Invited to Approach the Unapproachable: A Gospel Summary

What’s on my mind:

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.

According to Jesus, he created us primarily to love him and, secondarily, to love each other. Here, Jesus tells us the meaning of life.

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.

If the love which God has called us to were not an act of human will, he would not have to command us to give it.

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!

All of the evil in the universe can be found in the gap between God’s will and our own.


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!

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.

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.

Holiness: God’s First Characteristic?

God is love. Isn’t he? That’s what the world tells us. It’s everyone’s favorite attribute of God. Even scripture tells us:

The one who does not love does not know God, because God is love.
1 John 4:8

Christian Standard Bible

What does this verse really tell us though? It is extremely tempting to read this verse the wrong way. I mean, who doesn’t love love, right? If God is love and that’s all there is to him, then everything’s right with the world and I don’t have anything else to worry about… But that’s not all there is to God. John is not telling us that love defines God. He’s telling us that God defines love. To reinforce my point, let’s look further into the following scripture:

God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his one and only Son into the world so that we might live through him. Love consists in this: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, if God loved us in this way, we also must love one another. No one has ever seen God. If we love one another, God remains in us and his love is made complete in us. This is how we know that we remain in him and he in us: He has given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and we testify that the Father has sent his Son as the world’s Savior.
1 John 4:9‭-‬14

Christian Standard Bible

It’s clear that John is strongly emphasizing the loving characteristics of God in this particular passage. In the six verses following verse 8, he states that the love we have for others is the strongest, perhaps even the only, way that we can know our relationship with God is the real deal. He also places our love for other human beings in its proper context; a natural extension of the love God had shown to us in the first place. Let’s go deeper though. Look at the first and final sentences in the last excerpt. God’s love for us was revealed to us through the sacrifice of “his Son as the world’s Savior.” But wait… Savior? Savior from what? If God is love and God’s love for us was made manifest in that he sent his Son as our Savior, then I’d say it’s pretty important that we understand what Jesus was saving us from. He saved us from his own wrath and righteous judgement. The same author, John, who wrote the above verses also wrote the following:

Then I saw a great white throne and one seated on it. Earth and heaven fled from his presence, and no place was found for them. I also saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life, and the dead were judged according to their works by what was written in the books. Then the sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them; each one was judged according to their works. Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire.
Revelation 20:11‭-‬15

Christian Standard Bible

You see, God is love! However, he is also holy, righteous, and completely sovereign. God judges sin. He judged it in the past. He’s judging it today. He will judge it tomorrow. Finally, he will make a terminal judgment against all sin that will be final. It is imperative that a Christian’s perception of God align with the reality of his character. Otherwise, how are we supposed to reflect that character to this lost and dying world? I would even argue that it’s impossible to be an actual Christian (a bonafide, born-again follower of Christ) without being keenly aware of this truth. Let me explain.

Scripture clearly describes God as, foremost, holy. One cannot become a Christian without coming to a moment in our life where we become shamefully aware of our gross inferiority to God’s standard of holiness. In this moment we’re laid bare and are confronted with our undeniable shortcomings regarding God’s perfect character as reflected in his Law (which scripture says is written in the hearts of men). We are broken in our inadequacy. But that’s not the end of the story. It’s only upon this realization of our own complete insufficiency and depravity that God’s love is understood in its true form. He sent Jesus, his own Son, to be the recipient of his own righteous judgment against my sins. We can’t become a Christian without accepting his loving gift of salvation through Jesus’s sacrifice. We can’t accept Jesus’s sacrifice until we admit and repent of the difference between God’s standard for our lives and the reality of our lives. God’s love isn’t characterized by an apathy or indifference toward the wickedness and iniquity in my life. It’s defined by his willingness to pay the price for that wickedness and iniquity that his holy righteousness requires.

God’s love isn’t characterized by an apathy or indifference toward the wickedness and iniquity in my life. It’s defined by his willingness to pay the price for that wickedness and iniquity that his holy righteousness requires.

That is God’s perfect love. God isn’t holy because of his love. His love is perfect because of his holiness. Praise God that he isn’t some single dimensional Care Bear in the sky! Instead he’s the sovereign Creator of the entire universe and the standard for perfection in his creation. Thank God that his love doesn’t define him, but that his holiness defines his love. We are called to share God’s love in this world. But dearly beloved brothers and sisters in Christ, we’re also called to reflect his holiness:

Therefore, with your minds ready for action, be sober-minded and set your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. As obedient children, do not be conformed to the desires of your former ignorance. But as the one who called you is holy, you also are to be holy in all your conduct; for it is written, Be holy, because I am holy. If you appeal to the Father who judges impartially according to each one’s work, you are to conduct yourselves in reverence during your time living as strangers. For you know that you were redeemed from your empty way of life inherited from your fathers, not with perishable things like silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of an unblemished and spotless lamb.
1 Peter 1:13‭-‬19

Christian Standard Bible

God isn’t holy because of his love. His love is perfect because of his holiness.

Let us reflect both his holiness and his love in this hopeless and despairing world. We must stand for what is right, but do it in a manner that is winsome. We must take a stand for God’s principles, but never do so in a manner that devalues the individual or group with which we’re interacting. God’s not a wishy-washy love drunk gypsy in the sky. Let us not be wishy-washy Christians; willing to talk about God’s love, but not about why his love matters. Stand boldly. Speak softly. Love strongly.

Introduction

There are many voices clamoring for our attention these days. There are millions, and even billions, of different opinions and points of view out there. I believe in truth. I believe that the truth should be sought out at all costs. I believe truth has an origin and that origin is the Creator, God. All truth is God’s truth and there is only one Creator. More specifically, the only actual Creator, the universe’s ultimate cause, is the God who has revealed himself through the Holy Scriptures and the life and ministry of Jesus Christ.

Upon the realization of the authenticity of Jesus’s divinity and sacrificial love, a person comes to a crossroad in their life. Once convinced of God’s awesomeness and our own depravity, a broken heart cries out for forgiveness from a gracious and merciful Lord. The pride and hostility to God’s sovereignty which was once present in the heart gives way to submission and deep gratitude and appreciation for God’s undeserved love.

It’s at this point that a person begins to genuinely reflect God’s characteristics in their life, though often imperfectly. A new believer often has a passion and fervor for God in their life that leaves many more seasoned believers envious. However, the passion needs to be channeled. It’s of the utmost importance that new believers be discipled and encouraged to grow in their faith.

It’s this growth which the title of this blog is intended to illustrate. Becoming a Christian is just the beginning of a long journey; one that will last the rest of your life. At the moment of repentence and faith in Christ a new believer is as pure as they’ve ever been in their life. It’s only a matter of time, however, before worldly and supernatural influences tarnish the young believer’s purity. This is the adventure we sign up for. We are called to move from crudely reflecting God’s light in this world toward more accurately reflecting His image.

You see, both the moon and a mirror reflect light. Both give us an indication that there is a light source, but are not the light source themselves. The moon reflects the sun’s light in a crude manner, by which we’re aware of the sun’s presence on the other side of our planet. However, the moon doesn’t present an image of the sun. It instead presents us with its own image by the light of the sun. A mirror, on the other hand, reflects the image of the light source so clearly and vividly that the mirror’s own image is difficult to make out. The image that’s prominent is the image of the light source being reflected by the mirror.

This is a beautiful illustration of the task to which we, Christians, are called. We’re to move from moons to mirrors. We’re to move from crudely reflecting the change God’s made in our hearts toward, as closely as we possibly can, perfectly reflecting God’s character in this broken and lost world.

Might we help each other along this journey?