We started this podcast three thousand days ago. Today we reach episode 1600 — a big milestone with a fittingly massive question. They don’t get any bigger than this one: Who is God? We get this question often, most recently from podcast listeners Gimel, Olayinka, Ezekiel, Bobby, Zandi, Matthew, Giovanni, Jerry, Tom, and Esther. Last time, on Friday, in episode 1599, you answered the background question to this one — namely, Who does John Piper think he is to answer this question? That’s out of the way now. Now we can address the question itself. Pastor John, who is God?
When I turn from myself to Jesus and his teachings; and to the writings of his followers that he himself vouched for, guaranteed; and to the Jewish Scriptures that Jesus himself endorsed; and to the world of nature; and to the witness of my own conscience — when I turn from myself to these places where God has revealed himself — here’s what I see in answer to the question, Who is God? And I would appeal to everyone who’s listening not to take my word for it, but to search out those five sources as if your life depended on it, because it does.
1. God is spirit.
Here’s the first thing I believe I see in those revelations from God of who he is. First, Jesus says that God is spirit. John 4:24, “God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” In other words, he’s not physical. He’s not material. He does not have a body. He is invisible. He’s spirit.
2. God is personal.
Second, God is personal. This is amazing when you think that absolute reality could have been anything — I mean, there was nothing before absolute reality to make it what it is. And to think it’s personal, that’s just mind-blowing! He has revealed himself as one who thinks and reasons and plans and loves and rejoices and experiences anger and compassion.
- Isaiah 55:8: “My thoughts are not your thoughts.”
- Jeremiah 29:11: “I know the plans I have for you.”
- Isaiah 1:18: “Come now, let us reason together.”
- Hosea 11:8: “My compassion grows warm and tender.”
- Zephaniah 3:17: The Lord “will rejoice over you with gladness.”
- Numbers 11:10: “The anger of the Lord blazed hotly.”
“God is constant. He cannot be improved.”
Amazing! God is not impersonal. He’s not a substance. He’s not a mere force. He’s not material, like an element or a gas. He’s not just an influence. God is a person, personal. From him comes personhood. This is why human beings are so unique in the world of God’s creatures: he made us in his image; we are persons.
3. God is.
Third, he revealed himself as absolute, self-existent, independent of all other reality. I think one of the most important verses in the Bible is Exodus 3:14: “God said to Moses, ‘I Am Who I Am.’ And he said, ‘Say this to the people of Israel: “I Am has sent me to you.”’” The phrase “I Am Who I Am” is a declaration of absolute freedom from being created or formed or guided or swayed or determined by anything outside himself. Whatever God is or whatever God does, he himself is the ultimate source and cause of that.
Here are some implications of what that revelation means for who God is, that revelation of his “I Am Who I Am.”
1. It means he never had a beginning. Nobody made God. God simply is, always was, with no beginning.
2. God will never end. He is absolute being. If you are being from forever, there’s no place to go outside being. You can’t not be.
3. There is no reality before him. There’s no reality outside him unless he wills it to be and makes it.
4. God is utterly independent. He depends on nothing to bring him into being or support him or counsel him or make him what he is.
5. Everything that is not God depends totally on God. All that is not God is secondary and dependent. The entire universe — vast, vast, vast billions of galaxies — is utterly secondary to God.
6. He is constant. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever. He cannot be improved. He is not becoming anything. There is no development in God, no progress. Absolute perfection cannot be improved.
7. He is the absolute standard of truth and goodness and beauty. There is no lawbook to which he looks to know what is right. There’s no almanac to establish facts for God, no guild to determine what is excellent or beautiful. He himself is the standard of what is right and true and beautiful.
8. All that God does is always right, always just, always beautiful, and always in accord with truth — that is, himself. It fits. In that sense, it is right and good and beautiful, all things considered.
9. Therefore, God is the most important and most valuable reality in the universe. He is more worthy of interest and attention and admiration and enjoyment than all other realities, including the entire universe.
Now, all of that, all nine of those implications of “I Am Who I Am” — all of that — is implied in God’s word to Moses, “Tell them, ‘I Am has sent me to you.’” You can see the same implications in many other places in the Bible — for example, in the letter to the Romans. This is one of my favorite passages: Romans 11:33–36.
Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!
“For who has known the mind of the Lord,
or who has been his counselor?”
“Or who has given a gift to him
that he might be repaid?”
For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.
“The Son of God has always been God, and now he is also man — the God-man, Jesus.”
In other words, God can’t be counseled because his knowledge and wisdom are infinite. God can’t be negotiated with or bartered with or bribed because he owns everything. He can never be put in anybody’s debt. Everything originates with him. He sustains all that is. And the display of his glory, his beauty, his greatness, his value, is the goal of everything: “From him and through him and to him are all things.” Therefore, “to him be glory forever.”
4. God is Trinity.
And in his fullness and perfection, the Bible makes plain that, from all eternity, God has had a perfect image of himself, the radiance of his glory. The Bible calls it “the exact imprint of his nature” (Hebrews 1:3). And this image is so complete with all that God is that the Bible speaks of this image as the second person in God and uses the language of Son of God, not because there’s any biological way that he’s a son — like he had sex with Mary and had a baby; that’s not what the Bible teaches. He’s a son, the second person that has always existed in and as the perfect image of God.
This Son is a son to indicate that they have the same nature. They’re both personal, and love reigns between them. The Bible speaks of God the Father loving God the Son, and God the Son loving God the Father, and the Bible points to the reality that this Spirit between them — this love between the Father and Son — carries, as it were, such a fullness of all that they both are that a third person exists, stands forth, has always stood forth in God.
So, the biblical picture is that there’s one God — not three gods — and that this one God mysteriously exists as God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. This is one reason that it makes sense to say, as 1 John 4:8 says, “God is love.” Love has been surging from all eternity in the fellowship of the three persons of the one God.
5. God became man.
Now, if that were not amazing enough — we’re over our head, I know; I’m just pointing. If that weren’t amazing enough, here comes the most amazing thing of all about who God is in his perfection and independence and fullness. He is not only completely righteous and just and holy, but overflowing — he is overflowing with his own beauty and goodness and joy, so that his creatures can know him, love him, enjoy him, be with him forever. In other words, the love that God has always enjoyed (and enjoyed is the right word) in the fellowship of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, God aims to share with his creatures.
“In God’s justice and mercy, he devised a way, from all eternity, for sinners like us to be forgiven and to be adopted into his eternal family.”
To do this, God the Father sends God the Son into his creation to be born as the God-man, Jesus Christ. This is what the Gospel of John means when it says, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1). “And the Word became flesh [that is, became a human being] and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). And you see the switch in categories from Word to Son, just to make clear that that’s who we’re talking about — the eternal Son, that other, second person in God. The Son of God has always been God, and now he is also man — the God-man, Jesus Christ.
6. God rescues undeserving people.
Why? Why this so-called incarnation of God? Because all of God’s human creatures had failed to worship and love God and obey God as we ought. We deserve to be punished. God would be perfectly just to punish us all in hell because of our failure and our rebellion. But in the fullness of his God-like love, he planned way before the foundation of the world — he is not only just, but he is merciful — to intrude himself into the world to rescue his own creatures, who deserve punishment, from his punishment. He rescues us from his own wrath by his own mercy. The Son of God becomes human and is punished in our place. Here’s how the prophet Isaiah in the Old Testament Scriptures, the Jewish Scriptures, put it:
He was pierced for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities. . . .
All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have turned — every one — to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah 53:5–6)
The New Testament puts it like this: “God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). Whoever believes, whoever trusts, whoever receives, whoever treasures Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, Jesus becomes his substitute, bears God’s punishment, provides God’s righteousness, secures eternal joy in fellowship with God.
All That God Is for You
So, who is God? He’s the Creator, Sustainer, Governor, and Judge of the universe. And in his justice and mercy, he devised a way, from all eternity, for sinners like us to be forgiven and to be adopted into his eternal family as the children of God and as a kind of bride for his Son, Jesus Christ, so that by sharing the joy God has in himself, our joy in him would show the fullness of his own glory.
I invite you, I urge you, to embrace Jesus and all that God is for you in him. Jesus is who God is.