Studies in The Baptist Catechism: Section Two – Theology Proper (Q.7)

Q.7: What is God?

A. God is a Spirit,1 infinite,2 eternal,3 and unchangeable,4 in His being,5 wisdom, power,6 holiness,7 goodness,8 and truth.9

1John 4:24

2Job 11:7-9;

3Psalm 90:2

4James 1:17

5Exodus 3:14

6Psalm 147:5

7Revelation 4:8

8Revelation 15:4

9Exodus 34:6

It can seem almost improper to ask a question such as What is God? as though we are calling God a thing—an impersonal, inanimate object. Rather, the question seeks to discern two things about the very personal Being we call God. We want to know, generally, what comprises God’s essential nature and, more specifically, what His attributes are.

Answering this question is of prime concern for our study, because heresies are built upon false conceptions of God. There are heresies, like Mormonism, that teach that their god had a body before he became a god and that he still has a body to this day. Mormons also teach that their god is not eternal. He will continue on for eternity, but he came into being at some point. He is everlasting, but he is not from everlasting. Other cults, like Islam, teach that their god does change. He arbitrarily changes from one day to the next, according to his changing desires. The god of Islam is not fixed.


Enough about what God’s word does not teach; what does it teach? In order to understand what God is, we must often speak of Him in terms of what He is not. For instance, when we consider the fact that God is Spirit, we are acknowledging the fact that God is incorporeal. That is a fancy way of saying that God does not have a body. “See My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself; touch Me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have,” (Lk. 24:39; NASB). In His essential, eternal being, God does not have a body like ours.

“God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth,’” (John 4:24; NASB).

This is the first of many attributes of God that distinguish Him from ourselves. In His very nature, God is Spirit; He is incorporeal. In our nature, we are body and spirit. A distinction is being made here. We are not as God is, nor will we be in eternity. At the resurrection, we will receive new, glorified bodies, and we will have these bodies for all of eternity.

Infinite, Eternal, and Unchangeable

Here, our Catechism teaches us three more of God’s essential attributes. He is infinite, eternal, and unchangeable. These attributes are meant to be read as qualifiers of the attributes that follow. So, it could actually be broken down like this:

God is infinite in His being, wisdom, power, holiness, goodness, and truth.

God is eternal in His being, wisdom, power, holiness, goodness, and truth.

God is unchangeable in His being, wisdom, power, holiness, goodness, and truth.

These attributes also distinguish God from man. They are what have lately been styled the incommunicable attributes of God. That just means that God does not share these attributes with His creatures. It is in these attributes that we find the Creator / creature distinction of Scripture. God is completely other. Sure, we exist, but we do not have infinite, eternal, or unchangeable being. As Christians, we might grow in wisdom, holiness, goodness, and truth, but we will never possess those traits infinitely, eternally, and unchangeably as God does.

In the entirety of His being, God is all of these attributes. God is essentially and exhaustively infinite.

“Can you discover the depths of God?

Can you discover the limits of the Almighty?

They are high as the heavens, what can you do?

Deeper than Sheol, what can you know?

Its measure is longer than the earth

And broader than the sea,” (Job 11:7-9; NASB).

There has never been a time when God did not exist, and exist in all of His essential attributes.

“Before the mountains were born

Or You gave birth to the earth and the world,

Even from everlasting to everlasting,

You are God,” (Ps. 97:9; NASB).

God is unwaveringly trustworthy in the immutability (unchangeability) of His attributes. All of His promises we can expect He will fulfill, because of His supreme and perfect consistency. Thus, we derive great comfort from this doctrine.

“Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow,” (Jas. 1:17; NASB).


Being, Wisdom, Power, Holiness, Goodness, and Truth

Having observed God’s infinitude, eternality, and immutability, let us examine the attributes of God in which we see these characteristics on display. The following attributes are what might be called the communicable attributes. That is, these are attributes in which the creature might share in a certain measure, albeit in a finite, temporal, and changeable sense. Where we exist and may to a certain measure prove wise, powerful, holy, good, and true, these are things we receive from God, not things that originate in us. God, on the other hand, possesses all of these attributes infinitely, eternally, and unchangeably.

Being. First, let us recognize that God is infinite, eternal, and unchangeable in His being. There was never a time when God began to be. He has always existed. In fact, God’s covenant name in the Hebrew Scriptures (YHWH; Yahweh, or Jehovah) was derivative of this idea. The name Yahweh is believed to have been revealed first to Moses at the burning bush:

“God said to Moses, ‘I AM WHO I AM’; and He said, ‘Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you,’’” (Exod. 3:14; NASB).

God did not claim to have come into being. Rather, He declared, “I AM WHO I AM.” That is to say that God exists. From all of eternity past to all of eternity future, God is. He did not create Himself, nor was He created by another. He simply has always been, still is, and always will be. He is the constant, eternal I AM.

Christ evoked this same moniker of Himself in several sayings in the Gospel of John known as the I AM statements. In a very provocative way, Christ used the construction ἐγώ εἰμι repeatedly in reference to Himself. The term ἐγώ in Greek means I in English. It is often used with action verbs to describe events (e.g. I run, I walk, I sit, etc.). When referring to being or existence, one would not typically use the term ἐγώ, but would rather choose εἰμι, which is translated into English as I am. Never would it be necessary, in the Greek, to put these two terms together, unless the person speaking is trying to make a very specific point.

Interestingly, in Exodus 3:14 in the Greek version of the Hebrew Scriptures (The Septuagint; LXX), God refers to Himself with these two Greek terms. In the English, we read, “I AM WHO I AM.” In the Greek, it reads, “Ἐγώ εἰμι ὁ ὤν.” This was God coming to Moses as the covenant God of Israel and telling him that He never began to be, but simply is from all of eternity. Thus, the Jews of Jesus’ day would have been very careful not to use this construction to refer to anyone but God Himself. Jesus, however, used it of Himself in multiple statements! In all of the following statements, Jesus refers to Himself using the construction ἐγώ εἰμι.

“Then Jesus again spoke to them, saying, ‘I am the Light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life,’” (John 8:12; NASB).

““I am He who testifies about Myself, and the Father who sent Me testifies about Me,” (vs. 18; NASB).

“Therefore I said to you that you will die in your sins; for unless you believe that I am He, you will die in your sins,” (vs. 24; NASB; note: The term He is inserted by most English translations. It does not actually appear in the Greek text.).

“So Jesus said, ‘When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am He, and I do nothing on My own initiative, but I speak these things as the Father taught Me,’” (vs. 28; NASB; note: Again the term He does not appear in the Greek text.).

Jesus’ I AM statements here serve to build a certain tension between Him and the religious leaders with whom He is speaking. He is blatantly claiming to be Yahweh in human flesh. Not only this, but He repeatedly calls their authority into question, even calling them sons of the devil. This interaction culminates with Christ making His claim to deity unmistakable:

“Jesus said to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was born, I am,’” (John 8:58; NASB).

Jesus in this statement is not merely claiming to be infinite, eternal, and unchangeable in His being. He is claiming to be such because He is claiming to be Yahweh Himself! In response to this bold claim, the Jews picked up stones to stone Him, so He hid himself and went out of the temple.

Wisdom. As we mentioned when we began this study, God is the source of all true knowledge, understanding, and wisdom. He searches all things, even Himself, and there is nothing hidden from His sight. The Psalmist spoke well of this attribute of God when he declared the following:

“Great is our Lord and abundant in strength;

His understanding is infinite,” (Ps. 147:5; NASB).

In our knowledge, understanding, and wisdom, we are finite, temporal, and changing. God, on the other hand, is the source of all true knowledge, understanding, and wisdom. In all three, He is infinite, eternal, and unchangeable. As we stated in our first study, all proper knowledge of God must have God as its Source. In fact, all proper knowledge, understanding, and wisdom does come down to us from the Lord of Glory.

Power. Psalm 147:5 also speaks to the great power of our God. The psalmist proclaims, “Great is our Lord and abundant in strength.” Surely, our God is omnipotent (all powerful). In fact, His exhaustive power is so prominent an attribute as to be attributed to Him as one of His titles. In Revelation 4:8, we read of the designation given Him by the seraphim who surround His throne:

“And the four living creatures, each one of them having six wings, are full of eyes around and within, and day and night they do not cease to say,

‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God, the Almighty, who was and who is and who is to come,’” (Rev. 4:8; NASB).

The Lord’s power also speaks to His authority. Sure, as the Catechism for Boys and Girls teaches us, “God can do all His holy will.” Notice though that in Isaiah 6, the Old Testament parallel to Revelation 4:8, the six-winged seraphim refer to God as the Lord of hosts:

“And one called out to another and said,

‘Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord of hosts,

The whole earth is full of His glory,’” (Isa. 6:3; NASB).

This title of God teaches us that God has all authority to dispatch hosts of heavenly beings to accomplish His will in creation. For this reason, we can have confidence when we pray, “Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven,” (Mt. 6:10b; KJV). At a moment’s notice, were it God’s will, God can exercise His infinite power and execute His divine authority to set all things right on earth, just as it is in the very presence of God. Surely, God has it in His power and in His authority to accomplish His will in all things.

This is a comfort for us as Christians who know that “God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose,” (Rom. 8:28; NASB). God not only promises good things to those who love Him and called, He not only knows of the good things that will come to us, but He actually causes all such things to come to pass. The God who promises to work all things out for the good of His saints actually has all power and authority to ensure that His promises will be kept.

Holiness. God is not only referenced as the Almighty in these refrains. He is also called holy. Not only is He called holy, but He is thrice holy: “‘Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord of hosts,” (Isa. 6:3b). In antiquity, when an author wanted to emphasize a particular word or phrase, he would repeat it. Holiness is the only attribute of God repeated thrice. This repetition is meant to highlight its preeminence. Of the holiness of God, the Westminster divines wrote:

“Q. 2. Is God necessarily holy?

A. Holiness is as necessary to him as his being: he is as necessarily holy as he is necessarily God: ‘Who shall not fear thee, O Lord?—for thou only art holy,’ Rev. xv. 4” (Westminster Assembly, The Assembly’s Shorter Catechism Explained. Oliver and Boyd, Edinburgh. 1765, pg. 31).

All of God’s attributes could be said to be dependent upon this over-arching attribute of holiness. God’s acts are just, because God is holy. God’s love is pure, because God is holy. God’s glory is matchless, because God is holy. God’s transcendence is unattainable, because God is holy. God’s ways are not our ways, because God is holy.

Everything that God does is holy. All of His works, His decrees, His provisions, and His dealings with mankind are absolutely holy. For all the efforts of the anti-theists, there is absolutely no charge that can be laid against God on account of His works.

“The Lord is righteous in all his ways,

And holy in all his works,” (Ps. 145:17; KJV).

God’s covenant promises are also holy: “For He remembered His holy promise, and Abraham His servant,” (Ps. 105:42; NKJV). All that God has determined shall come to pass work toward His ultimate holy ends. We have the security and the assurance of knowing that God has promised good to all His saints, and His promises will surely come to pass.

All that God ordains and all that He designates as His own is to be reckoned as holy. God’s apostles and prophets were deemed holy (Eph. 3:5) insofar as they were His apostles and prophets. God’s elect are holy (Eph. 1:1; Phil. 1:1; Col. 1:2), even the elect of otherwise corrupt churches (1Cor. 1:2; 2Cor. 1:1). Even the day that God has set aside for His worship is to be considered holy by His people:

“If you turn away your foot from the Sabbath,

From doing your pleasure on My holy day,

And call the Sabbath a delight,

The holy day of the LORD honorable,

And shall honor Him, not doing your own ways,

Nor finding your own pleasure,

Nor speaking your own words,” (Isa. 58:13; NKJV).

Above all, let us not forget that God’s holiness is revealed to us so that we might respond in praise, and awe, and wonder.

“Who will not fear, O Lord, and glorify Your name?

For You alone are holy;

For all the nations will come and worship before you,

For Your righteous acts have been revealed,” (Revelation 4:8; NASB).

Goodness and truth. Finally, let us consider the fact that God is infinite, eternal, and unchangeable in His goodness and truth. We often keep our motives and justifications secret from our children in the hopes that they will learn to trust us. We do not explain to them every reason for every command we give them. Rather, we say things like, “…because I told you so.” In these moments, do we mean to be harsh and uncaring? Not necessarily. It can be proper to respond to our kids in this way if our desire is for them to grow in their trust of us.

Yet, for as much as we know what’s best for our children, we do not know as much as God. For as much as we might treat our children with kindness, love, and sympathy, we are not as good as God. God’s goodness and truth are far above our own, and we have the privilege of being called His children. Consider the declaration made to Moses as the Lord passed by him:

“Then the Lord passed by in front of him and proclaimed, ‘The Lord, the Lord God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth,” (Exodus 34:6; NASB).

What comfort is there in knowing that, though we do not know all things and though we are mired in sin and misery, God is infinite, eternal, and unchangeable in His goodness and truth. We have the privilege of serving this God. We have the privilege of calling Him Father. What a blessing! What security! What great and glorious assurance!

Pragmatic Churches and Pastoral Ministry Students, The Congregation’s Duties

For context, be sure and read the first seven articles listed here.

Some inquiry must now be made regarding the spheres in which such testing must necessarily take place. Though professors and school administrators may prove valuable in the life of the pastoral ministry student, only his elders and congregation are necessary for the testing that truly matters in Scripture. Only the elders and the congregation are commanded to carry out this testing in Scripture (1Tim. 3:1-10; 1John 4:1). Jesus and the apostles nowhere give directives to any maverick Christians operating outside the purview of the local assembly to disciple these young pastors. Nor do they command impressionable, young men who desire the office of elder to seek out such mentorship. Under the right conditions, such relationships may certainly prove beneficial, particularly academic relationships, but they are by no means necessary.

The next two sections, then, will examine the two bodies responsible for the testing of a future elder: the congregation and the elders of his local church. The congregation is responsible, in the exercise of their gifts, to discern the spirit of the man they are raising up to leadership. The elders must take particular care to disciple the pastoral candidate and to lead the congregation in his testing and confirmation.

The creedal test. Congregations in America have certainly lost their mind. They have come to be seen, and to see themselves, as little more than spectators of the overly crafty, rhetorical sport of Sunday preaching. The idea that he or she might have a role in such things as examining and approving the future leaders of the universal church is unfathomable to the average congregant. After all, such quality assurance measures ought to be taken by more qualified people, right? This question, of course, assumes that the Spirit-led, Spirit-gifted, elder-guided congregant is not the most qualified person to do such work. The presuppositions behind this question are unbiblical.

Congregations are the most qualified to discern the voice of their Shepherd, and also to discern the voice of false shepherds. The German reformer, Martin Luther, wrote of the congregation’s role in examining prospective pastors: “It is the sheep who are to judge whether they teach the voice [i.e. the words] of Christ or the words of strangers.”[1] Thus, a well-trained, Spirit-led, Bible-believing congregation ought to be able to spot a theological delinquent long before its elders and deacons have the opportunity to lay hands on him for the ministry.

So, if a church is to utilize such tools as creeds, confessions, and catechisms to examine and ordain pastors, it behooves the leaders of that church to encourage the congregation to be familiar with such tools. Some pastors may go so far as to teach on the creeds and confessions in Sunday schools, Sunday evening services, or mid-week services. Using catechisms of varying degrees of difficulty in discipleship programs, and encouraging the usage of them in the home, may also improve theological discernment in the congregation. What is more, God may use this ministry to awaken some men to their own individual calling to the ministry or reveal to the church those who are natural leaders and those who are not. In other words, by discipling the body of Christ, pastoral candidates should naturally rise to the surface.

A prospective elder candidate, then, must be known as a covenant member of the local body in good standing. How can a church trust the credentials of a churchless rogue or a troublemaker? He would also be one who is sound in his doctrine and excels in his knowledge and practice of the church’s binding documents (i.e. creeds, confessions, catechisms, covenants, bylaws, etc.). It would be fairly hypocritical to expect the laity to hold to a confession to which one would not hold prospective leaders. In short, the elder candidate is first and foremost a churchman.[2]

Unfortunately, many churches today do not have such binding documents whereby their members might discern the doctrinal unity of the body. Even more devastating is the complete lack of emphasis many churches place on the importance of church membership.[3] Elders are expected to oversee and tend to the flock of God. Yet, they have no hope of carrying out this obligation without drafting a statement expressing the church’s doctrinal unity and having covenanted members of the church sign off on those minimal doctrinal commitments. Congregations, likewise, have no means by which to discern the theological misgivings of their overseers without such safeguards in place.

The character test. Perhaps the greatest detriment to the test of a ministry student’s character is the loss of a sense of community in the local church. In a culture where the standard is for one to come to church on most Sundays, but to otherwise have little more contact with one’s church, the sense of community and spiritual family is all but absent. A large part of the problem is doctrinal.

The doctrine of adoption is rarely taught in modern evangelicalism and, where it is taught, the familial aspects of it are even more rarely highlighted. As a rule, most pastors that would even deign to address the doctrine of spiritual adoption tend to only focus on its implications for the Father / child relationship. Little onus is given to its implications for the adopted child’s relationships with those who have also been adopted. God’s children are not only adopted unto Him, but are also adopted into a family of similarly adopted fathers, mothers, brothers, and sisters (1Tim 5:1-2).[4] Were a pastor to go so far in his teaching of this doctrine, he might still run the danger of missing the final, and perhaps most crucial, step in the process: giving the application.

For the purpose of the present series of articles, the application is that the ministry student should be a member in good standing with a local church. He should also be actively involved with other actively involved members who understand that their relationship with one another is not a shallow, Sunday-only association. Wayne Grudem suggests that the frequent use of the term brother by the New Testament authors might indicates “the strong consciousness they had of the nature of the church as the family of God.” [5]  Their relationship is a familial one, and thus should take on a special intimacy. True character examination becomes possible in this intimate, familial environment but never apart from it.

Brothers and sisters who are brothers and sisters by natural birth are typically forced by their common situation to put up with one another and strive hard after some semblance of civility. Because siblings share parents, rooms, hand-me-down clothing, a dining-room table, a television, and the backseat of the car, they are forced to find ways to confront one another rather than avoiding one another. Through these situations, they learn something of one another’s character. In like manner, the family of God should not practice avoidance, but should seek opportunities to share their lives with one another so that they may, by natural processes, learn something of one another’s character. In this environment, character examination of prospective elders is almost an afterthought.

Here, functions like potlucks, church picnics, Friday night fellowships, small group Bible studies, phone calls, and house calls become pivotal. No one can hope to properly discern the character of an individual when they only see them once a week engaging in surface-level conversations with them averaging between five to ten minutes. The early church invited church leaders and those carrying their letters into their homes at the risk of being persecuted by the ruling authorities.[6] Yet, most Christians today will not even invite their fellow church members over for supper. To come to the point, regular interaction outside of the regular church services is fundamental to the task of testing prospective elders’ character.

The aptitude test. What the congregation sees at the church, however, is likewise fundamental. Pastoral candidates must show themselves to be gifted for the ministry, and there is no better place than the church for the prospective pastor to operate in those gifts. A pastor is to be a servant; the local church provides ample opportunities to serve. A pastor is to be a teacher; the local church ought to provide many teaching opportunities for pastoral students. A pastor is to be a preacher; pastoral candidates should then be first picked for pulpit supply. A pastor is to be an evangelist; the local church should have some sort of evangelism ministry in which he might participate. As the pastor engages in these various ministry roles, he will find that he is working alongside members of the congregation, if indeed the individual members of the congregation are operating in the gifts the Spirit has given them. Such functions, at their core, represent the image of our Trinitarian God in which we have been made.

In Paul’s letter to the church at Ephesus, Paul continually draws their attention back to the Trinitarian nature of God. In chapter one, he stresses the Trinitarian work of God in the salvation of His saints. In chapter two, he includes two verses that directly reference all three Persons of the Trinity (vv. 18, 22). In chapter three, he concludes the first half of his letter with a purposefully Trinitarian prayer. In chapter four, Paul takes his Trinitarian focus in a new direction; he begins to highlight the duty of the church to image forth both the diversity and the unity of God. Just as there is one Spirit (vs. 4), one Lord (vs. 5), and one God and Father of all (vs. 6), and just as these Three work toward the common goal of the glory of God, so too the church has been diversely gifted to work toward the unity of the faith (vv. 7-16):

“The idea is not mainly that of individual believers attaining to perfection but rather that of the church, made up of the whole body of believers and viewed as a single organism, reaching its full spiritual stature.” [7]

The local body being so diversely gifted to discern against tricky, crafty, and deceitful men (Eph 4:14), there is no institution more qualified to discern the abilities of those who will be the pastors of the future. Elders and deacons may be particularly qualified to teach and recognize skills necessary for ministry in pastoral candidates. However, leaders who do not take advantage of the variety of gifts that God has given to the congregation for the examination and confirmation of elders forfeit an invaluable resource.

A danger is present in this course of action, though. An immature or a rebellious congregation will always be prone to “accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance with their own desires” (2Tim 4:3). A teacher could easily be promoted on sheer ability alone with little to no consideration of creed or character. Nevertheless, this danger is no cause to forsake the sacred task of the congregation to discern their teachers’ aptitude.

Many churches are quite unwise and do not rely on the Holy Spirit as they ought, but judge their elders in the flesh. Yet even Spurgeon wrote that he would rather trust the judgment of the “unwise” collective than his own in regard to his own qualifications.[8] Thus, to leave the task of confirming a man’s call to the ministry up to the elders alone or, worse still, the candidate himself is a sinful case of negligence and a practical denial of the work of the Spirit in the life of the church. The congregation must be involved in the process.[9]

[1]Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol 39: Church and Ministry I (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1970), 307.

[2]Lloyd-Jones, Preachers, 114.

[3]Amy Johnson Frykholm, “Loose connections: what’s happening to church membership?,” Christian Century 11, no. 128 (May 2011): 22.

[4]Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theolgogy (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000), 741-742.

[5]Ibid., 741.

[6]Wayne A. Meeks, The Moral World of the First Christians (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1986), 121-122.

[7]Curtis Vaughan, Bible Study Commentary, ed. Curtis Vaughan, Ephesians (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1977), 95.

[8]Spurgeon, Lectures, 32-33

[9]Lloyd-Jones, Preaching, 108-109.