The moral influence theory

The moral influence theory: its attraction and inadequacy

The distorted attraction of one popular theory of the atonement

Richard Fredericks PhD., is associate professor of religion at Columbia Union College in Takoma Park, Maryland.

The moral influence theory highlights a vital truth: that God is love and He can be trusted. Regrettably, however, while affirming the patience and tenderness of God, it dismisses the legal-covenantal framework of Scripture. It denies that a loving God can respond actively to human rebellion with righteous judgments (wrath). To maintain their definition of a loving Father, moral influence scholars must sacrifice the holiness of God (His relentless antagonism to evil in all its forms) as inconsistent with His unconditional love.

Moral influence theology commendably confronts two distortions of Christ's atonement. The first is that God is a vengeful deity whose irrational anger must be placated by humanity offering Him a blood sacrifice. The second distortion supposes that God is tragically trapped in the external demands of His own law, which forced Him to make His Son die before He could forgive sinners.

In defending God from those distortions, unfortunately, proponents of moral influence reject the reality that has been distorted. They overlook the biblical position that God's grace (undeserved mercy toward sinners) must be true to His justice (holy wrath against sin). And so they regard His attitude toward sin as sorrowful indulgence in the face of ignorance, with no need for righteous retribution in the face of rebellion.

The cross only an illustration?

In the process, the moral influence theory reduces the death of Christ to a compelling illustration, necessary only because of its educational value for us and the onlooking universe. The cross had no atoning value to God, nor did it need to. Jesus' death was an example for our sake: it demonstrated the natural consequences of sin as separation from the Source of life. The love of God is revealed in the costliness of this demonstration, and the power of the cross rests solely in its ability to influence positively our opinion of God.

Therefore, according to moral influence thinking, the cross was necessary only because its demonstration of God's love influences us subjectively not be cause it produces any objective change in our standing before Him. The gospel is supposed to be the good news that God was never angry or alienated from any one in the first place. No one ever needed to fear Him. Our estrangement from God comes from our misconceptions about His wrath and justice. Divine acceptance and forgiveness are unconditional, and the essence of the sin problem is simply the fact that we didn't know His mercy. Knowledge of God's graciousness heals us (makes us safe to save).

Such is salvation, according to moral influence scholars. They appeal constantly to the story of the loving Father in Luke 15, where divine acceptance functions without any explicit mention of sacrifice for sin. This parable of the prodigal son, with selected proof texts emphasizing God's love, becomes their interpretive paradigm used not in harmony with, but as an argument against, the multitude of passages pointing to the divine necessity of Christ's death (e.g., Rom. 5:9-11, 18-21; Eph. 1:7; 5:2; Col. 1:19-22; Heb. 9:26-28; 1 Peter 2:24; 1 John 2:2; 4:10; Rev. 1:6; 7:14).1

Three flaws

At this point we can identify three positions of the moral influence theory that deny plain biblical teachings. First, moral influence scholars do not believe that sin elicits active retribution from a holy God. To them sin is essentially ignorance, causing us to live separate from God. Salvation, therefore, is accurate information about the character of God2 that heals us and restores us to a relationship with Him.

This leads to the second serious flaw in the moral influence theory: To the advocates of moral influence, Jesus' death was an act of love to change humanity, but the cross in no way changed the way God views us. God did not need to be reconciled to us, but only us to Him.

The third flaw logically follows: moral influence proponents do not believe that on the cross God upheld the justice of His own moral nature while justifying sinners. Christ did not die for our sins (see Gal. 1:4; Heb. 9:15; 1 Peter 3:18), but rather to demonstrate the cause-effect relationship sin has on humanity. Moral influence theology thus leaves us with a purely subjective salvation based on in formation, a diminished view of sin, and a unidimensional view of God that re quires (as we shall see) a truncated view of Scripture and an idealized view of human potential. The gospel becomes a process of human maturation by accurate information, rather than Christ's completed and costly redemption of an other wise guilty and condemned humanity.

Historical roots

The moral influence theory has its roots in the teaching of Peter Abelard (1079-1144), a French philosopher-theologian and one of the keenest of medieval minds. For Abelard, the biblical term reconciliation spoke only of the setting aside of man's misinformed hostility to ward God. Jesus' death had nothing to do with the proper demands of a righteous God for judgment on sin.3 Abelard stressed Jesus the example. Though he used such phrases as "redeemed by Christ" and "justified by His blood," Abelard inter preted them exclusively in subjective human terms (i.e., our reaction to the cross "redeems" us). The dying Jesus moves us to respond to God's love, making our own inward response of love to God the ground of our justification.4 Nothing more is needed.

Though Abelard's theory of atonement remained largely unknown to his contemporaries outside academic circles, it continued to have its champions. These included Peter Lombard (a disciple of Abelard), Faustus Socinus at the time of the Reformation, and John McLeod Campbell along with Horace Bushnell in the nineteenth century.

In our own time, Hastings Rashdall, C. H. Dodd, and A. T. Hanson 5 have introduced the moral influence theory to the larger public. Today's English Version (TEV) is the Bible of preference for proponents of the moral influence theory, especially when working with such key passages as Isaiah 53, Romans 3 and 5, or 2 Corinthians 5. This translation, of which Dodd was the guiding force, care fully alters or eliminates any references to God's personal wrath or its propitiation through the death of Christ.

Though Leon Morris and Roger Nicole 6 have exposed the linguistic and theological arguments of Dodd and Hanson as biblically and historically in accurate, the writings of the latter two have inspired followers with similar ideas in many denominations. Many of these followers, including some Adventist scholars, promote their views as a "larger" picture and a "healing" versus a "forensic" model of redemption.

Distortions It is worth repeating that moral influence theology offers a great deal of truth, beautiful and profound. Without a doubt, it has been a step forward for many Christians burdened by legalism. How ever this reaction against legal categories has led to a distortion of the atonement itself. This distortion grows out of what the theory denies, not what it affirms.

Moral influence teaching denies that Jesus' sacrifice was substitutionary, necessitated by God's holy wrath against evil. It places the legal atonement in opposition to a relational and educational model. In fact, both models are interrelated and necessary, just as a Christian marriage is both a legal (thus holy) and relational (thus loving) covenant. It is to this denial and false dichotomy that we now turn as we seek to offer a biblical response.

Seriousness of sin

According to one moral influence theorist, "the sin problem does not center in God's opinion of man, but in man's opinion of God. It was not God who turned away from man, but man who turned away from God." This statement is partially true, but sets up a false dichotomy. True, our misconceptions (faulty opinions) about God are a serious part of the sin problem ("My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge" [Hosea 4:6]).7 Yes, God's self-revelation, especially in Christ, seeks to heal this (John 14:7-9). But God's revelations (especially on the cross of Christ as His ultimate revelation) also show His active holiness in executing just retribution against determined rebellion and pride. God punishes sin. (See Matt. 13:41,42; 18:6-8, 32-35; 23:33; Mark 12:9; Luke 1:51-53; 12:4, 5; 13:28; 20:15-18; John 15:6.)

Scripture is filled with God's personal statements declaring His retributive anger against sin: "They have filled the land with violence and provoked Me repeatedly.... Therefore, I indeed shall deal in wrath. My eye will have no pity nor shall I spare" (Eze. 8:17,18, NASB; see also Gen. 6:13; Jer. 25:33; 33:5).

Notice the warning of God's wrath against human pride in Romans 2:5: "But be cause of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God's wrath, when His righteous judgment will be revealed" (NIV).

Almost without exception, every biblical passage concerning sin combines elements of both retribution and redemption as God's inevitable reactions to human evil: "Having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him" (Rom. 5:9, NASB). "Jesus ... delivers us from the wrath to come" (1 Thess. 1:10, NASB).

Moral influence theory affirms that from the origin of sin God in love took the initiative to save humanity a beautiful truth. But it denies that reconciliation to God comes only through the righteousness of a suffering Redeemer (Gen. 3:9, 15, 21).8

When Adam and Eve sinned, God banished them from His presence. They did not simply wander away because of a misconception about His unconditional acceptance (Gen. 3:22, 23). This divine reaction toward sinners exclusion from the purity and holiness of His presence remains unchanged. Only by means of the gospel do we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place, through the blood of Jesus (Lev. 10:1-3; 16:1, 2; John 3:36; 2 Thess. 1:7-10; Heb. 10:26-31; 12:29). This is a far cry from a God whose sole problem with sinful humanity is our faulty opinion of Him.

The story of salvation in both the Old and the New Testaments builds on this tension between God's holy wrath against human rebellion and His determined efforts to redeem the rebel. Yet one moral influence author asserts: "The focus of all true religion is on God's endeavors to get men to change their opinions about God.... He makes it clear that He holds no grudges." The crude and unbiblical use of the term grudge seeks to gloss over the fact that in Scripture two divine necessities arise from two divine attributes: the execution of judgment because of God's divine justice and the offer of salvation because of His mercy. On the cross God unleashed His hostility to evil while simultaneously expressing His self-sacrificing love for humanity.

The fear of the Lord The Bible shows that God's love includes justice as well as mercy. In Rev elation 14 the first angel's message is a call to "fear God" in the context of His wrath (verses 6-10). In Malachi the Lord speaks of the terrors of His coming judgment upon known pride and evildoing, and then declares: "For you who fear My name the sun of righteousness will rise" (Mal. 4:2, NASB). The psalmist wrote, "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom" (Ps. 111:10), and prophets repeatedly warned those who had "no fear of God before their eyes." More than 200 times in the Old and New Testaments God calls us to fear Him while fearing nothing else.

Clearly, godly "fear" does not indicate a paralyzed terror of irrational out bursts from an irritated Deity. However, it does reflect a constant realization that apart from our sin-bearing Saviour there remains "only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God" (Heb. 10:27, NIV). We need not fear God's judgment because of our union with Christ, but apart from Calvary the "wrath of God" remains an awesome reality: "For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath, but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Thess. 5:9, NIV). "Jesus ... rescues us from the coming wrath" (1 Thess. 1:10, NIV). The reality of God's wrath is what gives such gospel terms as grace, forgiveness, and redemption their wonder and meaning.

Advocates of the moral influence theory reject the seriousness of God's anger toward sin by diminishing the seriousness of sin itself. They package sin as an unfortunate misdemeanor based on a misnomer, easily healed and forgotten by a kind Father. But Scripture and history prove that sin is far more serious. It is rebellion against God and a violation physical, moral, emotional, and spiritual of His creation. Human justice and moral outrage dimly reflect God's moral response to our transgressions of that law that reflects His character of love. Real sin demands real punishment.

More than merely a code

The law of God that identifies and condemns sin is not an external code that forces Him to carry out penalties He regrets. The law expresses God's character and personality, revealing a moral God who is concerned equally that justice and mercy triumph. Stott suggests: "The real reason . . . disobedience of God's moral laws bring condemnation is not that God is their prisoner, but that he is their creator." Because sin so often entices us, rarely provoking our anger, we find it hard to believe it provokes His. Stott goes on to quote Nathaniel Dimock: "There can be nothing... in the demands of the law, and the severity of the law, and the condemnation of the law, and the death of the law, and the curse of the law, which is not a reflection (in part) of the perfections of God. Whatever is due to the law is due to the law because it is the law of God, and is due therefore to God himself." 9

Evildoing is more than an immature and misinformed attitude. It is a mind-set bent on warring against the kingdom of God and His rale over all of life: "For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness" (Rom. 1:18, NASB; see also Rom. 8:7, 8).

The downfall of Lucifer and Judas proves that even in the light of God's loving and gracious character our bent to sin remains. It is a problem of our nature. We want to be our own God, to put the desires of the creature above the will of the Creator (Gen. 3:5; Rom. 1:25).

God's dilemma

One moral influence author suggested that the first step God takes in dealing with our sins is "stating that He holds nothing against us." Compare this with the words of the apostle Paul: "Let no one deceive you with empty words, for be cause of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience" (Eph. 5:5, 6, NASB).10 Our Lord relates to sin as a willful, fatal, destructive act of treason against His person and government. The prophets declared to His apostate people: "Your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden His face from you so that He does not hear" (Isa. 59:2, NASB). "The Lord is slow to anger and great in power; the Lord will not leave the guilty unpunished" (Nahum 1:3, NIV; see also Ex. 34:7). Indeed, the real biblical perspective concerning God and sin is not a breezy assumption that God will forgive me, that's His business but rather a profound dilemma: How can a holy God forgive the repentant sinner and still be true to His own character?

This fundamental tension between God's unrelenting justice and His merciful saving grace stands at the heart of the Old Testament sanctuary and its sacrifices. The dilemma is truly and fully resolved only on the cross (Heb. 9:26-28; 10:10-14). Calvary demonstrated that sin could never go unpunished (Rom. 3:25; Col. 2:19-28). "Grace [reigns] through righteousness [justice]" in a way that enabled God to remain both "just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus" (Rom. 5:21; 3:26, NIV). Clearly, the Bible reveals no picture of a God who is complacent about sin and whose forgiveness was a truism already assumed apart from the cross: "The concept of judgment cannot be taken out of the New Testament gospel. It cannot even be moved from the center to the periphery. Proclamation of the love of God always presupposes that all men are moving to ward God's judgment and are hopelessly exposed to it."11

Yes, the Creator is our loving Father who "in Christ" opens the door of salvation to every prodigal son or daughter (Eph. 2:1-3,13-18). But He is equally the holy ruler of a moral universe whose eyes "are too pure to look on evil" and who "cannot tolerate wrong" (Hab. 1:13, NIV). His love never cancels His holiness. He is the lawgiver and judge who personally moves against sin: "And Babylon the great was remembered before God, to give her the cup of the wine of His fierce wrath" (Rev. 16:19, NASB; see also Rev. 14:9, 10; 16:5-7; 19:15).

God's loving wrath

The Old Testament includes some 580 references to God's personal wrath against sin; the New lists more than 100. Indeed, divine wrath is the Bible's most mentioned theme and the backdrop that makes the proclamation of the gospel of God's love and mercy such "good news." But due to a diminished view of sin, the moral influence theory teaches that a God of love cannot personally experience wrath.

Moreover, such a position really re moves the necessity of the cross. If God has always been "at one" with His rebellious children, the cross becomes a bit of divine overkill to illustrate what will happen in the natural flow of things if we don't choose to believe this.

How does moral influence theology deal with the biblical references to divine wrath?

First, following Dodd and Hanson's lead, many argue that the term wrath of God in Scripture does not indicate a personal attribute. Wrath is not a facet of God's character at all. Dodd asserted that Paul used the term wrath "not to describe the attitude of God to man, but to describe an inevitable process of cause and effect in a moral universe," 12 the inevitable process of sin working itself out in human history. Wrath is an "archaic phrase" that cannot be an attribute of God (for God is love), but identifies an attitude in man that causes him to self-destruct.

Such an argument is logical nonsense and double-talk. What process is "inevitable" or what universe is "moral" apart from the active sovereignty of God? Can the Absolute be passive to anything? As P. T. Forsyth has observed, "the one thing God could not do in the face of human rebellion was nothing. He must either inflict punishment or assume it." In holy love He assumed it upholding the law while saving the guilty.

The term wrath at times does appear alone, without the qualifier of God. So does the term grace. But no one suggests that the biblical theme of grace describes only an attitude within man that brings about inevitable consequences in a cause and effect universe. Both wrath and grace are personal, and both found their ultimate historical expression at Calvary (Heb. 2:9), where Christ as our substitute received God's judgment and the sinner God's pardon. In the context of such "holy love," 13 God's wrath that condemns sin is as personal as is His grace that justifies the sinner, and both are satisfied through the death of Christ. Leon Morris comments: "The punishment consequent upon sin is just as much due to God as is the forgiveness which remits such punishment, for God is in all of life. 'Shall evil befall a city and the Lord hath not done it?' (Amos 3:6).... For it is the Lord who 'bringeth sudden destruction upon the strong' " (Amos 5:9). 14

Others in the moral influence school discredit the biblical doctrine of wrath by simply comparing it to human anger, which is often arbitrary, vain, vindictive, irrational, and uncontrolled passion. Then they conclude: "Surely our loving Father is not like this." Thankfully He isn't, and such distortions should be rejected.

God knows wrath, although it is nothing like ours. Again, to quote Morris: "There is a consistency about the wrath of God.... It is aroused only and inevitably by sin."15 Morris then goes on to cite approximately 30 passages in which God is "slow to anger" and aroused only be cause of evil.

In a similar vein, John Stott comments: "God's anger is absolutely pure, and uncontaminated by those elements which render human anger sinful. Human anger is usually arbitrary and uninhibited, divine anger is always principled and controlled." 16 Divine anger, identified in Revelation 6:16 as the "wrath of the Lamb," is seen also in Psalm 78:21, 22: "Therefore the Lord heard and was full of wrath, . . . because they did not believe in God, and did not trust in His salvation" (NASB). And God's willingness to sacrifice Himself to propitiate that wrath is hinted at in Psalm 85:3: "Thou hast turned thyself from the fierceness of thine anger."

What is unconditional?

In response, proponents of the moral influence theory argue that if love is unconditional, then forgiveness must be also. Unconditional love equals unconditional acceptance, they say, so there is no room for wrath.

This line of reasoning, however, does not bear up either in our own experience or in biblical teaching. In any healthy relationship acceptance has conditions, even when love does not. A wife may unconditionally love her husband, but cannot continue to accept him unconditionally if he abuses her or the children and practices flagrant promiscuity. In deed, it is precisely her love that compels her to act against his misbehavior and seek justice.

Even so, God's agape love for man kind carries no ifs or buts, for "God so loved the world." But His forgiveness and acceptance do carry conditions. John 3:16-18 shows that the basis of all God's actions is unqualified love for humanity, but this passage contains also a serious warning for all who refuse to accept God's Son.

Throughout history God has executed active but partial retribution on hardened sinners to lead others to repentance (Num.

16:26-35; Acts 5:1-12). Whenever human rebellion has reached the point it threatens to silence God's message and destroy His people, He has executed retribution to preserve a remnant (Gen. 6:5- 7, 13; Num. 31:1-7; Rev. 2:21-23). And in history's final hours when the wrath of God is finished (Rev. 15:2), God acts to destroy those who would destroy the message and messengers of the Lamb (Rev. 11:18; 14:9-11; 16:5, 6; 2 Thess. 1:7, 8; 2:8).

Circumventing Scripture

Moral influence advocates commonly use two techniques to circumvent any scripture they find troublesome.

The first is to obscure the issue by the use of emotionally loaded phrases, such as "My God isn't a murderer." This is a superficial yet effective device for avoiding the evidence of careful exegesis. One must simply agree with the element of truth: God doesn't murder, for murder is the unjust killing of an innocent victim. But God does execute justice, even if it means the death penalty for those hardened in transgression. The Flood, Sodom and Gomorrah, and the rebellion of Korah clearly illustrate this truth.

The second technique is far more troubling: the tendency to ignore large portions of the Old and New Testaments that do not fit their theory. One method of doing this is to say that all troubling passages are rooted in primitive and immature moral reasoning, which can now be rejected by a more enlightened and advanced Christian community. This approach admits the idea of wrath, but regards it as only a primitive anthropomorphic view of the Father, necessary to reach people at low levels of moral and spiritual development. God may have allowed such temporary language, but only until He assisted His people to grow beyond and cast aside such primitive concepts. To them, the biblical picture of wrath as a divine attribute is unworthy of Jesus and of any morally mature disciple.

By using such reasoning, adherents of the moral influence theory make human reason sit in judgment upon divine rev elation. They heed only those passages that they perceive to reflect "a high level of moral development." The intellect now shapes the Word into its image rather than the Word molding us into God's image.

Another method used to eliminate offending passages is to deny the harmony of Scripture and pit one biblical perspective against another. For example, they often place Paul and Jesus in opposition. The goal is to negate Paul's under standing of the atonement by declaring that the judicial/substitutionary element of Scripture is exclusively his, while the moral influence theory represents the teachings of Jesus as found in the four Gospels. This false dichotomy is unsound for several reasons: It is the risen Christ Himself who declares Paul to be "my chosen instrument to carry my name be fore the Gentiles" (Acts 9:15, NIV). Paul's gospel is Christ's gospel (Gal. 1:8-12). Second, the four Gospels point to the cross as a substitutionary and justifying atonement (Mark 10:45; Matt. 26:48; Luke 22:37; 23:39-44; John 1:29). And finally, many of Paul's epistles probably preceded all four Gospel accounts and, especially in Luke's case, influenced them. There is unity, not divergence, in the message of the Scriptures regarding the atonement.

In the early church Marcion and other pious heretics believed they had the greater gnosis (knowledge) of God, which made them safe to save, and allowed them to evaluate and eliminate any portions of Scripture that conflicted with their larger picture. 17 The moral influence theory seems to resurrect this ancient right to ignore Scripture.

In conclusion, Scripture affirms that God's personal activity as Judge (arising out of His opposition to sin), and His gracious activity as Father (arising out of His love for sinners), are both integral parts of His self-revelation, especially in Christ. Any healing model of the atonement that denies the substance of Christ's sacrifice neither heals nor offers a larger picture of the Father's love.

1. It is dangerous to make any parable decisive in formulating a doctrine. Without exception, every parable of Jesus was an incomplete picture of a larger topic designed to illustrate one important dimension of that topic. In the case of the Father in Luke 15 the core lesson is the unearned graciousness and forgiveness of God toward unworthy sinners. But the parable does not attempt to answer how a holy and just God can be gracious. The fact that it doesn't mention the need for an atonement is not decisive. It does not mention the need of Jesus as Saviour, either. Is He therefore unnecessary? Sadly, in the final analysis the logic of the moral influence theology leads one to answer that Jesus is helpful but not necessary for salvation.

2. A rejection of all legal categories pertaining to God, leaving sin as ignorance and salvation as a healing of the mind through accurate information about God and His purposes, was the core teaching of the Gnostic movement in the second to third centuries, and is the basis for most Eastern religions, such as Hinduism and Buddhism.

3. Sinclair B. Ferguson et al., New Dictionary of Theology (Downers Grove, 111.: InterVarsity Press, 1988), p. 1; Raoul Dederen, "Atoning Aspects in Christ's Death," The Sanctuary and the Atonement (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1981), p. 310.

4. See the discussion of Abelard's commentary on Romans 3:21-26 in John Stott, The Cross of Christ (Downers Grove, 111.: InterVarsity Press, 1986), pp. 217-219.

5. See especially C. H. Dodd, The Epistle of Paul to the Romans (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1932), especially pp. 51 -60; The Johannine Epistles (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1946), pp. 23-26; and Anthony Terrill Hanson, The Wrath of the Lamb (London: SPCK, 1957).

6. Leon Morris, The Apostolic Preaching of the Cross, 3rd rev. ed. (Grand Rapids: W. B. Eerdmans Co., 1965), pp. 147-213; and Roger Nicole, "C. H. Dodd and the Doctrine of Propitiation," Westminster Theological Journal(1955): 117-157. A very good summary of Morris' and Nicole's rebuttal is found in Stott, pp. 170-172.

7. It is interesting to note that even in this verse God says: "Because you have rejected knowledge, I also will reject you from being My priest. Since you have forgotten the law of your God, I also will forget your children" (Hosea 4:6, NASB).

8. One is left wondering, in the moral influence theology model, why God didn't simply discuss the whole situation with Adam and Eve, clarify their mistake, and declare the whole thing forgotten, since unconditional forgiveness is His nature. But the promise of a Redeemer and a bloody sacrifice (Gen. 3:21) became immediately necessary.

9. Scott, p. 117; quotation from Nathaniel Dimock, Doctrine of the Death of Christ (London: Elliot Stock, 1890), p. 32.

10. Of sin, Stott writes: "It has been described in terms of 'getting rid of the Lord God' in order to put ourselves in his place in the haughty spirit of 'Godalmightiness.'" Emil Bmnner summed it up well: "Sin is defiance, arrogance, the desire to be equal with God ... the assertion of human independence over against God" (Stott, p. 90).

11. Gerhard Kittle and Gerhard Friedrich, eds., Theological Dictionary of'the New Testament (Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 1974), vol. 3, p. 941.

12. Dodd, p. 23; see also Hanson, pp. 37, 69, 110.

13. John Stott's discussion on God's holiness and wrath are invaluable: "Closely related to God's holiness is His wrath, which is in fact His holy reaction to evil." "What is common to the biblical concepts of the holiness and the wrath of God is the truth that they cannot coexist with sin. God's holiness exposes sin; His wrath opposes it" (pp. 103, 106). In this context it is instructive to study the lives of the great saints of the Bible who came in contact with God's holiness and how they, even as repentant sinners who have an accurate picture of God, reacted. See Moses (Ex. 3:6); Isaiah (Isa. 6:1-5); Job (Job 42:5, 6); Ezekiel (Eze. 1:28); Daniel (Dan. 10:9); Peter (Luke 5:8); and John (Rev. 1:12-18). It is clear that only through the perfect righteousness of Christ can we ever dare to come let alone come boldly into God's presence (Heb. 4:15, 16).

14. Morris, pp. 151, 152.

15. Ibid., p. 150.

16. Stott, pp. 105,106.

17. F. F. Bruce, The Canon of Scripture (Downers Grove, 111.: InterVarsity Press, 1988), pp. 134-144.


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Richard Fredericks PhD., is associate professor of religion at Columbia Union College in Takoma Park, Maryland.

March 1992

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