Reading Systematic Theology with Wayne Grudem – How is God like us in attributes of will and in attributes that summarize his excellence?
This post is part of a 50+ post series from the classic work by Wayne Grudem (PhD, Cambridge), Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine. The aim of each post is to provide an overview of each chapter in the book and related resources for each topic.
Synopsis of Chapter
In this 3rd of 3 chapters on the attributes of God, Wayne Grudem completes his overview of the communicable attributes of God. He outlines the communicable attributes or “those attributes God shares or ‘communicates’ with us”. Here is the outline he provided in the previous chapter with the attributes he covered in chapter 12 in bold.
A. Attributes Describing God’s Being
B. Mental Attributes
3. Knowledge (or Omniscience)
5. Truthfulness (and Faithfulness)
C. Moral Attributes
8. Mercy (Grace, Patience)
10. Peace (or Order)
11. Righteousness (or Justice)
D. Attributes of Purpose
16. Omnipotence (or Power, and Sovereignty)
E. “Summary” Attributes
Attributes of Purpose: Will
There are three attributes of purpose beginning with the will of God. The will of God can be a challenging attribute of God, because there are multiple aspects of God’s will in Scripture. God’s will can be defined as “ that attribute of God whereby he approves and determines to bring about every action necessary for the existence and activity of himself and all creation.”
Beginning with God’s general will, God accomplishes all things according to his will. Paul speaks of the general will of God by saying “according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will.” (Ephesians 1:11b). So God is at work in election (in this passage) and also in all things according to his will. Other passages reveal more of God’s will (Daniel 4:32, Romans 13:1, Revelation 4:11)
But there are other aspects of God’s will. One aspect is his necessary will: that which God wills because his nature demands it. For instance, God wills good things because he is good. But another aspect relates to his ‘free’ will: what he was not compelled to do but did it because of his nature. For instance, God was not compelled to create the world but chose to do so freely.
In addition, God’s will is sometimes secret and sometimes revealed. His secret will cannot be seen, but his revealed will is evident in Scripture. The classic text for God’s secret and revealed will is found in Deuteronomy 29:29, “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.”
Attributes of Purpose: Freedom
Another of God’s attributes of purpose is freedom. “Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases.” (Psalm 115:3) Or in more systematic theological language, “God’s freedom is that attribute of God whereby he does whatever he pleases.” So whatever God wants to accomplish he does it. Whatever he wants an earthly king to do, he moves him to do it (Proverbs 21:1). Even the pagan ruler Nebuchadnezzar proclaimed, “none can stay his hand” (Daniel 4:35). God does what he wants because he is free – nobody is like that in God’s pure freedom.
Attributes of Purpose: Omnipotence (Power, Sovereignty)
The final attribute of God’s purpose is omnipotence. “God’s omnipotence means that God is able to do all his holy will.” Omnipotence is a combination word with Latin roots meaning “all powerful”. Several verses indicate the kind of power:
- “Is anything too hard for the Lord?” (Genesis 18:14a)
- “Who is this King of glory? The Lord, strong and mighty, the Lord, mighty in battle!” (Psalm 24:8)
- “Ah, Lord God! It is you who have made the heavens and the earth by your great power and by your outstretched arm! Nothing is too hard for you.” (Jeremiah 32:17)
In these and other Scriptures, God’s power is affirmed among his other attributes. Of course, the attribute of omnipotence is qualified with his other attributes. For instance, God may be all-powerful, but he is also completely truthful (Titus 1:2). So he cannot lie, though it may seem like he could do anything. So it’s best to understand God’s omnipotence in the context of his holy will and character.
Summary Attributes: Perfection
Moving into the summary attributes of God, he is perfect. “God’s perfection means that God completely possesses all excellent qualities and lacks no part of any qualities that would be desirable for him.” So God lacks nothing that he wants or needs nothing. He is perfect. Several verses point to God’s perfection:
- “A God of faithfulness and without iniquity, just and upright is he.” (Deuteronomy 32:4b)
- “This God—his way is perfect” (Psalm 18:30)
- “…as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48b)
Summary Attributes: Blessedness
In addition to being perfect, God is also blessed or happy in a complete sense. “God’s blessedness means that God delights fully in himself and in all that reflects his character.” Paul calls God “the blessed and only Sovereign” (1 Timothy 6:15) and “blessed God (1 Timothy 1:11). God is happy.
The reason for God’s happiness is he takes joy in his creation because it reflects his nature. At the end of creation, God reflected with pleasure on his handiwork and declared everything he made “very good” (Genesis 1:31). He rejoices over his people (Isaiah 62:5), sometimes rejoicing with singing (Zephaniah 3:17). In other words, God is happy and is happy in his own creation including his people.
Summary Attributes: Beauty
Beyond blessed, God is also beautiful. “God’s beauty is that attribute of God whereby he is the sum of all desirable qualities.” King David spoke of God’s beauty…
“One thing have I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to inquire in his temple.” (Psalm 27:4)
To David, seeing God’s beauty was a goal to be obtained: an aspiration. And like David, our desire for beauty must find its fulfillment in looking at God. One of the blessings of heaven will be to see God’s beauty in his face (Revelation 22:4).
Summary Attributes: Glory
The final summary attribute to cover is glory. “God’s glory is the created brightness that surrounds God’s revelation of himself.” Although glory can imply “honor” or “excellent reputation,” it often implies a brilliant light that surrounds the person of God. Many verses extol the glories of God including…
- “Who is this King of glory? The Lord of hosts, he is the King of glory! Selah (Psalm 24:10)
- “Everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.” (Isaiah 43:7)
- “He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power.” (Hebrews 1:3a)
The attribute of glory is one that Paul suggests we will receive the more we mature in Christ. As we behold “the glory of the Lord” we “are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.” (2 Corinthians 3:18). Just as God is glorious, so we too receive a measure of glory as we walk with him.
“Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” (Psalm 73:25-26)
- attributes of purpose
- free will
- necessary will
- reasonable self-determination
- revealed will
- secret will
- “summary attributes”
Resources: Wayne Grudem
- Wayne Grudem: Book: Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine
- Wayne Grudem: 148 Lectures on Systematic Theology at Scottsdale Bible Church
- Blue Letter Bible: The Attributes of God (Overview)
- Harry L. Reeder III (video: 1:53): How Should We Distinguish Between God’s Incommunicable and Communicable Attributes?
- Matt Slick: What Are The Communicable and Incommunicable Attributes of God?
- Richard L. Pratt, Jr.: Communicable & Incommunicable Attributes of God