AreYouaChristian.comPeople of God — Lesson 1
A Study by Robert F. Turner
Introduction: People of God
“Then God said, ‘Let us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.’ So God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. Then God blessed them, and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful, and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth’” (Genesis 1:26–28).
In one sense, all people are the “people of God” and we believe they were created with a high and noble purpose indeed. The Psalmist marveled at this culminating work of the Creator, saying, “When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, the moon and the stars, which You have ordained; what is man that You are mindful of him, and the son of man that You visit him? For You have made him a little lower than the angels [elohim, objects of worship], and You have crowned him with glory and honor” (Psalm 8:3–9).
We are well aware that such a concept is denied by many of today’s people. Those who reject the Divine Creator accept a world that exists by unprovable and incomprehensible chance — something from nothing. It follows that man is evolved from simple inorganic substance, and has a brief and purposeless life. He dies without hope, and his biodegradable remains reenter the cycle that goes nowhere. The futility of it all is enough to commend a search for something better — but often pride and an unwillingness to acknowledge anything higher than himself leaves man groping in darkness, refusing the light that is available. And this is the man who charges us with “blindly” trusting in an “unproven” God.
Obviously the true God, by His very nature, would not be subject to man’s test tubes. He would have to be self-revealed. But God is more than an hypothesis. The clinching “Way, Truth, and Life” is a historic figure, Jesus of Nazareth, the culmination of Divine revelation. This study is prepared by one who believes in God, His Holy Spirit, and Emmanuel or “God with us,” as seen in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Believing in an eternal, intelligent Creator, we believe that Creator acted with purpose. He must have had reason for creation — something more than a sudden whim or impulse. There are likely unrevealed purposes of God we cannot pursue. However, the revelation available relates Divine purpose directly to man, and this becomes our chief concern. All who believe that the Creator revealed Himself to His creatures confidently look to that revelation for His purpose. Whatever His purpose may be, we believe man’s greatest good can be realized in achieving that end. In God’s Word and in this study those who through God’s grace seek to satisfy His divine purpose are called the “people of God” in a very special sense (1 Peter 2:9,10).
God Has a Purpose for Us
The Athenians in Acts 17 were great God-servers, or so they thought. They built beautiful temples, dedicated finely wrought statuary, and gave their gods lavish gifts. But they failed to understand what the Creator wanted of His creatures. When Paul described to them the true God he said, “God, who made the world and everything in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands. Nor is He worshiped with men’s hands, as though He needed anything, since He gives to all life, breath, and all things” (Acts 17:24,25). How absurd to think the Creator could be appeased with any material thing! Instead, God has a desire for certain responses on the part of His creatures. Paul also said, God “made from one blood every nation of men . . . so that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us” (vv.26,27). God’s inherent sufficiency does not negate His reason for making man, and requiring certain attitudes and conduct. For His purpose, and our good, He wants us to “seek after Him, and find Him.”
In Romans 1 as the sinfulness of man is described and we are shown that God is just in condemning all mankind, we again get a glimpse of God’s desire for His creatures. Paul says men could perceive God’s eternal power and deity by observing the product of His creation, and are “without excuse, because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful” (v.21). The flip side of these negatives is, God wants us to “glorify” and “give thanks” to Him. He wants a people who worship their Creator, and recognize their dependence upon Him.
In the Genesis record God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness . . . ” (Genesis 1:26). Certainly this is not a reference to man’s physical appearance. God is Spirit (John 4:24), and is without “form” (Deuteronomy 4:12–19). “In the image of God” must refer to man’s spiritual nature, intellect, and free agency — having a self-conscious personality that sets him above other animal life (Psalm 8:5–8). We are bold to suggest that since “God is love” (1 John 4:7,8), we who are made in His image have the ethical capacity to manifest this God-like characteristic. We believe God intended that the objects of His love be capable of returning love to the Creator, a love that manifests itself in submission to God (1 John 2:3–5). Jesus said the first and great commandment of God was “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart . . . soul . . . mind” (Matthew 22:36–40). God wanted His creatures to “seek after Him and find Him” — to look up to Him, to feel deep dependence upon Him, and to reciprocate His love.
God’s Purpose Determines Our Nature
God’s stipulated requirements of man demanded creatures “in the image of God” who could will and act upon a self-determined basis. But theologians tell us free will on the part of man would compromise the sovereignty of God — man could say “No” to his Maker. They would have us believe that God arbitrarily selected those whom He would save, and our actions have nothing to do with the decision. Of course the sovereignty of God is vindicated in final and irrevocable judgment (2 Corinthians 5:10), for none can reject God with impunity. On the other hand, the very nature of God demands nothing less than a moral response to His will. This means a people who of their own will say “Yes” to their Maker. Unless we are free to say either “Yes” or “No,” our love and praise become the words and actions of mere puppets, having no moral value.
This power of choice also accords with a characteristic of God that is frequently stressed in His Scriptures. God is no respecter of persons — He treats fairly all those made in His image — in the Old Testament (Deuteronomy 10:17; Ezekiel 18:19–24), and in the New (Romans 2:11; Ephesians 6:9). Peter said, “In truth I perceive that God shows no partiality. But in every nation he who fears Him and works righteousness is accepted by Him” (Acts 10:34,35). With free will, and fairly treated without respect of persons, man becomes one of God’s people (in the true, moral sense of the terms) when he fulfills a chief purpose God had in making man in the first place. Paul wrote, “Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31).
We propose a simple thesis: God gave each of us a free moral “self” and then asks that we give it back to Him. Jesus put it this way: “If any one desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me” (Matthew 16:24). We believe God’s search for a “people for His own possession” in this moral sense has been clearly indicated from the beginning of the revelation of His will. His “people” are not racially determined, are not simply “card-carrying” members of some party or church, but are a kind or quality of people. They certainly are not gods, but they have “escaped the corruption that is in the world” through provisions God made for true believers to “partake of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:1–4).
The writer of this book sees the Bible as the inspired literature of the unfolding of God’s plans for His creatures. His eternal Purpose, Promise, and Prophecies are found in the Old Testament; and the Preparation and Perfection of the Christian dispensation are revealed in the New Testament.
In this study we will seek to trace the unfolding of His purpose and plan for the development of His people. Treating man as a free moral agent, hence responsible and accountable for his actions, man’s transgression of God’s will is sin (1 John 3:1–6). But man also has the capacity and is held accountable for a trusting faith in the Divine power. God does for man what man cannot do for himself. On the condition of obedient, wholehearted faith, God provides the means of escape from sin. In Jesus Christ sins are forgiven, we can become one of God’s people, and have the great promise of an eternal home in heaven.
1. If revealed at all, why must God be self-revealed?
2. Is there evidence man was created with a divine purpose?
3. What are some responses God expects of mankind?
4. How does such expectation affect the nature God gave man?
5. Why was free will necessary to fulfill God’s purpose in creating man?