Today, we are going learn what is God. It is indeed a privilege for our Christian to receive God’s special revelation of Himself. While many Christians consider this task lofty or even treats it with contempt, but as God’s people, we revel in such tasks. God’s Word reveals God’s glory and as God’s people we receive it with humility and gladness in our hearts. But can we really know God intimately? Is it really possible for us mere mortals to understand the beauty and grace of our Lord? Well, Jesus himself, as written by the apostle John, assures us on this matter. He said, “And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent ( John 17:3).” And the apostle John himself wrote to his congregation, reiterating this matter to us when he said: “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us— that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete (1 John 1:1-4.)”
Indeed, the God’s glory shines upon as God reveals himself to us from his Word. And today, we are going to study God’s Word and learn from the Westminster Shorter Catechism as our guide. In question #4, it asks the question: What is God? and it answers: “God is a Spirit, Whose being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth are infinite, eternal, and unchangeable.” Now, the Catechism offers quite a condensed answer. Yet by studying them, we need unpack each terms and visit particular verses from Scriptures in order to establish the points. To organize we can categorize the answer into two major parts and they comprises our sermon points: 1) The Incommunicable Attributes; 2) The Communicable Attributes. The Incommunicable attributes listed are: infinite, eternal, and unchangeable while the Communicable attributes are: wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth are infinite, eternal, and unchangeable. Now as a prologue we need to explain first the meaning of the terms Spirit, Being, and Attributes. That way we can get familiar with these summarizing theological terms.
So before we begin, let us pray:
Our heavenly Father, we ask You to look upon us in grace, as we look away from ourselves into the face of Your Son, whom You have appointed our Mediator and Savior. As all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are in Your Son, guide us by Your Holy Spirit into the true understanding of the doctrines of Christ. May our meditation upon His truth produce in us the fruit of righteousness to the glory and exaltation of His name, the instruction and edification of this congregation, and the salvation of the lost through our witness. We pray this in the name and favor of Your well-beloved Son, Jesus Christ, in dependence on His Holy Spirit. Amen.
So we begin with the term “Spirit”. This word signifies for us an essential difference to the nature and being of Creator God compared to the rest of his creation. Question #4 asks What is God? This first deals with essential quality of the Godhead or the divine nature wholly shared by the Three Persons of God. Again, what is God answers the One Being of God while who is God refers to the God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.
Now the being of God is a Spirit (John 4:24) This was revealed to us by Jesus himself when he was talking to the Samaritan woman near the well. Their topic was about worship and Jesus was pointing out to the woman the true of nature of worship. Worship is spiritual. Jesus’ mission was to call true worshippers of God who worships God in spirit and in truth. And in here Jesus made clear that the worship of God is not confined the boundaries of physical limitations like temples made by hands. Instead, God being a Spirit and present anywhere at all times, can be worshipped everywhere.
So what does it mean that God is a Spirit?
Simply put, God is not composite or a a combination of parts to make the whole. Rather, God is and he goes beyond any bounds or limits. Jesus explains what being a Spirit means when he said in Luke 24:39: “See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” In context, Jesus tries to correct the mistaken notion that he was a spirit (verse 37). Rather, he points out to his disciples that he truly resurrected after his death and he now possesses a glorified body. In this verse 39, Jesus categorizes Spirit with having non-flesh (body and soul). Again, Jesus is both divine and human and in terms of nature he possesses both but what he was referring to here is his human nature. It is not a Spirit like God or even the angels.
Why is it important to know God is a Spirit? Because we need to remind ourselves that God is not like us in this being. He is essentially wholly other. He is transcendent. Yes in the Old Testament God is often pictured in humanistic terms but they only anthropological. They are divine accommodation in order for us to understand his work. God is a Spirit he is unlike humans who possess a material aspect.
Now, the first incommunicable attribute of God listed by the Catechism after Spirit is infinite. Incommunicable means a characteristic God does not share with his creation. They are exclusively God’s and his alone. Attribute means what God is. And since he is a Spirit his infinite nature goes beyond the limits of his creation. Yes the angels and even our soul is essentially a spirit but God’s Spirit is infinite while angel’s spirit is finite. They are created Spirits and dependent of God’s infinite Spirit.
God’s infinite nature means in positive terms is considered as immense and in negative terms is regarded as without limit our boundless. King Solomon asks and answered: “But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you; how much less this house that I have built (1 King 8:27)!” In context, Solomon just finished building God’s temple in Jerusalem and in his dedication speech he uttered these words in recognition of God’s uncontainable glory. So when we say God is infinite here it refers to his omnipresence and Solomon acknowledges the fact that God is a Spirit and goes beyond the walls of the temple. God is present everywhere. This obviously connects to Jesus’ point of worshipping God beyond the temple made by hands.
Now, aside from God’s infinite presence, the catechism listed eternality as the second incommunicable attribute. Eternal means always present and without beginning and ending. Only God is eternal. He is the Creator of all things and the only necessary and absolute being. There was no time God was not. This true to God in all his persons. The psalmist wrote: “Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations. Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God (Psalm 90:1-2).” In context the psalmist recognizes the insignificance of men compared to God. He exclaimed: “You return man to dust and say, “Return, O children of man!” For a thousand years in your sight are but as yesterday when it is past (verses 3-4).” God will outlast any man from generation to generation. He alone endures and perpetually exist beyond any creature. This correlates to the third and last incommunicable attribute which is immutability.
Now, unchangeable means in positive terms as God remaining the same and negatively put, he does not change. Scripture both in the Old and New Testaments reveals this fact. In Malachi 3:6, the prophet wrote God saying: “For I am the Lord, I change not; therefore are ye sons of Jacob not consumed.” and in James 1:17, the apostle declares God as “The Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.” Both clearly and plainly declares God’s immutability. While it seems in some parts of Scripture God relents (Amos 7:6 and etc.), we insist on God’s unchangeable nature. John Flavel asks this question and answers: “Question: But it is said, God repents, and Repentance is a change; How then is he Unchangeable, and yet repents? Answer:. In those phrases God speaks to us, as we must speak of, and to him; not properly, but after the manner of men; and it only notes a change in his outward Providence, not in his Nature.” God’s nature does change even though Scripture records any change in his outward providence.
So this completes the incommunicable attributes and in summary they are infinite, eternal, and immutable. Let us go on to the list of communicable attributes.
We need to understand that God is a a Spirit and his attributes are not his attributes are never taken as his parts or components which makes up the whole. God is perfectly infinite, eternal, and immutable. They are his attributes possessed fully by whole of his nature and while our language and use of it limits our explanation of what God is, we need to clearly reinforce this concept to avoid any misconception. So whenever we are considering any of his attributes we need to receive them as God’s and never imagine them as something creaturely.
Moving forward from this there are attributes of God which he freely shares or communicates to use and they are his wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth. These attributes are called communicable attributes not because we can take a piece of these God-like attributes and make it our own. Rather, God shares them to us in a limited, finite, and creaturely sense. At this point, we can have an idea of what it means when we explain each of these characteristics because as human we also possess them in certain creaturely sense. Take for example wisdom. Now God’s wisdom is infinite, eternal, and immutable and when he shares his wisdom to us in a finite and limited sense. Also, God wisdom is complete and unchanging, he does need to learn anything new. Comparing this man, we know our knowledge needs to increase and because it is corrupted, we need the Holy Spirit to renew our minds. Same holds true with power. God is our Almighty God and while we exercise any power here on earth, they are only in a limited sense. We all depend on God as the ultimate source of all power and strength. We cannot generate anything on our own. This also true when it comes to holiness, justice, goodness, and truth.
So these attributes communicated to us are primarily known to us from Scripture and we can listed here below:
- Psalm 147:5. Great is our Lord, and of great power: his understanding is infinite.
- Romans 16:27. To God only wise, be glory through Jesus Christ for ever. Amen.
- Genesis 17:1. And when Abram was ninety years old and nine, the Lord appeared to Abram, and said unto him, I am the Almighty God; walk before me, and be thou perfect.
- Revelation 19:6. And I heard as it were the voice of a great multitude, and as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of mighty thunderings, saying, Alleluia: for the Lord God omnipotent reigneth.
- Isaiah 57:15. For thus saith the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy; I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones.
- John 17:11. And now I am no more in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to thee. Holy Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one, as we are.
- Revelation 4:8. And the four beasts had each of them six wings about him; and they were full of eyes within: and they rest not day and night, saying, Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, which was, and is, and is to come.
- Deuteronomy 32:4. He is the Rock, his work is perfect: for all his ways are judgment: a God of truth and without iniquity, just and right is he.
- Psalm 100:5. For the Lord is good; his mercy is everlasting; and his truth endureth to all generations.
- Romans 2:4. Or despisest thou the riches of his goodness and forbearance and longsuffering; not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance?
- Exodus 34:6. And the Lord passed by before him, and proclaimed, The Lord, The Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth.
- Psalm 117:2. For his merciful kindness is great toward us: and the truth of the Lord endureth for ever. Praise ye the Lord.
Scriptures do not allow any loft ideas about God. The knowledge referred to in John 17:3 pertains to an intimate knowledge of God. None of these attributes will ultimately make any sense to us without acknowledging our need for faith and repentance. Yes, saving faith requires knowledge but even though we acknowledge them to be true, without trust they avail of nothing but historical or even temporary faith. Life-giving faith that comes from God enables us to trust God in all his attributes. This is what Scripture teaches for us to believe and to receive. Theology leads to proper doxology. Doxology means to praise and glory. And worship is the proper place for theology. We cannot worship a God we do not know. We cannot receive the benefits Christ procured for us without taking Christ himself. Unless regenerated, we cannot commune with the Triune God. God shares himself to us through faith and by his Spirit and this our union with Him. So let us continue to pray for God to regenerate the hearts of his people and call them in a loving communion to himself.
ZCRC(Imus), this is our God. Let us glorify him and enjoy him forever. Let us receive him for what He is and meditate on them with thanksgiving and praise. May the God who is infinite, eternal, immutable, wise, powerful, holy, just, good and true continue to be us his people. Amen.
Rev. Lance Filio is a minister of the Word and Sacraments at Zion Cornerstone Reformed Church (Imus). He finished his Bachelor Degree in Electronics Engineering at Mapua Institute of Technology and He is currently taking his Master of Arts in Theological Studies (MATS) at MINTS. He lives in Taguig City, Philippines with his wife and three children.