In the nativity narrative we encounter a number of the mysteries of God. We see the mysteries of the virgin birth and the nature of Jesus, truly God and truly man. We see divine intervention, angels appearing, and heavenly choirs in the sky. We generally take these supernatural happenings for granted, since we grew up with these stories and don’t think much about them. Yet how we view these and other mysteries can influence how we understand and relate to God and Jesus.
How we perceive and understand God is important. Why? That’s because it can have a major influence on our opinion of the Deity, plus our view of ourselves, the world, and salvation. For example, belief in God as Creator influences our worldview and self-image: Consider how we might view ourselves and other humans if we’re coming from the perspective that we are nothing but more highly evolved animals. Compare that with how we might view ourselves and others if we believe we were created by God in the image of God.
Or consider the understanding of God that Muslims have compared with Christians. To Muslims, Allah is not a Redeemer or Savior – they have to earn their way to heaven, with no guarantees except if you die in a jihad. Compare that with the Christian understanding that God is also our Savior and Redeemer, and came to live among us in the person of Jesus Christ.
In Christianity, God is a loving Deity who sent his only Son, who…
Gave up his place with God and made himself nothing. He was born to be a man and became like a servant. And when he was living as a man, he humbled himself and was fully obedient to God, even when that caused his death — death on a cross. (Philippians 2:7-8, NCV)
Christians believe that we are saved by grace through our faith in Christ, which is a gift that guarantees us a place in heaven, and help during this life. Christians don’t have to die a martyr to get to heaven or strive to get there on their own merits – Jesus did it all.
So you can see what we believe is important so that we can have the right understanding of, and relationship with, God. Knowing this, the Church has tried to clarify various doctrines over the centuries, based on its historical interpretation of Scripture. The creeds of the church came out of these efforts to make clear what we Christians should believe and thereby understand about God and ourselves.
Belief in some of these doctrines may not affect our salvation, but they can determine the quality of our relationship with God. So what we believe is important for living our life and being in the proper relationship with God based on what the Bible tells us.
II. Nature of Jesus
Since Jesus is God in the flesh and our Savior and Redeemer, it is important that we have the proper view of him. Of course we can’t totally understand the nature of Christ because this is a mystery, but we can believe it. There are four beliefs concerning Jesus that I feel are important for Christians to have:
1. Real Person with a purpose
The first belief is that Jesus was real historical person, not a myth. He came to us on that first Christmas for the purpose of providing a way for the human race to get back into right relationship with God. If we don’t believe that, then Christmas is meaningless, as is Good Friday and Easter.
2. Divine and Human
The second belief is that Jesus was both truly God and truly human. While we can’t explain it, we believe that Jesus was truly a human being in every way, but was without sin. We see his humanity in the Gospels: he got tired, angry, overworked, frustrated, was tempted, had a sense of humor, and he cried at funerals. We see his divinity in the Gospels in that he healed the sick, raised the dead, calmed the storm, miraculously fed the 5,000, and did many other miracles. We see both his humanity and his divinity in that he was born as any other person is born, but was conceived by the Holy Spirit. If we don’t believe these things, then Jesus becomes pretty much just an ordinary guy and not the Son of God.
3. Really died and rose again
The third important belief is that Jesus really died, and rose from the dead on the third day. This is important because it shows God’s approval of what Jesus did on the cross, and also proves that Jesus is the Son of God. If Jesus had been just an ordinary person who died a terrible death, and not the Son of God, his death would not result in our salvation.
4. Ascended and will come again
The fourth important belief is that Jesus ascended bodily into heaven and will come bodily again to judge the living and the dead. This is important to believe because we are told that Jesus is our intercessor in heaven, working on our behalf with the Father. Judgment is important to believe because it tells us we are all accountable. If we weren’t accountable for our wrongdoings, then we wouldn’t need Jesus to redeem us, would we?
III. Attributes of God
What we’ve been discussing so far is doctrine, and how proper belief makes our relationship with God as it’s supposed to be. Understanding his attributes also enhances our relationship with God, because we can better grasp who God is. We get a glimpse of the nature of God from the Bible and from the person of Jesus. Let me briefly cover some of the attributes of God as we understand them from the Bible and Jesus. Hopefully knowing these attributes will help you and me better appreciate who God is.
1. Merciful and Gracious
God described himself when he passed before Moses as we read in Exodus 34:6-7:
The LORD passed before [Moses], and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for the thousandth generation, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, yet by no means clearing the guilty, but visiting the iniquity of the parents upon the children and the children's children, to the third and the fourth generation.” NRSV
We should be thankful that God is “merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness”. Because of these attributes, God sent Jesus to save us from the penalty of all the things we’ve done to offend God and hurt one another.
God also described himself as jealous, which we read in Exodus 20:5-6:
“You shall not bow down to [false gods] or worship them; for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me, but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments.” NRSV
Jealous in this case means that God does not want divided loyalties from us, but he wants all of us. This is only natural because God created us, loves us, and wants us to be devoted to him and nothing else.
3. Other Attributes
God has many other attributes as well. We know from the Bible that God is:
-Eternal, almighty, unchanging, loving (God is love);
-God is all-knowing, all-present, and all-powerful;
-By his nature God is sinless, holy, righteous, and just;
-God is One, but is composed of three distinct persons;
-God is supreme, living, personal, and the creator and sustainer of all things;
-His power and knowledge are all-sufficient, and He is not limited in time or place.
-And of course God is good – all the time.
Despite the revelations of himself in the Bible, there are still some things about God we don’t know or completely understand. Nevertheless, we know all that we’re supposed to know at this time.
So to summarize, what we believe and what we understand about God can affect the quality of our faith. In general our knowledge and acceptance of various doctrines may not necessarily affect our salvation. However, rejection or ignorance of some doctrines or attributes of God could cause us to question our salvation or doubt God. Certainly we won’t be given a theology quiz when we get to the pearly gates. However, our life might not be as good and fulfilled as it could have been if we don’t know, or reject, or doubt some doctrines. In this New Year I encourage you to learn more about God through daily devotionals, Bible study, prayer, and worship.