Church Education Trust

Christian Belief

ST002/5 Christian Conception.


The Christian Conception of God.

At this stage, before dealing more specifically with the nature of God as revealed in His attributes, it will be helpful to consider in a more general way the Christian conception of God. This conception of God can be thought of in six different ways,

  • Personality,
  • Unity,
  • Spirit,
  • Life,
  • Light
  • Love.


The idea of personality is clearly revealed in the Divine Names mentioned above. To Israel God was undoubtedly personal. Personality involves self—consciousness i.e. not only consciousness but consciousness of consciousness; it also involves self—determination. Self—determination must mean that God is free deliberately to limit Himself if He so wish, "Without passions" in the Anglican definition quoted above means "without animal passions" i.e. not of necessity operated on or moved from outside but always from within.

This does not mean that God is not in any sense affected from outside otherwise all the Biblical teaching concerning prayer would be mere words. It does mean, though, that nothing from without can turn God from His eternal purposes or make Him act contrary to His essential nature and character.

In other words all God's activity is self determined self decision of the highest possible type, the expression of His infinite and eternal worth.


Unity in this connection does not mean the unity of several of the same kind, but uniqueness or singularity. Uniqueness is an integral part of personality and its meaning can be expressed in homely language by a quotation from a book entitled "who is God" by D.W.D.Shaw.

He puts it this way — "Tom, Dick and Harry may have many things in common, there may not be much to choose between than for most practical purposes, but we can only say that Tory is a person if, when the chips are downs we recognize that Tom is Tom and not Dick or Harry.

This rather obvious comment can be amplified by drawing into service a word well tried in the older theology. 'Uniqueness' here is being used in the sense of  'incommunicability.' Tom may communicate with other people, at his best he can give himself to others, but he cannot, while he lives cease to be Tom.

There is something about him which he cannot part with. Because he is a person, he cannot pass over into a different kind of thing. This is not to say that he is prevented in some way from acting in an impersonal or unworthy way. Nor does it mean that he has some guarantee against being treated by other people not as a person but as a thing.

But it does mean that if he loses his uniqueness, that aspect of him which is incommunicable, he ceases to be Tom." (Who is God pp.45,46). Thus God is the One, the only True God. It is impossible to conceive of more than one Absolute Personal Being. (For Scripture references along this line cf.Deut.6:4,5; Isa.44:8; 1 Cor.8:4).


The verse of Scripture that states this truth quite clearly is John 4:24, The R.V. is more correct in its rendering than the A.V. when it translates "God is Spirit". The statement also farther affirms the personality of God. Christlieb says of the words that they are "The most profound definition of Scripture as to the nature of God, a definition to the sublimity of which the presentments and longings of no heathen people ever rose; has spirit, God is Spirit.

In Him the Spirit does not form merely a portion of His being; but the whole substance of His nature. His peculiar self is Spirit. Here we have the idea of God in His inner perfection, just as the names Elohim and Jehovah tell us mainly of His external position. As Spirit, God is the eternal selfdependent brightness and truth, absolute knowledge, the intelligent principle of all forces whose glance penetrates everything and produces light and truth in all directions."

The fact that God is Spirit and that man has a spirit is the basis of communion. Wiley points out that we can have a faint perception of the source of all power in the universe if we consider God as Spirit having the same dominion over the invisible universe that our own minds or spirits exert over every portion of our bodies. (Wiley, Intro.p.86).

4. God as Spirit is Life.

God is not mere being, existence or simple reality but life, i.e. an "organism including fulness of truth., order, proportion, harmony and beauty". The Scripture gives us no warrant for thinking of God as more Being in repose. Neither may He be regarded as merely thought or ideal," (Wiley Vol.1 p.314).

Dorner has a fine passage on the subject —"He bears within Him an inexhaustible spring, by virtue of which He is life eternally streaming forth, but also eternally streaming back into Himself. Still He is not to be defined as transient life; He is before everything essentially absolute life; He neither empties Himself nor loses Himself in His vital activity. He is a sea of self revolving life; an infinite fulness of force.

Moves, so to speak, and undulates therein,.... As absolute Life, He is absolutely exalted above passivity or diminution and transitoriness, as well as above increase. He has absolute sufficiency in Himself, for He has life in Himself." (Dorner, system of Christian Doctrine, 1 pp.259,260).

5.God as Spirit is Light.

God is Light, not a light (1 John 1:5). The contrast between natural light and darkness is a symbol of the far greater contrast between holiness and sin. All possibility of falsehood and error is excluded from God. "Holiness is the hidden glory and glory the manifested holiness of God."

Two truths arise from these thoughts — first, deprivation of light or holiness is moral depravity or darkness, behind all of which is Satan. (2 Cor.4:4). Second, "in Him is no darkness at all" (1 John 1:5), in other words, down to the infinited epths of His being there is no darkness, nothing undiscovered, nothing hidden, nothing that needs to be brought to perfection. (Wiley, Intro.p.87).

God is an inexhaustible fountain of truth, "Who only bath immortality, dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto; whom no man bath seen, nor can see: to whom be honour and power everlasting. Amen." (1 Tiim.6:16).

6.God as Spirit is Love.

John is again the New Testament writer who states this clearly. (1 John 4:8,16.) As in personality so in love, there must be subject and object, and a free reciprocal relationship between there. Love therefore is the bond of perfection between the Persons in the Godhead and also the bond of union between God and man.

The fact that God is love is one of the philosophic foundations of belief in the Trinity. If God is love there must of necessity be an object of that love. The Father loves the Son and the Son loves the Father and the Love that unites them is Personal also, the Holy Spirit. Thus the idea. of Love and Personality are self sufficiently contained within the one Godhead. This, however, is anticipating our discussion of the Trinity and further consideration dust be postponed till then.

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