The Holiness of God by RC Sproul is a well known and highly regarded book. Like Packer’s ‘Knowing God’ and Piper’s ‘Desiring God’, my understanding is that this is Sproul’s flagship book. The one that put him on the map at least. I can see why.
Sproul is terrific, from start to finish, in outlining the holiness of God. He starts by talking about God’s holiness in relation to his creation. He leaves us with dealing with the mystery of God’s holiness. He speaks of how the Old Testament shows so clearly that holiness is a huge factor in the way he relates to his creatures. And, by through understanding holiness more we see just how patient, gracious, and merciful he is to each one of us.
I found his chapters in dealing the the justice of God and holiness, and also his approach to some tough passages of the Bible very helpful. For example, he deals with how Aaron’s sons die when they offer the wrong fire to God. This is because of God’s holiness. He also tackles the passage where one of the Ark bearers seems to stop the Ark of the Covenant from falling. In touching the Ark the man dies. This is again because of holiness. In each of these chapters it was highlighted to me just how holy God is and just how unholy I am. Hence, the greater appreciation for God’s patience, graciousness and mercy.
I don’t think holiness is a theme or characteristic of God spoken of much these days. Nor is it applied very well either. Perhaps the only time we hear of holiness is when we are told to obey God’s ways, yet this is often heard as rules and regulations. There’s always a danger in trying to encourage people toward holiness and godliness because it can often be heard as works-righteousness. Sadly, this distorts the gospel and is a poor witness. While our faith may impact our lives we don’t pursue the holiness God requires of us.
And when I say, ‘of what God requires of us’, I want to make sure that we are clear on what I mean.
This is not saying that we need to be holy in order to attain salvation, in order to be made right with God. No, Christianity is not a works-based faith. It is a faith built on the ‘rightness’ of Jesus Christ, and the work he has done on the cross. As Sproul articulates so in the final chapters of his book,
“That a saint [a believer] is a sinner is obvious. How then can he be just? The saint is just because he has been justified. In and of himself he is not just. He is made just in the sight of God by the righteousness of Christ. This is what justification by faith is about. When we put our personal trust for our salvation in Christ and in Him alone, then God transfers to our account all the righteousness of Jesus. His justness becomes ours when we believe in Him. It is a legal transaction. The transfer of righteousness is like an accounting transaction where no real property is exchanged. That is, God puts Jesus’ righteousness in my account while I am still a sinner.” (p212)
The calling we have as believers is to follow Jesus and become more like him. An aspect of this, and as Sproul strongly prioritises as number one, is that of holiness. We are to become more holy as believers. We are seeking to do away with sin in our lives and continue to live lives that are transforming us into the likeness of Jesus. The likeness of God. Holiness is then sought as a sinner-saint. We continue to examine our own lives in light of God’s holiness and know we have a lot of work to do.
Again, the trouble with talking this way is often we find ourselves slipping into a regulated or rules based faith. Yet, we must constantly remind ourselves that the heart of the holiness transformation is for the joy of being with God, knowing God, and being made right by God.
In reading this book, and thinking about it further, I have found myself appreciating the impact it has on my heart and mind. I have particularly found myself thinking about the undeserved grace God gives to us in light of his holiness. Furthermore, it is his holiness that impacts so many areas of the biblical storyline. In fact, from Genesis 3 right through to the end of the New Testament this theme of holiness plays a significant role.
I think this book inspires a greater understanding of God. A deeper appreciation for his grace and mercy, a real understanding of our sin and sinful nature and the impact of that on our relationship with God and this world. And then, the way God’s justice plays out because of his holiness. There are so many aspects to our faith and theology that this book speaks into. And is so helpful in our personal walk with Jesus, and our own transformation toward holiness.
I couldn’t recommend it more.