Called to Be Holy (Part 1)

called-to-be-holyOne of the most theologically riveting — and convicting — books I’ve read in a long time is Old Testament scholar John N. Oswalt’s Called to be Holy: A Biblical Perspective. The book is non-technical but thorough in its treatment of the Biblical conception of holiness. Oswalt is Wesleyan, but every Bible-believing Christian must account for his thoughtful exegesis and searing arguments.

Here are some of my own takeaways from part I of the book:

The view that the gospel is about forgiveness of sins and a heavenly home with no great concern for our behavior is heresy (3)

Unlike eschatology and ecclesiology, the teaching on holiness is a fundamental to the Bible’s message (3)

“[A] church without the character of God lacks the power of God” (3)

“We want to believe God to escape the consequences of our sin, but we do not want to believe Christ to deliver us from our sinning” (5)

The Old Testament covenant was similar in form to that of the surrounding pagan cultures so that God could show how radical is the antithesis between him and pagan gods (14–15)

God makes his people holy so that he can live among them (29)

God’s covenant doesn’t establish a relationship with God’s people; it lays down stipulations for an existing relationship (29)

To claim covenant relation and forgiveness without holiness is to pervert the covenant (34)

“God will lay aside his anger at the slightest pretext” (35)

Newer Bible translations do not refuse to translate “perfect” when referring to what God demands of his people on linguistic grounds but on theological grounds — our view of what God requires of his people has changed (46)

When God requires perfection, he is not requiring sinlessness but an undivided heart (51, 58)

The human heart is so depraved that only whole-hearted devotion to God can keep us from sin (54)

The lines of faithfulness are often preserved by the “little people,” not the leaders (58)

Only God can give humans a consistent delight in living: only he knows what will make us happy (68)

Evidence of the filling of the Holy Spirit is that God alone can be the explanation for the changed life (71f.)

“A man after God’s own heart” (King David) really means that God’s concerns are our concerns (74)

God confronts unbelievers with his glory by exposing them to the holiness of his people (81)

Messiah’s atonement for sin was not an end in itself but a means to an end: that God would make his people holy so that he could dwell among them (90)

The pagan gods were so alluring to the ancient Jews because they offered huge benefits without demanding absolute surrender — as Jehovah did (98)


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