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Friday, June 26, 2009

Communicable and Incommunicable

Kristian and I recently had breakfast with our friends Bent and Joanne. While we have known them for several years, we have only recently gotten to know them well. We had such a great time with them that we actually sat there and talked with them over “breakfast” for more than 5 hours! They both are such lovely people with such generous hearts for loving the people around them. They both have tremendous gifts in counseling and listening. Every time we hang out, I always feel edified, challenged, and built up in love:

Ephesians 4:11-16 “And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, 14 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. 15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.”

Over breakfast, we talked about how all human beings are loved by God and created in His image. We also talked about how Christians are being conformed to the character of Christ through the Holy Spirit and are called to live out the gospel in relationship with each other (in community).

During this conversation, Bent explained something to me that was very helpful. He talked about the communicable and incommunicable traits of God. (Bruce Ware’s online lecture through is an excellent place to learn more about this. You can access it here: Basically, there are some aspects of God’s character that we can possess in some degree (these are the communicable aspects of God’s character). There are other aspects of God’s character that we cannot possess in any degree (these are the incommunicable aspects of God’s character).

Here is a section from the transcript from Bruce Ware’s “Attributes of God” lecture from his Systematic Theology class on

"As we take a look at this study of God, we will be using a particular classification of attributes that is a bit cumbersome, perhaps, to some, but I find it very helpful: incommunicable and communicable attributes. These are old-fashioned terms. Incommunicable attributes are attributes that are true of God alone. They are not true of any finite part of His created order. In that since, they are incommunicable. They are not communicated. That does not mean he does not tell us about them, but they are not carried over to any part of the finite creation. As opposed to that are communicable attributes. Those are attributes that are shared at least in some finite measure with a portion of the created order. There, of course, we will look at attributes like God's goodness and His holiness. Of course, we are called to be good, we are called to be holy as He is holy, and these are communicable attributes, attributes in which we participate in some finite measure.

Now there are other classifications of attributes that might be used as well. For example, a very useful one is a distinction between transcendent and immanent attributes. Transcendent means ways in which God is other than us or separate from us; ways in which God is by Himself, as it were, God over all and exalted and holy and separate. Immanent means that God is, with us, close at hand, caring, comforting, providing, a God who is for his people. Listen to Isaiah 57:15, "For thus says the high and the exalted One Who lives forever, whose name is Holy, 'I dwell on a high and holy place.'" You see there the emphasis on transcendence? He is beyond us, above us, high and holy. But listen how the verse ends, "'[I dwell] also with the contrite and lowly of spirit in order to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite.'" God is immanent, He is with us, He is for us, He is caring and compassionate, provider and protector for His people. "

Here are some examples of God’s incommunicable attributes:

1. Creator of All Things
2. Self-Sufficient (doesn’t need anything)
3. Infinite (no beginning and no end)
4. Omnipresent (is everywhere at once)
5. Eternal (is not confined by time)
6. Immutable (unchanging)
7. Omnipotent (all powerful)
8. Omniscient (knows everything)
9. Judge of All Creation
10. Sovereign Ruler of All Creation
11. Worthy of Worship

Examples of God’s communicable attributes are things like:

1. love
2. joy
3. peace
4. patience
5. kindness
6. goodness
7. gentleness
8. faithfulness
9. self-control
10. compassion
11. mercy
12. grace
13. justice

Bent pointed out to me that many of the sins with which we struggle are related to our (delusional) attempts to trespass into God’s territory of incommunicable attributes. This made a lot of sense to me. For example, what happens when….

1. I start to think I am self-sufficient?….I ignore God and flee from community and I end up in sin and despair because I need God and His Body of believers.

2. I start to think I have power in myself to do something good or to refrain from sin?.....I fail because I cannot bear spiritual fruit or conquer sin without the Holy Spirit!

3. I start to think that I am my own master?..... I indulge myself in sin because I am selfish, and I end up feeling shame, condemnation, and alienation from God and others.

4. I start to become wise in my own eyes rather than looking to God’s Word to guide me?..... I usually end up in a big mess, overwhelmed and in over my head.

5. I start to think that I am worthy and ought to be worshipped by those around me?... I fail people & sin (and hence am not worthy). I feel empty because no one’s love and affection can take the place of God’s love and affection for me.

6. I start to think I am not confined to time?..... I am late to everything :)

I think you get the point. :)

Dear God,

Please forgive me for the ways I try to transgress into your territory. You alone are Sovereign, Perfect, All-Powerful, All-Knowing, All-Wise, All-Good, Creator and Ruler of the Universe who alone is Worthy of our worship!!! Forgive me for my delusions of grandeur. Thank you for your loving-kindness and patience with me. Holy Spirit, please fill me daily so that I may be transformed more and more into the likeness of Jesus. This can only happen by your power. Jesus, thank you for your perfect example of how I ought to live. Thank you for dying for me so that I could even have a chance to be cleansed by you and to enjoy God forever. Father, thank you for calling me out of my darkness and adopting me as your daughter. Thank you, Lord, for Bent and Joanne and for others like them who bless your Body with the Spiritual gifts that you have given them. Help us all to seek to do that, so that we, your church may build itself up in love and so that we can attain to the unity of the faith and the knowledge of Jesus in maturity so that we can be conformed to the fullness of Christ. We love you and ask all of this in your Precious Name. Amen.

1 comment:

Joanne said...

Wow, Bina, your elaboration of Bent's comment on the communciable and uncommunicable attributes has bless my soul this morning!