Pastor Scott L. Harris
Grace Bible Church, NY
February 27, 2005
Our Holy God
It has been on my mind for quite some time to speak on the nature and attributes of God. I was able to get a start on that back in January by giving a very general overview. I want to pick up from that this morning and expand on God’s holiness. This is the first and foremost of God’s moral attributes for it is an aspect of all the rest of God’s communicable attributes as well as of His characteristics and actions. He is holy in His righteousness, love, goodness, longsuffering, mercy, grace and truth. He is also holy in His compassion, jealousy, anger and wrath as well as His judgement, forgiveness and condemnation. If we are to know and understand God, then we must understand what it means that He is holy. We also need to understand God’s holiness because He has commanded His people to be holy (Lev. 11:44; 1 Peter 1:16). We cannot do that if we do not clearly understand what it means that He is holy.
GOD IS OTHER
The starting point for understanding God’s holiness is coming to grip with the fact that God is something completely other from us. I pointed this out last month.
God’s existence is in Himself (John 5:26), and He is independent of Creation having no need for anything (Acts 17:24, 25). But man and everything else have their existence in God and are absolutely dependent on Him (Romans 11:35,36).
God is a spirit Who is infinite with reference to space, for heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain Him, and His divine essence is every where present at the same time (2 Chron. 6:18 – cf. Ps. 139:7-12). Man is a finite & limited physical creature.
God is infinite with reference to time. He has no beginning, for He was already present at the beginning (Genesis 1:1). God has no end for He lives forever (Isaiah 57:15). He is from everlasting to everlasting (Psalm 90:2). Man is born at a point in time and space and will exist only into eternity future.
God is omnipotent and sovereign meaning He is all powerful and the supreme One. He can do anything that is in harmony with His other attributes, and nothing can thwart God from carrying out His will and judgements. Man often wants to think of himself as autonomous to do what He wants, but he cannot escape God. And even the most powerful thing man can accomplish does not even match the force of one hurricane much less something like the Sun.
God is also immutable. He does not change. But the great hope of all people is that they will change. We expect children to grow physically. Middle age adults would often like to shrink a little around the middle. We all want to become more knowledgeable and wise. That is why we school our children and continue to educate ourselves in wide variety of subjects ourselves long after the school years are over. Our hope for the future is that somehow we will change from mortal to immortal beings, from being bent toward evil, to only doing good.
These are all characteristics of God that make Him completely other than us. But God also has characteristics which He desires man to have as a reflection of Himself.
MAN; MADE IN THE IMAGE OF GOD
Genesis 1:26 tells us that God made man in His image (Gen. 1:26). We reflect God’s image in having the ability to think (reason), feel (emotion) and make decisions (volition). However, this image is a limited reflection, and ever since man’s fall into sin (Gen. 3), even that limited image is seriously marred.
Even the most intelligent human has a limited ability to think because every one of us was born with our understanding darkened and our minds blinded by sin (Eph. 4:18; 2 Cor. 4:4). And even after salvation, though we can now do better because our bondage to sin is broken, we still struggle because our minds have to be renewed (Rom. 12:2), which comes through the work of studying God’s word and yielding ourselves to the Holy Spirit. Yet, even with a renewed mind and maximum human intelligence, we cannot really compare ourselves to God for His ways and thoughts are much higher than our own (Isa. 55:9).
Our ability to feel is also perverted by sin, so much so that we often experience emotions that are based on falsehoods. Sin has also affected our ability to properly use our emotions, so that too often we make decisions based on how we feel instead of what is true and best.
The combination of corrupted reason and emotions would corrupt man’s volition by themselves. When you add in the innate selfishness of man because of his sin nature, then it is easy to understand why so many of our decisions are contrary to truth, morality and God’s law. In comparison, God is all knowing and His emotions are always based in truth, and His decisions, which are also based in His other attributes of righteousness and justice, are always correct.
There are other attributes of God that man reflects to some limited extent, though also marred by sin. God is righteous, true, just, impartial, and jealous which gives rise to His wrath and vengeance against those who sin against Him. God is also gracious, merciful, longsuffering, patient, good, kind, and loving which gives rise to the offer of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ Who was the sacrificial substitute for man’s sin. In all of this one attribute attaches itself to all others – holy, and God has command us to become holy.
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 being conformed into the image of Jesus Christ. We are to be sanctified in mind, body and soul and we will be as we yield ourselves to obey God’s word and the leading of the Holy Spirit. But there is a foundational reason we do not pursue this 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 eating of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. She thought it would make her like God, but it did not. It only corroded the image of God that had been there.
Again, we must face the reality 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 to be 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.
One of Satan’s lies is to magnify 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 nonchalance, 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). But Nadab and Abihu payed no attention to these commands. 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 careful 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 give God the honor that was due Him. They paid for their unholy and disrespectful actions with their lives. Do you treat God as holy?
2 Samuel 6 records a 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 only the Levites were to carry it on the poles specifically made for that purpose (Deut. 10:8; 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 Sam.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 be damaged. The intention appears to be a good one. This was 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 actually 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 may not have been 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 is to think that Uzzah’s death was 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 devil’s lies and do not treat God as holy, there can be big trouble. The Lord is to be honored and glorified with careful attention is to be given to obeying His commandments. We must do things the way He says they are to be done, and not whatever seems good to us at the moment.
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 these 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 which in His longsuffering He may put off until their death, but then again He may not wait. He will chasten true Christians (Heb. 12), and unbelievers 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 seems to have little effect on how they approach Him. This has been especially true here in America the last several decades. Too many are casual in their relationship with God and treat Him as a “buddy” instead of reverencing Him as the Creator. As believers we do 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.” We can count Jesus as our closest friend (John 15:14,15), but that does not allow us to toss aside the decorum and respect 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 the 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 also 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 are casting their crowns before Him in worship crying 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 they 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 about 300,000 people to reach in this county alone. We need other healthy churches here to reach these people for the kingdom of God. What disturbs me is when I find out that the reason some of them to go elsewhere is because they are looking for a worship service that is more fun and entertaining. It grieves me that so many these days give lip service to God, but not true worship. They cannot endure sound doctrine so they seek out those who will tickle their ears. The greater tragedy is that 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 to 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 store than the majestic creator of the universe whom we are entreating with our supplications. We are creatures He has created to be His servants. We are to seek to fulfill His will, not try to get Him to do our 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 instead of what is actually true.
Redefining Personal Holiness.
Another of Satan’s lies is redefining personal holiness. I am sure you have run into a lot of people, like I have, who believe they are good enough to be accepted by God just as they are. They catalog sins according to their own list of what is really bad and what can be over looked. They then think that God’s list is the same as their own, and will therefore will excuse them for what they consider to be inconsequential sins or will accept their good works as payment against their sins.
For example, the Roman Catholic Church classifies sins and lists them as being either venal sins which can be forgiven or mortal sins which cannot. What does Scripture say? In 1 Cor. 6:9-10 Paul gives a list of sins saying, “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 in vs. 11 we find that what they say are “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 as mortal ones 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). Man’s lists do not match God’s lists, and 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 of sin, righteousness, good or evil.
BEING SERIOUS ABOUT PERSONAL HOLINESS
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, are 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 they are a new creature who is being conformed into the image of Jesus Christ. They will be increasing in practical holiness in daily life. We call that process sanctification.
The professing Christian must take sin seriously. You were saved that you would be holy (Eph. 1:4), and your daily fellowship with God, and hence your ability to live the Christian life, is dependent on your seeking to be sanctified. 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 then 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 and one of His true worshipers.
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?
Sermon Notes – 2/27/2005 A.M.
Our Holy God – Selected Scriptures
GOD IS OTHER
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
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 SERIOUSY
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