The key to the whole message of the Bible,
the character of God,
the ministry of Jesus and
the destiny of humanity
is found in two words: holy love.
Holy: the quality of withdrawal, separation, “otherness,” purity. This is God’s response to imperfection and rebellion.
Love: the quality of compassionate outreach and redemptive engagement at personal cost.
One of the problems of Christian history has been the splitting of the two words, so that some groups have proclaimed the severity of holiness while others have abolished all norms for the sake of love. In our time, we might cite certain Protestant Fundamentalists who have sought to preserve holiness through legalism. And at the other extreme, some liberal denominations have decided that the ordination of gay clergy is not only consistent with the message of the Gospel, but is indeed an essential part of its proclamation.
But when we consider God Himself in his relations with fallen creation, we find that these two characteristics are not in opposition to each other, nor in fluctuation, but are maintained simultaneously. His first response to sin is to draw a line of separation between Himself and the creature, to remove his presence from all contact with the impure. This is a prelude to final judgment, and the condemnation and destruction of the rebellious.
At the same time in Him is an impulse to cross the line that He just drew, to step over the barrier raised against the unclean, and to rescue those subject to destruction. They cannot solve the problem of their alienation and judgment, but God takes the initiative to do so.
This must not be seen as a war within God, or as a succession of divine moods. Untrue. God’s love never cancels or transgresses his holiness. Jesus walked among “publicans and sinners,” Pharisees and temple officials, without once compromising his personal sanctity. Jesus united in his own person both qualities, and acted in harmony with both of them.
Likewise, this is the salvation that He offers us – a participation in his own nature, holy love. But whereas He was born into it, we are adopted into it. The character of Jesus, which is God’s own image, is to be formed in us through the Holy Spirit – including the same quality and dynamic tension of holy love.
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