John Webster on why God makes us holy

As I noted in a previous post, John Webster, in his book, Holiness, argues that one of the purposes of theology is to lead the Church into the praise of God. Readers will therefore find themselves deeply encouraged in many ways throughout the book by Webster’s theology. This is particularly true of his chapter on the holiness of God, where he speaks of God’s ‘undefeated determination that the creature will flourish and reach its end’ (49).

Webster notes that sin has locked us into ‘the absurd affair in which the creature seeks to be a creature in a way other than that which is purposed by God’ (49). We live in such a way that we seek to destroy ourselves. But, Webster writes, God will not stand for this. He refuses ‘to negotiate away the creature’s good by allowing the creature itself to set the terms on which it will live’ (50). God wills for us to live according to his purposes.

The language of purpose carries throughout the discussion; God is determined that we will fulfil our purpose as his creatures. And for that to happen, we must be made holy. But this is not something God does from afar, as if he just waves a magic wand and purifies us so that we can stand in his presence. Rather, God binds himself to us in covenant faithfulness. The Father wills for himself a people, and through the Son, makes it possible for us not just to come into his presence, but to share in his righteousness, to flourish in the life he always purposed for us. Webster continues:

God’s holiness destroys wickedness for the same reason that we human beings destroy disease: because it attacks the creature’s flourishing and is opposed to our well-being. And as the end of the eradication of disease is health, so the end of the eradication of unholiness is the creature’s consecration, that is, the creature’s wholesome life in righteous fellowship with God (50).

God is jealous for our fellowship with him. He does not reluctantly make us holy, but determinedly does so. The Father longs for his people to be in fellowship with him, and makes that possible through the work of the Son, the benefits of which are then applied to us by the Spirit:

The Holy Spirit…completes this work of making holy, perfecting the creature by binding the creature’s life into that of Christ and so realising in the creature what has been achieved for the creature (52).

God makes us holy because he longs for us to flourish in fellowship with him. Here is a theology that leads to praise.

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