Encountering God’s Holiness

In December of 2007, I gave my heart to the Lord. I knew my life was full of sin and that God was gracious and compassionate. I understood that He died on the cross for my sins. I remember hearing at a young age: “Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so.” All these wonderful truths were evident, even in my unbelieving, unregenerate mind. Yet I continued to run from God. I enjoyed my lust, self-worship, and the things of this world more than Him.

But something unexpected happened to me on the day I encountered the living God. I walked into a small church in Indianapolis. I was depressed, burned out in college, and wanted my life to change. When I walked in and sat down, the preacher began to discuss the wrath and holiness of God. I had never heard such strong words before. In fact, I thought to myself, this is a hell-fire brimstone preacher. I better get out of here fast. This may be a cult.

But I waited. I listened. The sheer weight and power of God’s holiness brought a magnificent dread upon me. My flesh wanted to run, but I felt there was no way of escape. This awesome Creator of the Universe spoke to me through the preacher like a consuming fire. I called on the preacher to stop his sermon because of my conviction. At first, the congregation was caught off guard, but then realized I was serious. I came to the front and they anointed my head with oil and prayed. I will never forget this moment.

I may have thought my experience was strange, but as I began to read Scripture for the first time as a new believer, I realized this is how many Bible characters felt in the presence of Adonai. Do you remember Habakkuk’s complaint? Where he saw all the injustices in his homeland and was offended by it. He said to God, “How can you stand by and let all these things come to pass?” And he says I am going to sit up here and wait until God answers my question. And you remember what happened? When God appeared to Habakkuk 3:16 he said, “I heard and trembled within; My lips quivered at the sound. Decay entered my bones; I trembled where I stood.”

Or how about Isaiah’s vision when He sees the Lord high and exalted on the throne, and the train of his robe filled the temple. In Isaiah 6:5 it reads: “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. Here is the holiest man in Israel, a prophet of God, being persecuted for his absolute devotion to Adonai. And he says he is unclean. That he is unworthy to be in the presence of God. God’s holiness is infinitely greater than the holiest of people.

As you know, there are many circumstances in Scripture where this occurs. Moses at the burning bush. Job, who says: I abhor myself. I repent in dust and ashes. The disciples on the Sea of Galilee. And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” It is clear that the natural reaction to being in the presence of God is holy fear.

Oftentimes, in today’s culture, we hear the phrase: “Love the sinner, hate the sin.” Now, this is true. Yeshua tells us to Love God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength, and to love our neighbor as ourselves. Adonai compels us to love our enemies and to do good to those who persecute us for righteousness sake. But what is missing? We focus on the love aspect of God but forget that his holiness hates sin. The holiness of God punishes sin. The holiness of God brought destruction to this world with a flood. Yahweh destroyed an entire city, Sodom and Gomorrah with fire and brimstone. Yeshua is coming back, according to 2 Thessalonians 1:8 in blazing fire. He will inflict vengeance on those who do not know G-d and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Yeshua. They will suffer the penalty of eternal destruction, separated from the presence of the Lord and the glory of His might.”

This is just difficult to ingest for all of us. To be honest, the human psyche trembles at the notion of God’s holiness and judgment. It makes us feel uncomfortable, and it should. I was talking to my wife the other day about Greek literature. How they created deities in their “own image.” Many of the gods like Zeus, Poseidon, and Aphrodite had much power. Zeus was the god of the sky and thunder. Interestingly, these deities also had vices. Some were lustful, some had anger issues, and others were manipulative. These gods are “comfortable” to the human psyche because they “comfort us” in our own moral failures. The idea is: If the sky gods are like us, then maybe we aren’t too bad. If the sky gods have shortcomings, then our vices aren’t that deplorable. But not with the Almighty one. Not with the God of Israel. Scripture says He is blameless. He is holy, holy, holy. And the fact that He has no flaws demonstrates extraordinary power over us. We can not tame God. He is the one in control.

But would we want it any other way? Don’t we all desire a loving God with infinite power and holiness? A God who is able to be victorious over all his enemies. Our own true Knight in Shining armor? Of course we do. That’s why “Love the sinner and hate the sin” is best expressed when it deals with the whole character of God. His holiness nature encompasses all of his attributes. To love well is to hate evil. If you love people, you hate injustice. If you love righteousness, you hate iniquity. If you love truth, you hate falsehood. If you love God, you hate idolatry. God’s holiness is a direct result of his infinite love. Love and Holiness are not in conflict; they complement one another.

There are three main ideas I want to express today, which are God’s holiness saves, God’s holiness sanctifies, and God’s holiness satisfies. Let’s discuss how God’s holiness either saves us or condemns us. As you know, every year on the tenth day of the seventh month, Yom Kippur, there was a Day of Atonement in the Israelite community. Theologian Jack Wellman writes a good summary of what happened on this day.

First of all, they would cast lots over which goat to sacrifice and then tie a tongue-shaped piece of scarlet cloth tied to the horn of the Azazel or scapegoat. Next, the goat would be placed before the people and wait until all their sins were laid upon him, after which the priest would offer the sacrifice of a bullock, and only then could the high priest enter the Most Holy Place, or the Holy of Holies.

The priest entered into the Most Holy Place the first time to burn incense, representing the prayers of the priests, and then enters a second time with the blood of the bullock. The third time the priest enters the Holy of Holies is to sprinkle the blood of the goat on the mercy seat. He also sprinkles it toward (but not on) the veil, the altar of incense, and then the burnt-offering. That’s when the high priest lays the personal sins and guilt of all the people on the scapegoat, where confession is made over it and the goat is led away to die, sometimes pushed over a precipice to ensure its death. Then it’s the high priest’s reading and prayers in the Court of the Women before he puts on the golden garments to offer the burnt and other sacrifices. After this, he enters the Most Holy Place one last time where he offers the burnt offering and the other sacrifices.

Today, our High Priest is Yeshua. Additionally, He is our holy sacrifice. As Scripture teaches in 2 Corinthians 5:21, “G-d made Him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of G-d.” It is God’s holiness that saves us from his own wrath. How unbelievable is this? Our sins should condemn us but God makes us alive in Yeshua when we put our trust in Him. He took our place. He became our ultimate Substitute.

The analogy I often hear about salvation goes like this. You are on a boat. The storms of life come and knock you into a tempestuous sea. You scream for help as you begin to drown and suddenly a miracle occurs. Another person on the boat throws a lifesaver out into the water. You frantically swim to it and latch on. You are safely brought out of the water and into the hands of He who saved you; that is, Yeshua.

This analogy is not entirely accurate. You are on a boat. The storms of life do come and knock you into a tempestuous sea. You begin to drown, but instead of being rescued at this moment, you sink to the depths of the sea. You stop breathing. In fact, you die. Another person on the boat doesn’t throw a lifesaver out into the water. He jumps into the water and brings you up to the surface. He puts you on the boat and begins to resuscitate you. Your oxygen supply comes back and you start to cough up all the water. You are now alive. You have been rescued by Yeshua in this way.

Ephesians 2:1-7 states: As for you, you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you used to walk when you conformed to the ways of this world and of the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit who is now at work in the sons of disobedience. At one time we all lived among them, fulfilling the cravings of our flesh and indulging its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature children of wrath.

But because of His great love for us, G-d, who is rich in mercy made us alive with Messiah, even when we were dead in our trespasses. It is by grace you have been saved! And G-d raised us up with Yeshua and seated us with Him in the heavenly realms in Messiah, in order that in the coming ages He might display the surpassing riches of His grace, demonstrated by His kindness to us in Yeshua our Lord.

Keep in mind, we were sons of disobedience. All of us loved the cravings of our flesh and were married to the world rather than to the holy one. In God’s holiness, He could have punished us. But instead, He relents of His anger. It says here that God is rich in mercy. Mercy is undeserved favor. It would have been right for his holiness to consume us. For his holiness to destroy us. But He chose instead, because of His holy love, to save us. To rescue us. To extend grace. How powerful and marvelous is this!

Not everyone desires for God’s holiness to save them. While Scripture teaches that God’s desire is that no one perishes but that all come to repentance, He has given free will. He allows people to choose whether to accept His mercy or to gnash their teeth at it. Fallen angels. Satan Himself. Chose to Usurp God for their own selfish gain. Think about Pharaoh. His heart was hardened towards God. He continued to clash with Moses and the Israelites, even after all the plagues demonstrated that the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob was superior over the Egyptian gods. Not much has changed in today’s world. Pride leads to destruction.

This week, I wrote a post on Facebook that said: “Writing a sermon on God’s holiness. Any thoughts or ideas?” The first person to respond was not a brother or sister in Yeshua. It was my atheist friend. He sarcastically said, “Just make stuff up. That’s likely how it all began anyways.” Think about this for a moment. He was the first to comment. And usually is whenever I write a post about God. His passion to mock God is stronger than some believers to share the good news that God saves sinners. It is the ultimate paradox. God’s holiness either saves us, or it condemns us. Sinners gravitate towards the holy, but only to suppress and ridicule. It is my hope that the atheist friend realizes God’s abundant love for him.

The second main point I want to address is that God’s holiness either sanctifies us or gives us over to a depraved mind. In Rabbinic Judaism, sanctification means sanctifying God’s name by works of mercy, while desecration of God’s name means committing sin. To be sanctified is to be made holy by your actions. Leviticus 11:45 says, “For I am the Lord your G-d; consecrate yourselves, therefore, and be holy, because I am holy.” A few chapters later in 20:26, He adds to this notion of sanctification: “You are to be Holy to me, for I the Lord am holy; and I have set you apart from the peoples to be Mine.”

God sets us apart from the rest of creation. We are to be different because He has identified us as His children. How many of us here respect our last name? I think most of us desire to keep a good reputation in the family. Our families may not be perfect, there may be an internal struggle, but at the end of the day, I think most of us don’t want to taint or defame the reputation of our family. There is holiness here. To protect it. The family has a sense of sacredness in this way. Even more with God.

God doesn’t want us to defame His name or reputation. When inappropriate jesting occurs in the workplace, people should think it “strange” that you don’t participate in their sinful expressions. In fact, this is what it means to be persecuted for righteousness sake. That when you tame your tongue and others around you don’t, they catch on to that. They see you as “different.” Your holiness has marked you as a strange being. There becomes xenophobia. Fear of being a foreigner. You may have the same customs as them, but your holiness has caused them fear.

After I got saved, the Lord immediately tamed my tongue. It was weird because cursing was just a normal part of my vocabulary until His holiness changed my mind. Then I was set apart. I no longer was the “Chad” people remembered me by. It was difficult. I lost friends on my swim team. They started to feel uncomfortable around me because I no longer drank, smoked, or talked about inappropriate stuff with them.

However, keep in mind, people are watching the way you act. They really do observe you, and if you are holy, it can be attractive. They may not come to you when friends are around, but if there is conflict in their lives, do you know who they are going to turn to? You. And the reason why is because you have identified yourself with the best Psychologist in the world, Yeshua. It’s not you they are necessarily attracted to; it’s the holy one of Israel that you serve. And John 3:14 makes it clear: “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up. That everyone who believes in Him may have eternal life.”

And remember, God hung out with sinners and tax collectors. He imputed his holiness to others. He touched leprosy, which was considered to be unclean. He healed the lame, the blind, and was devoted to caring for the outcast. Never let us think for a moment that we are too holy for unregenerate people. In fact, the moment you think that way, you have lost the holiness of God. Because God’s holiness desires for evil, rebellious people to be miraculously saved.

Furthermore, I am not against evangelism training or teaching people how to have “God conversations” with their unbelieving friends, family, and co-workers. This is good and has its validity. However, there really is no program that can replace holiness. When you live a holy life, the doors to evangelism will open up wide. It will become natural. People will share their hearts with you. And that’s the way we must live. When we seek God’s face, His holiness radiates from us. This makes evangelism simple. Know God, and people get saved.

Unfortunately, this doesn’t work for everyone. God also gives people over to a reprobate or depraved mind. Romans 1:28 states: “Since they thought it foolish to acknowledge G-d, he abandoned them to their foolish thinking and let them do things that should never be done. They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed, and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, G-d-haters, insolent, arrogant, and boastful. They invent new forms of evil; they disobey their parents. They are senseless, faithless, heartless, merciless. Although they know G-d’s righteous decree that those who do such things are worthy of death, they not only continue to do these things but also approve of those who practice them.”

This is the most frightening verse to me in all of Scripture. That God would give someone over to their own sin. To their own vice. To their own evil ways. Yet it is this fundamental truth of nature, as real as gravity, the speed of light, and the blueness of the sky that God can’t force love. He will not override our independent choices to either accept or reject Him. Love is a two-party system. Both must agree with their covenant or commitment to each other. Adonai is the same way. He respects our freedom so much that a person can choose Hell over a life of Freedom in Yeshua.

One of my favorite preachers, David Wilkerson. He told a story in one of his sermons about a man who hated God with a passion. He was diagnosed with a terminal illness. Friends would visit him, bring flowers, and show their respect. But this man had hardened his heart. He was staring death in the face, a walking skeleton, and cursing God. This is just unfathomable to think a terminal death sentence can’t change the mind of a person. But be careful. Never give up. Always pray for God to answer. Because He promises salvation to all who call upon Him!

The last point I wanted to make is that God’s holiness fully satisfies us. Who hear remembers playing Hide and Seek as a little kid? When I was young, we would have our entire neighborhood out, hiding in people’s backyards, up in the trees, near the pond, all over the place. The joy I get out of it today as an adult is I play hide and seek with my own kids, Evan and Sean. And it’s funny because they never get tired of it. As I start to count to 30, they get really excited and start running upstairs. They, of course, hide in the same place as before, but I keep searching around and taking my time trying to find them. You hear them chuckling behind the closet door, but you keep saying, “Boy, where are you guys? I can’t find you.” And then when they are found, they get so excited and want to hide again. But if I wait too long and I don’t search for them, eventually they get bored and stop playing.

I want to give Rabbi Scott the credit here because he gave me this analogy. You want to know why hide and seek is such a popular game? It’s because people want to be found. They desire for someone to chase them. It’s an adrenaline rush. Isn’t that what love is all about? Isaiah 55:6 confirms this truth: “Seek the Lord while he may be found, call upon his name while he is near.” Or what about Psalm 27:4-5: “One thing have I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to inquire in his temple. For he will hide me in his shelter in the day of trouble; he will conceal me under the cover of his tent; he will lift me high upon a rock.”

This is such a beautiful truth. God’s holiness will forever satisfy us. I believe heaven is an eternal chasing after God’s infinite love, wisdom, intellect, and beauty. It’s like he says to us: “Come, find me.” And when we find him, He shows us a new revelation of His goodness. He magnifies our emotion and we bathe in His grace. It’s like the “aha moment” you get when you realize something new about our universe. Oh wow, I didn’t know that’s the reason the sky is blue or that the sun is 93 million miles away. Just “incredible” science but then to think of the author of this universe? Now that is beyond incredible. That is awesome, holiness in wonder.

Revelation 4 gives us this picture in Heaven: After this, I looked and saw a door standing open in heaven. And the voice I had previously heard speak to me like a trumpet was saying, “Come up here, and I will show you what must happen after these things.”

At once I was in the Spirit, and I saw a throne standing in heaven, with someone seated on it. The One seated there looked like jasper and carnelian, and a rainbow that gleamed like an emerald encircled the throne. Surrounding the throne were twenty-four other thrones, and on these thrones sat twenty-four elders dressed in white, with golden crowns on their heads.

Worship of the Creator

From the throne came flashes of lightning, and rumblings, and peals of thunder. Before the throne burned seven torches of fire. These are the seven Spirits of G-d. And before the throne was something like a sea of glass, as clear as crystal. In the center, around the throne, were four living creatures, covered with eyes in front and back. The first living creature was like a lion, the second like a calf, the third had a face like a man, and the fourth was like an eagle in flight. And each of the four living creatures had six wings and was covered with eyes all around and within. Day and night they never stop saying:

Holy, Holy, Holy,

is the Lord G-d Almighty,

who was and is and is to come!”

And whenever the living creatures give glory, honor, and thanks to the One seated on the throne who lives forever and ever, the twenty-four elders fall down before the One seated on the throne, and they worship Him who lives forever and ever. They cast their crowns before the throne, saying:

You are worthy, our Lord and G-d,

to receive glory and honor and power,

for You created all things;

by Your will they exist, and came to be.”

So remember. God’s holiness saves us. God’s holiness sanctifies us. And God’s holiness fully satisfies us. Isn’t this a wonderful truth? Amen. 

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