What comes to mind when you think about holiness? What about a holy person? What does a holy person do or say?
What comes to mind when you think of love or a loving person? What does he or she do or say?
I ask because it seems to me we are living in an age when people’s perception of God’s holiness is growing increasingly distant from their perception of God’s love, and vice versa.
Some churches, denominations, and movements appear more comfortable focusing on the holiness of God—including His commands, His hatred of sin, and sinful humanity’s need to be reconciled to Him through the cross of Jesus Christ.
On the other extreme are churches, denominations, and movements more comfortable focusing on God’s love—including His affection for all people, His patient compassion for our struggles, and His desire for all to be accepted and loved as demonstrated by His death for us on the cross.
But God’s love is not in a different camp than His holiness. Just as He Himself is One, His love and his holiness are inseparable. We might even say God loves because He is holy, and He is holy because He loves.
In contrast, in our fallen state, we feel a tension between holiness and His love, and so from our limited perspective it feels we must choose between the two at times. For example, when a loved one suffers loneliness and longing because of God’s command to reserve sex for marriage between one man and one woman for life, we may reach a point when upholding this law feels unloving.
“In the name of love, can’t we move the line on holiness?”
And so, we turn a blind eye to Christian singles having sex with their boyfriends or girlfriends, we avoid Jesus’ words equating divorce and remarriage with adultery, or we reinterpret passages of Scripture on homosexual behavior.
But love is not fully love apart from holiness. Holiness maintains that we are the command recipients not the ones giving the commands. We are created not the Creator, we are finite not the Infinite One, we are limited in knowledge not the Omniscient One. God is God and we are not.
Instead of moving the line, we must look to Jesus and run to His cross.
Jesus, the One known for eating and drinking with sinners, taught that anyone who “annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.”
Yes, he rebuked the religious elite for their lack of love and stood between them and the sinners they sought to condemn (see John 8:1-11, for example); but far from dismissing their attempts at holiness, Jesus added, “For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:19, 20, italics added).
What does love look like? Look to the cross of Jesus.
What does holiness look like? Look to the cross of Jesus.
The cross is at once the greatest expression of love and the greatest expression of holiness the universe has ever seen.
And we, God’s people, are called to be holy as God is holy (Leviticus 11:44, 1 Peter 1:16) and to love as Christ has loved us (John 13:34, John 15:12). So let us spur each other on to become a people of active holiness and active love—a people of a holy love, a people of a loving holiness, a people whose lives are increasingly cruciform in nature.
Shall we choose love or holiness? We choose both. Come, Lord Jesus, we cling to You.
I’d love to hear your thoughts and reflections. Leave a comment below.
“We might even say God loves because He is holy, and He is holy because He loves.” Another great insight from Josh. What an excellent writer with rich contemporary observations about current tensions in the Body of Christ.
Thanks for this truth, Josh! So true!
To make this concept very concrete, sin isn’t just something we do that is against God’s command. Sin (especially unrepented sin and chronic sin) also creates an open door for the enemy to have access to our lives.
If I had a adult son who lived in a dangerous neighborhood, and I went over his house and see him leaving all his windows and doors not only unlocked but wide open, what would a loving response be? It would be loving for me to encourage him and help him to shut and lock all of his windows and doors. When scripture calls us to holiness, it is not only about honoring God but also about protecting our lives from enemy access. Holiness is the act of shutting and locking all access points that the enemy might use to gain access to our lives. The call to holiness is supremely loving. It is a Father wanting to protect His children.
I love this, Mark! So helpful. Thanks!
The problem with holiness is that it often sounds pompous. But Jesus as you have pointed out, was not pompous. I loved the phrase that “He stood between”the accusers and the repentant sinners. He stood between and defended them but also encouraged them to be Holy…again as you have pointed out. God, help us to see ourselves through Your eyes and measure ourselves against Your holiness instead of expecting our inclinations to set the standard. When we expect to define holiness by our standards, we are simply defending our love of the flesh. Well done, Josh. I want to see our churches calling us to holiness …holiness and love…as well. Blessings!
Josh, this is a great expression of Biblical Truth. Thanks for sharing!
The reason I found this post is due to my concern that I see within the contemporary church, which preaches and teaches a message of Gods love, but has very little to say concerning Gods holiness. I believe this move, by the body of Christ, which addresses Gods attribute of holiness, to His attribute of love is rooted, in this country, from the 1960’s. In the 1960’s we heard and seen the words God is Love, however, this message was used to excuse behavior that is unacceptable due to Gods attribute of Holiness. Since God is love, for example, living together outside of the holy covenant of marriage becomes acceptable, it is only Gods attribute of holiness, that makes living together outside of the holy covenant of marriage a sin before a loving and HOLY GOD.