If I ask you, “What are God’s attributes?” You might reasonably respond, “Huh?”
In other words, if someone were to ask, “Describe God to me,” what would you say? After reading this blog, your answer can include 17 of his attributes.
But let me anticipate your next question, “What are attributes?”
Attributes are inherent characteristics that help us identify, distinguish, or analyze a subject. And God's attributes are very different than human attributes.
For example, the Westminster Shorter Catechism describes God by his attributes. He is “Spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable, in His being, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth.” And that definition only covers nine attributes. You are about to learn 17!
Now, thinking of God as having attributes may be a new concept to you. You may be wondering, “Where do we get a list of his attributes?” They come from the Bible.
Next, you may be asking, “Why do we study God’s attributes?” The answer is straightforward. We study God’s attributes to know him better. But no finite human can fully comprehend God. However, we can learn many things about God through his attributes.
This blog looks at some of the most common attributes of God so we can better know him and see his glory!
1. Unity: Foundational to All of God’s Attributes
If I asked you, “How many Gods are there in Christianity?” You would answer, “There is only one God (monotheism; Eph. 4:6).”
And when we refer to God’s attribute of “unity,” I’m referring to God’s “oneness.”
- God is one divine essence
- In Mark 12:29, Jesus quoted the Shema, “The Lord our God, the Lord is one” (Deut. 6:4)
2. Trinity: One of God’s Attributes that is Unique to Christianity
- Is three Persons (Father, Son [Jesus], and Holy Spirit) sharing one divine essence or nature (Matt. 28:19)
- The Trinity is not a contradiction
- The “three” and “one” refer to different categories
- There are three “persons” and one “nature or essence”
Consider the analogy of a triangle.
- The three corners can be assigned to the three Persons.
- As the three corners must co-exist simultaneously to be one triangle
- Analogously, the three Persons must co-exist simultaneously with the one divine nature.
3. Eternity: Essential to Understanding God’s Attributes
Have you ever wondered:
- How long has God existed? Answer: eternally
- What existed before God? Answer: nothing
Let’s unpack these answers. God, by his very definition, is eternal. He is timeless and everlasting without beginning or end (Ps. 90:2). He has always existed and will always exist (Isa. 57:15).
Eternality can be hard to grasp but remember God created time and is beyond time. Because of that:
- God has no past, present, or future. He exists in one eternal indivisible “now” (Jude 25)
- As the Creator of time (Titus 1:2), he sees the past and the future as clearly as the present (Rev. 1:8)
- Even though God is beyond time, he is still aware of events as they occur in succession
4. Self-Existent (Asceity): An Attribute Based on God’s Eternality
The common question is, “Who or what caused God?” The answer is nothing! God is uncaused and self-existent.
What do we mean by God is self-existent? Let’s back up. We need to see this attribute associated with God’s eternality that we just discussed.
Because God is eternal, we know:
- No “thing” and no “one” caused God to come “into existence.” In effect, God is “uncaused” because nothing caused him to come into being.
- He has always existed in and of himself, independent of anything else. This definition means he is self-existent (Gen. 1:1; John 1:3).
5. Infinity: One of God’s Attributes Understood in Two Ways
Infinity is one of God’s attributes that is profoundly misunderstood. Why? Let’s consider a culturally popular example.
If you are a fan of Marvel’s superhero movies, you hear the term “infinity” bandied around a lot. But these comics' perception of “infinity” is as fictitious as their characters.
To be “infinite” means to be unlimited by boundaries or restrictions (Col. 1:16-17). Simply stated, “An infinite series has no beginning and no end.”
Now I ask you, “Is it possible for an infinite series of anything to exist in a finite universe?” No! Now let me ask you something. Can an infinite series of anything actually exist in our finite universe?
It is impossible, absurd, and ridiculous! Even the theories of infinite multiverses are illogical. Their logical fallacy is an infinite regress.
Ahem… I am digressing, back to the point.
Only God can be infinite because he created the universe. Therefore, he is beyond the universe’s time-space, matter, and energy boundaries (Acts 17:24–28).
Whew! After all that, I want you to remember just two key takeaways. These points will help you understand God’s attribute of being infinite:
- Quantitative: God’s attributes cannot be increased beyond what they are now quantitatively.
- We use the term “omni-(attribute)” to quantitatively describe God’s characteristics
- They have no limitation
- Qualitative: Every one of God’s attributes is as perfect as possible.
- No attribute can be improved qualitatively (Matt. 5:48)
- They have no defects
- That is why God’s attributes are called “perfections”
6. The Four “I’s” of Describing “God as Spirit”
What do you think of when I say “spirit?” A haunted castle, Casper the friendly ghost, a séance?
When Jesus taught that “God is Spirit,” he meant something precise (John 4:24). The characteristics of God’s Spirit can be remembered with the “Four I’s.” God’s Spirit is:
- Infinite meaning he is everywhere, present within and beyond his created universe (Ps. 145:3)
- Invisible” meaning we cannot perceive him with our bodily senses (Col. 1:15)
- Immaterial (not made of matter) meaning God fills all space without taking up any space (1 Tim. 6:15–16)
- Indestructible (1 Tim. 1:17)
7. Simplicity: A Commonly Misunderstood Attribute
If I call you “simple,” you will feel insulted. But when we are talking about God’s attributes, “simple” means something different. Simplicity means God is absolutely one in his being or essence.
- God has no parts, poles, particles, or multiple substances (Rom. 1:20)
- As a result, God cannot be “divided” with “one part here” and “another there” spread across his universe
- Instead, all of God is present in every point of space (Ps. 139:7–10)
In contrast, humans are composed of various parts:
- We are finite (limited) creations made of both spirit and matter
- And because we are material, we take up space
8. Omniscience: Infinite and Eternal Knowledge Simultaneously
God is omniscient. He simultaneously knows past, present, and future. His perspective is in one eternal “now” (Rom. 11:33–36):
- God is eternal and omnipresent
- He knows with infinite knowledge (Heb. 4:13)
- God knows all things actual (Ps. 147:4; Acts 15:18) and possible (Matt. 11:21)
- Since he knows the end from the beginning, he is never surprised. He never learns, forgets, wonders, or discovers anything (Rev. 22:13)
God’s wisdom (1 Tim. 1:17) is associated with his omniscience. His wisdom:
- Means he does the best thing, in the best way, at the best time, for the best purpose (Rom. 11:16:27)
- Is revealed in creation, history, human lives, redemption, and Christ (Rom 11:33–36)
10. Immutability: The “Unchanging” Attribute
Immutability means God is unchangeable. His essence, attributes, purposes, and promises never change (Mal. 3:6; Ps. 33:11; Num. 23:19).
There are at least three reasons why God can't change (Mal. 3:6; Heb. 13:8; Jas. 1:7). These three reasons are (1) his eternality, (2) his infinity, and (3) his omniscience.
Firstly, God is eternal and beyond time (John 17:5; 2 Tim. 1:9). How is God’s eternality related to his immutability? Before we get to God, let’s talk about human existence in our space-time universe.
- Our human existence is one moment after another in chronological order until we die
- During our human lives, we go through many changes
- And those changes consist of a time “before” the change and a time “after” the change
But what about God?
- God is eternal and outside of time
- He is not restricted to moments after moments
- Or more simply, he cannot change because he cannot be in a series of “befores” and “afters”
Secondly, in your lifetime, you have likely commented, “She has really changed!” What did we mean? Either the person had changed for the better or worse.
Now think about the possibility of change in the context of an infinitely perfect God. He cannot “change for the better” because he is already infinitely perfect (Heb. 13:8).
Thirdly, how many times have you changed your mind? For example, maybe:
- New information came to light
- Circumstances changed requiring a different attitude or action
And after learning this new information or circumstance, you changed your mind. But what about God? He is omniscient (Ps. 147:5).
- He knows everything perfectly in one eternal moment
- Nothing can surprise him or be new to him
- So God cannot change
11. Of All God’s Attributes, His Omnipotence Has Natural and Self-imposed Limitations
If you are a Christian, you have probably been challenged about this attribute of God. That is why we need to define omnipotence carefully.
God is omnipotent (omni = all; potent = powerful) or almighty with unlimited power. (Matt. 19:26). Examples of God’s omnipotence include:
- Creation (Col. 1:16-17)
- Preserving all things (Heb. 1:3)
- Delivering Israel from Egypt (Ps. 114)
- Christ’s resurrection (2 Cor. 13:4)
But there are certain provisos when defining God’s omnipotence.
Firstly, God can do anything consistent with his perfect nature (Rev. 1:8, 19:6). But he cannot do anything contrary to his nature. For instance, he cannot:
- Lie (Heb. 6:18)
- Be tempted to sin (Jas. 1:13).
- Deny Himself (2 Tim. 2:13).
Secondly, God’s omnipotence does not mean that he must do all that he can do. It simply means that he has the power to do whatever is possible, even if he chooses not to do some things. For example, his self-imposed limitations in his plan included:
- Not sparing Jesus or James (Acts 12:2)
- Not saving all people or all nations in Old Testament times
Thirdly, God cannot do logically absurd or contradictory things. For instance, he cannot:
- Make square circles or triangles with four corners
- Cease to exist or cease to be God
- Create another God equal to himself
12. Omnipresence: All of God is Everywhere, Present at Once
God’s omnipresence means that he is everywhere present (omni = everywhere + present; Ps. 139:7–11; Jer. 23:23–24).
- That makes sense because he is an infinite, immaterial Spirit without parts (i.e., simple)
- Although God is present everywhere, he is distinct from his material creation (Col. 1:15-16)
Two words help us understand how God’s omnipresence “relates” to his world (Eph. 4:6). They are transcendence and immanence.
Firstly, God is transcendent. Because God is Creator of the universe, he is above, beyond, other than, and “more than” his creation.
Secondly, God is immanent or within his creation as its sustainer (Col. 1:17). But at the same time, he is distinct from his creation.
13. Personal: A God Who Wants a Relationship with Us.
Have you ever thought of God as a person? Someone you can talk to and have an intimate relationship with? God is a person because he has intellect, feeling, and will. For instance:
- God’s intellect is omniscient and all-wise (Rom. 11:33)
- God possesses feelings or emotions (Ps. 45:7). For instance, he has unchanging:
- Anger toward evil (Deut. 29:20).
- Pleasure in our faith (Heb. 11:6) and toward good (Ezek. 18:23).
- God has a will (Rom. 12:2). And it is God’s will that is the ultimate reason for everything that happens (Eph. 1:11).
14. Holiness: Our Standard
All of us, at some time, have sung, “Holy is the Lord!” But have you ever considered what you are singing? We are singing that God alone is holy (Rev. 15:4). In fact, one of his names is “Holy One” (Ps. 78:41).
God’s holiness means:
- His nature, will, and actions are pure (Lev. 11:44; 1 Pet. 1:15)
- He is separate from all that is unclean and evil (1 John 1:5)
- God’s holiness is the standard for the believer’s life and conduct (1 John 1:7)
God’s holiness means sinners must be separated from him. As a result:
- Only God can provide a way to make humans “holy”
- And that way has been provided through Jesus Christ
As I consider this attribute of God, I am confronted with:
- My failures and sinfulness that humble me continually
- An urgency in making others aware of God’s love for them and need to evangelize
15. Love: God’s Infinite Goodness to Us
Of all God’s attributes, his love is the one we cherish the most. God’s omnibenevolence refers to his infinite love or goodness (Jer. 31:3). We see this evidenced in many ways:
- Love is not something God has; love is what he is (1 John 4:8, 16)
- The relationship between the Persons of the Trinity illustrates perfect love (Matt. 3:17)
- God’s love unselfishly seeks our ultimate welfare (1 John 4:10)
- God gave himself “for us” through Christ’s death on the cross (John 3:16)
- He also gives himself “to us” by indwelling believers with the Holy Spirit
16. Righteousness: A Moral Feature of God’s Attributes
God’s righteousness refers to three characteristics:
- His righteous nature (John 17:25).
- His moral laws (e.g., Ten Commandments) that he executes righteously (Ps. 119:137).
- His redemptive nature. Christ’s sacrificial death allows God to declare the believer righteous (Rom. 3:24–26).
17. Truth: Three Dimensions of Truthfulness
Truthfulness is one of God’s attributes that has three dimensions:
- Genuineness—being true. There is only one true God (John 17:3)
- Veracity—telling the truth. God cannot lie (Titus 1:2). And Scripture is the final standard of truth (John 17:17).
- Faithfulness—proving true. His faithfulness means God keeps all his promises (1 Thess. 5:24).
God’s Sovereignty: Not One of God’s Attributes, But Very Important
God’s sovereignty is not an attribute. Instead, it refers to God’s “activity” related to his universe. In a nutshell, God is in complete control of all things (Ps. 135:6; Dan. 4:34–35).
He is the chief Being and supreme in power in the universe. This is because he is omnipotent, omnibenevolent, omniscient, and all-wise. Because he is sovereign:
- He rules over creation (Mark 4:35-41), human history (Prov. 16:9), and redemption (2 Tim. 1:9–10)
- His perfect plan (Eph. 1:11) turns out precisely the way he chose it from all eternity for his glory (Eph. 1:14).
What’s Your Next Step?
Has learning God’s attributes drawn you closer to understanding him?
If you are a Christian:
- Begin meditating and memorizing some of the verses related to God’s attributes
- Ask the Holy Spirit to help you see how Scripture applies in your life. And then allow him to grow you in those application areas (1 Cor. 2:10-13)
Then you can:
- Go deeper in your understanding of one or more of them (see further Binmin resources and references below)
- Teach these attributes to another Christian
- Share these beliefs with an interested non-Christian in an attractive and engaging manner
What if you are not a Christian? Reading these attributes may have seemed dry. But the reason may be because you don’t know God!
It’s like only “knowing about” a celebrity from articles or interviews. Sure, some of the information is interesting at first. But it is dull because you are reading about someone you don’t actually “know.”
Once you become a genuine Christian, that all changes. Why? It is because:
- From that point onward, you have God himself (the Holy Spirit) indwelling you (Phil. 3:3)
- He will guide (John 16:13), teach (John 14:26), comfort you (John 14:16) and reveal the truth to you (Luke 12:12)
- And as you read about God’s attributes, your faith strengthens, and love for God deepens
The decision to become a Christian is entirely up to you.
Whether you are a Christian or not, consider what these attributes mean about God. And how they apply to you. And be on the lookout for our two blogs—we’ll use them to answer common questions about God’s attributes.
If you have a question or comment about God’s attributes—or another aspect of faith—please let us know below. I’d love to hear from you and learn how Binmin can be more valuable to you.
- Berkhof, L. Systematic Theology. Eerdmans, 1978 pp. 58-60, 66-67
- Elwell, W. A. and B. J. Beitzel. “God, Being and Attributes of.” In Baker encyclopedia of the Bible, 1, Baker Book House, 1988, p. 877-880.
- Erickson, M. J. Christian Theology. 3rd ed. Baker Academic, 2013, pp 238, 245-248, 26, 264.
- Geisler, N. L. and Ron Rhodes: Conviction without Compromise. Harvest House, 2008, p.25.
- --- and R. E. MacKenzie. Roman Catholics and Evangelicals: agreements and differences. Baker Books 1995, pp. 46-48
- ---. Systematic theology, volume two: God, creation, Bethany House, 2003, pp. 40, 58, 75, 93, 146, 158, 171, 182, 269-70, 346, 367-368, 518, 527-528, 536-537, 538-540, 544.
- --- and T. A. Howe. When Critics Ask: a Popular Handbook on Bible Difficulties, Victor, 1992, 86.
- ---. “Why I Believe the God of the Bible is the One True God.” In Why I am a Christian: Leading Thinkers Explain Why They Believe, edited by N. L. Geisler and P. K. Hoffman, Baker Books, 2001, p. 86-87.
- Grudem, W. A. Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine. Zondervan Pub. House, 2004, pp. 163, 191-195, 204, 213, 217.
- Ryrie, C. C. Basic Theology: A Popular Systematic Guide to Understanding Biblical Truth. Moody Press, 1999, pp. 39–50.
- Strong, A. H. Systematic Theology, American Baptist Publication Society, 1907, p. 257
- Youngblood, R. F., et al. Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Dictionary, Nelson, 1995.