Pastor Scott L. Harris
Grace Bible Church, NY
October 29, 2000
As I have worked my way through the various aspects of being sanctified – having a sanctified mind, body and soul – it struck me that perhaps I spoke on these things prematurely. God’s has called us to be holy as He is holy (1 Peter. 3:18), so it is foundational that I understand what it means that He is holy. That is what I would like to bring to your attention this morning.
GOD IS OTHER
The starting point for understanding God’s holiness is coming to grips with the fact that God is something completely other from us. While God made us in His image (Gen. 1:26), we were created in His image in only a very limited way from the beginning, and since man’s fall into sin, even that limited image is seriously marred. God is something other than what we are.
We reflect God’s image in having the ability to think (reason), feel (emotion) and make decisions (volition). But all these are limited in comparison with God.
Our ability to think is limited by our understanding which has been darkened and our minds which have been blinded by sin. Our ability to feel is also perverted by sin so that we often have emotions based on things that are simply not true. Our ability to make decisions is thus limited by both of these and our innate selfishness.
God is omniscient and His emotions are always based in truth as are His decisions which are also based in His other attributes of righteousness and justice.
We are finite creatures who have both physical and spiritual characteristics. We were created at a point in time and space and will exist only into eternity future. God is spirit who is omnipresent and exists outside of time from eternity past.
God is also immutable. He does not change. The great hope of all people is that they will change. That is why we school our children and continue to read and study a wide variety of subjects ourselves and seek to learn from our experiences. The hope of man is that we can and do change.
There are other attributes of God that we reflect to some limited extent, though greatly marred by sin. God is righteous, true, just, impartial, and jealous which gives rise to wrath and vengeance against those who sin against Him. He is also gracious, merciful, longsuffering, patient, good, kind, and loving which gives rise to the offer of salvation through Jesus Christ’ becoming the sacrificial substitute for man’s sin. There is one other attribute that attaches itself to all others and to which God has called us to become – holy. God’s love is holy as is His goodness, kindness, grace and mercy. God’s justice is holy as is His jealousy and wrath. Everything about God is holy.
God declares Himself to be holy (Lev. 19:2; 20:26) as the holy one (Isa. 43) whose very name is holy (Ezek. 36 & 39). In both Isaiah and John’s visions of God on His throne in heaven they both see the Seraphim calling out “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord…”.
What does it mean that God is holy? The root idea in the word “holy” is to “be set apart,” “to be separated unto.” God is holy because all his perfections set Him apart from His created works. His perfection in righteousness sets him apart from all sin and sinners. His perfection in knowledge and wisdom separates Him from all angels. In other words, God is, by His very nature of perfection, something different from everything He has created. He is set apart from everything else as something above and beyond. A being who exists on a higher plane. A being without any flaws and lacking nothing.
God’s command to us is that we are to be holy as He is holy (1 Peter 3:18). Things are made holy when they are set apart for God. We are holy only to the degree that we are set apart to God and His service. We become more holy as we are conforming into the image of Jesus Christ. I have been speaking to you for the last three weeks about this. We are to be sanctified in mind, body and soul. I have addressed the necessity of this as well as given the practical manner in which the Holy Spirit accomplishes this in us as we walk with our Lord. But there is a foundational reason we do not pursue holiness. We believe Satan’s lies instead of the truth of God’s revelation
LIES AGAINST GOD’S HOLINESS & RIGHTEOUSNESS
One of the reasons Satan can be so successful in getting us to believe his lies is that we tend to project on God our own characteristics. We are inclined to think of God in human terms. We view Him as a reflection of us rather than us as dim reflections of Him. That began in the Garden of Eden when Satan deceived Eve into taking of the forbidden fruit because it would make her like God. But it did not. It only corroded the image of God that had been there.
Again, we must come to grips with the fact that God is not like us even in those areas where we do reflect something of His characteristics. When we think of God’s holiness and righteousness, we dare not think of those characteristics in relative terms as we do for ourselves. We compare ourselves with others to gain a relative sense of holiness or righteousness. We see someone else’s weakness or failure and think of ourselves as better than they. Or we will magnify some small thing we do to try to make ourselves equal to someone else. But God is completely, totally, absolutely, utterly, positively holy and righteous. Any true comparison of ourselves with Him should leave us on our knees confessing our wretched sinfulness. But it is the rare individual that will do that. Instead, we believe Satan’s lies and project on God human qualities that make Him seem more like us.
God is to be treated as holy.
On of Satan’s lies magnified God’s patience and grace so that we think God is not very concerned about how we approach Him. This results in an improper familiarity, a non-chalance, even a cavalier approach to God. Nadab & Abihu, the oldest two sons of Aaron believed this lie and Leviticus 10 records the result. “Now Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, took their respective firepans, and after putting fire in them, placed incense on it and offered strange fire before the Lord, which He had not commanded them. 2 And fire came out from the presence of the Lord and consumed them, and they died before the Lord. 3 Then Moses said to Aaron, “It is what the Lord spoke, saying, ‘By those who come near Me I will be treated as holy, And before all the people I will be honored.'”
God had given specific directions on how He was to be approached for worship even detailing the specific mix of spices that would make up the incense that was to be burned and that it would be “holy to you for the Lord (Exod. 30:34-37). He had also warned that no strange incense was to be offered on the altar (Exod. 30:9).
Nadab and Abihu payed no attention to these commands from God. In fact, the restrictions placed upon the priests in Lev. 10:8,9, indicate that they may have even been drunk when they went before the Lord with their incense pans. They had not set themselves apart unto God. They were not disciplined in preparing themselves to come before the Holy one of Israel. Their casual approach resulted in direct disobedience to the Lord’s commands and that in turn resulted in their deaths. The Lord is patient and longsuffering, but there are times when God’s hand will not be restrained and there is judgement for such insolence. Nadab and Abihu did not treat the Lord as Holy. They did not honor Him that was due Him. They paid for their action with their lives.
2 Samuel 6 records another similar incidence. David wanted to move the Ark of God to Jerusalem. This was a good thing. But there was not enough care given to the proper manner of moving the Ark of the covenant. God had commanded that the Levites were to carry it (Deut. 10:8) on the poles specifically made for that purpose (Exod. 25:28). David had not arranged for the Levites to carry out this task. He was in a hurry. The Ark of the Covenant had made it to its current location on a Philistine cart, so he made a new cart pulled by oxen to bring it to Jerusalem. The consequences were tragic.
2 Samuel 6:4 So they brought it with the ark of God from the house of Abinadab, which was on the hill; and Ahio was walking ahead of the ark. 5 Meanwhile, David and all the house of Israel were celebrating before the Lord with all kinds of [instruments made of] fir wood, and with lyres, harps, tambourines, castanets and cymbals.
But when they came to the threshing floor of Nacon, Uzzah reached out toward the ark of God and took hold of it, for the oxen nearly upset [it.] 7 And the anger of the Lord burned against Uzzah , and God struck him down there for his irreverence; and he died there by the ark of God.”
There certainly no indication that Uzzah had wanted to do anything but keep the Ark of the Covenant from being bounced around so much and possibly damaged. The intention appears to be a good one. An action that any of us might have taken if we were in the same situation. Yet, God struck him dead on the spot. Why? It seems cruel and unfair until you read in verse 7 that it was an action of irreverence. The ark had been put in danger because of they had not planned to move it properly. The Ark had been at Kiriath-jearim at the home of Abinadab for 20 years (1 Sam. 7:1,2). There was no need for a sudden rush to move it. In addition, there is no indication that Uzzah was a Levite. He was not qualified to have anything to do with the moving of the ark, much less to touch it. In doing so, he violated God’s commands regarding the care of the Ark of the Covenant, which was holy.
Our tendency may be to think that Uzzah’s death as unfair, but the truth is that the Lord showed great mercy to all in that only Uzzah died. All of them, including David and all those involved in the celebrating that was going on before the Ark, should have died for their irreverence. No wonder David was afraid of the Lord that day (vs. 9) and that when he returned three months later to move the ark to Jerusalem, he did it correctly (vs. 13f).
Both of these are dramatic stories, but the point it clear. When you believe the devils lies and do not treat God as holy, there can be big trouble. The Lord is to be honored, glorified and attention is to be paid to the commandments He gives.
Non-Christians and even some Christians routinely profane God’s name by using it as a cuss word or using it as an exclamation – both of which are taking His name in vain. That cannot be done without believing the devil’s lies that either God is not holy or that He cannot or will not do anything about the irreverence. But God is holy and He can and will do something about those who blaspheme Him in word or deed, but His judgement will be done in His timing. He will chasten true Christians (Heb. 12) and non-Christians continue to increase the condemnation against themselves.
God is not our “buddy”
Most Christians will assent to the theological truth that God is holy, but in practical terms it does not affect how they approach Him. This has been especially true here in America in the last couple of decades. We tend to be casual in our relationship with God. True, as believers we have an intimate relationship with God and can call Him, “Abba, father” – “daddy” (Rom. 8:15), but there is reverence in this. He is not “the old man upstairs” or the “great whatever in the sky.” And yes, we can count Jesus as our closest friend (John 15:14,15), but too often we want to treat him as a “good buddy” and we toss away the decorum and respect that is due Him.
Consider the detail God gave in Exodus & Leviticus alone on the manner in which the Israelites were to approach Him to worship. The people made careful preparation before they would come near God. Their celebrations of worship were done in the beauty of holiness (Ps. 29:2; 96:9). When the glory of God filled the Tabernacle in Exodus 40 and later the Temple in 1 Kings 8:10, the people and priests were forced away by that glory of His majesty. This was the glory of His holiness. They could only look on in awe. They had a proper fear of God that even caused them to shy away from God’s presence because it was too much for them to handle (Deut. 5:5).
Consider the true majesty of the holiness of God and the glory that radiates from Him. Isaiah 6 recounts the prophets vision of the Lord God in His glory. In the year of King Uzziah’s death, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, lofty and exalted, with the train of His robe filling the temple. 2 Seraphim stood above Him, each having six wings; with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. 3 And one called out to another and said,
“Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord of hosts, The whole earth is full of His glory.” 4 And the foundations of the thresholds trembled at the voice of him who called out, while the temple was filling with smoke. 5 Then I 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.” Isaiah’s response was one of utter humility as someone filled with the knowledge of his own guilt before such an awesome and holy being.
John’s vision in Revelation 4 is similar. We read this passage earlier as our call to worship. The scene is one of majesty and glory. The Lord is sitting on His throne from which proceed flashes of lighting and peals of thunder. There is the crystal sea before the throne and the rainbow around the throne. Before the throne are the 24 elders and these four strange and marvelous creatures that are crying out continually, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God, the Almighty, who was and who is and who is to come.” The 24 elders also fall down before the Lord and casting their crowns before Him in worship cry out, Worthy art Thou, our Lord and our God, to receive glory and honor and power; for Thou didst create all things, and because of Thy will thy existed, and were created.”
The amazing thing is that God, this perfect holy being, desires to have a relationship with us sinful creatures. His very holiness would prevent that unless He did something to take away our sin and make us holy. He did that through Jesus Christ who gave Himself as the atoning sacrifice for our sins. He cleansed the true Christian from his sins through Jesus and we can now come directly into the presence of God the Father at His throne of grace (Heb. 4:16).
Do you really think this is to be done in a casual manner? Too many churches are promoting their celebrations of worship as a party to attend so that you will leave feeling good and the people come with that attitude. We have had many people come through our doors that have ended up going to other churches. Frankly, that is fine with me because the Body of Christ is much larger than this one local church, and we have 1/4 of a million people to reach in this county alone. What disturbs me is when I find out that the reason for many of them to go elsewhere is because they are looking for a fun, entertaining service. It grieves me that there are so many these days that give lip service to God, but not true worship. They cannot endure sound doctrine so they seek out those who will tickle their ears. I wish that was true only here, but this is a common concern by pastors I meet from everywhere across our nation.
True worship is done in the beauty of holiness and should have you leaving with a sense of awe of God. Who He is and what He has done. Think about it for a minute. How do you prepare yourself and approach worship of God – both private and corporate? Is it mindful of the holiness of God? Do you prepare yourself to come into the presence of our holy God? Is your purpose to give honor and glory to Him, like the 24 elders, or is it to make yourself feel good?
This shows up in our prayer life too. Because we can come before God at anytime with anything on our hearts we also tend to take Him for granted and forget why we are praying. We can easily begin to think that God is there as a servant waiting to fulfill our desires. One reason our prayer lives can descend into a wish list is because we forget who we are praying to. We forget that He is holy and we come with a nonchalant attitude. We treat God more like a clerk at the catalog desk than the majestic creator of the universe whom we are entreating with our supplications. We are creatures He has created to be His servants who seek to fulfill His will.
Satan’s lies against God’s holiness are aimed to keep us from becoming serious about our own sin and walking in holiness. If I do not understand God’s holiness, then His call for me to be holy will not be understood. I will define holiness in my own life according to what I think of God’s holiness and what it means for me to be like Him.
Redefining Personal Holiness.
I am sure you have run into a lot of people, like I have, who think they are good enough to be accepted by God just the way they are. They catalog sins according to their own list of what is really bad and what can be over looked. They think that God’s list is the same as their own. And since their list will excuse their sins, they think God will also excuse their sins and accept them just as they are, or what they can be through their own effort. That is another of Satan’s lies by which he redefines personal holiness.
For example, the Roman Catholic church classifies its list of sins as being either mortal or venal. What does Scripture say? Well, there are some specific lists, but they do not make a distinction between what is forgivable and what is not. In Romans 1 Paul points out idolatry, homosexuality and atheism as sins and then in vs 29-31 he adds, being filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, evil; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice; [they are] gossips, 30 slanderers, haters of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, 31 without understanding, untrustworthy, unloving, unmerciful…”. In 1 Cor. 6:9-10 Paul says, Or do you not know that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, 10 nor thieves, nor [the] covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, shall inherit the kingdom of God.
According to Catholicism, this list contains both mortal and venal sins, yet as we read further in vs. 11 we find the mortal sins are forgiven on the same basis as the venal sins. And such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, and in the Spirit of our God.”
We also find in the Bible that the venal sins are just as deadly for it only takes one sin to be guilty. James 2:10 states, For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one [point,] he has become guilty of all.” And everyone is guilty of sin – for all have sinned (Rom. 3:23). No man loves God with all his heart, soul and mind as God commands. No man loves his neighbor as himself as God commands. So it really does not matter how you divide your list. Sin is sin and the wages of all sin is death (Rom. 6:23). It is God that defines sin and its consequences. It is God that defines true holiness. Do not fall for Satan’s or man’s redefinitions.
Again we find that when the non-Christian, whether religious or not, falls for one of Satan’s lies, he does so at the cost of his soul. God is holy and no man will see the Lord without holiness (Heb. 12:14). Man is sinful and therefore not holy and thus separated from the Holy God by that sin. Your efforts to be good, no matter how admirable that may be, is not enough to make you righteous before our holy God. Apart from Jesus Christ there is no means by which a man can be made righteous before God. And if a person has come to Jesus Christ for salvation from sin, then, as I have spoken about for the last three weeks, they are a new creature who is being conformed into the image of Jesus Christ. They will be increasing in their practical holiness in daily life.
The professing Christian must take sin seriously for your daily fellowship with God, and hence your ability to live the Christian life, is dependent on your seeking to be sanctified -, i.e., living in practical holiness. If you do not live in holiness then you grieve the Holy Spirit (Eph 4:29). If you hide your sins in your heart then the Lord will not hear – pay attention to – your prayers (Ps 66). If you continue in sin the Lord’s loving, but chastening hand will be upon you (Heb. 12). You will be like David in Psalm 32 where he describes his condition before confessing his sins. 3 When I kept silent about my sin, my body wasted away Through my groaning all day long. 4 For day and night Thy hand was heavy upon me; My vitality was drained away as with the fever heat of summer.”
Don’t fall for Satan’s lies against God’s holiness and righteousness. Don’t be self-deceived. Every Christian is commanded to be holy for God Himself is holy (1 Peter 1:18). 1 John 3:7-10 is directly to the point that personal holiness is to mark the believer. Little children, let no one deceive you; the one who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous; 8 the one who practices sin is of the devil; for the devil has sinned from the beginning. The Son of God appeared for this purpose, that He might destroy the works of the devil. 9 No one who is born of God practices sin, because His seed abides in him; and he cannot sin, because he is born of God. 10 By this the children of God and the children of the devil are obvious: anyone who does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor the one who does not love his brother.
May these truths mark your life and demonstrate that you are the child of a holy God.
Parents, you are responsible to apply God’s Word to your children’s lives. Here is some help. Young Children – draw a picture about something you hear during the sermon. Explain your picture(s) to your parents at lunch. Older Children – Do one or more of the following: 1) Count how many times the word “holy” is used. 2) Discuss with your parents the holiness of God and how your family can be holy.
THINK ABOUT IT!
Questions to consider in discussing the sermon with others.
How is God different from you? List out as many things as you can. What does it mean to be “holy?” Describe what it means that God is holy. What are some of the ways that Satan gets us to believe his lies about God’s holiness and righteousness? What was the sin of Nadab & Abihu? What was the sin of Uzzah? Was God fair to Uzzah? How important is it for you to treat God as holy? What consequences are there if you do not? What is your attitude in your approach to God? Why does God give so much detail about the tabernacle and the various sacrifices in Exodus and Leviticus? Describe the majesty of God’s holiness. Why should a holy God pay any attention to you? Why do you come to church? What do you hope to accomplish? What should happen to you in true worship of God? Describe your approach to God in prayer. What is the danger of making your own catalog and rating of various sins? Have you done this? What is the standard for holiness? What did God have to do to redeem you from your unholiness? Why does the Christian need to be so serious about personal holiness? Are you? What does 1 John 3:7-10 say about the Christian’s holiness? How do you measure up?
God’s marred image in man
God’s Holiness: God is holy because all his perfections set Him apart from His created works
LIES AGAINST GOD’S HOLINESS
One of the reasons Satan can be so successful in getting us to believe his lies is that we tend to project on God our own characteristics.
God is to be Treated as Holy
The Lord is to be honored, glorified and attention is to be paid to the commandments He gives.
God is not Our “Buddy”
“Abba” (Rom. 8:15)
“Our closest friend” (John 15:14,15)
Redefining Personal Holiness
Taking Sin Seriously
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