I remember every year growing up, my family and I would pull the fine china from our hutch in the dining room in preparation for major holidays (Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter). This was my mother’s very special china, and every holiday had its own china set. (Her Thanksgiving set is of French countrysides, her Christmas set is winter scenes with animals, and her Easter set is, ironically, of Noah’s Ark.) Fine china is often separated from other dishes because they are deemed too delicate and breakable compared to the rest of the silverware and plates. As I would pull down my mother’s special teacups and bread plates, every muscle in my body was tense. Any false move could send those things soaring and crashing into smithereens. (I’m quite clumsy if you didn’t know.)
In this same way, holiness means “to be separated”, because it is good. Holiness denotes imperfection and value. W. W. Graf von Baudissin and H.L. Fleisher, in their Encyclopedia of the Bible, concluded that the essence of holiness is separation from all else that is not of the same.
God’s holiness means He is unlike any other, because of His complete goodness and His lack of sin. Webster’s Dictionary defines holiness as, “Specified or set apart for a religious purpose.” Just as my mother’s fine china is set apart from her other dishes, God is separated from everything else. God’s holiness is both a metaphysical and a moral attribute, for He is morally unique from the rest of creation as well as physically separated from that creation. God’s holiness distinguishes Him from everything else that exists.
Holiness represents His essential nature. He is a unique being because He is completely, 100% good, whereas we are not (Romans 3:23). Something that is perfect cannot be joined with something that is inherently bad.
I’ll give you an example. Recently, I went to go make my usual round of toast for breakfast, but noticed that my normal brand of bread had turned moldy! “What?!” I thought. “I just bought this yesterday!” I suddenly caught a whiff of a moldy smell, and realized that several of the loaves of bread in our cabinet had gone bad! As I started looking through the cabinet, I realized that one of the loaves had gone really bad, so the putrid smell of mold must have infected the other loaves, too.
That moldy loaf had ruined all the other perfectly good loaves. In this same way, God cannot be joined with anything imperfect, because it is against His nature. (I don’t know, though, if I can go as far as to say that by joining God with anything imperfect would make Him imperfect.) Instead, holiness puts God into a separate category than us. 1 Samuel 2:2 says, “There is no one holy like the LORD; there is no one besides you [God]; there is no Rock like our God.”
God’s holiness is an attribute, not a verb. This means God is not completely apart from us, as in we cannot know Him and communicate with Him ever. A personal relationship is completely possible. This also does not mean that God is not interested in us because of His holiness. God is very much interested in us. In order to have communion with the Lord, though, we must be deemed holy as well.
Thus, God sent a way for us to be wholly connected with God. This is only through the salvation that God has given us through His Son, Jesus Christ, who was the perfect sacrifice on our behalf. He died in our place; He who knew no sin became sin for us (2 Corinthians 5:21). This removed our burden of sin and allows us to enter into Heaven for eternal life, and to receive eternal life. His holiness was able to bridge the gap from our imperfection (Hebrews 10:10, Hebrews 10:14).
I whipped this up so you get the idea:
Before Christ, we were completely separated from God. Sure, God’s glory showed up constantly, like the Shekinah Glory (Exodus 13:21), Moses’ Council prophesying temporarily through the Holy Spirit (Numbers 11:25), God’s glory passing Moses (Exodus 33:21-23), etc. Yet, these instances were temporary – no one was filled with the Holy Spirit 24/7 like we are today, and only a select few had an intimate relationship with God (that we know of). It wasn’t until Jesus came to Earth that God’s glory switched from being over the temple to dwelling within Jesus. Once Jesus ascended back into Heaven, God’s glory rested on His disciples at Pentecost (Acts 2:1-4). Now, we have God’s glory dwelling within us, like mini temples (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). This is why in the above graphic, a dove is heading towards “Man”. This signifies how the Holy Spirit has been sent to us.
Critics often object that God cannot be both loving and holy at the same time, for one attribute would lead God to save all (love), but the other (holiness) to condemn all. These appear to be contradictory desires, and God cannot contradict Himself.
The response? It is true that God cannot be or do contradictory things. However, there is no contradiction here.
First, God’s love can be, and is, expressed toward anyone and everyone. Imagine a huge waterfall pouring down into two little cups. Both cups can receive an overwhelming amount of water from the falls, but they must be turned up, not upside down, to receive that water. In the same way, we can receive God’s overwhelming love and grace, but we must be in a position to openly receive it.
Second, this is exactly why God provided salvation. 2 Peter 3:9 says that God does not wish “for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.” It’s not like God’s like, “Hmmm. Yeah, I really don’t want to give this person salvation if he asks.” If a person asks in humility to receive Christ as his Savior, God will openly and willingly give that salvation (Romans 10:9). He wants His people to come to Him and spend eternity with Him in Heaven!
Now that we are called God’s children, we have been set apart, too. Look at 1 Peter 2:9-10 (emphasis added):
But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; for you once were not a people, but now you are the people of God; you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.
Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul. Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may because of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation.
This means that we must strive to be as good and perfect as God Himself is. “OMG NOOOOOO!” you’re probably thinking. “I can’t possibly be perfect as God is!!!” Don’t worry, me too! And I’m not advocating legalism in the slightest here. Instead, I am suggesting that we try to please God as much as we can, but be merciful to ourselves when we slip up. If God has forgiven us, why should we continue to live in self-condemnation? However, this does mean that we need to, as much as possible, avoid tempting situations, resist falling into sinful behavior, and pursue God by reading His Word and talking to Him. That’s all.
What do you think? How can we strive to be like Christ, who is perfect and holy? Talk to me in the comments!