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Bible Search
The Holiness of God by R.C. Sproul, a book review

The Holiness of God by R.C. Sproul, a book review

Saturday, February 9, 2013

7:39 AM

Dr. Sproul begins his book with an experience that he had in college in which he was overwhelmed by the holiness of God.  I will have to say that a lot of times these "experiential encounters" make me nervous because they are based on experience not on Scripture.  Sproul's is different however he encounters the holiness of God and definitely has an experience in his college's chapel but it is a very Scriptural encounter, that leaves him realizing that he needs the the presence of God in His life.

His experience coupled with Scripture leads him to realize his own sinfulness and God's greatness and glory.  It leads him to get a glimpse of the holiness of God.  A glimpse much like the glimpse that Isaiah gets in Isaiah 6, in which Isaiah is overwhelmed with the holiness of God and with his own sinfulness.

God's holiness always does this to us.  It helps us see ourselves and learn about ourselves, it reveals to us our own sinfulness and our need for redemption.  That is what happened to Isaiah and it is what happened to Sproul.

They encountered the holiness of God.  The question is what is God's holiness?  How do we define it? His holiness means that He is wholly other, that He is the uncaused cause, that He is set apart.  Entirely different from anything else.  His holiness is tied to His beauty, His power, His purity, His truth, His justice, and His love.  His holiness is a mystery because we as finite human beings cannot fully understand it.  However when we encounter the holiness of God we are always transformed.

Sproul makes that point in his book, and one of the things that I enjoyed most about it was not only does he use Scripture to show us the impact of the holiness of God, but he uses examples from throughout church history to show us as well. 

He discusses the trauma of holiness, some theologians might call it a "crisis of belief".  When we encounter God's holiness it brings us to a place of trauma, a place of crisis, a place of change.  A place where we have to decide what we are going to do before a holy God.  Peter had that experience on the sea of Galilee as did all of the disciples.  They were scared to death for a violent storm was raging, so in their fear they ran to Jesus and cried out for His help.  He  rose up and stilled the waves and the wind.  And then something amazing happened, Mark 4:41 says that when the waves died down the disciples were filled with great fear.  In other words they were scared of the storm but when they truly caught a glimpse of the greatness and holiness of God, their fear actually increased.

Isaiah's experience was much the same, when he encountered God's holiness he cried out, "woe is me I am undone."  In other words Isaiah encountered the holiness of God and it left him fearful and in a place of trauma.

Sproul uses the leader of the Protestant Reformation, Martin Luther to show the same thing.  Luther was so overcome with the holiness of God when he was celebrating his first mass as a priest that he could not conduct it.  Absolutely overwhelmed and unable to speak.  He was supposed to say, "we offer unto Thee, the living, the true, the eternal God…." But as he read those words he could say nothing.  He realized his own sinfulness, his own humanity before a holy God and like Isaiah he was undone.  Like the disciples he was filled with fear.  God's holiness brings us to that place.  A place of trauma, a place of conviction, a place of crisis, a place of decision, a place of change. 

Sproul points out a truth that is largely forgotten in today's church and that is that a true glimpse of God reveals our sinfulness to us, it leaves us undone, and shows us that we need to change.  When we truly see God's holiness we can't just sweep sin under the rug but we must repent and deal with it. 

Today we hear a lot about the love of God but we cannot neglect the justice of God.  God is holy and in His holiness, sin must be punished.  A realization of our sinfulness leaves us undone, but it doesn't leave us with hope, because it points us to the cross.  For it is on the cross of Calvary where God's holiness, God's justice, and God's love all meet in a beautiful and powerful way.  They meet in a way that points us to transformation.  Forgiveness and change are only possible through the cross and when we see God's holiness and our sinfulness.

One of the chapters that I found the most interesting was the last chapter on "Holy Space and Holy Time", and how Scripturally when they had holy moments, monuments were erected to remember and to celebrate the encounter with God.  Those holy moments lead us to transformation.  Some of the holy moments that Sproul mentions are the burning bush, Jacob's experience at Beth-el, and Noah and his family surviving the flood.  In each of these occurences an altar is constructed so that the participants might remember and worship. 

When we encounter God and His holiness we must be transformed.  We see our smallness and God's greatness, we see our sin and God's beauty, we see God's purity and our need.  A recognition of God's holiness leads us to change.

Sproul's book is a book that all Christians should read.  It is a book that points out doctrines that may make us uncomfortable and uneasy.  It is a book that brings us to a holy place, a place of trauma, a place of change.  Sproul rambles sometimes and sometimes he is hard to follow because of his vast knowledge of church history and theology, but this is a classic work that needs to be heard.  A book that needs to be worked through for the good of the church, the edification of the Christian, and the glory of God.

(8 out of 10 stars)