8 Attributes of God We Encounter at the Cross

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How can God be loving if he sent his Son to die on a cross for the sins of others? Why couldn’t he just forgive everyone instead of putting his Son through all that suffering? The answer is that God can never deny himself; therefore, he must uphold all of his attributes. And we find no clearer evidence of this than at the cross.

Because he is spirit, God is always purely all of his attributes in complete perfection and unity. It is impossible for God’s mercy to override his justice. His holiness never conflicts with his love. Here are eight attributes of God we encounter at the cross, along with related Scripture passages and helpful quotes from respected theologians:

1. We encounter the holiness of God at the cross.

R. C. Sproul, The Holiness of God, p. 38: “When the Bible calls God holy, it means primarily that God is transcendentally separate. He is so far above and beyond us that He seems almost totally foreign to us. To be holy is to be ‘other,’ to be different in a special way.”

Related Bible Verses:

And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!” (Isa. 6:3)

“What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God.” (Mark 1:25)

For it was indeed fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens. (Heb. 7:26)

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. (1 Pet. 2:9)

2. We encounter the righteousness of God at the cross.

Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology, p. 74: “The fundamental idea of righteousness is that of strict adherence to the law. Among men it presupposes that there is a law to which they must conform…. [and] though there is no law above God, there is certainly a law in the very nature of God, and this is the highest possible standard, by which all other laws are judged.”

Related Bible Verses:

God is a righteous judge, and a God who feels indignation every day. (Ps. 7:11)

For the Lord is righteous; he loves righteous deeds; the upright shall behold his face. (Ps. 11:7)

“But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” (Matt. 6:33)

For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God's righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. (Rom. 3:23-25)

3. We encounter the justice of God at the cross.

John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, II.17.4: “It is especially worth-while to ponder the analogy set forth by Paul: ‘Christ…became a curse for us,’ etc. [Gal. 3:13]. It was superfluous, even absurd, for Christ to be burdened with a curse, unless it was to acquire righteousness for others by paying what they owed. Isaiah’s testimony is also clear: ‘The chastisement of our peace was laid upon Christ, and with his stripes healing has come to us’ [Isa. 53:5]. For unless Christ had made satisfaction for our sins, it would not have been said that he appeased God by taking upon himself the penalty to which we were subject.”

Related Bible Verses:

Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him;
    he has put him to grief; 
when his soul makes an offering for guilt,
    he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days;
the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand.
Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied;
by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant,
    make many to be accounted righteous. (Isa. 53:10-11)

Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. (Gal. 6:7)

And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. (Col. 2:13-14)

Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. (Heb. 2:17)

4. We encounter the goodness of God at the cross.

Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics: God and Creation, Vol. 2, p. 211: “But whatever virtue Scripture ascribes to God, it always presupposes that that virtue is his in an absolute sense. Knowledge, wisdom, power, love, and righteousness are uniquely his, that is, in a divine manner. His goodness, accordingly, is one with his absolute perfection.”

Related Bible Verses:

Oh, how abundant is your goodness, which you have stored up for those who fear you and worked for those who take refuge in you, in the sight of the children of mankind! (Ps. 31:19)

You are good and do good; teach me your statutes. (Ps. 119:68)

The Lord is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble; he knows those who take refuge in him. (Nah. 1:7)

And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.” (Mark 10:18)

5. We encounter the wrath of God at the cross.

A. W. Pink, The Attributes of God, p. 75: “A study of the concordance will show that there are more references in Scripture to the anger, fury, and wrath of God, than there are to His love and tenderness.”

Related Bible Verses:

The Lord is a jealous and avenging God;
    the Lord is avenging and wrathful;
the Lord takes vengeance on his adversaries
    and keeps wrath for his enemies. (Nah. 1:2)

For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit. (1 Pet. 3:18)

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. (Rom. 1:18)

Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” (Rom. 12:19)

6. We encounter the mercy of God at the cross.

Charles Spurgeon, Morning and Evening, August 17: “…deserved mercy is only a misnomer for justice. There was no right on the sinner’s part to the kind consideration of the Most High; had the rebel been doomed at once to eternal fire he would have richly merited the doom, and if delivered from wrath, sovereign love alone has found a cause, for there was none in the sinner himself.”

Related Bible Verses:

“Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.” (Luke 6:36)

For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Cor. 5:21)

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved. (Eph. 2:4-5)

Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Heb. 4:16)

He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. (1 Pet. 2:24)

7. We encounter the love of God at the cross.

John Murray, Redemption Accomplished and Applied, p. 27: “The propitiation of the divine wrath, effected in the expiatory work of Christ, is the provision of God’s eternal and unchangeable love, so that through the propitiation of his own wrath that love may realize its purpose in a way that is consonant with and to the glory of the dictates of his own holiness.”

Related Bible Verses:

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” (John 3:16-17)

“Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13)

But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Rom. 5:8)

In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. (1 John 4:10)

8. We encounter the simplicity of God at the cross.

Michael Horton, The Christian Faith: A Systematic Theology for Pilgrims on the Way, p. 229: “Simplicity reminds us that God is never self-conflicted. In God’s eternal decree, even in the most obvious example of possible inner conflict (namely, the cross), justice and mercy, righteous wrath and gracious love, embrace…. At the place where the outpouring of his wrath is concentrated, so too is his love.”

Related Bible Verses:

Know therefore that the LORD your God is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, to a thousand generations. (Deut. 7:9)

Therefore the Lord waits to be gracious to you, and therefore he exalts himself to show mercy to you. For the Lord is a God of justice; blessed are all those who wait for him. (Isa. 30:18)

It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. (Rom. 3:26)

That is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. (2 Cor. 5:19)

If we are faithless, he remains faithful—for he cannot deny himself. (2 Tim. 2:13)

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