The Character of God: “Communicable” Attributes – Chapter 12
Reading Systematic Theology with Wayne Grudem – Chapter 12: “Communicable” Attributes (Part 1): How is God like us in his being, and in mental and moral attributes?
This post is part of a 50+ post series from the classic work by Wayne Grudem (PhD, Cambridge), Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine. The aim of each post is to provide an overview of each chapter in the book and related resources for each topic.
Synopsis of Chapter
In this 2nd of 3 chapters on the attributes of God, Wayne Grudem begins to describe the communicable attributes of God. He outlines the next two chapters on the communicable attributes or “those attributes God shares or ‘communicates’ with us”. Here is the outline he follows:
A. Attributes Describing God’s Being
B. Mental Attributes
3. Knowledge (or Omniscience)
5. Truthfulness (and Faithfulness)
C. Moral Attributes
8. Mercy (Grace, Patience)
10. Peace (or Order)
11. Righteousness (or Justice)
D. Attributes of Purpose
3. Omnipotence (or Power, and Sovereignty)
E. “Summary” Attributes
Attributes Describing God’s Being: Spirituality
The first of God’s communicable attributes is spirituality. God’s spirituality can be defined as “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.”
The Scripture declares, “God is spirit.” (John 4:24) We should not think of God as having dimensions or size – even infinite ones. God is not part of space. He is spiritual. God enshrined this concept early on in Biblical history when he commanded the Israelites in the Ten Commandments not to worship any image or likeness of God (Exodus 20:4-6). God is unlike anything else in creation so he forbids his people to compare him by pictifying him in a worship setting.
Attributes Describing God’s Being: Invisibility
Just as God is spirit, God is also invisible. The means “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.”
Several verses explain how we cannot see God:
- “No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.” (John 1:18)
- “To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.” (1 Timothy 1:17)
- “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 Timothy 6:16)
- “No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.” (1 John 4:12)
So in one sense, we cannot see God. He is invisible to our ways of detecting his nature. In fact, God told Moses “for man shall not see me and live.” (Exodus 33:20). We cannot see God in his total essence. But in another sense, we can see manifestations of God. We can see God through his image in people (Genesis 1:27), through creation (Psalm 19:1), and even his invisible attributes through creation (Romans 1:20).
God’s Mental Attributes: Knowledge (Omniscience)
Moving on to the mental attributes of God, we come to knowledge. God knows everything. More specifically, “God fully knows himself and all things actual and possible in one simple and eternal act.” This is sometimes referred to as omniscience.
Many verses point to God’s knowledge including…
- “Do you know the balancings of the clouds, the wondrous works of him who is perfect in knowledge.” (Job 37:16)
- “For whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything.” (1 John 3:20)
- “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.” (Hebrews 4:13)
God knowledge is unlike ours or even computer knowledge. He already knows words before they are on our tongue (Psalm 139:4) and the number of our days before we are born (Psalm 139:16). Amazingly God knows the outcome of potential events even if they never happen. Jesus said, “For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they (Chorazin & Bethsaida) would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes.” (Matthew 11:21) The extent of God’s knowledge is astounding. It is so elevated, it compelled David to say, “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high; I cannot attain it.” (Psalm 139:6)
God’s Mental Attributes: Wisdom
Beyond knowledge, God is wise. God’s wisdom means “God always chooses the best goals and the best means to those goals.” And he chooses those best goals well. God is the “only wise God” (Romans 16:7), is “wise in heart” (Job 9:4), made all things in wisdom (Psalm 104:24), and has “counsel and understanding” (Job 12:13).
But not everyone understands God’s wisdom. The world, with its backward value-system, turned God’s wisdom into foolishness – so they cannot understand it. Paul said…
“Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 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.” (1 Corinthians 1:20:21)
God’s Mental Attributes: Truthfulness (and Faithfulness)
More than being wise, God is also true. “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.”
In contrast to being a false god, the Lord God revealed in Scripture is the true God (Jeremiah 10:10-11). Other gods are idols and do not possess the characteristics of true deity. They are not perfect in power, wisdom, goodness, love, or justice. Moreover, they are created beings, unlike the true God who is uncreated.
Just as the God of Scripture is the true God, he also tells the truth. “Every word of God proves true” (Proverbs 30:5). God’s word is truth (John 17:17), and God does not lie (Titus 1:2). God’s truthfulness is intricately woven into his character. This stands in contrast to the world, which does not always tell the truth. Friends, family, bosses, colleagues, and everyone else may lie, but God never lies.
God’s Moral Attributes: Goodness
Just as God is true, God is good as well. “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.”
Goodness can be a relative term, but this is not the way it’s being used. In the case with God, God is good and everything is worthy of approval to him. Goodness is not ultimately defined by us, by the US Constitution, or by the high priest of the Church of Satan. God is good to him and it is from him that we derive our understanding of what goodness is. There is no higher standard of goodness to which anyone can appeal.
- “For the Lord is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations.” (Psalm 100:5)
- “Praise the Lord! Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever!” (Psalm 106:1)
- “Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!” (Psalm 34:8)
God’s Moral Attributes: Love
More than good, God also demonstrates love in his character. “God’s love means that God eternally gives himself to others.”
God is love (1 John 4:8). This love is expressed in the Father toward the Son (John 17:24), in the Son toward the Father (John 14:31), in God’s love toward the world (John 3:16), and in God’s love toward believers even while we were sinners (Romans 5:8). God’s love is immense and expansive in Scripture.
And we are to express a measure of that love toward others. When discussing the most important commandment in Scripture, Jesus pointed his hearers to love.
“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:36:40)
God’s Moral Attributes: Mercy, Grace, Patience
God’s attributes of love and goodness can be demonstrated in three other attributes: mercy, grace, and patience. “God’s mercy means God’s goodness toward those in misery and distress. God’s grace means God’s goodness toward those who deserve only punishment. God’s patience means God’s goodness in withholding of punishment toward those who sin over a period of time.”
In both the Old and New Testaments, these attributes are often found together. For this reason, it seems best to keep them tied in this post.
- “The Lord passed before him and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness” (Exodus 34:6)
- “The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.” (Psalm 103:8)
- “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort” (2 Corinthians 1:3)
God’s Moral Attributes: Holiness
God is good, but God is also holy. “God’s holiness means that he is separated from sin and devoted to seeking his own honor.” It contains both a relational quality in separation from evil and a moral quality in devotion to God. God is holy and expects his people to be holy.
- “I will also praise you with the harp for your faithfulness, O my God; I will sing praises to you with the lyre, O Holy One of Israel.” (Psalm 71:22)
- “Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord? And who shall stand in his holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to what is false and does not swear deceitfully.” (Psalm 24:3-4)
- “Since it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy.’” (1 Peter 1:16)
God’s Moral Attributes: Peace (or Order)
God is also a God of peace. “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.”
The Scripture is clear about God’s order: “For God is not a God of confusion but of peace.” (1 Corinthians 14:33a). God is not interested in disorder, turmoil, or any other form of confusion. God delights in peace, structure, and order. And it’s not about inactivity or stasis. Instead, God is active in controlled activity in his wisdom, knowledge, and power.
God’s Moral Attributes: Righteousness, Justice
As God is a God of peace, he is also right in everything he does. “God’s righteousness means God always acts in accordance with what is right and is himself the final standard of what is right.” The original words for righteousness/justice were the same words in both Hebrew and Greek, so the concepts are very similar (if not synonymous) in the Bible.
God acts righteously and he defines what is just. He will do right (Genesis 18:25), his precepts are right (Psalm 19:8), and he declares with is right (Isaiah 45:19). Though we may not get what we deserve because of our faith in Jesus (Romans 3:25-26), those outside of Christ will ultimately get justice for their rebellion against God because God is always just and righteous.
Because God defines what is just and always does what is right, nobody can rightly question the legitimacy of God’s actions. Those who question God’s justice are rebuked in Scripture. In Job, God reproached Job for questioning his judgements, “Will you even put me in the wrong? Will you condemn me that you may be in the right? (Job 40:8). God then enumerated how different Job was from God. In the same way, Paul rebuked those who would accuse God about his decisions given God’s status as Creator and their position as creatures. (Rom 9:20-21) Bottom line, God makes the rules and determines what is right and just.
God’s Moral Attributes: Jealousy
Likewise, God is a jealous God. “God’s jealousy means that God continually seeks to protect his own honor.” Though jealousy may often contain a negative connotation, jealousy can be positive as it often is in Scripture. As a husband is jealous for the affections of his wife, so also is God jealous for the affections of his people.
- “(for you shall worship no other god, for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God)” (Exodus 34:14)
- “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 fourth generation of those who hate me.” (Deuteronomy 5:9)
- “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.” (Isaiah 48:11)
God’s Moral Attributes: Wrath
Finally, God is God of wrath. “God’s wrath means that he intensely hates all sin.” The Bible frequently speaks of God’s wrath against sin in both the Old and New Testaments. God wanted his wrath to burn against his people (Exodus 32:9-10), God’s wrath rests on those who do not obey the son (John 3:36), and God’s wrath is against all ungodliness and unrighteousness in men (Romans 1:18). Many other verses in both Testaments speak of God’s wrath.
Though God is a God of wrath, Christians do not need to fear God’s wrath. We were children of wrath before our conversion (Ephesians 2:3), but God has delivered us from the wrath to come (1 Thessalonians 1:10). God’s wrath is real and is present now, but genuine Christians should rest confidently in the finished work of Jesus for salvation from the coming judgement upon the world accentuated by God’s wrath.
“The Lord passed before him and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, 7 keeping steadfast love for thousands,[a] forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.” (Exodus 34:6-7)
- attributes of being
- beatific vision
- communicable attributes
- mental attributes
- moral attributes
- one simple and eternal act
- reasonable self-determination
Resources: Wayne Grudem
- Wayne Grudem: Book: Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine
- Wayne Grudem: 148 Lectures on Systematic Theology at Scottsdale Bible Church
- Blue Letter Bible: The Attributes of God (Overview)
- Harry L. Reeder III (video: 1:53): How Should We Distinguish Between God’s Incommunicable and Communicable Attributes?
- Matt Slick: What Are The Communicable and Incommunicable Attributes of God?
- Richard L. Pratt, Jr.: Communicable & Incommunicable Attributes of God