The Attributes of God (Part One)

He said to him, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37 CSB).

The life of the believer is to be about knowing God. I have written on other occasions that true knowledge of God involves a knowledge of facts, a knowledge of skills, and a knowledge of God’s triune person. We definitely need the knowledge of skill, about how God tells us to interact with him. Such skills are usually called “spiritual disciplines”. But to my mind anyway, to join “discipline” with a personal relationship sounds strange and very impersonal. We don’t refer to the husband-wife relationship as “marital disciplines”, do we? “Hi honey, I want to do some ‘marital disciplines’ with you!” Even the illustration is laughable at best. We know a person by interacting with him or her, by sharing life with those we love.

The true knowledge of any person requires accurate facts about him or her. My wife is not married to a tall, handsome, athletic, wealthy, charming guy; she is married to me, and any distortions of the facts about me would disrupt our relationship. It would set her up for countless disappointments. This is one reason why we need accurate truth about God.

What do we mean by the phrase “the attributes of God”? The attributes of God are those characteristics or qualities that mark or define God’s mode of existence or constitute his character. Before we consider God’s attributes, we need to keep certain preliminary points in mind:

  • Since God actually exists, he has attributes and we can discuss them (Romans 1:20).
  • When we consider God’s attributes, we are not talking about some made up ideas, because God has revealed himself so that he (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) might be known (Romans 1:19-20; cf. Acts 17:27).
  • What God has revealed himself must be accepted on faith (Hebrews 11:6). Limited creatures cannot possibly search out and comprehend God in all his majesty. But we can know the truth that he has revealed about himself.

What is God? The Lord God tells us that he is the Creator of all things and that he is living, triune, unlimited, personal spirit. From these words, we at once understand that his being is on a higher level than ours. God’s revelation of his attributes helps us to know more of his being. (The names of God also help us understand God better, but the study of God’s name is a different subject.) As Christians have studied what God makes known about himself in the Scriptures, various attempts have been made to classify God’s attributes to guide our understanding. Most attempts have divided them into two categories, such as metaphysical and moral or incommunicable and communicable. But it is difficult to sort all into just two types. We will choose another approach to find out what he tells us about himself as a living, triune, personal spirit.

  • Metaphysically – God is self-existent, infinite (eternal, omnipotent and omnipresent), invisible, immutable and incomparable
  • Ethically – God is holy, righteous (just), faithful and good
  • Intellectually – God is omniscient and wise
  • Emotionally – God is loving, gracious, merciful, patient and jealous
  • Relationally – God is transcendent, immanent and sovereign

As we study God’s attributes, we will seek to understand (truly though not exhaustively) the ideas about God that each attribute conveys. Next, we will contrast God’s being with ours, and finally briefly think about the significance of each attribute to our worship and way of life. Clearly in a short study like this, we will only be able to touch the surface of God’s revelation of himself. But hopefully this will whet our spiritual appetites to search the Scriptures more deeply.

As we study God’s revelation of his attributes, we must not forget reverence. We cannot put God under the microscope, view what we see, and then coldly catalog our observations. If we do not worship, we have not seen him and have become proud in our minds. Nor may we criticize God. We cannot call him to account or dare to “remake God” according to our opinions. The human mind is limited and twisted by sin. We only think clearly when we think in conformity with the Scriptures!

Grace and peace, David