July 16, 2006

The Holiness of God

Preacher: Randy Smith Series: The Attributes of God


The Holiness of God

Psalm 99:9
Sunday, July 16, 2006
Pastor Randy Smith

It has been said a child can learn more from his parent's example than he can from his parent's words. Our attitudes toward God, people, work, church (the things that are most important), communicate volumes to an impressionable young mind. There is a place for words, but it is our actions that speak to our children regarding that which we find most important.

The Scriptures speak of an impressionable young man by the name of Uzziah. No doubt like any other child of his day he observed the actions of his father, Amaziah, intently, especially since his father was the king of Judah.

The Bible says Amaziah "did right in the sight of the Lord, yet not with a whole heart" (2 Chron. 25:2). You see, Amaziah was a man of compromise. And men of compromise often choose idols over wholehearted devotion to the Lord. Most notably was the time Amaziah returned with gods from the Edomites and worshipped them as his own (2 Chron. 26:14).

But learning from the negative example of his father, Uzziah, once he became king was determined to not make the same mistakes. He aimed to follow the Lord with wholehearted obedience. The Bible says, "He continued to seek God…and as long as he sought the Lord, God prospered him" (2 Chron. 26:5).

God blessed Uzziah, but unfortunately the success, as it often does, led to a proud heart. His pride swelled to such proportions that he overstepped clear boundaries established by the Lord. One day he actually had the audacity to enter the temple and burn incense on the altar, a holy responsibility assigned to the priests alone (2 Chron. 26:16-18).

Uzziah failed to heed the warnings. Leprosy immediately broke out on his forehead (2 Chron. 26:19), a leprosy that remained until the day of his death. The man was excluded from society, forever cut off from the house of the Lord (2 Chron. 26:21). Uzziah's career as a king ended on a tragic note.

Why such serious consequences for what appears to be such a trivial offense? The answer: Uzziah transgressed the laws of a holy God. He incited God's wrath by approaching Him in an unworthy manner.

As children learn from parents, we must learn from this account forever preserved in Scripture. So this morning as we continue our series on the attributes of God, I would like to examine God's holiness, a topic that I approach with the greatest degree of reverence and honor.

As we learned last week, God chose to meet with His people in a special way in the Old Covenant. First at the tabernacle and then as Israel developed, at the temple. These dwelling places taught God's people two things about their Creator. On the one hand God is nearby (present among us), but on the other hand God is separate (distinct from us). This latter truth is symbolized by the construction of the temple.

The temple was created with a series of compartments, divided by veils that progressively led to the Most Holy Pace (the Holy of Holies), the dwelling place of God. Rules and regulations were provided in the law that gave instruction as to whom and how often people may enter these increasingly holy chambers. And in order to enter the Most Holy Place, an opportunity granted only to the High Priest one time each year, a sacrifice had to be present and three curtains had to be passed. All this was to teach the people that God is holy, and we, as sinful creatures cannot barge into His holy presence.

Uzziah ignored these barriers. In an unacceptable way he intruded upon God's holiness. Instantly the wrath of God was kindled as sin was brought into His most holy presence.


If we have to choose one attribute that most dominates God's character, it would be His holiness. All of His other attributes are beautified and summarized under the banner of holiness. His justice is a holy justice. His mercy a holy mercy. His love is a holy love. And His wrath a holy wrath. Furthermore, His actions are called "holy works" (Psm. 145:17) and His commandments are called a "holy law" (Rom. 7:12).

Since holiness is the fullest expression of Himself, God swears by it (Psm. 89:35) and glories in it (Ex. 15:11). Therefore throughout the Bible God is called "holy" more than any other name (i.e. Psm. 103:1; Eze. 36:22). In Isaiah 6, the attribute unlike any other attribute is repeated three times for emphasis as seraphim cried out to seraphim, "Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord of hosts, the whole earth is full of His glory" (Isa. 6:3).

The English word "holy" originally comes from the Hebrew word qodesh. The root of that word, qod, means to "cut" or "separate." The Greek word for holy, hagios, used in the New Testament also conveys the similar meaning of separation. So when we speak about God's holiness we must first understand the fact that God is set-apart or absolutely distinct from the rest of His creation. Just as Aaron was set-apart for dedication to God's service (Ex. 30:25-33) and the Sabbath Day was set-apart from the rest of the week (Ex. 20:11) and objects in the temple were set-apart for special use (Ex. 40:9-11), God is set-apart from His created order. This is the first lesson we must learn as we contemplate the holiness of God.

You see, natural man does not accept this aspect of God's holiness. He has created God into his own image, patterned after his own evil heart. He has dethroned God's majesty. He has lowered God's transcendence. He has made God to be the old man who lives upstairs either grumpy when we wish to have any fun or soft, blushing at our sin yet still quick to wink and look the other direction. But the God who sees all addresses this misconception: "These things you have done and I kept silence; you thought that I was just like you; I will reprove you and state the case in order before your eyes" (Psm. 50:21).

Rather than forming a god modeled after our own sinful imagination, we must accept the living God as He has revealed Himself to us on the pages of Holy Scripture. Then we must allow the Holy Spirit to impress upon our hearts the reality of a God who is holy, a God that is set-apart, a God that is to be honored and respected and obeyed and feared because He transcends His creation. The Bible says that even His name is to be hallowed as we learn in the 10 Commandments and the Lord's Prayer (Ex. 20:7; Mt. 6:9).

As a matter of fact, purity or a complete separation from evil is often a secondary way to describe God's holiness. In Habakkuk 1:13 we read, "Your eyes are too pure to approve evil, and You can not look on wickedness with favor. Job 34:10 states, "Therefore, listen to me, you men of understanding. Far be it from God to do wickedness, and from the Almighty to do wrong." According to 1 John 1:5, "God is Light, and in Him there is no darkness at all." 1 Timothy 6:16 says He "dwells in unapproachable light."

God is morally excellent. In Him these is no hint of evil. He is without sin. He hates sin. He demands His holiness from those created in His holy image. The Psalmist said, "For You are not a God who takes pleasure in wickedness; No evil dwells with You. The boastful shall not stand before Your eyes; You hate all who do iniquity" (Psm. 5:4-5).

Therefore the man or woman who is to honor God must first come into a correct understanding of God's holiness. Consider the biblical examples: Job, at the realization of God's holy verdict said, "Behold, I am insignificant; what can I reply to You? I lay my hand on my mouth" (Job. 40:4). When Peter saw the holiness of Christ he said, "Go away from me Lord, for I am a sinful man, O Lord" (Lk. 5:8)! When Isaiah's vision whisked him into the very throne room of God he said, "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" (Isa. 6:5). And how can we forget the Apostle John when confronted with the majesty of our risen Savior. Recorded in the Apocalypse, he cried, "When I saw Him, I fell at His feet like a dead man" (Rev. 1:17).

From the Scripture we see the right reaction of those who came into contact with this thrice-holy God. Do we share this same sense of awe and reverence or has God become to us nothing more than our big-buddy up in the sky who stands subservient to our will? The thought of a sinner standing before this holy God on Judgment Day should make us tremble.


So, you must be wondering, how can we as sinners commune with a holy God? How can we stand in His presence without being instantly incinerated? How can we have any hope of dwelling with Him forever? How can this God of wrath be our source of comfort and mercy? How can the One described as a "consuming fire" (Heb. 12:29) be our treasure chest of joy?

First, we must understand that He is holy and we are not. We have already covered God's holy side, so let's consider man's sinful side. In Romans 3 we read, "There is none righteous, not even one; there is none who understands, there is none who seeks for God; all have turned aside, together they have become useless; there is none who does good, there is not even one" (Rom. 3:10-12). Remember what Jesus said to the rich young ruler? "Why do you call Me good? No one is good except God alone" (Mk. 10:18). Forget what you have been taught. Forget your feelings. Forget what you want to believe. Scripture cannot be any clearer: God is holy and we are not. That is why the Bible says we are "children of wrath" (Eph. 2:3; cf. 5:6). That is justice. That is a reality. There is no greater separation in the world than that which exists between a holy God and sinful man.

Recently I had a rather lengthy layover in London. Suppose I invited all of you to join me in England. I mean the only thing that really separated us was one body of water. Unfortunately the distance exceeds 3,000 miles and the requirement for all of us to meet would be for all of you to jump across the Atlantic. The offer would be ridiculous. Sure some would make it a little further than others, but even the best athletes in the Grace Tabernacle would land far short of the desired destination.

So it is with sinful humans attempting to reach a holy God. Some may be more righteous than others, but from God's perspective, we are all sinners utterly unacceptable to gain approval in His sight, all falling short of His glory (Rom. 3:23). Righteous actions will never remove our sin nature. Moreover, even when we try to reach God through good deeds, the good deeds are tainted with sin (Isa. 64:6). Even the Puritans would cry of how they needed to repent of their repentance!

The Scriptures confirm. "For as many as are of the works of the Law are under a curse" (Gal. 3:10). Every world religion apart from Christianity holds to this flawed premise - Humans based on their own merit can attain the righteousness of God. By following a set of rules they can bridge the gap and have fellowship with their Creator. Unfortunately they fail to realize that the true God, the holy God, demands absolute perfection.

So what do we do? Job, the biblical writer from thousands of years ago rightly understood this dilemma. He said, "Who can make the clean out of the unclean? No one" (Job 14:4) and "Can mankind be just before God? Can a man be pure before his Maker" (Job 4:17; cf. 9:2; 25:4)? Do we have any hope?

The great church reformer, Martin Luther, was tortured by that question as he battled the dead works of early sixteenth century Catholicism. He agonized, how can an unholy man be made right with a holy God? Then in Luther's own words, "At last, by the mercy of God, meditating day and night, I gave heed to the context of the words, namely, "In it the righteousness of God is revealed, as it is written, 'He who through faith is righteous shall live.'" There I began to understand that the righteousness of God is that by which the righteous lives by a gift of God, namely by faith. And this is the meaning: The righteousness of God is revealed in the gospel, namely, the passive righteousness with which merciful God justifies us by faith, as it is written, "He who through faith is righteous shall live." Here I felt that I was altogether born again and had entered paradise itself through open gates" (Preface to Luther's Latin Writings).

Luther rightly understood that in order for us to be accepted by a righteous God we must be as righteous as Him. At first the thought terrified Him. He said, "I hated that word 'righteousness of God'" (Account of His Conversion). Luther knew that he, on his own, could never attain God's righteousness. In his own words, he lived as a monk without reproach. Yet he knew salvation was beyond the reach of any human. His conscience was tormented. The Gospel of God's righteousness was nothing more than a threat of God's impending wrath.

But then he came to discover what he called "paradise." He came to understand that the true Gospel teaches that we can indeed achieve God's righteousness, not through works, but through faith in Jesus Christ. God sent His perfectly holy Son (Ac. 3:14) to the cross. Our sins were placed on Him. Wrath was satisfied. Justice was accomplished. The righteousness of Christ was transferred to us. We call it "The Great Exchange." 2 Corinthians 5:21, "He (God) made Him (Jesus Christ) who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him." The Apostle Paul, once zealous for the law (Phil. 3:6) also understood this wonderful truth he communicated in Philippians 3. "(That I) may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith" (Phil. 3:9).

Why should we "boast in the cross" (cf. Gal. 6:14)? The cross displays God's holiness and His hatred of our sin. At the cross we see how our sin is punished in Christ and how a holy God can justify us by giving us the gift of Christ's righteousness that we receive through faith.

A.W. Pink once said, "God's holiness is manifested at the Cross. Wondrously and yet most solemnly does the Atonement display God's infinite holiness and abhorrence of sin. How hateful must sin be to God for Him to punish it to its utmost deserts when it was imputed to His Son" (The Attributes of God)!

According to the great Puritan Stephen Charnock, "Not all the vials of judgment that have or shall be poured out upon the wicked world, nor the flaming furnace of a sinner's conscience, nor the irreversible sentence pronounced against the rebellious demons, nor the groans of the damned creatures, give such a demonstration of God's hatred of sin, as the wrath of God let loose upon His Son. Never did Divine holiness appear more beautiful and lovely than at the time our Saviour's countenance was most marred in the midst of His dying groans. This Himself acknowledges in Psalm 22. When God had turned His smiling face from Him, and thrust His sharp knife into His heart, which forced that terrible cry from Him, 'My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?'" (The Existence and Attributes of God).


So what is our response to the holiness of God?

Our first reaction should be overflowing praise. When I saw Mt. Ararat from Armenia in all its glory a couple weeks ago just towering above the landscape, I didn't need any instruction or time to determine the proper reaction. Immediately it was praise for its majestic beauty. A simpler illustration would be the Fourth of July. The "ooh's" and "aah's" during the fireworks are spontaneous.

The same is true for the holiness of God. That which was once our greatest fear as an unbeliever should now be the attribute we adore the most. The devil hates God's holiness more than anything else, but those who have been delivered from sin's dominion find this attribute most attractive. Again Stephen Charnock said, "Holiness is His beauty." Just as our reaction comes naturally to that which impresses our heart, the child of God in holy communion with Him should find himself daily praising the Lord for His holiness.

This should be the response from those on earth. Psalm 99:9 that I read earlier, "Exalt the Lord our God and worship at His holy hill, for holy is the Lord our God." Notably this is also the response from those in heaven. Revelation 4:8, "And the four living creatures, each one of them having six wings, are full of eyes around and within; and day and night they do not cease to say, 'holy, holy, holy is the Lord God, the Almighty, who was and who is and who is to come.'"

The adoration of God's holiness should naturally overflow into praise and thanksgiving. Psalm 30:4, "Sing praise to the Lord, you His godly ones, and give thanks to His holy name." Praise and thanksgiving for the forgiveness we have in Christ. The one who has seen little of his own sin will have little room for the wonders of God's grace. Yet the deeper we understand our sin and God's holiness, the deeper we will be aware of our forgiveness and the greater we will love the Lord. Isn't that what Jesus said? "He who is forgiven little, loves little" (Lk. 7:47). Sure, a correct understanding of God's holiness makes us more aware of our sin, but such an understanding leads to greater repentance and greater appreciation of our forgiveness and greater hunger for His daily grace. Only when God delivers us from superficial thoughts about our own goodness and His puniness will we really praise, thank and love Him appropriately.

This attitude should then extend to our relationships with others. Do you realize the undeserving mercy and grace you have received from Christ? If so, is it not the epitome of hypocrisy and selfishness to be proud, impatient and unforgiving with others? Understanding God's holiness and His acceptance of us should radically affect our reception of fellow sinners. As I said last week, it becomes difficult to fathom a sinless Being being more forgiving with sinful beings that sinful beings are with each other.

Furthermore, another indication that we really have experienced and appreciated God's holiness is our desire to be holy ourselves. As I mentioned in the introduction, children will follow the example of their fathers. Ephesians 5:1, "Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children." If we really love God's holiness and really adore God's holiness we should naturally desire to be like our heavenly Father in His holiness. This is not only a logical thought; it is also a command. God said in both the Old and New Testaments, "You shall be holy, for I am holy" (Lev. 19:2; 1 Pet. 1:16). Through the power of the Holy Spirit it is God's will that you progressively grow in His holy image (cf. Rom. 8:29). Though we will never achieve perfection in this life (1 Jn. 1:8), God desires holy children (Eph. 1:4; Rev. 22:11) and a holy church (Eph. 5:21, 27).

We must make it our number one ambition to pursue godliness (2 Cor. 7:21; Heb. 12:14; 1 Jn. 2:1). And in order to do so we must understand God's holiness and hate sin as much as he does. James Boice said it well. 'We do not naturally hate sin. In fact, the opposite is true. We generally love sin and are loathe to part with it. But we must learn to hate sin, or else we will learn to hate God who requires a holy life from those who are Christ's followers. We see a great tension during the lifetime of the Lord Jesus Christ. Some saw His holiness, came to hate sin and became His followers. Others saw Him, came to hate Him and eventually crucified Him" (Foundations of the Christian Faith, p. 133).

Unfortunately this message of personal holiness is not preached in many pulpits today. D.A. Carson summarized the attitude of many professing Christians. "People do not drift toward holiness. Apart from grace-driven effort (or as Jerry Bridges says, "Dependent-responsibility"), people do not gravitate toward godliness, prayer, obedience to Scripture, faith, and delight in the Lord. We drift toward compromise and call it tolerance; we drift toward disobedience and call it freedom; we drift toward superstition and call it faith. We cherish the indiscipline of lost self-control and call it relaxation; we slouch toward prayerlessness and delude ourselves into thinking we have escaped legalism; we slide toward godlessness and convince ourselves we have been liberated."

Let me ask you, Grace Tabernacle. Have you come to personally know the holiness of God? Do you find it attractive? Do you want it in your own life? Are you playing church or do you really want to increasingly be more holy like God?

So I leave you with these images: A holy God whose wrath burns at sin in His presence. Totally depraved humans with no ability on their own to attain God's righteousness. God's Son on the cross receiving the punishment we deserve. A veil to the Most Holy Place torn from top to bottom indicating that access to God presence is now available. And a loving Father who now accepts us that says, "Follow my example by being holy as I am holy."

other sermons in this series

Aug 6


The Greatness of God

Preacher: Randy Smith Scripture: Isaiah 40:25 Series: The Attributes of God

Jul 30


The Love of God

Preacher: Randy Smith Scripture: 1 John 4:8 Series: The Attributes of God