Our God is Holy!!
Holiness: God's Central Attribute
Dr. David Jeremiah tells the story of an Anglican preacher, Reginald Heber, who was the minister of a church in the Village of Hodnet, in a church once pastored by his father before him. Between 1811 and 1821 Reginald wrote 57 hymns which he longed to see published. However, the Anglican Church, at the time was not singing hymns as part of their worship.
Heber later packed up his hymns and sailed to India to become a missionary. He labored intensely for a few short years and died at the early age of 42. His hymns then went on to be published after his death. One of these hymns we still sing to this very day. Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty! Early in the morning, our song shall rise to Thee!!
This song is a beautiful expression of an extremely important attribute of the God that we serve. Yet many Christians sing this and other hymns without really knowing what they are singing about. Scripture places great emphasis on the Holiness of God.
We hear so much today about God's love for us, and that is not a bad thing. But when we talk about His love and forget about His holiness, we are not talking about the God of the Bible. Someone has called holiness "the most glorious and most all-embracing attribute of God." When a Hebrew word is repeated in a sentence like it is in Isaiah 6:3, it is to emphasize that word or that attribute. Isaiah sees a vision of the Lord sitting on His throne, and the Seraphim are calling out "Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord of hosts. The whole earth is full of His glory." In Revelation 4:8 John heard the four living creatures say the same thing: "Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty." No other attribute of God is emphasized in this way.
I. Definition of Holiness
So just what is holiness? The Hebrew word here is qadosh and we can glean from it, and all of the words derived from it, the idea of being "set apart", sanctified, consecrated, hallowed. The Greek word is hagios and implies an absence of fault or impurity. So when we speak of God's holiness we are saying at least two facts about Him.
1. God Is in a Class by Himself
In the first place, His holiness implies that He is distinct, separate, and in a class by Himself. The primary meaning of being separate is because the word qadosh comes from a Hebrew word which means "to cut" or "to separate."
Maybe the best way to describe it is that something that is holy is a cut above something else. For example, we say that an exceptional garment or piece of merchandise that is outstanding, with superior excellence, is a cut above all the others. And so it is with God. Holiness means that God has no rivals or competition.
When the Bible calls God holy, it is saying that He is transcendent. In other words, He is so far beyond us and every other being as to be almost totally foreign to us. God is 'other', or different in a good way. For example, I Samuel 2:2 says:
"There is no one holy like the Lord. Indeed, there is no one besides Thee, nor is there any rock like our God."
2. God is Morally Pure
A second fact that we can derive from God's holiness is the major aspect of moral purity. When things are "made holy" or consecrated, they are set apart unto purity. While the idea of purity doesn't exhaust what it means to be holy, it certainly includes it.
Holiness is usually defined in the negative sense as separated from all that is common and unclean. However, when it comes to the holiness of God, it not only means that He is separate from all that is sinful, evil and unclean, but it also means that He is positively pure. And, in this way, He is distinct from all others.
There is an analogy here which may be helpful. To be healthy is more than just the absence of illness. It also means to have a positive infusion of energy. God's holiness is not merely the absence of evil. It is the presence of positive goodness and right. It is a purity of being and nature as well as actions.
In order to get a better picture of this most important attribute of God, let me quote A.W. Pink. He writes:
'Who shall not fear thee, O Lord, and glorify thy name? For thou art holy.' (Rev. 15:4). He only is independently, infinitely, immutably holy. In Scripture He is frequently styled "The Holy One." He is so because the sum of all moral excellency is found in Him. He is absolute purity, unsullied even by the shadow of sin. "God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all" (I John 1:5). Holiness is the very excellency of the Divine nature: the great God is glorious in holiness. Therefore, we read, "Thou art of purer eyes than to behold evil, and cannot look on iniquity" (Habakkuk 1:13). As God's power is the opposite of the native weakness of the creature, as His wisdom is in complete contrast from the least defect of understanding or folly, so His holiness is the very antithesis of all moral blemish and defilement.
II. God's Holiness Encompasses Everything About Him
If we were to list the attributes of God, holiness would come first because in many ways it encompasses all the others. For instance, righteousness, justice, goodness, and truth are like different phases or aspects of the holiness of God. He is absolutely righteous, just, good and He is absolute truth. Even God's love expresses a deep and constant caring by a perfect, sinless Being for totally unworthy creatures. It is a love "set apart" like none other this world has ever known.
1. God's Works are Holy
Not only does holiness pervade His whole character but all that God does becomes holy as well. Scripture declares in Psalm 145:17 that: "The Lord is righteous in all His ways, and holy in all His works." Everything that proceeds from the hand of God is excellent. God finished His labor at creation and pronounced everything "very good'. This was something that couldn't have been done if there were any imperfection or blemish in it. This included man before the fall as well. And it included the fallen angels before they fell (Jude 6). Even Satan was created perfect until he rebelled against his creator (Ezekiel 28:15).
2. God's Law is Holy
Not only God's works but His Law is holy as well. The holy law forbids sin in all aspects. Sin, or disobedience to God, is totally abhorrent to Him and is something that must be punished, or God ceases to be Holy. The Bible teaches us in Romans 7:12 that "The law is holy, and the commandment is holy, just and good." Here is where there is a problem. Because mankind in his present, sinful state cannot please a holy God and must ultimately be separated from Him for eternity. Thus comes our need for the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ (Romans 3:23; Romans 6:23).
III. God's Holiness Makes the Gospel a Necessity
We saw in Habakkuk 1:13 where it said that the Lord is of purer eyes than to see evil and cannot look on wrong." When we see the holiness of God it should impress us with the utter revulsion that God has for sin. And the Bible paints a vivid picture of our sins which have separated us from a Holy God. Scripture teaches us that all have sinned and fall short of God's glory (Romans 3:23). And Ephesians 2:1-7 talks about how Christians were once dead in trespasses and sins and were children of wrath. By that Paul means God's utter wrath against sin and those who commit sin. None of us on our own are fit to stand before a Holy God.
That is why Christ's death on the cross is so beautiful. Jesus, the one who cannot stand sin, took upon Himself the sins of the world when He died on Calvary. Jesus actually became sin for us, even though He knew no sin Himself. And now, through faith in His name, we can be made the righteousness of God in Him (II Corinthians 5:19-21).
God hates sin immensely. But His love for us was far more immense. And it is through this love that we can become holy, like God. Jesus' death was a necessity if we had a chance for salvation. Nothing else in all the universe would do to make us right with God.
IV. God's Holiness Should Affect Christian Behavior
We can conclude from all of this that most people, Christians included, have lost the total fear and awe of dealing with a Holy God. We see God more as a cosmic buddy that we can pat on the back and treat with familiarity as if He were like any other person. However, while Jesus' death and resurrection have given us the ability to come boldly before the throne of grace, that doesn't mean that God is any less holy and it certainly doesn't take away the need for a respect due to the Sovereign of the universe. And a true love and respect for God should change our behavior in a major way.
1. God's Holiness Should Make Us Loathe Sin
If the God we love can't stand sin, it should make His people loathe it as well. And it ought to cause us to think twice before doing something that is sinful. We looked earlier at Isaiah chapter 6. This is the vision of Isaiah the prophet in which he sees the Lord. He observes God sitting on His throne and the Seraphim flying around Him saying "Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord of Hosts; The whole earth is full of His glory" (verse 3).
What is Isaiah's reaction to seeing the thrice holy God? He says: "Woe is me, for I am ruined! Because I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of Hosts!" (verse 5).
In being confronted by this vision of the Lord, Isaiah immediately understood that he was under judgment-that he was ruined. God's utter holiness underscored Isaiah's utter sinfulness and in his present state he was unable to stand before the God of the universe. Some have said that Isaiah expected to be killed on the spot because no one could stand before a holy God as they are and live.
Fortunately for Isaiah, God is also a God of grace mercy and the prophet didn't die. The Lord sent one of the Seraphim to him with a burning coal in his hand taken from the altar with tongs. He touched his lips and took away Isaiah's iniquity and forgave his sins (verses 6-7).
2. God's Holiness Should Cause Us to Warn Others
Immediately after Isaiah is forgiven and cleansed from sin, the Lord asks for volunteers to tell others about His holiness, their sin and God's offer of forgiveness. Here is Isaiah's response:
"Then I heard the voice of the lord, saying, 'Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?' Then I said, 'Here am I, send me!' (verse 8).
Isaiah knew what it was like to be forgiven by a God who is infinitely holy and the feeling of freedom and purity that it gave him. It made the prophet want to go out and tell his own people what he had experienced and to tell them that they could have it too. Even though he knew that it was a lost cause and that most of the people wouldn't listen, Isaiah still volunteered to go out and be God's man for this crucial time in Israel's history.
3. God's Holiness Should Make Us to Desire Holiness
The Bible teaches that without holiness, it is impossible to see God. (Hebrews 12:14). Thankfully, for the believer, that is made possible by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. But what we are in standing before God, needs to be worked out in our lives by the filling of the Holy Spirit and His power to transform us into the image of Christ.
The Lord, in both the Old and New Testaments, commands the believer to: "Be holy as I am holy" (Leviticus 11:44; I Peter I:15,16). In other words, we are to be totally set apart from sin and set apart for God. The moral perfection of God should move His people to strive for moral purity as well. While Scripture doesn't teach that we will be totally free from sin in this present fleshly body that we are living in, with the Help of the Holy Spirit who indwells us, we can become more and more holy, and less and less influenced by sin. In Romans 8:29 it states that we are predestined to be conformed to the very image of Jesus Christ. That image is one of holiness and good moral character.
Philip Yancey told the story of the great scientist Sir Isaac Newton who performed an experiment that required him to look at the Sun through a mirror. The sun's rays, though reflected, burned into his retinas and made him temporarily blind. Even after he hid away for three days, the bright spot would not fade from his vision. And if Newton had looked at the Sun much longer, he would have been permanently blind.
God's holiness is much like this, for as we earlier noted, man in his sinful state cannot look upon the face of God and live. (Genesis 33:17-23). The truth is that we take the holiness of God far too lightly. A true understanding of this preeminent attribute of the Lord should change the way we think and act.
For those who have not accepted Jesus Christ as Savior, you are living a life separated from a holy God. Accepting the sacrifice of Jesus upon the cross is your only hope for salvation from the just consequences of sin, which is eternal separation from God's presence in Hell.
For those who know Him, it should cause us to want to live a life that will please the Lord on a day by day basis. His holiness should change the way we worship Him as well. We need to have far greater reverence and a sense of awe when it comes to how we act at the services at the church that we attend, reading His Word, and also standing before the throne of God in prayer. Our God is a Holy God. To forget that fact is to forget the God we claim to worship. May our actions always reflect the truth that we indeed serve a Holy God!
© 2011 Jeff Shirley