Recently, I decided to add a new test to my error detection system: if anyone ever says or implies holiness can be easy then they are flat out, automatically, without fail, speaking complete and utter rubbish. Thus does Keller's "if only we could be self-forgetful" and the other one "you just need to surrender to Jesus" fall by the way side, welcome victims to the keen blade of truth!
To be completely honest, I want holiness to be easy, in fact, often I like to think that increasing in holiness is some sort of magic trick - I say a prayer to God asking to be more holy and abracadabra, holiness is mine. Oh what foolishness my mind comes up with!
Fortunately, the Bible is very clear with us about holiness - "Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling," (Philippians 2v12) Notice the use of the word: "work." I looked up this word in the dictionary and it told me: "Activity involving mental or physical effort done in order to achieve a purpose or result." It made me a little glum because in my head I like to translate the verse: "Do very little and hope that things will come together for your own salvation with fear and trembling."
A couple of months ago I was reading a Puritan, maybe Ryle, and the author was talking about how holiness is hard work and he pointed out that what good thing in life isn't hard work? His point struck home, if I want to have a good meal then it involves effort, if I want to have good friendships, they involve effort, if I want to become good at a musical instrument or skill then I must work. Why then should holiness be any different? Why do we expect it to be so?
_ Human Rights stem directly from Christian thought – it is easy to explain why every human being has certain rights if we hold that every human being is made in God’s image. Secular attempts to justify human rights have a much harder time. But this post isn’t about human rights in the normal way we understand it to mean: the rights of a man in relation to other men. Instead, this post is about the rights of men before God and the fact that we have none.
As facts go this one in particular we hate and the extent to which we hate it is reflected by the extent to which we fail to grasp the nature of God and the nature of man. At heart, we all like to think that God is pretty equal to us and that we can relate to him much as though it were a relationship of equals. To be told that we don’t have a single right before God, even to life, goes against our grain and usually diminishes our view of God. ‘Well,’ we huff ‘If God does not value my rights as a human being then he obviously isn’t a very good God and I’m not going to value him.’
“Behold therefore the goodness and severity of God: on them which fell, severity; but toward thee, goodness, if thou continue in [his] goodness: otherwise thou also shalt be cut off.”
Romans 11 v 22 (King James version)
I have to admit that this is one of my favourite biblical ‘catchphrases’. Whenever I say to myself I imagine a deep resonating voice booming out over all the land: “BEHOLD THE GOODNESS AND SEVERITY OF GOD” Something like that.
The phrase neatly encapsulates one of the more common errors a Christian can make. Namely that we exaggerate either the goodness of God or his severity. In its worse forms solely focusing on the goodness of God leads to a doing away with hell, universalism (everyone will be saved) and a neglecting of God’s wrath. And solely focusing on the severity of God can often present him in the words of Dawkins as a “a petty, capriciously malevolent bully”
Neither is true. Both are making God to be in man’s image rather man in God’s image. Both views assign human imperfections to a perfect God. As such, I figured it would be profitable to consider them both and doing as Paul commands behold the goodness and severity of God.