How do we know when we’ve lost our awareness of the holiness of God? I would submit to you that this is one of the most significant questions we could ponder today. If something is broken, but we don’t know it’s broken, we can’t possibly fix it.
Let me clarify from the outset what I mean by “holiness,” because for some of us the very word conjures up negative images of stiff and stodgy people who care more about critiquing others than exuding the life-giving grace of Jesus Christ. When our God describes Himself as “holy,” He is referring to His infinite distinctness from all that is evil. God is our perfectly pure Creator to Whom we will one day fully answer, and this should cause us to fear Him, in the sense that He captures our awe and respect. For Christ-followers, specifically, God is also our Father. If you ever had or still have a healthy relationship with your earthly father or mother, then you know something of what it means to regard someone with both love and respect.
But that’s not the end of the Bible’s treatment of the subject of holiness, because God calls us to holiness as well. I could cite numerous passages including Isaiah’s vision from which I drew today’s title, but I’ll simply refer you to First Peter 1. Check out that great chapter before you read any further.
So, when it comes to God’s holiness, how do we know when we’re off-base?
It is the natural tendency of every person, and every congregation, to drift away from a red-hot realization of God’s holiness. We drift naturally. As the old hymn put it: we are “prone to wander.” We get lazy in our spiritual disciplines. We get negligent in the intentional discipleship of our children. We shrink back from evangelism. We let fears overwhelm us. We crave the world’s applause. These things don’t generally transpire overnight, but more often it’s inch-by-inch. And I would submit that each one of those behaviors I listed shares a common denominator: we have forgotten God. Or at least we’ve dethroned Him in our hearts. A person is “calloused” when they’re no longer moved by what really matters. Lord, forgive us! You and I must never cease to pray for personal and corporate (remember, we’re part of a body) revival.
The very definition of “holiness” communicates separation. God is set apart. We as His people are set apart. But we can lose our distinctively Christ-honoring character by failing to keep it straight that we’re the creatures and not the Creator. We’re the dependent ones. We’re the desperate beggars. It’s true that, in Christ, God has become our Friend. But God is not like our other friends, and we must never treat Him as such. He is “high and exalted,” to steal again from the ancient prophet. He abhors the adulteries of Babylon, and so must we. Always remember that “reverence” is not a style of music or worship, but a proper posture of the human heart toward a sovereign and omnipotent God. And real reverence never goes out of style.
Notice also in the text our call to “brotherly love.” This love isn’t cooked up by our positive thinking or by the natural effervescence of our personality, but Peter tells us its precise origin: Christlike love comes from knowing the “imperishable seed” of “the living and abiding word of God.” We must never try to anchor our sense of right and wrong in anything impermanent, which is the incessant and alluring whisper of the culture in our ear, but only in the Lord’s Word. Here’s my point: when we as believers are experiencing disharmony among ourselves, we can rest assured that someone has lost their spiritual footing. Conflict among the saints, which can lead eventually to utter turmoil and chaos, is a sure sign that worldliness has invaded the church.
Notice that Peter calls his gospel message “good news!” There’s a direct correlation between gospel joy and holy living. We stumble and fall when we’re not walking in the light of truth. And we take others down with us. Without the cross and resurrection remaining front-and-center in our affections, we have no power to overcome being overwhelmed by the world’s lifeless idols and false worship. (Imagine a spiritual and universal version of COVID-19.) So here’s my last question: is the gospel still good news to you? If it’s been a while since you delighted in our sin-conquering and forever-risen Savior, today might be a great day for that. When we taste the beauty and glory of Christ, without fear of judgment because of what He has accomplished for us, our battle against sin can be driven by love. You see, friends, we don’t brush up on important doctrines so that we can fill our heads with information, but we brush up on important doctrines so that God can fill our hearts with praise!
As you’ve just read in God’s Word, you and I have been “born again to a living hope.” It just doesn’t get any better than that. We’ve been caught up in the greatest love story that’s ever been written.
And, at the heart of that timeless story, is the Lord our God Himself. He is Holy, Holy, Holy indeed!