Summary: What is your image of God? This online Bible study examines many ideas about God and spirituality, comparing them to what the Bible says about God’s nature.

Summary: Bible study examines many ideas about God and spirituality in the light of the Bible.

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Understanding God’s Nature

Who is God — Part 1

Doug Britton, MFT

Man reading Bible thinking about God's nature and wondering who is God?

Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance? You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy. (Micah 7:18)

Note: This is Part One of a four-part series on “Who is God?”

Who or what is God? It’s an important question, but it’s also an impossible one to fully answer. How could a human being adequately describe God? It would be like a baby trying to understand nuclear physics or an ant trying to describe a human being.

God is so much larger, so much more powerful, so much more loving than we can imagine, that we cannot fully grasp him. However, although we cannot fully comprehend God, we can learn a lot about him in the pages of the Bible.

 

Common (but inaccurate) ideas about God

Before reading what the Bible says about God, let’s look at some mistaken ideas people have. There’s a good chance you believe (or used to believe) one or more of the following comments. That would be completely understandable. Each one is a popular idea in our culture. At one time, I believed many of them myself.

As you read, look for statements that describe something you have believed, look for what the Bible says as you read this online study and the following three parts.

 

God is simply a spiritual “force.”

A common (incorrect) belief: “God” is not a distinct personal being, but rather an impersonal spiritual force spread throughout the universe or throughout nature—an “indescribable transcendence” or the “totality of everything that exists.”

You can be one with the universe, one with nature, deeply spiritual, or practice a form of spirituality without acknowledging God as a unique, personal being. The key is to be aware of and open to the force(s) around you.

 

God is the “divine within you” or the “inner light.”

A common (incorrect) belief: There is no distinct “god” with a distinct personage. Instead, a spiritual force or reality dwells within your soul. The key is to stay in tune with the force in your inner being or soul.

 

God is any “higher power” you choose.

A common (incorrect) belief: It’s important to acknowledge your need for a “higher power,” but it doesn’t matter what you choose to be your higher power. It could be anything, even a toaster.

 

There are many gods.

A common (incorrect) belief: There are many gods, each one representing a different truth or manifesting himself or herself in different ways.

 

You will become a god.

A common (incorrect) belief: If you are a man (not a woman) and you follow the proper belief system, when you die you will become a “god” on your own planet.

 

God is far off and uninvolved in your daily activities.

A common (incorrect) belief: God created you, but he does not get involved in your day-to-day life. He set the ball in motion, and now he stands back as a spectator to see what you do with it. There’s no point in praying for anything because he does not answer prayers.

 

God is like a cosmic vending machine.

A common (incorrect) belief: If you trust God, you will never go through hard times, and God will give you any material thing you ask for.

 

Discussion questions

1. Have you thought of God in some of these inaccurate ways? If so, which ones?

2. What is a more accurate way to understand who God is?

All the previous ideas offer inaccurate portrayals of God. As you read the rest of this online Bible study and the following three parts, think about these descriptions of God and compare them to what God says about himself. You will notice major differences between these ideas and what God says.

 

What is your image of God?

What is your image of God? Where did you get it? If you are like many people, you have borrowed ideas from different sources and created your own picture of God or spirituality. But there’s something very wrong with this approach. When we try to fit God into a mold we formed, we aren’t really seeing God. We are seeing something we created.

Related: Online Bible studies on how to grow closer to God and find your purpose

 

Discussion question

3. What is your image of God? Where did you get this image?

 

God is the one true God

God is “one,” a unique personage with individuality and personality, characteristics, and distinctiveness. He is not a “spiritual force,” an “inner light,” or a “cosmic consciousness.”

Interacting with God himself is very different from being “spiritual” or practicing “spirituality.” God interacts with people in a personal way. Sometimes he speaks directly, often through his Spirit (also known as the Holy Spirit). He spoke to many prophets in the Old Testament. He gave us the Ten Commandments and guided the people who wrote the Bible, down to the very words.

Jesus showed us how important it is to acknowledge that God is one when he was asked which was the most important commandment. He began his answer by saying:

“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.’” (Mark 12:29)

 

What is the Trinity?

The Bible is clear that there is one God, not many gods. Yet it also refers to God as the Father (Galatians 1:1), as the Son, or Jesus (John 20:28), and as the Holy Spirit (Acts 5:3-4). The following passage refers to all three in the same sentence (the underlining is mine).

Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To God’s elect, strangers in the world, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia, who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and sprinkling by his blood: Grace and peace be yours in abundance. (1 Peter 1:1-2)

Since the Bible says God is one, yet it also refers to him as the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, many people use the term “Trinity” to describe him as one being of three co-equal persons or aspects. Some describe him as being unique, with individuality and personality that is manifested in three persons.

Countless people have tried to explain the Trinity in many ways. For example, think about the three ways water exists—as a liquid, steam, and ice. It’s always water, but it exists in three forms, each of which has a different function. Explanations like this may not give the total picture, but they can help.  I don’t think there’s any way to fully understand the Trinity, but that’s okay. How could we completely grasp the power and majesty of God, the one who created everything that exists?

 

What about Bible verses that refer to “gods”?

There are many references to “gods” in the Bible. Many of them apply to man-made objects. Some references are to people. In both cases, the term “gods” is used because that is the term commonly used by people during the time in which the Bible was written. The Bible makes it clear that these “gods” are not gods at all.

I said, “You are ‘gods’; you are all sons of the Most High. But you will die like mere men; you will fall like every other ruler.” (Psalm 82:6-7)

Has a nation ever changed its gods? (Yet they are not gods at all.) But my people have exchanged their Glory for worthless idols. (Jeremiah 2:11)

Do men make their own gods? Yes, but they are not gods! (Jeremiah 16:20)

People who hope to become “gods” when they die fall into the same error Eve did when Satan tempted her, saying if she ate the forbidden fruit she would “be like God” (Genesis 3:5).

 

Why does the Bible refer to God in the male gender?

Some people wonder if it’s a mistake to refer to God in the masculine gender. Some even think we should refer to a “goddess” instead of “God.”

Jesus showed us the answer to this question. When he talked about God, he referred to him as his “Father.” Likewise, when Jesus prayed, he called God “Father.” And when he taught his followers how to pray, he told them to say, “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name” (Matthew 6:9).

The fact that the Bible refers to God as “Father” rather than “mother” does not mean God values men more highly than women. We are all equally important to God. As the Bible says, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).

One more thought: Although God is our Father, he also displays mercy, compassion, and forgiveness—traits that some people associate with women.

Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance? You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy. (Micah 7:18)

 

Discussion questions

4. Have you wondered about any of the previous questions? If so, which ones? How did this study help you understand?

5. What do people mean when they refer to the Trinity?

6. Some people think there are many gods. What does the Bible say about this?

 

Memory verse

Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance? You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy. (Micah 7:18)

 

Make it personal

1. Re-read the common but inaccurate ideas about God. Do any of them describe the way you think or used to think? If so, explain what you thought about them.

2. What have you learned about these ideas in this online Bible study?

3. If someone tells you we will become gods, what will you say?

4. Read 1 Peter 1:1-2. What is the Trinity?

5. What is the difference between saying God is the “inner light” and saying God is the one true God?

6. Have you ever watched a science fiction movie which said a spiritual “force” is behind everything in the universe, but left God himself out of the picture?

a. If your answer is “yes,” what was the movie?

b. What idea or concept did it seem to be making about God or spirituality?

c. Have you found yourself being influenced by that idea about God or spirituality? If so, in what ways?

d. According to the Bible, how accurate is that concept compared to who God really is?

 

Click here to read Part 2 of “Who is God?” — Understanding God’s Power

Click here to read Part 3 of “Who is God?” — Understanding God’s Love and Holiness

Click here to read Part 4 of “Who is God?” — Understanding God through Jesus

Getting Started, Getting Connected

Practical steps to take as you begin your journey with Christ

First Things First

Learning about God's nature, becoming a disciple

Living by Grace

Resting secure in God's grace, love, and mercy

Who Do You Think You Are?

Enjoying God's love and discovering your purpose in life

In the Bookstore

Getting Started, Getting Connected

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Your first steps with Jesus

First Things First

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Understanding God’s nature

Living by Grace

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Understanding God’s grace

Who Do You Think You Are?

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See yourself as God sees you

Copyright © 2016 Doug Britton. (Permission granted to print for personal use.)

Unless otherwise noted, all Bible verses are from the 1984 New International Version.

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