The Attributes of God

INCOMMUNICABLE ATTRIBUTES

A DISTINCTION

Some of God’s attributes are communicable, which means they can be shared or reflected in His creatures, such as His love (Eph. 5:1-2). By contrast, God’s incommunicable attributes are those that cannot be transferred to His creatures. For example, it is impossible for God to create another god. For anything created is by definition a creature, lacking the attributes necessary to be God.

As we examine God’s attributes, “it is important to note that God is a simple being; …He is not made up of parts [like body parts] …. Theologically speaking, God is His attributes.” And “His attributes define one another. We say, for example, that God is holy, just, immutable, and omnipotent, but His omnipotence is always a holy omnipotence, a just omnipotence, and an immutable omnipotence…. He is not one part holiness, another part omnipotent, and another part, immutability. He is altogether holy, altogether omnipotent, and altogether immutable.”

ASEITY [eternal self-existence]

The term aseity, from the Latin a sei, means ‘from oneself.’ God is self-existent. He does not depend on anything outside Himself. “God created us, which means that from our first breath we are dependent upon Him for our very existence [Acts 17:28] …. This is the supreme difference between God and us, God has no such dependence upon anything outside Himself.”

Human beings are fragile. If we go a few days without water or a few minutes without oxygen, we die…. But God cannot die. God is not dependent on anything for His being. He has the very power of being in and of Himself, which is what humans lack. We wish we had the power to keep ourselves alive forever, but we do not.”

“Aseity is an incommunicable attribute. God cannot impart His eternality to a creature, because anything that has a beginning in time is, by definition, not eternal. We can be given eternal life going forward, but we cannot get it retroactively.

“God’s immutability is linked with His aseity because God is eternally what He is and who He is. His being is incapable of mutation or change. We, as creatures, are mutable and finite. God could not create another infinite being because there can be only one infinite being.”

“Reason compellingly demands a being who possesses aseity [eternal self-existence]; without it, nothing could exist in this world. There never could have been a time when nothing existed, because if there ever was such a time, nothing could exist now…. because nothing can create itself.”

WORTHY OF PRAISE

“[God’s] incommunicable attributes reveal why we owe Him glory, honor, and praise. We stand up and give accolades to people who excel for a moment and then are heard no more, and yet the One who has the very power of being in and of Himself eternally, upon whom every one of us is absolutely dependent and to whom we owe our everlasting gratitude for every breath of air that we take, does not receive the honor and glory from His creatures that He so richly deserves. The One who is supreme deserves the obedience and the worship of those whom He has made.”

COMMUNICABLE ATTRIBUTES

God’s communicable attributes are those that can be reflected in human beings – His image-bearers. We are to “be imitators of God as dear children” (Eph. 5:1).

HOLINESS

“Primarily, God’s holiness refers to His greatness and transcendence, to the fact that He is above and beyond anything in the universe. In this regard, the holiness of God is incommunicable. He alone in His being transcends all created things. Secondarily, the word holy, as it is applied to God, refers to His purity, His absolute moral and ethical excellence. This is what God has in mind when He commands holiness from His creatures: “Be holy, for I am holy” (Lev. 11:44; 1 Peter 1:16).

“When we are grafted into Christ, we are renewed inwardly by the Holy Spirit,” who “works in us and through us to bring us into conformity with the image of Christ [Rom. 8:29].” Thus, “we are being made holy, and we look toward our glorification, when we will be completely sanctified, purified of all sin.”

LOVE

“God is love, and love is of God [1 John 4:8, 16],” and we are called to imitate His love, to “walk in love, as Christ also has loved us” (Eph. 5:2).

GOODNESS

“Believers are called to a life of good works, so with the help of the Holy Spirit we can grow in goodness,” and reflect God’s goodness [Eph. 5:9].

JUSTICE AND RIGHTEOUSNESS

The fact that God is just means He always acts according to His internal character, which is righteous altogether [Gen.18:25]. He never commits an injustice. We must not confuse mercy and grace with justice. “God is never required to be merciful or gracious.” He does not owe us grace or mercy. “If we were to be treated by God according to His justice, we would all perish. That is why…we plead that He would treat us according to His mercy and grace.”

“When the Holy Spirit changes us inwardly, that change is evidenced in an outward change of behavior. We are called to conform outwardly to the righteousness of God because we have been…made with the capacity to do what is right and to act in a just fashion…. ‘What does the LORD require of you but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?’ (Micah 6:8).

WISDOM

God “is all-wise, and we are told to act according to wisdom [Prov. 1:7].” Biblical wisdom is “found in godly living, not clever knowledge…. The purpose of gaining knowledge is to become wise in the sense of knowing how to live in a way that is pleasing to God. God Himself never makes foolish decisions or behaves in a foolish manner…. We, on the other hand, are filled with foolishness…. If we lack wisdom, we are called to pray that God, in His wisdom, would illuminate our thinking (James 1:5). He gives us His Word that we might be wise.”

[Adapted from Everyone’s a Theologian by R.C. Sproul]