I don’t think it is that treacherous to say that the majority of modern Christians are loose in their considerations of God’s holiness. That is, perhaps, putting it gently. Holiness is the attribute of our Heavenly Father that remains most unsung, despite it being the one anthem that we know reverberates in the halls of heaven (Isa. 6:3; Rev. 4:8). Our present vernacular is captivated by the tender, merciful compassion of God, and rightly so. I certainly don’t mean to demean or disparage our emphasis on these most gracious essential qualities of our Savior and King. However, what I do mean to say is that we are in desperate need of a recovery of God’s holy redemption. Without it, we barely have a gospel. Actually, we may not have a gospel at all.
You see, what makes the good news of God so incredibly good is the precise fact that it announces to us (and to the world) that God’s holiness, disavowed at the Fall (Gen. 3), has been fulfilled and offered to one and all. The breach has been repaired. The law is appeased and grace has won. Now, by faith alone, sinners are transformed into saints precisely because the One who didn’t have anything to do with sin has become sin for us (Isa. 53:3–5; 2 Cor. 5:21; Gal. 3:13). This striking news is made exponentially more striking as you consider not only what was accomplished in and through Christ’s atonement but also what inspired it. Namely, the holiness of God.
Rev. John Henry Jowett, in a sermon entitled, “The Holiness of the Father,” examines 1 Peter 1:17–21 to reflect on St. Peter’s adjoining of God’s Fatherhood with his holiness. He then proceeds to reinforce, in exquisite fashion, the requisite need to recover the gospel-sense of God’s holiness. Jowett writes:
If the holiness of Fatherhood be minimised or obscured, every other attribute will be impoverished. Denude your conception of holiness, and it is like withdrawing the ozone from the invigorating air, or detracting the freshening salt from the healthy sea. Suppress or ignore the element of holiness, and think of the Father as affectionate, and the love that you attribute to Him will be only as a close and enervating air. Love without holiness is deoxygenated, and its ministry is that of an opiate or narcotic. Pity without holiness is a bloodless sentiment destitute of all healing efficiency. Forgiveness without holiness is a granting of a cheap and superficial excuse, in which there is nothing of the saving strength of sacrifice. Begin with pity or forgiveness, or forbearance or gentleness, and you have dispositions without dynamics, poor limp things, which afford no resource for the uplifting and salvation of the face. But begin with holiness, and you put a dynamic into every disposition which makes it an engine of spiritual health. Forgiveness with holiness behind it is a medicated sentiment, fraught with healing and bracing ministry. Gentleness with holiness behind it touches the aches and sores of the world with the firm and delicate hand of a discerning and experienced nurse. Exalt the element of holiness, and you enrich your entire conception of the Fatherhood of God . . .
Dim your sense of holiness, and you lighten the colour of sin.
The more we lighten sin the more we uncrown our Redeemer. If sin be a light thing, the Redeemer was superfluous. And so, with holiness hidden and sin relieved, we come to hold a cheap redemption.1
These words ought to elevate our convictions as to what was being accomplished on the cross. Likewise, they ought to intensify our understanding of the gravity of Jesus’s mission. His was no mere parlor trick. His mandate wasn’t political, economic, or even humanitarian. He came to engage in a cosmic war that had endured for ages on end, from before the foundations of the world. He came to put an end to sin and death and to all that is contrary to his Father’s holiness. Indeed, the mission of Word become flesh is the “majestic crusade of holiness.”
Because we do not discern the majestic crusade of holiness, we do not realise the enormity of sin.
Redemption is more than the search of Father for child; it is a tremendous wrestle of holiness with sin.
Between the Incarnation, when Christ was manifested, and the Resurrection, when God raised Him from the dead, the powers of holiness and sin met face to face in mighty combat, and in the appalling darkness of Gethsemane and Calvary sin was overthrown and holiness was glorified.2
This is the good news. It is the announcement that the holiness broken has been restored. And such is the holiness into which we’ve been invited, on account of nothing in or because of us, but only because of Christ alone. The holiness to which we are reconciled by the Holy Son of God (2 Cor. 5:18–19), who himself bore our iniquities under the pleasing squeeze of his Father’s wrath for sin (Isa. 53:10), is nothing short of the holiness of God himself. This is what settles troubled souls. This is what brings peace when all else is torrential grief. This is the gospel. It is the resplendent proclamation that Jesus has not only taken away your sin but also gifted you his holiness. What better news is there than that?
John Henry Jowett, The Epistles of St. Peter (New York: A. C. Armstrong & Son, 1906), 46–47, 52.