In order to understand God’s love in our current culture, it’s necessary to distinguish what love doesn’t mean and to see it in relationship to God’s other attributes. Yes, God is love, but it is not His only attribute, nor is it always His defining attribute. More and more we hear that God’s love overshadows all His other attributes, as if the rest have only secondary importance.
Gregory Boyd writes, “God is unsurpassable love. The foundational difference between the true image of God and every version of the serpent’s lie is that Jesus Christ first and foremost reveals God as unsurpassable love: ‘God is love.’… The most fundamental distinguishing characteristic of every false picture of God is that it qualifies and compromises the truth about God’s love.”
Unfortunately, this viewpoint guarantees that affirmations of God’s holiness or justice, which also should never be qualified or compromised, will appear to qualify and compromise God’s love.
God is loving, but He is not only loving. Isaiah says, “I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted…. Above him were seraphs, each with six wings…. And they were calling to one another: ‘Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty’” (6:1–3). Notice that the angels before his face day and night do not cry, “Love, Love, Love is the LORD Almighty.”
Lest we believe that God’s love in the New Testament eclipses His holiness in the Old Testament, the final book of the Bible reveals the present and future in a picture similar to Isaiah’s vision: “Each of the four living creatures had six wings and was covered with eyes all around, even under his wings. Day and night they never stop saying: ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come’” (Revelation 4:8).
God did not cease to be uncompromisingly holy when Jesus came into the world. God’s eternal character does not change (see Malachi 3:6; James 1:17). That means the following Old Testament declarations remain just as true now as when they first appeared in Scripture:
Who is like you—
majestic in holiness,
awesome in glory,
working wonders? (Exodus 15:11)
Who can stand in the presence of the LORD, this holy God?
(1 Samuel 6:20)
Your ways, O God, are holy. (Psalm 77:13)
Exalt the LORD our God
and worship at his footstool;
he is holy….
You were to Israel a forgiving God,
though you punished their misdeeds.
Exalt the LORD our God
and worship at his holy mountain,
for the LORD our God is holy. (Psalm 99:5, 8–9)
Of course, holiness is not God’s only other attribute, which makes it all the more important that we refuse to reduce Him only to love. But we can distinguish holiness from love, so it serves as a good example. Notice how Joshua appealed to God’s holiness, not His love:
You are not able to serve the LORD. He is a holy God; he is a jealous God. He will not forgive your rebellion and your sins. If you forsake the LORD and serve foreign gods, he will turn and bring disaster on you and make an end of you, after he has been good to you. (Joshua 24:19–20)
To demons, God’s defining characteristic is His holiness. A demon said to Jesus, “What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!” (Mark 1:24).
Only one attribute of God forms part of the name of a member of God’s triune person—not the Loving Spirit, but the Holy Spirit. The angel announcing Messiah’s incarnation referred to all three members of the Trinity. Note the prominence of God’s holiness and power: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God” (Luke 1:35).
When Paul alludes to two godlike qualities, the Lord’s righteousness and holiness come to his mind: “Put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:24).
God cares as much that we share in His holiness as in His love: “God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness…. Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:10, 14).
Excerpted from Randy’s book If God Is Good.