Ans: The Scriptures teach that God is consistent in his love, grace and mercy.
Jn. 3:16. For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
1 Jn. 4:8, 16. 8He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love....16And we have known and believed the love that God hath to us. God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him.
See also: Ex. 34:6–7; Psa. 23:6; 103: 8–14; 136:1–26; Rom. 8:35, 38–39; Gal. 2:20; Eph. 1:6; 2:4–5.
God has a general benevolence toward his entire creation. This causes him to providentially care for this creation, including the land (Lev. 26:34– 35; 2 Chron. 36:21), the plants (Matt. 6:28–30), the animals (Deut. 25:4; Psa. 147:9; Matt. 10:29; 12:11–12) and mankind (Matt. 10:28–31; Rom. 8:28– 39). This general benevolence, however, must not be confused with his redemptive love. This love must possess a definite moral character or quality. Redemptive love is in perfect harmony with other attributes of God. It is a holy, righteous, infinite, intelligent, gracious and perfect love. Such a love must have definite objects; by necessity such love could not be indefinite or nebulous in nature. The objects of this Divine, redemptive love are the elect of God among the Jews and the Gentiles (Jn. 3:16; Eph. 1:3–7). Christians are to reflect this love in their own lives and relationships (Matt. 22:36–40; Jn. 13:34–35; Rom. 13:8–10; 1 Jn. 3:10–18).
Grace is unmerited [undeserved] favor in the place or stead of merited [deserved] wrath. Divine grace views sinners as wholly or totally undeserving of love and kindness, yet moves toward them for blessing rather than the wrath and judgment they so rightly deserve. There are two aspects of Divine grace toward sinful men: common grace, or the kindness of God toward men in general, and saving grace, or the redemptive purpose of God exercised personally and effectually toward the objects of salvation in both eternity and time. See Question 78.
As grace views sinners as undeserving, mercy views them as suffering under the ravages and limitations of sin, and takes pity upon them (Psa. 103:13–17). The Scriptures emphasize that God’s “mercy endures forever” (Psa. 136), i.e., that he is long–suffering and shows his loving kindness and pity to those who do not deserve it. Have you found this grace and mercy?
Ans: The Scriptures teach that God is absolutely holy, just and righteous, or morally self–consistent.
1 Pet. 1:15–16. 15But as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation; 16Because it is written, Be ye holy; for I am holy.
Psa. 145:17. The LORD is righteous in all his ways, and holy in all his works.
See also: Isa. 6:1–3; 57:15; Rom. 3:21–26.
God is morally self–consistent, i.e., he is absolutely holy and righteous, and therefore cannot be inconsistent in his moral character. He is both right and righteous, never wrong or unrighteous. Because God is absolutely righteous, whatever he does or commands is right (Gen. 18:25). Because God is absolute and transcendent, there is no higher moral law or principle than the moral character of God. Man is fully accountable to God, but God is in no way accountable to man—or anyone else. Although God is not accountable to man, yet believers are challenged to argue his promises and persevere in earnest prayer (Lk. 11:1–13; 18:1–8; Jas. 5:16–18).
God is absolute, never arbitrary, as he himself is both the source, support and end of all things and is morally self–consistent [absolutely righteous]. Because God is morally self–consistent or absolutely righteous, he cannot arbitrarily set aside sin—he must be propitiated. His moral self–consistency demands that either the sinner be punished, or an innocent, suitable substitute take the sinner’s place [vicarious or substitutionary atonement]. The eternal, redemptive purpose of God is to redeem a covenant people, make them conformable to his moral self–consistency and conform them to the image of his Son (Rom. 8:29; 2 Cor. 3:17–18; Eph. 1:3–7; 1 Pet. 1:15–16; 2:9). This redemptive purpose necessarily delivers from the guilt, penalty [justification], pollution, power [sanctification] and presence [glorification] of sin (Rom. 8:29–30). Have you been reconciled to this God through the Lord Jesus Christ?
Ans: The Scriptures teach that God has eternally purposed all things without exception for his own glory and the highest good.
Eph. 1:11. In whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will.
Rom. 8:28–30. 28And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose. 29For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren. 30Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified.
See also: Psa. 115:3; Isa. 46:9–11; Rom. 11:33–36; Eph. 1:3–14; 2:1–10; Rev. 4:11.
God as a person with a distinct personality must be a being with purpose and determination. As God himself is infinite, imminent and eternal, his purpose in relation to his creation is necessarily an eternal, all–inclusive purpose. As an infinitely wise and intelligent personality, his purpose must be the same.
The Scriptures reveal that God “works all things after the counsel of his own will,” i.e., that he has purposed or predetermined all things. This is known as foreordination or predestination. By definition “predestination” means “to determine the destiny beforehand.” The term has a three–fold usage in Scripture, referring, first, to the comprehensive, eternal purpose of God (Eph. 1:11); second, to his soteriological [pertaining to salvation] purpose (Rom. 8:28–31; 9:1–24; Eph. 1:3–14); and third, to the eschatological purpose realized in the believer’s glorification and ultimate conformity to the image of Christ (Rom. 8:29).
The comprehensive use of the term may be described as the eternal (Isa. 46:9–10; Acts 15:18; 1 Pet. 1:20; Rev. 4:11), immutable (Isa. 14:24; 46:11; Prov. 19:21), all–inclusive (Acts 17:25, 28; Eph. 1:11; Rev 4:11), all–wise (Jer. 51:15; Rom. 11:33–35; 16:27; Eph 3:10–11; 1 Tim. 1:17; Jude 25), just (Isa. 45:21; Zeph. 3:5; Rom. 9:14) holy (Ex. 15:11; Isa. 57:15) and loving (Rom. 8:38–39; Eph. 1:3–5) decree or purpose of God (Isa. 14:24; Dan. 4:17, 24; Eph. 1:11), whereby, from eternity, from within himself (Psa. 115:3; Dan. 4:35; Rom. 11:33–36; Eph. 1:5, 9) and for his own glory (1 Chron. 29:11–13; Eph. 1:3–6, 12–14; Rev 4:11), he has determined whatsoever comes to pass (Rom. 11:33–36; Col. 1:17; Heb. 1:3; Neh. 9:6).
Although the terms “predestinate,” “predestination” and “foreordained” occur but seldom in Scripture, there are a wide variety of terms in the original languages [thirty–two in Heb. and Gk.] which connote Divine purpose, determination, will, sovereignty and predestination. To eliminate the idea of Divine predestination from Scripture would completely change the nature and character of God, render relative or null and void his promises and prophecies, and destroy the very essence and fabric of Scripture. It would be, in effect, the complete abandonment of biblical Christianity for an “Open Theism” or “Process Theology” in which God himself would be growing and expanding with the universe, and the future would remain unknown, even to him. To say “God” is to say “purpose,” and to say “purpose” in the context of God as revealed in Scripture, is to say “predestination.”
The biblical doctrine of predestination is a most glorious, mysterious and yet intensely practical truth. As part of Divine revelation, predestination is to be known, studied and believed (Acts 20:20, 26–27). It preserves the Creator–creature relationship that pervades Scripture. Predestination is the fountain of all grace, giving to free and sovereign grace its glorious nature and distinct character (Rom. 11:5–6; Eph. 1:3–11; 2:1–10). It is the expression of God’s sovereign, eternal, immutable love to his own, and is at the very foundation of the believer’s confidence and assurance of salvation (Deut. 7:6–8; Rom. 8:28–39; Eph. 1:13–14; 1 Pet. 1:3–5, 18–20; 1 Jn. 4:9–10, 19). Predestination is the biblical source of all boldness, encouragement and comfort in trial (Rom. 8:28–39; 1 Cor. 15:58; Gal. 6:7–9; Eph. 2:8–10). Rightly understood, it is a proper biblical incentive to holiness and responsible action (Eph. 1:4; 2:8–10; Phil. 1:29; 2:12–13; 2 Thess. 2:13; 1 Pet. 1:1–2; 1 Jn. 2:28–3:3). It must always be remembered that, scripturally, God has ordained the means as well as the end. See Questions 67 and 68.
The so–called “Problem of Evil” ought to be considered. This can be stated in the following terms: “How can evil exist in a universe created and governed by an all–powerful, benevolent [inherently and completely good] God?” This “problem” is more psychological than logical, theological or philosophical. Man would rather call God and his actions into question than submit himself to God in complete trust, even to a God who is benevolent in the context of his omnipotence and righteousness (Rom. 9:11–24). This question is largely a matter of unbelief in the face of Scriptural testimony to the purpose and patience of God in the fulfillment of his eternal purpose. But it remains a question which is often asked as a rebuttal to believers in general, and to those who hold to biblical Divine sovereignty in particular.
The possible answers, according to human reasoning, are: first, if evil exists [and it does as a sad and awful reality], then there is no omnipotent [all–powerful], benevolent God—the argument of the atheist.
Second, evil exists and therefore, if God exists, he must be either limited in his power or arbitrary in his moral character—the argument of those who espouse a non–biblical [pagan] concept of God.
Third, evil exists, therefore there is more than one God or there are equal dualistic forces [good and evil] in conflict. This is the non–biblical [pagan] argument of those who would posit a dualism (a “good god” and “bad god” or opposing good and evil forces or principles) in conflict for control of the universe.
Fourth, evil does not exist, except as an illusion in our human thinking. This is the non–biblical view of some western cults and Eastern religions (e.g., Christian Science, Buddhism). This would make any ultimate distinction between good and evil arbitrary, and thus deny the moral self– consistency of the Divine character.
Fifth, evil exists as a mystery, independent of God, who remains to a given [limited] degree powerful and benevolent, necessarily operating in a utilitarian sense. This is the inconsistent argument of some (including Pelagians and Arminians) who attempt to deliver God from the charge of being the “author of sin” and so unscripturally limit his power in order to retain his goodness.
Finally, evil exists in the universe of an omnipotent, benevolent God, who is completely sovereign over it and uses it for his own glory and the highest good—the argument of the biblical Christian [consistent Calvinist].
This final assertion is the only view that can be consistently aligned to the teaching of Scripture (e.g., Gen. 50:20; Judg. 2:15; 9:23; 1 Sam. 16:14; 2 Kgs. 22:16; Psa. 76:10; Isa. 10:5–15; 45:7; Amos 3:6; Acts 4:27–28; Rom. 8:28; 9:11–21). Every other view, deriving from sinful humanistic reasoning, and so calling God and his actions into question (Rom. 9:19–21), seeks to point out an incoherence [inconsistency] in the Scriptures and the Christian system. These views either deny God and his power over evil, or limit God and seek to bring him down to the finite level (Rom. 1:21–25) and destroy his sovereignty and moral self–consistency—and thus any sufficient or consistent basis for Divine coherence.
The existence of evil in a universe created and governed by an all– powerful and benevolent God is not incoherent if God has a morally sufficient reason for this evil to exist. Such a view does not take all the mystery out of the problem of evil. God is infinite, and so are his wisdom, power and purpose. We are finite, and simply cannot comprehend all that is implied in this profound issue. Why God, who is absolutely morally self–consistent, should ordain evil, must to a given degree remain a mystery to finite beings.
Further, when considering the problem of evil, one must take into account the reality of time. What might be considered as evil in the context of past or present reality may later prove to be great blessing or to result in such (Gen. 42:36; 50:20; Acts 4:27–28; Rom. 8:28–31). Finally, only if God is in absolute control of evil can he ordain it for good, and we can trust the purpose, prophecies and promises of his Word. Do we trust the purpose of God, although we may not understand it? Do we complain against his providence? Can we by faith grasp the truth of Rom. 8:28?
Ans: The Holy Spirit is the eternal Spirit of God, co–equal and co– eternal with the Father and the Son.
2 Cor. 3:17. Now the Lord is that Spirit: and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.
Matt. 28:19. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
Eph. 4:30. And grieve not the holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption.
See also: Gen. 1:2; Mk. 3:28–30; Acts 5:3–4, 9; 13:2–4; 16:6; 20:28; 1 Tim. 4:1.
God the Holy Spirit is a distinct Person within the Godhead. As the issue with the Lord Jesus Christ has been his Deity, so the great issue concerning the Holy Spirit has been his distinct personality. He is not a mere influence, impersonal force or an emanation from God (Acts 13:2, 4). He possesses the peculiarities, power and prerogatives of a distinct personality: he speaks (Acts 13:2; 1 Tim. 4:1), creates (Gen. 1:2), commands (Acts 13:2–4), possesses intelligent judgment and prerogative (Acts 15:28; 20:28), prohibits (Acts 16:6), can be tempted and lied to (Acts 5:3–4, 9), grieved (Eph. 4:30) and sinned against (Mk. 3:28–30). [Our Lord at times used the masculine form rather than the neuter in the Greek to refer to the Holy Spirit, when the word “spirit” itself is neuter, thus emphasizing his personality (Jn. 14:16, 26; 15:26; 16:8, 13–14) ]. He was involved with the other Persons of the triune Godhead in creation (Gen. 1:1–3) and in the eternal Covenant of Redemption and Grace [the eternal redemptive purpose]. See Questions 67, 77 and 84.
The early Church Fathers, seeking to safeguard the eternal distinctions within the Godhead from error and heresy, and using scriptural terminology, referred to the eternal distinction between the Holy Spirit and Father and the Son as the “eternal procession” of the Holy Spirit, as Scripture declares that he proceeds from the Father and the Son (Jn. 14:16–17, 26; 16:7; Acts 2:32– 33). This language was used to preserve the distinctions within the Godhead and was not meant to imply any inherent subordination, succession or emanation. To deny the eternal personality of the Holy Spirit is to implicitly deny both the Ontological Trinity and the immutability of the Godhead. See Questions 23 and 25.
It is the peculiar office of the Holy Spirit to apply the work of our Lord’s completed redemption or satisfaction [the finished work of Christ] to the life and experience of the Christian individually—in particular: regeneration, repentance, faith, adoption and sanctification—and to the church corporately (Gal. 5:22–23; Eph. 1:15–20; 13–14; 4:11–16, 30; 2 Thess. 2:13; 1 Pet. 1:2).
See Question 84. He thus makes our Christian experience possible and practical.
The work of the Holy Spirit within the believer’s personality is one of enabling, transforming and sanctifying grace. Believers are commanded to walk in the Spirit and thus not fulfill the lusts of the flesh. The Spirit of God restrains them from living as they once did (Gal. 5:16–18). The “fruit of the Spirit,” i.e., those graces which the Holy Spirit manifests in the life, are among the essential marks of grace (Gal. 5:22–23). See Question 112. Do we bear the marks of God’s grace and Spirit in our lives and experience?
Ans: The Lord Jesus Christ is the eternal Son of God, co–equal and co–eternal with the Father and the Holy Spirit.
Jn. 1:1. In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
Col. 2:9. For in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily.
1 Tim. 3:16. And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory.
Titus 2:13. Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ.
See also: Isa. 7:14; Jn. 1:14, 18; 14:6–11; Phil. 2:5–11; Titus 2:13;
God is Spirit, and so invisible, i.e., incorporeal [without bodily parts] (Jn. 4:24; 1 Tim. 6:15–16). The Lord Jesus Christ in his incarnation is the full and final revelation and representation of the eternal God (Jn. 1:1–3; 14:6–11; Col. 2:9; 1 Tim. 3:16)—the very “exegesis” of God (Jn. 1:18). It is in the Lord Jesus Christ that man’s inherent desire to “see” God is fulfilled (Jn. 14:9). It is in and through the personality and actions of the Lord Jesus during his earthly ministry that we see revealed the power and moral attributes of God. In his transfiguration we see a glimpse of his eternal glory as very God (Matt. 17:1–8; Mk. 9:1–8; Lk. 9:27–36; Jn. 17:4–5; 2 Pet. 1:16–18).
The eternal Son of God became incarnate [took to himself a true and complete human nature, soul and body] for the redemption of sinners (Lk. 1:35; Gal. 4:4). He did not become incarnate as a mere individual, but as Representative Man, “The Second Man,” “The Last Adam” (Rom. 5:12–18; 1 Cor. 15:45–47). It is in this capacity that we must view and understand his humanity, his perfect obedience to the Law, his wilderness temptation, his earthly life and ministry, his suffering and death, his glorious resurrection and his ascension into heaven to rule as the God–Man on the throne of his glory (Matt. 28:18; 1 Cor. 15:20–26; Phil. 2:9–11; Heb. 1:3).
He was and ever remains the perfect and sinless Son of God by virtue of the virgin birth, and so was alone qualified to be our Redeemer and Savior (Gal. 4:4–5; Lk. 1:26–35; Rom. 5:12–19). The Lord Jesus Christ could not be a mere human being and both live a perfect life under the law, then suffer and die for sinners—neither his life nor suffering and death would accomplish anything. He would only have died as a martyr—and for his own sins. The efficacy [effectiveness] of his work depended on his Person—his Divine nature and impeccable human nature.
At and through the incarnation, the eternal Son of God entered into the realm of time. The Lord Jesus Christ is thus the “God–Man,” not the “Man– God.” By this we mean that it was God the Son, the second Person of the triune Godhead, who took to himself a full and complete human nature through the miracle of the Virgin Birth, including a soul and body, and not a man who was or is in the process of becoming God. The two natures within our Lord (i.e., the hypostatic union of his human and Divine natures) are not commingled [mixed together] or confused, but separate and distinct, i.e., he is not half–God and half–man. The incarnation was necessary for the Lord Jesus Christ to be the perfect and effectual Mediator between God and men (1 Tim. 2:5), and therefore our Redeemer, Savior and Intercessor (Rom. 3:21–26; 2 Cor. 5:21; 1 Pet. 3:18; 1 Jn. 2:1). Because of his unique Person and finished redemptive work, he alone qualifies as the Savior of sinners (Acts 4:12).
The early Church Fathers, seeking to safeguard the eternal distinctions within the Godhead from error and heresy, to safeguard the eternal Sonship of the Lord Jesus Christ, and using scriptural terminology, referred to the eternal distinction between the Father and the Son as the “eternal generation” of the Son by the Father. They also referred to the eternal distinction between the Holy Spirit and Father and Son as the “eternal procession” of the Holy Spirit, as Scripture declares that he proceeds from the Father and the Son (Jn. 14:16–17, 26; 16:7; Acts 2:32–33). This attempt at scriptural language was used to preserve the distinctions within the Godhead and was not meant to imply any inherent subordination, succession or emanation. Beyond the language of Scripture, we dare not go. The incarnation of the eternal Son of God remains the most profound mystery of the ages. To deny the eternal Sonship of Christ Jesus is to deny the Ontological Trinity, maintain only the Economic Trinity, and thus implicitly deny the immutability of the nature of the Godhead. See Question 23.
Through the Virgin Birth (Matt. 1:18–25; Lk. 1:26–35), his perfectly sinless life lived under the Law (Jn. 8:46; Gal. 4:4–5; 1 Pet. 2:21–22) and his sacrificial, substitutionary death (Lk. 19:10; Phil. 2:5–8; 1 Tim. 1:15; Heb. 9:12, 27–28) and resurrection (Matt. 28:5–6; Acts 2:22–33; Rom. 1:3–4) our Lord became the God–Man, holy, impeccable and the only qualified Redeemer of sinners (Acts 4:12), our Great High Priest (Heb. 4:14–16; 5:5– 10; 7:11–28; 1 Jn. 2:1) and the final Judge of all men (Acts 17:30–31; 2 Cor. 5:10; Phil. 2:9–11; Rev. 20:11–15). The name “Jesus” [Gk. Iēsus, “Yahweh is salvation”] refers to his humanity, “Christ” [Gk. Christos, “Anointed One”] to his office and mission as the promised Messiah (Jn. 1:41; 4:25) and “Lord” [Gk. Kurios, “Yahweh”] to his Deity and position of exaltation (Matt. 28:18; Acts 2:36; Phil. 2:9–11; Heb. 1:1–13). His full name and proper title is “The Lord Jesus Christ.”
The Divine nature of our Lord formed the basis for his personality and upheld and sustained his human nature as the God–Man in the hypostatic union [the union of the two natures in one Person]. Thus, he was necessarily impeccable, i.e., he did not and could not sin. The two Latin phrases are posse non peccare, able not to sin [peccable], and non posse peccare, unable to sin [impeccable]. The impeccability of our Lord was necessary to his redemptive work.
Although the modern emphasis is upon the redemptive work of Christ rather than his Person, most controversies have historically centered upon the latter. The great issue has been the Deity of the Lord Jesus Christ and the relation of his two natures in one Person. The doctrinal heresies concerning the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ have been: Valentinian Gnosticism, which denied the true Deity of Christ by holding that the “Christ element” came upon him at his baptism and left him in the garden agony before his crucifixion. Thus, he died as a mere man (Jn. 1:14, 18). Docetic Gnosticism, which, holding that all matter was inherently evil, denied the true humanity of Christ, holding him to be a phantom being (1 Jn. 1:1; 4:2–3). Dynamic Monarchianism, A second century anti–trinitarian heresy that denied the Deity of Christ and taught that he was a mere man who received an anointing at his baptism and so was in the process of becoming Divine. Modern representatives in principle include Socinians, Christadelphians, Unitarians, Theosophists and Mormons. Modalistic Monarchianism, an anti–trinitarian heresy that held to one Person in three manifestations rather than distinct Persons in the Godhead. Also called Sabellianism, Patripassianism, etc. United Pentecostals [“Jesus Only”] or the “Apostolic Church” is the modern representative of this ancient heresy. Arianism, an anti–trinitarian heresy which denied the absolute Deity of Christ. The modern representatives are Socinians and Russelites [Jehovah’s Witnesses] (1 Tim. 3:16). Apollonarianism, an anti–trinitarian heresy which denied the true humanity of Christ. Eutychianism, which taught the fusion of the two natures in Christ. Nestorianism, which seemed to unduly separate the hypostatic union of the two natures of Christ into two persons. Monophysitism, which taught that Christ had a composite nature rather than two distinct natures. Monothelitism, which held that Christ had but one will and thus demeaned his true humanity. There were two views: either the human will was merged with the Divine will so that only the Divine will acted, or the two wills were fused into one. The more modern Kenosis Theory, deriving from Phil. 2:7. The extreme form of this theory holds that Christ emptied himself of his Deity or Divine nature and became a mere man. Modified forms of this theory are that in some way he emptied himself of some Divine attributes, and so was less than full Deity.
The controversies concerning our Lord’s redemptive work center on the nature and extent of the atonement. Some hold that he suffered and died for all men without exception and so all will be saved [consistent universalism]. Others, that he died to make salvation possible and all men savable if they but add their ability to his work [inconsistent universalism]. Some consistently hold that our Lord suffered and died for a specific people, and that every one of these will be infallibly redeemed [consistent particularism].
The Lord Jesus Christ is at once the only Mediator between God and men (1 Tim. 2:5), the only Redeemer and Savior of sinners (Rom. 3:24–26; Eph. 1:5–7) and our Great High Priest (Heb. 4:12–16; 7:19–28; 8:1–2; 9:11–14, 24; 1 Jn. 2:1). He will be the coming Judge of all men (Jn. 5:22). He is also our example and our goal. The Lord God is in the process of redeeming his image in believers, and we are being conformed to the image of his Son by the work of the Holy Spirit in our adoption, sanctification, chastening and testing. This conformity will be complete in the resurrection unto glory (Rom. 8:23, 29; 2 Cor. 3:17–18; Phil.3:20–21). For a full description of the Lord Jesus Christ, see Questions 70–76. Do you have a saving relationship to the Lord Jesus through faith?
Ans: The Father is the eternal God, co–equal and co–eternal with God the Son and God the Holy Spirit.
Matt. 6:9. After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name.
See also: Matt. 11:27; Rom. 8:14–16; 1 Cor. 8:4–6; Eph. 1:3.
For an introduction to this question and answer, see Questions 20–23. God the Father has revealed himself as “the God and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ,” the “Father” to the nation of Israel as a corporate covenant people (Isa. 64:8; Mal. 1:6; Jn. 8:41), and as “Father” to the Christian individually and corporately (Matt. 6:9; Rom. 8:14–16). This distinction is eternal and ontological, and not merely related to the Economic Trinity (i.e., God is not a trinity only in relation to creation and redemption, but the distinctions within the Godhead are eternal—the Father has always been the “Father” in relation to the Son and the Spirit). See Question 23. This self– revelation of God as “Father” in the Scriptures is for our understanding, comfort, confidence and hope.
The revelation of God as our “Father” enables us, as finite creatures and his spiritual children, to apprehend him, know his love, love him in return and rejoice in such a filial relationship. This revelation enables the believer to know God as the One who loves him, receives him, protects him, provides for him, chastens him, hears his prayers, knows his trials and will one day receive him to himself in glory. Luther stated this blessed truth when he said that if he could but call God “Father,” he could pray—and so can we! See Questions 99–102.
Ans: The Scriptures teach that there is one God who eternally exists in Three Persons.
Deut. 6:4. Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD.
Matt. 28:19. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
See also: Gen. 1:1–3, 26–28; Isa. 44:6–8; 1 Cor. 8:4–6; Col. 2:9; 1 Tim. 3:16.
The term “Trinity” derives from the Latin trinitas, or “threeness,” from tres, three, and uno, one. The trinity or tri–unity of God is a great mystery. It is a Divinely–revealed truth because it is revealed only in the Scriptures and is received by faith. There is no analogy [corresponding truth or illustration] found in creation. Any attempt to illustrate the trinity or tri–unity of God from creation necessarily fails.
The truth of the Trinity can be seen as it is set forth from the Scriptures in four statements: God the Father is God (Matt. 11:25). God the Son [the Lord Jesus Christ] is God (Isa. 9:6; Jn. 1:1–3, 14, 18; Col. 2:9). God the Holy Spirit is God (Gen. 1:1–2; Acts 5:3–4; 2 Cor. 3:17). There is only One God (Deut. 6:4; Isa. 44:6–8; 1 Cor. 8:4–6).
There are two theological terms with which we ought to be familiar—the Ontological and Economic Trinity. These are two ways of viewing the one Trinity because of our finite comprehension. The word “ontological” means “being” [Gk. ontos, “being”], and refers to the Persons of the Godhead in their essence and relationship to one another. The word “economic” [Gk. oikonomia, “economy”] means “management” or “administration,” and refers to the Persons of the triune Godhead in their unified cooperation in the works of creation, redemption and providence. The terminology “Ontological Trinity” means that God has eternally existed in Three Persons. Some hold erroneously that God is only trinitarian in relation to the created universe. Such a view necessarily and inherently denies the Ontological Trinity and thus both the eternal Sonship of the Lord Jesus Christ and the personality of the Holy Spirit. See Questions 25 and 26.
Quest. 22: What are the attributes of God?
Ans: The attributes of God are those perfections inherent in the Divine nature which the Bible reveals concerning God.
Ex. 3:14. And God said unto Moses, I AM THAT I AM: and he said, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I AM hath sent me unto you.
Rom. 11:36. For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things: to whom be glory for ever. Amen.
See also: Lev. 11:43–45; 1 Kgs. 8:27; 1 Chron. 29:11–12; Psa. 31:5; 90:2; 139:1–17; 145:3, 17; 147:5; Isa. 6:1–3; 57:15; Jer. 23:24; Mal. 3:6; 1 Cor. 8:6; 1 Jn. 4:16.
The word “attributes” refers to those characteristics or qualities that are inherent in the Divine essence and thus attributed to [revealed about, assigned to or descriptive of] God in Scripture. We know or comprehend God in our finiteness through these attributes or characteristics. These are all perfections, i.e., God is necessarily perfect in every one of these qualities or characteristics.
The Divine attributes are coherent in God. The term “coherence” when used logically, philosophically or theologically, denotes consistency or to be without contradiction or conflict. If a system has any inconsistencies or contradictions, it is said to be “incoherent.” When used of the Divine attributes or perfections, it means that these Divine characteristics do not contradict or come into conflict with one another. There is no incoherence within the Divine Personality.
We can only know God as he has been pleased to reveal himself to us. Yet we can seek to understand God from the Scriptures and make our knowledge orderly and systematic. We can attempt to categorize or arrange the Divine perfections to help us think properly about God “as spirit, infinite and perfect, the source, support and end of all things” (Rom. 11:36). While our knowledge of God is only partial and inadequate due to our finiteness, fallen state and the noetic effects of sin, yet it is a true knowledge through our God–given capacity as the image–bearers of God, the context of Divine revelation and the illuminating work of the Holy Spirit.
Various attempts have been made to classify the Divine attributes. Most would classify these Divine attributes as: the Communicable and Incommunicable Attributes, i.e., those which belong to God alone (e.g., omnipresence, omnipotence, immensity, eternity, etc.) and those which to some extent are communicable to his moral creatures (e.g., love, mercy, wisdom, etc.). Others would classify them as Absolute (those belonging to God alone) and Relative (those expressed to some extent in man). Some would attempt to classify them as Immanent or Intransitive and Eminent or Transitive Attributes. All such attempts must ultimately prove insufficient, as God is simply transcendent in all his perfections.
God Considered as Spirit, Infinite
God is spirit, i.e., God is neither visible nor material; he is incorporeal (Jn. 4:24). He may be perceived through the created universe (Psa. 19:1–6; Rom. 1:19–20), in the Lord Jesus Christ (Jn. 1:18; Col. 2:9), and personally and spiritually by faith (Heb. 11:6, 27). Because God is spirit, we cannot see him with our physical eyes. We “see” him through the “eye” of faith, i.e., by or through faith (Heb. 11:6).
When the Bible speaks of God as having “eyes,” “hands,” “feet,” or “ears,” etc., it is using human terms [anthropomorphisms] to help us understand that God sees, works, moves and hears, etc. Pure spiritual beings such as angels or demons are far superior to physical beings, and God is absolutely superior and ultimate—there is no one or thing above or beyond him. He is ultimate and infinite, the Creator, Governor and Sustainer of all things.
As a Spirit, God has life in himself and gives life to everything (Acts 17:25, 28; Heb. 1:3, 10:31). He is a personality, not merely an influence (Gen. 1:1; Ex. 3:14; Rom. 11:33–36).
God is absolutely perfect in everything and in every way. If there were any imperfection in God, he simply would not and could not be the God of Scripture. He is perfect truth. Because God is both true and truth, he can be trusted—believed in without fail (Deut. 32:4; Psa. 146:5–6; Titus 1:2; 1 Jn. 5:10). He is also perfect love. God’s love cannot be separated from his other perfections. His love is holy, righteous, just, gracious and merciful (Jn. 3:16; 1 Jn. 4:8–10, 16). He is perfectly holy (Psa. 145:17; Isa. 57:15; 1 Pet. 1:15–16), righteous (Gen. 18:25; 2 Chron. 12:6; Psa. 11:7) and perfectly wise (Rom. 11:33–36; 1 Tim. 1:17).
God Considered as the Source, Support
and End of All Things
This means that God is the Creator or Originator and Definer of all things, the one who sustains all things in the universe, and that all things exist and are being brought to final consummation [their final ordained end or conclusion] in him (Acts 17:24–28; Rom. 11:33–36; Col. 1:17; Heb. 1:1–3).
In relation to time and space, God is transcendent, i.e., he far exceeds all the limitations of the universe he has created. He is above and beyond all time and space. There is nothing that exists above or beyond God. There is no law, person or thing to which he must answer; he is absolute, and all created reality is relative to him. He is moved only from within himself and his own moral self–consistency (Psa. 90:4; 113:5–6). God is also eternal or supra–temporal, i.e., he exists above and beyond time (Gen. 1:1; 1 Tim. 1:17). He is immense and imminent, i.e., fully and personally present throughout the universe (1 Kgs. 8:27; Heb. 4:12–13).
In relation to creation, God is omnipresent (Psa. 139:7–10), omniscient (Psa. 139:1–5; Jer. 17:9–10; 23:24; Acts 1:24; 15:8) and omnipotent (Gen. 1:1, 3; Psa. 115:3; Isa. 46:9–11).
In relation to moral beings, God is faithful and truthful (Deut. 7:9–10; Jn. 17:17; 1 Cor. 1:9; 10:13; Tit. 1:2; Heb. 6:13–18; 1 Jn. 5:10), gracious, merciful and good (Psa. 103:1–2, 8–14, 17; Rom. 2:4; 8:28–39), loving and kind (Jn. 3:16; Rom. 5:5; Eph. 2:4–10; 1 Jn. 4:8, 16), righteous, just and holy (Psa. 145:17; Isa. 6:1–4; Hos. 1:1–11; Rom. 3:21–26; 11:33–36).
Quest. 21: What are the names of God?
Ans: The names of God are those titles or designations by which God has revealed himself to man.
Ex. 20:7. Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain; for the LORD will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain.
Matt. 6:9. After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name.
See also: Gen. 22:14; 32:27; Ex. 3:13–15; 6:3; 9:16; 15:3; 17:15; 34:14; 2 Sam. 6:18; Psa. 20:1; 83:18; Isa. 9:6; 57:15; Jn. 10:25; Phil. 2:5–11.
In modern, Western society, names may mean very little, but God revealed himself in another era, in other languages, and to a culture in which names carried great significance. It is in this very important context that the names of God must be understood. A name was not only for personal identification, but also for personal revelation.
The names of God are very significant as an essential part of his self–revelation to men, so they, despite their finiteness, can sufficiently comprehend the incomprehensible and infinite God. These are the primary means of both his identification and his self–revelation as a distinct person (Gen. 17:1; Ex. 6:3). They reveal various aspects or characteristics of his Divine character, e.g., self–existence (Ex. 3:14–15), majesty (Gen. 14:18; 21:33; 24:3), power, strength or might (Gen. 17:1; Rev. 4:8), omniscience (Gen. 16:13; Acts 1:24), sufficiency (Gen. 17:1), provision (Gen. 22), holiness (Isa. 57:15), righteousness (Jer. 23:6), jealousy (Ex. 34:14), a God who is to be feared (Gen. 31:42, 53), etc. The names of God reveal his faithfulness in promises, power, judgment, covenant relationship and redemption (Gen. 24:12; Ex. 6:3).
The names of God in the Old Testament may be categorized as those which are generally used of God, and those which more specifically denote some aspect of his character. The general names are: “God” [El, Elohim, “strong, powerful, mighty”], “LORD” [Yahweh, “Jehovah,” the self–existent, covenant–keeping God”] and “Lord” [Adonai, “Sovereign Master”]. The more specific titles denote some aspect or attribute of the Divine character, such as “The Name” (Lev. 24:11), “The Rock” (Deut. 32:4), “God Almighty” (Gen. 17:1), “The Most High” (Gen. 14:19), “Lord of Hosts” (Isa. 1:9), “The Holy One” (Isa. 40:25), “Jealous” (Ex. 34:14), etc.
The names of God in the New Testament are also both general and more specific. The general titles are: “God” [Theos, equivalent to the Old Testament “El” and “Elohim”] and “Lord” [Kurios], used for Jehovah, for the Lord Jesus Christ and also in a mere human context for “Sir” (Acts 9:5; Jn. 4:11). Despotēs for Adonai, [“Sovereign Master”]. The more specific titles include: “The Almighty” [Ho Pantokratōr, or “All Powerful”], “The Blessed” [One to receive praise and honor] and “Father” (Matt. 6:9–13; Rom. 8:14–16; 1 Cor. 1:3; 8:5–6; 2 Cor. 1:2–3; 6:17–18; Gal. 4:6; Eph. 1:3ff).
It is significant that the titles of Deity are used of our Lord Jesus Christ in Old Testament (Isa. 9:6; Mal. 3:1) and the New: “God” (1 Tim. 3:16; Titus 2:13), “Lord” (Jn. 20:28; Acts 9:5–6; 22:6–10; Heb. 1:10; Jude 4; Rev. 19:16), “The Word” (Jn. 1:1) and “Son,” implying an equality and a unique relation to and intimacy with God the Father (Jn. 1:18; Col. 2:9; Heb. 1:8). The term “Son of Man” may not refer merely to his humanity; it is a messianic title, deriving from the Old Testament (Dan. 7:13–14).
Quest. 20: What may we know about God from his Word?
Ans: We may know everything we need to know about God to be reconciled to him, properly worship him and live in obedience to his revealed will.
Deut. 6:4–5. 4Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD: 5And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.
Matt. 22:37–39. 37Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. 38This is the first and great commandment. 39And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.
Jn. 4:23–24. 23But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him. 24God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.
See also: Gen. 1:1; Ex. 20:1–17; 1 Sam. 15:22–23; Isa. 57:15; 64:6; Acts 4:12; 16:30–32; Rom. 3:19–26; 5:1–3; 8:7–8; Eph. 2:4–5, 8–10; 1 Tim. 6:15–16; Rev. 4:11.
God is unknowable, except as he has been pleased to reveal himself, and he has revealed himself in both creation [natural revelation] and in his Word [special revelation]. He is our Creator; we are his creatures. He is infinite; we are finite. He is eternal or supra–temporal; we are temporal. He is spirit; we are corporeal. He is omnipresent; we are physically localized. He is immutable; we are mutable. He is omnipotent and omniscient; we are relatively impotent and ignorant. He is infallible; we are fallible. He is absolutely sovereign in every sphere; we are utterly dependent upon him for life and breath and all things (Acts 17:24–25, 28). When we leave the objective, metaphysical realm and enter the moral realm, the contrast remains: God is absolutely holy; we are unholy. He is absolutely righteous; we are unrighteous. He is sinless or impeccable; we are sinful and depraved.
The moral attributes, however, coincide with our fallen, sinful state in the context of his eternal redemptive purpose: God is gracious and demonstrates his grace in redeeming the utterly undeserving. He is merciful and extends his mercy to those who suffer under the ravages of sin. He is righteous and imputes righteousness to us through faith in Jesus Christ. He is love, and believers are the objects of this love. He reveals himself redemptively as our “Heavenly Father,” and we by grace and faith become his “sons” or “children.” (Matt. 6:9; Rom. 8:14–18; Gal. 4:5–7; 1 Jn. 3:1–3). In the reality of redeeming grace, believers, though imperfectly, reflect God’s moral attributes to a given degree (Matt. 5:7; Lk. 6:36; Jn. 13:34–35; 15:12; Rom. 5:21; 8:4; 13:8; Gal. 5:22–23; Col. 3:12–14; 1 Pet. 1:15–16; 1 Jn. 2:29; 3:7, 10). See Question 94.
Natural revelation points us to the greatness, power and majesty of God, but special revelation also points us to his moral attributes in the context of either redemption or judgment. Natural revelation is so great and inclusive that its witness leaves man inexcusable as to the power and Divine nature of God (Rom. 1:18–20). Special revelation satisfies the mind and heart as it reveals the fullness of God in his redemptive purpose and saving work.
God is absolutely holy [absolutely pure and separate from all his creation], and cannot be approached by anyone unholy or sinful. He is also morally self–consistent or absolutely righteous [right and incapable of wrong or inconsistency]. He demands, as is his sovereign right, that human beings, made in his image and likeness, also be holy and righteous (1 Pet. 1:15–16). In the scheme of redemption, God’s love, grace and mercy rise to answer the demands of his moral self–consistency without any contradiction or inconsistency, providing deliverance and reconciliation through the Person and work of the Lord Jesus (Jn. 3:16; Rom. 3:21–26).
Man, created originally righteous, apostatized from God in an empirical attempt to become autonomous from God and his Law–Word (Gen. 3:1–19). In Adam, who was Representative Man [federal head of the human race] man became a sinner by imputation, nature and tendency and by personal transgression (Gen. 5:3; Rom. 3:23; 5:12–19). By this, he became wholly alienated from God and brought himself under Divine condemnation.
The reality and need of redemption ultimately rest in the holy, righteous, moral self–consistency of God. A righteous, just and holy God cannot arbitrarily set aside sin without becoming morally inconsistent or self–contradictory (Rom. 3:21–31). This is why the eternal Son of God entered the human race through the incarnation (Matt. 1:21; Rom. 8:2–3; Phil. 2:5–9; 1 Tim. 3:16). The Lord Jesus Christ was and is God in the flesh, the God–man, the “Second Man,” the “Last Adam,” the Redeemer to save sinners, the Mediator to reconcile God and men (1 Tim. 2:5). In his infinite, eternal, redemptive love, God sent his Son to be the great propitiation [one through whom the absolute righteous demands of God can be satisfied. Through his active obedience he met the demands of the Divine Law and through his passive obedience, he paid its awful penalty], so believing sinners can be reconciled to him (Jn. 3:16; Rom. 3:24–26). Only in this way—through faith in the Lord Jesus––could God be “both just and the Justifier of him that believeth in Jesus” (Rom. 3:26).
Because we are sinners by imputation, as well as by nature and personal transgressions, whatever we think, say or do is inherently tainted with sin. We cannot escape this. What righteousness we inherently have is a self–righteousness (Isa. 64:6). This is why salvation cannot be by works or self–effort. This is why God cannot accept our efforts to please him. If we are to be saved from sin, it must be by grace [unmerited favor—wholly and utterly undeserved—in the place or stead of merited wrath] alone. There can be no mixture of grace and works. Any addition of works [human ability] would destroy the very principle and reality of Divine grace (Rom. 11:5–6). Free grace and free will are utterly opposed to one another.
How are we to be saved from our sin? How are we to be reconciled to God? How can we receive the grace of God? By faith. Faith is belief, trust, commitment, reliance on someone or thing [“faith” is the noun; “believe” is the verb]. Saving faith trusts, believes in and relies on God, his Word, and specifically his Son as both Lord and Savior. Saving faith lays hold of the perfect righteousness of the Lord Jesus Christ in total commitment and appropriates it. This is what it means to “believe on the Lord Jesus Christ” and be saved (Acts 16:31). See Question 89. Have you savingly come to terms with God’s truth?