III. The Attributes of God.
To answer the question, “What is God like?” the Bible ascribes certain characteristics, or “perfections” to God. These attributes give a reasonable identification of God.
A. Attributes of Personality.1. Intellect, or Omniscience: All-knowledge. He knows everything completely; it is not limited nor increased in any measure. Three terms are used:
Knowledge (gnosis), the unique ability of God to know Himself and all things actual and possible in one eternal and simple act; Acts 15:18.
Foreknowledge (prognosis), His knowledge of all events, persons and things beforehand; Acts 2:23.
Wisdom (sophia), the proper application of knowledge in completing a plan of action; Rom. 11:33.
a. God knows all the possible things of the future; 1 Sam. 23:5-14; Matt. 11:21-23; Jer. 38:17-20.
b. Foreknowledge of all moral beings is part of God’s omniscience. If He is ignorant of the future actions of man, there can be no assurance of divine control of the future, and prophecy could be broken, causing God constantly to revise His plan. Divine foreknowledge does not coerce; it merely knows what is certain as part of God’s decree; Jer. 17:10.
c. Omniscience shows that man is always under the observation of God; Ps. 90:8; Jer. 23:24. Therefore, we as His children should think and act in light of His omniscience.
d. Omniscience guarantees that all future judgments will be according to truth; Amos 9:2-4. For the believer, God will reward on the basis of what was the right motive for his works; 1 Cor. 4:1-5.
e. Omniscience can also be a great encouragement and comfort to believers; Mal. 3:16-17; 2 Tim. 2:19.
f. Omniscience involves the manifestation of God’s wisdom; this guarantees proper judgment and the best possible end; Jude 1:25; 1 Tim. 1:17.
2. Sensibility: This aspect of God’s personality includes holiness, justice, love, goodness and truth.
a. Holiness. God must be holy in all His ways, and yet maintain a nearness to His creatures. Holiness is directed in two ways: devotion to that which is good (Isa. 57:15) as well as hatred of that which is evil (Deut. 16:22). Holiness contrasted the God of Israel from all false heathen gods; Ex. 15:11. Those gods brought impurity; He demanded holiness on the part of His people; Lev. 19:2.b. Justice, or righteousness. This legal term refers to divine government; Ps. 89:14.
1.) God’s justice guarantees that He is no respecter of persons; thus, righteous laws are given and impartial judgment is executed; Ps. 97:2; Acts. 10:34.
2.) God’s justice never condones sin, and when He forgives, it is always on the basis of righteousness, either for the unbeliever; Rom. 3:25-26, or the believer; 1 John 1:9.
3.) God’s justice demands future judgment for those who reject God’s redemption; Acts.17:31; Rev.16:4-7, and promises reward for faithful service of believers; 1 Cor. 3:11-15.
4.) Despite all the apparent inequalities in this life and the prosperity of the wicked, God’s justice will prevail in the end; Ps. 73.
c. Love. This attribute is the primary moving force in God’s sensibility. Love expresses His essential character. God does not strive after love; He is love; 1 Jn. 4:8, so there is no effort to keep loving since it is part of His being. God’s holiness condemns sin while His love seeks to save the sinner; John 3:16. This may sound contradictory, but in Christ the difficulty is solved; mercy and truth are met together in Him; Ps. 85:10; 2 Cor. 5:19.
d. Goodness. This is the attribute of God which prompts Him to deal bountifully and kindly with all His creatures. Only God can be considered to be absolutely good; Matt. 19:17. Two terms are used:
1.) Mercy. In Hebrew, chesed; in Greek, eleos. This emphasizes God’s patience and longsuffering which causes Him to show pity and compassion on the needy and unfortunate who are not necessarily deserving of His help; Lam. 3:22-23; Eph. 2:4.
2.) Grace. In Hebrew, chen, in Greek, charis. This emphasizes God’s goodness in acts of kindness toward ungodly, sinful man, by giving what is not deserved; Rom. 3:24; Eph. 2:5-8.
3.) Some have tried to contrast these two by saying that mercy is God not giving you what you deserve and grace is God giving you what you do not deserve. However, this definition does not recognize that Heb. 4:16 invites us to come to the throne of Grace to obtain mercy, and Lam. 3:22-23 says God’s mercies are new every morning. It can also be observed that God dealt with David and Bathsheba in Grace in not demanding the death penalty under the Law. So there are both positive and negative acts of God’s mercy and grace.
e. Truth, Veracity; Faithfulness. God is perfectly reliable, dependable and trustworthy. God cannot lie; Num. 23:19, so what He has promised, He is faithful to perform; Phil. 1:6. He is faithful Who promised; Heb. 10:23. Christ proclaimed Himself as the Truth; Jn. 14:6. The Hebrew word emeth can be translated either as “truth” or “faithfulness;” Ps. 36:5; 108:4.
3. Will; Omnipotence: This third element in the personality of God enables Him to put into effect all that he has designed. God’s will is free and independent of all creatures; James 1:18. Some of His purposes are secret, others are revealed; Deut. 29:29. Over all, God’s will is omnipotent (All-powerful).
a. The word omnipotent occurs only once, in Rev. 19:6, but the same Greek word, pantokrator is used nine other times, translated “Almighty” in 2 Cor. 6:18; Rev. 1:8; 4:8; 11:7; 15:3; 16:7, 14; 19:15; 21:22.b. In the Old Testament the name El-Shaddai (Almighty God) is used 47 times, as in Gen. 17:1, expressing God’s omnipotence. There are other statements, such as Gen. 18:14, “Is anything too hard for the LORD?” or Jer. 32:16, “I know that Thou canst do everything.”
c. God’s omnipotence is related to His holy will; thus, He can only do that which is in harmony with His character. This answers the age-old question, “Can God create a stone heavier than He can lift?” He will not do wrong nor act foolishly, but He is able to bring to pass everything He wills; Eph. 1:11. He cannot sin; Jas. 1:13; lie; Heb. 6:13; deny Himself; 2 Tim. 2:13; nor change His character; Jas. 1:17.
d. God’s omnipotence over the universe. He created it from nothing; Gen. 1:1-3; Jer. 10:12-13; Heb. 11:1-3, and controls it all; Ps. 107:25-29; Col. 1:15-17.
e. God’s omnipotence among mankind. God showed His power over Pharaoh; Ex. 4:11; 6:6; and over all nations; Isa. 40:15. God’s power is available to the Christian; Eph. 3:20; 2 Cor. 9:8.
f. God’s power reaches all heavenly beings; Dan. 4:35; Heb. 1:14, even over Satan and his hosts; Job. 1:12; 2:6; Phil. 2:11-13. God is never frustrated by Satan who is only a creature; 1 John 4:4. Someday, God’s omnipotence will establish Christ as Sovereign over the universe; Rev. 19:15-16.
B. Constitutional or Incommunicable, Absolute Attributes of God.
1. Simplicity. God is not complex, as man is, but is indivisible. God is of one Essence, and the whole of His being is in each of the Three Persons of the Godhead. Anything which is compounded is the work of some higher being, but since God created all things, He is the source of all, and simplicity is essential to His being.2. Unity. There is only one divine Being and all other beings exist of and through Him. God is one in essence and substance; Deut. 6:4; 32:39; Isa. 44:6.
3. Infinity. God is wholly without limits except those which are self-imposed (see Phil. 2:5-8) or contrary to His character. He transcends all limitations of space and time; Isa. 6:3.
4. Eternity. The Lord is the Author of time, so He is in no way conditioned by it. He has always existed and always will; Ps. 90:2. Creation had no part in eternity before time, but will have part in eternity after time is no more; Rev. 21:1; 22:4. But God is free from all succession of time; Rev. 4:8-11.
5. Immutability. God is not capable of, nor subject to, change. He never learns, grows, ages, nor improves; Mal. 3:6; Jas. 1:17. Though some Scriptures, such as Gen. 6:6 seem to indicate a change in God, it is simply His unchanging holiness responding to the changes in man. The unchanging sun melts the wax but hardens the clay!
6. Immensity, or Omnipresence. God is everywhere present in the totality of His being; 1 Ki. 8:27; Ps. 139:7-12; Jer. 23:23,24; Acts 17:17. God is also free to be locally present, as in Mt. Sinai with Moses, or in the Holy of Holies in the Tabernacle. The Father is “in heaven,” Matt.6:9; the Son is at the right hand of the Father; Heb. 1:3, and the Spirit is resident in the believer; 1 Cor. 6:19. Pantheism says, “Everything is God.” The Bible says that God is everywhere, in all His creation, but the creation is not God.
7. Sovereignty. God is absolute in His authority, over time, space and all creatures, from the highest to the lowest; Ps. 50:10, 15; 1 Chron. 29:11-12; 1 Sam. 2:6-8. Sovereignty determines the time, place, and conditions under which everyone lives or dies; 2 Ki. 20:1-6; Heb. 9:27. God is free to distribute favor and grace according to His will; Ps. 115:3; Rom. 9:14-16, yet, His will is always guided by His character, which is righteous, true and all-wise; Rom. 11:33-36. This is why God must punish the wicked and save the righteous.