The Holiness of God: A Book Review

 

Dr. R.C. Sproul’s classic treatment concerning God’s Holiness is a valuable, if not required, addition to any Christian library. The Holiness of God bridges the gap between seminary training and Sunday school, just as Sproul’s Ligonier Ministries aims to do. With advanced study, but comprehensive language, this book enables the believer to better grasp the distinct “otherness” of God.

Holiness is what separates God from us. It is the element of God’s character that is both purity and transcendence. In simple terms, holiness is being above, different, and set apart from that which is not. When sinful human beings grasp the distinct purity and transcendence of a holy God, only fear and awe will abound. In the presence of God’s holiness, the fear of judgment will arise in the unsaved. For the believer, the awe of salvation is present.

We witness these two extremes in the life of Peter. After a miraculous catch of fish by Jesus’ hand, the apostle Peter experienced this fear of judgment. The gospel of Luke records the disciples’ response, “Go away from me Lord; I am a sinful man” (Luke 5:8). Later, Peter would confess Jesus as the Christ, the Son of the living God (Matthew 16:16), and reaffirm his love and devotion to Him (John 21:17).  

In chapter five, Sproul presents a unique biographical sketch of reformer Martin Luther. This is by far one of my favorite chapters due to Luther’s intriguing life and bold gospel defense against the Roman Catholic Church in the sixteenth century. Trained as a lawyer, Luther struggled to answer the question, “how could a just God accept an unjust (sinful) man” (pg. 123). This reformer recognized the holiness of God and the law of God, but could not understand how the two related to one another. Paul’s letter to the Romans became the famed “tower experience” for Luther that presented justification as the cohesive unifier of these two seemingly polar opposites.

Chapter six is Sproul at his best handling difficult questions concerning God’s justice and wrath against sin. Surveying the lives of Nadab, Abihu, Uzzah, and others, we are humbled to know that approaching a Holy God on our own terms is always blasphemous and dangerous. God’s justice is far above our own definition and when God demands something that we deem unfair, our sin is a blatant reminder of our warped sense of right and wrong.

In addition, a few of my favorite passages from the entire book occurred in chapter eight. Sproul mentions the importance of pursuing transformation and depth in our spiritual understanding. The author quotes Paul regarding the key method of achieving this change as “the renewal of the mind” (Romans 12:22). A disciplined education and mastery of the Word of God is the catalyst for spiritual transformation. In the words of R.C. Sproul, “We need to be people whose lives have changed because our minds have changed.” 

The author concludes his book with a fascinating section comparing the three major theological stances of Protestantism. Comparing Pelagianism, semi-Pelagianism, and Augustinianism, it is not surprising the author gravitates to the latter.

Pelagianism is a “naturalistic religion giving no credence to supernatural things” (pg. 231). Semi-Pelagianism is also known as Arminianism. Augustinianism finds present-day expression in Calvinism or Reformed Theology. For the sake of this final chapter, I would recommend this book to anyone.

Quotes: 

“The key method Paul underscores as the means to the transformed life is by the “renewal of the mind.” This means nothing more and nothing less than education. Serious education. In-depth education. Disciplined education in the things of God. We need to be people whose lives have changed because our minds have changed” (pg. 210). 

“To be a saint means to be separated. But it means more than that. The saint also is to be involved in a vital process of sanctification. We are to be purified daily in the growing pursuit of holiness. If we are justified, we must also be sanctified” (pg. 211). 

“Evangelicals today have unconverted sinners who are dead in trespasses and sin bringing themselves to life by choosing to be born again. Christ made it clear that dead people cannot choose anything, that the flesh profits nothing and that a person must be born of the Spirit before he can even see the kingdom of God, let alone enter it” (pg. 232). 

“A sound theology must be a theology where grace is central to it. When we understand the character of God, when we grasp something of His holiness, then we begin to understand the radical character of our sin and helplessness. Helpless sinners can only survive by grace. Our strength is futile in itself; we are spiritually impotent without the assistance of a merciful God” (pg. 233). 

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