Let me shock you: God’s chief characteristic is not love; it is holiness. Psalm 47:8 doesn’t say that God sits upon his “loving” throne. It says that He sits upon His “holy” throne. As Moses stood before the burning bush and talked with the great I AM, he wasn’t told to take off his sandals because the ground was “loving” ground. He had to take them off because it was “holy” ground (Exodus 3:1-14).
How holy is God? Even the stars aren’t pure in His sight (Job 25:5). His eyes are so pure they cannot look upon wickedness (Habakkuk 1:13). He speaks in holiness (Psalm 60:6). He swears by His holiness (Psalm 89:35). His name is “Holy” (Isaiah 57:15). It’s no wonder the seraph angels of Isaiah 6:1-3 cry out, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts!”
The fact is, if God’s love trumped His holiness, everyone’s soul would go to heaven in the afterlife. But that doesn’t happen. Many souls go to hell (Matthew 7:13-14; Luke 16:19-31). People don’t end up in hell because God doesn’t love them. He loves them enough that Jesus (God the Son) died for their sins (Romans 5:6-11; 1 Corinthians 15:3). That death allows those who place their belief in Christ to be forgiven of all their sins (John 3:16-18; Colossians 1:14, 2:13; 1 John 2:12). No, people end up in hell because God’s holiness compels Him to judge the unforgiven sins of those who do not believe in Christ as Savior (John 3:36; John 5:40; Titus 1:15; Hebrews 2:3).
Now, what if your earthly father’s chief characteristic was generosity? How best could you show people that you were his child? You would be generous, right? Whenever you displayed generosity, people would say, “Oh, how much you act like your father! You are His child. No doubt about it.” Well, Christian, God is your heavenly father (John 1:1-5, 9-12; Galatians 4:4-7; 1 John 3:1). How then can you best show people that you are His child? You got it: be holy. This connection is made so clearly in passages such as 1 John 3:2-3, 1 Peter 1:15-16, and 2 Corinthians 6:14-18, 7:1.
In view of this, it’s no wonder that the world doesn’t come knocking on the doors of our churches, begging us to lead them to God. What’s so appealing about a father whose children engage in sexual immorality, alcohol abuse, lying, cheating, foul language, pornography, drug use, backbiting, greed, provocative dress, and unforgiveness? Certainly I understand there are plenty of Christians whose lives aren’t marked by any of these sins. I also understand, though, that there are too many whose lives are.
As a pastor, I’ve seen times when some of my church members conducted themselves in ways that did not cast their heavenly Father in a favorable light. I’m also aware of the feeble attempts to explain away unholy behavior. “I know this is wrong, but…” “I understand that God isn’t pleased with what I’m doing, but I’m still going to heaven when I die.” “Whatever sins I’m commiting are covered by the blood of Christ.” The problem with all of these lines is that they lean heavily on the love of God and play down His holiness. They make God out to be a God of mush and gush whose love forces Him to accept any and all standards of conduct. This is not the God of the Bible. This is the God of the person who doesn’t have enough healthy respect for God’s frightful holiness to repent of his sins.
Christian, if you have never done so, it’s time you started taking your heavenly Father’s holiness seriously. It’s time you gave some real thought to how your ways are causing Him to appear to others. Your sins don’t just hurt your reputation; they hurt God’s! You are the child that He has produced via the born again experience (John 3:1-8). Thus, you are His statement to one and all. Through you He is saying, “Here is what I can do with the person who becomes my child.” But do you recognize how that statement falls apart if your life is tainted by unholiness? You see, the idea of a family resemblance can be a good thing or a bad thing. And it’s up to you to make sure that, in your case, it’s a good thing.