*The following is an adapted excerpt from Before the Throne: Reflections on God’s Holiness by Allen S. Nelson IV (2019).
The Gospel of a Holy God
The need of every human being is to be reconciled to their holy and good Creator whom they have sinned against, turned away from, and despised. This reconciliation is only possible through the finished work of Jesus – His perfect life, substitutionary death, and victorious resurrection – as it is applied to the sinner by the Holy Spirit through means of the proclamation of the gospel.
But this gospel isn’t just “believe these facts and then you’re saved and we’ll feed you stuff that’s really entertaining!” This gospel is everything. A lot of people claim to be Christians who are not ever in awe of God. It’s like pulling teeth to get them to come regularly to church. Their Bible is rarely read. Prayer is almost nonexistent. These people have not truly understood the fullness of the gospel. And maybe that’s because we’ve too often made the gospel into something primarily about us.
The gospel is not primarily about us. It is first and foremost about a holy God. As we proclaim the bigness and glories of the holiness of God the response of people should always be either “woe is me” or “worthy are You.” Woe is me is the sense of seeing the full ramifications of our sin against God and our need to be cleansed by the sacrificial work of Christ, coming to Christ in faith and resting in His work alone for salvation. We don’t even fully understand ourselves until we encounter the holiness of God. Worthy are You is the sense of seeing the full ramifications of what Christ’s finished work has done for us. We who were guilty, vile, and helpless have by grace through faith been redeemed by the blood of Jesus. He bore the wrath of God so that justice could be satisfied. And by faith, we are clothed in His righteousness.
What do we do if we find people seemingly still bored with the holy God of the Bible? You keep teaching. You keep preaching. You keep showing forth God’s holy splendor. You keep praying. You keep beholding. Don’t quit. Don’t give up. You keep on until they get it.
The truth is some people might not “get it”, but you’ve got to keep going. Your church’s job is to present a holy God who has made reconciliation for sinners in Christ. Boredom is in the heart of the beholder. What needs to happen is for a person’s heart to change which is the work of the Holy Spirit in the sharing of the gospel. So, you keep exulting in the holiness of God and show that to others in word, song, and deed. Trust God for the heart change. You can’t control someone’s response, but you are responsible for your part in setting forth a correct depiction of our holy God.
I’ve seen many zealous parents urge their kids to play sports even when the child didn’t like it at first. The parents are trying to show them how much fun baseball is and the kid is out in right field with his glove off eating a booger and kicking an ant mound. The same is true of playing the piano or learning karate, for that matter (well, except for the ant mound. Boogers may still be in play). But parents keep after it. Why? Because they know when it “clicks” the child is going to really enjoy it. And when he gets MVP of the team during their state title run ten years later or plays a beautiful recital, the parents are glad they kept encouraging the issue. Believers have something infinitely greater. Plus, not every kid will really like sports or get to be the MVP, but we know that every human heart was made to be eternally captivated by the glory of God. We have truth on our side—Lord Sabaoth His name, from age to age the same, and He must win the battle.
So, if you find church members or professing Christians needing to be “captivated” by something other than the holiness of God, don’t give up. Don’t stop beholding. Keep preaching the point of the Bible to them, which is the glory of a holy God. He is the God of unborable holiness.
Behold Our God
A.W. Tozer once wrote: “It is now common practice in most evangelical churches to offer the people, especially the young people, a maximum of entertainment and a minimum of serious instruction. It is scarcely possible in most places to get anyone to attend a meeting where the only attraction is God. One can only conclude that God’s professed children are bored with Him, for they must be wooed to meeting with a stick of striped candy in the form of religious movies, games, and refreshments. Any objection to the carryings-on of our present golden-calf Christianity is met with the triumphant reply, “But we are winning them!” And winning them to what? To true discipleship? To cross-carrying? To self-denial? To separation from the world? To crucifixion of the flesh? To holy living? To nobility of character? To a despising of the world’s treasures? To hard self-discipline? To love for God? To total committal to Christ? Of course, the answer to all these questions is no.”
It’s gut-check time for the local church. Why are we spending so much time, effort, money, and energy in trying to attract people with something other than our infinitely holy God? It is rank idolatry to work on captivating men’s hearts with something other than the glory of a holy God. May we cease our efforts to outdo one another in who can be edgier. Instead, let us proclaim the glories of the God of unborable holiness. We have no hope of turning the tide of the consumeristic mindset in contemporary worship without an unwavering commitment to God’s holiness. Preach the Bible I’m not trying to oversimplify the issue, but I really mean what I say here: preach the Bible. The resplendent holiness of God that shines out to us throughout the pages of Scripture is enough to satisfy genuine churches.
No, it might not satisfy people who refuse to behold their God, but keep after it. What business do we have entertaining people straight to hell because at the first taste of the holiness of God they balk? Keep after it. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth (2 Timothy 2: 25). Behold your God! Behold Him in the face of Jesus Christ and His merit, atoning death, and victorious resurrection. Hold forth the Holy God of the Bible before the people and you can be sure you won’t just siphon people off from other churches because they want to see the latest and greatest firework you have to offer.
Yes, this particular exhortation is aimed at pastors, but it’s not just for pastors. It’s relevant for parents, Sunday School teachers, denominational leaders, missionaries, and actually every believer. Theology matters for all of us. I wonder, for my own life, and for all Christians really, what God would do with pastors, laypersons, and churches who had a heart that truly hungered for Him? If we really understood the greatness and glory of our holy God what might that look like in our lives, families, and communities? What might God do with a people like this? People who saw their own unclean lives but rested in the finished work of Jesus. People who cast down their golden crowns, all that they thought was shiny, meaningful, and valuable, and saw the Lord as high and lifted up in their hearts, as the supremely holy One. People who didn’t just give lip service to the Bible but actually sought to believe all of it. People who dug deep into the Bible because that’s where they saw God. People who have tasted Him and they want more.
John Owen, in his work, The Mortification of Sin, encourages believers to meditate regularly on the glory of God. He writes, “Keep your heart in continual awe of the majesty of God. [P]ersons of the most high and eminent attainment, of the nearest and most familiar communion with God, do yet in this life know but a very little of him and his glory.”
You have much further to go in your thinking about God. There are infinite perfections in our holy God for you to feast your heart upon in adoring wonder. The transcendent holiness of God is many things. We will spend an eternity reveling in it. But one thing it is not and never can be by its very nature: boring. You were made to be captivated. This is why certain songs, movies, stories, shows, and talents amaze us. They are little arrows pointing to what we were really made for: God. And only the triune holy God of the Bible can satisfy the deepest longings of our hearts. Only the Holy Father has planned the way of salvation. Only the Holy Son has died on the cross for our sins. Only the Holy Spirit applies redemption to our hearts. Open your Bible today and feast your eyes upon the Unborable Holiness of God.