By Rick Ezell
What we think about God may be the most important thoughts we have. Do we have small and inaccurate thoughts about God? Have we become too casual with God? Has familiarity bred contempt? Do we no longer see God in his grandeur, his majesty, his power, his awesomeness?
“Holy is the way God is. To be holy he does not conform to a standard. He is that standard. He is absolutely holy with an infinite, incomprehensible fullness of purity that is incapable of being other than it is. Because he is holy, all his attributes are holy; that is, whatever we think of as belonging to God must be thought of as holy,” wrote A. W. Tozer.
Holiness describes separation.
What exactly is holiness? Holy means “set apart” or “to separate.” To say that God is holy implies that God is utterly separate from all that is human. Holiness is the moral character of God. He is pure; he is complete; he is whole. God is more righteous and pure, more piercing and powerful, more strong and impenetrable than anything we can imagine. God is “so other” that he is beyond our comprehension.
Think of entering a planetarium from a busy, noisy street. The dimmed lights and the hushed sounds create in us a sense of reverence. As we look up, the universe opens over our heads. Earth becomes one of the smallest planets and we become one of its smallest creatures. In that awesome moment, we, as humans, realize how small we are in comparison to the rest of the universe. Then the thoughts hit: God created the universe. He is above and beyond it all. He is incomparable.
Have we lost this separation essence of God today? Have we departed from the biblical picture of God’s holy and exalted nature? God is not the “Man Upstairs” or the “Big Daddy” or some old codger with a long, white beard. God is not whatever our conscience or imagination would like him to be. God is different—period. Everything about him is absolutely separated from everything we are and know.
Holiness demands caution.
Because of God’s transcendent separateness, he demands caution.
If you were carrying a case containing a bomb that could detonate with the slightest movement, wouldn’t you handle it carefully? respectfully? cautiously? In such manner are we to esteem God. Yet too often we are cavalier. We rush into prayer time or Bible study or a worship service. We treat God as though he were an intruder into our busy and important lives. We fail to see him as he truly is and what he can actually do.
Holiness declares God’s glory.
The seraphim in Isaiah’s vision witnessed God as he is. They proclaimed, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory” (Isaiah 6:3). The repetition of the word holy served to emphasize the uniqueness of Israel’s God, in much the same way as italics or underlining does in grammar. Please note that holiness is the only attribute of God that is presented in Scripture with a threefold repetition. Angels do not sing, “Love, love, love” or “Just, just, just”—only “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty.”
Holiness does not suggest that God is distant from humans; just that he is different from humans. God is not remote and removed; God is up close and personal. We don’t have to go in search for God. God is all around us. The seraphim realized this when they sang: “the whole earth is full of his glory” (Isaiah 6:3). In other words, everything in the created world spoke of God. Isaiah was totally aware of God. He was surrounded by the divine presence. He could not escape God no matter where he turned.
Yet we often put on blindfolds and journey through our days as if God were not present. We believe God exists but don’t always experience or encounter his presence in daily life or, worse, in times of worship.
We need to open our eyes to see God’s glory all around us. A sermon illustration I once heard described a man from Colorado who moved to Texas and built a house with a large picture window from which he could view hundreds of miles of rangeland. “The only problem is,” he said, “there’s nothing to see.” About the same time, a Texan moved to Colorado and built a house with a large picture window overlooking the Rockies. “The only problem is I can’t see anything,” he said. “The mountains are in the way.” People have a way of missing God’s glory right before them.
When we look around, developing our spiritual eyes and sensitivity for his glory, we soon begin to see God everywhere.
Holiness determines our sinfulness.
When we see God as he is, we will also see ourselves as we are. With revelation comes response.
Understanding holiness is like seeing a coin with two distinct sides. On one side, holiness is seeing God as he is—sovereign, majestic, separate. On the other side, holiness is seeing ourselves as we are—sinful, wretched, doomed. Seeing God in his glory, we are compelled to see our spiritual inadequacy. It’s like looking into one’s eyes and seeing a mirror image. When we see God as he is, we see ourselves as we are. It is not pretty.
Have you ever had someone drop by your house unexpectedly? As you show them around, you see your house through the eyes of your guest—the unkempt rooms, the dirty dishes, the ironing board setting out, the dust, the piles of laundry. You cringe. When we view ourselves through God’s eyes, we cringe. We are sinners. Our gifts are tainted before God. Our goodness is like filthy rags. We are, in the words of the confession in The Book of Common Prayer, “miserable offenders.”
We need someone to redeem us, to forgive our sin, to restore us to a right relationship with God. We need not only see the throne of God, symbolizing the sovereignty of God; we also need to see the altar of God, the place of sacrifice for our sin.
In Jesus we find a holy God, becoming the perfect sacrifice for sinful humanity. We feel the pain and price paid for our unholy lives. Our forgiveness was secured at the price of suffering and death.
Holiness dictates our service.
When we understand God as he is—holy; when we see ourselves as we are—sinful; and understand the sacrifice made for us—atoning; it compels us in gratitude—to serve.
Over the doorway into the sanctuary of the church I attended as a child were the words: “Enter to worship. Depart to serve.” We enter God’s presence to worship, but we don’t stay there. We leave with a renewed sense of God’s glory, a taste of his grace, the touch of his cleansing, and a heart filled with gratitude to serve and to give. Our time with God prepares us for service. We experience the Word then we live the Word as we develop a heart of holiness.
Rick Ezell is a minister and freelance writer in Greer, South Carolina.