Q&R with Brad – “But God is holy…”

Poem by Franki
(@frankiwritespoetry on Instagram)

When your
perception of the
love and
acceptance of
is less than what a
human being
would offer
a stranger, it’s

Reader’s question

But he’s God.
He’s holy and I can’t get past how that makes me view him as a judge of my behavior.
He doesn’t accept sin.
And I “was born in sin”.
I don’t want to see myself as sinful needing a savior from my evilness,
but I feel the Bible tells me this story.
If he accepts me, why do I need to do anything at all?


This is such an important line of inquiry that it bears answering in stages.

“But he’s God.” I don’t see that “but” need come between God and God’s love, since God IS love. “God is love” and that God showed us this love in the person of Jesus (1 John 4:7-8). Full stop. There is not but to the Love of God because that is God’s nature and essence. Everything else we say of God cannot be over against that love. All of God’s attributes are facets of that simple (undivided) nature.

“God is Holy.” Yes, God is holy. Now how we define holy is crucial (literally, as we will see). Holiness is an attribute of God’s nature, meaning that holiness is an adjective of God’s love. There is no but between the love and holiness of God. The holiness of God does not negate the love of God but rather, is defined by that love. They only ‘holiness’ that is not divine love was that of the religious rulers who crucified Jesus. So if we’re going to define holiness, it better be through the person of Jesus. How did he define holiness?

We read, “Be holy as I am holy” (from Leviticus to 1 Peter). The emphasis there is on imitating the Holy One who called us. To be like him is to be holy. The way Jesus says it is “Be perfect as your Heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). The question is then, HOW is the Heavenly Father “perfect”? Does the holy perfection of the Father reject and condemn sinners? Let’s ask Jesus. Here is Jesus’ definition of the holy perfection of his Father:

  • 43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:43-48).

So in Jesus’ revelation of the perfect holiness of the Father, he identifies holiness as love … and not just love for those who love God, but even for God’s enemies. The Father pours out indiscriminate love and blessing on both good people AND sinful evil people. Jesus says, “That’s what holiness does. Be like that.” And then Jesus himself demonstrates this again and again as he welcomes ‘sinners’ to be with him, to dine with him, and to experience God’s grace through him. Again, holiness is a defined by divine love and is a facet of that love.

“He doesn’t accept sin.” What is sin? Sin in all its forms boils down to turning away from love. God cannot sin, so he cannot turn away from love. This means that he DOES accept sinners who turn to him. And God will NOT accept their turning away … in love, God will continually invite and pursue them until they return to him. God will continue to send the love that drives out the fear that generates our sin. In other words, he love sinners by welcoming treating the sickness of sin with the medicine of mercy until we are healed.

“I was born in sin.” I asked myself, “Where is that in the Bible?” So I googled “born in sin” and “Bible” and was directed to a website that promised to show me 19 Bible verses about being born in sin. Not one of those passages makes that statement. When you look at a newborn baby, what sin are they guilty of committing? Can they be guilty of their parents’ sin? Jeremiah 31:30 says no. We are only responsible for our own complicity or participation in sin (our own turning). What the Bible does say is that everyone sins. Of course we do. Tragic but inevitable. And to this truth, we have good news:

  • “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:23-34).

Paul isn’t wagging a condemning finger here. The tone is more like he’s shrugging his shoulders and saying, “Of course we ALL sin. Of course we inevitably turn from love. That’s sad but not surprising. BUT here’s the good news. As we ALL sin, so we are ALL justified by grace. That’s the good news of Jesus.”

“I don’t want to see myself as sinful needing a savior from my evilness,…” It would take a fairly intense level of denial to claim we have never sinned or turned from love. It would be strange to imagine we have never participated in failing to love God, neighbor, stranger, or enemy as we should. Jesus calls us to repent of our turning … to Re-Turn our hearts back to love. And when we do, we find that God in Christ has opened his arms (on the Cross!) and said “Welcome home!” In that embrace, we discover forgiveness for our sins rather than punishment, and we experience the power of grace to free us from our attachment to the self-centered life.

I suspect that you read the poem as if God is saying, “Sin doesn’t matter.” Of course it does. But the fact of our sin never excludes us from the love of God. And the love of God for the sinner is experienced as forgiveness and cleansing, never condemnation and shame.

“But I feel the Bible tells me this story…” The story in a nutshell is there in the parable of the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost sons, spoken to those who were disgusted with Jesus for eating with sinners and accepting them at his table. He says to them, “I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance” (Luke 5:32). He DOESN’T say, I will accept you IF you are holy. He invites them to come AS unholy sinners to experience his love and mercy as the active ingredient in our healing from the disease of sin and our impulse to turn from his love. REPENT doesn’t mean “be holy so I will accept you” but rather “return so that my love will make you whole.”

“If he accepts me, why do I need to do anything at all?” In Christless religion, we have to DO something to earn God’s love and acceptance. But in a living relationship with the God who IS love, we are accepted upfront. Does that acceptance mean we don’t reciprocate God’s love at all? Of course not. I have been married for 35 years. My wife loves me and accepts me, even though I have failed her many times. But I don’t see the leap from her love and faithful acceptance to “then why do I need to do anything at all?”

The “covenants” of God are a metaphor comparing God’s relationship with us to a spousal arrangement. He loves us, even when we’ve been unfaithful. And discovering this, we desire to be faithful. This is the message of the prophet Hosea: God’s people are like an adulterous wife. But he loves her anyway and takes her back and accepts her before she even repents. That acceptance is not conditional on her repentance and faithfulness. Instead, the grace of our divine husband when we failed him actually creates and generates love and gratitude in our hearts. His grace motivates us to love him back become faithful ourselves. As John says, “We love him because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19). Or as Paul says, “God’s love was demonstrated to us even while we were still sinners” (Romans 5:8).

So if God accepts me, why do anything? Because his love has captured my heart and I love him as a result.

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