On July 13, ten students and four adults (including myself) left for Orlando, Florida and the 2010 International Youth Convention of the Church of God (IYC). We were asked when we returned to share with our church what we experienced and the ways that God impacted our lives while we were there.
I decided that I wanted to share the manuscript that was the basis for what I shared in about 10 minutes this past Sunday morning. Over the next few days I will post three parts of a sermon/reflection that I call the The Radical Ramifications for Reality of the Love of a Holy God. Part one deals with the foundations for this worldview, that is understanding the love of a holy God.
The love of a holy God.
It’s not uncommon to hear Christians proclaim, “God is Love.” This is the very statement of 1 John 4:8. It’s also equally common to hear people speak of God as being holy, based on the myriad of times that God himself says, “I am holy.” But what I find is that these two central attributes of God are often, not always, but often held as two separate but equal characteristics of God. I was so thankful this past week that Francis Chan called us to see these two characteristics as dependent upon each other when he spoke at IYC.
Chan based his message on Revelation 4 and the description of the throne of God. Here we see a picture of God that is awesome in every sense of the word! This is an image of God consistent with what God told Moses when he declared that anyone who looked upon God’s face would die (Ex. 33:20).
This is what it means to say that God is holy.
God is something totally other than what we are, so much so that our best descriptions of his throne room include images of light and fire and thunder and lightning and great beasts that would terrify us if we ever saw one in our reality. This is what the Old Testament was trying to say when it said that God was holy, that he was set apart, different. This is the point from the very beginning of the Bible. Genesis 1 is entirely about this God who creates everything that we know and experience in life, but yet who is not himself made up of this realm of existence. He is something totally different, and were we to look upon his face we would fall dead before him.
If we do not understand the full extent to which God is Holy, we will never begin to fathom the depths of his love.
It’s this same holy God, who is totally separate and independent from his creation, who sets the very definition for love. This is the first thing we have to shift in our thinking because we too often allow this world to set the definition for love. By God’s own demonstration, however, love can only mean a self-giving sacrifice on the behalf of another. This is how God defines love, because this is how he demonstrates his love. From the very foundations of creation, God has made himself available to his creation. He not only made himself available, but made it possible for human beings to reject his intention and for the relationship of love that he intended for us to share.
And it is in His response to that rejection, that God has shown his greatest act of love by sending his son Jesus to enter into this world and to give his life for the very sinful and rebellious creation that he loves.
Here is where we must remember the outlandish nature of this act. God is totally independent from his creation, totally holy, entirely other. He has no need to intervene and will not cease being who he is should he choose to allow humankind to careen into destruction of our own making. Despite all of this, God, in his love not only provides a way for our salvation and life, but he becomes our way for salvation. He who is holy steps into our existence and offers us life. This is the great love of God and it is totally misunderstood apart from God’s holiness.