(John 4:24 KJV) God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.
The subject which is at hand is the subject of the spiritual essence of God. God is a spirit. When we speak of essence we speak of the basic, unchanging nature of something or someone. Thus, God’s basic, unchanging nature is spirit. It would be in order at this time to attempt to define, or describe, what is meant by spirit. In the New Testament, the word spirit comes from the Greek word pneuma,which simply means wind. It is from this word that we get our English word pneumatic, which means wind powered. Spirit is non-material like the wind. That is, spirit is not a shape or form that can be perceived by the senses of man. Spirit cannot be seen, smelled, touched, heard, or tasted. Spirit may be manifest to the senses by that which is material, but pure spirit is not material. Thus, when we state that the essence of God is spiritual, we are saying that the very basic nature of God is not a bodily nature that can be seen, felt, touched, heard, or tasted.
Another thing we need to notice is that, while God may make Himself manifest to us in a variety of ways (the ultimate revelation being Jesus Christ Heb.1:1-3), God, in His essence cannot be perceived by our senses. He cannot be confined or limited to a body. God transcends (or, rises above, and goes beyond the limits of) that which is material. God is greater than flesh, or material things. Thus, what we are saying is that, while God may manifest Himself to our senses, He is far greater than the things in which He manifests Himself to us. God is above a book, a man, a voice, a sight. God is spirit and is not limited by the constraints of material boundaries.
Lessons From John Chapter One
One of the greatest passages in the Bible that deals with the nature of God is found in John chapter one. Here much is said concerning who Jesus is, and His existence before the creation. The passage also tells us that God was manifest in Christ Jesus when He became flesh and lived among us. From this passage we shall learn several lessons.
The first thing we must notice is the fact that God transcends material existence. While this has already been mentioned, let us notice the passage which deals with this great truth. (John 1:1-3 KJV) “ In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.” The first thing we must notice is, that before everything else, God is. While this may seem to be grammatically incorrect, God is eternal. There is no past or future with God: He is eternal and lives in the “everlasting now.” Before there were any angels, before there was an earth, there was God. We also find (Heb 11:3 KJV) “ Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear.” In other words, everything that we see about us is a product of the creative power of God. There’s not one thing that was not made by God. This means that God was before matter. God is not material: He is pre-material, so to speak. God created material things. This being so, God must be something other than matter. God is spirit.
In John chapter one we also find that God is spoken of as the Word. A word is “An articulate or vocal sound, or a combination of articulate and vocal sounds, uttered by the human voice, and by custom expressing an idea or ideas; a single component part of human speech or language.” (Webster’s 1828 Dictionary) When a word is reduced to its basic components, there are two things remaining; the vocal sound , and the thought behind the articulation. This means that a word is essentially something that is not physical or material. A word, in its most basic of states is a thought in a mind. A word, or thought, presupposes intelligence. Now, before there was anything else, there was the Word. This Word is God. In the beginning, then, there was simple, pure, eternal intelligence – the Word/God. This means that, before there was any creation of material things, God is; and this signifies to us that God is spiritual in nature.
John also states, (John 1:4 KJV) “In him was life; and the life was the light of men.” We also read of Christ , (1 John 1:1,2 KJV) That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life; (For the life was manifested, and we have seen it, and bear witness, and show unto you that eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us;). Here we find that God is life. As we consider what life is, we see that life is not necessarily material in nature. In fact, life is spiritual in nature. As we read the account of the creation, we find God breathing life into the nostrils of man. Man had been created from the dust of the ground, but did not live. God breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living soul. Life came from the spirit of God in man. James tells us that “the body without the spirit is dead.” (Jas.2:26) Solomon stated that both man and beast had the spirit of God in them to give them life (Eccles.3:19-21). Today we see the manifestation of life in men and in beasts. We don’t see the life itself, but we do see the manifestation of it. We can also tell when the life is gone from the bodies of men and beasts. Job understood that the life which was his own self actually existed independently of his body by the power of God. He stated, (Job 10:11,12 KJV) “ Thou hast clothed me with skin and flesh, and hast fenced me with bones and sinews. Thou hast granted me life and favour, and thy visitation hath preserved my spirit.” Job knew that his body was but a dwelling place for the spiritual life which was the true Job. It is the same with all of us. This is why our body is referred to as being a tabernacle, or tent. (See 2Cor.5:1) Our body is simply the temporary place in which the spiritual man lives. Thus we see that life is spiritual, and God being the source of all life, and life Himself, is in essence spiritual.
In the passage before us, Jesus is also spoken of as having an existence before He took unto Himself a body. (John 1:1-4,14 KJV) “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.” God took upon Himself the earthly tent of human flesh. Before this, however, He existed. Jesus Christ had an eternal existence independent of anything and anyone, and that before He became flesh. We read in Hebrews 10:8 that a body was prepared for Jesus. In other words, Jesus existed in His spiritual state before the incarnation (His becoming flesh). Paul told the Philippian church, (Phil 2:5-8 KJV) “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.” Again we see that Jesus existed with the very same nature as God before He was made flesh. In fact, He was still God after He took upon Himself the human body in which He dwelt for above thirty years. (Col 2:9 KJV) “For in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily.” He was also still spirit. Just as heaven and the heaven of heavens cannot contain God (1Kings 8:27), so also an earthly body could not confine Jesus. This is why Jesus spoke of Himself as being in Heaven. (John 1:18 KJV) “ No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him.” (John 3:13 KJV) “And no man hath ascended up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven, even the Son of man which is in heaven.” Jesus, being God, transcends fleshly existence so that, though He dwelt in a body of flesh, He was/is not confined to that body. While this may be hard to comprehend, let us remember that God does not change (Mal. 3:6;Jas. 1:17), and Jesus was God. Though Christ can be seen as willingly limiting Himself in some areas (knowledge, for example Mt. 24:36) He was still fully God in human flesh. This means that it was necessary for Christ to have surpassed the mortal, human, physical limitations that you and I have.
God Is Invisible
Another thing that points to the spiritual essence of God is the fact that He is invisible. Paul speaks of Jesus as(Col 1:15 KJV) “the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature.” God is invisible. Just as we cannot see the wind, we cannot see God who is spirit. (John 1:18 KJV) “ No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him.” He is spoken of as being the one whom no man hath seen, nor can see. (See 1 Tim.6:16) When you consider that even miniscule particles of matter can be seen when aided by a microscope, we understand that God is not made of matter. He is spirit, which is invisible as the wind is invisible.
What About The Appearances of God?
One thing that may be raised as an objection to the spiritual, or non-corporeal (immaterial, or without a body) nature of God is the fact that there have been times in which God appeared in the form of a man or an angel. This is a very valid point that must be addressed. In addressing this issue, two points must be made: one, God cannot be seen of man; two, the manifestation of God to man.
The first point is a reiteration of a point that has already been made: God, as spirit, is invisible and cannot be seen. Added to this is the fact that man cannot see the fulness of God’s glory and live (Ex.33:19-23) When Isaiah saw the Lord, he fell upon his face confessing that he was a sinful man. (Isa.6:1-8) (John 12:41 KJV) “ These things said Esaias, when he saw his glory, and spake of him.” Isaiah did not see God as a bodily essence. Isaiah saw the magnificence of God shining forth in all of His splendor. John also stated that“no man hath seen God at any time.” (John 1:18) God cannot be seen (1Tim. 6:15,16), for God is spirit.
The second point is of great significance. The invisible God has been seen of men. This is not a contradiction that is found in the Bible. This is a paradox, or a situation that seems to be a contradiction, but isn’t a genuine contradiction. We know beyond any shadow of a doubt that the Bible teaches us that God is invisible and cannot be seen. We also know it to be true that God has manifest Himself to men in visible ways. Let us now dig a little deeper into this matter.
That God cannot be seen is evident. What, or who, was it that Moses, Isaiah, and others saw, then? One point that needs to be made is that God, while in essence spirit and not confined to a body, can at times take unto Himself a body. We know this is so from manifold instances in the Scriptures, and from the fact that Jesus was God in human form. The basic nature of God is still spiritual when He does appear in a material way. When Moses saw God, he saw God’s glory. (Exo 24:11,17 KJV) “ And upon the nobles of the children of Israel he laid not his hand: also they saw God, and did eat and drink. And the sight of the glory of the LORD was like devouring fire on the top of the mount in the eyes of the children of Israel.” In fact, that was what Moses requested to see in Exodus chapter thirty-three. (Exo 33:18 KJV) “And he said, I beseech thee, show me thy glory.” While space would not permit an in depth study of the glory of God, we can find from reading Exodus chapters thirty-three and thirty-four that the glory of God is the beauty of His nature, character, and attributes. Moses saw the beauty of God in His person more than His physical appearance. You see, when God appeared to men, it was not for the purpose of demonstrating to them His looks. God has never appeared to man in such a fashion as for man to get a good picture of a physical appearance. There is a reason for this: God knew man would make an image of what he saw if God appeared to Him in such a way. (Deu 4:15-19 KJV) “Take ye therefore good heed unto yourselves; for ye saw no manner of similitude on the day that the LORD spake unto you in Horeb out of the midst of the fire: Lest ye corrupt yourselves, and make you a graven image, the similitude of any figure, the likeness of male or female, The likeness of any beast that is on the earth, the likeness of any winged fowl that flieth in the air, The likeness of any thing that creepeth on the ground, the likeness of any fish that is in the waters beneath the earth: And lest thou lift up thine eyes unto heaven, and when thou seest the sun, and the moon, and the stars, even all the host of heaven, shouldest be driven to worship them, and serve them, which the LORD thy God hath divided unto all nations under the whole heaven.”
God appeared for the purpose of communicating with man. From the time God met with Adam in the garden till the time Jesus came, God’s appearances were for the purpose of revealing His will, way and purpose to man. (See Hebrews 1:1-3;2:1-4;12:25-27 for examples and teaching concerning this truth) Jesus Himself is the Word of God. He is the eternal Word, yet He is the revealed Word, too. (John 1:18 KJV) “No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him.” Jesus is the ultimate revelation of God to sinful man. Jesus manifest God to us.
All the while that God has manifest Himself to us, however, He has manifest His word, will, way, character, and glory. While God by nature is invisible, to communicate with man, He must appeal to the senses which He has given man. Man’s main avenues of perceiving facts are seeing and hearing. The manifestation of God to man has been through these avenues. Man cannot perceive that which is not presented to his senses. Thus God has revealed Himself to us. While God has thus manifested Himself to us, believe it or not, in so doing He has hidden Himself from us. God is so great that He fills Heaven and earth. (Jer 23:24 KJV) “Can any hide himself in secret places that I shall not see him? saith the LORD. Do not I fill heaven and earth? saith the LORD.” Again, this shows us why God must be spirit, and not confined to a body. He fills Heaven and earth. God transcends material existence. God also, by manifesting Himself to us through that which is material, has not shown us many things about Himself. Just as the natural creation cannot show all the glory of God, even more so is a human body unable to show the fulness of God. As Habakkuk saw the glory of God, he realized that, while God revealed much about His greatness, much was hidden from man. Man does not have the capacity to receive unlimited knowledge. If God were to fully reveal Himself to us, He would be giving unlimited knowledge to finite man. God is so great that, when He reveals Himself to us, there is so much more that is not revealed that it is, as it were, hidden. (Hab 3:3,4 KJV) “God came from Teman, and the Holy One from mount Paran. Selah. His glory covered the heavens, and the earth was full of his praise. And his brightness was as the light; he had horns coming out of his hand: and there was the hiding of his power.” What a revelation of how great God is! He cannot be fully manifest by anything material, nor comprehended fully by the human mind! (Job 26:14 KJV) “Lo, these are parts of his ways: but how little a portion is heard of him? but the thunder of his power who can understand?”
Another objection that is raised is the fact that God is spoken of as having bodily parts. (See Isa.51:9;53:1 the arm of the Lord; Deut.8:3;Isa.1:20 the mouth of the Lord; 2Chron.16:9; Ps.33:18 the eye of the Lord; Ex.7:5; Ps. 75:8;Isa.62:8 the hand of the Lord) Again, this is a good point that must be addressed. One cannot assert one truth to the exclusion of another. What is meant by these statements if God is spirit and not material? This writer is convinced that these are anthropomorphisms, or an interpretation of what is not human in terms of human characteristics. In other words, these references are God’s means of taking the truths of His greatness and communicating them to us in words and terms to which we can relate. In other words, while God does not have hands, eyes, ears, or any other bodily parts, He speaks of Himself as having these terms so we can grasp the truth He is presenting about Himself. This may be compared to adults talking “baby talk” to children so that the child can understand what is being said. This is an accommodation to the infirmity of humans. These statements that portray God as having bodily features are God “lisping” as He speaks to us, that we might know Him better. Remember, God is first, foremost, and eternally spirit. We must allow every other representation of God to fit within this framework, or else we misrepresent God.
Making God in Our Own Image?
There is a clear danger to be seen in believing that God has always inhabited a material body such as we have. That danger is the possibility of idolatry. Man has an incredible tendency to create an idol, even if that idol is in his own mind and not a physical reality. (Let us not forget that covetousness is idolatry Col. 3:5) This is the reason God did not appear to Israel in any bodily manner at Mt. Sinai. The Lord knew that, if Israel saw a bodily representation of God, they would make an image of that appearance of God, and worship the image instead of God. It is probably for this same reason that the manifestation of God at other times was so awe-inspiring, fear inducing, and the message and character of God overshadowed the physical appearance which was before men.
Paul told the Roman church that the condemnation of the human race came because men did not give God the glory due Him. In fact, they lowered God by trading His magnificence for an image that was like men (See Rom.1:18-23). They actually decided to make God in their own image! In doing so they tried to elevate man, and obscured the glory of God. God simply cannot be fully represented by or in anything material. God is spirit and transcends material existence. The Lord complained of the Israelites, “thou thoughtest that I was altogether such an one as thyself.” (Ps. 50:21) God is not like we are. We made in the image of God, but God is so much greater than we that we will never measure up to what God is. If we could, then we would be God, and that is an impossibility.
Finally, we must see that this truth carries great implications for our worship. (John 4:24 KJV) God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth. Many times we think of worship as something we do in the flesh. Worship is spiritual because God is spirit. God does not need anything from us (See Ps.50:9-15,22,23; Acts 17:22-31). He does not hunger, thirst, or suffer need of any kind. He is self-sufficient and all sufficient. God has no bodily passions or desires to be fulfilled either. Worship is spiritual in our giving Him the honor that is His due. He is worthy of our praise. Remember that God rebuked the Pharisees for their fleshly worship saying, (Mat 15:7-9KJV) “Ye hypocrites, well did Esaias prophesy of you, saying, This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me. But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.” True worship is the acknowledging the worth of God. While it may manifest itself by deeds done in the flesh, worship is spiritual because God is spirit. If we consider God to be flesh, we will worship Him in a way that corresponds to our belief. We will seek to present fleshly worship, because we feel that is how God is to be approached. Knowing that God is spirit, we can come to Him at all times, at any place and worship Him from the depths of our hearts. Worship is not about Mt. Gerizim or Jerusalem, Samaritan or Jew, black or white. Worship is to be in spirit and in truth. Worship must conform to the truth of who God is. When we recognize the infinite glory of God in His spiritual essence and praise Him for that greatness, we have worshipped in spirit and in truth. (John 4:24 KJV) God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.