By Grant Walker
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,
Uh, what was that? A delight in His holiness? That seems like a bold statement. There are probably a lot of other attributes of God that one might naturally delight in before His holiness. What about His love, or grace, or mercy, or kindness, or generosity. Don’t those seem like better places to start in developing a love of God. Maybe after reading this quote you have questions like… “Shouldn’t we introduce people to some of his more ‘safe’ attributes before introducing them to His holiness?” “Weren’t people destroyed in the presence of a Holy God?” “How are we able to delight in His holiness?” In order to look into God’s holiness, let’s enter into the throne room and look at Isaiah 6.
In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said:
In biblical writing, repetition of words was a way of emphasizing a point to make sure you pay attention. The repetition makes it stand out as important. If Jesus said, “truly, truly I say to you”, then you better pay attention. Here we see triple repetition. “Holy” is repeated three times. This indicates that God is absolutely holy and the source of holiness.
So, what does holy mean? We might say it a lot in church and sing it in songs. But what is the definition? It can be hard to understand and describe because God is the only holy, holy, holy One. First, to be Holy is to be pure, clean, and righteous. Second, to be holy is to be set apart and unique. Finally, in the New Testament the Greek word used could be translated “the awful thing” or “full of awething.”
The Bible speaks of a lot of holy things. Here is where we need to understand the two ways that the Bible uses the word. It uses “holy” in reference to God, the Holy one who is holy, holy, holy, meaning that he is absolutely holy and is the source of holiness. And then it also uses the word “holy” for people, places, or things that are holy by association or have holiness imparted to them.
God is the only absolutely Holy One and He is the source of all holiness. But then we see this strange thing happen: wherever God is and whatever he touches receive a holiness by association.
When Moses encountered God at the burning bush, God said, “take your sandals off your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” Was there anything special about that dirt or sand? No, not in and of itself. But the source of holiness was there and had touched it; therefore, it was set apart and unique by association. And we see the Bible refer to holy cities, or holy people, or holy days. These are all set apart because they have received a holiness outside of themselves. But there is only One who is pure, perfect, set apart, full of awe—the Holy One, our God.
In Isaiah 6, we understand Isaiah is in the presence of the absolutely pure, perfect, full of awe, set apart, Holy One. What is his response?
And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” (Isaiah 6:5)
Isaiah knows the ceremonial laws. Only the high priest can, once a year, go into the Holy of Holies. And only after doing all God tells him to ritually purify himself and the people. Even then, a rope was tied around his ankle in case he was destroyed in God’s presence (so his dead body could be pulled back out). Isaiah knows the law and, therefore, when he sees he is in the presence of the Holy One, he knows it’s game over.
He says “Woe is me! I am lost”; meaning I am undone…I am ruined…I am silenced…I am a dead man…I am destroyed.
Some people who do not know God talk about how they will act when standing in His presence. Some people have said, “God is going to have a lot explaining to do,” or “I’ll be the one asking the questions.” But any encounter humans have had with the Holy God has not gone this way. And one glimpse of God puts us in our place and reveals our true reality.
“Accordingly, until God reveals himself to us, we do not think that we are men, or rather, we think that we are gods; but when we have seen God, we then begin to feel and know what we are. Hence springs true humility, which consists in this, that a man makes no claims for himself, and depends wholly on God; …Our life, therefore, until our minds earnestly draw near to God, is a vain delusion.”
Until we behold the true and living, Holy God, not only is our own life a delusion, but also the rest of God’s character and his actions are distorted and don’t make sense to us.
Because if you don’t understand his holiness, you won’t understand the rest of his character.
If you don’t understand that God is holy, you might be deluded to think that God is mean and cruel. You might be thinking, “I’m generally a good person. I follow the laws, I try to do good things, I’m not more selfish than anyone else. I’m trying my best. Why would I be destroyed in the presence of this Holy God?”
You might be asking, “Was Isaiah really that bad? Am I really so bad that I would be destroyed in His presence? You might say, God sounds mean, God sounds cruel.” No, God is Holy.
Or you might be reading the story about the poor levite who died from touching the Ark of the Covenant. The Ark of the Covenant, the mobile hotspot of the presence of God, was traveling through the desert with the Israelites when the oxen stumbled. And when this guy reaches out to catch it, he is struck dead. Man, God sounds mean, God sounds cruel. No… God is Holy.
Let’s look at it another way. Absolute goodness and absolute purity and absolute light will crush any spot, blemish or darkness in it’s path. If you don’t believe me, do an experiment by turning on a light in a dark room. What happens? The light obliterates the darkness. The darkness is overcome and overrun by the light.
Consider the Garden of Eden, when Adam and Eve disobeyed and sinned against God, he sent them out of the garden—out of paradise. One mistake, one strike and they’re out. Doesn’t it sound mean? Doesn’t God sound cruel? No… God is Holy.
“What his Holiness has required, His grace has provided.”
You see, Isaiah needed a holiness by association. He needed holiness that was imparted to him. He needed something beyond himself to save him. And here we see a glimpse of the salvation that was to be, once and for all, accomplished by Jesus.
In order for us to delight in His presence and not be destroyed our sin had to be atoned for and our guilt taken away. This is the Gospel—the good news that God saves sinners. This salvation was accomplished by the life, death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. It is a salvation that is received by grace through faith.
In Christ, we can now delight in His holiness. The holiness of God does not contradict all of his other attributes. It only enriches them.
When you begin understanding the holiness of God is when you can really start to enjoy the love of God on a deeper level. When you understand the heights of holiness, you can then fully understand the depths of his grace. When you understand the uniqueness of the holiness of God, you can appreciate the uniqueness of his mercy. When you grasp his holiness is when you can start grasp his goodness. His wrath no longer seems mean or cruel in light of his holiness. His immensity, his immanence, his perfection, his knowledge, his sovereignty, his supremacy, and his patience become much more sweet and enjoyable when you first understand his holiness. We must first understand his holiness in order to enjoy the rest of his attributes in depth and clarity.
So may we be a people who delight in His Holiness. Let us enjoy and rest in the fact that what his Holiness has required, His grace has provided.
By Grant Walker
To behold is to see or perceive something or someone with intelligence or by experience. A desire to behold God is a longing that we all have because not only do we have a desire to know and be known, but we love to behold and gaze at beautiful, amazing, and great things. Don’t you have a desire to be filled with awe? To have your breath taken away? To sit at the ocean and ponder its immensity? To look into the night sky and to contemplate the vastness of the universe?
It is a beautiful gift that humanity has—this built in desire to behold greatness. Unfortunately, this desire to behold greatness is frequently misdirected to lesser things. We behold great musicians, actors, athletes, and communicators. A God-given desire to behold our great God has been temporarily satisfied and distracted by lesser things to behold. Our phones, tablets, and our entertainment industry has been successful at putting anything and everything in front of our faces except… the one thing we were meant to behold.
Church, before you start to get out your soap boxes out to stand on and point at everyone else, I’m mainly talking to you! When we gather together, who are we mainly beholding? I would challenge you that many times we are beholding ourselves more than we are beholding God. A concerning trend in the church is that, in an attempt to be practical and relevant, we have stopped beholding the One we were created to behold.
Now don’t get me wrong, I think practical sermons are necessary. I think application is important. But let us not abandon the primary thing for these secondary issues. We are primarily beholders and worshippers.
Let us not, as churches, give people what they want, abandoning what they need.
We need God. The city needs God. The church needs God. The self righteous religious person needs God. The prodigal needs God. Those who are hurting need God. The comfortable need God. My prayer is that the Church would give them God.
This is what has fueled my call to ministry. It is my prayer that, by the grace of God, our new local
church would not just “tickle ears”, but would “feed sheep” by putting God and His word on display. Lasting transformation and refreshment will not come from beholding a great preacher or great musicians. No, it will only come by beholding a great God. To grow in a knowledge of Him. To experience Him. To see Him as He truly is.
As for me, I shall behold your face in righteousness;
The trend to be practical and relevant has sprung up to meet people’s desire for transformation. Most of us desire change and want to become the best possible version of ourselves. But our error is thinking that beholding ourselves will cause this transformation. Many will tell you to “take care of yourself,” have some “me time,” and to think about yourself more.
I would argue this is a miserable way to live. And it’s why so many lack hope, have lost purpose, and have questioned identity. It’s not because they haven’t thought about themselves enough. It’s because they have been beholding themselves too much—not beholding God enough. One glimpse of God would be more valuable and transformative than a library of self help books.
All vain-glory, ambition, ignorance, and pride, would be done away by one view of Christ in his glory.”
The Gospel frees us from beholding ourselves and allows us to start beholding God. The gospel is the good news that God saves sinners. This salvation was accomplished through Jesus’ life, death, burial, and resurrection, and it is received by grace through faith.
As followers of Jesus, we are saved to stop beholding ourselves and start beholding God. So when we gather corporately, we remind ourselves to stop beholding and worshipping ourselves and to start beholding and worshipping God. That is what brings lasting refreshment, transformation, and life to a worship gathering and to a church.
And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.