Jackie Hill Perry: Holier Than Thou
About the Guest
Does it feel hard to trust God? Jackie Hill Perry, explains how God being holier than thou is the best news in the world. And it’s key to trusting Him.
Jackie Hill Perry: Holier Than Thou
Jackie: If God is holy, He cannot sin. If God cannot sin, that means He cannot sin against me. And if God cannot sin against me, doesn’t that make Him the most trustworthy being that exists?
Ann: Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I’m Ann Wilson.
Dave: And I’m Dave Wilson, and you can find us at FamilyLifeToday.com or on the FamilyLife® app.
Ann: This is FamilyLife Today.
Dave: Over three years ago, we walked in for our first day, ever, at FamilyLife Today.
Ann: I remember.
Dave: The studio was dark; nobody was there yet. We got on our knees and begged God to help us.
Ann: “Help, God.”
Dave: “Help us; meet us; produce great content that would change marriages, and families, and legacies all around the world.”
Ann: We did that because we felt so ill-equipped, and we needed God to do a miracle.
Dave: Oh, yes.
Ann: I remember that day because our very first interview was with Jackie Hill Perry.
Dave: And she’s back!
Dave: That’s what made me think of this. Three and a half years ago you were with us in Little Rock. Now, you’re with us in Orlando. You’re back on FamilyLife Today; welcome.
Dave: You probably don’t remember that day.
Jackie: I do.
Dave: You do? What do you remember about it?—anything?
Jackie: It felt like I was looking at Austin, your son, in two different faces—[Laughter]—it was the strangest thing in the world—to see his eyes, and his mouth, and his ears kind of split apart.
Dave: Really? You think I look like my son.
Jackie: Yes; and now, you’re both happy like him.
Dave: —happy, like Austin?
Jackie: I’ve never seen Austin mad in my life.
Dave: He is the most precious man I think I’ve ever known: he is without guile; there is a joy about him. I’ve joked—there were times in high school—where I’d say, “Austin, just go sin; just do it once. You’re just so perfect.” [Laughter] He was just such a great—and now—he’s a husband and dad.
Ann: He’s an amazing man.
Jackie: He has a lot of integrity.
Dave: Jackie, tell our listeners why you know Austin.
Jackie: Austin is my book agent, and he has been, I think, since maybe five/six years now.
Dave: Yes, and that’s a pretty incredible relationship. He’s our agent as well. I think he’s more proud of being your agent than his mom and dad. [Laughter] He’s good at what he does.
When you were back, three years ago, you had just written Gay Girl, Good God; and we had you on. One of the reasons I brought that up is that we were sort of terrified—not of you—but of doing this. You were the first guest we had; and it was like, “Oh, my goodness.”
Ann: You were remarkable.
Jackie: How special.
Ann: I do remember that I prayed over you; because I thought, “This woman carries incredible gifting/power.” You’re a theologian, but you’re so articulate and artistic. I thought—it brings tears to my eyes now—I thought, “She’s a world changer.” I think you’re changing people’s thoughts and minds about God, and you’ve done this with your newest book too.
Dave: You talk about theologian—your depth is inspiring—so here we are with a book, which is full of theology: Holier Than Thou: How God’s Holiness Helps Us Trust Him. You go from Gay Girl, Good God to this. It seems like a leap. Why this book; why now?
Jackie: It’s not really; I think the way it’s presented is different. One: Gay Girl, Good God is a memoir. This is more like a theological work about a theological concept. But the aim is the same, which is to exalt God. I think in both books, I spend a lot of time in showing God to be as beautiful as He really is.
For me, Gay Girl, Good God was: “Okay; this is my story, and this is the God who made it”; but “Here is that God” [in the second book]. I want to write books about God for the rest of my life.
Ann: I remember interviewing you about your story/your memoir. There was so much of it about this fact: that God is holy; and when you encounter a holy God, it will change you.
I think a lot of your listeners know your story; but will you go back and share that briefly, and how that encounter with God shaped you?—of who He really is.
Jackie: Yes; raised to a single mom; dealt with or had same-sex desires as early as I can remember, while at the same time, kind of attending church, here and there. I had some type of idea that God exists—that Jesus died—all those things, but I was unwilling to serve Jesus. One: it seemed uninteresting and boring [Laughter]; because all I knew of Christianity were these kind of joyless, rigid, dogmatic people—
Dave: Same thing here.
Jackie: —until I was 19. God met me through the power of the Holy Spirit. I was able to see that my sin was worthless, that God was worthy, and I turned. The interesting thing is that, in my repentance, it was an opening of my mind to the reality of God. Corinthians says: “The enemy has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, where they cannot see the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But God, who said, ‘Let there be light,’ has shone in our hearts to give this light.”
It was like, “Oh, not only are You real, but You are good. So in my turning towards You, in faith, I am turning towards a really good Person.” I think that’s really the emphasis of holiness—is to remind us that holiness isn’t simply that God hates sin—but that God is intrinsically good. I think if we presented that in our gospel presentations, and even in the way we live and talk about God, people would be much more interested in Jesus.
Dave: That’s an interesting perspective. I grew up in church—but not really—just sort of dragged there. As soon as I got to college, never went again—many of the same reasons—there’s no joy there; there’s no purpose there. I never saw anything there I liked.
But I do remember the preacher saying, “God is holy,” and it scared me. It didn’t draw me toward Him as beautiful; it scared me as fearful: “I don’t want to be near Him, because He’s just going to smite me.” Your perspective is a totally different perspective on that.
Ann: —even that God is good.
Jackie: Yes; judgement is a part of it—God is holy; therefore, He has a moral standard—He’s given us a law that He expects us and commands us to obey; and if we don’t obey it, there’s consequences.
But I think, when you think about the fact that God has given us a moral law that is an extension of Himself—so if you look at the commandments: “Thou shall not kill”; “Thou shall not lie”; “Thou shall not commit adultery,”—God is saying, “Don’t lie,” because He’s honest. God is saying, “Don’t commit adultery,” because He’s always faithful. God is saying, “Don’t steal,” because He’s generous. Even the moral law gives us a beautiful picture of the nature of God.
Dave: Did you always have that? Or was that something that—
Ann: I’m just saying—that thought right there—is deep! [Laughter] Most of us have never thought of that.
Dave: That’s what I mean! All I’ve heard is, “Thou shall not.” I’ve never considered that’s a beautiful revelation of His character. Did you always understand that?
Dave: Or somehow, just boom.
Jackie: Studying the Bible! [Laughter]
Dave: But here’s the thing—I’ve studied the Bible; Ann has studied the Bible—we’re amazing Bible scholars—I’m kidding. But I don’t think I’ve ever had that sort of revelation come to me: “Oh, there’s another side to this. This is something I want to be drawn to.”
Jackie: That line of thought was—I know, somewhere—Paul says that the law is good because God is. I was reading this book by Stephen Charnock called The Existence [and Attributes] of God, or something like that, written in the 1800s.
Ann: That’s our problem! Those aren’t the books we’re reading! [Laughter]
Jackie: He said the law is good because the Lawmaker is good. That got me thinking, “How does the Ten Commandments show God as good?” I started to think: “What if God was the opposite of what He’s commanding?”
- If He was opposite of it, He would be the devil/He would be a liar;
- He would be an adulterer;
- He would be a thief.
All the things we end up, in our unbelief, believing God is capable of.
Like God is saying, "Surrender and give Me all your stuff!” He wants my body; He wants my life; He wants my marriage. He wants it for good, though, because He’s a good God. I think it will free us up to imagine God as He really is.
Dave: One of the things I’ve always said, as a preacher for 30 years; in fact, I’m going to quiz Ann and see if she knows.
Ann: Oh, great.
Dave: My wife sat through all these hundreds—it had to be hundreds, if not thousands—of sermons.
Ann: Thousands, probably.
Dave: It was 30 or 40 a year for 30 years; so, yes, you’re around 1,000. I’ve said this many times—I bet nobody in my church can answer this question, but my wife—she better be able to answer.
Ann: No pressure!
Dave: I’m not saying I’m right or wrong, but I’ve said this many times: “There are two beliefs that affect every decision you make, every single day,”—that was my exaggeration—"There’s two beliefs that we carry, that I believe every decision we make, every day, is determined by those two,”—what are they?
Ann: “What you believe about God/theology” and “What you believe about yourself/identity.”
Dave: There you go! [Laughter] Way to go! [Clapping]
Jackie: All we need is confetti.
Dave: Did you look at some notes or something?
Ann: No; you’ve said that so many times.
Dave: Jackie, I don’t know if I’m right—but as I’ve thought about it—what we believe about God, which is theology—who He is:
- “Is He present?”
- “Is He absent?”
- “What’s His character?”
- “What are His attributes?”
And then, “What do we believe about who we are?”
Part of me, as a dad, was saying to my sons: “Every decision you make today is going to be based on: ‘Do you believe He’s here, and He’s with you?’ or ‘Do you believe you’re worthy or worthless?’” I don’t know if that’s true or not. But when you talk about the holiness of God, you are stating that, if I believe He’s holy, it’s going to change the way I behave; right?
Jackie: Absolutely; I think that’s the truth, literally. One story that intrigues me is the story of the rich young ruler, and how He comes to Jesus and says, “Good Teacher.” That’s already interesting because he’s calling Him a good teacher, which is cool; but is He just that? So he says, “Hey, how could I inherit eternal life?” Jesus gives him the law; he’s like, “Oh, I kept all those since I was a kid.” Jesus was like, “Okay; so leave everything you have and follow Me.” And it says that the rich young ruler walked away sad, because he had many possessions.
I looked at that text, and I wondered, “If he only thought that Jesus was a good teacher, and not also a good God; no wonder he didn’t leave all his stuff.” If you see that God is bigger and better than everything you have, then that will govern how you behave. Now, you realize, “I’m giving up all of this stuff, but I’m gaining everything,”—which is what Paul says—“All of that stuff is trash compared to what I get in God.” But he had to believe God was worthy and better than everything he gave up.
Absolutely; everything you believe about God will determine how you live this life.
Ann: —which is so interesting. Working with Detroit Lions’ wives for 35 years—and so often, I would ask them: “Is there anything keeping you from giving God everything?” and “What are the things that are hard for you to let go of?”—like the rich young ruler, it was his possessions. When I asked that, most of the moms said, “I’m so fearful; because I’m afraid, if I give God my children,”—because that’s the thing they hold the dearest and closest—“God will do something bad.”
Now, what would you say?—they’re sitting in your Bible study—this is a little bit of your book, of what you’re saying, it’s that misconception of who God is.
Jackie: Yes; I would empathize, but I would warn. This would be the warning: “I think, sometimes, we really don’t realize how much spiritual warfare is active in our conception of God. Why would the devil and his demons want you to hope the best in God? What is it we believe about the nature of God that we suppose that to surrender His creation back to Him is a bad thing? Doesn’t that sound like what the devil would have you think?”
Dave: Of course!
Jackie: I think that’s what I would say: “Resist that. Resist that spirit that would accuse God in your mind.”
I would also say, “Let’s look at the Scriptures, and let’s look at what He does, and how He is, and how He moves.” Even the fact that He sent His own Son for our good—everything He does is good—doesn’t mean that everything that He does isn’t hard and difficult. But it does mean that He does not have sinful aims and sinful motives in His dealings with us; that’s only Satan.
Dave: One of the things you say at the beginning of the book—I don’t need to read it, because I’m sure you can say it from memory—it was a profound understanding for me.
Jackie: —the premise?
Dave: Yes; I don’t know if it’s your premise; but you said: “If God is holy, He can’t sin.” Go ahead and flesh that out, because that changed the way you think about God’s holiness.
Jackie: Yes; “If God is holy, He cannot sin. If God cannot sin, that means He cannot sin against me. And if God cannot sin against me, doesn’t that make Him the most trustworthy being that exists?” That is paradigm shifting, I think.
Ann: Me too.
Jackie: I was thinking about my relationships with people—I don’t trust people easily—and that’s because we’re inconsistent; we’re unfaithful; we lie sometimes; we’re greedy. We don’t trust people, because people are sinful.
But when you get to God, the question has to be: “If God can’t sin, what is the reason I don’t trust Him? If He doesn’t even have it in His nature to do wrong; if all He can do is be right, be righteous, be kind, be wise, be perfect in all of His dealings with His creation; then, I have not excuse but to trust Him.” That changed my life—it doesn’t mean I’m perfect—but it does mean I’m much more willing to trust God more than I did before.
Dave: What is it in us that doesn’t believe that statement?
Jackie: Adam. [Laughter]
Dave: I think a lot of times we say that: “It’s our sin nature.” I remember when our youngest son—Austin’s younger brother—was preaching one time; and he said something to this effect: “Jesus is enough, but I don’t know Him well enough for Him to be enough.” It was a statement, like, “I know He’s enough! But I don’t really think I know Him enough to be able to go, ‘I can fully trust.’” Is that the problem?—it’s like we don’t really know Him? Or do you have a better answer? You probably have a better answer.
Jackie: No, I think that’s true; because there’s always going to be more of Him to know. It’s like we’re fighting against our nature—we inherited Adam’s sin—but also Adam’s logic and reasoning.
And we exist in this world. Our culture forms us to be skeptical of God. We’re also busy—we’re consumed with our families and all the things—how to pay bills; how to stop getting mad at my spouse for leaving milk out on the counter. There’s always so much that distracts us from even the ability to meditate on God’s truth, which I think informs how we trust.
Ann: Even that right there, I’m thinking of, as I’m listening to you—
Dave: You’re thinking of me leaving milk on the counter.
Ann: No, I’m not thinking of that at all.
Dave: It’s okay.
Ann: I’m thinking of you, Jackie, with four kids. You have three girls and a little boy, who’s two months. I’m thinking our listeners could be wondering: “How do you have time to study?” “How do you have the time to go deep and read these books by some dude in the 1800s?”
Jackie: It was a great book, by the way.
Ann: What would you say to them? I feel like, for you, it’s a necessity out of your—not only do you need it; you love Him—and when you love someone, you spend time with them.
Jackie: And I’m scared of myself—I think that’s a part of it—is that I know who I can be, apart from God. And that scares me, because I don’t want to be that person.
Being in the Word and praying looks different than it did when I was 20 and single, and that’s okay. There’s all kinds of opportunities to meet with God. All of us ain’t going to be able to be on the top of Mt. Sinai for 45 minutes, watching God write His law on the tablets. But we do have:
- Time in the car to listen to the Word.
- We are washing dishes to listen to a podcast about the Word.
- We do brush our teeth, where we don’t have to be on our phone; so we can send up a prayer or two.
There’s a lot of little moments where we can meet with God, and I think God even appreciates that.
Ann: That’s what I would say too. I feel like—especially, for me as a mom—that was the time I learned how to do God every day, every minute. I learned to walk with Him in the smaller and the bigger parts of my life. I didn’t have that 45 minutes—half the time, I was dreading—“I wish I had 45 minutes.” I was jealous that Dave might have 45 minutes.
But there is a sweetness of learning how to communicate with God, all day long, through everything: even praying, out loud with our kids, wherever we are in the house; in the car, in the school pick-up line; whatever that looked like.
Dave: I do think we want to be on Mt. Sinai.
Jackie: We do.
Dave: I just read it—I’m going through the one-year Bible—a few weeks ago, I’m reading that. The contrast of what’s happening on the mountain with God and Moses and what’s happening down in the valley. [Laughter]
Jackie: They were having a party.
Dave: They were building the idol. I thought, “We live down here so often! We’re building idols; we’re going after stuff.” We know He’s holy; we just don’t embrace it. Then, our life is like the valley—we’re in chaos—is that true?
Jackie: I think so. I think that’s the thing about sanctification: all of this takes time.
Ann: As you get older, you do have time to be on Mt. Sinai for 45 minutes again. You can be up there two hours, and it’s pretty amazing.
Dave: But I think what, often, happens is the beauty of the world captures us; and the beauty of God eludes us. Maybe, I’m exaggerating; but it feels like things that are shiny around me grab my attention, and God seems sometimes distant and so holy, He’s unknowable.
Ann: —or unattainable.
Dave: I just run after something that’s more immediate than the transcendent.
Jackie: I think so. I think, even in Exodus 32, when they were making the golden calf, I think part of the reason they did it is because it was quick and convenient. It’s like, “Hey, Moses is up there with God. Been about 40 days and 40 nights now. I don’t know where Moses is; therefore, I don’t know where God is.”
I think even our impatience leads us to make idols, because we don’t want to wait for God to reveal Himself through the text. It’s like, “Oh, Psalms; it’s boring.” You don’t want to wrestle with it, because it’s not quick enough. Or you’re being tempted with lust; so instead of waiting for God to give you the power to endure, you go to porn. It’s all of these quick satisfactions, which don’t satisfy at all.
Ann: I could sit on what you said there, when you said, “It scares me who I would be without God.” That would be a great dinner conversation with your spouse—your kids may not tell you, if they’re teenagers—"But who would I be?” or “What are the things I run after when I feel like God’s been up there too long, and He hasn’t been down here with me?” or “Really, I’m down here, and I haven’t been with Him: ‘What are the things that my appetite starts to yearn for?’” I think that would be a great question to have with your spouse: “Where do you go when you haven’t been with God for a while?”
As a mom, I can remember realizing—because I had that same fear, Jackie—I got so impatient with my kids; I started yelling all the time—well, even when I was with Jesus, I would yell sometimes. [Laughter]
Jackie: I’ve yelled with my Bible open.
Ann: Yes; me too!
Dave: That’s real prayer.
Ann: But there is something that I am afraid to—like I go back to things that I used to crave for before, that don’t bring me life, but I’ll chase after them—do you think that’s true for you [Dave]?
Dave: Of course; yes. Everything Jackie just said about the immediate adrenaline rush of whatever you put in the blank for your idol is the rush that often you don’t get or feel with the holiness of God. That’s why I think it’s so elusive.
My last question to you, Jackie, would be: “If there’s a listener sitting there, thinking, “I don’t understand the holiness of God. I want to; how do I?”
Shelby: Wow. That’s maybe the most important question we could ever ask. That’s Dave and Ann Wilson with Jackie Hill Perry on FamilyLife Today. We’ll hear her answer in just a second.
But first, as we ask questions like these, it reveals the true longings of our hearts. As the famous St. Augustine saying goes: “Our hearts are ever restless until they find rest in Him.” We really believe that, here, at FamilyLife. A relationship with God is an ultimate desire that sits at the center of every human being.
When you partner with us to make every home a godly home, you’re literally advancing the work of taking the gospel to homes across the world. Would you consider partnering with us, at FamilyLife, to see that gospel work come to fruition? When you do, we’d love to send you a copy of Jackie’s book, Holier Than Thou. It’s our “Thanks,” to you when you partner, financially, today with us. You can give online at FamilyLifeToday.com or by calling 800-358-6329; that’s 800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word “TODAY.”
Alright; here’s Jackie on how we can begin to better understand the holiness of God.
Jackie: Pray and ask God to help you understand. I think that’s one way to actual wisdom, which God said He’ll answer that prayer.
Then, get in your Word. One of the practices I started to do, early on in my walk, because of discipleship, was—when I would read a narrative, or an epistle, or Psalm—I would be strategic about paying attention to the way God is described in it. If it’s a Psalm, where David is crying out to God: “How does he describe God?” He says He’s a strong tower; He’s a refuge; He’s a rock—so I need to, now—say: “Oh, so God is a rock,” “God is a refuge,” “God is steadfast,” “God is this…” I think as you develop a practice of that, while reading your Word and believing it, that’s how you start to understand who God is; and therefore, understand His holiness.
Shelby: That’s Dave and Ann Wilson with Jackie Hill Perry on FamilyLife Today. Are you the same person at church as you are at home? That’s an interesting question. On FamilyLife Today, with Dave and Ann Wilson, Jackie Hill Perry will be talking to us and giving us insight on how to make sure we are living, biblically, in both our private and public lives.
On behalf of Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Shelby Abbott. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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