Attributes of God

Biblical Doctrine of God’s Nature, His Attributes-Perfections

Tod Kennedy, October, 2007

  1. An introduction to God’s nature, his attributes-perfections, must begin with the recognition that God is central to all life—to everything. Stated very simply, yet often ignored is the question, “How does one live—in crisis, in reasonably uneventful times, in boring times, and in times of great joy and prosperity?” One’s view of life and life’s purpose must come from someone smarter, wiser, and more experienced—from God. One’s view of God determines how one lives. One’s view of God comes from God’s revelation—general and special. Therefore, our study is a biblical study. Only God and God’s revelation can accurately determine one’s view of life and life’s purpose. The one and only God is Yahweh Elohim, the biblical God. What is he like? What is his nature? What are his attributes? All other so-called gods, from the many Hindu gods to Islam’s Alla, are false gods and are actually idols.
  2. All of the perfections or attributes are God’s total being. The perfections of God are not different parts of his being; they are qualities of his one being or qualities of his unity within himself.  For example, Love is not a part of God’s nature. God’s total being is love. Though God may not display every attribute or perfection of his nature fully at any one time, every perfection is completely present and is God’s nature. None of his perfections are independent of or superior to any other perfection. Glory seems to be one word that summarizes all of God’s perfections, such as in Isaiah 42:8, John 1:14, Ephesians 1:17, Hebrews 1:3, and James 2:1. Glory also is a word that indicates the demonstration of God’s perfections as in Isaiah 6:3 and Psalm 138:5.
  3. There are different ways to classify God’s perfections or attributes. These are simply ways to categories the nature of God. Generally, the different categories simply note that mankind, created in God’s image, displays some of God’s perfections, but only in a relative way. For example, God is omniscient and mankind possesses limited knowledge. God is holy and man can be relatively moral. To classify God’s perfections as moral or non-moral somewhat clouds the truth that all of God’s perfections describe the most moral being in the universe.
  4. The perfections or attributes of God as the Bible presents them include the following. As we study these by going through the Bible, we will realize that God is so above us, so majestic, so perfect that we really cannot completely understand him. Moses wrote, “For the LORD your God is the God of gods and the Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God who does not show partiality nor take a bribe” (Deuteronomy 10:17). Daniel wrote, “Alas, O Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps His covenant and lovingkindness for those who love Him and keep His commandments” (Daniel 9:4). I have listed the perfections-attributes-nature of our present study according to the ten that many of you are familiar with. After those, I have listed many others that are not quite so familiar. I find that this study could go on and on and that I have limited this study to main attributes. As we study more, we will learn from the Bible, even more about God’s nature. Many people have studied God’s nature under ten basic attributes—sovereign, holy, just, love, eternal, omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent, immutable, and true. We will begin with those. The Bible enlarges on those when it records other perfections-attributes of God. These include blessed, good, gracious, compassionate, merciful, patient, righteous, wise, self-existent and self-sufficient, spirit, free, infinite, simplicity, and united.
    • Sovereign. God is the king of the universe, the king of all creation. He is the supreme authority and the supreme power (Psalm 135:6; Genesis 1:1; Exodus 15:11; 1 Samuel 6:20; 1 Chronicles 29:11; Job 38-42; Psalm 24:1; 47:2; 95:3; 103:19; 115:3; Isaiah 40:12-31; Isaiah 45:5, 9-10; Daniel 4:35; Zechariah 14:9; Romans 9:36; Romans 14:11; Ephesians 1:11; 1 Timothy 1:17; Revelation 11:15 and 19:6). God controls everything, though as supreme authority and power he has chosen to give free will to man and to angels. He still “shepherds” mankind and mankind’s free will decisions to protect creation and to bring glory to himself. He could be the supreme dictator, but as sovereign he allows certain things and decisions to take their natural course within his overall rule. We can be very thankful that God is the supreme authority and power over all creation. This fact gives stability and purpose to life.
    • Holy. God is separate from any sin. Not only that, but he is positive holiness or rightness. He is the absolute standard (Exodus 15:11; Leviticus 11:44; Joshua 24:19; 1 Samuel 6:20; Psalm 22:3;25:8; 92:15; 99:3, 5, 9; 145:17; Isaiah 6:3; 40:25; 57:15; Habakkuk 1:12-13; Mark 1:24; John 17:11; 1 Peter 1:15; 2:22; 1 John 1:5 ,7; Revelation 4:8). Because God is holy, he never does anything wrong. He is always right and righteous. God’s holiness is he standard for a believer’s life. We ought to be holy because he is holy and we are related to him (1 Peter 1:15-16).
    • Just. God’s justice means that he always follows his perfect standard and is completely just and fair with his creation (Deuteronomy 10:17-18; Deuteronomy 32:4; Psalm 9:8; Psalm 33:5; Psalm 89:14; Isaiah 30:18; Jeremiah 9:24; Matthew 12:18; Luke 18:7-8; Romans 3:26). Justice is often paired with righteousness. God is just and justice is more the application of God’s holiness and righteousness. Because he is just we should never doubt or question his treatment of us. And, we can be thankful that his justice is always satisfied, mostly through the sacrifice of his son, Jesus Christ.
    • Love-lovingkindness. God’s love is his commitment to plan and do what is best for those he loves. God’s love wants the highest good for the object. There is no selfishness in God’s love.  He loves each and every human being, though every one is sinful, and he showed this love when he sacrificed his holy and righteous son as a substitution for all of mankind’s sins. His love is sacrificial, unconditional, and is forever (Exodus 20:6; 34:6; Psalm 6:4; 31:7; 57:10; 69:13; 85:7;Lamentations 3:22;  John 3:16; Romans 5:5 and 8; Romans 8:35 and 39; Ephesians 2:4; 1 John 4:8; Revelation 1:5). God’s love is not based on emotion as our love often is. God’s love is based upon his nature. Love wants the highest and best for the object loved, and will then also seek corrective discipline as Hebrews 12:6 says.
    • Eternal. God always exists in the past, present, and future. Related to time, he is infinite. He has no beginning or ending (Genesis 21:33; Deuteronomy 32:40; Psalm 90:2; 93:2; 102:12; Isaiah 40:28; Isaiah 57:15; 1 Timothy 1:17; Hebrews 1:12). History is always present time to God. Because of this he is always the perfect God. He will never fail.
    • Omniscient. God knows everything: about animals, inanimate creation, the days of our lives, future, needs, all the possibilities, and our thoughts (Psalm 139:1-6; possibilities Matthew 11:21; days of our lives Psalm 139:16, Proverbs 15:11; stars 147:4; Isaiah 40:28; hairs on our head Matthew 10:30;  our thoughts 1 Samuel 16:7; all things 1 John 3:20 and Hebrews 4:13; what we need Matthew 6:8-32; the future 1 Samuel 23:11-12; Isaiah 42:9 and 46:10; Daniel 2:36-43; Matthew 24:25; ). Because he is omniscient, be can trust that he never loses knowledge of us—our thoughts, hopes, fears, needs, and desires.
    • Omnipotent. God is all powerful. He is able to do anything and everything that he chooses to do (Geneses 17:1; Genesis 18:14; Psalm 33:9; Psalm 114; Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 13:6; Jeremiah 32:17, 27; Matthews 19:26; Luke 1:37;2 Corinthians 13:4; Ephesians 3:20; Hebrews 1:3;  Revelation 4:8; 19:6, 16-16). He is powerful enough so he does not do or need to do anything contrary to his nature; for example, God cannot deny himself (2 Timothy 2:13), God cannot lie (Numbers 23:19; Titus 1:2), God cannot be tempted (James 1:13), and God cannot change (Malachi 3:6; James 1;17). God limits himself only by his character and his will (Matthew 8:1-3; James, Acts 12:1-2; Peter, Acts 12:3-16). This attribute finds application in our Christian lives (Philippians 4:13; Ephesians 1:9), our testing and suffering (2 Corinthians 12:9-10), our security (1 Peter 1:5), our resurrection (1 Corinthians 6:14; Philippians 3:20-21).
    • Omnipresent. God is everywhere. There is no place where one can escape God (Psalm 139:7-11; 1 Kings 8:27; 2 Chronicles 2:6; Isaiah 66:1; Jeremiah 23:24; Proverbs 15:3; Hebrews 13:5-6). This is different from pantheism which says that God is everything. Furthermore, there is a difference between God’s general presence everywhere and God’s special presence in the tabernacle (Exodus 25:8), temple (Matthew 25:1), between the cherubim (Psalm 80:1), and in believers (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). Because God is omnipresent, he is present with us everywhere we are. He is always with us. There is no escaping or hiding or getting lost from God.
    • Immutable. God does not change in his perfections, though he can change his works (Malachi 3:6; Hebrews 1:12; Hebrews 13:8; James 1:17). He does not grow or develop. When Scripture says God repents, it means that his unchanging character is consistent toward the change in creation. This means that we can always depend upon God to be and act as he is revealed in Scripture (2 Timothy 2:13).
    • True—factual, reliable, truthful, genuine. This is what has been called veracity. What he says is fact; it is always right. God is reliable and dependable—he is also genuine. He is what he is.  Because God is true, reliable, and genuine we can believe him and we can trust him completely. All the doctrines of the Bible depend upon the fact that he is true (Numbers 23:19; Deuteronomy 32:4; 1 Samuel 15:29; Psalm 36:5; Lamentations 3:23; John 14:6; 17:17; Romans 3:4; 1 Corinthians 1:9; 1 Thessalonians 5:24; Titus 1:2; Hebrews 6:18).
    • Blessed. The Greek word is markarios, and adjective that means happy or blessed. God is completely satisfied and happy with himself (1 Timothy 1:11 and 6:15). He is happy because of his perfections or attributes. We, believers in union with Christ should take a lesson from this, “in Him you have been made complete.” Our happiness is based on our relationship to God in Christ.
    • Good. God’s goodness includes attributes that we will separate out, such as mercy, longsuffering, grace, kindness, and so on (Psalm 100:5; 145:9; Mark 10:18; Acts 14:17; James 1:17). The Hebrew word is tob, and the Greek word is agathos. These, when used of God refer to intrinsic value that is expressed in many ways (Psalm 100:5; Luke 18:19).
    • Gracious. Graciousness is an expression of God’s goodness. It has a negative aspect in which God does not punish those who deserve punishment, and a positive aspect in which God favors and blesses those who deserve punishment. Grace is undeserved favor from God (Exodus 34:6; 1 Samuel 12:22; Ezra 9:8; Psalm 86:15; Psalm 111:4; Joel 2:13 and 4:2; John 1:14 and 17; Ephesians 2:7; 1 Peter 5:10). Grace, of course, overlaps with mercy and lovingkindness. Paul said, “But by the grace of God I am what I am” (1 Corinthians 15:10), and “And He said to me, My grace is sufficient for you,” (2 Corinthians 12:9). God’s grace blesses us in every way every day.
    • Compassionate. Compassion is similar to mercy and is close to lovingkindness. It is a heart felt care for one, like a mother’s feeling for her newborn child (Exodus 34:6; Deuteronomy 4:31; Nehemiah 9:17; 13:22; Joel 2:13 and 4:2; Psalm 51:1; Psalm 103:13; Psalm 111:4;  Psalm 116:5; Lamentations 3:22; Daniel 9:9; Matthew 9:36; Mark 8:2; James 5:11). God is compassionate to mankind and especially to believers. He cares for us with a mothers care.
    • Merciful. Mercy is an expression of God’s love and grace. We could say it is love and grace in action. God is merciful to the human race (Psalm 86:15; Psalm 145:8; Luke 6:36; Luke 10:25-37; Ephesians 2:4; Hebrews 8:12; James 5:11; 1 Peter 1:3). A merciful person helps the one who cannot help himself. The Good Samaritan showed mercy to the beaten and robbed man (Luke 10:37). Mankind needs mercy as a result of the fall. The “mercy” seat in the tabernacle was the place where God showed mercy to sinful people.
    • Patient-longsuffering. This is God’s expression of goodness, grace, and justice to those who deserve his punishment or discipline (Exodus 34:6; Psalm 103:8; Nahum 1:3; Romans 2:4; 1 Timothy 1:16; 1 Peter 3:20; 2 Peter 3:9 and 15). He holds back his punishment and waits to gives people time to repent. Without God’s longsuffering, we would be continually under God’s wrath.
    • Righteous. Righteousness is related to God’s holiness. Righteous emphasizes God’s justice. God never violates any right standard of law, morality, or justice (Deuteronomy 32:4; Psalm 7:11; Psalm 11:7; Psalm 89:14; Psalm 116:5; John 17:25; Acts 2:24; Acts 3:14; Romans 3:26; 2 Thessalonians 1:5; 1 John 2:1). Because God is righteous, all of his treatments of us are true to his holiness, and they are just.
    • Wise. Wise means that God uses his perfect knowledge and perfect ability in the most skilful and appropriate way. Because God is wise, he applies his omniscience and his power, in fact all his attributes, in the most perfect way at all times (Job 38:36-37; Proverbs 2:6-7; 3:19;  8:22, 27; Isaiah 11:2; Jeremiah 10:12; 51:15; Daniel 2:20; Luke 11:49; Romans 16:27; 1 Corinthians 1:24; Ephesians 3:10). To say someone is wise is to say he has the knowledge and the experience to handle the tests, the honors, the questions of life the right and best way. This only illustrates on a human level what it means when we say that God is wise.
    • Self-Existent and self-sufficient. He does not nor ever has or ever will depend upon anyone or anything for his existence (John 5:26; Exodus 3:14 and John 8:58; Acts 17:25; Romans 11:36). God is the uncaused cause. This is beyond our reasoning and understanding. We accept it.
    • Spirit. Though God took on humanity at the incarnation, and though God has appeared in various forms such as fire, cloud, angel of the Lord, Ancient of Days, he is spirit, not flesh or any physical being (John 4:24; Colossians 1:15; 1 Timothy 1:17; 1 Timothy 6:16).
    • Free. Perfect God is without outside restriction. God is independent of his creatures and his creation. He is free to do as he wills without consulting anyone (1 Kings 8:27; Isaiah 40:13-14). He is not obligated to anyone unless he chooses to initiate that obligation.
    • Infinite. God has no space or time bounds or limits (1 Kings 8:27, “heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you”; Isaiah 66:1). While eternal emphasizes time, infinite emphasize no limits by any measure—the greatness of God. For example, his understanding is infinite (Psalm 147:5).
    • Simplicity. This means that God is not multiple substances; he is not a composite nor is he divided into parts. God is spirit, not spirit and matter (John 4:24 and 19:30). God’s nature is one nature.
    • United. God is one in number, one in essence or nature, in three persons. Each member of the trinity is not a separate essence or nature in the one divine essence. God is not three Gods (Deuteronomy 4:35 and 6:4; 1 Kings 8:60; 2 Kings 19:15; Isaiah 43:10; Zechariah 14:9; John 10:30; 1 Corinthians 8:6; 1 Corinthians 13:14; Galatians 3:20; 1 Timothy 2:5; James 2:19). United emphasizes the uniqueness, the one and only God, even though the Bible clearly states the three persons in the Godhead. There is one God. He decided to create mankind, to redeem fallen mankind, and to have relationship and fellowship with redeemed mankind. All other so-called gods are idols.
  5. So What? What do we do with this biblical doctrine of God’s nature?
    • First, again think through and meditate on the perfections of God’s nature: sovereign, holy, just, love, eternal, omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent, immutable, true, blessed, good, gracious, compassionate, merciful, patient, righteous, wise, self-existent and self-sufficient, spirit, free, infinite, simplicity, and united. God is absolutely amazing. He is awe-inspiring.
    • Why do you trust someone? Why do you follow someone? Is it not because of his character and his actions?  They do what they say they will do, and what they do is right most of the time. Who would you follow: Winston Churchill or Joseph Stalin, George Washington or Saddam Hussein, Aslan or the White Witch? The answers are obvious. Though Churchill and Washington are not sinless, they were of strong moral character and great leaders. God is not just a great leader with strong moral character. He is perfect. We know this by the biblical statements about his character and by his actions recorded in Scripture. He is, as stated above, awe-inspiring. He is sovereign, holy, just, love, eternal, omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent, immutable, true, blessed, good, gracious, compassionate, merciful, patient, righteous, wise, self-existent and self-sufficient, spirit, free, infinite, simplicity, and united.
    • Our response, then, to a biblical study of God’s nature should be one of reverence, awe, trust, and obedience.
    • Furthermore, our response ought to include wanting to have a relationship with God, to fellowship with God, to learn God’s word, , to serve God, and to glorify God. As one song says, “Thou art worthy Oh Lord.”