THE ATTRIBUTES OF GOD Lesson #8
The Holiness of God Exodus 15:11
God is “glorious in holiness.” That is to say, the essence of God’s glory is his holiness. Holiness is his nature. God is holiness. And holiness is God. Holiness is not one of God’s many attributes, like omniscience, omnipotence, and omnipresence. Holiness is the essence of all God’s attributes. But what is holiness? Who can define it? I readily admit that I am in waters too deep for me when I begin even to think about the holiness of God, much less write about it! Usually, we attach the idea of moral purity and perfection to the word holiness. And, certainly, anyone who is holy must be morally pure and perfect. But moral purity does not begin to describe the meaning of God’s holiness. Holiness is the transcendence of God. It is the supreme, absolute greatness of God, that which sets him apart from and infinitely above all his creatures. I once heard Pastor Scott Richardson say, “Holiness has something to do with wholeness. The holiness of God is the whole perfection of his infinite Being.”
I have no hope of explaining, or even adequately identifying, God’s holiness. When I have told you all that I know about it, I will have said very little. I only hope to say enough in this study to inspire the reader’s heart to worship, honor, adore, love, and trust the great and holy Lord God.
GOD ALONE IS ESSENTIALLY HOLY. The angels of God are holy angels; and his saints are holy, but not essentially holy. Angels, though fallen, are still angels; and men, though fallen, are still men, though they have no holiness. Their holiness and ours is derived holiness. God’s is not. God would not be God were he not holy. Holiness is essential to his Being. God is “The Holy One” (Isa. 40:25; Hos. 11;9; I Sam. 2:2; Rev. 15:4). “Holy and reverend is his name” (Psa. 111:9). John Gill wrote, “God only is essentially, originally, underivatively, perfectly, and immutably holy.” The puritan, Thomas Brooks, said, “Holiness in angels and saints is but a quality, but in God it is his essence...God’s holiness and his nature are not two things. They are but one. God’s holiness is his nature, and God’s nature is his holiness.” Holiness is the luster, glory, and harmony of God’s nature and attributes. It is “the beauty of the Lord” (Psa. 27:4). What is wisdom and knowledge without holiness, but craft and cunning? What is power without holiness, but tyranny, oppression, and cruelty? The Lord our God is “glorious in holiness.” Holiness is the glory of his Being and the beauty of his nature.
All that God is is holy. This is one evidence of the divine origin of Holy Scripture. We know that the Bible is God’s inspired Word because it reveals a perfectly holy God. Such a God as this is not the invention of man’s depraved mind (Psa. 50:21). The god who is acknowledged by the vast majority of religious people is little more than an indulgent old man who has no personal sin, but is tolerant of sin in others and so full of mercy that he is willing to compromise truth and righteousness to rescue men and women from the consequences of their sins, even if he cannot rescue them from sin itself. The God of the Bible is not an indulgent old man. He is omnipotent; and he is holy. He will by no means clear the guilty. This God will either remove your guilt, or he will remove you.
All that God does is holy. Every work of God’s hand has the stamp of holiness upon it, reflecting in some way the character of God himself (Psa. 145:17). In creation he stamped upon the consciences of all men a sense of moral righteousness (his law); so that all men by nature know good from evil and are condemned by their evil deeds (Rom. 2:14-15). In providence God often displays his anger with man’s sin in acts of judgment. The current AIDS epidemic is as manifestly an act of providential judgment upon our perverse society as the fire and brimstone rained upon Sodom in Lot’s day. Our redemption by the blood of Christ, above all else, shows forth the holiness and justice of God’s character (Rom. 3:24-26). God is so perfectly holy that he would not and could not forgive the sins of his elect apart from the satisfaction of his justice by the blood of his own dear Son. God is holy in creation, in providence, in redemption, and in the exercise of his grace. And he is holy in all his acts of judgment. When he sits upon the great white throne of judgment in the last day, when all men are gathered before him, he will grant eternal life to his elect in Christ and sentence the wicked to eternal death in hell upon the grounds of strict holiness, justice, and truth. Unless we stand before him washed in the blood of Christ and robed with his imputed righteousness, we will be damned forever. Justice demands it. But if we are washed in Christ’s blood and robed in his righteousness, we shall enter into everlasting glory. Justice demands it (Rev. 20:12; 22:11).
Because God is holy, he hates all sin. Yes, God hates “all workers of iniquity” (Psa. 5:5). He is “angry with the wicked every day” (Psa. 7:11). You cannot separate God’s hatred of sin from his hatred of sinners. Every sinner outside Christ is under the wrath of God because God is holy. “The froward is an abomination to the Lord” (Prov. 3:32). “The thoughts of the wicked are an abomination to the Lord” (Prov. 15:26). This gloriously holy God punishes sin. He must punish sin because he is holy. Blessed be his name, God does forgive sin! “He delighteth in mercy!” But, as stated above, God will not forgive sin at the expense of his holiness. He will not forgive sin without blood atonement (Heb. 9:22). Because God is holy, acceptance with him on the ground of our own works is impossible (Rom. 3:19-20). “A fallen creature could sooner create a world than produce that which would meet the approval of infinite purity” (A. W. Pink) (Isa. 64:6; Eph. 1:6). Because God is holy, all who approach him must do so with reverence and godly fear. He says, “I will be sanctified of them that come nigh me, and before all the people will I be glorified” (Lev. 10:3). (Ex. 3:5; Psa. 89:7; 99:5; Eccles. 5:1-2). Because God is holy, we should desire to be like him (Heb. 12:14). Stephen Charnock wrote, “This is the prime way of honoring God. We do not so glorify God by elevated admirations, or eloquent expressions, or pompous services to him, as when we aspire to a conversing with him with unstained spirits, and live to him in living like him.” This perfection of holiness will be the glory of heaven (I John 3:2).
GOD REQUIRES ALL MEN AND WOMEN TO BE HOLY, EVEN AS HE IS HOLY. God who is “glorious in holiness,” demands holiness in us. He cannot and will not accept anything less than perfect, pure, flawless holiness. God will not accept sincerity, works of benevolence, repentance, sacrifices, moral reformation, or even faith as a substitute for holiness. God demands holiness (Matt. 5:20; Heb. 12:14; Lev. 11:44-45; 1 Pet. 1:16). God says, “Walk before me, and be thou perfect” (Gen. 17:1). The slightest deviation from perfect holiness ignites the fire of God’s wrath against his creatures. It was deviation from perfect holiness that: drove Lucifer from heaven, the angels into darkness, Adam from the Garden, and drives sinners into hell. Carefully consider these things. It will take something more than a walk down a church aisle, a few tears, a prayer, and a decision of your free-will to get you into heaven. If you would enter heaven’s glory and live forever with God, you must be as good as God. You must be perfectly holy! That means that salvation by the will of man, the works of man, or even the worship of man is an utter impossibility, because you cannot make yourself holy!
GOD ALONE CAN MAKE UNHOLY, SINFUL MEN AND WOMEN PERFECTLY HOLY. Holiness is more than moral reformation, purity of life, and uprightness of heart. Holiness is nothing less than the complete restoration of manhood to the image and likeness of God. Holiness is the complete, not partial, but complete conformity of man to the image of God in Christ.
Men talk about practical holiness, about living holy lives, and of being holy. And that is all right as long as you understand that holiness is not something you produce. It is something God gives. Not even faith in Christ produces holiness. Faith receives holiness. Faith embraces holiness. Faith loves holiness. And faith seeks holiness. But faith cannot produce holiness. Holiness is the work of God alone.
The whole purpose of God in the scheme of redemption and grace is to make his people holy, perfectly holy, for the glory of his own great name. Salvation is neither more nor less than God taking that which is common and unclean and making it holy (Eph. 1:3-6; 5:25-27). There cannot be degrees of holiness. We are either holy or unholy. It is impossible to be partially holy. God makes his elect holy by three distinct works of grace: (1.) We have been made positionally holy before the Law of God in free justification by the imputation of Christ’s righteousness to us (Rom. 5:19; 2 Cor. 5:21). (2.) We have been made experimentally holy in regeneration and sanctification by the imparting of Christ’s nature to us (2 Pet. 1:4; 1 John 3:4-9). We do not become more and more holy by our works in progressive sanctification. We grow in grace, but not in holiness. Our sanctification (holiness) is the free gift of God’s grace in salvation (Heb. 10:10-14). (3.) And we shall be made absolutely holy in glorification by the miraculous conformity of our nature (body, soul, and spirit) to Christ in the resurrection (Rom. 8:29; 1 Cor. 15:51-58; 1 John 3:2).
THE SUPREME REVELATION OF GOD’S HOLINESS IS THE CROSS OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST (Rom. 3:24-26). Here, and here alone, “Mercy and truth are met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other” (Psa. 85:10). When I see Jesus Christ, the Son of God, with my sin upon him, suffering the horrible wrath of God, without mercy, I see that God is indeed holy, so holy that he will not allow even his own darling Son to go unpunished when sin is imputed to him, so holy that he will sacrifice his only begotten, well-beloved Son to save sinners before he will sacrifice his character! No wonder the seraphim, looking upon the mercy-seat (The Old Testament Picture of Christ’s Blood Atonement) cried continually, “Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord of hosts!”
EVERY SINNER WHO BELIEVES ON THE LORD JESUS CHRIST IS PERFECTLY HOLY IN THE SIGHT OF GOD (Col. 2:9-10). Believing on the Lord Jesus Christ, by faith in him, we fulfill all the law of God (Rom. 3:28). By faith in Christ we give what God demands from us, complete satisfaction for all our sins and perfect holiness. In Christ every believer stands before God’s holy law in perfect holiness by divine imputation (Rom. 5:19; 2 Cor. 5:21), with a holy nature imparted to him in regeneration (2 Pet. 1:4), in hope of a holy life with Christ forever in eternal glory (1 John 3:2). As we behold the wonders of God’s salvation, let our hearts sing with Moses, “Who is like unto thee, O LORD, among the gods? Who is like thee, glorious in holiness, fearful in praises, doing wonders?”