Your way, O God, is in the sanctuary [in holiness, away from sin and guilt]. Who is a great God like our God?
Psalm 77:13 (Amplified Bible)
If we are to know the heart of God, we will find that within that heart is both holiness and love. God witnesses to us of both of these characteristics in our lives. Have you looked at God and seen Him in that light, that He is not one or the other, but both? We may sometimes feel His condemnation when we sin, but in that moment we should also remember the forgiveness He offers. And we might sometimes also rejoice that we are forgiven, but we should remember as well in that moment the utter and complete holiness of God.
The scripture calls this “godly sorrow” (2 Corinthians 7:10) that comes upon the conviction of the Spirit. This conviction brings both an awareness of our sin but also an awareness of God’s offer of redemption. Worldly sorrow, in contrast, only leaves us with regret and no hope of redemption. The tendency of the world is to think either too little of sin or too little of grace. The biblical way is to magnify both, but grace is always magnified to the greater degree: “Where sin increased, grace abounded all the more” (Romans 5:20).
One of the clearest examples of this truth is the events in Exodus when Moses received the Law of God. God took Moses up on the mountain for 40 days for him to receive the law of God in stone tablets. Before He went he told the people about the will of God and they promised that they would do it all. Exodus 19:8, “We will do everything the Lord has said.” But when Moses was gone for 40 days they were swept up into idolatry and demanded a golden calf to worship.
Why did it take 40 days for God to give the law to Moses? I am not sure there is a precise answer to that question, but perhaps the reason was to show the people how weak they are, and how weak we are. Not even for 40 days could they remain obedient to God. The Law of God did not make the people holy – it revealed the holiness of God but did not make the people holy – and they fell into sin immediately, and worshipped the golden calf. Moses came down from the mountain with the code of God, the holy standard of holy God, but that was not all that He came down with.
In the law that Moses was given was not just the commandments of what to do and what not to do, but were also the statutes concerning the temple, the altar, and the offerings. Moses did not come down only with the holiness of God but also with the redemption of God. The temple and the altar symbolized the cross of Christ, the sanctuary of God. The path of God, the way of God, the way of God in dealing with us, is not merely the path of rebuke and of judging, but also the path of forgiveness and redemption.
John wrote that the law came by Moses but grace and truth came by Christ (John 1:17). The meaning is that the major mission of both were contrasted in this way – Moses and the Law and Christ and Grace – and Christ had the greater mission, for, as we read above, in God’s economy grace abounds more than sin. Yet it is not intended to say that Moses’ ministry was completely void of grace, for that was clearly not the case. Neither is it true that Christ’s followers can dispense with holiness, for Christ Himself referred to Moses (Lev. 11:44) when He said, “You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt 5:48).
The holiness of God includes His loving and redemptive heart. The conviction and the leadership of the Spirit of God will always unite these aspects of holiness and love.
Lord, open our eyes that we may see Your holy standard and your loving grace – not as conflicting thoughts but as complimentary aspects of Your heart. Amen.
More from J. Oswald Sanders‘ Spiritual Leadership, on “Failure”
If we could see into the inmost hearts of many men who we think are riding on the crest of the wave, we should experience some great surprises. Alexander Maclaren, the peerless expositor, after delivering a wonderful address to a large gathering, went away overwhelmed with a sense of failure. “I must not speak on such an occasion again,” he exclaimed, while the congregation went away blessed and inspired. Allowance must always be made for the reaction which comes from the rebound of the overstrung bow. Nor can we ignore the subtle attacks of our unsleeping adversary.
The manner in which a leader meets his own failure will have a significant effect on his future ministry. One would have been justified in concluding that Peter’s failure in the judgment hall had forever slammed the door on leadership in Christ’s kingdom. Instead, the depth of his repentance and the reality of his love for Christ reopened the door of opportunity to a yet wider sphere of service. “Where sin abounded, grace did much more abound.”
A study of Bible characters reveals that most of those who made history were men who failed at some point, and some of them drastically, but who refused to continue lying in the dust. Their very failure and repentance secure for them a more ample conception of the grace of God. They learned to know Him as the God of the second chance to His children who had failed Him – and the third chance, too.
The historian Froude wrote: “The worth of a man must be measured by his life, not by his failure under a singular and peculiar trial. Peter the apostle, though forewarned, thrice denied his Master on the first alarm of danger; yet that Master, who knew his nature in its strength and in its infirmity, chose him to be the rock on which He would build His church.”
The successful leader is a man who has learned that no failure need be final, and acts on that belief, whether the failure is his own or that of another.
 J. Oswald Sanders, Spiritual Leadership (Moody Press, Chicago, 1967), pp. 124-25.