  This mars the holy nature of God and makes him like created beings, which is the very definition of idolatry.  Likewise, by failing to negate the nature and imperfections of created beings, we can arrive at very perverse conceptions of God’s nature.  For example, some teachers teach from Song of Solomon 1:5 that Jesus finds the dark side of his bride attractive!  This fails to negate attributes that are considered “virtuous” in created beings (specifically in this instance, a husbands attraction for his wife), but which do not belong to the nature of God.

When conceiving of God, we must properly affirm those things that are divine, and negate those things which are material.

Therefore, God may be known – via “affirmation” or “negation” – through his works:

Psalm 19:1–6 (CSB) — 1 The heavens declare the glory of God, and the expanse proclaims the work of his hands. 2 Day after day they pour out speech; night after night they communicate knowledge. 3 There is no speech; there are no words; their voice is not heard. 4 Their message has gone out to the whole earth, and their words to the ends of the world. In the heavens he has pitched a tent for the sun. 5 It is like a bridegroom coming from his home; it rejoices like an athlete running a course. 6 It rises from one end of the heavens and circles to their other end; nothing is hidden from its heat.

Romans 1:20 (CSB) — 20 For his invisible attributes, that is, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen since the creation of the world, being understood through what he has made. As a result, people are without excuse.

God’s works declare his glory, day and night, with words to grand for speech, and knowledge to high for voice!

One of the disadvantages that civilized people have in the modern age is our detachment from God’s nature.  Street lights obscure the stars and night, and cement jungles decimate God’s nature.

Our ancient forebearers in the faith contemplated with deep thought and careful consideration the glories of God displayed in his magnificent creation.  We would benefit by getting ourselves alone for a short while to reflect upon God’s creation more often.

When we affirm any attribute seen in God’s creation to God, we must always ascribe “preeminence” to those godly attributes that we see in his creation and ascribe to his glory.  We must understand that whatever good we see in creation, is infinitely more perfect in God (Isa. 40:25).

However, this veiled revelation is not properly understood by humanity because we are blinded by pride and do not realize that, although we possess some similitude to God, he is not like us!

Scripture, therefore, describes the fall of humanity into darkness like this:

Romans 1:21–23 (CSB) — 21 For though they knew God, they did not glorify him as God or show gratitude. Instead, their thinking became worthless, and their senseless hearts were darkened. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man, birds, four-footed animals, and reptiles (i.e. “resembling” material creation).

Romans 8:20–21 (CSB) — 20 For the creation was subjected to futility—not willingly, but because of him who subjected it—in the hope 21 that the creation itself will also be set free from the bondage to decay into the glorious freedom of God’s children.

Likewise, God may be known – via “affirmation” or “negation” – through his word:

Psalm 19:7–8 (CSB) — 7 The instruction of the Lord is perfect, renewing one’s life; the testimony of the Lord is trustworthy, making the inexperienced wise. 8 The precepts of the Lord are right, making the heart glad; the command of the Lord is radiant, making the eyes light up.

In the same Psalm that tells of God’s glory being declared by the wonderful works of his hands, we find God’s nature being perfectly described in trustworthy testimony by God’s word!

God is ultimately revealed in the person of Christ, who is the word-incarnate:

John 1:1–4 (CSB) — 1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning. 3 All things were created through him, and apart from him not one thing was created that has been created. 4 In him was life, and that life was the light of men.

Jesus is, therefore, the image of God:

Colossians 1:15–20 (CSB) — 15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For everything was created by him, in heaven and on earth, the visible and the invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities— all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and by him all things hold together. 18 He is also the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. 19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20 and through him to reconcile everything to himself, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.

Jesus, therefore, reveals the glory of God:

Hebrews 1:1–3 (CSB) — 1 Long ago God spoke to the fathers by the prophets at different times and in different ways. 2 In these last days, he has spoken to us by his Son. God has appointed him heir of all things and made the universe through him. 3 The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact expression of his nature, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high.

John 1:18 (CSB) — 18 No one has ever seen God. The one and only Son, who is himself God and is at the Father’s side—he has revealed him.

Time would fail me if I attempted to expound upon all that we find revealed about the nature of God in Christ Jesus, so I will only highlight a few:

  1. God is personal: Jesus ate with his disciples in fellowship with them (John 13:23)

  2. God is forgiving: Jesus forgave sinners (Matthew 9:2)

  3. God is loving: Jesus loved the world (John 3:16)

  4. God is holy: Jesus was zealous for holiness (John 2:17)

God is so altogether different from us that we cannot understand him in his divine essence. Therefore, God became like us so that we might know him and become like him, whereupon we might know God as HE IS.

However, the terrible veil of darkness (i.e. “sin and death”) that once covered our face has now been taken away so that we can gaze clearly into the reflection of God’s “works” and “word” that reveal his true glory:

2 Corinthians 3:18 (CSB) — 18 We all, with unveiled faces, are looking as in a mirror at the glory of the Lord and are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory; this is from the Lord who is the Spirit.

Application Question:

We may ask “why”, if God wanted to make himself known in Christ, “did Christ not remain on earth in his physical body and continue making God known?

Application Answer:

The answer comes from the principle that we learned above in 1st Corinthians 13:8ff, namely, that the “essence” or “true existence” of reality is known by spiritual matters; to know God requires that we surpass the temporal material realm and behold the realities of the unseen spiritual realm through faith (Heb. 11:1).

Paul made it clear that we still know Christ:

2 Corinthians 5:16–19 (CSB) — 16 From now on, then, we do not know anyone from a worldly perspective. Even if we have known Christ from a worldly perspective, yet now we no longer know him in this way. 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, and see, the new has come! 18 Everything is from God, who has reconciled us to himself through Christ and has given us the ministry of reconciliation. 19 That is, in Christ, God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and he has committed the message of reconciliation to us.

God would not have done anything to obscure his glory.  He magnified his glory by the ascension of Christ because it is when we know God from a spiritual perspective – not from the worldly perspective – that God is most glorified!

The Essence of God

When theologians speak of the “essence of God”, they are referring to the “reality”, “existence”, or “simple truth” of God’s divine Being.  While we are corporal (material) beings, God is a non-corporal (non-material) being.   We call him a spirit because that is what Scripture calls him (Jn. 4:24), but we do not know by tangible experience what the essence of a “spirit” really is, even though we also have spirits ourselves (1st Thess. 5:23).

The preeminent essence of God is above our comprehension, but God’s self-revelation to Moses is one of his most profound theophanic revelations in Scripture:

Exodus 3:14 (CSB) — 14 God replied to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM…

In this veiled revelation, we discover many incredible mysteries about God:

  1. God is self-existent

  2. God is reality

  3. God is “being”

From God’s simple-being comes all of his other attributes:

Isaiah 44:6 (CSB) — 6 This is what the Lord, the King of Israel and its Redeemer, the Lord of Armies, says: I am the first and I am the last. There is no God but me.

John 6:48 (CSB) — 48 I am the bread of life. (Life)

John 13:19 (CSB) — 19 I am telling you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe that I am he. (Time / Eternity / Infinity)

John 8:24 (CSB) — 24 Therefore I told you that you will die in your sins. For if you do not believe that I am he, you will die in your sins.” (Salvation by God’s nature)

Everything that we know about God proceeds from the simple-essence of his divine Being.  When we speak about “life” as one of the attributes of God, we speak about something that proceeds from the simple-essence of his divine Being.

The unveiled nature of God remains a mystery to physical beings:

1 Timothy 6:15–16 (CSB) — 15 …[God] is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings, and the Lord of lords, 16 who alone is immortal and who lives in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or can see, to him be honor and eternal power. Amen.

Words surely fail to describe what the Holy Spirit moved upon Paul to write: light that is unseeable, unapproachable, and indeed, even unassailable!

The Divine Essence or Being of God is of such a magnitude and intensity that we cannot approach him.

  1. God is clothed in unapproachable glory

  2. God is clothed in the brightness of power

The Divine Essence of God Described: in these two texts we have visions by which Isaiah and John are given glimpses of God’s nature in terms they can understand. Note, these are prophetic visions of God that put God in human terms, not as HE IS in his unveiled divine essence.

  • READ: Isaiah 6:1-5

  • READ: Revelation 4:1-11

God’s glory is described as a king’s robe that fills everything!  We see God’s throne, from which all other thrones proceed.  We see God described in vivid colors that transcend human comprehension!

CONCLUSIONS

We are meant at this point to stop and consider the indescribable grace given to us that such a Being as this would empty himself of all divine privilege, take upon himself human flesh in infant form, and become like us to the point of suffering death that we might be forgiven of our egregious sins, be transformed in nature, and conformed to his likeness so that we can enter before his throne of grace as beings of worship and sharers of Christ’s glory!

What a marvelous gospel is Christ’s good news!

Therefore, Christian Soteriology is based on the nature of God:

2 Peter 1:4 (CSB) — 4 By these he has given us very great and precious promises, so that through them you may share in the divine nature, escaping the corruption that is in the world because of evil desire.

Christian salvation is about taking fallen mortals and restoring them to the likeness of God so that we might share in the divine nature (not being gods ourselves, but sharing in his nature as beings of worship and sharers of Christ’s glory).

This is why the writer of Hebrews can make the following observation:

Hebrews 10:29 (CSB) — 29 How much worse punishment do you think one will deserve who has trampled on the Son of God, who has regarded as profane the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace?

Indeed, to neglect the Divine and trample upon his grace, regarding it as of no consequence, merits an infinitely worse punishment than what those who have forsaken the testimony of the Law!

How wonderful and terrifying is God Almighty!!!

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