What pops into your head when you think of holiness? For some it’s a beautiful thought; perfection, glory, love, brightness and brilliance. For others it’s a terrible thing; fearsome might, thunder and lightning, impossible standards, power which kills the earthly body.
Maybe some of us think of the boring guy at the bar who only drinks coke. Or maybe the girl we knew in school who wore skirts down to her ankles and never cut her hair.
But what does God say about holiness? Clearly we see from Scripture that He is holy. Scripture is laced with examples:
“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” Lev. 11:45.
“Yet you are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel” Ps. 22:3.
“But the Lord of hosts is exalted in justice, and the Holy God shows himself holy in righteousness” Is. 5:16.
“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!” Rev. 4:8
Evidence is manifold that God self-identifies as holy. In Isaiah 5:16, God defines His own holiness as being “In righteousness.” The original Hebrew word “קָדֹשׁ” is directly translated as “Set apart¹.” So then we have holiness as “In righteousness,” and to such a degree that it’s “Set apart,” meaning there’s no other righteousness which compares. Therefore, it is apparent that in order to truly understand holiness, we must understand the meaning of righteousness.
Jonathan Edwards defined righteousness as “God’s covenant faithfulness.²” Nehemiah 9:8 states, “For thou hast performed thy words; for thou art righteous.” God is righteous because He always does what He says; He never breaks His covenant. When He speaks a word, He brings it to pass.
One question then remains: If God is holy because His righteousness is to such a high degree that it sets Him apart, and He is righteous because He keeps His covenant, what covenant is He keeping? We then turn to Jeremiah…
“For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more” Jer. 31:33-34.
Did you catch that? God’s covenant with us, is that in Christ, He will remember our sin no more! And His holiness is that aspect of His character which prohibits Him from ever violating this covenant! How’s that for a change in thinking?
There is a new day for the church, a new glory, which has been increasing for 2,000 years. No more is holiness a list of rules to follow. No more shall it be considered strict external regulation. The Age of Grace has dawned, so let us not receive the grace of God in vain (2 Cor. 6:1).
Holiness looks like the arms of the Father, open wide, receiving you home. Holiness is the permanent smile of God, even in the midst of your sin. Holiness is His heart reaching out to you in your weakest moment and crying, “Come closer, I still love you.”
Holiness is God saying, “I love you! I love you! I love you!” Forever, and ever, and ever, because that’s who He is, and He can’t stop. And He will never stop, because He made a covenant to do so, forever.
God is transcendent. He is high and above. He is awesome in power, glory, and might. But these aspects of His person, do not negate the overwhelming power of His love. Furthermore, I would like to argue, these aspects of His nature are not even the primary aspects which define His holiness. His Holiness, is His perfect love displayed. So let us not draw back! He is for you, and closer than your breath. He is high, and mighty, eternal and glorious, but He is meek and lowly. In His power, He has chosen to love you for eternity.
Let us fly into His mercy, and abide there forever. Our confidence, is that He’s holy—He can’t break His covenant; meaning we’re always welcome.
¹Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon, Unabridged, Electronic Database.
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²Edwards, Jonathan. A History of the Work of Redemption (Kindle Locations 132-133). Rosland Press. Kindle Edition.