Who is like you, O Lord, among the gods? Who is like you, majestic in holiness, awesome in glorious deeds, doing wonders? (Exodus 15:11).
...put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. (Ephesians 2:22-24).
Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come! (Revelation 4:8).
Holiness is probably the most misunderstood, and universally disliked attribute of God. For some, the word conjures up images of a kill-joy. We confuse “holy,” with “holier-than-thou.” Our understanding of God suffers, then, because we don’t see the holiness of God as something beautiful and exciting, but as annoying which threatens our fun. Nothing, however, could be further from the truth.
In Exodus we read the great rhetorical question, “who is like you, God?” The answer, of course, is no one. No one is like God. And, this is the first part of what his holiness means. God’s holiness means that no one is at all like him. He is utterly unique, high, and different from us and everything else.
How is God different? In every way. While we can relate to God on the basis of his self-disclosure to us, we cannot begin to liken ourselves to his holiness. He is completely and totally unsullied by sin and depravity. This is not like us. We are selfish, lustful, proud, arrogant, bearing the marks of brokenness. God is not like this. Up to this point we’ve read over and over about God’s different perfections. Summarizing them all is his holiness.
God’s holiness creates a problem for us. If God is so holy, so totally and utterly different than me, then how can we really relate? If I’m marked by sin, and his holiness means he cannot even approach sin, what hope do I have of relationship with him. Answer: none. Zero. You and I have absolutely no hope of relating to God. He is holy. We are very much not. There is simply no way we can know him.
But there is a way he can know us.
You see, God’s holiness means that the only way any relationship could ever be established with him, is if it’s established by him. And in Christ, that’s precisely what he has done. The holy, perfect, ineffable God has come, willingly condescended to us, and become a man. This man—Jesus—has come to take our unholiness upon himself. Taking our depravity, Jesus died and was buried. But then, three days later he arose. His new life was then imputed to us, just as our sin was imputed to him. In this great exchange, he has given us new life, and new, fresh holiness.
We are told to put off the old self and put on the new—the holy self. That doesn’t come from within, it comes from Jesus. Are you struggling today with sin? Is temptation hitting you hard? Do you feel defined by the dirt and the grime of your past? Then I have wonderful news for you. God is holy, and in Christ he is sharing that holiness with you. All you have to do is let go of your sinfulness, giving it to him.
God’s holiness, and gracious way in which he has shared it with us will cause us to shout, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come!” We will sing that song to our holy God, because he has forgiven us and made us holy too.