God - Baptist Faith & Message, Article 2
by Daniel Akin
Vice President for Academic Administration;
Dean, School of Theology
When we think about God, two important questions naturally arise. First, does God exist? Second, what is God like?
Americans have been pretty consistent for some time when answering the first question. Atheism continues to bark loudly, but still it has not garnered all that many followers. Ninety-five percent of Americans believe God exists.
However, when we examine the second question, things become more complicated and confusing. Pluralism is the "in-thing" in contemporary culture, and the doctrine of God has not escaped its influence. Choices today include pantheism, finite theism, deism, polytheism (e.g. Mormonism and various varieties of New Ageism) and classic monotheism, just to name a few.
A veritable smorgasbord of options is available. "Step up to the plate and choose your god, gods or goddesses…"
Couple this with the present infatuation with tolerance and the democratization of truth, and the "God question" becomes problematic, if not insolvable.
It is at this point that Christianity must choose to swim against the currents of modernity. While recognizing different religions may share some common beliefs and values, basic and fundamental differences divide us when addressing some important issues. The nature of God is one.
The Baptist Faith and Message article affirms "there is one and only one living and true God." This cancels out atheism and polytheism.
This God is "intelligent, spiritual and personal. He is Creator, Redeemer, Preserver and Ruler." This rules out pantheism, panentheism and deism.
Our God, the Scriptures testify, is "infinite in holiness and all other perfections." He is omnipotent (all powerful) and omniscient (all knowing). "His perfect knowledge extends to all things, past, present and future, including the future decisions of his free creatures." This sets aside finite and open theism.
The Bible reveals a God who rightly deserves our love and obedience.
Our God is also utterly unique from the theological conceptions of all other religions, for the Bible reveals him to be a Trinity of three eternal persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and yet still one - a unity.
Indeed the biblical witness is clear: whatever it is that constitutes God as God, the Father is all of this, the Son is all of this and the Holy Spirit is all of this. But, there is still only one God, distinct in person "but without division of nature, essence or being."
The Christian God is personal and more (a tri-unity). In other world religions like Buddhism, God is less than personal. Islam views God as utterly transcendent and basically unapproachable. Mysticism and its New Age offspring see God as wholly immanent.
The Bible says the one true God is both. He is above us and separate from us, and yet he is also a God who can be known, truly and genuinely known, in a personal relationship.
What is the relevance of our theology of God? Does our thinking about and answer to the God question really make any difference in the day-to-day experience of life? I believe the answer is a resounding yes.
Ivan, in Fyodor Dostoyevsky's novel, The Brothers Karamozov, got it exactly right - if God is dead, everything is permissible. To this we can add, if we are all gods, then anything goes, for by definition God (or gods) makes the rules.
Ultimately in this kind of world, there are no rules, no norms, no standard by which we can consistently measure truth from error, right from wrong. We do not live in a world where people believe nothing. We find ourselves drowning in a world that believes everything.
Genesis 1:1 teaches us, "In the beginning God …" Southern Baptists speak with one voice in giving affirmation to this proposition and all others in Holy Scripture that reveal to us real and true truth about the God who has created us in his image, redeemed us through his Son and made us spiritually alive by his Spirit.
God in three persons, blessed Trinity.
God the Father
Baptist Faith and Message, Article 2a
by Stephen Wellum
Assistant Professor of Christian Theology
It almost seems too obvious to say that at the heart and center of Christian faith and practice is the great and glorious Triune God of Scripture. But sadly, I am afraid, we too often forget this "obvious" fact.
Living in a secular and pluralistic age has had more of an impact on us than we would like to believe. As David Wells has reminded us in his important work, No Place for Truth, what a secular and postmodern age often does to "God" is not to eliminate him, but rather to relocate him from the center of our lives to that which is periphery and inconsequential. Unfortunately, as Wells also demonstrates, this effect of living in a secular age is often true of the church as well.
But as Article 2 of the Baptist Faith and Message reminds us, this is something the God of the Bible will not allow. For when we turn to Scripture, from Genesis to Revelation, we are presented with "the only one living and true God," our Creator and Lord.
On every page, the God of majesty and glory confronts us as the one who will have no rivals, and as such, he rightly demands and deserves our "highest love, reverence and obedience."
In this context, what a privilege it is to confess and affirm Article 2a of the BF&M - "God the Father." For as the statement reminds us, the God of Scripture is a Triune God - Father, Son and Holy Spirit - who may be distinguished by their personal properties.
But it is also a beautiful reminder that because of God's gracious work of redemption in Christ, we may now "become children of God" and have the supreme joy of calling God our Father.
Think of it! We who were ruined by the Fall and we who rightly stood under God's just condemnation are now, by grace "through faith in Jesus Christ," able to address God as Father.
Of course, this incredible truth must be understood and appreciated within the context of a biblical understanding of God the Father. For if we make him less than he truly is and if we attempt to domesticate him in such a way that his authority, sovereign rule, knowledge and holiness are not what Scripture says they are, then I dare say that the truth that we are "children of God through faith in Jesus Christ" will ring hollow with us.
But if we keep before us the glorious God of Scripture, then the thought of being his children will move us today as it moved the Apostle John of old - "How great is the love the Father has lavished us, that we should be called children of God. And that is what we are" (1 John 3:1a).
But it must be quickly added that this great privilege of knowing God as our Father is only found "through faith in Jesus Christ."
The BF&M correctly notes that God, as providential Lord, is "fatherly in his attitude toward all men" (Matt 5:43-48; Acts 14:15-17; Rom 2:1-4). For in God's work of providence, he sustains and keeps the world that he has made, sending both rain and sunshine alike upon believer and unbeliever.
However, the great privilege of adoption is reserved only for those who have been joined to Jesus Christ by faith. Galatians 4:1-7 is very clear about this. For it is only when God the Son comes into the world and redeems us by his substitutionary work that we receive the blessing of adoption into the family of God as full sons and daughters of the King. On any other basis, there is no adoption into the family of God.
How should we live in light of this biblical teaching? I think there should be at least two responses. First, we need to recommit ourselves to knowing our great God and making him central in all of our thought and life. Our God deserves and demands nothing less. Second, we need to recommit ourselves to the faithful proclamation of the gospel, for it is only in Christ alone that people come to know God as Father.
What a privilege as well as an awesome task. May the Lord find us faithful in both.
God the Son
Baptist Faith and Message, Article 2b
by Robert Stein
Ernest and Mildred Hogan Professor of New Testament
The uniqueness of Jesus as God's Son is taught throughout the New Testament. We find this within the Gospels (John 1:14; 3:16, 18), as well as the rest of the New Testament (1 John 4:9; Heb 1:1-2).
Most importantly, Jesus himself both explicitly (Mark 12:1-12; 13:32; Matt 11:25-27) and implicitly (John 20:17) taught of his unique relationship as God's Son. During his ministry, he was recognized as the unique Son of God by demons (Mark 5:7), Satan (Matt 4:3, 6) and most importantly the voice from heaven at his baptism and transfiguration (Mark 1:11; 9:7).
During his ministry, he acted as one who possessed a unique authority over the temple by cleansing it (Mark 11:15-19, 27-33; John 2:13-21), over demons and Satan by his exorcisms, over disease by his healings, over the Sabbath by his actions (Mark 2:23-28), over death by his raising the dead and at times even over the Law by his teachings (Matt 5:21-48; Mark 7:18-19).
He assumed the divine prerogatives of forgiving sins (Mark 2:5-10; Luke 7:36-50), claiming that one's eternal destiny rotated around his relationship to him (Matt 10:32-33; 11:6) and claiming that he would ultimately judge of the world (Matt 9:28; John 5:22-29; Acts 10:42).
He also maintained that he was greater than all who have preceded him, whether Abraham (John 8:53-58), Jacob (John 4:12-15) or Moses (Matt 5:21-48).
In the New Testament Jesus is accorded such divine attributes as being the Creator (John 1:3; 1 Cor 8:6; Col 1:16; Heb 1:2) and possessing pre-existence (John 1:1-2; 1 John 1:1; Col 1:17). In a number of instances, he is specifically referred to as God (John 1:1, 18; 20:28; Titus 2:13; Heb 1:8; cf. also Rom 9:5; 1 John 5:20).
It should be remembered that the use of this title for Jesus is found in passages written by Jewish-Christians whose Scriptures begin with "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth."
Although the human nature of the Son was denied by the first Christological heresy (Doceticism), it is clearly taught throughout the New Testament. Alongside of statements of Jesus' uniqueness and deity are statements of his full humanity.
His virginal conception in no way minimizes this. The incarnation (John 1:14) involves experiencing a human birth (Gal 4:4), being circumcised on the eighth day (Luke 2:21), possessing a true human nature (Heb 2:14), being tempted in all points like us (Heb 2:18; 4:15), experiencing sorrow and agony (John 11:35; Mark 14:34-42; Heb 5:7), hungering (Matt 4:2; Mark 11:12) and thirsting (John 19:28), becoming weary (John 4:6), possessing flesh and blood (Luke 24:39; John 19:34) and learning obedience (Heb 5:8).
He is the one mediator between God and man (1 Tim 2:5; Rom 5:15; Heb 9:15). Because of his sinless life (Heb 4:15; 2 Cor 5:21), he could bear the penalty of sin that all humanity deserves.
By grace he became a curse for those under the curse (Gal 3:13; 1 Pet 2:24) and satisfied the righteousness of God (Rom 3:24-26). Thus, by offering himself once for all time (Rom 6:10; 1 Pet 3:18; Heb 9:28; 10:12-14), he brought about for sinful humanity expiation of sin and propitiation from the divine wrath (Rom 3:25; 1 John 2:2; 4:10).
In so doing, Jesus Christ brought a host of benefits such as justification (Rom 3:24; 8:33), peace (Rom 5:1), reconciliation (Rom 5:10; 2 Cor 5:18-19), forgiveness (Matt 26:28; Rom 4:7-8), adoption as sons (Rom 8:15-16; Gal 4:4-5), being born again (1 Pet 1:23; John 3:1-8), dying to sin (Rom 6:1-2; Col 3:3), being raised in newness of life (Rom 6:4; 7:6; 2 Cor 5:17) and eternal life (John 3:16, 36; Rom 6:22).
In addition to these present benefits, there awaits for his followers the resurrection of the body (John 11:25-26; Rev 20:5-6), a joyous reunion with Christians who died (1 Thess 4:13-18), faith turning to sight (Rev 22:4), being no longer able to sin and participating with the Son of God in the judgment (1 Cor 6:2).
God the Holy Spirit
Baptist Faith and Message, Article 2c
by Bruce Ware
Senior Associate Dean, School of Theology;
Professor of Christian Theology
This article begins where it must, by affirming that the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of God and as such is fully divine. He possesses with the Father and Son the one undivided divine nature. Only because he is himself divine, yet the third member of the Trinity, can we understand the string of activities he is said to perform.
Notice the verbs. This article says of the Holy Spirit that he "inspired," "enables," "exalts," "convicts," "calls," "effects regeneration," "baptizes," "cultivates," "seals," "enlightens" and "empowers." One thing is clear - the Holy Spirit is intent on and active in carrying out the will and purposes of God.
Consider four main areas of his work noted in this article.
The Holy Spirit inspired the Scriptures. He worked in the minds of biblical writers and so moved in them (2 Pet 1:20-21) that what they wrote as their own words was concurrently the fully authoritative, reliable and inerrant Word of God (2 Tim 3:16-17).
Further, the Holy Spirit illumines the minds and hearts of believers to help them understand and apply that divine word to their own lives (1 Cor 2:14). The Spirit inspired the Bible so that he might use it mightily in transforming us by its truth.
The Holy Spirit brings sinners to salvation. He comes most fundamentally to exalt Jesus Christ (John 16:14). The primary way he accomplishes this is as he convicts us of our sin, calls us to behold the beauty of Christ's saving work and regenerates us so that we respond now to God in hope and love, through faith in Christ Jesus.
On our own, we consider the cross of Christ foolishness and weakness (1 Cor 1:18-25); but because the Spirit opens our blind eyes and enlivens our hearts (2 Cor 4:4-6), we come to faith in Christ and begin the sure and certain path to our ultimate and complete transformation in Christlikeness, which is the Spirit's goal (2 Cor 3:18).
The Holy Spirit transforms believers through empowering their ever-increasing sanctification. So many today rush directly to the empowering work of the Spirit in his supernatural gifting for service. While this is a vital ministry of the Spirit, this article is correct to stress first the Spirit's empowering work to bring about character transformation.
He cares more about Christlike character and conduct in God's people than any service they might render apart from these qualities. To be filled with the Spirit (Eph 5:18) and to walk in the Spirit (Gal 5:16) and to bear the fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22-23) express the internal work of the Spirit in making us wholly new people in Christ.
The Spirit is God's seal and guarantee (Eph 1:13-14) that this internal work will continue until we are fully glorified. In Christ, by the power of the Spirit, we are assured the certainty of our full and final sanctification.
The Holy Spirit equips us for meaningful and fruitful service in the church. One of the ways in which God brings about his transforming work in our lives is through the ministry of the Body of Christ. Each member is gifted by the Spirit as he so wills (1 Cor. 12:11) so that the Body may be edified. Our worship of the true and living God, our love for one another and our service in the name of Christ - all done in the power of the Spirit - fulfill the goal God set for us to grow into Christlikeness.
Through Scripture, salvation, sanctification and service, then, the Spirit works to honor Christ in making us like him, to the glory of God forevermore.
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