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Communicable Attributes

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul
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January 21, 2023 12:01 am

Communicable Attributes

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul

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January 21, 2023 12:01 am

God's communicable attributes are those characteristics that He shares with all people made in His image. Today, R.C. Sproul shows how studying these divine attributes can help Christians reflect the holy character of God.

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Renewing Your Mind
R.C. Sproul

Coming up next on Renewing Your Mind. You remember the Old Testament summary of the law of God that Micah provides. What does the Lord require of thee but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God so that his justice and righteousness are communicable attributes that we are called to emulate. In the Bible, we are commanded to do many things, but when we look at the list, there are some things that seem impossible to follow.

For example, can we really be holy as God is holy? Today on Renewing Your Mind, R.C. Sproul examines the attributes of God, and in particular those aspects of his character that we do have the ability to reflect.

Here's R.C. In our last session, we looked at the distinction between the incommunicable attributes of God and the communicable attributes of God, and we recall from that occasion that the incommunicable attributes of God refer to those aspects of God's being and nature, which are not shared by the creature, things like infinity and eternality and omnipresence and omniscience and attributes of that sort. Today I'd like to begin by looking at a comment that the Apostle Paul makes in his letter to the Ephesians in the fifth chapter of that epistle, beginning at verse 1, where we read, Therefore, be imitators of God as dear children, and walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma. Now, in this text, Paul calls the believer to imitate God.

Now, the only way we can imitate God is if there are certain things about God that we share in by nature and have the ability to mirror and to reflect. So this text presumes that there are certain attributes that God possesses that are communicable, that is, that we also have the ability to possess and to manifest. Now, there is one attribute about which there's some discussion and debate as to its communicability, and that is the attribute of holiness, because the Scriptures say that God is holy. And when we probe the meaning of the holiness of God, we see that that term holy, as it describes God, refers both to his nature and to his character, and that there are at least two distinct meanings of the term holy in the Bible.

And the very primary meaning, the one that is first in terms of significance and first in terms of usage, is not the one we usually think of when we think of when we think of the word holy. In the first instance, that God is holy refers to his greatness, to his transcendence, to that sense in which he is above and beyond anything in the universe. And in that regard, the holiness of God would be regarded as being incommunicable, because he alone in his being transcends all created things.

And in that sense, we can never be holy. But there is another reference that the Bible has towards holiness, and that is the use of the term that refers to God's purity, that it says something of his character, his character of moral perfection, of absolute moral and ethical excellence. And with respect to this concept of holiness, God does make the demands upon his creatures, and particularly upon us, where he says, be ye holy even as I am holy. And of course, when we are ingrafted into Christ and renewed inwardly by the Holy Spirit, and it's fascinating at this point that the Holy Spirit is called the Holy Spirit, and alone among the members of the Godhead has that particular title in our customary usage. But biblically, obviously it's not just the Spirit who is holy, but the Father is also holy as his name is holy, and certainly the eternal Son is likewise holy. But one of the reasons for the emphasis on the term holy with regard to the third person of the Trinity is because it is his task, primarily, in the Trinitarian work of redemption to apply the work of Christ to us, and he is the one who regenerates us, and he is the one who works for our sanctification. And in this work of the Holy Spirit, he is working in us and through us to bring us into the conformity to the image of Christ, to have us fulfill this mandate that God has imposed upon us when he says, be ye holy even as I am holy. So even though in our fallen state we are anything but holy in its meaning of pure, nevertheless through the ministry of the Holy Spirit in our redemption, we are in the process of being made holy, and we look toward our glorification when we will be completely sanctified and purified of all sin. And in that sense, we'll be imitators of God. Now, some people believe that redemption includes in the final analysis the deification of the human believers, but I believe that that is a departure from biblical Christianity, that even in our glorified state we will still be creatures and we will not be divine beings.

We will not become deified in heaven, but we will be glorified by virtue of our purification. Now, the text that Paul uses here in his letter to the Ephesians, when he speaks of our responsibility to be imitators of God, he mentions a particular quality right up front, where we are called to be people who manifest love. And the scriptures tell us that God is love, and the love of God is something that is so descriptive of his character and is one of his moral attributes that we also are called to imitate. So, this is a quality that does not belong to God alone, but is communicated to his creatures.

Beloved, God is love, and love is of God, and all who love in the sense of this agape of which the scriptures speak, are born of God. And so, his love is another attribute that can be imitated, and we are called to imitate as his children. Also, when we speak of the goodness of God, this is another attribute, another one of the moral attributes that we are called to emulate, though the Scripture gives a very grim description of our ability to emulate this aspect of God in our fallen state.

We remember the encounter that Jesus had with the rich, young ruler who came up to him with these congratulatory words, good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life? And Jesus responded by saying, why do you call me good? Only God is good. And then elsewhere, the apostle quoting the psalmist said, there is none righteous, no, not one.

There is none who does good. So that in our fallen condition, we do not imitate or mirror and reflect this aspect of God's character, namely of goodness. Yet, once we are regenerated by the Holy Spirit, we are called to a life of good works, so that with the help of the Holy Spirit, we can approach the character and quality of goodness and mirror and reflect this aspect of God's nature. Well, again, there are other aspects and attributes of God that are communicable that we are to be concerned with. One, for example, is the justice of God. That God is just means that he acts always according to righteousness. In biblical categories, when justice is spoken of, it's never spoken of as some abstract concept or abstract rule or some law that exists above and beyond God to which God himself is bound to conform. But rather, in the Scriptures, the concept of justice is linked constantly with is linked constantly with the idea of righteousness, and justice is based upon the internal character of God. In theology, we make a distinction, and I won't use the technical Latin for a change here, I'm tempted to, between the internal righteousness of God and the external righteousness of God, which is sometimes called the internal justice of God, as distinguished from the external justice of God. And what that distinction is about is this, is that when God acts outwardly, what he does is always right.

He always does the right thing. And in that regard, he always does that which is in conformity to justness. Now, that gets a little bit complicated for this reason, that also in the Bible there is this concept of justice, and justice is often distinguished from mercy or grace. As I tell my students in the seminary, whatever you do when you pray, don't ever ask God for justice, because if you do, you might get it. And if we were to be treated by God according to his justice, we would all perish. That's why when we stand before God, we plead that he would treat us according to his mercy or according to his grace, which is distinguished from justice. And justice defines his righteousness whereby he never punishes people more severely than the crimes that they have committed, nor does he ever fail to reward those who are due a particular reward, but rather he always operates justly and never does God do anything that is unjust. Now, I put this picture on the board here because we have a circle around the word justice, and because everything outside of the circle of justice could be called non-justice. Those are the two universal categories. There's justice and everything outside of that category, which we would call non-justice.

But I'm going to make a second circle here and sort of dice it in half to explain something here that should be important in the lectures that we will use soon. Outside the circle of justice is the circle of non-justice, and everything in this outer circle is non-justice, but there are different kinds of non-justice. If we speak of the mercy of God, the mercy of God is outside the circle of justice and is outside and is a kind of non-justice. But I'm also going to point in this circle the word injustice.

Injustice is evil. An act of injustice violates the canons and principles of righteousness. If God, for example, were to do something that was not fair, then He would be acting unjustly, and Abraham knows the impossibility of that when he mentioned to God, will not the judge of all of the earth do what is right? Because God is a just judge, just judge, that means that all of His judgments are according to righteousness, so that He never acts in an unjust way or He never commits an injustice. Now where people get confused is with respect to the quality of mercy or of grace, because grace is not justice. And we see that grace and mercy are outside the category of justice, but they are not inside the category of injustice. There's nothing wrong with God's being merciful.

There's nothing evil with His being gracious. In fact, in one sense we would have to extend this even though justice and mercy are not the same thing. Justice is linked to righteousness, and righteousness may at times include within it the idea of mercy and grace. The reason why we need to distinguish them is because justice is something that is obligatory to righteousness, but mercy and grace are always actions that God takes freely. God is never required to be merciful.

He's never required to be gracious. And at the minute we think that God owes us grace or owes us mercy, we're no longer thinking about grace or mercy. Now our minds have tripped over that concept, and we've confused mercy and grace with justice. Justice may be owed, but mercy and grace are always voluntary with God. Now we keep this in mind because of the distinction between mercy and injustice, because when we come to the doctrine of election, for example, where God gives mercy not to everybody, or He gives His grace selectively, not everybody receives the fullness of God's saving grace. But when we hear that, we think, well, that's not fair because some people receive grace and others don't.

There's something wrong with that. Well, no, because some people receive justice at the hands of God, other people receive grace at His hands, and we'll explore that more fully in our next lecture. But for now, I want us to understand that the justice of God is related to His internal righteousness. I said a few moments ago that we speak of His external justice and His internal justice, His external righteousness and His internal righteousness. Now what that means is this, that God always does what is right. His actions, His external behavior always corresponds to His internal character. Remember, Jesus put it simply when He talked to His disciples and said that a corrupt tree cannot produce good fruit, but corrupt fruit comes from a corrupt tree.

And likewise, good fruit comes from a good tree. Well, there is no corruption in the internal being of God. God always acts according to His character, and His character is righteous altogether. Therefore, everything that He does is righteous. That's why we make that distinction between the internal righteousness and the external righteousness, between His character, who He is, and what He does.

And it's the same for us. We aren't sinners because we sin. We sin because we're sinners.

There's something flawed about our inner character. Now, when God the Holy Spirit changes us, when God the Holy Spirit changes us inwardly, then that should manifest itself in an outward change of behavior, so that now outwardly we are called again to conform to the righteousness of God, so that we are made as creatures in the image of God with the capacity for righteousness. We are made with the capacity to do what is right and to act in a just fashion. You remember the Old Testament summary of the law of God that Micah provides? What does the Lord require of thee but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God, so that His justice and righteousness are communicable attributes that we are called to emulate? Now, in the time that is left, I want to make reference to one more communicable attribute of God, and that is His wisdom. His wisdom, that God is seen not only as being wise but as being all wise, and we are told to act according to wisdom.

In fact, the whole body of literature in the Old Testament that is separated from the historical books and the prophetic books is called the wisdom literature, books like Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Psalms, Solomon, Job, and so on. And if you look at the book of Proverbs, we are told that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. And for the Jew, the very essence of wisdom, biblically, is found in godly living. It's not just in clever knowledge. In fact, the Old Testament makes a distinction between knowledge and wisdom, and we are told to get knowledge, and that's important, but above all, what?

Get wisdom. The purpose of learning, the purpose of gaining knowledge is that we may become wise, wise in the sense of knowing how to live in a way that is pleasing to God. And so God Himself never makes foolish decisions, never behaves in a foolish manner.

There is no foolishness in His character and no foolishness in His activity. We, on the other hand, are filled with foolishness rather than with wisdom, but wisdom is a communicable attribute, and God Himself is the fountainhead and source of all wisdom, and we are called as Christians, if we lack wisdom, to do what? To pray that God in His wisdom will illuminate our thinking. He gives us His Word that we might be wise.

You're listening to Renewing Your Mind. I'm Lee Webb. Thank you for being with us. We are studying the attributes of God, and aren't you thankful that wisdom is on the list of communicable attributes?

We are naturally foolish and unwise, but God in His mercy gives us wisdom. Each Saturday here on the program, we offer a message from Dr. Sproul's series on systematic theology called Foundations. In 60 messages, he covers the origin and authority of the Bible, the doctrine of God, the Trinity, man, sin, salvation, miracles, the church, and many other topics. In all, there are more than 22 hours of teaching in this series, and we put it together in an eight-DVD set. When you contact us today with your donation of any amount, we will be glad to send you the series.

You can give your gift online at renewingyourmind.org. I also want to remind you about the many podcasts we produce here at Ligonier Ministries. For example, you can learn about the people and events that have shaped the church. With Dr. Stephen Nichols, his podcast is Five Minutes in Church History. Or you can join Sinclair Ferguson for a daily devotional with his new podcast, Things Unseen.

You can explore them all at ligonier.org slash podcast. Well, have you ever wondered what the will of God is for your life? Next week, we'll continue Dr. Sproul's series with a message that will point you in the right direction. I hope you'll join us for that next Saturday, here on Renewing Your Mind. you
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-01-21 10:58:50 / 2023-01-21 11:06:17 / 7

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