If I were to ask you to sum up the gospel in one word, what would it be? I think it’s fair to say that for many of us, that word would be love. And how could we not see love demonstrated in the gospel? When we set our eyes on the cross of Calvary, when we realize that God himself took the humble form of a man and allowed himself to be tortured, humiliated, and killed for our sake in order that we might restore our relationship with him, it’s hard not to see love. In fact, we cannot possibly overstate the crucial importance of the love that was displayed in Christ’s death. Nevertheless, love isn’t all there is to the gospel. There is also holiness, and unfortunately, I think sometimes we allow this characteristic of the gospel (as well as this characteristic of God, for that matter) to fall by the wayside. It’s difficult to diagnose precisely why this occurs, but I wonder if it isn’t because God’s holiness is immensely convicting. Consider, for instance, the following quote from A.W. Tozer:
“The sudden realization of his [Isaiah’s] personal depravity came like a stroke from heaven upon the trembling heart of Isaiah at the moment when he had his revolutionary vision of the holiness of God. His pain-filled cry, ‘Woe is me! For I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts,’ expresses the feeling of every man who has discovered himself under his disguises and has been confronted with an inward sight of the holy whiteness that is God. Such an experience cannot but be emotionally violent.”
In order to truly grasp the weight of God’s holiness, we must also realize the great extent of our unholiness (or depravity), and as Tozer said in the quote above, “Such an experience cannot but be emotionally violent.” Nevertheless, it is impossible to understand the gospel in its entirety apart from the holiness of God, and therefore, we must discipline ourselves to such a study.
I have heard it asked (and wondered myself at times) why Jesus had to die on the cross in order for humanity to be reconciled with God. After all, as an all-powerful God, could God not have simply snapped his fingers, and made man once more righteous in His sight? The answer is no, for to do so would be to ignore one of his other attributes: holiness. When Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden, they committed a crime a holy God could not ignore. Justice was required. By way of example, if I was to lose my temper and murder someone, would it not be irresponsible of the judge presiding over my case to let me go without any kind of penalty? Of course it would! In the same way, it would be irresponsible and unjust of God to let sin go unpunished.
Thankfully, in His extravagant mercy, God sent His Son to pay the penalty for our sin so that we wouldn’t have to. The gospel ought to become all the sweeter to our ears when we realize the extent of our sin that Christ was willing to take upon Himself so that we could have a relationship with Him. It is in the cross of Christ that we see the love of God and the holiness of God coming together in one place and one event like never before in the history of mankind.