Featured, John McReynolds - Posted by john on Monday, July 12, 2010 21:38 - 4 Comments 5,887 views
Basics-14 – The Holiness of God
BASIC BIBLE DOCTRINE
The Holiness of God
by John McReynolds
As always, let’s take a moment to be sure that we are cleansed of sin and filled with the Holy Spirit. God is spirit, and He can only be worshipped in spirit and in truth. If we have lost the filling of the Spirit, it can only be regained by the principle of 1 John 1:9—“if we confess our sins He is faithful and just to forgive our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” So let’s prepare ourselves to get back into the Word—let us pray:
Thank You Father for the opportunity to study what You have revealed to us about Yourself. Give us grace to aid in our understanding as we seek to grasp Your ineffable Holiness, for we ask it in Christ’s name—amen.
God has chosen to reveal two aspects about Himself through the pages of His word: first, God exists as three Persons—the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The collective term for these three Persons is the Trinity. We will look in detail at the subject of the Trinity in a later lesson of this series.
Secondly, God is One in essence—that is, all three members of the Godhead have identical essences. This means that when viewed from the standpoint of their Deity, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are absolutely identical. The are infinitely more alike than the most identical triplets in human history. Even so-called identical twins and triplets have different fingerprints and retina patterns, but in their essence, the members of the Godhead are absolutely identical down to the infinitesimally smallest detail. This is why Jesus said to Philip in John 14:9, “Have I been so long with you, and yet you have not come to know Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; how can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?”
By way of review of earlier lessons, we have adopted ten characteristics that we feel best describes what the Bible reveals to us about the essence of Deity. These characteristics are:
- Eternal life,
- Immutability, and
In our last lesson we focused on the first of these attributes—Sovereignty, which basically means that God is the absolute ruler of all creation—indeed of all reality. Today we will take up the study of God’s Holiness. Undoubtedly someone is asking, “Holiness? I thought Righteousness was next—Holiness isn’t even on the list!” And you’re right, but actually we’re going to be looking at the next two attributes in the list: Righteousness and Justice. Together these two attributes make up what we call the Holiness of God.
What’s In a Word?
Let’s start by looking at the word “holy”. Merriam Webster gives one definition as, “exalted or worthy of complete devotion, as one perfect in goodness and righteousness …” This is the meaning most speakers of modern English intend when using the word in connection with God. But the Old English word “hālig” that evolved into our word “holy” came from another Old English word “hāl”, which meant “whole”. In other words the idea behind the English word “holy” came from the concept of wholeness or completeness, which as we have seen can easily be ascribed to God along with the more modern meaning of exalted perfection.
The Hebrew word most often translated “holy” in the English Bible is qôdesh [קדשׁ pronounced KOH-desh], meaning sacred, dedicated, consecrated, set apart, separate, etc. The Greek the word is hagios [ἅγιος, pronounced HAHG-ee-awss], which comes from the Greek root hagos [ἅγος, pronounced HAHG-awss], meaning an awful thing. When used in connection with God, as in “Holy Spirit” it describes something or Someone who is infinitely higher than us, and who is to be regarded with complete respect, awe, and even fear. Hagios was used to translate qôdesh in the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Hebrew scriptures around 132 BC. Thus hagios retains the Hebrew meaning of set apart, or separated. When used in connection with believers, the word is translated saints or saint 61 times in the New Testament, and so the true meaning of the word “saints” is actually set apart, blameless ones.
So what does all this have to do with the Divine attributes of Righteousness and Justice? Well, again we need to do word studies in order to understand the concepts behind these words. Starting with righteousness, Merriam Webster defines it as “acting in accord with divine or moral law: free from guilt or sin …” The Hebrew word is tsaddı̂yq [צדּיק, pronounced tsad-DEEK] meaning just, lawful, or righteous. The word implies an absolute moral standard of “rightness”, and was used to refer to the absolute, perfect, humanly unattainable standard of God.
The Alexandrian scholars who translated the Hebrew scriptures into the Greek Septuagint translated tsaddı̂yq with the Greek word dikaios [δίκαιος, pronounced DIH-kai-ahs]. Dikaios comes from another Greek word, dike [δίκη, pronounced DIH-kay], which means obviously or self-evidently right—a reference to the absolute, Divine, standard of righteousness. There are a number of New Testament words that come from this same root word dike, but we won’t go into them here.
There is one more word we need to look at: Justice. Turning once again to Merriam Webster, we find several definitions, but I want to focus on these:
- The maintenance or administration of what is just, especially by the impartial … assignment of merited rewards or punishments;
- the quality of being just, impartial, or fair;
- the principle or ideal of just dealing or right action;
- conformity to the principle or ideal of righteousness;
- the quality of conforming to law;
- conformity to truth …”
Now when we look at the Hebrew words for justice, we find two of them. One is mishpâṭ [שׁפּט pronounced mish-PAWT] which refers to a judicial verdict, a sentence or formal judicial decree, or which describes proper action according to a lawful or righteous standard. The other is tsâdaq [צדק pronounced tsaw-DAK] which is the root word of tsaddı̂yq—the word for righteousness—thus in Hebrew righteousness and justice are closely related words.
Likewise in Greek the words for both righteousness and justice come from the same root. There are two words most often translated “justice” in the New Testament. The first of these is krisis [κρίσις, pronounced KREE-sis], which basically means a judicial decision, verdict or condemnation. The second is any of several words rooted in dike, the same root word of dikaios which, as we have seen, is also translated righteous.
Why are we going into so much detail in these word studies? Well actually we’re not—there’s a lot more we could go into here in both the Hebrew and the Greek. But what I want you to see is that, unlike English, both Hebrew and Greek use the same words to express the ideas of both Divine Righteousness and Divine Justice. In fact as we will see shortly, both of these Biblical languages present Righteousness as the standard of Holiness, while Justice is the actual judgment made by God on the basis of His Righteous standard. In other words, Righteousness is the passive side of Holiness and Justice is the active side of Holiness.
Righteousness—the Perfect Standard of God
The Bible says much about the perfect, Holy, Righteous character of God in such verses as 1 Sam. 2:2; Psa. 22:3; Psa. 111:9. The Book of Leviticus 19:2c “… I, the Lord your God, am holy.” Psalm 145:17—“The Lord is righteous in all his ways, and holy in all his works.” Isaiah 6:3b “… Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.” There are many other verses that reveal His goodness and His perfect Righteousness.
God’s absolute Righteousness is the perfect moral standard that God applies when dealing with any of His creatures (notice I have been writing “Righteousness” with a big “R” when referring to God’s Righteousness—I have a reason for this). It is what God uses to judge all of our choices. Since it is an integral part of His character, God always deals with us according to His Righteousness. The reason this is necessary is because God created us with free moral choice. If God had just made us little robots without free choice God would not deal with us according to His Righteousness because we would never do anything wrong. But as it is we do have choice, and we can exercise our choice wrongly. And as the sovereign Judge of the universe, God does judge us and all of our actions. And God judges us according to His perfect, absolute Righteousness.
Now as mankind fallen from birth, this is very bad news for us. It means that we all are condemned right from the start. You could say that we have three strikes against us before we even step up to the plate, to use a baseball illustration. Even as newborn infants, before we committed any acts of personal sin, we already were under condemnation from God’s Righteousness because of our fallen condition. So before we proceed any further with the study of Righteousness, let’s review our fallen condition, and why we find ourselves in such a sorry state.
When Adam committed his original sin back in the Garden of Eden he received the penalty of his sin in his own body, Rom. 6:23—“For the wages of sin is death …” When he first received God’s prohibition against eating the forbidden fruit, he was warned of this penalty in Gen. 2:17—“but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die.”
Because the curse of mortality was a curse on Adam’s flesh, that meant that everyone who issued from his flesh shared in his curse. As a result, all of his descendants—including you and me—have this curse of mortality, 1 Cor. 15:22—“For as in Adam all die …” This is strike one of our baseball metaphor. Not only that, but we share in Adam’s spiritual death also. In other words, every one of us—every member of the human race—is born spiritually dead; totally unrighteous in God’s sight, Rom 3:10—“as it is written, ‘There is none righteous, not even one …’” This is strike two.
As if that weren’t enough, as a result of Adam receiving sin’s curse in his own body, there remained in his flesh a propensity to sin—Adam would always have the tendency and the urge to commit sin. We refer to this as the “old sin nature” (OSN). Biblically it is referred to as the “old man” or the “old self” in such passages as Rom. 6:6; Eph. 4:22; and Col. 2:9. Our inheritance of this OSN is strike three. These three results of Adam’s sin are passed down universally to every member of the human race (except One). This is part of what we call the Doctrine of the Total Depravity of Man.
Now someone may be thinking, “Hey look: I’m not all that bad! I’ve done a lot of good things—you’re making it sound like we’re all a bunch of scum bags. Almost everybody has some good in them!” If you’re thinking that, you’re right. Even Adolph Hitler was kind to stray animals, and he reportedly helped many of them! But did those kindnesses make up for the unspeakable evils he perpetrated? What about somebody like Mother Theresa? While there’s not much bad you can say about her, even Mother Theresa had an OSN, and from time to time it expressed itself in her life. And all of the considerable good she did was tainted by her OSN—as were the good works of every other good person who ever lived (except One).
The point is that while it’s true that fallen humans are capable of much good, it’s just relative righteousness—that’s righteousness with a little “r” (now you know why I wrote God’s Righteousness with a big “R”). Now different people produce different amounts of relative, human righteousness during their lives. Mother Theresa’s relative righteousness was undoubtedly much bigger compared to Adolph Hitler’s relative righteousness. But when they are compared to God’s infinite Righteousness, they both shrink to zero—as does our relative righteousness, and that of every person ever born (except One).
A few paragraphs ago we stated that God judges us based on His perfect, infinite standard of righteousness. And as we just saw, all of our righteousness shrinks to zero when compared to God’s. So how can any of us stand on our own merits before God? The answer of course is that we cannot. In fact, our righteousness is not just zero in God’s sight, it is disgusting to Him. Isaiah 64:6 tells us, “But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags …” The term “filthy rags” is a term evoking extreme disgust, especially to Jews since it also references a condition of ceremonial uncleanness. The reason our righteousness is disgusting to Him is because at it’s very best it still originates from our sinful nature—it is still inextricably tainted with sin.
Basically, this means that from a human standpoint there is nothing we can do to merit, earn, or deserve anything but condemnation from God—whether we are a Mother Theresa, or an Adolph Hitler. We are all the same to God when it comes to comparing our puny righteousness to God’s infinite Righteousness—and to God that is disgusting. That doesn’t leave us in a very good position, does it? Of course God did something about the problem since we couldn’t, but before we get into that we need to look at the other side of God’s Holiness—His Justice.
Justice—the Executor of God’s Righteousness
In our justice system, when the Judge of a court hands down a judgment from the bench, he does not personally carry out the judgment. There are always different officers of the court designated to do that. It may be the Bailiff, or it may be attorneys attached to the case under judgment, or in criminal cases it may be the state or Federal prison system. Whoever it is, that person or organization is called the executor of the judgment of the court.
When Holy God judges someone, as we have seen He judges them according to His standard of Righteousness. Because God is omniscient—that is He knows everything that is knowable—He has a perfect understanding of all the facts surrounding the case. So all of His judgments are based on absolute truth and perfect understanding, and therefore when He pronounces a judgment, it is perfectly appropriate to the case before Him, and perfectly fair. When God judges disobedience, His Righteous standard hands down a sentence of punishment—a penalty. When it is time for the punishment to be administered, God’s Justice is the executor of His Righteous judgment.
Bible verses speaking of God’s Justice and His Righteous judgments include:
Heb. 10:30,31—“For we know him that hath said, ‘Vengeance belongs unto me, I will recompense, saith the Lord.’ And again, ‘The Lord shall judge his people. It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.’”
Psalm 58:11 “…verily he is a God that judgeth in the earth.”
Psalm 19:9 “… the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.”
Others verses include Psa. 50:6; Heb 12:23; 1 John 1:9; Rev. 15:3.
The Dilemma of God’s Justice and God’s Love
Many people have a difficult time reconciling God’s Love with the extent of God’s eternal punishment for sin. We don’t have the space to deal in detail with that here, but I do plan to take up that subject more thoroughly in the next lesson. Right now though, I do want to touch on it briefly.
As we have seen, God is an absolute, infinite Being. His character is absolute and infinite, and therefore His Righteous judgments must also have that same absolute, infinite aspect, since they proceed from Him. As we have seen, God is disgusted with even the good things that proceed from our sin-contaminated characters. Therefore, like all else with God, His disgust is absolute and infinite. So His righteousness demands a penalty in keeping with the absolute, infinite extent of His anger and disgust with us.
God has imputed everlasting existence to humans—we will all live forever, somewhere. Everlasting existence is a part of God having made us in His image, Gen, 1:26—“And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness …” So even His punishments must have the same eternal character—this is one of the reasons why those who refuse to accept God’s offer of salvation must spend eternity in the Lake of Fire. There are other reasons, but as I said, I plan to take those up at a future time.
We have been focusing on the very negative aspects of this situation, so now let’s look at the very positive side. Since God is Love (the subject we’ll deal with next time), it was never His desire to condemn anyone to everlasting punishment.
Matt. 18:14—“Even so it is not the will of your Father which is in heaven, that one of these little ones should perish.”
John 3:16—“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”
2 Pet. 3:9—“The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.”
By now we’re all familiar with God’s solution to the problem of fallen man and how God might redeem him. He sent His Son Jesus into the world to take the penalty due mankind—all of us—for our sins, so that God would be able to grant us eternal life with Him. God did the hard part—the part we could not do for ourselves. But He did leave one thing for us to do—and He made it possible—even easy—for us to do that, and that is to exercise choice. Each person is to choose for himself whether he will accept God’s provision for salvation, and of course how each one chooses determines that person’s eternal future. So how is it that God’s perfect character is satisfied just because we choose to accept God’s solution for our salvation? The answer is imputation.
God’s Solution: Imputation
Some of you may be saying right now, “Oh no—more big words! Preacher, you’re killing me!” I know, but when we learn these big words we’re learning about Jesus. And when we are filled with the Spirit—as we should be anytime we are studying the Word of God, He makes learning even big words easy. As He said in Matt. 11:29-30, “Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me … For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
All right—in researching the definition of imputation I found three definitions that will serve as a starting place to understand this concept. Imputation means:
1. to attribute or ascribe (usually something dishonest or dishonorable, especially a criminal offence) to a person.
2. to attribute to a source or cause: e.g. “I impute your success to nepotism.”
3. (Business / Commerce) to give an notional value to goods or services when the real value is unknown.
Let’s look at the first definition. To paraphrase it, to impute something can mean to falsely ascribe some criminal offense to an innocent party. That’s exactly what happened to Jesus. He was the spotless, sinless Son of God, yet he willingly allowed His Father to impute all of mankind’s sins onto Himself even though He was guiltless of any of them. Now in the human realm that definition of imputation means that the accused party is getting what we used to call a “bum rap”. This is precisely what happened to Jesus in His trials before the Sanhedrin, Caiaphas, Herod, and Pilate. There was no truth whatever in the accusations the scribes and Pharisees made against Him.
But that was not the only imputation Jesus suffered. The much greater imputation was the one God made when He imputed the sins of the world to Jesus. Unlike the false accusations the Jews made against Jesus, this imputation was based on two things: First, God’s plan to redeem fallen mankind called for Someone innocent to take the penalty on behalf of the real offenders—all of mankind—all of us. Second, It was based on Jesus’ willing acceptance of the guilt of the sins of all mankind and of the penalty of death imposed as a result of that guilt. This imputation of guilt was totally undeserved, but totally necessary if we were to be saved. That’s the theological slant on the first definition.
The second definition, to attribute to a source or cause, essentially means to attribute some undeserved value to a object or person based on that object or person’s relationship to something else. Now Jesus Christ is fully God and fully man—that’s one of the things that qualified Him to be the Savior. Since He is fully God, He possesses God’s perfect, absolute, infinite Righteousness (that’s Righteousness with a big “R”).
When a person acknowledges Jesus Christ’s sacrifice on their behalf and accepts Him as their Savior, they immediately establish a relationship with Him as their Lord and Savior. The instant that happens another imputation occurs—God imputes the very Righteousness of Jesus (big “R”) to the believer.
Replacing “righteousness” with “Righteousness”
Here’s where I need for you to pay close attention: Now, man’s relative righteousness (little “r”) has been replaced with Jesus’ perfect, absolute, infinite Righteousness (big “R”). So now when God looks on the person who is a new believer, He views him, not with the disgust He formerly viewed his relative righteousness, but with the joy, pleasure, and love with which He viewed His own Son! Now He looks at us and sees Jesus’ Righteousness (big “R”)!
This is where I have been trying to get for this entire lesson. Even though none of us deserve it, when we believe in Jesus Christ as our Savior, God imputes Divine Righteousness to us. This then becomes the basis for our eternal salvation, and our relationship with God in time and in eternity. This is the theological slant on the second definition—to attribute some undeserved value to an object or person based on that object or person’s relationship to something else.
As believers we are related to Jesus Christ, and the infinite value of His Righteousness is imputed to us based on that relationship. This then becomes the basis for our eternal salvation, and our relationship with God in time and in eternity. We don’t deserve it, and we certainly cannot earn it or work for it.
The “Notion” of Righteousness
Now the third definition of imputation: to give a notional value to goods or services when the real value is unknown. This definition is closely related to the second definition. To give a “notional” value to something means to assign an arbitrary value to something which is not related in any way to its real value. When I originally gave this lesson in a recent Bible class I used US coinage as an example, wherein the government mints cheap nickel clad coins and calls it money, instead of the silver and gold coins that used to be minted many years ago—back when we had a sound economy.
After I gave this message, a friend who works in the energy trading business came up to me and gave me a much better illustration. He related how in the energy business they trade shipments of energy commodities on the futures market. Because the actual value of the future shipment is not known at the time of the transaction, a notional value—basically their best guess as to what the value will be—is given, or imputed, to the shipment so that the transaction can be processed. This notional value may be greater or less than what the actual value turns out to be. Whatever it is, a final value based on current market conditions is made when the shipment actually occurs. Depending on which way the market goes, money—sometimes lots of it—can be made or lost in the futures market.
But God, in a similar way takes something that is worthless—you and me—and imputes the infinite value of the Righteousness of Jesus Christ to us when we believe on His Son, and thus imputes His infinite worth to us. And unlike the futures market, the value of the Righteousness He imputes to us remains a part of us for all eternity—no future adjustment of our value will ever be made.
When He looks at you now, He sees the Righteousness of Christ, not your own relative righteousness, which formerly disgusted Him. Now the Sovereign of the Universe is able to open His infinitely vast store of riches from which He can bless us. God, who has the infinite riches of Heaven at His disposal, “…is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think …” Eph. 3:20. Now He can “… supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus,” without compromising His own holiness, (Phil. 4:19).
The main idea I want you to take away from this study of Holiness is this: Righteousness is the standard or principle of Holiness. Justice is the function or manifestation of Holiness. Righteousness is the perfect standard of God with which He judges our every thought and action. So depending on whether He approves or condemns what we think or do, His Justice will either dispense blessing or punishment. In other words, what the Righteousness of God condemns, the Justice of God punishes, but what the Righteousness of God approves, the Justice of God blesses.
Holiness and the Christian Way of Life
So far we have looked at the Holiness of God from God’s perspective. Now, we need to look at holiness as it applies to our Christian walk. We have looked at Righteousness as the principle of Holiness, and it is no less so in the way we should conduct our own lives.
Justice is the manifestation of God’s Holiness. And again, it is no less so in our own lives. Holiness is manifested in our lives first, by right thinking. If we are rightly related to God—that is walking with the Lord as His children—we will manifest right thinking. And our right thinking will be manifested by right doing.
God imputed His own Righteousness to us at the moment of our salvation. As believers we have God’s own perfect principles of Righteousness available to us in His word. So we can take in these principles by the function of the Grace System of Perception.
But God leave the follow-through to us. We must determine to apply them in our own lives—in the moment by moment contingencies we encounter outside of Bible class. This is how we manifest the Holiness of God in our own lives, and how the rest of the world is able to see Jesus Christ in us.
“But one who looks intently at the perfect law, the law of liberty, and abides by it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an effectual doer, this man will be blessed in what he does.” James 1:25
James 1:25 refers to the perfect law—the expression of the perfect Righteousness of God. This perfect law is encapsulated in the whole word of God.
The principle of the law was given in the Mosaic Law and the Prophets in the Old Testament.
The fulfillment of the Law occurred in the earthly life of Jesus Christ as recorded in the Gospels.
And finally the illumination of the perfected laws of Grace, Love, and Liberty as revealed in the New Testament. This is the perfect law of liberty. It is for us to look into intently and absorb, and for us to abide by and manifest in our own lives, so that we will become not forgetful hearers, but effectual doers of God’s wonderful word.
We’re thankful, Father, that You have revealed Your perfect Holiness to us. As we grow in grace and knowledge of You we gain a greater appreciation and love of Your Righteousness and Your Justice toward us. You have imputed Your own perfect Righteousness to those who have believed in the Lord Jesus Christ unto salvation. And to those who believe, Father, You have given Your word to become “… doers of Your Word, and not hearers only.” May we always seek to abide by Your Word, so that we will be blessed in all we do.
Bless now Your word; let it not return unto you void. Bless all reading these words, confident in the knowledge that … “You who began a good work in us will perfect it until the day of Jesus Christ,” in whose name we ask with thanksgiving, amen.
To the reader: If you have read this lesson, I would greatly appreciate any feedback, questions, or comments you have. Getting feedback from my readers is very helpful and encouraging to me. I promise to respond to all legitimate questions or comments as appropriate. But please, do keep your questions and comments appropriate and constructive.
Thank you very much.
In His Service,