A trinitarian - relational view of holiness

God's holiness is often expressed as "moral perfection" (i.e. separation from "worldliness" and sin). But this moral view of holiness fails to apprehend the ultimate ground of holiness which is God's triune relationship of love as Father, Son and Spirit. This trinitarian - relational basis of God's holiness (we might speak of his "wholeness") is from all eternity, precedes creation, and thus precedes the presence of sin and evil.

L.T. Jeyachandran expounds a trinitarian view of holiness in one of the chapters in Beyond Opinion: Living the Faith We Defend, edited by Ravi Zacharias (Thomas Nelson, 2007). Here's an excerpt (and thanks to Jerome Ellard for telling me about this book):

If I were awakened suddenly in the middle of the night and asked this question, “What is holiness?” my instinctive answer would be “Absence of sin!” Although that may be enough of an answer for our understanding of holiness because of our fallenness and familiarity with sin, it would be inadequate as a definition of the holiness of God. He is holy without any reference to sin. How do we define that kind of holiness?...

...The answer lies in the trinitarian being of God. Love is the epitome of all virtue and the highest expression of holiness... The Bible introduces love as an interpersonal quality requiring a subject-object relationship that is available in the Trinity because of the Father-Son relationship through the Holy Spirit. The trinitarian God is complete in his love relationship without reference to his creation. The Father loves the Son before the creation of the world (John 17:24). The infinite personal medium through whom this love is communicated is the Holy Spirit, and he is the one who pours the love of God in our hearts as well (Romans 5:5)....

....A trinitarian understanding of holiness avoids two errors. On the one hand, the classical moral argument in favor of God talks about him in rather flat, one-dimensional terms as a much-needed frame of reference for any system of moral values. However, the plea that God is the infinite, moral standard (as he is often referred to in these arguments) does not tell us who this God is. On the other, we have no alternative except to posit a dualism where good and evil are seen as equal and opposite. But it is quite obvious, even from a philosophical point of view, that good cannot simply be stated as the absence of evil. In fact, the opposite is the case....

....The Ten Commandments that God gave to his people (Exodus 20:1–17) sum up God’s requirement in terms of relationships—with him and with one another. The Old Testament also sums up the commandments as love relationships with God (Deuteronomy 6:4–5) and among his people (Leviticus 19:18). In other words, holiness by God’s own definition (Leviticus 19:2) is seen in the relational commandments that comprise the rest of that chapter. Holiness is therefore not the stand-alone ascetic quality that is the hallmark of some Eastern religions but a community of people in right relationship to one another.


Anonymous said…
Why do we constantly throw God under the bus? By this I mean that we define God in terms of what we do or in terms of what He does. Therefore, our appeal to understanding the Trinity and the holiness it embraces is defined in terms of doing or not doing commandments, like the Ten Commandments and the Great Commandments of Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18. All this does is force God in our understanding to live under the law or under what some would call the great moral law. But can we get the point as, for instance, is recorded by Matthew?:

Matt 12:1-8--At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry and began to pick some heads of grain and eat them. When the Pharisees saw this, they said to him, "Look! Your disciples are doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath." He answered, "Haven't you read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? He entered the house of God, and he and his companions ate the consecrated bread-- which was not lawful for them to do, but only for the priests. Or haven't you read in the Law that on the Sabbath the priests in the temple desecrate the day and yet are innocent? I tell you that one greater than the temple is here. If you had known what these words mean, 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice,' you would not have condemned the innocent. For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath." (NIV)

God and His holiness are not definable by what is done (law) or not done (sin)--even if we call this performance relational. He (the One greater than the temple) exists in Himself as the Great I AM. Only when we can come to see this, can we even begin to understand His righteousness, which exists completely apart from the law.

J. Richard Parker
Ted Johnston said…
Richard, I think Jeyachandran wants us to see that all of God's dealings with humankind, no matter what the covenant, are on the same basis: his sharing with us of his triune love and life.

In the Old Covenant this sharing was through human mediation through the Law of Moses.

But now, in the new covenant, it is "face-to-face" sharing and the only mediator is God (in Christ).

The common denominator of both is God sharing himself, and that through his unmerited grace and goodness.

Any view of either the old or the new covenant that strips them of their relational basis, is, in my view (and I think Jeyachandran's) a reductionism that looks at God's dealings with us as "transactions" rather than "relationships."
Ted Johnston said…
I'm reading the newly published WCG booklet, "Predestination - Does God Really Let You Choose Your Own Fate?" Concerning the issue of our relationship with God (which I would argue is participation in God's triune, relational "holiness"), Mike Feazell writes:

"The God of the Bible does not force anyone to trust him. He doesn't remove anyone's freedom to refuse him. Yet, he is infinitely creative in his means of knocking on the doors of our human castles, inviting, even urging, us to invite him in.

"This is the God who became one of us in Jesus Christ. This is the God who is united with us and is in communion with us through Christ. This is the God who loves us and who calls on us to love one another as he loves us"(p. 12).

Beautifully stated Mike! And I commend the booklet for a clearly presented defense of a Trinitarian view of God's sovereignty and human freedom.
Anonymous said…
Hi Ted!

I appreciate your desire to share views about the Trinitarian life. But we humans have an almost addictive compulsion to use law to explain the things of God. In so doing, we fail to notice that law when combined with our fleshly nature can only lead us to death, not to God. We must learn to turn away from law and to look exclusively at Jesus if we are to understand the things of God.

2 Cor 3:14-16--But their minds were made dull, for to this day the same veil remains when the old covenant is read. It has not been removed, because only in Christ is it taken away. Even to this day when Moses is read, a veil covers their hearts. But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. (NIV)

The best to you always!

J. Richard Parker
Ted Johnston said…
Richard, do you mean to imply that any reference to the Old Testament (i.e. the Law) to talk about our life in Christ under the New Covenant is out of bounds?

Jeyachandran finds in God's call to Israel to "be holy" under the Law a "shadow" of the holiness God shares with us under the New Covenant. His point is that holiness under both covenants is a matter of *relationship* grounded in love.

The Apostles often refer to the Old Testament to draw out similar parallels, but without confusing the covenants. I think we can too.

Certainly references to the Law can be misused (and how well we in the WCG know that!). But I don't think the answer to misusing the Law is to ignore or shun it. Rather it is to read, interpret and apply the Law in the light of Jesus.

When we do that, the Law itself helpfully points us to Jesus and to our life in him under the New Covenant.
Anonymous said…
Hi Ted!

What I am saying is that great care must be taken in using the Old Covenant writings. I feel that this care is not used much in the faith these days. One way this lack of care is shown is by using the Old Covenant as a model for how a community of people are to live in right relationship with each other and with God. In other words, it is a justification for the love God--love your fellow man doctrine. But we can't do either as per the Old Covenant demands, so all we get is a death sentence.

Now the writers of the New Covenant did quote from the Old Covenant. But they did so to show the excellency of Jesus and to show our desperate need for this Savior--past, present, and future.

Also, I need to point out that the New Covenant does not support the modern Christian ideal of loving God with all your might and loving your neighbor as yourself, which are both law concepts. Instead, it supports belief in the name of Jesus and love for those who share that belief. As John wrote:

I Jn 3:23-24--And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us. Those who obey his commands live in him, and he in them. And this is how we know that he lives in us: We know it by the Spirit he gave us. (NIV)

Failure to embrace these commands and to instead look back onto Old Covenant commands as normative for Christians is to miss the whole point (Jesus Christ) of the Bible.

The best to you always!

J. Richard Parker
Jerome Ellard said…
Jeyachandran's article encouraged me because it pointed out that behind the law and every other shadow that points to Christ is the love relationship of the Triune God! Therefore, we can see human history in terms of an educational process where God is revealing Himself, in love. The love relationship that the Triune God has graciously included us in, is the highest holiness of all. His article was another in a growing list of confirmations that the Light is being seen in many places, by many. It is another testimony! Testimonies are encouraging.