What God Do You Believe In?

Most people believe in God. Most of us would agree that it’s important to believe in God. But just as important as believing in God is the answer to this question, “What God do you believe in?
 
And that’s the question I want to explore with you today, not from a comparative religion perspective, but from a Christian perspective. There are huge differences, of course between the god of Buddhism or Hinduism, for example, and the God of Christianity. But even Christians sometimes hold distorted views of God and that’s what I want to talk with you about today. And the reason this issue is so important is because:
 

Whatever you believe about God determines two things.

What kind of person you will become.

Psalms 115:4-8 ( NIV )

But their idols are silver and gold, made by the hands of men.
They have mouths, but cannot speak, eyes, but they cannot see;
they have ears, but cannot hear, noses, but they cannot smell;
they have hands, but cannot feel, feet, but they cannot walk; nor can they utter a sound with their throats.
Those who make them will be like them
, and so will all who trust in them.

How accurately you represent Christ to other people.

Now, obviously what we believe about God should not be left up to every person’s private opinion and interpretation. There shouldn’t be widely divergent answers in the church to the question, “What God Do You Believe In?” But what I’m trying to point out today is that if our understanding of the nature of God is distorted – if we’re “off” in what we believe about Him, then our understanding of Jesus and His mission will be distorted too. When we believe things about God that are ultimately not true, not only do these lies negatively affect us and our relationship with Him, they also negatively impact our ability to accurately represent (or re-present) Christ to other people.
 

Thinking Clearly about God

Thinking clearly and rightly about God and His fundamental nature starts with this core belief.
 

God is good.

How many of you learned this meal time prayer? God is great, God is good, and we thank Him for this food. I had an OT professor who once told our class, when you have said that God is great and God is good you have said two of the most profound things about God that can ever be said.
 

Most distorted thinking about God denies the fact that God is consistently good in some way.

Now most Christians would say they agree with this statement that God is good. Deep down many people believe that God is good
most
of the time. If we’re really honest, many of us believe that God also has a really bad temper at times. And there are certain portions of the OT that might lead a person to conclude just that. What do you do with those passages of scripture?
 
Deuteronomy 29:29 says: The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may follow all the words of this law.
 
Let me paraphrase this verse for you. There will always be an element of mystery about God – secret things that we don’t understand. But that’s not the place where you take your stand. You stand on the things that have been revealed. What we believe about God isn’t rooted in the secret things, it’s rooted in what has been revealed. It’s rooted in the self-revelation of God that has come to us through Jesus Christ.
 

Jesus Christ is perfect theology.

Anything you believe about God that you cannot find in Him you have reason to doubt.
 
Jesus says I and the Father are one.
 
If you’ve seen me you’ve seen the Father.
 
Hebrews 1:1-3 (NIV) 1 In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word.

Notice these contrasts:

In the past . . . in these last days

Through the prophets . . . by His Son

 
What we see in Jesus is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of His being.
 
So what do you with those parts of the Old Testament that seem to portray God in a way that doesn’t appear to resemble Jesus? Here’s what I do. I try to understand them to the best of my ability, by understanding the historical context, and that God’s people in the OT were a nation/state as opposed to the body of Christ made up of people who put their faith and trust in Jesus from all nations and ethnicities in the NT, etc. But in the end, I take my stand on Jesus and the revelation of God that I see in Him. I don’t look to OT passages to tell me how to treat my enemies. I look to Jesus.
 
It is unwise to allow an OT revelation of God to “trump” the clear revelation of God in Jesus Christ. Ultimately, I believe there is no contradiction between the God of the Old Testament and the God of the New whether or not I am able to fully understand and reconcile some of the OT passages I alluded to earlier with the revelation of God in Jesus Christ. But whenever I am in doubt, I take my stand on Jesus.
 
I love this quote from Jerry Cook:
 

God is both like and unlike the best of our earthly fathers. God is both like and unlike our impressions of Him from the Old Testament. But God is altogether like and not at all unlike Jesus Christ. – Jerry Cook

Jesus Christ is perfect theology for you and me. And Jesus’ whole life and ministry demonstrates that God is good. Not just some of the time, but all the time.
 
The way we understand God is how we will portray Him to others. What we believe about Him determines how we minister to people.
 
The reason I’m committed, and our church is committed, to healing ministry is because of the revelation of God in Jesus Christ. Jesus never imparted sickness to anyone but He did heal all who came to Him for healing. He never treated sickness as a friend. He treated it as an enemy. If you want to know whether or not it is God’s will to heal the sick, all you need to do is look at Jesus.
 

We’ve set up a false dichotomy between Jesus and the Father.

Insurance companies use language in their policies describing storms and other calamities as “acts of God.” Where did they get that language? From us.
 
Yet we don’t find Jesus ever blessing a storm. You’ll never find Him redirecting one. What you will find is Him rebuking them and bringing an end to them. What does that tell you? It tells me we’re not in the storm blessing business, we’re in the storm rebuking business.
 
Jesus revealed that God is good all the time. The apostle Paul understood this too. In Romans 8:28 he writes this:
 

Romans 8:28 (NIV)

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.

Paul doesn’t say all things are good.

Nor does he say that God works all things.

 
The idea that everything that happens in our world and in our lives is an expression of God’s will including things like sickness, tragedy, suffering, and pain is distorted thinking about the nature of God. The notion that somehow these things are really “good” if we could only see them from God’s perspective is simply false. If Jesus Christ is perfect theology, and He is, then how did Jesus deal with such things? He never blessed them. He never prayed “more Lord” for people in pain.
 

What Paul does say here is this:

God works for the good of those who love Him . . .

God always works for our good because He is good. He never works for anything else. And the good God is working for in you and me is described in the very next verse.

 

Romans 8:29 (NIV)
For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.

 
The good God is working for in all things is to make you like Jesus. It is true that God often does a deep work in our lives in times of suffering but that does not imply that He is the author of suffering, sickness, and pain.
 
Joseph in the Old Testament was sold by his brothers into slavery and later cast into prison. But through a series of miraculous events he rose to the position of being second in power only to Pharaoh, the ruler of Egypt.
 
There was a great famine in the land and Joseph’s brothers had to come to him to get food and they ended up living with Joseph in Egypt. After Jacob their father died, Joseph’s brothers were concerned that Joseph might take this opportunity to exact vengeance on them for what they had done to him. But Joseph reassured them with these words:
 

Genesis 50:20 (NIV)
You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.

Do you hear what this text is saying? Joseph doesn’t sugarcoat it. He tells his brothers you intended to hurt me. You intended to harm me. But God had another intention. He had another plan. So, he took the evil thing you did and used it to accomplish His good purpose. Joseph’s life demonstrates that God is able to take whatever cards you’re dealt and turn them it into a winning hand.

Jesus Christ is perfect theology. The full and complete revelation of who God is. He demonstrates that God is good.