The Holiness of God

I’ve either listened to or participated in a few discussions revolving around whether holiness is God’s fundamental, governing moral attribute.

Some who do not agree with this position believe that God’s holiness is not a specific attribute but rather is his over-arching characteristic, the sum totality of all that he is. Thus holiness is really a generic description of God. Thus, all of God’s attributes = holiness.

While this may sound like a legitimate theological option, the refrain “you shall be holy, for I am holy” heard in both the OT (Lev 11:44) and NT (1 Pet 1:16) casts a serious doubt as to its legitimacy. How are believers in any dispensation to replicate this aspect of God if it is not an attribute?

It seems that this opinion – that God’s holiness is the sum of his attributes – has been confused with God’s glory and majesty, which are not attributes but rather the result of the exercise of his attributes.

I (obviously) have not plumbed my systematic theologies for helpful pointers. However, the memory of hours pouring through the 2 point type of Augustus Hopkins Strong’s Systematic Theology sticks with me, and so I’ll close this post with some choice quotes:

When the enemy comes in like a flood, the Spirit of the Lord will raise up a standard against him. I would do my part in raising up such a standard. I would lead others to avow anew, as I do now, in spite of the supercilious assumptions of modern infidelity, my firm belief…in the old doctrines of holiness as the fundamental attribute of God (p. x).

There can be no proper doctrine of the atonement and no proper doctrine of retribution, so long as Holiness is refused its preeminence. Love must have a norm or standard, and this norm or standard can be found only in Holiness. The old conviction of sin and the sense of guilt that drove the convicted sinner to the cross are inseparable from a firm belief in the self-affirming attribute of God as logically prior to and as conditioning the self-communicating attribute (p. x).

I recognize that this short post probably won’t be convincing enough to cause those of a different persuasion to respond with an “I Surrender All.” That’s fine. Perhaps sometime in the future I’ll put together a more detailed post defending this belief – then they can come forward. 🙂

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Author: Dan Greenfield

I am an undeserving sinner saved by God's grace through Jesus Christ, a happy husband, proud father of 6 great kids, pastor of Orwell Bible Church, Executive Secretary of the American Council of Christian Churches, and member of the Ohio Bible Fellowship .

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