God’s Holiness: Its Implications in Christian Life and Destiny
[In the 1950s Professors Renwick, Collins and Finlayson used to travel south from Edinburgh and address the Durham University Christian Union. It was probably this sermon, preached with great unction and power, and published later in The Life of Faith, that left some of its hearers feeling so guilty that their heads were bowed low behind those seated in front of them. O that the Spirit of God would attend our reading of it now, after so many years, and bring to bear on us the power of His holiness. John Brentnall, editor Peace and Truth.]
The Apostle Peter, in writing to the scattered Christians of his day, exhorts them “to gird up the loins” of their minds, that they may be “holy in all manner of conversation”. Then he introduces the great incentive to holiness in a quotation from Leviticus: “Because it is written, Be ye holy; for I am holy.” This, I venture to think, is one of the greatest utterances ever made by God to mankind. “I am” proclaims the existence of God: that is the foundation of the material and spiritual creation. “I am holy” that is the charter of human destiny: in it, God lifts us from the dust of earth to be partakers of His own character and life. These great utterances put together bring hope into human life, and put purpose into the universe. In no other utterance, as far as I can trace, is man so united to God, the creature to the Creator, in spiritual life, in moral character, and in everlasting destiny. From it we learn many things that are vitally relevant to our daily living.
God’s Holiness is the Foundation of Ours
For one thing, we learn that God’s holiness is the foundation of ours. It is a thought familiar to the Bible that God is the foundation of His people’s spiritual life. Throughout Scripture, men of God speak of God in His being and character as the foundation of their life, the Rock on which the righteous life is built. In a real sense holiness is the foundation of God’s life and character. It is that which gives cohesion and unity to His character. For that reason we think of holiness, not so much as an attribute of God, like wisdom or mercy, but as the sum of all His attributes, the outshining of all that God is. It is that light that emanates from the character of God, which makes the angels shade their faces crying: “Holy, Holy, Holy.”
Everything in God’s character shares equally in this quality, and so we speak of His holy love, holy grace, holy compassion, holy justice. This holiness of God is, therefore, the foundation of all moral values. It alone gives stability and meaning to moral standards; it puts right and wrong on eternal foundations; what is right in God’s sight today will be right for ever; what is wrong today will be wrong for ever.
Thus moral character gets its permanence from the holy character of God. In the closing chapter of the Book of Revelation we read: “He that is unjust, let him be unjust still: and he that is holy, let him be holy still.” There is a terrible permanence and finality about that. And it has to do with moral character moral character in its nature and expression, good and bad. These are trends of character that go on for ever, both in nature and expression, the character forever expressing itself in the manner natural to it.
Why is all this permanent? Why cannot these distinctions vary? Because they are determined by the character of God. Holiness in us has its validity, its support and its permanent value in the holiness of God. This is basically true of the evangelical holiness that is ours in the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. We can never forget that it was the holiness of God that condemned sin, that required full and perfect satisfaction for it, that designed an atonement, and that required that the perfect Son of God should be the Sin-bearer. Thus holiness is basic to all God’s relationships with His creatures, whether in creation, in providence, or in redemption. Our holiness has its foundation in the holiness of God.
God’s Holiness is the Source of Ours
Then again. God’s holiness is the source of ours. God’s holiness is unique, apart, alone. It is what distinguishes God from His universe. He only is holy. But God’s holiness is communicable, and He is willing to impart His holiness to His creatures and to lift them into the fellowship of His holiness. And that is the only way in which His creatures can ever become holy; they must be partakers of His holiness, it follows, therefore, that only contact with God creates holiness.
It is significant that fire is the Biblical emblem of God’s life and character; something that is alive and consuming. When Moses had a revelation of God in the desert, it was as fire in a bush; fire that was self-fed, for “the bush was not consumed.” This was, indeed, a fitting emblem of the self-existence of God, a fire that derived nothing from its environment. When Elijah asked for a visible demonstration of the reality of the living God, the test was: “The God that answereth by fire, let him be God.” And God gave the answer, and there was nothing left of Elijah’s sacrifice but a handful of ash! When Isaiah asked: “Who can dwell with everlasting burnings?” he was referring to the nature of God. John the Baptist realized that the New Testament baptism was to be a “baptism in fire.” And it is a New Testament writer who exhorted his fellow believers, saying: “For our God is a consuming fire.”
Now what is the quality of fire? Just this, that it burns up all that is combustible, turns everything into its own element of flame, and what is foreign to its nature it rejects as ash. And when human character is brought into contact with God’s fire, it burns up the dross, and cleanses heart and life. The Spirit of Pentecost came as fire; and when He descended, how He cleaned up the dross of those disciples as flaming tongues took bold of them and leapt out of their lives to take hold of others! The Spirit that wrought all this is specifically called the Holy Spirit, the Spirit who brings the holiness of God into intimate contact with men. Isaiah had this early experience. In the presence of God he felt that he was a man of unclean lips, dwelling in the midst of a people of unclean lips. Then the fire touched his lips, and his iniquity was taken away and his sin purged. But note where the fire was taken from: “a live coal which he had taken with the tongs from off the altar.”
It was the fire that fed on the sacrifice that had power to cleanse and not destroy. And that is the fire that cleanses us – the fire that has fed on the sacrifice of Calvary. So there could be no Pentecost till there had been a Calvary. The fire that comes by way of the sacrifice of the Son of God is the source of our cleansing, for He it is who brings the holiness of God into intimate contact with our natures, not to destroy, but to purge.
God’s Holiness is the Pledge of Ours
Note, also, that God’s holiness is the pledge of ours. We called the holiness of God the sheet anchor of the universe. And so it is. It keeps the universe from chaos and despair. As we look abroad on the world today, groaning under its burden of injustice, inequalities, hatred and oppression, may we not give way to despair? Will truth always be on the scaffold, and wrong on the throne? Will righteousness ever be done? Will the bonds of tyranny ever be broken, and the wounds of injustice ever be healed? Let us take heart. God is holy; the universe is anchored to the character of a holy God. Sin shall not win the day, and the world will not be left with the devil. The holiness of God will sweep the universe clean, and restore it to its divine design as a temple where the glory of God will be seen.
And what does that mean to us in our individual lives? It means that the God who has dealt with us in Christ is holy; and that is our pledge that we shall be holy. “Be ye holy, for I am holy” is more than a command; it is a promise and an enabling. Thus it is that all God’s dealings with His people have holiness in view. He redeemed us that He might make us holy. He justified us that he might sanctify us. He regenerated us that He might give us a holy nature. He converted us that we might have a holy life. He will not rest in His love till we be holy.
God’s Holiness is the Pattern of Ours
We must note, too, that God’s holiness is the pattern of ours. “Be ye holy as I am holy,” runs the command. That is the standard, and nothing short of it can ever pass with Him. There are not two standards of holiness, only one; and God is that standard. “Be ye perfect, as your Father in heaven is perfect” is Christ’s demand. And that standard can never be lowered. We must be partakers of His holiness. And that is the miracle of regeneration: that we are made partakers of the divine nature.
We are assured that God will never stop short until His image is perfectly restored, and we are in the fullest sense “partakers of His holiness.” God’s work for us, and in us, will reach the consummation at which our position and condition will be in perfect harmony, and the entire moral universe will say “Amen” to what God has wrought. Then God will be admired in His saints, and magnified in all them that believe.
God’s Holiness is the Judge of Ours
We note, lastly, that the holiness of God is the judge of ours. It is in the light of His holiness that the judgment of God will fall on human character at the last. The imagery that forms the background of the last judgment in the Biblical revelation is but a revelation of the holiness of God. What is the great white throne before whose glistening purity all men shall appear and every character will be judged but the unsullied purity of God’s holiness? What are the “books” that shall be opened at the last but the holy omniscience of God sweeping through a man’s life, exposing, recording and judging?
Let us not forget that it is character that will be judged, accepted or rejected, at the last. How solemn are the utterances of our Lord that proclaim this truth. He answered the slothfulness of the man who buried his talent with the rebuke: “Thou wicked and slothful servant.” His character as wicked is the cause of his slothfulness and the ground of his condemnation.
In another parable, the king came in and his eye fell on one guest who had not on a wedding garment, and he was excluded. What was it that rendered him so out of harmony with his surroundings that he could not be allowed to remain? Surely it was his character, which alone makes us meet for the inheritance of the saints in light.
Character is our destiny, and we are to be given the destiny that suits our character. With terrible restraint it is said of Judas that he “went to his own place.” So shall every man – to the place for which his character fits him. For every man will be judged according to his works.
Let us be clear, then, on this one thing: every man has to do with the holiness of God. You have the blazing holiness of God to reckon with. To meet with the holiness of God is to meet with unquenchable fire for saint and sinner. And the fire will burn all that is combustible, all that is unlike itself. The holiness of God will sweep throughout the universe of the saved and the lost. In heaven it is light all-glorious, the joy of the sanctified. In hell it is darkness impenetrable, the anguish of those who hate God’s character. For without holiness no man shall see the Lord; no eye with which to see Him, no taste to enjoy Him, no heart to relish Him!
But for the redeemed of the Lord His holiness is the source of all their bliss, the anchor of all their hope, the consummation of all their expectations, as they cry with a Psalmist of old: “As for me, I will behold thy face in righteousness: I will be satisfied, when I awake, with thy likeness.” Surely, then, we may well “give Him thanks upon every remembrance of His holiness.”
[taken with permission from Peace and Truth, the magazine of the Sovereign Grace Union, 2006:3. www.sgu.org.uk]
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