Volume 29, Issue 4, June 2023
by Gary E. Gilley, Pastor/teacher Southern View Chapel
Every two years, Ligonier Ministries and LifeWay Research partner to find out what Americans believe about God, salvation, ethics, and the Bible. The findings are always shocking, but more so are the results of evangelical Christians who take the survey. Before we advance, we must first define what it means to be an evangelical. A hundred years ago, “evangelical” would describe a conservative believer who held to certain cardinal theological beliefs, as opposed to liberals who rejected these same doctrines. Evangelicals were also termed fundamentalists at this point because they believed in the fundamentals of the faith. These definitions began to change in the 1940s when the boundaries of evangelicalism were broadened by some to include much wider theological views and denominations. A new term was coined for this broader grouping: neo-evangelicalism.
Today, no one uses that term, and the meaning of “evangelical” is so fuzzy that it is almost impossible to define. As a result, theologians have fallen back on historian David Bebbington’s description of an evangelical, which is drawn from the late 1800s. Bebbington offers four distinctives of evangelical faith: biblicism, crucicentrism, conversionism, and activism, noting, “Together they form a quadrilateral of priorities that is the basis of Evangelicalism.” Unpacking this definition, evangelicalism is marked by four characteristics.
- Biblicism: The Bible is the Word of God and is the standard for Christian doctrine and living.
- Crucicentrism: the cross, or the sacrifice of Christ on Calvary, is how the salvation described in the Bible was won for humanity.
- Conversionism: salvation requires repentance from sin and faith in Christ as Savior. Personal conversion and regeneration are necessary for the new birth.
- Activism: sharing the good news is the duty and privilege of every Christian. Christians are at war with sin, and the gospel is the means of victory.
Obviously, these four components leave out much that is essential to the Christian faith, but they do demonstrate that an evangelical adheres to a minimalistic set of doctrines and could be described as a serious, Bible-believing Christian.
Unfortunately, the above-mentioned survey revealed shocking results about evangelicals. For example, fifty percent believe God changes and is therefore not immutable. Two-thirds believe people are born in a state of innocence. One-third do not see the importance of church membership. Over one-half believe that God accepts the worship of all religions, and one-fourth do not believe the Bible is literally true. In other words, many “evangelicals” are either ignorant or rejecters of the very basic, most fundamental biblical beliefs. This got me thinking about doing a short study concerning what every Christian must know about biblical truth. I will devote an article each to what believers must know about the Bible, Christ, salvation, etc., beginning with what every Christian must know about God. To keep this essay from being overwhelming, our examination will be limited to three essential things we must know about God.
God Exists and Reigns Supreme (Isaiah 40:9-26)
Modern Christians are often content to superficially repeat some attribute or blessing of God, turning these wonders into cliché. Many popular contemporary Christian songs or choruses, it is often observed, are a mile wide and an inch deep, repeating over and over one simple theme. This is not the pattern of Scripture, which is not content to tell the reader to worship God simply because He is great. Rather, we are told why and how He is great. Scripture never addresses our emotions by bypassing our minds because biblical truth is designed to impact our affections and emotions as its truth is processed through our intellect (Romans 12:1-2).
So, when Isaiah tells Israel to proclaim a message in Isaiah 40:1-9, he summarizes but does not exhaust the message in verse nine: “Here is your God.” This is not a mantra to be repeated time and time again but a springboard for the prophet to launch into an exposition on the greatness of this God that they are to worship, which he will do most excellently over the next eight chapters. For whatever reason, the Jews doubted the goodness, omniscience, and greatness of God. “Why do you say, O Jacob, and assert, O Israel, ‘My way is hidden from the Lord, And the justice due me escapes the notice of my God’?” (v. 27) If God was good, why did He not treat them better? If He was great, why did He not see their plight and help them?
They had a problem with God, and most of our problems go back to a similar misunderstanding or ignorance of the nature of God. Before Isaiah gives them a final answer to their concerns in verses twenty-eight through thirty-one, he first informs them of the majesty of their God. The background of this argument is that of contrasting the true God with the idols or alternatives to which the people were so attracted. God is superior to these deities, as well as everything else, in every way. Five areas of His superiority are identified.
First, God is superior in creation. “Who has measured the waters in the hollow of His hand, and marked off the heavens by the span, and calculated the dust of the earth by the measure, and weighed the mountains in a balance, and the hills in a pair of scales?” (v. 12). One of the consistent pieces of evidence of God’s greatness found throughout Scripture is the fact that He is the creator of all things. When we carefully look at creation, we cannot but be blown away by the power of the One who could create all that surrounds us. The marvels of creation reveal the marvels of the Creator. As someone said, “Lacking any other evidence, the human eye would be enough to convince me that there is a God.”
Secondly, God is superior in knowledge. “Who has directed the Spirit of the Lord, or as His counselor has informed Him? With whom did He consult and who gave Him understanding? And who taught Him in the path of justice and taught Him knowledge and informed Him of the way of understanding?” (vv. 13-14) In a passage dripping with sarcasm, the prophet wants to know who has added to God’s knowledge and understanding. With whom did He consult before He created? Who schooled Him on the subjects of justice, knowledge, and understanding? Obviously, no one. There is also a bit of a dig here against one of the favorite deities in the land. In Babylonian mythology, the creator god Markuk could not proceed with creation without consulting Ea, the all-wise. But the Lord consults with no one and works with unaided wisdom.
Thirdly, God is superior over the nations.
Behold, the nations are like a drop from a bucket, and are regarded as a speck of dust on the scales; Behold, He lifts up the islands like fine dust. Even Lebanon is not enough to burn, Nor its beasts enough for a burnt offering. All the nations are as nothing before Him, they are regarded by Him as less than nothing and meaningless (vv. 15-17).
The greatest nations and all of their achievements are nothing before God—as a drop from a bucket, as a speck of dust on the scales. This is great news when we hear of countries beginning to rattle their swords and attempt to take over the world. It is hard to convince a nation that has a 100,000-man army (Babylon) and has just defeated every nation in the world, that they are not invincible. Centuries later, when Alexander the Great had conquered the world, the next thing on his list was to become a god. He wanted to be deified and worshipped; after all, who could oppose him? But by age 32, he lay dead by means of an alcoholic overdose or possible poisoning by his mentor, Aristotle. To the world, he was invincible; to God, he was just another puny little man who believed too much in his own press releases. More than that, even the greatest efforts to worship God are far below His worth. If you burned all the forests of Lebanon and sacrificed all the beasts on earth, still the offering would be as nothing in His sight. “Even Lebanon is not enough to burn, Nor its beasts enough for a burnt offering” (v. 16). We are just beginning to understand the greatness of this God of ours.
Fourthly, God is superior to idols and false gods. The objects of worship are but dumb blocks of wood in his sight. “To whom then will you liken God? Or what likeness will you compare with Him? As for the idol, a craftsman casts it, a goldsmith plates it with gold, And a silversmith fashions chains of silver. He who is too impoverished for such an offering selects a tree that does not rot; he seeks out for himself a skillful craftsman to prepare an idol that will not totter” (vv. 18-20).
Finally, God is superior to rulers.
Do you not know? Have you not heard? Has it not been declared to you from the beginning? Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth? It is He who sits above the circle of the earth, and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers, who stretches out the heavens like a curtain and spreads them out like a tent to dwell in. It is He who reduces rulers to nothing, who makes the judges of the earth meaningless. Scarcely have they been planted, scarcely have they been sown, scarcely has their stock taken root in the earth, But He merely blows on them, and they wither, And the storm carries them away like stubble (vv. 21-24).
Not only are idols of no consequence before God, but neither are people, even the most mighty of the rulers. In God’s sight, they are but grasshoppers. It is He who decides their fate. They may think that it is because of their own magnificence that they have become rulers; but when He desires, God merely blows on them, and they wither away.
In summary, the question is again asked in verses 25-26: “To whom then will you liken Me?” To whom can you compare God? Not to creation, not to the wise, not to the great nations, not to the gods, not to the mighty rulers. To Him, all of these things are but insects or dust. The Scriptures do not bother to elevate the ego of man. It is the Holy One who is lifted up and magnified. It is He who is great. Israel needed, more than anything else, a picture of the wonder and splendor of their God, as we desperately do as well. When we come together as a church, we need to see God. All week long, we are saturated with thousands of obligations, people, and images, and almost none of these things point us to the Holy One. One of the most important things we can do is to gather to worship every week and get a glimpse of the glory of God that leaves us in awe of His splendor and gasping to know more.
God Has Made Himself Known (Psalm 19)
I think that many people believe that if God exists, He is hiding out somewhere. These people are functional deists. The Lord has no real impact on their everyday living; they cannot see Him, touch Him, or hear His voice audibly, so how can they know anything about Him? The ancient people asked the same question, and the Scriptures offer three means by which we can know the Lord. First, God has revealed himself in Jesus Christ. John 1:18 reads, “No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him.” God reveals Himself most fully in His Son. We will explore this truth further in the next article. God has also revealed Himself in nature. This is the message of the first six verses of Psalm 19. Lastly, God has revealed Himself in Scripture. Verses 7-14 of the same psalm tackle this subject and will be the subject of the fourth article in this series.
Turning back to Psalm 19:1-6, we find the Holy Spirit-inspired psalmist, David, reminding us that all of creation communicates that God exists and that He is glorious. It should be noted that this is far more than an argument that God is real. We as Christians often say something such as, “I don’t know how anyone can look at the stars, study the human body, or fill in the blank, and not believe in God.” This is a true statement, but David does not even address it here. He, along with all of Scripture, does not argue for the existence of God; he states it, for His existence is self-evident in creation. Far more than showing that God exists, the heavens, the works of God’s hands, declare the glory of God. This is to say that they proclaim and preach it, rather than defend it.
What does it mean that the heavens are telling of the glory of God? The word “glory” basically means “heavy,” which carries the idea of importance. The word came to mean “to treat as important or to honor.” It means to reflect on the greatness of someone or something. When applied to the Lord, it refers to all the manifestations of His powerful presence. “When the Bible uses the word ‘glory’ or ‘glorious’ with reference to the Lord, it is basically saying that He is the most important or preeminent person in existence.” The created universe reveals the indescribable importance and superiority of God. There is no one like Him. There is nothing to which we can compare Him. As Isaiah would later write, “To whom would you liken Me and make Me equal and compare Me, that we would be alike” (Isaiah 46:5). John Piper is reported as saying, “No one goes to the Grand Canyon to increase self-esteem.” It is because humanity does not read the message written in the heavens that we think God is just a superhuman. Psalm 50:21 warns, “You thought I was just like you,” and that is our problem. The created universe is designed to declare boldly that God is not like us, that He is comparable to nothing and no one. He is truly glorious.
The rest of the psalm speaks of the wonder of the Word of God. It is the revelation of Scripture that most clearly reveals who God is and what He is like. Almost everything we know about God with certainty and clarity is found in Scripture. Creation pulls back the curtain, but God’s inspired Word gives the details. Scripture is the specific revelation of God, and it does many things; most importantly, it tells us what God is like. And when the dust has settled, we should cry out with the psalmist the words of verse 14, “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Your sight, O Lord, my rock and my Redeemer.”
God Exists in Trinitarian Form (Matthew 28:19-20)
The doctrine of the Trinity has baffled Christians for centuries, so much so that most Christians basically ignore it and move on. One simple definition goes like this, “There is one only and true God, but in the unity of the Godhead there are three coeternal and coequal Persons, the same in substance but distinct in subsistence.” The commandment of Christ in Matthew 28 to make disciples is in the Name (singular) of the Triune God. Yet even our greatest theologians cannot truly grasp the Trinity. Jonathan Edwards wrote the following:
I am far from pretending to explain the Trinity so as to render it no longer a mystery. I think it to be the highest and deepest of all Divine mysteries still, notwithstanding anything that I have said or conceived about it. I don’t intend to explain the Trinity.
It is well known that the father of hymnology, Isaac Watts, struggled with the doctrine of the Trinity. He just could not get it. But he finally resolved it in his mind and wrote these words in one of his best-known hymns to reveal his conclusion, “Where reason fails; with all her powers; there faith prevails; and love adores.”
There is so much more that we must know about God, and the study of God is one of the greatest and most enriching privileges God ever afforded us. We will conclude where we began. About half of all evangelicals answered Ligonier’s question, “Does God learn and adapt to various situations” in the affirmative. In other words, they see God as one who changes over time. What a frightening thought, if that were true. If God changes, then we almost certainly do not worship the same God that we find in the Scriptures. Over the thousands of years since Genesis one, the Lord would have had to make numerous adaptions as He learned more and more about the universe He created and all the creatures in it. In time, He would be a very different being than we find in the Bible, and therefore it would be impossible to know anything with certainty about Him.
In Lewis Carroll’s tales, when Alice falls down the rabbit hole and returns to Wonderland, the Mad Hatter looks her over and says, “You’re not the same as you were before. You were much more…muchier…you’ve lost your muchness.” What is true of Alice, and us, is not true of God. He does not change. He is not like us, and aren’t you glad that that is true?
 Bebbington, The Dominance of Evangelicalism (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2005), pp. 21-40
 Keith A Mathison, The State of Theology: 2022 Biennial Survey (Sanford, FL: Ligonier Ministries and LifeWay Research, 2022).
 Allen Ross, A Commentary on the Psalms, Vol. 1 (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel, 2011), p. 473.
 Charles C. Ryrie, Basic Theology, A Popular Systematic Guide to Understanding Biblical Truth (Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 1999), p. 61.
 James White, The Forgotten Trinity: Recovering the Heart of Christian Belief (Bloomington, MI: Bethany House Publishers, 2019), p. 26.
 Mel Lawrenz, Putting the Pieces Back Together, How Real Life and Real Faith Connect (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2005), p. 97.
 Douglas Bond, The Poetic Wonder of Isaac Watts, A Long Line of Godly Men Profile (Sanford, FL: Ligonier Ministries, 2013), p. 58.