Ideas have consequences. The way we think about God affects the way we respond to him. In other words, our theology affects the way we live. Some people think theology is dull and irrelevant, but perhaps that is because they think God is dull and irrelevant; they would rather get on with their life without dragging God into the discussion.
Everyone has a theology, whether they know it or not. They have some concepts of what God is like. They may think he is distant and unconcerned, or harsh and angry, or even that he doesn’t exist. All these ideas affect the way we live. If we believe God is distant and unconcerned, we may be angry because we are suffering from the sins of other people, and God doesn’t seem to care. We may need help, but God doesn’t seem to answer our cries for help. Or we may indulge our baser desires or take advantage of others, thinking God doesn’t care one way or the other.
Living by faith
My point is that the way we think about God affects the way we live. This is implied throughout the Bible, which repeatedly connects doctrine and behavior.
God cares about us, Jesus said, so we should not worry. Worry comes from a lack of faith that God is good, powerful, merciful and will not cease to love us and do what is good and right for us. If we don’t trust God, we may think that he doesn’t care, or that he doesn’t have the power to take care of us, or that he is harsh, unforgiving or unpredictable toward us.
But when we trust in God, we do not worry even when bad things happen to us. We are confident that God is faithful to us, suffering with us, holding us, and that he will use even our pain to make us stronger and bless us. He works all things, even bad things, for good. He brings light out of our darkness. Our belief about God’s power and love affects the way we react to the situations we face.
Paul uses a similar kind of logic in his letters. He explains that we are saved by grace through the work of Jesus our Savior, and then he writes, Therefore we should be living sacrifices, set apart to do God’s will, putting off the old self and putting on the new, acting like the new people that God has declared us to be. In other words, our theology should affect the way we live.
The book of Hebrews uses similar logic at several points. After explaining a concept, the author says, Therefore let us hold fast to our confession, therefore let us approach the throne with confidence, therefore let us encourage one another. He sees a close connection between ideas and consequences, between doctrine and practice.
Need for an accurate view
Since the way we think about God affects the way we live, we want to have the best understanding of God we can. If we think of God as a powerful physical being, then we will tend to focus on physical life, on external behavior, on a future based on physical things. We will tend to neglect spiritual qualities such as grace and love, and give little attention to concepts such as the heavenly and the eternal.
On the other hand, when we think of God as eternal and triune, then we see a God for whom relationships are essential to his very being, for whom love is essential, a God who gives himself when he gives his Son, a God who lives within us when his Spirit is in us.
The triune God is a God who has fellowship with us directly, not through intermediaries. In contrast, a God who is only Father, but not Father, Son and Holy Spirit, unity in Trinity, is more likely to be seen as aloof, distant, legalistic, stressing law rather than mercy. This is how many people view God. If such a God sent his Son to die on the cross, he would be sending another being to appease his angry judgment, rather than (as actually happened) taking humanity into his own being and redeeming it through union with his own sinless Son, with whom he, with the Spirit, is one God.
It is not my intention here to discuss the nature of God in detail. We have already published quite a bit of material on that, and it is on our website. We have an article summarizing it and listing a number of books for further study (“An Introduction to God”). It highlights two qualities of God – his greatness and his goodness. God always uses his enormous power to further his covenant of love and grace toward his people. He is gentle, loving, slow to anger and full of mercy.
Here, I want to focus on the “so what” question. How is this relevant to us? What difference does it make in our lives? How do we respond to a God who is simultaneously powerful and gentle? When we realize that God has all power to do anything he wants, and that he always uses it for the good of humanity, then we can have absolute confidence that we are in good hands.
He has both the ability and the covenanted purpose to work all things, including all our rebellion, hatred and betrayal against him and one another, toward our redemption and glorification in Jesus Christ. He is completely trustworthy – worthy of our trust.
When we are in the midst of trials, sickness, suffering and even dying, we can be confident that God is still with us, that he cares for us, that he has everything under control. It may not look like it, and we certainly do not feel in control, but we can be confident that God isn’t caught off guard. He can and does redeem any situation, any misfortune, for our good.
We need never doubt God’s love for us. “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us” (1 John 3:16). The God who did not spare his own Son can be counted on to give us through his Son everything we need for eternal happiness.
God did not send somebody else: The Son of God, essential to the Godhead, became human so that he could die for us and rise again for us (Hebrews 2:14). We were redeemed not by the blood of animals, not by the blood of a very good man, but by the blood of the God who became human.
We can be confident that he loves us. Every time we take communion, we are reminded of the extent of his love for us – both of his death wherein we are forgiven, and his resurrection wherein we are given union with him and presented holy and blameless to God. He has earned our trust.
“God is faithful,” Paul tells us. “He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear” (1 Corinthians 10:13). “The Lord is faithful, and he will strengthen and protect you from the evil one” (2 Thessalonians 3:3). Even “if we are faithless, he will remain faithful” (2 Timothy 2:13). He is not going to change his mind about wanting us, about calling us, about being merciful to us. “Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful” (Hebrews 10:23).
He has made a commitment to us, a covenant with us, to redeem us, to give us eternal life, to love us forever. He will not be without us. He is trustworthy, but how do we respond to him? Do we worry? Do we struggle to be worthy of his love? Or do we trust him?
We need never doubt God’s power, either. This is shown in the resurrection of Jesus from death. This is the God who has power over death itself, power over all the beings he created, power over all other powers (Colossians 2:15). He triumphed over all things through the cross, and this is demonstrated through his resurrection. Death could not hold him, for he is the author of life (Acts 3:15).
The same power that raised Jesus from death will also give immortal life to us (Romans 8:11). We can trust that he has the power, and the desire, to fulfill all his promises toward us. We can trust him with everything – and that’s a good thing, since it is foolish to trust in anything else.
Of ourselves, we will fail. Left to itself, even the sun will fail. Our only hope is in a God who has power greater than the sun, greater than the universe, more faithful than time and space, full of love and faithfulness toward us. We have that sure hope in Jesus our Savior.