Holiness as the Completed Perfection of God

Holiness as the Completed Perfection of God

Introduction

            This paper will discuss God’s attribute of Holiness, as it relates to his other attributes and concludes that God can be called Holy because he is perfect in every way. After summarizing the Biblical teaching about holiness the paper will address the difficulty that God’s holiness causes mankind, namely that God is unapproachably Holy;[1] and that unapproachableness is the separation that is built into the Biblical concept of Holy. The paper will continue in discussing the unapproachably Holy God in exploring the resolution that God’s provided by his love, which God displayed in making a propitiation and restitution for man, that enables man to approach the Holy God. The paper intends to explain that the concept of the Holiness of God means God’s complete separation from anything imperfect, this separation poses a difficulty for man that man cannot overcome on his own, and that God, in the greatest act of love there has ever or will ever be, overcame this difficulty on behalf of man; and the fact that God overcame this difficulty has vast implications for the value and responsibilities of mankind.

Summary of Biblical Teaching

            God uses the word, Holy, of himself in the scriptures; as Highfield points out by saying, “God is holy by nature, whereas other things are holy only derivatively: “I am the Lord your God; consecrate yourselves and be holy, because I am holy”(Lev.11:44).”[2] What Highfield is noting is that Holiness is intrinsic to the nature of God. The questions then remains, what does it mean to be holy? Highfield again asserts that “… a holy thing differs from ordinary things and must be separated from them.”[3] Highfield is saying that the Bible calls God Holy and that the Bible defines holy as separated from ordinary things. Scripturally this is seen in God’s interactions with his created world. In Exodus, as Moses is called to speak with God in the bush, Moses is commanded to remove his shoes because it is holy ground.[4] In this picture, it is seen that that ground is set apart from other ground; it is different. As God’s interactions with Israel progressed, this concept of separated holy things continued to be displayed in the ceremonial law. In Leviticus holy things are separated for the consecrated priests: “A lay person shall not eat of a holy thing …”[5] Therefore, the Bible teaches that God is Holy and that means he is separate from all other things.

This knowledge gives insight into what it means to be Holy. Hoek, citing Stephen Charnock, said: “If any, this attribute [holiness] has an excellence above his other perfections.”[6] Charnock can say this biblically because of the evident importance that is placed on God’s Holiness in heaven itself. In both Revelation 4 and Isaiah 6, there is a picture of God’s throne room given, in both of those pictures there are four magnificent creature who seemingly have the sole duty of saying without stopping “holy, holy, holy”[7] Out of all of God’s attributes, that these creatures would focus on his Holiness gives us a clue as to the importance God places on this attribute. However, this is where we, as Andrew Butcher points out, start to reach the limits of our “linguistic and conceptual tools.”[8] God’s perfect perfections, attributes, are what make him holy.[9] Since God is the only infinite being, he is the only one that can be perfectly Holy; all created beings having a beginning, and that is an imperfection that God does not have.

This Attribute throughout Scripture and Christian Theology

 Difficulty with This Attribute

The Bible describes the difficulty man runs into when dealing with a Holy God. First, “Strive for … the holiness without which no one will see the Lord,”[10] and second, God has “purer eyes than to see evil and cannot look at wrong”[11] However, these verses seem to make God’s Holiness a problem for man based on moral action. While it is true there is a moral problem and James Ackerman points out this moral issue in the story of Uzzah and the Ark in 2 Samuel 6, by saying “… who can stand before this holy God is, no one can, but someone must.”[12] The moral dilemma is only half the story. In Revelation 20 there is a being sitting on the throne from whose “presence earth and sky fled away”[13] The fleeing of the entire created order is a more complete picture of the problem that man faces with a Holy God. Created things cannot stand in his presence.

Resolving the Difficulty

            This problem cannot be solved by man, there is no way for a created being to be holy enough to stand in the presence of this Holy God. This means that James Ackerman’s problem is a valid one: no one can stand but someone must. In Romans 8 Paul says that those God justifies he glorifies by making them like his Son, Jesus.[14] Justification is the process where the sinner is declared forensically righteous before God, by the imputation of Christ righteousness. What then is glorification? It would follow that glorification is where the saint receives, by imputation, the “… the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.”[15] This holiness cannot be in the work of the saint because the man dying with Jesus had no more time to do holiness, when Jesus told him, “today you will be with me in paradise.”[16] It cannot be discounted that saints are supposed to do holy things, Jesus told them to be perfect like God is[17] and Peter cited Leviticus saying “You shall be holy, for I am holy.”[18] However, these holy actions stem from imputed holiness and are not holiness producing in and of themselves. The Bible explains that God sent Christ to create this “great salvation”[19] for man because of his love for the world.[20] Therefore, it is God’s love and God’s action that recuse man from God’s Holiness.

Conclusion

This paper has outlined that the Bible presents God as preeminently Holy, that God’s Holiness is proclaimed night and day at the throne of God himself, and that his Holiness is perfect because he is perfect in all his attributes. Biblically the concept of holiness is demonstrated as a separation from the ordinary. Man, along with all created things, has the problem of being the ordinary that God’s Holiness demands separation from. God acted in love by sending his Son to take the ordinary and change it; he imputed the holiness that makes man’s relationship and existing in the presence of God possible.

 

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[1]. Ron Highfield. 2008. Great Is the Lord: Theology for the Praise of God. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing. 178.

[2]. Ron Highfield. 2008. Great Is the Lord: Theology for the Praise of God. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing. 177.

[3]. Ron Highfield. 2008. Great Is the Lord: Theology for the Praise of God. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing. 177.

[4]. Exodus 3:5, ESV.

[5]. Leviticus 22:10, ESV.

[6]. J. Hoek. (2014). God nearby and god far away – stephen charnock on divine attributes/God nabij en god ver weg – stephen charnock (1628-1680) over de eigenschappern van god. In Die Skriflig, 48(1), 1-7.

[7]. Revelation 4:8, ESV.

[8]. Andrew Butcher. “On holiness.” Colloquium 44, no. 2 (November 2012): 194-207. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed August 28, 2018). 207.

[9]. Ron Highfield. 2008. Great Is the Lord: Theology for the Praise of God. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing. 179.

[10]. Hebrews 12:14, ESV.

[11]. Habakkuk 1:13. ESV.

[12]. James S. Ackerman. 1991. “Who Can Stand before YHWH, This Holy God? A Reading of 1 Samuel 1–15.” Prooftexts 11, no. 1: 1. Religion and Philosophy Collection, EBSCOhost (accessed August 28, 2018). 21.

[13]. Revelation 20:11, ESV.

[14]. Romans 8:28-30, ESV.

[15]. Hebrews 12:14, ESV.

[16]. Luke 23:43, ESV.

[17]. Matthew 5:48, ESV.

[18]. 1 Pe 1:16, ESV.

[19]. Hebrews 2:3, ESV.

[20]. John 3:16, ESV.

 

 

Bibliography

Ackerman, James S. 1991. “Who Can Stand before YHWH, This Holy God? A Reading of 1 Samuel 1–15.” Prooftexts 11, no. 1: 1. Religion and Philosophy Collection, EBSCOhost (accessed August 28, 2018). https://lopes.idm.oclc.org/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=rlh&AN=7156616&site=eds-live&scope=site

Butcher, Andrew. “On holiness.” Colloquium 44, no. 2 (November 2012): 194-207. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed August 28, 2018). https://lopes.idm.oclc.org/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=rfh&AN=ATLA0001926342&site=eds-live&scope=site

Highfield, Ron. 2008. Great Is the Lord: Theology for the Praise of God. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing.

Hoek, J. (2014). God nearby and god far away – stephen charnock on divine attributes/God nabij en god ver weg – stephen charnock (1628-1680) over de eigenschappern van god. In Die

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