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A Review of Allen S. Nelson IV’s
Before the Throne
by Melissa Googe
Each day, I become increasingly grieved by our world. We are surrounded by conflict over issues that, if we were to abide by Scripture, would be quickly settled. How can those saved by God’s grace be so divided over the answers to today’s controversies?
As a long-time Christian and the wife of a pastor, I am blessed to have spent many years in my faith. I grew up in a Christian home. I have many Christian friends. I teach in a public school system where our motto is JOY (Jesus, Others, Yourself). I am surrounded by Christians, yet I find myself so frustrated with family members, friends, or colleagues that I strongly consider unfollowing them on social media or want to avoid being around them.
Sadly, there is a movement among Christians to “modernize” our faith to make it more “relevant.” To accomplish this, churches have adopted popular worldly ideas instead of expecting the lost to embrace Biblical views upon salvation. In Nelson’s preface, when I was beginning to know that I had found a kindred soul, he wrote that the answer to the church’s compulsion to be relevant is “to look downward so as to look upward.” He continued on to say that “the church that looks long into the face of God in Scripture will find that the question for “relevancy” is no longer all that relevant.” (2)
Oversimplification of all that is involved in living a Christian life and reaching others for Christ has led to churches full of lost people who falsely believe they are saved. How do we know this? Just take an honest look around. Many who claim to be Christians today actually hold to a form of “practical atheism.” (19) Nelson describes a practical atheist as one who “acknowledges the existence of God in his or her mind but lives as though He either doesn’t exist, or that He actually doesn’t care how we live or how He is to be worshiped.” Wow! This description really brings some people to mind, doesn’t it?
I sat down with Nelson’s Before the Throne: Reflections on God’s Holiness with an expectation of encountering complex theology about God’s holiness that would require me to stop reading and research information to be able to make my way through the text. While God’s holiness is not a simple subject, instead of having to stop because of running into something I didn’t understand, I had to stop because I was being humbled. This book, while it is about God’s holiness, is guaranteed to cause you not only to reflect upon God’s holiness, but to realize how truly unworthy and lost we are without Him and the sacrifice of His son.
Sin. Such a small word, but what word carries more weight? Humans try to minimize sin, but there is nothing of greater cost to us as the dividing line between us and holiness of God. Acknowledging God but then living as though He doesn’t exist, as though He doesn’t care how we live, or as though He doesn’t care about how we worship Him is completely sinful. If we are honest, no one reading this would dare to claim to have never sinned in such a way. Like Paul said in Romans 7: 15, “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.”
Nelson’s Before the Throne helps readers understand what holiness is, how God and holiness are synonymous, and what referring to God’s holiness really means. While God’s holiness is anything but simple, Nelson has done an exemplary job of detailed explanations and examples of God’s undoubtable, unspeakable, untamable, unblemishable, unmatchable, unquestionable, uncontainable, unchangeable, unapproachable, uncompromising, unborable, and unquenchable holiness.
I will not attempt to touch upon each of Nelson’s points; read his book and find for yourself the “excitement, woe, conviction, awe, and gladness” of God’s holiness that Nelson shares with readers! (1) Instead, I will share how reading Nelson’s book helped me to immediately recognize God’s holiness in action. God’s holiness isn’t something that we should only think about during the preaching hour on Sunday; we should spend time each day “intentionally contemplating the holiness of God.” (209) I propose that reading Nelson’s book will help to clarify attributes of God’s holiness that are described and present in His Word, and you will then be able to apply your improved understanding of God’s holiness to life’s many different circumstances.
Last week, our small, rural county lost a pillar of our community. I could never put into words what he meant to many in the area, as he, the owner of the only funeral home in the county, was the one who ministered to us when we lost family members and friends. One response to his passing on social media was to share an excerpt from The Shack by William P. Young. In this excerpt, “the Lord” states, “…because I work incredible good out of unspeakable tragedies doesn’t mean I orchestrate the tragedies. Don’t ever assume that my using something means I caused it or that I needed it to accomplish my purposes.” I know this was shared with the intention of comforting those grieving, but exactly how is reading about how the Lord has nothing to do with “unspeakable tragedies” going to comfort the bereaved?
I am sure we have all experienced the deep grief that comes with the passing of a loved one. Four years ago, my best friend’s battle with cancer ended. I believe He has a plan. I believe in God’s holiness. Yet it is hard to hold onto those truths in such times. Today, I could still allow myself to be drawn into the heartbreak of losing Katherine’s tangible presence, of missing our laughter, of seeing her children grow up without her. Instead, I choose, and let us all choose, to be comforted by these truths about God’s unquestionable holiness. “We don’t judge events and conditions and then question whether God was holy in His actions. Rather, we begin with the premise that God is holy and then we filter all these through this truth – even the events and circumstances we cannot fully explain.” (102) “For today, we only know in part, but part of what we do know is that all God decides, decrees, and demands is holy.” (103)
Yesterday, a friend shared a Steven Furtick video from Elevation Church dated April 4th in which Furtick seeks to illustrate God’s grace between the gaps of where you have been and where He is taking you. However, Furtick’s illustration shows that in walking with God, “When you take a step, when you make a move, God moves too.” According to Furtick, God will not let you reach Him because you would become arrogant; “So what God is gonna do, God is going to make sure that as you grow, the gap stays.” Essentially, Furtick’s illustration teaches that you can strive to live a holy and obedient life, but you will never grow any closer to God.
I am thankful for God’s unchangeable holiness and for His unapproachable holiness. Nelson cites A.W. Tozer who wrote, “For He, being unchanging and unchangeable, can never become holier than He is.” (132) God is not going to become any holier, so He is not going to continuously move away from us. As Nelson states, “The fact that God is unchanging is unquestionable upon any honest reading of the Scriptures,” and he references verses from James, Malachi, and Hebrews. (132-33)
Furtick’s illustration missed the mark. It communicated that you can walk in God’s grace, and you can grow from where you were, but you are not ever going to be able to reach God. The people in Furtick’s church cheered his message. Dear Christian brothers and sisters, this is a perfect example of why we need to know His Word, of why we need to be able to recognize false teachings, and of why we need a much better grasp of His holiness. “Grace doesn’t minimize our sin. It exposes it for what it really is and then covers it with the blood of Jesus.” (158) Christians should desire sanctification (an important word missing from Furtick’s illustration), at the same time knowing that “In and of ourselves, we cannot approach the God of unapproachable holiness. But the son can. And in Him, we can draw near to God.” (157) Praise be to God!
As a Language Arts teacher, I speak often of the vast number of words we have that fall short in the most important moments of life. Sometimes all we can do to express our meaning is to repeat our words. I leave you with a note from Nelson on God’s unquestionable holiness. “Language buckles under the pressure to satisfactorily describe God. The threefold repetition of holy is the best our words can do to show that God is holy to the maximum.” (100) There is nothing of any greater importance than God’s holiness, and no better example of when one word alone is not enough. May Before the Throne deepen your understanding of God’s holiness and leads you to desire to know His Word and our holy, holy, holy God evermore.
Allen “Cuatro” Nelson, IV, author of Before the Throne, is the pastor of Perryville Second Baptist Church in Perryville, Arkansas. Contact Allen directly via Twitter to order Before the Throne or his first book, From Death to Life. You can also order from Amazon.
Melissa Googe came to know Christ at a young age and is thankful for each day she has had to spend with Him. Being raised in a Christian home, being the wife of a pastor, and being the mother of three are just a few of the other blessings God has given her. Melissa’s primary ministry has been to serve as a middle school teacher for eighteen years in public schools. She enjoys sharing her love of reading with students and friends and fulfilling the call to minister to others.