God’s Attributes as Defined by His Actions (Not the Other Way Around)

Attributes of God


God is loving. God is just. God is gracious. God is holy.

These and more are absolutely true of Yahweh, the God we serve. We know that these attributes belong to God because they have been revealed as such in the Scriptures. We know what these attributes mean based on God’s actions revealed in the Scriptures. Yet so often it seems that we try to assign actions to God based on his attributes.

Brothers, we dare not do so.

Defining God’s Attributes

How do we know that God is loving? We know that God is loving because of what we are told in his Scriptures.

We have come to know and have believed the love which God has for us. God is love, and the one who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. (1 John 4:16, NASB)

How then do we know what love is? We know what love is based on God’s actions, which demonstrate love.

We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. (1 John 3:16, NASB)

But there’s still a problem. That problem is us. We are limited human beings. We cannot possibly comprehend the full measure of what it truly means to love. Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross was the ultimate example of love, but even that is not a complete definition. Other actions remain that are loving as well.

The complete definition of love is found in the complete actions of our God. God defines love. Everything God does is loving, and it is loving simply because he has done it.

The same is true for all attributes of God. Everything God does is just, and it is just simply because he has done it. Everything God does is gracious, and it is gracious simply because he has done it. Everything God does is holy, and it is holy simply because he has done it. We cannot truly know what it means to be loving, just, gracious, or holy apart from God’s own actions.

How then can we dare take our limited perceptions of these attributes and try to force them upon the God who defines them?

Attribute vs. Attribute

For an example, we can look at the debate about hell. Many of those who argue for hell say that since God is just, he must punish sinners in hell; or since God is holy, he must separate sinners to hell. On the other hand, many of those who argue against hell say that since God is loving, he would never condemn sinners to hell; or since God is gracious, he would let sinners out of hell.

We end up pitting God’s own attributes against each other, as if one of them must win out over the others. This cannot be so. All of God’s attributes are true all the time. If hell does exist according to the traditional evangelical understanding, then God is still loving and gracious in sending sinners there. If the traditional understanding of hell is wrong, then God is still just and holy in whatever it is he has decided to do to sinners. We cannot say that God must do this or that based on his attributes. It does not follow.

When trying to determine the true answer to difficult questions, we must examine the Bible to see what God has actually done or will do. Whatever that is, it is fully in line with his attributes. We must never try to change what the Bible declares God to have done based on our faulty understanding of his attributes.

What Do You Think?

Have you seen people try to argue for certain doctrines based on God’s attributes? Have you been guilty of this yourself? Will you continue to argue in this manner?

Share your thoughts in the comments below. And if you enjoyed this post, please share it with your friends.