What are some of the key things to know about the nature of God?
The nature of God is a truly monumental subject. Theologians have written thousands upon thousands of pages on the topic. Terms and categories exist for describing God's nature and attributes that are sometimes beyond our complete understanding (e.g., the Trinity) and oftentimes beyond our experience (e.g., self-existence). Because of this, we will first look at the attribute of God called His incomprehensibility. This does not mean that we cannot understand God at all. It means that we cannot totally or fully understand God. He is infinite (Psalm 93:2); we are finite (1 Peter 1:24). He is the Creator (Isaiah 40:28); we are the created (Isaiah 45:12). He is holy (Isaiah 6:3; Revelation 4:8); we are sinful (Romans 3:23). Because of these and other differences, we cannot completely understand Him (Isaiah 55:8–9; Romans 11:34). There are those who seem to enjoy judging God or even deny His existence altogether. In opposition to Scripture, they claim that due to sin or suffering it is impossible for God to exist or be all-good (omnibenevolent), all-knowing (omniscient), and all-powerful (omnipotent). However, this is as foolish and futile an endeavor as a clay pot sitting in judgment on or even denying the existence of the potter who made it (Psalm 14:1; Job 15:8; 40:2; Romans 9:20–21). We can only understand the nature and attributes of God to the extent that He reveals Himself to us (Deuteronomy 29:29; Job 42:3; Psalm 131:1; Romans 11:33). Thankfully, God has revealed a tremendous amount to us both concerning His nature and how we can come to know Him in a personal and saving way.
All of mankind understands something of God's nature as He has revealed Himself through creation and in conscience (Romans 1:19–20; 2:15–16). Theologians refer to this knowledge as general revelation. General revelation contains sufficient knowledge to leave us without an excuse concerning God's existence or our guilt. However, through the divinely inspired written Word (2 Timothy 3:16), God has revealed even more about His nature and ways, including His plan for our salvation.
The Bible reveals the nature of God as triune. Although the word Trinity is not found in the Bible, the reality of the Trinity can most certainly be deduced from Scripture (Deuteronomy 6:4–5; John 1:1; Romans 9:5; Colossians 2:9; Titus 2:13; Acts 5:3–4; Matthew 28:19). The fact that God is triune means that He is one in essence but three in persons. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are all God, and yet they are all distinct. This is a mysterious, but not contradictory, doctrine. It is beyond our complete comprehension but it is extremely important to our understanding of who God is and how He saves us. For example, the fact that God is triune means that He has never been needy, lonely, unloved, or unloving. God has eternal loving fellowship within His triune being (1 John 4:8). The truth of God's triune nature qualifies Jesus (who is both God and man, John 1:1, 14) to fulfill His various roles, such as mediator between us and the Father. If Jesus was not God He could not satisfy the Father's just wrath or reconcile us to the Father (Hebrews 1:3). The Trinity also explains how God comes to live within the believer through the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit (who is God). If the Spirit was not God then something less than God would be the source of our regeneration and sanctification (John 3:8; 6:63; 1 Corinthians 6:11; 2 Corinthians 3:6, 18). The implications for the triune nature of God are often overlooked but have far-reaching consequences. Without the Trinity we could not have a Savior who is sufficient to save us or a Spirit who is holy enough to sanctify us. These are just a couple of ways that the Trinitarian nature of God is important to believers.
The Bible describes the nature of God as self-existent. When Moses asked God what name he should give to the Israelites to explain who sent Moses to them, God said to tell them I AM sent you (Exodus 3:14). The name I AM refers to God's eternal, self-existing, self-sustaining nature. God, unlike us, does not derive His life, existence, or being from anything or anyone outside of Himself (Psalm 90:2; Isaiah 40:28; John 5:26; Acts 17:25). In fact, He Himself is the source of all being and life. Philosophically speaking, everything that comes into being must have a cause. However, God never came into existence and therefore does not require a cause. He has always existed. He is not bound or contained by time or space but transcends both (1 Kings 8:27; 2 Chronicles 2:6; Psalm 90:4; 2 Peter 3:8). It could even be argued that time and space are merely dimensions created by Him. He is the eternal self-existent One without whom it would be impossible for anything to exist (1 Corinthians 8:6). The necessary First Cause of the philosophers is the self-existing, self-sustaining I AM of the Scriptures. Jesus called Himself by the same name (I AM) during His earthly ministry thereby identifying Himself as God in the flesh (John 8:58).
The Bible describes the nature of God as holy. This means that God is wholly other and different from us. It is true that we were created in His image (Genesis 1:27). However, we are just that, created. He is not created. As stated earlier, there are attributes that describe God that cannot be applied to us. Furthermore, God is holy in that He is morally pure. He is without sin and altogether holy. God does not and cannot sin, nor can He tempt anyone to sin (James 1:13). Sin is a direct contradiction and violation of God's character and law (Psalm 51:4; 1 John 3:4). Because God is holy He hates sin (Proverbs 6:16–19) and cannot approve of it or excuse it.
The Bible describes the nature of God as sovereign, merciful, gracious, patient, loving, faithful, forgiving, and just. These attributes are found throughout Scripture. However, they all appear at once together when Moses ascended Mount Sinai to receive the Ten Commandments from God. Exodus 34:5–7 states, "The Lord descended in the cloud and stood with him [Moses] there, and proclaimed the name of the Lord. The Lord passed before him and proclaimed, 'The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children's children, to the third and the fourth generation.'"
The fact that God is Lord is related to His sovereign nature. He is in control of everything (James 4:15) and we owe Him complete submission and obedience as our sovereign Lord and King (Psalm 29:10; 93:1–5; Luke 17:10; 1 Timothy 1:17; Romans 12:1). The fact that God is a just King means that He must punish sin (Genesis 18:25; Job 8:3; Ecclesiastes 12:14; Romans 2:16). This is truly bad news for us since we are all sinners (Romans 3:9). However, God reveals that He is simultaneously just and merciful. He sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to endure the just penalty and punishment that our sins deserve so that we might receive His mercy and grace through believing in Christ (Romans 3:23–26). The fact that sin has been punished satisfies God's justice. The fact that we can be pardoned through faith alone reveals God's grace, mercy, and love (Ephesians 2:8; Romans 5:8; 9:16). The greatest revelation that God has given to us concerning His nature is found in the Person of Jesus Christ (Hebrews 1:1–4). We cannot know God except through knowing Christ (John 14:6; 1 John 2:23). In order to better know God, we must study the life of Christ revealed in Scripture (1 John 5:13), be indwelt by the Spirit of Christ (Romans 8:9–11), and obey the teachings and commandments of Christ (John 15:10, 14). This is both how we come to know and love God, and how we grow in our knowledge of God.
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