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Holiness (of God)

(19 posts)

Humble and Holy

On the benefits of awareness of sin: However uncomfortable it makes us feel, it is healthy for us to realize that our every moment is lived before the face of God. Knowing this will rescue us from the folly of thinking that sin can be cultivated unawares. We are all more tempted to sin when we think no one will ever know. Therefore, the knowledge that our every deed is recorded in heaven should preserve us from temptation and stiffen our resolve it live in obedience to God’s law. Knowledge of our sin has other benefits. It helps cultivate a tight humility. The apostle Paul’s spiritual progress was paralleled by an increasing awareness of his sin. In one of his earliest letters, he describes himself as the “the least of all apostles” (1 Cor. 15:9). A little later, he calls himself “the very least of all the saints” (Eph. 3:8). By the end of his ministry, he says, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost” (1 Tim. 1:15). Our spiritual maturation will likewise progress as we see more clearly the true depth of our sin, the true holiness of God, and the great gulf between us—and thus also see the true greatness of His love for us that moved Him to give His Son to save sinners so infinitely below Him. This is why the humbles Christians are the happiest Christians, and why humble and happy Christians tend to be holy Christians, as well. All of these benefits stem from an awareness of our sin. —Richard D. Phillips, Jesus the Evangelist (Reformation Trust Publishing, 2007), 135–136.

The Inside and Outside God

God, in relation to man, is both immanent and transcendent. That is, he is near to us and intimately involved in our lives, and he is holy, far away and high above us. David Wells employs the terms “the inside God” and “the outside God.” These different truths about God are not in opposition to each other, nor are they options between which we can choose. God is both, and, Wells writes, We lose something essential to who God is, essential to what Christian faith is, and essential to our understanding of ourselves if we lose either side of this equation. And when we do, the side we retain always becomes perverted and dangerous because of the side we have lost. —David Wells, The Courage to Be Protestant: Truth Lovers, Marketers, and Emergents in the Postmodern World (Eerdmans, 2008), 120. The God that is lost in this postmodern age, he says, is the “outside God.” Postmodern man wants relationship; he does not want accountability or to be subject to authority. And he does not want to be summoned to God; rather, he wants God to come to him. I want to explore a few of the consequences that follow from the fact that God is outside us, that he is objective to us, that he summons us to a knowledge of himself that is not something we have or find in ourselves, and that he summons us to be like him in holiness. This summons, this calling to stand before God in his awesome moral purity, is not something we would ever hear within our fallen selves, nor from our fallen world or our postmodern experience. It is a call that, as it were, is wholly alien to us. It is other than what we are in ourselves. It comes from the outside. God’s holiness is part of the explanation of the biblical language of God being “above” and “high.” It is why God is Other, why he is the outside God. This translates itself, though, into very practical realities. —Ibid., 126–127. And we will, Deo volente, look at those practical realities in a future post.

There Is a Law

David Wells lists five realities resulting from the fact that God is holy, or, in Wells’ words, the “outside God.” The first is that There Is a Law. It means, first, that there is a moral law. Indeed, without the holiness of God, his character as morally pure, there would be no moral law in the world. Our conscience reflects the moral nature of things (Rom. 2:14–15), however imperfectly, and in God’s self-revelation in Scripture we have our full, objectively given instructions on how to live. The “law,” Paul says, “is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good” (Rom 7:12). These are the moral norms for life that reflect the holy character of God. What would we lose if we had neither this law nor human conscience? We would lose all knowledge of the difference between good and evil, and in fact, we would do evil in complete innocence. We could not appeal to conscience . . . Indeed, there would be no morality at all. . . . Now let us think of the reverse side of this coin. God has not abdicated his rule. His character of holiness has not been eliminated from this world. He still sustains the difference between right and wrong. And knowing that difference, being helped to work it out in practice, is what gives our first moments of recovery a sense of what it is to live in God’s world on his terms. It steers us away from what is destructive and into what is right and healthful. Satisfaction, protection, and joy result from following God’s law. All of this is a consequence of God being the “outside God.” —David Wells, The Courage to Be Protestant: Truth Lovers, Marketers, and Emergents in the Postmodern World (Eerdmans, 2008), 127–128.
The second of five realities rising from the holiness of God, according to David Wells, is that There Is Sin. This is a reality we lose when we fail to see God as the “outside God.” The second consequence is that without the holiness of God, sin loses all its meaning. Sin, as I have argued, is not simply the breaking of some church rule but is every act that is an affront to the character and will of God. It is true that only 17 percent of Americans define sin in relation to God, but their mistake in no way diminishes the nature of what their sin is. What has been lost is not the sin itself but its culpability. Sin in all its forms is still present in life. It is still trailed by all the pain and confusion that always attends it, but it is not being understood in relation to God. It thus loses its depth, character, and culpability because we have lost our internal compass. That compass lines up our sinning, not merely horizontally, but also vertically. Sin brings not only shame, but also guilt when we understand it in relation to God”s holiness. “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight” (Ps. 5:14), after the calamity he brought upon himself by his sexual affair. Only then do we understand its nature. When we lose the holiness of God we have sins pains and calamities, but we do not understand it anymore. But if we begin to see the nature of sin, we are on the road back to reality. We are on our way back into the presence of God through Christ. It is not that the knowledge of sin alone suffices, but rather that it pushes us to seek our deliverance from it. Knowing about sin is therefore vital knowledge. There is none quite so lost as those who know little or nothing of their sin. Knowing about our sin, therefore, is something for which we should be deeply grateful. This is why it is so important for us to be able to understand that God is not simply the inside God but he is the outside God as well. —David Wells, The Courage to Be Protestant: Truth Lovers, Marketers, and Emergents in the Postmodern World (Eerdmans, 2008), 128.

There Is a Cross

Third on David Wells’ list of realities rising from the holiness of God, is that There Is a Cross. When we lose sight of God as the “outside God,” we lose the cross. Third, without the holiness of God the cross would be emptied of all meaning. Christ was not a social reformer, or a do-gooder for whom things got out of hand. These are the old liberal ideas, but they are not biblical thoughts. The cross was not an accident. It was planned in eternity, and it was for this, Jesus said, that he had come. He had come to die. And in his moment of death the holiness of God and our sin collided. This in what called forth his cry of dereliction. It is an impertinence, at the very least, to say, as Steve Chalke and Alan Mann do in The Lost Message of Jesus, that this view makes God guilty of “cosmic child abuse,” that the cross needsto be purified of its violent images. This may appeal to a postmodern constituency, and to its Arminian counterpart, but it is remote from the way the Bible thinks about Christ’s death and distant from the way the church, down through the ages, has thought about it. The truth is that Christ’s death is simply incomprehensible if we do not start with the demands of God’s holiness, which cannot tolerate sin’s violations. Without the holiness of God, then, there is no cross. Without the cross there is no gospel. Without the gospel there is no Christianity. Without Christianity there is no church. And without echoes of the holiness of God in those who are Christ’s, there is no recognizable church. What is it about this chain of connections that the evangelical church today is not understanding that is leading it to soft-pedal, overlook, or ignore the holiness of God? —David Wells, The Courage to Be Protestant: Truth Lovers, Marketers, and Emergents in the Postmodern World (Eerdmans, 2008), 129.

There Is Conquest

Among the truths that are lost when we fail to recognize God as the “outside God” is his power over evil. [W]ithout his holiness God is reduced to being kind, amiable, approachable, and harmless, but for all his likeability he is incapable of dealing with evil in the world. The perspective of the Bible, by contrast, is that God’s patience and forbearance will one day run out. The time will come when he acts in judgment because of his holiness. And when he does, he will place truth forever on the throne and evil forever on the scaffold. All that has broken and defiled life will be finally, and irrevocably, overthrown. This doctrine of God’s judgment should not be an embarrassment to the church. It is not simply a negative doctrine. It is profoundly positive. It is this doctrine that carries the church’s hope. For in this world evil often triumphs, goes unpunished, and what is good and righteous is often dismissed or even penalized. However, this applies only to the interim period. In the end, evil is judged, the world is cleansed, and the church is finally redeemed. This is why Christians have hope. All the injustices, the upside-down nature of things morally will be set right. God’s holiness will descend upon the rebel creation. And then, as John saw, the “night will be no more.” And God’s people “will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever” (Rev. 22:5). This vision of the end of time now throws back its clarifying light into the muddled present. Sin, grace, love, and faith . . . Have nothing but a superficial meaning until we see them in relation to the Holy, arising from it, and setting it forth. God’s love is his holiness reaching out to sinners; grace is but the price that his love pays to his holiness; the cross is but its victory over sin and death; and faith is but the way in which we bring our worship to him who is holy. —David Wells, The Courage to Be Protestant: Truth Lovers, Marketers, and Emergents in the Postmodern World (Eerdmans, 2008), 130.

There Is Obligation

David Wells writes of five realities that are lost when we lose sight of the holiness of God, or as Wells puts it, the “outside God”: There Is a Law, There Is Sin, There Is a Cross, There Is Conquest, and finally, There Is Obligation. God’s holiness calls us to a life of holiness. Yet, Wells writes, according to Barna, “even among [those who claim to be] born-again, fewer than half have any idea what holiness means.” When asked to describe what holiness is, only 7 percent of Americans rooted this in the character of God. Although 72 percent said they had made a commitment to Christ, and 71 percent said their faith was “very important” to them, and 60 percent said they were “deeply spiritual,” only 16 percent said their faith was the highest priority in their lives. Barna’s conclusion was that most American like the security of being able to call themselves “Christian,” but most also resist the biblical responsibilities that go along with that claim. For the great majority, he says, being identified as a Christian is more about image than substance. It is a cultural thing. It is all about creating a pleasing self-image. . . . where this state of affairs is most scandalous is in the churches that imagine themselves on the cutting edge of advancing Christian faith. What many of them are producing are so-called followers of Christ who are in it for their own spiritual comfort but are at sea when it comes to understanding the significance of God’s holiness for their Christian lives. And the reason for that, quite simply, is that many churches, obsessed with their own success, have made Christianity light and easy so that they can market it successfully. What are the consequences, then, of losing sight of the holiness of God, this aspect of the outside God? And, just as important, what are the consequences of seeing the holiness of God? Our situation is not that different from what pertained in much of Israel’s history. The Old Testament people of God were religious, but often their religion made little difference. This, apparently, is what we have in the [professing] born-again sector in America today. The ancient Israelites’ religion was not an impediment to idol worship or to a whole assortment of pagan practices. They had the written law and temple worship. They had the prophets. They had all they needed to please God, but so often they would not listen. They would not reckon with his holy will. They became careless, living as if he were not there . . . The problem was that, again and again, with monotonous repetition, they lost sight of the holiness of God. And they paid the painful consequences for this, again and again. Is this really so different from what we have now in the West? We have Bibles enough for every household in America a couple of times over. We have churches galore . . . All too often we don’t have what the Old Testament people didn’t have. A due and weighty sense of the greatness and holiness of God, a sense that will reach into our lives, wrench them around, lift our vision, fill our hearts, make us courageous for what is right, and over time leave its beautiful residue of Christlike character. . . . So what do we need to do? Quite simply, we need to find the outside God. —David Wells, The Courage to Be Protestant: Truth Lovers, Marketers, and Emergents in the Postmodern World (Eerdmans, 2008), 131–133.

Cosmic Treason

Sin, R. C. Sproul writes, “is cosmic treason.” We rarely take the time to think through the ramifications of human sin. We fail to realize that even the slightest sins we commit, such as little white lies or other peccadilloes we are violating the law of the creator of the universe. In the smallest sin we defy God’s right to rule and reign over His creation. Instead, we seek to usurp for ourselves the authority and power that belong properly to God. Even the slightest sin does violence to His holiness, to His glory, and to his righteousness. Every sin, no matter how seemingly insignificant, is truly an act of treason against a cosmic King. There are two aspects of the one problem we must understand if we are to grasp the necessity of the atonement of Christ. . . . God is just. In other words, He cannot tolerate unrighteousness. He must do what is right. . . . The other aspect of the problem [is that] we have violated God’s justice and earned His displeasure. We are cosmic traitors. We must recognize this problem within ourselves if we are to grasp the necessity of the cross. —R. C. Sproul, The Truth of the Cross (Reformation Trust, 2007), 32–33.

Spots and Blemishes

R. C. Sproul, considering the separation between God and man that made a substitutionary atonement by a God-man necessary, draws three circles. The first represents the character of man. Imagine a circle that represents the character of mankind. Now imagine that if someone sins, a spot—a moral blemish of sorts—appears in the circle, marring the character of man. If another sin occurs, more blemishes appear in the circle. Well, if sin continues to multiply, eventually the entire circle will be filled with spots and blemishes. . . . Human character is clearly tainted by sin . . . The sinful pollution and corruption of fallen man is complete, rendering us totally corrupt. . . . To take it further, when the apostle Paul elaborates on this fallen human condition, he says, “There is none righteous, no, not one; . . . There is none who does good; no, not one” (Rom. 3:10b-12). That’s a radical statement. Paul is saying that man never, ever does a good deed, but that flies in the face of our experience. When we look around us, we see numerous people who are not Christians doing things that we would applaud for their virtue. . . . But how can there be these deeds of apparent goodness when the Bible says that no one does good? The reason for this problem is that when the Bible describes goodness or badness, it looks at it from two distinct perspectives. First, there is the measuring rod of the law, which evaluates the external performance of human beings. For example, if the law says you are not allowed to steal, and you go your whole life without stealing, we could say that you have a good record. You’ve kept the law externally. But in addition to the external measuring rod, there is also the consideration of the heart, the internal motivation for our behavior. We’re told that man judges by outward appearances, but God looks on the heart. From a biblical perspective, to do a good deed in the fullest sense requires not only that the deed conform outwardly to the standards of God’s law, but that it proceed from a heart that loves Him and wants to honor Him. You remember the great commandment: “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind’” (Matt. 22:37). Is there anyone reading this book who has loved God with all of his or her heart for the past five minutes? No. Nobody loves God with all of his heart, not to mention his soul or mind. . . . If we consider human performance from this perspective, we can see why the apostle would come to his apparently radical conclusion that there is no one who does good, that there’s no goodness in the full sense of the word found among mankind. Even our finest works have a taint of sin mixed in. I have never done an act of charity, of sacrifice, or of heroism that came from a heart, a soul, and a mind that loved God completely. —R. C. Sproul, The Truth of the Cross (Reformation Trust, 2007), 85, 87–89.

Why the God-man? (2)

Friday··2008·09·26 · 6 Comments
R. C. Sproul draws three circles illustrating the separation between God and man that made a substitutionary atonement by a God-man necessary. The first circle represented the character of man. Sproul continues: Imagine a second circle, just like the one we had for man, to represent the character of God. How many blemishes would we see in this circle? Absolutely none. We are totally depraved, but God is absolutely holy. In fact, He is too holy to even look at iniquity. He is perfectly just. Here, then, is the crux of the problem: how can an unjust person stand in the presence of God? Or, to put the question another way, how can an unjust person be made just, or justified? Can he start all over again? No. Once a person commits one sin, it is impossible for him ever to be perfect, because he’s lost his perfection with his initial sin. Can he pay the penalty for his sin? No—unless he wishes to spend an eternity in hell. Can God simply overlook the sin? No. If God did that, He would sacrifice His justice. Therefore, if man is to be made just, God’s justice must be satisfied. Someone must be able to pay te penalty for man’s sin. It must be a member of the offending party, the human race, but it must be one who has never fallen into the inescapable imperfection of sin. Given these requirements, no man could qualify. However, God Himself could. For this reason, God the Son came into the world and took on humanity. As the author of Hebrews says, “He had to be made like His brethren . . .” (Heb. 2:17a, emphasis added). —R. C. Sproul, The Truth of the Cross (Reformation Trust, 2007), 90–91.

Hymns of My Youth: Holy, Holy, Holy!

In the year of King Uzziah’s death I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, lofty and exalted, with the train of His robe filling the temple. Seraphim stood above Him, each having six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called out to another and said, “Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord of hosts,  The whole earth is full of His glory.” —Isaiah 6:1–3 Today’s hymn is certainly my most-sung hymn. It was the opening hymn every Sunday in the church I attended from Kindergarten through 7th grade, and I’ve sung it many times since, so I must have sung it well over four hundred times. The Concordia omits the fourth verse. I don’t know why, although I’m tempted to attribute it to the Lutheran penchant for neat groups of three. 232 Holy, Holy, Holy Holy, holy, holy! Lord God Almighty! Early in the morning our song shall rise to Thee; Holy, holy, holy, merciful and mighty! God in three Persons, blessed Trinity! Holy, holy, holy! all the saints adore Thee, Casting down their golden crowns around the glassy sea; Cherubim and seraphim falling down before Thee, Which wert, and art, and evermore shall be. Holy, holy, holy! though the darkness hide Thee, Tho’ the eye of sinful man Thy glory may not see; Only Thou art holy; there is none beside Thee, Perfect in power, in love, and purity. Holy, holy, holy! Lord God Almighty! All Thy works shall praise Thy Name, in earth, and sky, and sea; Holy, holy, holy; merciful and mighty! God in three Persons, blessed Trinity! —The Concordia Hymnal (Augsburg Publishing House, 1960).

Lord’s Day 11, 2014

I was glad when they said to me, “Let us go to the house of the Lord.” I will give thanks to the Lord with all my heart; I will tell of all Your wonders. I will be glad and exult in You; I will sing praise to Your name, O Most High. —Psalm 9:1–2 Hymns of Thanksgiving Hymn XV. The General Thanksgiving in the Liturgy paraphrased. Augustus Toplady (1740–1778) Eternal God, the thanks receive, Which thine unworthy servants give; Father of ev’ry mercy thou, Almighty and all gracious too! In humble yet exulting songs, Thy praises issue from our tongues, For that incessant boundless love, Which we and all thy creatures prove. Fashion’d by thy creating hand, And by thy providence sustain’d, We wish our gratitude to shew, For all thy temporal blessings due. But O! for this we chiefly raise The incense of admiring praise— Thy love unspeakably we own Which sent the willing Saviour down. For him, of all thy gifts the best, Th’ exceeding gift which crowns the rest, Chiefly for him thy name we laud, And thank thee for a bleeding God. Nor should we fail our Lord to praise, For all the assisting means of grace; Th’ appointed channels which convey Strength to support us on our way. To thee let all our thanks be giv’n, For our well-grounded hope of heav’n, Our glorious trust, that we shall reign And live with him who died for man. And O! so deep a sense impress Of thy supreme, unbounded grace, That anthems in full choir may rise, And shake the earth and rend the skies Make us in deed, as well as word, Shew forth the praises of the Lord, And thank him still for what he gives Both with our lips, and in our lives! O that, by sin no more subdu’d. We might devote ourselves to God, And only breathe to tell his praise, And in his service spend our daysl Hail, Father! Hail, eternal Son! Hail, sacred Spirit, Three in One! Blessing and thanks, and pow’r divine. Thrice, holy Lord, be ever thine! —The Complete Works of Augustus Toplady (Sprinkle Publications, 1987). Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Please don’t miss worshiping with your local congregation if you can possibly help it. But if you’re in need of a good sermon, try these. Tweets about "sermon from:thethirstytheo" !function(d,s,id){var js,fjs=d.getElementsByTagName(s)[0],p=/^http:/.test(d.location)?'http':'https';if(!d.getElementById(id)){js=d.createElement(s);;js.src=p+"://";fjs.parentNode.insertBefore(js,fjs);}}(document,"script","twitter-wjs");

Blaspheming the Spirit

The mailman was received with great joy, trumpet fanfare, etc. today, as John MacArthur’s Strange Fire was delivered into my grasping hands. Cessationist zealot that I am, you might have expected this sooner. On the other hand, no one would ever accuse me of riding the cutting edge of anything, so maybe not. Anyway, here I am, and better late than never. I love an adult who can deal in straight talk, and MacArthur, as usual, wastes no time in getting to the point, and tells it like it is. It is a sad twist of irony that those who claim to be most focused on the Holy Spirit are in actuality the ones doing the most to abuse, grieve, insult, misrepresent, quench, and dishonor Him. How do they do it? By attributing to Him words He did not say, deeds He did not do, phenomena He did not produce, and experiences that have nothing to do with Him. They boldly plaster His name on that which is not His work. In Jesus’ day, the religious leaders of Israel blasphemously attributed the work of the Spirit to Satan (Matt. 12:24). The modern Charismatic Movement does the inverse, attributing the work of the devil to the Holy Spirit. Satan’s armies of false teachers, marching to the beat of their own illicit desires, gladly propagate his errors. They are spiritual swindlers, con men, crooks, and charlatans. We can see an endless parade of them simply by turning on the television. Jude called them clouds without water, raging waves, and wandering stars “for whom is reserved the blackness of darkness forever” (v. 13). Yet they claim to be angels of light—gaining credibility for their lies by invoking the name of the Holy Spirit, as if there’s no penalty to pay for that kind of blasphemy. The Bible is clear that God demands to be worshipped for who He truly is. No one can honor the Father unless the Son is honored; likewise, it is impossible to honor the Father and the Son while dishonoring the Spirit. Yet every day, millions of charismatics offer praise to a patently false image of the Holy Spirit. They have become like the Israelites of Exodus 32, who compelled Aaron to fashion a golden calf while Moses was away. The idolatrous Israelites claimed to be honoring the Lord (vv. 4–8), but instead they were worshipping a grotesque misrepresentation, dancing around it in dishonorable disarray (v. 25). God’s response to their disobedience was swift and severe. Before the day was over, thousands had been put to death. Here’s the point: we can’t make God into any form we would like. We cannot mold Him into our own image, according to our own specifications and imaginations. Yet that is what many Pentecostals and charismatics have done. They have created their own golden-calf version of the Holy Spirit. They have thrown their theology into the fires of human experience and worshipped the false spirit that came out—parading themselves before it with bizarre antics and unrestrained behavior. As a movement, they have persistently ignored the truth about the Holy Spirit and with reckless license set up an idol spirit in the house of God, dishonoring the third member of the Trinity in His own name. —John MacArthur, Strange Fire: The Danger of Offending the Holy Spirit with Counterfeit Worship (Thomas Nelson, 2014) viii–ix.

It Concerns Us to Walk So

. . . Hallowed be your name. —Matthew 6:9 When we pray, “Hallowed be your name,” we are praying for our sanctification. We pray that God will conform us, as he has promised, “to the image of his Son” (Romans 8:29), that he may be glorified in us. There is holiness required, that we may not be a disgrace to God and a dishonour to him. The Lord saith, Ezek. xx. 9, ‘That his name should not be polluted before the heathen, among whom they (his people) were.’ The sin of God’s people doth stain the honour of God, and profane his name. When men profess much to be a people near God, and live carnally and loosely, they dishonour God exceedingly by their conversation. Men judge by what is visible and sensible, and so they think of God by his servants and worshippers; as the heathens did of Christ in Salvian’s time,—If he was a holy Christ, certainly Christians would live more temperately, justly, and soberly. They are apt to think of God by his worshippers, and by the people that profess themselves so near and dear to him; therefore it concerns us to walk so, that our lives may honour him: Mat. v. 16, ‘Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.’ As the loins of the poor (saith Job) blessed him, Job xxxi. 20, namely, as they were fed and clothed by his bounty; so our lives may glorify God. David saith, Ps. cxix. 7, ‘Then shall I praise thee with uprightness of heart, when I have learned thy righteous judgment.’ There is no way to praise God entirely and sincerely until we have learned both to know and do his will. Real praise is the praise God looks after. Otherwise we do but serve Christ as the devil served him, who would carry him upon the top of the mountain, but it was with an intent to bid him throw himself down again. So we seem to exalt God much in our talk and profession; yea, but we throw him down, when we pollute him and deny him in our conversation. Our lives are the scandal of religion, and a pollution and blot to the name of God. So that with respect to ourselves, you see what need we have to go to God, that he will give us grace that we may please him and glorify his name. —Thomas Manton, An Exposition of the Lord’s Prayer, The Works of Thomas Manton (Banner of Truth, 1993), 1:78–79.

In Preparation for the Lord’s Day: Holy, Holy, Holy

Holy, Holy, Holy Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God, the Almighty, who was and who is and who is to come. Revelation 4:8 Holy, holy, holy! Lord God Almighty! Early in the morning our song shall rise to Thee; Holy, holy, holy, merciful and mighty! God in three Persons, blessed Trinity! Holy, holy, holy! all the saints adore Thee, Casting down their golden crowns around the glassy sea; Cherubim and seraphim falling down before Thee, Which wert, and art, and evermore shall be. Holy, holy, holy! though the darkness hide Thee, Though the eye of sinful man Thy glory may not see; Only Thou art holy—there is none beside Thee, Perfect in pow’r, in love, and purity. Holy, holy, holy! Lord God Almighty! All Thy works shall praise Thy name, in earth, and sky, and sea; Holy, holy, holy; merciful and mighty! God in three Persons, blessed Trinity! —The Hymnal for Worship & Celebration (Word Music).

Why God Must Punish Sin

Sin being entered into the world, the Lord was concerned not to let it go unpunished. It is enough for our purpose, which is out of question, that it was the Lord’s will and determination to punish all sin. But there seems to be a sufficient proof, that it was not from the mere pleasure of his will that he should be punished, but there was a necessity for it, from the nature and perfections of God, and from his relation to man as his governor, and from the law enacted as the rule of his government. The Lord is obliged, not only by his truth and unchangeableness, but by his wisdom, holiness, and justice, to punish sin. His truth engages him to it. He threatens it in his law, and if he will rule according to law, it must be inflicted. His truth is obliged for the executing of the threatening, and to make good what he had declared to be his resolution. His unchangeableness makes it necessary. He did determine from eternity to punish it. The event shews that it was eternal purpose, and the counsel of the Lord must stand: he is not as man. His wisdom makes it necessary. The end and designs of his law and government would be lost, his law would appear to be powerless and insignificant, his government would be rendered contemptible, the authority of the one, and the honour of the other defaced, if sin is not punished. The holiness of God requires it. Sin is contrary to him; he hates it. If he will shew himself to be what he is, ‘an holy God, of purer eyes than to behold evil, and who cannot look on iniquity,’ Hab. i. 13, it is necessary to shew his hatred of it by punishing it: Josh. xxiv. 19, ‘he will not forgive,’ that is, he will punish, because he is holy, where, as in other places, the necessity of punishing is grounded upon his holiness. If the Lord be necessarily an holy God, it will be necessary to hate sin; for hatred of sin is essential to holiness, and cannot be conceived or apprehended without it. Now to hate sin . . . necessarily includes a will to punish it. It is essential to holiness to be displeased with sin. Now as the love of God is our chief reward, so God’s displeasure is the chief punishment of it. If then it be not necessary that he punish sin, there will be no necessity that he be displeased at sin. It will be arbitrary to the holy God to be pleased with sin, if it be arbitrary not to punish it. We might conceive that he may as well be pleased with sin as displeased with it, which is intolerable to say or imagine. Finally, His justice obliges him to punish it; for suffering is indispensably due to sin, and the sinner justly deserves it, and justice requires that everything, every one, should have his due, that every disobedience receives a just recompence of reward, Heb. ii. 21, Rom. i. 32, 2 Thes. i. It is righteous with God to give to every one according to his work. —David Clarkson, Justification by the Righteousness of Christ, Works (Banner of Truth, 1988), 1:282–283. This is very bad news, but there is good news to come.

The True Standard

It is certain that man never achieves a clear knowledge of himself unless he has first looked upon God’s face, and then descends from contemplating him to scrutinize himself. For we always seem to ourselves righteous and upright and wise and holy—this pride is innate in all of us—unless by clear proofs we stand convinced of our own unrighteousness, foulness, folly, and impurity. Moreover, we are not thus convinced if we look merely to ourselves and not also to the Lord, who is the sole standard by which this judgment must be measured. For, because all of us are inclined by nature to hypocrisy, a kind of empty image of righteousness in place of righteousness itself abundantly satisfies us. And because nothing appears within or around us that has not been contaminated by great immorality, what is a little less vile pleases us as a thing most pure—so long as we confine our minds within the limits of human corruption. Just so, an eye to which nothing is shown but black objects judges something dirty white or even rather darkly mottled to be whiteness itself. Indeed, we can discern still more clearly from the bodily senses how much we are deluded in estimating the powers of the soul. For if in broad daylight we either look down upon the ground or survey whatever meets our view round about, we seem to ourselves endowed with the strongest and keenest sight; yet when we look up to the sun and gaze straight at it, that power of sight which was particularly strong on earth is at once blunted and confused by a great brilliance, and thus we are compelled to admit that our keenness in looking upon things earthly is sheer dullness when it comes to the sun. So it happens in estimating our spiritual goods. As long as we do not look beyond the earth, being quite content with our own righteousness, wisdom, and virtue, we flatter ourselves most sweetly, and fancy ourselves all but demigods. Suppose we but once begin to raise our thoughts to God, and to ponder his nature, and how completely perfect are his righteousness, wisdom, and power—the straightedge to which we must be shaped. Then, what masquerading earlier as righteousness was pleasing in us will soon grow filthy in its consummate wickedness. What wonderfully impressed us under the name of wisdom will stink in its very foolishness. What wore the face of power will prove itself the most miserable weakness. That is, what in us seems perfection itself corresponds ill to the purity of God. —John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion (Westminster John Knox Press, 1960), 1.1.2. In short, when we compare ourselves to our fellow man, sinners all, we can come out looking pretty good. When we compare ourselves to the one true standard of holiness, our many imperfections stand out in stark relief. Only then can we see the reality of our sin and our need of a savior. “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).

“I will be treated as holy.”

The first petition of the “Lord’s Prayer” says, “hallowed be your name.” God is holy, and though we are invited to come to him boldly (Hebrews 4:16) and intimately (Romans 8:15; cf. Galatians 4:6), [T]his filial relationship does not allow us to have the type of familiarity that breeds contempt. We are to come with boldness, yes, but never with arrogance or presumption. “Our Father” speaks of the nearness of God, but “in heaven” points to His otherness, His being set apart. The point is this: When we pray, we must remember who we are and whom we are addressing. Hallowed Be Your Name No matter how close God invites us to come, there is still an infinite gulf between our sinfulness and His majesty. He is the heavenly one; we are of the earth. He is perfect; we are imperfect. He is infinite; we are finite. He is holy; we are unholy. We must never forget that God is wholly “other” than we. The sacred “otherness” of God is a fact the sons of Aaron forgot, but they forgot it only once. In Leviticus 10:1–3 we read: Now Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, each took his censer and put fire in it and laid incense on it and offered unauthorized fire before the Lord, which he had not commanded them. And fire came out from before the Lord and consumed them, and they died before the Lord. Then Moses said to Aaron, “This is what the Lord has said, ‘Among those who are near me I will be sanctified, and before all the people I will be glorified.’” God demands to be treated as holy, for He is holy. He is jealous for His honor. He does not plead for respect in this passage. Rather, it is a statement of fact: “I will be treated as holy.” We must never make the fatal mistake of Nadab and Abihu and approach the sovereign God in a flippantly casual attitude. —R. C. Sproul, Does Prayer Change Things? (Tyndale, 2009), 26–28.

Capital Crime

[T]he gravity of any offense is never measured merely by its immediate consequences, or by asking who was hurt by it. The real gauge of a sin’s seriousness is the question of whom the sin was against. If you are angry with your neighbor and you yell and insult him, you’re not going to prison for that offense. But curse a judge in his courtroom, and you will be sent to jail. Or send a letter to the White House threatening the president of the United States, and you will be charged with a federal crime. Again, the true enormity of any misdeed or insult is determined by whom the offense is committed against. For that reason, sin against almighty God is never a trivial matter. True justice demands a penalty for sin, and the penalty is commensurate with the offense. Since all sin is a violation of God’s infinite holiness and a challenge to His eternal authority, every sin is a capital crime (Rom. 6:23). —John MacArthur, The Gospel according to Paul (Thomas Nelson, 2017), 161.


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