Systematic Christian Truth: God’s Character Part 3

Systematic Christian Truth: God’s Character Part 2
June 11, 2012
Systematic Christian Truth: The Trinity
June 15, 2012

Systematic Christian Truth: God’s Character Part 3

Today we continue with our study of the attributes of God.  Keep in mind that this is not comprehensive; a lifetime’s study would not be enough to enable us to know God fully and completely.  But I hope it is enough to instill in us the reverence and awe that He deserves and requires.

God is almighty, omnipotent.  “I am God Almighty.”  Genesis 17:1.  “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God, the Almighty, who was and who is and who is to come.”  Revelation 4:8.  Some people take this to mean that there is nothing that God cannot do, but that is incorrect.  There are many things that God cannot do.  He cannot die.  He cannot lie.  He cannot sin.  He cannot do anything that is contrary to His nature.  And He cannot cease being Who He is.  So there are things that God cannot do, but those things are limited to His nature alone.  There is nothing outside of Him that he cannot do, that He does not have total control and power over.  All creation is subject to His will, and nothing can resist His power.  His power is so great that with a few words He brought the universe into existence.  Genesis 1.  The last few chapters of the Book of Job contain magnificent descriptions of God’s power.  Job 38-41.

God is wise. Paul describes God as “the only wise God.”  Romans 16:27.  Someone once described the difference between intelligence and wisdom like this: a person may be intelligent enough to know that smoking is bad for your health, but may not be wise enough to stop smoking.  Intelligence is knowledge; wisdom is acting on that knowledge appropriately.  God fits both descriptions.  “Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God!  How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways!”  Romans 11:33.  He is omniscient, which means He knows everything, past present and future.  “Great is our Lord and abundant in strength; His understanding is infinite.”  Psalm 147:5.  There is nothing He does not know, which includes our thoughts, desires and intentions.  Peter, at the great council of Jerusalem, reminded the brethren that God knows the heart.  Acts 15:8.  He knows what we’re going to do and say before we do and say it.  “Thus says the Lord, ‘So you think, house of Israel, for I know your thoughts.’ “  Ezekiel 11:5b.  But God also knows what to do with this knowledge.  He always knows the right thing to do, and has never made a foolish decision or bad plan.

God is holy.  “Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord of hosts.  The whole earth is full of His glory.”  Isaiah 6:3.  See also Revelation 4:8, above.  This has two meanings.  First, God’s holiness describes his otherness, the way that he transcends us.  He is not like us humans—He is very different, and immeasurably greater than all created things.  The second meaning of “holy” refers to His moral perfection.  God tells us to be holy as He is holy.  He is morally perfect, the perfect good.  There is not one iota of evil or imperfection found in Him.

God is free. What we mean by this is that He has the ultimate freedom to do what He wills and wishes, and nothing constrains Him.  He is subject to nobody and nothing.  He has supreme autonomy; He is a law unto Himself. The psalmist writes “But our God is in the heavens; He does whatever He pleases.”  Psalm 115:3.

God is loving.  “The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love. . . . We have come to know and have believed the love which God has for us.  God is love, and the one who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.”  1 John 4:8, 16.  God’s love has three aspects: His benevolence, His beneficence, and His complacency.  God’s benevolence refers to God’s attitude; it means that He has good will towards His creation.  This applies to everyone.  God’s beneficence refers to His actions; He does good deeds for all.  He gives rain in its due season for the benefit of all, and he gives sunshine that all may enjoy.  He gives His common good gifts for all to enjoy.  The third aspect, God’s complacency, is reserved only for His chosen people.  It is the supreme love reserved only for His redeemed.  Christians are loved by Christ in a special way, for they receive the ultimate measure of His love: His grace.   Which brings us to our next attribute:

God is gracious.  He treats us better than we deserve.  An old axiom says that the difference between mercy and grace is this: mercy means we do not get what we deserve, grace means that we get what we do not deserve.  They are two sides to the same coin.  We define grace as “unmerited favor.”  “Then the Lord passed by in front of him and proclaimed, ‘The Lord, the Lord God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth; who keeps lovingkindness for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin . . . .’ “  Exodus 34:6-7a.  Again, there is some grace that is common to everyone.  Everyone, Christian and non-Christian alike, experience good things that they do not deserve and did not earn.  Everyone has had the experience of walking along somewhere and looking down to see a dime or nickel or quarter just lying on the ground, waiting to be found an picked up.  That is an unmerited benefit.  But the ultimate grace, salvation from eternal damnation, is only given to God’s chosen people.  It does not matter that God does not save everybody; if God chose to save only one person in the whole history of the earth, He would still be gracious.

God is just.  God judges the whole earth, and he judges justly and punishes accordingly.  There is a second part to the Exodus passage quoted just above; it ends like this: ” ‘[Y]et He will by no means leave the guilty unpunished, visiting the iniquity of fathers on the children and on the grandchildren to the third and fourth generations.’ “  Exodus 34:7b.  Many people seem to think that God’s love, discussed above, trumps God’s justice.  Their assumption is that because God loves everyone, He will never convict or punish anyone.  That is not true.  If God, as a judge never found anyone guilty, despite the fact that we are, in fact, guilty, he would be unjust, and therefore unrighteous.  But God is perfectly righteous and holy, and therefore he is perfectly just in his judgments.  “The Lord is slow to anger and great in power, and the Lord will by no means leave the guilty unpunished.”  Nahum 1:3.  It is only by His grace that His judgments are, for some, applied to Somebody Else.

That’s enough for today.  But we’re not finished with God yet—He is infinite, and that’s a lot to consider.

Scott
Scott Gosnell founded Pros and Cons in 2003. He also has a day job as a practicing attorney in Birmingham, Alabama, which explains his complete irresponsibility with regards to his blogging schedule. In a former life he worked in several churches as a youth minister, where he was forced to do unspeakable things like chew ABC gum (Already Been Chewed), bob for liver (uncooked), and participate in condiment wrestling. Hey, would you look at that – I guess they are speakable. In addition to the practice of law, Scott is a certified law enforcement officer with the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office and the Alabama Historical Ironworks Commission, and a tactical firearms instructor. Scott and his wife, Donna, have three children, Caleb, Hannah Beth, and Austin. He also has a dog named Sierra and a cell phone named Curtis.

2 Comments

  1. Scott says:

    Thanks, Bailey. You’re right: Justice, untempered by mercy and compassion, is a terrible thing. What few people realize is that love, unalloyed with justice, can be equally terrible. C.S. Lewis hints addresses this a bit in Mere Christianity.

  2. Bailey says:

    Great post! I really like your explanation of the relationship between God’s love and His justice. I don’t think I’d want to worship a god who was loving but not just, and if there was a god who was just but not loving, well, I don’t think I’d be around to worship him! Thanks for sharing.

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