When you think of holiness, or of being holy, what image do you conjure up in your mind? Someone who is a “goodie-two-shoes” or a person who speaks and acts as if he is “too heavenly minded to be any earthly good”? Or do you not have any idea of what holiness is, so you don’t have any image to ponder?
I realize that holiness is not something that we think about on a daily, moment-by-moment basis but, if we want to know God, we should consider it because holiness is fundamental to God’s character.
Holiness is synonymous with God’s total purity and separation from the rest of creation. Consider Adam and Eve’s reaction after they ate the forbidden fruit and God came to visit with them in the Garden of Eden.
“And they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden.”
Up until this time, Adam and Eve had enjoyed God’s presence with them, but when He came to them that day, they hid. They instinctively knew that God was holy and they were not, they had disobeyed, they had sinned and God could not look upon sin. They hid among the trees.
Consider when God called to Moses from the burning bush, after Moses walked closer to see it, God said:
“”Do not come near; take your sandals off your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” And he said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.“
Moses surely was not afraid of a burning bush … it was a distance away from him and the flock, no threat. He went over to investigate because it appeared that the bush was not being consumed by the fire.
Why was the place Moses approached “holy” ground? It was not because the sand was any different than the sand that was all around Moses in the wilderness. It was not because the bush was different than all the others in the area. It was because God was there, so Moses was in the presence of the Holy God.
It was at that point that God spoke to him, and notice Moses’ response — he hid his face, he was afraid! Why? Because then Moses knew that he had encountered the holy God.
“Holy” is the English translation of the Hebrew word “qodesh”, and it means “apartness”, “sacredness”, and “separateness.” This set-apartness is evident in the Old Testament in texts such as Leviticus 20:7.
“Consecrate yourselves, therefore, and be holy, for I am the LORD your God.”
Here God is telling the people to consecrate themselves, in other words to sanctify, to dedicate, to separate themselves for a special purpose or use.
In the Book of Acts we read:
“While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.””
Setting apart for a specific task from God is one way we acknowledge that God is holy and that even people who are doing His work should be separated from that which is worldly or ungodly.
God’s holiness can be understood as moral purity, although it is much more than that. His holiness, His purity, is eternal and incorruptible, there is no time or likelihood that God will, at some point, no longer be holy or pure. This total purity, total separation from anything that is sinful, explains why God gave detailed commands in the Old Testament about the way mankind could approach God.
One of my favorite passages in scripture is Isaiah 6. The prophet Isaiah had a vision of God and he described it as follows:
“In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!” And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!” Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.” And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then I said, “Here I am! Send me.””
Forgive me for quoting so much from the passage but I want you to get the full impact of Isaiah’s vision. Just a look at the description of the LORD. Listen to the angels, the host of heaven, calling “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts.”
What is Isaiah’s reaction in this vision? Essentially the same as Moses’ reaction to God’s presence. Isaiah said “WOE IS ME!” “I AM LOST!” “I AM … UNCLEAN!” In his vision, Isaiah was afraid because he instantly recognized that God is holy, and he was not.
Centuries after Isaiah wrote of his vision, John was on the island of Patmos and wrote the Book of Revelation, citing the same words as Isaiah heard.
“At once I was in the Spirit, and behold, a throne stood in heaven, with one seated on the throne. … And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all around and within, and day and night they never cease to say, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!””
God’s holiness is one of the primary reasons why the advent of Christ is so amazing. Because of Jesus’ coming to this earth and dying on the cross, men, who were once unable to come before God, now can kneel before the throne of God and worship Him forever and ever.
Because of the cross and His resurrection, because of our faith in Him as Lord and Savior, we no longer must hide our face or be afraid of God. We now can join the heavenly chorus and shout “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty!” We can face God clothed in the righteousness of Jesus Christ and, rather than hiding our face, we can come to the throne of God and call Him “Abba, Father.” Praise His Holy Name!
Listen now to the hymn “Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty” s on the album “Hymns for all the Saints: Adoration, Praise, Comfort” from Concordia Publishing House.
Father, I pray that I would never lose sight of the wonder and glory of Your holiness. I praise Your name that Jesus Christ died so that His righteousness would cloth my sinfulness, so that I could join with the heavenly chorus and praise Your Holy Name.