Back to the Basics! Theology Proper #6 More Than Trembling Monotheists!

09 Mar

The Bible teaches that God is one (this is called monotheism), and that fact should move us from fear to focused living for His glory.

“It is the experience of the unbeliever to tremble at the rustling of a leaf.” (Martin Luther)

“If Christianity has never frightened us, we have not yet learned what it is.” (William Temple)

“You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.” (James 2:19)

We read in the Old Testament book of Deuteronomy the cry: “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength” (Deuteronomy 6:4-5). This great theological declaration is called the Shema, from the Hebrew word meaning “Hear!”

The oneness of God is a fundamental teaching of the Bible and, according to Moses, is to be taught to our children “when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up” (6:7).

On one occasion, Jesus had to meet the theological challenges of two specific groups. He successfully answered the Sadducees (who denied the doctrine of the resurrection) by emphasizing the fact that God is “the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. He is not the God of the dead, but of the living” (Mark 12:26-27). He is then quizzed by the Pharisees (a group dedicated to keeping God’s law), using the question, “What is the most important commandment?” “The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” (12:29-31)

Several key ideas stand out in Jesus’ answer. First, He repeats the Shema, emphasizing the fundamental truth of God’s oneness. Second, He spells out the practical application of that command which is to love God with all of one’s being. Third, He brings in the commandment to love one’s neighbor as oneself (a commandment which is mentioned neither in Deuteronomy 6 nor in Exodus 20 when the ten commandments were first given).

Jesus’ point seems to be that the Sadducees had missed the living God altogether. But the Pharisees, who acknowledged God’s oneness, were denying the implication of that truth by loving neither God nor neighbor. Their belief in God’s oneness was empty and void.

We live in a design-your-own-god culture, so the question of monotheism is a largely irrelevant one to many today. But if God’s oneness is a fundamental description of the true God, then all other gods are mere idols. And simply acknowledging the oneness of God is not enough. If He is not loved and obeyed, then such belief, even if shouted from the housetops, is mere words. A love for the true God must lead to a love for one’s neighbor.

The New Testament writer James hits hard on the issue of belief divorced from love and good deeds. In his second chapter, he rails against those who think that “mere faith”—a faith that leads to no life change, that does not reach out in compassion to hurting fellow-believers—is sufficient. To all who so contrast faith and deeds that they have an inactive, strictly internal conception of God, an orthodoxy that is only verbal, he says, “Big deal! You pride yourself on your affirmation of monotheism. So what? The demons are also monotheists! And they even do you one better. They tremble before the one and only God!” (James 2:19, author paraphrase). God is not looking for mere monotheists. He is looking for obedient and loving sons and daughters.

A Prayer for Today:  “Father, I understand that great doctrinal truth can bring great spiritual danger. When I think that mere belief is enough, that You are pleased with right thoughts alone, l am missing the mark,. Help me by Your Spirit to practice what I proclaim. In Jesus’ name, Amen.”

A true monotheism will show itself in a sold-out, whole-life love of God and a sacrificial love of one’s neighbor. If not, it is merely the doctrine of demons.

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Posted by on March 9, 2018 in doctrine of God


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