“I am God and not man, the Holy One in your midst.” Hosea 11:9
Some may wonder why I am writing so much about the holiness of God? Why is it so important?
Well, it is important because it is nothing less than His holiness that we need. We do not need moral perfection according to any other standard. We need God’s very Holiness within.
We human beings, even (dare I say especially?) Christians, are too often content with a simple standard of morality. Such contentment, even with the highest standard of moral behavior reveals a sad misunderstanding of what God requires.
It blinds us to true holiness and more often than not results in silly standards and behavior. When true holiness as God means it, is confused with morality… no matter how high that standard of morality… it muddies the waters terribly.
It seems right, but it is so, so wrong. The standard is mistaken for true holiness of life.
Thus ‘holiness’ becomes associated strictly with outward behavior, resulting in prohibitions against things like drinking, dancing, playing cards, chewing tobacco, the use of makeup, attending movies and a score of other behaviors. When such moral standards are equated with Christianity, thinking saints have questions and are often confused.
I remember well attending a church sponsored night at the roller rink and one of the women who loved to ‘dance’ on roller skates (and boy could she make those skates sing!) asked the question, why is it is OK to dance with wheels on our feet but it is prohibited otherwise?
There was also the standard that Christians did not attend the movies but nearly everyone had a television. What made the big screen sinful but the little screen OK?
Or, and this one that many struggle with, if the drinking of all alcohol is bad why did Jesus turn water into wine? Why does it say that an elder must not be a man who drinks too much? And if all alcohol is bad, why did Paul tell Timothy to take a little wine for his stomach’s sake and his chronic illnesses?
Questions which led to confusion and ultimately to guilt-ridden behavior when the believer secretly engaged in those practices they were told were wrong. Why? Because the focus was upon a moral standard or code without understanding that the holiness God requires is nothing less than His holiness operating in our lives.
There is no true holiness in mere morality. Though there may be much that is highly esteemed among men, there is nothing about it that is right in the sight of God. That holiness operating in us results in the best of moral behavior, of course. Do not misunderstand. But it is so very much more.
Joel Scandrett, an associate editor with Intervarsity Press, put it well when he wrote “I believe one crucial ingredient to healing our moral confusion is the recovery of the biblical idea of holiness, which, though it results in private morality is in truth, so much more. (It is) the very life of God in us. Holiness stands at the beginning and centre of God’s call on our lives: ‘Be holy, because I am holy.’” (Lev. 11:44).
Biblical “holiness” carries a strong secondary connotation of moral purity, of course, but moral purity is not, first and foremost, what Scripture is talking about.
Instead, the most basic meaning of the words is to be “set apart” or “dedicated” to God. “I will be your God, and you will be my people,” says Yahweh (Lev. 26:12; Heb. 8:10).
Thus, prior to any consideration of morality, biblical holiness describes a unique relationship that God has established and desires with his people. This relationship has moral ramifications, true enough, but it precedes moral behavior.
Before we are ever called to be good, we are called to be holy. Unless we understand this, we fall into the inevitable trap of reducing holiness to mere morality.
How much more God is asking of us than mere morality! As long as our notions of holiness are limited to doing certain things and not doing other things, we can go through our entire lives obeying the rules (or at least maintaining the appearance of doing so) without dealing with a far more fundamental question: To whom do we give our first love and loyalty?
To be a disciple of Jesus Christ requires nothing less than death to our fallen, egocentric selves in order that we might live in and for him. “For whoever wants to save his life will lose it,” says Jesus, “but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul?” (Mark 8:35-36).”
Why study the holiness of God? Because the Christian life is nothing less than His Holiness in us. It is not some imitation of His life or adherence to his perceived standard. It is not simply obedience to some moral code. It is not even doing what Jesus would do.
It is His life, his holiness within, lived out in us. As the Apostle Paul said, “For me to live is Christ.”
Pastor David M. Grey
Mt. Pleasant United Methodist Church