You can listen to the audio lesson here.
You can also find the “Working Definition of Evangelism” here.
PART III – THE PRESENT ESTATE OF MAN
Lesson Six: The Holiness of God
“And to the eyes of the sons of Israel the appearance of the glory of the Lord was like a consuming fire on the mountain top,” (Exodus 24:17; NASB).
The proper starting point. Having discussed the purpose of evangelism (making disciples) and the messengers and recipients of evangelism, we finally arrive at the actual message to be delivered in evangelism. This point is where the Reformed and biblical approach will differ from many modern approaches. A great many modern approaches to evangelism center the message either on the messenger or the recipient. They might begin with asking the recipient, “Would you consider yourself to be a good person.” Some other approaches begin and end with a mere telling of the messenger’s personal testimony.
In order to be truly biblical, though, evangelism must have as its primary Subject He who is the primary subject of the Bible itself: God. The goal of discipleship is to move the disciple from a place of enmity with God to a reconciliation with God, from a place of great disparity from God to an intimate relationship with God. The problem we seek to address, then, is a problem of location.
The carnal man is located outside of the covenant promises of God. He stands as a sinner who is on a crash course with the eternal wrath of God. All of God’s attributes require that justice must be served to the sinner, because God is a God of justice and all of God’s attributes are naturally consistent with His justice. One primary focus for our explanation of the gospel, though, ought to be His holiness.
The holy and the unholy. We’re told in Exodus: “And to the eyes of the sons of Israel the appearance of the glory of the Lord was like a consuming fire on the mountain top,” (Exodus 24:17; NASB). In bringing the sons of Israel to repentance, God first impressed upon them His holiness. He helped them to see that He was as a consuming fire among them (cf. Deuteronomy 4:24; Hebrews 12:29). He did the same with Moses at the burning bush when He told him to remove His sandals, “for the place where you stand is holy ground,” (Exodus 3:5b; NKJV).
The new disciple must first come to a recognition of the holiness of God before he or she can truly understand any of the message of the gospel. The new disciple must see that God’s holiness necessarily means consumption for the unholy. God’s holiness and justice demand payment for all sins ever committed.
“He is immutably determined by the moral perfection of his nature to visit every sin with a just recompense of reward, if not in the person of the sinner, then in the person of his Substitute. The terrible lake of fire and the cross of Calvary are awful testimonies to his absolute justice,” (A.A. Hodge, The System of Theology Contained in the Westminster Shorter Catechism, pp. 14-15).
The carnal mind may naturally balk at such notions as a God who would punish every sin. In a desire to continue in their sin and to treat it as of little consequence, the recipient of the gospel message may go as far as to say that he or she can never believe in a God who would punish sinners with an eternity of hell. A little exercise is instructive at this point.
An illustration. In order to demonstrate the importance and the necessity of the holiness of God, the gospel messenger needs to use a reference point. One such reference point that has proven helpful in many an explanation of the holiness of God is the unbeliever’s own innate sense of justice. We must be mindful, though, that this approach does not work with all men. Men are self-deceived creatures, and you may find that men and women with an Eastern or Middle Eastern worldview have often deceived themselves to the point of denying the necessity of justice in God, and even in some cases between men.
For those who do recognize the necessity of justice between men, you may ask them to think of the worst crime they can imagine followed by asking them, now, to imagine that crime being perpetrated on a small child. For the average man who is not actively suppressing the truth in regard to his sense of justice, just the thought of such an act should evoke a sense of righteous indignation. Allow that thought to weigh on him for a moment, and then move the subject to God.
The world over, nearly every theist will agree that the god in whom they believe and whom they worship is a god of love. This recognition comes to man by the light of nature placed within them and evident to them in God’s works of creation and providence. They know intuitively that God is love. Otherwise, the world would be far worse off than it is today. However—and this is the next question we want to ask our unbelieving friends—if God truly loves that little child, will He allow the crime against her to go unpunished?
At this point, you have come just a little way in helping your friend or family member to see the importance of God’s holiness to the discussion. However, God’s holiness is not merely the starting point or a rhetorical device to get us to the point of convincing our lost friends and family that they are in danger. God’s holiness is the ultimate reference point for all things in the universe. Everything we see, hear, and understand either aligns with or deviates from God’s holiness. His holiness is the great referent. It is the necessary starting point in our discussion of the gospel, because it is the necessary starting point in our discussion of God Himself.
God’s absolute justice. God’s holiness speaks to His great otherness and His great purity. It also speaks to His unrelenting hatred of sin—deviation from the holiness of God. It is for this reason that He absolutely must punish all sin. If He punishes some sin, but not all sins, He would be terribly inconsistent. He would possess some righteousness, a righteousness comparable to an earthly judge perhaps, but He would not be completely righteous. He would be righteous enough to punish some sin, but not righteous enough to punish all sin. However, if he is not righteous enough to punish all sin, how could He be righteous enough to punish even the greatest of sins. The Bible is clear, though, that God does punish all sin and, as such, it is a very grievous matter to be found in sin. Consider Isaiah’s recognition of his own sin, when he beheld the glory of God in his temple vision:
“3And one called out to another and said,
‘Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord of hosts,
The whole earth is full of His glory.’
4And the foundations of the thresholds trembled at the voice of him who called out, while the temple was filling with smoke. 5Then I said,
‘Woe is me, for I am ruined!
Because I am a man of unclean lips,
And I live among a people of unclean lips;
For my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts,’” (Isaiah 6:3-5; NASB).
To recognize the holiness of God is necessarily to recognize our terrible lack thereof. Isaiah recognized not only the great heights of the purity and majesty of God in his vision, but also the great disparity that existed between God and himself. He recognized not merely the sinfulness of the people among whom he lived, but he took the all-consuming holiness of God into the core of his own being, and he was utterly wrecked by what he beheld. Let us not be trivial, then, in our own assessment of God’s relationship to the sinner. God hates sin so much that He willingly poured out His wrath on His own Son in order that His justice might be satisfied.
“Not all the vials of judgments, that have, or shall be poured out upon the wicked world, nor the flaming furnace of a sinner’s conscience, nor the irreversible sentence pronounced against the rebellious devils, nor the groans of the damned creatures, give such a demonstration of God’s hatred of sin, as the wrath of God let loose upon his Son.,” (Stephen Charnock, Discourses on the Existence and Attributes of God, pg. 484).
Reconciliation with the God of perfection? God is completely separate in His holiness from sin of any sort. That is the definition of sin, after all: deviation from God’s holy standard. However, God’s holiness is not solely a negation of sin. It is also the complete perfection of His being. Berkhof explains: “But the idea of ethical holiness is not merely negative (separation from sin); it also has a positive content, namely, that of moral excellence, or ethical perfection,” (Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology, pg. 73).
The holiness of God does not exist in order to provide us with a rhetorical device to persuade unbelievers to recognize their sins. It is not revealed to us simply to provide us with a dilemma or a riddle that must be solved. It does, however, present us with a dilemma. It brings us before the holy, unapproachable throne of heaven, strips us bare, exposes all our shame, our imperfection, and our guilt, and leaves us condemned before a just and vengeful God.
Apart from some atonement, some payment, some divine pleading of our case, we find ourselves not merely separated from God, but under His just, holy, and eternal condemnation. As such, it is all too important that we help our unbelieving friends and loved ones to see themselves in the mirror of His infinite perfection. Do they hope to stand on the day of judgment? Apart from Christ, they should have no such confidence, for He dwells in unapproachable light.
“who alone possesses immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen or can see. To Him be honor and eternal dominion! Amen,” (1 Timothy 6:16; NASB).