Ye that love the LORD, hate evil… (Psalm 97:10)
Very often, the word “holiness” is defined in a negative way, as that which is set apart from what is common. While not wrong or inaccurate, Sinclair Ferguson argues convincingly in his book, Devoted to God: Blueprints for Sanctification (2016) that it is also crucial to see holiness positively, as the quality of a person or thing devoted entirely for one purpose. Thus, the vessels of the temple were set apart from common use in order to be devoted to a sacred use. This positive aspect is important to remember because God was holy in eternity when there were no created beings for him to be separated from. God’s holiness consists intrinsically of the singular and complete devotion of his love for himself among the persons of the Trinity. God is love (1 John 4:8, 16).
It should come as no surprise then that love is the greatest of the virtues, being the one which is permanent (1 Cor. 13:8, 13), and also the one which in its very self fulfils God’s law and apart from which there can be no acceptable performance of our duties before God (Rom. 13:8, 10; Gal. 5:14; James 2:8). The commandment to love, as our Lord himself testifies, is that upon which all the law and prophets hang (Matt. 22:37–40). The one who is perfect in love would then also be perfectly sanctified and like God.
All this to say that we ourselves are also set apart from the world and holy unto God, not simply by hiding in a corner and by observing a different set of behaviours, but first and foremost by a love to God in which we are singularly devoted to him with our whole hearts, souls, strength, and mind. As we sing in Psalm 97:10, one who loves the Lord must and will naturally hate evil. One who sees the glory of the living and true God will naturally detest dead and deceitful idols (vv.6–9). One who rejoices and gives thanks at the remembrance of God’s holiness will not balk at the idea of devoting one day each week to his worship (v.12). The only proper motivation for sanctification is love to God and the only way of sanctification is to grow in love to God.
This is why theology is so important and why the shift in focus to what is practical (i.e., Liberalism) is so deadly to true religion. Denying the person and work of Christ as revealed in the Holy Scriptures empties Christianity of all its power to work that love of God in us by which alone we can be sanctified. When we read the Bible, our first question should not be, “What must I do?” but “What is Christ like that makes him so lovely and so worthy that I should do everything he tells me to and seek with all my heart to be more and more like him—devoted unto the Lord with all my being?”
This is the third of a series of short devotional articles on Faith, Hope, and Love.