Thursday, June 21, 2018

Book Review: The Holiness of God

The Holiness of God. R.C. Sproul. 1985/2012. 226 pages. [Source: Bought]

First sentence: I was compelled to leave the room. A deep, undeniable summons disturbed my sleep; something holy called me.

Holiness of God is a classic by R.C. Sproul that every Christian should read at least once. Emphasis on at least once. I think it happens to be one of those books where you might even want to reread it every other year or so.

So what is it about? It's about God, about who HE is, about his HOLINESS and righteousness. But it is also about who we are. It's about sin--what it is, how it divides us, how it damns us--about grace, about justice. It is about our holiness as well. Why are believers called saints? Why are we called to be holy and to live holy lives? Ultimately, the book is a refresher course on the gospel itself.

In the first chapter, Sproul writes: "Today I am still absorbed with the question of the holiness of God. I am convinced that it is one of the most important ideas that a Christian can ever grapple with...How we understand the person and character of God the Father affects every aspect of our lives. It affects far more than what we normally call the “religious” aspects of our lives." If you agree, then this book is a must read. And if you don't agree, well, then perhaps reading the book will change your mind.

I have read this one three times now. I think I love it more each time.

Here is the promise of God: We shall see Him as He is. Theologians call this future expectation the beatific vision. We will see God as He is.
Right now it is impossible for us to see God in His pure essence. Before that can ever happen, we must be purified. When Jesus taught the Beatitudes, He promised only a distinct group the vision of God: “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God” (Matt. 5:8).
None of us in this world is pure in heart. It is our impurity that prevents us from seeing God. The problem is not with our eyes; it is with our hearts.
Only once in sacred Scripture is an attribute of God elevated to the third degree. Only once is a characteristic of God mentioned three times in succession. The Bible says that God is holy, holy, holy.  Not that He is merely holy, or even holy, holy. He is holy, holy, holy. The Bible never says that God is love, love, love; or mercy, mercy, mercy; or wrath, wrath, wrath; or justice, justice, justice. It does say that He is holy, holy, holy, that the whole earth is full of His glory.
In a very real sense, the word holy is a foreign word. The problem we face, however, is that the word holy is foreign to all languages. No dictionary is adequate to the task. 
Sinful people are not comfortable in the presence of the holy. The cliché is that misery loves company. Another is that there is fellowship among thieves. But thieves do not seek the consoling presence of the fellowship of police officers. Sinful misery does not love the company of purity.
If we fix our minds on the holiness of God, the result might be disturbing.
“Love God? Sometimes I hate Him.” This is a strange quote to hear from the lips of a man as respected for his religious zeal as Luther.
 Two things separated Luther from the rest of men: First, he knew who God was. Second, he understood the demands of God’s law. He had mastered the law. Unless he came to understand the gospel, he would die in torment.
“The just shall live by faith.” This was the battle cry of the Protestant Reformation. The idea that justification is by faith alone, by the merits of Christ alone, was so central to the gospel that Luther called it “the article upon which the church stands or falls.” Luther knew that it was the article by which he would stand or fall.
There is no such thing as evil justice in God. The justice of God is always and ever an expression of His holy character.
What God does is always consistent with who God is. He always acts according to His holy character. God’s internal righteousness is the moral excellence of His character.
God does not always act with justice. Sometimes He acts with mercy. Mercy is not justice, but it also is not injustice. Injustice violates righteousness. Mercy manifests kindness and grace and does no violence to righteousness. We may see nonjustice in God, which is mercy, but we never see injustice in God.
The false conflict between the two testaments may be seen in the most brutal act of divine vengeance ever recorded in Scripture. It is not found in the Old Testament but in the New Testament. The most violent expression of God’s wrath and justice is seen in the Cross. If ever a person had room to complain of injustice, it was Jesus. He was the only innocent man ever to be punished by God. If we stagger at the wrath of God, let us stagger at the Cross. Here is where our astonishment should be focused.
It is impossible for anyone, anywhere, anytime to deserve grace. Grace by definition is undeserved. As soon as we talk about deserving something, we are no longer talking about grace; we are talking about justice. Only justice can be deserved. God is never obligated to be merciful. Mercy and grace must be voluntary or they are no longer mercy and grace.
God never “owes” grace. He reminds us more than once: “I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy” (Exod. 33:19). This is the divine prerogative. God reserves for Himself the supreme right of executive clemency.
The moment awareness of His divine presence begins, the deepest personal struggle a person can experience begins as well.
We may wrestle with the Holy One. Indeed, for the transforming power of God to change our lives, we must wrestle with Him. We must know what it means to fight with God all night if we are also to know what it means to experience the sweetness of the soul’s surrender.
One of the names by which God is revealed in the Old Testament is the name El Shaddai. The name means “the thunderer” or “the overpowerer.” It was by the name El Shaddai that God appeared to Job. What Job experienced was the awesome power of a sovereign God who overpowers all people and is Himself overpowered by no one.
How much time elapses before the sinner begins to become pure? The answer is none. There is no time lapse between our justification and the beginning of our sanctification. But there is a great time lapse between our justification and the completion of our sanctification.
Semi-Pelagianism is the majority report among evangelical Christians and probably represents the theology of the vast majority of people who read this book. But I am convinced that with all of its virtues, Semi-Pelagianism still represents a theology of compromise with our natural inclinations. Evangelicals today have unconverted sinners who are dead in trespasses and sin bringing themselves to life by choosing to be born again. Christ made it clear that dead people cannot choose anything, that the flesh counts for nothing, and that we must be born of the Spirit before we can even see the kingdom of God, let alone enter it. The failure of modern evangelicalism is the failure to understand the holiness of God. If that one point were grasped, there would be no more talk of mortal enemies of Christ coming to Jesus by their own power. The only kind of God we can love by our sinful nature is an unholy god, an idol made by our own hands. Unless we are born of the Spirit of God, unless God sheds His holy love in our hearts, unless He stoops in His grace to change our hearts, we will not love Him.
God is not at the edge of Christians’ lives but at the very center. God defines our entire life and worldview.

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

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