9What shall we conclude then? Are we any better? Not at all! We have already made the charge that Jews and Gentiles alike are all under sin. 10As it is written: “There is no one righteous, not even one; 11there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. 12All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one. 13Their throats are open graves; their tongues practice deceit. The poison of vipers is on their lips. 14Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness. 15Their feet are swift to shed blood; 16ruin and misery mark their ways, 17and the way of peace they do not know. 18There is no fear of God before their eyes.’
1In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of His robe filled the temple. 2Above 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. 3And they were calling to one another: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty; the whole earth is full of His glory.”
4At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke. 5“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.”
6Then one of the seraphs flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. 7With it he touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.”
A central theme throughout Scripture is the Holiness of God. It is one of the most important doctrines of the faith for a Christian to try and grasp. It is basic to our whole understanding of God and of Christianity.
The idea of holiness is so central to Biblical teaching that Mary, in her song of praise in Luke 1 says, “Holy is His name.” His name is holy because He is holy.
If God is the Creator of the entire universe, then it must follow that He is the Lord of the whole universe. No part of the world is outside of His lordship. That means that no part of our lives can be outside of His lordship.
God is inescapable. There is no place we can hide from Him. Not only does He penetrate every aspect of our lives, but He penetrates it in His majestic holiness. This is why we need to try and have just some understanding of His Holiness.
There can be no worship, no spiritual growth, no true obedience without it. It defines our goal as Christians. God has said in the Bible, “Be holy, because I am holy.” In order to reach that goal, we need to spend some time trying to understand what holiness is, which is what we will be doing during the coming weeks.
Probably the most tragic indictment of fallen human beings is that we have lost a holy fear of our Holy God. We were created to enjoy and glorify Him forever. God’s purpose for us is to constantly turn to Him, but since the Fall we have no fear of God anymore.
In stark contrast is Isaiah’s vision recorded in chapter 6.
There is a progression in this text. It is only when we see God in His Majestic holiness that we begin to understand our unworthiness to stand in His presence until He acts in mercy to forgive all our sin. It begins with the holiness of God.
Because of our sin we have systematically relegated God to the point where He has little or no relevance or importance in our lives anymore. And Christians are not exempt from this. Within the sanctity and safety of the four walls of our Church buildings we are very comfortable and at ease with proclaiming that Jesus Christ is Lord, but there is a real reluctance to take that message into the world where God is no longer welcomed.
The whole orientation of mankind is to move away from God, rather than towards Him. The true God of Scripture makes us extremely uncomfortable and one of the ways that people try to deal with that discomfort is by reducing Him to something that He is not. He is no longer as holy as the Bible reveals Him to be. God has been systematically stripped of His Holiness to the point where we no longer fear Him. In our eyes He has now become an irrelevant God who we can control.
Mankind has tried to recreate God in our own image. We now have a God who is just like us, because the God of Scripture in His Holiness and in His purity is a God we don’t know how to deal with.
We like the idea of a God who will inspire us, but we don’t want a God who will make us ashamed of who we have become as a result of our sin.
We don’t want a God who is fearful, who is truly awesome. Someone once said instead of God Almighty, we prefer God all-matey.
The Holiness of God is one of the characteristics that sets Him wholly apart from us. We are the creatures, and He is the Creator.
Contrary to New Age teachings, we cannot look deep down inside us and know that the Divine is within us. We are created in His image, but that image has become so marred by sin, that unless we go to the Cross and receive God’s Spirit, there is hardly any trace of God within us anymore. The difference of course, is Jesus.
Without Christ though, God is so other in comparison to us.
Ever since the Fall in the Garden of Eden, God has stood directly opposed to us because of our sinfulness, and so instead of us being the image bearers of God, we find ourselves on the opposite extreme. The Bible calls us enemies of God. That is how far we have fallen. We’re now at the point where as Paul says in Romans 3, “There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one. Their throats are open graves; their tongues practice deceit. The poison of vipers is on their lips. Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness. Their feet are swift to shed blood; ruin and misery mark their ways, and the way of peace they do not know. There is no fear of God before their eyes.” (Romans 3:10-18)
It’s hard for most people to accept that we’re enemies of God because what we hear all the time from people both inside and outside of the Church is that God is love and all of us are children of God.
This is why the Gospel is so offensive to so many. The Gospel’s point of departure - its starting point - is to emphasise this chasm that exists between the creator and the creature. People don’t like being confronted with their sin, but unless they are, they will never understand their desperate need of a Saviour outside of themselves.
When Jesus calmed the storm His disciples were more afraid of Jesus than they had been of the storm. Peter said, “depart from me for I am a sinful man.”
This is a very similar experience to Isaiah in chapter 6. His first reaction is one of awe and wonder as he is given a glimpse of the majesty of God, but he is soon overwhelmed by his own unworthiness in the presence of such holiness. “Woe to me! 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.”
His first response is wonder, and his second response is “I’m in trouble.”
Every now and then people really are cut to the heart as the weight of their sin seems to bear down on them. This is the first step on the road to repentance and salvation, but the reaction of so many Christians to people who say, “Woe is me, I am ruined,” is to say things like, “No, no, God is not angry with you. God is your friend and He just wants you to be happy.” When we do that, we are short-circuiting the work of the Spirit. God doesn’t want us to be burdened by the guilt of our sin – it’s why Jesus died after all, but we do need to recognise our sin and see how it has ruined our lives when we are exposed to the sheer holiness of God.
It’s not that God isn’t angry with us, because He is, but the Good News of the Gospel is that we have a mediator in Christ who bears our guilt, and we can’t actually get people there if we tell them at the outset that they have no guilt and that God is not offended by their sin, and not to worry, everything is going to be just fine.
As our awareness of God’s holiness increases throughout the Christian life we have a greater sense of our sin, and the correct response to this awareness of the immeasurable chasm between God and us is to look to Jesus and the cross. It is here where we learn that despite God’s amazing holiness and how far we fall short of Him, that there is a bridge between this gap called the Gospel.
The Gospel does not circumvent God’s holiness. Rather, it shows us how seriously God takes our sin. So instead of saying to someone, “it’s not that bad. Everyone makes mistakes,” they need to reach the point where they actually say to themselves, “it’s probably worse than I could ever imagine, but there is a God who has provided a way for me, who loves me despite what my sin has done to me.”
The problem is that to the world at large, and sadly even to some who profess to be Christians, God’s holiness has been downgraded to the point where we no longer know the true God. We have lost the awe that Isaiah, Peter, and so many others have had.
There really isn’t any sense in our culture that there is a God distinct from us who is sacred, who calls our very existence into account.
We like God to be a sentimental God, almost a grandfather figure who bounces us on His knee, telling us that everything’s fine.
This is not the God of Scripture though. And this is why the true message of the Bible is so offensive.
Burk Parsons of Ligonier Ministries wrote recently, “Most people assume they’re good with God, so proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ without the bad news about sin, hell, and God’s wrath just confirms their self-deception.”
This is why we need to get back to the holiness of God. Until such time as we realise just how far we have fallen from the lofty standards He expects of us, we will never understand our need for Jesus.
In the modern Christian world we have lost a sense of the holiness of God.
For our own good we must not bring God down to our level. We cannot meet Him on our terms. Rather we need God to send a mediator - His own Son on His terms, in order to save us from His own Holiness.
He came in the person of Jesus.
One of the first instances in Scripture where we begin to see something of the holiness of God is in Moses’ encounter with the burning bush in Exodus 3.
“Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian, and he led the flock to the far side of the desert and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There the angel of the LORD appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up. So Moses thought, ‘I will go over and see this strange sight - why the bush does not burn up.’ When the LORD saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, ‘Moses! Moses!’ And Moses said, ‘Here I am.’ ‘Do not come any closer,’ God said. ‘Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.’ Then He said, ‘I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.’ At this, Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God.” (Exodus 3:1-6)
God identifies Himself to Moses by saying that He is the God of his father, of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. There is a sense of comfort in His words, yet Moses is terrified by God’s holiness.
Often in the Old Testament God’s presence was manifested by a visible fire. What is fire? It gives light, it gives warmth, it can give life, but it is also a sign of judgement. Moses knows he’s in the presence of God.
Later on in chapter 33 Moses pleads with God to show him His glory. God’s reply to Moses is, “I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the LORD, in your presence. I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. But you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live.” (Exodus 33:19-20)
We may sing the words, “We want to see you high and lifted up, shining in the light of your glory,” but the truth is, if sinners were to see the unveiled glory of God we would be consumed in an instant. We would be destroyed, because no man can see God and live.
And so what does God do? He veils His glory as He comes to us. The problem is that the world sees it as foolishness. The world says, “God can’t be present in a feeding trough in Bethlehem. He can’t be present on a bloody cross. He can’t be present with a fallible sinner preaching from a pulpit. He can’t be present in a piece of bread and a little glass of wine.”
Yet, this is precisely where He has promised to meet us - not because He’s trying to avoid us, but because He wants to meet us in such a way that we will not be consumed by the sheer terror of His holiness. In Christ, our Holy God is accessible to all.
In the Old Testament God held us at a distance. We were not allowed to approach, but now, as a result of what Jesus has done, He welcomes us. He is still holy as He has been for an eternity. God’s nature has never changed, and it never will.
At the same time, as long as we are clothed in our earthly bodies we remain sinners. We still dare not approach God on our terms. The difference now though, is Jesus Christ and the power of His blood.
We now have free access to God, not because God is any less holy, but because He has fulfilled the law we broke, and has made good on all of His promises in Jesus Christ.
The book of Hebrews in the New Testament speaks about this access we have to God through Jesus, and the climax of the book is at the end of chapter 12, but when we read it, we’re not told that now because of our free access to God we have license to live as we like. Instead, we are warned in verses 28 and 29, “Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.” In other words, we are free to enter into His presence, but He remains perfect in His awesome holiness. We must never forget just who this God is who invites us to call Him “Abba, Father.”
We come before Him in reverence and awe, not because we’re expecting condemnation, but because our Father who loves us and has made a way for us, is nevertheless the King of the Universe.
We’re not to be casual or flippant in God’s presence, but we do feel a sense of peace and security knowing that He has adopted us as His children. Again, He is God Almighty, not God all-matey.
There is a wonderful combination in Christ of being able to draw near to a holy God that leaves us in awe with a healthy fear, knowing we are at peace with Him.
What an amazing thing Jesus has done for us. God Himself in human form became exiled from His Father’s presence for us. Our Saviour, the one human being who actually was holy and fulfilled all righteousness, became sin for us, and has ushered us into the presence of Almighty God.
Hebrews 10:19-23 says, “Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, His body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for He who promised is faithful.”
What a wonderful promise and encouragement to actually approach the throne of God with freedom and joy because even though He is a consuming fire, He has made a safe passage for sinners clothed in the righteousness of Jesus.
Homegroup Study Notes
Read Isaiah 6:1-7
When you think of God as holy, what comes to your mind?
Discuss the significance of Isaiah’s words in verse 5 in response to his brief glimpse of God’s holiness.
What does this teach us about the problem we have in approaching God in our own strength?
Describe a time when you were overcome by God’s holiness.
It is easy to see how the non-believing world has denied the truth of God’s holiness, but the Church has also lost a sense of the awesome holiness of God.
Bearing this in mind, discuss this quote by Burk Parsons: “Most people assume they’re good with God, so proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ without the bad news about sin, hell, and God’s wrath just confirms their self-deception.”
What is your understanding of approaching God with a “holy fear?”
Read Exodus 33:19-20
Discuss the balance we see in these verses of God’s compassion and mercy and His perfect holiness.
Close in prayer by acknowledging the holiness of God, and by giving thanks that through Jesus He has made it possible for sinful human beings to enter into His awesome presence.