God is Holy
I was reminded this week that God’s Holiness is his primary attribute. All of his other attributes have to be understood in the context of God’s holiness. When we try to talk about God’s love, or his justice, or his mercy, we generally get them wrong if we don’t start from an understanding of his holiness.
God is one of a kind, unique. Everything else is holy or not depending on its conformance to God’s standards, but God is not like that. He is the standard. He is holy because it is who he is. He is not determined by anything outside of himself. God’s holiness isn’t just “like everything else but lots better.” We can’t just take everything else we know and imagine it infinitely improved. There is nothing else like God. He is unique, apart, not defined by anything else. It is tempting to talk about him in contrast, because the contrast is what we know, but that is insufficient.
God is pure, righteous, unblemished. He doesn’t just avoid sin because he doesn’t like it, or is allergic. Holiness is not something he takes on like a coat. For God, righteousness and holiness are who he is. In being holy he is not conforming to a standard. He is the standard. He is completely true to himself.
No one is holy like the Lord! There is no one other than you! 1 Samuel 2:2
He calls us to be holy
“Be holy, for I am holy!” When we are called to holiness, it is not really like God’s holiness. God tells us to “Be holy, because I am holy” rather than “Be holy in the same way that I am holy.” When we are holy, we take on Christ’s righteousness. For us, it is imputed righteousness. It is placed on us like a robe, and then it becomes our nature because God makes it so. Our hearts are transformed, made alive. We are sanctified in Christ and called to be holy, chosen to be holy and unblemished in his sight, separate and clean.
For us, holiness is separation. “For we are the temple of the living God, just as God has said ‘I will live in them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people.’ Therefore ‘come out from their midst, and be separate,’ says the Lord, ‘and touch no unclean thing'” (2 Corinthians 6:16-17).
We are called to be holy.
But it is in considering God’s holiness that I come face to face with my own inadequacy. “Woe is me, I am ruined. For I am a man of unclean lips.” (Isaiah 6:5)
We are conditioned to a lack of holiness. We are used to it, and we accept that it is normal. We measure ourselves and the people around us and even God by the standards we have learned from living in an unholy world. And so we are surprised when we see that in order to love us he goes to such great lengths to reach us without defiling or becoming untrue to himself. We need to shift our perspective, from seeing ourselves and God in the context of the world to seeing ourselves and the world from the context of a holy God.
Of course, even though God makes us holy by his selection and gives us the righteousness of Christ, we are still for now stuck in our flesh. I know that God has set me apart. I know that God has imputed righteousness, and that my account is paid and I am clean. But I see all too clearly my failings and my sin. Even while my heart is made clean my thoughts are bitterness and unjust anger and rot. I cannot become holy by force of will.
The mystery for me is that I am not partly clean and partly not. I am fully clean, and fully not. There is no shades of one overcoming the other. Maybe the key is which me I want to live in. I choose by looking to the one who I wish to follow. When my focus is on God, I move to live in the heart that is clean. When my focus is on the world, I move to live in the flesh that is not, and take on my old slavery once again. I cannot become holy by focusing on that which I need to become separate from. I am incapable of creating that separation, and my focus on it just sucks me back in. I have to turn my focus on the one who is already holy and has already given me his righteousness.
If I wish to live in the light, to live a life that is holy, I have to see everything from the starting point of God’s holiness. I need to see others as God sees them, love them as God loves them. I don’t mean in degree (because my holiness and love is never perfect), but in context and type.
Do I still sin? Sure. But it isn’t who I am. My old nature was nailed to the cross. I died there. Now I am an adopted son of God. My heart is made clean. I am transformed. It is done, and I am holy. God has done what no effort of mine could have even started.
God cannot abide evil, because he is holy. God has come and dwells in my heart. The only way that he is able to do that is because he has already cleaned it out, made it holy. My heart, your heart if you are his adopted child, is the Holy of Holies. It is where God chooses to live. When I truly believe that its a whole new world.