The Holiness of God

Growing up my brother and I were known for our very red hair. I wish I had a quarter for every time someone called me “carrot top” or asked us while in the grocery store, “Wherever did you get such red hair?”

While the red hair was attention getting, I have to admit I didn’t really like either the hair or the attention. I even let my brother cut my hair when he was only four years old and didn’t mind the extra locks he cut off! Thankfully as I got older my hair has turned more brown than red, and now with four teenagers the white hairs are coming through!

God is known for his attribute of holiness. God’s people are known as “saints,” or holy ones. The church is to be holy and blameless. Yet, the doctrine of holiness that is essential to who God is and is to characterize God’s people too often gets the same kind of response that I gave to my red hair! There is little to no real understanding, thankfulness, or love for holiness. Too many of Christ’s church today are not only wishing for a change—like I wanted my hair to change color—they are actively making the change, cutting it out entirely!

First, the Facts
The Bible without question describes God as a holy God. Moses sang after God’s deliverance of Israel through the Red Sea, “Who is like You among the gods, O Lord? Who is like You, majestic in holiness?” (Exod 15:11). Isaiah saw the seraphim crying out, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts” (Isa 6:3). Peter commands his readers to be holy in every aspect of their lives “because it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy’” (1 Pet 1:16).

Holiness is an attribute of God—that is, it is what makes God God. God is spirit, so we can’t describe him in terms of appearance. God’s attributes are essential to who he is; they tell us the essence of God. It is common to list these attributes and study them individually. That is a good and helpful thing to do, but when you do that don’t think of them like bricks in a building. God cannot be divided up as he is one, indivisible in his essence. God is what his attributes are.

So when we consider God’s holiness remember that we are not considering some impersonal quality, like the color of my hair! We are learning and considering God himself.

God is Holy
What does “holy” mean? Basically, it means separateness or apartness. To learn what holy means we have to look at God, who is holy.

The Bible describes God as separate from all other gods, “majestic in holiness” (Exod 15:11). He is “enthroned above the cherubim” and “exalted above all the peoples” (Ps 99:1-2). God is “the high and exalted One who lives forever, whose name is Holy” (Isa 57:15). Hannah prayed, “There is no one holy like the Lord, indeed there is no one besides You” (1 Sam 2:2).

The first thing to understand by “God is holy” is that God is separate or apart from everything he created. He is completely outside of, beyond, and above the world. He is in a class all by himself. Theologians call this aspect of God’s holiness his majestic transcendence.

The Bible also describes God as being “too pure to approve evil” (Hab 1:13). He shows “himself holy in righteousness” (Lev 5:16). Christians anticipate being “without blame in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus” (1 Thess 3:13). “Perfecting holiness in the fear of God” involves being free “from all defilement of flesh and spirit” (2 Cor 7:1).

The second thing to understand, then, by “God is holy” is that God is morally pure. He is completely separate from anything that is sinful, unclean, or bad. God is purity, so much so that the psalmist says “the one who loves violence His soul hates” (Ps 11:5), thus describing God’s feeling and attitude toward the wicked.

So, to pull things together here, when the Bible talks about God being holy, it means that God’s very nature is holy—it is who he is, it is essential to his being. God expresses that holiness in everything he does because it is who he is. God loves holiness—it is the motive and end of all he does.

God is pleased only with what is pure and he is always against what is not pure. There is no negotiation, compromise, or meeting half-way with God. He is always displeased with whatever is impure because he is in his very essence absolutely holy, separate from what is unholy.

How Important is Holiness?
God’s attributes relate to one another. This shouldn’t be surprising, for remember, God is one, he is indivisible. God’s love does not change, it wise, and it is holy. God’s knowledge is infinite, as is his power.

While God’s attributes relate to one another there is one attribute that stands supreme or fundamental to and in all—his holiness. The Bible points to this, and we should see that God’s holiness qualifies or governs his attributes and actions. How does the Bible say this?

In heaven God’s holiness is the chief subject of worship (Isa 6:1-3; Rev 4:8). God “swears” by his holiness (Ps 89:35; Amos 4:2) and it has a position of prominence in the Lord’s prayer (Matt 6:9). Holiness—moral purity—is God’s very life (Eph 4:18-19). Holiness is the first and most prominent attribute that is impressed on man’s attention (1 Pet 1:16; Heb 12:14). God’s “name”—that which he is known and characterized by—is holy (Lev 20:3; Isa 57:15). God is distinguished as God because he is holy (Exod 15:11; 1 Sam 2:2; Rev 15:4).

What this means is that holiness characterizes everything about God. Everything he does is holy. This can’t be said, for example, of God’s love, mercy, or grace. Such attributes are grounded in or have as their standard God’s holiness. God doesn’t love, act righteously, or reveal truth “just because.” These expressions of God’s attributes have a norm or a standard—they are governed by God’s attribute of holiness, much like the tracks that a train runs on or a chimney that controls the smoke of a fire.

God’s Holiness and Your Sin
Because God loves and delights in holiness (Lev 20:26; Ps 33:5; 45:7) he necessarily hates sin (Prov 15:9, 26; Hab 1:13). Because of this God has nothing to do with sinners, no matter what worship they bring to him (Isa 1:15; 59:1-2). He must punish sinners as they are morally impure, which is a direct attack on God’s holiness (Ps 5:4-6). God made human beings to reflect his holy image, and when they sin against him they twist and pervert his intention and character.

For there to be any hope of deliverance from the wrath of a holy God sin must be dealt with—it can’t just be swept under the rug. God can’t pretend it doesn’t exist. God is love, but for him to just ignore sin would be to deny himself, for he is holy. How can sinners be saved then?

This is where the substitutionary atonement of Jesus Christ comes in. God’s holiness is the basis for Christ’s atonement—Christ died, not merely to show God’s love, but to effectively deal with God’s offended holiness. The reason why “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness” of sins (Heb 9:22) is because God is holy and sin must be dealt with. God is holy; he hates sin. God is infinitely holy and hates sin infinitely—“Our God is a consuming fire” (Heb 12:29).

The first and most basic application of God’s holiness is that you must repent of your sin and trust Jesus Christ alone!

God’s Holiness in Your Salvation
If you do trust Christ for salvation from God’s holy wrath toward your sin, the application of God’s holiness to your life then moves to this basic command: “as obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance, but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior, because it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy’” (1 Pet 1:14-16).

Christian, a holy God saved you so that you would be holy too! Consider these truths:

  • You were chosen before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before God (Eph 1:4).
  • Christ died for you so that he would sanctify you (Eph 5:26).
  • God redeemed you through Christ to be a people purified for his own possession (Titus 2:14).
  • In Christ you are a saint, made holy in Christ (1 Cor 1:2).
  • In Christ you are a new man, made in the likeness of God, created in holiness (Eph 4:24).
  • You must glorify God in your body because the Holy Spirit lives in you (1 Cor 6:19-20).
  • You are to give every aspect of your life to righteousness, resulting in holiness (Rom 6:19).
  • Holiness is God’s will for every Christian (1 Thess 4:3) and is the aim of God’s salvation (1 Thess 4:7).
  • Holiness is the necessary pursuit of any who would see the Lord (Heb 12:14).
  • You are to perfect holiness in the fear of God (2 Cor 7:1).
  • You are to present your body as a holy sacrifice (Rom 12:1).
  • You are to purify yourself as Christ is pure (1 John 3:3).
  • The outcome of a life dedicated to holiness is eternal life (Rom 6:22).

The one aim of Christianity is personal holiness (2 Cor 7:1; Heb 12:14; 1 Pet 1:14-16). This will be your desire only as you see holiness as God’s preeminent attribute. Yes, you will pray, but you pray to a holy God. Yes, you will give the gospel, but you do so as the servant of a holy God, urging sinners to trust Christ. Yes, you will love others, but you do so as the necessary result of having a new, holy nature that comes from being born again.

God’s Holiness in Your Kitchen
There’s an interesting passage in the Old Testament, Zechariah 14:20-21—“In that day there will be inscribed on the bells of the horses, ‘HOLY TO THE LORD.’ And the cooking pots in the Lord’s house will be like the bowls before the altar. Every cooking pot in Jerusalem and in Judah will be holy to the Lord of hosts.”

When Christ returns to earth to establish his kingdom Jerusalem will be the world-wide center of worship. Christ’s righteous rule will be so complete that it will affect every area of life. There will be no difference between “holy” and “secular” things, as holiness will permeate every part of life. Outright sin and evil will not be found.

This may be so, but what about now?

Christian, every aspect of your life now is to be characterized by, expressive of, supporting, encouraging, and developing God’s holiness! Your thoughts, affections, desires, speech, actions, and responses must be holy. God’s holiness must be seen in every aspect of your life now, in the very “pots and pans” of your kitchen!

Perhaps one of the greatest challenges to personal holiness is the bombardment of worldliness through radio, friends, books, the internet, school, magazines, television, and other sources. While there is no escaping our living in this world, you must strive for holiness in it. If something hinders you from this pursuit, radical “surgery” may be necessary (Matt 5:27-30). You must continually ask yourself, “Will this help me ‘be holy’” (1 Pet 1:15)?

Men, holiness in your daily lives will mean setting a guard around yourself—you must jealously protect yourself from those occasions for sinful lust to gratify itself. Also, living a holy life might require a change in occupation, taking a lesser paying job, or losing friends.

Ladies, holiness in your daily lives means not living for the vanities of this world. You are constantly urged to keep up with the latest fashions—how do they square with a holy God? Does what you wear give the testimony that you follow a holy God?

As you live in this unholy world, God’s holiness has great application. Remember, God’s name is holy—you are a saint—so be careful that you don’t associate the name of God with questionable things. The root issue in all of this is your affections—if you desire to be holy because God is holy that will control your choices.

Don’t evaluate yourself by comparing yourself to others—you must see yourself in the pure light of God’s holiness. R. A. Torrey long ago said, “If any man think well of himself, he has never met God. Nothing will demolish self-righteousness like one real sight of God.” God alone is the standard.

Thinking about and considering God’s holiness should cause you to grow in thankfulness to Christ for what he did for you. Meditating on his holiness also brings comfort, for God will keep his promises, he will not lie, because he is holy.

Christian, God loves his holiness, and he sent his Son to die on the cross for your sin so that you could be holy and love holiness as he does. Don’t desire to change it, as I did with my hair when a little boy!

June 2010

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