Walking in Holiness, Walking in the Love of God
The testimony of Scripture is clear: if we want to walk in the way of holiness, the love of God is indispensable to our progress. God’s love for his people is the foundation for all holy living and our love for him its most essential mark. In turn, to remain on the path of holy obedience, we need the power of God’s love in the present and the hope of its fullness in the future.
For Christians who want their growth in holiness to be informed by these biblical truths, five implications follow:
1. To Walk in Holiness, We Must Avoid Basic Mistakes
Scripture holds together truths that God’s people are prone to separate. Holiness is motivated by the grace of God’s love for us and requires the work of loving him by obeying his commands; God’s love is freely offered in forgiveness and is a blessing promised on condition of obedience; loving him is a matter of the heart and the will. Though the relationship between the love of God and growth in holiness has a fundamental rhythm (“We love because he first loved us” [1 John 4:19]), it is a mistake to allow one aspect of biblical truth to drown out others. Likewise, it is a mistake to conceive of love for God in a way that divorces passion for him from obedience to him.
Holiness is motivated by the grace of God’s love for us and requires the work of loving him by obeying his commands;
2. To Walk in Holiness, We Must Combat Grave Dangers
The steadfast love of God should thrill us as “better than life” (Ps. 63:3). But as the case of Jonah reminds us, it is possible for God’s love to become nothing more than a sterile fact that we recite and resent (Jonah 4:2). Jesus similarly warns that in the last days, as “lawlessness” increases, “the love of many will grow cold” (Matt. 24:12). In a hostile world, surrounded with temptations to idolatry and given to hardness of heart, we can sustain a holy life only through passionate love for God and appreciation of his love for us.
3. To Walk in Holiness, We Must Cultivate Joyful Dependence
To combat danger, we must cultivate passion—but how? Jesus teaches that where many sins are forgiven, much love results (Luke 7:40–47); to state the principle more broadly, divine love is best appreciated by those who need it most. Passionate love for God will therefore flourish best when we joyfully embrace our utter dependence on his love—whether as sinners in need of forgiveness or as creatures in need of daily bread. Let us then “keep [our]selves in the love of God” (Jude 21), employing every means possible to discover in all of Scripture, and in all of life, the ever enduring, earth-filling, steadfast love of the Lord!
4. To Walk in Holiness, We Must Recapture a Biblical Vision
Rather than softening the demands of holiness, emphasis on the love of God intensifies them: to properly honor God’s love for us, we must love him, and him alone, with all that we are (Deut. 6:5), and we must be ready to serve sacrificially not only neighbors but even enemies (Rom. 5:8). Nor, if we truly love what God loves, can we be satisfied with a privatized piety, for we are called to delight, as he does, in “practic[ing] steadfast love, justice, and righteousness” in all the earth (Jer. 9:24). Simply put, God’s vision for the world, and for the role of his holy people in it, is too spectacular to be achieved in response to anything less than his love.
5. To Walk in Holiness, We Must Be Recaptured by a Powerful Story
Thankfully, the love of God not only defines the demands of holiness but provides us with strength to pursue it. Therefore God’s vision for the world, and for his people, also includes frequent retelling of the story of his powerful love. It is powerful enough to awaken the dead: “God . . . because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ” (Eph. 2:4–5); powerful enough to save the world: “God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son” (John 3:16); powerful enough, even, to change the way we live: “I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal. 2:20).
1. In classical terms, love for God requires both complacentia (satisfaction) and benevolentia (good will); see David Clyde Jones, Biblical Christian Ethics (Grand Rapids. MI: Baker, 1994), 44–48.
2. In view is love for Christ and the gospel; G. K. Beale, The Book of Revelation: A Commentary on the Greek Text, NIGTC (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1999), 230–31. Cf. Rev. 2:4 with Hos. 6:4.