2. What God Is Like
(The Essence and Nature of God)
Opposed to Agnosticism
Just who is God? What is God like? Can He be defined? Can He be described? If we are to know God personally as the Scriptures declare we can and must, and if we are to avoid the perversions about God that we find in a satanically-deceived world, we must learn what God is like and who God is from His God-breathed revelation to us in the Bible. This is essential and it is the foundation to an intimate walk with God by which we can learn to personally relate to the who and what of God.
But it is so important to remember that in our study of God there are two important things that we should seek to know. First, we need information, revealed facts about God. We need knowledge of who God is, how He exists, or about what God is like. But second, we desperately need to go beyond just the facts about God. We need to know God personally and intimately. The facts are the foundation, but the goal is fellowship with God as we learn about His person, plan, purposes, principles, and promises. It is this that builds faith, gives peace, comfort, courage, joy, and the energy to deal with life. I am reminded of the words of Daniel in Daniel 11:32b, “… but the people who know their God will display strength and take action.” This is not just the knowledge about God, but the knowledge of God.
Can we really define God? Yes and no! To adequately and completely define God who is infinite spirit is impossible. How can the finite define the infinite? There is no way man can set forth a statement which totally sets forth all that God is. “Such a statement, were it possible, would confine God; it would restrict Him and He would no longer be God. For that very reason we must say God cannot be completely defined.”18
First, while this is true, it is possible and necessary to define something of the being and perfections of God even though God’s essence or perfections are infinite and beyond the scope of total human understanding. Some things are clearly discernible through God’s own revelation of Himself to man in the Bible. And while our definitions and descriptions of God must always be limited, they are also absolutely necessary for faith and for our spiritual well-being and hope, limited as they are.
Second, it is the perfections or qualities of God that we find in Scripture that reveal the essence or nature of God. “True as that is, it must also be said that a listing of the perfections of God must never be viewed as a final or complete definition of God.”19 Certainly, an infinite God is more than the sum total of the qualities we find assigned to Him in Scripture.
Third, the perfections of God have always been a part of His essence. He has never existed apart from them. Chafer wrote: “The whole of the divine essence is in each attribute, and the attribute belongs to the whole essence. The attributes belong eternally to the essence.”20
Fourth, people tend to focus on one of God’s attributes to the exclusion of another or to exalt one above another. We particularly like to focus on God’s attributes of love and grace rather than His holiness and divine justice, and it is true that in some biblical contexts, one attribute is often stressed more than another. For instance, the holiness of God is mentioned more than any other of God’s perfections in the Bible including the love of God. Man’s need to see how his sinfulness falls short of God’s holiness is perhaps one of the reasons for this, but there is a danger here that we must avoid. Lightner warns:
Taking the total testimony of Scripture, however, there is a harmonious presentation of the characteristics of God. It must ever be kept in mind that God always deals with man on the basis of the totality of His Being and not simply on the basis of one or even a few of His perfections.21
God is love and grace and He longs for fellowship with man. His love and grace, however, cannot bypass or ignore His perfect holiness, righteousness, and justice. These perfections must condemn man in his sin. But then neither can God’s holiness ignore His love. So in His sovereignty, omnipotence, and infinite wisdom, He provided a solution of grace through the person and work of Christ thereby satisfying the totality of His perfections.
Finally, before we look at the biblical explanations of what God is like, let’s take a brief look at some samples of the typical, pathetic, and unbiblical definitions and ideas of what God is like.
Definitions Which Portray God in Impersonal Ways
Sometimes you hear God referred to as “the Ground of All Being,” “the Force of Life,” “the Principle of Love,” “the Ultimate Reality,” “Mother Nature,” “the Cosmic Principle into which we must all get into contact,” and so forth. Such descriptions do not even come close. They are the misguided attempts of men who are not only ignorant of the truth about God, but in many cases are suppressing the knowledge of God in their unrighteousness (Rom. 1:18). Christian Science teaches that God is eternal, impersonal principle, law, truth, spirit, and idea. All that really is, is divine. God is spirit; there is no matter. God is good; there is no evil, sin, sickness, or death. How deeply this misses the revelation of God in the Bible!
Definitions Which Portray God as More Personal
We often hear God referred to as “the Man Upstairs,” or as “the Grand Old Man.” Many simply view God as a grandfatherly figure who sits in heaven in His rocking chair and views without too much concern the indiscretions of His children. I recently heard a man who had come through a life-threatening experience say, “I guess the Man Upstairs was looking out for me on this one.” But God is not a man. He is infinitely more. He became man in the person of His Son by the incarnation, but though His deity was veiled and though the Son voluntarily gave up the prerogatives of His deity, He never ceased to be God of very God.
The Mormons claim God is a perfect exalted man with a literal flesh and bones body. As man is, God once was, and as God is, man can be. This is also at the heart of New Age thinking, but it’s a far cry from the revelation of God in the Bible.22
A Biblical Definition
Bearing in mind our human limitations, but recognizing our need to know what God is like that we might better know and depend on Him, Robert Lightner suggest the following:
God is Spirit. He is a living and active divine person who is infinite, eternal, and unchangeable in His being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, truth, and love. He can enjoy fellowship with persons He created in His own image and redeemed by His grace, and He always acts in harmony with His perfect nature.23
Far more important than being able to simply quote or memorize such a definition is our need to understand each aspect of the definition and to know and walk with God in accordance with its truth. The rest of this study will be devoted to this very issue.
The definition states that God is a living and active divine person. God is personal. He has personality, but what does this mean and what does it mean to us?
As we have seen, if one looks at the evidence with an open mind, the evidence declares that God truly does exist. But how? What’s the fundamental nature of God like? How exactly does He exist? Is He personal, or simply an impersonal force? Is He spirit, material, or a combination? In this section we are making a difference for clarity sake between the attributes or perfections of God like love, grace, sovereignty, and the fundamental nature in which God exists as personality, spirit, and triunity. Following this, we will look at the fundamental attributes or perfections of God.
The Personality of God
The Polemic of God’s Personality—What It Protects Us Against
The truth of God’s personality stands opposed to impersonal pantheism and all the impersonal ideas of God as found in many various cults and in the mysticism of today’s world, especially as seen in the New Age Movement. New Age thinking says God is “the ground of all being,” or God is “the force,” or “the planetary consciousness” in human beings. Hunt describes New Age thinking as a “new ‘openness’ to one another, to ourselves, to nature, to a universal ‘Force’ (italics mine) pervading the whole cosmos—which produces an awakening of unimagined powers of the mind.”24
Today’s world, because of the influence of Eastern mysticism, has become pantheistic. Pantheism teaches that matter or substance is God, and hence, everything is God, and God is everything. God is simply the sum total of the universe; God is all and all is God. Thus, God is an impersonal force to which we are all connected, but not the personal, independent, self-existent Creator who created us in His own image.
God is therefore identified with nature. He is not held to be independent of or separate from nature. God is simply an unconscious and impersonal force working in the world. So, New Agers teach that by some form of mysticism man must seek to get in touch with the force through TM, yoga, or biofeedback.
Closely associated with this is the error that “God is love and love is God.” The first part is true, but not the second part which merely makes God an impersonal principle, a force, but not a personal and intelligent being who is personally guiding the affairs of the universe.
Important to all of this is the fact that God, according to the Bible, is both transcendent and immanent.
As Transcendent God is independent of, above, and distinct from this universe; He is outside, above, and before this time-space universe. This is seen from the name Yahweh by which God revealed Himself to Israel in the Old Testament. Most scholars suggest the basic meaning of this name is “I Am that I Am,” which would stress God’s transcendent independence and existence (Ex. 3:14). God’s transcendence is also expressed in the following passages:
Isaiah 46:8-10 Remember this, and be assured; Recall it to mind, you transgressors. 9 Remember the former things long past, For I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is no one like Me, 10 Declaring the end from the beginning And from ancient times things which have not been done, Saying, ‘My purpose will be established, And I will accomplish all My good pleasure’;
Psalm 115:3 But our God is in the heavens; He does whatever He pleases.
As Immanent God pervades and sustains the universe, yet He is always distinct from it. He is everywhere, yet not in everything. He is personally and intimately involved, yet distinct.
Proverbs 5:21 For the ways of a man are before the eyes of the LORD, And He watches all his paths.
Psalm 33:13-14 The LORD looks from heaven; He sees all the sons of men; 14 From His dwelling place He looks out On all the inhabitants of the earth.
Romans 11:34-36 For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who became His counselor? 35 Or who has first given to Him that it might be paid back to him again? 36 For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen.
Though He is the only true God and the transcendent sovereign, He is involved as the King and Redeemer, and as our derivation—“from Him,” our dynamic—“through Him,” and our destination—“to Him are all things.”
Definition and Explanation of Personality
What is meant when we speak of the personality of God? While the definitions of personality vary, at least four elements describe personality and distinguish God, as personal, from a mere force, or a thing, from a personal entity. These are:
(1) Self-Consciousness: This is the ability to be aware of one’s self and identity. It is more than mere consciousness, but involves an objective awareness of who one is.
(2) Intelligence or Thinking Mentality: Animals have brains, but they lack the power to reason and plan and design as does man who was created in God’s image. You can teach your dog to go get the paper, but not to read it. Animals act more by intuition while man is a reasoning creature because he was created in the image of a personal God.
(3) Self-Determination or Will: This has to do with the ability to look to the future and to prepare an intelligent course of action; it means the inner power to act on one’s own reason or free will in order to determine a course of action.
(4) Sensibility or Emotion: This is the capacity to appreciate and respond with feeling or emotions like grief or joy.
Biblical Support for the Personality of God
All the elements of personality are applied to God in the Bible.
(1) Self consciousness—Ex. 3:14, “And God said to Moses, ‘I am who I am.’” This points to God’s self-consciousness in the strongest possible way.
(2) Mentality—Ps. 147:5, “Great is our Lord, and abundant in strength; His understanding is infinite.” Compare also Isaiah 40:12-14; Romans 11:33.
(3) Self-determination or will—Ps. 115:3, “But our God is in the heavens; He does whatever He pleases;” Isaiah 46:10, “… My purpose will be established, And I will accomplish all My good pleasure;”
(4) Sensibility or emotion—Gen. 6:6, “The LORD was grieved that he had made man on the earth, and his heart was filled with pain” (NIV); Prov. 6:16, “There are six things which the LORD hates …”
Personal names and personal pronouns are applied to God which undeniably prove the personality of God.
(1) Names which show the actions of personality: Yahweh Yireh, “The Lord will provide,” Gen. 22:13-14; Yahweh Rapha, “The Lord that heals,” Ex. 15:26; El Shaddai, “God almighty who cares and nourishes,” Gen. 17:1; Father, God is called Father over and over in the New Testament.
(2) Personal pronouns are regularly used of God like I, you, we, my.
Actions are regularly ascribed to God which reveal His personality. Scripture teaches us that God loves, guides, teaches, delivers, helps, comforts, cares, and becomes angry and grieved. There are other arguments that we could use, but these are sufficient to show that the Bible teaches us that God is a personal God and not just an influence or a force. The big issue is, “So what?” What does this mean to us?
The Significance of God’s Personality
(1) Without the personality of God we are left to accept some mechanistic theory for the existence of the universe and man, and the world has no purpose or real meaning. This life is all there is; it’s eat, drink, and be merry (if you can) for tomorrow you die. That’s all folks! We are left with the world’s attitude of, “You have to get all the gusto you can because you only go around once.”
(2) Without God’s personality, there would be no personal relationship or fellowship with God. Prayer would be an exercise in futility and nothing more than talking to a tree or a rock or an idol. At best, prayer would simply be an exercise in talking to oneself. Throughout Scripture, a sharp distinction is made between God and things which have no life and are impersonal as with the idols of the heathen (Jer. 10:10-16). As mere impersonal things, idols can’t move on their own, speak, do good or evil, or help and comfort.
(3) Without the fact of a personal God, there could be no reverence or fear of God. And this is precisely what we see in the world today. Unless there is a personal God by whom right and wrong can be reliably assessed, and with whom man becomes responsible, moral judgments can be no more than opinion, influenced by upbringing, training, and propaganda, but without any final responsibility beyond man himself. This is the perfect scenario for tyrants who have no respect for any opinion but their own and for the law of the jungle.
(4) Because God is a person, He can care, love, and know our deepest needs, longings, and concerns. And the Bible reveals that as a person, He does love and care for us (John 3:16; 1 Pet. 5:7). Because He is a personal God, He is called “the God of all comfort” (2 Cor. 1:4f). To Isaiah the prophet, God said, “Comfort, O comfort My people, … Speak kindly to Jerusalem;” (Isa. 40:1).
The Bible teaches us that God is a loving, sovereign, and personal God, but the important point is not only that God is a person, but that He is the kind of person He is. This is what makes the difference. Francis Schaeffer has an excellent word here:
The beginning is simply that God exists and that He is the personal-infinite God. Our generation longs for the reality of personality but it cannot find it. But Christianity says personality is valid because personality has not just appeared in the universe but rather is rooted in the personal God who has always been.
If we are unexcited Christians we should go back and see what is wrong. We are surrounded by a generation that can find “no one home” in the universe. If anything marks our generation it is this. In contrast to this, as a Christian I know who I am; and I know the personal God who is there. I speak and He hears. I am not surrounded by mere mass, nor only energy particles, but He is there. And if I have accepted Christ as my Savior, then though it will not be perfect in this life, yet moment by moment, on the basis of the finished work of Christ, this person to person relationship with the God who is there can have reality to me.25
The lovingkindness of God as a personal God is everywhere evident in Scripture, but here is a passage that drives this truth home to our hearts.
Psalm 103:13-14 Just as a father has compassion on his children, So the LORD has compassion on those who fear Him. 14 For He Himself knows our frame; He is mindful that we are but dust.
The Spirituality of God
The most important biblical statement about the spirituality of God is John 4:24, “God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.”
As Spirit, God is without a material body or substance (incorporeal), without physical parts or passions and therefore free from all temporal limitations (Luke 24:39), invisible and incorruptible (Col. 1:15; 1 Tim. 1:17), and without earthly counterpart or resemblance (Ex. 20:4; Deut. 4:15-23; Isa. 40:25).
Questions Related to the Spirituality of God:
(1) Scripture declares that man is made in the image and likeness of God (Gen. 1:27). Since God is Spirit, the image and likeness in no way implies a physical likeness. Rather, it is a reference to man’s natural and moral likeness to God. When man sinned, he lost the moral likeness, but still retains the natural likeness by way of personality—self-consciousness, intellect, emotions, and will.
(2) Scripture also uses anthropomorphic expressions, physical terms of the human body, to give finite human beings a better understanding of the character of an invisible and infinite God. God is said to have hands, feet, arms, eyes, ears, and it is said that He hears, sees, feels, walks, holds us in His hand, etc. (Isa. 51:5; 59:1; Hos. 11:3; 1 Pet. 3:12; Ps. 17:8; 36:7; 145:16; John 10:28-29). Such terms in no way contradict the fact that God is Spirit. God is also said to shelter us under His pinions (feathers) and that we may seek refuge under His wings (Ps. 91:4). Does this mean God is a bird? Of course not. It simply expresses God’s protecting love.
(3) Some passages of Scripture speak of visible manifestations of God (Ex. 24:10; 33:18-20), and some see this as a contradiction because other passages declare no man has ever seen God (John 1:18; 6:46; Deut. 4:12). This is really not a contradiction at all, only a misinterpretation of these passages. In some passages, God manifested Himself in what is called theophanies, appearances of God. As Spirit, God has manifested Himself in some kind of form. Sometimes there is no mention of a particular form (Gen. 12:7; 17:1, 22; 26:2; 35:9), sometimes there is the mention of a form such as a dove (John 1:32), as a bush on fire (Ex. 3:2), or of a cloud and a pillar of fire (Ex. 13:21-22). But at other times the appearance was in the form of a man (Gen. 18:1-3, 33 [three men, Yahweh and two angels, cf. 18:1 with 19:1]; Ezek. 1:26-28), or in the form of “the Angel of the Lord” (Gen. 16:7-14; 22:11-18; Judges 13:18-22). The answer to the apparent contradiction undoubtedly lies in the fact that in none of these appearances has man ever seen a full blown manifestation of the invisible and essential essence of God. God has been seen in various manifestation of His person, but never in His total essence.
Regarding this, Lightner makes a fitting application for us to consider if we are Christians.
The only physical body God has is the believer’s in which He dwells (1 Cor. 6:19). The believer’s body, therefore, is not to be used selfishly; it is to be presented back to God as a living sacrifice (Rom. 12:1), and He is to be worshipped in spirit and in truth (John 4:24).26
In John 4:20, the woman at the well made an issue over the proper place to worship God. The implication of the question was, “Where is God to be found, at Gerizim or in Jerusalem?” Christ’s answer to her in verses 21-24, based on the fact God is Spirit, showed that God is not to be confined to one place since as Spirit, no place can contain Him (Acts 7:48-49; 17:25; 1 Kings 18:27; Isa. 66:1). The worship of God is not limited to a mountain nor Jerusalem (vs. 21). Rather, because God is Spirit, He must be worshipped in two ways: (1) He must be worshipped “in spirit” as distinct from a place, or a particular form or other sensual and material limitations. Regardless of what one is doing externally, worship is a matter of the heart or the inner man (cf. Eph. 3:16). (2) He must be worshipped in “truth.” Worship must be genuine, but also according to the truth of God’s revelation as distinguished from man’s false ideas about God stemming from his own human traditions (Mark 7:3-13; Col. 2:8). Man can know that God exists from the design of the creation around him, but he cannot accurately know God as to His nature, personality, and perfections apart from God’s own revelation of Himself in the written Word and living Word, the person of Jesus Christ.
Scripture gives commands against graven images used to represent God’s being (Ex. 20:4; Deut. 4:15-23; Isa. 40:25). But why? Because God is without earthly counterpart or resemblance. No one has ever gotten a full glimpse of God’s being. No one has ever seen a picture of how He looks and nothing on earth even begins to resemble Him. Any image man could create, no matter how glorious it appeared to man, must distort the truth of God and reduce His infinite majesty and glory and bring grave dishonor to His perfections.
An Application of the Spirituality of God:
The fact that we are physical and limited to space and one place at a time, and resort to a particular place to worship God tends to make us susceptible to erroneous ideas and attitudes about God and our worship of Him.
Our Lord’s point with the woman at the well in John 4 is that while man, being flesh, can only be present in one place at a time, God, being Spirit, is not at all limited by space and time. God is not localized to one place. God, as pure, infinite Spirit is everywhere at all times. Thus, the true condition of acceptable worship is not some particular place or time or some particular form, but that our hearts must be open, responsive, and honest to His presence and to His truth, the revelation of Himself found in the Bible.
Concerning mere religiosity versus biblical piety, Donald Bloesch warns:
Religiosity is not the same thing as biblical piety, nor is churchianity identical with Christianity. The mere practice of religion often promotes rather than alleviates guilt and anxiety. Scrupulous observance of the laws and codes of sacred tradition may grieve the Spirit. A beautiful liturgy may quench the Spirit. Scripture tells us that the only worship acceptable to God is worship “in spirit and in truth” (John 4:23-24; Phil. 3:3).
True religion is not simply keeping the law, but keeping the law in a spirit of love. It is not merely going to church, but going to church with a burning desire to adore the living God.27
In an article for Moody Monthly regarding worship Erwin Lutzer wrote the following:
“To worship,” William Temple said, “is to quicken the conscience by the holiness of God, to feed the mind with the truth of God, to purge the imagination by the beauty of God, to open the heart to the love of God, and to devote the will to the purpose of God.”
Worship isn’t listening to a sermon, appreciating choir music, or joining to sing hymns. In fact, it isn’t even necessarily prayer, for prayer sometimes comes from an unbroken, unyielded heart. Worship is not an external activity precipitated by the right environment. To worship in spirit is to draw near to God with an undivided heart. We must come in full agreement without hiding anything or disregarding His will.28
The Trinity (Triunity) of God
The Nature of This Revelation About God
Another revelation of the Bible that teaches us more about the nature of God or how He exists is the truth regarding the trinity or triunity of the Godhead. The Bible teaches us that God not only exists as a personal Spirit being, but that He does so in Holy Trinity. This is a doctrine beyond the scope of man’s finite mind. If biblical evidence supports it, we can know it is true. Comprehending it is another matter. John Wesley said, “Bring me a worm that can comprehend a man, and then I will show you a man that can comprehend the triune God.”29 God’s Word tells us that we should expect His revelation, the revelation of an infinite, omniscient, all-wise Creator, to contain an infinite depth that corresponds to His infinite mind. In the book of Isaiah, God tells us about this and says:
Isaiah 55:8-9 “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Neither are your ways My ways,” declares the LORD. 9 “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways, And My thoughts than your thoughts.”
Kenneth Boa has an excellent word here concerning the concept of God’s thoughts being higher than ours:
It follows from all this that we cannot and should not expect to understand the Bible exhaustively. If we could, the Bible would not be divine but limited to human intelligence. A very important idea comes out of this, something over which many non-Christians and even Christians stumble: Since the Bible is an infinite revelation, it often brings the reader beyond the limit of his intelligence. (italics his)
As simple as the Bible is in its message of sin and of free salvation in Christ, an incredible subtlety and profundity underlies all its doctrines. Even a child can receive Christ as his Savior, thereby appropriating the free gift of eternal. Yet no philosopher has more than scratched the surface regarding the things that happened at the Cross. The Bible forces any reader to crash into the ceiling of his own comprehension, beyond which he cannot go until he sees the Lord face-to-face.
Until a person recognizes that his own wisdom and intelligence are not enough, he is not ready to listen to God’s greater wisdom. Jesus alluded to this when He said to God, “you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children” (Luke 10:21).30
God has communicated to men truly though not exhaustively. Moses expressed this to us in Deuteronomy 29:29. He wrote, “The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our sons forever, that we may observe all the words of this law.” In the New Testament, the word mystery, the Greek musterion, refers to what was previously hidden, but is now revealed (1 Cor. 15:51; Eph. 3:3, 4, 9). Sometimes it is used simply of that which God makes known through His revelation to man and which man could not know on his own (1 Cor. 2:7). But there is a sense in which some of God’s truth, though clearly revealed in the Bible, remains a mystery. Though it is a truth revealed in Scripture, like the doctrine of the incarnation of the Son of God or the divine/human nature of Jesus Christ, the trinity is a kind of mystery in that it goes beyond the boundaries of human comprehension. God hasn’t explained all the mysteries of His revelation to us undoubtedly because we simply cannot yet grasp it. The Apostle Paul wrote: “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I shall know fully just as I also have been fully known” (1 Cor. 13:12).
Because of this, some of the revelations of God given to us in the Bible defy explanation and illustration. When working and seeking to explain those truths that fall into this category, our explanations and especially our attempts to illustrate them must of necessity fall short of our ability to clarify and comprehend them. Does this mean it cannot be true simply because it defies our human imagination or ability to comprehend it? It would be nothing but human arrogance to say yes! The truth is we must recognize our need to simply trust in God’s special revelation to us, the Bible, and submit our minds to that which is truly expressed in its pages. This does not mean we do not test the Scripture to make sure these things are truly taught, but once we are convinced that, “Yes, that’s what the Bible says,” we must lay hold of it by faith and wait on the eternal future for complete understanding (1 Cor. 13:12).
It would be the height of egotism for a person to say that because an idea in the Bible does not make sense (does not conform to his or her reasoning), it cannot be true and the Bible must be in error on this point.31
The doctrine of the trinity is part of God’s revelation of one who is infinite to those who are finite. Doesn’t it seem logical that in the study about God we are going to find things that are incomprehensible, mysterious, and super-rational to finite man’s rational thinking capacity. “God in His existence as the Three-in-One is beyond the limits of human comprehension.”32
Definition of the Trinity (Triunity) of God
Trinity: Webster’s dictionary gives the following definition: “The union of three divine persons (or hypostases), the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, in one divinity, so that all the three are one God as to substance, but three persons (or hypostases as to individuality.” Synonyms sometimes used are triunity, trine, triality. The term “trinity” is formed from “tri,” three, and “nity,” unity. Triunity is a better term than “trinity” because it better expresses the idea of three in one. God is three in one.
Person: In speaking of the Triunity, the term “person” is not used in just the same way it is in ordinary usage, in which it means an identity completely distinct from other persons. Actually the word persons tends to detract from the unity of the Trinity. According to the teaching of Scripture, the three Persons are inseparable, interdependent, and eternally united in one divine Being.
It is evident that the word “person” is not ideal for the purpose. Orthodox writers have struggled over this term. Some have opted for the term subsistence, hence, “God has three substances.” Most have continued to use persons because we have not been able to find a better term.
Essence: In its theological usage, essence refers to “the intrinsic or indispensable, permanent, and inseparable qualities that characterize or identify the being of God.”
The words triunity and trinity are used to refer to the fact that the Bible speaks of one God, but attributes the characteristics of God to three Persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The doctrine of the trinity states that there is one God who is one in essence or substance, but three in personality. This does not mean three independent Gods existing as one, but three persons who are co-equal, co-eternal, inseparable, interdependent, and eternally united in one absolute divine essence and being.
The words triunity and trinity are not found in the Bible, but they are words that help us to express a doctrine that is scriptural, though replete with difficulties for the human mind. Further, it should be stated up front that this is a doctrine that is not explicitly stated either in the Old or New Testaments, but it is implicit in both. Speaking about this, Ryrie writes, “But explicit means ‘characterized by full, clear expression,’ an adjective hard to apply to this doctrine. Nevertheless, the doctrine grows out of the Scripture, so it is a biblical teaching.”33 Note the following points:
(1) Evangelical Christianity has believed in the doctrine of the Trinity or Triunity, or the Triune Godhead because of the teaching of the Bible as a whole (Old and New Testaments) and not because of one or two particular passages. As will be shown below, the whole of Scripture gives testimony to this doctrine.
(2) There are many specific passages which teach us that there are three distinct persons who possess deity, God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, but the Bible also teaches us with equal emphasis that there is but one true God or one divine essence or substance and being.
(3) Taking the whole of Scripture, one can see that there is stress on (a) the unity of God, one divine being and essence, and (b) on the diversity of God in this unity, three persons identified as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It speaks of these persons in such a way that it ascribes absolute undiminished deity and personality to each while stressing that there is but one God in divine substance. Note: It is the doctrine of the trinity that harmonizes and explains these two thrusts of Scripture.
So, when we see that the Bible teaches these three things, (a) there is but one God, (b) that the Father, Son, and Spirit are each God, and (c) yet each are set forth as distinct persons, we have enunciated the doctrine of the Triunity of God. In a chart, it can be expressed as follows:
Ancient Diagram of the Holy Trinity
The three persons are the same in substance, i.e., in essence or in their essential nature, but distinct in subsistence which describes God’s mode or quality of existence in three persons. By mode of existence we do not mean one God acting in three different ways, but one divine being existing in three distinct persons within one divine substance.
This is not exactly three individuals as we think of three personal individuals, but one divine being who acts and thinks as one within a three-old personality. This is incomprehensible to our finite and limited minds, but it is the teaching of the Scripture. “In the Being of God there are not three individuals, but only three personal self distinctions within the one divine essence.”34
Recognizable and Important Distinctions
The New Bible Dictionary has an excellent summary of this point:
In the relationship between the Persons there are recognizable distinctions.
a. Unity in diversity
In most formularies the doctrine is stated by saying that God is One in his essential being, but that in his being there are three Persons, yet so as not to form separate and distinct individuals. They are three modes or forms in which the divine essence exists. ‘Person’ is, however, an imperfect expression of the truth inasmuch as the term denotes to us a separate rational and moral individual. But in the being of God there are not three individuals, but three personal self-distinctions within the one divine essence. Then again, personality in man implies independence of will, actions and feelings leading to behaviour peculiar to the person. This cannot be thought of in connection with the Trinity. Each person is self-conscious and self-directing, yet never acting independently or in opposition. When we say that God is a Unity we mean that, though God is in himself a threefold centre of life, his life is not split into three. He is one in essence, in personality and in will. When we say that God is a Trinity in Unity, we mean that there is a unity in diversity, and that the diversity manifests itself in Persons, in characteristics and in operations.
b. Equality in dignity
There is perfect equality in nature, honour and dignity between the Persons. Fatherhood belongs to the very essence of the first Person and it was so from all eternity. It is a personal property of God ‘from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named’ (Eph. 3:15).
The Son is called the ‘only begotten’ perhaps to suggest uniqueness rather than derivation. Christ always claimed for himself a unique relationship to God as Father, and the Jews who listened to him apparently had no illusions about his claims. Indeed they sought to kill him because he ‘called God his own Father, making himself equal with God’ (Jn. 5:18).
The Spirit is revealed as the One who alone knows the depths of God’s nature: ‘For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God … No one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God’ (1 Cor. 2:10f.). This is saying that the Spirit is ‘just God himself in the innermost essence of his being.’
This puts the seal of NT teaching upon the doctrine of the equality of the three Persons.
c. Diversity in operation
In the functions ascribed to each of the Persons in the Godhead, especially in man’s redemption, it is clear that a certain degree of subordination is involved (in relation, though not in nature); the Father first, the Son second, the Spirit third. The Father works through the Son by the Spirit. Thus Christ can say: ‘My Father is greater than I.’ As the Son is sent by the Father, so the Spirit is sent by the Son. As it was the Son’s office to reveal the Father, so it is the Spirit’s office to reveal the Son, as Christ testified: ‘He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you’ (Jn. 16:14).
It has to be recognized that the doctrine arose as the spontaneous expression of the Christian experience. The early Christians knew themselves to be reconciled to God the Father, and that the reconciliation was secured for them by the atoning work of the Son, and that it was mediated to them as an experience by the Holy Spirit. Thus the Trinity was to them a fact before it became a doctrine, but in order to preserve it in the credal faith of the church the doctrine had to be formulated.35
Errors to Avoid Concerning the Trinity
Tri-theism. This is the teaching that there are three Gods who are sometimes related, but only in a loose association. Such an approach abandons the biblical oneness of God and the unity within the Trinity.
Sabellianism or Modalism. Sabellius (A.D. 200), the originator of this viewpoint, spoke of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, but he understood all three as no more than three manifestations of one God. This teaching came to be known as modalism because it views one God who variously manifests Himself in three modes of existence: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Arianism. This doctrine had it roots in Tertullian, who made the Son subordinate to the Father. Origen took this further by teaching that the Son was subordinate to the Father “in respect to essence.” The result was ultimately Arianism which denied the deity of Christ. Arius taught that only God was the uncreated One; because Christ was begotten of the Father it meant Christ was created by the Father. Arius believed there was a time when Christ did not exist. Arius and his teaching was condemned at the Council of Nicea in A.D. 325.36
Biblical Support for the Trinity
Scriptures on the Oneness of God:
(1) Deuteronomy 6:4 Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD is one!
Verse 4 is subject to various translations, though the statement is likely stressing the uniqueness of Yahweh and should be translated, “The LORD is our God, the LORD alone.” A secondary emphasis, His indivisibility, is apparent in most English translations … This confession does not preclude the later revelation of the Trinity, for the word God (Elohim) is a plural word, and the word one is also used of the union of Adam and Eve (Gen. 2:24) to describe two persons in one flesh.37
The word for one is the Hebrew echad and means one in a collective sense, like one cluster of grapes rather than in an absolute sense.
The oneness of God is implied in those Old Testament passages that declare that there is no other God beside Yahweh, the God of Israel.
(2) Deuteronomy 4:35 To you it was shown that you might know that the LORD, He is God; there is no other besides Him.
(3) Isaiah 46:9 Remember the former things long past, For I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is no one like Me,
(4) Isaiah 43:10 “You are My witnesses,” declares the LORD, “And My servant whom I have chosen, In order that you may know and believe Me, And understand that I am He. Before Me there was no God formed, And there will be none after Me.”
The New Testament is even more explicit:
(5) 1 Corinthians 8:4-6 Therefore concerning the eating of things sacrificed to idols, we know that there is no such thing as an idol in the world, and that there is no God but one. For even if there are so-called gods whether in heaven or on earth, as indeed there are many gods and many lords, yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom are all things, and we exist for Him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we exist through Him.
(6) Ephesians 4:4-6 There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all.
(7) James 2:19 You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder.
Scriptures Demonstrating That God, Who Is One, Is Also Three:
Old Testament Teaching:
While there is no explicit statement in the Old Testament affirming the Triunity, we can confidently say that the Old Testament not only allows for the Triunity, but also implies that God is a triune Being in a number of ways:
(1) The name Elohim, translated God, is the plural form of El. While this is what is called a plural of plenitude pointing to the power and majesty of God, it certainly allows for the New Testament revelation of the Triunity of God.
(2) There are many instances where God uses the plural pronoun to describe Himself (see Gen. 1:26; 3:22; 11:7; Isa. 6:8).
(3) In the creation account, both God the Father and the Holy Spirit are seen in the work of creation. It is stated that God created heaven and earth (Gen. 1:1), but that it was the Holy Spirit who moved over the earth to infuse it with life in the sense of protecting and participating in the work of creation (Gen. 1:2).
(4) Writing about the Messiah, Isaiah reveals Him to be equal with God, calling Him the “Mighty God” and “Eternal Father” (Isa. 9:6).
(5) Several passages reveal a distinction of persons within the Godhead. (a) In Psalm 110:1, David demonstrates there is a distinction of persons between “LORD,” the one speaking, and the one addressed called by David, “my Lord.” David was indicating the Messiah was no ordinary king, but his own Lord, Adoni (my Lord), one who was God Himself. So God the first person addresses God the second person. This is precisely Peter’s point when He quotes this Psalm to show the resurrection of the Messiah was anticipated in the Old Testament. (b) The Redeemer (who must be divine, Isa. 7:14; 9:6) is distinguished from the Lord (Isa. 59:20). (c) The Lord is distinguished from the Lord in Hosea 1:6-7. (d) The Spirit is distinguished from the Lord in a number of passages (Isa. 48:16; 59:21; 63:9-10).
(6) In the Messianic prophecy of Isaiah 7:14, God made it clear that the one who would be born of the virgin would also be Immanuel, God with us.
(7) Two other passages which imply the Trinity are Isaiah 48:16 and 61:1. Here all three persons are mentioned and yet seen as distinct from each other. See also Gen. 22:15-16.
The case for the Triunity of God is even stronger in the New Testament. Here it can be unequivocally demonstrated the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God. Furthermore, the New Testament teaches us that these three names are not synonymous, but speak of three distinct and equal persons.
(1) The Father is called God (John 6:27; 1 Pet. 1:2).
(2) Jesus Christ, the Son is declared to be God. His deity is proven by the divine names given to Him, by His works that only God could do (upholding all things, Col. 1:17; creation, Col. 1:16; John 1:3; and future judgment, John 5:27), by His divine attributes (eternality, John 17:5; omnipresence, Matt. 28:20; omnipotence, Heb. 1:3; omniscience, Matt. 9:4), and by explicit statements declaring His deity (John 1:1; 20:28; Titus 2:13; Heb. 1:8).
(3) The Holy Spirit is recognized as God. He is called God in Acts 5:3-4, He has the attributes which only God can possess, like omniscience (1 Cor. 2:10) and omnipresence (1 Cor. 6:19), and He regenerates people to new life (John 3:5-6, 8; Tit. 3:5) which must of necessity be a work of God for only God has the power of life. Finally, His deity is evident by the divine names used for the Spirit as “the Spirit of our God” (1 Cor. 6:11).
Ryrie writes: “Matthew 28:19 best states both the oneness and threeness by associating equally the three Persons and uniting them in one singular name. Other passages like Matthew 3:16-17 and 2 Corinthians 13:14 associate equally the three Persons but do not contain the strong emphasis on unity as does Matthew 28:19.”38
The New Bible Dictionary adds to this the following evidence:
The evidence of the NT writings, apart from the Gospels, is sufficient to show that Christ had instructed his disciples on this doctrine to a greater extent than is recorded by any of the four Evangelists. They whole-heartedly proclaim the doctrine of the Trinity as the threefold source of redemption. The outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost brought the personality of the Spirit into greater prominence and at the same time shed light anew from the Spirit upon the Son. Peter, in explaining the phenomenon of Pentecost, represents it as the activity of the Trinity: ‘This Jesus … being … exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this which you see and hear’ (Acts 2:32-33). So the church of Pentecost was founded on the doctrine of the Trinity.
In 1 Cor. there is mention of the gifts of the Spirit, the varieties of service for the same Lord and the inspiration of the same God for the work (1 Cor. 12:4-6).
Peter traces salvation to the same triunal source: ‘destined by God the Father and sanctified by the Spirit for obedience to Jesus Christ’ (1 Pet. 1:2). The apostolic benediction: ‘The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all’ (2 Cor. 13:14), not only sums up the apostolic teaching, but interprets the deeper meaning of the Trinity in Christian experience, the saving grace of the Son giving access to the love of the Father and to the communion of the Spirit.
What is amazing, however, is that this confession of God as One in Three took place without struggle and without controversy by a people indoctrinated for centuries in the faith of the one God, and that in entering the Christian church they were not conscious of any break with their ancient faith.39
Thus, the Scripture teaches us that God is one and three.
Difficulties With the Trinity Considered and Answered
The Meaning of “Only-begotten”
John 1:14 And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.
John 1:18 No man has seen God at any time; the only begotten God, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him.
In John 1:18, the King James Version has huios, “Son,” in place of theos, “God,” and reads,
No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him.
Because to our mind the words “only begotten” suggest birth or beginning, some have tried to take the use of this designation of Jesus Christ to mean that Christ had a beginning, that He only became the Son of God. Such an understanding denies His eternality and also the concept of the trinity. So what does John mean by the term “only begotten?”
“Only begotten” is the Greek monogenes, a compound of monos, used as an adjective or adverb meaning “alone, only.” Kittel writes: “In compounds with genes, adverbs describe the nature rather than the source of derivation (emphasis mine). Hence monogenes is used for the only child. More generally it means ‘unique’ or ‘incomparable.’”40 In the NT the term occurs only in Luke, John, and Hebrews, but an instructive use is found for us in Hebrews 11:17 where it is used of Isaac as the monogenes of Abraham. Isaac was not the only son of the Patriarch, but he was the unique son of the promise of God. The emphasis is not on derivation but on his uniqueness and special place in the heart of Abraham.
Vine has an excellent summary of the use of monogenes in John 1:14 and 18:
With reference to Christ, the phrase “the only begotten from the Father,” John 1:14, R.V. (see also the marg.), indicates that as the Son of God He was the sole representative of the Being and character of the One who sent Him. In the original the definite article is omitted both before “only begotten” and before “Father,” and its absence in each case serves to lay stress upon the characteristics referred to in the terms used. The Apostle’s object is to demonstrate what sort of glory it was that he and his fellow–Apostles had seen. That he is not merely making a comparison with earthly relationships is indicated by para, “from.” The glory was that of a unique relationship and the word “begotten” does not imply a beginning of His Sonship. It suggests relationship indeed, but must be distinguished from generation as applied to man.
We can only rightly understand the term “the only begotten” when used of the Son, in the sense of unoriginated relationship. “The begetting is not an event of time, however remote, but a fact irrespective of time. The Christ did not become, but necessarily and eternally is the Son. He, a Person, possesses every attribute of pure Godhood. This necessitates eternity, absolute being; in this respect He is not ‘after’ the Father” (Moule).
In John 1:18 the clause “The Only Begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father,” expresses both His eternal union with the Father in the Godhead and the ineffable intimacy and love between them, the Son sharing all the Father’s counsels and enjoying all His affections. Another reading is monogenes Theos, ‘God only–begotten.’ In John 3:16 the statement, “God so loved the world that He gave His Only Begotten Son,” must not be taken to mean that Christ became the Only Begotten Son by Incarnation. The value and the greatness of the gift lay in the Sonship of Him who was given. His Sonship was not the effect of His being given. In John 3:18 the phrase “the Name of the Only Begotten Son of God” lays stress upon the full revelation of God’s character and will, His love and grace, as conveyed in the Name of One who, being in a unique relationship to Him, was provided by Him as the Object of faith. In 1 John 4:9 the statement “God hath sent His Only Begotten Son into the world” does not mean that God sent out into the world one who at His birth in Bethlehem had become His Son. Cp. the parallel statement, “God sent forth the Spirit of His Son,” Gal. 4:6, R.V., which could not mean that God sent forth One who became His Spirit when He sent Him.41
The Meaning of “First-born”
Another term that has been misinterpreted by some as it is used of Christ is the term “firstborn.” It is used of Christ in Romans 8:29; Colossians 1:15, 18; Hebrews 1:6; Revelation 1:5. Again, because of the thought of birth that this word denotes in our minds, this passage has been used to teach that Christ was not the eternal second person of the Trinity because He had a beginning as the firstborn of God. Firstborn is the Greek prototokos (from protos, first, and tikto, to beget), but this word may mean (a) first in time or (b) first in priority. The point and focus of the word must be taken from the context in which it is used.
In Colossians 1:15, as verse 16 makes clear, it refers to Christ’s sovereignty expressing His priority to and pre-eminence over creation, not in the sense of time, the first to be born, but in the sense of (a) being the sovereign creator, the one in Whom were the plans of creation as architect (“by Him all things were created” can also mean, “in Him …”), (b) by Whom all things were created as the builder (“all things were created by Him”), and (c) for Whom all things were created as the owner (“and for Him”). Colossians 1:15 is declaring Christ’s sovereignty as the Creator. We can see this meaning of prototokos to express sovereignty or priority in the Septuagint’s use of this word in Psalm 89:27 where the clause that follows explains the meaning of “firstborn” or prototokos. Psalm 89:27 reads, “I also shall make him My first-born, The highest of the kings of the earth.” Who is the firstborn? He is “the highest of the kings of the earth,” the sovereign Lord.
In the words of Colossians 1:18, “and He is the beginning, the first-born from the dead,” it means first in time, the first one to rise in an immortal and glorified body. But even here, He is the first-born of the dead so that He might come to be pre-eminent in all things as the head of the body, the church (vs. 18b).
The point is that prototokos can mean either first in time or first in priority and it is the context which determines the meaning. As the second person of the Trinity, Christ is God and sovereign, but as the God-Man who died for our sins and was raised from the dead, He is the pre-eminent head of the body of Christ, the church. In Colossians 2:9, the Apostle confirmed this meaning when he wrote, “For in Him all the fulness of Deity dwells in bodily form.”
The word for “Deity” is theotetos, a strong word (used only here in the NT) for Christ’s essence as God. The full deity of Christ is nonetheless in bodily form—a full humanity (cf. Col. 1:22). Both Christ’s deity and humanity were challenged by this early Gnostic-like heresy. Those heretics diminished Christ to an angel whose “body” was only apparent, not real. Paul affirmed here that Christ is both fully God and truly man (cf. 1 John 4:1-6).42
Some Practical Ramifications of the Doctrine of Triunity
All doctrine is practical and has specific ramifications to life. This is no less true of the Triunity of the Godhead which draws our attention to the concept of the tri-fold personality of God to communicate to us all the elements of personality—moral agency, intelligence, will, emotion, and communion that exists within the three persons of the Godhead. What are some of the ramifications of this doctrine not only for theology, but for Christian experience and life?
(1) It teaches us that God is a God of revelation and communion.
Scripture teaches us that God is light and one of the main functions of light is illumination. The act of revealing is as natural to God as it is for the sun. Before the creation of any being, angel or human, there was revelation and communication taking place within the persons of the Holy Trinity, the Father to the Son, the Son to the Father, and so on with the Spirit. When, in the eternal decrees of God, He willed to create a universe with angelic and human beings, it was merely the expression of this very nature of God.
So if God is a fellowship within himself he can let that fellowship go out to his creatures and communicate himself to them according to their capacity to receive. This is what happened supremely when he came to redeem men: he let his fellowship bend down to reach outcast man and lift him up. And so because God is a Trinity he has something to share: it is his own life and communion.43
(2) It means that the Trinity is the basis of all true fellowship in the world.
Since God is within himself a fellowship, it means that his moral creatures who are made in his image find fullness of life only within a fellowship. This is reflected in marriage, in the home, in society and above all in the church whose koinonia is built upon the fellowship of the three Persons. Christian fellowship is, therefore, the divinest thing on earth, the earthly counterpart of the divine life, as Christ indeed prayed for his followers: ‘That they may all be one; even as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be in us’ (Jn. 17:21).44
(3) It gives variety to the life of the universe.
There is … diversity in the life of God. God the Father designs, God the Son creates, God the Spirit quickens; a great diversity of life and operation and activity. For that reason we can realize that if the universe is a manifestation of God, we can expect a diversity of life within the whole of the created universe. We think that the so-called uniformity of nature is utterly untrue. All the wonders of creation, all the forms of life, all the movement in the universe, are a reflection, a mirroring, of the manifold life of God. There is no monotonous sameness, no large-scale uniformity of pattern, for nature reflects the many-sidedness of the nature and character of the living God.45
For an expanded study on the Trinity (Triunity) of God, see the study entitled, The Trinity (Triunity) of God (trinity.doc) in the Theology section on the Biblical Studies Foundation web site at www.bible.org.
Lewis Sperry Chafer wrote:
Though wholly inadequate, man’s conception of God is measured by those characteristics which he attributes to God. The Bible represents a revelation which, though limited by the restrictions that language must ever impose, is of a Person, and this revelation attributes to Him those exalted qualities which are His. These qualities thus attributed are properly styled attributes. To declare His Person and the sum-total of His attributes, would constitute a final definition of God which man might never hope to form.46
The attributes of God present a theme so vast and complex and so beyond the range of finite faculties that any attempt to classify them must be only approximate as to accuracy or completeness. So, also, the attributes are so interrelated and interdependent that the exact placing of some of them is difficult if not wholly impossible.47
An attribute is “Something attributed as belonging; a quality, character, characteristic, or property.”48 The verb form is defined as “to consider as belonging.”49 In theology, however, God’s attributes are His perfections. An attribute, then, is a quality, or property of a thing or person. Things as well as people have attributes. Attributes are what distinguishes one person or thing from other persons or things. The attributes of a person or thing are so essential to a person or thing that without them, they would not be what they are. But attributes are not like pins in a pin cushion that can simply be removed without altering the essence of the person or thing.
(1) The works of God are manifestations of His attributes. Therefore, to truly understand God’s works, it is important to have a greater understanding of His attributes. The study of the attributes or perfections of God allows the mind to contemplate the greatness of God and what this should mean to finite man who was created in the image of God to both glorify and enjoy God.
(2) There is harmony among the attributes, or mutual dependence. Though there are characteristics in the attributes of God and very distinct at times, they are never isolated, nor dissociated. They always work in harmony with each other as a total expression of God’s being. They are mutually dependent. Not one can be omitted. The possession of one implies necessarily the possession of all. God’s love, though infinite, cannot ignore God’s holy righteousness, nor can His holiness ignore His love, mercy, and grace, nor can God’s omnipotence act independently of His wisdom and holiness.
(3) God’s attributes were never acquired because they are essential to what He is. His attributes represent what He is, what He has always been, and what He will be forever. He is the source of all, and has never received them from any being. God is immutable and eternal and so is His essence.
(4) The Classification of God’s Attributes. In their search for a way to properly classify the attributes of God, theologians have used a number of different approaches. Due to the infinite nature of the being of the almighty God, however, they are all insufficient in one way or another. Three such classifications are listed below but others are sometimes used.
- Natural and Moral: The natural belong to God’s existence as infinite, rational Spirit. The moral belong to Him as infinite, righteous Spirit. Natural: Infinity, self-existence, eternity, unity, omnipresence, immutability, omnipotence, omniscience. Moral: Holiness, justice, righteousness, love, mercy, grace, truth, goodness, wisdom.
- Positive and Negative: The negatives are those which deny limitations to Him. In the positive something is affirmed, in the negative something is denied. Positive: Power, knowledge, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth. Negative: Simplicity, infinity, eternity, immutability.
- Communicable and Incommunicable: The communicable (relative, personality) attributes represent those that are found in a limited degree in God’s created beings. Incommunicable (absolute, or constitutional) are those which are found only in God. Incommunicable: Self-existence, eternity, unity, immutability, omnipresence, omniscience, omnipotence. Communicable: wisdom, holiness, righteousness, justice, goodness, love, truth. Some would place omniscience and omnipotence in this category since men can possess knowledge and power, but since they are omni (i.e. absolute), I have included them under the incommunicable or absolute category.
The Incommunicable Attributes
This means that God exists independently of any cause. God exists from Himself, He has always existed, and will exist forever, and no one has caused His existence, nor can any one make it to cease. There is simply no cause of His existence outside of Himself. God’s existence is necessary, not contingent on something else. He exists by His own being. The basis of His existence is not in His will (to exist), but in His divine nature. God does not exist because He wants to, but because His very nature demands that He exist.
His self-existence is seen in the special name by which He revealed Himself to Israel, Yahweh, which means, “I am that I am” (Ex. 6:3; 3:14). Though the following passages do not specifically declare the self-existence of God, it is implicit in all that is said about God as the only God and the incomparable creator of all that exists (cf. Isa. 40:12-17, 21-26; 44:24; 45:5-7).
The self-existence of God is incomprehensible and a profound mystery to the human mind, but its truth should bring comfort and stability to the human heart to know that our God exists independently of all things and is always there for His people.
Scriptures: Genesis 21:33; Psalm 90:1-2; Isaiah 40:28; 1 Timothy 1:17; Revelation 1:8.
Eternity means much more than is commonly thought. It includes three ideas: (a) It means that the nature of God is without beginning or end, (b) that God is free from all succession of time, and (c) that God contains within Himself the cause of time.
We should not consider time and space as antecedent to God. They are among the “all things” made by Him (Ps. 90:1-2; John 1:3; Heb. 1:3 [literally, “through whom He made the ages”]). Thus we see that eternity means far more than endless time. We may speak of eternity without end, and of an eternity past without beginning, but this is not yet the eternity of God. To Him there is no past, present, or future. He does not live in time, but beyond it in eternity and, as the eternal God, He is not subject to time (Deut. 33:27; Isa. 40:28; 57:15).
God sees all events from creation to the last judgment in one glimpse. God is the eternal “now”; He is the “I AM” (Ex. 3:14). This does not mean, however, that to God there is no objective reality of time. He recognizes that time exists and that we live in it. To Him, past, present, and future are one eternal now, not in the sense in which there is no distinction between them, but only in the sense that God sees that past and future as vividly as the present.
There are two ways to view a parade: one who stands at his door by the street as it passes, and sees first the those in the lead, then others, and finally the last. But one who is at the top of a high tower sees the whole parade with one glance. Nevertheless, that person sees that in the procession there is order and progress. Thus it is with God. This is evident from Isaiah 46:10 and Acts 15:18.
Isa. 46:10 Declaring the end from the beginning And from ancient times things which have not been done, Saying, ‘My purpose will be established, And I will accomplish all My good pleasure’;
Acts 15:18 Says the Lord, who makes these things known from of old.
The eternity of God, as the Eternal I AM, is a part of His self-existence. He is uncaused and must therefore be without beginning. As such, He transcends the whole chain of causes and effects and, as He is without beginning, so He can never cease to be.
How does the eternity of God affect one’s life? For all of us as human beings, life is full of surprises. We never know exactly what lies around the corner, but while we do not know what the future holds, as believers in Christ, we do know Him who holds the future and for Whom nothing is a surprise. Since nothing ever surprises God, no problem I face slips up on the Lord who sees the future as clearly as the present.
Lamentations 5:19 Thou, O LORD, dost rule forever; Thy throne is from generation to generation.
Isaiah 26:3-4 The steadfast of mind Thou wilt keep in perfect peace, Because he trusts in Thee. 4 Trust in the LORD forever, For in GOD the LORD, we have an everlasting Rock.
Psalm 90 is a psalm in which Moses reflects on man’s temporality and sinfulness (vss. 3-11) in the light of God’s eternality (vss. 1-2). As the eternal one, regardless of the generation in which we may live with all its surprises, God is our dwelling place, our place of refuge and fortress (cf. 90:1 with 91:1-2). What then is our need? To know that regardless of the brevity of life (generally maybe seventy or even eighty years, vs. ten), we must know that God has a special purpose for each of us. As believers, we are a special part of the plan and purpose of God. In that regard, our need is to pray that we might number our days to bring in a full harvest of God’s wisdom (vs. 12) and seek God’s blessing on our lives to experience His joy and the confirmation of the work He has designed for us to do (vss. 13-16; Eph. 2:10).
Scriptures: Deuteronomy 6:4; 4:35; Isaiah 44:6-8; 45:5-6, 18-22; 1 Corinthians 8:4-6; 1 Timothy 1:17; 2:5; John 5:44.
The teaching of the Scripture on the unity of God directs our attention to two concepts: First, it teaches us that there is only one God numerically speaking. There is only one infinite and perfect divine Spirit. God is one and absolutely unique. But the unity of God also affirms that God’s nature is indivisible; He is not a composite and cannot be divided into parts.
The unity of God in no way contradicts the doctrine of the Triunity of God since the doctrine of the Trinity only asserts that there are personal distinctions in the divine nature, but not a division of the very essence of God’s Being; His essence is one.
Because God is the unique and only God, Scripture warns us against any and all forms of idolatry. There is only one source of salvation. All other so-called gods are helpless to save. But this also means that there is no escape: there is only one law, only one gospel, only one Savior, and only one Judge. The unity of God calls all men to come to God as He is revealed in Scripture in the person of Jesus Christ and be saved. To fail to do so is to face Him at the Great White Throne Judgment.
Isaiah 45:21-22 Declare and set forth your case; Indeed, let them consult together. Who has announced this from of old? Who has long since declared it? Is it not I, the LORD? And there is no other God besides Me, A righteous God and a Savior; There is none except Me. 22 Turn to Me, and be saved, all the ends of the earth; For I am God, and there is no other.
Ephesians 4:4-6 There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all.
Scriptures: 1 Kings 8:27; Acts 17:24-28; Deuteronomy 33:27.
The infinity of God means He is without limitations. He has no bounds or limits. He is not limited by the universe nor by time-space boundaries. Rather than infinity some theologians prefer to use the term, immensity. Immensity may be defined as “that perfection of the Divine Being by which He transcends all spatial limitations, and yet is present in every point of space with His whole Being.”50 So God’s infinity or immensity “does not mean that He is somehow spread throughout the universe, one part here and another there.”51 Regarding immensity Ryrie writes:
It differs from omnipresence in that it emphasizes the transcendence of God (because He is not bound by space), while omnipresence focuses on the immanence of God (because he is everywhere present).52
The infinity of God is related to all God’s perfections. When related to time, He is called eternal. When related to His presence, theologians use the term immensity, though God’s omnipresence is also related. When related to His power, He is called omnipotent, when related to His knowledge, He is called omniscient.
Scriptures: Numbers 23:19; 1 Samuel 15:29; Psalm 33:11; 102:25-27; Malachi 3:6; James 1:17; Isaiah 14:24.
Immutability means that God is not subject to change, that He is invariable. In His nature and character, God is absolutely without change. Immutability “is that perfection of God by which He is devoid of all change, not only in His Being, but also in His perfections, and in His purposes and promises … and is free from all accession or diminution and from all growth or decay in His Being or perfection.”53
All God’s attributes or perfections are included in His immutability. There can be no increase nor decrease in their number, capacity, or power. God could not be more or less holy, righteous, omnipotent, etc. It would be an absurdity to suppose He could. Immutability, however, is not immobility. It does not mean that God cannot change His actions, or way of dealing with men in different situations and times. It simply means His character and attributes do not change. It means that His eternal purposes does not change, for He has even purposed all things that come to pass.
Reason teaches immutability. God must be immutable; there can be no change in Him, either for better or worse, since God is infinite and absolute perfection. If God could change for the better or the worse, it would indicate a weakness in His Being. There can be no cause for change in God who is perfect.
The immutability of God raises an important question. If God is immutable, what is meant by such statements found in the Bible that speak of God repenting or changing His mind?
Jonah 3:10 And God repented of the evil that he had said that he would do unto them? (KJV)
Gen. 6:5-6 And GOD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. 6 And it repented the LORD that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart. (KJV)
These passages are not suggesting there was a change in the character of God, only in His actions toward man based on the actions of men. It is man who changes and due to the changeless character of God, He must change His actions or dealings with man. God must deal with men in accord with His holy character. He must eventually deal with sin in judgment as He did in Genesis 6, or He acts in mercy when men repent as He did with Nineveh. But God’s actions are always consistent with His character. For instance, the Genesis passage does not say that God changed His mind in the sense that He wished He had not made man, but only that He was grieved over man’s behavior. The translation of the NIV makes the point clear.
Genesis 6:5-6 The LORD saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time.6 The LORD was grieved that he had made man on the earth, and his heart was filled with pain. (NIV)
Compare also the translation of the NIV for Jonah 3:10:
When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he had compassion and did not bring upon them the destruction he had threatened. (NIV)
When used of God as in some translations, the term “repentance” is simply an anthropopathism, a term ascribing human feeling or emotion to God to show us God’s attitude toward sin.
The immutability of God is a terror to the wicked because it means that God must always deal with men in accord with His holy character and plan. God make no deals and accepts no man’s person apart from His plan of salvation in the person and work of Christ. On the other hand, God’s immutability is a constant comfort to believers because it means God is faithful, always, to His promises and the principles of His Word. For this reason, God is called “the Rock” (Deut. 32:4) for when the entire world around us seems to fluctuate and shake (especially if one lives in California) God is the one safe and faithful place of anchorage.
Deuteronomy 32:4 The Rock! His work is perfect, For all His ways are just; A God of faithfulness and without injustice, Righteous and upright is He.
Psalm 18:2 and 31 The LORD is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, My God, my rock, in whom I take refuge; My shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. 31 For who is God, but the LORD? And who is a rock, except our God,
People will often let each other down. Our friends as well as we ourselves often prove fickle, but the Lord who never changes, never lets us down. He is our Rock of blessing, support, and deliverance. This is why our trust should never be in man as Jeremiah 17:5 warns, “Cursed be man that trust in mankind and makes flesh his strength.” This does not mean that God always answers our prayers and desires according to our wishes for He does not. It means, however, we can count on the fact that He is faithful to always act in accordance with His wisdom, love, and purposes. Let’s note some of the ways that God is faithful:
- He is faithful to forgive sin when we confess it (1 John 1:9).
- He is faithful to discipline us in love when we need it (Heb. 12:5f; Ps. 11:75).
- He is faithful to support us in our suffering as the faithful Creator (1 Pet. 4:19).
- He is faithful to keep His promises according to the principles of His Word (Ps. 119:86, 138; Deut. 7:9; Isa. 49:7; 55:3; 1 Cor. 1:8-9).
- He is faithful to strengthen us in the midst of testing or temptation (1 Cor. 10:13).
- It is out of His faithful that He answers our prayers (Ps. 143:1).
We close this attribute with these verses:
Lamentations 3:21-23 This I recall to my mind, Therefore I have hope. 22 The LORD’s lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, For His compassions never fail. 23 They are new every morning; Great is Thy faithfulness.
Psalm 36:5 Thy lovingkindness, O LORD, extends to the heavens, Thy faithfulness reaches to the skies.
Scriptures: Psalm 139:7-12; Jeremiah 23:23-24; Acts 17:24-28.
The English word omnipresence comes from the Latin word omnis, meaning “all.” Thus, omnipresence means God is everywhere present, but not in everything (pantheism). He is present everywhere at the same time. In the fullness of God’s essence, He fills all parts of the universe. “God, in the totality of his essence, without diffusion or expansion, multiplication or division, penetrates and fills the universe in all its parts.”54 This means that God is everywhere present in the totality of His essence or divine Being.
This militates against the idea that God is in heaven and only His power is on earth. A distinction should be recognized between the immensity of God and the omnipresence of God. Immensity emphasizes the transcendence of God and stresses that He is not bound by space, whereas omnipresence emphasizes His immanence, filling all space, including earth.55
We cannot think of one part of God being here and another there, because pure spirit cannot be divided. Material things have to possess extension to fill space, but this is not true of God, who is spirit.
The omnipresence of God may seem to be a form of pantheism, but it is vastly different. Pantheism says that God is in everything. He is in the tree, in the earth, in the book in your hand, in the desk in front of you, etc. Pantheism denies the personality of God and fails to show that God is distinct from the universe. The Bible teaches that God is in all parts of the universe, but He is not the universe. He existed before the universe because He created it. He is transcendent to it. He is present in all parts of His creation and yet apart from it. He may be in the wind or the storm as its source, but the storm is not God. It is a product of His creation (Ps. 104:3).
While God is everywhere present, He may manifest Himself locally when He wishes to do so, as with Moses on the Mount, or when Christ became incarnate and dwelt among men (John 1:14). The Bible may speak of God as localized for some point of emphasis, but this never denies His omnipresence. The Father is spoken of as in heaven (Matt. 6:9) to draw our attention to His sovereignty and ability to answer our prayers, but He is also present throughout the universe. Christ is seated at the right hand of the Father (Eph. 1:20; Col. 3:1), but He is also with us (Matt. 28:20; Heb. 13:5-6). The Holy Spirit dwells (has taken up residence) in the church and in the believer (Eph. 2:22; 1 Cor. 3:16; 6:19), but Psalm 139:7-10 shows the Spirit is everywhere present. See also John 16:8f. The New Testament teaches that all three Persons of the Godhead dwell in believers (Eph. 4:6; Col. 1:27; 1 Cor. 6:19).
The fullness of God’s essence is in every place while His residence and the manifestation of His presence varies with the purposes of God.
There is a two-fold application to this doctrinal truth. First, the doctrine of God’s omnipresence can become a comfort to the believer if he will recognize and rest in the fact that he can experience no adversity apart from the presence and care of God. Not only is God always present, but He has promised to be at our side in a special way as our rock and strength (Josh. 1:9; Heb. 13:5-6; Matt. 28:20). Secondly, it is also a warning against disobedience and a preventive against sin. We cannot commit a single sin without God being there. We have not a thought or intent of the heart without His knowing and feeling it. No wrong desire ever escapes His presence. No matter how we may fool others, we never fool our omnipresent, omniscient God. We can never run away or escape the presence of God.
Psalm 139:7-9 Where can I go from Thy Spirit? Or where can I flee from Thy presence? 8 If I ascend to heaven, Thou art there; If I make my bed in Sheol, behold, Thou art there. 9 If I take the wings of the dawn, If I dwell in the remotest part of the sea.
(1) God knows all things perfectly (Ps. 147:5; Job 37:16; 1 John 3:20).
(2) God sees and hears everything (Ex. 3:7; 2 Chron. 16:9; Ps. 34:15; 102:19, 20; Prov. 5:21; 15:3; Jer. 16:16).
(3) God has perfect knowledge of each individual person and of all human experiences: (a) Man’s ways are known to the Lord (Ps. 33:13-15; 139:1-16; Pr. 5:21); (b) Man’s words are known to the Lord (Ps. 139:4; Matt. 12:35-37); (c) Man’s thoughts are known to the Lord (1 Chron. 28:9; Ps. 94:11; 139:1-2; Matt. 9:4); (d) Man’s sorrows and trials are known to the Lord (Gen. 21:17-19; 1 Cor. 10:13; Rev. 2:9-10, 13); (e) Man’s future actions and final state are known to the Lord (Gen. 18:19; Ex. 3:19; Isa. 44:28-45:5; Matt. 25:31-34, 41; Acts 27:22-25).
(4) God knows from all eternity what shall be in all eternity, the entire plan of the ages and the part of every man in that plan (Isa. 46:9-11; 48:3-7; Acts 15:18; Eph. 1:3-12).
The English word omniscience comes from the Latin word omnis, meaning “all,” and scientia, meaning “knowledge.” Thus, omniscience means “to know all, to have perfect knowledge.” God’s omniscience is His knowledge of all things including actual and possible, past, present, and future (foreknowledge). Paul Enns calls our attention to a number of things that should be noted about God’s omniscience.
(1) God knows all things that exist in actuality (Ps. 139:1-6; 147:4; Matt. 6:8; 10:28-30). The Psalmist recognized the omniscience of God in that God knew his actions, his thoughts, his words before he even spoke them, and his entire life (Ps. 139:1-4).
(2) God knows all the variables concerning things that have not occurred. Jesus knew what Tyre and Sidon would have done had the gospel been preached to them (Matt. 11:21).
(3) God knows all future events. Because God is eternal and knows all things in one eternal act, events that are future to man are an “eternal now” to God. He knew the nations that would dominate Israel (Dan. 2:36-43; 7:4-8), and He knows the events that will yet transpire upon the earth (Matt. 24-25; Rev. 6-19).
(4) God’s knowledge is intuitive. It is immediate, not coming through the senses; it is simultaneous, not acquired through observation or reason; it is actual, complete, and according to reality.56
In addition to the statements of Scripture, God’s omniscience can be seen in three lines of evidence: (a) His omnipresence, because if He is everywhere, He must have knowledge of all things. (b) His perfect knowledge of Himself, because He planned all things, He must therefore know them. No man completely knows himself and therefore cannot always be sure of what he will do in a given situation or how well he can do in that situation, but God does. Therefore, He is the perfect planner, creator, and governor because He knows His power, character, wisdom and He knows what is best and what He will do in all circumstances. Indeed, He ordained it. (c) Prophecy expresses His omniscience. Only omniscience can truly know the future with the perfect accuracy that we find in the hundreds of fulfilled prophecies of the Bible.
Because God alone is the perfect source of information and knowledge, I need to avail myself of the wisdom that God has revealed to me in His precious Word, the Bible (Isa. 55:8; 1 Cor. 2:9-11; 2 Tim. 3:16-17).
Since God has perfect knowledge of His creatures (which includes me), there are a number of responses I need to make: (a) Worship, awe, adoration (Ps. 139:6). (b) Submission (Ps. 139:1-6, 23-24). God tests us not to know what we will do, but to show us the true condition of our inner lives, to point out our hidden sins and weaknesses and false areas of trust. (c) Personal comfort and rest comes in the knowledge that the Lord knows the way that I take with its temptation and trials. He also knows our frame and takes into account that we are dust (Ps. 103:14). Like Hagar said in confidence of God’s love and care, “You are a God who sees me” (Gen. 16:13, NIV). (d) Confidence in prayer that my prayer will not be lost among the millions, that God knows the best answer and the real desires and needs of my heart, and that my often inability to know how to pray will not hinder God’s loving and watchful care for He knows my need before I ask (Matt. 6:31-34; Isa. 65:24).
Isaiah 65:24 It will also come to pass that before they call, I will answer; and while they are still speaking, I will hear.
For those who presume upon the Lord, God’s omniscience should remind us that nothing anyone does escapes the knowledge of God and that one day we will be called to give an account at the bar of God for God will deal with each according to the truth of his life (Rom. 2:2, 3, 6; 14:10-12). For more information on the various judgments, see The Doctrine of the Judgments.
Scriptures: Psalm 68:14; 91:1-2; 115:3; 2 Corinthians 6:18.
(1) The declaration of the fact of God’s omnipotence (Genesis 18:14; Job 42:2; Numbers 11:23; Matt. 19:26; Revelation 1:8; 4:8; 11:17; 19:6).
(2) One of the names of God is “Power” (Mark 14:62).
(3) God’s power in creation: (a) An omnipotent Creator (Gen. 1:1-3; Ps. 33:6-9). (b) An omnipotent Commander (Ex. 9:3-6, 23-26, 33; Ps. 107:25-29; Jonah 1:17; 4:6-8; Dan. 3:22-28). (c) An omnipotent Sustainer (Col. 1:17b; Heb. 1:3).
(4) God’s power in relation to mankind (Gen. 45:4-8; Ex. 4:11; Dan. 4:17, 25, 32; Luke 12:20; Acts 12:21-24).
(5) In relation to the heavenly hosts (Dan. 4:35; Heb. 1:14).
(6) In relation to Satan and his hosts: Satan can only operate as God, in His infinite wisdom, permits him to do so (Job 1:12; 2:6; Luke 22:31-32). Later, Satan will be bound and will finally be cast into the lake of fire (Rev. 20:2, 10).
Omnipotence means that God is all-powerful, that His power is unlimited, that God has the ability to do whatever He pleases with or without secondary means (directly or indirectly), but what He pleases is always in harmony with God’s perfections, nature, and Person.
In God’s power, there is both authority and ability to perform. In man, there may be authority but no ability to perform as when the rightful king of a nation is deposed, or there may be no authority but there may be power as in a rebel king who, because of the forces at his disposal, usurps the authority of the rightful king. In Matthew 28:18, Christ said “all authority (exousia, means “authority to act,” and “power, ability to act”) has been given to me in heaven and earth.” Christ, as the glorified God-Man Savior, was claiming His omnipotence to enable the body of Christ to carry out its mission in the world throughout the ages.
God’s omnipotence may be divided into two areas: absolute power and ordained power. Absolute power is God’s power or ability to do what He will or may not do, but is possible for Him to do, “power to do all things” (Mark 10:27). Ordained power is the power exercised to do what He has decreed to do, that which His will and wisdom has directed and ordered. Matthew 26:53 and 54 give an illustration of each of these.
Absolute Power: “Or do you think that I cannot appeal to My Father, and He will at once put at My disposal more than twelve legions of angels?” (Matt. 26:53)
Ordained Power: “How then shall the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must happen this way?” (Matt. 26:54)
God has the absolute power to perform any miracle in a person’s life if He so chooses, but because of His wisdom, love, and purposes, He may choose not to do so. In the above illustration regarding the Savior, God could have easily destroyed Christ’s enemies and delivered Him from the cross, but in the wisdom and mercy of God, it was His will for Christ, His Son, to die on the cross for the sin of the world to provide us with eternal life and fulfill the hope and promises of Scripture.
God’s power is such that He can do whatever He pleases without difficulty and resistance. Though Satan and man may attempt to resist it, God’s power cannot be checked, restrained, or frustrated. Having reminded stubborn Israel who had resisted God’s will that Yahweh alone was God and there was none to compare with Him, the Lord made this declaration to the nation:
Isaiah 46:10 Declaring the end from the beginning And from ancient times things which have not been done, Saying, ‘My purpose will be established, And I will accomplish all My good pleasure’; (emphasis mine)
Just as He can do all things possible with regard to the object, so He can do all things easily as to the manner. He can do all things without the use of any means or instrument by the simple exercise of His will and without effort.
Isaiah 40:28 Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Everlasting God, the LORD, the Creator of the ends of the earth Does not become weary or tired. His understanding is inscrutable.
Isaiah 45:12 It is I who made the earth, and created man upon it. I stretched out the heavens with My hands, And I ordained all their host.
Whereas man needs matter or material to work with, God needs nothing. He can create out of nothing by the exercise of His will as He did in Genesis one, or He can create out of something as He did when He created man from the dust of the earth (cf. Heb. 11:3; 1:3). God needs no blueprint to work from, no time to work in, and no instruments to work with. However, in connection with this, it is important to remember that God has chosen to use secondary causes or means. As Hebrews 11:3 asserts, creation was accomplished without means other than the voice of God, but our salvation was accomplished through the instrumentation of the God-Man Savior’s death on the cross. Indeed, even the crucifixion was accomplished by human means.
Acts 2:23 this Man, delivered up by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death.
Omnipotence does not imply the exercise of all His power. He has power over His power. Though His power is limitless, it is always under the control of His holy and wise will. Or to put this another way, God’s power is subordinate to His wisdom, will, and holy character. God can do all He wishes to do, but He will not do all He could do. All things with God are possible; God can do anything, but He will only do what His infinite wisdom, holiness, and love dictate.
God cannot do that which would contradict His own holy character or essence.
(1) He cannot annihilate Himself because He is eternal, immutable, and all wise. He cannot lie because He is absolute truth (Titus 1:2; Heb. 6:18).
(2) He cannot go back on His Word because He is faithful (2 Tim. 2:13).
(3) He cannot be tempted because He is absolute holiness, He is self-sufficient and needs nothing (Jam. 1:13).
(4) Sin is imperfection and it would be contradictory to say that the perfect One could be imperfect. To say that the perfect One cannot be imperfect, is not really putting a limitation of God.
The power of God gives activity and efficacy to all His other perfections. As God’s holiness is the beauty and purity of His attributes, so His power gives life, action, and validity to all His essence. For instance, His eternal counsels would be vain if His omnipotence were not there to execute them. His promises would be empty if He could not fulfill them. Without His power, the assurance of His presence would be meaningless. And His warnings of judgment would be but empty words, a mere scarecrow.
Psalm 62:11 speaks of the lovingkindness of God who recompenses men for their work, but it is the power of God that he has heard of the most, mentioned in verse 11, that gives the Psalmist the assurance of the action of God’s mercy and reward.
Once God has spoken; Twice I have heard this: That power belongs to God; And lovingkindness is Thine, O Lord, For Thou dost recompense a man according to his work.
This Psalm brings us another point concerning God’s omnipotence. God’s power, as with all His perfections, stems from the nature of God and is totally independent within Him as the eternal I Am. A king may have authority in his person to command his kingdom, but he does not contain sufficient power within himself to rule without the aid of others to enforce his will. But God’s power is not derived from anything outside of Himself. As Psalm 62:11 declares, “power belongs to God (i.e., alone).”
After the mystery of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream had been revealed to Daniel, Daniel clearly acknowledged this important fact about God as the source of all power in his praise to the God of heaven. First, he said, “… for wisdom and power belong to Him (i.e., God),” but later in his praise, he said this, “… for Thou hast given me wisdom and power; Even now Thou hast made known to me what we requested of Thee” (Dan. 2:20 and 23). All other power in the universe regardless of its nature is derived power, power derived from God who is the source of all power. Therefore, God is sovereign and I can depend on Him regardless of what powers in the world I may face. A wonderful illustration of this is found in the action of Daniel’s friends when faced with the fiery furnace when they refused to worship the image of Nebuchadnezzar. Their response to the power of the king to throw them into the fiery furnace was:
Daniel 3:16-18 Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego answered and said to the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to give you an answer concerning this matter. 17 If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire; and He will deliver us out of your hand, O king. 18 But even if He does not, let it be known to you, O king, that we are not going to serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.”
The king’s power was a derived power and these godly Jews knew that God’s power could overrule if that was His will and purpose. They rested in God’s power according to His wisdom and purposes. Note how they did not presume upon God’s power, but rested in the wisdom of God.
The omnipotence of God is a wonderful ground of trust and confidence for the believer in the reliability of the Scriptures and its many promises, in the truth of the resurrection, in the miracles of the Bible, and in God’s provision and care for believers in every realm of life. So it was that the Apostle, knowing and experiencing the greatness of God’s power, prayed that we might know what is the surpassing greatness of His power towards us who believe.
Ephesians 1:18-23 I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, 19 and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is like the working of his mighty strength, 20 which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, 21 far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. 22 And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way. (NIV)
Still, with God’s powerful Word in our hands and with the experience of His power in our lives, God’s power is so great that, according to Ephesians 3:20, God is able to do beyond all we can ask or think according to the power at work in us, of course, all to the glory of God.
Ephesians 3:20 Now to Him who is able to do exceeding abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us,
Scriptures: 1 Samuel 2:2-8; Job 42:2; Psalm 103:19; 115:3; 135:6; Daniel 4:31-32, 35; Isaiah 46:9-10; 14:24, 27; 40:25; 43:13; Ephesians 1:11.
Sovereignty means highest, chief, supreme. God’s sovereignty means that He is the absolute and sole ruler who is independent of all other rule. When we say that God is sovereign, we are saying that He is the number one ruler in the universe with authority and power over all. Sovereignty “speaks first of position (God is the chief Being in the universe), then of power (God is supreme in power in the universe) … Ultimately God is in complete control of all things, though He may choose to let certain events happen according to natural laws which He has ordained.”57 Psalm 103:19 says it best, “The LORD has established His throne in the heavens; And His sovereignty rules over all.”
As the small sampling of the verses above shows, the Bible is full of evidence for the absolute sovereignty of God both in direct statements like Psalm 103:19, and by the necessary implications of His divine perfections as omnipresence, omniscience, and His work in creation and providence.
(1) God’s complete control, His sovereignty over the universe, is based on His divine attributes (i.e., on His omnipotence—the power to do as He pleases, on His omniscience—His wise understanding of all things actual and possible; and on His love, goodness, and holiness. All His actions and sovereign plans are always completely consistent with His own character. God cannot act inconsistently with His character.
(2) This means that in God’s sovereignty, He always does what He deems best. There is no injustice with God and he does not act arbitrarily with man. God’s rule over man and the universe is in complete harmony with His wisdom, love, and holiness.
(3) God’s sovereignty means that nothing escapes His notice. Nothing occurs outside of His sovereign jurisdiction and control and nothing occurs by blind chance or fate. Even the laws of mathematical probability fall within the sovereign control of God and His sovereign plan. As the Bible reminds us, “the lot is cast into the lap, But its every decision is from the LORD” (Proverbs 16:33).
(4) God uses various instruments and means to accomplish His purposes, but He is always in control of the means He uses either through natural causes or by divine intervention. This is true of nations, individuals, Satan and the demons, and of natural forces (see Isa. 10:5-16; Job. 1-2).
The Sovereignty of God and the Volition of Man
There is no aspect of the Person and Being of God that is unimportant. As mentioned before, all the perfections of God are essential to the very Being of God and work in harmony with each other. And while they all contribute to the comfort and security of believers, some are easier for our minds to grasp than others, but they are all important and we need to know what the Scripture teaches about each aspect of the attributes of God. As we find some aspects of the attributes of God difficult to grasp, we need to remember, in humility, that we are finite and God is infinite, that we are dealing with mystery and with that which is incomprehensible, at least to us. We must accept the fact that we are creatures who fall infinitely short of the wisdom and knowledge of God. Consequently, we need to guard against trying to subject the Bible and its revelation of God to the supposed demands of our human logic. God’s attributes, as with His sovereignty, are not a matter of human reason, but divine revelation and we should not be surprised that the revelation of an infinite God will sometimes reveal those things that go beyond the boundary of human understanding. Kenneth Boa writes:
Mysteries (as used by Boa he means that which goes past the boundary of human understanding) are forced upon us by the facts of God’s Word; we are not inventing them ourselves. Since His written revelation teaches concepts that appear to be mutually exclusive, we must realize that with God both truths are friends, not enemies. In God’s higher rationality, things that we think must be either-or can in reality be both-and.
Thus, when the biblical facts warrant them, we can embrace incomprehensibles in the Bible and relate them to the omniscience and omnipotence of God … 58
We must remember that what is quite incomprehensible to man may be totally comprehensible to God. It is a matter of revelation. If a truth is clearly taught in Scripture, then I must embrace it even if it seems beyond my comprehension or seems to contradict another element of doctrine. Three such truths that fall into this category are the Triunity of God (one God, yet three persons), the divine/human nature of Jesus Christ (undiminished deity and true humanity united in one person), and divine sovereignty versus human responsibility. As we face such mysteries of God’s Word, at least three dangers must be avoided:
(1) The danger of imposing human reason over divine revelation. If an idea in the Bible (assuming it is clearly taught) does not conform to our human reason, our reason must be subordinated to the clear revelation of God.
(2) The danger of one extreme or the other. In seeking to make difficult doctrines reasonable, our tendency is to emphasize one truth, like God’s sovereignty, and ignore or even deny another, like man’s responsibility, or vice versa. Men seek to remove the tension between the two, but in doing so, they invariably emphasize one doctrine to the exclusion of the other.
(3) The danger of a wrong attitude. Such mysteries, sometimes called antinomies, are not enemies. They are our friends, God’s truth to direct us and keep us in balance with the total revelation of God.
The way men have typically approached God’s sovereignty and human responsibility has caused no little debate and perplexity among students of the Bible. But these are parallel truths taught in Scripture, both of which must be accepted without trying to divorce one from the other or force one over the other.
The sovereignty of God is one of the somewhat inscrutable mysteries of Scripture. It is also one of the most comforting doctrines as well when properly understood and embraced alongside of the truth of man’s responsibility. Ryrie writes:
The sovereignty of God seems to contradict the freedom or actual responsibility of man. But even though it may seem to do so, the perfection of sovereignty is clearly taught in the Scriptures so must not be denied because of our inability to reconcile it with freedom or responsibility. Also, if God is sovereign, how can the creation be so filled with evil?
Man was created with genuine freedom, but the exercise of that freedom in rebellion against God introduced sin into the human race. Though God was the Designer of the plan, He was in no way involved in the commission of evil either on the part of Satan originally or of Adam subsequently. Even though God hates sin, for reasons not revealed to us, sin is present by His permission. Sin must be within God’s eternal plan (or God would not be sovereign) in some way in which He is not the author of it (or God could not be holy).
Sovereignty/freedom forms an antinomy (“a contradiction between two apparently equally valid principles or between inferences correctly drawn from such principles”). Antinomies in the Bible, however, consist only of apparent contradictions, not ultimate ones. One can accept the truths of an antinomy and live with them, accepting by faith what cannot be reconciled; or one can try to harmonize the apparent contradictions in an antinomy which inevitably leads to overemphasizing one truth to the neglect or even denial of the other. Sovereignty must not obliterate free will, and free will must never dilute sovereignty.59
The Communicable Attributes
Scriptures: Psalm 99:5, 8, 9; Isaiah 6:3; 57:15; 1 Peter 1:15-16; Exodus 15:11; 19:10-11; Revelation 15:4.
Holiness occupies a place second to none among the attributes of God. Scripture places a chief emphasis on God’s holiness. In fact, He is described by the word “Holy” more than any other. It is the most central, epitomizing attribute of God’s being. As an epithet to God’s Name, “Holy” is what you find most, not “His mighty name,” or “wise name.” Occasionally you read “His great name,” but most of all, it is either “My holy name,” or “His Holy Name.” It is this perfection of God’s being and none other that is celebrated by the Seraphim in Isaiah 6. Undoubtedly, because holiness gives a fuller expression of the central feature of God’s being than any other, God Himself said, “once have I sworn by my holiness” (Ps. 89:35). He could have sworn by any of His perfections, but He swore by His holiness because it is this attribute which gives the greatest meaning to all the rest. So we are exhorted to sing and give thanks at the remembrance of God’s holiness (Ps. 30:4, KJV).
To be adequately grasped, the holiness of God must be described negatively and positively.
Negatively: Holiness is that perfection in God that totally separates Him from all that is evil and defiling and common. As we call gold pure when it is free from any dross or impurities, or a garment clean when free from any spot, so the nature and actions of God are free from any impurity or evil of any kind whatsoever.
Positively: Holiness refers to the absolute integrity and purity of the nature of God. It means He is always absolutely pure and so distinct from all others. God is pure light (1 John 1:5).
Holiness is an essential and necessary perfection of God. It is not maintained by an act of His will. He does not choose to be holy because He wants to be. Holiness is an essential and inherent part of His Being. Only God is absolutely holy because only God is God. “There is no one holy like the Lord” (1 Sam. 2:2). The words “there is no” represents a Hebrew word that properly means, “nothing, nought.” It may deny existence absolutely which certainly is the meaning here. Who can be holy like God? Absolutely no one. So God only is absolute holiness. Men and angels only have derived holiness from Him. Revelation 15:4 says, “Who will not fear, O Lord, and glorify Thy name? For Thou alone art holy; For all the nations will come and worship before Thee, For Thy righteous acts have been revealed.”
(1) God’s holiness means He can never approve of any evil, but perfectly, necessarily, universally, and perpetually abhors all evil. God cannot hate one sinner and indulge another. He can have no respect of persons (Rom. 2:2-8).
(2) God’s holiness means He desires holiness in all His creatures (1 Pet. 1:15-16).
(3) God’s holiness is the glory and beauty of all of God’s perfections (see Ps. 29:2 and 96:9 in the NIV or KJV). As God’s power (arm) gives strength and validity to each of His attributes, as immutability guarantees the continuance of each unchanged, so His holiness gives moral beauty and purity to each: His power is a holy power (Ps. 98:1), His word or promise is a holy promise (Ps. 105:42), His name which stands for all His attributes is a holy name (Ps. 103:1), and His throne, is a holy throne (Ps. 47:8). And so it is with each of God’s attributes, His wisdom, knowledge, mercy, grace, love, goodness, etc., all operate in concert with God’s perfect holiness.
In the outworking and manifestation of God’s holiness there are two other attributes that, though distinct, still seem to function as branches of God’s holiness. There is the legislative or executive branch—God’s righteousness, and the judicial branch—God’s justice. Holiness has to do more with the pure character of God Himself while righteous and justice express that character in God’s dealings and government in the affairs of His creatures, angels, and mankind. So think of the next two perfections of God as the outworking of God’s holiness in God’s government in the universe.
Righteousness and Justice
Righteousness is that attribute of God which leads Him to always think and do what is right or act in perfect goodness in relation to men and angels.
Justice refers to that attribute of God which vindicates the righteousness of God, not vindictively or in vengeance, but in holy justice. Justice refers to the judgment which God, as a righteous God, must exercise against anything which falls short of His holy standards. Righteous laws and principles proceed from God’s holiness to legislate and govern the affairs of men. This is God’s righteousness at work, the legislative branch of His holiness (cf. Deut. 4:8). But from God’s holiness also comes the penalties and judgments attached to these laws. This is the judicial branch which we call justice.
In righteousness we have the manifestation of God’s love of holiness, of what is right and good. In justice, we have the manifestation of God’s hatred of sin. Habakkuk 1:13 expresses both.
The Manifestation of God’s Holiness in His Righteousness and Justice:
The following gives just a few of the ways God’s holiness is manifested in His righteous actions in His governmental dealings with man.
(1) It is manifested in His works. All that He made was good (Gen. 1:31), He created man upright and in God’s image (Gen. 1:26-27). Even Satan was created perfect and without sin until he turned in arrogant rebellion against God (Ezek. 28:15).
(2) It is manifested in the Law (Rom. 7:12) which is holy, pure, and good.
(3) It is manifested by God’s clear statements of His hatred of sin and His love of righteousness (Gen. 6:5-6; Prov. 6:16; 15:9, 26; Zech. 8:16-17; Jer. 44:4).
(4) It is manifested in His judgments against Israel and the nations for their rebellion against God (Deut. 28-30; Isa. 1-12).
(5) It is seen in the gift of God’s own Son to die on the cross for the sin of the world (Ps. 22:1-3; Eph. 5:25-27; Col. 1:20-22; 1 John 3:5, 7-8).
(6) It is seen in the separation of God Himself from the sinner (Hab. 1:13; Isa. 59:1-3).
(7) It is seen by the continual presence and work of Christ before God on behalf of the believer (Rom. 8:34; 1 John 1:7; 2:1-2).
(8) It is seen in the eternal punishment of the unbelieving sinner (Rev. 20:12-15; Matt. 25:41-46).
(9) It is seen in God who, as a holy Father, disciplines sin in His children to train them in holiness (Heb. 12:5-10).
God’s righteousness and justice pose a dire warning for all who have never put their trust in the person and work of God’s Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, who died for their sin. All have sinned and come short of the glory or the perfect holiness of God (Rom. 3:23). Because God is perfect righteousness, He can have no fellowship with sinful man (Hab. 1:13). Sin separates man from God, and the wages of sin is eternal death, eternal separation from God (Isa. 59:1-2; Rom. 6:23). In this we see God’s justice in action. But God’s love of righteousness and love for the world provided the solution in the gift of His Son (John 3:16). Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth, no man comes to the Father but by me” because He alone met the holy demands of God through His sinless life and substitutionary death (John 14:6; Acts 4:12). If one rejects Christ and fails to receive Him by faith, that person remains under the wrath of God’s holy justice (John 3:36).
For those who have trusted in the Savior for eternal life, God’s holiness is a call to walk by faith, in fellowship with Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit and in the light of the Word, that he might experience His holiness—Christlike character. Why? Because God has called us to be a holy people, a people separated to Him (1 Pet. 1:16-17; Gal. 5:16-26).
Goodness (Includes Benevolence, Mercy, and Grace)
Scriptures: Exodus 34:6; Psalm 25:7-8; 33:5; 68:10; 145:7; Nehemiah 9:25; Romans 2:4; 1 Timothy 4:4.
The goodness of God is the expression of both His love and righteousness to His creatures in general. It is that aspect of God’s character that promotes the happiness of His creatures. Goodness includes God’s kindness as seen in mercy and grace. God’s goodness includes His benevolence, mercy, and grace.
Benevolence: This is the desire to do good for others, the disposition to promote kindness. God’s benevolent interest in His creatures and His care for them is manifested in different ways according to the nature and circumstances of the creature. All creatures are objects of His benevolence. Even animals are recipients of His benevolence. They have what may be called “animal joy,” which is manifested in the song of the birds and the frolicking of the animals, etc. (Ps. 104:21, 26-28; 36:6c; 145:15-16; Matt. 6:26). Hodge says, “There are no devices in nature for the promotion of pain for its own sake; whereas the manifestations of design for the production of happiness are beyond computation.”60
Since man is rational, he has more capacity to enjoy the goodness of God. God manifests His benevolence to all men (Acts 14:17) even to unbelievers (Matt. 5:44-45; Luke 6:35). The sinner, by his own sin and the absence of fellowship with God, is deprived of the full manifestation of God’s benevolence. His benevolence is infinite being limited only by the capacity and characteristics of the creature.
Mercy or Lovingkindness: Mercy or lovingkindness is God’s benevolent compassion toward man as a sinner, especially in his misery as a sinner (Ex. 34:6-7; Ps. 103:8; 136:1-26). It is great (1 Kings 3:6), abundant (Ps. 86:5; 1 Pet. 1:3), tender (Luke 1:78), enduring for ever (Ps. 136:1), and sovereignly given (Ex. 33:19).
Grace: Grace is close to mercy, but differs in that it has reference to man as sinful and without the ability to gain any merit with God. Mercy, on the other hand, sees man as miserable and weak without any capacity to help himself. Grace refers especially to the gifts of God which man can never deserve; mercy to man’s miserable and wretched state. With grace the emphasis is more on God’s person as being gracious, while in mercy man’s wretchedness and need are highlighted. Both terms, however, draw attention to both God’s character and man’s helplessness.
The grace of God to men in general is seen in His delay in letting judgment fall on them (2 Pet. 3:7-9). It is manifested especially to the believer (Eph. 1:4-6; 2:8-9; Tit. 2:11-14; 3:5). In the New Testament grace is seen in contrast with works done meritoriously (Rom. 11:6; Eph. 2:8-9), in contrast with debt (Rom. 4:4-5), and in contrast with sin (Rom. 5:20-21).
There are three things Scripture specifically states about God: God is Spirit (John 4:24), God is light (1 John 1:5), and God is love (1 John 4:8, 16). This does not simply state that God loves, but that He is love itself. This means that He is the epitome of what love is, that He is the sole source of real love, and that love is at the heart of the essence of God.
The absence of the article before “love” (the verse does not say, God is the love) indicates that this is the very nature of God. The presence of the article before “God” (literally, the God is love) shows that the statement is not reversible; it cannot read, “Love is God” (as Christian Science asserts).61
Love is ascribed to all three Persons of the Godhead: (a) to the Father (John 16:27), (b) to the Son (John 13:34), and (c) to the Holy Spirit (Rom. 15:30).
Love is that attribute of God which always seeks the absolute and perfect well-being of the object loved, regardless of the cost to the one loving (John 3:16; 1 John 3:16). Since the well-being of man is found only in the will of God and is related to God’s holiness and moral good, God’s love always seeks to bring man into conformity with His good and perfect will (Rom. 12:1-2). Love is a great part of the energy and motivation in God’s character for His benevolence, mercy, and grace, but it cannot act against God’s holiness. In His holiness, God could not ignore man’s sin and accept sinners into His presence. This is why in God’s love, He sent His Son to die for man’s sin that the sinner might be justified, declared righteous, and become acceptable to God through Christ.
Obviously, God’s goodness, mercy, lovingkindness, long-suffering, and grace are all closely related to God’s love, and while distinctions are made, such distinctions are not exact. See the above on these elements of God’s goodness.
God’s love is commonly regarded as a kind of amiable weakness, as a sort of good-natured indulgence that overlooks and winks at the indiscretions of man. Love is reduced to a mere sickly sentiment patterned after human emotion and sentimentality. The real essence of God’s love and all that it means is too often missed because man’s ideas about love stem from man’s own thinking. Our concept of God’s love must, as in everything else, be regulated by the Word of God.
(1) God’s love is contagious, it produces love in others, but in the following ways: (a) through regeneration (1 John 4:7), (b) through the knowledge of God’s Word (1 Thess. 4:9; 1 John 2:3-5; 3:16), and (c) through the control of the Spirit of God (Gal. 5:22).
(2) God’s love is eternal and constant because it is an inherent part of His eternal essence (1 John 4:8, 16). God’s love, therefore, is without beginning or ending (Jer. 31:3; Eph. 1:4-5).
(3) This means that God’s love is also immutable; there is no variableness to His love. His love knows neither change or diminishing because it depends on who He is and not on us (John 13:1; Rom. 8:35-39).
(4) Though motivated by His mercy and grace, God’s love is uninfluenced and unconditional (1 John 4:10). By this we mean that there is nothing whatever in the objects of His love that caused or influenced His love—nothing in man to attract it. His love is given and operates on the basis of grace and on the basis of God’s person and eternal purposes (Deut. 7:7-8). We love Him because He first loved us even while we were enemies and alien from Him (1 John 4:10, 19; Rom. 5:8-10).
(5) God’s love, being eternal, is also infinite, without limits as in all other aspects of His divine essence. The words of Ephesians 2:4, “because of His great love,” express the idea. So also the words of Ephesians 3:19, “and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge.”
(6) God’s love is holy. His love is not regulated by caprice, passion, or sentiment, but by moral and righteous principle. It is important to remember that the Apostle John said “God is light” (1 John 1:5), a reference to God’s holiness, before he said “God is love” (1 John 4:8). God acted in love by sending His Son to die on the cross for our sin and He is free to receive the sinner because His holiness is propitiated, satisfied, by Christ’s death. In His holiness, however, He must reject and condemn all those who fail to receive by faith His plan of love in Christ (Rom. 3:21-26).
Objects of God’s Love:
(1) God’s Son is the special object of the Father’s love (Matt. 3:17; 17:5; John 17;24).
(2) Believers in Christ are also the special objects of God’s love (John 16:27; 14:21-21; 17:23).
(3) Sinners of the world are the objects of God’s love (John 3:16; Rom. 5:8; 1 Tim. 2:4).
The Manifestations of God’s Love:
(1) The great sacrifice of God’s unique Son (John 3:16; 1 John 3:16; 4:9-10). In the cross we see the most awesome display of the love of God.
(2) The complete forgiveness of sin with all the attendant blessings of salvation and spiritual life (Eph. 1:7-8; 2:4-5).
(3) God’s loving care over His children in the circumstances of life, regardless of their nature (Rom. 8:35-39; Isa. 63:9; 49:15-16).
(4) God’s chastening of His children in Christ (Heb. 12:5-11). Love is not sentimental nor lax. It always seeks the true good, not just the pleasures or wants of the one loved.
Those who have never put their trust in Christ should consider the immense love manifested at Calvary in their behalf, and accept by faith God’s offer of salvation (John 1:12; 3:16). The Christian should be motivated to abide in Christ and His love (John 15:1-9), to love the brethren (John 15:12; 1 John 4:8-11), and to be constrained by Christ’s love in us to reach the lost (2 Cor. 5:14).
Scriptures: Exodus 34:6; Numbers 23:19; Psalm 19:9; 91:4; 100:5; 146:6; Isaiah 25:1; 65:16 (ASV margin, “Amen”); Daniel 4:37; Micah 7:20; John 17:17; 2 Corinthians 1:20; Revelation 16:7.
That God is truth means He is absolutely dependable, without falseness of any kind. God’s plan, principles, and promises are completely reliable, accurate, real, and factual.
Truth is (a) that which is real, as opposed to that which is fictitious or imaginary. The God of the Bible is the true God, while the gods of the heathen are vanity and nothing, mere imaginary beings, having neither existence nor attributes. (b) The truth is that which completely comes up to its idea, or to what it purports to be. A true man is a man in whom the idea of manhood is fully realized. The true God is He in whom is found all that deity implies. (c) The truth is that in which the reality exactly corresponds to the manifestation. God is true, because He really is what He declares Himself to be; because He is what He commands us to believe Him to be; and because all His declarations correspond to what really is. (d) “The truth is that which can be depended upon, which does not fail, or change, or disappoint. In this sense also God is true as He is immutable and faithful. His promise cannot fail; His Word never disappoints.”62 This attribute is the ground of all our assurance. (e) Some theologians adopts the term veracity, which Strong calls transitive truth. It is the truth of God in relationship to His creatures in general, and to His people in particular (Psa 138:2; John 3:33; Rom. 3:4). Veracity is that perfection of God which makes all His actions and words conform to the truth (Titus 1:2; Heb. 6:18). All He does and all His statements are in perfect accord with His being.
In Matthew 6:16 the Lord warned, “Be not as the hypocrites,” because hypocrisy is so foreign to the very character of God that God’s people are to emulate. The external expression of God always corresponds with the internal reality of His holy character.
God’s faithfulness, then, is included in the attribute of truth (See Deut. 7:9; 32:4; 1 Cor. 1:9; 1 Thess. 5:24). God’s faithfulness as an aspect of God’s truthfulness is great (Lam. 3:23), high as the heavens (Psa. 36:5; 89:2), and throughout the generations (Psa. 119:90). It is manifested in keeping His promises and covenants (Deut. 7:8-10; Psa. 89:1-8, 20-24, 33-37; Heb. 10:23; 11:11), in the defense and keeping of His children (Lam. 3:22-26; 1 Peter 4:19), in the calling, confirming, and final perfecting of His children (1 Cor. 1:8-9; 1 Thess. 5:23, 24; 2 Thess. 3:3), in guarding His children from temptations that would be too severe, and in always providing a way of escape (1 Cor. 10:13), in answering prayer (Psa. 143:1), in forgiving the confessed sins of believers (1 John 1:9), and in chastening His disobedient children (Ps. 119:75).
God’s truthfulness is a rock of assurance for the people of God. His faithfulness in fulfilling His promises is a fountain of joy (Heb. 10:23; 6:17; 1 Cor. 1:9; 2 Cor. 1:20; Josh. 23:14; 2 Tim. 2:13). Regardless how things seem in this life, because God is truth, we can count on the Lord, always. This also means that God wants His people real and true. Paul exhorts us in Romans 12:9, “Let love be without hypocrisy.”
The veracity of God also makes certain the fulfillment of His warnings, so that no sinner should presume upon God, thinking that he can “get by” with anything. The consequences of sin will follow (Job 32:22; 2 Thess. 1:7-9; Heb. 3:11; Psa. 9:17).
“Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31). The great purpose of man, especially the believer in Christ, is to glorify God. Essential to our ability to glorify God is the knowledge of God and knowing Him personally in view of that knowledge. The word “glory” in the Greek New Testament is doxa which means an opinion, an estimation, or reputation in which one is held. It refers to that which should accrue to God as praise, thanksgiving, obedience, reverence, and service because of who God is and what God does (past, present, and future). In other words, giving glory to God is tied in with the knowledge of God (revelation of God), and knowing God personally (response to God).
The Lord Jesus said in John 17:3, “And this is eternal life, that they may know Thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom Thou hast sent.” The many names in Scripture constitute additional revelation of God’s character, His works, and His relationship to us based on His character and works. The names which God chose for Himself and which are ascribed to Him in the Word of God are additional revelations of the who and what of God that we may know and relate to God.
Note David’s declarations about God’s name and word in Psalm 138:1-2. God’s name declares much about His person, but it is God’s Word that reveals God and His name.
We know what God is like, not only by His perfections and works, but also by His names. They tell us many things about God’s care and concern for his own. This is one of the fascinating studies of Scripture. The various circumstances which bring forth each of the names of God are important.63
The Significance of the Names of God in Scripture
In our twentieth century Western culture, personal names are little more than labels that distinguish one person from another. Sometimes nicknames are chosen which tell something about a person, but even this is a poor reflection of the significance of names in the Bible. Unfortunately, to many the name God or Lord conveys little more than a designation of a supreme being. It says little to them about God’s character, His ways, and what God means to each of us as human beings. But in Scripture, the names of God are like miniature portraits and promises found everywhere in the Bible. In Scripture, a person’s name identified them and stood for something specific. This is especially true of God. Naming also carried special significance. It was a sign of authority and power. This is evident in the fact that God revealed His names to His people rather than allowing them to choose their names for God. This is also seen in the fact that God often changed the names of His people: Abram to Abraham, Sarai to Sarah, Jacob to Israel. Note also how this concept of authority and power is seen when Nebuchadnezzar changed the names of Daniel and his three friends.
The Name of God in General
There are a number of instances where no name of God is employed, but where simply the term “name” in reference to God is used as the point of focus:
(1) Abraham called on the name of the Lord (Gen. 12:8; 13:4).
(2) The Lord proclaimed His own name before Moses (Ex. 33:19; 34:5).
(3) Israel was warned against profaning the name of the Lord (Lev. 13:21; 22:2, 32).
(4) The name of the Lord was not to be taken in vain (Ex. 20:7; Deut. 5:11).
(5) The priests of Israel were to minister in the name of the Lord (Deut. 18:5; 21:5).
(6) The name of God is called “wonderful” in Judges 13:18.
(7) To call on the name of the Lord was to worship Him as God (Gen. 21:33; 26:25).
Consequently, from this we can conclude that such phrases as “the name of the LORD” or “the name of God” refer to God’s whole character. It was a summary statement embodying the entire person of God.64
When we turn to the New Testament we find the same. The name Jesus is used in a similar way to the name of God in the Old Testament:
(1) Salvation is through His name (John 1:12).
(2) Believers are to gather in His name (Matt. 18:20).
(3) Prayer is to be made in His name (John 14:13-14).
(4) The servant of the Lord who bears the name of Christ will be hated (Matt. 10:22).
(5) The book of Acts makes frequent mention of worship, service, and suffering in the name of Jesus Christ (Acts 4:18; 5:28, 41; 10:43; 19:17).
(6) It is at the name of Jesus that every knee will one day bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord (Phil. 2:10-11).
So, just as the name of God in the Old Testament spoke of the holy character of God the Father, so the name of Jesus in the New Testament speaks of the holy character of God the Son.65
Overview of the Names of God in Scripture
(1) Elohim: The plural form of EL, meaning “strong one.” Is used of false gods, but when used of the true God, it is a plural of majesty and intimates the trinity. Is especially used of God’s sovereignty, creative work, mighty work for Israel and in relation to His sovereignty (Isa. 54:5; Jer. 32:27; Gen. 1:1; Isa. 45:18; Deut. 5:23; 8:15; Ps. 68:7).
Compounds of El:
- El Shaddai: “God Almighty.” Derivation is uncertain: From possible derivations, some think it stresses God’s loving supply and comfort; others His power as the Almighty one standing on a mountain and who corrects and chastens (Gen. 17:1; 28:3; 35:11; Ex. 6:31; Ps. 91:1, 2).
- El Elyon: “The Most High God.” Stresses God’s strength, sovereignty, and supremacy (Gen. 14:19; Ps. 9:2; Dan. 7:18, 22, 25).
- El Olam: “The Everlasting God.” Emphasizes God’s unchangeableness and is connected with His inexhaustibleness (Gen. 16:13).
(2) Yahweh (YHWH): Comes from a verb which means “to exist, be.” This plus its usage shows that this name stresses God as the independent and self-existent God of revelation and redemption (Gen. 4:3; Ex. 6:3 (cf. 3:14); 3:12).
Compounds of Yahweh: Strictly speaking, these compounds are designations or titles which reveal additional facts of God’s character.
- Yahweh Jireh (Yireh): “The Lord will provide.” Stresses God’s provision for His people (Gen. 22:14).
- Yahweh Nissi: “The Lord is my Banner.” Stresses that God is our rallying point and our means of victory, the one who fights for His people (Ex. 17:15).
- Yahweh Shalom: “The Lord is Peace.” Points to the Lord as the means of our peace and rest (Jud. 6:24).
- Yahweh Sabbaoth: “The Lord of Hosts.” A military figure portraying the Lord as the commander of the armies of heaven (1 Sam. 1:3; 17:45).
- Yahweh Maccaddeshcem: “The Lord your Sanctifier.” Portrays the Lord as our means of sanctification or as the one who sets believers apart for His purposes (Ex. 31:13).
- Yahweh Roi: “The Lord my Shepherd.” Portrays the Lord as the Shepherd who cares for His people as a shepherd the sheep of his pasture (Ps. 23:1).
- Yahweh Tsidkenu: “The Lord our Righteousness.” Portrays the Lord as the means of our righteousness (Jer. 23:6).
- Yahweh Shammah: “The Lord is there.” Portrays the Lord’s personal presence in the millennial kingdom (Ezek. 48:35).
- Yahweh Elohim Israel: “The Lord, the God of Israel.” Identifies Yahweh as the God of Israel in contrast to the false gods of the nations (Jud. 5:3.; Isa. 17:6).
(3) Adonai: Like Elohim, this too is a plural of majesty. The singular form means “master, owner.” Stresses man’s relationship to God as his master, authority, and provider (Gen. 18:2; 40:1; 1 Sam. 1:15; Ex. 21:1-6; Josh. 5:14).
(4) Theos: Greek word translated “God.” Primary name for God used in the New Testament. Its use teaches: (1) He is the only true God (Matt. 23:9; Rom. 3:30); (2) He is unique (1 Tim. 1:17; John 17:3; Rev. 15:4; 16:27); (3) He is transcendent (Acts 17:24; Heb. 3:4; Rev. 10:6); (4) He is the Savior (John 3:16; 1 Tim. 1:1; 2:3; 4:10). This name is used of Christ as God in John 1:1, 18; 20:28; 1 John 5:20; Tit. 2:13; Rom. 9:5; Heb. 1:8; 2 Pet. 1:1.
(5) Kurios: Greek word translated “Lord.” Stresses authority and supremacy. While it can mean sir (John 4:11), owner (Luke 19:33), master (Col. 3:22), or even refer to idols (1 Cor. 8:5) or husbands (1 Pet. 3:6), it is used mostly as the equivalent of Yahweh of the Old Testament. It too is used of Jesus Christ meaning (1) Rabbi or Sir (Matt. 8:6); (2) God or Deity (John 20:28; Acts 2:36; Rom. 10:9; Phil. 2:11).
(6) Despotes: Greek word translated “Master.” Carries the idea of ownership while kurios stressed supreme authority (Luke 2:29; Acts 4:24; Rev. 6:10; 2 Pet. 2:1; Jude 4).
(7) Father: A distinctive New Testament revelation is that through faith in Christ, God becomes our personal Father. Father is used of God in the Old Testament only 15 times while it is used of God 245 times in the New Testament. As a name of God, it stresses God’s loving care, provision, discipline, and the way we are to address God in prayer (Matt. 7:11; Jam. 1:17; Heb. 12:5-11; John 15:16; 16:23; Eph. 2:18; 3:15; 1 Thess. 3:11).
22 For some of the other inadequate ideas people have about what God is like, see the chapter, “Unreal Gods,” in J. B. Phillips’ book, Your God is Too Small, Macmillan Publishing, New York, 1961, pp. 15-59.
Related Topics: Theology Proper (God)