By Rick Ezell
You’ve heard the saying, “Familiarity breeds contempt.” Have we become too familiar with God? Have we become so aware of God that we no longer see him in his grandeur, his majesty, his power, and his awesomeness? It’s like seeing the ocean. For those who go to the beach often, the ocean is no big deal; but for those who see it for the first time, it’s a sight to behold. Do we need to see God again for the first time?
God is an exalted God, a holy God. Holiness is the moral character of God. He is pure; he is complete; he is whole. Holiness is God’s only attribute presented in Scripture with a threefold repetition. Angels do not call out, “Love, love, love” or “Just, just, just” as they worship God. They say, “Holy, holy, holy.” Why? Because God is above all things and before all things. God is more righteous and pure, more piercing and powerful, stronger and more impenetrable than anything anyone can imagine. God is beyond our comprehension.
When we see God rightly, we are captured by five insights of holiness.
Holiness and Separation
Understanding God’s holiness is like 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 realize that God is greater than we are. He is majestic and awe inspiring.
Unfortunately, many have lost this view of God in our generation: the high, exalted, lofty, exclusive, unparalleled, unprecedented character of God. Preferring the comfort of his nearness, we have lost the reality of God’s transcendent holiness.
We struggle and wallow in cheap grace and shallow sanctification because we have departed from the biblical picture of God’s holy and exalted nature. God is not the “Man Upstairs” or “Big Daddy” or some old codger with a long white beard. God is not whatever our conscience or imagination would like him to be.
And, we dare not say, “When I get to Heaven I’m going to tell God a thing or two.” God is ineffable, indescribable glory, and he dwells in unapproachable light. God is infinite holiness, totally and completely separate from us.
Holiness and Caution
Let’s suppose you were asked to carry a box of dynamite or were handed a case containing a bomb that could ignite with the slightest movement. Wouldn’t you handle it with care and an abundance of caution? We are to treat God in a similar way. Yet we are too 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 should be ashamed.
Be careful with God and his possessions—God’s church, God’s day, and God’s tithe, to mention a few. By the way, all of these are described as holy in Scripture. Do what God says, exactly, immediately, totally, every time. He’s God; we’re not. Fear, respect, and reverence are needed when approaching God.
Holiness and the Glory of God
Because God is holy does not mean that God is distant from humankind; just that he is different from humankind. God is not remote and removed. He is up close and personal. We don’t have to go in search of God to worship him. God is all around us. “The whole earth is full of his glory” (Isaiah 6:3). Everything in the created world speaks of God. We are completely surrounded by the divine presence. We cannot escape it no matter where we turn.
Look around with open spiritual eyes. We will catch glimpses of God everywhere. Unfortunately, we can also miss him. We have the ability to shut God out of our lives. We put on blindfolds and go through our days as if God did not exist. We are practical atheists. We believe he exists, but we never experience or encounter his presence in daily life or, worse, in a time set aside for worship. When we open our eyes we discover that God’s glory is revealed in our daily lives.
A man moved from Colorado 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 what’s right before them, even God’s glory.
When we look around, developing our spiritual eyes and sensitivity for his glory, we soon begin to see God everywhere.
Holiness and Sinfulness
When we see the powerful nature of God, his sovereignty and character and holiness, we see our own pitifulness as well—our sinfulness. Our vision of God leads us to confess our sinfulness. It is not enough only to see God, for when we truly see God as he is, we will see ourselves as we are.
When the prophet Isaiah saw God, he did not cry out in joy or shout in amazement. His first word was the declaration of a prophet: “Woe!” Our rough equivalent might be, “I’m doomed!” It was a cry not of happiness but of anguish. Isaiah had been living in the darkness. Like a man wearing a white suit in a darkened coal mine, he had no idea how dirty he was—until the brilliance of God’s light shone on him. He saw his unworthy state before a holy God. He had never realized the depth of his sin until he stood in the light of God’s holiness. Isaiah knew he was done for. Isaiah thought that a sinner such as he, looking into the face of God, was facing certain death.
Understanding holiness is like seeing a coin with two distinct sides. On the one side, holiness is seeing God as he is—sovereign, majestic, and holy. On the other side, holiness is seeing ourselves as we are—sinful, wretched, and destroyed. When we look upward to see God in his glory, we are compelled to look inward to see our spiritual inadequacy. Looking into God’s eyes, we catch a reflection of ourselves. It’s not pretty.
Have you ever had someone drop by your house unexpectedly? They want to see your place. As you show them around, you see your house through the eyes of your guest—the unkempt rooms, the dirty dishes, the ironing board sitting out, the dust, the piles of laundry. Seeing your house through their eyes causes you to cringe. When we look at ourselves through God’s eyes we, too, should cringe. We are sinners. Our gifts are tainted before God. Our goodness is like filthy rags. We are, in the words of 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. Not only do we need to see the throne of God, symbolizing the sovereignty of God; we need to see the altar of God, the place of sacrifice for our sin.
Holiness and Service
A plaque above the door to the sanctuary in my childhood church read, “Enter to worship. Depart to serve.” Those are fitting and appropriate commands for the believer.
We enter a sanctuary 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 give to others. We can’t stay on the mountain top; we must come down into the valley. Our time with God prepares us for our service with people. We receive God’s revelation and then respond to it. We hear the Word and then we do the Word. Worship is a two-way street. Without response, there is no worship. Real worship leads to service.
When we see God rightly it will change our lives. We will be renewed. We will be grateful. And in time, we will become a holy people. God desires that we resemble his nature. As he is separate and distinct so are we. Be holy for God is holy.
Rick Ezell is a freelance writer in Greer, South Carolina.