Three times in the Book of Leviticus (11:4; 19:2; 20:7), God charges His chosen people that they should be holy because He is holy. This command is repeated to the Church in 1 Peter 1:16. We are not told to be omnipotent or omniscient, but we are commanded to be holy. In our last lesson we studied the meaning of holiness as an attribute of God. In this lesson we shall look at three ways that the holiness of God is revealed to man by this command "Be ye holy; for I am holy".
I. The Requirements to be Holy
If we are to be holy, what is required of us? What must one do to be holy? Surely, we should expect to find the holiness of God revealed in these requirements. Scripture does contain the answer to this. It is given in Exodus 20:2-17 which we commonly refer to as the ten commandments or better known in Scripture as the law. The law could be considered as the written expression of the holiness of God, and one who could keep it would be considered holy. Consider these observations as proof of this.
1. The Manner in which it was given
First we must observe the manner in which the law was given. Of all the commandments given to Moses, the ten commandments were spoken directly by the voice of God in an unparalleled display of the majesty and greatness of Jehovah on Mt. Sinai (Exodus 20:1; 18-22). In addition to this, they were later written on two tablets of stone as Exodus 31:18 says with the finger of God.
2. The Meaningfulness given in Scripture
Paul expressly tells us that the law is holy (Romans 7:12). Perfect, pure, clean, and righteous are other titles given to it. To add to this, we should observe the question Moses puts forth in Deuteronomy 4:8, "what nation is there so great, that hath statutes and judgments so righteous as all this law, which I set before you this day?"
3. The Mark of its Covenant
The ten commandments are also referred to as the "words of the covenant" (Exodus 34:28). In fact the ark of the covenant was constructed for the very purpose of holding them. This clearly signifies that the ten commandments were the terms of God's covenant with Israel. In other words, they were God's expectations for those who were to be considered as His people.
Now let us examine how the holiness of God is shown in these requirements:
A. The Contents of the Law
First, the holiness of God can be seen in the contents of the ten commandments. In one half it contains all that one owes to God and in the other half all that one owes to his fellow man. It is the noble calling of living a life like God. It prescribes all good and forbids all evil. As Charnock says, "It directs us to the highest end, sets us at a distance from all base and sordid practices; it proposeth light to the understanding, and goodness to the will. It would tune all the strings, set right all the orders of mankind; it censures the least mote, countenanceth not any stain in life. … It commands the private closet to be free from the least cobweb, as well as the outward porch to be clean from mire and dust."
B. The Completeness of the Law
The holiness of God can also be seen in the completeness of the ten commandments. There is nothing that could be added to these ten - they are the sum of the requirements. In addition, all ten would have to be kept in order to meet the requirements and the breaking of a single point would mean failure. As James 2:10 says, for whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all. Remember that the holiness of God involves purity, which is evident here. Purity would require the whole law to be kept with not the least exception.
C. The Cutting of the Law
How quickly after reading the ten commandments do we find ourselves in violation to them? In fact, we must realize that not only have we broken them, but we are not even capable of keeping them. Our experience bears witness to this as well as the Bible (Ecclesiastes 7:20, Isaiah 53:6, and Romans 3:23). Does it blemish the holiness of God to have required something that man is incapable of keeping? As Paul would say "God forbid!" Read Romans 7 and understand that there is nothing unrighteous about the law. It merely points out the truth that man has a sinful nature and exposes the great distance that separates God and man. So we find the holiness of God revealed in the ten commandments by the division it cuts between the righteousness of man and the righteousness of God (see Romans 3:19-20).
II. The Retribution for not being holy
What happens to those that are not holy? God's holiness is revealed in this too.
A. Intense Hatred of Sin
When we read how God describes sin as the loathsomeness of a miry swine or the nauseousness of the vomit of a dog (2 Peter 2:22), we are given a pretty good indication of what God thinks of sin. Consider though, the message that is declared from the punishment that results from those that are not holy: death! (Romans 6:23) Death is so common to us, but perhaps we could appreciate the severity of this punishment more if we could have been with Adam and Eve before death had come upon the stage. Imagine having never seen death until an innocent living creature had to be slain in order to provide a covering for your sin (Genesis 3:21). Perhaps we would be further impressed if we were to meditate on the severity of the lake of fire. All the unrighteous shall be punished for age upon age in torment in the lake of fire and brimstone (Revelation 20:10; 20:15; 21:8). Keep in mind that this punishment is everlasting, and its purpose is not for reform but rather for punishment. Does not this intense hatred of sin reveal the holiness of God? Could we still consider Him as holy if even the slightest sin was not loathsome in His sight?
B. Impartiality Toward the Guilty
God's holiness is further shown in His impartial treatment of both the sin and the sinner.
1. The Sin
We may often let sin go unpunished for one reason or another, but God never does. In our ranking of sins, where would we put Adam's original sin? All that he did was to eat the fruit of a tree which God had forbidden. Yet for this seemingly simple sin, God cursed the whole of His creation. The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men (Romans 1:18). Could we consider God as holy if this was not so? No, God must punish all sin, great or small, or His purity would be violated.
2. The Sinner
If God could turn His back on His Son (Matthew 27:46), if He could take pleasure in bruising Him (Isaiah 53:10), if the One called blessed could become a curse (Galatians 3:13), could we at all accuse God of showing any partiality toward the sinner? No sinner, rich or poor, black or white, small or great can think to escape judgement for sin if God spared not even His only Son. This too shows the holiness of God.
III. The Request to be Holy
Could God be considered separate from sin if He was to accept communion with sinners? The very demand for us to be holy shows that He is holy. Think not that God's request was made because He just wanted us to follow His example. No, because He is holy, we must be holy, if we are to be in His presence and enjoy His fellowship. Consider these observations as well:
A. The Means
The holiness of God is further shown in the means that God provided for us to fulfill this request. We must condemn our own righteousness as impure and imperfect while we turn to God in faith and receive the righteousness of God found in Jesus Christ (Romans 10:3, 2 Corinthians 5:21). Our own righteousness could not make us holy, and neither could the blood of bulls or goats, nor the sacrificial death of one born with a sin nature (Moses tried in Exodus 32:32 and Paul was willing in Romans 9:3). Only the blood of a righteous man could atone for our sins. This not only shows that Jesus was holy but proves His deity.
B. The Result
God's holiness can also be seen in the actual fulfillment of God's request. After the new birth, we can experience the holiness of God for ourselves in the process the Bible calls sanctification. Justification means that we have been declared righteous before God, but sanctification is a term which signifies our being made righteous. Through sanctification, the believer can actually experience what it is like to be holy! Romans 8 is perhaps the greatest passage on sanctification. Someone once said, "If Holy Scripture were a ring and the epistle to the Romans its precious stone, chapter eight would be the sparkling point of the jewel." Someone else added, "We enter the chapter with no condemnation, we close with no separation and in between all things work together for good to those that love God." Let us especially consider verse 4 though, that the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.
Romans 7 and 8 remind us that the work of sanctification is not totally completed while we remain on this earth for we have always present with us our old fleshly nature. What a comforting and lifting thought to realize though, that someday we shall be completely sanctified (Romans 8:18,29; 1 John 3:2). In that day, we shall never sin again, nor shall we ever fail God! We shall know even more truly what it is like to be holy.