Loving the Holiness of God
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Sunday, September 21, 2008 - 10:00 a.m.  Sermon #: 1207
Pastor Don Horban

While we talk about this attribute of God the most, in reality, we are dealing with something we understand the least - the holiness of God. We have some concept of His other attributes - power for example - because we see them manifested in smaller ways on this earth. We simply try to multiply them to the nth degree in our minds and then apply them to God. Likewise, we know a bit about knowledge, wrath, compassion, patience, etc.

But look through the Bible. There is something undescribable about the holiness of God. Over and over again, whenever people or angelic beings encounter God's blazing holiness (be it Moses, Isaiah, or John on the island of Patmos) they are left groping for words. They’re simply speechless and stunned.

God’s holiness is something different - separate - from anything we’ve known about before. In fact, even the angelic beings in heaven, who have never experienced the moral collapse of the fall, still have to veil and hide their faces from the blaze of the uncreated holiness of Almighty God. They seem incapable of dealing with it. Here’s one Scriptural picture we’re all familiar with:

Isaiah 6:1-3 - “In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. [2] Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. [3] And one called to another and said: ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!’”

When the smoke clears we’re left with a weird catch 22. We admire his wisdom, we appreciate His love, we marvel at His power - but we can't even comprehend His holiness. And then, in the middle of all of this, we are given some commands that appear all but impossible for us to keep - 1 Peter 1:15-16 - “....but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, [16] since it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy.’”

So I find that the holiness of God is not some theological subject removed from my real world. It's not in the realm of mystical visions, crystal balls, and mountain top monastic retreats. "Be holy in all your behavior," says Peter. And that means I have to deal with the holiness of God. I have to bring it home into my life. I have to be intimately connected with the subject that makes the angels hide their faces.

I have four statements, each beginning with the words, “because God is holy....”


Habakkuk 1:13 - “You who are of purer eyes than to see evil and cannot look at wrong....”

Now, of course God sees everything in this world. He sees sin and impurity all the time. What the prophet means when he says God has purer eyes than to “see” evil is God can’t see and tolerate sin. He can’t just overlook it. He can’t just act as though it weren’t there. We see evil all the time in this world. And, if we’re not terribly diligent, we automatically adjust to it, the way our eyes adjust to light and dark. I don’t mean we necessarily come to approve of sin - though that does frequently happen. But we certainly do lose some of our sense of offense and shock at it.

This never happens to God. The prophet tells us God is never accustomed to sin’s presence. And that’s hard for us to understand because tolerance is the most admired virtue in our world today. Even in evangelical churches, intolerance has become the only sin left. And as much as anything else, this spirit of the age has erased any hope of accurate thinking about the holiness of our Creator.

Simply put, God is not tolerant. He never has been tolerant. He never will be tolerant. This doesn’t mean God is mean. He is loving. He is patient with people as they grow in holiness. He is longsuffering with any who bow their knee and say, "I am wrong and You are right. Help me Lord to walk in your ways. Teach me your statutes!"

But there are many Christians and many churches horribly confused at this important point. Many don’t see the difference between God being patient with our weaknesses and intolerant with our willful opposition to His commands in our thoughts and actions. He never treats our thoughts, attitudes, or actions with moral indifference. What's more, He has no reason to be tolerant.

Let me explain. I have to be tolerant with you and you have to be tolerant with me. That's because we share this world as fellow creatures. Also, we have equal rights given from the hand of our Creator. And even if I think you're wrong, we have laws keeping me from brutally forcing you to do things my way. Those laws protect us from each other's selfishness. God, in His mercy, puts law keepers here to protect the rights of all people - even those who rebel and spit in His face.

And now we come to the heart of the issue. The clear but forgotten teaching of Scripture is that God creates laws for us that in no way apply to Himself. That’s because, while we’re all equals, He’s not anybody's equal. He's the Creator of all that is. There are many clear examples of this in the Scriptures:

Romans 12:17-19 - “Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. [18] If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. [19] Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’"

"Repay no one" - "I will repay." In other words, it's not my place to execute vengeance, but it is God’s place. It would be unrighteous to execute revenge. That's because I am a sinner. I have limited knowledge and understanding. I can't see into people's hearts. I'm prone to be unfair. Absolute authority would be a dangerous thing for me.

But none of those restrictions applies to God. Vengeance is not mean or cruel or arbitrary or beneath Him in any way. Vengeance is perfectly righteous for Him because, being the Creator, He makes the rules, knows all the facts, and is never blinded or misguided by any weakness or injustice.

What all this means is simply this: I must never assume God cannot or will not deal seriously with sin. His absolute holiness will never allow Him to treat sin as casually as we are prone to treat it. His love will never alter His standards of righteousness.

And there’s a reason we need to know all of this about God. It isn’t just cold theology. We are told so much about God's holiness so we won't be tempted to cheaply presume on His grace, thinking He won't deal firmly with all sin and wickedness. No one sins thinking rightly about the holiness of God and His eternal displeasure against sin. True, Christians can and do sin knowing generally about God being holy. But that’s not the same as having a mind dominated by God’s viewpoint against sin.

No, people - even Christian people - sin because, on some level, they’ve come to think God holds about the same displeasure against their sin that they do - Psalm 94:3 & 7 - “O Lord, how long shall the wicked, how long shall the wicked exult?....They say, ‘The Lord does not see; the God of Jacob does not perceive.’”

That’s quite a sentence - “The God of Jacob does not perceive....” This is not a flat-out denial of God’s holiness. It’s a subtle, inward question of God’s perception of our sins - how He sees them. And because they don’t see people dropping like flies - because life seems to just keep ticking along just fine - then God must not perceive of our sins as being all that terrible. That’s why people continue in sin.


Thankfully, this is repeated too many times in Scripture to even be seriously questioned:

Isaiah 59:1-2 - “Behold, the Lord's hand is not shortened, that it cannot save, or his ear dull, that it cannot hear; [2] but your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear.”

God’s own people - the people of Judah - had begun to think God had either a bad case of arthritis or deafness. He didn’t seem to have use of His strong arm and hand and He didn’t seem to hear their cry. But neither was the case. Their sins had caused God to “hide His face” from them. He made Himself scarce.

Psalm 66:18 - “If I had cherished iniquity in my heart, the Lord would not have listened.”

Here we see that people can’t cherish both sin and God. Even if the sin is locked up, out of sight, in the heart. Repentance is coming to the place where God is cherished above sin. Sin is relinquished because greater joy is found in pleasing God than serving sin. But if sin and God are equal pleasures in my heart, causing me to try to cling to both, God will not even listen to me. He doesn’t know me.


Matthew 23:25-28 - “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. [26] You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean. [27] "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people's bones and all uncleanness. [28] So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.”

If you read these verses carelessly, as I did for a long time, all you will see is a Jesus who is never satisfied. Whatever level of purity we reach, he probes deeper and finds the dust we left under the bed. And that’s not the heart of Jesus at all.

Jesus uses the Pharisees - quite harshly, it’s true - to help us see the kind of false purity that keeps genuine godliness out of reach. When is a life moving into the freedom of holiness? Only when attention is placed on the inner life. Attention that is only given to externals will never transform the person.

And Jesus identifies the kind of sins I tend to leave unmolested in my heart - Matthew 23:25 - “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence.” Do you see it. There they are - the sinful molds gradually polluting the whole heart. Jesus names them - greed and self-indulgence. The habit of heart affection that finds more delight in accumulation and indulgence than in God. “There,” says Jesus. “That’s where all the other sins come from!”

The spiritual strength that will keep you clean outwardly can’t be pulled out of a hat. You can’t create enough lists and rules to hold your being in check. The strength of outward purity is formed gradually by allowing the Holy Spirit to wean you away from greed for things, and indulgence of self. Learn - practice - not to want so much. Not wanting something is as good as possessing it. People strive to possess things to satisfy the craving for those things. If you deal with the craving and bring it to the cross, you’ve accomplished the same satisfaction as possessing. Only you’ve kept Jesus as Lord of your heart.

Jesus urges all of us to deal with the root of our sins. Any other approach is just whitewashing our hearts. This leads right into the last point.


If there is anything of a new nature - anything of what John calls “God’s seed” - implanted in my little heart at all, I will be drawn into loving the holiness of Father God like a fish loves water. That’s what those words about being a “new creature” mean. Notice, not just a forgiven creature who lives the same old life - but a new creature - one who is at least beginning to live an entirely differently way.

And he does so, not just because he has to, but because he loves to.Here is a basic statement of foundational truth that, until recent years, was held to with mathematic precision: The very first change that conversion makes in the human heart is this - it takes a person who used to care primarily about his own fulfilment and changes him into a person who cares first and foremost about God's glory. And I would say everything else in the Christian life hinges on whether or not I understand that statement.

Let me read to you some very old words - many of hundreds of years old. And then let me try to apply them with a closing illustration. Here are the old words: Jonathan Edwards - "A true love for God must begin with a delight in his holiness. The sight of God's true loveliness must begin here and not with delight in any other attribute. For no other attribute is truly lovely without holiness."

If you don’t get the whole quote, that’s fine. The idea I want is in the very first sentence - “A true love for God must begin with a delight in His holiness....” And the part I want you to grab is the linking of two words - love and delight. Edwards says love for God means delight in His holiness. And Edwards says this delight is the beginning point - the first step in holiness. True, other things will follow. There will surely be things I do and things I would rather die than do. So yes, there are lists of holy things and unholy things in the New Testament.

But that’s not where holiness starts. That’s where it manifests its fruit, but not where it originates. If you try to birth holiness in those lists - and the church has tried this many times - you are doomed to failure. And the reason is as old as the book of Romans. Laws can’t save. Not any laws. Not ever.

Again, don’t misunderstand me. That doesn’t mean there aren’t any rules. There clearly are rules. And they’re meant to be kept. But you start the process earlier. You learn to delight in God.

Now for the closing illustration: Let’s say I’m out for dinner with my wife. She has found out that, that very evening, I was invited away for an all expense paid trip to Pebble Beach with a friend. To her surprise, she heard I turned the whole trip down. “Why in the world didn’t you go?” she asks. “Because, sweetheart, Pebble Beach can’t compare with the absolute delight I get sitting across the table from you, seeing the candle-light in your eyes, hearing your laugh, and holding your hands. I thought about going. But, to be honest, I get so much more pleasure and delight being with you than a golf trip could ever bring.”

Having said that, I’d be very shocked if she said, “It’s all about you, isn’t it? Your delight. Your pleasure. You, you, you. Don’t you ever think of anyone other than yourself!?!?”

And the reason she would never say that, even though I did talk about my delight and my pleasure, is I was getting my delight and pleasure from her company. In other words, my deepest joy was a compliment to her. Nothing showed my love for her like my delight and my joy in her presence.

Truly, there isn’t a rule book in the world that will keep me as faithful to my wife as my delight and joy in her presence. And loving God’s holiness - taking my pleasure in His holiness - breeds purity of heart and life and joy more than anything else ever can.

Bishop J.C.Ryle said these words in 1879: "A holy man will endeavor to shun every known sin, and to keep every known commandment. He will have a decided bent of mind towards God, a hearty desire to do His will, a greater fear of displeasing Him than of displeasing the whole world, and will feel what Paul felt when he said, "I delight in the law of God after the inward man."

I want to candidly ask this question: Is that kind of heart been beating in your soul? Is your life marked by that kind of passion for absolute holiness? Don’t try to live the Christian life with an unchanged heart.