Author’s note: I had planned to get this written before Easter, but my family contracted the Wuhan flu during the last weekend in March. Even though I tried to build up my immune system with supplements, it hit me the worst. I still have fatigue from it.
“God is love.”
We see this phrase posted on signs, cars, and on various products in Christian bookstores. So many Christians seem to focus only on God’s love and unfortunately downplay his other attributes.
We sing songs about how Jesus loved us so much that he was willing to die for us. Love held him on the cross. But was it only love that held him there?
Why did Jesus have to die? Even in the garden, Jesus asked the Father if there was any other way, would God remove the suffering from him. But Jesus agreed to follow the Father’s will.
Jesus had to die on the cross because God is not only love but also just and holy.
God is Just
I sometimes use advent or lenten readings for my devotional time. This year, I chose a plan from the PrayerMate app called “Praying the Psalms: Lent 2022” based on “Praying the Bible” by Don Whitney.
On Ash Wednesday, March 2, 2022, the reading started with Psalm 62. The electronic devotional covered one psalm a day and offered a few questions to reflect on.
Many of the psalms praised God and described his attributes. Psalm 62 listed these: my rock, salvation, fortress, and refuge.
Other psalms spoke of holiness and justice and described how God disciplined Israel and will destroy the wicked.
In Psalm 78, Asaph recounts Israel’s history of rebellion that began with the Exodus.
Therefore the Lord heard and was full of wrath;
And a fire was kindled against Jacob
And anger also mounted against Israel,
Because they did not believe in God
And did not trust in His salvation.
Again and again, Israel refused to submit to God’s will, as Psalm 81 explained:
But My people did not listen to My voice,
And Israel did not obey Me.
So I gave them over to the stubbornness of their heart,
To walk in their own devices.
When people reject God, he will hand them over to their own ways and allow them to suffer the consequences of their depraved minds (See Romans 1:18-32).
But this separation wasn’t God’s original plan. He designed us to live in relationship with him. Only when we live in his will can we find peace for our souls.
Oh that My people would listen to Me,
That Israel would walk in My ways!
I would quickly subdue their enemies
And turn My hand against their adversaries.
Yet, God in his holiness cannot allow the wicked to continue to do evil, as Asaph describes in Psalm 73:
Surely You set them in slippery places;
You cast them down to destruction.
How they are destroyed in a moment!
They are utterly swept away by sudden terrors!
Because God is just, he must mete out justice and punish the wicked, those who refuse to obey him and trust in his salvation. He must punish sin.
In Hebrew, the word sin comes from the term “to miss the mark” in archery. Biblical, to sin is to miss the mark of living in the will of God.
God is Holy
This idea that God destroys the wicked may rub many people wrong. Doesn’t God love everybody? Won’t he forgive everyone?
Yes, he loves the whole world. Yes, he will forgive anyone who asks for forgiveness.
But the catch is, all humans are born with a sinful heart, and no sinner can enter the presence of the holy God. The nature of holiness—pure and separate from sin—destroys those who are sinful.
The Bible Project illustrates this well in its video on holiness. In it, the presenters point out that God’s holiness is dangerous. They give the example of flying close to the sun in a spaceship. If you get too close, you will burn up. The very nature of the sun and the nature of people make it impossible for people to get close to the sun.
Similarly, as sinful humans, we can’t get close to God on our own. Not because his holiness is bad, but because it is so good. That goodness, by its nature, destroys anyone with sin. The only way someone can approach God is by being pure.
God is Pure
In the Old Testament, whenever anyone touched something impure, he became impure. The Israelites could purify themselves by following the ritual purity laws. Only then could they enter God’s presence. However, this process wasn’t permanent. They could become impure again.
In the same way, the Israelites had to continually make animal sacrifices for their sins. They couldn’t be made permanently clean and righteous before God.
Our sin stands between God and us. Sin causes us to die spiritually and become objects of God’s wrath.
“Therefore, just as through one man [Adam] sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned.” (Romans 5:12 NASB1995)
In this sinful state, a person cannot enter the presence of God and have a personal relationship with him. But God, at the foundation of the world, knew that we would sin and made a plan to redeem us from his wrath.
Jesus the Perfect Sacrifice
Jesus made it possible for humans to be reconciled to God. He came to earth as fully God and fully man, lived a perfect life, and became the perfect substitute sacrifice. Instead of dying for our own sins, Jesus took our punishment for us.
“He [God the Father] made Him [Jesus] who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” (2 Corinthians 5:21 NASB1995)
By trusting that his death and resurrection will remove our sin, we can be made righteous before God.
“For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly….But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.” (Romans 5:6, 8-10 NASB1995)
God poured out his wrath against sin on Jesus while he was on the cross. Jesus paid the penalty for our sins so that we could be made righteous and pure. By being transformed by Jesus, we can enter God’s presence and have a personal relationship with him.
This is why Christians celebrate Easter or Resurrection Sunday: to recognize that through his death and resurrection, Jesus conquered the power of sin and death.
This act makes it possible for us to gain eternal life, that is, life with God. You simply need to “…confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9 NASB1995).
Are you ready to enter into a personal relationship with your God?