So sin cannot approach God, and God cannot tolerate sin.
John Stott, The Cross of Christ
We can say ‘holiness of God’ and yet, it is entirely possible we don’t know what that truly means. On earth, we attempt to go through rituals or processes to be holy or appear to be holy. What makes God almighty and power is that he does do things like a human in order to be something, he is or as he would expertly, precisely and simply put it, “I Am”.
God is holy. We are not. For us to be come holy, we would need a force, a power greater than us and outside of us to be holy for we lack the force, the power to be holy.
To show just the holiness of God, the Scriptures will reiterate the following descriptions. As you read these descriptions, just think how many times have you seen them in the Bible.
The Cross: God’s Holiness Is the Lord Most High
His holiness is indicated by height. Our God is the Lord Most High. Surely the Old Testament would testify:
Genesis 14:18–20 (CSB) Melchizedek, king of Salem, brought out bread and wine; he was a priest to God Most High. He blessed him and said: Abram is blessed by God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth, and blessed be God Most High who has handed over your enemies to you. And Abram gave him a tenth of everything.
2 Samuel 22:14 (CSB) The LORD thundered from heaven; the Most High made his voice heard.
Psalm 7:17 (CSB) I will thank the LORD for his righteousness; I will sing about the name of the LORD Most High.
Psalm 47:2 (CSB) For the LORD, the Most High, is awe-inspiring, a great King over the whole earth.
Psalm 97:9 (CSB) For you, LORD, are the Most High over the whole earth; you are exalted above all the gods.
God is sovereign and lifted high above all creation, which are the heavens and the earth. He rules and reigns over it all. Not only does he rule over the heavens and earth, he rules over all thoughts, all cultures, all philosophies, all sciences, all politics and all leaders. He reigns over all our sins, our gods, our iniquities and weaknesses.
God is not a person or being that is “up there, the big bright pixie fairy in the sky” as though to be taken literal. He is not just in the heavens and we are on earth and in our feeble and mortal minds, to lest we think that we can do enough, advance enough, evolve enough or build enough things to close that gap between us. Nor is it that in our minds, we have lifted him above us in order to elevate him to a position that he is not already in. Most High gives us a glimpse of the depth of where he is at and where are at in relation to him. God’s holiness is the standard to where we are measured by and we fall way short. To use business speak, God is not in the black with profits and we are in the red with deficit. The truth is that the holiness of God is actually ground zero and we are all and always in the red.
But for those who are in the desperate need of a Savior, he is the God who has lovingly descended from heaven into our broken and messed up world as the man, Jesus God, fully God and fully man, to live out life perfectly by standard that he has set and to die the death that was meant for those who believe, trust and obey, nay, treasure the Lord.
He loved us. We fought him. He fixed it. We trust Him. Now, He counts us as righteous in his sight and by his standard—by his holiness. He calls us holy because He is holy. (Leviticus 11:44, 1 Peter 1:16)
The Cross: God’s Holiness is God Far From Sin
The holiness of God can be spoken of in distance. The emphatically speaks of God being far from sin.
In Genesis, the Bible shows how he lovingly creates man and woman and creates us to worship (Ecclesiastes 3:11). God desires that we should be with him forever. God destiny was that of perfect peace and joy. Yet, each of us choose not to believe him and rather go after something we thought was better than God. This is the brokenness. The is the curse. This is the sin that has the entire universe in decay and destruction.
The garden was a picture of God’s perfect plan. We wanted, longed for, desired and partook something else so we were forced from the garden away from His perfect plan and away from Him. Much like expelling Lucifer from heaven (Ezekiel 28:12-17, Isaiah 14:12-17 cf. Revelation 19:11-21), there was no struggle, no fight, no war, no resistance. God cannot tolerate sin and His very presence repels and expels sin. God is in one place and if sin is there, sin violently leaves without even a second thought. Lest you be tempted and the Spirit of God leads you away from that temptation, then you are still in the graces and love of God Most High. But when you take a hold of temptation and believe it’s lies and deception that God is not your All in all but things of this world will satisfy your little heart of eternity, you have placed a made-up make believe god over the God of the Universe.
It is upon all of our sin that we were cursed with the weight of sin and work becomes toil. In other words, work works against us (Genesis 3:17-19). We are not a slave to the work but we are slaves to the slavemasters we wanted to place over our lives and our hearts. God makes this analogy with His people while they were slaves in Egypt:
Exodus 1:11–14 (CSB) So the Egyptians assigned taskmasters over the Israelites to oppress them with forced labor. They built Pithom and Rameses as supply cities for Pharaoh. But the more they oppressed them, the more they multiplied and spread so that the Egyptians came to dread the Israelites. They worked the Israelites ruthlessly and made their lives bitter with difficult labor in brick and mortar and in all kinds of fieldwork. They ruthlessly imposed all this work on them.
This analogy is true because we are all sons of Abraham by our faith in Abraham’s offspring, Jesus Christ our Lord (Galatians 3:7-18). What happened to the Jews in the temporal happened to us in the spiritual.
If we were forced away from God and held away in chains of slavery, then we cannot possibly go back to even walk, nay, even touch the holiness of God. This was set in the Old Testament as the Ark of the Covenant (Exodus 25:10-22) and the explicit commandment not to approach it, even within a thousand yards when being carried by the Levitical priests (Joshua 3:3-4). This command was to be followed even when we think we are going to save God or do something good (2 Samuel 6:5-7).
This is furthered expressed when the Temple was built. The courts separate those who would not praise God and those who would praise God. The blood sacrifices and bronze basin were a shadow of God removing and cleansing all their sins. The inner sanctuary and all it contents represent the Spirit dwelling within us. The veil that kept us far from God and the priest was a shadow of the One who would remove the veil between God and his people.
At one time, we were strangers sojourners, exiles, immigrants and aliens before Him (1 Chronicles 29:15). At one time, Christ would have said, “Depart from me, I know you not!” (Matthew 7:23, 25:41) But God, rich in mercy, abounding in grace and steadfast love, did not expect us to return to him nor could we since did not possess the power to return to Him, left the glory of heaven and broke into our human history as the man, Jesus Christ, fully God and fully man, to live the perfect holy life that should of, to die the death on that cross that we should have died, to champion over and defeat Satan, demons, sin, hell and death, and did it all so that he could reach his mighty arm across the eternal chasm of separation and snatch us from the destiny of destruction and death and back into his loving arms and his presence of joy and pleasure and life and peace and righteousness and holiness.
The Cross: God’s Holiness Shines Brightest
There was at one time that we dwelt with God and rest in his presence. There was one time we were at perfect peace with Him. We were right-standing with him.
Just as God breathed life into man, at one time, He walked with us, He guided us, He instructed us and He cared for us. He loved us and perfectly provided for us. He spoke to us as they were friends. (Genesis 2:7-25)
Yet, for all of us, this wasn’t enough. We thought there had to be more. We thought we could seek our satisfaction and joy and happiness and contentment in something other than God. We were lied to, this is true, but we knew the truth and choose instead to exchange the most precious and the loveliest Truth for a damnable lie.
In the midst of darkness and despair and fear of the unknown, God comes down and yearns to dwells with us. Yet, because of our sin, we feebly try to hide from the One God whose very presence exposes all darkness.
Genesis 3:8–11 (CSB) Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze, and they hid from the LORD God among the trees of the garden. So the LORD God called out to the man and said to him, “Where are you?” And he said, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked, so I hid.” Then he asked, “Who told you that you were naked? Did you eat from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?”
In the beauty of the light of God, our sinful flesh flees because it is so desperate to stay ‘alive’ before our Lord who does not tolerate sin.
Then he asked, “Who told you that you were naked? Did you eat from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?”
Darkness never overtakes light. For light fills and exposes everything in the darkness. Darkness is empty yet light by its very nature fills the void. So too that sin can never hid from the holiness of God and God’s holiness exposes sin for what it truly is: our destination of toil, pain, destruction and death.
When we stand in the presence of the Almighty and when we stand before his throne, our sins, our wickedness and our iniquities towards evil are exposed. We stand exposed.
It is his holiness that cause us to flee from his presence. Yet, God being rich in mercy and abounding in steadfast love will use his same holiness to save us to himself.
Jacob lived a life of trickery and deceit. From the womb, he coveted what was rightfully his brother, Esau. Despite Jacob’s folly and foolishness, God’s gospel was not to be thwarted. In spite of Jacob, he saves him by fully shining His glory upon Jacob:
Genesis 28:10–22 (CSB) Jacob left Beer-sheba and went toward Haran. He reached a certain place and spent the night there because the sun had set. He took one of the stones from the place, put it there at his head, and lay down in that place. And he dreamed: A stairway was set on the ground with its top reaching the sky, and God’s angels were going up and down on it. The LORD was standing there beside him, saying, “I am the LORD, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac. I will give you and your offspring the land on which you are lying. Your offspring will be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out toward the west, the east, the north, and the south. All the peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring. Look, I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go. I will bring you back to this land, for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” When Jacob awoke from his sleep, he said, “Surely the LORD is in this place, and I did not know it.” He was afraid and said, “What an awesome place this is! This is none other than the house of God. This is the gate of heaven.” Early in the morning Jacob took the stone that was near his head and set it up as a marker. He poured oil on top of it and named the place Bethel, though previously the city was named Luz. Then Jacob made a vow: “If God will be with me and watch over me during this journey I’m making, if he provides me with food to eat and clothing to wear, and if I return safely to my father’s family, then the LORD will be my God. This stone that I have set up as a marker will be God’s house, and I will give to you a tenth of all that you give me.”
Upon this divine revelation, look how Jacob responds:
When Jacob awoke from his sleep, he said, “Surely the LORD is in this place, and I did not know it.”
Was God not always there? Our sin keeps us from seeing God. Romans 1:18-22 calls this the exchange of truth for a lie and in our sin and darkness, we suppress what we know to be true so that we can continue to live out the lie.
But upon the fullness of God’s glory, the heart is exchanged and the new desires awakened to worship now the Creator God:
He was afraid and said, “What an awesome place this is! This is none other than the house of God. This is the gate of heaven.” Early in the morning Jacob took the stone that was near his head and set it up as a marker. He poured oil on top of it and named the place Bethel, though previously the city was named Luz. Then Jacob made a vow: “If God will be with me and watch over me during this journey I’m making, if he provides me with food to eat and clothing to wear, and if I return safely to my father’s family, then the LORD will be my God. This stone that I have set up as a marker will be God’s house, and I will give to you a tenth of all that you give me.”
In our sins exposed before the holy and righteous God, look how others have responded:
Isaiah 6:5 (CSB) Then I said: Woe is me for I am ruined because I am a man of unclean lips and live among a people of unclean lips, and because my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of Armies.
Psalm 51:4 (CSB) Against you—you alone—I have sinned and done this evil in your sight. So you are right when you pass sentence; you are blameless when you judge.
Matthew 8:8 (CSB) “Lord,” the centurion replied, “I am not worthy to have you come under my roof. But just say the word, and my servant will be healed.
Saul, whom on his way to Damascus to eventually kill off Christians in that city, the glory of Christ shines down and presses Saul to acknowledge, Who are you, Lord? Saul did not know God but in that revelation, acknowledged him as Lord. (Acts 9:5 cf Philippians 2:9-11)
Luke 18:13 (CSB) “But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even raise his eyes to heaven but kept striking his chest and saying, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner!’
In exposing of our sins, God’s glory, goodness, righteousness and holiness shines brighter than 10,000 suns. In His divine revelation, God also exposes his beauty, his grace, his mercy and his loving-kindness.
Luke 18:14 (CSB) I tell you, this one went down to his house justified rather than the other, because everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”
Acts 9:15–16 (CSB) But the Lord said to him, “Go, for this man is my chosen instrument to take my name to Gentiles, kings, and Israelites. I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.”
Matthew 8:10 (CSB) Hearing this, Jesus was amazed and said to those following him, “Truly I tell you, I have not found anyone in Israel with so great a faith.
Acts 13:22 (CSB) After removing him, he raised up David as their king and testified about him, ‘I have found David the son of Jesse to be a man after my own heart, who will carry out all my will.’
Luke 18:14 (CSB) I tell you, this one went down to his house justified rather than the other, because everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”
We trust that God through Christ by the Spirit will make all things right with him. There will be a time when the light of God, His holiness, will shone so brightly, there will be no need for a lamp, a lightbulb or even a sun for Lord God will be our light forevermore (Revelation 22:5) But in that glaring brightness, our eyes will not turn away from his glory but we will stare lovingly into the eyes of our sweet dear King who loved us and gave himself up for us.
I am in as sweet communion with Christ as a poor sinner can be; and am only pained that has much beauty and fairness, and I little love; he great power and mercy, and I little faith; he much light and I bleared eyes.
Samuel Rutherford. The Loveliness of Christ.
The Cross: God’s Holiness is Unquenchable and All-Consuming
God’s holiness is like a fire – If we approach too close, because of our sin and depravity and wickedness, we are utterly consumed (see Daniel 3:8-30). God is an all-consuming fire but the fire itself is never quenched, it never gives up, it is never satisfied, it never dies. Solomon says it this way:
Song of Solomon 8:6–7 (CSB) Set me as a seal on your heart, as a seal on your arm. For love is as strong as death; jealousy is as unrelenting as Sheol. Love’s flames are fiery flames— an almighty flame! A huge torrent cannot extinguish love; rivers cannot sweep it away. If a man were to give all his wealth for love, it would be utterly scorned.
When God secured his own covenant with his own self in the presence of Abram, he did so as ‘a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch‘ Genesis 15:12-21. When God started the rescue process, he appeared as a ‘… bush was burning, yet it was not consumed‘ Exodus 4:2-6. God continues the rescue, the redemption of his people by leading us out as a ‘pillar of cloud by day and pillar of fire by night‘ Exodus 13:21-22, Exodus 19:18, Exodus 40:38.
Why is the appearance of fire was so important in the very beginning? My only guess is that God was letting you know that this is going to take a lot of work and and this is a work, a trial, a suffering that will be done by fire.
Malachi says this: But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap. He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, and they will bring offerings in righteousness to the LORD. Malachi 3:2-3
This is not a threat, this is a promise. This is something God has to do in us. Is this to purify? Yes. However, I will contend that His work is already completed on the cross. I will further contend that his work of purifying, refining, sanctifying is without a doubt for His glory… :
Isaiah 48:8–11 (CSB) You have never heard; you have never known; for a long time your ears have not been open. For I knew that you were very treacherous, and were known as a rebel from birth. I will delay my anger for the sake of my name, and I will restrain myself for your benefit and for my praise, so that you will not be destroyed. Look, I have refined you, but not as silver; I have tested you in the furnace of affliction. I will act for my own sake, indeed, my own, for how can I be defiled? I will not give my glory to another.
… and for our sake:
Jeremiah 9:7 (CSB) Therefore, this is what the LORD of Armies says: I am about to refine them and test them, for what else can I do because of my dear people?
Paul neatly sums up all thoughts of sanctification, the guaranteed work of God through His Son on the cross by the power of His Spirit in His people: Romans 8:28-30 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.
To further press the point home, if you are not his people, if you are not ‘refine as one refines silver and test as gold is tested, you will be cut apart (not to be confused with ‘set apart’) and perish:
Look how John describes our Lord Jesus Christ in the end:
Revelation 19:11–16 (CSB) Then I saw heaven opened, and there was a white horse. Its rider is called Faithful and True, and with justice he judges and makes war. His eyes were like a fiery flame, and many crowns were on his head. He had a name written that no one knows except himself. He wore a robe dipped in blood, and his name is called the Word of God. The armies that were in heaven followed him on white horses, wearing pure white linen. A sharp sword came from his mouth, so that he might strike the nations with it. He will rule them with an iron rod. He will also trample the winepress of the fierce anger of God, the Almighty. And he has a name written on his robe and on his thigh: KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS.
The battle has been set. An angel of the Lord goes ahead and calls upon the birds in the air to gather for a feast of dead bodies because our Lord our God will slaughter those who oppose him. Remember, you are either for him or against him. Despite so many religions and even sects and cults that have spawn off of Christianity, there is no third path:
Revelation 19:17–21 (CSB) Then I saw an angel standing in the sun, and he called out in a loud voice, saying to all the birds flying high overhead, “Come, gather together for the great supper of God, so that you may eat the flesh of kings, the flesh of military commanders, the flesh of the mighty, the flesh of horses and of their riders, and the flesh of everyone, both free and slave, small and great.” Then I saw the beast, the kings of the earth, and their armies gathered together to wage war against the rider on the horse and against his army. But the beast was taken prisoner, and along with it the false prophet, who had performed the signs in its presence. He deceived those who accepted the mark of the beast and those who worshiped its image with these signs. Both of them were thrown alive into the lake of fire that burns with sulfur. The rest were killed with the sword that came from the mouth of the rider on the horse, and all the birds ate their fill of their flesh.
Zechariah prophesied a long time ago what John wrote about in Revelation:
Zechariah 13:7–9 (CSB) Sword, awake against my shepherd, against the man who is my associate— this is the declaration of the LORD of Armies. Strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered; I will turn my hand against the little ones. In the whole land— this is the LORD’s declaration— two-thirds will be cut off and die, but a third will be left in it. I will put this third through the fire; I will refine them as silver is refined and test them as gold is tested. They will call on my name, and I will answer them. I will say, ‘They are my people’, and they will say, ‘The LORD is our God.’ ”
There are some things that are lost culturally from the historical standpoint from when the Bible is written. The one description of God’s holiness that is never lost is the ferocious, relentless power of fire. Grassfires here in Texas, forest fires in California, destroying properties and taking lives without prejudice. Yet, we all fear God because we are sinful, far from him and yet the hotness of his holiness can be felt. Many of us feel like we cannot approach the seat of mercy for our fate would be the same as Nebuchadnezzar’s men who got too close to the furnace that was suppose to consume Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego (Daniel 3:19). But remember the story: those three boys were thrown into fire and look who appears as a unquenchable fire but this time, he is with us in comfort and faith:
Daniel 3:24–26 (CSB) Then King Nebuchadnezzar jumped up in alarm. He said to his advisers, “Didn’t we throw three men, bound, into the fire?” “Yes, of course, Your Majesty,” they replied to the king. He exclaimed, “Look! I see four men, not tied, walking around in the fire unharmed; and the fourth looks like a son of the gods.” Nebuchadnezzar then approached the door of the furnace of blazing fire and called, “Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, you servants of the Most High God—come out!” So Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego came out of the fire.
Do not be fearful of God’s work. Fear God alone. Take rest, sweet rest in the warmth of his fire. Samuel Rutherford says it best:
It is the Lord’s kindness that he will take the scum off us in the fire. Who knows how needful winnowing is to us, and what dross we must want ere we enter into the kingdom of God? So narrow is the entry to heaven, that our knots our bunches and lumps of pride, and self-love, and idol-love, and world-love must be hammered off us, that we may throng in, stooping low, and creeping through that narrow and thorny entry.”
Rutherford. The Loveliness of Christ.
Removes our scum in the fire, the needful winnowing, the necessarily removing of the chaff from the grain (Luke 3:17) and we are hammered on and beat on until we can get into that narrow gate.
May we not shy away from the heat. May we step into the heat for His glory and our joy.
The Cross: God’s Holiness is Vomiting, Rejecting
God’s holiness is vomiting – like how our bodies rejects poison, sickness and disease, God cannot tolerate or “digest” sin or hypocrisy. Not distaste but disgust.
Isaiah 64:6 (CSB) All of us have become like something unclean, and all our righteous acts are like a polluted garment; all of us wither like a leaf, and our iniquities carry us away like the wind.
Romans 4:4 (CSB) Now to the one who works, pay is not credited as a gift, but as something owed.
Romans 3:10–18 (CSB) as it is written: There is no one righteous, not even one. There is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God. All have turned away; all alike have become worthless. There is no one who does what is good, not even one. Their throat is an open grave; they deceive with their tongues. Vipers’ venom is under their lips. Their mouth is full of cursing and bitterness. Their feet are swift to shed blood; ruin and wretchedness are in their paths, and the path of peace they have not known. There is no fear of God before their eyes.
In other words, “Hello God, here are all the good stuff I have done (don’t worry about the bad stuff so much.) As you can see, I have earn the right to get into heaven:
A bucket of vomit. A cup of pee. A toilet of crap.
A trashcan of bloody tampons. A dumpster of used condoms. I knew you would be pleased. It is the very best I can do.”
How is Christ even to respond to such filth?
Matthew 7:21–23 (CSB) “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, didn’t we prophesy in your name, drive out demons in your name, and do many miracles in your name?’ Then I will announce to them, ‘I never knew you. Depart from me, you lawbreakers!’
The Cross: God’s Holiness is Something We Don’t Believe In
God is high above sin.
God is far from sin.
God is brighter than sin. God violently consumes sin. God grotesquely vomits sin.
We want a god that is cool and hip and understanding and laid back and easygoing with our sins. How hypocritical that we would take this stance, that our God would be so easygoing for our sins but yet we demand justice when someone sins against us. The fact is that the God of the Bible cannot, will not and does not have to tolerate to be in the same area, same locale, same level plane as sin. His very holiness and righteousness rejects sin just as God rejected and “spat out” Lucifer from heaven because of Lucifer’s sin.
It is partly because sin does not provoke our own wrath that we do not believe that sin provokes the wrath of God.
But God, from eternity past, saw His people and said to Himself, “I have get that person into my family. Yet, he is so far from me. He is so far and yet, he keeps running. The distance between him and me is infinite. I will call my Son, give him with my Power, to go and close that gap of infinity and bring my people to me.”
Jesus Christ left His glory in heaven, much to the dismay of heaven’s hosts. He came to this God forsaken earth as a missionary. Unlike the world religions that show you all the ritual and steps to make you like your own god and be able to achieve godhood by going up to your god, Jesus says, “No. You can’t come to me. I will come down to you.” Jesus crosses the infinity and begins his mission as a helpless, hungry, crying, pooping and peeing little baby boy born into a small working class family of a single mom and a man that is not his real daddy.
His mission is clear: to save His people from their sins.
His mission was carried out: by the power of the Holy Spirit.
His mission was won: when the Father pour his wrath from high on up, from a great distance, consumes the life of His Son. In that moment, grotesqueness of the unthinkable torment, excruciating pain and unfathomable wretchedness as Jesus bears the wrath of God for our sins as His body pours out blood, sweat, tears, urine and feces, this much was clear:
That there is no other moment in human history does the holiness of God in the world shines brightest. At the same time, there is no other moment does the love of God for the world shines brightest.
In our deepest darkest moments, in our wretchedness of pain, in the overwhelming weight of temptation, in the despair of our sin, in torture of our iniquity, by the cross of Christ, God victoriously and authoritatively declares, “Here is love!”
It is the love of Christ upon that cross is what I believe the psalmist declares:
Psalm 85:10–11 (ESV) Steadfast love and faithfulness meet; righteousness and peace kiss each other. Faithfulness springs up from the ground, and righteousness looks down from the sky.