Summary: God is a person, he is invisible, he is independent, he is immutable, and he is good.
Characteristics of God
What are the characteristics of God? Millard Erickson said this about the characteristics or attributes of God, “When we speak of the attributes of God, we are referring to those qualities of God that constitute what he is, the very characteristics of his nature.” Ryrie instead calls God’s characteristics, his “perfections” because all of the qualities or attributes of God are perfect. In this portion of our study, we will be considering God’s attributes—his characteristics—his perfections.
In considering God’s characteristics, I think a good analogy is looking at a married couple. One of the great things about being married is the ability to get to know one person in an intimate way, potentially, for the rest of life. This growing knowledge enables us to learn how to better serve and love him or her daily.
Similarly, Scripture teaches that we are the bride of Christ, and we will be married to God for all eternity (cf. Eph 5:23, Rev 19:7). Since God is the bridegroom of the church, we must devote ourselves to knowing him intimately; so that we might please him and effectively serve him in this loving union throughout this life and the next.
We can only do this properly if we give ourselves to the discipline of study. We must understand his characteristics—his person, his being, what brings him pleasure, what brings him displeasure. Therefore, in this section we will focus on his characteristics with the hope of better serving our Heavenly Bridegroom for the rest of eternity.
What are some characteristics of God?
God Is Spirit
The first characteristic is that God is spirit. Look at what Christ taught the woman at the well: “God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24).
What did Christ mean by “God is spirit”? He meant that the essence of God, his makeup, is immaterial. Listen to what Jesus said when he was resurrected from the dead in Luke 24:39:
Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have. (emphasis mine)
Jesus said a “ghost”, or it can be translated “spirit,” does not have flesh and bones. In the same way our God does not have a physical makeup. Yes, Jesus does. But Jesus did not eternally exist as a man. He humbled himself and took the form of man in order to save us from our sins (Phil 2:7). God is spirit.
Now one might ask, ‘if God is not material, how come there are so many Scriptures that use illustrations of God having human body parts?’ We see this particularly when God revealed his glory to Moses in the Old Testament. Listen to what God said in Exodus 33:22–23:
When my glory passes by, I will put you in a cleft in the rock and cover you with my hand until I have passed by. Then I will remove my hand and you will see my back; but my face must not be seen. (emphasis mine)
Did you see that? God talks about himself having a back, hands, and a face. How can this be? This is what we call an anthropomorphism. This comes from the Greek words “anthropos,” which means “man,” and “morphe,” which means form. These are times when Scripture talks about God in the form of a man. Why does God speak about himself in these terms? He speaks like this to give us a frame of reference, so that we can better understand him.
When there is nothing like God on earth, how can one describe him in understandable words? You cannot so God seeks to give us an understanding by using human points of reference like a hand or body. We see many Scriptures like this. The Psalmist said, “Save us and help us with your right hand” (Psalm 60:5). Similarly, Jesus said this:
My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father's hand. (emphasis mine)
Again, these are given to help us relate to and understand God, even though every illustration falls short of his true glory.
I think we get some type of understanding of anthropomorphisms when we consider the illustrations often given to represent the Trinity. I remember being confused about the doctrine of the Trinity while in Sunday school class, along with every other student. Because of this, the teacher described the Trinity by using the illustration of ice melting and becoming water, then evaporating as steam. Another time somebody used the illustration of an egg—the yoke, the white, and the shell representing the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. However, each of these illustrations fails miserably in representing the Trinity. Each member of the Trinity is fully God, operates independently, and yet, are one. It’s a paradox. With that said, the illustrations of the Trinity, though they fell far short of the glory of God, all were mildly helpful at that young age. Similarly, even though God does not have material form, he uses illustrations we can relate to, in order to help us comprehend something of his glory.