|Volume 22 Number 6 August 2020||
Brian R. Kenyon
There are many views about God in the religious world, but can they all be true? Is Islam’s “Allah” the true God? Is present day Judaism’s “God” the true God? What about the “God” of the so-called “Christian” denominations? Is their “God” the true God? Let us examine Paul’s sermon on Mars’ Hill to know the truth about the true God (Acts 17:23-31).
The True God Is Unknown to Many
When Paul was in Athens, he stood “in the midst of the Areopagus [Mars’ Hill, KJV]” and said, “for as I was passing through and considering the objects of your worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO THE UNKNOWN GOD. Therefore, the One whom you worship without knowing, Him I proclaim to you” (Acts 17:23). Earlier, as Paul waited in Athens for his coworkers, “his spirit was provoked within him when he saw that the city was given over to idols” (Acts 17:16). Ancient historians have acknowledged that the Athenian landscape was dotted with idolatrous shrines. Standing from where Paul stood, evidence of idolatry could literally be seen in every direction. The Athenians had a god for just about everything. If an altar was dedicated to the wrong god or if they accidently left out a god, they feared the anger of that god. Thus, to give themselves an out, they erected this altar “TO THE UNKNOWN GOD.” As Paul made the application, he declared this unknown god as the true God. The Athenians knew many “gods,” but the only true God was completely unknown to them. There are people today who are “very religious [superstitious, KJV]” (Acts 17:22) but who are completely unknowledgeable of the true God. Why—because their idea of God comes from human tradition or manmade religion. Yes, these views of God may contain some biblical truth, but when we mix biblical truth with human-made doctrine, we do not still have biblical truth. We must, therefore, derive our full view of God from what the Bible teaches. If not, we cannot really know the true God!
The True God Created the Universe
Paul declared that “God…made the world and everything in it” (Acts 17:24a). The idea that there is a “god for this” and a “god for that” is absurd. The true God made it all (Genesis 1:1-31; Isaiah 42:5; John 1:1-3; Hebrews 11:3). This one true God was not to be confused with any of the numerous gods the Athenians knew. The only one of their gods to whom the true God could be identified was “THE UNKNOWN GOD”! Because the true God is “Lord of heaven and earth,” He “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 17:24b-25). Contrary to the many shrines dotting the landscape of Athens in Paul’s day, no temple can contain the true God, which should be an obvious conclusion based upon His superiority over all creation (Colossians 1:15-18). The true God is self-sufficient. Unlike the false gods of Athens who needed to be waited on with offerings and temples, the true God does not need the service of human hands. Rather, the true God is the source of life, breath and all things we enjoy. Do we know this God?
The True God Made All People for a Purpose
There is unity of the human race through God’s creation of Adam. Paul declared that God “has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth” (Acts 17:26a). The word for “blood” is not in the Greek manuscripts upon which most newer translations are based. They render it simply, “he made of one” (ASV). Either way, however, this concept would seem strange to the Athenians because they believed that each nation had its own god. However, Paul said that all nations of people came from the one true God! In making all people from one, God “has determined their preappointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings” (Acts 17:26b). This phrase emphasizes God’s providential control of human affairs without denying human free will. Nations rise and fall according to God’s will and for His purpose (Job 12:23). Instead of being regulated by separate national gods, as the Athenians thought, the true God controls all nations!
Why has God arranged it this way? “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; for in Him we live and move and have our being, as also some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are also His offspring’” (Acts 17:27-28). God wants all mankind to seek Him, not turn away from Him (Romans 1:18-32). God is not so far away that people cannot find Him. In fact, the very environment in which God placed us points to Him (Psalm 19:1-6; Romans 1:20). Even pagan poets reached the conclusion Paul preached! Because we are the “offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, something shaped by art and man’s devising” (Acts 17:29). “Divine Nature [Godhead, KJV]” cannot be represented by anything human wisdom, skill or craftsmanship can fashion (Exodus 20:4-5)!
The True God Wants All to Repent
Paul concluded his sermon on the Areopagus, “Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent, because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead” (Acts 17:30-31). Note that God did not overlook sin, but rather “these times of ignorance.” Paul made clear that God has never approved the idea of many gods, although He did not always exercise His full power against idolaters. Now, however, all people are called upon to repent because all are accountable to the true God (2 Corinthians 5:10). The true God will judge the world by His Son. This is the first direct allusion to Jesus in this sermon. Its coming at the end shows us that people cannot know the Son of God unless they first know the true God. Evidence that Jesus will be the Judge is the fact that God had raised “Him from the dead” (John 5:26-27).
Not intimidated by those Greek philosophers, Paul gave an excellent sermon on the one true God. This God is unknown to many; He made all things; He made all people; and He demands repentance. God is still the same. He wants the sinful to acknowledge His will and repent (Acts 2:38). Judgment Day is coming, but the true God has provided salvation to the obedient (Hebrews 9:27-28). Do we know the true God?