The Attributes of God

by Elmer Towns
 The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom: and the knowledge of the holy is understanding. Proverbs 9:10  


     Our understanding of God is extremely important. A culture usually does not advance beyond its view of God. Our highest thoughts are our thoughts of God. That toward which we strive determines the limits of our success. We tend to become like our expectations of God.

     For the Christian, understanding the nature of God is even more important. The first commandment states, “Thou shalt have no other gods before me” (Exod. 20:3). If we are mistakenly reverencing an idea of God contrary to the biblical description of God, then we are living in violation to the law of God. While God does judge us according to the light each of us has received, those of us with access to the Bible will be held accountable for reading it and learning about God.

     If we were to study the great awakenings of the past, such as under the preaching of Jonathan Edwards, we would soon recognize that a fresh glimpse of God was one of the chief factors in bringing about revival. If we were to hear the testimonies of the great men of the past, we would discover that many of them had a turning point in their lives when they recognized God in all his glory. When we have a biblical idea of God, we have a basis upon which we will grow spiritually.

     The key to understanding God is seen in understanding his attributes. A. W Tozer defined an attribute as “something that is true about God.” The attributes of God are those virtues or qualities which manifest his nature. The Westminster Shorter Catechism lists four attributes (holiness, justice, goodness, and truth) in its definition of God. “God is a Spirit, infinite, eternal and unchangeable, in His being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness and truth.”

     We have classified his attributes into six categories, even though we do not know exactly how many he has. One theologian said, “God has a thousand attributes.” Charles Wesley, the hymn writer, described God’s attributes as “glorious all and numberless.” Because God has only partially revealed himself to us, we do not know everything about his existence; therefore, we cannot say exactly how many attributes he possesses.


     In considering the attributes of God, it is possible to discuss them in terms of his absolute and comparative attributes.

Absolute Comparative
1. Holiness 1. Omniscience
2. Love 2. Omnipresence
3. Goodness 3. Omnipotence


     Holiness. Holiness is the first description that comes to our mind when we think of God. Holiness is the standard, the “what” as love is the “how.” God is holy and apart from everything that is sinful. The root meaning of “holiness” is a verb meaning “to separate or to cut off.” The primary meaning of holiness implies separation. As holiness applies to our lives, it includes both separation from sin and separation unto God. The holiness of God makes it impossible for God to commit or even look upon sin.

     The holiness of God is both passive and active. The Bible talks about “God, who cannot lie” (Titus 1:2). Another way of saying the same thing about the active holiness of God is to recognize that he speaks the truth always (John 17:17; Rom. 3:4). The holiness of God is the primary motive in all God’s action. It is that which God desires us to remember most, and is the means by which he glorifies himself. Holiness denotes the perfection of God in all his moral attributes.

     The word “holiness” is synonymous with God. David said, “He sent redemption unto his people: he hath commanded his covenant forever: holy and reverend is his name” (Ps. 111:9). Isaiah wrote about “the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy” (Isa. 57:15). Jesus called the Father “Holy Father” (John 17:11), and instructed his disciples to pray, “Hallowed be thy name” (Matt. 6:9). The angels around the throne of God will eternally shout the chorus, “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, which was, and is, and is to come” (Rev. 4:8; cf. Isa. 6:3).

     It is important that we recognize the holiness of God because so much of our relationship with God is dependent upon it. When we realize God is so holy that he must judge all sin, we begin to understand the necessity of coming to God through Jesus Christ. When Jesus hung on the cross and cried out, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (Matt. 27:46), God was actually unable to look upon his own Son as he died, bearing our sins. An understanding of the holiness of God reminds us of the degree to which God loves us. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son” (John 3:16).

     God’s attitude toward sin that demanded our salvation, also demands of us a holy life. The central theme of Leviticus is, “Ye shall be holy: for I the Lord your God am holy” (Lev. 19:2). Isaiah observed that, although God can hear and- answer prayer, “Your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you, that he will not hear” (Isa. 59:2). David said, “If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me” (Ps. 66:18). The holiness of God demands that he judge the continual practice of sin in the lives of Christians.

     Love. Another attribute of God that readily comes to mind is love. When children are asked to describe God, they most often respond by saying, “God is love” (1 John 4:8, 16). Love is basically an outgoing attribute, as expressed in an act whereby God gives to those outside himself.

     Lewis S. Chafer described love as “a rational and volitional affection having its ground in truth and holiness, and is exercised in free choice.” Henry Thiessen called love “that perfection of divine nature by which he is eternally moved to communicate himself.” Love is the attitude that seeks the highest good in the person who is loved.

     It may be possible to give without loving, but it is impossible to love without giving. Therefore, love involves giving oneself to another. Jesus said, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). John later wrote that the greatest love expressed by God was to give his life as a propitiation (atoning sacrifice) for our sins (1 John 4:10).

     The love chapter of the Bible, 1 Corinthians 13, describes love in terms of giving. The word “love” in this chapter, translated “charity,” is an old, out-of-date word. “Charity” today means giving time and money to a worthy cause. Charity originally meant giving of oneself to those people whom we think are worthy. Today that idea is conveyed by the word “love.”

     Perfect love is the opposite of selfishness. It gives itself in devoted sharing to the object of its love. Only those who are strong can love because they must reach out of themselves to others. God, who is the source of all strength, is also the source of all love. He can give himself and never empty himself or divide himself. He can love perfectly and continually. The Bible speaks of both “the God of love” (2 Cor. 13:11) and “the love of God’ (2 Cor. 13:14).

     Goodness. When Parents teach their children to pray, they often teach them to say before eating, “God is great, God is good . . . .” The goodness of God is another of the absolute attributes of God. In a broad sense, the goodness of God includes all the positive moral attributes of God.

     When Jesus told the rich young ruler “There is none good but one, that is, God” (Mark 10:18), he was relating a truth the young man already knew. When God told Moses his name, he said, “The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin” (Exod. 34:6, 7). Moses later told the nation, “He [God] will do thee good” (Deut. 30:5).

     The goodness of God is an attribute reflected in his various actions. The mercy of God is an expression of his goodness. Henry Thiessen described mercy as “the goodness of God manifest towards those who are in distress.” His mercy is eternal in quality, but expressed only at his choice.

     God’s mercy is available to a wide range of individuals. The Bible speaks of mercy to the church (2 Cor. 1:3), mercy to believers (Heb. 4:16), mercy to Israel (Isa. 54:7) and mercy to those who are called (Rom. 9:15, 18). The mercy of God is demonstrated according to the will of God. “I will make all my goodness pass before thee ... and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy” (Exod. 33:19).

     The grace of God is another expression of God’s goodness. The grace of God, according to Thiessen, “is the goodness of God manifested towards the ill-deserving.” The grace of God is the opposite of the justice of God. Grace is God giving to man the exact opposite of what he deserves. Man deserves condemnation, but he receives eternal life. Man deserves hell, but he may receive heaven.

     God’s grace is the motive behind our salvation. The Bible teaches, “The grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men” (Titus 2:11). Paul wrote, “For by grace are ye saved through faith” (Eph. 2:8). Early, in the same epistle, he wrote, “In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace” (Eph. 1:7).

     A third aspect of the goodness of God is his benevolence. Thiessen says, ‘The benevolence of God is the goodness of God manifested in his care of the welfare and needs of his creatures and creation.” Jesus taught the benevolence of God. “He maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matt. 5:45). Paul and Barnabas pointed to God’s benevolence as a witness of the gospel. “He left not himself without witness, in that he did good, and gave us rain from heaven, and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with good and gladness” (Acts 14:17).

     Finally, the long-suffering of God reflects God’s goodness. The word “long-suffering” means slow to become angry. God is described as long-suffering (Rom. 2:4) because he waits for men to repent and believe on him. Long-suffering is the patience of God whereby his love overshadows his holiness. God exercises long-suffering, hoping that men will trust him and turn to him in salvation.


     The absolute attributes of God are those things man cannot know apart from the revelation of God to him. If any man has holiness, love, or goodness, he first recognized it in God and then received it from God. The comparative attributes of God show that human abilities reflect God’s divine nature. Every man has a degree of power, but only God possesses omnipotence. Every man has presence, but only God is omnipresent. Every man has some knowledge, but there is only One who is omniscient.

     These three attributes of God may be defined by a comparison of degrees which God and man share the same. Psalm 139 lays a foundation for understanding the comparative attributes of God. The omniscience of God is seen in Psalm 139:1-6, the omnipresence of God is seen in Psalm 139:7-11, and the omnipotence of God is seen in Psalm 139:12-16.

     Omniscience. When we say God is omniscient, we mean he possesses perfect knowledge of all things. The prefix “omni” means “all” and the word “science” comes from a Latin root meaning “knowledge.” The omniscient God has all knowledge in the world. God has never had to learn anything. He has never forgotten anything he ever knew. God knows everything possible. That means he knows and understands the sum total of all the world’s knowledge and even those things mankind has yet to discover.

     David wrote, “Great is our Lord, and of great power: his understanding is infinite” (Ps. 147:5). Jude identified God a “the only wise God” (Jude 25). Most Bible commentators agree that wisdom in Proverbs is personified in Christ. As Christian seeks guidance in the daily affairs of his life, it is good to realize that God guides him because God knows the answers to questions the Christian has not yet fully comprehended.

     Omnipresence. One of the most difficult of the attributes of God to comprehend is his omnipresence. God is everywhere present at the same time. The perfections of God demand that he exist everywhere at the same time. This does not mean that God is “spread out” so that part of him exists here and another part of him is in a room down the hall. Everything of God is here, in the room down the hall, and in every other place at the same time.

     Throughout time people have assumed the existence of God. The psalmist said, “Thou art there” (Ps. 39:7-9). Hagar cried out in the desert, “Thou God seest me” (Gen. 16:13). The fact of God’s omnipresence is a constant source of guidance, comfort, and protection for the believer. We can never find ourselves beyond the presence of God.

     Omnipotence. The power of God is beyond human comprehension. The Bible teaches that “[God is] upholding all things by the word of his power” (Heb. 1:3). When we say God is omnipotent, we mean God can do everything he wants to do. He can do anything that is in harmony with his nature. He can do the impossible (raise the dead) and the improbable (walk on water; John 6:19). “With God all things are possible” (Matt, 19:26).

     There are some things God cannot do, but this does not limit his omnipotence. God cannot look on sin (Hab. 1:13), deny himself (2 Tim. 2:13), lie (Heb. 6:18), or be tempted into sin (James 1:13). If God could do any of these things, he would not be God. This limitation represents things contrary to his nature. It is still proper to say God can do anything he wants to accomplish.


     When great men of God have been exposed to the nature and attributes of God in the past, it has been a time of personal renewal. This was David’s experience in Psalm 139.


     Monday: Revelation 4:1-11

     Tuesday: Isaiah 6:1-13

     Wednesday: Psalm 139:1-24

     Thursday: Psalm 91:1-16

     Friday: Psalm 66:1-20

     Saturday: Psalm 68:19-35

     Sunday: I Corinthians 13:1-13  

Taken from: What The Faith Is All About by Elmer Towns