The supreme importance of the unity of God
by Andrew Lansdown
Unity is one of the attributes, one of the characteristics, of God.
While “unity”, as a theological term, may be unfamiliar to some Christians, most Christians would be familiar with the divine attribute it describes. Both the word and the attribute are easily definable.
“Unity” means the same thing in theology as it does in mathematics: “one”. The English word comes from the Latin word, unitas/unus, meaning “one”. The Concise Oxford Dictionary defines “unity” as “oneness, being one or single or individual”.
So when we speak of the unity of God, we are speaking of his oneness, his singleness, his solitariness. God is numerically one. He stands alone. He is one of a kind. He is unique. There are no gods apart from him.*
The Bible plainly and repeatedly asserts this truth. For example:
- Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD (Deuteronomy 6:4).
- See now that I, even I, am he, and there is no god beside me (Deuteronomy 32:39).
- For all the gods of the peoples are idols; but the LORD made the heavens (Psalm 96:5).
- Before me no god was formed, nor shall there be any after me (Isaiah 43:10).
- I am the LORD, and there is no other; besides me there is no god (Isaiah 45:5).
- I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is no one like me (Isaiah 46:9).
- Jesus said, “… No one is good but God alone” (Mark 10:18).
- Jesus answered, “The first [commandment] is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one’” (Mark 12:29).
- [W]e know that “no idol in the world really exists,” and that “there is no God but one” (1 Corinthians 8:4).
- [F]or us there is one God (1 Corinthians 8:6).
- God is one (Galatians 3:20).
- There is … one God and Father of us all, who is above all and through all and in all (Ephesians 4:4-6).
Each of these passages assert the unity, the uniqueness, the singularity, the oneness, of God. And many other passages in the Bible do the same. In fact, according to one theologian, “No other truth of the Scripture, particularly of the Old Testament, receives more prominence than that of the unity of God.”1
In his self-revelation known as the Bible, God has laid great emphasis on his unity, his oneness. He repeatedly asserts that he is one of a kind, without predecessor or successor, without equal or rival. This being the case, we must conclude that the divine unity is an important matter, and we must further conclude that it has a significant bearing on our lives. But how and why?
There are at least six reasons why it is important to understand that there is only one God—the living God who created the heavens and the earth, the triune God who reveals himself in his written word, the Bible, and his incarnate Word, the Lord Jesus Christ.
- A better knowledge of God
The first practical application of this truth is that it helps us to know God more accurately and fully. The Prophet Hosea urged, “let us press on to know the LORD” (6:3). Learning about God’s unity is a necessary part of pressing on to know him.
Sometimes Christian people make an artificial division between the theological and the practical. But there is nothing more practical than getting a right understanding of who and what God is. Every truth about God is valuable precisely because it is a truth about God—our Creator, our Sustainer, our Redeemer, our Eternal Home. If we want to love God more, we need to learn more about him. It is wonderful simply to understand that the God we worship is unique in his being and nature and is the only God in existence. Knowing this truth encourages us to stand in awe of him and paves the way for us to love him more.
But this is just the start of the practical application of the unity of God.
- An answer to polytheism
A second practical benefit that flows from knowing about the unity of God is perhaps the most obvious one: It answers the error of polytheism, the worship of many gods.
Polytheism, as opposed to monotheism, was a major factor in the ancient world. Wherever Christians went they were confronted with the worship of numerous gods. The account in Acts 17 of Paul’s visit to Athens illustrates this. When he entered Athens, Paul’s “spirit was provoked within him as he saw that the city was full of idols” (v.16).
“That’s all very well,” some might think, “but it’s history. Sure, an appreciation of God’s oneness helped early Christians to counteract the error of polytheism, but we aren’t confronted with that error in our society today.” However, such thinking is mistaken. A few moments’ reflection reveals that polytheism is very much alive and well in our society—and it is on the increase!
One of the fastest growing religions in the Western world is polytheistic. That religion is Mormonism, or the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Mormons teach that “three separate gods rule our planet—the Father (Elohim), the Son (Jehovah), and the Holy Ghost.” The foremost of these three is the Father, who himself was once “a man on another planet ruled by his heavenly Father. After faithfully obeying all the Gospel laws and ordinances, and being married to a wife (or wives) for eternity, he died, was resurrected, and was exalted to godhood. He now rules this, his own planet, on which we, his children, born of his wife, live. Every Mormon man who follows the same path can expect to become a god like Father Elohim, and organize and populate his own world. This process has been going on eternally, so there are billions of gods throughout the vastness of space.”2 That is what the Mormons believe. That is what they have in mind when they come to your door with the name of Jesus on their lips and the Bible in their hands, pretending to be merely another Christian denomination. They are polytheists who claim that God the Father is one god among billions, a god just like the one they themselves hope to become.
Mormonism is not the only polytheistic religion flourishing today in Western societies like Australia. Another is Hinduism, the religion of hundreds of millions of Indians. The main Hindu gods are Brahma, the creator, Vishnu, the preserver, and Shiva, the destroyer. But in addition to these three leading gods there are approximately thirty million lesser Hindu gods. And in case anyone thinks that this is of concern only to missionaries in India, remember that there is an increasing Indian population in Australia. Certainly, many Indian immigrants are not Hindus, but many are; and they are bringing the worship of their gods into our country.
The New Age Movement, which began in the 1970s and continues today under the guise of New Spirituality, is also polytheistic. While reading through a New Spirituality magazine3 some time ago I noticed that it was full of claims about the divinity of human beings. One writer declares, “YOU are GOD”, and states that your purpose on earth is “to evolve through all experience to become God realized again.” Another writer, claiming to channel a message from the Archangel Michael, tells readers, “you are a . . . SPARK of GOD”, and states that you need to visualise what you want “and then let your Divine Self create the miracle”. Yet another writer urges readers to “trust in the GodSelf” and to “open up to the God within”. These claims are typical of New Age or New Spirituality teaching. When asked how she felt about playing God in a forthcoming film, the singer Alanis Morissette replied that the role was not difficult, because, she said, “Kevin Smith [the director] and I both believe that God is us.”4 The New Age/ New Spirituality is not something remote from us. Its adherents and its influences are all around us. And its primary emphasis is that human beings are gods, or may become gods, or may ally themselves with gods.
Whether through Mormonism or Hinduism or the New Age movement, polytheism is alive and well in Australia today. And ultimately the only answer to it is the unity of God. Christians must believe and assert as never before: There is only one God! You are not a god! I am not a god! Spirits are not gods! The gods of other religions are not gods! The Father, Son and Holy Spirit—he alone is God!
- The same God for all people
Let me draw out a third practical application from this great truth:
The unity of God also teaches that God is the God of all people. If there is only one God, then plainly no individual or nation can lay exclusive claim to him. Paul makes this point in Romans 3:29-30. He asks: “is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles also?” Then he answers, “Yes, of Gentiles also, since God is one; and he will justify the circumcised on the ground of their faith and the uncircumcised through their faith.” Paul’s argument is this: Since there is only one God, he must be the same God for everyone; and since he is the same God for everyone, he must relate to everyone in the same way. If he cares for these people he also cares for those people; if he requires faith of these people he also requires faith of those people. There’s no distinction. If there were many gods, then perhaps our God is not for them. But as there is only one God, then inevitably our God is their God, too.
Because it is monotheistic, Christianity is by nature a generous, universal religion. We would do well to remember this. The God who made us is the same God who made our neighbours. The God who gave his Son for us is the same God who gave his Son for our neighbours. The God who justified us when we believed is the same God who will justify our neighbours if and when they believe. Once we realise that God is one, we begin to realise that he is the God for everyone. Thus the unity of God becomes a basis for evangelism and offers hope to all people. It is because of the unity of God that we can say to others: “Our God is your God, too. And what he has done for us he can do for you.”
- The same Saviour for all
Consider a fourth application, an application that is closely related to the last one: The unity of God reveals that there is only one Saviour for all people.
The Lord says in Isaiah 45:22, “Turn to me and be saved, all the ends of the earth! For I am God, and there is no other.” The unity of God is the rationale for the exhortation to all people to turn to God. If there is only one God, then there can be only one Saviour. “Turn to me … for there is no other to turn to!”
Turning to Allah, the God of Islam, is futile because Allah does not exist. Trusting in Brahma or Vishnu is pointless because all the Hindu gods are delusions. Calling to the goddesses of Wicca is useless because such goddesses are mere wishful thinking. The only God who can save us is the God of the Bible because he is the only God there is.
When we Christians say that salvation cannot be found in other faiths, we are not being arrogant, but realistic. We are simply stating a fact. Of all the world’s religions, only Christianity offers salvation because only Christianity recognises and reveres the one, true triune God.
Because of the unity of God, the Christian faith is an exclusive faith. And yet for the very same reason, the Christian faith is also an inclusive faith. Isaiah 45:22 brings out both aspects: “Turn to me and be saved, all the ends of the earth! For I am God, and there is no other.” While it is true that only the Christian God can save, it is also true that this same God invites “all the ends of the earth” to trust in him and be saved.
So then, Christianity is exclusive in that it claims that it alone offers a way of salvation, but it is inclusive in that it invites all people to follow that way. And the basis for both the exclusion and the inclusion is the unity, the oneness, of God.
- The same moral standard for all
A fifth practical benefit that flows from the doctrine of God’s unity concerns mankind’s morality.
The oneness of God clarifies that there is only one moral standard—one standard of goodness—for all people. If there is only one God who by his nature, example and command sets the standard for all that is good, then that standard of goodness does not and cannot alter from culture to culture or nation to nation or individual to individual. What is good for one is good for all: what is evil for one is evil for all.
If there were many gods, there could be many standards of right and wrong. What one god forbids, another might command. What disgusts one god might delight another. In Deuteronomy 12:31, the true God, the God of Israel, condemns practices involved in the worship of false gods, the gods of Canaan. He warns the Israelites not to imitate the Canaanites, declaring, “every abominable thing which the LORD hates they have done for their gods; for they even burn their sons and their daughters in the fire to their gods.”
Now, suppose for a moment—if we can do so reverently for the purpose of clarification—suppose that the God of Israel is only one of many gods, and that the gods of Canaan are also true and living gods. If that were so, surely the Canaanite gods would have as much right to command certain practices from the people of Canaan as the Israelite God has to command certain practices from the people of Israel. If the Canaanite gods deemed it good for the people of Canaan to sacrifice their children by fire, then who is the God of Israel to object to this practice? He is just one of many gods, after all.
But the truth is that the LORD is not just one of many gods. He is the only God. There are no gods beside him. Therefore there are no standards of goodness beside him. He alone establishes what is right and wrong, good and evil.
Divine unity determines human morality: One God, one good! One sovereign over all, therefore one standard for all!
This is why Christians have the moral authority to oppose certain cultural and personal practices. If particular customs do not meet the one true standard of goodness commanded and exhibited by the one true God, then Christians can and should oppose them. So, for example, in times past Christians rightly opposed the practice of cannibalism in Papua New Guinea. They rightly opposed the practice of forcing young girls into temple prostitution in India. They rightly opposed the practice of wife-sharing and the sexual path-making ceremonies of the Australian Aborigines. And in contemporary times, Christians rightly oppose the practice of female genital mutilation and honour killings in Muslim communities locally and overseas. They rightly oppose the practice of pre-marital and extra-marital and same-gender sex in Australia and other Western nations. They rightly oppose the practice of sacrificing unborn children to the gods of hedonism and materialism through abortion in the Western world.
Christians have not opposed such practices because they consider themselves superior to other people, nor because they have some arbitrary objections to them. Rather, they have been compelled to act by the fact that there is only one God, and therefore only one standard of goodness and holiness for everyone.
- Undivided devotion to God
A sixth practical application is this: The unity of God teaches us that there must be a unity in our love for God. Our affections must not be divided, for God alone is worthy of our full devotion, and he is one. This is the teaching of Deuteronomy 6:4-5: “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD; and you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.” The command to love the Lord earnestly with our whole being is based on the fact that the Lord is one.
The logic goes like this: if there are no other gods, then there are no other legitimate claimants on our devotion and worship. The LORD our God is one LORD. And because he alone is God, he alone is deserving of our adoration and allegiance. “Who is like you, O LORD, among the gods? Who is like you, majestic in holiness, terrible in glorious deeds, doing wonders?” (Exodus 15:11). Who is like you? Not one! You are unique, unmatched in splendour, power, justice, goodness and grace—therefore we will love you with all our heart, soul and might. There are no other gods to divide our devotion.
Moses declared to Israel in Deuteronomy 4:35: “To you it was shown, that you might know that the LORD is God; there is no other besides him.” The same can be said of the church: To us it has been shown, that we might know that the LORD is God; there is no other besides him. What should we do with this knowledge, this revelation? To begin with, we should oppose the many gods that are being held up in our society and exalt in their place the one true God. We should strive to introduce all people to God, knowing that our God is our neighbour’s God, too. We should share the good news that the one and only Saviour provided by the one and only God invites all peoples and every person to come to him and be saved. We should practice and proclaim clear biblical standards of righteousness, knowing that there is one good for all because there is one God of all. And we should determine to love God with all that we are and all that we have, knowing that there is no one else worthy of our undivided devotion.
Devotion to God necessarily involves devotion to the gospel of his dear Son, Jesus Christ, who by his death on the cross made amends for the sins that separate us from God. So it is fitting to conclude this study with a comment on the connection between the unity of God and the gospel of Christ.
Salvation depends on an understanding of the unity—the oneness—of God. When speaking to God the Father in prayer on one occasion, Jesus said, “this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:3). As is evident from the first part of this statement, coming to a realisation that there is only one true God is essential for salvation.
However, believing in the unity of God is not enough. It is necessary, but it is insufficient. The Apostle James warns, “You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder” (2:19). The demons know that there is only one God, but they do not benefit from the knowledge. It does them no good.
To benefit eternally from the knowledge of God’s oneness we need to be introduced to God. And the good news is that God himself has sent a mediator, a go-between, to make such an introduction possible. The Apostle Paul states in 1 Timothy 2:5, “there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus”. To meet God in peace and friendship, we must first meet Jesus in repentance and faith. When we turn from our sins and trust in him, he introduces us to God the Father, who welcomes us with the gifts of adoption and eternal life.
* Note: While the Bible teaches that there is only one God, it also teaches that the Father is God, the Son is God and the Spirit is God. Recognising that Scripture cannot contradict itself, Christians rightly reconcile these truths in the glorious doctrine of the Trinity, which teaches that three distinct Persons share without distinction a single divine essence. Hence, the unity of God is compound in nature: it is a tri-unity, being three-in-one.
- William Evans, The Great Doctrines Of The Bible, p. 26
- Evangelising the Cults, ed. Roland Enroth (Word Publishing, 1991), p. 85
- ELOHIM Journal, Vol.4, No.5, October/November 1999
- West Australian, 10/8/99, “Today”, p. 3
© Andrew Lansdown, 1998, 2016