April 19, 2019
Are God's Love and Holiness Compatible?
I want to begin by saying that this is my opinion as I see it at this moment in my sanctification process. I am still growing in all that God is revealing, and I know that I do not have the definitive answer to all the questions that will surely arise from this blog post. Nor do I profess to be the ultimate authority. I simply wish to present some thoughts that I hope make each of you seek the Father's heart on the matter. And, if you find yourself in one camp or the other, perhaps this discussion will lead to more understanding among our fellow Christians.
I think it goes without saying that we all know how important love is to God. In the 21st Century Church, love is highly prized. I bet most Christians can recite the most popular Scriptures on love ... For God so loved the world, that He gave his only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life ... God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him ... Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love ... We love because He first loved us ... You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. I could go on and on. The Bible has much to say on God's love and how important it is to Him.
But the Word also has a lot to say on God's Holiness: There is none holy like the Lord ... Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of His glory! ... Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord ... But as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy” ... Who will not fear, O Lord, and glorify Your name? For You alone are holy ... You yourselves, like living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.
So, are God's Love and His Holiness mutually exclusive? Is one more important than the other? If they are both characteristics of His nature, how do they intersect? Again, I ask these questions because I fear that we Christians can become out of balance if we lean too far to either side. By that, I mean that if we love others, yet ignore God's call to holiness, it can lead to a compromised culture where immorality, perversion, and rebellion to God's moral laws are tolerated. We see this in the number of fatherless children, confusion over sexual identity, the willingness to ignore unrighteousness for the sake of extending mercy to another, and corruption at all levels of society. On the other hand, if we, as Christians, attempt holiness without love and mercy, we can become legalistic and religious -- intolerant of meeting the physical and spiritual needs of those who need to know Jesus the most. It is incumbent upon us, if we are going to represent Christ [growing into His image] that we embrace both Love and Holiness in their proper proportion. But what does that look like? I'd like to present some thoughts for your consideration.
First let's consider what God's "Love" is. Love is part of God's essential nature as expressed in Psalm 86:15: But you, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness. Love is the attitude of God expressed not only toward His Son, and to believers in Jesus, but towards the race of human beings He created. Jesus expresses this concept in John 17:26, "I made known to them Your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which You have loved me may be in them, and I in them." And it is God's will that His children's attitude towards each other be one of Love. "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another." Furthermore, as Christians, God is the primary object of our love and it is to be expressed in total obedience to His commandments. "If you love Me, you will keep My commandments."
So, now let's consider God's "Holiness". This concept of Holiness is a little harder to describe because there is so much depth to it. And, I believe that "holiness" has a bad reputation; even becoming culturally irrelevant in this Age of Grace. So, let's agree that God is Holy in the sense that He is morally and spiritually separated from sin, therefore being the only absolute "Holy One", as expressed in His purity, His majesty, and His glory. To take it a step further, the glory of God is the goodness, the fullness, the splendor, and the awareness of His presence manifested in us. So, when Peter tells us in 1 Peter 1:15, But as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, there is an implication that we are to cleanse ourselves from all defilement, living a holy manner of life, and experiencing fellowship with God in His Holiness.
But we also can't ignore our citizenship in the Kingdom of God during this discussion. Loving God, which should be our top priority, means keeping His commandments. Yes, He tells us to love others as we love ourselves, but first we are to love the Father with everything we have! And that means obeying His commands to heal the sick, cast out demons, cleanse the spiritually unclean, raise the dead, and spread the Gospel that Jesus came to preach -- the Gospel of the Kingdom. And we are to do all this with love in our heart. In fact, I don't believe you could do these commands without love. It is the love of the Father in us that moves us to act, but it is His Holiness in us that gives us the power and authority to overcome and defeat every enemy of God.
I believe Jesus draws us to Himself through His love, mercy, and kindness towards us. He wants us to display that same love to others. But He doesn't leave us there. He begins a work in us to transform us into His image, which is holy. His love in us provides a way for us to approach the throne of God, but it is His holiness that gives us access to God's glory -- His presence in us that will propel us to rule and reign with Him in the Kingdom.
If Holiness is the likeness of God, and we are called to holiness, then we are called to live a life that is set apart from this world; to live in accord with our King and His Kingdom. That means not compromising the standards of God -- any of them! Yet, a new study by the Barna Group reports that half of American pastors worry about preaching on hot-button social issues—like abortion and LGBTQ issues—worried they might offend someone. These pastors revealed that they felt pressured from both inside the church and the culture of our society to simply "love others as you love yourself". But that does not take into account the whole counsel of God!
We live in the Kingdom realm of our King Jesus, whether all Christians recognize that or not. As Kingdom citizens we have to decide if we are going to obey God or please people. It can be a tough line to walk. As Bible-believing followers of Christ we are to love everyone, even our enemies. Yet, we are always to walk in obedience to the Word, and sometimes love does not always appear in a warm, fuzzy manner. Sometimes love is speaking the truth without fear. And as strange as it may seem, a holy love can divide. Because when we stop speaking and teaching God's truth because we're afraid it will offend, then we are pleasing man instead of God. We need to embrace that Grace and Truth, Love and Holiness are all sides of God's Nature. We must be careful to have a Biblical concept of God, and not one based on our own mind, will, and emotions.
We can neither elevate Love at the expense of Holiness, nor deny that His love is present in His Holiness. Author Bert Farias explains it much better than I do: "Just as water flows through a pipe, the love of God flows through His holiness. Moreover, it is God's love that keeps Him from overlooking His holiness. After all, it was His holiness which made the atonement necessary. His holiness demanded the cost of God's own Son, for He cannot excuse, acquit or clear the guilty (Ex 34:7). And what His holiness demanded, His love provided on the cross of Calvary."
While I am still working out the codependency between Love and Holiness, I have come to this conclusion ... They are not in opposition to each other. Love is not separated from Holiness; a better way to say this might be that Love is curbed or reined in by Holiness. Love that is not defined by God's Holiness will lead to compromise and a perversion of God's Word along with a loss of the Power and Presence that God's Holiness manifests. And Holiness that fails to be motivated by Love does not represent a true image of the Father. If the Body of Christ is going to be involved with establishing the Kingdom of God on earth, then we must walk in both Love and Holiness; finding a balance as we seek to both walk in [and demonstrate] the Light of the Lord.
Psalm 5:7 But I, through the abundance of Your steadfast love, will enter Your house. I will bow down toward Your holy temple in the fear of You.