Of all of God’s attributes, holiness seems to be the ultimate, overarching descriptor of who God is by his very nature. In their visions of God’s splendor both Isaiah and John have recorded the angels praising God saying, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty” (Isaiah 6:3; Revelation 4:8). Nowhere else in the Scriptures is God described in such a repetitive way, this three-fold praise amplifying the magnitude of God’s holiness.
Of course God’s holiness is the greatest of his attributes. God’s holiness describes his transcendence, the fact that God is completely separate and different from all others. He alone is unique in all his qualities. God’s transcendent holiness, therefore, defines all other characteristics of all others by who he is. Because God is holy, he defines love, righteousness, justice, mercy – and more – by who he is, not merely by even his own decree.
With all that in mind, let us not forget that God created people in his image: “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:27, NIV 1984). Created in God’s image, then, we are created to be holy. Throughout the book of Leviticus, God made it clear that his holiness compels us to be holy as well: “I am the LORD who brought you up out of Egypt to be your God; therefore be holy, because I am holy” (Leviticus 11:45, NIV 1984). To be honest, the idea of God’s holiness is a terrifying thought for many faithful people, primarily because we know that we simply are not holy and surely not as God is holy. The prophet Isaiah was nearly undone when he came face-to-face with our holy God:
“Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty.” (Isaiah 6:5, NIV 1984)
Yet, despite our sinfulness, the Good News of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is that God not only calls us to be holy but enables us to be holy – as he is holy – by his grace through our faith in Jesus:
For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will – to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. (Ephesians 1:4-6, NIV 1984)
Because God is holy, his nature compels us to respond to him, to seek him, to seek to please him, to revere, honor, and worship him and him alone. As we pursue God’s holiness, he makes us wholly holy, becoming more like him, as Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 3:18: “And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit” (NIV 1984).
As disciples of Jesus, we are called to holiness, to be transformed and conformed to the image of God through our faith in Jesus. As we grow in our faith and knowledge of Jesus, God transforms us by the Holy Spirit, through the Word, and with the help of brothers and sisters in Christ to be more like Christ, to be holy. This will be my theme for writing, teaching, and preaching in 2021. Throughout this coming year, we will look to our holy God and his plan and work to make us holy through Jesus, and we will work together to be wholly holy together. Prepare yourself to approach our holy God in worship, in prayer, in service, and prepare yourself to be transformed.