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Immanent, Transcendent, Triune: Knowing Our Great and Neglected God

Contend Excerpt TWby Aaron Armstrong

There was a time when if you used the term “God,” nearly everyone would know you were referring to the God of the Bible. Today, “God” could mean almost anything—from the triune God of Christianity, to the god of any of several other religions, to a vague cosmic force, to the earth itself.

The existence of a personal God who can be known by individuals—the God revealed in the Bible—is no longer assumed in our spiritual-but-nonreligious world. This isn’t just a problem for non-Christians, but for believers, too. We have neglected the God we worship to the point that we seem to know almost nothing about him. Don’t believe me? Consider the the lyrics that so many churches sing every Sunday. This is a huge problem because if we get God wrong, nothing else about the Christian faith—or life—will make sense.

Our Immanent God: Near and Knowable

Consider that God has revealed himself to us, which means we can comprehend him, at least to some degree. God’s self-revelation brings him near and makes him personal. God is intimately involved in his creation, and particularly so by making mankind in his image. Not content to speak the first man and woman into being, God actually formed them with his hands (Genesis 2:7, 22).

Apparently there is a sense in which this direct formation continues, for the psalmist declares that God “formed my inward parts; [he] knitted me together in my mother’s womb” (Psalm 139:13). It seems only fitting that a sovereign, loving God would play a “hands-on” role in the formation of every creature specifically made in his image.

God’s moment-by-moment involvement with us does not end at birth, though. It continues throughout our lives. Jesus goes so far as to tell us that God “knows what you need before you ask him” (Matthew 6:8). Indeed, Jesus himself is the epitome of the immanence of God, humbling himself to take on flesh, becoming like us so that he might redeem us. This is not the description of a far-off, unknowable, uninterested divine being. It is instead a realistic, albeit partial glimpse of a deeply personal, involved God. God is immanent; he is near and knowable.

Our Transcendent God: Above and Beyond Us

Even as God delights to make himself known to us, we can only know him in part; the fullness of God’s glory is at this time far beyond our perception or ability to comprehend. On earth, what we know of God is truly majestic, but his glory extends beyond the heavens—beyond all we can see and imagine. When we say that God is transcendent, we do not deny his immanence; rather, we say that in addition he is infinitely above and beyond his creation. He is not a part of the world in the way that we are, and it is not a part of him.

Contend; Defending the Faith in a Fallen World, by Aaron ArmstrongWhile God is infinite in all his attributes, one particular way the Bible underscores this truth is by emphasizing that God is eternal. The Bible never shows us the Creator’s starting point, for he has none. Instead, it begins with the starting point of creation. In the beginning, before the foundations of the world were laid, God was (Genesis 1:1). There has never been a time when God was not. He “was and is and is to come . . . the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end” (Revelation 4:8; 21:6). This is our transcendent God.

Our Triune God: Author and Perfecter of Salvation

The twin truths of God’s immanence and transcendence come together in the doctrine of the Trinity—the truth that our God is one in essence and, at the same time, three persons who exist in eternal, perfect, joyful communion with one another.

  • He is the eternal heavenly Father, the maker of heaven and earth, who ordains the redemption of the elect and sent forth Jesus to accomplish it (Genesis 1:1; John 3:16; Romans 8:29; Galatians 4:4; Ephesians 1:3–5).
  • He is Jesus, the only begotten Son of God; the Word who was with God and was God, the one by whom and for whom all things were made; the one Lord to whom the Father has given all glory, honor, and power; the one who accomplishes redemption for us in perfect obedience to the will of God (John 1:1–3; Colossians 1:15–22; Hebrews 2:7, 9; Revelation 4:11; 5:12 [cf. Daniel 7:13–14]).
  • He is the Holy Spirit, the Helper who applies Christ’s righteousness, regenerating and renewing those who were slaves to evil, sealing and sanctifying God’s people for the day of redemption (John 14:16; Titus 3:3–5; Ephesians 4:30; Romans 15:16).

No other religion or worldview testifies to a God even remotely this magnificent, nor a salvation nearly so glorious. So let us devote ourselves to knowing him more deeply. For this is the God Christians worship, and there is no other.

Tomorrow we’re offering both of Aaron Armstrong’s books—CONTEND: Defending the Faith in a Fallen World, and AWAITING A SAVIOR: The Gospel, the New Creation, and the End of Poverty—along with a $20 store coupon, in our weekly 20Twosdays giveaway. Don’t miss it…


Aaron Armstrong is a blogger, an itinerant preacher, and a writer for an international Christian ministry focused on caring for the needs of the poor. He blogs at www.BloggingTheologically.com and his work has appeared on The Gospel Coalition’s “Voices” blog and RelevantMagazine.com’s “Deeper Walk” column. Aaron, his wife Emily, and their children worship and serve at Harvest Bible Chapel in London, Ontario.

This article was adapted by Aaron Armstrong from Chapter Two of his book, Contend: Defending the Faith in a Fallen World.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Knowing our great and neglected God | A disciple's study - October 29, 2015

    […] Over at the Cruciform Press blog, I’m talking about the danger of assuming we all agree about who God is in a post adapted from chapter two of my book Contend: Defending the Faith in a Fallen World. Here’s a preview addressing the immanence of God: […]

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