Sunday I will begin a series of sermons on the holiness of God, namely his kindness and severity evinced in the stories of Old Testament Israel. Since the history and example of Israel has been given to Christ’s church, it is vital that we labor to know those men and women who walked with God in the Wilderness, and more, we must know the Holy One of Israel, whose holy love impelled the Father to send the Son to die for sinners.
In truth, we in the modern church are not comfortable lingering with God and meditating on the fact that he is a consuming fire (Heb 12:29). We are much more accustomed to bite-size theology, ten minute devotionals, and casual worship. And yet, what the church needs most today is a fresh encounter with the holiness of God.
Or maybe I just speak for me. I continue to be struck by how much my faith is influenced by the weightlessness of modern evangelicalism. I am not surprised at how my ambient culture has impacted me; I am surprised by how little the God of the Bible has impacted modern Christians. This is why I will be preaching on the kindness and severity of God found throughout the Bible (cf. Rom 11:22).
Without Holiness . . .
Most recently, this thought about our need to ponder the holiness of God was stirred afresh by David Wells in his book God in the Wasteland. His soul-searching, heart-pulverizing disclosure of God’s holiness indicates what happens to grace, sin, God, and the gospel when churches overlook the holiness of God. In his survey of Scripture and church culture, he explains what has happened to the modern church who by and large operates without a sense of holiness.
Consider his words, which I’ve bullet-pointed to draw attention to the idea of holiness’s absence (pp. 144–45).
- Without this holiness of God, sin has no meaning and grace has no point, for it is God’s holiness that gives to the one its definition and to the other its greatness . . .
- Without the holiness of God, sin is merely human failure but not failure before God, in relation to God. It is failure without the standard by which we now it to have fallen short. It is failure without the presumption of guilt, failure without retribution, failure without any serious moral meaning. . . .
- And without the holiness of God, grace is no longer grace because it does not arise from the dark clouds of judgment that obscured the cross and exacted teh damnation of the Son in our place. . . .
- Furthermore, without holiness, grace loses its meaning as grace, a free gift of the God who, despite his holiness and because of his holiness, has reconciled sinners to himself in the death of his Son. . . .
- And without holiness, faith is but a confidence in the benevolence of life, or perhaps merely confidence in ourselves. Sin, grace, and faith are emptied of any but a passing meaning if they are severed from their roots in the holiness of God. . . .
- Until we recognize afresh the centrality of God’s holiness, until it once again enters into the innermost fibers of evangelical faith, our virtue will lack seriousness, our belief will lack poignancy, our practice will lack moral pungency, our worship will lack joyful seriousness, our preaching will lack the mordancy of grace [great imagery: ‘grace that eats away at our sin like sulfuric acid burns through rusted metal’], and the church will be just one more special interest pleading for a hearing in a world of competing enterprises. . . .
- Until we acknowledge God’s holiness, we will not be able to deny the authority of modernity. What has most been lost [in the wake of modernity and modernization] needs most to be recovered—namely, the unsettling, disconcerting fact that God is holy and we place ourselves in great peril if we seek to render him a plaything of our piety, an ornamental decoration on the religious life, a product to answer our inward dissatisfactions. God offers himself on his own terms or not at all.
Wells point is clear, as it always is: The church must reawaken to the terrifying holiness of God, without which there will be no weight to our need to receive his grace. There is much discussion of grace today, but we must remember that grace is as lightweight as cotton candy without the glorious weight of God’s holiness.
May God grant our generation a fresh vision of God and his holiness. And may we pray for his glorious presence to impress upon us his holiness.
Soli Deo Gloria, dss