What is Christian doctrine? And do words such as eschatology, sanctification, and atonement really have anything to do with our everyday, going-to-class, working, hanging-out-with-friends lives?
Christian doctrines begin as interpretations of the Bible. Throughout the history of the church, Christians have preserved what they believe the Bible teaches. They form doctrines so that they may remember what other Christians have historically believed about God, humanity, and God’s mission in this world.
These days it’s no less important than in ages past for us to understand Christian doctrine. So we’re offering you brief posts about what Christians have historically believed are the core teachings of the Bible. We hope you find that these historic teachings not only broaden your understanding of Christianity but also deepen your love of God.
In this series about Christian doctrine, we’ve been surveying the core biblical teachings of Christian faith. In a previous post, we introduced the attributes of God and those attributes’ division into the categories of “Incommunicable” (qualities possessed by God alone, such as omnipotence, omniscience, and transcendence) and “Communicable” (qualities that both God and we possess, such as love, knowledge, and mercy).
Given our tendency to ascribe virtues to ourselves, we do well to remember that the Bible reveals all good things originate from our Creator and that these Communicable Attributes are best exemplified in the behavior of Jesus Christ.
A Short List of the Communicable Attributes of God
The list of God’s Communicable Attributes is long. So we’ll only introduce a few.
Jesus says in Scripture that God is a Spirit (John 4:24). As a spiritual Being, God’s existence does not depend on his having a physical body. Except for the person of Jesus Christ, God’s spiritual essence has never been perceived by anyone’s physical eyes (Exodus 33:20; 1 Timothy 6:16).
The Bible teaches that we are created in the image of God. As human beings who reflect the nature of God, we too possess a spirit, though not divine in nature. Our spirit is capable of prayer with the sovereign God and communion with God’s Holy Spirit.
To say God is personal means that our Creator has the characteristics of intelligence, will, and emotions. As a divine person, God can think, make decisions, and experience what we call feelings.
The Bible records many instances of God’s love for human beings. In Jeremiah 29:11, God expresses a personal care for his people. He says, “For I know the plans I have for you, . . . plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
A personal God can also form relationships, an ability not found in religions that profess God is pure energy. Our believing God is a person gives us assurance we can have a personal and loving relationship with our Creator.
God is good. And he has established a difference between good and evil.
Above all creation, God is the supreme moral judge, the only person who clearly discerns right from wrong and who truly understands people. God’s goodness establishes justice, and his justice nurtures our hope.
We can know what is good by looking at the moral character of Jesus Christ. Our believing God is good gives us hope that no matter what our present sufferings, God’s justice will prevail.
God is holy in both nature and character. God’s holiness not only refers to his nature of separateness—in being above and beyond everything that exists—but also to his moral perfection. In the Bible, God is called the Most Holy One (Psalm 71:22; Isaiah 1:4).
God’s holiness is manifested in Jesus Christ, who is not only fully human but also fully God. Through God’s Spirit, our lives can grow in moral holiness. God calls us to seek holiness by separating ourselves from sin and maturing in sanctification.
Our believing God is holy gives us a vision for growing in moral character.
God is love (1 John 4:8). Love exists among the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The One and triune God is bound by love (John 17:24). According to the Bible, people are meant to experience the love of God.
Our believing God is love compels us to love other people unconditionally.
Since truth matters to God, it should matter to us. In hopes of growing in God’s character, we strive to put away from our lives every form of falseness and hindrance to truth. We aspire to live with integrity. We promise to speak the truth in love.
Our believing God is truth gives us personal value and significance, for we know God does not create falsehood.
God is wise. “Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and unfathomable his ways,” wrote Paul in Romans 11:33.
Creation manifests the wisdom of God. With infinite wisdom, God created the mysterious and intricate universe. We seek God’s wisdom in our own lives. Scripture reminds us, “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him” (James 1:5).
Our believing God is wise gives us the desire to grow in discerning good from evil.
Believing and Imitating Our Creator God
These Communicable Attributes of God help us believe our Creator truly knows and loves us, empathizing with our sorrows, sharing in our joys. As we look to Jesus, we learn to imitate the character of God.
Jonathan Rice is an editor with InterVarsity.
Image by twentyonehundred productions art director Laura Li-Barbour.
Read all our posts on the basics of the Christian faith: