What’s perhaps the most commonly asked question in evangelism? Usually, it pertains to eschatology- whether one is assured of going to heaven if they were to die. I’m certainly not saying that this is an invalid or irrelevant question, but what about God’s holiness? Shouldn’t that be a crucial doctrine in relation to the Gospel?
Recently, I’ve begun a phenomenal study in the “Theology of Isaiah” for a class at Piedmont International University with perhaps one of the greatest Bible teachers alive today (I’m not exaggerating). The discussion board question for this week was to post a response about Isaiah’s doctrine of “God’s holiness.” Isaiah 6 is a classic passage about God’s holiness, but that is just touching the surface of Isaiah’s emphasis on His holiness. Read through all 66 chapters within a couple of weeks and see if you would disagree that the book of Isaiah includes an enormous amount of material relating to God’s holiness. In definition, holiness is a reference to God being “set apart” in the sense that He is ultimately a much greater being than we humans- there is no one and no thing in comparison to Him (my definition is influenced by Dr. Jerry Hullinger).
Here’s the thing that just recently caught my attention. One of the students mentioned that to his opinion (from what I could tell), eschatology is a greater emphasis in Isaiah than the attribute of God’s holiness. That’s a very respectable opinion, and in fact, he may just be correct. However, from my observations, I’d disagree and say that UNDERSTANDING GOD’S HOLINESS IS FOUNDATIONAL TO HAVING THE ESCHATOLOGY IN ISAIAH RELEVANT. This is what I mean, the book of Isaiah is directed mainly toward the nation of Israel. They, as a nation, must repent of their sin, their idolatry, their lack of faith in God (especially since they were in MAJOR trouble with threatening nations such as Assyria nearby). So, what does Isaiah contain? Several prophecies about the Messiah, the coming kingdom, and the judgement of God, BUT a lot of what Isaiah contains is getting Israel to reconsider who God is. And the way to begin, is to have the nation remember God’s holiness (consider the definition above). If we don’t consider who God is, then our entire worldview changes to egocentered beliefs, apathy towards idolatry, and a general disregarding of all of God’s common graces. Therefore, in this book, if Israel is to receive the blessings that God has to offer (see Deut. 30) then they must FIRST have a proper understanding of God’s holiness. That will affect their lives, worship, and worldviews. THEN, the eschatological prophecies about kingdom blessings and such will actually be relevant.
Now, let’s consider this in a Church Age setting. When we share the Gospel of Jesus Christ with others, should they begin with receiving a Biblical understanding of God’s holiness or eschatology (heaven vs. hell)? Well, what is the Gospel- “Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.” (Christ died for our sins) He was the propitiation for our sins- satisfied the wrath of God. That certainly pertains to God’s holiness. What we share with people about Christ is that through Him we can be reconciled to God. As a result of our restored relationship (Romans 5:1) THEN we receive the promise of heavenly blessings. So then, what comes first in sharing the Gospel? Eschatology THEN God’s holiness, or holiness THEN eschatology?
I know that I’m being pretty precise and picky. BUT, some of these were some thoughts I had on this subject. I’m in no way saying that we should avoid the subject of heaven/hell in relation to evangelism, but I am saying that if we neglect God’s holiness in evangelism then it becomes a problem.
CLARIFICATION: I’m not saying that approaches to evangelism such as Billy Graham’s tract “Steps to Peace with God” or Good News Tracts’ “Are You Going to Heaven” are in any way “wrong,” I just don’t want others to be confused with what we are sharing with people- it should be the Gospel of Jesus Christ. In all reality, I don’t evangelize enough, certainly not as much as others do.
My personal recommendations for tracts are John Piper’s “For Your Joy” from http://www.desiringgod.org
Thanks for reading!