What Does Jesus Show Us About the Character of God?
Our picture of God must come from knowing Jesus as we meet him in scripture and through submitting our lives to him as his followers.
"The Son is the image of the invisible God" - Colossians 1:15, NIV
"For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form" - Colossians 2:9, NIV
What those two Bible verses mean is that Jesus embodies the character of God and shows us who God is. He shows many things about God’s character, but a few central characteristics he displays are:
- God is love.
- God is good.
- God is holy.
- God is mercy.
God is Love
The Bible says, "God is love," in 1 John 4:8b, NIV, and many people quote that verse when they talk about characteristics of God. Yet we can also let the kind of love we‘ve experienced as human beings cloud how we view the love of God.
Scripture teaches that God’s love is:
Self-sacrificing: God’s love led Him to the cross to die on our behalf. Jesus sacrificed himself to pay the price for our sin.
"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life." - John 3:16, NIV
Personal: God knows us personally and intimately from the moment we are conceived in the womb. He cares about everything that happens to us.
"Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be." - Psalm 139:16, NIV
Faithful: One major difference between human love and God’s love is God’s everlasting patience and steady presence with us in all times and places. No human relationship can compare.
- God has said, ‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you" (Hebrews 13:5b, NIV).
- "No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 8:39, NLT)
- "The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness" (Lamentations 3:22-23, ESV).
Relational: In the New Testament, Jesus calls God "heavenly Father" and teaches his followers that we should also call God our Father when we speak to him in prayer. This connects with the book of Isaiah and other Old Testament passages where God calls the nation of Israel his children.
The prophet Jeremiah talks about the relationship between God and Israel as a marriage (Jeremiah 2), language that resumes in the book of Revelation when the kingdom’s fulfillment is called "the marriage of the Lamb … and his bride" (Rev 19:7).
Even though God’s love goes beyond human understanding and experience, the pictures of a loving parent and a spouse fill scripture and give us a glimpse of God’s relational character.
God is Good
At some churches, you may hear this call and response.
The pastor starts: "God is good!"
And the congregation responds, "All the time!"
Similar to God’s faithful love, God’s goodness knows no bounds. But what does it mean that God is good? How does Jesus show us God’s goodness?
God is Without Sin
Because human beings have fallen to sin, it's very hard for us to imagine someone who is perfectly loving and always does the right thing no matter the situation or temptation. Yet this is who Jesus was.
2 Corinthians 5:21 calls Jesus, "him who had no sin," and Isaiah 53 prophesies that the Messiah will be killed although "he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth" (Isaiah 53:9).
God is Generous
When Jesus was explaining prayer to his followers, he told them to trust in God’s generosity as a sign of God’s goodness: "If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!" (Luke 7:11).
God Shows us the Way to Right-Living
Nearly all people desire to be good. The Bible says that goodness flows from God, and if we ask God, God will help us grow our characters to become good and wise, just like Jesus. For example:
- "If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you" (James 1:5).
- "But the wisdom from above is first of all pure. It is also peace loving, gentle at all times, and willing to yield to others. It is full of mercy and the fruit of good deeds. It shows no favoritism and is always sincere" (James 3:17).
- "And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God" (Micah 6:8).
As we follow Jesus as our teacher and become more like him, we begin to show evidence of God’s goodness in our lives, such as the fruit of the Spirit — love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23) — and a love for justice.
God is Holy
The Hebrew word for "holiness" is qōdes, a word that highlights the sacred in contrast to what is common and "profane1." Untouched by sin, God’s holiness sets him apart from his creation.
In Matthew 17:2, several of Jesus’ disciples were with him when they saw something amazing.
"There [Jesus] was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light."
At that moment, Jesus’ friends got a glimpse of the Lord and his divine majesty — his holiness.
Encounters with God where his holiness is on full display leave humans humbled and at a loss for words.
- Moses sees the glory of God in the story of the burning bush.
"'Do not come any closer,' God said. 'Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.' Then he said, 'I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.' At this, Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God." (Exodus 3:5-6)
- In Psalm 8:9, the Psalmist says, "O LORD, our Lord, your majestic name fills the earth!" (NLT)
- In Isaiah 6, Isaiah sees a vision of God on the heavenly throne.
"I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphim, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another: 'Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.' At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke. 'Woe to me!' I cried. 'I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.'" (Isaiah 6:1-5)
- In Revelation, John speaks about God’s holy majesty, describing Jesus after he has ascended to the right hand of God.
"Among the lampstands was someone like a son of man, dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest. The hair on his head was white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, and coming out of his mouth was a sharp, double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance. When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said: ‘Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.’” (Revelation 1:13-18)
Even though God can be frightening to us in his holiness, in the vision above, Jesus tells John,
"Do not be afraid … I am alive for ever and ever."
God is always loving and good, speaking words of comfort to us when we feel most unworthy.
And although we cannot be holy in the way that God is holy, we can become uniquely who God has created us to be in Christ Jesus. And God’s word tells us that that when that happens we will "shine like stars" (Philippians 2:15), displaying a piece of God’s glory that is meant just for us!
God is Mercy
God's mercy is related to his goodness, faithfulness and holiness. Because humans are sinful, we are separated from the holy, loving and good God. We become twisted on the inside, bent toward selfish actions. Our sin keeps us from doing God’s will, which is that we would, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind"; and, "Love your neighbor as yourself" (Deuteronomy 6:5, Luke 10:27).
God knows that, on our own, we are not capable of living a wholly good life that is pleasing to him. That is why Jesus came to us. Jesus opens the way for us to be saved, even though we have done nothing to deserve such a gift. Because of God’s mercy:
Jesus Forgives our Sins
In gospel story after story, Jesus meets a person who has violated God’s laws, and he forgives them. For example, when he encountered the paralyzed man (Luke 5:17-35) and the woman caught in adultery (John 8:1-11), he forgave their sins.
Jesus Sacrificed Himself on our Behalf to Reconcile us to God
- "God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21).
- "This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus" (Romans 3:22-24).
- "For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all people" (Titus 2:11).
- "Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom" (Luke 12:32).
God’s character is to show mercy to his creation. As we learn to be like God, we become more merciful ourselves, forgiving others just as God forgives us. This grace opens the way for us to become whole and to live in God’s kingdom today. We don’t have to wait until eternity to enter God’s kingdom. Our healing and new life starts and continues when we accept Jesus as our Savior.
The Nature of God
All the characteristics above are what we call "communicable," meaning they are true of God and also can be true of people who following Jesus. Through the Holy Spirit’s work to transform us, we can join God in his mission and become more loving, good, holy, faithful and merciful.
However, throughout church history, Christian theologians and philosophers have reflected on other characteristics of God that are "incommunicable," meaning they can only be true about God, not about people or creation.
One example is the doctrine of the Trinity, which teaches us that God is three persons in one being: God the Father, Jesus Christ the Son, and the Holy Spirit. This is an "incommunicable" characteristic of God.
God’s incommunicable characteristics are important to understand because they can help us define how God is different from us and from creation. For instance, God is omnipresent, omniscient and self-existent.
Omnipresence: God is Everywhere
Psalm 139 says:
Where can I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
if I settle on the far side of the sea,
even there your hand will guide me,
your right hand will hold me fast.
Ephesians 1:23 says, "The church is the fullness of [Christ] who fills everything in every way."
Omniscience: God is all-knowing
Psalm 147:5 says: "Great is our Lord and mighty in power; his understanding has no limit."
Self-existent: God is not created
God exists independently of other beings or causes.
For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself." (John 5:26)
Compassion in a Fallen World
An often-overlooked characteristic of God is that God loves children!
People were bringing little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it." And he took the children in his arms, placed his hands on them and blessed them. — Mark 10:13-16, NIV
But millions of children live in poverty around the world. And they are particularly vulnerable to the physical threats and the emotional and spiritual messages of worthlessness that poverty speaks. These lies of poverty prevent them from knowing deep within that they are loved and valued by a good, holy and merciful God.
Since 1952, Compassion International has worked to release children from poverty in Jesus’ name. Through a holistic approach to child development, Compassion carefully blends physical, social, economic AND spiritual care together … in Jesus' name. Compassion’s church partners around the world help introduce children to the one true God who desires them to become all he has created them to be.
Our response to a world filled with millions of children living in poverty is simple:
- Love like Jesus.
- Be good like Jesus.
- Be faithful to Jesus and his teachings.
- Be merciful like Jesus.
- Be compassionate like Jesus.
Being compassionate means to empathize with someone who is suffering AND to feel compelled to reduce the suffering. In other words, compassion is mercy in action. When others keep their distance, compassion prompts a person to act on the sufferer’s behalf. That’s why, at Compassion International, we see it as an honor to serve children who live in poverty.
When you sponsor a child through Compassion, you empower the child’s local church to meet his or her needs while reflecting God’s character and sharing his redeeming love in the process.
In the Compassion Child Sponsorship Program, thousands of local churches in low- and middle-income countries tailor our holistic child development model to specific communities’ needs. So each child assisted by our local church partners receives care that is personal, individualized, relational and tailored to the child's age, gender, health, culture and family situation.
The benefits of our Child Sponsorship Program include:
- Better health.
- Better nutrition.
- Educational and vocational support.
- Safety and protection.
- Socio-emotional development.
- The opportunity to hear the Gospel and learn about Jesus.
Reflect the Character of God to a Child Living in Poverty. Sponsor a child today!