In the latest Christianity Today there appears the article “How we forget the holiness of God. There is much in it that is sound. There is one bit in the introduction however, that is misguided. It is what the writer’s guide in the Holy Land, Amir, told him.
A couple years ago, I visited Israel with a group of Christian journalists. We bobbed in the Dead Sea, ate “Peter fish” in Galilee, and ascended the desert fortress of Masada. We toured the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, prayed at the Western Wall, and sat amid Gethsemane’s twisted olive trees. But for me the highlight of the trip wasn’t a place. It was a person—our guide, Amir.
Amir was in his late 50s, stocky, with skin that looked like leather from leading trips through the Holy Land for three decades. At each site, Amir would seek out an isolated spot, gather us in a semicircle, and expound upon the historical and theological significance of the site. Sometimes he seemed more like a preacher than a tour guide.
I remember one talk in particular. With the Mount of Olives shimmering in the background, Amir described what he saw as the basic problem of the universe. “God longs to come down to earth to redeem the righteous and judge the wicked,” he said. “But there’s a problem.”
He leaned toward us and stretched out his arms like a scarecrow.
“His presence is like plutonium. Nothing can live when God comes near. If God came to earth, both the righteous and unrighteous would perish. We would all die!”
Amir said: “God longs to come down to earth to redeem the righteous and judge the wicked.”
That’s Rabbinism; Christianity is the exact opposite, which says: God longs to come down to earth to redeem the wicked (sinners, the blind) and judge the righteous (those who say they can see).
For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 For scarcely for a righteous man will one die: yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die. 8 But God commends his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. 9 Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him. 10 For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life. 11 And not only so, but we also joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received the atonement.
12 Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned.
Jesus said, For judgment I am come into this world, that they which see not might see; and that they which see might be made blind. 40 And some of the Pharisees which were with him heard these words, and said unto him, Are we blind also? 41 Jesus said unto them, If ye were blind, ye should have no sin: but now ye say, We see; therefore your sin remains.
27 And after these things he went forth, and saw a publican, named Levi, sitting at the receipt of custom: and he said unto him, Follow me. 28 And he left all, rose up, and followed him. 29 And Levi made him a great feast in his own house: and there was a great company of publicans and of others that sat down with them. 30 But their scribes and Pharisees murmured against his disciples, saying, Why do ye eat and drink with publicans and sinners? 31 And Jesus answering said unto them, They that are whole need not a physician; but they that are sick. 32 I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.
With regard to Amir’s “If God came to earth, both the righteous and unrighteous would perish. We would all die!”
The Bible says those who think they’re righteous are not; they’re desperately sick – sick unto death, the result of their radical corruption. Without the Father’s mercy (grace) and gift of faith in His Son, Jesus, the Christ, everyone without exception will be condemned; the unrighteous or those who think they are righteous.
Righteousness in the New Testament is given to believers in exchange for their sin, which Christ takes onto himself on the cross: 2 Corinthians 5:21 “He has made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.” Christians are called saints even before they have done anything. Everyone whom God brings to life from death – in sin, is holy (a saint). And good works? They are also gifts ordained by God: “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God had before ordained that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10).
1 And you has he quickened (raised to life), who were dead in trespasses and sins; 2 Wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now works in the children of disobedience: 3 Among whom also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others.
4 But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, 5 Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;) 6 And hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus: 7 That in the ages to come he might show the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: 9 Not of works, lest any man should boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God had before ordained that we should walk in them.
This does not mean that Christians are robots; they are still required to work out the process of their salvation in fear and trembling. I say no more on the issue here, which I have dealt with in other posts.