Question 4 of the Westminster Shorter Catechism asks, “What is God?”
The answer given is, “God is a spirit, Whose being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth are infinite, eternal, and unchangeable.”
The first thing that jumps out at me in this answer is that God is a spirit who is infinite, eternal and unchangeable. These are what is called incommunicable attributes of God; they are attributes that cannot be shared with humanity. These are also attributes that cannot be fully understood by us.
God is infinite – without boundaries. God is eternal – he exists outside of time. God is unchangeable – he does not grow or diminish or change over time. We can only nibble at the edges of these concepts and cannot fully understand them.
The answer to Question 4 also lists some communicable attribute of God. These are aspects of God’s being that can be shared with his creatures. Because these are communicable, we are right to pursue wisdom, power (under the direction of the other attributes), holiness, justice, goodness and truth.
As we learned yesterday in Question 3 of the Catechism, our contemplation of this question must be informed by Scripture, which is the means of God revealing himself to us. Therefore, when we think of the communicable attributes that we should pursue, we need to consult the Bible to define those attributes and allow it to define how we should go about pursuing them.
For example, men have at various times defined holiness in various ways. Often, it is thought to result from strict adherence to a set of principles or rules of behavior. Any reading of the Gospels would provide ample evidence that the Bible does not define holiness this way.
The Pharisees were very good at creating and following rules. They held the Bible in high esteem and formulated many rules to guide themselves and others about how to avoid violating any of the commands of Scripture. They thought themselves holy as a result of their rule keeping and encouraged the people around them to think so also.
But Jesus, on many occasions, showed them that they missed the point. Holiness is not attained through rule keeping. Holiness is more about heart and attitude than about external action. Rule keeping cannot change my heart. Legalism always results in failure. That is the bad news.
The good news is that Jesus came to give us a new heart and a new motivation. Jesus paid the penalty for our failure so that we can experience true holiness.
“He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” (2 Corinthians 5:21, NASB)
How cool is it that God allows us, and empowers us, to take on some of his characteristics!