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THE BIBLE HOLINESS MOVEMENT
"IS NOT MY WORD LIKE AS FIRE? SAITH THE LORD"
The Bible Holiness Movement
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God's holiness and vulnerability converge in history's most important event
I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified," the Apostle Paul wrote to the Christians in Corinth. In effect, he was saying: "I've got only one sermon in my briefcase. It's about the cross. Ifyou don't like it, too bad, because you won't hear anything else from me." Paul knew how prone the Corinthians were to disdain the cross of Jesus, and having disdained their Lord's cross to disregard their own cross and instead embrace the glitzy, the sensational, the showy and the self-indulgent. He knew that unless they were re-acquainted with the cross, their faith would erode, their understanding would unravel, and their discipleship would cease to be cruciform. Only the word of the cross could correct them.
Scripture begins with God's holiness. God's holiness is that which constitutes Him uniquely God and utterly distinct from His creation. God is the absolute standard of Himself. His character is therefore without defect or deficiency. His love is free from sentimentality, His anger free from ill temper, His judgment free from arbitrariness, His patience free from indifference, His sovereignty free from tyranny.
God's holiness is what Scripture is actually about, from cover to cover. To be sure, Scripture is also about the holiness of God's people, but always about this derivatively, secondarily. Primarily, Scripture has to do with God's resolute assertion of His uncompromised holiness. This lattermost point is important,
for in our era the cross isn't seen to be about God's holiness. In our era, the cross is viewed simply as one more instance of human virtue. The world has never been without its martyrs, for instance, and the cross of Jesus bespeaks His martyrdom. The world has never been without those possessed of the courage of their convictions, and Jesus plainly possessed the courage of His convictions. The world has never been with-out those victimized by political and religious power brokers, and Jesus is one more victim.
But the apostles never speak like this of the cross of Jesus. John the Baptist was a victim; John possessed the courage of his convictions; John was a martyr; yet the apostles never speak of the death of John as they do of the death of Jesus. The cross of Jesus has a force, a significance that the beheading of John doesn't approach.
What's more, the cross of Jesus is that one, singular event that looms over everything in Scripture. The older testament anticipates the cross, from the story of Abraham and Isaac to the pronouncements of the prophets. What is it about the cross that renders it the event in human history, the event in the drama of salvation, the event in the life of God Himself apart from which there is no possibility of life eternal for us?
Here we return to the centrality of God's holiness. Everything about Him and us must be understood in terms of His holiness. Sin is our defiance of God's holiness. God's anger (His reaction to our sin) is the reaction of His holiness. God's patience with us is the persistence of His holiness. God's love is His holiness refusing to compromise itself even as it refuses to abandon us. Where does it all come to expression? In the cross. And the cross, the outcome of it all, is the triumph of God's holiness.
Because God is holy, He is jarred by our sin. Sin does more than assault Him; sin offends Him. Since there's no sin apart from sinners, God can't tolerate them either. Then He has only two choices: either He annihilates sinners, or He remedies their sinfulness. It's plain that God has chosen not to annihilate sinners and, because God's love is holy love, He provides what the apostle John calls "the remedy for the defilement of our sin." To say that God's love is holy is to say that His love is neither sentimental nor petulant. It won't let us off, neither will it let us go. In other words, not only is God's love righteous, it is also resolute. His holy love will provide the remedy for the defilement of our sin.
The reason that the cross dominates Scripture is that in the cross, God's holy love absorbs His holy anger and His holy revulsion. In the cross, the judgment of the holy God is enacted and displayed. In the cross, the judgment of the holy God is borne by the Son of God—which is to say, borne by the Father Himself, for Father and Son are one in nature, one in judgment, one in the execution of that judgment, and one in its absorption. The cross is the triumph of God's holiness in that God's relentless opposition to sinners and His unending love for them; His revulsion before sinners and His patience with them; His authority over sinners and His self-willed humiliation beneath them; all of this is concentrated in the cross and finds expression there.
I have said that in the cross, the judgment of God is seen to be operative: His face is set against sin, and sin must issue in alienation from Him. Were there no judgment upon sin, God would cease to be holy. Were God to remain unaffected by our sin; were God to be aware of our sin but indifferent concerning it; were God to know of our sin yet not react to it,
God is willing to suffer for those He loves, and suffer immeasurably, God is there-fore useless. On the contrary, just because His suffering is effective, His suffering can save us.
Let us never forget that the crucified One is not raised healed; He is raised wounded. Let us never forget that the ascended Christ suffers yet. Scripture is perfectly clear on this matter. The hymn writer knew whereof he spoke when he wrote, "Rich wounds, yet visible above."
Since the ascended, glorified, omnipotent Lord suffers yet, it's plain that His rulership of the cosmos is a rule He exercises from the throne of His cross. No one grasped this better than Martin Luther. Over and over in his writings, Luther speaks of the "theology of the cross," theologia crucis. When the world beholds the crucified, it sees only shame. The Apostle John, however, rightly discerned the cross to be the "hour" of Christ's glory. The world sees the cross as weakness. The Apostle Paul, however, knew the cross to be God's strength. The world sees the cross as folly. Yet the Church knows the cross to be that wisdom of God. The world sees the cross as that hideous moment when death gloats. Disciples know that the cross yields life eternal.
Luther knew that the cross is the crucible of all Christian understanding. In the crucible of the cross, the world's understanding is transformed as the
resurrection renders the cross victorious and therein renders Christian under-standing truth. Luther knew that while the world regards the cross as proof of God's uselessness, the cross in fact is the venue not only of God's mightiest work, but also of His most characteristic work. Vulnerability for the sake of Christ's Kingdom has to characterize our disciple-ship. Our discipleship must be cruciform, and a cross is never easy. Take forgiveness, for example. What we forgive is precisely what can never be excused. Most people confuse these two matters. We excuse the excusable. We forgive, on the other hand, what is utterly inexcusable. We forgive precisely what can never be excused. Forgiveness is never easy. Only those people forgive who have been seared and stamped with the cross.
All Christian service is cruciform. Luther said that the Christian never lives in himself. The Christian lives in another. He lives in Christ by faith, and he lives in the neighbour by love. What does this entail?
In the first place, said Luther, we live in our neighbour by sharing his need. This is not especially difficult. Out of our abundance we share our goods with our neighbour in her scarcity.
In the second place, we live in our neighbour by sharing his suffering. This is considerably more difficult, since proximity to another person's pain is itself painful for us. At the same time, we feel rather good about sharing our neighbour's suffering because we feel somewhat heroic, virtuous; we feel even better if we are recognized and commended for this.
In the third place, said Luther, we live in our neighbour by sharing his disgrace. Now no one commends us for it. In fact, people despise us for it. They whisper
that we've compromised our standards.
They wag their heads all-knowingly and claim that those who lie down with dogs get up with fleas. They remind us that you can always tell a person by the company he keeps.
Have they lost sight of the One who was numbered among the transgressors? Yes, they have. Was He a transgressor Himself? No, He was not. He who knew no sin was made to be sin in order that inexcusable sinners like you and me yet might be forgiven, and therein be rendered the righteousness of God.
But people of shrivelled heart and bit-ter spirit don't grasp the logic of a love that finds us living not in ourselves but in the neighbour for the sake of the neighbour. Not grasping the nature of such a love, they also fail to grasp the cost of a love that becomes ever costlier ' as we move from sharing the neighbour's need to sharing his suffering to sharing his disgrace. All discipleship is cruciform.
The Apostle Paul told the Corinthian Christians that the one sermon they were going to hear from him concerned Jesus Christ crucified. The cross must preoccupy us as well. For the cross is that event in which the holiness of God is recognized even as the wrath of God is averted, and the love of God is visited upon disobedient men and women. The cross reflects the truth of He who acts most effectively and most characteristically, precisely where He is most derided as useless. The cross is the pattern of our discipleship, for no servant is ever going to be greater than his master.
The cross is, and ever will be,
that act of God whereby His holiness remains uncompromised and His love unimpeded, as holy love fashions a people who reflect His goodness. This people, as stark as it is strong, is a city set on a hill. It may be harangued; it may be harried; it may be harassed; but in any case it can never be hid.
God's holiness and vulnerability converge in history's most important event. Article from "Hallelujah!"