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.