What Does It Mean to be Holy?
“Because it is written, Be ye holy; for I am holy” (1 Peter 1:16). The Bible insists that holiness is the first and foremost attribute of God. Other characteristics are important such as, His wisdom, His changelessness, and His faithfulness to His Word, but holiness is His first attribute.
In heaven the angels cry, “Holy, Holy, Holy,” as they worship. At Mount Sinai the place of His presence was guarded against all curiosity seekers. The Holy of Holies where God dwelt could be entered only by the High Priest, and that only once a year, and only with atoning blood. The Psalms celebrate the holiness of God endlessly. The New Testament tells us that without holiness no man shall see the Lord.
Holiness means separation. Separation from everything that could defile.
Holiness means purity is thought, word and deed.
Holiness means the white light of integrity.
Holiness means to be of too pure eyes to behold iniquity.
Holiness means that you not only avoid the appearance of evil, but that you hate the garment soiled by sin.
God is holy. No compromise. No secret sins. No hidden agenda. No bending of the rules to accommodate the rich or the clever. God is holy. By that we mean that He never lowers His standards and He never changes. There has never been a greater hymn written than “Holy, Holy, Holy.”
Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, early in the morning our song shall rise to Thee.
Holy, holy, holy, merciful and mighty, God in three persons, blessed Trinity.
What is your conception of God? Do you see Him as a celestial Santa Claus with poor eyesight, who pats everyone on the head and says, “That’s okay. No matter what you do, I love you unconditionally, and so long as you mean well, I'll let you into heaven?” Are you perhaps thinking of God as an ogre who likes to torment people? Perhaps you hope that you can somehow buy God off by balancing your good deeds against your bad deeds.
This much is sure. There are a whole lot of wrong ideas about God out in the public. Some think:
That He chooses some to be saved and others to be lost.
That He is aloof and indifferent.
That He is too busy running His universe to show any interest in you and me.
That prayers and tears and good intentions and rituals somehow build up a reservoir of merit making us candidates for eternal life.
I repeat—God is holy, and His holiness is absolute. He never compromises. Perhaps the word holy is rarely in your vocabulary. Then let's think about two other words: Justice and Righteousness. If holiness is the central reality in God’s nature, that means He is righteous in all He does, and that means He is just in all His decrees.
I hope you realize we have painted a picture of the God of Heaven that puts Heaven out of reach for every person in the world. You see, “All have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23). Like Adam, we have eaten forbidden fruit and as a result, in Adam all die. We have all turned to our own way like lost sheep. “there is none that doeth good, no, not one” (Romans 3:12).
The Bible contains our record in Romans chapter 1:19-25. “Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, And changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things. Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonour their own bodies between themselves: Who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator.”
That is what the Bible says, and as a result we all stand guilty in the presence of a holy God, and all the altars, and cathedrals, and prayer rooms, and candles, and baptismal vows, and good deeds in the world, can never, never, never avail to wash away one stain or make the guilty conscience clean.
The language of amazing grace is not just sentimental. The fact is, a Holy God cannot do anything but hide His face from me. Psalm 15 asks a question: “Who shall dwell in God’s holy hill?” The answer is, “He that hath clean hands and a pure heart.” That is our problem. We don’t have either. Apart from the Cross; apart from the Saviour Who died; I am without God and without hope in the world. I am the leper whose disease is incurable.
The Bible paints us into a corner from which there is no escape but by the way of the Cross. We began speaking about the holiness of God. That is absolute truth, absolute justice, absolute purity, living in the light and unapproachable—“Who only hath immortality, dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto” (1 Timothy 6:16). That puts man under condemnation and it makes God forever unapproachable were it not that this same holy God refused to give up on us.
Question: Do you want to know why I love the Bible?
The Bible tells me that when there was no arm to save me, God’s arm brought salvation.
In the counsels of eternity past, the Son said to His Father: “Father, send Me.” And He came out of eternity into time. He laid aside His splendour so that He could die.
He shed His sinless blood, as the Lamb of God, providing atonement for Adam’s fallen the race.
As a result, the forgiveness and grace that I could never earn became mine as God’s free gift.
As Wesley put it:
My God is reconciled; His pardoning face I see, He owns me for His child;
With confidence I now draw nigh, And “Father, Abba, Father” cry.
That is God's provision! The blood of Jesus now turns the throne of divine justice into a throne of mercy. Jesus opened up the door, and I am invited to enter. Now because of the Cross a holy God can throw His arms about me and welcome me into His family. I am clothed in the righteousness of Christ. He has taken my sin upon Himself and clothed me in His righteousness.
The holiness of God put Him forever beyond my reach, but the salvation He provided through His Son on the cross, gives me a ladder that reaches to Glory. Hallelujah, what a Saviour!