Holiness and Anthropology

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.

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Noah, Anthropology, and a Bigger View of Grace

What do you do when your view of humanity and the world around you is actually different than that of the Bible? Are you willing to let God, with his holiness and perfect knowledge, define humanity instead of you? You and I look at the world from our limited and corrupted perspective. God sees all of the world and all of humanity from the vantage point of absolute, perfect, and complete wisdom and knowledge.

Start with these questions. Is humanity basically good? Are people basically good? How does the human race deserve to be treated by our Creator?

Look at the writings and proclamations of all sorts of people, In them you will find a common praise of the human spirit and the general, innate goodness of mankind. We lock arms after tragedies and call ourselves strong. We put together t-shirts and hash tags that pronounce our hope in the good hearts of people all over the globe. And in doing so, we demonstrate that we have no clue of a biblical anthropology.

Reading through the Bible in a new year will most often start us in Genesis. As we read, we want to be careful not to let ourselves miss the important things that are said by God about us. A look at some of the verses around the account of the flood and Noah help us to see some true things about God’s view of humanity that are not popular preaching points.

Why did God flood the earth?

Genesis 6:5-7 The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. 6 And the Lord regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. 7 So the Lord said, “I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens, for I am sorry that I have made them.

How does that match your understanding of humanity? How does it match your understanding of yourself? God said that every intention and thought of the hearts of mankind is only wicked all the time.

But wait, maybe that is just humanity before the flood. Here is what God says immediately after the flood.

Genesis 8:21 – And when the Lord smelled the pleasing aroma, the Lord said in his heart, “I will never again curse the ground because of man, for the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth. Neither will I ever again strike down every living creature as I have done.

After the flood, when Noah and his family were rescued, God evaluated the world. No, God would never again flood the world like he did with Noah. But how does God still evaluate mankind? The Lord said, “for the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth.”

You might argue at this point that such an evaluation does not match your view. You might say that this does not fit your experience. You might say that you have run into good people in the world, that you like people, that you have seen the kindness of man to man. And I would agree. There have been countless expressions of kindness, graciousness, helpfulness, and general goodness of human being to human being all over the world all through history.

Does this then make the biblical assessment of humanity wrong? No. Why? First and foremost, the evaluation of the goodness or evil of the hearts of mankind is being evaluated by the holy God and not by other people. Second, though we do not see it here, part of what brings about the decency of one man or one woman toward another in our world is the common grace of God and the restraining power of the Holy Spirit. God acts to prevent us from acting out the natural evil in our hearts. And so, when any of us, before being transformed by God, does any good thing, we must understand that our behavior is not matching the true heart of humanity. Thus, any good behavior must be credited first and foremost, not to the person, but to the acting grace and presence of God.

What must this do to our worldview? If we are willing to let the word of God lay for us the framework of how we view the world around us including all of humanity, we will find that God’s grace is all over the place. Every good is from God. Every decency in humanity is the restraining power of God. And God has a better perspective to see this truth than we do. We cannot see into our own hearts. WE are corrupted by the fall. WE do not understand how desperate is our condition.

It also changes our understanding of the gospel. The good news of Jesus Christ is not that God sent Jesus to offer heaven to people who are naturally pretty good, but who do need a little help to make it the rest of the way to heaven. No, the gospel is that God sent his Son to pluck from a wicked and rebellious people a bride, a church, a temple of God. Jesus came to plunge himself into the mess that is humanity and to bring out of the world people who, if left to themselves, would do nothing but hate God and hate good forever.

Yes, this is a dark anthropology. But it shines the truest and brightest light on the glory of God. God is holy. God, even today, is restraining humanity from being all we could be if we were left to our wickedness. God shows us that we have only evil intentions in our hearts. But God sent Jesus and rescues out of that mass of rebels a people for himself. Jesus transforms wicked hearts into hearts that find their greatest joy in the glory of God. And this is grace, absolute grace, perfect grace. This is the grace of a God who saves God-haters, not basically good folks. This is a grace that gives all the credit, 100% of the glory, to the Lord and none to the rescued sinner. This is the grace that we magnify when we have a truly biblical grasp of who we are when left to ourselves.