In Chapter 3 of The Holiness of God, Dr. Sproul begins to define holy and discusses the human experience of holy. In sum, God is set apart, above and beyond us (transcendentally separate as Sproul says on Page 55).
It wasn't until I began to reflect on the overall flow of the book that I found reason to dig deeper into the Scriptures. You see, in Chapter One, Dr. Sproul's main point was that we must grow in our understanding of what it means to be holy because God has commanded us to be holy as He is holy (Leviticus 20:7). However, in this Chapter, Dr. Sproul says:
"God alone is holy in Himself. Only God can sanctify something else" (pg 56, emphasis added).
Furthermore, Sproul says that it is idolatry to call created things holy:
"When we call things holy that are not holy we commit the sin of idolatry. This is the grievous error of idolatry, giving to common things the respect, awe, worship, and adoration that belong only to God. To worship the creature instead of the Creator is the essence of idolatry" (pg. 58).
"When a human being tries to consecrate what God has never consecrated, it is not a genuine act of consecration. It is an act of desecration. It is an act of idolatry" (pg. 59).
The antinomy (apparent but not actual contradiction, a term acquired and borrowed from J.I. Packer's book Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God, pg. 18) is that God commands us to be holy and yet, only He can make us holy. Now Scripture doesn't specifically state that we can't make something holy, however, every Biblical reference to the word "sanctify" (that I encountered) referred to God sanctifying something.
In my effort to resolve this tension, I looked up Leviticus 20:7 in my ESV Study Bible which led me to Leviticus 11:44-45. The notes for the latter say:
"Personal consecration is a response to God's gracious initiative."
In the case of these Israelites, God's gracious initiative was His having delivered them from slavery in Egypt. In our case, God has delivered those who believe from sin and death through the blood of Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 1:2, 6:11; 1 Thessalonians 5:23; Hebrews 10:10, 13:12).
As I considered this further, I was reminded of two verses:
"It is God who works in you to will and to act according to His good pleasure" and "Work out your salvation with fear and trembling."
So it isn't either/or but both/and. As I began to seek out the location of the above verses in Scripture, I had to laugh and shed tears of joy as I realized that the verses are right next to each other. In Philippians 2:12-13, it reads:
"…work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure" (emphasis added).
Notice that beautiful conjunction which I have taken the liberty of emphasizing; because God works in us, we can work. It is the same with our pursuit of holiness. Which reminds me, this has already been covered much more thoroughly in Jerry Bridges' book The Discipline of Grace: God's Role and Our Role in the Pursuit of Holiness. How could I forget?
Isn't it neat how God uses two sentences in separate portions of one book to bring to mind several other sentences for a helpful time of review and reflection? To think, that is only the first half of the Chapter. Is anybody else's head spinning in trying to keep up with my thoughts?
We'll be discussing Chapter 4 - "The Trauma of Holiness" next week. May your reading be blessed as you seek to grow in your knowledge of holy and be transformed by this renewal of your mind!