These days, it’s common for believers to view Jesus as a friend. It is true that when we have a relationship with Jesus, He is accessible and calls us “friend.” But too often we forget that He is also holy. What does “holy” mean? “Set apart, distinct, different, and separate.” The word literally means “a cut above.” So when we talk about God, the word holy implies that He is other. There isn’t even a category in our human terms for Him.
The first time we see this concept of holiness is in the Old Testament, right after God parts the Red Sea. There’s a song that Moses sings: “Who among the gods is like you, Lord? Who is like You – majestic in holiness, awesome in glory, working wonders?” (Exodus 15:11) The answer is “No one.” Only He is majestic in “holiness.”
First and foremost, the doctrine of the holiness of God sits at the center of the grand narrative of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Without the holiness of God, there would be no moral law to which every human being is responsible. Without the holiness of God, there would be no divine anger with sin. Without the holiness of God, there would be no perfect Son sent as an acceptable sacrifice for sin. Without the holiness of God, there would have been no vindication of the Resurrection. Without the holiness of God, there would be no final defeat of Satan. Without the holiness of God, there would be no hope of a new heaven and earth where holiness will reign over us and in us forever.
Yes, it really is true that the biblical story would not be the biblical story if it were not written and controlled at every point by One who is holy all the time and in every way. But let me make this even more practical. God’s holiness impacts you in three life-shaping ways:
Holiness Provides Comfort – In a world that seems so out of control, that seems so evil, where wrong seems to be rewarded and right often seems to be punished, it’s vital to remember the holiness of God. Every situation, location or relationship that you have been in, are now in and will be in is under the careful sovereignty of the One who is completely holy. At street level, it often won’t seem this way, but your Lord is ruling. What He does is always right. What He says is always true. What He promises He will always deliver.
You have to preach this message to yourself over and over again: evil is not in control. Injustice does not rule. Corruption is not a king. Satan will not have victory. God is, and will always be, worthy of your trust for this one reason: He is holy. With holy power, He will defeat every evil thing that has made our lives sad and difficult and deliver us forever to a world free of all that is wrong.
Holiness Induces Rebuke – To discover another impact that the holiness of God has in real life, we need to return to Isaiah 6. Look at the prophet’s response to his startling vision in verse 5: “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!” Isaiah doesn’t have a “wow” response to God’s holiness. Yes, he is blown away, but blown away in brokenness because he recognizes how morally separated he is from the Lord. It’s only in the face of the holiness of God that you and I, like Isaiah, will ever be broken by the disaster of the sin that lives within us.
You see, we have a problem: sin doesn’t always appear sinful to us; often, it’s attractive and magnetic. It’s only in the face of the holiness of God that you fully realize that sin is more than a list of bad behaviors and more than breaking a set of abstract rules. Rather, sin is a disastrous condition of the heart that causes us to willingly and repeatedly rebel against the authority of God and do what we were never intended to do. It’s the holiness of God that tells us that since we cannot escape ourselves, we all need a Savior who can do what we can’t – rescue us from us. You simply cannot consider the holiness of God without also mourning your sin and crying out for the grace of Jesus.
Holiness Defines Calling – Because holiness is the essence of God’s character, it becomes our calling as his children by inheritance. Peter says: “As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy.'” (1 Peter 1:14-16,) Here’s the best way to understand it: you are holy, and you have been called to be holy. If you are God’s child, you stand before him as righteous because the perfect righteousness of Jesus has been given over to your personal account. But there’s a second aspect of this – you are holy because you have been bought with the blood of Jesus and you are not your own (see 1 Corinthians 6:19, 20.)
To say you are holy means that you have been set apart by God’s grace for God’s purpose. Your allegiance is no longer to the kingdom of your success and happiness, but to the progress of His kingdom of glory and grace. And where do you do this? You do this wherever you are, whoever you’re with, and in whatever you’re doing. There’s a third and final aspect: you have been called to holy living. This means that between the “already” of your conversion and the “not yet” of your home-going, obedience matters. Every thought, every desire, every word, every choice and every action must be done in a spirit of humble surrender to the commands of God.
As you consider the impossibility of this call, take time to remember that God never calls you to a task without enabling you to do it. God calls us to be holy, then sends His Holy Spirit to live inside of us so that we would have the wisdom and strength that we need to surrender to His holy call in all that we do.