What you believe about God determines what you will understand to be true of man. What you believe to be true of God and man will determine a great deal of how you think about every issue of life. Thus, if you get the issue of the holiness of God and the sinfulness of man wrong, you will have a warped view of all the rest of the world.
As I was working through my daily Bible reading, I found myself in the book of Numbers. I think, for many of us, a read through the early chapters of Numbers is, admittedly, not the easiest thing to do. Our eyes glaze over as we hear details about how many were in each tribe or whose job it is to carry what part of the tent. But if we will let ourselves listen to the significance of the details, we will learn something about theology and anthropology that will impact our world.
In Numbers 4, God was doling out the responsibilities of the Levites regarding the carrying of the tabernacle. Different groups would carry the items from inside the tent. Other groups would carry the poles and coverings of the tent itself. But it was the job of Aaron, the high priest, and his sons to pack up all the sacred things inside the tent. Aaron and his sons would be sent in to wrap every holy item up in the tent coverings so that they could not be touched or seen by those who would carry them.
Numbers 4:15–19 – 15 And when Aaron and his sons have finished covering the sanctuary and all the furnishings of the sanctuary, as the camp sets out, after that the sons of Kohath shall come to carry these, but they must not touch the holy things, lest they die. These are the things of the tent of meeting that the sons of Kohath are to carry.
16 “And Eleazar the son of Aaron the priest shall have charge of the oil for the light, the fragrant incense, the regular grain offering, and the anointing oil, with the oversight of the whole tabernacle and all that is in it, of the sanctuary and its vessels.”
17 The LORD spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying, 18 “Let not the tribe of the clans of the Kohathites be destroyed from among the Levites, 19 but deal thus with them, that they may live and not die when they come near to the most holy things: Aaron and his sons shall go in and appoint them each to his task and to his burden,
Notice that God tells us why it is so important that the Kohathites not see or touch the holy things. If they do, they will die. Touching the ark of the covenant would mean instant death. And even looking upon the holy things would kill.
Stop. Think about that. Let it sink in. Seeing the holy, even for a Levite who would carry the holy thing, would bring death. You have to let the weight of that thought sink in if you are going to have a proper, biblical view of mankind in comparison to God.
Every human being, even those of the priestly Levitical tribe, is a sinner. Thus, every human being falls short of the holiness of God (Rom. 3:23). Because we swim in a sea of humanity, surrounded by one another in our weaknesses, we assume that this is a problem, but not an ultimate problem. Of course we are appalled by the evils of some who would hurt children or start unjust wars, but in general, we assume that the average human being who lives an average life with an average family in an average town is on average good. WE assume that person to be at worst neutral and thus deserving of the favor of God.
But stop again and think about this. God’s holy ark—a gold covered box—was so sacred simply as a representation of something holy that for an unauthorized priest to look at it would cost him his life. The holiness of God is consuming and deadly to a sinful man.
A proper, biblical anthropology will tell you that every human being under Adam is by nature and choice a rebel against God. We are tainted by that rebellion so that we fall infinitely short of the holiness and perfection of God. For us to be brought into the presence of God without God actively shielding us from his holiness would be to bring about our immediate destruction. And that destruction is perfect just and right, because God is holy, perfect, pure, and the ultimate standard by which we are judged. We have no excuse for our sin. WE have no demand that we can make on God. We are hopeless and helpless, deserving of wrath. That is not because we are worse than other people who are good—none are good. IT is because we are less than the perfection God’s holiness demands.
And this, of course, makes us love the gospel. God sent his Son who lived the only holy human life ever lived. And Jesus died to pay the penalty for our sins. And Jesus rose from the grave. And Jesus tells us that all who come to him in faith are both forgiven of their sins and sanctified, set apart, made holy by God. Thus, all who come to Jesus in faith and repentance are covered by his grace and his perfection so that we can be made children of God.
But, Christians, understand that the Bible is clear that this grace is a gift we do not deserve. WE are not holy. The holiness of God is deadly. If God does not cover us, we die, and rightly so. These facts must shape your understanding of humanity, otherwise you will misunderstand the gospel and be deeply confused regarding issues of life, faith, and justice.