The Holiness of God

Q: What is God?

A: God is a spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable, in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness and truth.

If there was one attribute of God that you would say the church in America needs to reflect upon more, what would it be? Some may say that we need to reflect more on God’s love. However, I think most evangelical churches teach the love of God, though sometimes to the neglect of His other attributes, like His justice. Some, like us Presbyterian types, might say God’s sovereignty needs to be more emphasized. Still others may say God’s truth should be prioritized in the midst of our culture that denies objective truth. In my opinion, however, I would say that for quite some time, the churches in our society have lost a sense of God’s holiness.

What does it mean for God to be holy? Holiness has two general meanings in Scripture, both of which can characterize God. The first meaning of holiness is moral purity. God does no wrong. He is upright in all His ways: “The Rock, his work is perfect, for all his ways are justice. A God of faithfulness and without iniquity, just and upright is he” (Deuteronomy 32:4). But the second definition of holiness, that which many in evangelicalism has lost, is that God is separate from His creation. God is wholly other. He is the transcendent one. He is categorically different from all else that is. “There is none holy like the LORD; there is none besides you” (1 Samuel 2:2). Because He is the wholly other One, and the morally pure One, it is a terrifying and dangerous thing to approach Him, especially because of our unholiness and sin.

It is this attribute of holiness that is signified in the thunders and lightnings of Sinai, and it was God’s holiness that required the people of Israel to consecrate themselves and to stay away from Mt. Sinai, lest they perish (Exodus 19). It was because of God’s holiness that Nadab and Abihu were consumed in flames when they offered unacceptable worship to God (Leviticus 10:1-3). It was because of God’s holiness that Uzzah was killed for simply touching the Ark of the Covenant (2 Samuel 6:5-8). It was because of God’s holiness the angels shield their faces and feet before Him and the prophet Isaiah fell down, trembling in fear of death because he was in God’s presence (Isaiah 6:1-5).

But, lest we think that God’s terrible holiness is a purely Old Testament phenomenon, it was God’s holiness that struck out against Ananias and Sapphira because of their lies (Acts 5:1-11) and that brought about the death of those who partook of the Lord’s Supper in an unworthy manner “1 Corinthians 11:27-30). Indeed, as the author of Hebrews tells us, it is because of the consuming fire of God’s holiness that we are to offer to Him acceptable worship “in reverence and awe” (Hebrews 12:28,19).

Have you been struck by the reality of the holiness of God? Does terror come upon you when you think about falling into His hands without Christ? When you worship Him, do you come cautiously and reverently? Most Christians in evangelicalism today do not. God has become all too familiar to us. He has become our teddy bear, and not the One whom we fear.  Our worship of Him has become trite and juvenile. The gravity of who God is does not cause us to live in reverent awe of Him. All of this, I believe, is connected to the loss of sense of God’s holiness.

May God make His holiness heavy upon us, and may we run to Christ, the One through whom we are made holy and blameless to stand before the holy God.

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