Understanding Theology - Lesson 2

Attributes of God

In this lesson, Dr. Ware discusses the Doctrine of God proper: why we need to know God, his incommunicable attributes, and those attributes that in some sense are communicable to humans.

Bruce Ware
Understanding Theology
Lesson 2
Watching Now
Attributes of God

I. Introduction

A. Need to Know God!

B. Classification of Attributes

1. Incommunicable vs. Communicable

2. Transcendent vs. Immanent

C. Need for Methodological Balance in the Doctrine of God

II. Incommunicable Attributes

A. Self-Existence (Aseity)

B. Self-Sufficiency

1. Isaiah 40:12ff

2. Acts 17

C. Infinity

D. Omnipresence

E. Eternity

F. Immutability

1. In His Being

2. In His Promises

3. Responsive in Relationship

III. Communicable Attributes

A. Intellectual Attributes

1. Omniscience

2. Omnisapience

B. Moral Attributes

1. Goodness

a. Love

b. Grace

c. Mercy

2. Holiness

a. Righteousness

b. Justice

C. Attributes of God’s Rulership

1. Omnipotence

2. Sovereignty

  • Studying systematic theology in this 10-hour course will provide you with a comprehensive understanding of the doctrines of the Christian faith, from God and Christ to sin, salvation, the church, and the last things. By exploring these doctrines, you will strengthen your faith, gain hope and courage, and deepen your knowledge of God's character, work, and purposes. This course is liberating and will provide you with the truth that sets you free to live in the light of God's promises.
  • This is the first of ten lectures on Systematic Theology, a survey of the whole corpus of theology, and each lecture will be one hour long and each covering a separate doctrine or series of doctrines together. In this lesson Dr. Ware introduces the what and why of theology and discusses the foundational doctrines of Revelation and Scripture.

  • In this lesson, Dr. Ware discusses the Doctrine of God proper: why we need to know God, his incommunicable attributes, and those attributes that in some sense are communicable to humans.

  • Dr. Ware discusses the biblical basis for monotheism and trinitarianism. He also gives a brief overview of the history of the doctrine and the heresies that arose concerning the Trinity.

  • This lesson is an overview of the doctrines of humanity and sin, including a discussion of the origin of humanity, what it means to be created in the image of God, the nature and effects of sin, and original sin.

  • In this lesson, Dr. Ware discusses the doctrine of the Person of Christ, which includes his pre-incarnate existence, his incarnation, his deity and his humanity. He also discusses the important Christological passage of Philippians 2:6-8 and what does it mean that Christ “emptied” himself. Dr. Ware concludes this lesson with a discussion of the Council of Chalcedon.

  • Dr. Ware discusses the past (Atoning Savior), present (Mediator and Lord) and future (Coming Judge and Reigning King) work of Christ.

  • In this lesson, Dr. Ware discusses the person of the Holy Spirit, both his personhood and his deity. He also covers the work of the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament, in the life of Jesus, and in the church.

  • This lesson is an overview of the doctrine and process of salvation, beginning with election and then discussing calling, regeneration, conversion, justification, adoption, sanctification, perseverance, and, finally, the glorification of the believer.

  • Dr. Ware talks about the church universal and the local church. He discusses the offices of the local church, including the roles of elders and deacons. Dr. Ware also looks at how the church can be organized and what ordinances should be celebrated by a local body of believers.

  • In this final lesson, Dr. Ware gives a rationale for studying eschatology or last things. He discusses what happens to people just after they die and before the return of Christ. He also gives an overview of the various beliefs about the timing and events of the last days. He completes the lesson with a discussion of final judgment, heaven, and hell.

We all have a theology, a set of beliefs, but many are not able to articulate it or really understand it. This class will walk you through a basic evangelical understanding of God and his Word.

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Understanding Theology - Student Guide

Understanding Theology - Student Guide

We all have a theology, a set of beliefs, but many are not able to articulate them or really understand them. This class will walk you through a basic evangelical...

Understanding Theology - Student Guide

Dr. Bruce Ware
Understanding Theology
Attributes of God
Lesson Transcript

Well, we turn our attention now to the second lecture, the Doctrine of God, first part of this on the attributes of God. And first of all, just a few things by way of introduction on this. First, the need to know God. I think all of us know this, but if not, it's just important to know this or be reminded of it. And that is that God really created us for the main purpose that we know him. This is what is sometimes called the summum bonum. The greatest good of life is to know God. There is nothing greater than this. And so really the whole purpose of God's creation and redemption of us, his people, is that we wouldn't know him. Think for example of a verse or verses like Jeremiah 9:23 and 24. "Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom or the mighty man in his might or the rich man in his riches, but let him who boasts, boast in this that he understands and knows me. That I'm the Lord who exercises loving, kindness, justice and righteousness on the earth for I delight in these things declares the Lord."

So notice when he says don't boast in, he means there, don't consider those things weighty. It's the same word that's often translated in the Hebrew Bible as glory. Don't glory in these things. Don't consider them weighty. It doesn't say don't be rich, don't be wise, don't be powerful. But it says don't consider those things weighty. Don't find your significance in those things, but rather consider this weighty, that you understand and know me. So it just conveys so clearly that this is the great good in life is to know God. And it's interesting also just one more word on this, that the words understand and know, those words in Hebrew are not identical. They're obviously closely overlapping, but they're not identical. The word understand refers to correct factual knowledge. So we know God as he is, is so important. I mean in any relationship you realize this is the case.

If the relationship is built on false information, goodness, the whole relationship crumbles if that's the case. You have to have accurate, factual knowledge of the person. But then Jeremiah goes on to say, "Who understands and knows me." So knows is this Hebrew word that refers to intimate relational knowledge of God. So indeed to know God as he is and to have that intimate relationship with him in part because of what you know about him, you know him much more fully, trust him, rely upon him. This is what we're created to know. Or to jump to the New Testament, think of Paul's statement in Philippians chapter three. "Whatever things were gain to me," and of course he enumerated a number of those things. "Whatever was gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be lost in view of what? The surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord."

So indeed knowing Christ is for Paul the greatest good, all these other things pale that he used to find so important for his own identity, for his importance in life, for his significance. But he's put all those aside for the sake of knowing Christ. Now if you're tracking with me, you might have this question, but have you changed subjects? Because Jeremiah talked about knowing God. Paul here is talking about knowing Christ. Is that a different thing? And my answer would be no it's not different, it's expanded. So now we know God in Christ as we talked about in the previous lecture, that God is revealed most fully through Christ. So indeed the eternal son of the Father who is himself fully God has made himself known in human form. And so we see God through Christ in the greatest way. So indeed knowing God, the need to know God is really at the heart of what all of theology is about, and hence coming to see God as he is in his character and his work in the world is one of the greatest joys we have as Christian people.

Secondly, by way of introduction, classification of attributes. There has been a lot of discussion through the centuries of how best to communicate what God has revealed concerning himself in scripture, particularly his character, characteristic or attributes of God. So classifications have been given to them. I think probably the most helpful classifications are these. One is the distinction between attributes of God's transcendence and attributes of his immanence. Transcendence referring to his otherness, his greatness, his beyondness, his independence from this world that he has created. Immanence, referring to the attributes of God's nearness, that he is with us, that he caress for us and compassionate and kind. So indeed both of these attributes of God's transcendence and immanence are very important in understanding the fullness of who God is. Look for just one moment at Isaiah 57:15, which interestingly puts both these attributes of transcendence and immanence together in the same verse.

Verse 15, Isaiah 57:15, "For thus says the high and exalted one who lives forever, whose name is holy. I dwell in a high and a holy place." And also, our jaw should drop right there. "And also with the contrite and lowly of spirit in order to revive the spirit of the lowly and revive the heart of the contrite." So indeed, yes, God is this mighty God who dwells in unapproachable light and in holiness and in majesty and glory, but he has also deemed it good and right to dwell with us, we who are needy and contrite and who realize our dependence upon him. He who is independent comes to us who are deeply dependent upon him. Another classification of attributes that is very helpful is the distinction between God's incommunicable and communicable attributes. This is the one you'll find I use in the lecture upcoming because I think it is a helpful way of distinguishing between attributes that are true of God alone.

Those are incommunicable. So the notion of communicating here is not talking or speaking or writing, but rather like a communicable disease. You can pass on the very substance of what you have. If you have a cold, it's a communicable kind of a disease. You could pass on your cold to another person. So incommunicable attributes are attributes that are true of God alone and cannot be passed on to finite creatures. They're God's alone, whereas communicable attributes are attributes that are true of God, but he can also pass on some portion of those attributes in finite measure to us finite creatures. So God is holy, but we are called to be holy as he is. So in some way we too can share in that particular attribute. And then finally, the need for methodological balance in the doctrine of God. I think there has been in the history of the church, take transcendence and immanence as an example of this, a tendency to highlight one side, as it were, of the set of attributes of God and diminish the importance of the other side.

So through much of church history, the transcendence of God was emphasized in a way that the immanence of God was diminished, right? You think of the great cathedrals in Europe, what were they attempting to do by their architecture? Well, magnify the greatness, the awesomeness of God, his grandeur, his unapproachableness, and to make you feel little as you walked into that great cathedral. So indeed transcendence is highlighted the immanence of God, his closeness, his nearness, his being with us. Really was not a part of so much of medieval Catholicism and much of the church through history until we come to more recent centuries. But the church made a shift and the culture made a shift. Definitely the pendulum swung from an overemphasis on transcendence in our day and for a few centuries.

Now this has been the case to an overemphasis of immanence that God is with us, he's kind, he's generous, he's compassionate, forgiving, and all of those wonderful things which are true. But the fact that we rush to the divine immanence and have not really given thought as we ought to to the glory and the greatness and the majesty and the holiness of God in his transcendent fullness and excellency means that we really do misunderstand even the attributes of the immanence of God that we have rushed to. We love to talk about the love of God, but do we understand that love? Or when we hear that, do we think, "Well, of course he loves me because aren't I worthy? Don't I deserve this?" We have this entitlement mentality, self-esteem mentality, and so we hear those attributes of God and we misunderstand how amazing it is. So even though we sing Amazing Grace, the John Newton hymn, I wonder we mean it, if we know what that means.

"Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me." I mean, I think many of us think of the grace of God as what we're entitled to. Well, of course we get that because we deserve it, but this is not the case. So to see God in his holiness as Isaiah did in Isaiah 6, to see God's majesty and his purity leaves us on the ground on our faces, "Woe is me. I am ruined. I'm a man of unclean lips," as Isaiah realized. So seeing the transcendence of God and his immanence in a balanced way is so important in understanding the God of the Bible, the true and living God correctly. 

All right, well, having made those points of introduction, let's move on now to the attributes of God themselves in these two categories of incommunicable and communicable attributes, and we'll start with incommunicable.

You can see several of them there on the outline. First of all, self existence, sometimes referred to as aseity, that God has life in himself. He is not given life like you and I are or granted existence by something else like everything in existence is. That God's existence is in his very nature. It is his nature to exist, hence he himself existent. And it is a very, very important doctrine because you realize if God were not self existent then he would be dependent upon someone else or something else and that other thing would be greater than God. That other thing accounts for God being who he is, but no, he's not accounted for by anything else. He's accounted for only by the fact that he is who he is as the eternal God. His existence is his own within himself. I think this is implied in Genesis 1:1 where we read in the beginning, God, well in the beginning of what? Of the universe that he spoke into existence in the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.

So the very fact that God created what is contingent, what is dependent, what is temporal indicates God stands outside of those very things. He himself is not contingent, he himself is not dependent. He himself is not temporal. He stands outside of that as the eternally existing God, the one who has his existence in himself. And also I think you see this in the statement to Moses in Exodus 3:14, Moses asks the Lord at this account where he turns aside to seeing the bush burning and he asks the Lord, "When I go back to Egypt and tell the people that you sent me to deliver them out of the hands of the Egyptians, who shall I say sent me?" And God says to Moses, "Tell them I Am sent you." I Am among other things it's a very rich term, but among other things it conveys the notion of the amness of God. Amness, right? He always is, that God is the one who is eternally God and is God in and of himself. 

The second attribute flows right out of self existence and that self-sufficiency. And of course these two really are tied together closely to say that God is self-sufficient is to say that God possesses within himself eternally and intrinsically every quality in infinite measure. So God's not dependent upon anything outside of himself for who he is as God in his existence or what he has as God. Because all those qualities that are God's, everything that is qualitatively good, is possessed by God within himself intrinsically and eternally and in infinite measure. So indeed he has no need for this created world. It's one of the implications of this doctrine is it is not the case that when God created the world he was lonely. He had this emptiness in his heart and he needed to create something so he could have fellowship with others. That is not true. It's really demeaning to God to think that way that God created as an overflow of who he is out of his infinite fullness, to share with us the bounty that he enjoys infinitely and gloriously as God.

So indeed we become the needy ones, not God, the needy ones who need him, his knowledge becoming our knowledge, his wisdom becoming our wisdom, his holiness becoming our holiness, his love and compassion becoming our love and compassion, his qualities in finite measure reproduced in us. This is why we are here and why God has redeemed us. For self-sufficiency, you might think for example, a classic passage is Acts 17:24 and 25 where Paul has been summoned to the Areopagus in Athens to tell them who this God is that he's been speaking of in the marketplace. And he says, "Here is who God is, the God who made the world and all things in it since he is Lord of heaven and earth doesn't dwell in temples made with hands. Neither is he served by human hands as though he needed anything since he himself gives to all people life and breath and all things."

So indeed this God is self-sufficient. He doesn't need anything as though he needed anything. Paul makes that clear and he talks first of all about God being creator because he creates all, he then is the one who has everything within himself. So creation doesn't add anything to God. Creation is a reflection in physical visible form of qualities inherent in God's nature. His wisdom put on display, his power put on display, his beauty put on display in the created order. So God is self-existent, self-sufficient and he's infinite. Now, the word infinite is a negative term. It simply means not finite. So what does it mean to be finite, to be limited, bounded, restricted. So God has no limitations in his attributes. I remember as a boy, I grew up in a Christian home, in a Baptist church, and when I learned about God creating the world in six days and then rested on the seventh day, I thought to myself as a young boy, well of course he did.

He must've been really tired because I just had views of work exhausting you and hence God rested because he ran out power. Not the case, he never runs out of power. This is not why he rested on the seventh day. He was just completed. He completed everything he wanted to do, but God never is diminished in any of his qualities. I mean, just think of that. Marvel at the fact His love is always of an infinite measure. His holiness is always an infinite measure. His power is always an infinite measure. So there's no boundary to the fullness of who God is. There's a statement of this in Psalm 147:5 that doesn't relate to every quality of God, but nonetheless, I think it gives us the idea of infinity. Psalm 147:5, "Great is our Lord in abundant in strength. His understanding is without measure or infinite."

It's actually translated in the NASB as infinite, without measure is a literal translation. So the strength of the Lord is abundant. I think really he's tying into that notion of without measure also and the understanding of the Lord. So his knowledge, his understanding, these are aspects of the fullness of God for which that is true. He has all that he has in infinite measure. And then there are a couple ways that the church has always thought of God's limitlessness, infinity, limitlessness, and that is in terms of space and time. So God is not limited in his existence in space is omnipresence. He's not limited, is in his existence by space. So indeed we are limited where we are. I'm in this room recording this and you're listening wherever you are, there are limitations that we all face. We have to travel to get to one place to another.

But God is unlimited really in two ways. One is insofar as before he created the world, there was no space. So he is in his own nature, non-spatial, but then when he creates the world, he fills all that he creates. He's present in every point of space as Psalm 139 reminds us, "Where can I flee from your spirit? Where can I go from your presence?" Verses seven and following, in Psalm 139 we read about the presence of God everywhere. And so indeed he is both non-spatial in his own existence as God and everywhere present, omnipresent in relation to the created universe that he has made.

And something similar to that can be said in terms of God's relation to time, capital letter, Eternity. So God is not limited in his existence by time as we are. We came to be at a particular point. When you were conceived in your mother's womb, You began at that point. Even though we live forever, we still have a temporal existence. It's bound in time. God, however, never had a beginning to his existence, right? He's self-existent, eternal, meaning he always exists as God. He never starts. He always is the one true and living God. And again, similar to the question of God in space, there are two ways in which God is unlimited in relation to time. One is that before God created the world, there was no time. He created time and space together when he created the universe. And so God in himself, apart from creation is non-temporal, just like he's non-spatial, he's non-temporal in and of himself. But then likewise, when he creates the world, he fills all that he creates. And that filling of all that he creates is not only that he is everywhere present, but he is in every moment of time. He is there through all of the history of the universe, he's present. So a passage like Psalm 90 in the early verses of it I think is very instructive on this.

The psalmist writes, "Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations." Do you hear that? Right away you realize what he's talking about is the duration of God's presence with his people in all generations. "Before the mountains were born or you gave birth to the earth and the world, even from everlasting to everlasting, you are God." So indeed in relation to created order he is there in every moment of time omnipresence. He is there in every point of space. I mean, this should be tremendously reassuring to believers to realize the presence of God with them everywhere they go. Any time of their life, he is there with them, with what? With all of his power, with all of his goodness, with his mercy and his grace, with his wisdom, he is there for them. And so indeed the presence of God with his people in time and space is a precious thing. While we realize God in himself doesn't need time and space, he exists apart from those things, but he's able to come in and dwell with us in our mode of existence as it were, as finite creatures. 

And then finally, immutability is the last of these incommunicable attributes to consider. And here immutability, as you look at the Bible on this, it really refers to two areas of God's life where God is immutable. God cannot change, that's what immutable means. God cannot change in the essential attributes of his very being. God cannot change in the essential attributes of his very being or in the ethical commitments that he has made to his moral creatures. God cannot change in the essential attributes of his very being nor in the ethical commitments that are an extension of his moral will given to his moral beings.

You might think of that first one as ontological immutability. Ontology is a word that simply means being. So the very being of God cannot change in the essential attributes. So God cannot not be holy, he cannot not be loving, he cannot not be wise. He is always infinitely those things and cannot be otherwise, right? So it's an absolute sense of immutability in terms of the character of God. But notice in terms of the ethical commitments of God, these are contingently necessary. The first are absolutely necessary, the essential attributes of God, God's very being. Those are essential necessities of God, but the word of God, the will of God, the promises of God, these are contingently necessary. Contingent upon what? On God choosing to make those promises to state those words, right?

So God didn't have to promise to Abraham, "Leave Ur the Chaldees and I will make of you a great nation and bless the world through you." He didn't have to make that promise to Abraham. But once he does, it's locked in, right? So the promises of God will be fulfilled. He never goes back on his word. He is faithful to all that he says. And so indeed we realize this ethical immutability of God, true to his word, faithful to his promises is one of the greatest strengths of the Christian life and faith to take God at his word and believe he will do what he says and he will fulfill his promises. And the reason we know it has to be is because it's predicated upon his absolute attributes. God is truth. He cannot lie. And so indeed what he says then must be an expression of who he is and therefore that word of his is true. It also relates to our earlier doctrine of inspiration of scripture.

If this is God speaking in the scriptures, then indeed it must be true because God always speaks the truth. So two ways in which God is immutable, his essential attributes, his very being and the ethical commitments. The first one is absolutely necessary. The second one, contingently necessary contingent upon God, choosing freely to make those promises, speak that word as he does. But once he does it's set. Take a look at a couple passages with me on immutability because they are just so beautiful. Psalm 102:25-27, which by the way is quoted in the book of Hebrews chapter one of Christ, which is really an amazing thing to consider. I won't take time to go into that right now, but you can think about that that a bit later.

Psalm 102:25-27, "Of old you founded the earth and the heavens are the work of your hands. Even they will perish, but you endure. All of them will wear out like a garment, like clothing you will change them and they will be changed. But you are the same and your years will not come to an end." You see it. So indeed what the psalmist does is he picks the things which for him have the greatest fixedness to them, the heavens above and the ground that he lays on at night. And he says, "You founded the earth the heavens. They will perish. They will wear out like a garment. The things that in his experience are the most stable things he knows of, but they will perish. But you are the same." So indeed the constancy of God in his being.

Consider James 1:17, another statement of the immutability of God, James 1:17 where we read, 'Every good and perfect gift is from above coming down from the father of lights with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow." So what gives us confidence that God only gives good gifts? Because God is God and he doesn't change his character being good means he cannot do... Look back at verse 13, "Let no one say When he is tempted." I'm being tempted of God. No, God doesn't do that right? He only does good for his people because he is the constant God that he is. 

Now, just one more quick word on this, that doesn't mean that there are not some ways that God changes in relationship to us. So I've argued for a category that we had to add to the immutability of God's nature, the immutability of his word, and that is the mutability, the changeableness of his relation with us. So when a sinner repents, goodness, we're no longer children of wrath, as Paul describes us in Ephesians 2:3, we're no longer children of wrath, we become children of God. The minute we put our faith in Christ, we are adopted as sons and daughters of God. So this relationship with God changes as our ethical situation changes, but all that does is reflect the permanence of God's own character and his word. The reason he changes in relation to us when we repent is because he promised. "When a sinner repents, I will receive him as my own." 

All right, let's move on then to the communicable attributes. And I have these organized here in terms of intellectual, moral and rulership attributes. And these are not hard and fast fixed categories because you can see overlap. One obvious example is omnisapience or the wisdom of God is every bit as much a moral category as it is intellectual, right? So wisdom is a function of the intellect, but it also is governed by moral behavior and moral standards. So these are categories that are helpful in terms of giving the preponderance but not exclusive in terms of what they describe. So first of all, intellectual attributes. 

And here two of them, omniscience is the first, and that is simply to say that God knows everything that is knowable, that's what omniscience means. God knows everything that is knowable. And if you ask what is knowable, what can be known, the answer really is, God knows everything possible and actual. So those are two categories. He knows everything that possibly could be and actually is, but he also knows in terms of what actually is, he knows everything past, present, and future. So he knows everything possible and actual. And then of what is actual, he knows everything past, present, and future.

So indeed the knowledge of God is just an overwhelming reality in scripture and very important to us, the people of God. It's interesting in the book of Isaiah, oftentimes Isaiah will give defense or God through the prophet Isaiah will give defense of the deity of God that he is the true God. Why? Because he can declare the future. He's the one who knows what's going to take place and can proclaim it before it actually happens. So look with me for example, just to give you one feel for this. In Isaiah 41 beginning of verse 21, Isaiah 41:21, God through the prophet Isaiah says, "Present your case," the Lord says, this is to the false gods to idols, pretender, deities. "Present your case, bring forward your strong arguments, the king of Jacob says, let them bring forth and declare to us what is going to take place."

Predict the future as for the former events, declare what they were. So when did you ever say in the past what's taking place now? That's the point he's making there that we may consider them and know their outcome or announce to us what is coming state now, what's going to come in the future. Declare the things that are going to come afterwards that we may know that you are gods, indeed do good or evil do something, right? He says to these idols who cannot do anything, "That we may anxiously look about us in fear together, behold, this is God's assessment of them. You are of no account. Your work amounts to nothing. He who chooses you is an abomination." So indeed, it's just one of many passages we could look at that indicate this is how important it is to affirm that God knows everything past, present, and future, that he can declare what's going to take place in the future and is able to demonstrate by that that he's God.

He's the one who knows the end from the beginning. A statement out of Isaiah 46, "Declaring the end from the beginning." So the omniscience of God then establishes his knowledge of everything past, present, and future. Some of you may know that this area of God's future knowledge came under great scrutiny in a couple decades past with open theism that denied that God knows the future exhaustively, that he cannot know the future free actions of human beings. But when you look at scripture and all of its teaching that particularly a divine prophecy, you realize God knows so many things that he predicts ahead of time that he brings to pass, that have to take place through human agency. And so you can't say that because they're free, he can't know it. They're free and they do it and he announced it ahead of time and there is abundant biblical evidence for that.

Secondly, omnisapience. So not only does God know everything that can be known, but he's able to use that knowledge. Here's my definition of wisdom. Wisdom is the application of God's infinite knowledge in a manner that accomplishes his morally perfect ends by morally upright means. The application of God's infinite knowledge in a manner that accomplishes his morally perfect ends by morally upright means. So it isn't sufficient simply to say that wisdom is the application of knowledge. I take it that a very clever bank robber applies knowledge to do what he does, but we wouldn't call that wisdom. Certainly we would not call it wisdom biblically. So biblical wisdom is the use of knowledge toward what end? Toward doing what is morally upright by what means, by morally perfect means, right? So we never use means that are unjust, that are wrong and evil, nor do we seek to accomplish ends that are wrong or evil.

So God uses his wisdom always in a way that accomplishes his morally upright ends through morally perfect means to do that. And notice it's his application of infinite knowledge. So God doesn't suffer from the problems that we have, namely having limited information. "Oh, if I'd only known about that accident on the freeway, I wouldn't have gone this way." God doesn't ever have that problem. He doesn't lack relevant information in any decision that he makes. He always knows everything perfectly and he has a moral character to govern his application of that knowledge, to use it in ways that are truly wise, bringing about what is best and what is just and upright and only God knows what those things are. So really this attribute humbles us in recognizing we know so little compared to God and our wisdom is so flawed compared to him. So goodness, God's admonishment to us is trust me, right?"Look to me," he says, "I'm the one who knows I'm the one who has wisdom. Trust my knowledge, trust my wisdom, not your own." 

Moving on now to the moral attributes of God. You'll notice here I have two broad categories, goodness and holiness with other attributes that fall under each of those. And I think of these as the kind of poles as it were to God's own moral character of goodness and holiness, which in God, apart from creation and apart from sin, are in complete harmony. There's no tension at all between goodness and holiness. God's goodness loves his holiness. His holiness is good. So there is no disparity in any way in God. However, when you introduce creation and sin into the mix, you realize God's attitude of goodness towards sinful creatures may want one thing. His attitude of holiness towards sinful creatures may demand something else.

So indeed there is this tension that is resolved in Christian theology in the cross of Christ where God devised a means by which his good ends of saving those whom he loves is brought about by the holy means of bringing judgment against our sin in his son. So there is where you see the tension in goodness and holiness is in the way in which God relates with sinners, but in God there is no tension, no conflict, no division whatsoever. 

So let's think about these. The goodness of God then refers to his own intrinsic disposition by which he seeks to show kindness to others the intrinsic disposition of God by which he seeks to show kindness to others. And I take it, this is the broadest category because God is good all the time in every way. However, when you move on then to love and grace and mercy, you realize all three of these are in categories in which God shows love when he chooses in the ways that he chooses to do so.

Same thing with grace and mercy, and some people have thought no love is not in that category, love's in the category that God must love, right? He is love, he must love. Well, Jacob, have I loved? Esau, have I hated? Romans 9:13. You realize in that that is indicating a disposition of God by which he chooses to show favor, love, to Jacob that he chooses not to show to Esau. And some people have tried to get around this by saying, "Well, it's only because of things that Jacob did and Esau did that God wasn't able to love Esau the way that he did Jacob." The problem with that is the context, right? So leading up to that statement in verse 13, we read these words, "Before the two were born," that is Jacob and Esau, Before either had done anything good or bad that the choice of God might stand, it was said to her, the older will serve the younger," as it is written, quoting Malachi 1, "Jacob have I love? Esau, have I hated?"

So you realize that indeed the love of God in its most prominent expression in the Bible is in fact his selective redeeming love that he expresses only to some. Here's another example of that is Ephesians 1:5. Remember verse four was he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. Then verse five, in love, he predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to himself. So indeed the love of God manifests as adoption. It's a beautiful image because you realize that when you adopt a child in that act of adopting, you choose to shower upon that child benefits that you don't give to all the other children in the orphanage, but you give to that one or those adopted ones because they are yours. So this has God in love, he predestine us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to himself.

So indeed the love of God then is in his predominant sense, his selective redemptive love for his ode, for his elect, those whom he has chosen. But there is also the general love of God taught in the Bible, although it's taught very few places. The most prominent one is John 3:16. "God so loved the world that he gave His only-begotten son that whoever believes in him will not perish but have everlasting life." So it is the case then that the gift of Christ is a gift for the world offered to everyone. So the gospel should go out to the whole world. We don't try to divine who's elected and who's not. We share the gospel with everyone because Christ was given for the world. And yet we know that the redeeming love of God will only draw his own to that gospel message. And yet there is a sense in which his love is manifested by the fact that Christ is offered to the whole world as John 3:16 indicates.

And then grace and mercy, these are sometimes I think confused or misunderstood. So let me just give you a definition for each of these. Grace, first of all refers to the unmerited favor of God, given to those who are undeserving of that favor or good pleasure. Grace is the unmerited favor of God given to those who are undeserving of that favor or good pleasure. So getting what you don't deserve is the grace of God. You can't earn it. You can't work for it. Think of Ephesians 2:8-9. "By grace, you have been saved through faith that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God." By the way, it's interesting how often gift and grace are in the same verse or same context because what is a gift? You don't deserve it. That's the point of a gift, right? "So by grace you've been saved through faith, not as a result of work. It's the gift of God so that no one should boast." So indeed we don't deserve it. It's God's gift to us, unmerited favor. Another verse where you see gift and grace together is Romans 3:24. “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God being justified as a gift by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.”

Mercy on the other hand, has a slightly different meaning to it. Mercy refers to the compassion or pity of God expressed to those who are in dire need, those who are downcast, helpless, and hopeless. Mercy is the compassion or pity of God expressed to those in dire need who are downcast, helpless, and hopeless. So we even use that word in our culture today. A mercy ministry normally refers to going to people who are in need for whatever reason. Maybe it's poverty, maybe it's because of a natural disaster, but a mercy ministry carries that idea of favor shown to those who are in need. And certainly that is the case with us as believers, that apart from Christ we are in need.

So think for example of Ephesians 2:4-5. Remember the first three verses described our condition this way, "You are dead in your trespasses and sins in which you formerly walked according to the courts of the world, according to the prince of the power of the heir of the spirit that is now working in sons of disobedience among them. We to all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind and were by nature children of wrath even as the rest." So here's our dire need that is expressed in verses one to three, but God being rich in mercy because of his great love with what he loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ. So indeed it is the mercy of God that comes to us in our dire need. You can see this also in Titus 3:5. 

All right then moving on to the holiness of God, the moral attributes under holiness. Let me talk about holiness first for just a bit and then we'll move on to righteousness and justice. Holiness refers to the fact that God is eternally separate and distinct from all impurity, and he demands purity from his moral creatures. He is separate and distinct from all impurity, and he demands purity from his moral creatures. So indeed there is a sense in which God's separateness, in his holiness indicates the Godness of God. He is God because he is separate from all else, and that's manifest in a particular way in his being separate from impurity. Look at Psalm 99 with me for just a moment. Psalm 99, the first five verses talks about two ways in which God should be understood as holy. The first one you might think of as metaphysical holiness, his holiness that indicates his separateness from all creatures, all things created verses one to three, "The Lord reigns, let the peoples tremble, he's enthroned above the cherubim, let the earth shake. The Lord is great in Zion, he is exalted above the peoples. Let them praise your great and awesome name. Holy is he."

So holy is he at the end of verse three wraps up this idea of God being separate from above, beyond, greater than everything that is created. All of the peoples of the world, the cherubim, everything else. But then verses four and five, it shifts the focus. “The strength of the king loves justice. You have established equity, you have executed justice and righteousness in Jacob, Exalt the Lord our God in worship at his footstool. Holy is he." So there holiness wraps up the notions of God's moral character, his justice, his righteousness, his equity, his doing what is right. So both of these represent the holiness of God in his own being separate from all things created, in his moral nature separate from all impurity. So indeed the fullness of God in himself is holy and in his relations with others is holy, always doing what is right. Separation is a key word to understand holiness. And this is helpful because there's some places in the Bible where the holiness of God or holiness is spoken of in contexts that seemed odd.

For example, the people of Israel are told to eat only certain foods. They can't have a ham sandwich or certain kinds of foods to eat, and you have to have to wear certain clothes, right? Why? Because you are a holy people and you think, "Well, is there something about eating those things that is impure or wearing a material that has a mixture of different fabrics together that's impure?" No, the word holy really refers to distinction or separateness. So the people of Israel are to be marked off as a separate people, a distinct people, because indeed they don't eat foods like everyone else does. Don't wear clothes like everyone else does. They're a distinct people. So that distinction I think is a helpful thing to see. 

Now, righteousness and justice flow out of his holiness. Righteousness refers to this, it refers to God's perfect conformity, to his own intrinsic holy moral nature. God's perfect conformity to his own intrinsic holy, moral nature in word, thought, attitude, and action. In word thought, attitude, and action. God is separate from all that is apart from him. And he acts in a way that expresses his holiness in word, thought, attitude, and action. So you might think of righteousness as the rightness of God, the rightness of God. He's right in his word. He's right in his attitude, right in his action. So God in word thought, attitude, and action is always right in all that he says and does. So here are just a couple passages for righteousness. We won't take time to look at them, but Ezra 9:15, Psalm 119: 137- 138. 

And then justice. The justice of God then flows out of his righteousness and the justice of God refers to the fact that God establishes just standards for his people to live by. And he judges them appropriately according to those standards. He establishes standards for his people that are reflective of his own holy nature and he judges them according to those standards. So what one refers to the legislative justice of God, he legislates the law. He gives us the law by which we are to live. And then the other one refers to the distributive justice of God. He distributes either punishment or reward, remuneration. So those can be thought of as retributive justice and remunerative justice. He distributes those to people who have either kept his word or gone against it. Let me give you just a couple passages on legislative justice. Psalm 119. Obviously the whole Psalm is about the law of the Lord. Psalm 19:7-11 and Romans 7:12 referring to the law is holy and righteous and good. And then the distributive justice of God that he distributes either reward or punishment. Romans 2:5-11, Romans 2:5-11 and Galatians 6:7-10, Galatians 6:7-10.

And then finally the last category here are attributes of God's rulership and two of them to consider with you first omnipotence. And this is simply to say that God can do anything that is consistent with his nature as God. God can do anything consistent with his nature as God. Now, it's important that we don't put a period after God can do anything because we're told that the Bible God cannot lie. God cannot die. I mean there are many things actually that we can do that God cannot do. Well bully for us. It's only because we have imperfections. So which is greater to be able always to tell the truth or to be able to tell the truth or lie, which is greater? Obviously always to tell the truth. So God, because he's perfect, because he's always right in all of his ways, then always tells the truth.

And so he cannot be limited by the limitation comes with us limited by being able to lie also. Augustine in The City of God, Book V chapter 10 says this, "The power of God is not diminished when it is said that he cannot die and he cannot sin and he cannot lie for if he could do these things, his power would be less, not more." Isn't that great? "The power of God is not diminished when it is said that he cannot die or cannot sin or cannot lie, for if he could do these things, his power would be less, not more." And of course, the omnipotence of God is seen all through the scriptures and is highlighted in the almightiness of God. You might think for example in Revelation 1:8 and 4:8, they express the almighty nature of God. We see it in statements like the promise at the birth of Isaac and Sarah laughs and God says, "Is anything too difficult for the Lord?" Genesis 18:14. So indeed God can do anything consistent with his nature as God.

And then finally the sovereignty of God. Let me give you a definition first of all, of the sovereignty of God. And then just a couple passages that highlight this. To say that God is sovereign is to say that God plans and carries out his perfect will completely as he alone knows is best, and he does so without failure or defeat. God plans and carries out his perfect will as he alone knows his best and he does so without failure or defeat. I think one of the strongest passages in the Bible that speaks of this sovereign rulership of God to will and carry out his will is in Daniel chapter four, spoken from an unlikely source, namely a pagan king, but a pagan king Nebuchadnezzar, who has been chastened by God put to pasture for seven years until he learned that the most high rules over the realm of mankind and be so that on whomever he wishes." So that's what Nebuchadnezzar learned. And as the enlightened chastened Nebuchadnezzar, he now declares this in verses 34 and 35 of Daniel 4, Daniel 4:34, "His dominion is an everlasting dominion and his kingdom endures from generation to generation all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing. But he does according to his will in the host of the heavens and among the inhabitants of the earth and no one can ward off his hand or say to him, 'What have you done?'" Boy, what a powerful passage. What he says, by the way, in verse 35, "All the inhabitants of the earth," everyone, no exception, "All the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing." The context here tells you what he means by that. Listen to the next phrase, "But he does according to his will." So in what sense are they nothing? They cannot thwart the will of God. He will accomplish his will. Do you see it? He is always successful, always triumphant, always does whatever he wills to do and nothing can thwart him. How extensive is that?

Well, he does according to his will in the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth. Once the first time in the Bible we came across heaven and earth. Genesis 1:1 right in the beginning, God created the heavens of the earth. So indeed, if he does his will in the heavens and earth, that means it all created reality. Everything that God has made stands subject to him and he does his will there. And finally, when it says at the end of that verse, "And no one can say to him, what have you done?" This is not the innocent question of a seeker wondering what is God doing in this suffering I'm going through or something like that. This is rather a question with a finger pointing at God with an accusation attached, claiming God has been wrong in what he's been doing. And here Nebuchadnezzar says, "No one can say to him, what have you done?" In other words, you can never accuse God of wrongdoing. Why? Because his ways are always right.

So one more verse and then we'll call it quits,Ephesians 1:11, very short, but also very powerful in terms of the sovereignty of God. Paul is listing here, a number of the blessings that God is bringing to us as his people in this early portion of Ephesians chapter one, and he comes to this one in verse 11. "We also have obtained an inheritance having been predestined according to his purpose, who works all things after the counsel of his will. So Paul is amplifying here this inheritance that we receive. He mentions it three times in Ephesians 1. It's a big deal. It really means all of the riches of Christ, everything that Christ won for us by his death and resurrection is ours. That's the inheritance.

So we've been predestined to have this inheritance having been predestined according to his purpose. Now look at this. "Who works all things after the counsel of his will." Think with me, if he works all things after the counsel of his will, how much must he have willed? All things, do you see it? He can't work everything according to the counsel of his will if he hasn't willed it. So if he works everything according to the counsel of his will, he has willed everything and then works it according to that will in order to accomplish his purposes, which include predestining us to receive the inheritance. Amazing, isn't it? So indeed, God reigns as sovereign overall. He does according to his will in the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth. No one can ward off his hand or say to him, "What have you done?"

When you talked about the attributes that are communicable, how are they communicable to us? Because God holds them in infinite measure. How are they communicated to us?

Right, right. So what's true of the communicable attributes is that God possesses all of them infinitely as you indicated in your question. But we do possess them in some measure finitely as opposed to we don't possess self-existence in a finite way, that's impossible. Or self-sufficiency in a finite way. So the attributes of God's incommunicable attributes cannot be shared as it were in some finite measure, but the attributes of his communicable attributes can be his power, his holiness, his knowledge can be shared with us. His wisdom can be shared with us in finite measure. And in fact, that's really a large part of what God's intended purpose with us is, is to fill us up with himself. So he creates us empty in that sense to be filled with him, his knowledge becoming ours, his love becoming ours, his wisdom becoming ours, his holiness becoming ours. So indeed the infinite fullness of God poured into finite vessels so that we can experience in finite measure something of the great joy and fulfillment that God knows as God.

Would one example of that be the ability that we have to create things like art or different things like that because we can't create the world out of nothing. But we can create with the things that we have based on the abilities and the talents that God's given us.

Yes, yes, good. That's a very good point. So we can't create in the same way he does, but we can create in a different way. We can take what is here and manipulate it in some way. God can bring into existence out of nothing what wasn't here before, but we cannot do that, right? Yeah.

So when you talk about God's omniscience and his sovereignty where he has the ability to accomplish his will, how does that different from fatalism and how does that still mean that our choices are real choices and they're meaningful?

Right, right. That's a very good question. Well, fatalism is different from this view of divine sovereignty in two ways. In fatalism, there really is no reason for why things happen. They just happen. There's a sense in which it's inevitable. It couldn't have been different, and there's no basis for understanding a reason behind it. Whereas in all of the sovereign decree of God, his determination of all that takes place, he has reasons we may not be privy to those. In fact, in many cases we're not. In most cases we're not. But nonetheless, God knows why he's doing these things that he's doing. He has purposes in them. The other thing is in fatalism, it doesn't account for genuine human freedom. It really does cancel out our freedom.

Whereas biblically, you realize God's sovereignty works with human freedom. Now, how that works would take a little longer to discuss. But I think reformed people like myself have come to the conclusion that we have to be compatibilists. We have to understand that divine sovereignty and human freedom go together even if we cannot understand fully how they go together. So a passage like Acts 2:23, that Christ was delivered up by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God. Was nailed to the cross by the hands of godless men and put him to death. So when you ask the question, "How did Christ get on that cross?" You have to give two answers. You have to say, "God did it." Predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God.

And you have to say, "Wicked men did it." And in either answer is a partial answer. The whole answer is God and human beings. And that reality of compatibilism that the compatibility of divine sovereignty and human freedom can be illustrated by literally hundreds of passages. It's really amazing. It's not some little, often the corner area of biblical teaching. It's all over the place. It's really quite astonishing. I mean, leading us to conclude, we realize this just has to be whether we can comprehend how or not. And I think we can comprehend more of how than some people think. But in any case, I'm not going into that at this point. We have to affirm that both are true. Yeah.

You mentioned, I think the very first incommunicable attribute was God's self existence.


Which is almost unfathomable how that can be. Christians, Jews, and Muslims would agree to that, to God's self-existence that he exists outside the creation. But Eastern religions and Pantheists, probably the Greeks and Romans had a different viewpoint of a God who was somehow part of the creation or in the creation. How would those people even explain a beginning, if that's a question I can ask? It just seems like we can't really describe self-existence. I understand it, but they sort of skirt the issue, it seems to me.

Yeah. I think people who don't hold to a self-existing eternal God who then brings into existence a contingent universe, have a very difficult time explaining how we are here. How can we account for the fact that there is a world? Because what they try to do is attribute to this world the notion of necessity that is not true of any part of this world. Every part of this world is contingent. Well, if every part of this world is contingent, how does the whole of it have the attribute of necessity? But that's really what they end up having to try to do.

And it is logically fallacious to do that because there's no basis. It's simply an ideological move to make the claim that it is necessary that the world be or the gods. In the case you're talking about in some of the ancient near Eastern religions and Greek religions and so on, that the gods had predecessors, they were birthed by others. And so it goes back, it's an infinite regress, as it were. But the problem with that is that there's no way to account for all of it as necessary if no part of it is necessary. So all of it is contingent. So it's a fallacious argument.



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