Gospel Gazette Online
Volume 19 Number 9 September 2017
Page 8

The Holiness of God

Clarence Lavender

What do we mean by the holiness of God? Holiness is defined as, “that essential rectitude of God’s nature, whereby He takes infinite delight and pleasure in that which is pure and holy; and hates, with a perfect hatred, everything which is morally evil” (Village Sermons, Bruder, 322).

Conner says:

The original meaning of the term translated holiness in the Old Testament seems to be impossible now to determine. The emphasis seems to have been on the idea of transcendence, the separateness of God. It was that quality in God which separated or distinguished Him from things finite and created. This idea of transcendence or separateness from the world the term never lost. And since the term signified that in God which marked His separateness from the world, the term came to be synonymous with deity… The idea of holiness, then, seems to be closely akin to the idea of absoluteness as ascribed to God. (Revelation and God, Conner, 243)

Thiessen in commenting on God’s holiness states:

…absolutely separate from and exalted above all His creatures, and that He is equally separate from moral evil and sin. In the first sense His holiness is not really an attribute that is coordinate with the other attributes, but is rather coextensive with them all. It denotes the perfection of God in all that He is. In the second sense it is viewed as the eternal conformity of His being and His will. In God we have purity of being before purity of willing. God does not will the good because it is good, nor is the good good because God wills it; else there would be a good above God or the good would be arbitrary and changeable. Instead, God’s will is the expression of His nature, which is holy. (Lectures in Systematic Theology, Thiessen, 128-129)

There is no goodness above God or below God. He is the total essence of goodness and holiness.

Davidson says, “…it became applied very early to Jehovah…also to men and things, not as describing any quality in them, but to indicate their relation to deity…simply belonging to Jehovah” (Theology of the Old Testament, Davidson, 144).

Finally, A.W. Tozer writes:

Holy is the way God is. To be holy He does not conform to a standard. He is that standard. He is absolutely holy with an infinite, incomprehensible fullness of purity that is incapable of being other than it is. Because He is holy, all His attributes are holy; that is, whatever we think of as belonging to God must be thought of as holy. God is holy and He made holiness the moral condition necessary to the health of His universe. Sin’s temporary presence in the world only accents this. Whatever is holy is healthy: evil is a moral sickness that must end ultimately in death. Since God’s first concern for His universe is its moral health, that is, its holiness, whatever is contrary to this is necessarily under His eternal displeasure. To preserve His creation God must destroy whatever would destroy it. When He arises to put down iniquity and save the world from inseparable moral collapse, He is said to be angry. Every wrathful judgment in the history of the world has been a holy act of preservation. The holiness of God, the wrath of God, and the health of the creation are inseparably united. God’s wrath is His utter intolerance of whatever degrades and destroys. He hates iniquity as a mother hates the cancer that would take the life of her child. (The Knowledge of the Holy, Tozer, 113).

After understanding what holiness means, it is also important that we understand that holiness is used in two senses in the Scriptures. It is used in a negative sense, which means the absence of any unclean or evil element in God. Holiness is also used in a positive sense, which implies the abundance of every clean and pure element with God.

In the Bible, God underlines His holiness in four ways. (1) Direct commandments, such as given in the Old Testament; (2) Objects, the tabernacle and the Temple; (3) Personal visions, such as given to Moses (Exodus 33:18-23), Isaiah (Isaiah 6:1-5), Daniel (Daniel 7:9-14) and John’s great vision on Patmos (Revelation 4:8-11). Note in Isaiah 6:3 and Revelation 4:8 the words, “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty.” It is as if this attribute of God is so important that one “holy” will not suffice! (4) Individual judgments upon Nadab and Abihu for offering fire not authorized, thus strange fire (Leviticus 10:1-3); upon Korah for rebellion (Numbers 16:4-12, 31-33); upon Uzziah for intruding into the office of the priesthood (2 Chronicles 26:16-21) and upon Herod for blasphemy (Acts 12:20-23).

The Scriptures teach clearly the holiness of God. Here are five observations on this point. There is none other like Him in holiness. “Who is like unto thee, O Lord, among the gods? Who is like thee, glorious in holiness, fearful in praises, doing wonders?” (Exodus 15:11).

He is the God of hearts. “And one cried unto another, and said, Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory” (Isaiah 6:3). Here each seraph (fiery one) lifted up his voice (literally “kept crying”) in praise to God. It was an uninterrupted antiphonal song; some upraised it and others gave the response. The apostle John goes further in his description, “And the four beasts had each of them six wings about him; and they were full of eyes within: and they rest not day and night, saying, holy, holy, holy Lord God Almighty, which was, and is, and is to come” (Revelation 4:8). It is because of His holiness that He is supremely worthy of our worship; His glory is in His holiness. His glory is His unveiled holiness, as His holiness is His veiled and hidden glory. Truly, “…in His temple doth everyone speak of His glory” (Psalm 29:9).

Several passages teach that God is holy. “For I am the Lord your God: ye shall therefore sanctify yourselves, and ye shall be holy, for I am holy; neither shall ye defile yourselves with any manner of creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth. For I am the Lord that bringeth you up out of the land of Egypt, to be your god: ye shall therefore be holy, for I am holy” (Leviticus 11:44-45). “To whom then will you liken me, or shall I be equal? saith the Holy One” (Isaiah 40:25). “Art thou not from everlasting, O Lord my God, mine Holy One? We shall not die. O Lord, thou hast ordained them for judgment; and, O mighty God, thou has established them for correction” (Habakkuk 1:12).

The heavenly hosts declare the holiness of God. “And the four beasts had each of them six wings about him; and they were full of eyes within: and they rest not day and night, saying, Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, which was, and is, and is to come” (Revelation 4:8).

It was God’s holiness that affected Isaiah (Isaiah 6:1-5). Verse 5 says, “Then said I, Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips.” Isaiah saw himself in a way he had never seen himself before. In Chapter 5, he had pronounced six “woes” upon sinful man. Now in the presence of God and seraphim, he recognized his own woe because of sin. “Woe is me!” His words reflect a result of the vision he had received—a realization of his own sinfulness.

The word “undone” literally means “cut off or destroyed.” Isaiah felt doomed to destruction because he had seen God in vision form. In the realization of his own sinfulness, he named uncleanness of lips because he saw himself placed among multitudes of beings who praise the Lord with pure lips. Isaiah saw himself as a spiritual leper (Leviticus 13:45-46), a sinner. Matthew Henry draws from this terminology a reference to sins related particularly to the spoken word. He observes:

We all have reason to bewail it before the Lord, (1) That we are of unclean lips ourselves; our lips are not consecrated to God. We are unworthy to take God’s name into our lips. The impurity of our lips ought to be the grief of our souls, for by our words we shall be justified or condemned. (2) That we dwell among those who are so too. The disease is…epidemic, which is so far from lessening our guilt that it should rather increase our grief, considering that we have not done what we might have done for the cleansing of the pollution of other people’s lips; we have rather learned their way and spoken their language.

Isaiah has seen the “King of glory” (Psalm 24:10), his own sinfulness and the sinfulness of the people around him. God’s solution for Isaiah’s sinfulness was sending one of the seraphim unto him, having a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with the tongs from off the altar. “And he laid it upon my mouth, and said, lo, this hath touched thy lips; and thine iniquity is taken away, and thy sin purged” (Isaiah 6:6-7).

From this we learn three great lessons. (1) Man, defiled by his sin, is unfit and unworthy to serve and worship God; he is unfit to carry the message of God to others. (2) Only God can cleanse us from these sins and make us fit to serve Him. (3) Men who have been cleansed by the power of God should not allow their past to keep them from serving God.

How does it affect us when we dwell on the holiness of God? Because God is holy, His children must be holy. This great fundamental principle is expressed through divine revelation to Simon Peter. He said, “But as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation; because it is written, be ye holy; for I am holy” (1 Peter 1:15-16).

Here Peter addressed the “called.” God called these saints in the first century, as he calls all accountable people today, through the Gospel (2 Thessalonians 2:14). Inasmuch as the Gospel is addressed to all nations and to every creature (Matthew 28:18-20; Mark 16:15-16; Acts 2:38), it follows that all who heed the call become, through obedience, the “called out” or “the elect of God.”

This holiness to which all are called is essentially separation from a life of habitual sin and all worldly defilement. Such is the meaning of the word translated “holiness” (hagios). The words sanctify, sanctification, sane, holy and holiness all derive from the same root, and thus, they bear related meanings. Here, God, as the perfect pattern of holiness, is set forth for our emulation in “all manner of living.”

The words, “Ye shall be holy; for I am holy,” occur five times in the Book of Leviticus (Leviticus 9:2; 11:44-45; 20:7, 26). The words were, on some occasions, addressed to priests; at other times, they were applied to the whole nation of Israel.

Peter regarded all Christians as priests (individuals qualified and empowered to engage in worship) and as constituting the “holy nation” of spiritual Israel. Hence, they are worthy, indeed, to have the admonition applied to them. As the Israelites were required to be a holy nation and a peculiar people in the midst of the nations, so Christians who have succeeded to their spiritual status as the chosen people of the Lord must maintain the same separateness from the world around them. It is characteristic of people to imitate the God whom they worship, and since He is wholly pure, followers of God have the perfect standard of excellence that is theirs to emulate. The word “I” in the quotation, “I am holy,” is emphatic in the Greek text, signifying, “I, myself, apart from all others, am holy.”

Since God is holy, He cannot look upon sin. Habakkuk posed this question to God on the eve of captivity by the Chaldeans. “Thou art of purer eyes than to behold evil, and canst not look on iniquity: wherefore lookest thou upon them that deal treacherously, and holdest thy tongue when the wicked devoureth the man that is more righteous than he?” (Habakkuk 1:13).

Habakkuk in essence said, “God, you mean you are going to permit such a wicked ungodly people like the Chaldeans to punish us (Judah) by taking us into captivity?” God’s reply was, “Yes, I will use the Chaldeans to punish Judea, but understand this Habakkuk, the time is coming when I will raise up another nation to punish the Chaldeans for their wickedness!”

God reassured Habakkuk by telling him that if he could only wait that it would all be clear to him. Habakkuk said, “I will stand upon my watch, and set me upon the tower, and will watch to see what he will say unto one, and what I shall answer when I am reproved. And the Lord answered me, and said, write the vision, and make it plain upon tables, that he may run that readeth it. For the vision is yet for an appointed time, but at the end it shall speak, and not lie: though it tarry, wait for it; because it will surely come, it will not tarry” (Habakkuk 2:1-3).

Twenty-three years after the death of Nebuchadnezzar (562 B.C.), Cyrus, ruler of the Medes and Persians, entered Babylon in October, 539 B.C., enslaving the Chaldeans, thus fulfilling this great prophecy. God’s Word is sure!

The execution against nations of today is by those whom God raises up for that purpose! Why? He is holy and cannot look upon sin. What a great lesson we need to learn in America today!

All the redeemed of God are His own possession and called to be holy. Moses wrote, “For thou are a holy people unto the Lord thy God: the Lord thy God hath chosen thee to be a special people unto himself, above all people that are upon the face of the earth” (Deuteronomy 7:6). See also Deuteronomy 14:2 where God’s people are referred to as a “peculiar people.” The fact that God had chosen them for his possession meant that they were “holy,” not in the sense that they were free from moral defilement, but simply because they were his possession.” (The Timeless Trinity, Lanier).

Many religious people are mistaken when they teach that alien sinners can pray to God, and on the basis of the prayer, come into a saving relationship with God. Men must act on the basis of what God calls for before sins are forgiven. “Behold the Lord’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; neither his ear heavy, that it cannot hear: But your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you, that he will not hear” (Isaiah 59:1-2). Men under all dispensations had to first cleanse themselves before coming into God’s presence (Exodus 19:10-16).

Under the Christian dispensation, the age under which men have lived for almost the past 2,000 years, all who became saved were obedient to the Gospel. God’s plan for saving sinners is (1) Hearing the Word (Romans 10:17); (2) Faith (Hebrews 11:6); (3) Repentance (Luke 13:3, 5; Acts 17:30-31).

When we live according to biblical teaching, though we sin daily, the blood of Christ that washed away our past sins when we were baptized into Him, continues to cleanse us from our daily sins—when we pray and repent. See what John said.

If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth: But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins [to God, not man], he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:6-9)

Worshippers must approach God with holiness. It is sad in our day that so much “worship” has become a time for entertainment. From the beginning of the Bible when we read of Cain and Abel’s worship (Genesis 4) to the end of the Bible when we read of the admonition of the angel for John to worship God (Revelation 22), God instructed man regarding the vital subject of worship. In fact, the word “worship,” in one form or another, appears approximately 200 times in the Bible. Someone has well said that this subject needs studying because “most people do not enjoy coming, are late in arriving, early in leaving and bored while there.” Beloved, worshippers must approach God with holiness, because He is holy. He will accept no other form of worship.

John Milton wrote concerning worship, “True religion is the true worship and service to God, learned and believed from the word of God only. No man or angel can know how God would be worshipped and served unless God reveal it; he has revealed and taught it to us in the gospel by His own son and His apostles, with strictest command to reject all other traditions or additions whatsoever.” Batsel Baxter echoes the same thoughts: “To worship is to quicken the conscience by the holiness of God, to feed the mind with the truth of God, to purge by the beauty of God, to open the heart to the love of God, to devote the will to the purpose of God.”

Beloved, we must remember that all worship is service, but not all service is worship! The Bible carefully distinguishes between worshipping and serving (Deuteronomy 4:19-8:19; 11:16). Jesus taught the importance of worship, “God is Spirit; and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24).

For worship to be acceptable to the holy God, we must remember these things. (1) Acceptable worship is more than an act, it is an attitude. (2) Acceptable worship must have the right object— God. (3) Acceptable worship must have the right motive and attitude—spirit. (4) Acceptable worship must have the right authority—Truth. (5) The great danger of true worship has always been possessing the outward form without the inward spirit!

The apostle Paul taught in Hebrews 10:25, “Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much more, as ye see the day approaching.” Ignoring the value of the public worship is like a man building a house without windows and then blaming God because he has to live in the dark! Worshippers must approach God with holiness (Exodus 3:5; 1 Chronicles 16:29; Joshua 24:14-24; John 4:24)!

Saints (hagios) are literally “holy ones.” “Paul and Timothy, the servants of Jesus Christ, to all the saints in Christ Jesus which are at Philippi, with the bishops and deacons” (Philippians 1:1). “When he shall come to be glorified in his saints, and to be admired in all them that believe (because our testimony among you was believed) in that day” (2 Thessalonians 1:10). The relationship of saints begin the priesthood of believers (1 Peter 2:9) and being holy and free from moral corruption is clearly illustrated in Revelation 1:4-6.

Since we have been made a holy people by the blood of Christ, we are to abhor evil and cleave to good. “Let love be without dissimulation. Abhor that which is evil; cleave to that which is good” (Romans 12:9). If we can learn to abhor all evil and love all that is good, we will be holy. God’s holiness consists of His love for the good and His hatred of the evil. Often God’s chastening helps us partake of His holiness (Hebrews 2:10).

In conclusion, the Bible teaches the fact of God’s holiness. He is absolutely holy. He is free from all defilement; He is absolutely pure. The holiness of God manifests itself several ways: (1) in a hatred of sin, (2) in delight of righteousness and holiness, (3) In His never doing wickedness or iniquity, (4) In the separation of the sinner from himself, (5) in the punishment of the sinner and (6) in His making an infinite sacrifice to save others from sinfulness unto holiness.

Beloved, if we perfect holiness in the fear of God (2 Corinthians 7:1), never wavering from the way of holiness (Isaiah 35:8), we will one day join the redeemed of all ages and sing with voices of perfection throughout the non-ending ages of eternity, “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty!”

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