The Knowledge of the Holy One: Holy, Holy, Holy

MJ or Kobe? The Shark or Tiger? Montana or Brady? Rivera or Hoffman? Howe or Gretzky? However you choose, you’re sure to find someone, somewhere who can explain one over the other and possibly begin to sway you toward someone not even in consideration. And such is the case when considering the attributes of God.

As the World Trade Centers once dominated the New York City skyline, the holiness of God is argued by some as the supreme attribute that towers above the others. This, of course, is figurative language since, as RC Sproul contends, “…all of God is all of his attributes in their entirety. God’s holiness is immutable, omnipotent, eternal, and omnipresent. In like manner his immutability is holy, omniscient, and eternal…Every attribute we ascribe to him applies to the whole of God. His attributes all exist mutually in a kind of reciprocity of attributes.”[1]

As was once true of NYC and the WTC, one cannot cast their gaze toward the face of God without the holiness of God gleaming against the night sky with brilliance and clarity. But what does “holy” mean, anyway?

Defining Holy

John Frame, in his excellent work [2] defines holiness in this way: “Holiness, then, is God’s capacity and right to arouse our reverent awe and wonder. It is his uniqueness (Ex. 15:11; 1 Sam. 2:2), his transcendence as our Creator. It is his majesty, for the holy God is like a great king, whom we dare not treat like other persons.” But this, if I may be so bold, describes God’s holiness from a reactive position. It’s almost sounds like God’s holiness would be lacking if humanity were not here to react to it/Him. Surely, that is not Frame’s position, in spite of how it may sound.

Pink, deriving at his definition from Revelation 15:4, 1 John 1:5 & Habakkuk 1:13, explains holiness as “the very antithesis of all moral blemish or defilement.”[3] Although I agree with the Holy Scriptures and Pink’s assessment, moral purity doesn’t quite go far enough, does it?

Tozer tackles the 400lb gorilla of God’s holiness with meekness, humility, and obscurity, when defaults to “Holy is the way God is. To be holy He does not conform to a standard. He is the standard. He is absolutely holy with an infinite, incomprehensible fullness of purity that is incapable of being other than it is.”[4] And I can’t say that I blame him for retreating here! After all, this peasant has sought an audience with the King that I might know Him, and as my acquaintance grows my understanding becomes overwhelmed in the Sea of His Resplendence and I, too, come away in awe, incapable articulating what my heart screams about my interaction with Him.

It was one of our modern treasures from God that helped this beggar digest the meat of God’s glorious holiness. “When the Bible calls God holy, it primarily means that God is transcendently separate.”[5] What Sproul is saying is that God holiness means that he is completely distinct from all things (holy/sanctified: to be set apart), He is transcendent over all things (to be set above all), and His moral purity is the backdrop against which all things are measured (He is unstained by any imperfection).

He is Transcendentally Separate in His essence, being, and nature and all that God does is a natural outflow of who He is. Therefore, the Holy One’s activities are by necessity holy, separate, and above; even above our comprehension (Isaiah 55:8-9). It was Rudolph Otto who made a strong case God’s “Complete Otherness;” a point which I can concede so long as this proposition isn’t taken to mean that God is completely unknowable; only that he is entirely unknowable.

“Holy, holy, holy is Yahweh of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory”(Yahweh in place of LORD added)![6] Transcendentally Separate, Transcendentally Separate, Transcendentally Separate, in essence and action is the God of Heaven, the Only, True, Living God. His glory is observable in all that is, ever was, and ever will be!

How Should We Respond to the Holiness of God?

Very simply: We adore, sing praises, marvel, stand in awe, fall prostrate, gawk, stand and point with our jaws gapping wide…silent because of his effulgence (it’s ok, stop what you’re doing and look up effulgence…it’s worth the extra 30 seconds if you’ve read this far already), if that were possible.

Worship.

It’s the only appropriate response to the Majesty that is the Holiness of God; a single word sentence full a beauty, complexity, and profundity that makes the heart of your Creator explode with joy as you experience Him! But this can only be done rightly in Spirit and in Truth, having been made holy by Him who is Holy.

Isaiah was purged of his filth and stood on his feet by a Divine act in the presence of the Holy One (Isaiah 6:7). And how did he respond? Paraphrasing, “Whatever you want, whatever you ask, wherever you send, pick me!” Like a 10 year old with his hand raised high, stretching his little fingers ever so higher, straining for even an additional millimeter so as to be noticed by “the big kids” while picking teams for sandlot kickball…”Pick me, pick me. I’ll do it for you! I’ll do a good job, I promise!” Isaiah responded in fear, terror, dread, and brokenness until the Holy One washed him clean, stood him upright, and gave the sinner the confidence needed to draw near to the throne of the Holy (Hebrews 4:16).

True Israel, the Church, is commanded to respond in faith, trust, and dependence upon Him. In Isaiah 43:3, God identifies Himself as “…the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.” But just before He does, He issues this command in verse 1, “Fear not, for I have redeemed you.” The source of our trust and dependence upon Him stems from the utter incomprehensible truth that He saved us, redeemed us, and that by the His own blood at Calvary. If a holy God was willing to purchase our freedom from sin’s grip and its just sentence of death, what could we not trust and depend upon Him for? What is there to fear if the terror of The Holy One’s judgement has been replaced by the peace afforded to us by our position in His Son? This was the glory of Paul’s closing argument in Romans 8:31-39, “If God is for us, who can be against us…Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect…Who is to condemn…Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness or danger, or sword?..No…For I am sure…[nothing] in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Faith.

It’s the only appropriate response to the Majesty that is the Holiness of God; a single word sentence full of beauty, complexity, and profundity that makes the heart of your Creator explode with joy as you experience Him! And yes, I am aware that I just copied a sentence from above. But, faith in the Holy One of Israel, Israel Himself, Jesus Christ, is the first acceptable act of worship stemming from the heart of flesh given rebellious man at regeneration. Listen to the words of Jesus from the disciple whom Jesus loved, “‘Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal.’ Then [the people said to Jesus], ‘What must we do, to be doing the works of God?’ Jesus answered them, ‘This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.”[7]

The Holiness of God on Display

Did you see it? The Gospel, that is. We respond rightly to the holiness of God by responding rightly to the Holy One of God (Mark 1:24), “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). Sproul[8] agrees with Pink[9] when they write that God’s holiness is most visible in the cross of Christ (as well as perhaps all other attributes). Sproul writes, “The cross was at once the most horrible and the most beautiful example of God’s wrath. It was the most just and the most gracious act in history. God would have been more than unjust, He would have been diabolical to punish Jesus if Jesus had not first willingly taken on Himself the sins of the world. Once Christ had done that, once He volunteered to be the Lamb of God, laden with our sin, then he became the most grotesque and vile thing on this planet. With the concentrated load of sin he carried, he became utterly repugnant to the Father. God made Christ accursed for the sin He bore. Herein was God’s holy justice perfectly manifest. Yet it was done for us. He took what justice demanded from us. This ‘for us’ aspect of the Cross is what displays the majesty of its grace. At the same time justice and grace, wrath and mercy. It is too astonishing to fathom.” 

Indeed, it is.

Faith fueled worship empowered by God’s Spirit, from God’s Truth. That’s how God’s chosen from all ages have always responded to God’s Holiness.

How Then Shall We Live? 

The great puritan pastor and theologian Stephen Charnock accurately summarizes the new life in Christ afforded to those who have been birthed to holiness by Holiness, “As [holiness] is the splendor of all the Divine attributes, so it is the flower of all a Christian’s graces, the crown of all religion.”[10] We would do well to wear such a crown in obedience to our Lord as he charges all men everywhere, especially Believers, “…be holy, for I am Holy…”[11] (emphasis added).

May God grant us the grace necessary us to be so.

[1] RC Sproul, Truths We Confess, pg. 36-37

[2] John Frame, Systematic Theology, pg. 276-279

[3] AW Pink, The Attributes of God, pg. 33

[4] AW Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy, pg.105

[5] RC Sproul, The Holiness of God, pg. 46

[6] Holy Bible, ESV, Isaiah 6:3

[7] Ibid. John 6:27-29

[8] RC Sproul, The Holiness of God, pg. 147

[9] AW Pink, The Attributes of God, pg. 34-35

[10] Stephen Charnock, Existence and Attributes, pg. 529

[11] Holy Bible, ESV, Leviticus 11:44

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