God’s Holy-Love

I really appreciate what my pastor preached this past Sunday, emphasizing the importance of God’s holiness and God’s love existing together. It seems that the culture around us, including much of the presumably-Christian culture, delights to focus on one attribute of God while minimizing another attribute. In particular, God’s love often takes center stage and God’s holiness is relegated to the wings (or ignored altogether). But that perspective is not only untrue to what Scripture says about God, but is also completely illogical–because in seeking to elevate love it actually lowers it to a wimpy sentimentality.

God’s attributes are the essence of who He is as God. They are not “parts” in differing percentages which together make up the “whole” God. Rather, if He had less of one attribute or more of another, He would cease to be God. His attributes exist in perfect harmony–there is no conflict between one attribute and another. Therefore God’s love and God’s holiness are not competing elements of His nature, but both are vital for God to be God, and both are integral to one another.

God’s holiness apart from God’s love would result in fully justified wrath and condemnation toward sinners. God’s love apart from God’s holiness would result in mushy “niceness” toward sinners. Neither one would be a true expression of love. Instead, it is only when we see the depths of God’s holiness that we begin to grasp the depths of His love. The cross of Christ was pointless if it was only a demonstration of love. But it wasn’t. The cross was also a demonstration of God’s holy wrath. Jesus’ death in our place satisfied God’s holy requirement, and through that expressed His great love for sinners like us by taking on Himself what we rightfully deserve. “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.” (I John 4:10)

Kevin DeYoung elaborates on this in his extensive review of Love Wins, on The Gospel Coalition website (emphasis added):

God is not simply disappointed with our choices or angry for the way we judge others. He is angry at the way we judge him. He cannot stand to look upon our uncleanness. His nostrils flare at iniquity. He hates our ingratitude, our impurity, our God-complexes, our self-centeredness, our disobedience, our despising of his holy law. Only when we see God’s eye-covering holiness will we grasp the magnitude of our traitorous rebellion, and only then will we marvel at the incomprehensible love that purchased our deliverance on the cross.

The good news…is not that God loves everybody everywhere… The good news is that God over and over makes a way for his unholy people to dwell in his holy presence….

And this from Trevin Wax’s book Counterfeit Gospels:

What the judgmentless gospel leaves us with is a one-dimensional God – a sappy, sanitized deity that we can easily manage. He nods and winks at our behavior, much like a kind elderly man who is not seriously invested in our lives. But the evil of our world is much too serious for us to view God as a pandering papa.

The picture of God in the Bible is much more satisfying. He is angry because he is love. He looks at the world and sees the trafficking of innocent girls, the destructive use of drugs, the genocidal atrocities in Africa, the terrorist attacks that keep people in perpetual fear, and he – out of love for the creation that reflects him as creator – is rightfully and gloriously angry. Real love always wants the best for the beloved.

The God who is truly scary is not the wrathful God of the Bible, but the god of the judgmentless gospel, who closes his eyes to the evil of this world, shrugs his shoulders, and ignores it in the name of “love.” What kind of “love” is this? A god who is never angered at sin and who lets evil go by unpunished is not worthy of worship.

The problem isn’t that the judgmentless God is too loving; it’s that he’s not loving enough.  

[see also this blog post from the same author]

May we marvel at the immensity of God’s love as we bow in awe of His holiness.

Life Matters

Along with many others–Christians and agnostics alike–I have been sickened lately by the deeply disturbing videos portraying the cold indifference of Planned Parenthood officials as they discuss killing and dismembering babies for the sake of making money off their body parts. My heart weeps at the atrocity…and my soul cringes at how easily I myself am indifferent and unwilling to speak up or enter in to such a polarizing issue. God have mercy!

One article that I was reading (find it here) was both convicting and encouraging. Encouraging because as far as I know the writer is not a believer in Christ and therefore even though he doesn’t share my Christian worldview or values, logic alone dictates that he must seriously question his long-held views on abortion. And convicting because he has more courage than me to enter the fray, even without the deeper theological underpinnings that should be pushing me to do the same.

While I’m sure that many pastors have preached powerfully and effectively on the sanctity of human life, this sermon from Matt Chandler was tremendously helpful for me, especially his points of application at the end: 1) repent of our indifference, 2) pray–in the way that Daniel pleads with God in Daniel 9, 3) let this inform how we vote, and 4) get involved for the long haul.

Life matters. Whether it is the life of an unborn baby at any stage of a pregnancy, or whether it is the life of a special-needs orphan, or whether it is the life of an elderly Alzheimer’s patient. And the reason why life matters is because eternal life matters even more. We fight for the life of the unborn, not just so they can be born and live, but so that they have opportunity to be born again and live eternally with Christ. We adopt the unwanted and the unlovely, not just so they have a home and family, but so that they have the opportunity to be adopted into the family of God and have an eternal home. We love the weak and the infirmed, not only to honor their life and contribution, but to point them to the source of eternal life and to all that Christ has given for their sake.

No Resurrection Without Death

Last night and today I had the great joy and privilege of sitting under the teaching of Paul Miller, the author of a book (A Praying Life) that has had a profound impact on my relationship with God. One challenging takeaway for me from his teaching in this mini-conference was that suffering and hardship are to be the norm in the Christian life. We are to not only believe the Gospel but we are to become the Gospel, by allowing our lives to take on the “shape” of Jesus’ life. Jesus’ pattern is from life to death to resurrection. The world tries to skip the downward slope of death and instead jump directly to resurrection life–and though for a short time that may appear to be working, the end result is death not life. In contrast, as God forms a “Jesus-shaped life” in His children, there are mini-deaths and mini-resurrections happening all the time, because that is what took place in Jesus’ life as well.

The apostle Paul spoke of the normality of suffering when he wrote this to the church in Thessalonica: “for you yourselves know that we have been destined for this [affliction]. For indeed when we were with you, we kept telling you in advance that we were going to suffer affliction; and so it came to pass, as you know.” (I Thess. 3:3b-4) Jesus also explicitly warned His beloved disciples that “In this world you will have tribulation…” (John 16:33)

If we are to embody the Gospel and reflect Christ by “sharing in His sufferings” (Phil. 3:10), then does that mean we are to seek suffering? No. But neither does it mean that we are to avoid suffering at all costs. Rather, we are to walk in obedience to Christ, knowing that suffering will simply be a part of our relationship with Him, and that is not a bad thing. And I believe we are to pursue things that are in fact hard and risky, for the sake of the Gospel, things which we know have the potential to bring some level of suffering into our life. But doing hard things is not limited to what some might view as “big” things like moving overseas as a missionary or adopting a special-needs child; it may also mean the “little” things like speaking honestly with someone who will get angry at you for your truthfulness, or refusing to compromise your integrity at work, or choosing not to have the last word in an argument.

Any of those steps of obedience to Christ could lead to an experience of death–a mini-death to self by releasing control or taking the road of humility or admitting sin. But that death then leads to resurrection! That mini-death becomes the conduit to the formation of God’s heart and character in me. It becomes the conduit to a deeper intimacy with Jesus as I understand in a tangible way something more of what He suffered for me. And it becomes a conduit for greater ministry, as the power of God is displayed in my weakness. Through that mini-death, there is a greater life that emerges–that is resurrection! So rather than attempting to insulate myself from any kind of suffering I might face, I need to see suffering as a normal part of a Jesus-shaped life, and know that without those daily mini-deaths there would be no resurrection life.