“As we study the holiness of God, we shall see in increasing clearness how, like fire, it repels and attracts, how it combines into one His infinite distance and His infinite nearness. But the distance will be that which comes out first and most strongly. The sense of sin, of unfitness for God’s presence, is the groundwork of true knowledge or worship of Him as the Holy One.” Andrew Murray
Remember the story in Exodus 3 where God tells Moses to take off his shoes because where he is standing is holy ground? Moses hides his face in absolute fear, understandably so. We are well aware of our distance, of our unfitness. We feel it through our sin, our selfishness that we can’t always overcome, our flesh when it demands it’s way. It isn’t necessarily a bad place to be, but it does push us into making a decision: does it repel us from God further into our own darkness and hardness or does it bring us low and nearer to Him? God sees Moses’ pain and dilemma and shows him there’s a way out. The man cries out “I’M NOT” (eloquent, ready, etc.) and God replies “I AM” (all those things and more).
We are not, but He is.
We are not holy or worthy, but He is. He tells us “Be holy because I am holy” (1 Peter 1:16). The Old Testament makes us acutely aware of this distance, our unfitness to draw near, and the New Testament provides our promised savior who came and bridged that gap. If What is in Him, it now also in us. The holiness of God in the ‘old’ leads straight into the love of God in the ‘new’ – but it’s not a one way street. That love should point us right back around to desiring holiness.
We hear about the need these days to just love more. Yes and amen. Our greatest commandment is still to love God and love people. What does that look like? Love doesn’t just pop up as some separate entity or feeling because we want it to, not real love anyway. We love because He first loved us (1 John 4:19). We all have the capacity for it, but it’s through Jesus that we are able to actually walk it out.
Be holy because I am holy. Love because I first loved you.
As we draw near the fire, we become holy and we receive the ability to love. Holiness gets a bad rap though sometimes – it means judgment gets reconciled with all that love. We need holiness. Not to go alongside our love, but to give birth to it in a sense, because without it, it’s just fleeting human emotion. Sin has hooked us and the world has guilted us into thinking convictions equal unholy and cruel judgment. The “no hate”/”all you need is love” campaigns mean nothing without the backing of a Holy God behind them. If those things worked, we’d be living in a pretty wonderful world and we’d have no need for a Savior at all. Jesus came not to improve us, but to give us new life. His holiness gets grafted right into our very being. If we find ourselves empowered by the idea of love that starts and ends with our own awesome abilities, we are missing love the way God intended it to be, the emptiness of it all will eventually come to the surface.
Love flows out of holiness. It’s the source from which all else is made possible. It’s not some extra attribute we strive for like kindness or charity, holiness is the pure character of God where mercy and judgment join together. Sin has so desensitized us that we no longer recognize holiness or even seek it. Love is the idol of the day, it sits separate out on it’s own little island and gets trotted out by Christians and non-believers alike as a kind of argument-ending silencer – who can argue with love? It sounds good. Only a jerk wouldn’t want people to love more. It just doesn’t thrive without holiness as its foundation. When coupled with Christ, that love is tangible and unstoppable. When it is born of our own desires, it’s fragile and fleeting.
As believers, it’s vital we value and receive God’s holiness in our lives. It’s not something we strive after like some pie in the sky behavior chart where God gives us a gold star for good deeds – it happens when we let ourselves be drawn to the holy fire, not repelled by it. We must crave all of Him, the merciful and the holy because that’s who He is.
It repels or it attracts. It hardens or it melts. Don’t ever underestimate the need we all have for repentance and drawing near, even if it is uncomfortable at first. We don’t escape any hardship by pulling away from the heat, but like Moses we come to find out that He does actually hear us and see us:
“I have surely seen the oppression of My people who are in Egypt, and have heart their cry because of their taskmasters, for I know their sorrows… I will certainly be with you.”(Exodus 3:7-8)
Is love the way to holiness? Is holiness the way to love? Is it like the chicken and the egg? Here’s what I know: They don’t exist in a vacuum. God is all-loving AND He’s all-holiness… a contradiction that fits perfectly together when we stop focusing on just one.