Holiness: Is God’s Holiness Essential? Part One.

For the next two days I am reproducing an article I discovered about holiness at monergism.com. It is by David Wells and is an excerpt from his book “No Place for Truth: Or whatever Happened to Evangelical Theology”). David Wells is Distinguished Senior Research Professor at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. He is the author of several books in which his evangelical theology engages with the modern world.

Dr. Wells’ contention is that the holiness of God has been, and always will be, essential for the church in general, and the believer in Christ in particular. I was impacted by this brief excerpt from his book which proved to be the impetus for the development of The Cambridge Declaration (1996) by the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. What Dr. Wells wrote in 1993 still resonates truth in 2020, which is characteristic of all theological works that stand the test of time. Dr. Wells thoughts are as follows.

It is important to note that the shallowness of modern life derives not from its banality but from its having lost its moral bearings. Our Age like every age that has preceded it, interrogates the unknown with its own questions – questions that grow out of its needs and interests. Our questions today hardly ever go to the heart of moral reality, because modern life is hardly ever about moral concern. Christ seems to offer little of what this world is asking for. It wants whatever is new; it looks for the next step in the journey of the human spirit. Christ did bring to completion much that was predicted or prophesied in the Old Testament, but he introduced few new ideas, and none that would suggest that the human spirit is embarked on a journey. Rather, he brought access to the world of moral reality from which sinners are alienated, and that is everything. He brought everything in himself, for he is God.

More than that even, Christ brought everything into harmony with the holiness of God. To be sure, this harmony has two entirely different expressions: justification and judgment. In both, the holiness of God comes into its full and awful expression. In the one case, it does so in him who bears the consequences of that wrath on behalf and in the place of those whom he represented; in the other case, it is expressed in the final and awesome alienation of those in whom God’s judgment vindicates for all eternity his holiness.

It is this holiness of God, then, without which the Cross of Christ is incomprehensible, that provides the light that exposes modernity’s darkness for what it is. For modernity has emptied life of serious moral purpose. Indeed, it empties people of the capacity to see the world in moral terms, and this, in turn, closes their access to reality, for reality is fundamentally moral. God’s holiness is fundamental to who he is and what he has done. And the key to it all has been the loss of God’s otherness, not least in his holiness, beneath the forms of modern piety. Evangelicals turned from focusing on God’s transcendence to focusing on his immanence [pervading all creation]-and then they took the further step of interpreting his immanence as friendliness with modernity.

The loss of the traditional vision of God as holy is now manifested everywhere in the evangelical world. It is the key to understanding why sin and grace have become such empty terms. What depth or meaning, P. T. Forsyth asked, can these terms have except in relation to the holiness of God? Divorced from the holiness of God, sin is merely self-defeating behavior or a breach in etiquette. Divorced from the holiness of God, grace is merely empty rhetoric, pious window dressing for the modern technique by which sinners work out their own salvation. Divorced from the holiness of God, our gospel becomes indistinguishable from any of a host of alternative self-help doctrines. Divorced from the holiness of God, our public morality is reduced to little more than an accumulation of trade-offs between competing private interests. Divorced from the holiness of God, our worship becomes mere entertainment. The holiness of God is the very cornerstone of Christian faith, for it is the foundation of reality. Sin is defiance of God’s holiness, the Cross is the outworking and victory of God’s holiness, and faith is the recognition of God’s holiness. Knowing that God is holy is therefore the key to knowing life as it truly is, knowing Christ as he truly is, knowing why he came, and knowing how life will end.

Part Two of an excerpt from Dr. Well’s book “No Place for Truth: Or Whatever Happened to Evangelical Theology” concludes tomorrow.

Soli deo Gloria!

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