You know a tree by its fruit. This is an often repeated biblical principle. In Galatians 5:22, Paul writes: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control …” The “fruit of the Spirit” is the fruit of God. The character of God, the holiness of God, is made known in the fruit that God produces.
A Strange Concept
Is it not strange then that when we think of the holiness of God, Christians often frame it primarily in terms of ethical purity that cannot tolerate impurity rather than in the very different framework of the fruit of the Spirit or the example of Christ when he lived among us? Jesus (God in the flesh) is a friend of sinners, but apparently the Father (God in heaven) can’t tolerate them because of their sin. This is often explained by saying that God hates the sin, but not the sinner. There is a problem with this.
As a Christian and a Christian father, I am called to holiness. If my kids were to sin, how am I to respond? Like God in the flesh or like (the supposed) God in heaven? Do I keep myself apart from them, somehow hating what they do without hating them, or do I stay in life with them, fully engaged even though they may not be doing what is morally pleasing to me? The problem is that trying to have it both ways doesn’t work in real life and, finally, it is not an accurate representation of God in heaven.
A Biblical Correction
This is seen in Matthew 11:18-19: “For John [the Baptist] came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’ But wisdom is proved right by her deeds.” The point here is that you can’t have it both ways. Wisdom is proved right by what it does in the flesh (“by her deeds”), not by an abstract, disembodied concept of holiness, certainly not an abstract, disembodied concept of God in heaven.
Disembodied concepts of God’s holiness don’t work because they are, ultimately, concepts of our own making. Those Jesus criticized in this passage of Scripture demonstrated this. The standard set by John was too tough for them, so they said he had a demon. The standard set by Jesus was, in their estimation, no standard at all, so they called him a glutton and drunkard. They had a concept of God’s holiness, a totally abstract, disembodied concept of God’s holiness, which justified their conservative moralistic approach to holiness, but was both contradictory and untrue.
To take a slice from our mission statement, we at Food for the Hungry (FH) believe we are all called to overcome “all forms of human poverty by living in healthy relationship with God …” In order to have a healthy relationship with God, we must have a healthy view of God’s holiness. In order to overcome human poverty, we must understand that the spiritual and the physical are inextricably woven together in human beings. The physical is saturated with the spiritual and, both in the fruit of God’s Spirit and in the life of Jesus, God meets us in all of our neediness: emotional, relational, moral, spiritual and in the profound bodily neediness that so many in our world experience today.
Today, the people of the Philippines are in profound need. Will you help us help them?