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The One True God

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul
The Truth Network Radio
September 28, 2023 12:01 am

The One True God

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul

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September 28, 2023 12:01 am

The whole history of redemption recounts the conflict between the worship of God and the worship of idols. Today, R.C. Sproul considers what sets the one true God apart from all manmade myths.

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The human heart is so naturally opposed to the true God that our most basic primordial sin is found in our propensity to idolatry, to reject the true God, to suppress the knowledge that He has given of Himself, and make a substitution whereby we exchange the glory of the living God for the glory of the creature, and we exchange the truth for a lie, and serve and worship the creature rather than the Creator.

R.C. Sproul said on a number of occasions that what people both in the church and outside of the church need to know is who God is, because as theologians have said, without a right knowledge of God, we won't have a right knowledge of self, yet the natural human heart is driven to idolatry, rejecting the true God of Scripture. Welcome to the Thursday edition of Renewing Your Mind. I'm Nathan W. Bingham. We must rightly know the God of Scripture, and those who penned the Westminster Confession of Faith were very clear on who God is and His attributes. Today R.C. Sproul begins in chapter 2 of the Confession, and he helps us understand the God-centered nature of Reformed theology.

Here's Dr. Sproul. The title of chapter 2 is, Of God and of the Holy Trinity. Let me read a little bit of section 1 before I begin to comment on it. The affirmation in section 1 is this, there is but one only living and true God who is infinite in being and perfection, a most pure spirit, invisible, without body, parts, or passions, immutable, immense, eternal, incomprehensible, almighty, most wise, most holy, most free, most absolute, semicolon. Now we already have enough before we get the semicolon that warrants a massive volume in the study of the doctrine of God, because what we have seen here is a list of the various attributes that are ascribed to the being and to the character of God. And before we explore these attributes, let me say by way of introduction that I often in teaching the doctrine of God in seminary, as I've also said here in St. Andrew's, when people ask me, what is distinctive in the Reformed theology of Reformed theology's view of God? And I would say, well basically, bottom line, there really is very little if anything distinctive in terms of the Reformed theologian's understanding of the being of the being and character of God.

Let me just say it another way. Reformed theology basically has no distinctive aspects to its doctrine of God that would differ from other denominations in other schools of theology. Having said that, when people ask me, what is the most distinctive characteristic of Reformed theology, I will answer by saying, it's our doctrine of God.

Now of course one does not have to be very astute to have just heard what certainly sounds like a blatant contradiction. And since I'm not given to dialectical theology, let me take a moment to explain this apparent conflict that I've just articulated. On the one hand, when we look at the attributes that are listed in the Confession here that are ascribed to the being of God, they don't differ in any significant way from what we would call Catholic Christianity. The same attributes would be affirmed by Lutherans, by Methodists, by Episcopalians, by Roman Catholics, and so on.

So there's nothing unique in the particular attributes that are set forth here. But what is basic to Reformed theology is its theocentricity. That is, when we look at theology in a systematic way, we start with the doctrine of God, and what we ascribe to the being and character of God then becomes the norm and the test for every other doctrine that we study, so that our doctrine of justification, our doctrine of sanctification, our doctrine of sin, our doctrine of Christ, all of these things are always ordered and controlled by our understanding of God. And that's not always the case with other theologies. Other theologies will affirm at the beginning the same attributes of God, but then later on in their study of theology, they forget that they affirmed one thing over here, and they don't carry it over to apply it to their understanding of some other article of faith. And what I'm saying about Reformed theology is self-consciously.

Reformed theology keeps coming back and testing its doctrine by its understanding of God Himself. And if that is the case, then it's of critical importance that we come to a proper understanding of who God is and what He does. So with that introduction, let's look then at some of these things in particular that are affirmed about God. We read at the beginning, there is but one only living and true God, comma.

Now for us in our day that does not seem like anything earth-shaking to get such an initial affirmation as these statements that I've just read. But when you think of the history of religion, you realize that in antiquity to believe in one God was radically different from what was customary in the ancient world. Now some people argue that monotheism, the idea of one God, really began with the Egyptians, but even there if you look at the Egyptian religion, we find more than one deity involved in it. And historically it's generally granted that the first really developed form of monotheism on the stage of world history was that introduced by Old Testament Judaism, where at the heart of the Jews' religion was this affirmation that God is one.

The Shema, which was recited regularly by the Jew, the pious Jew, says, here O Israel, the Lord our God is one. Now again, critical scholars have even argued that in Old Testament religion the affirmation of monotheism was something that came very late. Some would say it didn't come until after the exile. Some would say it came in the eighth-century prophets. Some would say it came with Moses.

But most of the critical scholars won't allow it at all before Abraham. But historic orthodox theology sees the affirmation of one God on the very first page of the Bible where it is said, in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. And we see God as the God of creation who reigns over all aspects of His creation. Now if you study ancient forms of polytheism, you will see what happens there is that you have usually a god or goddess for every significant aspect of human life. There will be a god or goddess of the harvest. There will be a god of war, a god of love, a god of peace, a god of beauty, a god of wisdom, and so on. And you have all these job descriptions in the division of labor among the various deities.

You have a god for every eventuality, so you're sort of covered from the cradle to the grave. One of the things we also understand about ancient polytheism that though people had religious devotion to these multitude of deities, there was deeply rooted in the cultures of Greece and in Rome and others a sense that even though they had these stories of their gods, they had this idea that the stories themselves were myths and not sober history. One of the things we find about the biblical expression of Yahweh is that Old Testament religion is already demythologized, that at the heart of biblical theology is the central affirmation that this one God of whom they are speaking and whom they are worshiping is not mythic in character. But He is, as is affirmed here, one only living and true God. But the God who reveals Himself in history is tied to history in the sense that He's not a creative fiction from the imagination of people who are inventing myths and legends and so on, but there is this affirmation that this God is real, that He corresponds objectively to reality. He is, as Francis Schaeffer said, the God who is there. And the affirmation is there is only one God, only one living God, and only one true God.

So at the beginning of the theology here of the confession, there is this affirmation that is on a collision course with political correctness in our day in the United States because at the very beginning we find a strong, unambiguous affirmation of exclusivity. One God, not many, one true God, there are multitudes upon multitudes of false gods, but false gods are not alive, they're not real, they are of course by definition not true. And in fact, the history of the Old Testament is in many ways the history of the battle between monotheism and idolatry. And idolatry by definition is the worship of that which is not God. Idols are those things which are made and fashioned by human hands. We remember how the prophets would not only critique the idea of the idols that people worship but would actually mock their idolatrous religion because they would think, what could be more absurd than for somebody to take a piece of stone, chisel it into the shape of an animal or a human being, polish that image, pick up the shavings from the floor, and then get that on the floor on your knees and start talking to this dumb and deaf piece of stone that you created with your own hands. What could be more foolish than that?

Well, but that's what we do. The human heart is so naturally opposed to the true God as we've seen in Romans 1 at the beginning of this course that our most basic primordial sin is found in our propensity to idolatry, to reject the true God, to suppress the knowledge that He has given of Himself, and make a substitution whereby we exchange the glory of the living God for the glory of the creature, the four-footed animal, the beast and so on, and we exchange the truth for a lie and serve and worship the creature rather than the Creator. Now that distinction right there is absolutely foundational to Judeo Christianity, namely the distinction between the Creator and the creature. And to worship anything less than the God of creation is to worship a creature. And the Bible will talk about how God manifests His power in the storm, but the storm is not God. But these other religions will have the God who is the storm, or the God who is the Son.

The Son is the creature that God makes, and to worship that creature rather than the one who made that creature is to be involved in idolatry. Now again, one God. Now we live in a world where there are a plurality of religions and consequently a plurality of views of God, and we were taught in the nineteenth century through comparative religion the metaphor of the mountain where there are really many ways to God, some more direct than others, some are by a more circuitous route, but ultimately all religions believe the same thing and end up in the same place. Now again, that's radically antithetical to every page of the Scriptures. The whole history of redemption is the history of the conflict between worship of the true God and worship of false idols and substitutions. Now one other point that I want us to get here is that we have deeply rooted in us.

It's in our skin. It almost comes with a smallpox inoculation when we're children, and that is the idea that God doesn't care what you believe just as long as you believe. It doesn't matter what you believe, just as long as you believe something. Whereas the Bible says it matters eternally what you believe and that God Himself commands to be worshiped properly and that God Himself despises religion that is of human invention. I heard somebody giving an exposition of the warnings of the prophet Amos to Israel about the day of the Lord where the people were looking forward to the day of God's visitation, and Amos warned them saying, not so fast, the day of the Lord is the day of darkness, no light in it. And then he begins to explain how God is responding not to the worship of the Phoenicians, not to the religion of the Baals, not to the Philistine idolatry, but how God responds to Israel at this point in our history where God says, I despise your feasts. I despise your solemn assemblies. Your music has become repugnant to my ears.

I won't listen to your prayers. He's talking about the religion of His own people, which had become so corrupt, though on the outside externally it looked like Judaism. In reality, it had fallen into idolatry. And as I listened to this guy on the radio, I agreed with every single word that he was saying. That's right.

It was my program. And so there for a while I was starting to get agitated and thought I was going to write the guy a letter. But that's where we are. We have this idea that it doesn't matter what you believe.

It's as long as you're sincere. We can be sincerely wrong, and we can be sincerely false in what it is we're doing. We're supposed to have a correct understanding of God as He has revealed Himself to us, and we are to respond to Him the way He commands that we respond to Him. He's not honored when people worship a cow in India. That does not honor God. That's repugnant to God.

And you say, well, they're doing the best they can. They're being religious. They're being religious. Of course they're being religious.

They're being idolatrous, and that's what God despises. And so the affirmation at the beginning is only one God, only one living God. The rest are dead, or they never lived at all. And I was just this morning talking to somebody who was quoting Nietzsche's famous statement, God is dead, and was trying to respond to that.

And I said, well, just think about that for a second. If God once lived and has since passed away, the one that passed away was not God. So if there is a God, one thing I can guarantee you, He's alive, because God, once He is, can never not be. He is eternal, as we will see. And so when Nietzsche's talking about a God who once was and is no more, he's not talking about God. That's what you call a self-refuting assertion. So in any case, there's one God, only one God, one who's living, and one who is true.

Everything else is false. And the worshiping of a false God again is not something that God overlooks, but something that calls down judgment upon us because of what we learned in chapter 1 of His manifestation of who He is, His eternal power and glory. And to change that into a false God does not exonerate us but adds to our guilt before Him. Now we begin to see statements about His attributes. Before we get into the attributes, let me just take a moment to define an attribute of God. When we say that we just study the attributes of God, we're talking about the traits or the characteristics, the qualities, or those dimensions by which we define who God is. But as soon as we begin to attribute certain things to God and speak of His attributes, we enter into very dangerous territory because we have a tendency to think of God as the sum total of His attributes. We think of Him as being five percent eternal, five percent immutable, five percent omniscience, throw in a little bit infinity, and we add up all of these attributes and get a composite being.

And then we pick and choose from those attributes the ones that we like and the ones that we don't like we leave there on the cafeteria counter. But the statement that Reformed theology makes, and all Christian theology makes at the beginning, is that it's not so much that God has attributes, but that God is His attributes, and that God is simple, not simple in the sense of easy, but simple in the sense of not being complex, made up of all kinds of parts. You look at me and you see two eyes, a nose, two ears, a mouth, two legs and arms and so on, and I have a pancreas and lungs and a heart and all these different pieces and parts of me and so on.

You put them all together and you get who I am. But that's not the way God is made up. We might say that God is omniscient and then say He's immutable. We'll discuss these attributes separately later. But God's immutability is an omniscient immutability, an eternal immutability, an omnipresent immutability, an omniscient immutability, while at the same time His omniscience is an immutable omniscience, an eternal omniscience, so that each attribute is fully manifest along with each other attribute at the same time so that you can never justly or without great peril pit one attribute of God against another.

And that's what we have to understand before we begin to look at these individual attributes or characteristics that are set before. First they say God is infinite in being and perfection. And that means simply that in all of His attributes, everything that can be contained in that attribute is contained to the absolute degree, that God is not almost omniscient. He's not almost omnipresent. He is absolutely and perfectly, completely and totally omnipresent and completely, totally and absolutely omniscient. He is perfect in being and in power with respect to each of those individual attributes that we affirm.

I love R.C. Sproul's clarity and response commenting on Nietzsche, if God were dead, then He wouldn't be God as God cannot die. You're listening to Renewing Your Mind as we spend a week hearing messages on the Westminster Confession of Faith's summary of biblical Christianity. This confession, along with its larger and shorter collection of theological Q&As called catechisms, have served the church for centuries. Those documents, along with other creeds and confessions, can be found in a new hardcover volume, We Believe, and it can be yours for a donation of any amount at renewingyourmind.org. When you give your gift, you'll also gain lifetime access to the ebook edition for your easy reference. Request your copy of this brand new volume at renewingyourmind.org or by calling us at 800-435-4343. How would you describe God? Theologians over the centuries have taken great care in the language and emphasis that they use. Tomorrow, R.C. Sproul will unpack what we mean that God is the most perfect being. Join us then here on Renewing Your Mind.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-09-28 03:55:27 / 2023-09-28 04:03:28 / 8

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