Updated: Feb 5, 2020
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(Note: I relied heavily upon Doctrine of God by John Frame and A New Systematic of the Christian Faith by Robert L Reymond in preparation, so I will reference these works at the beginning as a resource for their due credit.)
What is God like?
Have you ever been hit by the majesty of God, the immense wonder of how great he is? If you ever find your affections cold toward the study of God or of scripture, then I suggest you draw near. The closer you get to the fire of his glory the quicker the ice of doubts and muck that can grow on our hearts will melt before the weight of his majesty. Much of the process of growth in the Christian life will bound to this process of seeing God more and more as he is, valuing him and treasuring him above all. All theology begins and ends here: to see and treasure God by applying his word to all areas of life.
As we begin our introduction to the doctrine of God, it is important to remember that we must begin in this study the way we began this course by going to the scriptures. All teaching, doctrine and theology must begin with the God of scripture and what he has revealed. (2 Tim. 3:16) As we pursue the knowledge of God, we need it firm in our mind that we are not chasing speculations, not chasing ideas sourced in human minds, or philosophical wandering into a shadow of truth, but rather we are pursuing to accurately know the God of scripture. Francis Schaefer used to say, “The God who is there.” He is indeed the only God who is there. There are no other “gods” besides God and God alone.
We’re going to briefly consider The New City Catechism question, “What is God?” What is God like? Our catechism summarizes the biblical truth as this: “God is the creator and sustainer of everyone and everything. He is eternal, infinite, and unchangeable in his power and perfection, goodness and glory, wisdom, justice, and truth. Nothing happens except through him and by his will.” We’re going to break this down into four main points.
God is one.
The catechism begins with “God” in the singular. In many man-made world religions, the concept is that the divine exists in the plural. Many ancient and modern religions worship and embrace a multiplicity and pantheon of gods as the ones who rule and govern this universe. The worship of many gods is known as polytheism. The God of scripture however defines himself as one God and the only God. (Deuteronomy 6:4-5, Eph. 4:6, 1 Cor. 8:4-6) God has copyrighted the title “God” and claims identity theft each time any idea or person is exalted by men to divine status. In Isaiah 44:6-8, God challenges the “gods” of the people, and polytheism. He says, “Thus says the Lord, the King of Israel and his Redeemer, the Lord of hosts: I am the first and I am the last; besides me there is no god. Who is like me? Let him proclaim I. [a] Let him declare and set it before me, since I appointed an ancient people. Let them declare what is to come, and what will happen. Fear not, nor be afraid; have I not told you from of old and declared it? And you are my witnesses! Is there a God besides me? There is no Rock; I know not any.”
This is one of the most important and basic truths that God has made known about himself: God is the only God there is. The term for worshipping one God is known as monotheism and that makes us monotheists. The reason we’re monotheists is because God is a monotheist. God doesn’t believe in other gods. God has no other gods before him. He alone is God. All polytheistic religions err because they suppress the knowledge of the one true and living God. They substitute idols and so called “gods”, which are really the creations of the sinful imaginations of men, for the true God. God alone is the creator and ruler of this universe. John Frame said in his Doctrine of God, “There is one God who is Lord of all. He is the sole object of worship, the sole controller of the world, the ultimate authority to whom we must be subject, and the only Savior and Judge.”
God is the creator and sustainer.
Genesis 1:1 infamously introduces us to one of the most basic things we need to know about this one true God: he made us. (Gen.1:1, Psalm 33:6-9, Rev. 4:11, Daniel 2:20-23, Isaiah 42:5, 44:6-8, Psalm 135:5-7, Psalm 104) The universe, in which we live, from the stars above to the tiles on the floor, originates from God. All that exists comes from God. All things were made by him. We don’t worship a created object or being but the creator of all things. God is the creator, and not only the creator but also the sustainer of the universe. Everything in this universe depends upon God for its existence each passing second. All the molecules in this room are actively upheld by divine decree and order.
God is not served by human hands; he is not dependent on us for anything. He loves us freely; he shows grace to us freely. And good news: he entered into his own creation in the person and work of Jesus freely, not because he needed our help, but because we really need his. God is self-sufficient, made this whole universe and maintains it. When approaching any endeavor or any great plans we have, we must remember that if God does not build the house, the laborers build in vain.
God is eternal, infinite and unchangeable in his “being.” (Psalm 102:25-28, Daniel 6:26, Psalm 90:1-4, James 1:17) As we approach the next section in The New City Catechism, it says that God “is eternal, infinite and unchangeable.” Some of the older catechisms, like The Westminster Catechism, say something similar, “God is eternal, infinite and unchangeable” but add “in his being.” God in his being and his nature is eternal, infinite and unchangeable. We’re going to go through each one of these and allow our minds to be stretched by the immensity of the being of God.
Eternal: God is eternal. This means that God, as he has revealed himself in scripture, has no beginning or ending. He does not age or grow, but eternally is. God teaches this about himself in Psalm 29:10, 45:6, 48:14, 90:2, 4, 102:25-27 and Isaiah 40:28.
Infinite: God’s being is everlasting, spanning from eternity past to eternity future. This alone is mind boggling. The being of God is not finite, that is limited to the spatial confines of the universe or limited to one place. Robert L. Reymond notes on the wording of The Westminster Catechism, that infinite in his being means, “God is omnipresent, that is to say, that God transcends all spatial limitations and is immediately present in every part of his creation, or (what amounts to the same thing) that everything and everybody are immediately in his presence.” (Psalm 139:7-10, 1 Kings 8:27, Prov. 15:3, Jer. 23:23-24, Ezekiel 8:12, Acts 17:27-28) God is immanent in all his creation but is not in the creation, in the way a pantheist God would be for instance. In pantheism, God and nature are one. In biblical monotheism, God creates nature and transcends far above it, yet throughout all creation his presence is immanent. God is ontologically distinct from what he has made.
Unchangeable: Not only is God eternal and omnipresent, but he is unchangeable or immutable. His being, nature and character do not change, but remain the same. (Numbers 23:19, 1 Samuel 15:29, Psalm 102:26, Malachi 3:6, James 1:17) God always acts according to his unchangeable and immutable person and purpose. However, this does not mean that God is incapable of doing things or acting or interacting with us. God is not forced into this, but according to his own will and purpose voluntarily condescends and empathizes with us, interacts with us for his glory and the good of his people. Unchangeable asserts that God is “fixed” in his character, his will and eternal purpose, and then acts accordingly. It does not mean that he does not interact with us or act in history. God’s nature is the same all the time.
D.A. Carson on “What is God?”#2 in The New City Catechism Devotional
As we continue, I want to quote from The New City Catechism Devotional, which I highly recommend, in the section on “What is God?” D.A Carson wrote this for the modern portion of the commentary: “It is spectacularly wonderful to talk about God, to think about him. There cannot be any higher subject. But the word God itself is not an empty cipher. Just because somebody uses the word God and then somebody else uses the word God, it does not follow that they mean the same thing. God, for some, is an inexpressible feeling, or it’s the unmoved cause at the beginning of the universe, or it’s a being full of
transcendence. But we’re talking about the God of the Bible, and the God of the Bible is self-defined. He talks about himself as being eternal and righteous. He’s the God of love. He’s the God of transcendence; that is, he’s above space and time and history. Yet he is the immanent God; that is, he is so much with us that we cannot possibly escape from him. He is everywhere. He is unchangeable. He is truthful. He is reliable. He’s personal. What’s really important to see and understand, as God has disclosed himself not only in words but in the whole storyline of the Bible’s narrative, is that we are not permitted to take one attribute of God and make everything of it. We cannot, let’s say, take his sovereignty and forget his goodness. Or take his goodness and forget his holiness (his holiness is what makes him the God of judgment). Or take his judgment, even the severity of his judgment, and forget that he’s the God of love, the God who has so much loved even his rebellious creatures that ultimately he sent his Son to bear their sin in his own body on the tree.
In other words, to get to the heart of who God is and to bow before him in some small measure of genuine understanding, it’s important to think through what the Bible says again and again and integrate the whole with the same balance and proportion that Scripture itself gives. That calls us to worship. And if we put anything else in the place of God, that is the very definition of idolatry.”
The attributes of God according to The New City Catechism
“We have now arrived at the final section of the Catechism and exploration of the question, “What is God like?”. In this last part we’re going to be looking at how God is Powerful, Perfect, Good, Glorious, Wise, Just and True, and what each of these mean especially when each of these attributes are defined as each being “eternal, infinite and unchangeable””.
God is omnipotent. This means God has all authority as Lord over everything to do as he absolutely pleases free from any outside or superior restraints. God is the most High over everything. (Gen 18:14, Psalm 115:3, Jeremiah 32:17, 26-27, Eph. 1:19-20) I remember hearing an atheist’s big argument that he believed would settle and prove God doesn’t exist. He said, “If God is all powerful and can do anything, then can he make a rock that he himself cannot lift?” This was the ground-shaking argument for him. God must not be all powerful and, therefore, God must not be. And, I just thought, “What?” All powerful does not mean God will do the nonsensical. It means God can do whatever he wants, or more technically, God is free to do all in accordance with his own nature and will. Scripture itself teaches us that God cannot lie, change, or break a promise. There are things he can’t do because he absolutely is unwilling to do by definition of who he is. Can God make square circles? Of course not, because God is logical, sensible so square circles are not in accord with who he is. That kind of illogical thought is not in accordance with the nature of God. He has power however, to do all that he pleases.
B. Perfection (Matthew 5:48)
All of God’s ways are excellent; they are supreme and absolute perfection. There is no error, or incompleteness and neither is he at all fallible as we are. He is perfect. Anselm of Cantebury (I’m getting this quote from John Frame’s Doctrine of God.) once said, “God is a being than which no greater can be conceived.”
Sometimes “goodness” is used to refer to the moral perfection of God, and his inherent excellence, but we think the catechism is referring here to God’s kind and gracious disposition and will do good towards his creatures. God’s goodness is his benevolence.
(Ex 33:19, Psalm 73:1, Psalm 106:1, 44-46, Psalm 118:1, 29, Ezekiel 33:11, Micah 7:18, Matt 45-48, Acts 14:7, 1 John 4:7 God is Love)
God’s glory is his infinite value, and worth, and when God glorifies himself, he puts that intrinsic value and worth on public display to be seen. Psalm 24:7-8, “Lift up your heads, O gates, And be lifted up, O ancient doors, That the King of glory may come in! Who is the King of glory? The LORD strong and mighty, The LORD mighty in battle.” Psalm 29:3, “The voice of the LORD is upon the waters; The God of glory thunders, The LORD is over many waters.” Psalm 104:1, “Bless the LORD, O my soul! O LORD my God, You are very great; You are clothed with splendor and majesty.” Isaiah 35:2, “It will blossom profusely and rejoice with rejoicing and shout of joy. The glory of Lebanon will be given to it, the majesty of Carmel and Sharon they will see the glory of the LORD, the majesty of our God.”
To be followers of Jesus, God in the flesh, God had to open our eyes to see the glory of God in Jesus. 2 Cor. 4:4-6, “In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants[c] for Jesus' sake. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”
There are two facets to God’s knowledge: The first is God knows all things, all future, all possibilities, all outcomes, and everything there is to know. He’s omniscient. He knows every bit of truth there is. Every choice he makes is the best one. We are not all wise, but God is, so any possible conception that God could have chosen to do something better is simply wrong. God always, always, always knows what to do and what is right and most excellent.
(1 Sam 2:3, 16:7, Job 37:16, Psalm 33:13, 94:9-11, 104:24, 139:1-4, 15-16, Proverbs 15:3, Isaiah 40:13-14, 46:10, 1 John 3:20.)
God is just, meaning that in all his rewarding and punishing, every judgment he makes is fair and right. God always is righteous. (Psalm 9:7-8, 96:10-13, Isaiah 5:16)
God is trustworthy. For the attribute that God is “true”, Robert L. Reymond says, “He is logically rational, ethically reliable and covenantly faithful and that he always has been, and always will be unchangeably so.”(A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith, Ch.6) (Titus 1:2, Numbers 23:19, Rom 3:4)
There are two more attributes that could have been covered in some of the other ones, but I just felt that they’re so important that they probably should be dealt with separately here at the end. God is holy. This means that God is absolutely transcendent and exalted in his Godness. It also means he is totally pure and undefiled by sin. He is absolutely holy. Isaiah 6 teaches us as much. The holiness of God causes us to tremble before him. In fact, you could say the worst news for a sinner to hear is that God is holy because, as R.C. Sproul used to say, “God is holy. And we are not.” We are defiled by sin and wickedness. When we come in contact with a God like this who has all power, wisdom, perfection, and who sees all that we do, how can we ever have a right relationship with him?
The second attribute that we haven’t listed is that God is merciful. Only for his mercy are we able to receive grace upon grace through Christ Jesus our Lord, who took our sins and crucified them so we could have God in all his glory, for his glory.
As we’ve explored many of these attributes and aspects of God, it's possible for us to think that these are all different compartments of God, or we could fall into pitting these attributes against one another, pitting his mercy and benevolence against his justice and holiness. We could end up trying to make one of the attributes higher than others or more essential to God’s being than others. God, however, is not divided. God’s being is one and unified. These attributes are simply different aspects of the one being of God.
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