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The Holiness Of God Religion Essay

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Published: Mon, 5 Dec 2016

In surveying the landscape of Christianity as revealed today in churches across America, there are two real and practical viewpoints on display, that which is of intention and that which is of truth. More and more, the latter has been replaced by the former through a culture bred and defined by opinion and evaluation. Typically, those who are a part of the church try to employ such devices as taught by leaders to do what is right before their peers and pastors. However, throughout the course of human endeavor, there is always a misstep, a falling short of the goal intended; purpose denied by ignorance. Opinion and evaluation are tools of a world found outside of the church walls. By using its methodology, the church indirectly helps to assuage the knowledge of God, such as aligning with the world in defining His primary attribute as love. What is heard most often in secular realms is that God is love and full of forgiveness provided that one does enough good to outweigh the bad. Sadly, this same pattern of false logic is a very real issue for Christians who are lead by pastors that espouse such isolated doctrine under the guise of good intentions. One must remember, though, man’s best intention is nothing more than fodder apart from truth. Scripturally speaking, there are events laid out where intentions were devised and followed through on, yet failure won the day. Rebecca so wanted a child that Hagar took her place and bore the lineage apart from Christ. Ussah, in keeping the ark from falling, thought his hand was more holy than the ground he was walking on, yet his intention was false as the ground never once disobeyed God. Each time knowledge is ignored or dismissed, there is destruction and a foundation laid to waste. To be able to recover what as lost, there must be a return to truth.

In describing who God is one is not buffeted by any lack of word, thought, resource, or knowledge but to that which the one describing limits himself. The indelible subject matter in such a description actually can work against the need of exploration due to the sheer volume of information that has no known boundaries either on earth or in heaven. If not the primary way to describe God, then perhaps the first in a description would adhere to the attribute of His holiness. Jonathon Edwards, generally considered by a number of men as the greatest theologian America has ever produced, who’s biblical worldview was completely drenched in Christ and His Kingdom, regarded holiness as “more than a mere attribute of God-it is the sum of all His attributes, the outshining of all that God is.” [1] The Puritan Stephen Charnock wrote, “When God would be drawn-as much as He can be-He is drawn in this attribute of holiness.” [2] The holiness of God can be defined as the primary attribute of God, above all others, to which all who are saved must emulate, while in its absence, there is only wickedness. In defining God as being primarily holy, one must take a step back and define what the term holiness or holy actually means.

The idea of holiness is at once understandable and elusive, yet, there is not term equal to the fullness inherent in holiness. [3] As it is expressed in the Old Testament, holiness holds to the Semitic root Q-D-SH, or qodhesh. The connection, as some past scholars refer, was to an Assyrian word that denotes purity or clearness. However, for most modern scholars, the prevalent thought would be to view the primary idea as that of cutting off or separation. In Semitic custom the word holiness gave the impression as having nothing more than that of a ceremonial separation of an object from common use which the modern study of savage religions has coined the term taboo. [4] Within the scope of Scripture, holiness is securely connected to God, and to places, seasons, things and humans only insofar as they are associated with Him. In the New Testament, holiness is signified by the word hagios, which relates closely to the Hebrew defined word. The primary distinction between the Old Testament and the New Testament usage is seen by the New Testament absence of the external position giving way to the ethical meaning of the word. [5] Holiness within the realm of practicality can be described superfluously through many experiences or witnessed accounts. Before viewing the practical nature upon man, viewing it through God is a must. Through Him, according to Arthur Pink, such practical holiness is manifested in three ways. The first way is through His works, as it is the rule of all His actions. The second way is in His law, as it forbids sin in all of its modifications. Finally, Pink mentions that holiness is found at the Cross, in that the Atonement displays God’s infinite holiness and abhorrence to sin. [6] Regarding man, the practical aspect in the view of some, take on the actual works by the Christian that stem from being holy. It should be noted that the word practical is from the Late Latin word practicus, as well from the Greek word praktikos, that refers to being manifested in practice or action. [7] While this may be true in part with what is presented here, the finality of it cannot be adhered to as there is something beyond just the practice of works. There is a layer that has to be addressed prior to the works portion. It reveals an internal striving; a yearning to exceed outward that drives the aforementioned application of practical holiness. From this viewpoint, there must be definition and understanding of how practical holiness formulates before the method of its revelation through man can be discussed. With regard to the pointedness the topic deserves, JC Ryle provides an ample summation to the breadth of the subject matter.

“What then is practical holiness? It is the habit of being of one mind with God as found in Scripture. It is to endeavor to shun every known sin, and to keep every known commandment. It is to strive to conform to the image of Jesus Christ. It is to follow after meekness, long-suffering, gentleness, patience, kind tempers, and control of the tongue. It is to bear much, forbear much, overlook much, and be slow to talk of standing on one’s rights. It is to follow after temperance and self-denial, laboring to mortify the desires of the body, to crucify the flesh with its affections and lusts, to curb passions, and to restrain carnal inclinations. It is to follow after charity and brotherly kindness, after a spirit of mercy and benevolence towards others. It is to follow after purity of heart, seeking to avoid all things that might draw one into it. It is to follow after the fear of God as well as humility. It is, in lowliness of mind, to esteem all others better than oneself. It is to follow after faithfulness in all the duties and relations in life, as well as spiritual mindedness. There is an aim to live like one whose treasure is in heaven, and to pass through this world like a stranger and pilgrim travelling home.” [8] 

Indeed, beyond the grandeur of terms depicted, there is a simpler result within it, as Spurgeon recognized when he stated, “practical holiness is a very precious mark of grace.” [9] Such grace imparted by a holy and loving God endeavors one to seek out what is beyond one’s own nature, and find a shadow of true reality as a precursor to an eternal home with Him unimpeded by sin. Holiness asks for no more yet demands no less.

God’s Primary Attribute

In relation to God, the word holiness has two significant meanings. God is transcendent over His creation as well as His creation’s corruption. The word transcendence is derived from the Latin verb transcendere that means going beyond, rising above, or exceeding over something. It is an infinite and unconditional that goes beyond finitude and determinacy. [10] Being Creator, God is above all His creation and completely distinct from every created thing. The distinction between God and the rest of His creation is not only quantitative, being the same, yet greater, but also qualitative, where God is a totally different being. Regardless of their beauty, any and all other beings on earth or in heaven are just creatures. God alone is God, transcendent, separate, and completely unapproachable. The most grandiose angel that is within the presence of God is no more like God than the smallest bacteria that dwells upon the earth. There is no comparison to God. Holiness is the foremost attribute of God and the greatest truth that can ever be learned about Him. All other attributes are simply an expression of His holiness. Those attributes demonstrate His distinctness from His creation, absolute separateness, and a completely different being. The holiness of God also calls attention to the fact that He transcends moral corruption as shown by His creation and is removed and separated from all that is sinful. God cannot sin, cannot take pleasure in sin, and cannot have fellowship with sin. Holiness also has a preeminence in that no other attribute is spoken of so often and elucidated in the Bible. What is understood about this attribute influences every aspect of a relationship with God.

Every expression of every attribute of God flows from His holiness. Such tributaries all reflect back upon this distinctness. There are well-known theologians such as Jonathon Edwards, who define His attributes within the context of two categories, natural (inwardly in Him) and moral (outwardly to the Creation). Other distinctions that regard the same type of division include absolute and relative, communicable and incommunicable, and universal and particular. [11] Natural looks to the internal aspect of God’s attributes that He alone possesses, such as being infinite, immutable, sovereign, and self-existent. Moral reflects the outward reflection upon His Creation of certain attributes, such as being faithful, loving, righteous, and good. Holiness, while given its place as a primary attribute, most often falls under the banner of being a moral attribute, and within that grouping shows to be relegated to a more inclusive “first among equals” title that allows the other moral attributes to flow through. However, in placing such parameters upon the term, it negates the function of its intended purpose, that being, representing the total sum of all His attributes. A.W. Tozar has stated, “Because He is holy, His attributes are holy; that is, whatever we think of as belonging to God must be thought of as holy…” [12] All others flow through His holiness. His love is like no other love. His power is unlike any other ever. The truth of God’s perfection, eternal nature, self-existence, immutability, omnipotence, omnipresence, and omniscience are all expressions of His holiness. His righteousness is not controlled by a law or decree of righteousness beyond or above Himself. He is righteous in being and action by virtue of His holiness. God is holy, and when he relates to the lost his holiness is seen as wrath. Conversely, when he relates to the elect, his holiness is seen as mercy.

Man’s Responsibility to Personal Holiness

In today’s culture of Christianity, the sense of responsibility holds to two principles, theory and practice. In theory, there is the idea of accenting to the knowledge imparted by pastors and leaders and putting that into practical works though a variety of endeavors within the church and throughout the community surrounding it. The structure of this scenario points to a replicating cycle but one in which, due the content of the information and instructions, lends itself to a level of assumption in doing what is “right”. Such good intentions are not biblical. Intention in doing what is reasoned as being right never supersedes, out-weighs, or replaces what Scripture says to obey. Doing so diminishes God and His Word on many levels. There are three questions one has to ask when contemplating this scenario. What comes to mind when one thinks about God? How does one know? How is one sure? Man’s idea of God must correspond to the true being of God. Low views of Him are idolatrous and sin of the greatest magnitude. When one imagines things about God and act as if they were true, it pollutes the fountain of Christianity. Even worse, having views other than the highest attainable by man in a corruptible body, one is guilty of sin for believing a lie. When one surrenders a high opinion of God in any way, they have sinned and made God into something detestable. Man’s heaviest obligation is to raise and purify his concept of God to a worthy place, and that is done through His word. If the answer is wrong to the question, who is God, everything else falls apart, it crumbles, and the foundation has been destroyed. David Wells explains it well when he states,

“The loss of the traditional vision of God as holy is now manifested everywhere in the evangelical world. It is the key to understanding why sin and grace have become such empty terms. What depth or meaning can these terms have except in relation to the holiness of God? Divorced from the holiness of God, sin is merely self-defeating behavior or a breach in etiquette. Divorced from the holiness of God, grace is merely empty rhetoric, pious window dressing for the modern technique by which sinners work out their own salvation. Divorced from the holiness of God, our gospel becomes indistinguishable from any of a host of alternative self-help doctrines. Divorced from the holiness of God, our public morality is reduced to little more than an accumulation of trade-offs between competing private interests. Divorced from the holiness of God, our worship becomes mere entertainment. The holiness of God is the [foundation of reality]. Sin is defiance of God’s holiness, the Cross is the outworking and victory of God’s holiness and faith is the recognition of God’s holiness. Knowing that God is holy is the key to knowing life as it truly is, knowing Christ as he truly is, knowing why he came, and knowing how life will end.” [13] 

Where does this leave man, who replaces the “is”, a direct command to obey in the Word, with the notion of “ought”, man’s reasoning unto sin? How can one come to grips with the reality of what is at stake when holiness is ignored? Without order there is chaos, and without law there is lawlessness. The witness of this reality recognizes the need for law to set boundaries for the purpose of structure and balance. The Law as given by God through His Word provides such a purpose. Through the examples given, a sense of acknowledgement berths the need of being held responsible. In Numbers 20, followed up with Numbers 27, shows God commanding Moses to take the rod that he had and speak to a rock. Doing so would produce flowing water for the people. However, after assembling the people, to whom he called “rebels”, Moses proceeded to strike the rock twice to produce the water, the same rock that Paul identified as Christ Himself for 1 Corinthians 10:4. In Numbers 20:12-13, God declared that Moses lack of belief was a sign of not treating Him as being holy., the result of which was being withheld from the promise land. Moses act of disobedience was seen by God as an act of unbelief. Such irreverence to God held said consequences. In 2 Samuel 6, shows the ark being moved by David and his assembly of 30,000 Israelites to Jerusalem. The ark itself symbolized the very presence of God, a holy artifact. Instructions were previously given in how it should be transported, with poles through rings attached to it by a select group of people. However, the method in which it was being taken back was by an ox cart. When the oxen stumbled and caused the ark to tip, Uzzah took it upon himself to place his hand out and upon the ark to steady it from falling, and God struck him dead instantly. Uzzah’s irreverence to God’s holiness cost him his life because his intention was maligned by thinking he was holier than the earth he walked upon, even though the earth has never disobeyed God. Something common coming in contact with something so uncommon imparts a dangerous malady, and serves notice to understand such consequences in doing so. The standard by which the law gives in recognizing the holiness of God is qualified by such swift actions when men are lackadaisical in revering God in such a manner as previously described. It is quantified in the New Testament passage of Matthew 7:13-14 with its mentioning of the gate that is wide for those who are heading towards their destruction.

The relationship of man to God through the blood of His Son brings into existence a bond that cannot be dissolved, disavowed, or denied under any circumstance. It is a connection that bears the weight of ignorance and indifference at any given time for the fact that a holy God imparting the Holy Spirit upon His children creates a uniqueness unlike any other that fortifies and draws the person unto His Person. The solidarity of such a connection bore ultimately brings into illumination the realization of adhering to the want and desire to seek out a closer relationship no matter the cost. It is a guiding governance of man that the holiness of God imparts. It is an obligation that holds no forbearance on the part of the person partaking in the will of God. As shown in Isaiah 6, there is a humility born of being in the presence of holiness that seeks to deny self in recognizing sinfulness in the flesh. Esteeming the One that embodies holiness rectifies the need to feel better about oneself. It is the measurement and testament to the true gospel of Jesus Christ over the need for tradition and practice devised by any church leader. It is the realization of personal awareness in the disposition and execution of worship unto the Lord. Taking hold of such holiness is the actualization of fear in the production of obedience, as it is stated in Scripture, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge.” [14] Holiness also necessitates man’s sanctification as its firm foundation.

As God is holy, in conforming to the image of His Son, so, too, must man be holy. However, in saying something to accomplish and not give instruction as to how one accomplishes it is manipulative at best. If man must be holy as God is holy, in what way does it abide? According to Thomas Watson, it is in two things, our suitableness to God’s nature, and in our subjection to his will. Suitableness is a qualification met to be able to love what He loves and hate what He hates. Subjection to His will is an imputation of holiness to have the desire to remain under the throng of His decrees. Going forward, in relation to His creation, God’s design is to make a people like Himself in holiness, which in turn draws God’s heart to man. His holiness is the only thing that sets man apart from a fallen and sinful world. It is an honorable title that gives boldness with God. Without it, portions of Scripture, such as Matthew 11:12 are rendered obsolete. In the peace of holiness there is a path which leads to heaven. One must go through the temple of holiness to get to the temple of heaven. To resemble oneself as such in relation to God, it requires first the washing of blood of the holiest One of all. Beyond, or rather in addition to this, prayer for a holy heart is imperative as well as keeping company with those who seek after holiness with zeal and passion. [15] Under the umbrella of sanctification, holiness is a work of gradual progression developed under hindrances, hence the frequent admonitions to watchfulness, prayer, and perseverance. [16] It is also piety towards God, fidelity in observing the obligations of holiness. [17] In its relation to Christians the idea of holiness meets them in the New Testament in a sense that is characteristic and distinctive. Christ’s people are regularly called “saints” or holy persons, and holiness in the high ethical and spiritual meaning of the word is used to denote the appropriate quality of their life and conduct. [18] 

Issues Regarding the Absence of Holiness

In the absence of holiness is sin, man’s only state of being apart from God. Indeed from Scripture there is this, “that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” [19] Apart from holiness, there is complete corruption inherent to man’s life, nature, and his very being. The basic nature of the sinfulness of man has the desire to do away with God. Man wants nothing to do with God in any form or function so he can live life as he wants. In this, man sees God as restraining him from living life as he wants to live it. To such a person, change is a good thing and preferable as the situation or experience dictates. There can be no rigid or firm rules set in place as it negates the freedom of choice. Even in discovering such a position, with the realization of deciding the way he should go will have consequences, man still is ardent in keeping to his ways. The declaration of the sinfulness of man is seen in culture through a kaleidoscope of rendered actions. Lawlessness in sexuality, which would be anything outside of marriage, is a rampant example of such a declaration. Another area most do not even recognize is one that comes from a lack of self-governance. When a people cannot govern themselves through internal conscience endeavors, they will be governed by more laws externally placed by another authority, such as government. From such a declaration derives the evidence of the magnitude of the sinfulness of man. The depravity of man’s mind is that in which logic and reason are wholly corrupted. The mind processes items that are a detriment to the body and twists them into believing it is actually good. In the same line of thought, that which is good is thought to be a detriment, thus the latter portion of Romans 1 is fulfilled continually with each person who follows suit. John Stott notes the following observation,

“Much that we take for granted in a ‘civilized’ society is actually based upon the assumption of human sin. Nearly all legislation has grown up because we simply cannot be trusted to settle our disputes with justice and without self-interest. A promise is not enough; we need a contract. Doors are not enough; we have to lock and bolt them. The payment of fares is not enough; tickets have to be issued, inspected, and collected. Law and order are not enough; we need the police to enforce them. All this is due to our sin. We cannot trust each other. We need protection against one another. It is a terrible indication of what human nature is really like.” [20] 

Judgment born of God’s just nature is the embodiment of who He is. There is not something external to Him, as in a law that is above Him that He has to abide by. There is no standard, principle, or outside rule He must adhere. His just judgment comes from who He is. God is independent of all things apart from Himself. His self-existence is the foundation of all qualities and standards. His standard of holiness is that which all other created things in the universe are measured and judged by according to its submission or rebellion. As such, the punishment or reward is merited out on the basis of the conformity to His image. His judgment is good and right. He does not punish the innocent nor does He reward the guilty. In a world full of injustice, God is the standard of justice that bears the only weight. The throne in which He sits is a judgment throne according to Romans 14. In 2 Corinthians 5 it is the judgment throne of Christ. Through these descriptive texts, it confirms that judgment comes by the fullness of God’s deity in holiness and righteousness. Judgment for sin cannot be denied its place of activity if the created universe is to be restored in holiness and righteousness. In that, there is a standard, not of the one who was the worst offender of God, who was the vilest human ever on the planet, or who had the most wickedness of natures. The standard on judgment day is the most righteous man who ever lived on the planet. It is a verdict He will deliver, not like any judge sitting on the bench today, for such men are still corrupt in the thought process and logic, rather a justice infinitely beyond scope in goodness, knowledge, and holiness. Such a ruling comes by denying the Gospel of Jesus Christ, thus denying His holy nature, which is the fruit of a sinful nature. In this, the self-righteous nature of man does not consider himself as being subject to just condemnation. The revelation of this justice finds one portion in judgment is impartial as it is according to truth. There is only one truth and because of this, there can be no escape from it. In human jurisdictions, a guilty person may get away with a crime if his offence is not known, if he escapes beyond the bounds of the jurisdiction, if there is some failure in the legal process after his arrest, or if he escapes from custody and hides from officers of the law. True justice can only be dispensed when there is full knowledge of all the facts in the case. Since omniscience inheres in Deity alone, it follows that true justice can only proceed from Him. [21] Another portion is that the judgment is absolute. There is no meeting in the middle through dialogue or negotiations. There is not plea of “no contest” to escape the wrath of punishment. It is a resolute ruling that discerns the guilty from the innocent.

Conclusion

It has been said that the image of God should be reflected in the image of man. What is not discerned from this is the fact that most assume the reflection is a mirror as opposed to a picture. As mentioned before, many professed Christians believe God to be man-centered and live their life accordingly; doing the “best” they can in whatever situation they find themselves in. In this comes the idea of intention which is not a biblical standard of practice apart from showing the consequences that follow after it. The book of Proverbs states that “it is not good for a person to be without knowledge” [22] as “the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.” [23] Many churches hear the cry of the leaders and, subsequently, the congregation that doctrine isn’t as important as Jesus, that doctrine does no good for the most part in that it makes too many people either bored or keeps them from acting out their faith. Obviously Scripture speaks otherwise. The doctrine of holiness is a divine discipline that Christians must know in order to pursue after it and abound in it. Holiness must be the supreme goal of Christian living because it is the supreme attribute of God. Living a life apart from holiness belies all other Scripture taught to believe and follow.


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