Holiness, Justice & Love
As we begin our time together, I would like to help us focus our attention on God. Several things happen as we think about God and what He has done. We are impressed once again with his greatness and his goodness, we are encouraged in our faith, and our love for him increases. We need such reminders and such encouragement. We also need to have our focus adjusted so that we begin this important weekend the right way.
“The Love of God,” vs. 3, “Could we with ink the ocean fill and were the skies of parchment made, Were every stalk on earth a quill and every man a scribe by trade, To write the love of God above would drain the ocean dry, Nor could the scroll contain the whole Though stretched from sky to sky.” As the song suggests, this is a task far to great for a few minute devotional and so I would like to focus our attention on one aspect.
The thought I would like to present to you this evening is found in Romans 3:26, the line, “… just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus…” This is a powerful statement about what God has done. It impresses me because it solves a contradiction. We know that you can’t have your cake and eat it too. But this statement says that you can. In human terms, we can usually do either, but seldom both. When a mother wants to punish her child, she must either mete out justice, in which case, she cannot act with the compassion a mother likes to act with, or she must overlook justice in order to act with the compassion she desires to express. We find it almost impossible to do both, yet God has done so. The whole thought becomes even more impressive as we understand God’s character as it speaks to this issue.
To fully understand this, we need to first of all understand the holiness of God, which is a part of his essential character. I want to invite us to look at three passages which communicate the implications of God’s holiness.
At the end of the book of Joshua, Joshua who has been leader of the people of Israel for his whole life, challenges them to keep on following the Lord. He has brought them into the land, he has helped them settle the land by taking it away from the ungodly people who lived there. Now a new situation is before them and Joshua challenges them to keep walking in the way Moses had taught.
In the context of this discussion, Joshua presents them with the difficult path they choose when they choose to follow God. He says to them in Joshua 24:19, “You are not able to serve the Lord. He is a holy God…” This verse lets us know just what the holiness of God means. Joshua was warning them that it would be impossible for Israel to meet God’s standards, because they are so high. God is holy, no sin can ever come near Him. God is set apart from all sin and only those who are holy are acceptable to Him.
When Isaiah had a vision of God in Isaiah 6, it was not the seraphim or even the glory of God’s presence, both of which are mentioned, but the holiness of God which has the most powerful impact on Isaiah. It is the words of the seraphim “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty…” which sets Isaiah to trembling. He is utterly undone by the recognition of God’s holiness. Holiness is the divine perfection which separates God from His creation. As Isaiah sees God’s holiness, he recognizes his own unholiness and that he is utterly unfit to see, or be in the presence of or serve a God who is so perfect and pure in every way.
At the end of the Bible, when we are presented with the scene from heaven, the absolute purity and holiness of the presence of God is once again demonstrated. We read in Revelation 21:27, “nothing impure will ever enter it.” In other words, once again we see that only those who are holy can be in God’s presence. At the end, when all is said and done, God remains holy, nothing which is not holy can come into his presence.
God is holy, no speck of impurity will ever enter his presence.
With the scare of impure water which we have heard about in Ontario and several Manitoba communities this year, many people have been making sure that they are drinking pure water. I saw a little item on a consumer show which discussed water purifiers. In Canada, the standards are not very rigorous. In the US, a water purifier must be able to get out 99.999% of the impurities to be acceptable.
With God, that isn’t good enough. It wouldn’t be good enough if you added a million 9’s to the end of the decimal. God is absolutely holy and only 100% purity is permitted into His presence. There is absolutely no sin in His presence.
A few weeks ago, the Rosseau River band was protesting against Vic Toews because they said he put more Natives in jail than previous justice ministers had. I had heard him talk about this earlier and his defence was, “I did what was just. Those who do wrong should be punished.” Justice is a good thing and evil should be punished and righteousness rewarded, but in a way the Rosseau band may have a point. We sometimes hear that people of other races or poor people are much more likely to end up in jail than wealthy white people. As much as we may want to carry out justice, we often fail to do so. However, that is not the case for God. Several passages teach us that God is absolutely just.
Near the end of his life, Moses wrote a song describing His experiences with God. We read in Deuteronomy 32:4, “his works are perfect and all his ways are just. A faithful God who does no wrong, upright and just is he.” No one can accuse God of injustice because He is perfect in justice, he does not do any wrong.
This idea is further expressed in Colossians 3:25. This verse is written in the context of instructions to slaves, teaching them how they are to behave as Christian slaves. The promise is that doing right will result in reward and doing wrong will result in punishment. As slaves would have heard this message, they might have been a bit cynical because they did not usually experience justice. The assurance, however, is that with God, “…there is no favouritism.” God is absolutely just repaying blessing for righteousness and punishment for wrong’s done. Whether one is a slave or a master really does not matter, as it often does on earth, because with God there is no partiality.
Sometimes we may doubt this. We have all kinds of questions. What about people who believe, but have never heard? What about people who believe in God, but don’t know about Jesus?
When God visited Abraham and told him of his plan to destroy Sodom because of its great wickedness, Abraham asked God to save the city for the sake of those who were righteous. Obviously, he was concerned about his nephew, Lot, who lived there. As Abraham prayed God down the line from saving it if there were 50 righteous, all the way down to 10 righteous in the city, he based his hope on God’s justice. He says in Genesis 18:25, “Far be it from you…treating the righteous and the wicked alike…Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?” Once again, we see the reality that God is just and will do what is right.
But we see something else as well. We see the implications of the justice of God. God is just, which when we combine it with his holiness it means that he must punish all that is outside of his holiness. His holiness demands that there be no evil, his justice demands that he punish evil. As we realize that, the implication is clear, “We are doomed.” When we know that we fall far short of his absolute holiness and we understand that God’s perfect justice must carry out righteousness, it means that we are headed for destruction.
Until we fully understand these two aspects of the nature of God, the glory of the love of God will not fully have its impact on us. We are not destroyed and in fact as Christians we have a glorious hope. All of this is true because of another aspect of God’s character and that is his love.
When God chose Israel to be his special people, he did so because of his love for them. It was not reward that resulted in Israel being chosen. God reveals His compassionate character in Deuteronomy 7:7, 8 when he says to Israel, “The LORD did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. But it was because the LORD loved you and kept the oath he swore to your forefathers that he brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the land of slavery, from the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt.”
In spite of such great love which resulted in being chosen, being redeemed from Egypt and being given a land, Israel wandered away from God. The compassion of God is seen in even greater measure in that God did not give up on them or abandon them, but promised to restore them. We read in Isaiah 49:15,16, “Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget,
I will not forget you! See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands; your walls are ever before me.” Once again the compassionate desire of God to bring a people to himself is demonstrated. The images of caring for a baby and engraving on the palm of the hands, are powerful images of God’s care.
But here is the dilemma. He is Holy and Just which means that by his own essential character he must punish us and yet he is love which means that by His own character, he must redeem us. How can he do both? How can he be “just and the one who justifies?” Humanly speaking this is impossible.
This, of course, is where the gospel comes in. It is by punishing Himself in the death of Jesus that we understand that God can be true to his holiness, true to His justice and true to His love. Holiness is maintained because Jesus lived a pure and holy life and all those who trust in Him are seen as holy in Him. Justice is maintained because the punishment for sin is taken by Jesus. Love is maintained because we are forgiven and given life and called the children of God.
This is well expressed in I John 4:9-10, “This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.”
It is in the combination of these three things that we see the glory of what God has done in Christ.
It is in the combination of these things that we understand “just and the justifier of those who have faith in Christ.”
These thoughts are precious to me because they tell me that I serve a God who is absolutely good and can therefore be trusted to do what is right. They tell me that I have a God who loves me and has forgiven me. These thoughts move me to worship and to loving Him because He first loved me. As we begin this retreat, we want to begin in worship and thanksgiving to our Father.
What thought or experience has brought you to understand something about God that has made you feel or realize how great He is? I invite you to share a thought or experience.
Respond to God with sentence prayers.
1. Prayers of response to His goodness.
2. Prayers asking God to do something among us this weekend. Renew us, teach us, bring us together, show us his future for our church…