Surveying Sanctification: What About God's Holiness?

Quite a while ago, I met a woman with whom I had attended a particular church several years earlier. At the time of our meeting we were both worshiping in different congregations.  In the midst of the conversation, having discovered that I was reformed in my theology, she informed me that she too had discovered and studied Reformed theology.  However, she said, “It doesn’t resonate with me. Reformed theology focuses on the holiness of God but I need the warmth of praise.” At the time, I said little in response.

But over the years I have thought repeatedly about that conversation and about one question in particular.  Was she right?  Not about Reformed people believing in God’s holiness. Of course we do! We believe that God is devoted to Himself and set apart from all that is unholy. Indeed, we believe in God’s holiness.

No, the question I have asked myself is a little different. Do we focus on holiness so as to live in light of God’s holiness? Let me give you an example. In the middle of winter temperatures are below freezing and it snows. Yet I can look outside and see young people standing at the bus stop in shorts! These young people are not living in light of winter. They are actually living indifferently or even in rebellion to winter!  They are certainly not living in light of it. My question is are we living in light of the holiness of God or are we indifferent to His holiness?

The call to holiness is rooted and grounded in the triune God. Peter puts it succinctly and Biblically writing, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” Spirit inspired Peter expected his readers to live in light of God’s holiness. And it seems to be the case that believers find living in light of holiness impossible to escape. Consider just one example from Luke 5. After Jesus had used Peter’s boat as a pulpit he told the fisherman to put out into deeper water and then let down his net. The outcome was dramatic. Despite having fished all night to no avail the nets were now about to burst for the number of fish. At that moment, Peter recognized the Lord as holy and said, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” The response is almost Isaiah-like.

However, this story raises a question. What elicited this reaction from Peter? Why did he fall down before the Lord and make this pronouncement? Was it merely the sheer number of fish? Well, the answer is really not all that difficult when you think about it. Peter had just heard this man preach. He had also obeyed a directive from him and he had observed the fruit thereof. The point is that there was an intimate connection between Jesus’ word and Peter’s recognizing him as the Holy One of Israel.  Thus, Peter’s reaction is intimately related to Jesus’ word.

Now, this raises a question for us. We have the Word of God inscripturated. What is more, we have opportunity to be confronted by God’s Word daily. But the question is does it produce in us the same sort of reaction? Does it pierce our heart? Are we laid bare before it? Maybe the answer is that it does not. And maybe it does not because we simply don’t read it. But how can we not?  Let me put it differently. If there is an intimate connection between God’s holiness and His word, then how can we be indifferent to His word and consequently His holiness?  Brothers and sisters, it is high time for us to live in light of God’s holiness.

Jeffrey A. Stivason is the pastor of Grace Reformed Presbyterian Church in Gibsonia, PA. He also holds a Ph.D. in systematic theology from Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, PA.  Jeff is the author of From Inscrutability to Concursus (P&R), he has contributed to The Jonathan Edwards Encyclopedia (Eerdmans) and is the Executive Editor for Place for Truth.


Jeffrey Stivason


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