Thoughts on the Holiness of God and Evangelism
In my opinion there seems to be little attention to God’s chief moral attribute – holiness – in evangelism training and studies.
I might go as far as saying that some Christians have never given much thought to how God’s holiness specifically impacts our evangelism. But, the Gospel (the good news that is proclaimed or witnessed to) is primarily a message about God, not man. One of the foundational theological realities for exposing our need for the Gospel is that God is holy and man is sinful.
There seems to be very little material on the topic of God’s holiness in current readings on evangelism, at least the ones I have read. It’s there, but its brief. There is always material on the doctrine of human sinfulness (in some sense or another), but I would see sinfulness as understood in light of God’s holiness. When considering the body of material that I am familiar with, which is very limited, Lewis Drummond provided the most thorough treatment of the theological issues pertaining to evangelism in his work The Word of the Cross. Yet Drummond only treated God’s holiness briefly. Drummond makes the concise but important observation that God’s “holiness makes Him the absolute standard of Himself.” This standard not only justifies God’s wrath in that He abhors sin and evil, it also makes us aware of our need of the Gospel. Drummond states that “wrath grows out of the self-consistent nature of God.” In light of God’s holiness “forgiveness of sin becomes the basic need of all people.”
Personally I agree with Drummond’s statement that God’s holiness makes Him the absolute standard of Himself, but I wish he would have clearly shown how this makes claim on individuals in evangelism. Communicating God’s holiness is essentially communicating that He is qualitatively and radically different from his creation. Out of God’s holiness Drummond mentions four qualities that surface, God is righteous, God is just, God is wrathful, and God is good. Each of these qualities acts in perfect unity. God is consistent. God is one. It is helpful to clarify when different attributes of God are emphasized, but it must be stressed that God is not divided. In other words, we can guarantee that in everything God does He exhibits each these qualities in perfect unity as a reflection of His perfect holiness.
How does the holiness of God reveal a need for the Gospel? I think it is important to show that man is completely inconsistent in terms of morality. For example, how is it that man (in a universal sense) can in one moment exhibit qualities of goodness towards others, and in another perform completely unjust acts of cruelty? At one point we can desire vengeance and execute our anger in an unjust way, but when we witness injustice in the world we desire things to be made right. I think Will Metzger makes this point well in his book on evangelism Tell the Truth, he argues that “when people are able to see a reason for the human paradox, they may begin to admit sin is in their nature and a radical solution is therefore needed.” The reality of such inconsistency at the very least reveals an underlying problem in humanity, if not an inner desire to see this tension eradicated by good. Theologically a correct understanding of the human condition is directly tied to the holiness of God. “Our evangelism needs to stress a God of holiness.” But, how is it that man held accountable to this holy God?
J.I. Packer devotes little space to developing this thought in his classic work Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God, but what he says is helpful. His observation is that “the Gospel starts by teaching us that we, as creatures, are absolutely dependent on God, and that He, as Creator, has an absolute claim on us.” Our accountability to God was established in creation. God as our creator wrote His law on our hearts. In this way God lovingly established the right way to live, and it is necessary that we measure ourselves by those requirements. In creation, God established a moral order that reflected his own perfect moral nature. Essentially, the law is a reflection of God’s holiness by which He moves against evil. In other words, the law is the revelation of God’s holiness. The moral order that is applied to humanity holds us accountable to this holy God. If we do not sufficiently emphasize God’s holiness in our evangelism, God’s grace loses its intended impact.
Again, Metzger seemed the most helpful when it came to taking a theological truth and making specific application to evangelism practice. He writes, “to admit I am sinful in my nature (not just that I make mistakes or am imperfect), and by simply not loving God (vertical relationship), I have offended his holiness, making me liable for punishment.” The law is a tutor, revealing God’s holiness and our need for the Gospel. While the law is powerless to convert, it is essential to convict.
How else can we show God’s holiness as essential to and in our evangelism?