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Pastor Scott L. Harris
Grace Bible Church, NY
January 9, 2005
Our Creator God: Who is He, Why do We Believe in Him?
This morning we begin a series of sermons that will help us understand the nature and characteristics of God. While this may seem fairly basic to some, I can assure you that it is not simple. Charnock wrote two large volumes on the existence and attributes of God, and he only covered the major characteristics. Others may wonder why time should be spent on something that Christians already believe. The fact is that many Christians have a false understanding of God even in their basic conceptions of him, and all Christians, like all humans, fail at some point to fully understand God’s nature and character. Why? Simply because God is infinite and we are not. He is beyond our ability to completely comprehend, but He has revealed Himself to us to a limited degree, and we are responsible to understand what he has revealed.
It is also important that we understand that our belief in God is not an intellectual leap into a void, as some philosophers have proposed. Our faith is very reasonable, in fact, the evidence will show that it the only reasonable conclusion. Yet man is not very reasonable for his intellect has been tainted by sin and his mind blinded to the truth that lies before him (1 Cor. 1:14; 2 Cor. 4:4). In addition, man’s sin nature causes him to balk at the idea of a Creator God who is holy and just, so he twists the truth of the evidence that lies around him (Romans 1:18f). The result is either a twisted view of the true God, a god of their own making, or an outright denial of God. Sinful man wants to either ignore God, or have a god they can either satisfy by their own efforts or manipulate to their own ends. Man’s only hope to know the true God is diligence to adhere to God’s revelation of Himself in the Scriptures.
This morning we are going to concentrate on defining who God is as well as why we believe in Him. In the following weeks we will give an overview of God’s major attributes that we might better understand His nature and characteristics. It is only as we understand Him that our beliefs change and consequently our lives as well.
Who is God?
Man’s Attempts to Define
Our first task is to define God. The problem is that there are many and widely varied definitions. Webster’s Dictionary gives us the first hint of the problem in its definitions: (In polytheistic religions) a being to whom worship is ascribed // an image of such a deity. An idolized person or thing. (In monotheistic religions) the supreme being, seen as the omnipotent creator and ruler of the universe. The definition of God ranges greatly over the various religions, and the characteristics attributed to Him range even more. There are also all the philosophers, religious and secular, that have their own definitions. John Dewey said that the word, God, “denotes the unity of all ideal ends arousing us to desire and actions.” No wonder the writings of this educational philosopher have caused such havoc in our schools. Paul Tillich, a 20th century theologian considered by many to be outstanding, wrote, “God is the fundamental symbol for what concerns us ultimately.” No wonder his influence has not always been positive.
The problem with man defining God is what I mentioned earlier. Man is resistant to the God described in the Bible. The last two definitions define God in terms of man, for in their view, man is the center of the universe and God is a product of man’s thoughts. We, however, must be true to what God has revealed of Himself. We must define God in terms of what God says about Himself. A good starting place for this are the names God uses for Himself.
The Names of God
The Hebrew terms, “El,” “Elah,” and “Elohim” are all are translated as “God,” and have a basic meaning of “Strong One.” It is the most general term for deity being used both for the true God and the false gods of the heathen. “Elohim” is used to emphasize God as the creator and ruler of the universe and man. The Greek equivalent is “Theos.”
The Bible also compounds these Hebrew names with other terms to give a better understanding of God. The God of the Bible is also described as “El Shaddai” is the Almighty God (Genesis 17:1); “El Elyon” is the “Most High God” (Genesis 14:18,19,20,22; “El Olam” is the “Everlasting God” (Genesis 21:32f); and “El Gibbor” is the “Mighty, Strong, Warrior God” (Isaiah 9:6).
Another Hebrew term used for God is “Yahweh.” (Also pronounced as “Jehovah” by those influenced German theologians). It is usually translated as “Lord” in English translations of the Bible. (The better translations use all capitals to distinguish it from the common Hebrew term for lord, “Adoni.”). Yahweh is the name God give for Himself to Moses in Exodus 3:14, and it is derived from the verb meaning “to be” or “I am.” The name emphasizes God’s self existent nature and is used throughout the Old Testament as the covenant name of God to the Israelites.
Yahweh is also used with other terms to give a fuller understanding of God. “Yahweh Elohim is “Lord God” showing that He is the covenant God of Israel. “Adonai Yahweh” is “Lord God” (translated in small case in better translations) showing that He is the Covenant God who is master. “Yahweh Sabaoth” is “Lord of hosts” (1 Samuel 1:3) showing that He is God who is the protector and defender of His people.
God is also referenced simply as “Adonai,” meaning “Lord,” throughout the Old Testament and in the New Testament with the Greek equivalent of “kurios.” The term signifies that God is master and man, and everything else too, are His servants.
There are many other descriptive names given to God, but each of them only further builds on His relationship to His people. There are also names given to places using the name of the Lord which also signify an important aspect of God’s relationship with His people. “Yahweh Jirah” is “the Lord who provides,” and the specific reference, Genesis 22:14, is God providing the sacrifice. “Yahweh Raphe” is “the Lord who heals.” This name is first used of God in Exodus 15:22-26 in His promise to not bring upon them the diseases that were brought upon Egypt if they would obey Him. “Yahweh Nissi” is “the Lord is My Banner,” and it occurs in Exodus 17:15 as a response to the Lord enabling Israel to defeat Amalek. It refers to God as the ensign or standard calling His people to rally to Him for deliverance. “Yahweh M’Kaddesh” is “the Lord who sanctifies,” and it is used in Leviticus 20:8. It is part of God’s call for His people to be holy for He is holy, and He is the one that would make them holy. “Yahweh shalom” is “the Lord is peace,” and it is used in Judges 6:24 after Gideon saw the angel of the Lord and was called to deliver Israel. It was used in reference to God’s promise to Gideon that he would fulfill what God had called him to do. “Yahweh Tsidkenu” is “the Lord our righteousness,” and it is used in Jeremiah 23:5,6 in reference to the promise of a future Messiah. “Yahweh Rohi” is “the Lord my shepherd,” and it is used in Psalm 23 to speak of God’s care for His people. “Yahweh Shammah” is “the Lord is there,” and it is the name given in Ezekiel 48:35 to the future Jerusalem in the Millennial reign of Christ.
Since the Bible does not give us a definition for God, then the best we can do is to make a definition. And though we realize that any definition will be limited and inadequate to do justice to who and all that God is, we can give a definition that is true to the propositions that God has revealed about Himself. These names for God are helpful in that process. Two popular definitions that do this are the Westminster Shorter Catechism which says, “God is a spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable in His being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness and truth.” This definition focuses on some of God’s attributes. A.H. Strong gave a different emphasis when he said, “God is the infinite and perfect Spirit in Whom all things have their source, support and end.” We can blend these two together to have a short, yet full definition: “God is a spirit who is infinite and eternal in His being, perfect and unchangeable in His attributes, and in Whom all things have their source, support and end.”
That definition makes it clear that God is very different from you or me. We are flesh; He is spirit. We are finite; He is infinite. We are creatures of time having a beginning; He is a being without beginning and therefore not bound by time. We are fallible; He is perfect. We are ever changing; He is never changing in His attributes. And finally, He is self-existent while we are creatures made by Him, who continue to exist because of Him and whose futures are bound up in Him. Those differences alone are enough to cause us to worship Him.
Why do We Believe in Him?
But why do we believe in Him? There are certainly enough philosophers and theologians of other religions that deny God outright, or at least deny the God revealed in the Bible. Could they be true and we in error? Some accuse Christians of being proud and arrogant in saying that only we have the truth. Are they right, or are they the ones who are proud and arrogant in their denial of the truth? What is the truth? What are the facts of reality? Which philosophy, world view and presuppositions match what is true. Let’s take a brief look at the beliefs of those that oppose the God of the Bible and see the fallacies of their claims.
The Failure of the Atheist
The atheist believes that there is no God. Scripture says such a person is a fool (Psalm 14:1; 53:1), and a fool is either a simpleton, someone who despises wisdom, arrogant, or a mixture of these. The atheist may be the first, is often the second, and is always the third, for they arrogantly make a proclamation about something they cannot have knowledge. Just because you have not personally experienced something or met someone does not mean that they do not exist. It is the height of arrogance to believe that your experience, or in this case even more so because it is the lack of experience, is the basis for determining what is or is not true.
To take on the old philosophical question, “if a tree falls in the forest and no human is there to hear it, does it make noise.” The answer is of course it does. The presence or absence of a man does not affect the laws of physics. When a tree falls, it makes lots of noise in its crash to the earth.
In the same manner, your experience or lack of experience in meeting someone has no bearing on that person’s existence. Only a few of you here have met my dad, but he exists whether you have met him or not. The same point is true of when it comes to my heavenly Father. He exists whether you have personally met Him or not.
The arrogance of the atheist is that they claim that God does not exist because they have not personally experienced Him even though their personal experience is limited. No atheist has been to every country in the world, let alone every city, town or village to see if God is or is not in any of those places. In order to make the assertion that there is no God, they would have to have all knowledge, and since no atheist, or all of them combined, have all knowledge, their claim is fallacious. Their pride brings them to an invalid absolute statement that they can never prove. If they were honest, they would have to say that they have not recognized God in their own experience, and they do not know if He exists outside of their experience. The honest atheist would have to abandon his position and become an agnostic, which is someone who says they do not know if God exists.
The Weakness of the Agnostic
Well, what about the agnostic? While they may be more intellectually honest than the atheist, that does not mean their position is without fallacies. There are two kinds of agnostics. Those that do not know because they are still searching and have not found Him yet, and those that claim that they cannot know and do not search. The former are humble and honest while the latter are in reality just as arrogant as the atheist, though they believe themselves to be intellectually honest and humble.
If the former are honestly looking for God, they will find Him. Romans 1:19,20 tells us that God has made Himself evident to all men. In Jeremiah 29:13 God said, “And you will seek Me and find [Me,] when you search for Me with all your heart.” Hebrews 11:6 adds that “he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.” Those searching for truth will find Jesus Christ because He is the truth (John 14:6). The honest agnostic acknowledges that they do not know God, but they also acknowledge that He could exist, and in that acknowledgment there is not only the basis for searching for God, but also the intellectual necessity to do so. Only the fool would agree that God could exist, but then fail to search for Him. Such a fool would fall into the next category.
The dishonest agnostic does not know God, but does not search for Him because of their own arrogance. That arrogance may be based in laziness or in fear, but either way, it is based in selfishness. The lazy agnostic is open to the possibility that God exists, but they do not believe such a search is worth their time and effort. They would rather gamble on the possibility that there is no God than to give up anything they are currently doing in order to search for God. The fearful agnostic does not search for God for the same reason that a thief does not search for a policeman. They do not want to face the demands that God would make on their life if they found Him. They know they are not doing what God would want and they do not want to submit to His authority. By not searching for God they think they can avoid Him and therefore continue living as they desire in their own private world. But God’s wrath is not avoided by denying Him or ignoring Him. The atheist and the agnostic, as will all people, will one day have to face the reality of the God that created them.
The Case for Theism
What then is the evidence for God? How can we be so sure that He exists? What can you say to an atheist or an agnostic to help them come to grips with reality and seek God?
The first and foremost evidence for God are the Scriptures themselves. God has revealed Himself to man through His written word. We have the testimony of people throughout the millennia that both God exists and recount what He has done. But, you say, there are those that do not believe the Bible, so they will not take what it says as true. Whether they believe it or not, the Bible is still true and the first and foremost witness of God’s existence, His attributes and His plan for mankind. Regardless of belief, reality is.
It is sort of like some letters and e-mails I have from my friend, Kolbein Lunde, in Norway. They attest that he is a real person, but you can deny the evidence and choose to believe that he is a figment of my own imagination because of some deep need I have for friends in foreign countries. However, what you believe does not change the reality that Kolbein is a real person living in Norway.
God knew that man would not readily accept the witness of His prophets, so from the beginning He has also left other evidence and reasons to believe not only that He exists, but also some limited idea of what He is like and that man is responsible to Him. David said in Psalm 19:1,2 that, “The heavens are telling of the glory of God; And their expanse is declaring the work of His hands. Day to day pours forth speech, And night to night reveals knowledge.” Paul said in Romans 1:18-20, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, 19 because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. 20 For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.”
Creation itself declares that God exists. The provision of all the basic needs of life demonstrate God’s goodness and kindness. The expanse of the universe demonstrates God’s vastness and power, and disasters, both past and present, demonstrate that God’s wrath is against all ungodliness. Those that do not recognize these things fail because they willingly suppress the truth in unrighteousness. Let’s look at some of the extra Biblical reasons to believe in God.
The cosmological argument is the rule of cause and effect. Whenever there is an effect, there must be something that caused it. None of us have ever had any experience that did not have some cause. When Newton observed the apple fall from the tree, it was this rule of cause and effect that led him to the discovery of gravity.
The universe is an observable effect which requires either an infinite regress of causes, or else a sufficient uncaused Cause. Since an infinite regress of causes in inconceivable, then there must be an uncaused sufficient Cause, namely, God. In other words, since the universe exists, something created it, and the magnitude of the universe shows the immense power of its creator.
Atheistic evolutionists would like to believe that everything started with a Big Bang, yet the more research they do, the more unbelievable their idea becomes. For example, in May of last year 33 leading scientists published an “Open Letter to the Scientific Community” (New Scientist, 22 May 2004, p. 20) rejecting the Big Bang referring to “fudge factors” used to try to keep the idea viable.
The teleological argument is similar to the cosmological argument, except more precise. Design requires a designer. The universe displays purposeful design, therefore there must be a designer, namely, God. The high complexity in the universe demands and extremely intelligent designer.
It is this argument that has been forcing its way into what has been a strictly evolutionary scientific establishment that discounts the necessity of God in Creation. They have been fighting the Intelligent Design movement, just as they have the Creation Science movement, but they are losing ground. Creationist authors such as Gish, Ham, Humphreys, Snelling, Oard, and Vardiman, and ID authors such as Phillip Johnson, William Dembski, Michael Behe and Jonathan Wells are revealing the many myths and fallacies of evolution while showing that observation in the real world using the scientific method demands that there is an intelligent creator / designer. Though their arguments are simply variations on the old “a watch requires a watchmaker” presentation, they are doing this using Biological systems, molecular biology, chemistry and physics. But rather than use one of their technical models, such as the flagellum on a Bacterium, let me use a couple of examples I got from Ray Comfort that here will immediately understand that illustrate the silliness of atheism and the logical conclusion that there is a Creator.
What would you say if I told you that this object in my hand was the result of billions of years of chance chemical reactions. Billions of years ago there was an incredible release of energy and molecules that came from nothing and nowhere but resulted in a hot rock traveling through space. Over time the rock cooled, and a brown, sweet, bubbly liquid formed on its surface. Over much more time, aluminum formed in a tubular shape around this liquid and then sealed the liquid inside, but with a tab on top that could be easily leveraged to let the liquid out. Then, millions of more years passed by, and blue, red and white coloration formed on the surface of the aluminum so that it formed symbols in English mean, “diet PEPSI, light, crisp, refreshing. 12 FL OZ. Does anyone believe that story? Of course not. You know that this can of cola was manufactured formulating a recipe for the cola, and then designing a factory to make the can, paint the can, and bottle the cola.
Now look at this banana. Notice on one side it has three ridges and on the opposite, two ridges. Just perfect to fit in the human hand, and it comes with a non-slip surfaced wrapper. This wrapper comes with an automatic color coding to tell you what the product inside is like. Green – too early. Yellow – just right. Black – too late. This wrapper has a “tab” on the top for ease of opening. It is perforated so it peels easily allowing access to the contents inside. The wrapper is also environmentally friendly and will decompose into fertilizer good for growing more bananas. Inside there is a delectable substance that is easy to digest and very nutritious for humans. The shape of the banana makes it easy for human consumption, provided you hold it with the point aimed at your mouth.
Look at this apple. It is also shaped for the human hand. It has a large groove on top that fits the human thumb, and a smaller groove on the bottom that fits the human finger. The thumb-groove has a stem that is flexible so that it will not poke you under the fingernail. The bottom groove is padded for ease of turning. The apple’s wrapper is also edible. Inside is a pleasant substance that is very nutritious for humans. And in the core are small black seeds, that if planted, can grow a new apple tree to replace the apple you just ate – without any extra surcharge.
An atheist concludes that the can of Pepsi was designed and manufactured by a human, but the banana and apple, which are by far much more complex, just happened. What is your conclusion?
The cause / effect and design / designer arguments are built on the evidence from nature as a whole. There are two additional arguments that are built on the nature of man. Let’s quickly look at them.
The anthropological argument is that man has a unique intellectual, social, moral and religious nature when compared to other animals, and this evidence infers that man’s maker is at least corresponding to if not greater in those same characteristics. This argument concludes that God has personality and morality. In other words, God would have to have the same or superior attributes as compared to the beings He created.
The moral argument also concludes that God is moral, but it is derived from the fact that all men have a sense of moral obligation. Though varied to some degree from man to man, all men have a sense of right and wrong with an obligation to do right and refrain from wrong. Failure to do this results in man feeling guilty and liable to punishment. This evidence implies the existence of a law giver and judge, namely, God.
Some people want to use the existence of evil as proof that there is not a good God. The truth is that they could not know evil if there was not a corresponding understanding of good, but where did good come from if not God who defines it? The existence of evil does not negate the existence of a good God, but rather demands that a good God will punish those that do evil.
While no argument from Creation or the nature of man will prove God exists to someone who refuses believe, they do show that it is reasonable for us to believe that there is a God who is a spirit and is infinite and eternal in His being, perfect and unchangeable in His attributes, and in Whom all things have their source, support and end.” We proclaim the truth to atheists, agnostics, and everyone else, but you cannot argue someone into believing, for ultimately, as Paul points out in 1 Cor. 2, belief in the true God is spiritual in nature. That
brings me to the responses we must have to this professed belief.
The Danger of Virtual Atheism
There are many people, even professing Christians, that claim to believe in God as has been defined, yet the actions of their everyday life suggests they have intellectual assent and not real belief. While professing to be theists, they live as practical atheists. God does exist. He created you. He knows everything about you, and one day you will stand before Him and He will be your judge. What will you say? What will be your end?
God has said that the soul that sins shall die (Ezek. 18:4). Revelation 20 tells us of the Great White Throne judgement in which everyone whose names are not written in the book of life will be judged according to their deeds, and since all of man’s efforts to be righteous are as filthy rags before our Holy Creator (Isa. 64:6), they will all be thrown into the lake of fire (Rev. 20:11-15). The only hope is having your name written in the book of life, which happens only through faith in the person and work of Jesus Christ who paid the penalty of our sin by His own death on the cross. There is no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus (Rom. 8:1). However, every Christian “will appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad” (2 Cor. 5:10). As 1 Cor. 3:12 tells us, your works will either be gold, silver and precious stones that will survive the testing so that you will have reward in heaven, or they will be wood, hay and stubble which will be burned up in the testing and you will suffer their loss. You will be saved, but with little or no reward for your life’s work.
There is an infinite and eternal God. Our source, support and end is in Him. Are you seeking Him as you should? Are you serving Him as you should? If not, you need to do so. It is the only reasonable thing to do.
Parents, you are responsible to apply God’s Word to your children’s lives. Here is some help.
Young Children – draw a picture about something you hear during the sermon. Explain your picture(s) to your parents at lunch. Older Children – Do one or more of the following: 1) Write down all the verses mentioned in the sermon and look them up later. 2) Count how many times “God” “is mentioned in the sermon. Talk with your parents about who God is and why you believe in Him.
THINK ABOUT IT!
Questions to consider in discussing the sermon with others.
Define God is your own words? What do the names of God tell us about God? Do you believe in God? Why or why not? What are the failures of the atheist? What two kinds of agnostics are there? How are they different? How are they similar? What is the best evidence for God? Explain the cosmological argument? Explain the teleological argument? What are some examples you could use to simply explain the logic of cause / effect and design / designer evidence for God? What are the anthropological and moral arguments for God? What do they tell us about God? What is practical atheism and what is its danger? What will you tell God when He judges you?
Sermon Notes – January 9, 2005
Our Creator God: Who is He, Why do We Believe in Him? – Selected Scriptures
Who is God?
Man’s Attempts to Define Him
The Names of God:
El, Elah, and Elohim / (theoV) Theos
Adonai / (kurioV) kurios
Defining God: “God is a spirit who is infinite and eternal in His being, perfect and unchangeable in His attributes, and in Whom all things have their source, support and end.”
Why do We Believe in Him?
The Failure of the Atheist
The Weakness of the Agnostic
The Case for Theism
The Danger of Practical Atheism
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