Thus says the LORD: "Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD" Jeremiah 9:23-24
Of all the possible pursuits, activities, or studies that are practically relevant and positively beneficial which we might spend our time pursuing, there is none, however profitable or necessary, that is as needful and uplifting and valuable as the subject matter of this study. As Christians, there is nothing more practical for us than to know our God. As created beings, there is nothing we need more than to understand our Creator. As desperate and wandering souls searching for significance, longing for something that is infinitely satisfying, seeking pleasure from finite things when God "œhas set eternity in [our] heart" (Ecclesiastes 3:11), there is nothing that can even begin to answer to the depths of our vast needs, desires, and longings, except for one thing. That one thing is knowing our God. And that one thing is what we are hoping by his grace to pursue in this study. I hope that all of us can resonate with the truth A. W. Pink once observed, that "œa spiritual and saving knowledge of God is the greatest need of every human creature," and furthermore, that "œthe foundation of all true knowledge of God must be a clear mental apprehension of His perfections as revealed in Holy Scripture." As we turn to the scriptures, it is with the hope and prayer that God will " shine in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ" (II Corinthians 4:6).
But how do we even begin to undertake a task so enormous? Our first and guiding principle is that, if we would learn about God aright, we must do so only from the pages of his word. The cause of man's first rebellion, and all the chaos and misery that ensued, was only this, that he failed to take his understanding of God's character at his own word, and instead listened to the whispered lies of the serpent. If we would regain the position from which we fell, it can only be by listening once more to God's word, and letting his own self-revelation shape our ideas of who he is.
However, as we embark on the process, we quickly realize that the task is overwhelming: there are thousands of passages that speak of the nature of God, and they are not laid out like a systematic theology: they are occasional, revealing the truths of God's nature as he takes opportunity to enter the world of mankind for a specific purpose, and show himself to his people. If we would learn about who he is, we must be able to take all of those truths which he reveals on specific occasions, and organize them in such a way that we do not emphasize any set of attributes to the exclusion of any other. We must be able to frame them in simple, accurate and memorable ways. This is the task of the systematic theologian; and like it or not, all Christians, as they pursue a deeper knowledge of God, must play the role of the systematic theologian to some degree.
So how might we best organize the characteristics of God as he reveals himself in his word, in order to understand who he is as intimately and accurately as possible? Theologians have come up with several organizing principles, speaking of God's communicable and incommunicable attributes, his absolute and immanent attributes, his moral and non-moral attributes, and other such classifications. For the purposes of this study, the following categories will be employed:
In reality, this is an overarching category, that affects every category which follows. The most foundational and non-negotiable truth of the Christian religion is that God is triune. Every other attribute that can be considered "“ God's sovereignty, his love, his justice, etc. "“ is an attribute of a triune God. In this study, we will consider the ontological trinity, that is, the inter-relationship of the persons of the Godhead that has existed from all eternity; and the economical trinity, that is, the way in which the eternal inter-relationships of the persons of the Godhead show up in the work of redemption which the triune God has undertaken to accomplish.
This is basically an overview of who God is in relation to himself alone. Such attributes as God's eternality, self-sufficiency, omnipotence, inter-triune love and fellowship, etc. may be dealt with under this classification.
There are certain things we can understand about God simply by realizing that he is our Creator. The bible speaks of many attributes of God in relation to this classification: he is sovereign over his creation, he is actively governing his creation, he is directing all things for his glory, he is the lawgiver and judge, the owner and ruler of all mankind, simply because he is God the Creator and man is man the created.
When God related to man in the garden before his fall, he did not display certain of his attributes which we see later in the bible. Such attributes as God's holy wrath against sin, his righteous judgment, his judicial hardening, his sovereignty over evil, his turning of man's wickedness to accomplish good things, all became manifest only in relation to man as a fallen creature, and not man as an innocent creature.
It is only against the backdrop of understanding God's absolute ownership of and sovereignty over man because he created him, and his uncompromising justice and wrath against man because he wickedly rebelled that we can begin to understand the staggering wonder of such precious attributes of God as his redemptive love, his grace and mercy, his covenant faithfulness, and so on. This will be the final division of our study.
- The triunity of God
- The attributes of God with respect to God
- The attributes of God with respect to man as a created being
- The attributes of God with respect to man as a sinner
- The attributes of God with respect to man as redeemed
The Triunity of God
The Basis for the Ontological Trinity
The dividing line between true Christianity and all other world religions is the Trinitarian conception of God. No religion that denies the doctrine of one God eternally existing in three persons can rightfully claim to be Christian. Islam believes in one eternal God, the God who revealed himself to Abraham; but because it denies that this one God exists in three persons, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, it is no more Christian than Hinduism. Jehovah's Witnesses believe in one God who, they claim, is the God of the Bible. But they reject that Jesus Christ is an eternal person of the Godhead, and therefore, they are no more Christian than the Greek pagans. The doctrine of the Trinity cannot be denied without Christianity itself being rejected. Here is a good, simple explanation of the trinity, formulated by Athanasius, a man of God who opposed the heretical Arian teaching, which denied that Jesus is truly God:
We worship one God in trinity and the trinity in unity, neither blending their persons nor dividing their essence. For the person of the Father is a distinct person, the person of the Son is another, and that of the Holy Spirit still another. But the divinity of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is one, their glory equal, their majesty coeternal. What quality the Father has, the Son has, and the Holy Spirit has. The Father is God, the Son is God, the Holy Spirit is God. Yet there are not three gods; there is but one God.
This is the historic, orthodox teaching on the trinity. A careful examination of it will eliminate many possible misunderstands of its nature, such as these:
- We worship three gods
- Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are three different names for God
- Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are three different parts of God
- God shows up at different times as either Father, Son, or Holy Spirit
- Jesus is a lesser god than the Father or a created god
- Jesus is fully God, but he was not fully man
- The Holy Spirit is an impersonal force from God
Following are some scripture passages which support the assertions of Athanasius' creed.
Deu 6:4; 1Ki 8:60; Isa 42:8; John 17:3; 1Cor 8:4; Gal 3:20; 1Tim 2:5; Jam 2:19
Rom 1:7; Rom 15:6; 1Cor 1:3; Eph 4:6; 1Cor 8:6; 1Pet 1:3
Isa 7:14; Isa 9:6-7; John 1:1-3; John 8:58-59; John 20:28; Acts 20:28; Rom 9:5; Rom 10:9-13; Phi 2:9-11; Col 1:15-16; Col 2:9; Tit 2:13; Heb 1:3; Heb 1:8; 2Pet 1:1; 1John 5:20
Acts 5:3-4; 2Cor 3:16-18
John 10:30; John 17:22
1Cor 2:11; Rom 8:9
Mat 3:16-17; Mat 28:19; Eph 1:3-14; Eph 4:4-6; 2Cor 13:14; Jude 1:20-21
- There is one God
- The Father is God
- The Son is God
- The Holy Spirit is God
- The Father is one with the Son
- The Holy Spirit is one with the Father and the Son
- The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are viewed as equally God, yet personally distinct
The Relationships within the Ontological Trinity
As we have seen, God is a solitary being with three persons. Because of this, God is totally self-satisfying: any desire for love, fellowship, and interpersonal relationship he has is satisfied in himself alone, through the perfect, loving interaction of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Gospel of John, in particular the seventeenth chapter, provides us with our clearest understanding of how the persons of the trinity relate to each other in a glorious unity.
- The Inter-Trinitarian Relationship of the Father and Son
John 10:38; John 14:10-11; John 17:21; John 17:22
John 5:20; John 17:24
John 13:31-32; John 17:1; John 17:4-5
John 5:17-19; John 5:30; John 8:28-29; John 14:13; John 14:31; John 17:4
John 5:21-23; John 10:17-18; John 17
- They are eternally united in a mutual indwelling
- They are eternally united in a mutual love
- In their eternal love and fellowship, they bring glory to one another
- The Son brings glory to the Father by accomplishing his will
- The Father brings glory to the Son by giving him the authority to accomplish his will
- The Inter-Trinitarian Relationship of the Father and The Holy Spirit
John 14:16-17; John 14:26a
John 14:26b; 1Cor 2:1
- The Father sends the Holy Spirit to reveal his true nature
- The Holy Spirit searches and reveals the truths of God
- The Inter-Trinitarian Relationship of the Son and the Spirit
John 16:7; John 15:26a
John 15:26b; John 16:13-15
- The Son sends the Holy Spirit to reveal his true nature
- The Holy Spirit searches and reveals the truths of Christ
The Basis for the Economical Trinity
As glorious as the ontological trinity is, we would never have been able to understand it without the economical trinity. John 1:18 tells us that no one has seen God at any time, but that the only Son of God has revealed him. This is the basic story of the economical trinity: the all-glorious, triune God, undertook to reveal himself in time to a people that he had chosen. And the way he does this is through the work of redemption. If we would understand who God is, we must look to what he has done in redemptive history, an accomplishment climaxing in his ultimate self-revelation, the incarnation of the Son of God, and his subsequent life of perfect obedience to the Father, substitutionary death on the cross, and victorious resurrection from the dead. Before the world had ever come into existence, the triune God had determined to reveal himself in this way to a people of his choosing. Several passages speak of an eternal agreement (or perhaps one could say, "œcovenant") between the members of the Godhead to accomplish redemption: the Son would redeem a people, and the Father would therefore glorify the Son by giving him authority to reign over this people, and to judge all mankind. This eternal covenant is the underlying basis for the work of redemption that the triune God would accomplish in human history.
Isa 53:11-12; John 6:37-40; John 10:29; John 17:6; John 17:10
Psa 2:7-9; John 5:22-23; Acts 17:30-31; Phi 2:9-11
John 6:39-40; John 6:44-46; John 8:19; John 10:27-28; John 14:6-9; John 17:6
- The Father has given a specific people to the Son
- The Father has given the Son authority to Judge all mankind
- The Son reveals the Father to the people given to him, and gives them eternal life
The Functions within the Economical Trinity
Within the economical trinity, the three persons of the Godhead have different roles. In the great work of redemption, which reveals the glory of the trinity to mankind, the Father plans, the Son accomplishes, and the Holy Spirit applies the eternal salvation to the men of his favor. The Father chooses a people, the Son redeems them, and the Spirit seals them with his own indwelling presence. One of the great chapters in the bible for illustrating these truths is Ephesians 1.
Eph 1:3-6; Rom 8:28-30; 1Pet 1:1-2
Eph 1:7-12; Acts 20:28; 1Pet 1:18-19
Eph 1:13-14; Rom 8:15-17; Rom 8:23; 2Cor 1:21-22; 2Cor 5:5; Eph 4:30
- The Father chooses a people
- The Son redeems that people
- The Spirit applies redemption to that people, and seals them
Our Ontological Relationship with the Triune God
The most glorious truth of the triune God's work of redemption is that, through it, we are brought in to experience the joy of fellowship with the blessed Trinity! This fellowship is what we were created to enjoy, and the loss of that fellowship is what constituted the sentence of death which came upon Adam and all his seed, when he rebelled in the garden. In fact, when Jesus defined the eternal life that he had come to win for his people, he spoke of it as nothing less than restoring to them a true knowledge of God. On the cross, the inter-trinitarian fellowship was broken, so that we might be brought in to experience all of its delights! What amazing love!
Gen 2:16-17; Gen 3:22-24; Rom 5:12
John 10:14-16; John 17:11; John 17:20-21; John 17:22-23; 1John 2:24; 1John 3:24; 1John 4:15-16
- We were made to enjoy fellowship with the Triune God
- In Adam, we lost our fellowship with God
- In Christ, we enter into the Inter-Trinitarian fellowship
John 17:24; John 17:25-26
John 17:23; John 17:26
John 16:20-22; John 17:13; 1Pet 1:8
- In this fellowship we see the glory of God
- In this fellowship we experience the inter-trinitarian love of God
- Seeing God's glory and experiencing his inter-trinitarian love is the foundation of our joy
- Our Economical Mission on the Basis of our Relationship to the Triune God
The doctrine of the Trinity teaches us that God is, by his very nature, a covenant God. God is involved in an eternal, inter-trinitarian covenant of love. In the overflow of joy in this covenant relationship, God created a world which was also in covenant relationship with himself. He then created man, who was especially to show forth his image and enjoy his covenant of love. Man sinned, and broke the covenant of love; in this fall, even the earth was impacted, so that the covenant was marred. But in his grace, God renewed the covenant, so that, through Christ, the covenant with all of creation might be redeemed, and the covenant with man might be restored. God initially commanded man to subdue the earth in expression of his image. In the New Covenant, God commands man to conquer the corrupted earth through the preaching of the gospel, and thereby to restore the whole world to fellowship with God. This is done on the basis of Christ's absolute authority. It is accomplished according to the decree of the Father, and by the power of the Spirit as he applies the work of Christ to those who belong to Christ all over the world. This is our task as Christians while we remain on this earth (Matthew 28:18-20). And one day this task will be accomplished, and the whole world will rejoice in a blood-bought and unshakeable covenant with the triune God. And all the redeemed will glorify God as they see his glory, rejoice in it, and share the love of the persons of the Trinity, as they are one in Christ "” one with God just as the Father is one with the Son. How is all this to come about?
John 17:23; John 13:35
John 14:15; John 14:23; John 14:20-21
- Christ was sent into the world to accomplish a restored fellowship with God; we are sent into the world to proclaim a restored fellowship with God
- The world will believe in Christ when they see the reality of the covenant fellowship we have with him
- The world will see the reality of our covenant fellowship when they see the reality of our love
- The reality of our covenant love is seen when we live in obedience to the covenant obligations
The Attributes of God with respect to God
The Solitariness of God
By the term "œsolitariness" we intend to address several things about God which are somewhat difficult to define. God is solitary in that he is One: there is no other god beside him. He is solitary in that he is unique: there is no one like our God; no one can even begin to compare to our great God in any of his perfect attributes. He is solitary in that he is entirely self-sufficient. All other things came into existence because of God and remain in existence from moment to moment by his power. Only God is existent in himself, and dependent on none other. God has absolutely no need that he looks outside of himself to be fulfilled. Within the eternal Trinity there is a perfect and all-sufficient expression of love and fellowship that could never be added to by fellowship with any creature outside of himself. God created the world, not because of any need which he had, but out of a perfect self-sufficiency that noone else could ever experience.
Deu 6:4; Isa 44:6; Isa 43:10b, 11
Isa 40:25; Psa 113:5-6
Rom 11:36; John 5:26
- He is One
- He is Unique
- He is Self-Sufficient/All-Sufficient
The Eternality of God
By "œeternality," we mean more than just that God had no beginning and he will have no end; rather, God is not bound or constrained by time at all. God is wholly outside of time, and all of time is in his hand, the past and the future as well as the present. God does not exist within time; instead, time itself exists only because of God. The most basic revelation that God gave man of his essential nature is that he is the I AM "” the always existent, always present one.
Exo 3:14; Psa 90:2; Psa 102:25-27; Isa 57:15; 2Pet 3:8; Rev 1:4b
The Invisibility/Spirituality of God
God, the unique and self-sufficient One, the eternally-existent I AM is not physical, and cannot be approached or seen by any finite creature. God is spirit, and no one has seen his form. With one exception: Jesus Christ alone. Therefore, if we would "œsee" the Father, we must look to him through the Son. He is the exact image of the invisible God, and he alone declares God to us. We can only see God through Christ.
John 4:24; 1Tim 1:17; Heb 11:27
Exo 33:18-20; 1Tim 6:15b-16
John 1:18; John 14:9b; Col 1:15; Heb 1:1-3
- God is spirit/invisible
- God cannot be approached or seen by any creature
- Jesus Christ reveals God to us
The Immutability of God
Because of who God is "” perfect, righteous, holy, eternal "” it is impossible that he should change. Any change in God would be a change for the worse, because God is absolutely flawless. Any change of his mind, or will, would be a change for the worse, because his wisdom is already perfect. He can learn nothing, already knowing everything. No one can instruct him, to change his mind, and no one can hinder him, to change the accomplishment of his will. There are times, however, when the bible speaks of God in human terms, and declares (from our finite perspective) that God "œrepented" that he had done something. These "œchanges of mind" are only changes from our perspective however, and were in the original plan of God from all eternity.
Mal 3:6; Jam 1:17; Heb 13:8
Psa 33:11; Ecc 3:14; Num 23:19; 1Sam 15:29
- God himself does not change
- God's mind/will/plan does not change
- Although God is said to have "œrepented," or "œregretted" things he has done, one must take care not to interpret those verses in a way that will make them contradict the passages that say God does not change his mind. In reality, the bible often speaks of God in human terms, to help mankind understand things about his character. These "œanthropomorphisms" (speaking of God in terms of human physical features) and "œanthropopathisms" (speaking of God in terms of human emotions) must be understood metaphorically.
Deu 5:15; Isa 37:17
Gen 6:5-6; 1Sam 15:11
- Examples of anthropomorphisms
- Examples of anthropopathisms
The Omnipotence of God
God himself does not change, neither does he change his plans. Furthermore, he cannot be frustrated in accomplishing his plans, because he has infinite power to carry them out. No creature can thwart his will: nothing even has the power to exist by itself, apart from God, who "œupholds all things by the word of his power" (Hebrews 1:3). In fact, nothing outside of God himself can limit him or put a boundary on his power. With God, to will something is to accomplish it [See discussion under "œLaw-giving" (Attributes of God with respect to man as a created being, number 5) for a different use of the term "œwill of God".]
Gen 17:1b; Jer 32:17; Mat 19:26; Psa 33:6; Psa 115:3; Job 42:2; Rev 19:6
The Omniscience of God
We have reflected on the truths that God is immutable, his plans are unchanging, and his power to accomplish those plans is unbounded. In light of these great truths, it is highly comforting to remember that God is also omniscient God has all knowledge and all wisdom, so that the plans he unfalteringly accomplishes are perfect plans. There is nothing in all of creation, through all of time, that God does not wisely and all-knowingly use to bring about the greatest possible good. God knows all of his creation exhaustively, even the hearts and minds of men. He knows all the events of all of history, past, present, or future. He knows all things that might have been as well as all things that actually are. He is infinitely wise, and knows the best ends, as well as the best means to those ends. And with God, his knowledge is efficacious. When he knows something, he accomplishes it. His knowledge does not just recognize a reality; it produces that reality.
Psa 139:1-6; Psa 147:4-5; Mat 10:30; Heb 4:13; 1Chr 28:9b; John 2:24-25
Isa 42:9; Isa 46:9-10
Rom 8:29-30; Isa 55:8-11; Pro 3:19-20
- God knows all of creation exhaustively
- God knows all the events of history, past, present, and future
- God knows all things that might have been, as well as things that are
- When God knows something, he accomplishes it
- Our response to God's omniscience should be worship
The Holiness of God
The holiness of God is the attribute which is perhaps the most difficult to define or comprehend or approach. It is also the attribute which, when even glimpsed, causes the most overwhelming awe and consternation. The account of Isaiah's seeing the thrice holy God (Isaiah 6) is perhaps the clearest sight we have of the overwhelming, unapproachable glory of God's holiness. In attempting to describe such an incomprehensible reality, words necessarily fail us. However, we may suggest at least two aspects of God's holiness that we may see in the scriptures. First, by virtue of his holiness, God is entirely transcendent, utterly separate from all of his creation, high, lifted up, and unapproachable. And second, the holiness that is the very essence of God's nature is the source from which all ethical and moral perfection springs. All things that are right and just and good and praiseworthy are that way precisely because they accord with the holy nature of God. Ethical and moral standards are not impersonal truths outside of God, or self-existent rules by which to judge him. No, those very standards of what is right spring from within God. How foolish and unthinkable to assert or even suppose in the darkest recesses of our heart, "œGod is not fair," or some other such nonsense. God is God. He cannot be judged by our standards. And what is fair, is fair only because of who God is. In other words, our very perception of fairness, or any other moral virtue, must be informed by what God has revealed to us about himself. Because all true holiness and moral perfection come from who God is, it is noteworthy that throughout the bible, even created things become holy only by God's imparting holiness to them. All holiness comes from him who is Holy, Holy, Holy; therefore even things that are separated and consecrated to him are holy. It is in this way that we are to strive to be holy. Our holiness is an imparted holiness, but God's holiness is his very nature and essence.
Exo 15:11; 1Sam 2:2; Isa 6:3; Rev 15:4
- God's holiness is unique and transcendent
- God's holiness is the source of all ethical and moral perfection
Lev 20:26; 1Pet 1:15-16; Eph 5:25b-27
- That which God imparted to man in the giving of the law and worship ordinances is summed up as holiness
- The nature of creaturely holiness is being separated by God unto God, and so being made like God
The Love of God
When we speak of the love of God, it is natural for us to think of his redemptive love. That is good and well. We can never think too much or too deeply on the wonder that, when we were sinners, God loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. But that is not specifically what we are mentioning here. There is a difference between saying that God loves and saying that God is love. That God loves sinful creatures is an amazing thing. That God is love is staggeringly beautiful. It means that God's love is not exclusively connected to us. Ages before we were created, God was love. Part of what it means to be God is to be love. Just as with holiness and moral perfection, we would not even know what love is apart from knowing who God is.
1John 4:7-8; John 17:24
The Attributes of God with respect to man as a created being
Yours, O LORD, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty, for all that is in the heavens and in the earth is yours. Yours is the kingdom, O LORD, and you are exalted as head above all. Both riches and honor come from you, and you rule over all. In your hand are power and might, and in your hand it is to make great and to give strength to all. And now we thank you, our God, and praise your glorious name. I Chronicles 29:11-13
The ex-nihilo Creativity of God
The most basic attribute of God with respect to his creation is simply his creativity. The very existence of man and the universe in which he dwells, as well as angels and the spirit-world they inhabit, is due solely to the creativity of God. When we speak of a creature as creative, we mean that he is knowledgeable in taking unrefined substances and shaping them into something beautiful. But with God, we must add that his creativity is ex-nihilo: all of the beautifully formed works of his hands came from nothing at all. By his very word, God both created the substance of the universe and shaped it into the manifold and glorious creation we see in and around us.
Gen 1:1; Gen 1:31a; Neh 9:6; Acts 17:24-25; John 1:1-3; Col 1:15-16; Job 33:4
The Sustaining/Preservation of God
God's relationship to his creation did not stop when he had finished making it. God did not just create the world and then step back to let it run its course according to natural laws. Instead, he continually and actively sustains and preserves it. The worlds are in his hand; and apart from his sustaining all of his creation would fall apart and come to naught.
Heb 1:3; Col 1:17; Neh 9:6; Acts 17:28
The Transcendence/Omnipresence of God
God in his being is infinite and unbounded; in relation to his creation, that means that he is omnipresent "” that is, he is everywhere at all times. This does not mean that he is extended throughout the universe, as though he had a giant body, so that part of him is here and part of him is there. Rather, all of him is here and all of him is there. In every part of creation, God is there in all of his being. He is everywhere and at all times seeing, governing, and guiding. Although God is present everywhere in creation, this does not mean that he is identical with creation (pantheism).
He is still separate and exalted, or transcendent.
Jer 23:23-24; Psa 139:7-10; Eph 1:21-23
The Ownership of God
Because God created all things, he owns all things. We really are not our own. How many wicked and presumptuous thoughts we could avoid if we would truly meditate on this reality! We have no more right to question what God does to us, in us, with us, for us, against us, than a clay jar has to question why its potter made it the way he did.
Psa 100:3; Psa 50:9-12; Isa 45:9-12; Rom 9:20-21; Eph 2:10
The Law-giving of God
God, as our Creator, Sustainer, Owner, and Lord, has every right to tell us how we must live. We have no right other than to obey every word that he commands us. God our Creator is God our Law-giver; and we must obey him. The bible uses a variety of terms to indicate the moral obligations that God lays upon us: laws, commandments, statutes, etc. One term that is sometimes used in this way is "œthe will of God." Something that God commands us to do may be called his "œwill"; and in our rebellion, we may disobey his will. However, "œwill" in this sense has a different meaning from the will of God by which he plans all things according to his own counsel, and omnipotently accomplishes them. We can disobey the moral will of God, but we can never frustrate his sovereign plans. Failing to distinguish these two different senses with which the term "œGod's will" is used in the bible has been the cause of much unnecessary confusion.
Gen 2:16-17; Psa 19:7-11; Deu 30:15-18a; Jam 2:10
1The 4:2-3; Psa 40:8
- The bible sometimes refers to God's commandments as his "will"
The Sovereignty of God
There are few truths more clearly revealed in the scriptures and yet more ardently opposed by men everywhere than that of the absolute sovereignty of God. Any view of God that limits his sovereignty in any way is a distorted and insufficient view of God. The God that the Bible reveals to us is a God who not only has the right to rule over all of his creation and to direct it however he chooses; but more than that, he is a God who actually does reign over his world. God governs the natural world, and directs it to his ends; he governs holy angels, and those angels that are fallen; he governs men, raising some up, putting some down, giving some mercy and showing some justice, granting to some repentance and hardening others. This is the sovereign God we worship. God grant that we may never reject this glorious doctrine because our view of ourselves is too high!
Psa 115:3; 1Sam 2:6-8; Isa 45:7; Pro 16:4
Psa 135:6; Gen 8:22; Mark 4:39
Psa 103:20; 1Kin 22:19-23; 1Sam 16:14
Pro 21:1; Dan 4:17; Acts 4:27-28; Acts 13:48; 2Tim 2:25; Rom 9:14-18
There is no attribute more comforting to His children than that of God's Sovereignty. Under the most adverse circumstances, in the most severe trials, they believe that Sovereignty has ordained their afflictions, that Sovereignty overrules them, and that Sovereignty will sanctify them all. There is nothing for which the children ought more earnestly to contend than the doctrine of their Master over all creation "” the Kingship of God over all the works of His own hands "” the Throne of God and His right to sit upon that Throne. On the other hand, there is no doctrine more hated by worldings, no truth of which they have made such a football, as the great, stupendous, but yet most certain doctrine of the Sovereignty of the infinite Jehovah. Men will allow God to be everywhere except on His throne. They will allow Him to be in His workshop to fashion worlds and make stars. They will allow Him to be in his almonry to dispense His alms and bestow His bounties. They will allow Him to sustain the earth and bear up the pillars thereof, or light the lamps of heaven, or rule the waves of the ever-moving ocean; but when God ascends His throne, His creatures then gnash their teeth. And we proclaim an enthroned God, and His right to do as He wills with His own, to dispose of His creatures as He thinks well, without consulting them in the matter; then it is that men turn a deaf ear to us, for God on His throne is not the God they love. But it is God upon the throne that we love to preach. It is God upon His throne whom we trust. Charles H. Spurgeon
- God is sovereign over the natural world
- God is sovereign over angels and demons
- God is sovereign over men
The Goodness of God
The goodness of God is the reason that his sovereignty is so comforting to his children. By goodness we mean God's kindness and benevolence to all of his creation. God is just and righteous in his dealings with creation; but more than that, there is also a positive, undeserved goodness that he displays in all the world, even to the unredeemed.
Psa 104:10-21; Psa 100:4-5; Mat 5:44-45
The Glorification of God
When we speak of the glory of God, we are referring to every attribute he has, everything that he is. God is infinitely glorious in his essential nature. But we mean something a little different by the glorification of God. When we say this, we are simply referring to the truth that the ultimate purpose of creation is to glorify God, or to display his glory. In glorifying God, we are not adding glory to him; he is already infinitely glorious. Rather, we are acknowledging his glory, ascribing glory to him, displaying his glory. This is the ultimate reason for the creation of the world: to display the glory that God eternally possesses within himself.
Isa 43:7; Psa 19:1; Eph 3:20-21; Eph 1:11-12; 1Cor 10:31
The attributes of God with respect to man as a sinner
The wrath of God
The most obvious and terrible attribute of God with respect to fallen man is his holy wrath against sin. Oh how great and fearful is this consuming wrath! Because God is infinitely holy, rebellion against him is deserving of infinite wrath and punishment. How we should tremble at the prospect of an infinitely holy God with infinite power justly holding against us infinite wrath for our sins! There is no degree of punishment and no length of time at which God's wrath will be exhausted. We are finite creatures, and the only way we can atone for our own sins, the only punishment God can mete out and remain just, is eternal torment. How well has Robert Herrick expressed the terror of the wrathful God in his poem, "œNo Coming to God Without Christ":
Good and great God! How should I fear To come to Thee, if Christ not there! Could I but think, He would not be Present, to plead my cause for me; To Hell I'd rather run, than I Would see Thy Face, and He not by.
Psa 5:5-6; Psa 7:11; Isa 13:9; Nah 1:2; Mat 3:7; John 3:36; Rom 1:18; Rom 2:5-6; Rev 6:16-17; Mark 9:43
The righteousness/Justice of God
How often we as sinners formulate complaints against God. If we are ever tempted to do this, we would do well to remember one thing: God is righteous and we are sinful. In any conflict, in any disparity of opinion, in any complaint or grievance that we may bring before God, there is only one outcome: God is in the right. Justice is on his side. In all of his actions, in all of his responses to our actions, in all of his governing and dispensing immediate judgment or longsuffering and patience, God is always righteous in all that he does.
Job 4:17; Job 9:2-3; Job 40:1-4; Deu 32:4; Neh 9:33; Pro 17:15; Zeph 3:5
The judgment of God
Because God is just and righteous, he gives a fitting recompense to every creature that he has made. God has a perfect standard "“ his own holy nature "“ by which to evaluate everything that his creation does. God judges all of our actions with righteousness, and gives a fitting recompense. If there were any sin that remained unpunished or any good that were rewarded with evil, then the righteous judgment of God would fall into reproach. But that can never be the case. As surely as God is righteous, he will bring everything to a fitting, righteous, and just conclusion. That reality must terrify us as sinners: as surely as God is just, we will not escape the reward for our guilt.
Deu 32:41; Psa 94:1-2; Mat 16:27; Rev 22:12; Psa 9:7-8; Psa 82:8; Acts 17:30-31
The longsuffering of God
When we consider the righteousness of God, and understand his wrath against sin, the amazing thing is not that he judges sin, but that he forbears so long to pour out his wrath in holy judgment against us. Let us stand in awe of the longsuffering of God, and be led to repentance by it. God will not be mocked: there will come a day when his longsuffering will end, and all who have despised his goodness will find that they have been treasuring up for themselves wrath.
Exo 34:6; Rom 2:4; Ecc 8:11-13; Rom 9:22
The hardening of God
A terrible and fearful judgment of God against the sinfulness of man is his judicial hardening. Because man has rebelled against God, it is a just punishment for God to turn us over to work out our own evil passions, to harden us in our sinfulness, to destine us for impenitence and reprobation, to blind our eyes to the truth of his mercy, until we awake at the last day and find that we have been treasuring up wrath. This is a just judgment of God, and if we have been spared it is nothing other than his mercy that has kept us from the same judgment.
Rom 1:28; Rom 9:17-18; Exo 4:21; John 12:39-41
The sovereignty of God over evil
One thing that we may learn from the advent of evil into the world, is that God's sovereignty did not end when his creation rebelled. Evil did not take God by surprise; it was in his plan from the beginning. God is sovereign over evil; he ordains all the actions that evil creatures perform; and yet they remain responsible and he remains righteous. Everything that God ordains, he ordains for a good purpose; and so, even with evil, he is able to turn all things into good. Evil does not frustrate God's righteous plans; rather, it is the very means that God uses to fulfill his righteous purposes. Oh, let us tremble at this glorious mystery!
Gen 50:20; 1Kin 22:19-23; Rom 8:28; Acts 2:22-23; [cf. the entire book of Habakkuk]
"œDivine wisdom brought good out of evil, even as the chemist distils healing drugs from poisonous plants." - Charles H. Spurgeon
The vindication of God
If there is one word to sum up the truths that we may learn about who God is by studying his relationship to man as a sinner, it must be "œvindication". If there is nothing else we can learn about who God is in relationship to man as a sinner, we may know with certainty that God is always right, even if it means the rest of the world is wrong together. The entire history of the race of mankind will someday come together to declare with unmistakable certainty that God is righteous and his way is perfect. No matter who may bring presumptuous charges against God, as his creatures have been doing from the time of Satan's fall, in the end God will be vindicated and all who oppose him will be condemned.
Psa 51:4; Job 33:8-13; Rom 3:3-4
The attributes of God with respect to man as redeemed
The redemptive love of God
We are now at the point in our study where we must encounter the most amazing, glorious, unfathomable truth ever told: the righteous and holy God loves sinful man! How staggering to think that such a thing could be! God has no need in himself that would cause him to seek our reconciliation. There is nothing desirable in us that God should be attracted to. We certainly do not deserve his love. It would be just of God to pour out wrath and hatred upon each one of us forevermore. That would be justice. And yet, co-existing along with justice in God's perfect nature is his free, sovereign love, a love which is the only source and fountain of our eternal redemption. We may grow in our knowledge of the redemptive love of God in Christ Jesus for all eternity, and still never plumb its depths. How can we not bow our hearts in worship every time we consider this glorious truth?
John 3:16; Rom 5:8; 1John 4:9-10; 1John 3:1a; 1John 3:16; 1John 4:19; Eph 3:17-19; Son 2:4
The condescension of God
Every gracious and good act of God toward us manifests his condescension. God is high and lofty, and we are lowly and miserable. Every good thing we have, we have because God stooped to give it to us. How glorious a truth this is! And this attribute of God is thoroughly and perfectly expressed to us through Christ. We can only know God because Christ deigned to reveal him to us. We can only come before him in confidence and hope upon his grace because Christ stooped to become flesh, to be humiliated, to be obedient to the point of death on a cross. This awesome condescension of God in the person of Jesus is the basis for every good thing we have. Every gift we possess now or in the future is a blood-bought gift. It is the fruit of God's mighty condescension on the cross. And the greatest of these gifts is that we who were sinners can now know God and have a favorable relationship with him.
Phi 2:5-11; Isa 53:2-7; John 1:10-11, 14, 18; Heb 2:9-11
The mercy of God
It is an amazing truth that the righteous Judge would not give us the punishment that we deserve. But that is exactly what God's mercy does for us. This mercy is sourced in God's free redemptive love. It is brought about through his condescension in Christ Jesus. Without it we are lost. Oh, let us praise our wonderful Savior for his mercy in our lives! Let us sing with John Stocker,
Thy mercy my God is the theme of my song The joy of my heart and the boast of my tongue Thy free grace alone from the first to the last Hath won my affection and bound my soul fast
Without Thy sweet mercy I could not live here Sin soon would reduce me to utter despair But through Thy free goodness my spirits revive And He that first made me still keeps me alive
Thy mercy is more than a match for my heart Which wonders to feel its own hardness depart Dissolved by Thy goodness I fall to the ground And weep for the praise of the mercy I've found
Great Father of mercies Thy goodness I own In the covenant of Thy crucified Son All praise to the Spirit whose whisper divine Seals mercy and pardon and righteousness mine!
Psa 136:1-3; Num 14:18; Psa 86:5; Luke 1:76-79; 1Pet 1:3; Psa 40:11
The grace of God
God's grace is the free, sovereign, unmerited favor that he shows to us. God's grace even extends beyond his mercy, which withholds from us the punishment we deserve for our sins. So great is the Father's love for us, that he did not rest with merely fixing the devastation our rebellion brought, but he went beyond that and procured for us many marvelous benefits. God's mercy may be extended in a limited sense to all of mankind; but his grace is reserved for the elect alone. If there is one thing we may learn from the nature of grace it is that, anyone who seeks grace from God must utterly abandon any thought of works or merit in procuring or maintaining a right relationship with God.
2Tim 1:9; Eph 2:4-9; Rom 3:23-24; Rom 4:4-5; Rom 5:21; Rom 11:5-6
The faithfulness of God
So great was God's love and so greatly did he condescend to make his mercy towards the elect sure, that now the continuance of mercy and grace is demanded by the very faithfulness of God. God has freely and graciously bound himself to us so that, if his favor towards his children ever fails, then he would be shown unfaithful. But God is faithful and our mercy is sure forevermore. It was through entering into a covenant relationship with his children that God bound himself by his faithfulness to keep us forever in his love. Our confidence in remaining in God's favor, if we truly know and love him, is as sure as the very character of God!
Gen 3:15; Gen 17:7; Isa 49:7-8, 15-16; Jer 31:33; Heb 6:13-18; Psa 89:33-34; Hos 2:20
Phi 1:6; John 6:37-39; Heb 13:20-21; 1The 5:23-24
Psa 36:5; Psa 89:1-6; Lam 3:22-23
- God entered into a sovereign covenant with his children and bound himself to them by his own faithfulness
- God's faithfulness ensures that all of his children will be sanctified and will persevere in faith until they reach glory
- Praise for God's faithfulness
The righteousness/justice of God
It must greatly increase our wonder at the redemptive love of God to consider that it was not, nor ever could have been, irrespective of his justice and righteousness. God cannot glibly overlook evil. His eyes are too pure to behold evil (Habakkuk 1:13). His mercy, then, does not ignore his righteousness. On the contrary, the flawless righteousness of God is the very thing that demands that he treat us as though we had no sin. How could this be? It is only because of the cross. Consider how glorious the cross is: there is no greater display of the wrath of God against sin than upon the cross, where because of sin he was pleased to crush his own spotless Son. There is no greater display of God's justice than on the cross, where for sins against an infinitely holy God he demanded an infinitely worthy Sacrifice. There is no greater display of God's redemptive love and mercy than on the cross, where because he loved sinful man, God was pleased to substitute his own dear Son to absorb his wrath against sin so that we could be reconciled to him, wearing the perfect righteousness of Christ as our only plea in approaching him. The cross made it righteous and just for God to do nothing other than forgive us, love us, show his favor toward us, and overwhelm us with sweet grace for all eternity. The very heart of the great transaction of the cross is the precious doctrine of imputation. Upon the cross, God credited our sin to Christ's account, and credited his righteousness to our account, so that it was righteous and just of God to smite his Son and to heal us, his redeemed children. Marvel at the glory of the cross! Therein is the righteousness, mercy, faithfulness, and love of God displayed for all to see!
2Cor 5:21; Rom 1:16-17; Psa 32:1-2; Psa 4:1; 2The 1:6-7
The initiative of God
Man's natural wickedness and hatred toward God is so extreme that, if left on his own, he would never come to God and humbly ask for his mercy. But God did not leave him on his own. His love is so great that he actively initiates the reconciliation that he has provided through the atoning work of the cross. Hence, we can learn the wondrous truth of God's initiative in showing mercy to man when we consider his attributes with respect to man as redeemed. Included in this initiative is God's electing, calling, regenerating, and giving faith and repentance, all while man is still a hardened rebel who would never desire to seek God's love.
Rom 3:10-12; Eph 2:1-5; John 3:20; John 6:44
Eph 1:3-5; John 15:16; Rom 9:11-13, 16, 18; 2The 2:13; Rom 8:29-30
1Cor 1:9; 1Cor 1:26-27; 2Tim 1:9
Eze 36:26-27; John 1:12-13; John 3:3; 2Cor 4:6; Eph 2:5; 2Cor 5:17
Eph 2:8; Acts 5:31; Acts 11:18; Phi 1:29
- Man on his own would never seek God
- God elected some for salvation from eternity past
- God sovereignly calls all who come to Christ
- God regenerates all whom he calls so that they can see the truth
- God gives the faith and repentance of those who believe and repent
The Fatherhood of God
The end result of the immense grace that God poured out upon us is that, now, as his redeemed, we can see an attribute of God which we could never have known before: his Fatherhood. Through the grace that he has poured out upon us, God has adopted us into his family to be his children, and brothers of Christ, the firstborn. Throughout all eternity, we will know no sweeter joy than that of being the children of God.
Eph 1:3-5; Rom 8:29; Heb 2:10-13; Mat 6:9
The joy of God in his redeemed
The work of the cross was so perfect, and the grace of God so abundant that it did much more than make us accepted with God. We are not just endured, we are embraced! We are not just forgiven, we are rejoiced in! This is a tremendous truth. God joyfully delights in his children, and Christ truly delights in his bride.
Zeph 3:17; Luke 15:4-7; Son 2:2; Son 4:9-10
The glorification of God in his redeemed
When we first discussed the attributes of God with relation to man as a created being, we mentioned that the ultimate purpose of creation is the glorification of God. This is particularly true with relation to man as redeemed. The ultimate purpose of redemption, just like that of creation, is the glorification of God. This will be our pursuit throughout eternity. There is no more fitting place at which we might bring our study to an end. Let us do everything to the glory of the One who made us and redeemed us for the sake of his name!
Rom 9:22-24; Eph 1:4-6, 11-12, 14; Eph 2:4-7; Rev 5:12
GLOSSARY OF TERMS
Solitariness: That God is one God, self-existent, self-sufficient, and unique.
Eternality: That God is not bound by time, but is always existent, always present, and holds all of time in his hand.
Invisibility: That God has no physical form, and cannot be seen by any creature.
Spirituality: That God in his essence is spirit; that he is actual Personality who may influence the physical world, but is not bound by it.
Immutability: That God is wholly perfect, and therefore cannot change.
Omnipotence: That God has infinite power to accomplish all his will.
Omniscience: That God knows all things exhaustively, actual or potential, past or future; that he effortlessly understands all the best ends and all the best means to those ends.
Holiness: That God is utterly separate from all creation, and the only source of all moral and ethical perfection.
Love, essential: That God's essential being is love; that his love is fully and perfectly manifested within the fellowship of the Trinity, apart from any relationship to creation. See Love, redemptive.
Creativity: That attribute which God displayed when he brought the worlds into existence with a word, and ordered them in beauty and harmony.
Sustaining: Preservation. That God actively holds all creation together and keeps it in existence.
Transcendence: That God is different, separate from, and higher than his creation.
Omnipresence: That God in his being is infinite and unbounded. That he is everywhere at all times.
Ownership: That God created all things, and therefore possesses all things. That he has all rights to make, shape, and use all of his creation as he sees fit.
Law-giving: That God tells every created thing how to conduct itself. That he can and does lay moral obligations on men.
Sovereignty: That God actively reigns over all creation, unilaterally raising up and putting down, dispensing mercy and justice, hardening and granting repentance as he wills.
Goodness: The kindness and benevolence which God shows to all of his creation.
Glorification: Displaying or acknowledging the infinite glory that God by his very nature possesses; the purpose for all of creation.
Wrath: That God by his holy nature utterly abhors sin and therefore holds immense and terrible anger towards sinners.
Righteousness: Justice. That all of God's actions are without sin and consistent with his holy character, and therefore, no charge can ever be brought against him.
Judgment: That God actively brings into account every thought and action of every moral creature and rewards each one appropriately, according to the perfect standard of his holiness.
Longsuffering: That God often withholds his wrath and anger for considerable amounts of time instead of pouring out wrath and judgment immediately.
Hardening: That God sometimes judges sinners by destining them to continue in their sinfulness and treasure up greater wrath in the day of judgment.
Sovereignty over evil: See sovereignty. That God is not frustrated by the rebellious acts of his creatures, but instead uses those very deeds to accomplish his holy purposes.
Vindication: That at the conclusion of history, God will be shown to be right in all that he has done, and all who have opposed him will be justly condemned.
Love, redemptive: That God freely, sovereignly, and apart from any need in himself desires to give to the sinful men whom he has chosen all that is necessary for their greatest good and eternal joy.
Condescension: That God, through Christ, humbly descends from the unapproachable heights of his glory to reveal himself to us and procure the blessings of his grace for us.
Mercy: That God withholds from us the punishment that we so richly deserve by pouring it out upon Christ instead.
Grace: That free, sovereign, and unmerited favor which God displays toward his children because of the cross.
Faithfulness: The trustworthiness of God to fulfill what he promised and to complete what he started.
Righteousness, to the redeemed: See righteousness. That it is right and just that God should forgive us, show us favor, and give us the rewards that perfect righteousness merits, because of the imputation of Christ's righteousness to us.
Initiative: That God actively and sovereignly draws sinners to himself when they are naturally inclined against him. That man's response to the offer of salvation is secondary to God's initial work of electing, calling, and regenerating.
Fatherhood: That God adopts into his family all whom he redeems, bestowing upon them all the rights and privileges of being his children and Christ's brothers.
Joy, in the redeemed: That God not only accepts those whom he redeems, but genuinely rejoices in them. That Christ truly delights in those whom the Father has given to him.
Glorification, in the redeemed: See glorification. That the ultimate purpose of God's great work of redemption is to display the marvelous glory of his grace.
A publication of Monergism, Nathan Pitchford