Which doctrine, do you think is the most essential in determining proper understanding of God and His gospel? Some people might argue that our view of Scripture is most important, because it determines the reliability of what we know about God. Others might say that our view of Christ and the cross is the most crucial, because on Calvary we see the Son of God actually accomplish our redemption. Still others might argue that our view of human depravity is decisive, because it shapes our understanding of what (if anything) man can contribute to his own salvation.

However, I believe that the most pivotal doctrine in determining our understanding of God and the gospel of Jesus Christ is our understanding of the Holiness of God. Your understanding of the holiness of God will radically affect almost every other area of theology. Consider the following:

  • If God is holy in the sense of being set apart from the rest of creation, then man cannot come to know God on his own effort. Rather God must in some way speak in terms that we can understand, and God has done this through the Scriptures.
  • If God is holy. Then we must recognize, first and foremost, that God is God and we are not. He create us and we belong to Him. He has the right to demand from us as His creatures whatever He desires. We cannot demand anything from Him, because He is not indebted to us, but rather we are indebted to him for our life, our breathe and our being (Acts 17: 25).
  • If God is holy. We must also recognize that humanity though it was created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27) has fallen from its original state. Thus all of us fall short of God’s standard of holiness. Before the Holy One of Israel, we are all evil and rebellious creatures. While there may be degrees of rebellion, everyone is a rebel.
  • If God is holy, then there is no way man can satisfy the righteousness of God. God cannot compromise His standard of justice. The wages of sin is death, so those who sin must die.
  • If Jesus is God and Jesus is Holy, then there is hope for sinners. Jesus as the only man who was perfectly holy has satisfied God’s high standard of holiness. Furthermore, Jesus as the God-man is able to offer up his holiness as the basis of approval before God for all who believe in Him.

I think Jonathan Edwards was right when he asserted that God’s holiness consisted “in a regard to to himself, infinitely above his regard to all other beings” (The End for Which God Created the World). The holiness of God is not simply the fact God is set apart from sin, but also that God is set apart from everything by the fact that He is God and nothing else is. So I whole-heartedly agree with exhortation made by John Piper in God’s Passion for His Glory:

“I would encourage the reader to wrestle earnestly with this truth…This is a continental divide in theology. If you really believe this, all rivers of your thinking run toward God. If you do not, all the rivers run toward man. The theological and practical implications are innumerable. Settling this issue is worth many nights of prayer and study. Edwards calls God’s regard to himself his “holiness.” It may be more proper to call it God’s righteousness.” Thus his “holiness” would be the infinite worth that God has in his own estimation, and his righteousness would be his valuing and respecting that worth without wavering and upholding it in all that he does.” (p. 141)