Holiness: God and Us
“Holiness is the habit of being of one mind with God, according as we find His mind described in Scripture. It is the habit of agreeing in God’s judgment, hating what He hates, loving what He loves, and measuring everything in this world by the standard of His Word. ” – J.C. Ryle
Holiness is probably one of the most important attributes of God. Not that we want to pit any one of His attributes against another, but this particular one seems to filter into so much of His total character. Its importance also comes into sharp focus when we see how central holiness is to our own character. God graciously shares with us in unique ways His holiness so that we can live holy lives. And so this attribute might define us more than any other.
We see from the above definition given by J.C. Ryle that holiness is basically man coming into alignment with God. Agreeing with him. Hating what he hates. Loving what he loves. Using his Word as the standard for all that we experience in this life. This is a crucially defining characteristic of the Christian, yet we are constantly confronted with our own unholiness and the unholiness of our world. God tells us to be holy like I am holy (Lev. 19:2; 1Peter 1:15). Without a healthy understanding of the gospel this command crushes all who read it. Because either God isn’t as holy as we thought, or we are missing the mark in a big way.
So what do we do? God’s holiness far exceeds our own and yet we’re told that our holiness is to mimic his. Do we just need to buckle down and try really hard every day to be holy? Or should we be honest with God and let him know that we’re not able to be that holy, so he shouldn’t get his hopes up?
When trying to answer this question I immediately think of Isaiah. He had a holy encounter with the Lord. It was actually a holy, holy, holy encounter (Isa. 6)! When confronted with God, Isaiah is utterly awestruck at his holiness. So much so that all he can communicate is how unclean he is, and how unworthy he is to be in God’s presence.
How does God respond? Does He tell Isaiah, it’s ok…just try harder next time? Does the Lord tell him, don’t worry about it Isaiah, you’re not that bad, stop overreacting? No to both! Amazingly God doesn’t make Isaiah feel better about his situation. God knows that Isaiah is a fallen and sinful human being. So instead of crushing him under the weight of do better…try harder, something Isaiah could never do, or stroking his ego with, you’re not so bad Isaiah, don’t worry about it, God does something entirely different. God changes Isaiah’s condition altogether.
In that moment, God purifies Isaiah. Touches his lips with burning coal and says, Your guilt is taken away…and your sin atoned for. God saves him! And this is what he does for us.
God doesn’t wink at our sin and say, oh, it’s ok…don’t worry about it. No! He says, I hate that sin. It has no place with me. I have to punish it. But I love you, so I’m going to throw my Son in the path of my wrath. I will put Him on a cross and execute Him so that it can purify you. God saves us. He changes our condition and he says, I am holy, you’ve now been made holy. See it. Love it…and go be holy.
We live holy lives only through the forgiving and life-giving power of Jesus Christ. His holiness becomes our holiness when we put our faith in Him for the forgiveness of sin. And we live with the tension that on the one hand we have been made holy by God, but all the while knowing that we will never fully be as holy as He is holy. So we rest in Christ. And as A.W. Towzer said, We hide our unholiness in the wounds of Christ…We believe that God sees us perfect in his Son while he disciplines and purges us so that we can partake of his holiness.