The Holiness of God
From the series God As He Longs For You To See Him
God is holy….and He wants you to be holy…but how do you do that? What’s it really look like to be holy? The answer might surprise you.
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About this series
God As He Longs For You To See Him
How would you describe God!? Awesome? All Powerful? Creator? While we cannot know Him exhaustively, we can know Him truly. And God longs for you to see Him as He truly is. This fascinating series studies seven attributes of God. As you begin to see God for who He really is and what His true desires for your life are, it will change the way you pray, the way you live, and the way you think about the world around you.More from this series
I’d like to start off by asking you a question: When you hear the word holy, what comes to your mind? When someone says the word holy, what images just pop into your mind? Pure? Moral? Light?
For me it’s a picture sometimes, holy conjures up a very dark room and there are candles everywhere and there is a sense of awe. For others, holiness means that someone is wearing maybe a robe, kind of like a monk, or someone is very holy and in ages past they stay in a cave and they have special times with God.
For other people, holy means that you don’t do certain things or you do certain things or you don’t wear lipstick or you don’t go to this activity. The word holy has so many connotations in our day.
And so what I want to try is something a little different, is until we understand what the word holy really means, it’s going to be very difficult to get a grasp of what it means when we are talking about the holiness of God.
I’m going to give you four quick vignettes. These are simple little stories. Don’t get lost in the stories. Each story will make a little point. They are all non-spiritual. There is no hidden, deep meaning. These are little stories from my childhood, okay? So don’t read into them too much like, I wonder what the deep meaning is behind the kind of glass. Okay?
We would take a family vacation as kids. And we had a blue station wagon and you got to take turns sitting in the middle and back then, there weren’t seat belts and so you leaned over in between your parents and often asked them, “Are we almost there yet?”
And I was an ornery young man, as you might guess. I had two sisters and they got their spot in the back. And I was giving my dad a hard time and over and over and over. And finally he told me to do something. And, in my family, you didn’t sass your parents.
And so he has told me to do something and I was feeling especially brash. And I was leaned over like this and he told me to do something and I said, “No!” Now, I’m keeping my lips like this because what is about to happen I can still remember. I want you to hear that my mother, who is in heaven right now, was a very godly woman. There was no child abuse before this incident. There was no child abuse after this incident. What she did was a reaction and it wasn’t something and I’m sure she felt terrible.
But I learned that there was a line or a boundary that you never crossed and so my dad told me something, I said, “No!” and the next thing I remember is the sound of the click of her class ring in between my two front teeth, with a little boom! And I sat down and I didn’t say anything and she didn’t say anything and I never challenged my father’s authority again. I crossed a line, something occurred.
Story number two. A uniform to earn. I went to a large high school that was sports crazy in central Ohio and to be on the varsity basketball team was a big deal. My dream was to get a scholarship and play in college and I was a sophomore. And to be a sophomore in our school and to get to play on the varsity was a really big deal.
And I had worked my way up and I was that next guy who was going to be on the varsity. And the coach knew what was going on and so the head coach takes me, the varsity coach, and we went through some winding halls of this large high school. And then we came to a room that was all wire mesh. And it had a big lock on it.
And he looked around and he unlocked it and he opened it and literally it was like going into the holy of holies and I walked in and he walked in. There was a washer and a dryer over here.
And then there were shelves, beautiful white, clean shelves, and on all the shelves were the varsity uniforms. There were white ones and there were blue ones. And then on each were a number that were in blue and gold because we were the Gahanna Lincoln Lions. The blue and gold.
And they were sand knit. And he took one uniform off and he let me hold it in my hands and he said, “These uniforms never leave, ever, this room, apart from the twelve human beings that have the priceless privilege of representing this school. There are thousands of students in this school but only twelve individuals, ever, in any year, will get to place this uniform on their body and represent the blue and gold.”
Now, this may sound really corny to you and it may have been very corny, but when you are in tenth grade and you want to be on the varsity team, it’s like, “Could I touch it?” You know? “Just for a second.”
And then he described the knit, “These are the finest uniforms that are made. After these uniforms are worn, players take them off, go to the shower, they are washed in this special place. Then they are folded and they are taken care of, and you will never see a uniform like this worn anywhere, ever, apart from on this court at this school.”
And then he looked me in the eye and he said, “You have the potential, one day, if you work hard enough, to be one of the twelve individuals who is special and unique, who would represent this entire school. I brought you here so you could see what might be before you one day.”
And then he locked it and then the special key in the special pocket. Don’t read too much into this but there is a point.
Story number three is the aisle not to cross. I grew up in a church that didn’t teach the Bible but they talked quite a bit about God. And there were certain rituals that we had that were very important.
And the church was an A-frame church and at the very end of the church was all stained glass and, literally, about forty feet wide was a cross in the middle of the stained glass and it went up about sixty-five or seventy feet.
So it was a gorgeous thing and then there would be an altar and then there would be an aisle and there were aisles on both sides. I didn’t understand what it all meant but I grew up in a culture where whenever you came to the aisle and saw the cross, you had to stop and you had to either bow or make the sign of the cross and then move on.
But whenever you got in that aisle, I mean, this is holy. And so I remember, as a kid, I was still very ornery. And so I would be running around, my parents were trying to get kids rounded up, and we would play tag.
And so we played tag and I would get this guy, run here, and he would run over me, and I would run here, “Whoa, whoa,” and then you would get to the aisle. And then go. Get to the aisle and go.
And it was really interesting. No matter how fast you ran, or whatever you were doing, when you came to the aisle, there was something unique and special where you had to stop and do something.
The last picture is a memory I had, because every Christmas eve, and when I got a little bit older – ten, eleven, twelve years old – we would go to a church service and then we would come home.
And when we came home, my mother would have fixed a large tray of cheeses and crackers and food and those little sausage balls and we would talk about the church service a little bit, we would eat those things.
And then she would go up, once a year, the only time it happened, above the refrigerator she would open up and there were these long-stemmed glasses. And these long-stemmed glasses would come down and every single person would get one.
And then she would go to the refrigerator and there would be a bottle of champagne. And she would pour some champagne in each glass. When you are ten years old and you are drinking champagne, man, it is cool.
It’s not like I ever got to drink anything ever any other time, or anybody else in our family did, but once a year, and then we would have our little treats, we would drink our little glass of champagne, and then we would go in and open our presents.
Then he would get all the glasses and she would get them all clean and they would go up again and it would be closed and you did not use those glasses to drink milk, you did not use those glasses for a Coke, you didn’t use those glasses when there was special company. Those glasses were used once a year for one occasion only.
Now, here is what I want you to understand: We have a lot of warped notions about what the word holy means. We have a lot of religious connotations about what the word holy means. And I think it’s very misunderstood what the word holy means and therefore, we can get ourselves in all kinds of activities or thinking that holiness means, I do this or I don’t do that.
Or holiness means having a special sound in your voice when you say, “God,” like, “GOD.” You know, that would be holy. Or we think holy, that there are certain times and certain ways you act this way but all the other time it doesn’t seem to make a difference.
And what I want you to see in just a minute is that there is a kernel of truth in each of those four little vignettes that I think will help you maybe understand, in a non-religious context, the real meaning of holiness so that once you grasp it, then we can apply it to what it really means.
I want to ask and answer the question: What exactly is holiness? If it’s not dark robes and candles, if it’s not about some list of taboos that you do or you don’t do, when we say that God is holy, what do you mean?
By way of definition, the root word literally means, To divide, to mark off, to set apart from all else. It is the opposite of profane, or to be common or ordinary. To be holy is to be different, distinct, or unique from the common or the ordinary. The holiness of God is that which divides Him from everyone and everything else, think of that. It’s not just that He is pure. Of course He is pure.
The holiness of God is that which divides Him or separates Him from everyone and everything else in all of the universe. It is the only word in all of the Old Testament, when describing God, that is repeated three times. “Holy, holy, holy.”
And in Hebrew, when you want to make emphasis, you don’t say, “Good, better, best,” or, “It was very, very good.” You repeat the word for emphasis. For example, even when Jesus was teaching and He wanted to make a point, what did He say? “Truly, truly,” His point is, bold, underline, “This matters, get it, guys!”
And only one word in describing God, “Holy, holy, holy.” Exodus 15:11 says, “Who among the gods is like You, O Lord?” It’s His covenant name: Yahweh. “Who is like You – majestic in holiness?” And the word there, majestic, literally means expanded. “Who is like You – majestic in holiness, awesome in glory, working wonders?”
And it’s a rhetorical question with an emphatic, “No one.” No one is like You. God’s holiness refers both to His majesty and His moral purity. Holiness is the absolute absence of evil, think of that. Holiness is the absolute absence of evil.
And it encompasses and defines all that is pure, all that is whole, all that is righteous, and that which is healthy in the universe.
In fact, you may not know it, but the English word, the roots of the English word for holy, are whole. W-H-O-L-E. Healthy, happy, sound. And then later, it came to have a spiritual connotation to mean: Pure; sacred; untainted by evil; sinless; to have something that is deserving of respect, awe, and reverence.
And I want you to remember the root word of wholeness or health because what you’re going to see, God’s holiness demands that when anything threatens the health of His universe, what we will learn is that we will talk about God’s justice later, but it is His holiness that demands when anything impacts or potentially impacts the health of His universe, or that which He loves and esteems, He judges it. He comes against it. It’s profane.
And so we need to get this concept that God is totally other. A.W. Tozer writes, I think very accurately, “We know nothing like the divine holiness. It stands apart, unique, unapproachable, incomprehensible, and unattainable. The natural man is blind to it. He may fear God’s power and admire His wisdom, but His holiness he cannot even imagine.”
One phrase that may help you, think of God as totally other. What the Other is is beyond the scope of your imagination. But He is totally other. He is not like the most pure person that you can ever think of, times one hundred million or one hundred billion.
It’s not like there is this category and this category and He is at the top of that category. Holiness means that there is a whole different category. We have no idea of who we face when we come before God.
And that is why, when you find men or women in Scripture who ever get a glimpse of God, you will find them flat on their face. They will be prostrate before God. That is why God said that if anyone would even get a glimpse of Him, whoo, they would be consumed!
This God that we talked about, that created those two hundred billion stars in this one little Milky Way galaxy and has the knowledge and the infinite wisdom to name each one and to keep the ecosystem in balance, of the two hundred billion other galaxies, has such power and such majesty and is so other, you cannot comprehend who He is.
He is holy. He is different. He is distinct. He is unique. And that is what the holiness of God is all about. So let’s take a journey together.
How does God reveal His holiness to us? I’m going to suggest there are seven ways. There may be one hundred and seventy ways. But there are seven that I see clearly in Scripture.
The first way God reveals His holiness is through people. Remember Moses? What does Moses’ life tell us about? When God wants to reveal Himself to Moses, there is a burning bush. And the presence of God in this bush that is burning but is not consumed and what does He say to Moses? “Moses, you are on holy ground.”
So what is he supposed to do? Take off his shoes. “Moses, you don’t understand. Nothing artificial. Nothing artificial can come between us here. This is the real, this is the Eretz, this is the earth that I have made and I am the Creator of all the earth,” and shoes or sandals were always the sign of someone who is a non-slave.
And he says, in the culture, you come bare and naked and open and clean and reverent. This is holy ground.
And if we had time to study it, you know those ten plagues? Those ten plagues weren’t just like, “Hey, you know, having a hard time getting these people out of Egypt and, you know, a plan, let’s go with gnats for a while. No, gnats. Let’s see, you know, maybe a little blood in the water. Nah, that’s no good.”
Sometimes you read through that and if you don’t know the culture you think, “Frogs, gnats, I mean, what is God doing with this stuff?” It’s what is called a polemic. Every one of the plagues was a judgment of God. Every one of those plagues was a reference to a god that the Egyptians worshipped.
And the final god they worshipped was Pharaoh and the successor to Pharaoh was the son. And so one by one by one by one, with what? A common thing. A staff made out of the earth, Moses would speak for God, this Other, this Greater, this Creator, and say, “Let my people go!” And a god would rise up or a magician would do a fake, and bang, bang, bang, one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten. He is superior, He is holy, He is other.
So God reveals His holiness through people. Sometimes, as a great Deliverer, and sometimes through our sin. David was a king. And back then, kings do whatever they want to do. And he was a good man in a weak moment, II Samuel 11, and it was a time when kings should have been out to battle and David, for whatever reason, decided, “I think I’ll take this season off.”
And he goes up and looks down and there is a very beautiful woman taking a bath, and why she was taking a bath there, I don’t know. But she was. And he sins and he commits adultery and then he commits murder.
And God teaches us He is no respecter of people and he sends Nathan to confront David, “David, you’re the man. David, I don’t care if you’re the king, I don’t care if you’re the writer of the psalms, I don’t care what you have done, I don’t care where you have been. The holiness of God, His otherness, His demand for moral purity is across the board.”
And the idea of a prophet confronting a king is so counterintuitive to that culture. And it is God speaking and saying, “I am going to reveal My holiness through people. I am going to reveal it through their successes, I am going to reveal it through their failures.”
Or Isaiah is the classic passage. Go ahead and turn in your Bible, Isaiah chapter 6. Let’s just taste it. He is in a crisis. God is going to reveal His holiness in a crisis. King Uzziah has died. The prophet is going to go into the temple, he wants to meet with God. What is going to happen? I don’t know what to do!
Verse 1, “In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, seated on the throne, high and exalted.” You need to understand, in that culture, if a king had a long train, when they walk in, all the guys who walk around with all the stuff behind him? Well, if it was a six-foot one, he was a pretty heavy-duty king, if it was a fifteen-footer, he’s a really powerful king. If it was a thirty or forty-footer and he had lots of guys…
How powerful and how majestic and how other the king was, above every other king, was the train that was behind his robe. And so when you open up this passage and Isaiah comes in, and he is in crisis and he is in need, and the train of his robe, it just fills the whole temple. It’s a picture of the most exalted majesty.
“And above Him were seraphim, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, and with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying.” There were these unusual angelic beings. The meaning of seraphim is burning eyes. They burned for the zeal of the holiness of God.
And notice where they are, they are standing above God’s throne. The former position of the anointed cherub, Lucifer, who, what did he attack? He attacked God’s holiness, His otherness. He wanted to be like Him.
“And they were calling out to one another as they are flying: ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of His glory.’ At the sound of their voices the doorposts and the thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke.” He is seeing God! He is seeing His otherness.
And when you see God’s holiness, it will always produce this in your heart and in your life, “‘Woe is me! I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.’
“Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. And with it he touched my mouth and he said, ‘See, this has touched your lips; your guilt has been taken away and your sins atoned for.’” The word atoned simply means to be covered.
You have a sin and that sin, because He is holy, because He is other, He is distinct, He is unique, there is zero tolerance from one datum, one molecule of sin, so He comes and he covers it. Your sin is atoned for.
It goes on to say, “Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send? And who will go for Us?’ And I said, ‘Here am I. Send me!’” God reveals His holiness through people. Sometimes through righteous, wonderful acts; sometimes through their failure; and sometimes by His interaction with them.
And when you see God as He longs to be seen, in His otherness, it will cause you to, first, get a high, exalted view of God. He is not Santa Claus, He is not a genie in a bottle, He is not the one to work out every relationship and make your life work out. He is other, He is holy, He is Creator, He is powerful. It is His world and his agenda and when you see Him for who He is, high and lifted up, you will always see things in yourself that you have never seen.
You will see impurities in your motives, impurities and guilt and you will have a “Woe is me” experience. And this progression of seeing God for who He is in His holiness will cause us to see ourselves for who we really are, not in light of what other Christians think, not in light of what we think, but in light of what God thinks.
The definition of God: He is simple! Simple means all these things operate simultaneously, at one time, in perfect unity and harmony. He is loving in His holiness. It is an infinite, loving, eternal, holiness that comes out of His goodness and His wisdom!
And He sovereignly is using all kinds of events in your life and mine to reveal His holiness and His game plan is to make sons and daughters. That’s the game plan.
Now, here’s the funny thing. If your goal is to be fulfilled and have personal peace and prosperity and have your life to work out and have all your dreams come true the way you have them, if you make that your goal, I’ll pretty well guarantee you’ll live a life of frustration as a Christian.
If you make your goal, instead, to be a son or a daughter who reflects your Father, that you are holy like Him, you think like Him, you drive like Him, you care like Him, you share like Him, you are generous like Him. Your time, your energy, your money, your talent would be exactly what Jesus would do with His life if He was walking on the earth inside your body. And He is, isn’t He? By means of the Holy Spirit?
And as your goal and your dream is to become holy even as He is holy, there is a byproduct. And the byproduct is peace. And an amazing fulfillment. And an unquenchable joy that has nothing to do with circumstances. And He will often give you all the things you were dreaming about, but they will all be secondary.
And they won’t be the first things. And then He can take them away if He so chooses or not take them away and it has zero impact on your heart or your life or what matters.
God reveals His holiness through people, through places, through the law, through prophets. Samuel, Jonah, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Zechariah. What were the prophets’ jobs? If you read through the Old Testament real quickly, what are they doing? They always have one message! “Stop worshiping idols!” Isn’t that kind of their big job? “Quit going after other gods.” Why? “Because He is holy! He is unique. He is distinct. He demands our worship.”
A prophet’s job was really simple. Bring comfort to those who are afflicted, and afflict those who are comfortable. Represent God to the people and represent the people to God. That’s what a prophet’s job is.
And what are they doing? They are always championing the holiness of God and His commands and His purposes.
Interestingly, His holiness is revealed through His wrath and judgment. I wish we had time to work through each one of these. But think of Achan. You know the story in Joshua 7? Remember He said, “Don’t take anything. Don’t take anything on this battle.” And Achan hides the silver bars under his tent and he is judged. He’s killed.
Or New Testament. The very first sin recorded in the New Testament Church is hypocrisy. And if you want to know what God thinks about, in His heart of hearts, about hypocrisy, read Acts chapter 5: Ananias and Sapphira. That had nothing to do about them not giving or giving money.
That had everything to do with image casting and trying to appear holy when they were not. And so what do they do? They said, “We sold this piece of land,” then they come up with a little game plan and the passage right above it, at the end of Acts 4, Barnabas, a godly man, son of encouragement, he had some real estate on Cyprus, which would be like downtown Manhattan now.
And he gave it to the church and I think they probably said, “Wow! Everyone thinks he is such a cool guy. Man, he’s getting a lot of strokes. Here’s what we’ll do. We will sell this piece of property but we will say it costs this much when we really got this much for it, and we will keep this back but we will get all the spiritual strokes and everyone will think we are really holy and really cool. And we will still have the money. What do you think, Sapphira?” “Yeah, let’s do it, babe!” That’s kind of how it went.
And do you remember the judgment? And he comes in and talks to Peter and Peter says, “Why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit?” Bang, he’s dead. She comes in, he gives her a chance. “Did you know about this?” Basically. And she pretends and plays the same game. Bang, she’s dead. Were they genuine believers? Absolutely.
Do you know what God does to genuine believers who lived in willful disobedience and defiance of His law and violated His holiness? According to I Corinthians chapter 11, there are times when He judges in His church of genuine believers. Paul says what? That’s why some of you are sick and a number are asleep. The technical term in the New Testament for a believer who has died.
See, God takes this very, very seriously. And His wrath, His anger is one of the ways that He evidences His holiness. Wrath is God’s just anger toward that which will harm or destroy the health of His creation, and the welfare of His creation.
Why did He do that to Ananias and Sapphira? If hypocrisy was allowed in a tiny cancer cell to infiltrate the Church at its birth, everything would be a loss. We know about that now, don’t we? What is the biggest thing when you share your faith people say to you? Or for some of us, I almost didn’t become a Christian. I looked at people inside the Church, outside the Church, people in the Church said they loved God, they believed these certain things, I knew enough what they were. And they said this and they lived like this. So what did I say? “I don’t believe in that Jesus stuff.”
And so God saw the health of His people and His Church and He judged it. His just wrath, He eradicated the cancer. He took them home early. Why? To protect. To save. It’s the same thing He did with Achan. It’s the same thing He does in Church discipline.
God reveals His holiness through people, through places, through the Law, through the prophets, through wrath and judgment, and finally through His Son. And what a great study it is just to look at the Son’s life, the Lord Jesus, and see how, from His birth all the way through His entering in to the heavenly places, it’s a holy journey.
He is holy because He is born of a virgin. Fully God, fully man, without sin. He is holy. He has a holy life. John 8 says that no one anywhere could ever say, “I caught Him doing this or that wrong.” In Mark 9, we get a sneak preview of His holiness. Remember the transfiguration where He took the disciples up and they are praying and it’s interesting, it’s that word metamorphosized. He metamorphosized.
And to metamorphosize is not that a light was shining down on Jesus. When you are metamorphosized, it’s from the inside out. What happened is, Philippians 2 says when He came He veiled His glory.
And what He did, because those guys were going to carry the ball, they were going to carry the weight, they needed to know who He really, really was.
And so here comes Moses and Elijah, for those guys, the testimony of the two greatest Old Testament saints, verifying His identity. Then the cloud descends and they hear the Father’s voice, “This is My Son, listen to Him,” and then the light emanated out of His being and Peter said, “Whoo.”
See, He was holy. Jesus’ life, His ministry, His birth, His death, His ascension, His priesthood. Hebrews says He blazed a trail, blazed a trail up into the holy of holies. He pioneered the way and then He rested and became our holy high priest.
God wants you to know that He is holy. And He has a plan and His plan is that His holiness, His otherness, His uniqueness, His purity that is filled with His love and His goodness and compassion, that His holiness would be transmitted to a world that doesn’t know who He is.
And so the final way that God reveals His holiness is through His Church. Open your Bibles if you would to I Corinthians chapter 3 and keep your finger there. I Corinthians chapter 3, picking it up at about verse 16. The context is the Church, plural. He is talking about the growth of the Church and only God makes it grow. Then he talks about the judgment of believers and how there is going to be spiritual rewards but some people are going to suffer loss.
And he says, “Do you not know,” verse 16, “that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you?” It’s second person plural. He is speaking, “Don’t you know that you all…” It’s the Church gathered. “Don’t you know that all of you, when you come together, as a collection, as a group, you are God’s temple?” What’s a temple? A temple is where God dwells! A temple is where His presence is manifested.
“Don’t you know, Corinthians, that you are God’s temple and the Spirit of God dwells in you?” And then read on. “If anyone destroys the temple of God,” if anyone messes with this thing, this supernatural community called the Church, what’s it say? “I will destroy them.”
See, you are, we as a gathered body of believers, God wants unbelievers to be able to walk into the doors of our churches, our small groups, and our relationships and see such authenticity and such purity and the sense of God’s presence that they would say, “God dwells here. God dwells here. I could sense the Spirit of God when I came. I have never been to a small group where people are open and transparent. I noticed that the one gal is going through a difficult time and everybody dropped their books and they went on to the side and they just stopped and knelt near her. And with tears, they prayed for her in her pain. This is an authentic, supernatural community. The presence and the power of God are here.”
You are His tabernacle. God’s solution for the world to see His holiness is no longer Moses or David. It’s not a tabernacle, it’s not the Red Sea, it’s not the Ten Commandments. It’s not the prophets of old. God’s agenda for His holiness being transmitted to the world is us!
It’s the Church gathered and how we function as a supernatural, pure community. But it’s also the Church scattered. I Corinthians chapter 6, this is not in the second person plural. There he is talking to individual believers.
And to individual believers, what does he say? He says, “Do you not know that your body is the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you, that you have been bought with a price? Therefore glorify God in your body.”
You! Are you ready for this? Think of those pictures you had and I saw your eyes when I talked about the Shekinah glory of God coming down into Solomon’s temple, and it was so powerful that the priests had to run out.
That same God, in the person, [third] person of the Trinity, dwells in you, your physical body! You are His temple! It’s not your body, it’s His! He purchased it. And it wasn’t on sale. It cost the blood of His Son. You are the temple of God. You have been sealed with the Spirit, Ephesians 1:13.
The Spirit of God has sealed you, adopted you, placed spiritual gifts in you, made you a part of His family, given you an eternal inheritance, has guaranteed your fulfillment and journey with Him in heaven, and has commissioned you here to represent the person of Jesus on the earth so that people should meet you and progressively see the love of Christ and the holiness of Christ in how you talk, in how you drive, in how you love, in how you work, in your sexual purity, in your motives and your thoughts. You are the hope of the world. You really are. You are God’s tabernacle.
And, see, that’s why this stuff that is happening in the Church where we are not honest, and where we are not fulfilled and we divorce one another without any biblical grounds, and where we have as many addictions with drugs and alcohol and are sedating our pain and have our own eating disorders, and where we just wink at sexual sin and have twenty-five percent of our pastors hooked on pornography. The heart of God is breaking. And the testimony of God is wanting.
And God is calling, I believe, a generation of people, starting with regular, ordinary people like me and like you to understand, when we are gathered, we are the temple of God. And then when we are scattered, I am His temple, I am His representative, I am living out this faith and the Spirit of God wants to use an ordinary people because He dwells in me and my body and my life and my speech and my thoughts need to reflect the holiness of Christ.
How do you do that? Let me give you some very specific ways to do it. God’s holiness raises two very important questions. And the first is that if God is so holy that He cannot even gaze at sin, how can sinful people like us have a relationship with Him?
And this might be old hat for many of you, but if God is pure and holy and He is just, there is only one possibility and that possibility is a bridge is built between man and God and His name is Jesus. And being fully God and fully man, there is one mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus.
And when He hung on that cross, what actually occurred is He became your sin substitute. And God is just but He is also the justifier. And what I mean by that is that He took all the punishment and the wrath that you deserved and I deserved and all people deserved of all time and He placed it on Christ and He became a sin offering.
And the moment it was placed on Christ, because He now was bearing sin, the Father turned away, and that’s why Jesus cried out, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” And He paid for or He covered or atoned for your sin and my sin and the sins of all people and that is why, for by grace you are saved through faith.
And the good news is not we want to get people to join our morality, join our churches, clean up their acts, stop cussing, be nicer people, and give to the United Way. That is not the gospel! The message is there is happy, happy news! You have been forgiven! It’s free! Jesus did it. Your sins are covered but you must, by faith, receive the gift personally.
Because if you stiff-arm God, if you want to live your own life, if you turn away and do not receive the gift, then God will have the dignity to let you choose your own way. No one will go kicking and screaming into heaven. He will not force His relationship on anyone. He will give you the dignity to call your own shots and do what you choose. And what you choose now in this life, you will get compounded eternally.
And if you choose to say, “I do not want to be around you, God,” while living here, God will say, “I so declare and will honor that decision, and you will now exponentially, for all eternity, be able to live apart from Me.” It’s called a Christless eternity, and it’s real.
And for those who say, “I long and I need for You and I want to live with You now, Lord Jesus,” He says, “Yes, you will not only now, progressively more and more, but exponentially into all infinity. You will have intimacy with Me beyond your wildest dreams based totally on what I have done.”
The second question it raises is if trusting Christ’s work on the cross blots out our sin before God, and we are holy in His sight, why do we keep on sinning?
As a young Christian, I struggled with this one because I came to Christ and someone told me what justification was, what I just described, and then I thought, Well, gosh, I’ve been a Christian four days and I’m still cussing. This probably isn’t good. And cussing wasn’t the biggest issue in my life but it was a pretty clear one.
But you know what was different? I used to cuss before and I didn’t even know I was cussing. But because the Spirit of God was in my heart and in my life, I was convicted and I realized there is distance in the break of fellowship.
Clearly understand: The moment you put your faith or trust in Christ, there is a legal thing that occurs and the gavel comes down and God is judge, and you are declared righteous, legally, in the court of heaven. It is called justification. And there are two columns, all of your sin is over here and all of the righteousness and purity of Christ is over here.
And the moment you come to Christ, God pushes the delete button on the computer and all your sins are gone and then He pushes a transfer button and all the righteousness of Christ is imputed and reckoned to your account. That is a legal standing that is absolutely true. But it’s positional. It’s what has occurred legally.
Now, the rest of your life will be living out, progressively, that’s called justification, what is called sanctification or practical holiness, where in your relationship with God, as you take in the Word, live in community, obey, three steps forward, two steps backward.
It was probably nine months before I quit cussing and I don’t remember the day I quit. But as I renewed my mind with Scripture, little by little by little, who I was in Christ, living out of that gratitude on the strength of His Word, God began, little by little, to change me and make me more like Christ. And for the last thirty-some years, He has been working on that.
Finally, one day I will see Him and when I see Him, whether it’s through the Rapture or I die in a car wreck or something, that I will see Him and I John says when I see Him I will be like Him. That’s called glorification. If you get these confused you can really get yourself messed up spiritually.
You need to understand there is a point in time, “I trust Christ,” justification, legal declaration. That begins a new journey of practical walking in holiness that will have ups and downs and bumps and struggles and I will break fellowship. I will never lose my relationship, but it’s like having a fight with my wife.
I have a fight with my wife, we are not not married. But it means that I sleep facing this way and she sleeps facing this way. And we are not very nice to each other! And there is not the intimacy in our relationship.
So I have to say, “I’m sorry,” and that’s how it is in our relationship with the Lord. The relationship isn’t gone but there is a break in the fellowship.
And so I make progress and journey where I sin less and less, and I begin to grow and reflect Christ more and more until one day I will see Him and then I will be like Him and there is another point in time that will go into all eternity where the presence of sin is eliminated. You need to clearly understand that as you walk and grow in holiness.
How do you respond to God’s holiness? Let me give you a summary of what we have said. First of all, it is a commitment that we make. Hebrews 12:14 says, “Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy, for without holiness, no one will see the Lord.”
Notice it says, “Make every effort.” You don’t slide into holiness. You don’t just sort of, “I’m getting kind of a little bit more pure!” Okay? You have to draw a line in the sand and you make a commitment, “God, I want to be holy. I am Your tabernacle.”
Second, it’s a way that we think. Ephesians 4:17 to 24. And I will not read that passage but I will suggest that as you read that passage, you will realize that the growth in holiness, the battleground is your mind. And in that passage, He will talk about those people in their former life, in the futility of their thinking, and their hearts were darkened and then they were hardened. And literally, the word is it’s calloused. And it all starts with their thinking.
And they were living in all the fullness of sensuality in the world, but you did not learn Christ in this way, but therefore what I want you to do is put off the old, have your mind renewed, and put on the new and it all has to do with thinking, thinking good thoughts. “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” – why? “so that your life could prove,” – what? “the will of God.”
So people could see what God’s will looks like in a regular, ordinary person like you who goes to a job like yours that it’s good, that it’s acceptable, that it is well-pleasing. But the battleground, it is a way that we think.
Third, it’s a command that we obey. I Peter 1:14 through 16, “As obedient children, do not be conformed any longer to the lies that you lived in your ignorance, but just as He who called you is holy, so be holy also in,” – some of what you do? “in all of what you do, for it is written, ‘Be holy because I am holy.’”
Can I give you two applications? Just jot these down. Write the word sex, and write the word money. Just write the word sex. Holiness, sex has to do with the affections of our heart. And what we are really longing for is intimacy and approval. And sex is a cheap substitute. Whether we fantasize or whether it’s romance novels or pornography or lust. God wants to be your intimacy.
And money has to do with your priorities. If God does not have your money, do not fool yourself, He does not have your heart. Period. You can lift your hands, you can sing, you can serve in the church, you can sing in the choir, you can put fish on your car, you can say, “Praise the Lord,” at all the appropriate times. If He does not have your money, He does not have your heart. That’s Jesus, that’s not me. “For wherever,” – what? “your treasure is, so is your heart.”
The final thing here is an attitude that we develop. Proverbs 8:13 says, “To fear the Lord is to hate evil. I hate pride and arrogance, evil behavior, and perverse speech.”
When you begin to embrace the holiness of God, it’s not just that you don’t want to sin, you hate sin, you hate evil, you have zero tolerance. I spent the good portion of my early Christian life, if this line right here was sin, I spent most of my Christian life doing this. Woooo! Is that sin? Is that sin? Some people think it is, some people think it isn’t. How close can I get to sin without, oh, I did it again. I’m sorry, God. That’s an attitude.
Are you trying to figure out, Let’s see, it’s PG-13 plus/minus. It’s R. Is this…? Try this one, I think this might be sin. I think this is what purity and holiness looks like. God, I love you. God, I love you. I want to be whole, I want to be healthy, I’m not trying to figure out what is close to sin. When in doubt, don’t. God, I want to be close to You. And you know what? I’m not going to make the measuring stick this denomination or that denomination or that guy says or the guys says in this book. I have the Spirit of God living in me and I have the Word of God. I think You are capable of clearly showing me what would be a violation of my conscience and my heart of living a pure and holy life. And, God, I want to run into Your arms, not try and figure out, let’s see, we went this far, is that sin? This far? Was it this far?
Now, that tithe, is that off the gross or is that off the net? You know? Do you see? God sure loves you all, He loves me too. He wants you to be His ambassador. He wants you to be holy, even as He is holy, because the root word of holiness is wholeness and health.
And to long to be holy like Him is to bring wholeness and health to your life and your relationships, and to bring holy pleasure to the heart of God. He finds holy pleasure in the happiness of His people. And we can give Him holy pleasure by being obedient children, no longer conformed to this world.
Perfect? Absolutely not. But the yearning of our heart, progressively saying, Lord, this is me, a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to You.