“I am Adonai, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt to be your God. Therefore you are to be holy, because I am holy.” ~ Leviticus 11:45
“Following the Holy One who called you, become holy yourselves in your entire way of life; since the Tanakh says, ‘You are to be holy because I am holy.’” ~ 1 Kefa 1:15-16
In this post, we will begin to consider the holiness of God. It is only as we see His holiness, His absolute purity and moral hatred of sin, that we will be gripped by the awfulness of sin against the Holy God. To be gripped by that fact is the first step in our pursuit of holiness.
The Holiness of God ~ Part A
As we learned in 1 Kefa 1:15-16, God has called every Believer to a holy life. There are no exceptions to this call. It is not a call only to pastors, missionaries, and a few dedicated Sunday school teachers. Every Believer of every nation, whether rich or poor, learned or unlearned, influential or totally unknown, is called to be holy.
This call to a holy life is based on the fact that God Himself is holy. Because God is holy, He requires that we be holy. Many Believers have what we might call a “cultural holiness.” They adapt to the character and behavior pattern of Believers around them. As the culture around them is more or less holy, so these Believers are more or less holy. But God has not called us to be like those around us. He has called us to be like Himself. Holiness is nothing less than conformity to the character of God.
As used in Scripture, holiness describes both the majesty of God and the purity and moral perfection of His nature. Holiness is one of His attributes; that is, holiness is an essential part of the nature of God. His holiness is as necessary as His existence, or as necessary, for example, as His wisdom or omniscience. Just as He cannot but know what is right, so He cannot but do what is right.
We ourselves do not always know what is right or what is just and fair. At times we agonize over decisions having moral overtones. “What is the right thing to do?” we ask. God, of course, never faces this predicament. His perfect knowledge precludes any uncertainty on what is right and wrong.
But sometimes, even when we know what is right, there is a reluctance on our part to do it. The right action may involve sacrifice, or a blow to our pride (for example, when we know we should confess a sin to someone), or some other obstacle. But here again, this is never true with God. God never vacillates. He always does what is just and right without the slightest hesitation. It is impossible in the very nature of God for Him to do otherwise.
God’s holiness is perfect freedom from all evil. We say a garment is clean when it is free from any spot, or gold is pure when all dross has been refined from it. In this manner we can think of the holiness of God as the absolute absence of any evil in Him. Yochanan said, “God is light, and there is no darkness in him — none!” (I Yochanan 1:5). Light and darkness, when used this way in Scripture, have moral significance. Yochanan is telling us that God is absolutely free from any moral evil and that He is Himself the essence of moral purity.
The holiness of God also includes His perfect conformity to His own divine character. That is, all of His thoughts and actions are consistent with His holy character. By contrast, consider our own lives. Over time, as we mature in the Messianic life, we develop a certain degree of Godly character. We grow in such areas as truthfulness, purity, and humility. But we do not always act consistently with our character. We tell a lie or allow ourselves to get trapped into a series of impure thoughts. Then we are dismayed with ourselves for these actions because they are inconsistent with our character. This never happens to God. He always acts consistently with His holy character. And it is this standard of holiness that God has called us to when He says, “Be holy, because I am holy.”
The absolute holiness of God should be of great comfort and assurance to us. If God is perfectly holy, then we can be confident that His actions toward us are always perfect and just. We are often tempted to question God’s actions and complain that He is unfair in His treatment of us. This is the devil’s lie, the same thing he did to Eve. He essentially told her, “God is being unfair to you” (Genesis 3:4-5). But it is impossible in the very nature of God that He should ever be unfair. Because He is holy, all His actions are holy.
Acknowledging His holiness is one of the ways we are to praise God. According to Yochanan’s vision of heaven described in Revelation 4, the four living creatures around God’s throne never stop saying, Each of the four living beings had six wings and was covered with eyes inside and out; and day and night they never stop saying, “Holy, holy, holy is Adonai, God of heaven’s armies the One who was, who is and who is coming!” (Revelation 4:8).
God is often called in Scripture by such names as the Holy One, or the Holy One of Israel. Holiness is God’s crown. Imagine for a moment that God possessed omnipotence (infinite power), omniscience (perfect and complete knowledge), and omnipresence (everywhere present), but without perfect holiness. Such a one could no longer be described as God. Holiness is the perfection of all His other attributes: His power is holy power; His mercy is holy mercy; His wisdom is holy wisdom. It is His holiness more than any other attribute that makes Him worthy of our praise.
But God demands more from us than just acknowledging His holiness. He says to us, “Be holy, because I am holy.” He cannot for one moment relax His perfect standard of holiness. Because God is holy, He can never excuse nor overlook any sin we commit, however small it may be in our own eyes. Remember, there are no degrees of sin in God’s eyes. No little white lies. No half truths.
Sometimes we try to justify to God some action which our own conscience calls into question. But if we truly grasp the significance of God’s perfect holiness, both in Himself and in His demands of us, we will readily see we can never justify before Him even the slightest deviation from His perfect will. God does not accept the excuse, “Well, that’s just the way I am,” or even the more hopeful statement, “Well, I’m still growing in that area of my life.”
No, God’s holiness does not make allowance for minor flaws or shortcomings in our personal character. Perhaps justified solely through the righteousness of Yeshua, we might ponder carefully the words of the writer to the Hebrews: “Keep pursuing shalom with everyone and the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.” (Hebrews 12:14).
In my next post, we will continue to examine the Holiness of God.