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God is light!

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty” (Revelation 4:8).

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Published: 31 December 2019 (GMT+10)
God-is-light

Most Christians are familiar with the proclamation “God is love”, which the Apostle John wrote twice in his First Letter (1 John 4:8 & 16). Not quite so well known is John’s other pronouncement “God is light” (1 John 1:5), with light being a metaphor for God’s holiness and glory.

Many Christians, if asked which attribute of God they consider to be the most important, might say God’s love. And no doubt the reason for this would be because they have experienced the expression of this love via God’s forgiveness of their sins because of Christ’s death and resurrection, and they are appropriately grateful.

So how does this compare with the way God has manifested Himself to the world in His Word, the Bible?

God’s holiness

The attribute of God by which He is described in the Bible more often than any other is His holiness.1 Holiness is the infinite purity of God’s nature, and the infinite glory of all God’s perfections. Holiness is everything that God is. His name is a holy name (Psalm 103:1). His promise is a holy promise (Psalm 105:42). Because God is holy, His attributes of wisdom, love, justice, mercy, grace, goodness, etc., are holy wisdom, holy love, holy justice, holy mercy, holy grace, holy goodness, etc.

One of these attributes of God is mentioned in triplicate. The Bible doesn’t say that God is love, love, love; or justice, justice, justice, or mercy, mercy, mercy; but it does say that God is “holy, holy, holy”2. Once would be a fact, twice would be emphasis, but three times indicates the supreme importance, authority, and pre-eminence of God’s holiness.

Mankind’s sin, an offence to God’s holiness

Sin is everything that mankind does that is contrary to the expressed will of God (Romans 3:20; 4:15; 4:17). As such, sin is an absolute offence to the holiness of God. The measure of God’s wrath against sin is the measure of His holiness. The measure of the penalty—death—is the measure of the enormity of the offence.

According to the biblical record, sin began in the Garden of Eden when our ancestors, the first humans, Adam and Eve, chose to disobey the one prohibition that God had given them. This was followed by the judgment of God—His pronouncement of the penalty of death (Genesis 3:1–24). Then, when man “began to multiply on the face of the land” (Genesis 6:1), the wickedness of everybody except one family was so great that the judgment of God fell on that generation with the penalty being their destruction by the Flood (Genesis Chapters 6 & 7). A few chapters later, the Bible tells of the judgment of God against the sexual immorality of the men of Sodom and Gomorrah (Jude 7) with the penalty being the destruction of these cities and all their inhabitants by fire (Genesis 19:1–29).

Two important things for us follow from the fact that man is sinful and God is holy:

  1. There is a gulf between God and sinners. Before sin came, the first man (Adam) and God had perfect personal sinless fellowship with each other (Genesis 2:7, 15–25). Now, similar perfect fellowship between us and God is impossible (this side of Heaven).
  2. Because man no longer has the sinlessness necessary for access to God, we can only approach God through the merits of another. Christ has provided that access through His death on the Cross to pay the penalty for our sin, and His resurrection (Romans 5:2; Ephesians 2:18; Hebrews 10:19 ff.). When we repent of our sin and receive Jesus Christ as our Saviour and Lord (Romans 10:9), God forgives our sins (1 John 1:9), we are united with Christ (Romans 8:1), and God imputes (or credits) us with Christ’s own perfect righteousness (2 Corinthians 5:21).

Preaching the Gospel in the New Testament

When the Apostle Paul preached the Gospel to the men of Athens3 (Acts 17:18–34), the reason he gave for urging them to repent was: “God commands all people everywhere to repent, because He has fixed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed, and of this He has given assurance to all, by raising him from the dead” (vv. 30–31). Paul’s message was effective. Although “some mocked, others said, ‘We will hear you again about this’… But some men joined him and believed, among whom also were Dionysius the Areopagite and a woman named Damaris and others with them” (vv. 32 & 34).

The content of Paul’s message is particularly interesting, if we regard the book of Acts as our methodology to follow as Christian workers obeying the Great Commission today. Paul did not tell the Greeks that God loved them. He told them that God commanded them to repent because they faced judgment. In fact, as a concordance shows, the word ‘love’ does not occur even once in Acts in any context. Expositions about the love of God in the New Testament by Paul, James, Peter and John were all written to Christians, and apparently not preached to non-Christians.

In the Gospel of John, the Apostle records for us Christ’s final words/advice/instructions to His disciples on the night before His crucifixion.4 Christ tells them that He will send them the Holy Spirit, “And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment” (John 16:8–9). Thus it is the role of the Holy Spirit to convict unbelievers of sin and consequent judgment, and thereby bring them to recognize their need of a Saviour.

What then of the love of God?

Love is a hugely important attribute of God. However, God’s love to sinners, as seen in the sacrifice of His Son on the Cross, can only be adequately understood when seen in the light of God’s holiness and hence His wrath against sin (Romans 1:18; 2:8). ‘God/Jesus loves you’ is not the complete Gospel, because it does not contain sufficient doctrine for genuine conversion, which God manifests to us solely through Christ’s death on the Cross (Colossians 1:20; Hebrews 9:14, 22; 1 John 1:7), followed by His resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:3–4).

Furthermore, at the Cross of Christ, any apparent contrast or conflict between the infinite love/mercy of God and the infinite justice/holiness of God is resolved. All the demands of God’s love, God’s mercy, God’s justice, and God’s holiness were satisfied. God’s love was functioning; God’s mercy was operating; God’s justice was established; and God’s holiness was vindicated.

How does this relate to the Creation Ministries message?

By affirming the reliability of Genesis history, CMI is firstly proclaiming the truth and authority of the Bible ‘from cover to cover’, which is fundamental to the credibility of the Gospel message.

But it goes beyond that. Other than creation itself, the most profound event recorded in Genesis is the Fall into sin, which resulted in God’s Curse on a once-perfect world (Genesis 3:17–19). The second most profound event is God’s subsequent judgement on the sinners of that time by means of the Flood (Genesis Chapters 6–8). Both events are crucial in interpreting the record of the past.

The Fall (from a once-perfect world) explains the death, disease and bloodshed recorded in fossil-bearing rocks, without impugning the goodness of God. But it does so only when seen in the light of the Flood, which refutes the view that these rocks are billions of years old. Because in a long-age view of the fossil record, the mayhem it records (cancer, carnivory, pain, and bloodshed all on a massive scale) would have to have happened long before man’s appearance, and hence before any possibility of man’s Fall into sin.

This is the fatal flaw of any long-age view of origins, whether theistic evolution, or so-called ‘step-by-step’ or ‘progressive’ creation; it must reject both the Fall’s effect in bringing about death, violence, and suffering in all creatures, as well as the biblically-affirmed global nature of the Flood.

And since both the Genesis Fall and the Genesis Flood proclaim the absolute holiness of God and the sinfulness of sin, this underscores the importance to the Gospel and evangelism of proclaiming the truth of Genesis. It also explains why the watering-down of Genesis history in theological institutions (e.g. by teaching the Framework Hypothesis) has led to an overemphasis on the love of God, but without the crucial biblical context as above. God has become largely relegated to the realm of ‘feelings’, and God’s love is widely seen today as some sort of ubiquitous ‘security blanket’ against the prospect of judgment of sin. But if “God is light”, unbelievers are in trouble.

This is why creation evangelism has such a consistently powerful track record in today’s ungodly world. The scriptural example of Paul’s preaching to the Athenians makes it clear that we should not limit our evangelism to apprising people of the love of God. We also need to proclaim, as did the Apostles, the holiness of God, and therefore God’s wrath against sin, which is needed in order to have a right understanding of what God’s love is all about.

Understanding that ‘God is light’ highlights the need for people to come into a right relationship with God by the one and only means that He has provided. This is His offer of forgiveness for our sin, based on our repentance (change of mind about Him) and, through the Holy Spirit and by His grace, receiving Jesus Christ as Saviour—the Lord of our life (Romans 10:9).

References and notes

  1. E.g. Israelites were instructed by God to “be holy, for I am holy” (Leviticus 11: 44 &45; 19:1–2; cf. 20:7 &26; 21:8, which instruction the Apostle Peter repeats in 1 Peter 1:15–16). And many times in the rest of the OT, God or God’s name is declared to be holy (e.g. 1 Samuel 2:2; Psalm 22:3; 99: 3, 5, 9; Ezekiel 39:7, etc.). Indeed God is called “the holy one of Israel” some 30 times just in Isaiah. Return to text.
  2. Isaiah 6:3 and Revelation 4:8. Note: once in the OT and once in the NT, indicating that God is the same in both Testaments. Return to text.
  3. Paul’s audience consisted of Epicurean and Stoic philosophers. The Epicureans followed the evolutionary teachings of Empedocles (e.g. that the fittest forms of life originated by chance), and of Aristotle (e.g. that there was a gradation of living forms from the lowest upwards to man), and they believed that sensuous pleasure was the chief purpose of existence. The Stoics were pantheistic. Thus Greek society was evolutionary, hedonistic, and pagan (cf. our society today!). Return to text.
  4. John chapters 13–17 inclusive, i.e. no less than five chapters out of 21 in John’s Gospel. Return to text.

Helpful Resources

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Readers’ comments

Michael B.
The attribute of God that He called us to emulate “Be holy for I am Holy.”
It is a call to repentance and sanctification through obedience.

Therefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and rest your hope fully upon the grace that is to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ; as obedient children, not conforming yourselves to the former lusts, as in your ignorance; but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, because it is written, “Be holy, for I am holy.” 1 Peter 1:13–16


Thank you for keeping us centered on the basics.
Your Brother in Christ,
Michael
David N.
Excellent article! Yes, praise God for His love, but this is a much-needed balance to our culture’s distortion of His love which says He has no standards and everything will be forgiven just because “God is love”.
Steve H.
A great message Russell!

“Expositions about the love of God in the New Testament by Paul, James, Peter and John were all written to Christians, and apparently not preached to non-Christians.”

This exposes the non-biblical yet oft-quoted statement that “God loves the sinner but hates the sin”.

In fact, God loves those who have truly repented of their sin through faith in the saving work of God the Son, our Lord Jesus Christ: for now God the Father sees them clothed in Jesus’ righteousness (2 Corinthians 5:21), and will receive them holy, as He is, when clothed in their new perfect sinless bodies (Colossians 1:22).

As for the unrepentant: despite God being perfectly loving, His wrath remains on them (John 3:36).

There are times and seasons for everything (Ecclesiastes 3:1). In view of declining church statistics in the western world, could it be said that the season for the teaching of God’s love been too long, or misdirected? Has the pendulum swung too far? Has the “carrot” of God’s love proven insufficient, in and of itself, to call sinners to repentance and faith—must we now return to the “unfashionable” teachings of yesteryear, returning again to the “stick” of God’s wrath and eternal judgement on man’s stubborn, rebellious, selfish heart? Indeed, was it ever an either / or decision?

We should always seek and teach the full counsel of God.

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