Holy

| Isaiah 40:25-31

Week of March 1, 2020

The Point:  God is distinct from and above absolutely everything else.

The Supremacy of God:  Isaiah 40:25-31.

[25] To whom then will you compare me, that I should be like him? says the Holy One. [26] Lift up your eyes on high and see: who created these? He who brings out their host by number, calling them all by name, by the greatness of his might, and because he is strong in power not one is missing. [27] Why do you say, O Jacob, and speak, O Israel, “My way is hidden from the LORD, and my right is disregarded by my God”? [28] Have you not known? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. [29] He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength. [30] Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; [31] but they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.   [ESV]

“God is Holy. Doctrine. God’s holiness has been described as the “beauty” of all his attributes. God possesses a perfect and unpolluted freedom from all evil. Simply put, God unchangeably loves good and hates evil. Reformed theologians unanimously agree that holiness is an essential attribute of God. As his attributes are woven together in our finite conception, we are able to paint a more accurate picture of him in his essence. When we conceive of him, we must remember that his holiness is as necessary an attribute as God’s being, omniscience, and immutability. To speak properly, they are all as necessary as each other because the attributes cannot be divided. In emphasizing this perfection, the Bible presents God as the “Holy One” [Job 6:10; Isa. 40:25]. The angels call to one another, saying, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory! [Isa. 6:3]. Similarly in Revelation, the four living creatures never cease to sing praise to God, saying, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come! [Rev. 4:8]. God possesses holiness without limit. Thus, while we derive our holiness from him through Christ, his holiness originates in himself. Thomas Watson speaks of God as holy in four ways: “Intrinsically: he is holy in his nature. Primarily: he is the pattern of holiness. Efficiently: he is the cause of all holiness in others, including Christ’s human nature. Transcendently: he is far above the capacity of the angels and glorified saints to behold” (Body of Divinity, p. 83). God’s holiness is his beauty. Thus, his absolute and infinite holiness implies beauty in the same measure. Creatures cannot be essentially holy because of their innate mutability, but the immutable God can be, in keeping with his other attributes. In his holiness, God must necessarily abhor sin. Since God loves himself, he necessarily must hate everything that is against himself. Thus, God hates sin intensely [Hab. 1:13; Zech. 8:17]. For God to approve of sin, he must first deny himself, an utter impossibility. Therefore, God will perpetually hate sin and express his displeasure against it, which provides the ground for the doctrine of eternal punishment. Holiness Displayed in Christ. By the merits of Jesus Christ, sinners escape the punishment for sin, but God had to punish Christ by way of the cross in order to reconcile sinners to himself. In consistency with his other attributes, God’s holiness and abhorrence for sin demanded justice. Has the holiness of God ever been more beautifully displayed than in the ugliness of Christ’s death on the cross? As we read in Psalm 22:1-3, holiness demanded that the Father forsake his Son on the cross. Why did God become man? To bleed to death for sinners that he might satisfy the justice of his divine holiness. God manifests his holiness not just in Christ’s death but also in his person. He is the image of God’s holiness. The incarnation makes it possible for the elect not only to look on the holiness of God that is otherwise too dazzling for us to behold but also through him to become holy like God. In Christ, we have a walking picture of the law, a reflection of God’s holy character. What does holiness look like in concrete terms of what we can pursue? It looks like Christ. God’s holiness (and any other attribute, for that matter) would be too much for sinful human beings to bear if God did not relate to us by way of the Mediator. No wonder, then, that it was Christ and not the Father whom Isaiah saw in Isaiah 6: “Isaiah said these things because he saw his glory and spoke of him” [John 12:41]. We need an encouragement to holiness, which can only come through Jesus Christ based on what he has done for us and on how he has revealed God to us. Moreover, we cannot answer appropriately to God’s holiness unless he condescends to us through his covenant, and he does so in the person of Christ. The glory of God, which necessarily includes his holiness, is revealed to us in “the face of Jesus Christ” [2 Cor. 4:6]. Application. Holiness is not optional for the Christian: “Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord” [Heb. 12:14]. The holiness of God lies utterly beyond us as those who live with indwelling sin. Apart from Christ, God’s essential holiness would destroy us, for he is “of purer eyes than to see evil” [Hab. 1:13]. But in Christ, we can love and adore his holiness. We can also love the living image of his holiness in the person of Christ. Our motivation and ability to be holy arises out of our great salvation through Christ, the Holy One of God, to whom we have been united by faith. The “Spirit of holiness” works such faith in us and sanctifies us in the very holiness of Christ of which we now have access [Rom. 1:4; 1 Cor. 1:30; 2 Thess. 2:13; Titus 3:5]. In the process, we will be renewed in the image of Christ in “true righteousness and holiness” as we become more like him who saved us for himself [Eph. 4:24]. Indeed, as we come to love Christ not only for what he has done but also for who he is, we will desire to be more and more like him in our thoughts, words, and deeds. However, holiness divorced from the gospel of Christ results in nothing more than legalistic externalism. We must beware of the subtle tendency to focus on Christian duty apart from the person of Christ, for such a soul-damning burden we cannot bear [Matt. 11:28]. In other words, our doctrine of holiness must never be divorced from who Christ is and what he actually came to do. He came to die in order to make us holy [1 Peter 2:24]. God, the Holy One, imparts his holiness to Christ, who then works his image in his people by bestowing on them the Spirit of Christ. This is true Christian holiness.” [Jones, pp. 163-168].

“The Holiness of God. God has called every Christian to a holy life [1 Peter 1:15-16]. There are no exceptions to this call. This call to a holy life is based on the fact that God Himself is holy. Because God is holy, He requires that we be holy. Many Christians have what we might call a “cultural holiness.” They adapt to the character and behavior pattern of Christians around them. As the Christian culture around them is more or less holy, so these Christians are more or less holy. But God has not called us to be like those around us. He has called us to be like Himself. Holiness is nothing less than conformity to the character of God. As used in Scripture, holiness describes both the majesty of God and the purity and moral perfection of His nature. Holiness is one of His attributes; that is, holiness is an essential part of the nature of God. His holiness is as necessary as His existence, or as necessary, for example, as His wisdom or omniscience. Just as He cannot but know what is right, so He cannot but do what is right. We ourselves do not always know what is right, what is just and fair. God, of course, never faces this predicament. His perfect knowledge precludes any uncertainty on what is right and wrong. God never vacillates. He always does what is just and right without the slightest hesitation. It is impossible in the very nature of God for Him to do otherwise. God’s holiness then is perfect freedom from all evil. John said, “God is light; in Him there is no darkness at all” [1 John 1:5]. Light and darkness, when used this way in Scripture, have moral significance. John is telling us that God is absolutely free from any moral evil and that He is Himself the essence of moral purity. The holiness of God also includes His perfect conformity to His own divine character. That is, all of His thoughts and actions are consistent with His holy character. And it is this standard of holiness that God has called us to when He says, “Be holy, because I am holy.” The absolute holiness of God should be of great comfort and assurance to us. If God is perfectly holy, then we can be confident that His actions toward us are always perfect and just. We are often tempted to question God’s actions and complain that He is unfair in His treatment of us. This is the devil’s lie, the same thing he did to Eve [Gen. 3:4-5]. But it is impossible in the very nature of God that He should ever be unfair. Because He is holy, all His actions are holy. We must accept by faith the fact that God is holy, even when trying circumstances make it appear otherwise. To complain against God is in effect to deny His holiness and to say He is not fair. Acknowledging His holiness is one of the ways we are to praise God. According to John’s vision of heaven described in Revelation 4, the four living creatures around God’s throne never stop saying, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come” [Rev. 4:8]. The seraphim in Isaiah’s vision of God’s glory also uttered this threefold ascription of God’s holiness [Isa. 6:3]. When Moses was praising God for the deliverance of the Israelites from Pharaoh’s army, he also sang of God’s holiness [Ex. 15:11]. God is often called in Scripture by such names as the Holy One, or the Holy One of Israel. Holy is used more often as a prefix to His name than any other attribute. Holiness is God’s crown. Imagine for a moment that God possessed omnipotence (infinite power), omniscience (perfect and complete knowledge), and omnipresence (everywhere present), but without perfect holiness. Such a one could no longer be described as God. Holiness is the perfection of all His other attributes: His power is holy power, His mercy is holy mercy, His wisdom is holy wisdom. It is His holiness more than any other attribute that makes Him worthy of our praise. But God demands more than that we acknowledge His holiness. He says to us, “Be holy, because I am holy.” God rightfully demands perfect holiness in all of His moral creatures. It cannot be otherwise. He cannot possibly ignore or approve of any evil committed. He cannot for one moment relax His perfect standard of holiness. Rather He must say, as He does say, “So be holy in all you do.” The Prophet Habakkuk declared, “You who are of purer eyes than to see evil and cannot look at wrong” [1:13]. Because God is holy, He can never excuse or overlook any sin we commit, however small it may be. Sometimes we try to justify to God some action which our own conscience calls into question. But if we truly grasp the significance of God’s perfect holiness, both in Himself and in His demands of us, we will readily see we can never justify before Him even the slightest deviation from His perfect will. God’s holiness does not make allowance for minor flaws or shortcomings in our personal character. Well might we Christians, though justified solely through the righteousness of Christ, ponder carefully the words of the writer to the Hebrews: “Make every effort … to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord” [Heb. 12:14]. Because God is Holy, He cannot ever tempt us to sin [James 1:13]. Probably none of us ever imagines that God is actively soliciting us to do evil, but we may feel that God has put us in a situation where we have no choice. Do we sometimes feel we have no choice but to shade the truth a little, or commit just a slightly dishonest act? When we feel this way, we are in effect saying that God is tempting us to sin, that He has put us in a position where we have no alternative. Because God is holy, He hates sin. Hate is such a strong word we dislike using it. Yet when it comes to God’s attitude toward sin, only a strong word such as hate conveys an adequate depth of meaning [cf. Zech. 8:17]. Hatred is a legitimate emotion when it comes to sin. In fact, the more we ourselves grow in holiness, the more we hate sin. Now if that is true of a man, think of God. As we grow in holiness, we grow in hatred of sin; and God, being infinitely holy, has an infinite hatred of sin. We may trifle with our sins or excuse them, but God hates them. Therefore every time we sin, we are doing something God hates. He hates our lustful thoughts, our pride and jealousy, our outbursts of temper, and our rationalization that the end justifies the means. We need to be gripped by the fact that God hates all these things. We become so accustomed to our sins we sometimes lapse into a state of peaceful coexistence with them, but God never ceases to hate them. We need to cultivate in our own hearts the same hatred of sin God has. Hatred of sin as sin, not just as something disquieting or defeating to ourselves, but as displeasing to God, lies at the root of all true holiness. We must cultivate the attitude of Joseph, who said when he was tempted, “How then could I do this great evil, and sin against God?” [Gen. 39:9]. God hates sin wherever He finds it, in saint and sinner alike. He does not hate sin in one person and overlook it in another. He judges each man’s works impartially [1 Peter 1:17]. In the deceitfulness of our hearts, we sometimes play with temptation by entertaining the thought that we can always confess and later ask forgiveness. Such thinking is exceedingly dangerous. God’s judgment is without partiality. He never overlooks our sin. He never decides not to bother, since the sin is only a small one. No, God hates sin intensely whenever and wherever He finds it. Frequent contemplation on the holiness of God and His consequent hatred of sin is a strong deterrent against trifling with sin. We are told to live our lives on earth as strangers in reverence and fear [1 Peter 1:17]. Granted, the love of God to us through Jesus Christ should be our primary motivation to holiness. But a motivation prompted by God’s hatred of sin and His consequent judgment on it is no less biblical. The holiness of God is an exceedingly high standard, a perfect standard. But it is nevertheless one that He holds us to. He cannot do less. While it is true that He accepts us solely through the merit of Christ, God’s standard for our character, our attitudes, affections, and actions is, “Be holy because I am holy.” We must take this seriously if we are to grow in holiness.” [Bridges, pp. 10-21].

For further reading on the topic of God’s Holiness, I highly recommend the challenging, yet richly rewarding book: Holiness, by J. C. Ryle.

Questions for Discussion:

  1. Define God’s holiness. Why must God hate sin? Why is the death of Jesus Christ on the Cross the clearest example of God’s hatred of sin? How would you explain the concept of God’s holiness to a unbeliever?
  2. Write a sentence for each of the following verses telling what it teaches about God’s holiness. Habakkuk 1:13; Zechariah 8:17; Hebrews 12:14; James 1:13; 1 Peter 1:14-16.
  3. In both the Old and New Testaments God says to His people, “Be holy, because I am holy” [Leviticus 11:44; 1` Peter 1:16]. In what ways can we not be holy as God is holy? In what ways can we be? How can you make holiness a goal in your walk with God?
  4. Bridges writes: “We need to cultivate in our own hearts the same hatred of sin God has.” How do we cultivate this hatred of sin?

References:

The Pursuit of Holiness, Jerry Bridges, Navpress.

God Is, Mark Jones, Crossway.

Isaiah, vol. 2, John Mackay, Evangelical Press.

The Prophecy of Isaiah, J. Alec Motyer, Inter Varsity.

Holiness, J. C. Ryle (various publications and formats are available).