One of the most important discovers of any growing and maturing Christian is to realize not just intellectually, but to accept as wondrously and fearfully true that the God of the Bible is the same God in both the Old and New Testaments. This last week in our Bible reading plan, we read of Nadab and Abihu offering up what the Bible calls “strange fire”:
Now Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, took their respective firepans, and after putting fire in them, placed incense on it and offered strange fire before the LORD, which He had not commanded them. 2 And fire came out from the presence of the LORD and consumed them, and they died before the LORD. 3 Then Moses said to Aaron, “It is what the LORD spoke, saying, ‘By those who come near Me I will be treated as holy, And before all the people I will be honored.'” So Aaron, therefore, kept silent (Leviticus 10:1-3).
This is a text that is often used to illustrate the God of the Old Testament in contrast to the God of the New. Nadab and Abihu were priests in the tabernacle and had been given specific instructions on how to carry out their service to the LORD. The exact nature of what they did wrong is not explained, but it seems that they had another source for fire rather than the prescribed coals from the Brazen altar (Leviticus 6:12-13; 16:12). What we are going to consider is what happened when they offered this “strange fire.” Rather than the fire coming to consume the sacrifice, the fire from God consumed Nadab and Abihu.
Moses responded in this way: “It is what the LORD spoke” (10:3) and then Moses gives the basis for what seems to us moderns to be very severe. That basis is made up of two components which cannot be separated. First, necessarily Nadab and Abihu were struck down because God is holy and those who come near to Him will necessarily treat Him holy. Second, God had declared and rightfully so that He must be honored before all people. This text brings us face to face with God’s unflinching holiness and His equally unswerving commitment to His own glory. The God of the Bible is revealed to be the greatest most perfect Being who always has been and always will be and therefore is worthy of and necessarily must have all the glory. This is so much the case that anyone who chooses to detract from His glory is choosing a death sentence by necessity. God deals in an exacting way with anyone who violates His law because a violation of God’s law is a violation of His own Being. Sin is a direct assault against God Himself; therefore sin violates God’s holy character and impotently threatens to detract from the honor and glory of God. I say impotently because God will not sanction such detraction.
We could consider many other Old Testament passages that illustrate this unalterable commitment that God has for holiness among those who approach Him and His honor before all people. But the question may be raised: Isn’t this only the God of the Old Testament? The answer of course is no. Those who teach and say this do so because they are not willing to face the implications of His holiness for their own lives and are thus sadly cut off from the goodnews of the gospel.
The book of Acts records for us the beginnings of the church. And very soon into that history we hear of an account that sounds very similar to Leviticus 10:
But a man named Ananias, with his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property, 2 and kept back some of the price for himself, with his wife’s full knowledge, and bringing a portion of it, he laid it at the apostles’ feet. 3 But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back some of the price of the land? 4 “While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not under your control? Why is it that you have conceived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God.” 5 And as he heard these words, Ananias fell down and breathed his last; and great fear came over all who heard of it. 6 The young men got up and covered him up, and after carrying him out, they buried him. 7 Now there elapsed an interval of about three hours, and his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. 8 And Peter responded to her, “Tell me whether you sold the land for such and such a price?” And she said, “Yes, that was the price.” 9 Then Peter said to her, “Why is it that you have agreed together to put the Spirit of the Lord to the test? Behold, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out as well.” 10 And immediately she fell at his feet and breathed her last, and the young men came in and found her dead, and they carried her out and buried her beside her husband. 11 And great fear came over the whole church, and over all who heard of these things (Acts 5:1-11).
Ananias and Sapphira simply held back some information about their sell of a property and yet acted as if they had given everything to the Lord. The text says that they lied against God the Holy Spirit and the consequence was immediate death. This is a significant window into the realty that the same God of Leviticus 10:1-3 is the same God of this very church age that continues up until this moment in our lives. In other words, the holiness of God has not changed one iota. What are the implications of this?
First, God’s unchanging holiness and jealousy for His own glory ought to immediately make us aware that we have fallen far short of this glory (Romans 3:23) and are in countless ways no different than Nadab and Abhihu or Ananias and Sapphira.
Second, God’s unchanging holiness and jealousy for His own glory is why the substitutionary life and death of Jesus (the Son of God) in our place was so necessary. How would sinful people like us stand before God and survive in any way? Surely before such a holy God we would need not merely a pardon, but a pardon that included the payment for our violation of His holy character.
Third, God’s unchanging holiness and jealousy for His own glory is unchanged in this age, but because of the cross He is patiently carryout out His plan of redeeming a host of people from every tribe, tongue and nation in the world. We must not mistake a delayed response of justice in this age to be a change in His holiness or jealousy for His own glory. Consider how Paul makes this point:
Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance? (Romans 2:4).
Fourth, God’s unchanging holiness and jealousy for His own glory ought to promote an intense Spirit dependent, gospel enabled, and Christ exalting pursuit of everyday holiness in the life of believers. If the God of Leviticus 10:1-3 and Acts 5:1-11 is our God and He has graciously released us from the penalty of being just like these individuals by pouring out that very same wrath upon His own Son in our place then any truce with sin in our lives is high treason against the One that has loved us so.
Fifth, God’s unchanging holiness and jealousy for His own glory ought to cause us to be astounded that we can confidently come before Him. We ought to be astounded with this privilege and therefore worship this Holy God of love and grace. Again God declares this: “By those who come near Me I will be treated as holy” (Leviticus 10:3). But amazingly, because we are in Christ Jesus we can “draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16).
The New Testament teaches that every believer has this very same holy God indwelling them in the Person of the Holy Spirit. This is why the question and conclusions of 1 Corinthians 6:18-20 are so powerful and unavoidably true in the life of every believer.
Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? 20 For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body (1 Corinthians 6:19).