Sunday, May 4, 2008

Finding & Facing the Holiness of God

(BE ADVISED: this post is over 3500 words; mainly due to large chunks of scripture quotations. Also, RC Sproul's Holiness of God was a significant resource for this post.)


Charles Colson wrote of his conversion in the book Born Again. In the midst of the Watergate scandal, June 1, 1973, Colson visited his old friend Tom Phillips. Phillips was President of the Raytheon Company, a firm Colson had represented before going to work in the White House, and he was about to start again. Colson had an ulterior motive for visiting his old friend and future employer. Here are Colson’s words: "I knew Tom had become a Christian, and he seemed so different. I wanted to ask him what had happened.” He was puzzled at Phillips' explanation that he had "accepted Jesus Christ." But he saw that Phillips possessed a peace that escaped him. When Colson left the house with a copy of C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity, he couldn't get out of the driveway. He says,

That night I was confronted with my own sin—not just Watergate's dirty tricks, but the sin deep within me, the hidden evil that lives in every human heart. It was painful and I could not escape. Ex-Marine captain, White House tough-guy, I was crying [so] hard, calling out to God. I didn’t know what to say; I just knew I needed Jesus. That was the night I gave my life to Jesus Christ…and He came into my life.

That is a familiar and wonderful tale, but it’s not the end of the story. Not only was the White House hatchet man willing to cry in 1973; he was also willing to repent several years later of a woefully inadequate view of God. During a period of spiritual dryness (If you are in one, take heart! More saints than you realize have had life-changing encounters with God right in the midst of the desert.) a friend suggested to Colson that he watch a videocassette lecture series by R.C. Sproul on the holiness of God. Colson said:

All I knew about Sproul was that he was a theologian, so I wasn't enthusiastic. After all I reasoned, theology was for people who had time to study, locked in ivory towers far from the battlefield of human need. However, at my friend's urging I finally agreed to watch Sproul's series.

By the end of the sixth lecture I was on my knees, deep in prayer, in awe of God's absolute holiness. It was a life-changing experience as I gained a completely new understanding of the holy God I believe in and worship.

My spiritual drought ended, but this taste for the majesty of God only made me thirst for more of him. (Loving God; pp. 14–15)

In 1973 Colson had seen enough of God and himself to know his desperate need of a Savior. Several years later something else wonderful occurred. A theologian spoke on the holiness of God and Charles Colson says that he fell to his knees and "gained a completely new understanding of the holy God." From that point on he had what he calls a "taste for the majesty of God." Have you seen enough of God's holiness to have an insatiable taste for his majesty?

In order to find and face the holiness of God we must begin with a definition, and the definition has two parts.

Holiness Defined

First, the holiness of God declares His “otherness” and “separateness” from His creation. God is essentially holy. Second, the holiness of God refers to His pure and righteous actions. God's actions are always righteous; there is absolutely no admixture of sin or evil with God.


Thomas Watson – “Holiness is the sparkling jewel of [God’s] crown…the name by which He is known” (Body of Divinity).

Stephen Charnock – “The holiness of God is His glory…[and] His crown…He is a pure and unmixed light, free from all blemish in His essence, nature, and operations” (The Existence & Attributes of God; Discourse X; pp. 110)

R.L. Dabney – “His holiness is the collective and consummate glory of His nature as an infinite, morally pure, active, and intelligent Spirit.” (Systematic Theology)

Those dead theologians did not make this stuff up! Their theological definitions of God’s holiness are scripturally rooted, and that is always a plus!

Isaiah 57:15“For thus saith the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy; I dwell in the high and holy place”. God is incomparable, infinite perfection.

Exodus 15:11“Who is like unto thee, O Lord, among the gods? who is like thee, glorious in holiness, fearful in praises, doing wonders?"

1 Samuel 2:2“There is none holy as the Lord: for there is none beside thee: neither is there any rock like our God.” God exists in His own category. He does not conform to any standard; He is the standard!

Psalm 111:9“He sent redemption unto his people: he hath commanded his covenant for ever: holy and reverend is his name.” You could substitute the word “reverend” with the word “awesome”; the words have the same meaning. This is why I personally do not like to be referred to as “Reverend” and why I work to restrict my usage of “awesome” to describing God and His work. There is a complete separation between God and sin. It is important for us to understand that because everything in Creation is tainted and affected by sin. God, however, is intrinsically and transcendently holy.

Habakkuk 1:13a“Thou art of purer eyes than to behold evil, and canst not look on iniquity.”

Job 34:10“Far be it from God, that he should do wickedness; and from the Almighty, that he should commit iniquity.”

Revelation 15:4“Who shall not fear thee, O Lord, and glorify thy name? for thou only art holy: for all nations shall come and worship before thee; for thy judgments are made manifest.”

God is intrinsically holy; just as light is the essence of the sun; holiness is the essence of God. God is primarily holy; He is the original and the pattern of holiness. God is efficiently holy; He is the only cause of all holiness in others. God is transcendently holy; His holiness is pure and unchangeable. (So says Thomas Watson in Body of Divinity.)

That is holiness defined. Let us now consider holiness manifested.

Holiness Manifested

In Scripture God’s holiness is not only defined but it is revealed.

Works

Genesis 1:31“And God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good. And the evening and the morning were the sixth day.” It could not be anything else but good, because only perfection can come from a holy God.

Ecclesiastes 7:29“Lo, this only have I found, that God hath made man upright; but they have sought out many inventions.” Sin disfigured and perverted man; not God.

Psalm 145:17“The Lord is righteous in all his ways, and holy in all his works.” Thomas Watson said that God “Can no more do an unrighteous action than the sun can darken”.

Heaven

In the Bible God has provided glimpses of glory, and when you look at heavenly glory you are faced with the holiness of God.

Isaiah 6:1-4“In the year that king Uzziah died I saw also the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and his train filled the temple. Above it stood the seraphims: each one had six wings; with twain he covered his face, and with twain he covered his feet, and with twain he did fly. And one cried unto another, and said, Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory. And the posts of the door moved at the voice of him that cried, and the house was filled with smoke."

Revelation 4:8 – When John was taken to heaven he saw the Lord sitting on His throne, and surrounding the Lord were the four beasts and the 24 elders. John said that “They rest not day and night, saying, Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, which was, and is, and is to come.”

These heavenly beings are not content with, “Holy!” They are not even content with “Holy! Holy!” They must say it three times: “Holy! Holy! Holy!” They take it to the third degree; the superlative degree. No other attribute of God is praised like this. Not love, mercy, justice, or sovereignty; just His holiness.

Hell

Even hell is an evidence of God’s holiness, because sinners who are not covered by the righteousness of Christ, having their sins forgiven, must be put out of God’s presence. Hell exists because God is holy.

Law

The Law of God reveals His moral perfection. It is the ultimate standard of righteousness and the supreme standard by which right and wrong are judged.

Psalm 19:7“The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul”

Romans 7:12“Wherefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good.”

Judgment

In God’s judgment His holiness is revealed. He always acts in accordance with what is right, because He is the final standard of what is right. Paul refers to the Lord as “the righteous Judge” in 2 Timothy 4:8, and Moses says in…

Deuteronomy 32:4“He is the Rock, his work is perfect: for all his ways are judgment: a God of truth and without iniquity, just and right is he.”

Isaiah 45:19b“I the Lord speak righteousness, I declare things that are right.”

Psalm 19:8“The statutes of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart.”

We might not think of righteousness and justice as being the same, but Biblically speaking they are identical. When God is just He is doing what is right; therefore, God is always just. Abraham asked God a rhetorical question that can have only one answer, “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?” (Genesis 18:25b)

My fear is that we have become so accustomed to grace that we are now amazed by justice. I've been asked and I have considered many theological questions: “Why does God allow a church to split…a family to split…why do death, disease, and destruction exist in the world…why did 9/11 happen?

But I have rarely, if ever, been asked the question: "Why did God save me?" I wonder if we all harbor the idea, at least subconsciously, that we deserve it? I wonder; do we think that heaven just wouldn't be heaven without us?

Do we really find grace amazing?

Holiness Revealed

God is not required to show us grace. We are not owed grace. Justice is what we deserve, and the just punishment for all sinners is death. But here is where we are given the greatest revelation, the greatest manifestation, the most clear and understandable expression of God’s holiness is revealed in Jesus Christ. The incarnation; God becoming flesh and dwelling among us is the most brilliant revelation of God’s holiness set against the blackest back-drop.

The best way in which you can find and face the holiness of God is to turn your eyes upon Jesus.

John 1:18“No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him.” Everything that I want or need to know about God is declared by Jesus. He is the explanation. That word translated “declared” is the Greek word “exegeomai” – meaning “to unfold, declare, and explain; to make known.” From this word we also get the term “exegesis” – “to interpret”; which is what every pastor must do before he preaches and we must all do is we are to lead lives that are pleasing unto God. We must rightly interpret the text. John is telling us that all that Jesus is and does interprets, explains, and declares, who God is and what He does.

Hebrews 1:1-3“God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds; Who being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person, and upholding all things by the word of his power, when he had by himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high" Christ is the exact imprint of God’s nature; the exact representation of the nature and the essence of God in time and space. Look at Christ if you want to know what God looks like. He is the exact representation of God’s nature.

With that in view let's look at Mark 4:35-41.
And the same day, when the even was come, he saith unto them, Let us pass over unto the other side. And when they had sent away the multitude, they took him even as he was in the ship. And there were also with him other little ships. And there arose a great storm of wind, and the waves beat into the ship, so that it was now full. And he was in the hinder part of the ship, asleep on a pillow: and they awake him, and say unto him, Master, carest thou not that we perish? And he arose, and rebuked the wind, and said unto the sea, Peace, be still. And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. And he said unto them, Why are ye so fearful? how is it that ye have no faith? And they feared exceedingly, and said one to another, What manner of man is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?
The topography of the Sea of Galilee is unique. The lake itself is 680’ below sea level, but it is bounded, especially on the east, by hills which are 2000’ high. These heights are a source of cool, dry air. In contrast, directly around the sea, the climate is semi-tropical with warm, moist air. The large difference in height between surrounding land and the sea causes great temperature and pressure changes. This results in strong winds dropping to the sea, funneling through the hills. Since the lake is so small and shallow, 200’ at its deepest point, it is easily churned up.

Their boat was being torn by a terrible tempest, but Jesus was asleep. The disciples were scared. They were in the throes of a raging storm; a storm that was violent enough to scare veteran fisherman who were accustomed to the sudden and violent Sea of Galilee storms. "Lord, don't you care that we're about to die?” The disciples were scared and annoyed at Jesus because He is soundly sleeping during their moment of need.

Matthew and Luke tell us that Jesus mildly rebuked the disciples – “Why are ye fearful…Where is your faith?” (Matthew 8:23-27; Luke 8:22-25). After rebuking the disciples Jesus looked at the same storm which had them panicked, and He said, "Peace! Be still!" At His command the wind ceased – not one zephyr in the air – and the sea was like glass – not one ripple on the lake.

I’m not sure what the disciples expected Jesus to do when they woke Him up. Maybe they wanted Him to help them pail out the water, batten down the hatches, I don’t know, but I guarantee you they never imagined that He’d start talking to the water and wind. But they were not on a boat with just an ordinary religious teacher. Instead, this is the One by whom, through whom, and for whom all things were made. He had and He used His authority over the forces of nature.

What reaction would you expect from the disciples? Perhaps, "Thank you, Jesus! That storm was a dozy; had us scared there for a moment." That wasn’t their reaction at all. I love how Mark states it in v. 41a, “And they feared exceedingly.” They were more frightened after the storm than they were during the storm. Now their terror was directed not at the wind and the waves but at Jesus. Why? Because the only thing more terrifying than being on a small boat in the midst of a terrible storm is being on a small boat with the One who commands the storm. "What manner of man is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?" (v. 41b)

We pigeonhole people in our minds. We look at people and make instantaneous judgments; dividing them into categories based on appearance, skin color, accent, education, and sports team affiliation. For the first time in their lives, the disciples met a person for whom they had no category. They were in the presence of a man who was in a class by himself. His otherness was so alien they were terrified.

We see this again in Luke 5:1-11. After fishing all night long and catching absolutely nothing, Peter pulls his boat onto the shore and begins to clean his nets. The Jesus gets on the boat and says, “Launch out into the deep, and let down your nets for a draught (a catch) (v. 4). Try to get inside Peter's mind when Jesus said that. “What does a carpenter know about fishing? I won’t tell you how to frame a house, don’t you tell me how to catch fish.” Maybe he thought it was a joke and he thought "He is the Lord, I’ll humor him."

They obeyed and into his net jumped every fish in the Sea of Galilee. If you were Peter what would you do? "This is great! I’ll tell you what, Jesus; let’s you and me go into business together! My boat and your know-how; we’ll split the profits 50-50." Isn’t that what any astute business man would do; cut a deal with Christ? That wasn’t Peter’s response. “When Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” (v. 8) Jesus hadn't given a sermon on repentance; He just said where to throw the net. But in the presence of the Holy One, Peter became aware of his own sinfulness.

Unbelievers want to classify Jesus as a great teacher, humanitarian, egalitarian, morally superior philosopher. Sure, there are some who are critical, skeptical, and belligerent towards Jesus, but mainly unbelievers have a high opinion of the Lord. There are also many professing believers who want to limit Jesus to the ultimate self-help guru: “Try Jesus, He’ll help you with your finances, your marriage, your parenting, and your job” etc. In other words, those opinions relegate Jesus to a safe, manageable distance and position.

Ask yourself this question: Why did His contemporaries kill him? Jesus was not crucified because he said to consider the lilies how they grow (Matthew 6:28; Luke 12:27), but because He said consider the thieves how they steal. The world could not endure the holy One of Israel.

The ones who hated Christ the most were the ones whom the public deemed as being holy. But their holiness was counterfeit, and nothing exposes the counterfeit faster than the genuine. The first ones to recognize Jesus were the demons, and when they were in His presence they were terrified. “Let us alone; what have we to do with thee, thou Jesus of Nazareth? art thou come to destroy us? I know thee who thou art, the Holy One of God.” (Mark 1:24) Even the demons quake at holiness.

What kind of Jesus do you desire? Do you only want a blessed Jesus; meek and mild, granting your wishes and bestowing you with prosperity? Or do you want Jesus the Master and Commander of nature; Jesus the most Holy One of God?

Me must not de-claw and de-fang Christ. People don't need that. We don’t need that. Our families and our churches, and each of us need to see Him in the fullness of His glory, in the majesty of His power, in the authority of His command. Nothing less will do for a dying world but a redeemer who is altogether holy. We don't know what Christianity is until we worship God and love Him for what and who He is and not only for what He gives.

Revival happens when we see God for who He is: majestic in holiness, and when we see ourselves as what we are: disobedient dust. Brokenness, repentance, unspeakable joy of forgiveness, a "taste for the magnificence of God," a hunger for His holiness; to see it more and to live it more: that's revival, and it comes from seeing God “glorious in holiness” (Exodus 15:11).

Some day God will blow and turn away every competing glory and make his holiness known in awesome splendor to every creature. But there is no need to wait. Humble yourself and go hard after the Holy God. Develop a taste for His majesty. God, who is ever alive, authoritative, omnipotent, resplendent, revered, holy, and glorious, makes this promise: "Then shall ye call upon me, and ye shall go and pray unto me, and I will hearken unto you. And ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart." (Jeremiah 29:12–13)

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