The Attributes of God†††††††
ďAnd this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.Ē ††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† ††††-- John 17:3
There is no possibility of salvation, no possibility of eternal life, no possibility of true Christianity apart from knowing God in his true character, as he is revealed in Holy Scripture. Therefore, it is of utmost importance that we have some knowledge and understanding of the Divine character, that we know the attributes of Godís Being, the perfections of his nature. A proper, biblical knowledge of Godís attributes is essential to saving faith. That person who claims to believe God, but has no idea what his character is, is deluded with a false faith. Our Lord Jesus tells us plainly, "And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent." A knowledge of Godís character, his attributes, lies at the very foundation of true religion.
Knowledge Essential To Faith
††††††††††† It is impossible to trust and love God until we know who he is, until we know the character of his Being. Indeed, it is impossible for us to know our need of such a Savior as Christ is until we have some concept of the infinitely holy character of God. We may be terrified by the fear of wrath to come and of eternal judgment, and we may be delighted by the hope of escaping the wrath of God in hell through Christ; but that is not salvation. Jesus Christ is not a fire-escape from hell. He is the revelation of and way to the living God. Eternal life, true Christianity, true salvation is a knowledge of God as God, faith in God as God, and love for God as God.
††††††††††† Yet, our Lord Jesus tells us that ďGod is Spirit.Ē Because God is Spirit, he cannot be known by natural senses and abilities. He can be known by us only as he is pleased to reveal himself to us in his Word and works, through the mediation of our Lord Jesus Christ (John 1: 1-3, 14-18).
What are Godís attributes?
††††††††††† The attributes of God are the perfections of his nature, the characteristics of his Being as God. Godís attributes are those traits of character essential to Divinity. As we look at the attributes of God revealed in the Scriptures, remember that if even one of these attributes did not belong to him, he would not and could not be God. These are the things which are essential to Godhood.
††††††††††† Theologians have many ways of classifying the Divine attributes. Some have classified them as communicable and incommunicable. Communicable attributes are those which are communicated to rational creatures (angels and men). They would be wisdom, power, righteousness, love, and mercy. Incommunicable attributes are attributes belonging to God alone, such as infinity, immutability, omnipotence, omniscience, and omnipresence.
††††††††††† Others have attempted to classify the attributes of God as natural and moral. They would, for example, say that infinity, eternality, and omnipotence are among Godís natural attributes, and that holiness, justice, and truth are moral attributes.
††††††††††† There are other ideas put forth by men to classify Godís attributes; but the Bible never attempts to do so. When trying to understand the character of our God, we must recognize that this is a subject so majestically sublime that it is simply inappropriate to attempt to analyze God and divide his nature into parts like a psychologist dissects the psyche of a man. Instead, we must look at the glorious attributes of our God with the reverent wander of simplicity.
††††††††††† I will give a brief sketch of Godís attributes with numerous Scripture texts illustrating them. Look up each text, read it in its context, and bask your soul in the contemplation of Godís glorious Being. Here are thirteen of those attributes which are essential to Godís Being. The list could be much longer; but some of Godís attributes can be viewed together, simply because they are intimately connected. For example: Justice demands Veracity, Omnipresence demands Infinity, and Goodness demands Love.
1. Self existence -- God Almighty is Life in himself, independent and underived. His Being is inexhaustible (Ps. 36:9; Isa. 41:4; John 5:26; Acts 17:24-25; Rom. 11:35-36; Gen. 1:1; Ex. 3:14 ).
2. Spirituality -- God is Spirit. He is not just a spirit. He is Spirit. He has no body or parts like we do. He is the pure, underived, eternal Spirit (Gen. 1:2; Deut. 4:15-19; Ps. 139:7; Isa. 60:1; Ezek. 37:14; 39:29; Joel 2:28-29; John 4:24; Acts 17:28; Rom. 8:9; 15:1; 1 Cor. 2:11; 2 Cor. 3:17; Phil. 3:3; Heb. 12:9).
3. Unity -- Though there are three Persons in the Godhead, these three are One and this triune God is the only God there is (Ex. 20:3; Deut. 4:35,39; 6:4; 1 Sam. 2:2; 2 Sam. 7:22; 1 Kings 8:60; 2 Kings 19:15; Neh. 9:6; Ps. 86:10; Isa. 44:6-8; 45:22; Jer 10:10; Joel 2:27; Zech. 14:9; Mark 12:29; John 17:3; Rom. 1:21-23; 1 Cor. 8:4-6; Gal. 3:20; Eph. 4:6; 1 Tim. 2:5; 1 John 5:7).
4. Eternity -- Godís eternality means that he always is, that he is unlimited by time. He is the eternal ďI AMĒ (Gen. 21:33; Ex. 15:18; Deut. 32:40; 1 Chron. 16:36; Neh. 9:5; Ps. 90:1-4; Isa. 44:6; 48:12; 57:15; Jer. 10:10; Lam. 5:19; Dan. 4:3, 34; Mic. 4:7; Hab. 1:12; Rom. 1:20; 16:26; 1 Tim. 1:17; Heb. 1:10-12; 2 Pet. 3:8; Rev. 4:8-10).
5. Immutability Ė God is unchanging and unchangeable. When the Scriptures declare that God changes not, we are taught that though he changes all things, nothing moves or changes him. In his Being and in his purpose, God is unchangeable. That is our security (Ex. 3:15; Num. 23:19; 1 Sam. 15:29; Ps. 33:11; Pro. 19:21; Ecc. 3:14; Isa. 14:24; Ezek 24:14; Mal. 3:6; Rom. 11:29; Heb. 6:17-18; James 1:17).
6. Omnipresence -- God is unlimited by space. He is everywhere present, in all the fulness of his being at all times. It means that he is immanent, that he fills all things with his Being and comprehends all things in his Being (Gen. 28:15-16; Deut. 4:39; Josh. 2:11; 1 Kings 8:27; Ps. 139:7-10; Pro. 15:3, 11; Isa. 66:1; Jer. 23:23-24; Amos 9:2-4, 6; Acts 7:48-49; 17:27-28; Eph. 1:23).
7. Omniscience -- God knows all things absolutely and at all times. Godís omniscience must not be confused with his foreknowledge. Omniscience is an attribute of Godís Being. Foreknowledge is an act of his grace (Gen. 18:18-19; 25:23; Ex. 3:19; Deut. 31:21; 1 Sam. 2:3; 1 Kings 8:39;† 2 Kings 8:10, 13; 1 Chro. 28:9; Ps. 94:9, 11; 139:1-16; 147:4-5; Pro. 15:3, 11; Isa. 29:15-16; 40:28; Jer. 1:4-5; 16:17; Ezek. 11:5; Dan. 2:22, 28; Hos. 7:2; Amos 4:13; Nah. 1:7; Zech. 4:10; Matt. 6:4, 6, 8, 18; Luke 16:15; Acts 15:8, 18; Rom. 8:27, 29; 1 Cor. 3:20; 2 Tim. 2:19; Heb. 4:13; 1 Pet. 1:2; 1 John 3:20).
8. Wisdom -- God is all wise. He always accomplishes the best designs by the best possible means (Ps. 104:24; Pro. 3:19; Isa. 28:29; Jer. 10:12; Dan. 2:20-21; Rom. 11:33-36; 1 Cor. 1:24-25, 30; 2:6-7; Eph. 3:10; Col. 2:2-3).
9. Omnipotence -- God is all-powerful, almighty. In the truest sense nothing is impossible with him. His will, his work, his purpose, is irresistible; because God is omnipotent (Gen. 1:1; 17:1; 18:14; Ex. 15:7; Deut. 3:24; 32:39; 1 Sam. 14:6;† 1 Chro. 16:25; 2 Chro. 20:6; Job 40:2, 9; 42:2; Ps. 33:9; 135:6; Isa. 40:12-15; Jer. 32:17; Ezek. 10:5; Dan. 3:17; 4:35; Amos 4:13; 5:8; Zech. 12:1; Matt. 19:26; Mark 10:27; Luke 1:37; 18:27; Rom. 1:20; Eph. 1:19; 3:20; Col. 1:16, 17; Rev. 15:3; 19:6).
10. Holiness Ė God is absolute moral purity.† He can neither sin †nor tolerate sin. All that God is is holy. He cannot do anything, be anything, associate with, or accept anything short of absolute, perfect holiness. R. L. Dabney †wrote, Godís ďholiness is the collective and consummate glory of his nature.Ē A. A. Hodge said, ďInfinite, moral perfection is the crown of his Godhead; holiness is the total glory thus crowned.Ē (Ex. 15:11; Lev. 11:44-45; 20:26; Deut. 32:4; Josh. 24:19; 1 Sam. 2:2; 2 Sam. 22:31; Ezra 9:15; Ps. 5:4; 111:9; 145:17; Isa. 6:3; 43:14-15; Jer. 23:29; Ezek. 39:7; Dan. 9:7, 14; Hab. 1:13; Zech. 8:8; Mal. 2:17; Matt. 5:48; Luke 1:49; John 17:11; James 1:13; 1 Pet. 1:15-16; 1 John 1:5; 3:3; Rev. 4:8; 15:3-4)
11. Justice -- God† is just and always demands justice. He demands righteousness from all his creatures and always deals righteously toward them, upon the grounds of absolute, strict justice. God never does anything except that which is just and right (Gen. 18:23-32; Ex. 20:5-6; Deut. 7:9-10; 10:17-18; 24:16; 2 Chro. 19:7; Neh. 9:23; Ps. 9:8, 16; 89:14; Pro. 24:12; Isa. 9:7; 45:21; Jer. 17:10; 32:19; Lam. 1:18; Ezek. 18:1-32; 33:18-20; Dan. 9:7, 14; Nah. 1:3; Zeph. 3:5; Luke 12:47-48; Acts 10:34-35; 17:31; Rom. 3:24-26; 11:2, 5-11; Gal. 2:6; 6:7-8; Eph. 6:8-9; Col. 3:25; Heb. 6:10; 1 Pet. 1:17; 2 Pet. 2:9; 1 John 1:9; Jude 1:14-15; Rev. 16:17).
12. Goodness Ė Godís goodness includes his benevolence, love, mercy, grace, long-suffering, patience, forbearance, and kindness (Gen. 19:16; Ex. 34:6-7; Num. 14:18; Deut. 4:31; 7:7-8; Judges 2:18; 1 Kings 8:23; 2 Kings 13:23; 1 Chro. 16:34; 2 Chro. 30:9; Neh. 9:17, 31; Ps. 23:1-6; 25:8-10; 86:5, 15; Pro. 22:23; Isa. 63:9; Jer. 3:12; 31:3; Lam. 3:22-23; Ezek. 33:11; Dan. 9:9; Hos. 11:1-4, 8,9; Joel 2:13; Jonah 4:2, 10, 11; Micah 7:18-20; Nah. 1:7; Zeph. 3:17; Zech. 9:17; Mal. 1:2; Matt. 5:45; 19:17; Luke 1:50; 6:36; John 3:16; Acts 14:17; Rom. 2:4; 5:8; 8:38-39; 2 Cor. 1:3; 13:11; Eph. 2:4, 7; 2 Thess. 2:16; Tit. 2:11; 3:4-5; James 5:11; 1 Pet. 1:3; 2 Pet. 3:9; 1 John 3:1; 4:7-10, 16).
13. Faithfulness Ė The Lord our God is absolutely trustworthy, dependable, and true in all things. His decrees are sure. His promises are certain. His words will never fail. We may safely trust him in all things, with all things, and at all times. (Ex. 34:6; Num. 23:19; Deut. 4:31; 31:7, 9; Josh. 21:43-45; 23:14; 1 Sam. 15:29; 2 Sam. 7:28; 1 Kings 8:24, 56; Ps. 105:8; 119:89-90; Isa. 25:1; 49:7; Jer. 4:28; Lam. 3:23; Ezek. 12:25; 16:60, 62; Dan. 9:4; Micah 7:20; Luke 18:7-8; John 3:33; Rom. 3:4; 15:8; 1 Cor. 1:9; 10:13; 2 Cor. 1:20; 1 Thess. 5:24; 2 Thess. 3:3; 2 Tim. 2:13; Tit. 1:2; Heb. 6:18; 10:23; 1 Pet. 4:19; 2 Pet. 3:9, 13; 2 Pet. 3, 4, 8; 1 John 1:9; Rev. 15:3).
How does God reveal his attributes to us?
We see some of our Godís great attributes in creation. Everything our eyes see, our ears hear, or our hands handle, in heaven and earth is filled with the glory of the Lord. Even the unbelieving and the heathen have Godís attributes sufficiently revealed to them to render them utterly without excuse (Rom. 1:19-20).
The Lordís attributes are revealed to us in his Word. Even before the fall, in innocence, Adam and Eve were ruled by the Word of God, by his revealed will; and Godís revelation of himself is the revelation of his attributes.
The attributes of God are somewhat revealed in the character even of fallen men, who are created in the image of God. †† Without question, the image of God in man is terribly effaced since the fall; but man still reflects his Creator. The law of God is stamped in the hearts of all. And man is so much a reflection of God, even in his fallen state, that those who abuse, malign, or murder their neighbors incur the wrath of God in doing so (Gen. 9:6; James 3:9).
Certainly, we see the attributes of our God in the Lord Jesus Christ, our great and glorious Redeemer, the incarnate God (John 1:14; Col. 2:9). Though our Lord Jesus veiled his glorious attributes as God, emptying himself of any display of his dazzling, essential glory as God, still, Godhood beamed forth and radiated from him while he walked on this earth as a man. And now, the exalted Christ is worthy as a man to receive all the honor of his Divine attributes as it is heaped upon him in his glory (Rev. 5:12).
The law of God, in great measure, displays the attributes of his Being. The precepts of the law are a mirror in which we see the reflection of Godís perfections. Each commandment is an expression of his nature. The book of the law reveals what God loves and what he hates, what he approves of and what he despises, thus revealing in some measure what his character is. Still, in all these things (creation, law, man, even the incarnation), as Job puts it, we see only ďparts of his waysĒ (Job 26:14).
The only total, full, complete revelation of Godís glory as God, the only full display of his glorious attributes is the gospel of our great and glorious Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. The only place in this world where God is fully revealed is in the sin-atoning sacrifice of Christ at Calvary for the salvation of Godís elect. With regard to all the other manifestations of Godís glory, it must be said, ďNo man hath seen God at any time. The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him.Ē It is only in the death of Christ as our Substitute that every attribute of Godís Being meets and is revealed in perfect harmony.
I do not suggest for a moment that Godís attributes ever conflict with one another. They do not. But everywhere else, they appear to conflict. We see many displays of righteousness, justice, and truth, and of mercy, love, and grace. But only in our glorious Christ do see† them all displayed fully and perfectly (Ps. 85:9-13).
††††††††††† We see justice in the flood, and mercy in the ark. We see justice in Sodomís destruction, and mercy in Lotís deliverance. We see justice in the slaying of the firstborn, and mercy in the salvation of Israel. We see mercy in the parting of the sea, and justice overflowing Pharaohís army. We see justice in the fires of hell, and mercy in the glories of heaven. But only in the crucified Son of God, slain as our Substitute for the saving of our souls, do we see mercy and justice, peace and truth shining forth brilliantly unto the glory of God (Rom. 3:24-26). This is the glory of the gospel. It reveals the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 4:6).