I grew up wanting to be just like my older brother-in-law, who today in his upper 80s is still one of the finest human beings the world has ever known. If you want to be like someone, you need to know them, observe them, identify their attributes, and commit to copying them and deploying them in your life.
We are encouraged to be like God – to be like the visible expression of God in Jesus Christ. So we need to know the attributes of God – the topic we’ve studied these past two weeks.
Again, the attributes of God are broken into two large categories. Chris spoke and wrote about the first group last week, and today we finish the second category.
In theology the words used to title those two categories are communicable and incommunicable. These are not words we use very much in common speech. I had to laugh immediately last Sunday during the sermon when I asked for a show of hands as to who recently had used these words, and immediately all the hands of the medical workers in the congregation went up. These words are used to speak of diseases.
Communicable diseases are those that can be spread from person to person. Some examples are the Common Cold, Chicken Pox, and Strep Throat. So, if you’re dealing with one of these, sneeze into your elbow! It is easy to share these diseases.
Incommunicable (or non-communicable) diseases are those that can’t travel from person to person. These diseases include allergies, diabetes, and sickle cell disease. It is not possible to share these diseases.
Chris wrote last week about the various incommunicable attributes that God possesses. We do not have these, as much as we might want them …
- Self-sufficient – that God is not dependent upon anything or anyone else – I can think and say that I am like that, but after about five or six hours, I’m ready for a hamburger or something.
- Unchanging / Immutable — I want to consistently love everyone all of the time, but then I look at Facebook and see what people say and think, and I might change loving them quite so much.
- Omnipotent – We might like to be this, but it would be dangerous without also having all of the other characteristics of God. I might wish to have it, and if I did I’m sorry to tell you Redskins, Steelers and Patriots fans that your teams would never again win a game – even when they played each other; and even though that’s not logically possible to have two losses out of one game, in my mind that would be a display of justice as well. But I sadly cannot make that happen.
- Omniscience – I thought I knew it all until I realized I didn’t know I didn’t know it all; and I thought I made a mistake one time, but I was wrong … you get the picture.
- Omnipresence – My goodness, I go months at a time and never even leave Washington County, not even for the Alps in the summer or the South Pacific in the winter. Hot or cold, I’m stuck in one place.
So these are incommunicable attributes.
This week we have written about those attributes that are communicable. Or another way of saying it is that we are speaking about God’s “nearness” rather than His “uniqueness.” These are attributes we may share with God as a result of being created in the image of God. We should seek to exemplify these qualities more and more as we mature in the faith.
And finally today, the greatest characteristic that defines God in summary fashion is that He is love and mercy. This is sort of the “default” characteristic of God, though others of which we have written, like wrath and judgment due to his justice, are necessary and consistent in certain circumstances.
There are so many ways to speak of God’s love and to illustrate it – from creation, to mankind, to the nation of Israel, to the love within the Trinity, love for the lost, and down to the specific love of God for those who come to Christ for salvation …
Romans 5:8 – But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
Galatians 2:20 – I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
And in terms of us being like God and emulating His character, the emphasis upon this attribute will take us far in every other way. It is a summary attitude that finds action both toward God and others.
Jesus silenced the Pharisees with this summary idea in Matthew 22…
Matthew 22:34-40 – Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
So there is our summary and practical challenge. Having seen what God is like and wanting to be like Him, the attitude and action of genuinely loving and serving others is the very best use of our life-long energies.
So, even though you can’t be LIKE God, I’ve told you that you should try to be like God in the (communicable) ways that you can. Be a monkey and copy this! See, this theological study stuff really is practical! So, just do it! No pressure, just don’t mess up!