What’s on my mind:
- An overview of my previous post: https://frommoonstomirrors.com/2019/12/01/holiness-gods-first-characteristic/
- A deeper look at the word holiness: its meaning and implications
- What God’s holy righteousness means for us
- What God’s holy love did for us
- What God’s Holy Spirit does for us
In my previous post I attempted to correct a common misconception; that God is love, and nothing but love. This is not what scripture teaches. Instead, it teaches that love is completely defined by God and his love is perfect. We’ve got to view all of God’s many attributes through the lens of his primary attribute: holiness. Scripture is clear to describe holiness as God’s primary characteristic through the use of the word 3 times, consecutively. In Hebrew literary tradition, the repetition of a word emphasized its importance. Jesus used this principle often when he stated, “verily, verily.” We see this method of emphasis used all throughout the Bible. The fact that only God’s holiness is described by repeating it three times is an indication of its preeminence in a proper understanding of God’s character. “Holy, holy, holy,” is a phrase seen over-and-over again throughout scripture; by both human subjects and heavenly hosts. The Bible leaves no room for debate about the uniqueness and set-apartness of Yahweh.
So, what does holy mean anyway? The Hebrew word for holy means to be set-apart, or separate from common things. The apex of this word’s use is in its description of God. It’s also used to describe things that are godly or dedicated to God, but their degree of holiness is but a shadow when compared to God’s perfect holiness. Nothing could be more set apart than God, because absolutely everything else has at least one thing in common: they were created. God, having never been created, is the holiest of all things. There is nothing like God. That is the essence of the word holy.
We live in a universe ruled by the laws of cause and effect. Absolutely every event, every thing, and every thought has a cause which led to its existence. All things, that is, except God. Since he was never created and created every other thing, he has been called the original cause. The entire universe is an effect of God’s design and purpose.
Since he is the original cause, he sets the parameters by which the universe is to operate. These parameters include the Natural Law (i.e. gravity, ohm’s law, electromagnetism, etc) and the Moral Law (i.e. murder, cheating, lying, stealing). Of all of God’s creation, only mankind is described by scripture as having been “created in God’s image.” With this image comes the incredible gift and burden of free will. See, God created us with the purpose of a relationship with him, not just any relationship though; a relationship of love. Why do I say this? Because Jesus said so, in a way.
According to the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus was asked, maliciously, by a Pharisee:
“Teacher, which command in the law is the greatest?” He said to him, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and most important command. The second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commands.”Matthew 22:36-40 Christian Standard Bible
The Pharisee was actually trying to trap Jesus with his own words. If he could get Jesus to prioritize part of God’s law over another, it might be possible to undermine Jesus’s growing support. It might even be possible to bring charges against him, depending on his answer. However, Jesus’s wisdom was supreme.
Essentially, if you were to rephrase the question Jesus was asked, you might say he was asked the “meaning of life.” Of all the commandments we were given, which is the most important? What does God desire most from us? Jesus’s answer silenced them because it was full of truth. According to Jesus, he created us primarily to love him and, secondarily, to love each other. Here, Jesus tells us the meaning of life. He said all the other laws of God depend on those two commandments.
We run into a key philosophical truth at this point. God’s definition of love is willfully putting others ahead of ourselves, whether that be God or our fellow human-beings. It’s critical that we differentiate actual love from its culturally elevated counterparts. God created us for love–not infatuation, lust, adoration, or affection. If the love which God has called us to were not an act of the human will (or choice, if you prefer), he would not have to command us to give it. We don’t have to be told to think fondly of our new-found love interest. We don’t have to be commanded to be sexually interested in a member of the opposite sex. Who must be coerced into spending time with people they enjoy? These things are not love; at least not agape, or true love. There’s a reason the King James Version translated this word as charity. If we’re to please God, it’s critical that we understand what he desires from us. He desires us to willfully set aside our self-interests for his glory and for the benefit of other people in our lives.
Here’s the catch. If the love which God has called us to exercise in our lives is a matter of will (or choice), then any creature capable of this love must also be capable of opting out of it. This is where I found my answer to the so-called “problem of evil.” God isn’t directly responsible for evil- we are. When we opt out of submitting to God’s design and purpose for our lives, this is the definition of evil. Every selfish decision, every malicious thought, every single word which is devoid of God’s truth and love contributes to the evil in this world. If you would, let me ask you a question. Has there ever been a time in your life where you willingly violated your own conscience? Your conscience is a reflection of your own personal set of values. It might be influenced by external thought or observation, but in the end your conscience is a direct representation of the values which you espouse. If you answered my question honestly, I’d say you would have replied in the affirmative. I’ll go a step further. I know I violate my own standards of right and wrong on nearly a daily basis. I’d be willing to bet the same is true for you. Brothers and sisters, if we can’t even uphold the standards to which we hold ourselves, how much less capable are we of upholding God’s perfect standards? We’re all in the same boat here. I’m truthfully a miserable representative for God’s truth, but am simply answering a compulsion or “call,” if you will, to express the truths I’ve found through wrestling with my own wretchedness; finally finding refuge and rest in God’s amazing grace. Please, stay with me. There is hope for all of us. Praise God!
This is the implication of God’s holy righteousness: If we concede that perfection by our own standards is unattainable, how much more so is the goal of satisfying the requirements prescribed by the perfect nature of the Creator God. This is the definition of evil. All of the evil in the universe can be found in the gap between God’s will and our own. We created the “problem of evil.” God created us with the purpose of relating with him to his glory and loving our fellow man. Every single time we make a decision or speak a word to the contrary, we are guilty of evil and wickedness. “So does God’s character result in nothing more for us than doom and gloom,” you ask? Not at all! This is where God’s perfect and holy love comes in!
Bear with me, though, while we unpack a little more negative truth. What is the consequence of our failure to love God and love our neighbors? Scripture says we will be eternally cut-off from God, who is the ultimate source of good. This is a perfectly reasonable punishment if you think about it. If we’re not interested in God and others here, for such a short time, why would we be interested in spending eternity with him but for even more selfish motives? Jesus, himself, used powerful language when he spoke of hell. He described it as follows:
“Therefore, just as the weeds are gathered and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will gather from his kingdom all who cause sin and those guilty of lawlessness. They will throw them into the blazing furnace where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in their Father’s kingdom. Let anyone who has ears listen.”Matthew 13:40-43 Christian Standard Bible
John the Baptist also described hell as a “fire that never goes out.” in Matthew 3:12. There’s a long-standing scholarly debate about whether these verses, and others concerning hell, should be taken literally or figuratively. I’m not going to attempt to address that debate, because I’m not sure it really matters. No one is in a better position to describe hell than Jesus. Even if his descriptions of hell are to be taken figuratively, I find no relief from its absolutely terrible and bone-chilling impact in that interpretation. If Jesus isn’t literally describing hell, I must only assume this is because this is the best description that human language can provide; meaning hell is probably even worse than mere words can portray. Imagine it. We show, at best, a passing interest in God and the things of God in this stage of life, yet expect the right to spend eternity in servitude to him in the next? I don’t think so. We are not entitled to spend eternity with God in heaven: but, praise God, we are invited!
Here’s the good news I’ve been promising you was coming. I wrote earlier of God’s definition of love. Agape is translated in the King James Version of the Bible as “charity.” This is a good translation of the word, in that it emphasizes putting others ahead of yourself, or self-sacrifice to the betterment of others. This is exactly what God has done for us. The only way for God’s holy righteousness (perfect goodness) to be satisfied with us, in our complete depravity (utter corruption and selfishness), is for the penalty of our sins to be paid. That’s why Jesus came. That’s what agape looks like. God doesn’t owe us anything. We owe him everything. In spite of those two truths, he paid the price for our wrong-doing. It was the only way for his perfect character to accept our imperfect souls into his presence. He imparts upon us his perfection and holiness through our acknowledgement of his wonderful gift of Jesus’s sacrifice and submission to Jesus as the authority and ruler of our lives. It’s so beautiful that I dread trying to convey it with mere written words.
There is great irony in the Christian life. Perhaps, this is why we’re so often accused of hypocrisy. We’re constantly striving toward a goal we’ll never achieve in this life; and that’s the perfect reflection of God’s character in our lives. It’s only even possible to attempt to please God through the power of God himself working through us by the influence of his Holy Spirit. This. This is the great irony of the Christian life. We can’t please God, except by the power of God.
Don’t miss this dear friends! This is Jesus’s good news, or gospel! Despite our inability to put God first in our lives, he decided to put us first. That is what John was writing about when he said “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19). No matter our shortcomings; no matter our selfish motives; no matter our hostility to the things of God, he loves us anyway. He died to show you. He rose again to prove he was who he said he was. Come to the Father. There’s room at the table and you’ve been invited.