Here are a few examples of what we frequently hear in our culture, and increasingly in our churches today…
“If God is love then there should be tolerance for my lifestyle.”
“If God is love then there can be no such thing as an eternal hell.”
“If God is love then certainly he would want me to do what makes me happy.”
The problem with these, and many other statements like them, is that they are attempts at defining the love of God from a secular perspective. Whether we are aware of it or not we are importing our subjective opinions when it comes to defining what it means when we say ‘God is love.’
The result is that we create a god in our own image. Our wants and desires begin to shape who we believe God to be. It is really no different than when the Israelites got tired of waiting for Moses to return so they made a golden calf and began worshipping it. We do the same thing every time we change God from the way he is described in Scripture.
The consequences for doing this are massive. Desires and lifestyles that were once thought to be sinful are now applauded and celebrated. Christians are thought to be intolerant and unloving.
I began to understand a bit more clearly why all this was happening when I started to read David Wells book, “God in the Whirlwind.” I would say that one of the main points in this excellent book is that what many people are attempting to do is separate the love of God from the holiness of God. Wells writes:
“We want God’s love without his holiness. We want this because we live in our own private, therapeutic worlds that have no absolute moral norms. God’s holiness, therefore, becomes a jarring and unwanted intrusion. His love without his holiness, however, is one of those things in life that we simply cannot have. And, indeed, it will become one of our greatest joys to be able to understand how God is both holy and loving.”
The biblical truth that God is holy is perhaps best seen when we look at the vision of God in Isaiah 6:1-7. In this fascinating passage Isaiah is brought into the majestic presence of God. God is on a throne, his robe fills the house. Above him are the angels who cover their eyes in the presence of their Creator. The angels sing to one another:
“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!”
The entire house was filled with smoke and then we discover Isaiah’s response:
“Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”
The very first thing that Isaiah realizes when he is in God’s presence is that he is a sinner. Coming into God’s presence was not a boost for Isaiah’s delicate self-esteem. Isaiah saw God for who he truly is and he was filled with shame regarding his sinful condition. Isaiah was experiencing the holiness of God. Holiness means to be set apart, to be transcendent, to be completely different and above everything else. The holiness of God means that he is absolutely pure in all of his ways. So, when we begin describing the love of God we need to keep his holiness in mind the whole time.
It is easy to see how people in the world might misunderstand the nature of God’s love and holiness. But what about the church today? Has the church been impacted by a faulty view of God’s love and holiness? Again, David wells:
“In the liberalism that has so devastated the mainline denominations in recent decades, for example, God’s love has been universalized and then unhitched from his holiness. The result is a Christianity that is benign, culturally at home, racy, politically correct, and endlessly tolerant. It wants to be on the cutting edge of culture, but it is there only because it has a yearning to catch each new breeze that blows. It loses depth as it loses its hold on biblical truth. It prizes love-but it is love of a cultural kind-and it prizes holiness-but it is holiness only of a political kind. And it ends up with neither in a biblical sense.”
So when we define the love of God we have to keep it balanced with the idea that God is simultaneously holy. When we hear people talk about the idea that God is love let’s graciously point them towards the biblical truth that God is also holy. Which means that the standards for how we are to live are outside of ourselves. These standards do not originate in our heart or mind. The standards for how we are to live come from a correct understanding of who God is, and God is holy.
There are so many implications that come from remembering the holy love of God. Here are just a few:
- A spiritual awakening in our churches is dependent on us focusing on the holiness of God and confessing our sins.
- We will begin to understand that God is not primarily working to make our circumstances more pleasant, instead he is working in such a way that we are being sanctified (becoming holy). If we don’t get this we are going to be incredibly frustrated wondering what God is up to.
- We, as believers, need to be comfortable with the idea that we will be perceived as flat out weird when it comes to how we live and behave. If we understand the holiness of God, and if we too are pursuing this same holiness, our lives will look much different than most people in our culture. We need to embrace this truth and be at peace with it.
I’ll be preaching on this topic this coming Sunday (Mother’s Day)!