Sermon Podcast Audio
We are in the middle of a series of messages where we are trying to fill in the the blank, “God is .” Our goal is to deepen our understanding of who God is. When we deepen our understanding of who God is, this results in a response. We cannot come face to face with God and just walk away from it. God is not some benign force in the world. When we see him and experience him and know him, we will respond in some way.
For some people this response is to push him away or hold him at arms length. After all, if God is who we say he is, then the last thing we want is for him to be messing up our lives, or so we think. But a more appropriate response is that when we see just how infinite God is, his vastness, his majesty, his greatness, and we begin to understand that God is sovereign, that even though we may not understand everything that is happening around us and to us, because he is a good God, who loves us, we can trust him to work everything out according to his plan and for our good. Our response to seeing God this way is seen in one word…worship.
We respond appropriately to God when we surrender our lives to him, not just by coming to church and doing something religious once a week, but by living our lives in such a way that brings him glory every day.
And so today we continue to build on this, to discover something else about God. Today we will look at the statement, “God is Holy.”
What is holy? Right away I think we have a problem. This word is a good biblical word and a good church word, but do we really understand what it means that God is holy? It isn’t that we don’t hear that word used today. It’s used, but in ways that probably have very little to do with the original definition.
In fact, we hear this word used in a couple of different ways in our culture. It is used as a random adjective attached to various words. This was popularized in the 60’s by the show Batman and Robin, not any of the thousand Batman movies that have been released in the last 30 years, but the good one, the television show from the 60’s, with Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward as Robin. Well, if you watched that show, it didn’t take long to see that one of Robin’s catch phrases was “Holy whatever.” This show only ran three seasons. And in season one alone, Robin made a “Holy whatever” statement 120 times.
There are websites dedicated to this. It was obviously created so that pastors like me could use them as illustrations in our sermons. Robin said things like, “Holy Smoke,” or “Holy Ravioli,” “Holy Bill of Rights,” “Holy Rip Van Winkle,” “Holy Jack in the Box,” “Holy Un-refillable Prescriptions,” “Holy Stomach Aches,” “Holy Interplanetary Yardstick.” Now put your phones down. Don’t start YouTubing this yet. I know my mentioning these has you wanting to see what possible situation could Batman and Robin have been in for Robin to utter such ridiculous phrases. To be honest, I have no idea if this is where the overuse of the word holy came from, but it certainly didn’t help.
The other way we hear this word used today does have a religious or spiritual overtone, but it is not positive. We hear someone called a “Holy Roller.” It usually refers to someone from a Pentecostal tradition and it usually isn’t used in a positive light. Neither is the expression, “Holier than Thou.” This of course is used to describe someone who is smug, sanctimonious, and self-righteous.
So, we have our work cut out for us to figure this out. How do we know God is holy? What does it mean that God is holy? And what does God’s holiness mean for our lives? Let’s see if we can answer these questions today.
God is Holy
As God begins to reveal himself to various people, he does so by also revealing his character. In Exodus 3, we find the story of Moses and the burning bush. This is where God speaks to Moses, calling him to lead the Hebrews out of Egypt.
Obviously, this is a strange scene for Moses, for anyone, but we read:
God called to him from within the bush, “Moses! Moses!”
And Moses said, “Here I am.”
“Do not come any closer,” God said. “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” Then he said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.” At this, Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God.—Exodus 3:4-6
What made this holy ground wasn’t Moses. It wasn’t the bush. It was God. And we see this expanded and developed a bit more when God gives the Law to his people, giving them rules on how they should live.
In Leviticus, God says to them:
“I am the Lord your God; consecrate yourselves and be holy, because I am holy. Do not make yourselves unclean by any creature that moves along the ground. I am the Lord, who brought you up out of Egypt to be your God; therefore be holy, because I am holy.” —Leviticus 11:44-45
This theme continues to run through the Old Testament. . .
in the prayer of Hannah
“There is no one holy like the Lord; there is no one besides you; there is no Rock like our God.” —1 Samuel 2:2
in the psalms
“Exalt the Lord our God and worship at his holy mountain, for the Lord our God is holy.” —Psalm 99:9
in Isaiah’s vision of God
“And they [the angels] were calling to one another: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.” —Isaiah 6:3
I could go on, but I think you get the picture. God establishes himself as holy in the Old Testament. When we get to the New Testament something changes. God is still holy, we just see it in a different way.
In Mark 1, we read a story of Jesus. While he was in a synagogue he was confronted by a man with an impure spirit. When this demon saw Jesus it cried out, “What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!”
In the New Testament, we see that Jesus is the visual representation or the visible expression of the invisible God, including his holiness. He is God in human fresh. The God of the Old Testament that declared his holiness is now seen and modeled for us in the work and person of Jesus Christ. This affirmation that Jesus is the Holy One is confirmed not just by demons, but also by those who knew him.
In Acts 3:14, Peter, one of Jesus’ disciples, was preaching a sermon to a crowd and he began to talk about Jesus. Listen to how he described him.
“The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified his servant Jesus. You handed him over to be killed, and you disowned him before Pilate, though he had decided to let him go. You disowned the Holy and Righteous One and asked that a murderer be released to you.” —Acts 3:14
In the book of Hebrews, we find the writer talking about Jesus and how he functions as our high priest, interceding between us and God.
“Such a high priest truly meets our need—one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens.” —Hebrews 7:26
So, multiple times in Scripture we see that God is Holy. In fact, there are probably more references to God’s holiness in Scripture than to any other attribute. But what exactly does this mean?
Unfortunately, many people today associate the word holy with a list of dos and don’ts. These rules are the ones that you people, I am looking at you, are supposed to follow. You know that standard list — don’t drink, don’t cuss, don’t smoke, don’t date girls who do. We believe holiness is only about behavior.
But the Biblical definition of the word is not primarily about behavior. Yes, behavior comes into it later, but what it means is “set apart” or “separation,” something unique to be used differently than ordinary common things.
In the tabernacle or temple, certain items were were consecrated or set apart for certain use. These items were called holy because they could not and should not be used for everyday use. They had a special function.
When applying this definition to God, we see that he is the set apart one. Holiness is his quintessential nature. He is set apart from his creation. He is above it all. When we say God is holy it means that he is transcendently unique, infinitely exalted above everything.
In Exodus 15, after Moses led the people across the Red Sea and God miraculously rescued the people, they sang these words:
“Who among the gods is like you, Lord? Who is like you— majestic in holiness, awesome in glory, working wonders?” —Exodus 15:11
And do you know what the answer is? Nobody.
Pastor John Piper said it this way, “The holiness of God is the most fundamental reality of all. It refers to the reality that God is utterly unique and in a class by himself—that’s his set-apartness—none compares with him. There is no other Creator, no other sustainer, no other final measure of good and evil…He is utterly set apart in a class by himself, unequaled, unrivaled, totally underived, absolute in his being and perfection, without beginning or ending or improvement. In a word his holiness is the supremacy of his infinite worth among all that is.”
It sets him apart from everyone and everything. He is not like us. But it isn’t just about his position. It has ethical implications as well. He is also separated from sin. He is absolutely free from any kind of evil or deficiency. And because he is separated from evil, he cannot sin, he will not tempt anyone to sin. He is untainted with the slightest trace of immorality.
And when we see God in this light, we are faced with a dilemma. How will we respond?
Responding to God’s Holiness
Those who have been in or around church for any length of time have sung the hymns, “Holy Holy Holy,” or “Holy God We Praise Thy Name.” We are used to this idea. But to some, this can be a very intimidating thing to think about. There can be something threatening about a holy God. Standing next to him, all our warts and failure, our sin and disappointments stick out like a neon shirt in a sea of gray suits.
But what we find with God is that his holiness doesn’t make him unapproachable. Here’s the interesting part about this. It is one characteristic that he doesn’t just apply to himself. He calls us to be like him in this. He calls us to be holy.
In First Peter, Peter writes these words:
Therefore, with minds that are alert and fully sober, set your hope on the grace to be brought to you when Jesus Christ is revealed at his coming. As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.”—1 Peter 1: 13-15
Now obviously there has to be a tweaking of the definition of the word, because how we defined it earlier can’t apply to us. God is above all. We can’t be. So how does this apply to us?
As I said earlier, many people assume this means there are rules we are to follow and so we do one of two things. We equate this to some type of rule following lifestyle. We morph into some type of modern day Pharisee, not just checking off our own list of rules we’ve followed, but looking at others to help point out the rules they’ve missed.
The other extreme of this is to just collapse in hopelessness and say, “I can’t do it. I sin and I can’t help it.” So, we throw ourselves on God’s grace and mercy and don’t even try.
But does it seem possible that a God that does show grace and mercy, a God who loves us so much that he sent his son to die for us, would ask us to do something that we had no chance of accomplishing? No. That’s a sadistic God.
So, what does this mean? To be holy means to be completely and totally God’s. No area of your life doesn’t belong to him. No priority in your life is not judged by him. No part of your heart doesn’t belong to him. You are completely and totally devoted.
And in order to do that, we must be set apart: set apart form our surroundings, set apart from the lifestyles and priorities of the world around us.
But even in saying this, I want to make sure you understand that being set apart does not mean isolated from. In the past, there have been movements, whose leaders thought the best option for holiness was to completely remove themselves from the culture, to move away and live far away from the corrupting nature of sin.
Just so you know, that’s not it. In order to get on the right track, we need to look to our perfect model, the one we should be imitating and mimicking, Jesus Christ. He lived on this earth and as we have already said, he lived a sinless and righteous life.
What did he do? He was able to be spiritually apart but physically present. He was able to minister and heal and love and yet continue to be holy. He hung out with those that the religious people wouldn’t even take the time to spit on: the tax collectors, prostitutes, sick, outcasts, demon possessed. All of these people society had thrown away and Jesus lived among them. That’s who we are called to be as well.
This is not a call to practice religion differently. It is a call to be transformed at our very core, in such a powerful way that it matches the power of the salvation we have experienced. It must permeate everything we do. And ultimately it means living a life controlled by the Spirit of God that lives within those who follow Jesus.
Peter isn’t just saying, “learn to manage your sin better.” Holiness is a way of life. We get there by walking in step with the Spirit of God. A wrong understanding of this will become hypocritical and pharisaical and will turn people away from God.
But when we look like Jesus, when we reflect the holiness of God, people will be drawn to him. And we exercise holiness in worship, in love for our neighbors, and in promoting justice and rooting out injustice.
A holy God requires holy people. But notice God doesn’t say be as holy as I am. That is impossible. He says be holy because he is holy. . . and there is a difference. Our holiness is always derived and dependent upon our proximity to and relationship with God.
Paul reminds us in his second letter to Timothy that there was a reason for our salvation.
“He has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace.” —2 Timothy 1:9
What are you doing to cultivate holiness in your life? Are you actively seeking the guidance of the Spirit? Are you living with and accepting sin, or are you fighting daily to crucify the flesh so that you look more like your Father in heaven?
Does how you live testify to your faith in God, show the character of God and bear witness to the power of Jesus in your life? Our God is a holy God, another aspect that makes him who he is. What will you do to show that holiness in your life this week?