17 of God’s Attributes Explained Clearly & Succinctly

By Dr. Bob Martin III
Published 2 years ago

I. 17 of God’s Attributes

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 wonder, “Where do we get a list of his attributes?” They come from the Bible. Bible study is essential for understanding these attributes.

Next, you may ask, “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!

 

 

God’s Attributes Unity Trinity Eternity Self-existent Infinity Spirit Simplicity Omniscience Wisdom 10. Immutability 11. Omnipotence 12. Omnipresence 13. Personal 14. Holy 15. Love 16. Righteous 17. Truth

 

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

What if a non-Christian friend asked you, “Which of God’s attributes is unique to Christianity?” The first thing that probably comes to mind is the Trinity.

  • The Trinity 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” of the Trinity 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.

 

Triangle with 3 Persons of Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and Circle of Human Nature attached to the Son Jesus

 

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.

 

Graphic of gauntlet similar to Marvel Infinity Stones gauntlet asking "Is this Infinity?" Nope. Not really.

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 exhausted young man with head on table

 

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:

  1. 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

 

  1. 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

 

God's attribute of infinity can be understood 1. Quantitatively and 2. Qualitatively

 

 

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)

 

What is the Holy Spirit like? 1. Infinite, 2. Invisible, 3. Immaterial, 4. Indestructible

 

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)

Graphic of mountain sunrise with definition of Omniscience: God knows everything in one eternal "now"

9.   Wisdom:

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.

 

3 reasons why God can't change

a.   God’s eternality

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”

 

b.   God’s infinity

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

 

c.   God’s omniscience

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.   Omnipotence Includes 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

 

Explanation of 3 aspects of God's omnipotence

 

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:

  1. God’s intellect is omniscient and all-wise (Rom. 11:33)
  2. 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).
  1. 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).

Image of man praying on hill - God is personal with intellect, feeling & will

 

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

 

Image of cross with quote: Christ's death on the cross is the ultimate display of God's omnibenevolence.

16.   Righteousness: A Moral Feature of God’s Attributes

God’s righteousness refers to three characteristics:

  1. His righteous nature (John 17:25).
  2. His moral laws (e.g., Ten Commandments) that he executes righteously (Ps. 119:137).
  3. 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:

  1. Genuineness—being true. There is only one true God (John 17:3)
  2. Veracity—telling the truth. God cannot lie (Titus 1:2). And Scripture is the final standard of truth (John 17:17).
  3. Faithfulness—proving true. His faithfulness means God keeps all his promises (1 Thess. 5:24).

Image of mountain with quote: God's Sovereignty: his activity of ruling over his creation with a perfect plan.

 

II.   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).

 

III.   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.

 

Further Resources

Binmin Podcast Ep. 1a & b: “What Is Bible Knowledge?” 2 Parts

Binmin Podcast Ep. 2: “What are the Spiritual Disciplines

Binmin Podcast Ep. 8: God & Origins| What Questions Should I Ask About My Faith?

Binmin Podcast Ep. 13: Trinity | Putting the Fun in…

 

References

  1. Berkhof, L. Systematic Theology. Eerdmans, 1978 pp. 58-60, 66-67
  2. 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.
  3. Erickson, M. J. Christian Theology. 3rd ed. Baker Academic, 2013, pp 238, 245-248, 26, 264.
  4. Geisler, N. L. and Ron Rhodes: Conviction without Compromise. Harvest House, 2008, p.25.
  5. — and R. E. MacKenzie. Roman Catholics and Evangelicals: agreements and differences. Baker Books 1995, pp. 46-48
  6. —. 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.
  7. — and T. A. Howe. When Critics Ask: a Popular Handbook on Bible Difficulties, Victor, 1992, 86.
  8. —. “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.
  9. Grudem, W. A. Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine. Zondervan Pub. House, 2004, pp. 163, 191-195, 204, 213, 217.
  10. Ryrie, C. C. Basic Theology: A Popular Systematic Guide to Understanding Biblical Truth. Moody Press, 1999, pp. 39–50.
  11. Strong, A. H. Systematic Theology, American Baptist Publication Society, 1907, p. 257
  12. Youngblood, R. F., et al. Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Dictionary, Nelson, 1995.

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