sermon: Holiness of God (Part 3)
What is Holiness?
John W. Ritenbaugh
Given 04-Dec-99; Sermon #423; 71 minutes
In a time of scattering, our faith in God is put on trial. Our highest good is to know God (far beyond mere theoretical knowledge) and to live a life that reflects His righteousness, love, and justice. The better we know Him (experientially know), the better off we are. If we don't know God, we can't trust Him. A confused person, having no conviction or faith, cannot worship God. As bearers of His name, we must aspire to holiness (transcendent and powerful purity). Only God is truly holy. God can put us into a state of holiness by sanctifying us (setting apart for a special purpose) to His use. By using God's Holy Spirit to yield to Him, humbly obeying Him, forming a relationship with Him, we become perfected in holiness. Perfecting holiness is the process by which we are transformed from the glory of man to the glory of God.
Job 22:21 "Now acquaint yourself with Him [God], and be at peace; thereby good will come to you."
This series of sermons is built around the premise that the most serious question before the church at any given time is always God Himself. Even now in the scattering, it is God Himself who is on trial. It is our faith in him that is on trial. It is our faith that has been very severely damaged because we have been put into a great deal of confusion as a result of the doctrinal changes and the things that occurred in their wake. God Himself, as I mentioned at least twice in the sermons that I gave at the Feast, is the one who is actually on trial.
What is God like? Have you ever seen Him? This verse says, "Now acquaint yourself with Him." Well, neither have I ever seen Him. But there is a revealing of Him in His Word, and by His Spirit, and I am convinced that low views of Him spin off into hundreds of lesser evils.
Jeremiah 9:23-24 Thus says the LORD, "Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, let not the mighty man glory in his might, nor let not the rich man glory in his riches; but let him who glories glory in this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the LORD, exercising lovingkindness, judgment, and righteousness in the earth. For in these I delight," says the LORD.
In verse 23 there are three things that the world trusts and admires very greatly in others. Human wisdom, strength, athletic ability, and riches cannot ward off disaster, and they have very little impact on whether or not we are going to be prepared for the Kingdom of God. In Jeremiah's day as now, the scholar, the warrior, the athlete, and financier were highly esteemed. But brethren, the historical record shows that those who trust in these things fall victim to idolatry and pride.
I want you to notice in verse 24 ("the LORD exercising lovingkindness, judgment, and righteousness") how closely parallel this is to Jesus' statement in Matthew 23:23 about the weightier matters of the law—judgment, mercy, and faithfulness. Also notice how this parallels Micah 6:8 which says, "What does the LORD require of you but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?"
Our highest good is to know God and to live a life that reflects His righteousness, love, and justice. The better we know Him, the better off we are. You can attach this to John 17:3:
John 17:3 "And this is eternal life, that they might know You, the one true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent."
Jesus Christ said eternal life is to know God and His Son Jesus Christ. To know Him intellectually is not enough. All that one has then is theoretical knowledge. John 3:21 is a very brief scripture, but it is right to the very point.
John 3:21 "But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they are done in God."
John 7:17 "If anyone wills do his will, he shall know concerning the doctrine, whether it is from God, or whether I speak of My own authority."
Brethren, it is in these areas that true holiness lies—knowing God and doing His will. Our knowledge of God cannot be merely theoretical, it has to be experiential.
Hosea 6:1 Come, and let us return to the LORD; for He has torn, but He will heal us; He has stricken, but He will bind us up.
I wanted to read that because I think that it has some application today because the church is rather torn up, and we are scattered all over the place. He has stricken us, and He will bind us up.
Hosea 6:2-3 After two days will He revive us; on the third day He will raise us up, that we may live in His sight. Let us know, let us pursue the knowledge of the Lord.
Knowledge of the Lord—knowing God—must be experiential.
Hosea 6:3 His going forth is established as the morning; and He will come to us like the rain, like the latter and former rain to the earth.
We will, if we follow on the path of obedience, know the Lord.
Jesus had to become a man in order to more fully relate to and to understand man, to understand what it was like to live with temptation. In like manner we must begin living like God in order to come to more fully know God. The reason for all of this is that an unknown God cannot be trusted. Think about this. If you do not know God, you cannot trust Him. He cannot be served, nor can He be worshipped. Without those things there will be no salvation.
I was given an article by Herb Witmer up there in Harrisburg that he clipped out of The Journal. It was a long article that began with addressing the Y2K problem, but then began to get into areas the way the author, Gary Sakhoury, thought that the Y2K problem might affect the church. In the course of that explanation I think that he made a very significant statement. He said that because of all the changes that took place in the church that it threw it into confusion, and "a confused person cannot worship God."
A confused person does not know God. He is confused. Do you know why he cannot worship God? It is because a confused person does not have convictions regarding God. Convictions are built upon faith. It is the same thing as saying that without faith you cannot worship God. That is one of the spin-offs of what has happened to the church. Confusion has spun off into making it very difficult for us to have convictions about God, and without convictions, we cannot worship God with any kind of real force in what we are doing.
I began this series with a sermon on the third commandment, which states that we are not to take (meaning, "to bear" or "to carry") the name of God in vain, because the Lord will not hold us innocent or clean if we do. In that sermon we found very clearly that we bear that name. We are the sons of God. We have been baptized into that name of God. The Third Commandment, in a sense, measures our spiritual cleanliness or purity. The third commandment has to do with the quality of our personal witness to all that that name we bear implies, as it applies to humans.
We saw in that sermon that God's name is holy, and that it is holy because He is holy. In the sermon after that (I—as usual—only got part way through a sermon on the holiness of God), we saw that the very first request in what is commonly known as The Lord's Prayer is "Hallowed be Your name." Right after God is addressed, the first thing is "Hallowed be Your name."
One of the interesting things we find out about this is that it is a request that God hallow His name. It is not a request that we hallow His name, but is a request that God take action that He hallow His name. There is a reason for that. God has to effectively work in us in order for us to be enabled to hallow His name. In addition to that is, everywhere that His name really is hallowed there is peace, there is harmony, there is unity, there is prosperity, there is joy, there is creativity, and there is endless life.
In that sermon, we found in I Peter that we are called to holiness. And indeed, Zacharias, John the Baptist's father, was inspired to say at John's birth that the purpose of the redemption offered is to serve God without fear, and that the nature of that fear is to be in holiness and righteousness.
There is a tendency in us humanly to associate holiness with a certain religious figure. One who lives over there in the Vatican City is called "His Holiness." Then again, we associate it with people like monks who live in monasteries, cultivating a spiritual life. In the war there were "holy Joes" who were the chaplains. Then there are those people who are in society who seemingly have been denatured of real humanity, or of feeling, that we associate holiness with a feeling that one gets being in a sanctuary attending a religious service.
We also found out in that sermon that the only characteristic of God in all of the Bible that is raised to a superlative by repeating it three times is, "God is holy, holy, holy." This is given in Isaiah 6. When Isaiah was brought into contact with that holiness, Isaiah became unglued. He came apart at the seams. He unraveled. His ego was demolished at the confrontation he had with the ultimate in cleanliness. Isaiah caught a glimpse of the Holy One of Israel, and immediately his self-esteem was shattered. In a brief second he was made to feel naked. He was exposed before the absolute standard of holiness. Do you know what he did? He said, "Woe is me! I am undone." Woe is used in the Bible as a word that indicates a plague. He pronounced a plague upon himself because he felt that he was doomed.
We also saw in Mark 4 that Peter and the other disciples caught a glimpse for just a brief period of time of the awesome significance of something that Jesus did. That was the time that they were crossing the Sea of Galilee and the boat was being pitched about by big waves and high winds, and Jesus was asleep in the stern of the ship. They went and woke Him up. He seemed a bit peeved and perturbed that they did not have any faith. He stood up and He said, "Peace. Be still," and the wind stopped blowing, and the waves stopped pitching. Peter became unglued. He was in the presence of holiness, and he said, "Depart from me for I am a sinful man, O Lord." (Luke 5:8)
We saw in other examples that the carnal mind, which was what Peter was at that time, is repelled by holiness, and it will reject it. It will persecute it. It will kill it because it cannot stand the comparison with the holiness of God.
But what is holiness? The basic word comes from a root that means to cut, to cut apart, or to cut out as from a herd or a group, to separate from others. Something that is holy is "other." It carries also with it the sense of "different from." In the biblical context it also carries strong implications of purity when it is applied to character and morality. And so it indicates freedom from every stain; immaculate in every detail; separation from anything that is sinful, evil, dirty, or imperfect. And so when it is applied to God it indicates a cut above, implying superiority.
When we find a product that we feel is superior, we will even say that it is "a cut above" the rest. So I feel that the one word that best defines 'holy' is transcendence. Transcendence means exceeding usual limits. God is above and beyond us. There is an infinite distance that separates Him from us in every quality. What it is that gives God His "otherness," that makes Him different, is His holiness. It is absolute, unrivaled, unparalleled, incomparable, transcendent purity in every aspect of His being, in every act as our Creator, and as our sovereign Ruler.
God is transcendentally separate. He is so far above us as to seem almost foreign. Do we really know this One—the Holy One of Israel? To be holy is to be "other," to be different in a special way.
In all of creation there are only likenesses of Him. This gets very interesting because in that sermon we expounded a bit on Psalm 50. That psalm is addressed to those who have made a covenant with God. Toward the end of that psalm He accuses those who have made a covenant with Him, that they think that God is like them. He says, "You thought that I was altogether like you." No, God is not like us. He is holy in every aspect of His personality.
This statement in Psalm 50 is very revealing, because right there is the very basis of idolatry. The idolater does not know God. The idolater simply imagines things about God and acts as if they were true. Is that not how the Bible describes idols in the Old Testament? Men make images out of hunks of trees and out of molten metal that they have molded into a shape, because they think that is what God is like. That is the bottom line on what idolatry is. But God is not like anything that is. He is not exactly like anything or anybody. He is holy. He is transcendent.
Unfortunately it is a fact of life that we would like a god that we can use, and in some measure control and shape into the way we want Him to be. We have to be very careful here because some of us may be heading toward the deep end. Remember I said that holiness is not just another characteristic of God. Holiness is used of Him in a general sense. That is, we generally describe God by listing some of His attributes. We say that God is love. We may say that God is merciful, that God is just, that God is omnipotent, that God is omniscient, and that is fine. But somewhere in there we will often say that God is holy. I have said it quite a number of times in this sermon.
But we have to remember this characteristic of holiness. Holiness is transcendence. Holiness adds qualities to all of the other ones. It adds to what He is, meaning that His love is holy love, that His mercy is holy mercy, that His justice is holy justice. God is transcendent in every quality.
God shows us that He lives according to principle; not according to whim, not according to emotion. Now He has emotions. That is where we have gotten our emotions, because He has given them to us, but there is no prejudice in Him. His emotions are always under control, and He is able to judge without respect of persons. And so God plans and judges and acts according to what He is, and so He does things always with a holy love, with a holy mercy, with a holy justice, and so on.
Let us turn this message a bit. How can you reconcile a God who has these qualities, and yet He can put to death, perhaps in an agonizing way, even millions of people, maybe billions, in one fell swoop, as He did in the Flood? Or all of the Canaanites slaughtered by Israel at God's command? Or of Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, or Uzzah, or millions, again billions, who may be killed in the Tribulation and the Day of the Lord, which is surely coming? Or even the deaths of His own saints? Maybe the Laodiceans, in terribly frightening, painful, tortuous deaths for their faith. Or the death of His own sinless Son for that matter. Let us look at that Scripture in Isaiah 53.
Isaiah 53:10 Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise Him; He has put Him to grief. When You shall make His soul an offering for sin, He shall see His seed, He shall prolong His days, and the pleasure of the LORD shall prosper in His hand.
In Isaiah 52 it says that His visage was marred more than any man—beaten to a bloody pulp, and it was God's pleasure to do this. How do we reconcile that kind of a God? Is it possible that we do not like to think of Him in that way? Is He always nicey-nice in every situation? Everything that He does is done with a holy love that is also counterbalanced with a holy justice, and a wisdom that is holy too. Do we really know a God like this? Are we willing to deal with a God like this?
One might be able to intellectually pass these things off by saying, "Well, they were sinners and got what was coming to them. Anyway, they're going to come up in the second resurrection." Now wait a minute, brethren! I am speaking to you! It is your life that is being judged by this Creator God. Does God somehow look the other way because we are converted?
You might recall what that scripture says back in Hebrews 3. To refresh everybody's memory I will read one phrase that I will pick out here.
Hebrews 3:1 Therefore, holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling, . . .
That is us. When we went through that second sermon, I explained that in that context holy does not have any particular reference to quality of life, quality of character, or anything like that, but rather refers to a state or a position that we are in as a result of being sanctified by God for His use and glory. It is as though we have simply been separated from the crowd. That is all. Cut apart, and therefore sanctified.
We have to begin on this understanding that nothing created is holy unto itself. Only God can sanctify something else as holy, and He therefore, when He does this, lifts it from the commonplace to something special. He has already done that with us to some degree. Because we have been cut from the crowd as a result of His calling, we can be stated as being holy brethren. But at that point it still has nothing to do with what we are in our heart, in our mind; but we are holy because we have been separated by God for Him to use to some extent. And when He does this, the position is changed. It is made different from others in relationship to Him.
I think we can all recall Exodus 3. Here is where God confronted Moses, and He did it in the burning bush. What did He say to Moses? He said, "Take your sandals off your feet, for the place where you stand is holy ground." The only thing that made that ground holy was the presence of God, and the fact that He stipulated that it was holy, thus showing His authority to make anything, even inert dirt, holy.
Moses was being separated to be the one who was going to represent God in going to Israel, and so he was in the process of being separated away from others, and he was in process of becoming holy as well. But when God left that area was no longer holy. Think on that one a little while too. If God withdraws His Spirit, the person is no longer holy. It is the same principle. When God left, then Moses was able to put back his sandals onto his feet.
There is a principle that is shown again throughout God's Word, that when things are made holy, they are things set apart unto purity. They are to be used in a pure way. They are to reflect purity, as well as simple apartness. Purity is contained within the idea or concept of the holy, and whatsoever is holy is to be treated with deference, with purity, because of its relationship to God. Holy brethren, how are you treating each other?
We are to treat each other with the understanding that this other person has been separated to purity, and they are to be treated with kindness, with meekness, with humility, with forbearance, with deference. It's not because they may deserve it, but simply because they've been separated by God and are therefore considered by Him as holy. Whether that holiness is yet a reality in terms of what is in their heart and in their conduct does not matter at this point. We have no right to treat others who are part of God's church, part of His calling, in an unholy way as though they are common and profane.
Let us look at one of these examples back in the book of Leviticus. I used this in the "Sovereignty" series, but this touches on holiness too.
Leviticus 10:1-3 Then Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, each took his censer and put fire in it, put incense on it, and offered profane fire before the LORD, which He had not commanded them. So fire went out from the LORD and devoured them, and they died before the LORD. Then Moses said to Aaron, "This is it what the LORD spoke, saying, 'By those who come near Me I must be regarded as holy [set apart, uncommon]; and before all the people I must be glorified.'" So Aaron held his peace.
We are not dealing with ordinary individuals here. They were sons of Aaron, the high priest of God. God had personally selected Aaron, and Aaron, along with Moses, led Israel out of Egypt. If anyone, we would think, had a close relationship with God, it was Moses and Aaron. Surely there would be a little leeway from God in dealing with the sons of Aaron. There was no leeway given. God judged without respect of persons. There was no prejudice in Him. He judged with a holy justice, and He judged with a holy love.
God reacted swiftly and violently. We could say (in a sarcastic sense) that it was not as if they profaned the holy altar with prostitutes or some kind of a human sacrifice, that all they did was offer a little bit of strange fire, whatever that was. Or maybe it was just a little bit of experimentation with the liturgy. Surely they were only guilty of something that should require only a slap on the wrist. Surely not a summary execution without a trial.
Aaron was stunned, as I am sure that any parent would have been in that situation. It is hard to imagine what he was thinking. Maybe he was thinking, "I've dedicated my whole life to God, and this is the thanks that I get when my sons are summarily executed for what seems to be a minor infraction." That is why Moses appears on the scene, because Aaron undoubtedly went to Moses to find out what was up. Moses' answer was verse 3. It was also God's answer as well, and now appears in His Word.
Think of this in relation to your calling. Moses reminded Aaron of the original consecration of the priests. They had been set apart for a sacred task. They had the privilege of ministering before a holy God. Each vessel of the Tabernacle was made to precise specification and sanctified through elaborate ceremonies commanded by God.
Exodus 30:7-10 Aaron shall burn on it sweet incense every morning; when he tends the lamps, he shall burn incense on it. And when Aaron lights the lamps at twilight, he shall burn incense on it, a perpetual incense before the LORD throughout your generations. You shall not offer strange incense on it, or a burnt offering, or a grain offering, nor shall you pour a drink offering on it. And Aaron shall make atonement upon its horns once in a year with the blood of the sin offering of atonement; once a year he shall make atonement upon it throughout your generations. It is most holy to the LORD.
It was on that little altar that the incense was burned that represents your prayers. The instructions were clear. The altar is declared to be most holy. When they offered strange fire, they were acting in clear defiance of God. It was an act of blatant rebellion, an inexcusable profanation of a most holy thing; an act of treason, a sin of arrogance.
Isaiah 52:11 Depart! Depart! Touch no unclean thing; go out of the midst of her, be clean, you who bear the vessels of the LORD.
He may as well say, "Be holy you who bear the vessels of the LORD." As I said just a few minutes earlier, think of what they have done in relation to our calling into the church. Theirs was a flagrant act of abuse of their office as priests of God. They were careless about the sacrifices. Performing sacrifices was to be an act of obedience, and doing them correctly would have shown respect to God. It is very easy to grow careless. But if one way, or any way, is just as good as another, why would God even give such specific instructions? God's judgment was swift, and Aaron very wisely held his peace. Was God unfair?
Built into our concept of justice is that punishment must fit the crime. If the punishment is more severe than the crime, we say then that an injustice was committed. That those two men sinned is easily seen, but they never dreamed that their sin was so serious that they would be executed on the spot. Was that too harsh of God? Do we know this holy God? Does that fit our concept of God? Is God altogether like us? I do not think we would have judged that the same way. Maybe that shows how far we have to go in being like this God.
Genesis 18:25 shows something about Abraham, that he understood some things about God, and here he was appealing to God's mercy. He is making this appeal, undoubtedly thinking of Lot and his family there in the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. Abraham appeals to God:
Genesis 18:25 "Far be it from You to do such a thing as this, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous should be as the wicked; far be it from you! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?"
He always does what is right because His righteousness is holy. We have a measure of righteousness within us. It is part of our character now, because the righteousness of Christ has been imputed to us, and in addition to that we are on the sanctification road, and we have overcome a number of things in our lives, and that righteousness is becoming a part of us. But is our righteousness holy like God's righteousness? Not yet. We have a long, long way to go.
It is impossible for God to be unjust, because His justice is holy. It is not in His nature to be anything but transcendent in every aspect of His being. He is, as we might say, "out of sight" in everything.
Let us look at another one. The killing of Uzzah is very similar. That is in I Chronicles 13:3-11. It involved the transporting of the Ark, and of course was the time that the Ark appeared to be falling off the cart that it was on. Uzzah reached out his hand—a reflex action. Almost anybody would do that. He reached out his hand to try to catch this holy, venerated thing (which was probably the most venerated thing in all of Israel) before it fell over and got all dirty in the dirt and maybe damaged in the fall. Uzzah reached out and touched that thing, and "boom!" He was dead the instant his hand touched it.
But again, we find that God's instructions were disobeyed. The Ark was not to be transported on a cart. It was to be carried, and it was to be carried between poles, and it was to be carried by Kohathites only. If you read the instructions, they were not even allowed to look at it. And this holy God struck Uzzah down.
Would God do that to a converted person? Were Ananias and Sapphira converted? If they were converted, He has already done it. He struck them dead because they lied. Ask yourself and answer this: Is a lie worse than reaching out and touching the Ark?
Would the Ark have been defiled if it fell into the dirt? The answer to that brethren is "No." What God was concerned about was the dirty sinning hand of that man reaching out and touching the Ark. The dirt does not sin. The dirt responds to its Creator exactly the way He intended, but man has will, and man has enmity in him for God. Man does not like to obey the laws of God, and man sins, and that hand that reached out was defiled by sin, and God killed him for his sin. The hand was polluted. God was just in what He did, when it is seen in that light.
Brethren, God can at any time execute anyone of us, and we live only because of His mercy, because we have been separated and made holy because He wants to make something out of us that is holy like He is holy.
You talk about forbearance. Our forbearance with problems with other people does not even begin to touch His holy forbearance in putting up with us! God told Adam and Eve, "In the day that you eat thereof, you shall surely die." Do you believe that? Do you believe that the wages of sin is death?
On the one hand, God says that a day may be a thousand years long. It says that in II Peter. When the concept of "day" is applied to you and me, "the day of salvation" could be a large portion of a person's life. If a person is called at twenty, his day of salvation might be fifty years long. God gives mercy to that person to grow and overcome. On the other hand we find that the Day of the Lord is probably only one year long, one of very intensive destruction. But let me tell you this, that everyone dies during the period of his day, whether Adam and Eve, or "the day of salvation." God has the right to carry out the penalty at any time, and it will be a holy judgment. How are we handling the holy things?
I Peter 1:13-16 Therefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and rest your hope fully upon the grace that is to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ; as obedient children, not conforming yourselves according to the former lusts, as in your ignorance; but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, because it is written, "Be holy, for I am holy."
So the God we know is holy. Things, even inanimate things, can be made holy by the sanctification of God. But brethren, we are not inanimate. We have mind, we have will, we have attitudes, and we can make choices. Verse 13 says, "Therefore gird up the loins of your mind." It means be prepared for action, because for us, holiness not only involves that initial sanctification that God gave to us, it also involves choices and attitudes leading to like conduct of life. Before conversion, we lived in ignorance, and consequently were dominated by the satisfaction of our own desires.
God is not like war-like human beings, competitive human beings, adulterous human beings, spiteful human beings, grasping human beings, proud and deceitful human beings, blood-thirsty, or promiscuous human beings. God is just the opposite, and God sacrifices Himself for others.
What makes us different? Are God's qualities in our lives? Peter is saying that we are to be prepared for action so that the holiness of God is the focus of our lives and that we are making choices to do what we can do to be like Him. And so when God calls us, we must cease living according to what is profane.
This word profane is an interesting word in the Greek. Do you know what profane means in the Greek? It means "far from the Temple." You see, that is the holy place. That is the dwelling place of God. When a person is profane, he is far from being holy. So, we are to cease living from what is profane. Holiness means separation from all that is profane. We must seek to produce the divine likeness in all of holiness in all of our behavior. This is where the Holy Spirit comes into the picture.
I Corinthians 2:10-14 But God has revealed them to us through His Spirit. For the Spirit searches all things, yes, the deep things of God. For what man knows the things of a man save the spirit of man which is in him? Even so no one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that are freely given to us by God. These things we also speak, not in words which man's wisdom teaches but which the Holy Spirit teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual. But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.
As long as we are not being led by the Holy Spirit, we will never possess the holiness of God, because all holiness is ultimately from God. Remember I said earlier only God can make something holy. Our holiness must be the result of our relationship with God through and by means of the Holy Spirit. It is the power, it is the creative force that is at work within us that we might have the holiness of God.
I Corinthians 2 will show you that a person without the Holy Spirit cannot really know God. This might be compared to be somewhat similar to someone who is deaf. A tone-deaf person cannot appreciate beautiful music. Well, a person without the Holy Spirit cannot appreciate the beauty of holiness. They are repelled by it, as I said earlier. They want to fight against it. "Depart from me," Peter said. "Woe is me! I am undone!" Isaiah said. So they undoubtedly covered their eyes, as it were, so that they could shield them from the holiness of the One that they saw. I think that we will see that anybody who is confronted by holiness wants an immediate change in circumstance.
Here is the catcher for us. Sin wears a cloak of deception, and the first step to attaining holiness is to be exposed to truth and to have our minds cleansed of lies. That is what God begins to do in His calling. Jesus said in John 17:17, "Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth." Sanctification unto holiness can only begin once we are exposed to truth. Central to that issue is being exposed and confronted by what God Himself is, because He is the object that we are aiming toward. He is the One we are to be like. We are to be like Him and His Son, Jesus Christ.
Until we are exposed to the truth and confronted with the character, the mind, the heart, the holiness of God, we are not confronted with the truth we need to be sanctified. So, God calls us. He begins to reveal Himself to us, and with it His good news, which is the truth about why we were born. Then He begins to magnify all of these things out into other areas of life. But always we are being exposed to truth, and God expects us to follow truth.
But sin is deceitful. The heart is deceitful above things, and desperately wicked. It is incurably sick and it always wants to push truth away, to justify, to reconcile, to be unwilling to face, to shut our eyes to the truth that is needed that will really sanctify us unto holiness.
But a mind that is joined with the Holy Spirit, though convicted by the awesome difference between the holiness of God and the self, is going to do anything to the nth degree to be like the holiness of God. It is just like the Holy Spirit is the magnet that makes us turn our attention, our focus, in that direction. If we are still thinking carnally, even though convicted, we will sometimes justify and sometimes outright reject in order to get out of the presence of the holy, even though we are converted.
Remember I just said, "Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth." We are washed by the water of the word. A cleansing unto holiness has to take place. It takes place through a confrontation with truth, and a willingness to apply it.
Hebrews 4:12-13 For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him with whom we must give account.
There is a play on the word "word" here. In the one verse it appears that word means the words that are on the pages of the book. In the next verse it appears it is talking about Jesus Christ, and so it transposes them back and forth.
We are dealing with a living God who wants to bring us into His Kingdom, and so He confronts us with His Word. He challenges us with His Word. He teaches us about His Word, because in His Word is the revelation of Himself—revelation of His character, revelation of His holiness, revelation of His justice, revelation of His mercy—and it is all contained within words. God expects us to take those words into us, digest them, and make them a part of us so that we can be clean from the inside out. As we begin to get clean and we begin to obey that word, we begin to become holy—really holy, as God is holy. This is the sanctification process.
God's Word penetrates, and it cuts and it reveals the falsehoods and the deceptions in our minds. It is life-changing and dynamic. It is living, and it confronts us with choices, and the choice is: Are we going to allow carnality to reject it, run from it, justify to ourselves, and explain to others why we cannot do it?
II Corinthians 7:1 Therefore having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.
II Corinthians 6:11 O Corinthians! We have spoken openly to you, our heart is wide open.
He is telling them that he is appealing to them with his voice, preaching them God's Word, giving them truth, and he says, "Our heart is wide open." ["I love you."] He says:
II Corinthians 6:12-13 You are not restricted [meaning, "confined"] by us, but you are restricted by your own affections [your own feelings, your own emotions, your thoughts about yourself that is holding you back]. Now in return for the same, (I speak as to children,) you also be open.
Now listen to this advice, because it is advice that if a person does not heed it, it is going to hold him back and keep him from perfecting holiness.
II Corinthians 6:14-18 Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with unrighteousness? And what communion [what sharing do we have in common] has light with darkness? And what accord [what agreement has Christ with Belial [foolishness, Satan]? Or what part a believer with an unbeliever? And what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For you are the temple of the living God [Is it a holy temple?]. As God has said, "I will dwell in them, and walk among them. I will be their God, and they shall be My people. Come out from among them, and be separate [be holy, different, other, cut apart], says the Lord, do not touch what is unclean [Isaiah 52:11], and I will receive you. I will be a Father to you, and you shall be My sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty."
II Corinthians 7:1 Therefore, having these promises, [the promises that we are promised that we are His son and daughter], beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.
This next set of verses shows that it is by the Spirit of God that this is accomplished in us.
II Corinthians 3:15-18 But even to this day, when Moses is read, the veil lies on their heart. Nevertheless when one turns to the Lord, the veil shall be taken away. Now the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.
Hebrews 12:14 Follow peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord.
Is it important, or what?
There have been succinct statements regarding other issues, but here is one that shows holiness' overriding importance. Holiness is the very excellency of the divine nature. Holiness is the very antithesis of all moral blemishes and defilement. Sin's deceitfulness blocks our vision, and so in order to see God, we have to strive to remove sin from our lives.
Listen to this quote. It is from a man named Stephen Charnock, and he wrote this back in the 16th century. He said: "Power is God's arm. Omniscience is His eye. Mercy is His empathetic feeling. Eternity is His duration. Holiness is His beauty."
And that is the way it says in the Bible—"The beauty of holiness." Holiness is the beauty of all of His other attributes. It is the rule of all of His actions.
It is interesting that in the Bible that we are not bidden to be omnipotent. We are not bidden to be omniscient as God is, but we are bidden to be holy in all manner of conduct.
1. Holiness is transcendent and powerful purity.
2. Only God is truly holy.
3. God can put us into a state of holiness by sanctifying us to His use.
4. Holiness must be perfected.
5. God's Spirit, fellowship with God, and faith and humility, which produces obedience, are the means by which holiness is perfected.
6. Perfecting holiness is the process by which we are transformed from the glory of man to the glory God.