The Lordship Catechism: “What is God?”

Steve —  July 9, 2021 — Leave a comment

“What is God?” – Exposition & Commentary

Proclaiming the Supremacy of the Triune God as Lord in all things

By Drs. John Frame and Steve Childers

In the Spring of 2021, a new catechism was launched – The Lordship Catechism. Like many catechisms before it, it contains echoes of previous catechisms. The authors and compilers, Drs. John Frame and Steve Childers, draw from many ancient, and traditional formulations of Christian doctrine.

This catechism is uniquely Trinitarian in nature and structure, connecting us back to the ancient, historic method that uses the Trinity as an organizing structure for studying Christian theology.

In this exposition and commentary on the question “What is God?”, you’ll learn from Scripture the meaning and practical applications of Jesus’ statement “God is spirit.”

About the Applied Theology Project
The Applied Theology Project provides you accessible, affordable seminary-level teaching designed to help you learn how to apply theology to your life and ministry in practical ways – with the goal of helping you better know, love, serve, and honor God as LORD in all of life. Seminary professors John Frame and Steve Childers combine their almost 90 years of teaching and ministry experience to help you apply theology to life and ministry through books, audios, videos, courses, and now–The Lordship Catechism!

Read the exposition and commentary on the Lordship Catechism answer to the question “What is God?” below.

LEARNING TIP: Want to go deeper? Don’t miss the remarkable footnotes!

Lordship Catechism

Exposition and commentary by John Frame and Steve Childers

Question: What is God?
Answer: God is spirit and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.

When Jesus makes the statement “God is spirit,” he is describing what God really and truly is. The Apostle John speaks similarly when he writes, “God is light” (1 Jn. 1:5), and “God is love” (1 Jn. 4:16).

The reason most modern translations of the Bible translate this verse “God is spirit,” instead of “God is spirit,” is because God is not only non-physical spirit among many invisible spirits in the world, but God’s spirituality distinguishes him from all physical and spiritual creatures and sets him above them.[1] His spirituality defines what spirituality is.

Similarly, John does not describe God as “light” or “a love” among many lights and loves in the world. Instead, John tells us that “light” and “love” define who he really and truly is, and that his light and love are the source and definition of all light and love in his creation.

The historic context of Jesus’ statement can help us understand its meaning. (John 4:1-45) Jesus said this when he was speaking with a woman from Samaria who wrongly believed that the true worship of God must be confined to a specific physical location on a mountain (Mount Gerizim) in Samaria.

Jesus tells her, “But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:23-24).

Jesus is saying that through him people will no longer be limited to worshipping God in a particular physical location like the temple on Mount Gerizim (Samaritans) or the temple on Mount Zion (Jews), because Jesus’ ministry will deepen and broaden the worship of all who believe in him.

They will worship in a way that reflects God’s nature and their nature. Such worship, like God himself, cannot be limited to a particular place. The true worship of God is “spiritual” because it transcends all physical and material limitations just as God’s being transcends them.

Even in the Old Testament, when God created physical structures like the Tabernacle and the Temple with many outward worship ceremonies, the purpose of all the outward, physical worship practices was to facilitate the inward worship of God’s people “in spirit.”[2]

If we only think of worshiping God in terms of performing outward religious practices, we miss the most important thing–worshiping God “in spirit” with our whole heart. In Scripture, the “heart” is the whole person, identified by our most fundamental commitments–commitments displayed by our mind, affections, and behaviors that are reflected in how we use our bodies.

In Romans 12:1, Paul writes, “present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” Then, in Romans 12:2-8, Paul illustrates what “spiritual worship” looks like as not being “conformed to this world,” but being “transformed by the renewing of our mind” as we fully use our gifts in love for and service to God and others.[3]

Biblical worship is not just a “spiritual” activity that is separated from our normal lives when we set aside special times by ourselves, with our family, or at our church services to pray, sing, and learn God’s word. True worship is also a vital part of everything we think, feel, and do, including what we may see as mundane activities. So Paul instructs us, “Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31).[4]

The Bible describes human beings as having bodies and souls.[5] The word soul is sometimes used interchangeably with the word spirit. God created us to know, love, worship, and enjoy him with our whole being–our body and soul/spirit. (1 Thess. 5:23, Heb. 4:12)

God, who is called “the Father of spirits” (Heb. 12:9), created us with spirits as well as bodies, because the only way we can worship “God who is spirit” is through our spirit that he created and united with our bodies.[6]

God, as spirit, differs from all other spirits, including angels, because he is not a created spirit, but an infinite, eternal spirit with no beginning or end who created all other spirits in the world.[7]

When Jesus says “God is spirit,” he is telling us that God is more than merely immaterial and uncreated. “Spiritual” implies that God has many personal qualities which we reflect as his image bearers. For example, we have the capacity to share, in a limited way, God’s attributes of  wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth (God’s communicable attributes).[8]

But there is another sense in which God’s being is unlike our being and anything else in all his creation. This includes God’s attributes of infinity, eternality, and unchangeability (God’s incommunicable attributes).[9]

The wonder of the gospel is that the eternal, invisible, immortal God who is spirit came to earth in a special way through the person of Jesus, who as the eternal Son of God took on himself the fullness of humanity in both his body and soul.

After Jesus’ birth, sinless life, and death on the cross for our sins, he was raised from the dead and ascended back to heaven to be with God the Father where he now rules over all things as Lord and Savior, until he returns to make all things new.

Although Jesus’ invisible spirit as God’s eternal Son is still invisible in heaven, as it was before he had a body, he now also has a physical, “resurrection body” in heaven. When Jesus returns to make all things new, all believers will have physical resurrection bodies like his in the new heavens and new earth. 

[1] As spirit, God is not just “supernatural” transcending his natural, physical creation. God also transcends his “spiritual,” non-physical creation. The Scriptures teach that God is entirely unique as the only self-existent, independent, transcendent being who is absolutely autonomous and self-sufficient with no bounds and therefore infinite, uncaused, unconditioned, and uncreated. Therefore, we cannot know him exhaustively, but we can know him partly and truly.

[2] Since “God is spirit,” and we worship him “in spirit,” there is no need for a physical tabernacle or temple anymore. Instead, believers are now God’s temple. Paul writes, “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?” (1 Cor. 3:16).

[3] See Paul’s similar admonitions: “Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not people” (Eph. 6:7), and “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters” (Col. 3:23).

[4] God’s primary purpose for creating the world is so that all the nations would glorify, worship and find their joy in him. This is why we exist–to glorify God by enjoying Him and helping to extend the worship and enjoyment of God to all nations. In the new world our every thought, feeling, and action will be held captive for God’s honor and praise in and through everything we do. God’s presence with us on the new earth will be so inescapable that whatever we see, hear, touch, taste, and smell with our resurrected bodies will point us to the one who created these senses in us.

[5] There is a whole literature about the taxonomy of the human soul, e.g. the soul is made up of three parts (trichotomy), two parts (dichotomy), dualism, and non-dualism. Like John Murray, we tend to follow dichotomy, with some nondualist inclinations. When the body is in the grave, it is the “person” in the grave. The same person exists in Heaven or Hell, and Scripture doesn’t solve the problem of one person in two locations.

[6] At the moment of death, our spirit immediately leaves our body to be with the God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in heaven. Just before his death on the cross, Jesus cried out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” (Luke 23:46). And just before Stephen’s death by stoning for being a follower of Jesus, he cried out, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit” (Acts 7:59). Our brain and our mind are not the same thing. Our physical brain remains in our head at death and returns to dust, but our invisible spirit–including our capacities to think with our mind, desire with our affections, and decide with our volition–departs to be with our Triune Lord forever.

[7] In the history of God’s unfolding plan of redemption in Jesus Christ, our worship of God progresses from an emphasis on outward forms and locations to one on our inward, spiritual relation to God. This is only a relative change. Even in the Old Testament there was a concern with the worshiper’s inner heart-attitude, and even in the New Testament there is an emphasis on applying that heart-worship to physical reality, as in the Lord’s Supper. But we can see in this history a progress from the physical to the spiritual, from the forms to the realities, and from the earthly to the heavenly.

[8]Westminster Shorter Catechism Question 4: What is God? Answer 4: God is a Spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable, in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth.

[9] God’s incommunicable attributes are unique to him and cannot even be found in humans or be shared by humans, though humans, made in his image, reflect them in ways appropriate to their created status. God’s eternity transcends time altogether; we do not. But because we are made in God’s image, we are able to transcend the present moment through memory of the past and anticipation of the future. Even the best analogies and comparisons about God fall far short of reality. For every human or created thing we say God is like, God is also unlike that. God is not only without a physical body, he is also without any size, dimensions, or parts of any kind, and his nature cannot change. Bavinck writes, for example, concerning human knowledge, “Accordingly, this knowledge is only a finite image, a faint likeness and creaturely impression of the perfect knowledge that God has of himself.” Bavinck, H., Reformed Dogmatics, Vol. 2: God and Creation. (J. Bolt, Ed., J. Vriend, Trans.). Grand Rapids, Mich: Baker Academic. p. 11

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