A true love of God must begin with a delight in his holiness..”
– Jonathan Edwards
Holiness—The Unpopular Song
There is a trend in Christian music to focus on the more comforting aspects of our faith such as God’s love, mercy, and grace. Other aspects of God’s character such as His wrath, judgement, and holiness are less popular topics. And it’s no wonder: who in their right mind wants to listen to an album full of songs about God’s wrath? I don’t! And unless you are some kind of masochist, I doubt that you do either.
The holiness of God tends to be one of those topics that is lumped together with all those unpopular ones. And yet, God’s holiness is one of the very core characteristic of God. In fact, all the other aspects of God that we hold so dearly—His love, forgiveness, and gentleness, for example—are rightly defined or interpreted through a proper understanding of His holiness. The fact that none of us (myself included) fully understand God’s holiness implies that we therefore have an incomplete understanding of the depths of His love, forgiveness, and grace.¹
Of Measurements And Standards
There is a belief among some Christians that holiness is an amount. For example, Fred has more holiness than Sally, but God has more than anybody else. As R.C. Sproul has pointed out in his book The Holiness of God, this view of God’s holiness is wrong. The reason is simply because this view assumes that the amount of holiness that God possesses can somehow be quantified, and that there is some outside standard by which God’s holiness can be measured. However, the reality is that God is the standard by which all things are compared! He does not have some predetermined amount of holiness. He is, in fact, the “ruler” by which we measure holiness. And people don’t like that!
As a family doctor, one of my jobs is to accurately measure things: weight, pulse rate, blood pressure, and cholesterol, for instance. I do this because there are certain medical standards that have been established that define “healthy”. As a general rule, my patients really dislike being measured against these standards (especially when I have to take their weight). In fact, some people (usually men) dislike being measured so much that they refuse to see me. When they are forced into my office (usually by their wives), they often are in complete denial that anything is wrong or that anything needs to be evaluated. The conversation typically goes something like this:
“Mr. Jones, your blood pressure is extremely high! Dangerously high! I really think that we need to start some medications to get it down.”
“Why? I feel good. I don’t think there is anything wrong with me.”
That’s when I start my standard “denial speech” which has been finely honed to an art form. “Do you know what the medical community calls high blood pressure?”
“It’s called ‘the silent killer’. In other words, you won’t have any symptoms until it is too late. You don’t want to wait until you have a heart attack or stroke do you? The medicine that I can provide may be able to save your life.”
Diagnosis, Prognosis, & Cure
Similar to blood pressure, holiness is a measurement of health. In our situation, however, God is the standard that defines “healthy” and we simply do not measure up—not even close. In fact, after all the testing has been completed, the final diagnosis for us is extremely grim: spiritual cancer which will lead to death. We can live in denial if we want—say to ourselves that we’re feeling fine and refuse to believe that a standard of spiritual health even exists. Or, we can accept the fact that we are all very sick (and rotten) and fall desperately short of this perfect standard. For us, denial is not a mere psychological game—it is a matter of eternal life and death.
But there is very good news: the Great Physician himself has provided a cure! On the cross, an amazing and unimaginable transaction occurred. As Jesus was hanging on the cross, we see the meeting place of the glorious and the grotesque, the holy and the horrible, infinite love and infinite wrath. The cross simultaneously displayed the depths of our sins, the righteous demands of a holy God, and God’s unmerited love. On the cross, Jesus took on “our infirmities” and satisfied God’s uncompromising justice.
A cure for our sin has been given!
The question now is who will believe the true diagnosis and cling to God’s breathtaking cure? Don’t be like some men in my practice. Don’t wait until it’s too late to be treated.
¹For an excellent book on God’s holiness, I would highly recommend reading R.C. Sproul’s classic, The Holiness of God. This book, along with John Piper’s Desiring God have been transformative in my Christian life.