By Jack Wilkie
When the world looks at Christianity they bring a skeptical eye. They look at the religion as a whole and have a number of questions from all kinds of different angles.
“Why does it matter who someone loves?”
“How could God kill so many people in the flood or in Israel’s conquests?”
“Why were there such weird commandments about food and clothing in the Old Testament?”
“Is God really judgmental? I thought He was about forgiveness and acceptance.”
Though the questions vary greatly from topic to topic, at their roots they share a similar misunderstanding of a fundamental biblical truth:
God is holy.
Because God is holy, He makes the rules about what is right and wrong – not us. Because God is holy, He got to decide when a people’s iniquity had become too great and they needed to be punished or even eliminated. Because God is holy, He called His people in the Old Testament to be separate and different from the people around them in their clothing, in their food, and in a number of other ways. Because God is holy, He cannot tolerate sin and let it stand without receiving its due punishment.
Holiness is the concept of being different, set apart, unattainable. It was God’s holiness that caused Moses to have to take off his shoes before approaching the burning bush as Moses cowered in fear. It was God’s holiness that the seraphim proclaimed in God’s throne room, leading Isaiah to recognize his uncleanness as he stood before a perfectly holy God. Isaiah showed that God’s holiness means that He has every right to strike us down the moment we sin. Once the power, peculiarity, and perfection of God’s holiness are understood, a person can’t help but take Him seriously and realize that He is perfectly justified to deal with mankind in whatever way He sees best.
When the world asks their questions of Christianity, we have to be prepared to show them what it means that God is holy.
However, holiness isn’t just misunderstood by the world. Sadly, it’s incredibly common for holiness to be misunderstood by Christians. In fact, the shortage of exemplified holiness among Christians is one of the reasons why the world has no grasp of the concept. A.W. Tozer once wrote that “We have learned to live with unholiness and have come to look upon it as the natural and expected thing.”
Consider how prevalent the attitude is that we need to just “try to be good people.” Or how often one or two “little sins” are excused in our lives because “God wouldn’t send someone to hell over that.” A proper view of holiness should make us terrified of our sins, which leads us to deeper gratitude for the love shown on the cross that removes those sins from us, which leads us to pursue a more holy life.
But as long as a Christian is casual about his faith and doesn’t treat the holy God with all the reverence He is due, the world will continue to misunderstand what Christianity is. Any time they see us acting just like them, they will continue to fail to see how Christianity is different. When we tolerate and excuse our own sins, we tell them that the God we serve doesn’t take sin seriously. But if we let God make us like Him and therefore become more holy every day, they’ll take notice. As Charles Spurgeon preached, “Give us your holy living, and with your holy living as leverage, we will move the world.” It’s impossible for us to be holy on our own, but God can make us holy, and it’s His working in us that stands out to the world.
Don’t just settle for “mostly good.” God has redeemed us to make us like Him. “Be holy, for He is holy.”
Jack Wilkie is the editor of focuspress.org and author of “Church Reset: God’s Design for So Much More.” He also preaches for the Forney church of Christ in Forney, TX, where he, his wife, Allison, reside with their four children. You can find his full bio here.