The holiness of God

This issue of “Grace Magazine” is about holiness. We believe that this topic is one of the most vital needs for Kenya today. Kenya has many problems with poverty, with health, with education, with politics and so on. But the problem of holiness – and our lack of it – is a much deeper one. God is holy, and calls upon all people everywhere to be holy. But what is holiness? How do we become holy? What are the dangers to avoid? This issue is written to help answer these questions.

To think about holiness, we must begin by thinking about God. “Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them, ‘You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy’” (Leviticus 19:2). Most people know that the apostle John wrote, “God is love” (1 John 4:8). But three chapters earlier, he wrote “This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5). Nobody has ever understood God’s love properly who has not first understood God’s holiness. Does that statement surprise you? Perhaps you have also not understood! Our task now is to ask what God’s holiness is.

What is holiness?

The Old Testament is written almost completely in Hebrew, and the New Testament is all written in Greek. In both languages, there is a group of words which in English are translated with two separate word groups. In English we have the words “holy” and “holiness”, but also the words “sanctify” and “sanctification”. As we have said, in the original language, these words are all from a single group. The main idea behind those words is the idea of being separate – of being “set apart”. To be holy is to be “set apart”; “sanctification” is the process by which we become set apart.
In other words, someone or something is “holy” or “sanctified” when they are separated. The most important way in which God is set apart from us is in his moral perfection. He is completely and utterly separated from everything that is impure, defiled or sinful. In his perfect holiness, he is absolutely and infinitely distanced from everything sinful, unclean or perverse. He loves all that is good and right and true with an intense, unending, limitless love. In his own glorious nature he finds everything that is pure and lovely and just. He is completely set apart from any possibility of all moral evil. He is also set apart from us by his infinite power and knowledge. As the great and glorious God who sees all, knows all and rules all, and does all in absolutely justice and truth, he is further from all other beings than the heavens are from the earth, and further than black is from white. This is his “otherness” – his “separateness”, or his “holiness”. “And around the throne, on each side of the throne, are four living creatures, full of eyes in front and behind: … And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all around and within, and day and night they never cease to say, ‘Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is to come!’” (Revelation 4:6, 8).
God’s holiness is one of the main parts of his glory. His holiness is so great, that every created being in heaven and earth ought to be praising him continually. It cries out to us that we should worship, praise, honour, adore and delight in him. There is no being like him; if our thinking about God does not begin and continue with his holiness and our duty to praise him, then we have gone astray.

The results of God’s holiness

Everything about God is holy. Even the angels, who have never sinned, cannot look upon him because he is so far set apart in his glory (Isaiah 6:1-4). His name is holy (Ezekiel 39:7), his temple was holy (Psalm 5:7), his day is holy (Exodus 20:8-11), his words are holy (Jeremiah 23:9) and his Spirit is holy (Romans 1:4). His dwelling place in heaven is holy (Psalm 43:3, Zechariah 2:13).

Because of this holiness, there is an infinite barrier which separates fallen, sinful human beings from entering heaven: “But nothing unclean will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false” (Revelation 21:27). The holy God will not allow sin into his dwelling place; indeed, he cannot. In ourselves, we have no basis by which to approach him, because he burns with holy anger against our evil natures and deeds – to him, we are by our nature “children of wrath” (Ephesians 2:3).

God’s holiness is the reason for hell. Impunity is a hateful idea to God. He prepared hell for the devil and his angels, who rebelled against him. But all those who have joined with the devil, by breaking the holy laws of God, are also destined to join with him in going there (Matthew 25:41). Hell is not cruel or undeserved. It is the right result of God’s love of justice.

God’s holiness satisfied

The good news of Jesus Christ has been designed by God from beginning to end to deal with this problem. Our true problem is not poverty, or lack of education, or the need for political reforms. Our deepest problem is God’s holiness, which can never be put aside or forgotten.

The first part of the good news is that Jesus himself is holy. He is the Son of God, the eternal second person of the Trinity, sent from heaven by the Father. He was sent to become a man, to live under God’s holy law and to fully keep all the requirements of that law (Galatians 4:4-5). By his perfect life of obedience, Jesus became something completely new since the fall: a man who was holy – a person set apart for God and fully pleasing in his sight. He was a man who was not condemned, but could stand before God with confidence.
Because of this, when Jesus died on the cross, the offering was a holy one. His blood was offered “like that of a lamb without blemish or spot”. And because he was the infinite Son of God as well as a true man, his offering could be enough for all the people in all the world who would believe in him. God’s justice could be perfectly satisfied, and millions of sinners could be washed completely clean from all their evil deeds. At the cross, God did “show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (Romans 3:26).

God’s love is seen in that he himself paid the price which his holiness required. The wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23), but he freely gave his Son to redeem us from death. In salvation, God is seen to be a holy God: sin has been dealt with, and the burning lake of fire can no longer claim us, because Jesus suffered that awful wrath at Calvary (Mark 15:34). As such, we have a holy salvation. God’s justice has not been cancelled or forgotten. It has been honoured; it has been satisfied; now it can be declared with joy to the nations. At the cross, the words of Psalm 85:10 have been fulfilled: “Steadfast love and faithfulness meet; righteousness and peace kiss each other.”

There is no other God except this one. His love is shown to us only when we first see his holiness. There is no God who leaves aside his holiness, and came to earth to bring us health, peace and a good life. There is only the one who made the bloody sacrifice of his Son so that his holy name should be hallowed, forever. He is jealous for the holiness of his own name (Ezekiel 39:25), and we should be too. Let us bow in worship and thanks before him!

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