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Holiness – Part Four: What About Love?

Joseph Fletcher’s book called “Situational Ethics” became a best seller in the 1960s. It was linked at points with the emergence of the so called New Morality. The “situational ethics” thesis was this: the Christian faith was not based on commandments, there was only one law-the law of love. To love God and to do what love requires in any given situation. Fletcher envisaged some situations where if the overarching consideration is love, extra-marital sexual relationships may be acceptable in the sight of God.

Now it is true we are to “live a life of love” (Ephesians 5:1). But this love is defined in the same verse as a reflection of the love of God: “Be imitators of God”; to be like our Father-who is perfect in love and purity- and so we take on the family likeness. We are to be like the Son in showing sacrificial, self-giving love to one another. This love is not self-indulgent but expresses God’s purity and holiness and is sacrificial in nature. Sex is given for the joy and strengthening of married life and so contributes to the stability of family life. When practised outside of that context, people suffer and families suffer. Sexual immorality is profoundly unloving:

An example of this is when we consider the rise in sexually transmitted diseases. It is so high at this time the NHS has admitted the system cannot cope with the demand. ( I am reminded of the Apostle Paul’s phrase: “Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error.” (Romans 1:27). The homosexual physical union is particularly susceptible here. Michael Hill states “Anal intercourse is the basic factor in regard to their physical disorders. The anatomy of the anus is such that it tears relatively easily and is prone to admit whatever micro-organisms that come along. By way of contrast the vagina has tough flexible walls that generally protect it from abrasion and infection.” (“The How and Why of love. An Introduction to Evangelical Ethics” p196).

But if a husband and wife exclusively reserve sex for their marriage they are free from the fear of being infected by a sexually transmitted disease. 

God’s holy demands are for our real good and well-being. They are there precisely because He loves us

God’s holiness and love always complement one another. Even biblical terms to describe God’s love- forgiveness, grace and mercy, presuppose his holy attributes of justice and wrath. So forgiveness presupposes human propensity to sin. Grace is God’s loving favour towards those who do not deserve it i.e. those who contravene his justice. Mercy presupposes God’s wrath against sin, and turns that wrath away from the guilty.

Neither does God’s love negate his holiness:

Indeed, when we look at the cross there we see the love of God must satisfy His holiness. Through Christ’s atoning death God declares us to be right with Him. His perfect Son has taken the punishment for our sins (the punishment we deserved), and has satisfied His anger against us (Romans 3:24-26, see also ‘justification’ under Holiness Part 3).

Returning to those ‘vice’ lists in the New Testament (Holiness Part 3). Vices that characterise the wicked- these, we are told, will not enter the kingdom of God. The challenge is usually to Christians not to entertain these. So 1 Corinthians 6:9,10 Paul has upbraided the Corinthians for their sin and adds “Do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God?”. He goes on to list these vices “the sexually immoral, nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards…” 

1 Thessalonians 4:3-6 states:

“It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control your own body in a way that is holy and honourable, not in passionate lust like the pagans, who do not know God; and that in this matter no one should wrong or take advantage of a brother or sister. The Lord will punish all those who commit such sins, as we told you and warned you before.”

Galatians 5: 19-21 and Colossians 3:5-9 say the same- unless you turn from these sins in true repentance before God, you will not see heaven.

God’s love is a holy love and heaven is a holy place.

Kevin DeYoung cites Revelation 21:8: 

As for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake of fire that burns with fire and sulphur, which is the second death.” He adds “No matter what you profess, if you show disregard for Christ by giving yourself over to sin- impenitently and habitually – then heaven is not your home.

DeYoung continues: 

Do you know why so many Christians are caving on the issue of homosexuality? Certainly cultural pressure plays a big role. But our failure to really understand the holiness of heaven is another significant factor. If heaven is a place of universal acceptance for all pretty nice people, why should anyone make a big deal about homosexuality here on earth? Many Christians have never been taught that sorcerers and murderers and idolaters and everyone who loves and practices falsehood will be left outside the gates of heaven (Revelation 22:15). So they do not have the guts (or the compassion) to say that the unrepentantly sexually immoral will not be welcomed in either, which is exactly what Revelation 21-22 teaches.”

“The Hole in our Holiness” p14

So how do we understand this in relation to our justification and sanctification? (See the discussion about these in Holiness Part 3). Aren’t believers exempt from God’s wrath?

The sins of those who are justified by faith are forgiven, we are now reconciled to God through Christ’s atoning sacrifice. He has opened up the way of Eternal life for us. McGrath truly describes the working of sanctification and justification together “God protects his work of renewal and regeneration within us with the external covering of his righteousness”. Those who have been justified by faith are regenerate, the Holy Spirit is at work to refine them within. The evidence of that regeneration will soon show itself in living a holy, sanctified life. Not perfectly. Sanctification is a lifelong process of learning to ‘consider God in everything and serve God in everything’ according to God’s holy will as He has revealed it by the Scriptures. Orthodoxy (right beliefs) will lead to orthopraxy (right behaviour).

This process of sanctification is well captured in Bunyan’s “Pilgrim’s Progress”. There Christian must keep to the straight path if he is to enter the celestial city. When he strays from the path he is convicted of his sin, Christian comes to realise this and turns from it in repentance- he knows he is forgiven according to God’s grace- and mindful of appropriate biblical truths continues in the way. Here is God’s holiness and love working together in Christian’s experience.

The true Christian has this sense of “standing firm to the end” (Matthew 10:22; 24:13; Mark 13:13). It is by this standing firm that Christians preserve the well-being of their souls (Luke 21:19; Hebrews 10:39). Romans 2:7 states “To those who by persistence in doing good, seek glory, honour and immortality, the Lord will give eternal life.” Such verses show that sanctification of life is the proof a person is justified by faith. They persevere in holiness or likeness to Jesus Christ (Romans 8:9; 2 Thessalonians 2:13; 1 Peter 1:2). They run the race of the Christian life marked out for them (Hebrews 12:1,2). They show the fruit of Christian behaviour (Colossians 1:10).

At the same time it is a wonderful comfort to know that true believers are kept by God’s power, through faith until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time (1 Peter 1:5; Romans 14:4). True Christians hold fast to the end because they are held fast by the Lord.

Further, The believer who is “justified by faith”- when confronted by their sin- will turn from it in repentance:


Jim Packer in “A Passion for Holiness” identifies the importance of ongoing humility of life before the Lord in his chapter “Growing Downward to Grow Up: The Life of Repentance”. (Chapter 5). He defines repentance as:

“Going back on what one was doing before, and renouncing the misbehaviour by which one’s life or relationship was being harmed. In the Bible, repentance is a theological term, pointing to an abandonment of those courses of action in which one defied God by embracing what he dislikes and forbids.”


This humility will show itself in a life of repentance and Packer helpfully describes what that looks like: 

When I speak of habitual repentance, I have in mind the forming and retaining of a conscious habit of repenting as often as we need to- though that, of course means (let us face it) every day of our lives. It is the wisdom of churches that use liturgies to provide prayers of penitence for use at all services. Such prayers are always words in season. In our private devotions, daily penitential prayer will always be needed to.”


Those who profess belief, but show no sign of a sanctified life in humility or repentance, and who continue to promote sinful behaviour, these are neither justified nor sanctified. They remain under God’s wrath as we have seen with previous verses (from the vice lists and other places).

This is why discipline is necessary within the church. 

Church discipline

The Scriptures require that a Church disciplines any member who is impenitent in refusing to turn from gross sin. The main passage that outlines the required steps in disciplining a person is found in Matthew 18:1-17. There are steps taken and opportunity given for the person concerned to meet with other Church members where appropriate and leaders in order to restore the person. That is the aim. To bring them to their senses. To bring them out of darkness into light. If that happens then we celebrate and it goes no further. But if after all this the person remains impenitent then their behaviour must be told to the whole Church and they themselves treated as a “Gentile and tax collector”. In this way the purity of the Church is guarded and others deterred into falling into similar temptations. Areas of discipline mainly include sexual immorality, but also false teaching, factious behaviour which endangers the life of the Church, dishonesty over Church finances, spreading malicious falsehoods and defiant and repeated blasphemy.

The current Ministerial Recognition Rules (M.R.R.) recognise marriage between man and a woman to be a holy ordinance. These rightly understand any form of sexual immorality- including homosexuality- undermines that truth. They call for the discipline of clergy who commit adultery or perform homosexual acts is to hopefully bring them to this point of repentance. This is love. If these ministers were allowed to continue with this behaviour, or even that their behaviour was approved of, such would remain under God’s wrath and ‘not see heaven’, along with any they had taught who had been subsequently deceived into sin and endangered too. But through repentance, and by the grace of God, they can be restored.

Again, God’s holiness and love properly understood work together.

Dr Paul Brand and Philip Yancey compare God’s holiness and truth with the bones of our bodies: 

The Christian Faith and laws governing human nature are the framework for relationships which work best when founded on set, predictable principles. Of course we can break them; idolatry, thievery, lying, oppression of the poor [and we can add sexual immorality] have crept into every society in history. But the result is a fracture that can immobilize the entire body. Bones intended to liberate, only enslave us when broken”.

“Fearfully and Wonderfully Made” p90

G K Chesterton recognises the working together of God’s holiness and love when he writes “The more I considered Christianity, the more I found that while it had established a rule and order, the chief aim of that order was to give room to good things to grow.” (“Fearfully and Wonderfully Made” p89).


God calls us to be holy because He is holy. This entails our being separate for God’s use. We are to reflect his purity and purpose. His provision means we are “justified by faith” through Christ’s atoning sacrifice, but by the Holy Spirit’s enabling we actively grow in sanctification as we learn to ‘consider God in everything and serve God in everything.’ God designed men and women in such a way physically that they complement each other sexually. His ordinance of marriage protects the lifelong union of a man and a woman and any children they might have together.  

The prohibition of sexual immorality in the Bible- including adultery, fornication, prostitution and homosexuality- is consistent with God’s will that sex be reserved exclusively for husband and wife in their life long union together.

Properly understood God’s attributes of holiness and love harmonise; neither cancels the other out as He works for our genuine good. Anything less is to have entertained unworthy thoughts of him and to have substituted the living God with a false ‘god’ made in our own image, emanating from the desires of our sinful nature. But to be obedient to God in this holy ordinance is to reflect his holiness and love, his strength and his moral beauty.

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