A Holy God and a Holy Life
Dr. Valson Abraham
“Holiness, not happiness, is the chief end of man,” said Oswald Chambers.
The problem is that most of us, most of the time, turn that around. Even in the church, we must fight the tendency to reduce God to a sentimental being whose purpose is chiefly to make us happy and prosperous.
Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones has said that “all our problems in life stem from our underestimation of God’s holiness. When we underestimate God’s holiness, we become like ants.”
Ants are highly organized, hard-working creatures who act without knowledge of the larger world around them. Their little world can change in a second with the introduction of earth-moving equipment, or gardeners or builders. What means nothing to their world can change their world forever.
Many times, we humans think like ants. For the most part, God means nothing to us. At most, we humans try to reduce God to our image and conform Him to our ways. Yet when God’s larger purposes overrule our lives with events that don’t fit our purposes and picture of life, we experience great confusion, anger and even terror. This is because we have grossly underestimated God’s holiness.
Few of us see God in person, but some people get glimpses of Him. Moses saw His back parts. Isaiah saw God’s holiness and said “Woe is me!” John saw Jesus’ divine nature, and he fell down as a dead man. Three disciples glimpsed Jesus divinity on a mountain, and the sight overwhelmed them.
Every person who glimpses God’s holiness is overcome by a sense of sin and shame. Even the smallest sin becomes like Mount Everest next to God’s holiness. When God intervenes, nothing remains the same. All that we considered imperative in life suddenly becomes trash in comparison.
What is it about the holiness of God that traumatizes people? It is His transcendent and eternal purity, greater than the universe itself, with no rivals or competition. God is light, and in Him there is no darkness at all. If one has stumbled at just one point of the law, he has broken all of it. This is what God’s holiness requires - all or nothing.
One of the most moral of men in history was Saul of Tarsus, who rigorously kept the 613 requirements of the Jewish tradition. His moral and religious credentials were without fault. Yet when he witnessed Jesus Christ in His holiness on the road to Damascus, he spent the next three days in agony at what he saw and heard, not able to eat or drink. God’s bigger world had crashed down upon him and showed him where he really stood. He hated what he saw.
Dr. R.C. Sproul says, “The Bible says that God is holy, holy, holy. Not that he is merely holy or even holy, holy. The Bible never says that God is love, love, love, or mercy, mercy, mercy, or wrath, wrath, wrath, or justice, justice, justice. It does say that He is holy, holy, holy, the whole earth is full of His glory.”
Too easily, we say that “God accepts us as we are.” His holiness should make us re-think that casual and complacent idea. God is not Father Christmas. God never compromises His holiness. When Moses disobeyed God before the people of Israel (Numbers 20), he was not allowed to enter the Promised Land because He insulted God’s holiness. Irreverence toward God’s holiness can exact a heavy price upon those who take it lightly, even upon those who call themselves Christians. God’s holiness is why we are told to reverence Him.
Jesus commanded His followers, “Be holy as I am holy.”
Each of us who is truly a Christian has been transferred out of the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of life, not because of our innate holiness but by the grace of God through Jesus Christ. This does not give us license to sin because we have the Holy Spirit within, moving us toward holiness.
We often fail. We stumble like small children learning to walk, but we don’t make this our excuse or our final destiny. In the life of the believer, the Holy Spirit teaches us to make it our deepest desire to walk with Him and attain to His holiness—not only to walk, but to run and even to fly, doing things that are impossible apart from learning to grow in holiness!
We may not achieve it all in this earthly life, but like the apostle Paul, we are “forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead…press[ing] on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”
If we do not have the apostle Paul’s attitude, if we habitually rationalize lingering sins in our life and resent being reminded of them, even by the Holy Spirit, we must ask ourselves if we are truly saved.
What does it take to live a holy life? I leave you with the words of an old hymn, written about 1882. The words may be somewhat dated, but these simple thoughts are as up-to-date as today’s headlines:
Take time to be holy, speak oft with thy Lord;
Abide in Him always, and feed on His Word.
Make friends of God’s children help those who are weak,
Forgetting in nothing His blessing to seek.
Take time to be holy, the world rushes on;
Spend much time in secret, with Jesus alone.
By looking to Jesus, like Him thou shalt be;
Thy friends in thy conduct His likeness shall see.
Take time to be holy, let Him be thy Guide;
And run not before Him, whatever betide.
In joy or in sorrow, still follow the Lord,
And, looking to Jesus, still trust in His Word.
Take time to be holy, be calm in thy soul,
Each thought and each motive beneath His control.
Thus led by His Spirit to fountains of love,
Thou soon shall be fitted for service above.
The “prince of preachers,” Charles Spurgeon, said, “If you would be holy, you must live close to Jesus.”
The holiness of God not only transforms moral men like Saul of Tarsus. It also transforms even “impossible” people like Karla Faye Tucker, a hatchet murderess on death row, who heard the gospel and repented before a holy God. Before that, she was a drug addict at eight and a prostitute by 11 or 12. In spite of her miserable background and her imminent sentence of death for her crime, she committed her life to Christ and yearned for holy living.
She didn’t become perfect, but her life changed so radically, others saw the difference, and many of her fellow prisoners committed their lives to Christ. A Christian man became so impressed by her growing Christ-like character, he married her even though he knew he would soon lose her. She paid an earthly price of execution by lethal injection for her heinous crime, but she died praising the Lord for His holy and eternal deliverance.
God is not impersonal with us in our deadness to His holy ways in the way of humans with ants. He knows the number of hairs on our heads. He loved us before He created the world, and He even made Himself one of us. In Christ, He came to reconcile us to Himself, to make us part of His kingdom, giving His life to make us His children. He extends His grace to all of us with the goal that in relationship to Him, we will become holy even as He is holy.
Let each of us make sure we have accepted His invitation to holiness through Jesus Christ. Let us make sure we learn to grow in holy living that others may find Him through us.
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Father God, I thank you that you are a holy God. That means your love and grace are always sure. You always keep your promises. I can always count on you, and I know that you have the final victory over evil, death and sin in my life and the world around me. Thank you for offering your perfect and holy sacrifice to me through your Son. Help me to live a holy life so others will be drawn to you. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.