Survey in Basic Christianity
Lesson 3
The Likeness of God

O.J. Gibson

“To whom then will you liken God? Or what likeness will you compare to Him?” asked the prophet (Isaiah 40:18). Isaiah contrasts the greatness of the living God with the impotence of the carved images of man-made idols. We also must be careful in forming wrong ideas about God because we do not have anything to compare to Him since He is unlike anyone or anything we know. The Bible teaches that “God is Spirit” (John 4:24) which means that He is invisible and is not subject to the limitations of humanity.

The Bible helps us begin to understand who God is and how He acts by using language that describes Him in human terms, attributing to God human traits, emotions, and intentions. We read of His arms (Deuteronomy 33:27), His hands (John 10:29), His feet (Isaiah 66:1), His eyes (2 Chronicles 16:9), His ears (Isaiah 59:1), His mouth (Isaiah 58:14), and His face (Exodus 33:11, 20). Although God does not possess these organs, the use of these terms helps us, in a limited way, to understand some of His traits.

Although this lesson describes and defines many of God’s attributes, we cannot reduce God to a list of character qualities. The list may help fill in gaps in our understanding of God, and we may gain insight about God through studying His attributes, but the ultimate goal is to know God personally. The Bible reveals what God is like through His personal interaction with people. For example, the Bible states, “God is love” (1 John 4:8), but we know how deep His love is for us through His actions. “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).

A man asked Job, “Can you search out the deep things of God? Can you find out the limits of the Almighty?” (Job 11:7). The answer is that we can know some things about God through His creation. We learn even more about God through what He reveals about Himself in His word. Best of all, we can know Him intimately if we have a personal relationship with Him. “Know the Lord” (Hebrews 8:11).

Unique Attributes (Those Only God Possesses)

God reveals to us who He is in the Bible. We learn about these traits by plain statements of fact and through God’s interaction with people. We call these traits attributes. God is:

1. Self-Existent (Aseity)
God has life in Himself (John 1:4; 5:26), and He is the source of life. He was not created but is the Creator. He comes from nothing prior. He has always existed, and all life comes from Him (Genesis 1:1; John 1:1, 3, Acts 17:28). Our physical and eternal life depends on Him. No other being is self-existent.

2. Eternal
God has no beginning and has no end. He will never cease to exist. The Bible says, “Even from everlasting to everlasting, You are God (Psalm 90:2; cf. Habakkuk 1:12). “He who is” expresses His name “I AM WHO I AM” (Exodus 3:14). Angels worship Him as the eternal One “who was and is and is to come!” (Revelation 4:8). By contrast, our life is brief, but God offers us eternal life (John 3:15-16).

3. Infinite
This means “without bounds or limits.” He is not restricted by time or space. The created universe cannot contain Him (1 Kings 8:27; Psalm 113:4-6). God alone is infinite in power, knowledge, presence, and eternal existence.

4. All-Powerful (Omnipotence)
The Almighty has unlimited power and authority to do whatever He chooses (Job 42:2; Psalm 115:3; Matthew 19:26). We can be confident that nothing can thwart His plans and purposes. What He promises He will fulfill.

5. All-Knowing (Omniscience)
God has unlimited knowledge, understanding, and awareness (Psalm 147:4-5). His infinite wisdom makes Him the most suitable judge over all things. Since there is nothing He does not already know, no one can surprise Him or deceive Him, and no sin is hidden from His sight (Hebrews 4:13; 1 John 3:20). He knows the end from the beginning (Isaiah 46:10). Omniscience includes His foreknowledge of all things (Acts 2:23).

6. All-Present (Omnipresence)
God is present everywhere at all times. It is impossible to escape His presence (Psalm 139:7-12; Jeremiah 23:23-24; Amos 9:2). God promises His continuous presence to His people, “He will not leave you nor forsake you” (Deuteronomy 31:6, 8; Joshua 1:5; Hebrews 13:5).

7. Changeless (Immutability)
“For I am the LORD, I do not change” (Malachi 3:6; cf. Numbers 23:19; Psalm 102:27; Ezekiel 24:14). God cannot change in His eternal character, purposes, or promises (James 1:17). He is faithful to fulfill His word. His immutability applies to all other attributes. He never changes in His love, mercy, grace, power, holiness, wisdom, etc. When it appears that God does change His mind, we must understand that God always remains consistent with His character, but He may change His interactions with people based on their response to Him (Isaiah 55:7; Jeremiah 26:3; Jonah 3:9-10; John 1:12).

8. Self-Sufficient
He needs absolutely nothing from any source because He has no deficiencies or needs (Acts 17:24-25).

9. Sovereign
God is ruler and controller over all, and none can hinder Him. He “works all things after the counsel of His will” (Ephesians 1:11; cf. Isaiah 40:13-14). God has the unrestricted right to do whatever He pleases and what He pleases is always right (Romans 9:15-18). How appropriate are these words, “‘As I live, says the LORD, every knee shall bow to Me, and every tongue shall confess to God.’ So then each of us shall give account of himself to God” (Romans 14:11-12).

Relative Attributes (Those Man Can Share)

Although humans share the following attributes in limited measure, God displays them in perfection. (An application to our lives will follow the description of each attribute).

1. Love
“God is love” (1 John 4:8). Love is that sacrificial and self-giving expression which seeks the highest good for another. It is perfect, practical, and beneficial. God demonstrated His love to us by giving His Son to die for us (John 3:16; Romans 5:8). His love is not dependent on the loveliness or responsiveness of the object. In fact, God loves the hostile, the unappreciative, and the sinful person, though hating the sin (Jeremiah 31:3; Ephesians 2:4-5; 1 John 4:10). Compassion is closely allied with love. It involves inner sympathy or pity for others (Psalm 86:15; Matthew 9:36; 14:14). His love for us should encourage us to “love Him” (1 John 4:19) and to “love one another” (John 15:12, 17).

2. Wrath
God’s love for all that is good, right, just, and fair necessitates that He exercises His wrath against all forms of evil in which men persist and will not repent (Romans 2:4-6; Colossians 3:5-7). His wrath is the just response in judgment against sin and rebellion. God’s wrath is “against all ungodliness and unrighteousness” (Romans 1:18). Wrath in man is often uncontrolled anger which “does not produce the righteousness of God” (James 1:20). We are to “put off wrath” (Colossians 3:8), and be “slow to wrath” (James 1:19) and let God avenge for wrongs committed against us (Romans 12:19).

3. Grace
God’s grace is undeserved and freely-bestowed favor towards us. Grace is not a debt God owes in response to our good works (Romans 4:4-5; 11:6). Grace offers salvation as an unmerited gift to everyone (Ephesians 2:8; Titus 2:11). Believers stand in a position of indescribable favor with God (Romans 5:1-2; Ephesians 1:3-14) and are to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18).

4. Mercy
Mercy is God’s active pity or compassion towards repentant sinners and His direct care for people in distress from which He gives relief (2 Samuel 24:14; 2 Corinthians 1:3). Mercy is often coupled with grace (Psalm 103:8). “God…is rich in mercy” (Ephesians 2:4). God desires that we “love mercy” (Micah 6:8) and offers His mercy to those who show mercy to others (Matthew 5:7).

5. Holiness
He is separate from all other beings, and there is no evil or impurity in Him (Psalm 99:9; Isaiah 57:15). He is called “the Holy One” (Proverbs 9:10). The angels of heaven declare His holiness (Isaiah 6:3; Revelation 4:8). In the absolute sense, no one is holy but God (Hebrews 7:26; Revelation 15:4). His holiness necessitates the punishment of sin (Isaiah 59:2). We are called to be holy because He is holy (1 Peter 1:16).

6. Righteousness and Justice
These attributes spring from the same root word in the New Testament’s original Greek language. This attribute includes impartiality or fairness in dealing with others. God can only do what is right (Genesis 18:25; Deuteronomy 32:4; Nehemiah 9:33; Psalm 145:17). He is “the righteous Judge” (2 Timothy 4:8). His justice demands that sin’s penalty be paid, and His love provides the payment so that He can be both “just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (Romans 3:26). Christians are to present their bodies to the Lord to be used in the cause of righteousness, not as tools of wickedness (Romans 6:12-14).

7. Truth
With God, there is no falsehood, no unfaithfulness, and no lack of consistency with Himself (Numbers 23:19; 1 John 5:20). He is the truth (John 14:6). He is absolutely and totally faithful to His promises and true to His character (2 Timothy 2:13; Revelation 19:11). Believers are to “walk in truth” (3 John 3-4).

8. Patience
His self-imposed restraint of actions that He might otherwise take is a quality that is appropriate to one who has great power. Endurance with longsuffering toward that which is displeasing to Him is one aspect of patience (Acts 13:18; Romans 9:22); persistence in seeking good is another (2 Peter 3:9). Christians are told, “You also be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand” (James 5:8).

9. Wisdom
God has all knowledge, but His application of that knowledge displays infinite wisdom—a deep understanding coupled with sound judgment (Romans 11:33; Ephesians 3:10). “His understanding is unsearchable” (Isaiah 40:28). The all-wise God searches the hearts of all men (Romans 8:27; 16:27). We are encouraged to seek wisdom, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him” (James 1:5).

10. Goodness
God’s goodness is seen as He delays the punishment for sin and endures hostility from sinners. His goodness is the very quality that should lead men to repentance (Romans 2:4). God is full of kindness, goodwill, or benevolence (Psalm 119:68; 145:9). Daily He expresses His goodness to all people everywhere, whether evil or good, just or unjust (Matthew 5:45). Life’s difficulties or sorrows should never cause us to doubt His goodness. “Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good; blessed is the man who trusts in Him!” (Psalm 34:8). God’s people are “to be ready for every good work” (Titus 3:1).

11. Generosity
God is the greatest of all givers, having shown this by giving the supreme gift of His Son (John 3:16). That is why He loves cheerful givers (2 Corinthians 9:7). God gives liberally (James 1:5). To those who give generously, He displays an even greater generosity. “‘Try Me now in this,’ says the LORD of hosts, ‘If I will not open for you the windows of heaven and pour out for you such blessing that there will not be room enough to receive it’” (Malachi 3:10). Love displays itself in giving. Therefore He says, “Give, and it will be given to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your bosom. For with the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you” (Luke 6:38). Follow the irresistible logic of this verse, “He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things” (Romans 8:32)?

The list of His attributes cannot be exhausted. As we think of God, our hearts should burst with praise. “Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, to God who alone is wise, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen” (1 Timothy 1:17).

SBC Lesson 3 Study Guide
The Likeness Of God

God’s character and attributes govern His ways. The following questions should help us to understand Him better.

  1. It is difficult for people to understand what God is like because (select one)
    1. People think God is like they are
    2. God’s ways are “higher” than man’s ways
    3. There is nothing and no one with whom to compare God
    4. God is unknowable
    5. All of the above
    6. a through c above
  2. What characteristics of God are described in the following verses that emphasize His total independence and self-sufficiency? (Explain in your own words)
    1. John 5:26
    2. John 1:1
    3. Genesis 1:1
    4. Exodus 3:14
    5. Psalm 90:2
    6. Revelation 4:8
    7. 1 Kings 8:27
  3. Read Psalm 139. List three characteristics about God described in this Psalm.
  4. What relationship does God have to everything that exists (Acts 17:24-25)?
  5. Paraphrase (rewrite in your own words) Romans 14:11-12. What do these verses mean to you?
  6. Which of the following is not true of God’s love? (select one)
    1. God loves the whole world
    2. God loved us before we loved Him
    3. God’s love is everlasting
    4. God’s love overlooks sin
  7. The wrath of God is as real as His love. What are the objects of God’s wrath? (select all that apply)
    1. All ungodliness and unrighteousness of men
    2. The hard, unrepentant heart
    3. The disobedient
    4. The forgiven sinner
  8. Using the letters a-d, match the characteristics of God with the definition in i-iv:
    1. Grace (Ephesians 2:8; Titus 2:11)
    2. Holiness (Psalm 99:9; Revelation 15:4)
    3. Mercy (Psalm 103:8; Ephesians 2:4)
    4. Righteousness/Justice (Nehemiah 9:33; Genesis 18:25)
      1. ___ Undeserved and freely-bestowed favor toward others
      2. ___ Active pity or compassion toward offenders or the needy
      3. ___ Completely lacking in impurity or evil. Set apart from all other beings
      4. ___ Impartiality or fairness in dealings with others
  9. When the Bible says God is holy, it means (select one)
    1. He is sinless
    2. He hates sin and loves all that is good
    3. He is separate from sinners
    4. all of the above
  10. What do you say? Carefully think through the characteristics of God that you studied above. Which ones are especially comforting to you?
  11. Are there any of God’s attributes that disturb you? Why or why not?
  12. Often people say, “I think God would do this” or “I don’t think He would do that.” Why is it important to understand God’s character before speculating on what He might or might not do?
  13. We want to encourage you to memorize God’s word. The suggested memory verse for this lesson is:

1 Timothy 1:17
“Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, to God who alone is wise, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.”