Holiness is one of God’s attributes. It does refer to that fact that God is morally perfect. He does not sin. However, there is more to this attribute. Holiness is the very essence of who God is, his nature. A. W. Tozer says, “Holy is the way God is. To be holy He does not conform to a standard. He is that standard.” As he is holy, so are all his attributes. A. W. Pink helps us think what it would be like if God’s attributes were not holy, “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.”
To truly understand God’s holiness is to be brought to the cross. It is there that the God of glory allows his one and only son to pay the penalty for sin. Perhaps if holiness were missing from the attributes of God, the God of love could have erased, excused, or dealt with the sin of mankind in some other way. But because he is holy, there would never be true communion with him if sin was left unpunished. God hates sin so strongly that he sent Jesus. Jerry Bridges in The Pursuit of Holiness, says that God’s holiness is the freedom from all evil. He uses the illustration of a garment being clean when it is free of any spot. Likewise, he says gold is pure when all the dross has been refined from it. From these illustrations, Bridges goes on to say we can think of God’s holiness as the “absolute absence of any evil in Him.” 1 John 1:5 says, “God is light, in Him there is no darkness at all.”
It seems to me there is an interesting contrast here. Just as God cannot tolerate darkness, we cannot see his brightness. Remember Moses asking to see God’s face, and God mercifully allowed him to see him from the back from the cleft of the rock. Just the brightness that reflected from that encounter onto Moses was almost too much for the Israelites to bear. One day, we will see Him as he is, face to face (1 Cor 13:12) , but until that day no one can see God’s face and live.
Isaiah 6 is an excellent place to look to get a grasp on holiness. Isaiah was a great prophet of God. He served God during the the time of Uzziah’s death. Uzziah, king of Israel, ruled fifty-two years. The background on King Uzziah can be found in 2 Chronicles, Chapter 26. He was known as a fantastic leader and strategist in battle, second only to King David in terms of military significance. God blessed him while he was in obedience to him. However, with Uzziah’s rising power, came a pride and disregard for God’s laws. Thinking he could change the rules, he went against God and eighty priests in the temple to burn incense, resulting in his downfall with leprosy for the remainder of his days.
R.C. Sproul points out that the reference to King Uzziah’s death in Isaiah 6:1 accounting Isaiah’s vision is important because, “But Israel’s throne was not vacant. The Lord was seated there.” What Uzziah did was an unholy act against a most holy God. In a sense it was an attack particularly on the holiness of God. Isaiah the prophet, has a most remarkable encounter with God through a vision. It is through the antithesis of Isaiah’s sin nature that we are shown the holiness of God. Isaiah sees the majestic, glorious, splendor of God through the vision. He is struck with fear and awe at the “train of his robe filling the temple.” Even the seraphim, created for God’s glory, must cover their eyes and feet. In the blink of an eye, Isaiah is brought low by the great contrast of the great God on high. He is struck down by the revelation of who God really is. Because in seeing who God really is, Isaiah also sees himself for who he really is-- a sinful prophet with sinful lips. Isn’t it ironic that a prophet would realize his greatest sin problem was with the same mouth that he was using in service to God? R.C. Sproul expounds on this revelation,
“He was considered by his contemporaries as the most righteous man in the nation. He was respected as a paragon of virtue. Then he caught one sudden glimpse of a holy God. In that single moment, all of his self-esteem was shattered. In a brief second he was exposed, made naked beneath the gaze of the absolute standard of holiness. As long as Isaiah could compare himself to other mortals, he was able to sustain a lofty opinion of his own character. The instant he measured himself by the ultimate standard, he was destroyed—morally and spiritually annihilated. He was undone. He came apart. His sense of integrity collapsed.”
He is broken because he has truly seen the standard and realized that he doesn’t even begin to come close to measuring up to this Holy God. It causes him heart wrenching grief in that instant. When he says, “Woe is me” in verse five, he is pronouncing a curse upon himself this time for sin, not others as before when serving God. But God doesn’t leave him there to wallow in despair. In his infinite mercy, he provides relief in a burning coal to synge his lips to cleanness, to rid him of guilt, and atone for his sins (verse 6). It is in this newness, freedom from guilt, that Isaiah responds to God, “Here am I! Send me (verse 8).
What should it mean personally to each of us when we read this passage of Scripture? For starters, it should evoke a fear and reverence of God’s holiness. The combination is sadly lacking in many Christian circles. When we fear and revere God, we take his Word seriously. His commands are not to be taken lightly. Jerry Bridges makes the comment in his book on holiness that although there is truth in the old saying, “God hates the sin, but loves the sinner,” we lean a whole lot more in our thinking to “but God loves the sinner.” God absolutely abhors sin. He cannot and will not excuse it. To do so would be contrary to his character. Remember, holiness is his standard.
As you grow, you should have an increase in praise and adoration of God’s holiness, while you have a decrease in your tolerance for sin. Praise him as the seraphim, “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory (verse 3).” The mention of holy three times gives greater emphasis. No other time is an attribute given in triplicate as the attribute holy. Moses also praised God for his holiness in Exodus 15:11, “Who is like thee among the gods, O Lord? Who is like thee, majestic in holiness, awesome in praises, working wonders?” We should recognize his holiness and glorify him for it through praise.
Besides praising, we can meditate on God’s holiness. The more your eyes are opened to his holiness, the more you will despise sin. It is not really natural to hate sin. As human beings and pleasure seekers, we instead are attracted to it. The Bible confirms it in Romans 3:10-12, “No one seeks for God, no not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” It is only through God’s opening our eyes that we are able to see his holiness and in turn want to run from sin. Pray that it would be so for you. Ask for him to show you unholy attitudes and behaviors and flee from them.
What does it all come down to? He requires holiness of the believer. In reference to Isaiah 6:4, R.C. Sproul says, “If God’s holiness doesn’t turn you on, you don’t have any switches. Even the dumb structures of wood and stone have the good sense to shake in God’s presence.” If you view holiness grudgingly as a list of do’s and don’ts and boring, pious living, then perhaps you do not understand it. Hebrews 12:14 says, “Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.” The command for holiness is given several times in Leviticus as well, such as Leviticus 11:45, “For I am the Lord who brought you up out of the land of Egypt to be your God. You shall therefore be holy, for I am holy.” Can we become holy on our own? Absolutely not. Only God can make us holy. A.W. Pink says, “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!” So then, what are we to do? We are to recognize him for his holiness, praise him for his holiness, and to walk in a path towards holiness. In walking in a path towards holiness, we grow spiritually as we meditate and pray, learning to cling to what is true, hating that which is evil, longing for Christ’s return. The key in pursuing holiness is found in these things and probably most importantly found in being subject to God, living a life of obedience to him.