The Attributes Of God
A.W. Tozer, a revered Pastor of the last century, wrote, “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.” He realized that how we think and feel about God affects how we relate to Him. And as Christians, our relationship with God should be the most important relationship in our lives. In order to think correct thoughts about God (which is taken up in Pocket Principle™ #4, Correcting False Views of God) we must first understand His attributes, His inherent characteristics.
Having said that, we must realize that we cannot know God perfectly. The finite cannot know everything about the infinite. In our attempts to describe God, to know Him, there is a natural temptation to limit Him; to try to make Him more like us and less than He truly is. We must fight this tendency and meditate on what He has revealed about Himself. We need a big picture of God if He is going to be worthy of our complete trust. Although God reveals Himself through natural and special revelation, His fullest revelation of Himself is found in Scripture, and so this is our best source. In it, God not only reveals Himself, He also tells us how we can know Him personally and grow in our relationship with Him. By applying the following steps, we can gain a true knowledge of God.
Studying Biblical Images Of God
The Bible describes God in many different ways from Genesis to Revelation. It presents His attributes (or characteristics) using descriptions of His nature and His activities primarily in the Old Testament, while the New Testament’s main additions are the triune nature of God (see Pocket Principle™ #5, Trinity and God, the Father) and the embodiment of Him in Jesus Christ (see Pocket Principle™ #6, Jesus, God the Son).
God also reveals Himself in His names. There are several primary names for God used in the Bible. In the Old Testament He is called El (translated “God”), Yehweh (translated “LORD”), and Adonai (translated “Lord”). El seems to be used in contexts where God’s power and justice are in view, such as in creation or the great flood. Yehweh is God’s covenant name by which He revealed Himself to Israel (His people in the Old Testament). Yehweh is used primarily in contexts where God is acting graciously toward His people, such as in creating Eve for Adam or when He speaks to His people directly. Comparable names are used in the New Testament: Theos (“God”) for El and Kurios (“Lord”) for Yehweh. Often more insight is gained when the names of God are used in combination. For example, El Shaddai means “God Almighty,” communicating the idea of God’s power and strength. The attributes or descriptions of God in Scripture can be divided into two groups. The first group is composed of those attributes that we can share with God; attributes He calls us to emulate. For instance, God is holy, and we are called to holiness. “Be perfect [finished, complete, pure, holy], therefore, as your heavenly father is holy.” (Matthew 5:48) Another of these attributes is love. God is love, and we are to love Him with all our heart, soul and mind and our neighbor as ourselves (Matthew 22:37-39). There are many more of these attributes, such as truthfulness, faithfulness, goodness, patience, mercy, justice, righteousness, etc.
The other group of attributes is made up of those that we can never share with God. In these ways, God will always be different and greater than we are. For example, God is “Spirit.” He does not have a body like we do. He is “self-existent.” No one made Him and He is dependent on no one. We, and the rest of the universe, are created by God and are dependent on Him to continue to exist. Other attributes we can never share are His immutability, eternality, infinity, omniscience, omnipotence, omnipresence and sovereignty. (See word definitions in Exhibit entitled “Attributes of God.”)
Balancing God’s Attributes
It is important to keep God’s attributes in balance in our thinking; not to emphasize one attribute over another or to omit an attribute. For example, a person asks, “How can a loving God condemn people to hell?” Another person asks, “How can a holy God have anything to do with sinners?” Each of these questions isolates one attribute of God from the others. The truth is that God is both loving and holy, and He has demonstrated both His love and His holiness by sending His Son to die for us. If we focus on only one attribute, we will have a distorted view of God’s character. The warning here is that we need to be careful not to ignore any of God’s attributes, and they must be kept in balance.
In addition to keeping God’s attributes in balance, it is helpful to have a general principle to use as we organize the attributes. The concept of God as our Father has been suggested as an organizing idea that properly blends His attributes. In Scripture God has revealed Himself as a father figure and believers as His children. Jesus taught His followers to address God as “Father” when praying (Matthew 6:9), and Paul says we have received the Spirit who prompts us to cry out to God, saying, “Abba, Father.” (Romans 8:15)
God’s attributes can also be organized around His three primary attributes: love, holiness and truth. For instance, God’s grace, mercy and goodness can be thought of as parts of God’s love. His justice, righteousness and wrath proceed from His holiness, and His faithfulness and veracity from His truth.
All of God’s other attributes and all that He does must be consistent with each of these primary attributes. As an example, the salvation that God offers to man must be consistent with His love, holiness and truth. God’s holiness is shown when He pours out His wrath against our sins on Christ, who is our substitute. His love is demonstrated by the fact that He pours out His wrath against our sins on Christ, instead of on us. His truth is revealed when He consistently does what He says He will do. In Isaiah 53:5-6 God said He would send a Messiah (Jesus) whom He would punish for our sins. All aspects of salvation are consistent with who God is.
Living Consistently With the Truth About God
There is more to gaining a true knowledge of God than can come from intellectual studies. It is also necessary to experience God, i.e. to interact with Him in the everyday affairs of life. In a similar way, can we truly know a person by just reading about him in a book? We might learn many good, bad and interesting things about him from the book, but can we really be sure we know him if we have never met or spent time with him? The answer is obvious. Personal experience is necessary to truly know a person. The same is true about knowing God. We have to have a real relationship with Him for that to happen.
And He invites us to experience Him. James 4:8 says that if we draw near to God, He will draw near to us. What an incredible offer! One way we can draw near to Him is through prayer. By setting aside time in each day to talk with and listen to God, our relationship with Him grows as we learn how to be still before Him, how to pray requests that are consistent with His will and how to distinguish His thoughts from our own. In John 14:21 Jesus gives another invitation to experience God. This Scripture tells us that if we obey Jesus’ commands, it shows that we love Him. Jesus goes on to say that He will show His love for us in return by revealing Himself to us. Another great offer: Out of your love for Me, obey Me and I will manifest Myself to you! Now He doesn’t say how He will show Himself to us. It could be a direct revelation of Himself or an indirect meeting of our needs in some unexpected way. God is not limited in how He might reveal Himself, but He has promised that we will come to know Him better and better, and His promise is trustworthy.
As we experience God, we also need to choose to live in a way that is consistent with what He has revealed about Himself. Jesus says in John 8:31-32, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” The message of this passage is that to really know the truth and be set free by it, we must first hold to or obey the truth that God has already shown us. In other words, when we obey what we know of God’s Word, He is faithful to affirm it as true and teach us even more truth and change our lives for the better (set us free) through it. Once again, He has given us a great promise.
An Old Testament example of God’s people being challenged to live consistent with the truth God has revealed to them is found in Joshua 24:14-21. God had revealed that He was the only true God to Israel in many miraculous ways. Therefore, when Joshua challenged the Israelites to serve God wholeheartedly and throw away the idols they brought with them from Egypt, their response (at least initially) was to discard the idols and serve God only.
A more current example of living consistent with truth is the challenge for us to live the truth that God is sovereign. For example, when a Christian gives thanks (in all things) even in the midst of difficulty (I Thessalonians 5:18; Romans 8:28) he is affirming that he knows God and believes that He is sovereign and able to care for His own. The Christian’s life is reflecting the truth about God!
Because of the critical importance of how we think and feel about God, we need to make every effort to do the things that lead to a true knowledge of God. We should study biblical images of God, balance the attributes of God and live consistently with what God has revealed about Himself.
• Choose one attribute of God from the list in the Exhibit “The Attributes of God.” Read and meditate on the Scriptures listed on the Exhibit.
• Make a list of “pressure points” in your life; where your life experience conflicts with the truth. Describe how recognizing this conflict can be beneficial to you.
ATTRIBUTES OF GOD
God’s Attributes We Can Share
The characteristic of God whereby He is:
TRUTHFUL: God is completely honest, genuine. John 1:14, 14:6
FAITHFUL: God is completely trustworthy and loyal to His children. II Thessalonians 3:3; Isaiah 49:7; I Peter 4:19
LOVING: God is unconditionally compassionate, caring and devoted toward us. His ultimate love was demonstrated by Jesus on the cross. I John 3:16, 4:9-10
GOOD: God is complete, right, excellent. Luke 18:19; Exodus 33:19
PATIENT: God demonstrates forbearance and endurance towards mankind. II Peter 3:9
MERCIFUL: God is actively good toward those in distress. He does not treat them as they deserve because of their sin. Romans 9:15-16; Exodus 33:19
HOLY: God is totally pure, perfect and complete. He is set apart and above all His creation. Exodus 15:11; Isaiah 6:1-4
JUST: God always acts in a right and fair manner. John 5:30; Psalms 89:14, 97:2
RIGHTEOUS: God is morally perfect. Psalms 89:14, 97:2
God’s Attributes We Can Never Share
The characteristic of God whereby He is:
SPIRIT: God is invisible, immaterial, does not have a body. Genesis 1:2; John 4:24; I Timothy 1:17; Colossians 1:15
SELF-EXISTENT: God is everlasting; has no beginning and no end. Exodus 3:14; Psalm 90:2
IMMUTABLE: God is unchanging in His character and in His purposes. Numbers 23:19; James 1:17; Hebrews 13:8
ETERNAL: God is everlasting and immortal. Psalm 90:2; Isaiah 40:28; I Timothy 1:17
INFINITE: God is unlimited. He is above time and space, unlike His creation. I Kings 8:27; Psalm 147:5; Jeremiah 23:24
OMNISCIENT: God is all-knowing. He knows Himself and all things perfectly (and exhaustively). He knows all the possibilities and probabilities. Psalm 139:1-4, 147:5; Isaiah 40:13,14
OMNIPOTENT: God is all-powerful and almighty. Isaiah 40:21-26; Jeremiah 32:17; Job 42:2; Matthew 19:26
OMNIPRESENT: God is present everywhere at once. Psalm 139:7-12; Acts 17:24,27,28
SOVEREIGN: God has supreme authority, reign and control over His created order. Ephesians 1:11; Isaiah 46:9-11
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