Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Systematic Theology--Chapter 12

The Character of God: "Communicable" Attributes (Part 1)
How is God like us in his being, and in mental and moral attributes?


This chapter divides God's "communicable" attributes into five major categories, with individual attributes listed under each category as follows:


A. Attributes Describing God's Being
   1. Spirituality
   2. Invisibility
B. Mental Attributes
   3. Knowledge (or Omniscience)
   4. Wisdom
   5. Truthfulness (and Faithfulness)
C. Moral Attributes
   6. Goodness
   7. Love
   8. Mercy (Grace, Patience)
   9. Holiness
  10. Peace (or Order)
  11. Righteousness (or Justice)
  12. Jealousy
  13. Wrath
D. Attributes of Purpose
  14. Will
  15. Freedom
  16. Omnipotence (or Power, and Sovereignty)
E. "Summary" Attributes
  17. Perfection
  18. Blessedness
  19. Beauty
  20. Glory


***Because God's communicable attributes are to be imitated in our lives, each of these sections will include a short explanation of the way in which the attribute in question is to be imitated by us.


A. Attributes Describing God's Being
   1. Spirituality


  • God is spirit (John 4:24), not flesh and blood or any other matter. This is good news, because it doesn't limit us in any way as to when or where or how we may interact with him. We don't have to be present in any specific time or place to reach him.
  • God's spirituality means that God exists as a being that is not made of any matter, has no parts or dimensions, is unable to be perceived by our bodily senses, and is more excellent than any other kind of existence.
  • These considerations made us wonder if God's spirituality should perhaps be called an "incommunicable" attribute. To do so would indeed be appropriate in some ways, since God's being is so different from ours. Nevertheless, the fact remains that God has given us spirits. . .
    • . . . in which we worship him (John 4:24; 1 Cor. 14:14; Phil. 3:3)
    • . . . in which we are united with the Lord's spirit (1 Cor. 6:17)
    • . . . with which the Holy Spirit joins to bear witness to our adoption in God's family (Rom. 8:16)
    • . . . and in which we pass into the Lord's presence when we die (Luke 23:46; Eccl. 12:7; Heb. 12:23)
    • Therefore there is clearly some communication from God to us of a spiritual nature that is something like his own nature, though certainly not in all respects. For this reason it also seems appropriate to think of God's spirituality as a communicable attribute.
   2. Invisibility
  • God's invisibility means that God's total essence, all of his spiritual being, will never be able to be seen by us, yet God still shows himself to us through visible, created things.
  • John 1:18--No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father's side, he has made him known.
  • John 6:46--not that anyone has seen the Father except he who is from God; he has seen the Father.
  • 1 Timothy 1:17--To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.
  • 1 Timothy 6:16--who alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see. To him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen.
  • 1 John 4:12--No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.
  • We must remember that these passages were all written after events in Scripture where people saw some outward manifestation of God.
    • Exodus 33:11--Thus the Lord used to speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend. (Yet God told Moses. . .)
    • . . . in Exodus 33:20--But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live.”
    • Exodus 33:21-23--And the Lord said, “Behold, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock, and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by. Then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back, but my face shall not be seen.”
    • This sequence of verses and others like it in the Old Testament indicate that there was a sense in which God could not be seen at all, but that there was also some outward form or manifestation of God which at least in part was able to be seen by man.
    • The Old Testament also records a number of theophanies. A theophany is an appearance of God in which he takes on various visible forms to show himself to people. God appears to many throughout the Bible in this way.
      • to Abraham (Gen. 18:1-33)
      • to Jacob (Gen. 32:28-30)
      • to the people of Israel (Ex. 13:21-22)
      • to the elders of Israel (Ex. 24:9-11)
      • to Mansah and his wife (Judges 13:21-22)
      • to Isaiah (Isa. 6:1)
  • A much greater visible manifestation of God than the Old Testament theophanies was found in the person of Jesus Christ himself.
    • John 14:9--Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip?Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?
    • Colossians 1:15--He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.
    • Hebrews 1:3--He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high
  • We will see God in heaven. The nature of this "seeing" will likely not be known to us until we reach heaven, but we can rest in knowing this joy awaits us.
    • Matthew 5:8--Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
    • 1 Corinthians 13:12--For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.
    • 1 John 3:2--Beloved, we are God's children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.
    • Revelation 22:3-4--No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads.
B. Mental Attributes
   3. Knowledge (Omniscience)
  • God fully knows himself and all things actual and possible in one simple and eternal act.
    • Job 37:16--Do you know the balancings of the clouds, the wondrous works of him who is perfect in knowledge
    • 1 John 3:20--for whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything.
    • Hebrews 4:13--And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.
    • Isaiah 46:9-10--remember the former things of old; for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose,’
    • Matthew 6:8--Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
    • Matthew 10:30--But even the hairs of your head are all numbered.
    • Psalm 139:1-2, 4, 16--Lord, you have searched me and known me! You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from afar. Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O Lordyou know it altogether. Your eyes saw my unformed substance;
      in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.
    • Isaiah 55:9--For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.
    • Our definition of God's knowledge speaks of God knowing everything in one "simple act." Here again the word simple is used in the sense "not divided into parts." This means that God is always fully aware of everything. Every bit of God's knowledge is always fully present in his consciousness; it never grows dim or fades into his nonconscious memory.
    • Finally, the definition talks about God's knowledge as not only a simple act but also an "eternal act." This means that God's knowledge never changes or grows. If it needed to do so, this would imply that it was not omniscient beforehand.
    • Some object to God's promises to forget our sins and suggest that this contradicts his omniscience.
      • Isaiah 43:25, for example--I, I am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins.
      • This should be understood to mean that God will never again let the knowledge of these sins play any part in the way he relates to us: he will "forget" them in his relationship to us.
   4. Wisdom
  • God's wisdom means that God always chooses the best goals and the best means to those goals.
  • Romans 16:27--to the only wise God be glory forevermore through Jesus Christ! Amen.
  • Job 9:4--He is wise in heart and mighty in strength—who has hardened himself against him, and succeeded?
  • Job 12:13--With God are wisdom and might; he has counsel and understanding.
  • Psalm 104:24--Lord, how manifold are your works! In wisdom have you made them all; the earth is full of your creatures.
  • God's wisdom is clearly seen in his great plan of redemption. Christ is "the wisdom of God" to those who are called (1 Cor. 1:24, 30), even though the word of the cross is "foolishness" to those who reject it and think themselves to be wise in this world (1 Cor. 1:18-20).
  • Even this is a reflection of God's wise plan: "For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. . . God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise. . . so that no human being might boast in the presence of God" (1 Cor. 1:21, 27, 29).
  • Paul knows that what we now think of as the "simple" gospel message, understandable even to the very young, reflects an amazing plan of God, which in its depths of wisdom surpasses anything man could ever have imagined. At the end of eleven chapters of reflection on the wisdom of God's plan of redemption, Paul bursts forth into spontaneous praise: "O the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!" (Rom. 11:33)
  • God's wisdom is also shown in our individual lives. In Romans 8:28-29, Paul affirms that God works wisely in all things that come into our lives, and that through all these things he advances us toward the goal of conformity to the image of Christ.
  • God's wisdom is in part communicable to us.
    • James 1:5--If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.
    • Psalm 19:7--The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul;
      the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple
    • Psalm 111:10--The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; all those who practice it have a good understanding. His praise endures forever!
  • The person who is wise according to God's standards will continually walk in dependence on the Lord and with a desire to exalt him.
  • We must also remember that God's wisdom is not entirely communicable: we can never fully share God's wisdom (Rom. 11:33). In practical terms, this means that there will frequently be times in this life when we will not be able to understand why God allowed something to happen. God is infinitely wise and we are not, and it pleases him when we have faith to trust his wisdom even when we do not understand what he is doing.
  • Every day of our lives, we may quiet our discouragement with the comfort that comes from the knowledge of God's infinite wisdom: if we are his children, we can know that he is working wisely in our lives, even today, to bring us into greater conformity into the image of Christ.
   5. Truthfulness (and Faithfulness)
  • God's truthfulness means that he is the true God, and that all his knowledge and words are both true and the final standard of truth.
  • Jeremiah 10:10-11--But the Lord is the true God; he is the living God and the everlasting King. At his wrath the earth quakes, and the nations cannot endure his indignation. Thus shall you say to them: "The gods who did not make the heavens and the earth shall perish from the earth and from under the heavens."
  • John 17:3--And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.
  • To say that God knows all things and that his knowledge is perfect is to say that he is never mistaken in his perception or understanding of the world: all that he knows and thinks is true and is a correct understanding of the nature of reality.
  • If we think the same thing God thinks about anything in the universe, we are thinking truthfully about it.
  • God is reliable and faithful in his words. God's faithfulness means that God will always do what he has said and fulfill what he has promised. (Num. 23:19)
    • Titus 1:2--in hope of eternal life, which God, who never lies, promised before the ages began
    • Hebrews 6:18--so that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us.
    • Proverbs 30:5--Every word of God proves true; he is a shield to those who take refuge in him.
  • God's words are not simply true in the sense that they conform to some standard of truthfulness outside of God. Rather, they are truth itself; they are the final standard and definition of truth.
  • Whatever conforms to God's words is true, and what fails to conform to his words is not true.
  • God's truthfulness is communicable in that we can in part imitate it by striving to have true knowledge about God and about his world.
  • We should imitate God's truthfulness in our own reaction to truth and falsehood. Like God, we should love truth and hate falsehood.
  • Falsehood and lying come not from God but from Satan, who delights in falsehood.
  • When we lie, we dishonor God and diminish his glory, for we, as those created in God's image and created for the purpose of reflecting God's glory in our lives, are acting in a way that is contrary to God's own character.
C. Moral Attributes
   6. Goodness
  • The goodness of God means that God is the final standard of good, and that all that God is and does is worthy of approval.
  • Luke 18:19--And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.
  • Psalm 34:8--Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!
  • What is "good"? "Good" is what God approves. There is no higher standard of goodness than God's own character and his approval of whatever is consistent with that character.
  • God has given us some reflection of his own sense of goodness, so that when we evaluate things in the way God created us to evaluate them, we will also approve what God approves and delight in things which he delights.
  • Our definition also states that all God does is worthy of approval.
    • Genesis 1:31--And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.
    • Romans 8:28--And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.
    • Romans 8:32--He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?
    • In imitation of this communicable attribute, we should ourselves do good (that is, we should do what God approves) and thereby imitate the goodness of our heavenly Father.
  • God's goodness is closely related to several other characteristics of his nature, among them love, mercy, patience and grace.
    • This chapter will treat love as a separate attribute since it is so prominent in Scripture.
    • The other three characteristics (mercy, patience and grace), while also prominent in Scripture, will be treated together as aspects of God's goodness to individuals in specific situations. (See point 8 below.)
   7. Love
  • God's love means that God eternally gives of himself to others.
  • This definition understands love as self-giving for the benefit of others. This attribute of God shows that it is part of his nature to give of himself in order to bring about blessing or good for others.
  • 1 John 4:8--Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.
  • We see evidence that this attribute of God was active even before creation among the members of the Trinity.
    • John 17:24--Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.
    • There was love and a giving of honor from the Father to the Son from all eternity.
    • This love is also reciprocal, for Jesus says, "I do as the Father has commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father." (John 14:31)
  • The self-giving that characterizes the Trinity finds clear expression in God's relationship to mankind.
    • 1 John 4:10--In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.
    • Romans 5:8--but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
    • John 3:16--For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.
    • Galatians 2:20--I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
  • It should cause us great joy to know that it is the purpose of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit to give of themselves to us to bring us true joy and happiness.
  • We imitate this communicable attribute of God, first by loving God in return, and second by loving others in imitation of the way God loves them.
  • All our obligations to God can be summarized in this: "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. . . You shall love your neighbor as yourself" (Matt. 22:37-38).
    • If we love God, we will obey his commandments (1 John 5:3) and thus do what is pleasing to him.
    • We will love God, not the world (1 John 2:15).
    • And we will do all this because he first loved us (1 John 4:19).
    • 1 John 4:11--Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.
    • Our love for others within the fellowship of believers is so evidently an imitation of Christ that by it the world recognizes us as his: "By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another" (John 13:35).
  • God himself gives us his love to enable us to love each other. (John 17:26; Romans 5:5)
  • Moreover, our love for our enemies especially reflects God's love. (Matt. 5:43-48)
   8. Mercy, Grace, Patience

  • God's mercy means his goodness toward those in misery and distress
  • God's grace means his goodness toward those who deserve only punishment
  • God's patience means his goodness in withholding of punishment toward those who continue to sin over a period of time.
   9. Holiness

  • God's holiness means that he is separated from sin and devoted to seeking his own honor.
  • Holiness is both separation from sin and evil AND devotion to the good of God's own honor or glory.
  • Believers are also to "strive. . . for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord" (Heb. 12:14) and to know that God's discipline is given to us "that we may share his holiness" (Heb. 12:10).
  • Not only individuals but also the church itself must grow in holiness.
    • Ephesians 2:21--in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord.
    • Ephesians 5:26-27--that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.
   10. Peace (or Order)

  • Peace does not imply inactivity
    • Although God is a God of peace, he is also the one who "will neither slumber nor sleep" (Ps. 121:4).
    • He is the God who is continually working. (John 5:17)
  • God's peace means that in God's being and in his actions he is separate from all confusion and disorder, yet he is continually active in innumerable well-ordered, fully controlled, simultaneous actions.
   11. Righteousness, Justice

  • God's righteousness means that God always acts in accordance with what is right and is himself the final standard of what is right.
  • Deuteronomy 32:4--The Rock, his work is perfect, for all his ways are justice. A God of faithfulness and without iniquity, just and upright is he.
  • Genesis 18:25--Far be it from you to do such a thing, to put the righteous to death with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked! Far be that from you! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?
  • Isaiah 45:19--I did not speak in secret, in a land of darkness;
    I did not say to the offspring of Jacob, ‘Seek me in vain.’ I the Lord speak the truth; I declare what is right.
  • As a result of God's righteousness, it is necessary that he treat people according to what they deserve. Thus, it is necessary that God punish sin, for it does not deserve reward; it is wrong and deserves punishment.
  • When Christ died to pay the penalty for our sins it showed that God was truly righteous, because he did give appropriate punishment to sin, even though he forgave his people their sins.
  • The definition of righteousness is whatever conforms to God's moral character.
  • God is the final standard of righteousness. We (his creatures) have no right to question him (the Creator) in this regard.
  • Romans 9:20-21--But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use?
  • Job 40:2, 8--Shall a faultfinder contend with the Almighty? He who argues with God, let him answer it. Will you even put me in the wrong? Will you condemn me that you may be in the right?
  • Deuteronomy 32:4--The Rock, his work is perfect, for all his ways are justice. A God of faithfulness and without iniquity, just and upright is he.
   12. Jealousy

  • Although the word jealous is frequently used in a negative sense in English, it also takes a positive sense at times, meaning "earnestly protective or watchful." It has the meaning of being deeply committed to seeking the honor or welfare of someone, whether oneself or someone else.
  • Exodus 20:5--You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God,visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me
  • Exodus 34:14--for you shall worship no other god, for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God
  • God's jealousy means that God continually seeks to protect his own honor.
  • Jealousy is often viewed as an undesirable attribute, but this is because jealousy for our own honor as human beings is almost always wrong. We do not deserve the honor that belongs to God alone.
  • Isaiah 48:11--For my own sake, for my own sake, I do it, for how should my name be profaned? My glory I will not give to another.
  • It is healthy for us spiritually when we settle in our hearts the fact that God deserves all honor and glory from his creation, and that it is right for him to seek this honor. He alone is infinitely worthy of being praised. To realize this fact and to delight in it is to find the secret of true worship.
   13. Wrath

  • God's wrath means that he intensely hates all sin.
  • As with the other attributes of God, this is an attribute for which we should thank and praise God, for what kind of God would he be if he did not hate sin? Such a God would not be worthy of worship, for sin is hateful and it is worthy of being hated.
  • We rightly imitate this attribute of God when we feel hatred against great evil, injustice, and sin.


1 comment:

hannah singer said...

thanks for posting this. i really need to read this again! especially gleaned from the "jealousy" portion. at one time, i wrestled with that about god...amongst other things. ha... i get it now, and am so grateful to have it spelled out like this to reinforce it!

praying for you xo