A little 4 year old girl was once hard at study in her drawings with a crayon. Her mother asked her, "Sally, what are you doing which requires such concentration?" Sally said, "I am drawing a picture of God." Her mother smiled and said gently, "Sally, no one knows what God looks like." Sally responded, "Well, they will when I get through!"
It is almost an oxymoron to talk about knowing God. I think that we are all aware of the fact that man is finite, which results in our inability to grasp and comprehend the greatness of God. To be able to know God, requires one to be able to explain God, and no man can ever hope to do that.
However, on the other hand, the scriptures clearly teach that God has taken the initiative in revealing himself to mankind that we might know who He is. On one occasion, Paul preached to the learned men of Athens on the subject of the unknown God. As he linked the revelation of God with the creation of the world, Paul said, "God has done all of this that we might seek him and reach out to him though he is not far from any of us" (NIV).
In the book of Jeremiah, God said, "Call on me and I will show you great and mighty things that you do not know". Therefore, we must conclude that while we can never fully know God in this life as we shall know him in eternity, we can have a much greater understanding of his personality and nature. And that is accomplished how? Only by a study of the scriptures.
We want to look this morning at the most fundamental truth about God and that is His holiness.
Psalms 99:9 (NKJV) Exalt the LORD our God, And worship at His holy hill; For the LORD our God is holy.
In a day where there is an increasing loss of respect for authority of all kinds and at all levels, the people of God would do well to recapture the understanding of the holiness of God. Consider the great contrast of how our generation considers God and the generation of scribes who wrote this text.
Centuries ago, as he labored with his quill and ink, the scribe spent each and every day transcribing the Hebrew scriptures from one scroll to another. Suddenly, he would come to the word which he translates as God. In quiet meditation, he would move to a period of prayer. He would then take off his clothes and bathe himself. After his bath, he would put on fresh garments which had never before been worn. He would then go and get a new quill which had never before been used to write a single jot or title of the Hebrew alphabet. After filling it with ink, he would, with great reverence, return to his desk and carefully and reverently write the name "God". The new quill was then discarded. His new clothes were burned. He would bathe again. He would put back on his old clothes, take up with his old pen and resume his transcription of the text. Why did he do all of this? Because of the great respect which the ancient Jews had for the holiness of God.
It sounds rather bizarre, doesn't it? However, while no one would suggest that we should practice such behavior, there is great room for a growth among Christians to recover a respect and reverence for our Lord God. Somehow, we must learn how to continue to teach and train that God is always ready to receive us into his presence without losing sight that he is worthy of our worship because of his reverence.
Today, we want to study His holiness, and hopefully, when we conclude, we will know a little more about what God is like.
1. THE REALITY OF GOD'S HOLINESS.
The Psalmist, in our text, declares with great authority a common theme of scripture and that is that our God is a holy God. We know this is true for several reasons.
a. The scriptures declare that God is holy.
Leviticus 11:44 (NKJV) 'For I am the LORD your God. You shall therefore consecrate yourselves, and you shall be holy; for I am holy. Neither shall you defile yourselves with any creeping thing that creeps on the earth.
Joshua 24:19 (NKJV) But Joshua said to the people, "You cannot serve the LORD, for He is a holy God. He is a jealous God; He will not forgive your transgressions nor your sins.
1 Samuel 2:2 (NKJV) "No one is holy like the LORD, For there is none besides You, Nor is there any rock like our God.
b. Biblical characters tell us that God is Holy.
Moses first encountered God in the desert as a burning bush which was not consumed by the fire. God spoke to him and said:
Exodus 3:5 (NKJV) Then He said, "Do not draw near this place. Take your sandals off your feet, for the place where you stand is holy ground."
After the death of the King of the land, Isaiah went into the temple to pray. He saw a vision of the throne of God and saw angelic creatures surrounding the throne, and this is what they were saying:
Isaiah 6:3 (NKJV) And one cried to another and said: "Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; The whole earth is full of His glory!"
The Apostle John
When on the isle of Patmos, John saw a vision of heaven which he described this way:
Revelation 4:8 (NKJV) The four living creatures, each having six wings, were full of eyes around and within. And they do not rest day or night, saying: "Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, Who was and is and is to come!"
2. THE EXPLANATION OF GOD'S HOLINESS.
To be holy is to be distinct, separate, in a class by oneself. As Sproul puts it:
The primary meaning of holy is 'separate.' It comes from an ancient word that meant, 'to cut,' or 'to separate.' Perhaps even more accurate would be the phrase 'a cut above something.' When we find a garment or another piece of merchandise that is outstanding, that has a superior excellence, we use the expression that it is 'a cut above the rest.' R. C. Sproul, The Holiness of God(Wheaton, Illinois: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 1985), page 54
This means that the one who is holy is uniquely holy, with no rivals or competition.
When the Bible calls God holy, it means primarily that God is transcendentally separate. He is so far above and beyond us that He seems almost totally foreign to us. To be holy is to be "other," to be different in a special way. The same basic meaning is used when the word "holy" is applied to earthly things.
Thus, the base meaning of "Holy" is that God is separate from mankind. This may be understood in two ways.
a. God is separate from us because God is greater than us.
The word used to describe this is transcendent. That means he is superior in every way to us. Everything that is found in God will be greater than anything you will ever find in the world. Compare for a moment mankind and God.
Consider man's greatest triumphs. Think about man's greatest achievements. Nothing man has ever done can ever begin to compare with what God has done in creation.
One of the greatest lessons ever taught on this subject is found in the book of Job, and it came from God to Job. In the beginning of his trial, Job's response was excellent as we saw (see True Worship) last week. But as time went on, Job began to get very weary and he started to question God. "Why is this happening to me? Show me? I've lost everything except my wife, why? When Job tries to bring God down to his own level, God responds. He doesn't answer Job's questions, he asks some questions of his own.
Job 38:1-5 (NKJV) Then the LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind, and said: 2 "Who is this who darkens counsel By words without knowledge? 3 Now prepare yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer Me. 4 "Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? Tell Me, if you have understanding. 5 Who determined its measurements? Surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it?
God shows Job that man has absolutely no right to question Him. In a series of questions on cosmology, oceanography, meteorology, and astronomy, God challenged Job's competence to judge His control of the world.
Job 38:4 (NKJV) "... Tell Me, if you have understanding." Job 38:18 (NKJV) Have you comprehended the breadth of the earth? Tell Me, if you know all this.
Job 40:1-5 (NKJV) Moreover the LORD answered Job, and said: 2 "Shall the one who contends with the Almighty correct Him? He who rebukes God, let him answer it." 3 Then Job answered the LORD and said: 4 "Behold, I am vile; What shall I answer You? I lay my hand over my mouth. 5 Once I have spoken, but I will not answer; Yes, twice, but I will proceed no further."
In verse 6 of chapter 40 through 41:34, God focuses on two animals, behemoth and leviathan. He shows Job that he could not even control these animals, let alone take over God's job of controlling the universe. God, in effect, says, "I created everything, I own everything, and I control everything, who are you to question me?" Notice Job's response in:
Job 42:1-6 (NKJV) Then Job answered the LORD and said: 2 "I know that You can do everything, And that no purpose of Yours can be withheld from You. 3 You asked, 'Who is this who hides counsel without knowledge?' Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, Things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. 4 Listen, please, and let me speak; You said, 'I will question you, and you shall answer Me.' 5 "I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear, But now my eye sees You. 6 Therefore I abhor myself, And repent in dust and ashes."
Job says, "I understand that you are God, the Creator, and I am but a man. Please forgive me. I was wrong for not recognizing your sovereign right to give and to take away. I hate myself. How could I ever question you?"
In these closing chapters of Job are one question rolled onto another and another with the overwhelming conclusion that God's holiness must mean that He is separate from us because He is so much greater than us.
b. God is separate from us because God is different than us.
The word used to describe that nature is infinite. When something is finite, it means something with definite limits to it. On the other hand, infinite means just the opposite. It describes something which has no limits to it. God is separate from us because of the fact that He has no limits or parameters upon him whatsoever. God is not only separate from us, he is also distinctively different from us.
Solomon understood this truth well. It was God's decision that he would be the one who would build the temple for God. On the day of that dedication, at the moment when the ark of the covenant was brought into that magnificent structure, the shekinah glory of God broke out and filled the house of the Lord. In his greatest expression of humility, Solomon responded to God by saying:
1 Kings 8:27 (NKJV) "But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold, heaven and the heaven of heavens cannot contain You. How much less this temple which I have built!
Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived on this earth, the man with the keenest mind of all, understood that not a single one of us can ever begin to compare with God. The fact that he is Holy means that he is separate from us, not geographically, but in nature and scope. He is superior to us and he is different than us.
In one of the letters Luther wrote to Erasmus, he said, "Your thoughts of God are too human." That may be one of the greatest shortcomings of Christians today. In some ways, we are too familiar with God and treat him as if he were one of our pals. God is not like any of us is this room. He is far superior to us and has no limitations in any way whatsoever.
3. OUR PROPER RESPONSE TO THE HOLINESS OF GOD.
Psalms 99:9 (NKJV) Exalt the LORD our God, And worship at His holy hill; For the LORD our God is holy.
When the Psalmist wrote these words, he suggested a response was in order in light of God's holiness. We are to exalt the Lord our God. That is another way of saying we should acknowledge God for who He truly is. Exalt the Lord does not mean that we cannot draw near to him, that we cannot call upon him at anytime, nor that we cannot expect his assistance in any and every situation. However, exalting the Lord does mean that we must not treat him commonly. We often treat God as "the man upstairs" or the "spare tire in the trunk" or the neighbor down the street who always has a "spiritual cup of sugar we can borrow". He is not some angelic errand boy to whistle for when we need something.
Exaltation is, in essence, worship of God in light of who He is. We talked about worship last week. The Psalmist here tells us that we are to worship Him because He is HOLY.
True worship is acknowledging that God is the very object of our faith. In one of the most terrifying passages of scripture in the New Testament, Paul speaks about the consequences of one's failure to acknowledge the reality of God in one's life.
Romans 1:19-23 (NKJV) because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. 20 For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, 21 because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Professing to be wise, they became fools, 23 and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man; and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things.
Romans 1:28-32 (NKJV) And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a debased mind, to do those things which are not fitting; 29 being filled with all unrighteousness, sexual immorality, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, evil-mindedness; they are whisperers, 30 backbiters, haters of God, violent, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, 31 undiscerning, untrustworthy, unloving, unforgiving, unmerciful; 32 who, knowing the righteous judgment of God, that those who practice such things are deserving of death, not only do the same but also approve of those who practice them.
In these verses, Paul describes the eventual demise that comes to the man or woman who will not acknowledge God.,What an awful picture! Why do some people end up like this in life? The key is found in verse 28, "They did not like to retain God in their knowledge".
What does that mean for you and me? It means that exalting God is much more than singing along from the song sheet or bowing one's head at the proper time of prayer. It means that you recognize him for his greatness and his superiority and that you bow to His sovereign control in every area of your life. Control of what? Control of your career; control of your finances; control of your relationships in marriage, in parenting, in dating, at work and in social occasions.
Now, a person might say, "Isn't that a lot to ask me to do? To bow to God's control over every area of my life? Consider the superiority of God's wisdom and the greatness of His love. Who is more likely to make a mess of your money, your career, your relationships and your dreams? Yourself, or God?
Take it from someone who has learned the hard way in life. God has your best interest at heart and his way is always the best way. Our proper response to God's holiness is to exalt God to His proper place in our life.
How Important is it for us to understand God's Holiness?
The holiness of God is not merely a theological subject fit for scholars with the interest and stamina to pursue it. The holiness of God should be a matter of great importance to every Christian. Several incidents in the Old and New Testaments underscore the importance of holiness to the believer. These examples are but a few of the many accounts in Scripture dealing with God's holiness and its impact on saints.
In Numbers 20, we have the account of the children of Israel arriving at Kadesh, a place whose name meant "holy." At Kadesh, there was no water for the people to drink. The people were hostile, and a mob contended with Moses and Aaron, wishing they were dead, or even better, that Moses and Aaron were. They protested they had not been "led", as much as "mis-led", by Moses to a land far from what they were promised. That there was now no water here was the final straw.
Moses and Aaron went to the doorway of the tent of meeting, and there the glory of the Lord appeared to them. God then commanded Moses to take his rod and speak to the rock, from which water would flow for the people. Moses was furious with the people as he gathered them before the rock. Instead of merely speaking to the rock as commanded, in his anger, Moses struck the rock twice. The consequences were indeed severe.
Who has not lost his or her temper and done worse than striking a rock with a stick? Yet, this act was so serious in God's sight that He forbade Moses to enter into the land of promise. Moses never entered the land to which he came so close. Why? God told him, and he recorded it for us.
Numbers 20:12-13 (NKJV) Then the LORD spoke to Moses and Aaron, "Because you did not believe Me, to hallow Me ("to treat Me as holy" NASB) in the eyes of the children of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land which I have given them." 13 This was the water of Meribah, because the children of Israel contended with the LORD, and He was hallowed among them ("proved Himself holy among them" NASB) .
In a moment of anger, Moses sinned, and for this sin, he was kept from entering the promised land. The act was striking the rock. But it was much more than this. Striking the rock was an act of disobedience, of failing to follow God's instructions. Even more, it was identified by God as an act of unbelief:
Numbers 20:12 (NASB) But the LORD said to Moses and Aaron, "Because you have not believed Me, to treat Me as holy in the sight of the sons of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land which I have given them."
The root sin was irreverence, and that irreverence was the cause of Moses' disobedience and his striking the rock. Moses' anger with the people overcame his fear of God. His fear of God should have overcome his anger with the Israelites. God took Moses' irreverence most seriously.
In a battle with Israel, the Philistines had captured the ark of God and sought to keep it as a trophy of their victory. It soon became evident the ark was the source of much suffering to them. They passed it about and finally determined to be rid of it by sending it back to Israel. They transported it in a way the Philistine priests and diviners recommended. They put a guilt offering of gold in the ark and placed it on a newly-made cart drawn by two cows just separated from their calves (see 1 Samuel 6).
After leaving the Philistines, the ark of the LORD was brought to the house of Abinadab, where it remained for some 20 years (1 Samuel 7:1-2). Finally, David, accompanied by 30,000 Israelites, went to Kiriath-jearim to bring the ark to Jerusalem.
The ark was a symbol of the presence of God, a most holy object (see 2 Samuel 6:2), which was to be hidden in the holiest place in the tabernacle, the "holy of holies." According to God's instructions, it was to be transported by the Kohathites who carried it by holding onto poles inserted through its attached rings (see Exodus 25:10-22; Numbers 4:1-20). No one was to look into the ark, or they would die.
The day the ark was transported to Jerusalem was a great and happy moment. But they had forgotten how holy this ark was, because it was the place where God's presence was to abide. Rather than transporting the ark as instructed in the law, the ark was placed on a new ox cart. It was a most jubilant procession as the ark made its way home. What a happy time! But when the oxen stumbled, and it looked as though the cart might be overturned and hurled to the ground, Uzzah reached out to steady the ark. Instantly, he was struck dead by God.
David's first response was frustration and anger with God. Why had God been so harsh with Uzzah? David seems to have forgotten God's instructions in the Law about how the ark was to be transported. He also seems to have forgotten how many had previously died when due reverence for the presence of God, associated with the ark, was not shown. God had spoiled their celebration, and David was miffed. Only upon reflection did David realize the gravity of the error. And concerning Uzzah, God struck him dead because of his irreverence (2 Samuel 6:7).
2 Samuel 6:6-7 (NKJV) And when they came to Nachon's threshing floor, Uzzah put out his hand to the ark of God and took hold of it, for the oxen stumbled. 7 Then the anger of the LORD was aroused against Uzzah, and God struck him there for his error; and he died there by the ark of God.
Irreverence is a dangerous condition. Even when our motives are sincere and we are actively involved in the worship of God, we must constantly be mindful of the holiness of God and maintain a reverence for Him manifested by our obedience to His instructions and commands.
The story of Ananias and Sapphira, in Acts 5, is a familiar one to most Christians. In the early days of the church, there was a great concern for the poor. When needs arose, saints would sell some of their possessions and lay the proceeds at the feet of the apostles for them to distribute (see Acts 2:44-45; 4:34-37). Ananias and Sapphira did likewise, but with a divided heart and in a deceptive way. They sold a piece of property but kept back a part of the proceeds for themselves. They gave the remainder of the money to the apostles as though it were the whole amount. When their sin was exposed to Peter, he confronted them, and both of them died. Great fear came upon the entire church, not to mention the rest of the community
These two lied to the Holy Spirit. The sin of Ananias and Sapphira was an affront to the holiness of God in His church.
Further, Luke includes a comment on the effect the deaths of Ananias and Sapphira had on the church and the community.
Acts 5:11 (NKJV) So great fear came upon all the church and upon all who heard these things.
Acts 5:13 (NKJV) Yet none of the rest dared join them, but the people esteemed them highly.
Unbelievers were prompted by their fear to keep their distance from the church, and the saints were motivated to keep their distance from the world (as far as its sins are concerned).
Fear is the response of men to the holiness of God. Thus, the sin of Ananias and his wife was a sin of irreverence, a sin against God's holiness. But the outbreak of divine holiness, which brought about the death of this couple, also brought fear on those who heard of this incident.
The appropriate response to the holiness of God is fear (reverence), and the outworking of fear is obedience.
As I look at the Scriptures that speak of the holiness of God and the fear it should produce in the hearts of men, I find a very strong correlation between fear (or reverence) and obedience. For example, the wife is to respect (literally fear) her husband (Ephesians 5:33). The submission of the wife to her husband most often is expressed by her obedience to him (see 1 Peter 3:5-6). Fear or reverence leads to obedience. The same correlation is seen in 1 Peter 2:13-25 and Romans 13:1-7 with respect to citizens and governing authorities, and slaves and their masters.
An understanding of the holiness of God produces a heart which reverences God as the Holy One.
The holiness of God is the basis and the compelling necessity for our practical holiness.
1 Peter 1:14-19 (NKJV) as obedient children, not conforming yourselves to the former lusts, as in your ignorance; 15 but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, 16 because it is written, "Be holy, for I am holy." 17 And if you call on the Father, who without partiality judges according to each one's work, conduct yourselves throughout the time of your stay here in fear; 18 knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot.
Because God is holy, we who are His people must be holy too. We must practice and proclaim His excellencies to the world:
1 Peter 2:9 (NASB) But you are A CHOSEN RACE, A royal PRIESTHOOD, A HOLY NATION, A PEOPLE FOR God's OWN POSSESSION, that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light;
Prominent among God's excellencies is His holiness.
Do you understand God's holiness? Does the obedience of your life to His commands reflect that you understand that God is holy?