Let me shock you: God’s chief characteristic is not love. “Then what is it it?” you ask. Answer: holiness. Psalm 47:8 doesn’t say that God sits upon his “loving” throne. It says that He sits upon His “holy” throne. When Moses stood before the burning bush and talked with the great I AM, he wasn’t told to take off his sandals because he was standing on “loving” ground. No, he was told to take them off because he was standing on “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!”
If God’s love trumped His holiness, everyone’s soul would go to heaven in the afterlife. But that doesn’t happen (Matthew 7:13-14; Luke 16:19-31). You see, people don’t end up in hell because God doesn’t love them. To the contrary, He loves them enough that Jesus (God the Son) died for their sins (Romans 5:6-11; 1 Corinthians 15:3), and that death allows those who place saving belief in Him 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).
Okay, now think about an earthly father, one whose chief characteristic is generosity. How best would a child of that father showcase the relationship? That child would be generous. Whenever that child displayed generosity, people would say, “You act just like your father!” 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 light of this, it’s no wonder that the spiritually lost people of this world don’t come knocking on the doors of our churches, begging us Christians to lead them to God. After all, 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? And, let’s admit it, the lives of far too many Christians are marked by these sins and others that we could name.
As a pastor, I’ve seen some church members conduct themselves in ways that did not cast their heavenly Father in a favorable light. Furthermore, I’ve heard these peoples’ feeble attempts to explain away their unholy behavior. “I know this is wrong, but…” “I understand that God isn’t pleased with what I’m doing, but I’m still a Christian.” “Whatever sins I’m committing 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 or her 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. You need to realize that your sins don’t just hurt your reputation; they hurt God’s! Since you are the child that He has produced via the born again experience (John 3:1-8), you are His statement to the world. Through you He is saying, “Here is what I can do with the person who becomes My child.” But that statement falls apart if your life is tainted by unholiness, doesn’t it? The unholiness mars the family resemblance. That’s why I encourage you to build personal holiness into your life. Live the kind of life that is worthy of the holy God who has forgiven you and made you His child. Remember, other people are watching you, and a few of them are judging the validity of your heavenly Father by way of your conduct as His child.