At our church we have been in a series called: The God I Wish You Knew.
This past week we focused on: God is Holy.
God is utterly unique: He is perfectly righteous and good.
God is not just holy or holy, holy, holy—He is wholly and holy unlike us. Pain does not plague him. The economy does not phase Him. Headlines and the acts of men and women do not define him. Diseases do not infect him and death cannot claim him.
The acts of humanity cannot change how we view Him. If we allow the things that people do to define our theology we are sunk. Some time ago a person in our community did some horrible things and was convicted and sentenced to life in prison, actually 45 years which would make them 112, but they were sentences without possibility of parole. While I never mentioned their name, the Sunday following their arrest, as I spoke to my congregation, I shared these poignant thoughts: Humanity cannot define divinity. The acts of men and women do not dictate our theology. When bad things happen, that does not subtract from God’s goodness and holiness.
- Ephesians 3:20
Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine.. (NIV)
He is amazing and magnificent. Holy and Sovereign – He exercises His Holy and perfect will. When we make our lives all about us, we miss out on the power and grace of God. We need to make our lives all about God.
Creation is all about God; history is all about God, life is all about God; you are all about God. If it’s all about God, then it’s supremely important that we know God and think about God correctly. Life is all about God.
Everyone matters to God whether God matters to them or not. – Andy Stanley
If we think incorrectly about God, all of life gets messed up because it’s all about God.
A.W. Tozer put it this way:
“What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us… Worship is pure or base as the worshiper entertains high or low thoughts of God. For this reason, the gravest question before the church is always God Himself, and the most portentous fact about any man is not what he at a given time may say or do, but what he in his deep heart conceives God to be like.” – A.W. Tozer The Knowledge of the Holy, pg. 1.
The gravest question is always God Himself, and what we conceive God to be like. What is God like?
Here is the problem: how can we know God? How can we know what God is like? The answer: God must reveal Himself to us. We can only know what God is like if God lets us know Him, if God tells us what He is like. This is known as revelation.
People guess all the time about God; they describe a God they don’t know, a God that they have ignored. Their description of God is what they want God to be like. “I think God is…” But apart from God’s self-revelation, your opinion is of no value. It would be like you telling me what you think about about a person you never met. Think of a famous person! Because they have a public persona and we have video, social media, celebrity reports and the like, we can assume what they are really like, we can even argue that they are a certain way because of what someone said about them or how they have been portrayed. I once heard two people debating about a celebrity, arguing that they knew what they were like. Truth was, I had met this particular celebrity and even had dinner with them, so I knew what they were saying was not truth. As I attempted to interject what I knew, these people were not having it. They had tweets and posts to prove otherwise.
We can do that same thing with God – thinking He is mad, anger, a taker and not a giver, a judge and not a Father, a mean tyrant.
“What is God like?” And the only way to answer that correctly is to know what God has revealed about Himself. To discover that, we turn to Jesus and to the Scripture. God’s self-revelation is supremely in Christ, and in the Scripture.
- God is holy: unique and different; righteous and good.
What do you think of when you hear the word “holy”? We usually think of something sacred, religious, spiritual, consecrated, special.
The words “holy,” “sanctified,” “consecrated,” and “saint” all come from the same root words in Hebrew and Greek. And they mean two basic things.
- Holy means “different, unique, special, set apart.”
To say that God is holy is to say that He is utterly unique; He is different from everything and everyone else. There is none like Him.
1 Samuel 2:2
There is no one holy like the Lord; there is no one besides you; there is no Rock like our God. (NIV)
2 Samuel 7:22
How great you are, O Sovereign Lord! There is no one like you, and there is no God but you, as we have heard with our own ears. (NIV)
“To whom will you compare me? Or who is my equal?” says the Holy One. (NIV)
No one is like you, O Lord; you are great, and your name is mighty in power. Who should not revere you, O King of the nations? This is your due. Among all the wise men of the nations and in all their kingdoms, there is no one like you. (NIV)
But aren’t we made in God’s image? Aren’t we like God? Yes, we are. We are like God; and we are unlike God. We are created in God’s image, but that doesn’t mean that God is just a bigger version of me. This is the danger for us. We tend to think that God is just a bigger, better, buffed up version of ourselves.
The best we can come up with, is a caricature of God. That is why He was real clear about not having any images of Himself. This is why God commanded us not to make and worship images of Him—because the image is far less than the God it represents.
- People attempt to reduce God to someone of something they can manage, control and comprehend.
When we say God is holy, we mean that He is different from everyone and everything else. He is in a category by Himself. There is no one like Him.
We try to describe Him by using comparisons and analogies, but they all fall short; they are pitiful next to the reality of God.
Some people conclude that they do not need God: People that conclude they do not need God have never come to the reality of their humanity.
If you truthfully look at yourself, you will discover your brokenness, your limitations, your sinfulness, and surrender to the evaluation that you cannot do all you planned on your own, and most certainly that your life falls short of greatness. I have been with people that are so arrogant, and wise in their own eyes, that they believe they do not need God at all. They have created themselves as supreme. If you believe you are perfect then, what do you need God for?
I challenge people to look at the reality of their existence and their fears, and hurts and pain. I even challenge them to consider their future and eternities. Some have said, that when life is over it is over. We stop breathing and stop feeling and never feel again. We have emotions, but they are simply chemical reactions – there is no soul, no spirit other than the beating heart and the bleeding skin. I happen to believe we are more than that. I ask people all the time, why would be be created if only for 75, 85 or 90 years on a planet. There has to be more.
If people then get around to telling you about God, it is always a drastic reduction: we reduce God to a smart phone size, handy deity made in our own image, able to serve us and do what we want. It is all about us, again!
- God’s character is the standard for righteousness and goodness.
Caution: Do not take one aspect of God’s character and focus on it alone. Well, you can do that with Holiness, but not with provision, power, protection or anything else. For example, if you conclude that God will provide you with all you need (or all your greed) at anytime that you ask, then you will create a Heavenly waiter out of God. One who responds to every one of your beckon calls. If, for example then, God does not do what you want Him to do when you want Him to do it, you need to create a new theology for how He did not reply. In the 80’s it was a theology of ‘name it and claim it.’ And if God did not do it, then it was due to your lack of faith, or not saying enough prayers, or sin in your life or a curse on your family. In other words, anytime you take one aspect of God and make that the totality of God, you grab a hold of poor theology. We need to realize who were are, our need for God, then the enormity of God and the fact He can do things we fully do not understand. If God is limited to your understanding, He is a very small God and I do not want to embrace your way of thinking.
God is holy, perfectly righteous and good, compared with humans who are not. sinful.
- Isaiah 5:16
But the Lord Almighty will be exalted by his justice, and the holy God will show himself holy by his righteousness.
So when we say that God is holy, we mean that he is unique and different; righteous and good. Listen to this:
I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphs, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.”… “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.” Then one of the seraphs flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. With it he touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.” Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I. Send me!” (NIV)
This is Isaiah’s awesome vision of God.
Notice the angelic creatures with six wings. Why six wings? They used two to fly; and two to cover their faces in the presence of a holy God, so they wouldn’t look at Him and die; and two to cover their feet, covering their uncleanness in the presence of a holy God. These amazing creatures were very aware that God was different, He was holy! And so they cried, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty!”
To the Jews, repeating something three times indicated its perfection; so the seraphs were saying that God is perfectly holy, that there is no one like Him.
Notice Isaiah’s response: “Uh oh!” He knew he was in trouble. He was a sinner in the presence of a holy God! “Uh oh! Woe is me! I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips and I live among a people of unclean lips.” God gave Isaiah a glimpse of Himself, of His holiness, and Isaiah was undone! This happened all through the Bible when God gave people a glimpse of Himself. When John saw his vision of Jesus in Revelation, John “fell at His feet as though dead.”
When you see God as He really is, it is an “uh oh moment”. You will be overwhelmed with awe. You will realize how different He is from you, that He is holy and you are a sinner. “Uh oh—woe is me!” Even in His Holiness and Perfection – He wants to be with us.
NOTICE the response from Heaven. The angel comes to cleanse Isaiah. He takes a coal off the altar. This was an altar of sacrifice to the Lord. It was where the animals were laid for forgiveness of sins. This is grace and mercy at work. Isaiah realized his humanity and need for God and God realized Isaiah could not cleanse himself.
This is sinner meeting Savior. This is humanity meeting Divinity. This is the heart of God. Isaiah was not being casual about God – but respectful and humble.
“Most people are casual about God because they don’t
have an accurate picture of him.” ~ Francis Chan
- A holy God is to be feared and worshiped.
In the Bible the universal response to seeing God was an “uh-oh moment.” People fell on their faces in fear and awe and reverence and worship. When Angels came from God to encounter humanity, people were afraid.
I’m guessing that some of you are uncomfortable with that word “fear”—with the idea that a holy God is to be feared and worshiped.
Worship, yes; but fear? “Isn’t God our Father? Isn’t He loving and merciful?” Yes. And isn’t He to be feared? Yes. Fear is not simply
A mature theology, a mature understanding of God is able to embrace both.
The Bible is filled with paradox:
Man is free and God is sovereign; God has chosen us and we have to believe;
God is love and God is judge; we are saints and we are sinners. We get in trouble when we hold to one and reject the other; the Bible teaches both, so we have to embrace the paradox and live in the tension. I believe that the best way to understand what it means to fear God is to understand His holiness. Remember Isaiah: He was fearful of God in the sense that He realized who He was – unclean man with unclean lips. It created an ‘UH OH” moment for him.
The Lord Almighty is the one you are to regard as holy, he is the one you are to fear…(NIV)
We fear God because He is holy. When we see God as holy, it’s always an “uh oh moment.” God is so great, so huge, so awesome, so different than me, that I should always feel a healthy fear in His presence.
In today’s culture, we do not revere or fear the name of God enough. In the Old Testament they wouldn’t even say the word God. They would never causally call him God but Hashem, which means the Name. His name is so sacred they didn’t even want to say it. Our lips aren’t even worthy of saying his name.
He is not some little old man sitting in a chair. Do you understand how the Bible describes him? We can’t be casual about this.
I love God…and I fear God. I don’t fear God because He is cruel, or unreliable, or unjust, or evil—He is none of those. (you can see more on fear below)
We underestimate God’s goodness, justice and moral perfection. God is good—perfect goodness. He hates sin. We are so accustomed to sin that we can’t imagine how deeply God hates it. I am guilty of this. I think, “Oh, I’ve got a little problem with pride.” God hates pride; but I tolerate it. Or I think, “I’m a pretty good person.” Of course to think that, I ignore all my sin, large and small. But if I were to stand in the light of God’s perfect and holy presence for even one moment, I would, like Isaiah, cry out, “Uh oh! Woe is me!” In the light of His purity, all my sin would be unmistakable…and ugly.
The problem is: People don’t recognize the holiness of God and realize the reality of their humanity and therefore think they do not need God.
Or some day they will just walk into heaven because they were good.
Big Lie on the Earth: The God that some people know: People are good people. He is good, they are good, so all good people go to a better place when they die. -Francis Chan
Romans 3: 9 – 12 & 23 & 24
Well then, should we conclude that we Jews are better than others? No, not at all, for we have already shown that all people, whether Jews or Gentiles, are under the power of sin. As the Scriptures say, “No one is righteous—not even one. No one is truly wise; no one is seeking God. All have turned away… For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. Yet God, in his grace, freely makes us right in his sight. (NLT)
God is pure, The idea is that God is far greater and better than anything we can imagine, and if we only caught a glimpse of Him, we would be undone.
We can easily approach God time and again with a careless indifference to our own sin as if it does not matter. This should tell us that we are not seeing God as He is: a holy God!
- Psalm 96:9
Worship the Lord in the splendor of his holiness; tremble before him, all the earth. (NIV)
Worship and tremble! We are to do both because of the splendor of His holiness.
- Psalm 99:5
Exalt the Lord our God and worship at his footstool; he is holy. (NIV)
You can only worship at His footstool (a low place) if you are humble and realize you need God.
- Psalm 103:1
Praise the Lord, O my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name. (NIV)
In Revelation 4, John describes a vision he had of God on His throne in heaven.
- Each of the four living creatures had six wings and was covered with eyes all around, even under his wings. Day and night they never stop saying: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come.” Whenever the living creatures give glory, honor and thanks to him who sits on the throne and who lives for ever and ever, the twenty-four elders fall down before him who sits on the throne, and worship him who lives for ever and ever. They lay their crowns before the throne and say: “You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being.”
It is a vision of unceasing worship of a holy God. Day and night, the four living creatures (who look a lot like the seraphs in Isaiah’s vision) never stop saying, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty.” And whenever they do this—which is all the time—the 24 elders fall down before God and worship him. “You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power.” In John’s vision, this worship goes on forever!
Imagine a person so awesome that you never stopped feeling awestruck around them. You never took them granted.
We live near the the amazing Pacific Ocean. Wow! But if you commute to Goleta or Santa Barbara or need to drive South often you can easily take it for granted. You cease to see it’s beauty. But someone seeing it for the first time on a clear day. It is amazing to them. I have seen people from a dessert place or the Midwest, stop and stare at the vast Pacific, they are in awe. Some are amazed by its beauty while even fearing its depth, and the creatures within it, the riptides and more. Beauty and fear can reside in the same person about the same body of water.
We do the same thing to God. We get used to Him and take Him for granted; we lose our sense of awe and wonder. We do the same thing to God. We lose our sense of wonder.
But that doesn’t happen in heaven where people see God as He really is, in the splendor of His holiness. There, face-to-face, we never lose our sense of awe; there, we worship all the time; not because we have to, but because we want to; we are moved by His holiness.
Have you lost the wonder? Let’s ask God to give us a fresh vision of Him, to see Him as He really is. God is holy.
- God has called us to be holy too. God has made you holy in Christ.
This is amazing: The only way you can become holy, is to be inside and covered by the Holy One.
1 Peter 1:15–16
But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.” (NIV)
Be holy in all you do, because God is holy. What does that mean? It means we live a holy life, a different life, for God and not for ourselves.
Holiness is not just avoiding the obvious sins. It is avoiding all sin! But you cannot earn your way to Holiness.
- Holiness is the result of being close to a Holy God and placing your faith fully in the Holy act of Salvation by Jesus Christ.
God told Moses at the burning bush, “Take off your shoes, Moses; you are on holy ground.” What made the ground holy? God was there, meeting Moses. It was an ordinary bush surrounded by ordinary dirt that became holy when God showed up.
- God takes ordinary things and makes them holy.
You are a holy person. Why? Because of your relation to God. He made you holy. You aren’t holy because of your efforts or goodness; you are holy because God took an ordinary person and made you His own; He made you holy, set apart for Himself, different.
1 Corinthians 1:2
To the church of God in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be holy, together with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. (NIV)
God has sanctified you in Christ—that means He made you holy in Christ. He called you to be holy, to be different, to live your life for Him and not for yourself. It’s all about God—a holy God who calls you to be holy because you are His.
God has made you holy…so be holy, because He is holy. Live your life like a person who has seen the holy God and can never be the same again!
Keep learning and studying and getting to know who God is,
Additional Notes on the Fear of God:
The main Hebrew and Greek words translated fear in the Bible can have several shades of meaning, but in the context of the fear of the Lord, they convey a positive reverence.
The Hebrew verb yare can mean “to fear, to respect, to reverence” and the Hebrew noun yirah “usually refers to the fear of God and is viewed as a positive quality. This fear acknowledges God’s good intentions (Ex. 20:20). … This fear is produced by God’s Word (Ps. 119:38; Prov. 2:5) and makes a person receptive to wisdom and knowledge (Prov. 1:7; 9:10)” (Warren Baker and Eugene Carpenter, The Complete Word Study Dictionary: Old Testament, 2003, pp. 470-471).
The Greek noun phobos can mean “reverential fear” of God, “not a mere ‘fear’ of His power and righteous retribution, but a wholesome dread of displeasing Him” (Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words, 1985, “Fear, Fearful, Fearfulness”). This is the type of positive, productive fear Luke describes in the early New Testament Church:
“Then the churches throughout all Judea, Galilee, and Samaria had peace and were edified. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, they were multiplied” (Acts 9:31, emphasis added).
One resource includes this helpful summary: “The fear of God is an attitude of respect, a response of reverence and wonder. It is the only appropriate response to our Creator and Redeemer” (Nelson’s NKJV Study Bible, 1997, note on Psalm 128:1).
King Solomon put it this way in explaining his reason for writing the book of Proverbs: “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge” (Proverbs 1:7).
Why? Consider these words of the psalmist: “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom; a good understanding have all those who do His commandments. His praise endures forever” (Psalm 111:10). This proper fear, puts God’s words and ways above our own. His power as the power we lean in on and not our own.
In Psalm 34 King David also tells us about learning the fear of the Lord: “Come, you children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the LORD. … Keep your tongue from evil, and your lips from speaking deceit. Depart from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it” (verses 11, 13-14).
A healthy fear of God includes the fear of the consequences of disobedience. There may be times of temptation or trial when we may forget some of the better reasons for obeying God, and that is when we had better think of the consequences (Exodus 20:20).
Reverence of God helps us to take Him and His beneficial laws seriously. Being in harmony with the spiritual laws that govern the universe has astounding benefits.This is what Hebrews 10:26-31 tells us: “For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries.
“Of how much worse punishment, do you suppose, will he be thought worthy who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, counted the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified a common thing, and insulted the Spirit of grace? For we know Him who said, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord. And again, ‘The LORD will judge His people.’ It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.”
Reverence of God helps us to take Him and His beneficial laws seriously. Being in harmony with the spiritual laws that govern the universe has astounding benefits. Many of these come in this life, but the greatest benefits will be experienced in the life to come (1 Timothy 4:8; Psalm 16:11).