The Awesome Holiness of God
- notes by Chris Hamer-Hodges, Living Rock Church UK
"Praise the Greatness of our God! He is the Rock His works are perfect, all His ways are just". Deut 32:3-4
When it comes to holiness we often think in negatives. The first thing that comes to our minds is the absence of sin. But to reduce holiness to the absence of sin is like reducing light to the absence of darkness. Holiness is a wonderful and powerfully positive attribute of God. It defines all that he is and all that he does. He is 'The Holy One'. It is the attribute of attributes. The holiness of God is the blinding radiance of his very essence, brighter than the sun shining in all its brilliance. This study looks at 5 aspects of the holiness of God.
2.0 SEPARATE – GOD IS NOT LIKE US
Both the Hebrew word 'Qodesh' and the Greek word 'Hagios' which are translated as 'Holiness' in the Bible carry with them the root meaning: 'cut-off' or 'separate'. When applied to God this means that God is separate from the rest of creation. God is not like us, he is above and beyond all our creation-bound thoughts, experiences and imaginations.
Isa 55:8-9 "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways," declares the LORD. "As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts"
Isa 40:25-26 "To whom will you compare me? Or who is my equal?" says the Holy One. Lift your eyes and look to the heavens: Who created all these? He who brings out the starry host one by one, and calls them each by name. Because of his great power and mighty strength, not one of them is missing."
1Ti 6:15b-16a God, the blessed and only Ruler, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone is immortal and who lives in unapproachable light, whom no-one has seen or can see.
2.1 Communicable or Incommunicable?
In this sense Holiness embodies the 'Incommunicable' attributes of God – those which man cannot reproduce in himself. The ways in which God is separate or 'other' to us: His omniscience, his omnipresence, the` *// mystery of his being – spirit, three-in-one, eternal in existence, transcending time and space. And yet holiness itself is a 'Communicable' attribute of God! It is part of those attributes in which man can be like God: just, good, loving, merciful etc. We have been made holy, and we are in the process of becoming holy.
When describing the attributes of God; holiness is often referred to as the "attribute of attributes" because it embodies them all, both incommunicable and communicable. All that God is and all that he does is holy. Holiness is also where these two types of attributes of God meet, as it is itself both incommunicable and communicable. This can been seen by these three seemingly contradicting statements about holiness in the scriptures:
Only God is holy
Rev 15:4 Who will not fear you, O Lord, and bring glory to your name? For you alone are holy.
We are already holy
Heb 10:10 We have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.
We need to become holy.
Heb 12:14 Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy; without holiness no-one will see the Lord.
These are not contradictory, but just go to illustrate how much holiness covers. It represents the unique nature of God that he alone has that we cannot obtain. It represents the communicable attributes of God to which we must obtain, and it represents the closeness to God and the belonging to him that is already ours in Christ. Holiness is thus a multifaceted jewel, so much more than just the absence of sin.
3.0 SACRED – GOD IS WORTHY OF HONOUR AND REVERENCE
Another definition of both the Greek and Hebrew biblical words for holiness is: hallowed, venerated, worthy of honour, sacred or simply "divine". It speaks of the awesome majesty of the creator. Again we see that holiness is the essence of the divine. This is borne out in scripture where 'holy' and 'divine' are used interchangeably, and where the fact that God is holy is inseparable from his awesome glory and his worthiness to be praised.
Da 4:9 I know that the spirit of the holy [divine] gods is in you, and no mystery is too difficult for you.
Isa 52:10 The LORD will lay bare his holy [divine] arm in the sight of all the nations, and all the ends of the earth will see the salvation of our God.
Ps 103:1 Praise the LORD, O my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy [divine] name.
Isa 6:3 "And they were calling to one another: "Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory."
Ps 22:3 You are holy, enthroned in the praises of Israel.
Rev 4:8-11 Each of the four living creatures had six wings and was covered with eyes all around, even under his wings. Day and night they never stop saying: "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come." Whenever the living creatures give glory, honour and thanks to him who sits on the throne and who lives for ever and ever, the twenty-four elders fall down before him who sits on the throne, and worship him who lives for ever and ever. They lay their crowns before the throne and say: "You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honour and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being."
People and places can be holy or sacred in this way too, but not in their own right, only as a result of closeness to God who is the only source of holiness. Moses was commanded to take off his shoes because he stood on holy [sacred] ground. There was nothing special about that particular stretch of desert, except it was where God was present. The tabernacle had holy [sacred] things and a holy and most holy place. But again this was not a holiness intrinsic to the objects or places themselves but due to the proximity to the very presence of God. As Christians we are a holy people because God is not just close to us, but within us! We are participants of the divine nature! (2Pe 1:4)
4.0 SINLESS – ABSOLUTE MORAL PURITY AND PERFECTION
Having said that holiness is much more than the absence of sin, we cannot study holiness without taking the moral aspect of it into consideration. But even here God's moral holiness is not just the negative avoidance of sin, it is equally to do with the positive affirmation of all that is good. God's moral holiness means that he is utterly flawless and perfect in all his ways, not only in what he does not do (avoidance of sin) but also in all that he does do – all that he does is just, true, good, loving and pure. Some people's image of holiness is like a hermit in a cave who avoids all temptation, is free from all evil, and commits no sin. However the scripture makes it clear that holiness is absent not only when we do evil, but also when we don't do good!
God's holiness is thus equally demonstrated by his separation from all that is impure and his wrath towards all that is wicked and evil, and also in his closeness and binding love to all who do good and seek to follow in his ways.
1Jn 1:5 God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.
Heb 1:9 You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; therefore God, your God, has set you above your companions by anointing you with the oil of joy.
Jas 1:17 Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.
Jas 4:17 Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn't do it, sins.
This is part of the communicable aspect of God's holiness. God wants us to be holy as he is holy. To have the same hatred of sin, and love of righteousness that he has. To have the same purity and love in all our thoughts, words and deeds. This however is part of the process of sanctification, it is not something we get the instant we are saved but something that we need to work at: constantly and daily. Although we have the Holy Spirit within us, who helps us to become holy, we also have the flesh – our natural carnal selfish desires that pull us in the opposite direction. To live to God requires death to self.
1Pe 1:15-16 But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: "Be holy, because I am holy."
2Co 3:18 And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord's glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.
Gal 5:16-17 So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want.
Lk 9:2 Then he said to them all: "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me."
5.0 SET APART – BELONGING EXCLUSIVELY TO GOD
There is one other biblical definition of holiness, but I have left it to the end because it is more related to people and things than to God himself who quite rightly is the main focus of our study. That definition is: set apart, consecrated, given over to exclusive use for God. This is how the objects in the temple were holy, because they were only used in service to God. This is how the Nazarites were holy, because they took a vow to serve God, and to engage in no other activity for a set period of time. In this way we too can be holy if we consider that we are no longer our own, we belong to God. We exist exclusively for his use, and we will not engage in any activity outside of his will.
1Co 6:19-20 Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not our own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honour God with your body.
Ro 6:13 Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness.
2Ti 2:4 No one serving as a soldier gets involved in civilian affairs--he wants to please his commanding officer.
In a way this does relate to God's holiness too because he is utterly committed to his own glory and purpose. He never takes a vacation to go fishing or to oversee some other universe. The plan that he has put into effect through his son is his one consuming passion. God is consecrated to himself, set apart for his own will. He acts exclusively to forward his own honour and glory.
Ps 121:14 He who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.
Eze 39:25 I will be zealous for my holy name.
Jn 6:38 For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me.
6.0 THE STANDARD – GOD DOES NOT CONFORM TO A STANDARD HE IS THE STANDARD
Of course the ultimate definition of Holiness is God himself. He is not holy because he adheres to some standard. He himself is the standard. Holiness is the essence of his being. He is holy because he is holy. Thus to be holy is to be like God. There is no other standard given to be holy – you must be holy as God is holy.
Mt 5:48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
He is also the source of all holiness. There is no other source. Anything or anyone that is holy is not so in itself, but because it is close to, consecrated to, or reflects the character of God himself. The reason we can be holy is because he is holy and his Spirit lives in us.
Lev 11:44 I am the LORD your God; consecrate yourselves and be holy, because I am holy.
Lev 20:8 I am the LORD, who makes you holy.
Holiness is the essence of the divine, and our divine calling in Christ.
1Co 1:2 To those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be holy, together with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ-- their Lord and ours.
This article is Unit 2 of a 7 part series on THE GREATNESS OF GOD!
Living Rock Church, 2002 - printed with permission.